For Mystia, who is ever-awesome, and a constant source of inspiration to me.
“That is not dead which can eternal lie.
And with strange aeons even death may die.”
The halls of Eientei Manor, the House of Eternity, echoed ever so slightly as a single figure trod down the halls nervously, shoes tap-tap-tapping on the soft wood floor. Though sound in mind and strong in heart, the stalwart rabbit called Reisen Inaba knew something was not right as of late. The good doctor had practically locked herself up in the medical wing for longer than any doctor, magical or not, should ever do. Walking determinately through the room which served as the lobby for Eientei’s small clinic, she turned down a hallway and stopped in front of a door towards the back. It was well past dinnertime—closer to midnight even—and all the lights in the wing were extinguished for the evening, save for this one, behind the webbed glass of the room Reisen now stood in front of.
Clinical Research and Development. Dr. Eirin Yagokoro, M. D.
The woman tapped at the glass softly, one-two-three times. No answer. She repeated the process. Still no answer. Testing the doorknob and finding it unlocked, she cracked the portal open slowly and peeked inside.
To any but a true scientist, the space was a nightmare. Glass-metal shelves full of odd equipment and probes of all shapes and sizes. Giant machines of black and grey, looking more like execution devices than medical breakthroughs. Test tubes, beakers, and glass dishes lined up neatly in rows, or else carelessly jumbled in a corner, whether or not they held secretive liquids inside them. Work tables with high-precision microscopes and binders full of unintelligible charts in a foreign language to all but the sharpest and most specialized of minds. To Reisen, who had seen this room several times before, it was like an odd dream: not fully understandable, but somehow comforting, in a strange and mysterious sort of way.
Dr. Eirin sat in the corner of the room on a rubber-seated swivel chair, buried in paperwork and watching a Bunsen burner heat a glass tube intently. At least a dozen vials and flasks were in her immediate vicinity, all filled with varying amounts of odd-colored liquid drugs. A mortar and pestle had seen recent use, and white powdery crumbs still lay in the stone bowl.
Not wishing to disturb the doctor’s concentration, Reisen cleared her throat to announced her presence.
“I am busy,” Eirin replied curtly, hardly moving at all.
“Mistress Houraisan wishes to know if you’ll be wanting any dinner tonight, Dr. Yagokoro,” the rabbit woman announced, folding her hands in front of her politely. The action went unnoticed by the doctor, who glanced over at a clock and minutely adjusted the burner’s flame.
“I’ve no time for eating, Inaba,” she replied. “This work is of the utmost importance. Sustenance is not. You may leave now.”
Reisen furrowed her brow slightly. More important than even eating? While Eirin had fallen into these streaks of frenzied work before, none had ever lasted as long at the one she was now involved in.
“Permission to speak freely, doctor?”
Dr. Yagokoro glanced at the rabbit for only a second or two before turning back around. She looked terrible. Her long silver-grey hair, once braided majestically down the back, was frazzled and barely even remained twined together. Deep purple-black bags were imbedded in the skin under her eyes, which were heavy-lidded and bloodshot from a horrible lack of sleep. The only thing which managed to keep her appearance respectable was her pressed white lab coat, and even that was wrinkled and splashed twice with light grey stains.
“How long have you been awake, Eirin?”
“That would depend on the date, Inaba. You may observe it for yourself; I’ve no time to be bothering with such a trivial calculation.” Her voice was snappy and decidedly annoyed as she wove a hand in the air as if shooing away a fly.
“Three and a half days, Miss Eirin,” Reisin replied solemnly. “You’ve been in the clinic for three and a half days. You’ve refused all patients, neglected all prescriptions, and even ignored such simple things as food, sleep, and company. I’m not a fool, you know. What’s going on?”
The doctor scribbled down some quick notes and calculations on a seemingly random piece of paper, already full of chicken scratch. “It is not something that needs discussion. I am handling it.”
The rabbit placed a firm hand on Eirin and spun her chair around, meeting her dull grey eyes with her own cherry red ones. “You’ve gone beyond the point of ‘handing’ it if you haven’t slept in over eighty hours, Doctor Eirin. Something is wrong. The Princess demands to know what, and frankly, so do I.”
She glanced at the clock again and rubbed her eyes painfully. Her response was deep and slow, as if the immense weight of the subject itself was enough to crush her voice.
“If the Princess requests it…very well. What I tell you, you will tell to her, and to her alone, in private. You will tell none other. Do you understand me?”
Doctor Eirin’s brow sank down low, and her mouth grew thin. “Reimu Hakurei was admitted to the clinic six days ago after an overnight stay in the mansion, complaining of skin rash, wrist pains, and fatigue. A premature diagnosis indicated early stages of lupus erythematosus, and immunosuppressants were administered shortly afterward. Subsequent tests within a twenty-four hour period showed no improvement to the patient’s immune system, and the subject’s health rapidly deteriorated as the disease’s autoimmune properties began to cause organ breakdown and skin lesions. A more definitive diagnosis confirmed the disease to be a splinter strain of lupus more commonly found in Lunar patients, which due to the subject’s inability to cope with the foreign origin of the disease caused it to become more fast-acting, and therefore increased the estimated mortality rate. I am currently attempting to compose a stronger immunosuppressant.”
Though not thick by any means, Reisen stared at the doctor’s face with utter incomprehension and confusion. Recomposing herself, she inquired, “What, then, should I tell the Princess?”
Eirin stared again at the heating vial, perhaps attempting to become hypnotized by the dancing flames of the gas burner.
“Tell her…that Reimu Hakurei is currently in the clinic’s isolated clean-room, dying of a Lunarian disease which I do not have the cure for.”
Secluded behind a complex of pristine glass walls and perfectly polished surfaces, resting upon silken sheets tucked carefully into a hospital bed, lay the famous shrine maiden of Gensokyo, Reimu Hakurei, deep asleep in a medically-induced coma. Her skin was pasty and pale; that is, in the few sections where peppery red-brown rashes did not already cover her body. A full respirator was over her face, and no fewer than four IV tubes pierced her skin in various places. The faint hum of the respirator and the grating beep….beep…beep…beep of the EKG monitor were the only two sounds in the entire room, even though Eirin Yagokoro leaned over her body at that very moment, silently administering some new concoction into the young woman’s veins, a haggard and frustrated look on her face.
A sudden soft tap at the glass viewing wall caused the doctor to look up, and she saw her princess at the window, waiting impatiently for her audience. Double and triple-checking the patient’s vitals, she sighed and walked out of the room into the airlock. Disposing of her filter mask and rubber gloves, she joined Miss Houraisan in the dark annex looking into the room of life and death.
“And? How is she?” Kaguya inquired solemnly.
“Stable, but in rapid decline. I would estimate approximately twenty-four hours before one or more of her vital systems fails beyond recovery. Perhaps less.”
The princess shook her head and sighed. Though a slight smirk could be seen on her face, inwardly she was still very grim.
“You’re still a poor liar I’m afraid, Eirin. Did you think you would fool me long enough to buy you some more peace and quiet?”
The silver-haired woman looked sternly at the “young” maiden next to her as they observed Reimu in tranquility. “What I told you was the truth, my Princess.”
“Mmm, obviously not the whole truth then. Over a millennia with you and your medicines has taught me enough. There is no such thing as a disease you don’t have the cure for…unless, that is, it’s a disease you created. Am I wrong?”
Eirin made no visible response, though inwardly she felt like her heart had been torn out of her. Such a curt little response…and yet she knew that Kaguya was correct, no matter how her inner self-justifications tried to convince her otherwise. She sighed languidly.
“You are not wrong, Princess Houraisan. The disease is no longer killing her. The treatment is.”
The royal girl clad in red and pink silks closed her eyes. “And the treatment is?”
“I am not allowed to discuss it with civilians under any circumstances.”
“I am not a ‘civilian’, Eirin. I am an exile, the same as you. I am also your princess, even if I have no throne. Tell me what she is dying of.”
“You would not understand—“
“Tell me. Will it really matter in twenty-four hours, anyways?”
Massaging her temples with her left hand, Eirin leaned against the glass wall, one eye on her patient and the other on her mistress. Such a waste…such a waste of effort…
“The number of people left alive who even know of its scientific name I could count on one hand, and even in my darkest hour I will not reveal its true chemical composition, no matter how you beg or threaten me. It was in spirit a substance that was the predecessor to the Hourai Elixer, given the project name ‘Eclipse’ to please the prying royals and politicians who wished to put a label on it. This was long before you were born, Mistress Houraisan, so our methods were more—“
“Spare me your technological babble, please, and just tell me why you used it and why it’s killing her,” Kaguya interrupted abruptly.
Eirin shruged her shoulders and placeed a hand inside her lab coat pocket, using the other to motion slightly. “Reimu Hakurei contracted Lunarian lupus, a disease that fools the body into attacking its own cells. Because her human body was not used to a Lunarian disease, she declined in health rapidly. I expected her dead within days, even hours, and had little hope that any remedies I had would outpace the furiously destructive nature of the disease. I had no other option but to use the Eclipse Serum.
“In very mundane terms, the Eclipse Serum super-charges the immune system to astronomical levels, granting the recipient theoretical immunity from all disease, even when they are on the brink of death. A ‘cure-all’, if you will. However, in three percent of test subjects, the compound heightened the immune system to such a degree that the body essentially destroyed itself in search of malignant cells when there were none to be found. Judging by Miss Hakurei’s quickened reaction to the Lunarian strain of lupus, I estimated the chance of catastrophic auto-immunity to be at a level closer to eighteen percent. Unfortunately, she appears to have fallen within that eighteen percent.”
Kaguya stroked her long raven hair pensively, trying to deduce the simple meaning of Eirin’s words. “So, wait, the miko had a disease that made her body kill itself, and your solution was a drug that made her body…kill itself? I find such a concept far beneath you, Eirin.”
Eirin emotionlessly corrected her. “A drug that had a chance of making her body kill itself. The lupus might have killed her within one day at an eighty percent chance of death. The Eclipse Serum might have killed her within several days at an eighteen percent chance of death. The risk was…acceptable.”
“You’re the smartest doctor in the solar system, Eirin…and you couldn’t think of a better cure than an experimental treatment with a one-fifth chance of death itself?”
She placed a hand on the princess’s shoulder, trying to comfort the confused rage at seeing her mentor fail. “Please believe me, my Princess, when I say that I conceived of no other viable option. I had no time, and neither did she.”
“…What happens now?” Kaguya asked concernedly, looking intently at the dying shrine maiden behind the glass.
“I am in the process of attempting to reverse-engineer the Eclipse Serum in several stages, injecting her with the most powerful immunosuppressants I have to prolong her life while I work. I suspect either her circulatory or respiratory system to fail first, at which point I will have to treat the symptoms rather than the Eclipse itself.”
“No, I mean what happens if she dies? What happens if you don’t save her?”
The doctor sighed and rubbed her aching eyes. “Then we will all witness first-hand whether or not Gensokyo can exist without its shrine maiden. My hypothesis is that it cannot, and may heaven help us afterwards.”
Kaguya bit her lip in surprise, though she was half-expecting an answer of that magnitude to begin with once she heard that Reimu was deathly ill. Folding her hands inside her long-sleeved robes, she turned to leave the room.
“Continue your work, Eirin; I will not have you fail now, when your skill is needed the most.”
Eirin looked back at her bleakly, then replied. “Yes, my Princess. However…please consider returning to the Moon now, while you still have a moon to return to. The Border may not allow you to leave for much longer, and I will not see you perish with this land. You do not need to die with it.”
Princess Houraisan made no response as she opened the door and glided away, leaving Dr. Eirin once again alone with a mind full of medical equations and a soul full of sorrow.
In the beginning…darkness was over the face of the Earth.
In the end…darkness was once again over the face of the Earth.
Not a natural darkness, though…no. Nothing even remotely close. This was no cloudy sky, no dark of night, no solar blackout. This was a chaotic void, indifferent and oppressive, stretching out over the whole dome of the sky and onwards past the visible horizon. The air above was a horrible, sickening mixture of sky blue, pure white, and the blackest black any could ever dream of. It was like a nightmare painted on an insane artist’s canvas, or else a swirl of sweet blue frosting, cake batter, and rancid oil in an inverted mixing bowl, dripping down and suffocating the world below.
There was no wind, but as a single girl flew though the air upon wings of fire, she would have wished for the worst hurricane in the history of the world long before she would have wished for this. The air was ”thick”…”heavy”…”greasy”…as if it didn’t want her to move or fly or derive any enjoyment from the weightlessness soaring through the air gives. It just seemed to want her to stop, to stop anything and everything, forever. And for the immortal Fujiwara no Mokou, who had already lived a dozen centuries and more, forever meant a lot.
What had happened?
She glanced back over her shoulder at the Genosokyan countryside she knew…she once knew…she no longer recognized. Fields of green grass lost their color and became as blank paper shavings. Lakes and rivers seemed to simply stop flowing in their tracks, and no longer felt refreshing to the mud-caked hand or the parched throat, as if the water had lost its wetness. A vortex of something, of everything and nothing, dimpled space and time far behind her where the Hakurei Shrine should have been, protecting this world from the apocalypse that was already happening anyways.
How had this happened?
Mokou couldn’t stand to attempt flying for even a second longer in that leechlike paste of a sky, and rested down in the midst of the dizzying forest of bamboo she oft called home. No longer caring about wasting time navigating through the lost paths of the deep plants, she twitched the fires within her soul, and suddenly a straight line of bamboo was reduced to ash as a fiery blast issued out in front of her, the nearby stalks instantly catching ablaze and spreading the inferno outwards. It didn’t matter to her anymore…If the rate of Gensokyo’s deterioration kept up, the forest wouldn’t exist to be burnt in a few hours anyways. Seeing a Japanese-style complex in a clearing at the end of her newly-made path, the white-haired girl started to run through the ash and fire towards Eientei mansion.
Who had made this happen?
The grounds were completely deserted as Mokou ran though the gate and up the dirt paths. Not a single youkai rabbit or any other creature was to be seen anywhere; the only noise in her ears was the crackling of fire behind her. She had no time to stop and look for stragglers, however. Sick and tired of waiting for others to investigate the problem, she had uprooted the location of Reimu Hakurei herself, and was determined to find the truth of this if she had to die twenty times over.
Why had this happened?
The hallways were equally vacant as Mokou’s hair streamed behind her, desperately searching for the clinic she had been a patient at countless times over the last millennium. Eirin…it was always Eirin if Eientei was involved. Kaguya (that whiny, pampered, perfect little princess!) might pull the strings, but it was always Eirin who planned the plans. She would know. She had to.
She wrenched open the door to the clinic lobby. No one there. She started slamming doors open one by one down the hallways indiscriminately. No one there. She blazed through the research labs and supply rooms, not caring that important medical supplies were shattering on the ground in her haste. No one there. She noticed a far door held slightly ajar.
The pretense of the “clean room” utterly abandoned, Eirin Yagokoro stood surrounded by wheeled carts full of supposedly important medical drugs and equipment, frantically scribbling equations on pieces of paper and mixing liquid components together with seeming random abandon. Reimu still lay on the bed, her skin cracked and red with innumerable sores, some of them bleeding freely, and bleach white where any untouched skin still remained. The EKG monitor emotionlessly displayed that she was barely holding on to what little life she had left.
“The hell’d they all go?” Mokou asked impatiently.
Eirin barely spared her a glance in passing. “Not Hell. The Moon. Inaba, the Princess, all of them, seeking asylum. It might not be destroyed with Gensokyo. I wouldn’t let them die.”
Mokou stuffed her hands into her pockets and cursed inwardly to herself. “They just all…ran away? Ignored everything and ran?”
“I’m surprised you’re not trying to do the same. I expect others are.”
She shook her head. “Can’t. Lazy ass Yukari’s hibernating again, and Ran’s about ready to have an aneurism tryin’ to wake her up. Everyone’s too scared to try running anyways; few that did just kind of…disappeared when they got near the Border. This why?” She motioned to Reimu’s comatose form, and Eirin grunted in acknowledgement. “Figured. They all been wonderin’ ever since she disappeared last week. Never thought that...this way…”
“No one ever thought because no one ever thought,” the doctor snapped, banging her fists on a cart furiously. “They never considered that their sole reason for existing might suddenly happen to die just like that. How could she, the strongest in the country, the undefeated? Foolish. Impotent. I’ve told them all before: disease kills more than wars ever will, and mistakes kill more than even that. I am currently trying to redeem my mistake, so either utilize that scalpel or remove yourself from my sight. You irk me.”
Mokou looked at the aforementioned scalpel, resting on a fold-out shelf near Reimu. She stared at it for a good ten seconds before asking, “And I’m supposed to do…what, with it?”
“You know full well what. Do you think I would be in this position now if I still had any Hourai Elixer left? They confiscated it centuries ago, every last drop, and made sure I couldn’t create more. I couldn’t ask the Princess to do it if she didn’t bring it up herself; she wouldn’t have allowed it, and the Moon is a better place for her anyways. That leaves us with you. You want to be the savior of Gensokyo? Then take that scalpel and feed her your liver. You’ve got maybe an hour left to decide. Otherwise—“
Eirin looked at the fiery girl with stern confusion etched in her weary face. “Pardon?”
Mokou held the scalpel in her palm, observing it like it was the key to the universe, and yet like a snake ready to strike. “Get out. I can’t think while you’re standing around like that.”
Eirin folded her arms across her chest definitely, amazingly halting her frenzied chemistry. Her teech were clenched as she spoke, very slowly and with determination. “I am trying to save this girl, Fujiwara no Mokou; I have been trying for a week. No sleep, no rest, no reprieve. Who are you to tell me what to do or—“
“Oh please, don’t you dare start preaching to me! Trying for a week, blah blah blah…You can’t do it, Yagokoro! If you haven’t been able to cure her from whatever she’s got by now, you’re not going to do it in another hour. Face it. You lost. You can’t save her. If you’re telling me that I can, though…I just need to think about this alone for a while.”
“You do not have ‘a while’, Fujiwara,” Eirin reminded her sourly. “You have one hour, perhaps two. And if you want peace and quiet, then wait outside. One more hour is one more hour that I can use to attempt to create a cure.”
“And this cure…it’ll make her all better? It’ll save her just like that?”
Eirin slowed down in her scribbling calculations, then stopped altogether in mid-equation. Her face ever so slowly, minutes at a time, stopped resisting the pain of sleeplessness, and her heartbeat slowed as she realized the inevitable truth. “…No. No, it will not. It would only stop the deterioration. But at the condition she’s in now…no, she can’t heal this much. I can’t heal this much. Not in time.” Timidly pushing a cart away from her she shuffled in defeat away from her math and her chemicals she treasured so, and placed a hand on the “young” girl’s shoulder.
“Make the right choice.”
Mokou looked at the defeated doctor in awe as she made her way to the door. She had tried so hard, only to fail. Why? No, not why did she fail…why did she try? Why did she keep trying? All her friends had left for safety, and she had stayed, even when perhaps a part of her knew she would fail. Why not run?
She looked at the scalpel again, then at the doctor. Cautiously, so as not to offend, she uttered five small words that stopped Eirin in her tracks. “Do you want to die?”
They looked at each other, somehow instantly understanding the true meaning behind those few small words. The doctor closed her eyes solemnly.
“I have lived for twice as long as even you, little phoenix,” she replied. “I have seen this world, and the world in the sky above. I have seen good, and I have seen evil. And, yes…there have been times when I have wished for death, and have not been granted it. I have come to realize that one cannot choose the time of their own death. One can only choose how they accept it.”
Mokou closed her hand around the small cutting implement, a drop of blood running down her clenched fist. “Is it…wrong, to wish for death?”
Their eyes met for one last time, the experiences of millennia held within their views.
“No…No, I do not think it is. As long as you do not wish for the wrong reason.”
Mokou sat down on the ground and clothed herself within her own mind as Eirin Yagokoro left her presence. The choice…the burden of Gensokyo had been lifted from the shrine maiden and placed onto the doctor, now only to have it placed on this orphan’s shoulders instead. She looked at Reimu’s dying form with pity, and with anguish. Such destruction, such pain, and she couldn’t have done a thing to stop it. Why must good people be punished for the wrongdoings of others? Why must the victims linger and the criminals disappear? But the curse…the curse so few had to carry…could she truly impart another with that hopelessness, that undying hopelessness? Mokou had known what it was like to realize the folly of her haste. Would she act hastily again? To “save” a life but lose a hope? No…not just a life. Hundreds, thousands…she was responsible for them all, the moment she told Eirin to leave. Their blood would be on her hands. And yet…she didn’t know. The choice was hers to make. But was the responsibility to make the choice hers as well? Was she the god of Gensokyo, to decide who lived and who died? Was immortality hers alone, to give or take away? If she did nothing…would she be a murderer? Would she be condemned for her crimes? But if she saved them…would cursing another with this infinite continuation of life condemn her even more?
She stood up and looked over the dying girl, wiping the tears from her eyes. The monitor to her side displayed grim readings, though Mokou didn’t know exactly what they all meant. She exhaled a deep, pent-up breath. The scalpel was still in her hands, ever ready to make those decisive, painful cuts, if she could only choose…if she could only decide…
Whether to forgive…or to avenge…
To love…to hate…
To live…to die…
To be…or not to be.
“Welcome to eternity.”
You must decide for yourself what this ending means to you. No answer is right, and no answer is wrong, for this story is not meant to answer questions, but to ask them. This is a tale, crafted to give you an experience, a thought. How you will apply it to your life is the choice I leave to you.
I did not research my facts very well, and a fine-toothed comb will find many errors. This was not written to be perfect; it was just written to be written, to relieve my troubled mind. Please accept my imperfection, for in my imperfections I am made perfectly and completely human.
Aside from the (admitted) illogic of giving an immunostimulant to someone with an autoimmune disease, there's no holes I can see.
The princess returns to the moon, and so Mokou's revenge must be put on hold indefinitely. Mokou makes the right choice: Rather than accept annihilation and the true death waiting for her when the Border collapses, she chooses to live, and will now have to take the responsibility for this new immortal she created, and all that might entail.
Very well written work, U.N., though the premise of the story caught me completely off guard. Definitely one of the darker stories I've read. Well, not that dark, but still it was so awesome it left me gaping in total respect.
Maybe people will call me a bad person, and maybe no matter what explanation I give they won't accept it, but I wouldn't save her.
I have always looked forwards to death, you undestand? I have thing in my head, things I want to pour out properly and put on display, and I tell myself I want to be done with this before it comes--speeding car, fall, heart attack--but the truth is I Do Not Mind.
The idea of nothing after death scares people. Unsettles people. They say that--people say that.
I think the nothing after the death is lovely.
And when you've become a bad person like I am--thinking that death is just zis guy, you know--you see--
Between dying and living forever, there's only--
It's alright, isn't it?
Because nothing lasts forever, not even Gensokyo or Ozymandias, and afterwards--
It was entertaining, but I'm not sure what was the whole point of the story. It somehow went from a medical drama to Mokou contemplating death. Also, the premise of the disease was very shaky, if not impossible. Lupus being infectious and having the ability to jump entire species is very hard to believe.