Ends and Beginnings: Original Story
Created: / Modified:
It was called the Bamboo Forest of the Lost. At the moment, it was dusk, and winter had just arrived, though there wasn't much in the way of snow yet. A young woman named Fujiwara no Mokou was purposefully leading an older man down a path leading through it.
"Well, here we are," said Mokou, gesturing towards where the bamboo stalks gave way to trees. "The edge of the forest."
The old man nearly bowed down to his feet. "Thank you so much, Miss Mokou!" he said. "I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't been there! I mean ... if I'd run into some sort of man-eating wolf, or ..." He shrugged helplessly.
Mokou smiled, almost blushing. "It's ... what I do," she said. "Helping people who've lost their way.1 Just ... a day's work, I suppose."
The man nodded. "Well, I should hurry home," he babbled, seemingly drunk with relief. "My wife's probably worried sick ... I hope to see you again!"
"Heh, well, I hope not in the same circumstances," said Mokou, smiling faintly.
The man's cheerfulness wasn't entirely shared, though, and it evaporated as Mokou returned to the woods.
She had a small house hidden in the forest. Actually, even to call it a shack would be giving it too much credit. It gave a vague impression of having been recently abandoned, because Mokou didn't have much concern about upkeep. She barely cared enough to make sure it didn't collapse, and that was because this would be a much bigger nuisance than the irregular, perfunctory repairs and maintenance she gave it.
It looked particularly gloomy given the time of day and year. Mokou tried to come up with some sort of interesting way to say it reflected her mood, but she was no poet and knew it.
Freddy Mercury was largely unknown to the inhabitants of Gensokyo, but Mokou was in such a mood that if she ever heard of a song called "Who Wants to Live Forever?" she would have instantly agreed with the spirit of it. "Forever" was a much longer time than you might think if your only experience with it consisted of adding another zero; that way lay madness, soul-crushing boredom, or madness caused by soul-crushing boredom. The cold of the winter months winter certainly didn't help.
The ennui was overpowering. She sat down heavily in the room, not bothering to find something to feed her hunger, or try to do anything about the chilly evening air. Mokou was the sort of person who would much rather show a brave face, demonstrating steely resolve at her miserable conditions, than actually go to the effort of trying to change these conditions when the means of doing so was easily within her grasp.
She liked being alone. Apart from anything else, there was no one there to ask awkward questions like, "So, um, your power is the manipulation of (and immunity to) fire, so why not just warm yourself up?" or "Who exactly are you trying be 'brave and strong' like this for, when the whole point is that there's no one else here?" Unfortunately, her boredom and world-weariness had reached the point that she was almost ready to admit to herself that these questions existed and were valid concerns, just for the variety.
On the plus side, Kaguya wasn't around. The two killed each other numerous times over the past four hundred years.2 Of course, that said, meeting her might break up the monotony ...
Kaguya was one big glob of confused rage for Mokou. She was pretty much the driving force in her life, even if this consisted of violence. Kaguya had rejected Mokou's father for marriage; as long as Kaguya still lived, Mokou wanted to kill her as revenge for this humiliation; the feeling was mutual, although in Kaguya's case it was probably simply a reaction to Mokou's murderous impulses. Since they'd both taken the same elixir of immortality, they were pretty much in it for the long haul.
Argh. This was ridiculous. The most confusing thing about it was that there was confusion. Mokou knew she hated Kaguya. She knew that she knew she hated Kaguya. This was certain — there shouldn't be any confusion about it! And obviously Kaguya hated her back. Otherwise, she wouldn't have retaliated so ... creatively. Sending the girls who'd defeated her after her ... ha. Nice try, princess, but I'm still immortal, and none of them wanted to eat my guts.
Well, only the shrine maiden and the gap youkai had really succeeded in brining Mokou to "too much pain to continue fighting" levels. That vampire with the maid had had a strange gleam in her eyes when she ran off, though; Mokou occasionally wondered what that was all about, but didn't bother with it much since they'd decided not to keep her as an unlimited source of blood. The witch and the dollmaker had been too busy bickering with each other to be that much of a threat. The hungry ghost, who had been afraid of what might happen if she ate Mokou, was just silly.
Her thoughts drifted back to Kaguya. Whom she hated! Right? ... Right! She very definitely wanted revenge for spurning her father! And for all those other times Kaguya had killed her! Which, admittedly, had mostly been because Mokou had killed her ... But even so! Bah ...
Even with the cold and hunger, Mokou slowly drifted off.
Mokou awoke with a start to discover that she'd frozen to death during the night. This gave her a certain amount of irritation. Damn.
Let's see ... it looked like there'd been a cold snap, and the door was slightly ajar. Her body felt numb, too, which meant that she'd regenerated, but had then started to go numb again. In a few moments she was probably going to regenerate from the numbness and then 「Resurrection」 argh argh argh argh ARGH OW OW OW COLD COLD COLD COLD ...
The Hourai Elixir rendered one's body and soul soul immortal. The advantage to this was that, obviously, you couldn't die even if your body was completely destroyed. The disadvantage of this was that (a) regeneration couldn't actually undo the conditions under which you died, and (b) you had to still feel it afterwards.
To put it another way: Just because Mokou could regenerate from freezing to death didn't mean that she'd also warm up enough that she wouldn't freeze again right away.
The cold slowly numbed her, leaving her with simply a violent shaking, at which point she discovered that she was now curled up in a fetal position. This wasn't the first time this had happened. The best way to solve it would be to warm herself up and get her body moving. She hadn't actually gotten much of a solution to this the last few times, but 「Resurrection」 argh argh argh argh ARGH OW OW COLD COLD ...
Mokou's ability to think coherently returned slowly. This is the point at which she starts to hear a soft whimpering, only to discover shortly thereafter that said whimpering is coming from herself.
The last time she'd gotten out of this was by getting her out of the house and into her front yard, where the sun helped her by warming her up just enough. Failing that, she'd get snowed on, which would help insulate the cold, although she was less confidant about that. Oh well, spring would have to come eventually, and she'd been in worse situations before. She started dragging herself towards the door. Dammit, how can I keep this from happening again?
The sensible part of her replied, Well, you could start by actually warming yourself up at night, since you can create fire out of thin air. A blanket would work wonders, too. Ounce of prevention, and all that.
Her pride promptly snapped, Shut up!
At that point, as some sort of poetic justice, she regenerated again, and the freezing pain returned.
Returning to something resembling coherence, she began to seriously consider the saying "an ounce of prevention is a pound of cure." So, exactly what was the exact unit price? And who determined this disparity in value, anyway? And how could they be certain that every method of prevention was precisely sixteen times more valuable 「Resurrection」 argh argh argh argh OW COLD COLD ...
When she came to, she considered the previous train of thought, and realized she must be delirious from the pain and cold. She looked up as best she could to make sure she was, in fact, headed towards the door, and wondered if she'd be able to tell.
Then she heard voices, and she froze (metaphorically this time).
Unusually enough, Kaguya Houraisan was going for a walk in the bamboo forest, although it was much more plausible that she was accompanied by Eirin Yagokoro, and the lunar rabbit Reisen Udongein Inaba. To their greater surprise, they encountered the vampire Remilia Scarlet and her maid Sakuya. Since they didn't have any specific reason for enmity at the moment, they were all smiles.
"Oh, hello, Miss Remilia," said Kaguya, bowing slightly. "What a pleasant surprise! I didn't expect to see you here on this fine morning."
Remilia also bowed, careful to hold her parasol so that she stayed in its shadow.3 "The feeling is mutual," she said. "The light snow looked appealing, so I decided to go for a little jaunt with Sakuya in the bamboo forest. I hope there's no problem?"
"No, not at all," said Kaguya, smiling sweetly. "It's not like you were attacking Eientei or anything."
Sakuya's smile froze. Kaguya laughed. "Oh, don't be like that," she said. "There's no need to fight now. Did you have any particular route you were taking?"
Remilia shot Sakuya a "play nice" look, then smiled back at Kaguya. "Just wending my own way," she said. "Yourself?"
"The same," said Kaguya. "Why don't you take the lead?"
"Thank you," said Remilia.
They walked. "I don't think I've been this way before," said Kaguya. "At least, not in your lifetime, at any rate."
Remilia chuckled. "How old do you think I am?" she said, giving her a sidelong glance.
"Five hundred years," said Reisen promptly.
"You did your homework, anyway," said Sakuya wryly.
Kaguya laughed. "Well, yes," she said. "Not as old as our arrival in Gensokyo, of course, but certainly a respectable age."
Remilia gave her a sidelong glance. Kaguya freely interpreted it as a look which meant, "I've done my homework, and you were on Earth thirteen centuries ago at minimum. Also, I'm a vampire with the body of a ten-year-old human, and any age counts as 'no age at all.' What exactly is 'a respectable age' supposed to mean?"
What she actually said was, "Indeed."
"What's that up ahead?" said Eirin abruptly.
It looked like they were nearing a clearing with a house in the middle; the door was slightly ajar. It looked like it had been recently abandoned.
"Who lived here, I wonder?" said Eirin, as Kaguya slowly approached. "Er, do be careful, princess!"
Kaguya flashed her a smile. "There's no need to worry with the four of you here," she said. "Besides, I can survive anything." She knew that a cheerful demeanor wasn't a cure-all, but it helped.
"If you say so," said Eirin, glancing at Remilia and her maid.
You don't really need to remind me that, technically, I only have you and Reisen as my allies, she thought as she turned back to the house. Feeling somewhat silly, she knocked gently on the door.
Which swung open with a creak.
Kaguya's eyes widened.
"Your highness? What is it?" said Eirin, evidently seeing a change in her demeanor.
"Reisen?" said Kaguya softly, feeling rather unstable.
"Yes, your highness?"
"We're going back to Eientei," said Kaguya. "Draw up a bath."
Sakuya blinked. "What's going on? Whose house is this?" she said, as Kaguya went in and Reisen took off, flying in the direction of Eientei.4
"I guess we're about to find out," said Remilia. "Ah."
Kaguya walked out of the house, carrying Mokou's limp form in her arms.
Kaguya barely remembered Mokou's father. Her suitors had been a somewhat amusing diversion at the time, back when she didn't seriously think of Earth humans as people. Fuhito, founder of the soon-to-become-powerful Fujiwara clan, had been just another man who had failed to fulfill her Impossible Requests. She hadn't even known at the time that he'd been a widower with a daughter. Or if she had, she'd probably just filed the information away and then forgotten about it after rejecting him.
Then, over nine hundred years later, Mokou had come for revenge. Kaguya had tried to talk her out of it; however, Mokou ended up triumphantly consuming her in a fireball, although she'd been rather startled when Kaguya had subsequently gotten back to her feet, and fled when Eirin arrived.
After she'd recovered from the pain, and from the surprise, Kaguya had tracked Mokou down to her home in a grove on Youkai Mountain, and stabbed her with a jewelled dagger.
Their relationship had gone downhill from there.
For a few centuries, Kaguya wasn't entirely sure why she felt such a need to "kill" Mokou. First of all, it wasn't like either of them could be permanently killed, and second, when directly dealing with every single other living thing on earth, Kaguya found the idea of that kind of aggression rather hard to understand, and she only had second-hand experience with that kind of hatred, either. Kaguya's inventiveness with which she fought Mokou surprised everyone around her.
She'd brought this up with Eirin, who'd said, "Two things. First, you know that neither of you can be permanently killed, so no harm done." Then she'd gone on to say a lot of things about social situations and psychology that Kaguya hadn't really understood. Apparently it was okay to her because Mokou had started it, or had made it okay, or something. It was socially acceptable because Mokou had made it that way.
Now, Kaguya flew back to Eientei, gritting her teeth with determination, Mokou's frozen form cradled in her arms. There weren't many signs of life, apart from the occasional whimpering Mokou let out.
Kaguya didn't hate Mokou. She never had to begin with. But now, seeing her frozen and helpless like this ... Mokou needed snuggles. And comfort. And warmth. Well, especially warmth, right now.
She wondered how Mokou was going to react to this turn of events. Hmm. Well, most likely, she was going to thank them, refrain from killing Kaguya, and then just run and hide back in her home again, or possibly try to find somewhere else to live since at least five people, not the least of whom was Kaguya herself, now knew where she lived.
Kaguya felt a pang as this thought occurred to her. She realized she didn't want Mokou to run off and hide.
Well, first things first. Time to just head back to Eientei. She could already see it through the bamboo stalks, and there was Tewi rising up above to meet her ...
There was a sensation of flying.
Mokou was dimly aware that they were heading towards Eientei. This must mean that it was someone who didn't have any particular concerns about being seen heading there. And, uh, yes, she remembered hearing Kaguya's voice, too. Yeah, "dimly" was a very good way to describe her awareness.
They moved downward. "You're actually gonna bring her here?" said a voice which belonged to ... to ... Black hair. An earthly youkai rabbit. Er. Tewi? Yes, Tewi. Tewi Inaba.
"Yes, I am," said Kaguya's voice from right above her, in a tone which bore no argument.
"Huh!" said Tewi. "She looks like she'd float if you put her in a bath."
"Be careful, Princess," said a voice off to one side. Er ... ah yes, that was Eirin Yagokoro. "She might recover more quickly now. It almost seemed colder inside her house than —"
「Resurrection」 ... argh argh argh argh ARGH ARGH OW OW OW COLD COLD COLD ...
She was inside now. And she was being ... carried? By someone?
"... poor thing! Ah, here's the bath ..."
Oh ... yes, she was being carried by Kaguya into Eientei. Er ... through Eientei. For some reason ...
"Hmm, what's this?" Eirin's voice. "Odd enchantment on it ..."
She wasn't sure of what position she was in, but there was a rustle of cloth, and she felt air over more of her body. The words "undressed for a bath" entered her head in search of something to connect to.
It was definitely warmer in Eientei than her house, though, and Mokou was starting to recover her senses more quickly this time. She felt herself gently lowered into what felt like water ...
There was a loud crack, like an ice cube getting put into water except larger. It sounded like it was coming from her own body. She fainted.
Mokou woke up again. It wasn't a "recovery from death" sort of awakening, nor was it particularly the "regaining consciousness" kind. Furthermore, she was lying in a comfortable bed, which was highly unusual. Mokou was so used to discomfort that she was uncomfortable in a bed this comfortable.
That didn't surprise her half as much as the fact that apparently, her mortal5 enemy, Kaguya Houraisan, was apparently watching over her in her sleep, and was just now gently stroking her face.
Her eyes snapped open. Startled, Kaguya jerked her hand back, standing up. Ready for a fight, Mokou jumped out of bed, landed on her feet in a combat-ready stance, wobbled as a sudden wave of dizziness hit her in the face, and collapsed more or less right into Kaguya's arms.
They were both blushing. "Er ..." said Kaguya.
"Sorry," mumbled Mokou. She realized she was wearing a simple white kimono, presumably one of many provided for Eirin's patients.
"It's all right," said Kaguya softly, helping her back into bed.
Mokou looked around. It looked sort of like a makeshift hospital luxury suite. Emphasis on "luxury suite." Well, all right, someone had taken one of the nicer rooms in Eientei and fixed it up so that someone sick could stay there. And presumably, Mokou herself wouldn't need much in the way of physical healing. Hmmm.
"In fact, I must apologize, on behalf of Tewi Inaba," said Kaguya. "She ... created the illusion of that crack, um, when —"
"Yeah, I kinda figured that," said Mokou, rubbing the back of her head and frowning. "Um ... I am thankful for, ah, rescuing me like that, and I'm definitely not complaining, but ..." She grasped for the right words, and only found around one-ish. "Well ... why?"
Kaguya frowned, still blushing. "Well, I certainly couldn't just leave you there," she said pointedly.
Mokou sat back. "I'm talking about the elaborate draperies here, Houraisan." She was always suspicious of nice people — especially Kaguya, who didn't have a malicious bone in her body except when it came to coming up with interesting new ways to kill Mokou.
To her surprise, Kaguya's blush deepened. "I ... Mokou," she said softly. "It ... it felt like something changed. As if something in my heart had been frozen, and was melted by the sight ..."
Ah, this was new. In the four hundred years they'd started killing each other, the Lunar princess hadn't actually tried lying directly to her about this sort of thing. "Kaguya Houraisan, we've been killing each other for centuries," growled Mokou. "And you're the one who seems to be shooting for variety."
Kaguya bowed her head. "I'm sorry," she said, in a small, almost plaintive voice.
The thought that Kaguya might actually be sincere about this played the old trick on Mokou where you sneak up on someone's left side, tap them on their right shoulder, and as they turn the wrong way, smacking them upside the head. Mokou's response was to set this thought on fire. "Kaguya, I don't think that a simple apology is going to undo the past thirteen hundred years," she said.
"What else can, if neither of us will die?" said Kaguya. "Do you like this continuing struggle?"
Mokou frowned. Damned if she was going to admit that Kaguya had a point. "I ... s-still can't forgive you," she muttered. Dammit, words, stop sounding so hollow-even-to-myself!
"You can't even forgive me for not marrying your centuries-dead father?" said Kaguya, sounding slightly firmer now.
"N-no!" snapped Mokou, startled to discover her voice shaking. And WTF tears! Was that last word supposed to be a lie or something? This was infuriating. Kaguya wanted to end their rivalry, just like that? Had the past 1300 years meant nothing? Well, what had they meant? Stop changing the subject! And you hate her that much? Of course she did! ... Right? Mokou tried to shove her confusion and inner conflict away, but emotions didn't work like that.
"Well, what if I had become your stepmother?" said Kaguya, surprisingly calm.
Mokou's rationality obliviously piped up at that point. Well, let's see, you and your father would both be dead for centuries now, having lived an unsatisfactory life with a woman who he married solely because she was pretty, and she'd have been relieved to be out of it. On the other hand, if there had been any love there, Kaguya would then have lived in mourning, having watched a husband and stepdaughter grow old and die while she herself didn't change a smidgen, which would, er, I'll stop talking now.
Mokou burst into tears.
She felt Kaguya's arms wrapping around her, and flung her own arms around Kaguya. They lived in a land of impossibilities and implausibilities, but up until now Mokou would have thought that the idea of her, crying into Kaguya's shoulder, was not-bloody-likely even by Gensokyo's standards. Oops!
She looked shyly (Shyly!?) up at Kaguya through tear-stained/misted/dusted/etc'd eyes. Kaguya smiled down at her, and leaned forward. Sensing where this was heading, Mokou leaned upward, pursing her lips. Kaguya's lips met hers head-on. It was a light touch, but if Mokou had known anything about motor vehicles she would have compared it to a semi-truck carrying a gasoline tank colliding with a brick wall at fifty miles an hour. This comparison was particularly apt, because her head abruptly burst into flames.
Kaguya yelped, jumping back in alarm. Mokou, equally startled, hurriedly jumped into bed, smothering the flames with the bedsheets.
There was a hesitant silence — the sort that isn't sure it wants to stop being silent, and if it does, whether it will be broken by "What the hell was that!?" or "I didn't do it!"
"Sorry," mumbled Mokou. The top of her kimono was mildly browned. "I, er ... that's what my ribbon and patches are for ... when I get really excited or something, I sort of ... randomly flame. From my head. That's what my hair-ribbon's for — it keeps that from happening. Er, the patches too, so I don't blast my own clothes off ..."6
"Ah ... yes," said Kaguya, still looking a bit shaken. "We wondered about that ..."
They had Reisen get the hair ribbon.
Mokou adjusted it a little bit. "So ... um ..."
Kaguya blushed. "Yes?"
"Want to try again?"
It ended up much better this time.
Remilia and Sakuya stayed over for lunch, so Kaguya went off to be a Gracious Host. Eirin, however, instructed Mokou to stay in bed (after she'd gotten fully dressed):
"Mokou," she said in a calm, impassive voice, "when was the last time you ate anything?"
"Er ..." Mokou blushed, like a schoolgirl who'd been caught cheating on a test. "Well, er, I ... snacked on some berries when ..."
"I'm talking about a full meal, eaten in hunger with the resolute and full intention of fulfilling this hunger," said Eirin. She didn't exactly say it more sharply, or more bluntly, or more obviously irritated, just more ... intensely.
Mokou squirmed. "July."
Eirin didn't gasp, or shout, or smack her own forehead, or anything like that. She just slowly nodded and said, "I see," which somehow made it worse. "Let me get you a special stomach medicine. Just because you can't die doesn't mean you should actually abuse yourself."
They had Reisen get medicine and a few slices of bread.
Mokou drank the medicine. "It ... tastes weird," she murmured, and grimaced. "Feels weird in my stomach, too ..."
"It's to prepare your stomach for food, sort of keep track of atrophy and numb you to hunger," said Eirin. "If you tried to eat something before, your stomach would regenerate, then you'd collapse from hunger, then as like not you'd get food poisioning and throw up what you'd tried to eat."
"I see," said Mokou nervously.
"Give it ten minutes, and then let's try eating," said Eirin.
"I'll just, um, leave the bread here," said Reisen, setting down the plate on the nightstand.
"Thank you," said Mokou, the words feeling somehow hollow, as if she were saying them out of obligation rather than any real feeling.
Reisen hurried out of the room. "Anything else you want to say?" asked Eirin.
Mokou shrugged. "I'm still sort of reeling from how fast it happened," she said. "One minute, I was trying to ... to hate Kaguya, and the next ..."
Eirin smiled. "It's actually been proven, both on the moon and in the outside world, that it's much easier to go from intense hatred to intense affection than, say, going from intense hatred or affection to complete apathy, or vice versa," she said. "I feel like your rivalry was just ready to end, and the cold winter day was a catalyst for it."
Mokou sat back. "You know, when I heard about the rocket that was going to the moon, at first I thought that Kaguya was leaving Earth for good," she said. "I realized I was terrified about being left alone here on Earth."
Eirin chuckled. "That definitely must have helped things along at your end, then," she said. "You must have started worrying about Kaguya's presence, as opposed to merely your rivalry with her."
Mokou smiled faintly and nodded, feeling a blush creeping onto her face. "I guess you're right," she said softly.
A while later, Kaguya walked into the room with a frown.
"What's wrong?" asked Mokou, who'd been simply relaxing in the bed.
Kaguya shook her head. "Oh, nothing really. Remilia is just ... so childish sometimes. She had this triumphant look as she left, as if she'd won some sort of game."
"Yeah," said Mokou, sitting up straight. "She's seemed to be a brat from the first time I met her, too ..." She hesitated, blushing as she realized how Kaguya might take this, considering the reason for the first time she'd met her. "Er."
Kaguya blushed, shrugging. "Sorry," she said softly.
Mokou shook her head. "It's all right. Really, it is," she said. "That's all ended for me."
Kaguya nodded, and sat down on the bed next to her.
Nothing much happened for a few minutes. You know the kind of thing I'm talking about.
Mokou felt what she wanted to describe as a strange sort of warmth that had nothing to do with her fire abilities. "I ..." She blushed. "I've ... never really felt anything like this before."
Kaguya tilted her head. "I don't think I have, either," she said. "That was my first kiss."
"Mine, too." Mokou shrugged. "Too bad it, er, blew up like that ..."
Kaguya laughed. "Mokou, I'm sure we're both old enough that we can be mature about that," she said.
Mokou giggled, blushing. She found any kind of laughter to be odd, coming from herself. "Yeah ... you're right," she said. "Um." She hesitated.
"I wonder if this was some sort of fate," murmured Mokou. "How we're both immortal and ..."
"Fate?" echoed Kaguya, suddenly frowning.
The same thing occurred to Mokou. "Hmm."
There was an uncomfortable silence as they pondered the implications of having a visitor who could manipulate fate, leaving triumphantly after watching what had happened.
Kaguya eventually shook her head. "No," she said. "Just knowing that isn't enough to diminish how I feel for you."
"Yeah, I feel the same way," said Mokou softly. "But you should still ask Eirin to look into it ..."
Kaguya nodded. "I'll have her look into it."
Mokou nodded. "Yeah." She hesitated again. "Er ..."
"What is it?" said Kaguya.
"Kaguya ..." She blushed deeply. "I love you."
"I love you too, Mokou."
They kissed again. Yep, Mokou had never known this much passion, or at least, not in any way that consisted of love. Still, things were definitely taking a turn for the better.
The Scarlet Devil Mansion had the best and most extensive magical library in Gensokyo, although admittedly this wasn't saying much. In any event, its librarian — a magician youkai named Patchouli Knowledge — had chronic health problems, and had lately begun soliciting treatments and medicine from Eirin, who therefore had a legitimate excuse to visit the Scarlet Devil Mansion.7
"Thank you, Eirin," said Patchouli. "I know I'll probably have these used up within the next month, but even so!" She handed off the basket of bottles and jars to her familiar, a redheaded demoness known only as the Little Devil, who had translated this as "Koakuma" the minute she'd learned enough Japanese to do so.
"Not if you follow the directions, and only use the right medicine for the right symptoms," said Eirin, who was only familiar with irony in a strict, clinical sense. "You also shouldn't stay up late reading so often."
"Er ..." A guilty look crossed Patchouli's face. "Koakuma, please bring thease these to my bedroom, would you please?"
"I'm serious about that," said Eirin, rolling her eyes. "Really, you'll undoubtedly feel a whole lot better if you slept for a full eight hours, instead of merely lying down in bed with a book and then getting up eight hours later." She sniffed the air. "Oh, and you should definitely have the maids be more thorough when cleaning the library. There's probably a whole lot of dust here that can't be any good for your asthmatic symptoms."
Patchouli looked ready to run. "Ah, yes, I'll definitely do that!" she said, bobbing her head. "Er, as well, I mean!"
Eirin sighed as soon as she was out of earshot. Some people wouldn't know healthy habits if they stabbed you, but there really was no excuse for knowingly living badly, apart from the two dozen or so habits and psychological explanations which sprang to mind the instant she thought about it ...
She reached the door to the library, and paused. Ah, here was her other reason for visiting.
"Good afternoon, Miss Yagokoro," said Remilia, smiling up at her and trying to radiate an innocence which, unfortunately, she didn't have. "What brings you to the Scarlet Devil Mansion?"
"Hello, Remilia," said Eirin, smiling back with narrowed eyes. Remilia knew perfeclty well why she was here. "Your maid told me the other day that Patchouli was running low on medicine, so I came to replenish her supply. Remember?"
At that last word, Remilia began giggling like a ten year old who's been caught doing something naughty.
"I remembered hearing after the incident of the Imperishable Night, after Kaguya had tried to send you to exterminate Mokou," Eirin continued, not missing a beat. "You went inquiring about their history, and whether or not Kaguya was even capable of hating Mokou as much as Mokou hated her."
Remilia was giggling even harder now, but she began making headway towards pulling herself together.
"Then I thought about a rather ... contrived series of coincidences," said Eirin. "You just happened to run into us in the Bamboo Forest, and Kaguya just happened to stumble upon Mokou's house, while Mokou just happened to have frozen up in a predicament that melted Kaguya's heart ..."
Remilia grinned childishly, which looked sinister in and of itself, and her eyes glowed red. "Fate Manipulation 「Fujiwara no Mokou」," she said. "Upon discovering that a rocket has left Earth for the moon, she jumps to the conclusion that her eternal rival has left Earth forever, and hurries to Eientei, terrified of being left alone for the rest of eternity. Relieved to find her still there, Mokou's hatred develops towards becoming ..." She licked her lips and paused. "... a tsundere crush. Eventually, she finds herself in utter confusion as to her true feelings. By chance, around that time, a cold snap freezes her to a temporary death in her home; she is rescued by her rival, who, questioning her hatred, asks one question which completely tips the balance of Mokou's passion from intense hatred to equally intense love."
"I see," said Eirin, eyes narrowing.
"Fate Manipulation 「Kaguya Houraisan」," Remilia continued. "One day, after a particularly sudden and intense cold snap, she goes for a walk in the woods and encounters the Scarlet Devil."
You couldn't resist adding that detail, thought Eirin. If you hadn't been there, none of us would have suspected anything.
"Taking charge of the walk, Kaguya discovers, the home of her eternal rival," said Remilia. "Seeing the pathetic form of her fallen foe, her heart swells with pity, which soon becomes love for a fellow immortal. She rescues her rival, and brings her home to Eientei, where, over the course of the ensuing conversation, she effectively ends their rivalry by raising the question:" Her eyes blazed. "What if I had become your stepmother?"
"I thought you were responsible," said Eirin. "I figured it out before they did. I realized it the minute you decided to join us for lunch. Frankly, that triumphant smirk of yours as you left was the real giveaway."
Remilia smirked. It was the most triumphant, condescending smirk Eirin had ever seen in person. She could practically hear the little vampire's voice exclaim, Just as planned!
She said, "Fate Manipulation 「Eirin Yagokoro」."
"After her employer and her employer's bitter rival abruptly begin to love one another," Remilia continued, "she becomes suspicious about the presence of the Scarlet Devil, knowing about the latter's ability to manipulate fate. However, worried that this might upset their new relationship, Eirin keeps silent about it, and then finds a legitimate excuse to visit the Scarlet Devil Mansion ..."
Eirin smiled. Ah, Remilia or Sakuya or Patchouli had anticipated Eirin's genius, and had decided they wanted to control it. "Oh, that one didn't work," she said.
Remilia frowned. "What?"
"I told you I got suspicious," said Eirin, "but it was Kaguya and Mokou who actually brought it up with me. I wouldn't have even looked for you if they hadn't mentioned it." She shrugged. "It came from an offhand comment Mokou made about fate."
"Ah." Remilia's frown deepened. "Another plan undone by luck."
Eirin chuckled. "I'd hate to see you go up against Tewi. Fate versus luck ..."
"Hmph." Remilia turned away. "Well ... I guess you can find your own way out," she said.
Eirin rolled her eyes. "For what it's worth, their fates stuck," she said. "Mokou said that just knowing you were responsible didn't change anything, and Kaguya agreed. They're still staying together."
"Whatever," said Remilia, but she sounded less annoyed.
Eirin grinned. She'd also worked out why Remilia had chosen to manipulate them together. "You don't have to worry about Kaguya sending you into an unwinnable fight or involving you in any of her elaborate deaths again," she said. There had been that business with Remilia's younger sister, Flandre ...
"Hmph." However, Eirin could tell that Remilia was smiling now.
Eirin grinned as she walked through the scarlet hallways. Well, Mokou was one less thing to worry about. In fact, this was likely to do them both some good, now that they wouldn't be constantly alone. Mokou was probably still going to go on her "patrols" to help people who'd gotten lost, and now Kaguya would have something to do in Eientei besides hang around alone. Admittedly, she would now merely hang around with Mokou, but ...
She shrugged, shaking her head as she stepped out the front door. What was she saying? Whatever happened, happened, and whether by luck or fate, it wasn't up to Eirin. If Mokou and Kaguya's rivalry could turn out all right at the end, Eirin was willing to suspect that anything would.
She smiled, and took off, flying back to Eientei.
1Whoever had named it "of the Lost" had known exactly what they were talking about.
2This type of immortality didn't mean that you couldn't die, just that you were quickly back on your feet.
3For vampires, SPF-50+ just didn't cut it.
4With no apparent concerns about pantyshots.
5And immortal, of course.
6If you're still wondering how her clothes survive when she actually gets blasted to smithereens by someone else: a wizard did it.
7Eirin didn't usually make house calls, but she made exceptions when going to the homes of people for whom direct sunlight was actually hazardous, even if she was treating someone else who lived there.