Chapter 5 : A Faith-ful Meal
AN: And so it begins. I had a lot of problems with this chapter, and frankly it bled over to Zero Shame. Hope everything is ok, though. This is more of a "Breather" chapter than anything, and I find myself hating these more and more, lol. This chapter still is a bit rough, and sorry about the delay. It was prolonged by SB finally getting its server move.
The Headmaster's Assistant found herself trekking across the courtyard under a bright sun. A black aura hung around her as she ruminated on why she was doing another pointless errand instead of getting closer to the Staff of Destruction..
"Miss Longueville, it seems that I will have to attend to other matters today. Please visit the "Moriya Shrine" in my stead."
Lazy old fool. He was probably just going to sleep or go out with his "colleagues". Thanks to this task the Secretary was denied an afternoon of scouting the Vault's defenses, putting her even more behind schedule on this theft. All to check up on a shrine that was summoned during the ritual, so that the lazy headmaster could study the strange things inside.
While the prospect of obtaining a priceless artifact from "another world" would make such a visit worthwhile for the thief, Miss Longueville knew from rumor that the owner of the shrine, the priestess, or "Shrine Maiden", was a commoner. And Fouquet the Crumbling Dirt didn't steal from commoners. It was the one rule that she never broke, whether stealing for profit, or stealing for hire. After being stripped of her name and lands, the woman once known as Mathilda of Saxe Gotha had to survive as a peasant, all while keeping her dear "sister" Tiffania hidden and safe. It wasn't easy, especially to gather enough funds for Tiffania's orphanage. At first, when it was just a house, Longueville could scrimp and keep up. But once Tiffania started to take in children and converted her abode into an orphanage, Longueville had to turn to crime. Throughout her years as a peasant, "Fouquet" learned just how badly corruption and nobles hurt those below them. Disillusioned with the system, she vowed revenge, deciding to steal those symbols of excess and embarrass those who had wronged her. Raising funds for her own use was just a bonus.
Once she built up enough of a fortune she would be able to buy a small title of nobility in Germania. Then she could house the half-elf there, protecting her from the church and crown's influence.
Once she built up enough of a fortune.
That was why she took up this job. "Infiltrate the Tristian Magical Academy then Obtain and Decipher the Staff of Destruction". It seemed complex and suspicious at first, this anonymous job, but it came with all the details she needed. Even though the terms were strict, the pay and the terms were also too good to pass up. The deposit alone would make up for all the time and preparation, and the commission was near unimaginable. With this, she would have just enough to buy the safety her adoptive sister desperately needed. She even had her paychecks for her "legitimate" work to send to the orphanage as she was preparing to do the deed.
But it was this "legitimate work" that was slowing her down. Osmond shoved all the paperwork and tasks to her desk, often just skipping out or sleeping in his office. The damned old man wasted time, yet expected massive volumes of work to be done each day. As she toiled hard to keep up with his demands and expectations, the damned pervert (and his familiar) peeped on her and groped her, and made snide comments about her features. But she couldn't show any weaknesses. The disposed noble knew she needed this job, and couldn't resign until the theft was done. Still, she rubbed her skin red raw whenever she had the chance to wash up, hoping to erase the touch and feel clean.
Each day that passed was just another long session of torment, with bare minutes of scouting that could be done. But no matter what she did, she always had too much work to even approach the vault. Only recently did she catch a break as one of the teachers unwittingly revealed some clues when he tried to flirt with her. Clues that she could have followed up on right now if Old Osmond didn't shove his work upon her once again.
With no other choice, she approached the wooden building by the Tower of Void. Fighting back nostalgia as she passed a group of students between classes, the Headmaster's assistant entered the domain. A maid wearing strange garb, some blue and white robes with normal maid skirt and apron, greeted her and approached. Miss Longueville looked closer, and realized that it was a maid she had seen before. Siesta, that was her name. Sadly, the dispossessed noble only knew the maid because the black haired girl was sexually harassed even more than she was. It was nice to see that a female student, despite her own shortcomings, took pity on the girl and removed Siesta from the preying claws of the academy males.
"Good Morning, Secretary Longueville! Welcome to the Moriya Shrine. There are some customs that you'll have to follow in order to enter." The maid cheerily informed her.
From the way her voice sounded, the secretary could truly sense the happiness of her fellow peasant. "Absolutely, Siesta, the Headmaster informed me to expect a tutorial though, so I'm not sure on what to do."
The widening of the maid's smile told the thief-in-incognito she did the right thing. Siesta happily introduced the former noble to the customs of the shrine, explaining the "purification" process and the "prayer". A quick tour of the grounds gave the assistant a better understanding and appreciation of the shrine. Somehow, being there felt like she was sitting in a room with Tiffania once again. Once everything was done, the maid brought her into the main room and left to get some tea.
Fouquet stood there and took in the sights. There were boxes of many colors, some with glass upon the front, sitting in a corner. Then there were panels of strange paper-like material. The table was a lacquered rosewood material, yet its legs were covered in cloth. There were so many things that the thief just couldn't describe.
"Pity that I decided not to steal from this," Fouquet thought to herself. "There are so many things that the dumb nobles would just gobble up once modified and you put a claim that it is a new trend from Rub-al-Kali..."
Further musings were put to a halt as the maid returned with the tea. The two peasants then began to talk to discuss going-ons in the Academy and daily life. As time went on, the subject of the conversation came back to the shrine... specifically, its gods.
"Miss Longueville... I heard..." Siesta started, only to reconsider her words. "I heard that you have... magic."
The secretary almost expected that to come. Throughout her short career in the Academy, Longueville did not make the fact she was a peasant a secret at all. She ate with them, slept with them, and spent her breaks with them. It was standard operating procedure for most jobs, where she'd pretend to be a new hire and find out the target's secrets from her co-workers. But here, she was treated with a bit more suspicion, as some of them knew that she once practiced magic. Despite the initial distrust, she eventually earned her place in their ranks, but even now some of her fellow employees didn't know how to act around her.
She let out a small laugh, to let the Maid feel a bit more comfortable. "Yes, Siesta. I'm a peasant Mage. A disposed noble. One who was stripped of all her power. I'm just like you, but with some magic tricks that I cannot use." At this she held out her hands showing that she had no wand. Now that the maid no longer was on edge, Fouquet pushed further. "Why do you ask, my fellow commoner?"
The question made Siesta more confident. She had the chance to get this woman to believe. The more faith, the faster Tarbes could be saved. But first, the maid had to make sure the secretary would not call for an inquisition. Sanae had warned her any other noble except for the Headmaster could be affronted by the shrine's existence. But Miss Longueville was no longer a noble, and she worked directly under the Headmaster, so it should be fine, right? Slowly, Siesta started to build up to that revelation. She carefully chose the statement, a question Sanae once asked her during one of their sessions that really made the maid think.
"How... How do Disposed nobles fit into the Brimiric Faith?"
That question was something Fouquet didn't expect. It seemed that the maid wanted to probe her grasp on the theological, but Mathilda abandoned that God long ago. Even from the beginning, the Spirits that Shajal, Tiffania's elven mother, talked about seemed more real than a distant Founder or God. The non-believer didn't know whether to be frank or to try to bullshit her way out of answering.
"I... ah.. I don't quite know... I am not that well versed in scripture" Bullshit it was, the thief-in-hiding nodded internally, go with a middle of the road answer and see how the other takes it.
Siesta was relieved when her co-worker revealed an imperfect knowledge of the Brimiric scripture. There was a far less chance of being reported this way. Taking a deep breath she continued.
"When I started working at this shrine I began to see... Whenever we Halkeginans say grace, pray, or even invoke divinity, we do not call upon the Creator, the one true God. We always thank... the Founder of Magic..."
Slowly, but surely, Siesta explained away. Fouquet's eyes grew bigger and bigger until she realized that this maid was just as dispossessed by the faith as she was. But then the maid began to tell her of the Goddesses of the shrine, and the tales of the 8 million gods.
"It... it sounds so much like Shajal's tales..." she thought as she pressed the maid for more.
Siesta had to suppress her smile.
Soon there would be enough faith.
After living together for centuries, Kanako and Suwako often did many things together in order to pass the time. Perhaps their greatest accomplishment was figuring out how to connect their minds in order to share fantasies and sensations communcate quickly in a manner that prevented arguments. However, not arguing with each other often meant more boredom, as with no conflict, came less excitement. Decades after discovering the trick, the two goddesses decided to never use it again, except for certain [Gapped].
So when Kanako came into the shrine and began the technique, Suwako knew something was seriously wrong.
The two gods "understanded" each other.
And now Suwako knew why.
Raising a hand she quickly got something off of her chest. "Before you say anything, you need to know this: I've gathered enough faith to truly split myself from the animals in the courtyard, but... not enough to fight."
The Avatar of Mountains and Lakes balked and froze. Suwako having enough faith to divide properly was something Kanako didn't expect. Even with all of her effort, she still not fully materialize. The Goddess of Wind and Rain knew the next time she made fun of the frog-loli for talking to animals, she would be teased back mercilessly. But for now, there were more important things.
"Do you think I'm making the right choice?" She asked her fellow goddess, not entirely sure what to do. "And please. Through your true self. I want the unfiltered version, Suwako-sensei"
A long time ago, Kanako "defeated" Suwako. Knowing that the Gods of the Yamato would benefit the people as a whole, the older goddess seceded the shrine to the younger. But try as she might, neither followers nor fellow gods listened or gave the Goddess of Wind and Rain any attention, leading to a series of great calamities. Yet still, all the worshipers still prayed to the defeated frog goddess; all hearts loved Suwako. And so the Curse God Moreya came back, and, as young Yasaka's mentor, taught her how to proper handle faith, festivals, and spirits. Even now, millennia later, Moreya, now known as Moriya, had her back. And now, Kanako called for her beloved mentor to once again fill that role. To take up the form that taught her so well.
The Epitome of Native Gods took a deep breath and nodded. Her hat turned to black mist and was absorbed back into its maker. The childish body seemed to gain ten or 15 years as her spiritual pressure rose. This was the presence, the power, the visage Kanako knew. This was the true form of the Child of Suwa. The God that lost the Great Suwa War only due to her own Graciousness. The true form of Kanako's partner for the rest of eternity; the true appearance of her lover.
The snake goddess could feel the difference in age and experience between them still. Despite appearing as the more childish, Suwako had always been much wiser and smarter, but always hid her sharp mind and devious nature behind a persona of childhood innocence. She didn't become King of the Curse Gods of the Suwa Empire by being nice, after all.
"Would you rather live maturely, shrewdly, and cautiously, or childishly, happily, and innocently?" she once explained to Sanae, repeating the same explanation she gave to Kanako centuries ago, when she first took her child-like form in front of the other goddess. "I can have fun like this, and put all the bad things inside Pyonta."
The shifting of flesh and form began to wane, and the now-sultry blonde winked at her partner.
"Heh. Do I look like how you remember me?" That wide smirk and huskier voice annoyed Kanako as she took in (well, honestly, ogled) the developed curves, long legs, and now too-tight clothing. In this form, Suwako never seemed to stop teasing the younger goddess, both sexually and mentally. The sensuous form seemed to express all of the repressed emotions and drives locked away throughout the centuries spent as a child. Suwako leaned in closer, making sure one arm emphasized her... "huge tracks of land"... as the other reached out to cup Kanako's cheek sultrily.
The blue haired goddess shut her up by taking her alternate form, one that she hated and outgrew long ago. Suwako looked at her dimunitive parter and got the message. Kanako wanted advice, and she wanted Suwako's honest opinion, no matter how much the snake goddess had to grovel. The Epitome of Native Gods took a deep breath, dispersed her lusty atmosphere, and began her analysis.
It was completely different. The blonde haired woman, though still unearthly attractive in her skin-tight ensemble, seemed as cold and calculating. What once was an ardent lover in heat was now a clinical prude, frigidly analyzing the pros and cons.
"We can't save Charlotte. You know that." the tone of voice made the other goddess cringe. "She hasn't been honest with us, and we don't know where to start or what to do. We may need to contact her through Sanae, as she is giving us a bit of faith, and Irukukwu, her dragon-familiar, has been very forthcoming and obedient to our commands"
Face still in a grimace, Kanako nodded in agreement. It was the same as she thought about the matter, though the information on Irukukwu, the Familiar, was something new.
"Louise... does not have a personal problem, aside from the "obvious"." Suwako continued, one hand tapping at her temple, "It is social. Yesterday we figured out that she was an easy scapegoat. One of her tormentors confessed. Everyone makes fun of her to make themselves feel better. The fact that her family is very influential only makes them even more vicious. But... that requires a lot of effort, to change the minds of a whole group of arrogant teenagers."
The Yasaka just shook her head at the statement. It seemed that Louise's situation was worse than she expected. Kanako felt sorry for the girl, but at least Sanae would be by her side.
Staring straight at 'God that Likes Hills' as she began her next breakdown, the blonde crossed her arms under her now-sizable chest. "Siesta... it's a risk. Your plan, that is. We need to wait a bit, if at the very least to build enough faith to split properly. She needs our help in a way that we could help. She believes in us the most. We both know we must help her village. But we need to be careful. It'll take us time-"
"Time that they don't-"
The elder goddess's eyes glowed menacingly at the interruption, causing the mountain goddess to tremble before her mentor. "Time that we will need regardless, Child."
Kanako bit her lip and bowed her head. She loved Suwako, and found her adult form to be pleasing to the eyes, but also found her to be very... intense. Especially in her smaller alternate form, the Goddess of Wind and Rain found Suwako often was just plain scary.
"Now, with Mathilda... you already know."
Kanako nodded, suitably cowed by the earlier scolding. She didn't need Suwako to tell her what the situation was with the disposed noble.
Until the thief hidden in the Academy believed, nothing could be done.
With a final sigh, Suwako returned to her childish form, regaining her hat and her never-ending cheerfulness. With a quick motion, Kanako found herself in a tight embrace.
"Auuuu~ Stay like that for a bit, Kana-chan!"
The academy schedule was quite simple. Breakfast, then class; Dinner, then another class and/or self-study; Supper then sleep. To be honest, few students chose to "study" after dinner, and would spend large portions of the afternoon as free time. Because of this, and a great desire not to be ridiculed more than she had to be, Louise often hid away in her room during this "free time", or more recently the shrine. Some days, when the mockery was too pointed and insults too barbed, she even ate with her familiar at the shrine by the Tower of Void. Today, however, she planned on being there right after class ended.
It was the Headmaster's visit after all.
But alas, she had to sit through the rest of Mister Colbert's lecture first.
"And that, class, is why Fire magic is a Terrible, terrible force. As nobles and mages it is your Duty to protect not only yourself, but all others from it whenever you choose to cast. It is the responsibility-"
Unlike most of the class, Louise liked Colbert's lessons, usually at least. Unlike other teachers, Colbert taught classes for all three years, and put far more emphasis on theory than practice. This helped keep her grades high despite her failures, and made his classes become a stable foundation for Louise's studies. Even having Kirche as the class leader didn't sully her mood. Colbert was her favorite teacher. Every time she screwed up in another class, she wished the teachers would act like the balding man, who would never latch on to her mistake and join the verbal evisceration that followed. At the same time, she also had a few pet peeves...
One of which was happening right now.
The professor's patented "palaver of proper practice" (Of power).
The never-ending mind-numbing prattle on why Fire magic, and Magic as a whole needed to be used responsibly. Whenever the Fire mage remembered to mention it (which was more often than not), the rant would then proceed to eat up the rest of class.
It was even on his exams!
Ignoring the snores and grumbling of her peers, Louise tried to keep her studious demeanor throughout the rambling mass of words. At least there wasn't much time left until dinner, she thought to herself.
To her left, Sanae spent the whole lesson, like many of the other lessons, scribbling things on paper and comparing notes with Tabitha. It seemed like the Wind Mage and Priestess hit it off earlier in the week, when Tabitha first visited the shrine. The diminutive mage even volunteered to help the Miko with making the sign by entrance that alerted visitors to purify themselves. After that, the young Wind Mage spent whole classes constantly tutoring Sanae. The future void-mage didn't have the heart to tell her familiar's friend to stop, though. The last time a teacher called the two wind-buddies out for speaking in class, Miss Cheveruse was shocked to see detailed notes on the lecture and her own mistakes in class. Tabitha broke her silence in a rare manner and explained that the Miko just didn't know how to read or write Gallian and that she was just translating for her. After all, translation enchantments and spells didn't actually grant you knowledge of the language. From then on, word spread and no teacher dared call the two out anymore.
Her musings were interrupted as the bell rang, and all the students began to leave. Quickly packing everything up, she stood and was promptly brought back down with a sharp tug. Her head snapped towards the intrusion, only for Sanae to shake her head.
"Let's wait. We need to stay together as a group in order to pick up the food."
The meeting with the Headmaster was over lunch, and with Sanae's invitation of other people, extra food needed to be brought to the shrine. Lousie didn't understand why the miko was so adamant about helping the servants transport the food. "All Are Equal, even the Miko must work", the green haired girl would say. But that was the point of having servants. To do the tasks no magician would lower themselves to do. That wasn't the only thing the pink haired noble didn't understand. Her familiar chose to invite Tabitha and Montmorency to the gathering, and even allowed the Zerbst to tag along! She couldn't believe it! Why was Sanae so accomadating and kind? Well, maybe it was that point on "all being equal", but still, to invite her master's enemies for dinner? Louise could only shake her head, feeling a headache coming. They better not embarrass her in front of the Headmaster!
Speaking of the annoyances other guests, the three young noblewomen gathered around the Priestess as they traded greetings. With a slight flourish, Sanae led the way down the stone halls.
"We're going the wrong way, Sanae~" sang the red-haired skank Zerbst. "The shrine is the opposite way. Did you get lost?"
The priestess just smiled. "No, we just need to pick up the food."
"We missed the Avliss dining hall then," Montmorency helpfully added, not understanding what Sanae truly meant.
Arriving at two large doors in a more hidden part of the Academy, Sanae and her group walked into the Kitchen. Having been to the kitchens in their own manors before, it was nothing new for the four nobles... except the sheer size and magnitude of the place. The kitchens of their homes only had to serve a few nobles and the relatively large number of servants needed to take care of them. This, however, was the Academy. Hundreds of students and teachers, coupled with the army of servants needed to keep up with them. And it was an army.
The smells of food from the soup-stoves and ovens, the sounds of the pots, pans and plates harmonizing with hundreds of feet, the commotion about the whole kitchen. The carnival of activity. None of the girls had seen such a display before. Servants were the unseen and unnoticed furniture of the school. You were not supposed to harm (Read: break) them, and may use them as you wished. To see so many working so fast and so furiously all in one place... It was one of the few times that the noblewomen stopped to think about just what it meant to be a noble, to enjoy the fruits of such labor.
Approaching the group of girls was a strong-looking man, the Head Chef, by the tall hat and red scarf he wore. With a ladle still clutched in one hand, he waved his large free one in a manner of greeting.
"Ohoh! Our Priestess!" rang a loud, hearty voice over the din, soon followed by choruses of the same. Sanae waved to the throngs and greeted them back, even walking into the crowd to converse with the legion of maids and servants.
Left behind at the door, , Louise decided to take pity on Kirche and Montmorency as she saw the disbelief on their faces and explained the situation.
"Sanae... treats all the commoners with respect." began the young magician-in-training. "She considers them her friends and freely helps them. The Shrine Maid has also been spreading stories about her too..."
Comprehension dawned on the two's faces, knowing how rumor could spiral out of hand quickly. Sanae returned from the intensely milling masses and brought along a tall and well-built man in a white chef's jacket, the same who greeted the group before.
"So, everyone, this is Marteau, the Head Chef. He's the one who puts together the menu and helped me with today's lunch." The green-haired girl introduced, "And Marteau, this is Lady Valliere, Lady Montmorency, Lady Tabitha, and Lady Zerbst. They will be joining us today"
The tall and bury man scratched his head and didn't know what to say. He didn't have to.
"WHAT? Why is this commoner going to dine with us?" Montmorency shouted at the unamused host.
Gently, keeping a lid on her (somewhat divine) wrath, the arahitogami once again explained her shrine's creed.
Montmorency flinched. The rest of the group followed.
After the uncomfortable confrontation, Sanae turned back around to the baskets and trays of food on the central table.
"Very well. Let's bring the food to the shrine then…"
The other girls obediently grabbed the pre-made baskets of food and drink and carried them to the shrine, with Marteau trailing behind, holding the heaver items and hot soup.
At the shrine, Miss Longueville sat at the kotatsu, pondering over what the maid told her.
A pantheon of spirit-gods? Just like Shajal's stories... yet somehow still different. Eight Million Gods that live among the humans, all items with a god, all things having souls. A small prayer is all that is needed for the grace of Yasaka. Being an Earth Affinity Mage, believing in the Goddess of Wind and Rain wasn't something she'd do normally, but she had to admit that "Yasaka-sama" could exist. Ever since the Shrine appeared on the premises, the secretary felt a presence, often at night, in her quarters. At first she thought it was Osmond or another mage scrying her room, but that wouldn't explain the soothing sense of calm and the kind feminine voice she heard accompanying it. Maybe there was more to this shrine than she had initially thought...
As the Headmaster's assistant mulled over her thoughts, Siesta was preparing the room for the upcoming meal. Since the shrine did not have a table that could handle all of the coming diners, Sanae had instructed the maid to push the low laquered table against the kotatsu to form one larger dining platform. The black haired girl scurried about, cleaning the surfaces and bringing the cushions out of storage, just like her superior showed her earlier.
"Tadaima!" the priestess's voice rang through the halls.
Soon, everyone arrived at the main room. The girls and Marteau unloaded the food and the meal began in earnest. Small talk began over dinner as the calming atmosphere permeated the guests while they ate.
"Kyuuu…." On the engawa behind the kitchen, the familiars Syphlid watched longingly as Robin and Flame ate their meals.
She pawed at her set of empty dishes sadly and let out a draconic sigh. Empty. All of her precious food… was gone. Eaten in a flash.
Her stomach did its best imitation of herself when she was angry at something. The young dragon's head drooped further.
"Kyrukyuru…" Flame commented, motioning towards the kitchen with his head, as Robin croaked in agreement.
The blue dragon trilled whiningly, her reluctance on clear display. If she entered, Tabitha would probably get angry!
Despite her master's apparent lack of emotions, the Wind Mage was very strict with disciplining the Rhyme-Dragon-in-hiding. Doing something like entering the shrine unannounced could cause the petite terror to whack Syphlid on the head, or be forced to stand through a lecture. Or even worse, the mage could cut her meals!
Her two companions merely responded with matching flat looks.
Seeing that she would get no sympathy here, Syphlid decided to try her luck in the kitchens. Maybe Onee-chama and BIG sis (now known as Kana-sama) would be there to give her food. Steeling herself, she carefully slid open the door and entered the shrine proper.
Moments later, Irukukwu ran into her Onee-chama, who put a finger in front of her lips to tell the young dragon to stay quiet. A brief moment with her eyes closed later, Suwako petted the dragon's head and whispered into her ear.
"I don't have any food right now, but Sanae does. Why don't you join your little-big-sis in the Haiden?"
The pint-sized dragon quickly shook her head, being careful not to make any more noise, as she didn't want Tabitha to scold her.
Onee-chama just let out a laugh that only Syphlid could hear and rubbed the dragon's head harder. "Go on! Don't worry. Sanae knows you're coming"
With a quick "Kyu!" of thanks, the blue-scaled one trotted off to the Main Room, happily surprised to find the Miko standing next to an open door.
"Tabitha! Your dragon!" the Red-haired friend of Irukukwu's Big Sis exclaimed.
Everyone was surprised when the Priestess of Moriya quickly excused herself from the discussion of the novel dishes they were partaking in and opened the door only to wait patiently beside it. Various gasps and exclamations filled the room as, less than half a minute later, a large blue dragon squeezed through the door, "Kyuui"ing amid the noise.
Tabitha started to stand up, but Sanae only shook her head.
"Don't worry, Tabitha. I told Syphlid to come."
Though everyone, even Tabitha, wondered what the green-haired teen meant, they quickly accepted it and turned back to their edible novelties.
Marteau once again begain explaining how different Sanae's instructions were to what he normally did, and how he loved all of the new ingredients the Priestess provided him with to make this feast, as Siesta helped Sanae unpack the next course.
Syphlid curled up in an emptier corner happily gnawing on a hock of braised ham provided by the shrine maid, as the two hosts returned to the meal.
The small talk continued until they reached desert (Mango pudding with mango pieces inside, to the delight of everyone's tastebuds) when Louise remembered a peculiar thing.
Even laden with food-filled baskets, Sanae had everyone do the purification ritual before she allowed them to step on the premises. She even "purified" the familiars that tagged along.
"Sanae…" she asked in as there was a lull in the conversation, "Why does the shrine emphasize purity and purification so much?"
The other nobles thought about that for a moment, before deciding that they too wanted to know, and almost every set of eyes found themselves looking inquisitively at the young priestess.
Sanae took a small sip of her tea before she began her explanation.
"The shrine is all about the Pure Lands. An area consecrated so that it pleases the gods. To be more specific, it is to purge the land of death and similar impurities. Our… I mean my… Gods live among us. But as humans are mortal and inherently impure, we must cleanse ourselves to aid the harmony needed to live amongst the gods. You all felt it. And even if you didn't, I know you all can see it" At this, she opened the front door so that everyone could see the familiars in the courtyard.
"Pure Lands have their own sort of power. It draws beings towards it, and brings an earthly peace. The familiars know it very well, which is why the Shrine is the preferred place of relaxation for those animals."
Syphlid "Kyuui"ed and nodded in agreement at that statement, before turning back to her pile of food. The guests all sat there and contemplated their own feelings and memories, now looking at the warm calmness in a new light. Could it be? Gods that live among them? Most dismissed the thought, but the idea had already been planted. For some, it took just that much more time to banish the doubt the Priestess's words evoked.
Siesta reveled in the explanation, as she always felt that the shrine was like a home, accepting and warm, and truly believed in the purification.
Louise just nodded and stayed silent, pleased with understanding more of her familiar's religion. It was Fouquet who spoke up next.
"So this ambience that the shrine possesses, it is because of your purification?"
Sanae smiled at that statement.
"No. When I purify the lands, it is only to please the gods. When the gods are happy, they are the ones that empower the land, and give the shrine its atmosphere. They live among us, after all."
Back in the kitchen, A blonde goddess smiled in the embrace of her still-diminutive lover.
It was mid-afternoon, and the meal at the shrine was done. After more discussion of the shrine and its gods, Sanae began demonstrating various items in the Haiden-turned-Ima (Family room), such as the electric light and the television. Furious discussion, Awe, and Fun were had all around, and each of the guests asked for more and more, which the miko could only comply.
Out in the Shinden (Divine Garden) behind the shrine, Suwako and Kana-chan tended to the vegetables and cultivars they were growing there. Already earning them an extra 300 new gold, the alien (to Tristain) crops were a literal gold mine for the Moriya family. With soil blessed and infused by three goddesses, the crops could only grow strong, and never fail.
As the two goddesses busied themselves with work, they talked to each other about their plans.
"Sanae has the Omamori ready, right?" Kanako asked.
Gods can split themselves infinitely, which is how they kept track of their worshippers and how they protected those that used Omamori or Ofuda. Even split into many fragments, the god was still "whole" and could think "as one". Such powers were beyond human comprehension, and often was one of the reasons that "living gods" could never surpass the original Kami of the lands. Before leaving the "outside world", Suwako and Kanako reformed themselves and recalled all of their otherselves in preparation of the move. But luckily for the two goddesses, they left the "fragments" tied to the unsold Omamori in the shrine alone.
"Don't worry, Kanako. They're ready to go. We'll be able to watch over all of them regardless."
With that, the goddesses returned to tending the garden.
"Before you go, I have some gifts" The shrine maiden said as the group of guests prepared to leave for supper.
In her hand were small cloth satchels, too small to hold anything, but embroidered with complex symbols and designs. At the top, a white string tied it closed, with small lengths of the string hanging free. The priestess continued with her explanation.
"These are Omamori, a kind of Good-Luck Charm made by shrines. We ask the god or gods of the shrine to infuse these packets with their power, and to protect those who wear them."
She took a red one with a Mirror motif and tied the amulet gently around Louise's neck.
"There are some rules to know about them, though."
Lifting the omamori up, slightly off of her master's chest, Sanae began to explain the customs surrounding the charm.
"First: Do not mistreat this amulet. It houses a part of a God's power, and if you abuse it, you may become cursed. Second: you may wear it much like how I had Louise wear it, or you may tie it to something that is always on your person, like a satchel or your cloak. Third: the blessing lasts for a year. At the end of the year, you are to burn the omamori, as a sign of respect to the gods who watched over you for the past year."
Seeing the nods of comprehension and agreement, the Miko moved to distribute the omamori in her hands.
"To Tabitha... you are a great student, and the gods have told me that you do not need a normal omamori. This is a Yaku-Yoke, or Charm for the Avoidance of Evil." Sanae's intense gaze went unnoticed by all except the princess in hiding, "Keep it on you, and the gods will do all they can to protect you and... the ones you love."
Tabitha accepted the charm, unable to refuse with all eyes on her. The Priestess's comments shook her to the core, but it was impossible for Sanae to know the truth, Right?
Moving on to Montmorency, the shrine maiden handed out another charm, this one blue with symbols and stripes of white.
"Montmorency, this charm is an En-Musubi charm, or a Charm of True Love. It will bring luck and truth to your relationships, and also helps usher in happy marriage."
The water mage accepted the charm, not knowing if it meant anything... deeper. With a nod of assent, Sanae turned to the busty redhead.
"Kirche. This charm is for you. As you can see, it is very similar to the one my Master has. It is a Gakugyō-Jōju, or Charm of Academic Success." With a playful and slightly mocking lecturing pose, Sanae explained further. "I heard Tabitha and the Teacher's complaints about you not taking your studies seriously. The gods can only help so much!"
A round of light laughter filled the room, and the Zerbst blushingly accepted the red charm sheepishly. Louise found that it felt very nice for once not to be the butt of the joke. With that, it was the other green-haired female's turn.
"Miss Longueville. The servants tell me you have only been here a bit over a month. Because of that I will give you this." The thief-in-hiding found a green and brown packet pressed into her palm. "It is a Shōbai-Hanjō, or Business Charm. It will bring you luck and success at all the endeavors you undertake."
Fouquet studied the charm in her hand, and decided that wearing it wouldn't hurt. All the others would expect her to, after all. As she began to tie the charm around her neck, Sanae turned to Marteau and Siesta, both readying themselves to carry the used baskets and dishes back to the Kitchen. Realization dawned on the two servants, and the platitudes began.
"Oh... no! Miss Priestess! Just inviting me was enough! There's no need for a gift!" "Really, it's not needed!" the two exclaimed, but Sanae would have none of it.
"Here, Marteau, this is a Kaiun amulet, or a Charm of Good Luck. And Siesta, this is a Kanai-anzen, or a Charm of Family Safety."
As the two servants hastily accepted the Omamori, Louise spoke up.
"Ah, Yes master?" the priestess responded, slightly apprehensive of what the young mage wanted.
"Will this amulet still work even if I believe in Brimir, and not your gods?"
Eyes widened around the shrine, as the people began to consider the effects of their faith, and if these charms were anything but cute little souvenirs.
Sanae watched her friends ponder the religious conundrum a bit before speaking up and explaining just how the omamori worked back on Earth for them.
"It doesn't matter, really. My world has many religions, gods, and beliefs. The gods of the Shrine care not who you believe is the supreme or all powerful one. As long as you wear these Omamori, as long as you believe that the gods of this Shrine will watch over you, protect you, and bring you good luck, they will. They don't care if you pray to Brimir, God, or anything else. As long as you wear these, and have faith in the power sealed within these Omamori, they will protect-."
With a lurch, Sanae's speech was cut off by a... Pouting! wind dragon. "Kyuu..." it whined as it towered over the downed Miko.
"Bad." Tabitha remarked, hitting her familiar deftly on the snout with her staff. Syphlid reacted by clasping both claws over her nose and rubbing at the point of impact.
"Kyuiiiii..." the draconian beast warbled sadly.
Eyes lighting up with an epiphany, the priestess understood what the young dragon wanted.
"Ah, Syphlid. Do you want an Omamori too?"
The rapid nods and happy "Kyuui"s that accompanied that statement warmed everyone's hearts. For being a man-eating dragon, Syphlid acted very cute at times. Sanae patted the blue dragon's head and told everyone to wait a bit. She went back into the storage room and ran into a Blonde Loli, with an oversized amulet already festooned in one hand.
"I thought you'd need this." she said cheekily, tweaking her descendant's nose as she winked out of existence.
Sanae studied the oversized Omamori closer, and realized it was just a small Ema board covered in surplus red Omamori cloth threaded with the thinnest Shimenawa rope the shrine carried (still more than two centimeters in diameter).
And stopped, looked at the construct, and tried thinking about it again.
Unable to figure out how Suwako managed to do this without drills, sewing machines, and any time, Sanae decided just to chalk it up to "Miracles" and not hurt her brain thinking about how Suwako managed to make this designer's nightmare.
When she arrived back at the front of the shrine, Syphlid was jumping with joy when she saw the new talisman. With Tabitha's help, the Shimenawa rope was secured around the dragon's neck, Shide flapping with each movement of Syphlid's head.
To everyone's surprise, the dragon started to purr.
That night, supper was barely palatable for Miss Longueville.
The noble-turned-thief had always preferred the simple evening meal; it was the one meal she truly enjoyed at the Castle of Saxe Gotha. Supper, for all of the secretary's childhood, was for family. Her dear "Uncle", the Archduke of Albion, built a small homely dining room just for the evening rendezvous, and it was the only place where all the members of "the family" could eat and meet in peace. The two-families-living-as-one had only this one hour, this one meeting, out of the entire day to be together. Shajal and Tiffania didn't have to worry about being sequestered away or hidden from guests, and Longueville's father and his sworn brother, the Archduke, didn't have to worry about royal protocol. It was the happiest part of the day, one that the young noble looked forward to.
Until it was all torn away from her.
The atmosphere and meal at the shrine earlier only served to evoke long-buried memories of a happier time, memories from before the King executed his brother, the Archduke, and his supporters. Fouquet, once known as Mathilda of Saxe Gotha, barely managed to escape the slaughter, running away from Albion's Magic Academy at the first murmurings of trouble. Luckily, Tiffania had been given a personal cottage just weeks prior, and the sworn-sisters managed to reunite deep within the forests.
What happened to their family inflamed the young mage. She swore revenge for everyone, and reminded herself of almost everyone's death daily. Longueville preffered not to dwell on the rumors of Shajal's demise, however. The elf woman wasn't executed by the church, but the fate was so bleak, so tragic, that the green-haired mage could only try to forget what she knew had happened, and honor her memory by doing the one task that came even before revenge. Taking care of her "sister", Tiffania.
"Miss Longueville! How was the dinner?"
There, the balding professor, her unwitting Academy informant, was upon her again. Barely in the mood to deal with the clumsy suitor, her answer was kept as terse as she could.
Seemingly unable to pick up on the social cue, Jean Colbert just kept rambling.
"I would have gone too if I had known you were going to be there instead of the Headmaster! Did you see all the artifacts in the Shrine! It is wondrous!"
... Grown. Men. Should. Not. Glow.
They shan't glimmer nor twinkle, glitter nor glisten, spout nor squee.
At least, for everyone else's sanity.
"Ah, ... yes..." the unsettled secretary responded. "Miss Kochiya, the Shrine Maiden, explained and demonstrated many things."
"Isn't the shrine wonderful! Ah how many long hours the Headmaster and the trusted circle debated over whether to store everything in the Vault or not!"
Pushing through the pain in her retinas, the undercover thief leaped at the chance to obtain more information.
"The Vault?" She asked, "Would it even be big or secure enough?"
The flame mage was taken aback, and the incredulity was evident on his face and in his voice when he replied. "Secure enough? It was enchanted by a band of Square Class Earth Mages to resist all magical entry! Of course the size would be of matter, but the only way to get in would be with something akin to a six hundred mail tall golem!
It was Mathilda's turn to sparkle, which only enticed and enchanted the hapless professor even further.
"A giant golem? Do tell..."
~Girls are done!~
AN: Ok so, List of charms/gods
Montmorency - En-Musubi (Love, Mate) - Kanako
Tabitha - Yaku-Yoke (Warding off Evil) - Kanako
Kirche - Gakugyō-Jōju (Study) - Suwako
Louise - Gakugyō-Jōju (Study) - Kanako
Marteau – Kaiun (General Luck/Fortune) - Suwako
Fouquet - Shōbai-Hanjō (Business) - Suwako
Siesta - Kanai-anzen (Family) - Kanako
Irukukwu - Kōtsū-anzen (Travel) – Suwako – (note: Only Suwako knows what kind of charm it really is, on the outside it looks like a Kaiun, as it used the same basic cloth)
Haiden- oratory, large room where services are held.
Ima- Family Room/ Main room of a Japanese house (Tv and Kotatsu)
Shinden- Divine Rice Field (A shrine-owned garden for growing food that will become offerings and other things)