, pride and qi.jpg
[x] Focused hatred. Attack with ferocity, and dodge her attacks. You aren’t playing around.
You don’t like it. The way Hong Meiling looks down on you, the confidence she exudes — it’s unsettlingly familiar. You swallow blood again in your mouth. No more. You’ll fight her for real.
This time, while attacking, you try to follow Hong Meiling’s movements. She always dodges fluidly, while putting herself in a position to immediately return to a stable stance. Whatever martial arts she’s practiced must require a lot of stamina and flexibility. Even if you do predict how she’ll dodge, she blocks. This happens a few times before she disengages once again.
“Excellent!” she says. “You must be shaking off some of your rust. Your eyes are nice and focused. But I could use a nap, so if you survive this one, you win!”
“You win” isn’t good enough. She represents what you aren’t: bright, proud, and possessing incredible strength. You need that strength, and you hate her for having it — for flaunting it. She wants you to accept your weakness, to accept her terms, to accept your shame.
Something inside you wants to crush that oppressive pride.
When she throws her first punch, you slide out of the way and retaliate with your own. Your fist smashes into her face once again — and this time she recoils. You try to use the opportunity to follow-up with a strike to her chest, but she ducks down and throws a sweeping kick that knocks you right off your feet. Your knees catch the ground, and you find yourself looking up at a Hong Meiling who is no longer playing.
“Are you trying to be serious?” she says. “Don’t fool yourself. I have no desire to kill a human. Be calm and focus on your qi before you lose control.”
Hong Meiling stares down at you, towers over you, but there’s a sadness in her blue eyes. All colors of light swirl around her, and the intensity of it makes your eyes water — but you can’t look away. It’s truly incredible.
But it conjures an image in your mind: a woman even taller than Hong Meiling, standing over you, with her hand outstretched. Your spear lays under her, the point rusted away into nothing and the shaft broken in two. A blinding light obscures her features, all except her blue hair and two eyes that glow with a solemn red light.
“Accept her choice. Your fight is over — in truth, it never even began. I do not wish to kill you.”
She never had a choice. It’s easy for an invader to preach acceptance. You spit on this disgusting mercy. You spit on her bloodless campaign. If you can’t protect her, then you’re better off dead.
Hong Meiling reaches out to you with a hand shining with glorious lights. “This qi is darker than I thought. I need to interve—”
Even without touching you, that light burns.
You thrust a flat hand at her chest. She manages to dodge at the last second, and you graze her side. She gasps and leaps backward, putting distance between the two of you.
You cursssse yourself for missing. You’ll kill her. You’ll desssstroy her. It doessssn’t matter how sssstrong she is, or how many timessss—
Then you see the pain in her face. She’s struggling to breathe, and clutching that place where your hand brushed against her. The shining aura fades.
“Impressive…” Hong Meiling mutters, just loud enough for you to hear. “I made a terrible mistake. How could I not recognize—ah, it doesn’t matter. I suppose we really can’t be friends.” Through the fingers she clutches her side with, you can spot an inky black mist leaking out — not blood, but something of yours. “This level of spiritual attack is troubling.”
Without Hong Meiling’s light blinding you, your mind also clears. The events replay through your mind immediately, and you struggle to grasp what really happened. It felt like you were in some kind of cold rage, acting purely by instinct. But, there was something else there — and for once, it didn’t have anything to do with Kotohime.
“If I have to miss my next shift,” Hong Meiling continues, “Sakuya will kill me.” Then she smiles at you. “It seems like you’re returning to normal. You don’t want to keep going, do you? One of us really will end up dead.”
“No,” you answer immediately. Your own body starts to ache, and your head pulses uncomfortably. “I’m not entirely sure what happened, but I don’t want to continue.”
“Good,” she responds. “I was worried for a second, there. You have something monstrous within you.” Then she laughs weakly. “And there really isn’t much I can do about it. I hope you figure it out one way or another.” Suddenly, her eyes narrow. “But if you cause any problems here at the mansion, nobody else will hold back. I’m the only optimist.” She relaxes again. “Ah, but most would call me lazy…”
“Understood,” you reply simply. Unfortunately, you know that “Hatate” and “causing trouble” are pretty much synonymous. All you can do is try your best to mitigate any disasters.
Though, judging from the scene right now — Hong Meiling walking away clutching her side, amidst the disheveled hedges and small bodies of fairies — this mansion already has a pretty high tolerance for disaster.
“One last thing,” she mentions, not turning back. “Don’t heed any voices in your mind besides your own. That’s how you’ll stay sane.”
You hesitate to respond, but by that time Hong Meiling is already gone — vanished into the hedge maze.
After you settle down and catch your breath, you call Sakuya. When she arrives two-and-a-half seconds later, she looks upon the scene with disgust. “That damned guard and her war games…” she mutters to herself, before turning to you with a glare. “It seems like you’re somehow complicit, as well.”
You shrug it off. “If by ‘complicit’ you mean I was just taking a stroll before I ended up in a battlefield, then sure. I’m somehow complicit.”
She sighs and relaxes. “I’m sorry. My temper got the best of me. Please forgive me.” Then a fiendish glare overcomes her pale face, but it isn’t aimed at you. “However, that guard will be working overtime to clean her mess, if I have to watch over her myself.”
Sorry, Hong Meiling.
Sakuya stops in front of a door. “There is a bath inside that I have prepared. Please clean yourself.
You stare at her flatly. “Do I smell that bad? I didn’t think I sweat that much.”
She turns around and sighs. “I’m sorry, I meant no offense. I mentioned to my Mistress that you would like to introduce yourself personally, and she seemed intrigued by the request. In fact, she told me she would ‘love’ to meet you.”
You blink a couple times. That was quick. There must be some catch. “She would? When?”
“Right now. I warn you that my Mistress’s attention is fickle, so please do hurry.”
It should have been difficult to secure a meeting with the Mistress, from the way Sakuya spoke before. However, it seems you’ve aroused her lady’s curiosity, and that will be either a very good or a very bad thing. From the way Sakuya avoids your eyes, you feel it’s the latter. At least the bath will give your body some rest.
It’s not like your body’s going to be assaulted by some mysterious, red-eyed fiend while you’re so vulnerable, right? All of a sudden, you feel anxious. Thankfully, you end up having a relaxing bath in the mansion’s luxurious open air bath. Nothing silly like that would possibly happen.
As soon as you step out the door of the bath, in the blink of an eye you find yourself wearing a fancy black dress suit. Sakuya stands before you, smiling. In her hand is the bathrobe you had been wearing a second earlier.
“Not bad,” she comments. “You clean up nicely, PI.”
You sigh as your body adjusts to the new sensation of fine garments. “Thank you, but that was a little sudden. I could’ve at least put my underwear on for you—”
Then you notice a certain fresh coolness to your face and between your legs, and realize that you’re significantly less hairy than before.
“—and shaved. Was that all really necessary, Miss Izayoi?”
“Everything shall be perfect and tidy for my Mistress,” she responds in her composed manner, as if she didn’t just stop time to shave your crotch. “Though I hope she doesn’t inspect you that thoroughly.”
A perfect maid, indeed.
Sakuya leads you out to the foyer: a large, open room that’s garishly red and tall. Large, double-doors on one side must be the main entrance; if you had any desire to flee, now is the closest you might ever be. But, a job’s a job. Let’s get this over with.
As Sakuya leads you up three staircases, you wonder just how fatigued she is between getting ready for the party, her normal duties, watching over a bunch of fairies, and her Mistress’s sudden whims. Her power may be extraordinary, but you have to respect her dedication and elegance.
Also, you can see up her skirt a little — but you’ll keep that to yourself. That white lace is very nice. Maybe Mori would like wearing something like that?
Wait, why are you thinking about her right now? You need to stay focused.
Sakuya holds the door open for you to enter a tiny room, but no less garish. A small, clothed table sits between two comfortable chairs, and the two tall glasses filled with something deep and red capture your eyes. Hopefully it isn’t blood, but you are in a vampire’s mansion.
“Please take the seat closest to you,” Sakuya instructs. “I will let the Mistress know you have arrived.”
A faint click after her last word, and Sakuya vanishes entirely. You take the seat she offered and peek over the rim of the glass you assume to be set out for you. You’ve seen enough blood — mostly your own, recently — to tell that your glass isn’t filled with the stuff. It’s most likely some kind of fruit juice. You waft some of the scent into your nose and pick up the bitter yet welcome scent of alcohol. This must be wine: a rarity in Gensokyo.
However, the other glass is a little thicker.
Suddenly, Sakuya appears again and clears her throat softly. “I now present Lady Remilia Scarlet, daughter of Vlad Tepes, heir to the name of Dracula, conqueror of mortal hearts and esteemed regent of vampirekind.”
Remilia Scarlet must be trying out some new titles.
The door on the other side of the room opens, and in walks a little girl with light-blue hair, pale skin, and a red glint to her eyes. She wears a fine pink dress and cap, complete with cute little frills. On her back are a pair of black wings that look different from a crow tengu’s. If you didn’t know any better, you would say she was a foreigner who stumbled into the room by accident on her way to bedtime.
But you do know better — or rather, this is what you might have expected all along. You stand and give your most courteous bow. “Thank you for having me tonight, Lady Scarlet. I am PI.”
She returns in kind, with a proper curtsy and a smile showing off her large, pointed canines. “Au contraire, I thank you for being here. What proper manners, have you.” Then her eyes pass over your body, appraising you. “My my. A wonderful job as always, my dear Sakuya. Truly the most elegant of maids, to bring out the handsomeness that lay dormant in this man. May your loyalty be eternal.”
Sakuya bows her head. “Of course, my Mistress. Shall I stay?”
“Non,” she responds. “I can handle this man alone. Please take your leave and tend to...the basement.”
Sakuya wavers. “Are you quite sure, Mistress? I will always have time for the basement, so it may be best if I stay and—”
Remilia’s smile twitches. “And my dear Sakuya, I assure you that I will be fine. Tend to the basement, please. I trust you are aware of the importance and urgency of your task.”
Sakuya reaches for her watch, bowing all the while. “Yes, Mistress. I apologize, Mistress. Please have a good time, Mistress. Please call if you need anything.”
With a click, the uneasy Sakuya is gone, and Remilia Scarlet gives you her full attention. “Let us sit down, PI.”
Normally you wouldn’t bother with extreme displays of etiquette, but you don’t like how eerie their little conversation was, and self-preservation take precedence when you have no idea what you’re getting into. You do know how much the elite prize being treated as such, so you rush over to pull her chair out for her. “After you, Lady Scarlet.”
Remilia hops into the chair and smiles wide. You get a closer look at her black wings, and discover they resemble a bat’s — fitting, for a vampire. You thought the table might be too high for her, but then you notice that she’s hovering above the seat of the chair, like a cushion of air is under her bottom. Subtle. You don’t blame her, since a high chair would deflate her ego. You take care not to linger, however, and return to your seat promptly.
“I have to say,” she continues, “I was curious about what rabble Koakuma might tangle herself with, but I’m pleasantly impressed. You have a stern face, yet good manners. I wonder what it says for Gensokyo that its humans have more class than its youkai.”
“It says that we’re in trouble,” you answer frankly. “Though I doubt you need me to tell you so, Lady Scarlet.”
She nods, before looking at you a little more. “Indeed. Interesting that a human is concerned about the well-being of youkai. That’s one thing Gensokyo has over the rest of the world, at least.”
It’s not that you’re concerned about youkai — you simply have some compassion for them after the atrocities you’ve witnessed, and regard them no less or no more than your human kin. Apparently, that neutral sentiment is far more than what most humans hold for them. “So you are a foreigner then? If you don’t mind me asking.”
She grins. “Don’t I look Japanese?” Then she laughs. “A jest, of course. Yes, I come from Europe, though I have my doubts you even know where that is, let alone my home country.”
“I can’t say I do,” you admit. Gensokyo isn’t great, but the Outside World has never been of much interest to you either, since you don’t have plans to break the barrier any time soon. And if you did, Reimu would kill you when you came back. It would’ve been nice to prove Remilia wrong, though.
“Right,” she continues smugly. “Well, let me assure you it’s quite a long way away. It took a considerable amount of magic to bring the whole estate here through that barrier. Yet I’m so glad I did. It’s home sweet home, after all.”
You nod along with her, while imagining what Reimu would do if she heard this. She’d probably knock Remilia’s teeth right out of her little head. “It certainly is a unique mansion.”
You’re choosing your words carefully.
Remilia beams with pride. “I’m glad to hear that. It used to be a bit tacky, but I remodeled it not long ago. I did all of the designing myself!”
You can’t possibly imagine what she would consider “tacky” if she considers all this red to be good interior design. “It’s impressive that you would do such a thing yourself. You appear to have many servants.”
Her face sours. “Perhaps. Though I must say that the phrase ‘quantity over quality’ best describes my workforce at the moment. My options as a vampire here in Gensokyo are dreadfully limited.” Then her smile returns, somewhat. “At least the fairies are cute, and add some liveliness to this place.”
You can’t imagine being bored enough to pass the time by owning a fairy daycare. Then again, you also can’t imagine being an immortal maneater. However, her change in tone intrigues you. “Quantity over quality? Would that be a comment on our population as a whole, Lady Scarlet?”
She smirks. “Are you interested in a vampire’s opinion of your kind?”
You smile back at her. “It can’t be too low, if I’m sitting here with you now — unless I’m here for a reason besides providing a bit of company for you.”
“You have good enough intuition,” she says, “but remember your place. You’re here because of Koakuma’s suggestion and Patchy’s insistence. Right now, you’re a bit of entertainment to go with my breakfast.”
Patchy — an interesting nickname for that solemn magician. “By ‘breakfast’, I assume you’re referring to the glass of blood in front of you?” You lift your wine glass. “Then how about a toast, then? An early toast, to celebrate your upcoming birthday.” You muster as warm a smile you can for the brat in front of you. “To Lady Remilia Scarlet, The Scarlet Devil, and more entertaining times ahead!”
Curiously, Remilia Scarlet hesitates. She reaches her pale fingers ever-so-carefully toward the stem of her glass, and slowly lifts it to match yours. “R-right! Thank you! A toast, indeed!”
Her glass taps very, very lightly against yours, like she’s scared of something. Then you both take a drink. Yours is shorter than hers, as the dry, bitter taste of the red wine is alien to you — but not entirely unpleasant.
After Remilia drains about half her glass, she slowly sets the glass back down, and licks her lips. Once again, you get a good look at her fangs. When she lets go of the glass, she quietly sighs in relief — from what, you aren’t sure.
She collects whatever composure she lost, and brings up a new subject. “You’re a detective. Tell me, as a human, how do you see the youkai?”
You don’t recall advertising yourself as such — though Lucy sure would. Regardless, one word comes to your mind concerning the youkai. “Desperate. But, not without reason.” You need to pick your words very carefully, since you’re not sure what Remilia Scarlet has in mind — or who else might be listening. “If it weren’t for certain factors, I think Gensokyo would have a brighter future for humans and youkai both.”
She grins. “Certain factors, hmm? Interesting. I’m glad someone who calls himself a detective has a bit more awareness.”
“You might be right, but I have my own personal reasons for disliking the status quo.”
“And so have I. But certain factors are awfully entrenched. Can you do anything but complain?”
You could take her words as a dismissive insult, but your gut tells you she means it genuinely. However, you can’t reveal the specifics of your work with Mori and the Akis yet. “Maybe.”
She studies your face, and then smiles. “Excellent. Would you please show me your hands?”
Your body tenses up. “You wouldn’t be thinking about topping off your glass with some fresh blood, would you?”
Remilia stares for a moment, then breaks out in high-pitched laughter. “No thank you,” she answers. “I’m not normally a picky eater, but frankly, the smell of you makes me sick to my stomach.”
You did bathe thoroughly, but nevertheless it’s a relief that she finds the thought of biting you so revolting. However, you’re no less hesitant to offer your hands. Then you realize that, if she really wanted it, you would be dead or worse already. You might as well just do it. “Very well, Lady Scarlet.”
You present your hands, palms-up, holding them over the small table. Remilia’s wings wave gently as she leans forward, making you wonder if they’re just for show. Her little, white hands grab yours— slightly cool to the touch — and feel around on your palms first, then each of your fingers. Though the feeling itself is not unpleasant, the hairs on the back of your neck start to rise.
Eventually, she spots something on your hand that you can’t see. “A severed thread?” Her curious eyes look up to yours. “What kind of power is this, to conceal your fate even from me?!”
You’re just as confused as she is. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Lady Scarlet. You mentioned a thread? I have no threads on my person, besides the outfit Miss Izayoi dressed me in.”
She huffs. “No, not in the physical sense! You’re Japanese. Don’t you know about the red thread of fate?”
It’s insulting for a foreign girl to tell you what you should and shouldn’t know as a Japanese person — if someone from Gensokyo could even be considered a citizen of Japan. Nevertheless, you grit your teeth and bear it. “I suppose I’m not aware of that particular tradition. Please teach me, Lady Remilia.”
Your restraint is rewarded, as Remilia calms down, floats back to her chair, and smiles. “Well, I suppose I can do such a thing for you. In Asian traditions, the red thread of fate is said to link someone to their destined lover. No matter how far apart they are, no matter how tangled the thread, it should never break. And one of my unique powers as a vampire is to see this thread, which allows me to see many other things related to that person’s fate.”
Why would a Western vampire have a power related to an Eastern tradition? However, it’s ultimately irrelevant, so you let her keep going.
“This severed thread of yours implies that you’ve been subjected to a force strong enough to break your very fate. Now you’re drifting through this world, only tied to yourself. Perhaps you’ve felt a lack of connection to others?”
“That’s how I wanted it,” you answer.
Remilia shows her biggest grin yet. “Of course. For a man who serves an exiled tengu and routinely deals with youkai, I would expect nothing else.”
Lucy must have a bigger mouth than you thought. “So she’s informed you of our operation?”
She laughs. “I’m her Mistress, so it’s only natural that she would tell me such a thing. I needed some convincing to assure me you would be the right...fit, for my celebration.”
“I thought Patchouli Knowledge was her master?”
She forces one more laugh and looks away for a moment. “Well, I’m the Mistress of the whole mansion, so I’m her Mistress indirectly.”
What vain logic. “Regardless, I’m honored you decided to invite me, Lady Scarlet.”
“Of course. Though I do have a minor request I think should come as no problem to you.”
Normally when you hear such a thing, it is absolutely a problem. Unfortunately, in this situation you have no choice but to listen. “Please, go on.”
“I only ask that you keep an eye out for anyone else who doesn’t fit. If you did happen to spot someone like that, you would inform Sakuya. A simple task, in return for my hospitality. A fair trade, non?”
Yeah, you’ve heard that one a lot too. Nevertheless, you’re going to be keeping an eye on the other guests anyway. Pretending that it’s at her behest will put you in a better position. You take a sip of wine, if only to pretend like you’re giving it some more thought. “Very well, Lady Scarlet. I will do such a thing for you.”
Remilia’s face lights up. “Good! I trust you will have many things to tell me.”
She must be expecting quite a few people who “don’t fit” at her party.
“Then I propose another toast, myself,” Remilia continues, raising her glass with a jolly smile. “To PI, the first true guest I’ve had at my manor in quite some time. Cheers!”
You wonder what she means by “true guest,” but you have no choice but to raise your own glass.
With none of the restraint she showed earlier, Remilia collides her glass against yours. Immediately, both of them shatter in a shower of tiny glass shards, and a shock of fear goes up your arm and through your entire body. You recoil instinctively, but Remilia Scarlet remains frozen with big, round eyes, as if she had also shattered.
“Oh, oh no…” she murmurs, tearing up. “I didn’t mean to. These, these damn fragile glasses. I thought I was, I was controlling my strength just fine. I’ve been trying so hard and Sakuya will be so upset with me. So [i[stupid[/i]. It’s my manor, why can’t I just use my steel mug…?”
So that was why she was so hesitant after your toast. With the body and brain of a human child — despite being preserved by the curse of vampirism — she still can’t control her own strength. Perhaps she’ll never be able to. You quickly glance at your hand and then Remilia’s. It seems that the shattering of the glass was so complete and instantaneous that it didn’t slice either of your hands. However, tiny shards of glass and a mixture of wine and blood are now spread over the fine tablecloth.
More importantly, Remilia Scarlet is sobbing. As a child who can’t control her own strength, perhaps it’s best you try to reassure her before things get dangerous. “It’s okay, Lady Scarlet. It doesn’t seem like either of us are hurt.” You reach into your jacket pocket, where Sakuya left her bell after you changed. “Let me call Miss Izayoi, and she can clean this up.”
“No!” Remilia screams, causing you to cease immediately. “Not Sakuya! I, I’ll clean this up myself!” She starts gathering the glass shards into the center of the table hurriedly, ignoring whatever cuts she gets along the way. “Don’t call anyone…” she whines through tears. “Don’t speak a word of this. I am the Mistress of the Scarlet Devil Mansion and I can clean my own mess! Just leave! Leave me alone!”
 Quietly excuse yourself, as she demands.
 Console Remilia.
 Call for Sakuya.