She heard the rain before she saw it. She could tell it was coming from the way the trees rustled; from the soft roar in the near distance. It was a lukewarm spring day, cloudy and damp, and finally the atmosphere had given way. Reimu covered her head and ducked inside the shrine, clutching her broom. Moments later she was sitting in the main room, nursing a steaming hot cup of tea and watching brown pinpricks of rain covering the porch. The roof rumbled. The scenery outside blurred. For a moment the scent of vegetation and wet earth became overwhelming, amplified by the humidity.
And almost as quickly as it came, the rain thinned into drizzle, the grass glittering with puddles. The visible sky was still a deep grey. Reimu sipped her drink, wondering whether to go back outside. It wasn’t like she had anything pressing to do. On days like this it was rare for her to get any visitors at all, let alone worshippers from the Human Village. Everyone wanted to stay indoors if possible. She could probably close the shrine for the day and it wouldn’t make a difference.
It wasn’t like she got many visitors anyway. Sometimes Reimu wondered what the point was.
She placed her cup back on the table, and tried to think of something to do. Training was out of the question (she wasn’t that bored) but Reimu had finished most of the chores that morning. She glanced around the room, hoping to find a stray cobweb, but her eyes settled on the wall opposite. Behind it was the hall of worship.
Of course, that was always an option, but Reimu couldn’t see why this time would be any different. The Hakurei god never said anything. Trying to communicate with it was hopeless.
Oh she knew it was there. She could feel it residing in her whenever she performed her kagura dance, and the faint spiritual energy lurking around the building made it obvious it was occupied, but the god gave no hints to its true identity, its blessings, or even its opinions on how Reimu ran the shrine. All she had to go on was the surrounding architecture and the yin-yang orbs that lived in the sanctuary. Maybe it was for the best; Reimu would hate to be bossed around all day by an irate god. She valued peace and quiet.
She thought of the Moriya shrine. Sanae had invited her up just last week, and the difference between them couldn’t have been more obvious. There was a small, but steady stream of tengu and kappa visiting throughout the day, and once Suwako was lured out by the promise of booze they had a fun, fiery conversation about Shinto practices and danmaku. Reimu flew home before sunset, slightly tipsy and wondering if her own god referred to her as ‘my Reimu’. (Probably not. She doubted her god had anything nice to say about her. Just as well it never spoke.)
A strong breeze blew cold, wet air into the main room. The rain was intensifying again, and Reimu felt strangely sad. She shouldn’t think about the Moriya shrine; it always left her wistful. She put her cup back on the table and let herself fall sideways onto the tatami mats, staring at the ceiling as though willing it to leak, to give her something to do.
Where was Marisa at a time like this?
The tatami mats crackled slightly as she rolled over. Marisa hated flying in the rain. Reimu didn’t enjoy it much either, and technically speaking you weren’t supposed to go up if there was a chance of lighting, but Marisa seemed perfectly fine flying to the shrine in most weather. It was going back home that seemed to be the problem. At the smallest raindrop Marisa would always sigh, shake her head and say, “Guess I’m staying over tonight.” These days she even carried a toothbrush and a change of underwear with her. “I sleep over at Alice’s sometimes too,” Marisa had protested when asked about it. “And I’ve been stranded at Kourindou and Patchouli’s place in the past. I’m just being prepared.” She should bring a blanket and pillow with her too; sleeping on the tatami every time couldn’t be that comfortable.
Reimu wondered if she should buy a second futon, but it felt like she’d be admitting to something if she did. She could never work out whether she actually liked having Marisa around all the time. At first she’d found her really, really annoying. Some brat who dragged her left, right and centre for a bit of training, then pestered her with endless questions on how everything worked. What were those weird black and white balls? What about that funny stick? How many youkai did she fight every week? She’d follow Reimu around on extermination missions, and sometimes beat her to the culprit. It was infuriating.
And yet, somehow Marisa ended up being one of the few people she could relax around. As time passed and her hero worship of Reimu cooled, Marisa became just another friend who came round to drink tea, albeit a more welcome one than the endless supply of youkai eager to tease her and scare humans away from the shrine. Oh she was still annoying, though significantly less so than before, and Reimu always seemed to be missing one or two items after Marisa went home, but she had no desire to chase her away. Originally they’d have a danmaku duel or two, then chat for half an hour before Marisa headed elsewhere. But these days they spent less time playing and far more time talking. They never seemed to run out of topics: the weather, local gossip, anecdotes, silly folklore titbits, weird danmaku ideas, the odd moneymaking scheme... then before they knew it the sun was setting, and Marisa was holding her broom and waving goodbye. Another day successfully wasted together.
And once Marisa was gone, the shrine always felt larger, quieter, even more empty than it did before. Reimu would put the tea set away and wash up plates, then if it was dark enough she would begin closing up the shrine for the night. She’d lie in her futon, listening to the crickets chirp outside. The moonlight left grid patterns on the floor. She’d stare at nothing until sleep came.
Marisa made socialising look so easy it was unfair. Reimu had power, could beat up any youkai who looked at her funny, but could never get further than an awkward silence with other humans her age. A few had tried, had made an effort to invite her to parties and talk to her in the street, but it rarely went anywhere. The girls just wanted to complain and talk about boys, and the boys just wanted to show off. At gatherings they would all laugh and gossip about people in the village, or events Reimu didn’t participate in, and make plans amongst themselves. Reimu would excuse herself and head home early, back to her half-deserted shrine where Suika might be lying in a drunken stupor right in front of the donation box, or Yukari might have stolen the buns she was saving for dinner, or Kasen might be waiting to nag her about some part of her shrine maiden duty she was failing at. But Marisa would come the next day with some cake from Alice’s place, or a pile of books from the Scarlet Devil Mansion, or some wacky contraption she grabbed at a kappa bazaar, and Reimu would wonder why she didn’t just spend all day with Alice and Patchouli and Nitori. Why she always came back to her miserable shrine, time and time again.
If things were different, if Marisa had been born a Hakurei, then the god would definitely talk to her. Reimu was sure of it. A part of her wanted to try teaching Marisa a few shrine maiden skills just to see if it’d happen, but the other part of her knew she’d regret it. Marisa’s progress made her feel incompetent sometimes. (Of course, if it bothered her that much, then Reimu knew she should just train more. Marisa made it clear that she thought power was everything, but for Reimu power was just another part of her job. Training for the sake of it was a waste of time.)
Reimu rolled over again and gazed at the trees outside. Everything seemed darker, richer, more interesting. She briefly thought about going back out, just to wander around, but her mind was still on Marisa. How nice she always looked when she smiled. How her blonde hair puffed up in light rain. How she always invited loads of people to the shrine parties, and sat next to Reimu at dinners. Even though she had so many friends, so many other people she could devote her time to, Marisa was always coming over, throwing water in her face when she thought the shrine was on fire and finding reasons to stay over and make a nuisance of herself. Reimu had seen a second futon on sale in the Human Village just yesterday, and it was discounted. She could have bought it.
Reimu groaned and covered her face with her hands.
The first night Marisa stayed over had been a torrential downpour. Reimu could remember hearing the drainpipes gurgling, worrying that they might overflow. Marisa had been sitting opposite her, staring at the curtain of rain with a conflicted look on her face.
“I only have one futon, you know,” Reimu had said, in the hope that it might push her one way or the other.
“Will you be alright on the floor?” Marisa grinned, and Reimu nearly kicked her. In the end Marisa fell asleep on the other side of the room, and Reimu lay awake trying not to listen to her breathing. The next morning Marisa made breakfast, and they carried on like they always did. Reimu doubted either of them expected it to become a habit.
She should have bought that futon.
No, enough. Reimu sat up and smoothed down her hair. She had to find something to do. Anything. Once her inner monologue got going, all kinds of uncomfortable truths got dragged into the open. Yesterday afternoon Marisa had shown up with dumplings, and they’d shared them while lamenting the brown, crumbly piles of mush that used to be the cherry blossom. At one point Reimu had passed her a cup of freshly brewed tea, and their hands touched for barely a second. Outside the weather stayed cloudy, and as Marisa left Reimu bit back the urge to ask her to stay. That night all she could think about was touching her hand, kissing her cheek. But no. No no no. Having her as a friend was complicated enough.
Time to find something to do. It was still raining outside, but so what? Donations. Yes, Reimu should check the donation box. She got up and stepped outside. She was out for barely ten seconds, but the drizzle soaked her clothes, spraying raindrops on her neck and shoulders.
The sun stayed hidden until evening.