A Different Demon-Sealing Record - Chapter 2: Of Gods and Fairies
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They began making their way towards the Human Village; apart from anything else, Rika's superiors were probably going to want Reimu's side of the story no matter what. Reimu now had a satchel slung over her shoulder, containing several dozen ofuda of various types, plus a hearty packed dinner for two.
(Reimu was initially slightly jumpy about Rika flying around in a skirt, but Rika wore bloomers, which were considered outerwear to a sufficient degree that one might simply wear them under one's skirt while flying. And that's quite enough of that train of thought, thank you very much.)
An unpaved dirt road led directly to the Human Village. Most of Gensokyo consisted of forests, fields, and rolling hills. The biggest geographical feature was Youkai Mountain in the west, a dormant volcano which was home to such creatures as the duchy of the tengu, and the looser coalition of kappa. It was directly across Gensokyo from the Hakurei Shrine; coincidentally, the Human Village was almost directly between them. If there hadn't been a road, Reimu could have found the Human Village by simply flying towards Youkai Mountain.
About half an hour after they set out, they passed through a wide open field, about a full kilometer from end to end. "Think we can break for dinner here?" said Reimu. "I'm getting kinda peckish."
"I have no objections," said Genjii. "Ms. Hara?"
"Um, sure," said Rika.
Genjii landed by a tree, and Reimu and Rika sat down. Reimu brought out the bento boxes. They both gave the traditional Japanese thanks for the meal, and Reimu added, "Don't throw the box away."
"I won't," said Rika with a grin. She looked up at Genjii. "You need anything?"
"No, thank you," he said. "I do not require food."
"All right," said Rika. "Sorry for raiding your larder, by the way ..."
"Don't worry about it," said Reimu, picking up a bit of fish with her chopsticks. "I guess after dealing with that curse stuff, I figure you deserved some kind of pick-me-up, kinda thing." She'd heard Chiyo say something like this once.
Rika fiddled with her chopsticks, grimacing. "I don't really feel like I 'deserve' anything after I blew up the shrine," she said. "I feel like a youkai just thinking about it. A stupid, reckless youkai ..."
"No, Miss Hara," Genjii said gently, "I would say that you feel like a human. A youkai would have been proud of what she'd accomplished, not disgusted with herself and remorseful."
"Heh. Good point." Rika managed a smile. "Thanks ... Gramps."
Reimu giggled. Genjii just grumbled.
Silence descended, except for the sounds of birdsong, and the chattering of a group of fairies playing tag at the north end of the field.
"You holding up okay, Reimu?" Rika said suddenly.
"Hm?" Reimu swallowed her mouthful of rice. "Um, yeah, why?"
Rika shrugged. "Well, you're kind of ... I dunno how say this." She laughed nervously. "You're, uh, two years younger than the minimum age of the Defense Force, so ..."
"Um, I dunno," said Reimu. "I've been having an easy time so far."
Rika nodded slowly. "Well, the Flower Tank was kind of pathetic," she said. "Just ... watch out for yourself, okay?"
"I don't think I'll have any problems with fighting," said Reimu. She got the impression that Rika was trying to distract herself from her guilt. "Well, I've got the Hakurei Yin-Yang Orb, that'll see me through the fights for a while!"
"I think I've heard about that," said Rika. "You get the powers and memories from the previous Shrine Maidens, right?"
"Broadly correct," said Genjii. "Only the combat capabilities are recorded and passed on, however. It certainly helped that the first three Shrine Maidens, Hakurei Ichigo, Niji, and Sanna, were already extraordinary youkai exterminators by the time they began serving the Shrine."
"It's really weird," said Reimu. "Like ... I suddenly knew how to do things I didn't know before. It almost felt like ... like the Yin-Yang Orb is using me to fight, instead of me using it."
"That will pass, as you grow accustomed to battle," said Genjii. "The guiding affect appears to have been specifically built into the Yin-Yang Orb as an aid for novice Shrine Maidens."
"The so-called 'beginner's luck', huh?" said Rika.
"Well, 'beginner's luck' is the term for the relative peace and lack of strife during the first few years of every Shrine Maiden's service," said Genjii. "The power of the Yin-Yang Orb does not fully account for that. I suppose it is a factor, though."
"'Beginner's luck', huh?" murmured Reimu. "I was wondering about how quiet it was. That's happened with all of 'em, huh? All of us, I mean."
"Indeed," said Genjii. "I am not certain how or why this has happened. Unless a surprisingly altruistic youkai is behind it, but I wouldn't expect to find evidence of that."
"Mm-hmm," said Reimu with her mouth full. She swallowed. "Well, whatever it is, I still gotta defend the Village, and keep the Great Hakurei Barrier going."
"An excellent plan," said Genjii.
They ate in silence for another few minutes. An ice-fairy was apparently cheating by freezing another fairy's danmaku, but she maintained that the accuser had been the first one to cheat by using danmaku in the first place. It quickly degenerated into calling each other "stupid" over and over again.
"Y'know, sometimes I try to see the Barrier," said Rika, gazing at the sky.
"I think everyone does that," said Reimu. "It's just invisible, though, I think. Unless ... that's what it looks like to begin with?"
"No, it is quite invisible," said Genjii, who was older than the Great Hakurei Barrier itself.
"Right," said Reimu. "Even I can't do more than just ... feel how the whole thing is doing."
"How is the barrier doing?" Rika asked.
Reimu frowned, looking up at the sky. "It's not really as strong as it could be, actually," she said. "But that's just cuz I'm new at all this, it's not bad or anything. It's gonna get stronger as I get better at dealing with it." She gestured with her chopsticks. "It's not in danger or anything, I won't just let the Barrier collapse."
"Mmph." Rika nearly choked on her rice, giggling. "Yeah, I wouldn't want to be in Gensokyo if that happened. But I guess I mean, most of the time, I just wonder what's on the other side." She looked over to the west, towards where Youkai Mountain was visible over the trees. "They say there's a whole world out there, and everyone's heard of people accidentally coming in from outside, but ... honestly, I can't really wrap my head around that. Gensokyo's a pretty big world, isn't it?"
"Maybe," said Reimu. "Before ... before Chiyo took me in, I kind of felt like the Human Village was big enough for a whole world for me."
"The Outside World is as large compared to Gensokyo," said Genjii, "as the Human Village is to a single human." He hesitated. "Actually, perhaps the scale would be more comparable to the entirety of Gensokyo versus a human? And ... perhaps even that is too small ..."
Rika chuckled. "Well, that puts my point of view in perspective, huh?"
The fairies had decided to settle their quarrel with an all out danmaku brawl, and the north end of the field was soon lit up by multicolored lights. The sounds of battle, jingling, and occasionally the sound of ice shattering echoed through the field.
"From what I gather from the handful of Outsiders I've spoken to, the Outside World has changed considerably," said Genjii. "Even the cities themselves might be wholly unrecognizable as such." He shook his head. "I cannot describe it in clearer terms, being that I have been in Gensokyo for most of the Great Hakurei Barrier's existence. I don't imagine that we shall find out, so long as the Barrier holds."
"Haha, nope." Reimu gazed at the sky. "Still, it's ... there's a bunch of weird things about the Barrier, really. One time, right before they officially made me the Hakurei Miko, I walked into the woods behind the Shrine, and I just kept going and going and going, but the trees never ended. Pretty soon, I thought it looked —"
She was interrupted by a loud twinkling pop, as the ice-fairy took one too many hits and vanished in a puff of smoke and glitter. This tended to happen in fights involving fairies; fortunately, death didn't last quite as long for them as it did with humans.
"Pretty soon," Reimu continued, "it looked like I'd passed the same spot a whole bunch of times, even though I was going in a straight line. Then I heard Gramps calling me, and I turned around, and I was right back at the Shrine."
"Okay, that's really weird," said Rika.
"Yeah, you're telling me," said Reimu. "Maybe I'll try it some other time, see if I can figure out anything now that I'm the Shrine Maiden."
"Yes, nearly every Shrine Maiden has attempted that, and each reported a different sensation," said Genjii. "Perhaps I would know more if I learned the identity of its creator."
"You don't even know that?" said Rika.
"I was not assigned by Heaven to serve the Hakurei Shrine until the death of Hakurei Sanna, and the ascension of Hakurei Yonmi, the fourth Shrine Maiden," said Genjii. "By that time, the Barrier had existed for more than two years, and Konngara, the goddess of the Shrine, has never answered my questions on the subject."
Reimu chewed and swallowed, and looked back in the direction they'd come. "What's up with her, anyway?" she said. "The Village Elders almost couldn't get the Yin-Yang Orb to recognize me, and I can't even sense her. I mean, of course I can always feel the, y'know, the divine power in the Shrine, but I can't ... sense her sense her."
"I'm afraid the answer is the same as it always has been." Genjii followed her gaze, looking troubled. "One afternoon, Lady Konngara demanifested in anger following a quarrel with Miss Chiyo, about a year before she took you in. That was seven years ago," he added for Rika's benefit, "and Lady Konngara has simply not reappeared since then. In the worst case scenario, Lady Konngara may have ... starved, for lack of a better term, due to a lack of faith from anyone other than the Shrine Maiden."
"People not believing in her, you mean?" said Rika. "I mean, I sure believe in gods, like, I actually met the harvest goddess Aki Minoriko a couple of years ago ..."
"Faith in a god does not mean merely acknowledging their existence," said Genjii. "Worship, devotion, engaging in celebrations with your god, or even praying in thanks ... Such things are as food and water to a deity. Gods are, quite literally, born from and shaped by faith, just as youkai are born from and shaped by human fears."
Reimu frowned. "What, am I not allowed to be afraid in order to fight youkai?"
"Of course you're allowed to be afraid," said Genjii. "The effect of a single human's immediate emotional state is much to small to make any difference. To both youkai and gods, for that matter. The process happens over the course of days at the absolute quickest, with a great many humans. But your ofuda and the Yin-Yang Orb will be sufficient for individual battles."
"Okay," said Reimu. She finished off her fish, and focused on what was left of her rice and vegetables.
The puff of smoke happened in reverse, and the ice-fairy rematerialized, looking confused and dizzy for a moment. Then she started screaming and yelling at the few remaining fairies that hadn't wandered off in boredom in the meantime.
"What was she like?" asked Rika. "Sorry, I kind of feel like I'm spending this whole time asking questions, it's just ... I just kind of need to distract myself, haha ..."
"That's quite all right," said Genjii. "There is little to say, however. Lady Konngara was an imposing swordswoman, and she was one of the deities who presided over the former Hell of Blazing Fires before it was shut down. When the Hakurei Shrine was built, she was enshrined as its god." He looked pensive. "She was ... quite devoted to the Shrine and its Shrine Maidens, and to what followers she had."
Reimu realized that he was talking about Konngara in exactly the same way people tended to talk about Chiyo. "Well I'm gonna try to get as much faith as I can to bring her back!" she said. "Okay, look, maybe we can set up a branch shrine at the Village, definitely put up a couple of hokora around there ..."
Genjii seemed surprised, but then he chuckled. "Of course," he said. "I was being foolish." He sighed. "I mourned for Hakurei Chiyo, but ... there is hope that Lady Konngara shall return. As long as the Shrine Maiden of Hakurei lives, and the Shrine still stands, there —"
There was a sudden silence, except for sound of the ice fairy's declarations of vengeance.
"Well, it ... shouldn't make ... that much of a difference, as long as it is rebuilt quickly," Genjii said hurriedly.
"You know what, I'm not really feeling all that hungry," said Rika. She quickly closed up her bento box and handed it to Reimu. "How about we just, uh, let's just get going."
"Yeah," said Reimu, cramming the bento boxes and chopsticks into her satchel. She climbed onto Genjii's back, and glanced towards the north end of the field. "Here's hoping we do better than that fairy."
"It would be wise to prepare for danger no matter what happens," said Genjii. "We shall have more than fairies to worry about soon enough."
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