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Sun's too bright.
Birds are too loud.
Go away world.
Uff! Ow. I think I just rolled out of bed... uhhh, wait, bed?
"You okay down there?"
I roll over - uergh no why did I do that - and squint upwards.
"Hi Meiling," I mumble, "why's there two of you?"
"...how much did you drink last night?"
"I 'unno. A lot."
"Well, maybe you'll think twice before doing it again."
"Tha' was the idea..."
I try to haul myself to my feet, overbalance, end up on all fours and ooooh spinniiiing -
"Not on the carpet!"
"No, I'm good."
I straighten up, slowly and carefully. One Meiling. Kinda wobbly though. And why's she holding a feather?
"Think you can make it downstairs?"
I follow Meiling through the halls. Green and white is really easy to see against red and black. We end up in the main dining hall. I flop down at one of the smaller tables and rest my poor head on the nice cool tabletop.
"Here, drink this."
I gratefully take the glass of water and down it in one gulp -
- and promptly end up inhaling half of it. My stomach is on fire! Cold fire! I can't see, I can't smell, I feel like I've wet myself - I feel like I've got frostbite!
After what feels like years of choking I can finally breathe again. I wipe the tears away from my eyes and shake my head, shivering.
"What - gack - what was that?" I ask weakly.
"Hangover cure. Also good for hayfever and constipation!"
I blink a few more times and stare at the chair opposite me, willing the mass of red, white and blue to make sense.
"Nothing like the smell of minty freshness in the morning, eh?" Clownpiece says, grinning, with her hands behind her head and her feet on the table.
I shake my head again, just to check. No pain. No nausea. Still feel rotten otherwise though.
"It... worked?" I fidget a bit, discretely making sure I haven't actually soiled myself as I straighten up my clothes. "What are you doing here, anyway?"
"I... kinda sorta may have been roped into cleaning up," Clownpiece replies, letting her chair fall back onto all four legs and looking off to the side. "After getting double-teamed in a totally unfair, rigged match -"
"- that you agreed to, so you lost fair and square," Meiling says from behind me.
"I was drunk!"
"So was Yukari."
Meiling puts a steaming bowl and a glass full of something orange-colored on the table in front of me.
"Nothing fancy, but it should help with the head," she says.
"Um, actually, my head feels pretty okay now." I give it another shake and marvel at the lack of pain or spinniness. "Clownpiece gave me something."
"Did she now?" Meiling cracks her knuckles.
"Hey, hey, time out!" Clownpiece raises her hands in surrender. "One hundred percent oni-made medicine, nothing shady going on here!"
"...oni get hangovers?" I ask. "How much alcohol would that even take?"
"All of it," Clownpiece replies.
"Well, if you're sure you're okay, I should get back to work," Meiling says.
"Urk... um, I'm sorry..."
"Don't worry about it," Meiling says, patting me on the shoulder. "Looking after guests is my job too." She shoots Clownpiece a glare. "Behave."
"Geez," Clownpiece grumbles once Meiling is out of earshot, "one little rampage and everyone thinks I'm some kind of hooligan. Can't take a joke, any of 'em..."
"You did kind of blow holes in the walls," I remind her.
"That wasn't me! Well, okay, maybe a little. But Dame Laserlots and One Coin Wonder did most of it!"
I don't answer, instead starting on my breakfast. It's just like Meiling said, plain but easy to digest. My appetite slowly returns as I eat, and I end up finishing all of it. Clownpiece stays quiet the whole time, idly balancing her chair on two legs again while staring into space with a thoughtful expression. I didn't think a fairy could sit still for that long.
"So, um, if you lost a duel and they made you clean up, why are you still here?" I ask after I drain the last of my juice. "You don't seem to like the Scarlets much."
Clownpiece blinks, and her chair thunks to the floor again.
"Who said I didn't like 'em? This place is great!" she replies, face breaking into another grin. "Well, except for mean ol' headwings. I asked if there was anything I could do to help and she set me on fire!"
I wince. It takes a lot to make Koa actually get violent.
"Saaay... what's the deal with you and the headmistress?"
"...who?" I ask.
Clownpiece makes a slicing motion across her throat.
"You mean Sekibanki? Um... wait, where is she anyway?" I look around as I try to remember when I last...
"That's a reeeeeal nice face you're makin' there young lady!" Clownpiece says, leaning forward with a smirk on her face.
"N-n-no, it's nothing like that! I just remembered I was drinking because I asked Reimu to teach me how to be a miko as a prank and she said yes and I have to be at the shrine first thing in the morning and what time is it!?"
Clownpiece suddenly looks like she's about to die laughing.
"It is currently seven minutes past nine," Sakuya's unflappable voice says from beside me, followed by the click of her pocket watch closing.
"She's gonna exterminate me!" I yelp, scrambling out of my chair -
- and smacking straight into Sekibanki.
Sakuya catches me before I fall over and crack my head on the table. Sekibanki jerks backwards out of my chest, face red.
"Godsdammit are you doing this on purpose!?" she wails.
"No! Ow! That hurt!"
"Shall I kiss it better?" Sakuya asks. I hear a chair falling over and a hell fairy struggling to breathe.
"I'm fine!" I shrug off Sakuya's hands and stand up on my own.
"If you say so, Miss Tatara. Would I be correct in assuming you were on your way out?"
"Er, well, I really shouldn't keep Reimu waiting so..."
"Understood. Will you be going with her, Miss Sekibanki?"
"I, uh, I guess so?"
"As you wish. This way, please."
I fall into step behind Sakuya, who looks like she's walking at her usual pace but is moving so fast I almost have to jog to keep up.
"So, um, about last night -" I begin.
"I have no idea what you're talking about! No idea at all!" Sekibanki blurts out, not looking at me.
We don't say anything else until we reach the front door.
"Thank you both for your assistance once again, and please do visit again soon," Sakuya says as we leave.
"Uh, it was nothing, and, um, sorry for getting drunk and being a bother!" I reply, already in the air. Sakuya just smiles pleasantly.
I head for the Hakurei shrine at top speed. Reimu is waiting under the torii, broom in hand.
"You're late." Somehow the fact that she doesn't sound angry only makes it even scarier!
"I'm sorry! I had too much to drink and slept in!"
"Whatever. Come on, let's get started already."
Reimu leads the way into the shrine, and I follow meekly behind. Sekibanki wisely keeps her distance.
"S-so, what am I actually supposed to do?" I ask.
"First," Reimu says as she closes the door, "you're going to strip."
"This is, um... kind of breezy..." I say, fiddling with my sleeves. I'm wearing one of Reimu's not-quite-traditional miko outfits, complete with the trademark exposed armpits.
"Get used to it, it's the uniform," Reimu replies.
"...can I at least have my sarashi back?"
"But the chest is too tight, people are gonna see-"
I quickly shut up as a big stick stops right in front of my nose.
"Well?" Reimu prods (literally). "Hurry up and take it."
I gingerly take the stick. It has folded paper on the other end - one of Reimu's oversize gohei.
...is this a real gohei? I mean, is there such thing as a not-real gohei? They're made for purification, so they're dangerous to youkai... it's not burning my hands like the seal yesterday at least.
"Alright, go wait outside. I'll be out in a minute."
I do as I'm told, stepping out into the morning sun. It feels weird to be wearing tabi again after so long. At least she let me wear my own geta; she only has one pair after all.
Someone whistles loudly. I whirl around to see Sekibanki watching me with a huge smirk on her face and Shinmyoumaru perched on top of her.
"Lookin' good," Sekibanki says. Shinmyoumaru gives me a wink and a thumbs-up.
"Cut it out," I whine.
"No, really, it suits you. You won't scare any humans at all in that outfit!"
"Grrr, you - I'll exterminate you!"
I swing my gohei at her and she darts away, leading me on a chase around the shrine grounds. I keep from getting too close, just in case, and quickly stop when Reimu comes out.
"Umm, how do I use this?" I ask her.
"So, uh, what's all that for?" I ask, rubbing my forehead.
"This is the Portable Hakurei Shrine Donation Box!" Reimu declares. "I've been thinking it's high time I did a little bit of advertising in the village, and guess who volunteered to help out!"
"So this is just cosplay then?"
Reimu smiles menacingly. "Pretty much!"
...um. Well, I didn't actually want to become a miko (can a youkai even do that?) so I guess it's fine?
"Well don't just stand there! It's time to go drum up some faith, and more importantly, donations!"
We spend the next four hours walking around the Human Village, without a single break. The clouds from yesterday have completely disappeared, and Reimu made me leave my umbrella at the shrine.
I think my armpits are sunburned.
If Reimu's bothered by the heat, she doesn't show it. The smile she gives the humans look genuine - and the smiles she gives the youkai look terrifying. Even more terrifying is how quickly she can go from one to the other. One moment she's cheerfully praising a little boy's manners, the next she's all but extorting money out of an 'undercover' kitsune.
I don't get to spend much time watching though - I'm too busy doing! My face hurts from all the smiling! How does Kyouko do this all day!? I get the feeling Reimu would have been much better off with a human helper, or at least someone less familiar. Everyone in the village knows who and what I am so they're just as guarded around me as they usually are.
I do manage to talk a few people into donating so it's not a total loss. I fall into a routine, moving far enough away to talk to people Reimu hasn't but staying close enough not to get left behind. Reimu pays no attention to me whatsoever so I get used to keeping one eye on her.
So when Reimu ducks into an alley I follow without even thinking about it.
The next thing I know she has my (bare, sunburned) shoulders in an oni-like grip, and her face is almost nose-to-nose with mine.
"Why are you so popular?"
"Wh-wh-what do you mean!?"
"Everyone is happy to see you. Everyone. Without exception. Have you bewitched them or something?"
"No! Nothing! I haven't been doing anything weird!"
"Then why does everyone like you?"
"I don't know! I don't know what you're talking about!"
Reimu glares at me for a full minute.
Then she lets go. Her shoulders slump. Her face goes from terrible to tired.
"So that's it, is it? That's all there is to it. I'm less likable than a youkai."
"You're here every day getting to know people while I'm stuck halfway up a mountain tending to a border nobody can see. It's no contest."
"Ugh, I got loads of donations but it still feels like I lost. Stupid tsukumogami..."
Reimu leaves the alley and walks back the way we came. I hurry to catch up.
"So we're not going to keep going?" I ask.
"Do you want to keep going? I thought you said you were just trying to prank me."
"I don't care about that anymore! I want to help!"
Reimu stops so suddenly I nearly crash into her.
"You want to help me?" she asks, turning around.
Reimu slaps something onto my forehead. I go cross-eyed for a moment trying to look at it, and realize it's a piece of paper.
"...oh! But I thought I was supposed to be a miko, not a jiang-shi?"
Reimu doesn't answer. I peel the paper off and look at it.
It's an ofuda. An anti-youkai ward, just like the ones from yesterday.
W-well, if she was trying to hurt me then it would be burning me again, right?
I look up, and realize Reimu isn't in front of me anymore. I tuck the ofuda in my sleeve and hurry after her again.
Reimu is silent the whole way back, and when we arrive the shrine is deserted. I'm sure I saw Sekibanki and Shinmyoumaru follow us into the village but I lost track of them while I was working. As soon as we touch down Reimu heads straight for the kitchen and brews a pot of tea.
"You're still here," she says when she returns to the table.
"W-well, I do need to give the uniform back, and get my umbrella..."
Reimu wordlessly pours two cups of tea, and places the second on the other side of the table.
Reimu stares at me, expression unreadable.
"...is there something on my face?" I ask nervously.
"No," Reimu replies.
She takes a sip of her tea.
"...and that's the problem, isn't it?"
It takes me a moment to figure out what she meant.
"You mean you were trying to hurt me!?"
Reimu waves her hand lazily. "You'd have recovered in no time."
I pull out the ofuda and look at it again. "So why isn't it working?"
Reimu abruptly stands up, walks around the table and takes the ofuda off me.
"Close your eyes," she orders.
"Wh-what are you going to do?"
"Just close them!"
I squeeze my eyes shut.
"Now, just... I dunno, think good thoughts."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"How the heck should I know!? Think about helping people or something!"
I try to think about all the helpful things I've done lately. Or tried to do. Even when I'm trying to be good, I'm not very good at it...
Something cold touches my hands.
"What are you doing?"
"Testing a theory. Okay, you can open your eyes now."
I open my eyes. Reimu is sitting in front of me, scowling.
I'm holding a yin-yang orb.
"Looks like I was right," Reimu says. She looks annoyed.
"Right about what!?"
"The Hakurei yin-yang orbs are my strongest weapons. A youkai shouldn't even be able to touch them."
"But I'm touching one right now!"
"Exactly. Which means," she narrows her eyes at me, "you're not a youkai."
"At least, not entirely."
"Wh... what are you talking about!?" I hold the yin-yang orb a bit further away from myself.
Reimu gets up and goes back to her spot.
"There isn't much difference between youkai and gods, you know. Fox youkai become gods all the time. You could become a goddess of umbrellas pretty easily."
"Who'd worship that kind of goddess!? And besides that I'm not goddess-like at all!"
Reimu idly sips at her tea. "What have you been doing in the village lately?"
"I haven't been doing anything! I've been properly following the rules!"
Reimu pulls a newspaper out of her sleeve (why did she have that with her!?), unfolds it and throws it in front of me.
It's the Kakashi Spirit News, and the page she opened it to is the article about me guiding two humans back to the village two nights ago.
"It looks to me like you've been protecting people."
"But if I'd just left them there Miss Keine would have thrown me out of the village! And I didn't actually do anything to stop Seija!"
"It doesn't matter why you're doing it or how good you are at it. What matters is what people think about it."
"What's that supposed to mean!?"
Reimu leans over the table and taps at the photograph. "These people trust you to protect them." She leans even closer. "They have faith in you."
Reimu sits back down. "Only a tiny little bit, but that's all it takes to start the process."
"But I'm not even a good person." I stare at the floor. "I've done loads of awful things..."
Reimu shrugs. "Doesn't matter. There are evil gods as well as good gods. Though mind you, youkai or god I'll kick your butt if you cause trouble."
"I wasn't thinking of it!"
"Good. I have enough pests to deal with already."
I carefully put the yin-yang orb down on the table, then reflexively wipe my hands and check them for damage. There is none, which only confirms what Reimu said.
"What if... what if I don't want to be a goddess?"
"Stop helping people," Reimu says simply. "They'll forget about it, the sliver of faith you've gathered will fade and nothing will have changed."
Reimu closes her eyes and sips her her tea in silence.
[ ] ...I should go find the others.
[ ] ...I should ask someone else about this.
[ ] ...I need time to think.
The only thing shittier than my life is my update rate aaaaaaaaaaaah.