- (200.10KB, 500x700, clear skies.jpg)
It wasn’t bad.
The Shrine’s falling apart.
There are mice in the shed.
I didn’t get any donations yesterday.
But, it’s not bad.
Beyond cyclical, the days felt completely repetitious, like carbon paper had been pressed down on “yesterday”, and the marks from “yesterday’s” events went on to make “today”. Endless, identical sheets were pulled one after the other, creating another day of sweeping, another day of Marisa’s visits, another day of... whatever.
That was peace, and that was fine.
She was one to complain, but never about the way things should be. Keeping that way was her job, and that was how she lived, did everything. Peace was always better than the alternative. She was sure of that, and never even considered otherwise. Unthinking, unchanging, Eternal—
“Reimu,” a voice came from above.
“Ah, Marisa,” was her response.
“The heck you doin’?” spoke her friend in an accusatory tone. “I had a feelin’ you’d mess up, but have you even looked at the sky? Go on, look.”
The sky was a cotton field: soaked, by the color of it. Hakurei Reimu was sitting on her deck under heavens that were ready to rain. Marisa had her blond hair bunched up into the hood of a kappa’s turquoise raincoat, and her golden eyes were scrutinizing the brunette shrine maiden. “Well?” she said. “Go bring in your laundry!”
Oh right, I was doing that today.
She put her chin in her palm and gave the magician on the broom above her a simple smile. “Help me out?” she asked.
“Tch...” Marisa looked away and groaned, but promptly landed and put her broom aside, running for the back of the shrine. And as she went, the shrine maiden beamed at her openly. This was also usual.
And damp clothing folding over.
There were a few sounds of light water tap tapping at the shingles of the old roof, but the weather had yet to break. Reimu lackadaisically brought her skirts and bloomers to clotheslines inside, while Marisa quickly brought sleeves and shirts. “Ah—!” the red and white girl suddenly gasped with her hand on a clothespin. She looked at a confused Marisa and told her apologetically, “I’ve got to go buy rice. The mice got into my storage again.”
Marisa ground her teeth and grimaced, “C’mooon... What happened to the cat statue I got you?”
“Well the rat problem was over by the time gave me it, and after a while I figured it didn’t really work and just gave mine to Rinnosuke,” she explained.
Marisa’s expression soured further as she thought, It does work, though.
But Reimu probably wouldn’t have that, especially if she knew who... or rather what had made it.
That Reisen’s turned over leaf after leaf since she started comin’ to the Village, Marisa thought over as Reimu finished putting up the clothes she had in her hands. But “youkai” means Reimu ain’t gonna like the sound of it at all. Too bad for her, not that I’m sure they’re even still sellin’ ‘em through Eientei.
Reimu began to float.
“Oi, where are you going?” Marisa asked, stopping her work.
“I just said! Finish up for me, okay?” the shrine maiden replied, and she was off.
“Hey!” Marisa yelled in vain. Once her friend had disappeared into the distance, she huffed a short sigh, and continued nonetheless.
= = = = =
It was too little too late. Worse: she’d made a bet and lost.
Rain poured like it wanted to drown: looking out ahead made one’s vision shimmer and the constant noise of falling water on the awning of a tailor’s shop she’d stopped under was a bit incredible—not overwhelming or even particularly loud, just steadfastly consistent. Unless she wanted a cold, she was pretty solidly stuck for now. As for the bet—she’d bought a particularly large bale of rice that could only reliably be carried over her shoulder. There had been a deal at the seller’s, so... So basically, even had she thought ahead a little about this trip, her impulse would have rendered her planning moot anyway.
So she leaned against a wooden pillar, right calf crossed above the left, and both arms crossed over each other. The bound straw cylinder sat beside her and out of moisture’s way. Behind her, the tailor eyed her warily. Calm down, I’m obviously not here for work, she thought to herself.
She thought about her reputation then, and stared up at the sky as if she were staring it down.
“Hmph,” she puffed. Some frogs croaking, some humans murmuring, water... running... As she waited in the ambience of rain, some odder sounds – ton... ton... – alerted her to pay attention to what was over her head. Either the sky was raining a few stones now, or there was someone stepping on the awning. She heard a throat clearing.
“Eh, hehhehHEM! ... Phew, okay. Ahem!” Reimu looked up, and an eyebrow of hers went up as well.
“Excuse meee, Miss Shrine Maiden...!” said the voice. Reimu continued to look up, awaiting. The roofing made a bit more noise, and she saw what looked to be a small bucket’s worth of rainwater fall to the left. Two eyes in opposite colors met hers upside down, peeking over the awning, and a cheerful face fully revealed itself in a moment, tongue out. The “karakasa obake”, Tatara Kogasa, then shouted, “Be surprised~!”
It was as if the blue-shaded girl had tried to get a rise out of a wall. Reimu did nothing for several seconds, only eventually delivering a little mercy in the words, “You, huh.”
The girl’s mood came to match her dominant color, and she floated down from the structure with a drooping face to match it, her unstylish umbrella “half” above her head in all its plum inglory. Despite the weather, Kogasa herself looked bright. Though she’d heard the tsukumogami had designed herself to be “frightening”, she had ended up often dressing in a shirt and dress that brought to mind open almost cloudless skies so... failure. Her hair, too, was always bouncing and light. She stepped next to Reimu and put her umbrella aside, closing it and shaking it lightly. Her butt pushed into the shrine maiden’s hip as she did so, and Reimu frowned at the contact.
Once finished, the somewhat shorter youkai stood next to her and sulked.
“... Did you just come to bug me and hang around? I don’t think that ‘one time of the year’ you can deal with me’s arrived yet, right?” Reimu asked. “Besides, I’ve actually been taking good care of my needles, thank you very much.”
Kogasa sighed, and looked at Reimu somewhat sheepishly. “Oh, no,” she answered. She tugged gently at her bangs and decided to explain, “I just noticed you while I was playing in the rain and thought I could give you a hand.”
“With what?” asked Reimu at once.
“Oh...” the tsukumogami’s shoulders dropped as her mood sank instantly. Still, she managed a feeble voice to say, “Well, I’m an umbrella, so...”
Reimu cocked an eyebrow, and then her head. One could easily picture a question mark appearing over her distinctive bow with the expression.
Kogasa seemed to gather her courage, her grip on the handle of her umbrella-half increasing. After breathing in a little while, she lifted her chin (but shut her eyes) and raised her voice in confidence to cry, “I can help you get home without your rice getting wet!”
But she hadn’t raised it much. She’d clearly held back to not cause a disturbance.
“Ah,” Reimu understood, parting her arms so that she could lightly drop a fist into her palm. She extended a finger to point at Kogasa and said, “Right, that’s something you can do.”
“Give me a break!” she whined, her posture sinking even further than before.
“Well, weren’t you a... ‘scary youkai’?” Reimu asked, folding her arms again and relaxing her own posture a little more. “You’re bad at that.”
“Ohh, aw...” was all Kogasa could manage.
“I think I heard about you babysitting before,” the shrine maiden continued, looking out toward the sky, “You were bad at that, too.”
Kogasa moaned and grumbled at her side. Now she looked at the other girl again.
“But you’re good at ‘smithing’, huh? Sorry if I thought that must be your fourth job after failing at ‘sitting’, ‘scaring’, and ‘shielding from rain’.”
“I’ll have you know, I’m a perfectly fine umbrella,” Kogasa plainly spoke. She looked away from Reimu then, and away from the village. Far away, like she was looking at memories instead. In a bit of a dark voice, she muttered, “The only reason nobody used me in the first place was because of my looks, ha ha... snff.”
The human was quick to act. She dropped her left hand onto the youkai’s blue hair and pushed down firmly, yet friendly on her head. “Now, now,” said the shrine maiden, rubbing that hair a little roughly, “that sort of thing doesn’t matter to me. I’ll take your help if you’re pink, purple, or whatever.”
Kogasa lit up at that. She lifted her head, and Reimu lifted her hand. She brought her face close to Reimu’s, her red iris glistening and her blue sparkling. “Really!?” she exclaimed. “Great!”
Reimu blinked, not offering much of an expression in return. Kogasa turned, and Reimu did as well, and as the tsukumogami leaned away from her to get her umbrella open (and bumped Reimu with her butt again while the human was reaching for her rice (making her scowl)), the shrine maiden wondered for a moment if she might have a soft spot for tools. There were a few examples, weren’t there?
“Hah!” the youkai exclaimed, opening the umbrella part of herself out toward the rain and scattering droplets of water. Reimu lifted and secured the bale over her right shoulder with both hands. Then, she flinched. Kogasa had put her arm over the maiden’s back, and was now drawing close, lifting her hand so that it could grab hold of the exposed upper arm. It had gotten cold. The shrine maiden realized that now with the touch of the tsukumogami remedying that.
... That observed—
Reimu flicked her gaze to the tsukumogami, glaring at her, but the tool was too pleased to notice. She was humming a quiet song, and despite herself it had Reimu’s quick turn for a slow retreat. Even when Marisa hugged her without warning, she would respond with a fast punch or a kick. All in all, she hardly knew Kogasa. Until recently, she barely even remembered the youkai’s name.
But unlike with Marisa’s sudden approaches, Kogasa did not mean to tease; she was just happy to help. She was stubborn, but one thing that tended to sway the Hakurei Shrine Maiden was simple, earnest goodwill. It honestly disarmed her, at least momentarily, every time. In this moment, Kogasa swept her up before she could reconsider.
“Stay close, okay?” the umbrella cheerfully advised, and with an objection stopped at her lips they began to fly through the sky.
This wasn’t the norm, not in any capacity.
The helpful girl almost carried her, not letting a single raindrop touch her or her purchase.
The village beneath them had mostly closed due to rain. The forest trees that obscured the path to her shrine were twitching and bending under the pelting and persistent, precipitating skies, and a few lax fairies were sat on braches enjoying their favored weather. She looked to where the Lake would be, and swore through the downpour she could see the glimmer of its surface. Mostly, she listened. She listened to rain falling on and rolling off the cover above her, and she listened to Kogasa discreetly continue her lullaby. Like she realized it had been cold, in Kogasa’s half-embrace she realized too that she had been on edge.
“Are you feeling a little better now?”
The soft whisper beside her brought her out of her thoughts. Kogasa was looking into her eyes, sympathetic.
“Huh?” she grunted, abrasive.
“I thought you looked down...” the youkai revealed almost under her voice, almost worried to admit it. “I thought I might try making you smile, too.”
“Did I look like I was smiling?” she asked rhetorically, but the girl had an answer.
“Oh...” she started, breaking her gaze as her nerves got the better of her, “you... well, you...” ... was all she managed, before fizzling out. Reimu became confused by this, and her face openly showed as much.
Was I smiling? Yeah, right... the shrine maiden thought, but she was only mostly sure.
“... If you ever feel sad,” Kogasa ventured again, “it’s okay to let it be like that for a little while. You might feel bad about it – about just letting it out – but even if people make fun of you, even if it bothers someone, it means you, at least, know what made your heart ache.” The shorter girl continued, and Reimu wasn’t sure to who. “Then you know where your problem is,” she said, “and you can do your best to change it.” She looked out ahead, and gave a smile for the both of them. Something turned within Reimu’s chest, and she decided that little message didn’t sit well with her.
“Haaahhh...” she loosed this rattling sigh, and Kogasa panicked beside her. “Whatever,” she said flatly. Those were words for someone without confidence. They weren’t words for her. “Tell that to yourself,” she suggested. “I’m fine.”
“I... I see...” Kogasa answered sadly. Reimu told herself again, Whatever.
They moved over the canopy of woods that covered the dilapidate shrine stairway, the red torii gate looking almost gray in the distance from the rain. It had become silent between them, so when a sparrow flew out, sudden, from a hidden nest, Kogasa yelped and flinched, letting her human charge go for a moment. In that moment, Reimu took her left hand from her rice, and calmly (but firmly) secured the girl with a hold on her left shoulder. Kogasa looked into her face in surprise, but Reimu simply looked toward the gate, moving them along to their nearing destination. Still, her expression shifted a little. She felt in touching the youkai’s sleeve just how thoroughly wet it had gotten. She glanced down past the girl’s relieved face to see that water ran down the left of her skirt as well.
Not long after, they had made it to her porch without speaking another word.
As Reimu put down her new supplies and checked her clothing for any wetness (finding, everywhere, none), she felt Kogasa – who was sitting behind her and kicking her barefoot geta in the puddles beneath the veranda – stealing glances at her over and over. Eventually the human had enough, and breathily snapped, “What?”, while looking behind herself.
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
Her voice was full of concern, and her eyebrows were bent to reflect that. Reimu looked back inside, but wasn’t sure why she didn’t want the youkai seeing her face. “I am the Hakurei Shrine Maiden,” she plainly declared, speaking into her breast, “I silence crying children, I don’t cry myself. Eternal,” she explained, looking over her shoulder just slightly, “that’s what I a—”
Kogasa put her arms over the Eternal Maiden’s stomach, held her strongly, and pulled the human’s back into her chest and face. Reimu froze, noting the girl’s breath through her clothing. Kogasa felt like she didn’t want to let go, and did want Reimu to know that much through her touch. The Hakurei Shrine Maiden... was not sure.
The youkai spoke.
“Um, thanks for letting me help you...” she told with warmth. Reimu found herself silent. “I hope that what you say... can really be true.” She pushed away from Reimu, and the human finally looked down to see her fully. To see a small bead of water falling from one of her sky blue locks, and the half-discolored clothing she was wearing. She must’ve put her neck out under the rain a little while before. Kogasa reached up, and let her hand fall on Reimu’s head, gentle and cautious in her gesture. She glowed a little, crouched on her feet with her knees up, and while pulling her hand away gave the human’s hair a simple, reassuring caress; sliding past her ear and gliding over her cheek. She then pulled away a little suddenly, her eyebrows lifting and her fingers curling in.
“Oh,” she mused, cocking her head to the side and grinning brightly, “I surprised you!”
Her face felt hot.
“Use me any time!” the tsukumogami bid, and waved as she hopped away, pulled up her umbrella, and took to the sky.
Reimu put a hand over her chest, feeling it thmp... thmp... She breathed a shaking sigh again, but this time she hadn’t wished for it to waver. H-Huh...?
Intuition told her nothing.
But, she was warm all over, and not at all unhappy.
/ / / / /
 See the bookstore girl again. Plenty of reference material!
 See the half-youkai teacher for advice again.
 Try to find the youkai who lives in the village again. She’s always hiding...
 Get checked for a fever.
 Ask Marisa if anything’s been going on in the village.
 Close down the shrine and forbid visitors for a while.