This was entered for the Iron Fic contest on The Fanfiction Forum, with the goal of writing a fic within 4 hours for a specific theme.

Iron Fic 5-2: "The role of religion in human life is rarely given proper respect in fanfiction. More people in human history have belonged to one than not, and billions of people look to religious teachings as a guide to right living. That isn't to say that religion is universally good; too often religious faith is used to justify base thoughts and actions, and the temporal power accorded religious figures is just as easily abused as any otherYour challenge today is to write about how religion challenges a person or people in your choice of fandom. What is it that they believe? Are they part of an organized religion, or do they follow a more open system of beliefs? Are they polytheist, monotheist, a nature worshiper, or a rare atheist? And why?Challenges to faith are many. Death and other loss, war and famine and similar misfortunes. Depression, and evil committed by religious leaders. Perhaps one of the greatest challenges to faith is proof of the divine in either direction-what if a character's religious conviction is proven right? What if it's proven wrong?"

A registration link for The Fanfiction Forum is in my profile for those of you who are interested.

The golden sun was rising, creating a rich hue of pinks, yellows and oranges as it began to dip over the horizon, starting its slow ascent to the mid-day zenith. From one of the higher points of the wondrous Land of Illusion, two girls were out early enough to observe the sunrise: one of them was busy sweeping the steps leading up to the red tori gate that marked the entrance to her family shrine before the heat of the summer day set in, while the other was already relaxing, splaying her body around lazedly on the shrine's outdoor gallery.

With a short cry of "Finished!", the working girl rose off the ground, before directing her hovering body across the shrine grounds, broom in hand, finally setting herself down on the porch next to her fellow resident (when she wasn't on long expeditions underground to catch up with fellow oni).

"You're already drinking, Suika?" She asked the other girl. "The sun only just came up, how can you tolerate drinking already after staying up so late last night? Besides," She sniffed, "It wouldn't look good for anybody who comes today to see you drunk."

The orange-haired Suika drew herself up from her laying position, sitting up with her legs out over the edge of the porch steps. Grabbing the magical gourd she owned, enchanted to never run out of sake, she uncorked it, took a few gulps, and then recorked the gourd. "Oh, Reimu, youkai don't need to sleep! I just prefer to!" She laughed lightly, balancing her torso's upright positioning with one hand to keep herself from swaying as she brought her other hand up to cup her forehead, keeping the sun out of her eyes. "And 'sides, you know nobody's ever going to come to your shrine, so why bother?"

Her black-haired counterpart twitched. "I've had guests before!" She defended to the oni with the power to control density. "It's just that, with all the youkai that keep coming here to hold parties that are often initiated by a certain someone, and those pesky fairies that decided to live near here, normal people are scared off from coming here, andthenIdontgetanydonations…" She mumbled, trailing off, a maniacal glee appearing in her eyes.

Suika backed away lightly. "Uh, Reimu, you're scaring me, heh-heh-heh." She stuck her face up in a grin, one tiny fang poking out, a toothy smile she often used to appear cute when combined with her petite frame. "Besides, I pay for my accommodations, don't I?"

"Yes," Reimu said, bringing her hands up to her forehead, pressing them in hard as if to ward off a headache. "Don't remind me. By selling sake from your gourd in the Human Village. I wish my ancestors had left me a teapot of unlimited tea."

"They left you a nice shrine, though," Suika pointed out. "Aaaaand…" Taking a quick glance at her own outfit, "Enough shrine maiden outfits to last us both a few lifetimes. Or you, at least. My lifetime's longer than yours."

Reimu nodded, looking back out at the horizon. "Yes. Miko Miko Suika has a nice ring to it, though I'm surprised you didn't want to take the old style I wore when I was younger, with the white shirt."

"I like having detached sleeves instead of a full-sleeved kimono," Suika defended.

"Yes, yes," Reimu waved off her friend's retort. "Still, it has been some time since I started wearing more red than white, and – oh, looks like we have some visitors. Suika, could you please go warm some water up for the tea?"

"Eh? Visitors? Really?" Suika stood up completely, looking down the shrine grounds. When she saw nobody else, she looked the only other logical direction in Gensokyo – up. "Ah, it looks like Marisa, and she seems to be carrying somebody. Not Alice, this person has black hair." A harrowed cough came from her side, and she startled to turn at Reimu. "Oh, right, tea. I'll be back!" She said with a grin, pointing one hand up in the air in an excited proclamation before hurrying inside.

"Marisa and somebody else, hmm?" Reimu thought aloud to herself as she stood up, waiting for the pair to come in closer. "Marisa wouldn't bother carrying most people on her broomstick, and most others who would visit me can fly anyways. If it isn't Alice, then who is it?..."

Her answer came as Marisa came in close, diving down from up high just shy of the tori before doing a few laps of the shrine grounds to brake her speed and slowly lower herself, coming to a stop just in front of Reimu. "Ah, it's you! Shino, right?" She asked the long-haired girl sitting behind Marisa.

"Yes, that's me, Miss Miko," The girl said as she disembarked, walking around bow-legged at first, eventually conquering her problem of jelly legs from a long flight after several steps. With a flourish, she opened her pockets up, making her way over to the donation box Reimu had strategically placed right next to the front steps.

"You mean you didn't swipe all her money already?" Reimu deadpanned in a low whisper to the blonde witch who had come up to stand beside her.

"Aww, that's mean, Reimu-chan," Marisa said, toning up the drama. "Like an arrow through my heart, ze," She stated, miming an arrow striking her chest.

"If it's you, I still need to ask," The Hakurei miko deadpanned again.

Marisa sighed, lowering her head to face the ground in mock despair, before raising it up again. "Well, she already came to my shop yesterday to buy some items, so I wouldn't bother to thief from her anyways. When she requested help with getting up here today, I was too curious about why to bother."

"Well, it's a good thing you didn't," Reimu noted as the other dark-haired girl put several coins and a couple of bills into her box. "Suika and other donations pay well, but I could always use some more money for upkeep of the shrine." She let out a tired breath, "Several of the rooms haven't been used in years. My family has shrunk significantly since the creation of the Hakurei Border, now I have only a couple of bedrooms and many guest rooms."

"Well, you might need to use one of them tonight, ze!" Marisa exclaimed. "I'll be back in a few hours, I have to go pick some more mushrooms. Shino said she planned to be here a while anyways, I can take her back if she decides to go back to the village this afternoon."

"Alright, Marisa. Don't let me keep you." Reimu ended the conversation with a wave as Marisa hoisted herself onto her broom, sitting side-saddle, before flying off again. Turning around, she made her way over to where Shino was, trading a few sparse words with Suika.

"So, Shino, what can I do for you today?" Reimu asked the long-haired girl who had taken a cup of tea from Suika already. "Unless you are here to go back to the real world?"

The young girl flinched at the question, before seriously shaking her head. "No, Miss Miko, but if you could, ah, please?" She looked at Suika. "I would like to talk with you, privately."

"You can just call me Reimu," Reimu responded, "If you want privacy though, it would be better to do so indoors. There are fairies around. They won't mess with me, but I won't rule out they may eavesdrop."

Shino reacted almost comically, her eyebrows nearly sailing off her forehead in her look of surprise. "Ah." She said quietly, before adding only a little more, "OK."

"See you later, Suika," Reimu waved to the orange-haired oni who waved in turn, before leading the human girl inside of the Hakurei Shrine. Deftly navigating her way through the wooden hallways, she lead Shino into a small dining area, before sitting down on some tatami mats at a kotatsu table, setting down her own cup of tea. Motioning to the space opposite her, Shino followed her lead and also sat down. "So it's not going back to the real world you want, Shino? What is it, then?"

Shino was one of the Outsiders, a term used to refer to people who had, some way or another, stumbled into Gensokyo from the outside world. A rare few actually had developed powers of a sort on the Outside that allowed them to get into Gensokyo. Maribel Hearn was one of them, and she was especially effective at it. Others were brought in on purpose, typically by the Gap Youkai, Yakumo Yukari, for specific reasons. A couple also stumbled in by accident through temporary weaknesses in the Hakurei Border. Shino was one of the latter.

Those in the middle category usually integrated in the best, as Yukari usually picked people to fulfill a skill gap that may have been lacking in the Human Village, and weeded out from her search those who were unlikely to adapt well to a society with magical creatures that was almost a century behind in culture and especially in technology, except for those wonderful conveniences that had been filtered through the Border, such as refrigerators. The first category of Outsiders also usually adapted well, as they often had unique gifts that were more acceptable to possess in Gensokyo.

It was the final category that many didn't integrate well. In a strange land, where yokai, faeries, tengu and more cohabited with humans, most took the option of returning to the real world through a small metaphorical back door at the back of the Hakurei Shrine. Shino had decided to stay, Reimu remembered, taking the option to help with the tailors, a craft she apparently had a knack for.

"It's, well…sorry, you'll laugh at me if I try to explain," Shino started, her face reddening.

"Not really," Reimu said, stripping away the cynicism that often coated her personality and letting the refined, easy-going persona she thought was what a shrine maiden should be. "You came up here, so clearly it was something important. The only thing I would like to know already is, why me? Why not go to Byakuren?"

"Byakuren…" Shino chewed on her lip, "She's a very nice lady, I feel like I could talk to her about most of my problems. But this is different. Byakuren would be part of my problem here."

"Oh?" Reimu asked. "What do you mean?"

"It's, well…Miss Byakuren is a Buddhist S-saint," Shino stuttered. "And that's, well…" Her shoulders tensed up. Reimu was about to stand up and bring a hand over for comfort, but Shino inhaled and then let out a deep breath. "Let me start over. I came from the outside world, y'know?" Seeing Reimu's nod, she continued, "I don't know if you've ever been to the Outside."

"I haven't," Reimu interjected. "All I've heard is stories from others who have."

"Yes, yes," Shino bobbed her head, furiously. "Outside, there's humans. Lots and lots of them. Seven billion of us. But do you know what there aren't any of, at least that I know of, in the modern-day? Gods. Goddesses. Saints."

"And in here there are only a few thousand humans, but Goddesses of Autumn, the Moriya Shrine Goddesses, a Buddhist Saint, a Taoist Saint, multiple Hermits?" Reimu asked, beginning to get the idea.

"Yes!" Shino exclaimed, slamming her teacup down on the kotatsu (Reimu winced, hoping the cup hadn't cracked). "In the outside, if you believe in something, there's no proof it really exists. It's the strength of your beliefs that matters. But when I came to Gensokyo, all these examples of divination were around here. The ferryman really exists, the judge of the dead exists, and apparently even a separate underworld exists. For the Buddha's sake, there's even a heaven in Gensokyo!"

"I…think I understand," Reimu slowly responded. "In the real world, everything was 'up above' in the afterlife or a resurrection cycle. Then you come here, and everything is up close, and exists in the flesh?"

"Yes," Shino said, clasping her hands together. "You asked me why I came to you earlier. There's a second reason, one that I only realised after several long days thinking this over."

"Oh?" Reimu frowned, furrowing her brow. "What is that?" Try as she might, she couldn't think of what Shino was talking about.

"I apologise if I offend, Miss Miko," Shino started, and Reimu began to feel a little bit of unease. "But I see you as having the opposite situation as me. In a world where goddesses walk around, the Hakurei Gods don't."

For a few seconds, the atmosphere in the room was tense, and Shino seemed to retreat into herself, as if she was about to curl herself up into a fetal position to protect herself against Reimu's wrath over the implications of her Gods being weak…

…then the room brightened as Reimu smiled. "Was that it?"

"Eh?" Was all Shino could muster in a weak voice.

"The Hakurei family was a Shinto family," Reimu explained. "Shinto says there are Kami in everything…the grass, the trees, the water, the rocks. Fairies perhaps personify this best in Gensokyo. There's a Fairy for the Sun, a Fairy for the Moon, a Fairy for the Stars, one for the Spring season, one for Winter, one for the Misty Lake, and so on."

"And?" Shino asked, curious.

"As a result, there is no specific one 'God' the Hakurei worshipped," Reimu stated, taking a sip of her tea. "But instead, the spirits in all things. In essence…In Gensokyo, all those things that you once envisioned as fantasy on the outside world might really exist here. It was my family's border that sealed off Gensokyo from the outside world, creating what was basically a paradise for all these creatures, hostile or friendly, that don't exist in the real world."

"I think I get it now," Shino said, sitting upright again. "The Hakurei Border itself is sort of what your worship is for, right? Without it, everything else here wouldn't exist anymore."

"Right," Reimu smiled, glad she had imparted that lesson. Then her smile slowly disappeared. "Ah, but I'm sorry. That didn't really help you with your own problem, did it?"

Shino shook her head, "No, actually, it might have."

"Huh?" Reimu asked, puzzled.

Shino smiled, and it was a dazzling smile, one that instantly elevated the drop in mood Reimu had just suffered. "If I think about it, all these things in Gensokyo wouldn't exist without the border, right?"

Reimu slowly nodded. Shino had just repeated what she had said only a minute ago, but she seemed to be leading into nothing. She also decided not to mention that technically, Heaven and Makai were self-powering locations that still physically connected into Gensokyo. In that, they could exist even if the Hakurei Border were to fall, as enough people in the outside world still believed in a two-tiered afterlife.

"Well then," Shino declared, "Who's to say that what we see as Heaven and Hell, gods and goddesses, really are? What if there's still another being even above all that, a truer deity?"

Reimu grabbed the tea cup just in time, as it fell out of one hand, to be saved by the other. Looking down, she could see both hands trembling. Thanking the graces that her hands were hidden by the cloth of the kotatsu, she looked back up at Shino's near-triumphant face. "That's quite possible. After all, don't most of the Outsiders worship a single God?"

"One god, three faces," Shino agreed. "Yahweh, God, Allah, but he's the same thing."

"So it's quite possible there is only a single God, and that all the Celestials and Goddesses and everything else you see is merely long-lived, immortal, or perhaps even God's messengers, like those winged angels I've heard about," Reimu noted, ignoring the feeling growing in her gut that she was wandering into theocratic thinking where she couldn't afford to stray off the beaten path.

"And the Faeries could be the cherubs," Shino agreed. Taking a sip of her tea, she brought her tea cup back down to the kotatsu, showing that it was empty. "Thank you for the tea, Miss Miko-er, Reimu. I'm not completely convinced, but what you've said…I think I won't struggle so much to live in Gensokyo anymore."

Many hours passed. The two retired out to the front deck, making idle conversation. Once Marisa returned, a watermelon and sake was brought out for all, with the Three Faeries of Light coming around from their 'secret' treehouse, thus starting off a mini-party that always seemed to occur when Suika was around.

It ended as quickly as it began, with Marisa cavorting off down the side of the stairs, avoiding flying into the glare of the mid-day sun, carrying her wayward passenger behind her on the broom. The faeries, stuffed with watermelon, went back to their own home, leaving Reimu alone with Suika.

Suika stretched her body out, grabbing her horns and pulling her torso down at one point in a cute pose, before letting out a deep yawn. "So, Reimu, what did you and Shino talk about?"

"It's a secret," Reimu stated flatly. "She requested privacy, and I'll keep that."

"Sheesh, alright, alright," Suika responded. "If it's no problem with you, I'll be taking a nap then." Not getting harangued for her desire to sleep, she wandered inside.

That left Reimu alone. Slowly, standing up, she walked down from the outdoor gallery, making her way around to the back side of the shrine to a small graveyard. Here was buried the bodies of most of the Hakurei Clan over the last two centuries.

When Reimu felt troubled, especially after incidents with close call bouts, she always found herself walking between these gravestones. Today was no exception.

"What Shino said today…it bothered me," Reimu muttered, not just to herself, but to the spirits of any ancestors that perhaps still resided here. "Who truly do we worship? The Kami? The Border? Or some being above everything else, above even the Yama and the Ruler of the Celestials?"

Slowly, she found herself wandering back to the shrine. No answers had come to her.

This was definitely one of my weaker efforts, unfortunately, and could do with some polishing.

Since I'm publishing this anyways, a chance to spam some of my Touhou fic ideas that I'll never actually write, on the off-chance somebody else decides to take me up on it.

1. Kanako, in her latest scheme to get faith for the Moriya Shrine, realises something about Gensokyo: in being a few centuries behind our world, their confectionary-making abilities are also a few centuries behind. And fairies just absolutely love candy, as it turns out. Any faith will do, even if it's from fairies.

Within a few weeks of Kanako importing confectionary-making equipment from the real world, fairies are coming in droves to the Moriya Shrine to try out things such as caramel apples and gummy bears and cotton candy and what-have-you. Cirno makes a killing in candy by helping to make popsicles.

(Meanwhile, since all the fairies are out getting candy, Reimu actually gets regular visitors to her shrine since there aren't any fairies around to pester people on the path to the Hakurei Shrine.)

2. Dresden Files Xover with Letty and Cirno as the Winter Queen and Lady and Yuuka and Lily White as the Summer Queen and Lady. The world will tremble.

3. A Touhou x 999 crossover with Cirno as the lead character. Obviously the Touhous would have to have their powers sealed to prevent their breaking out of whatever place they're locked away at by anything other than playing the Nonary Game.