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Despite her initial enthusiasm for magic, Kagerou didn’t seem too upset by my more cautious approach. “I don’t want to accidentally blow up a mountain,” I joked by way of explanation.
“Could that really happen?” she asked knowing that neither of us had an answer.
“Think about yesterday: you didn’t really trust Marisa,” I pointed out. She at one moment flinched when the magician was getting ready to cast her spell. “I guess that was about you thinking that she couldn’t keep her power in check. Why risk that?”
“It would attract attention,” she said with unease, looking around with a mild streak of paranoia. “If you stand out, it feels likelier that we’d get into a fight.”
“Hadn’t thought of that. But makes sense,” I agreed. The inhabitants of Gensokyo were strange to say the least.
As we continued to walk among soft earth and wet grass the conversation moved away from actual powers and possible effects and towards the logical conclusion of the decision. “I don’t think we would get much from Patchouli,” Kagerou shared her opinion.
“I think we would,” I disagree.
“I’m not surprised to hear you say that,” she rolled her eyes, thinking the obvious.
“It’s not because I like her,” I told her, trying to frame it as a rational decision. Proper learning needed proper structure. “Does Marisa strike you as the type to sit still for long enough to give a thorough lecture about magic usage? She’d probably keep trying to cast spells on me to see what would happen.”
“But that doesn’t mean that Patchouli will be better. If she doesn’t outright ignore us-”
“She won’t!” I interjected. That elicited another eye roll.
“-as I was saying,” the maid proceeded calmly, “I’m not sure she would take the time to explain. And, if she did, it probably wouldn’t be straightforward. Think books and roundabout explanations about nature or something else. I’m not going to read books that are thicker than my head and full of hard words.”
“...not even if I ask nicely?”
“It’s asking too much,” Kagerou said. And yeah, she was right. I couldn’t force her to sit and read for probably dozens of hours things that she had absolutely no interest in. Never mind the fact that she wasn’t a strong reader.
“We’ll see what happens when it happens,” I brought the discussion to something similar to a close. “Who knows?” I joked, “with our luck we could run into a third magician today who combines Marisa’s approachability with Patchouli’s serious understanding.”
Kagerou’s ears drooped back and her shoulders went slack. It was a joke that sounded all too plausible given recent events. For better or worse, that was it for magic for the moment. It was quiet for a while. When we next talked the subject shifted to something more immediate. With an annoyed huff about the unevenly wet portions of the road, Kagerou decided to pick up the pace and abandon the road altogether. We zoomed to the shrine conspicuously but in record time.
The wooded hillside looked desolate in the light that filtered through the grey clouds. The trees swayed silently, from time to time, as a breeze passed through them. It was quiet and I felt that Kagerou tensed up as soon as she started up the path to the shrine proper. Some of her paranoia had rubbed off on me as well—I could feel that we both thought that someone might be watching us. From where and why I had no idea. The feeling remained unspoken as I didn’t want to add any fuel to the fire.
There was no mistaking that Kagerou was intimidated by the shrine. Her steps slowed and, when consciously noticed, her pace was over-corrected with almost mechanical strides. She fiddled with the clasp on her cloak more than once; it was almost as if she believed that the fabric acted like a protective barrier. By the time that she passed under the wooden gate her eyes darted back and forth suspiciously for any signs of life.
At first glance, the shrine was a fairly mundane location. Paved stone led all the way up to a small wooden structure. Religious structures weren’t an area of expertise for me but I supposed that it looked suitably shrine-like. The slopped roof came to a halt in front at a smaller wooden gate; a thick rope was tied lengthwise on it as well as a few tassel-like ribbons that could well be charms or symbols of purity. A short series of steps led to an altar or box of some sort and beyond that wooden sliding doors obscured the rest of the structure.
There may have been an additional structure further back but it was hard to see clearly from the entrance due to the nearby trees. “I expected something… bigger,” I confessed. The vibe I got from everyone whenever the shrine or its shrine maiden were brought up gave the impression that it was supposed to be an important location. It seemed anticlimactic that it was such a plain place.
“Come on, let’s find the shrine maiden,” I egged the werewolf on, trying to make her forget her anxiety. She could stand dumb beneath the first gate all day if she didn’t get an encouraging push.
Maybe Kagerou felt comforted that she had me along for the ride. I continued to make a few, mostly flippant, remarks as she approached the shrine. The wooden steps at the end were conquered with ease and barely hesitated before knocking on one of the wooden doors. I was about to crack a joke about maybe making a donation first to ensure a good reception but the answer from inside was immediate.
“Just a moment!” a girl’s voice cried out from inside. The pitter-patter of feet on wood followed.
The door slid open to reveal a young girl with dark hair and a large red ribbon on her head. The shrine maiden, evidently. Her outfit didn’t seem entirely conventional. Oh, sure, the red and white scheme was much the same. Her unusual choice in apparel included a red knee-high skirt, a matching vest on top with a white collar that shared the style of her large white sleeves. Accents of red and white as well as bits of pattern were prevalent on edges and often frilly. Even if she hadn’t been the shrine maiden it would have been fair to say that she was inspired by the look.
“...Yes?” she frowned upon seeing her visitor. It wasn’t quite disdain nor hostility but it expressed clear disappointment that it wasn’t someone she knew and liked.
Kagerou’s heart sunk. She managed to keep from stuttering but only just, “I have something that I would like to discuss with you,” she said quietly. “May I have a moment of your time?”
“Fine,” the shrine maiden crossed her arms, “I don’t have any snacks to offer.”
The subtext there was obvious. I encouraged Kagerou to stay on point.
“Shall we sit and talk?” the werewolf strained a smile. It betrayed how she felt quite clearly. Lucky for her, the shrine maiden wasn’t too interested in reading her and just wanted to get things over with.
They sat by the front steps. “Miss Reimu,” Kagerou started.
“I don’t really have time for all that nonsense,” the shrine maiden huffed, expecting the werewolf to trip over herself in pleasantries.
“Ah, alright,” Kagerou nodded, trying to build her courage up. I told her to just explain things as plainly as possible. “I’m working at the mansion at the lake,” she started necessarily from the top, “I’m temporarily chief maid.”
“Ah, is that so?” Reimu raised an eyebrow with a scintilla of interest. It was then that she seemed to realize that the uniform under the cloak wasn’t just a fashion choice. “I’m not surprised that she quit after having to deal for so long with all of that.”
“Sakuya didn’t quit,” Kagerou corrected her, “she’s taken personal leave for some time.”
“Sure, whatever,” Reimu shrugged, “I suppose they chose you because you can frighten the fairies into obedience.” She cocked her head towards Kagerou’s long nails. Enough said.
“That’s not really important,” Kagerou brushed aside the comment, “what I mean to say is that I’m on official business from the mistress.”
“...” Reimu stared ahead blankly, offering no reaction to mention of Remila. Were they friends and had a fight? That would explain Remilia’s distraught state but not the shrine maiden’s indifference. Unless that was meant to show that she was giving her the cold shoulder or something. I couldn’t get a definite read.
“Before we get to that,” Kagerou offered a helpful smile and reached into her bag, “I’ve brought a show of goodwill.”
That seemed to capture the shrine maiden’s undivided attention. She stared greedily as Kagerou produced the bottle. It didn’t seem that she knew what it was exactly.
“It’s something from milady’s private collection,” Kagerou explained, “a fine and rare spirit.”
“I see!” Reimu nodded happily, “so she stopped being quite so stingy.”
It would be unwise to reveal that it was our own initiative, clearly. Reimu grabbed the bottle with a slight smile and put it next to her. “I’ll make sure to try it later. I hope it’s good.”
Maybe it was just my imagination but things seemed less tense all of a sudden. It wasn’t that Reimu’s body language or even tone had changed much. Or anything else that obvious. Maybe it had all been in Kagerou’s mind but it seemed like the tension in the air had dissolved away. If it had been, then Marisa’s magical counsel had been useful.
“I hope you’ll enjoy it,” Kagerou said politely.
“I’ll have to hide it for the meanwhile...” Reimu mumbled to herself, taking a look around. Though she didn’t sport anyone else, she still moved the bottle and hid it behind where she sat.
“We can probably bring up Remilia now,” I told Kagerou. Though I wasn’t sure which approach was best. The shrine maiden’s patience did not seem like it would be infinite.
 Try to get a feel for the relationship between the vampire and the shrine maiden.
 Confess that Remilia was out of sorts and had dispatched Kagerou to the shrine for some reason.
Time remaining: ::Timer ended at: 2019/09/17(Tue)12:00
I may write before the timer ends if there’s time and votes on Monday. Will let you know if that’s the case.