"Spirit Sign: Fantasy Seal!"
The two fairies in front of Reimu cringed and scrambled for cover, leaving a trail of stolen apples behind them. With a practiced flick of her wrist, she spread the stack of ofuda in her fingers and sent them shooting toward the pair.
... and barely two meters from her fingers, the ofuda suddenly drifted under the influence of air resistance, then gently fluttered toward the ground. Before they even touched down, the yin-yang orb remembered the laws of physics and abruptly stopped hovering. It thudded to the ground behind her.
An uncomfortable silence filled the air. Reimu stared at the failed attack in disbelief, then started patting herself down to find more ofuda. She could feel the fairies' eyes on her as she frantically tried to remember if she'd brought more. She hadn't exactly expected to need more than one stack to take care of two fairies.
"Um," one of them said, looking uncertainly between the shrine maiden and the pile of paper in front of her. "Was that the spell card, or...?"
"No, that wasn't the spell card!" Reimu drew another stack of ofuda from her sleeve, then held them in the air. "Spirit Sign," she announced, with extra gusto, as if that might remind the yin-yang orb that it was supposed to be enchanting her attacks. As it had rolled into a ditch along the side of the path, chances seemed slim. For almost the first time in her life, she couldn't feel any power flowing from the thing. But it was still worth a shot. "F-fantasy Seal!"
The ofuda barely even left her hands before air resistance stopped them this time. As if they were nothing more than ordinary paper, they drifted into a messy pile just in front of her feet.
That was not promising. Panicking, Reimu crouched down and picked up a fistful of them to fling again, until she realized that the fairies were cautiously backing away. When she'd chased the two halfway across Gensokyo and started this fight, it had just been about getting back the tree worth of apples that the two had stolen from behind the shrine. Now, now it was about pride. "G-get back here!"
One of the fairies stopped and looked at Reimu in confusion. "You're not shooting, though." Reimu tossed a handful of now-crumpled ofuda in her direction, and after watching yet another attack fall helplessly to the ground, the fairy beamed with sudden confidence. "Well, okay...!"
Reimu should have kept her mouth shut. It was the only thing on her mind as she trudged home.
Fairies usually didn't do anything harsher than childish pranks, but finding themselves facing a suddenly-powerless Hakurei shrine maiden... they'd gotten a lot of pranking in. She could feel the eyes of what seemed like half the population of the human village following her as she passed through it, and she couldn't blame them. She was half-soaked, part of her dress was still frozen, there were a few twigs still tangled in her hair, and while she wasn't sure, she suspected that she was going to find something drawn on her face as soon as she encountered a mirror.
More upsetting was the fact that she had to carry the yin-yang orb. It'd been the source of all of her powers since she was old enough to fight, and now, suddenly, it didn't do a thing. She couldn't even get it to hover alongside her, so she had to carry it tucked in an elbow. It was heavy. Very, very heavy.
It was a bad day, and when she finally opened the door to the shrine, she found herself looking at the only thing that could make it worse: Yukari Yakumo, reclined in front of the table and holding Reimu's teapot. The youkai eyed her with barely-concealed amusement as she filled herself a cup. “Well, Reimu, I must say, that's a new look for you.”
“Ha.” Under the circumstances, Reimu couldn't muster the energy to try chasing Yukari off just yet. After tossing the orb in the corner with a heavy thud and wringing the last of the water out of her outfit, she slumped down at the table and grabbed the teapot, then poured a cup for herself.
“Bad day, hm?”
Reimu only answered in a grunt, and took a sip of tea. Or, given her current inelegant mood, a slurp. It managed to calm her down a little. She had to admit, Yukari brewed it better than she did.
“Perhaps it has something to do with this.” With her free hand, Yukari casually slid an envelope across the table. Reimu didn't need to pick it up to read the words on the front: 'Letter of Resignation.' “It seems like your shrine's god has gotten fed up and left.”
Reimu's tea was forgotten, and she ripped the envelope open. The letter inside was short, neatly written, and to the point: “I, the kami of the Hakurei shrine, hereby resign.”
“This isn't exactly convincing. How do I know this isn't a fake...?”
“Well, judging by your appearance, I might guess that you lost your powers today.”
Reimu huffed and glared suspiciously at Yukari across the table, weighing the facts. It was true, her loss of power was hard to explain any other way. And even for Yukari, this would be excessive for a prank... “H-he can't just quit! How can the shrine's god just up and quit, when I've never even known who they are?!”
“Maybe the fact that you never even figured out who they are is part of the reason they're leaving,” Yukari said, with careful neutrality. She took another sip of her tea. “And she's a she, by the way.”
“I don't care.” Reimu dropped the letter to the table, mostly to help her resist the urge to shred it, and pushed herself to standing. “I'm going to go get her back.”
“Are you, now?” Yukari allowed a bit of amusement to show in her voice now. “And how do you propose that a human, who now has no powers, is going to force a goddess to let herself be enshrined?”
“Well, I... I can't just give up like that!”
“Sit down, Reimu.”
Reimu wasn't accustomed to taking orders from youkai, but under the circumstances, she didn't have any better plan. After a defiant pause, she knelt down again. At the very least, it was true that she had no idea where she'd even start looking for a rogue deity in this condition. “You had something to do with this, didn't you?”
“Me?” Yukari raised an eyebrow and took a sip of her tea. “As funny as it would be to watch half of Gensokyo trying to get revenge on you at once...” Reimu winced at that image. “... the Hakurei shrine is important to the balance of Gensokyo. So, I've taken the liberty of putting together a list of qualified replacements.”
“Of other kami?” Reimu frowned and leaned one elbow against the table. “I can't just... hire a new one, can I?”
“I don't see why not. It's not unheard-of to enshrine a new one when the previous one leaves.” A small gap opened in the air in front of Yukari, and she daintily plucked a piece of paper from within, then looked over it. “For example, you could enshrine one of the Aki sisters.”
Reimu rolled her eyes. “Too pacifist.”
“... is she really a god?”
“She's imbued with divinity, yes. With enough prayer and time...”
Reimu shuddered. “No. She's already powerful enough. Keep going.”
“... is she a god?”
“For her, becoming a god would be a demotion. But she might do it in the name of stability.”
“You could transfer Suwako or Kanako here.”
“Out of the question.”
“Well, that settles it, then! There's only one option left.”
Yukari turned the list around and slid it across the table. Reimu's eyes went wide as they settled onto the final name on it. “No. No. Absolutely not!”
"... are you serious?!"
"Yes," Reimu said wearily. Unfortunately, she added to herself, but had just enough restraint to not say it out loud. "Yes, I'm serious. Gensokyo needs the Hakurei shrine, and the Hakurei shrine needs a kami, so..."
Across from her, Sanae glanced incredulously to Kanako and Suwako before her attention turned back to Reimu. "But why me?"
'Why Sanae?' had been the topic of a long, long discussion she'd had with Yukari the previous night. Reimu had been adamant on trying to track down the shrine's missing kami, but Yukari had held her ground. It was true, she wasn't in any condition to hunt down a rogue spirit right now. And that of the possible replacements, Sanae was the one that Reimu was... least uncomfortable with.
That didn't mean that she liked any of this. Walking up to the Moriya shrine, powerless and unable to fly, had felt like an act of surrender.
But now that she was here, she might as well follow through. "Some of your powers already come from worship, right? So Yukari thinks you could adjust to it pretty easily..."
"And, she's part-kami by inheritance!" Somehow, by the time Suwako finished speaking, she was standing, and viciously rumpled Sanae's hair with both hands.
"L-lady Suwako!" Sanae ducked down with a squeak, then brushed her hair back out with her fingers, pouting. It took a second for her attention to return to the conversation at hand. "I mean, um, it's true! Lady Suwako is my... ancestor." She glanced uncertainly back to the smaller kami. "But I never thought of it like that. Would it really be okay to just ask people to worship me?"
"Why not? It's how I did it, when I was human," Kanako said. She looked, to Reimu's eyes, entirely too pleased at this whole conversation. "And if the Hakurei shrine is so desperate that it's head-hunting talent from us—"
"I'm not desperate..." Reimu mumbled, but the goddess continued unabated.
"—then I say that you should seize the chance."
"Huh...?" Sanae looked to Kanako, surprised. "Really?"
"Really. It isn't every day that an opportunity like this comes along. I don't want to split any more faith with the Hakurei shrine than I have to, but having the barrier collapse would be worse in the long run. If we're going to be competing with another goddess either way, I'd prefer it to be one we can cooperate with.”
"I didn't come here so that you three could make some religious conspiracy," Reimu grumbled.
“Just think of it as building good relations with your neighbors.” The fact that Kanako was still grinning made the reassurance fall a bit flat, as far as Reimu was concerned.
Sanae frowned. "... who will take care of this shrine while I'm gone, though?"
"Sanae," Kanako said gently. "Suwako and I have been doing this for a few millennia. I think that we can take care of ourselves for a few years."
"But it doesn't sound temporary..."
Next to Sanae, Suwako chuckled. "When you get to be my age, you'll realize that everything is temporary." It came off as a glib joke, but... not for the first time, Reimu detected bitterness in the childish goddess' eyes, and found herself wondering just how old she was.
Sanae lapsed into thoughtful silence, and hesitantly, Reimu said, "Look, it's okay if you're not interested..." Already, she'd decided to ask Hina if Sanae passed on it, but she didn't relish her chances of getting donations if word got around that her shrine was home to a goddess of misfortune.
"No, um! I am! This is just a lot to consider, you know?" Sanae laughed to herself. "It's not really the kind of thing I ever thought about..."
"Ahh, I understand. Scared we'd crush you, huh?" Kanako gave Sanae a hearty slap on the back. Reimu could almost hear the girl's bones rattling under the impact.
"Maybe a little..." Sanae absently fretted with a few strands of her hair, and the group fell into thoughtful silence. After a few minutes, Reimu realized that Sanae's eyes were focused on her, and she had just enough time to notice a growing grin on the girl's face before Sanae slammed a fist against the table and announced, "Y'know what? I'll do it!"
"Yeah! I mean, what kind of loser would turn down a chance to become a goddess? Hehe. It's like the plot to a video game or something." Reimu frowned in confusion at this; Suwako and Kanako shot her looks of sympathy. Sanae, in her reckless enthusiasm, didn't seem to even notice. "Besides, I'm nearly an adult, right? It's about time I got my own place."
"It's not your place, it's—nevermind. If you're sure, I guess..." Reimu looked between the three across the table from her. "So, um, how do we do this?"
Kanako still looked far too happy with this turn of events. "Well, enshrining a still-living human is usually not done in the outside world these days, even with an arahitogami like Sanae. You might need to fudge the process."
"I actually meant moving down to my place, for now. I mean..." Reimu glanced around the interior of the Moriya shrine. It was, she suddenly realized with growing jealousy, very full of stuff. Much more stuff than her own shrine. "You have things you want to bring down, right?"
"Oh! I should do that, yeah," Sanae agreed.
"Let us worry about that," Kanako said. "I can call in some favors."
"Well, okay. Is there anything else...?" This still felt far too easy to Reimu, but she wasn't about to complain. Easy was good, especially right now.
Sanae looked uncertainly between the two goddesses flanking her, and Kanako said, "A drink, to a long and fruitful relationship between our two shrines?"
Reimu perked up... for just a second, then wilted as she remembered. Right, she couldn't fly now. She'd need to walk all the way back down the mountain. The mountain, completely inhabited by youkai, and her without any powers. "I'd better not..."
Kanako nodded. "In that case, we can have Sanae ready to move within two days. Can you return then to pick her up?"
"Then we will see you in two days, Reimu."
"Yeah!" Sanae leveled a finger imperiously at Reimu. "Don't be late to pick up your new goddess!"
Reimu sighed as she pushed herself to her feet. “... don't let it go to your head just yet, Sanae. I'll see you in two days.”
The two days passed at a crawl. With no ability to fly and no powers, there was nothing to do but lay around the shrine and hope that the youkai were well-behaved. It was an uneasy combination of boredom and anxiety—nothing to do, no easy way to visit people, and utterly aware that if trouble started, the only tools she had at her disposal were stern glares and the hope that news about her missing powers hadn't spread too far.
So, Reimu did what little she could to prepare the shrine for its new goddess. She cleaned. She emptied out a room. She read up on what few rituals she could find.
Trudging back up the mountain two days later, she was acutely aware of her lack of powers again. Youkai Mountain had earned its name for a reason, and even though the tengu patrols had long ago learned to give her a wide berth, she still imagined the eyes of tengu and kappa following her for the entire ascent. It was a good motivation to hurry, and she practically jogged up the mountain, with her breath leaving a foggy trail in the cool air behind her.
When she finally reached the Moriya shrine, Reimu wasn't sure what she was expecting to find. What she actually found, though, was an overloaded cart, 'TENGU SISTERS MOVING COMPANY' painted on the side, and the two apparent proprietors loading boxes into it while Sanae hovered over them busily. "P-please don't drop that, it's really fragile!" She sighed in exasperation, then perked up again when she noticed Reimu. "Oh! Good morning!"
"Morning..." Reimu eyed the cart. That was... definitely more stuff than she personally owned. "Is that really all yours?"
"Mmhm. I'm leaving some of my old clothes here for now, but..."
Kanako walked out of the shrine and dropped a cardboard box into Sanae's arms. "This is the last of it."
"Thanks." Sanae briefly inspected the box's contents, and after a nod of approval, handed it off to one of the movers. "All set, I think!"
"You'll be paid when the job is done," Kanako added.
After securing the last few boxes, the movers took off down the mountain, with the cart clattering behind them. Reimu watched it go uneasily. "A tengu moving company, really?"
"Tengu do good work," Kanako said. "And they know I'll never let them live it down if they break anything."
"I'd be more worried about them going through your things..."
"Ah, Gensokyo natives wouldn't know what half of it's for anyway." Suwako leapt from the pillar, and even though it was several meters tall, landed in a froglike crouch with practiced ease. She straightened up and brushed herself off, smiling to Sanae. "Are you ready to go, then?"
Sanae shifted her weight from foot to foot. "I... guess I am, huh?"
Kanako smirked. "Second thoughts already?"
"No, I've made up my mind," Sanae said. She pumped a fist in front of herself, then hesitantly relaxed it. "But, you know. Even with the move here, it will be the first time I've lived anywhere but the shrine since I was a kid..."
"You're finally moving out on your own. Maybe this makes you an adult."
"Yeah, maybe...!" Sanae conceded with a soft laugh.
Suwako tackled against her stomach in a hug. "Behave yourself down there!"
“It's going to be a lot more boring without you around.”
“I-I'm sorry, Lady Suwako.” Sanae's voice cracked. Reimu turned the other way and found a nice tree in the distance to study. She really wished they'd gotten this all out of the way before she'd arrived.
"Crying already?" Kanako said teasingly, as she reached over to ruffle Sanae's hair. "A goddess should show more composure. You're only moving a few kilometers away."
Sanae sniffled. "R-right..."
"Even if we're competitors now, we're proud of you."
Sanae broke down bawling. Behind her, Reimu could hear a complicated dance of hugs and pats on the back as the two comforted the girl. Only after several minutes, when it seemed a little quieter, did she dare to turn around and clear her throat. "All set, then...?"
In response, Kanako gave Sanae a one-handed shove toward Reimu, and the green-haired girl only barely managed to stumble to a stop short of crashing into her. "She's all yours." Reimu was surprised to see tears drying in the corners of Kanako's eyes, too.
"Hey, you know!" Suwako said, tilting her hat back to look up at Reimu. "If you're looking for work, our shrine's short a miko now..."
"I'll keep it in mind," Reimu said, with a roll of her eyes. "Come on, let's go. This is going to be a long trip. Some of us still can't fly, you know."
Suwako shouted and waved until the two were out of earshot, after which the only sound was the trees rustling in the wind. Sanae seemed to have plenty on her mind, and Reimu was a bit thoughtful, herself. The whole scene with the three saying goodbye had left her strangely uncomfortable. Reimu had never had much of a family. That kind of closeness was alien to her. She'd been living alone pretty much since she was old enough to take care of herself.
Well. She supposed that was changing now. The idea of having somebody living with her still seemed like a weird one, but it wasn't like she could take it back now.
The trip passed with only the most idle of small talk. When the Hakurei shrine finally came into view, they found Sanae's belongings already neatly stacked next to the door. After the long, long walk, it was all they could do to drag most of it inside before they collapsed.
“We'll finish it tomorrow,” Reimu promised, as she flopped onto her back, with her head leaned against one of the boxes. Under the circumstances, it was a surprisingly comfortable position.
Sanae laid down across a few boxes of clothes, making them bulge beneath her. “This kind of feels like a sleepover, doesn't it?”
“I don't know, what's a sleepover?”
“... it's an outside world thing, I guess.” Sanae lapsed into embarrassed silence. Outside, the first few crickets of the evening were starting to chirp.
When the silence became unbearable, Reimu had no choice but to try drumming up more conversation. Unfortunately, the first thing that came to her mind was, “I didn't know that you and those two goddesses were... like that.”
“They've been looking after me since I was four. They're basically my parents,” Sanae said, with a soft smile on her face.
“Huh. Um. If you regret coming here, it's still not too late, you know...”
“Nope! It'll take some getting used to, but... Lady Kanako was right. This is part of growing up. If we were still in the outside world, I'd be moving out for college or something soon, anyway.”
“You seem pretty upbeat about the whole thing.”
“Hehe. Why shouldn't I?” Sanae pulled her legs back, and in a single motion, roll-leapt from the box to land on her feet. In an instant, she was bent over Reimu curiously. “Doesn't it sound fun to you, being a goddess?”
Reimu raised an eyebrow. “Should it?”
“Well... yeah! You get to answer prayers, and make the world a better place.”
“'Make the world a better place,' huh?” Reimu wasn't really used to thinking of kami in those terms. Beyond her now-absentee, unknown goddess of the shrine, she was used to thinking of them as... service providers. Make the right offering or perform the right ritual at the right time and, sure, they'd do something nice, but Reimu had always viewed it as more of an exchange than an act of benevolence. But, still... “... that doesn't sound so bad.”
“I know, right?” Sanae's enthusiasm was almost infectious, Reimu had to give her that. “So I'm pretty excited to get started.”
“It's getting late. Maybe we could sleep first?”
“Right, right! I guess we should.. But starting tomorrow, we'll make this the best damn shrine in Gensokyo.” Sanae offered a hand down to the still-prone Reimu. “Partners?”
Reimu almost wanted to roll her eyes at that announcement, even if she had made a few like it in short-lived fits of enthusiasm. She reached up and took Sanae's hand, though, and as Sanae hauled her to her feet, repeated, “Partners.”