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13 Seconds To Midnight

Chapter Text

 


 

2020 - 100 Seconds 

December 31: China reports 27 cases of pneumonia related patients to the W.H.O

January 31: UK withdraws from E.U

January 3: Tension between the U.S and Iran culmulates the fear of nuclear war

January 9: Australian bush fires continue to rage on

 February 6: Antarctica’s northern tip recorded a temperature of 18.4C (65.1F) – roughly the same as Los Angeles that day

March 2: Turkey launched a major military operation against Syria after Syrian and Russian air and artillery strikes

March 9: Stock markets crash 

March 11: W.H.O declares COVID-19 a pandemic

April 2: Cases surpass 1 million 

May 13: Potential of COVID-19 becoming an endemic as the mental wellbeing is impact by death, poverty, anxiety and isolation 

May 25: Murder of George Floyd places the spotlight on racism and police brutality, triggering protests worldwide 

June 24: China approves CanoSino vaccine

June 28: Global deaths exceeds 500,000 

July 14: Phase III testing for the Moderna vaccine 

August 12: Phase III testing for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine

August 19: Record breaking California wildfires 

September 9: U.N states record highs for green house emissions and global temperatures 

September 29: Global deaths exceed 1 million 

November 5: Danish Government cull 17 minks as mutated COVID-19 strain discovered 

October 5: 10% of world's population infected according to W.H.O 

December 8: First person to be inoculated in the U.K 

December 30: Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine confirmed for usage in the U.K

***

 2021 - 100 Seconds

January 1: New strains of COVID-19 that are more infectious are detected and confirmed in the U.K (B.1.1.7), South Africa (B.1.351) and Brazil (P.1) 

January 6: Capitol Hill insurrection instigated by Trump supporters 

January 9: North Korea announces the development of new weaponry including tactical nuclear weapons 

January 16: COVID-19 death rate exceeds 2 million 

January 26: COVID-19 cases exceeds 100 million worldwide 

January 27: W.H.O begin investigation in Wuhan, the epicentre of COVID-19

February 1: Coup d'état in Myanmar reinstates military rule 

February 25: COVID-19 death toll exceeds 2.5 million 

March 18: COVID-19 vaccinations exceeds 400 million 

March 19: U.K increases its nuclear stockpile from 180 to 260 Tridant warheads

March 23: Suez Canal blockage causes disruptions of global trade 

April 13: Provocation from North Korea continues to amass with testing of new weaponry 

May 4: Active volcano, Tungurahua, in Ecuador erupts

June 2: Right wing groups gain momentum around the globe, inciting violent protests 

July 5: COVID-19 death toll exceeds 3 million

 July 28: Rising COVID cases push world health systems to the brink 

August 11: Israeli and Palestinian conflict regains fuel as fire exchanged 

August 30: Wildfires around the globe 

September 8: Rising global temperatures surpasses 1.80 °C 

***

2022 - 50 Seconds

February 14: Erup B Olod Syndicate (E.B.O.S), a rising anti-vaccine movement establishes its presence

April 27: Major world organisations such as W.H.O, U.N and C.D.C see funding stopped 

June 3: Mt Vesuvius erupts, death count unknown while covering Europe's airspace in volcano gases and ash 

June 20: COVID-19 mutations progress to deadlier strains as anti-vaccine movement flourishes 

June 17: Europe in disarray due to eruption 

July 19: Russia and China cyber attacks on western powers causes retaliation 

October 4: COVID-19 deaths surpass 6 million 

December 16: Longterm effects of COVID-19 continue to deliberate survivors causing economic slowdown 

***

2023 - 25 seconds 

January 23: E.B.O.S gains control of power, backed by military 

 January 29: Civil unrest around the globe as prices surge, resources deplete and COVID-19 death toll surpasses 8 million 

February 2: E.B.O.S releases health information of those vaccinated with orders to terminate them 

April 3: Health systems crash 

 May 13: E.B.O.S shuts down opposition and takes control of global data, ordering incarceration of those caught documenting the pandemic 

July 19: Monsoon season shrouds South East Asia, causing drastic loss of life and displacement 

September 8: Middle East erupts into war as Saudi Arabia resumes its assault on Yemen, causing a domino effect 

October 26: North Korean jets intercepted near Japan 

November 14: Nuclear Arms Race begins 

2024 - 13 Seconds

January 2: Global conflict and civil unrest in most countries, scuppering the system as health care, banks and services crash 

 February 15: E.B.O.S totalitarian rule over western organisations renders the world into war with the east

March 6: COVID-19 deaths surpass 10 million 

March 23: weaponised usage of COVID-19 strains deployed over Russia by U.S 

Chapter Text

 

 


 

Yamanashi Prefecture, March 2024

The crackling of a broken car stereo was the only sound that could be heard within the vicinity of the dilapidated city of Kōfu. 

Its officious and broken signal was lingering on for dear life as the tenebrous sky reflected the maudlin mood of what civilisation had devolved to.

4 years had passed since the emerge of SARS-CoV-2 which had wreaked havoc on society from every angle.

But there was hope, a dwindling silver lining that a new normal could be established where the foundation and structure of society itself could be improved. Focus could be correctly placed on heath care, the distribution of financial aid being available and the use of renewable energy as opposed to fossil fuels and natural gas. 

However, that hope had quickly diminished as the ignorance of humanity would be its own down fall.

"Can anybody hear me!?" the voice from the radio lurched to life, desperation in the woman's voice, "Hello?! Can someone respond! There are survivors here, please!".

Another voice in the background cut through, calm yet disturbed, "What good is that, you're only going to bring more of them to us". 

The addled desperate arguments which followed were lost to the billowing winds and decaying streets that only the brave would dare to venture out in, or those in the pockets of the organisations that could offer protection. Debris and bodies were piled up on the sides, attracting the wildlife which had taken over. 

Society was on the cusp of crumbling, brittle and worn after 4 years of hardships. 

It was balancing precariously on a border between life and death. 

It was only a matter of time before the scale shifted permanently. 

The radio crackled to life again, "Hello?! Please, we need help. We are on the outskirts of the Chūbu region, near the Aokigahara Forest Inn. We are running out of supplies and are being pursued, please-".

Gunshots rang out. 

The interior of the broken-down car was the only thing that would hear their calls for aid 

Human idiocy, greed and lack of compassion was humanity's downfall.

The gap between the rich and the poor, the sane and the deluded, the right and the wrong could no longer be closed.

This was the state of the world.

Across the globe, 8 billion had been deracinated from what was acceptable. Approximately 3 billion of those were living in land short countries with 2 billion residing in urban areas. 

The earth was no longer a place for humans, tarnished by the actions of the few. 

"H-hello!" We need help!".

This was 2024.

Chapter Text

 

 


 

Aokigahara Forest 

The density of the landscape was suffocating the further they ran into it. 

But stopping for a second meant imminent death.

Nor was addressing the bodies that were scattered wherever one placed their eyes. 

Unfortunately for the group of survivors that had fled from their vehicle due to a large group of armed pursuers, they had been forced into a more dangerous situation the deeper they ran into the forest. 

Panic was the only source feeding their adrenaline, that and the death of one of their own. 

Claudine had to put a end to their aimless wandering as she stopped and faced the group, "Look, there's no point in running blindly. We need to figure out a plan?". 

"A plan? I don't think whichever hell that thing crawled out of and did that to her gives a damn about a plan or not!".

Sayo flinched, baring her teeth as she cradled her dead sister in her arms with Lisa by her side, holding her up. Her take charge demeanour had eroded the moment she watched Hina die, now being reduced to a barely catatonic state of existence. 

The friction between Claudine and Kaoruko had been simmering for the last month, the current situation pushing them to a breaking point as their animosity increased. 

"Do you have a better idea, Kaoruko?" the blonde snapped back, "We're literally sitting ducks here".

Fumi and Tamao separated the duo that had squared up to each other as Tamao spoke up, "Okay, this isn't helping anyone. We know that going back isn't an option anymore".

"Neither is going forward" Arisa muttered, arm slung over Saaya's shoulder as her bleeding leg was making it strenuous to walk let alone run. 

"Escape plan aside, are we really not going to address what that was?" Yuyuko questioned, the once quiet woman depicting something different now as her eyes frantically glanced around, "Because it is still nearby and probably isn't done with us yet".

Yuyuko's declaration simmered amongst the exhausted group as Claudine and Kaoruko backed off from each other, loosening themselves from Fumi and Tamao's hold while they cerebrated in the truth of the matter.

What had attacked them wasn't human, what had killed Hina would be back again.

They had left one hell to end up in another and the group was debilitated, injured and losing supplies fast.

Now lost in a forest with a creature that matched its reputation, they had nowhere to flee but staying still was a death wish.

Even if they were armed, whatever had attacked them had obtained perhaps a scratch from Yachiyo's crossbow and some quick thinking from Misaki whom had grabbed a flare and launched it at the creature.

But it was fruitless as its claws had slashed down Hina's abdomen, killing her instantly as she bled out in her sister's arms.

Sayo had yet to utter a word, eyes on Hina and body slumping against Lisa.

Chisato had been attempting to keep it together for Sayo's sake but seeing Hina's lifeless body was too much, that along with Sayo's broken expression had rendered the otherwise quick thinking woman devoid. 

She couldn't blame Claudine and Kaoruko for lashing out each other.

This was overwhelming.

It had been too much for the last year where they had been on the run from a myriad of enemies ranging from the E.B.O.S to looters, to their own friends and family. 

The true colours of humans had been stripped back to the bone and revealed. 

It was a dog eat dog world now, the need to survive indefatigable for those that yearned to live in such a torrid world. 

Despite the macabre scenario, they knew they had to do something.

They hadn't gotten this far only to give up but the enemy they were facing now clearly wasn't like anything they had dealt with to date.

Something Shizuha understood as she checked her scythe and made sure that Yachiyo was okay, "I have to agree with Saijou-san".

Kaoruko scowled and limped off, facing the direction they came from, tears welling in her brown eyes.

All Claudine wanted to do was reach out, to hold her, to tell her that it was going to be okay.

But could she afford to lie that way to the woman she loved?

Even she didn't know anymore.

"Either way we go, something is going to happen and we have to prepare for the worst" Saaya offered whilst placing down one of the backpacks, manoeuvring Arisa to sit down and lean on it, "If we stay put, perhaps we can evade whatever is out there. I don't like the look of this".

"Let me check it out". 

Misaki moved towards the duo with a first aid kit in hand, assessing the slash on Arisa's leg. The woman was pale, her breathing becoming sallow as the wound wept even through the makeshift bandage. 

"Okusawa-san, how bad is it?". 

The woman wanted to prevaricate the truth but doing so was pointless, especially for someone like Arisa who preferred a direct answer. 

"It's getting infected" she replied, "Washing it with water isn't enough".

The blonde uttered a "Fuck" as Saaya rested her hand on the blonde's forehead. 

She could feel the fever spiking. 

Fumi looked on wearily as she checked on Shiori. 

"That's the problem with sitting put, Yamabuki-san" she sighed, "It has already smelt and tasted blood so that thing is going to be able to find us wherever we run so long as we are in this fucking forest" she added at the brunette as she eyed the treeline. 

"You seem to have an idea on what that it is" Yachiyo enquired, turquoise eyes levelling with Fumi's whom just shrugged. 

"Not really, it's obviously hungry, anyone can see that". 

"Fumi.." Tamao called out gently at her lover's scathing tone which was aimed at her ex.

Shizuha's jaw clenched at Fumi's attitude, a ticking time bomb among the three just waiting to go off before Claudine aided Tamao in halting it before the hostile aura became intractable. 

"What are you thinking, Fumi?". 

"That at this point, anything is possible" the blonde continued, clutching her sword breaker as she gave Tamao a pensive look, "Look at where we are, Claudine. The hotbed of youkai, yuurei and fuck knows what else".

"Isn't that a bit of a stretch to think?" Shiori asked her sister wearily from Tsukasa's side.

"We can't just jump to conclusions, Yumeoji-san" Shizuha spoke up, "Shiori-san isn't wrong to think that". 

"Which Yumeoji pun aside.." Yuyuko scoffed whilst wiping the blood from her lip when Misaki handed her a cloth, "Considering what we used to deal with when we were teens, Fumi-san's point isn't as unbelievable".

"Those times seem harmless compared to now" Tamao chuckled softly, Fumi watching her. 

Though Yuyuko concealed it well, she was perceptive at the seams. 

"Whether we want to believe it or not" Chisato said sternly, "This is real..and Hina is..she is gone because of it. I don't know about you all but I don't want to stand around and see anyone else get killed".

Her voice was coarse, eyes red as Lisa reached out for her with her arm that wasn't wrapped around Sayo, "Chisato..".

"Agreed. The choices are to go back and be hunted down like animals" Yachiyo sighed, "Or move forward and be hunted down by this thing".
 
That was the simplicity of the resolute truth and there was nothing they could do about it other than make choice. 

More so when they heard an unearthly screech in the distance which got them all to their feet.

They collected their items as Saaya picked Arisa up, handing a backpack to Tsukasa while Sayo lifted Hina up. 

Another belligerent yell rang out through the forest, this one sounding more human than it should have and that was enough of a reason to leave. 

"Run!" Claudine shouted and nobody thought about which direction to go.

The choice was made for them. 

They were all wounded, disorientated and enervated.

Hina was still in Sayo's arms as the woman ran, ran with her straight through a forest that was the resting ground for the restless deceased, of anguished souls driven to death. 

Inside her mind, she knew that Hina's eccentric sense of humour would have loved this. 

It didn't matter now, forward was the only way they could run. 

Shizuha zipped in front of the group to cut down the trees and greenery in an effort to make it easier for the others to run through while Kaoruko and Tsukasa did the same with their naginata and axes.

Those that were being a shoulder for the severely wounded slipped through the foliage as the hungry screams of the creature seemed to reverberate around them before the noise made them stop altogether. 

The screech just cut off, like it had been swallowed up by something. 

Something felt off. 

Abrupt silence. 

That was all that prevailed and for some obscure reason, the sound of nothing appeared more disturbing than the sounds of the being that was chasing them. 
 
The trees appeared more expansive than it had done, thicker and circling them ominously. Even the sky had shifted to a darker tone from the haunting sunset they had left once they entered the forest.

There was a freshness in the air which felt anomalous, pristine, like the pollutants that had shrouded the world had dispersed. 

Unfortunately, their speculation was short-lived when a violet coloured dome appeared around them, trapping them inside it.

Out of thin air it had materialised, like a net crafted from a million threads. 

"Shit" Fumi muttered as she brought her fists up, sword breaker in hand as she stood in front of Shiori and Tamao while Tsukasa did the same.

"What now.." Tsukasa muttered, axes in hands. 

For those that brandish weapons, this was all too familiar for them.

They had encountered their own trials in dealing with a shadowy organisation that had an influence with the preternatural, with magic. 

So their reactions were much more tame than those who had experienced a quotidian upbringing in band warfare.

Regardless, even they couldn't get a handle on this, the spectacle was something else.  

"You're all seeing this, right?" Kaoruko mumbled out, her brow damp, eyes beholding the scene unfurling. 

Misaki could only nod as she glanced over the group to see their reactions, in which most were similar but those from the theatre background seem relatively equable.

The instantaneous silence only amplified the eeriness of the situation but that would be nothing in comparison to what was happening now. 

Shiori pointed to the strange black line in the air, "What is that?" she asked, clutching onto Tsukasa's jacket.

Nobody could provide an adequate answer, all eyes zeroing into the line which expanded vertically.

A mass of blackness opened up when the line parted, revealing red eyes that never blinked, continuously watching them which made them all gasp and shuffle backwards.

Two red bows appeared on the ends as a smoky plume of violet and vermillion rippled from the outline, making it appear like waves. 

It was unlike anything they had witnessed before.

As the gap continued to part, a figure walked out of it, red heels striding over the ground like she was floating. 

Those that were armed gripped their weapons, spreading out around those that were not and though they displayed bravery, it was easy to tell the terror arising within them. 

Not that the intruder could blame their fear.

To flee from what they had been to join the outskirts of another threat wasn't an ideal scenario for anyone.

The imposing figure neared the dome they were trapped in, donned in a white dress with a violet tabard over it, a parasol in one hand and an intricate fan in the other. 

She merely watched them with her glowing violet eyes, taking them in and for the outsiders, it felt like their souls were being picked apart, thread by thread.

"Good evening, I can't say it is the best time for a stroll in these neck of the woods".

The woman smiled, closed fan near her lips as her long blonde hair fluttered with the airy breeze. The strands beneath her white mob cap which had a red ribbon around it, much like the one around her neck, remained in tact which was strange, adding to the already spectral on-goings. 

The group felt a chill bury into their bones at the smile and the lilting voice.

Digging deep into whatever courage she could muster, Claudine faced the woman head on, "Who are you?".

The woman chuckled, full and melodious yet there was a tinge of something unidentifiable in her demeanour, like a predator toying with its prey. 

"Where are my manners" she said with a lilt, "My name is Yakumo Yukari. If I'd have known that we would be having guest here tonight, I would have provided a much warmer greeting for when you arrived".

Her vision went to Sayo, covered in blood, green eyes vacant. 

This was the last thing that Yukari wanted and would deal with them soon. 

One conundrum at a time. 

"You said here.." Claudine questioned, grip on her broadsword increasing, "Where exactly is here?". 

"How do I put this, you are no longer in the world you are familiar with".

Saaya spoke up wearily, "What do you mean?".

Yukari elaborated, "While we are still on earth, in Japan, you are no longer in the Outside World" she said cryptically.

Claudine was already growing tired of the games, as were the rest.

The woman's mannerisms seemed too much like Kaoruko's which she had already endured and loved for the years they had known each other but right now, it wasn't what she needed.

Especially considering the terms she and her lover were on now.

Misaki picked up on her frustrations. 

"I don't know what any of that means but, where are we and what did you just appear from? What is going on here?" she asked. 

Yukari just smiled ominously as she tapped her fan over her chin, pretending to mull over the questions, "I assure you that what you need to know, I will disclose soon. For now, all you need to know is that you are inside Gensokyo. A land hidden away behind a barrier, free from the tainted interaction of humans..tainted being the operative and literal world considering where you have come from".

"We're not infected" Arisa replied sharply, surprising everyone while clutching Saaya's hands, "If that is what you're implying". 

"Arisa, it's okay" Saaya assuaged.

The brunette had lost her mother to the virus during the first year of the pandemic before the vaccines were created, as did Arisa's grandparents since the civil unrest had hindered the chance of them being inoculated. 

Yukari hummed, "Well, that is a relief to hear but you see, I cannot take any risks. Your words alone aren't evidence enough to excise the probability of being carriers".

Just then, a wisp of red and white could be seen in the distance behind Yukari, the dot becoming larger the faster it flew towards them through the air with something in their hand and yin yang orbs floating either side. 

Saaya was wondering if she had hit her head too severely when she fell after pushing Lisa out of the way when the creature attacked, leaving Hina open.

She deliberated if Sayo would ever forgive her.

But no, there was indeed someone flying towards them as the woman landed gracefully next to Yukari.

The group took in the new arrival wearing what was definitely a priestess attire. With the top half white with purple patterns, it was tucked into the red skirt which went past her knees as the brown boots rested near her calves. Her brunette hair was tied at the back with a large red bow that matched her eyes, two hair tubes at the side of her face. 

Her expression remained neutral as the stick in her hand seemed to be almost as tall as her. 

"Late to the party as always, Reimu" Yukari smirked.

"Have you ever dealt with an angry 5 old year demanding you answer her questions through the night?" Reimu frowned and adjusted the top of her kimono, "Also, I don't know if it's Marisa, Tenshi or Kaguya corrupting my kid but all of them are heading for a way one trip to meet Komachi". 

"Well, that might be difficult with Kaguya" Yukari chuckled, "Also, you were quite chatty at that age too. And let me tell you, Eri is an absolute angel compared to how you were".

"Sure" Reimu grumbled and took in the guests, "So, what do we have here?".

Any sleep had evaded her when she saw the state of the women in front of her whom had probably witnessed the most conventional conversation since this ordeal had begun. 

One dead, a few severely injured and all of them perplexed. 

At least she could discern that they were not a threat per se but the fact that there were those that could clearly hold their own with the weapons was a sight to be wary of.

"It appears as if the Hakurei Barrier had a weak spot that allowed this troubled group to enter".

"Hm, well, we've had some issues lately considering what is going on in the Outside World".

"Quite so. Regardless, we do a have predicament on our hands" she said and addressed the women, "What to do is the question considering that they could be infected with the virus. The majority of the population has been infected and there are more humans in Gensokyo than before so it would only take one of them to recreate what has happened to the Outside World".

"Excuse me" Kaoruko interrupted, "Don't talk about us like we're not here. What are you talking about? There are other humans here?".

This time, Claudine was grateful for her lover's snappy attitude because she too was curious as to what they had supposedly crossed. 

"Reimu, shall I let you explain? You are human, after all" Yukari deliberately stated with a grin at Kaoruko who scoffed. 

"You just want to test me, don't you?".

Yukari winked at her as the brunette rolled her eyes.

"Like I haven't been doing this thing for 33 years" Reimu sighed as she turned to the group, "I don't know what Yukari has told you but even though she is annoying as fuck, everything she has said is true. This is Gensokyo, a land separated from your own and you've crossed into it. I'm guessing you had a run in with a youkai too" she said and looked at Sayo, "I'm sorry for your loss. The youkai that did this will be exterminated once I hunt it".

There was something reassuring about the woman's words that the group couldn't help but to believe despite how confused and tired they were.

The talk about youkai, the flying, the barriers, it was overwhelming. 

Rationality had long ejected itself and they had no choice but to believe the two women in front of them. 

At least one was confirmed as human, even if she could fly. 

The other was impossible to decipher. 
 
"This is too much" Misaki exhaled, feeling blood seep from the cut on her back from almost being slashed down, "Say that this is real and there are youkai or whatever, what happens now?". 

"Hm, first things first.." Yukari said. 

Before the group could stop it, several gaps had materialised near them, gloved hands from within taking the weapons. All their supplies had also been engulfed into the dark abyss. 
 
"Hey!" Claudine seethed.

Yukari chuckled, "I need to send you to the clinic to get treated and would prefer you didn't have any sharp projectiles that could harm the doctor. Should there even be a strand of silver hair out from her braid by any altercation you attempt, let's just say that what you encountered out there won't scratch the surface of what I can and will do to you ".

"Not that Eirin can die either" Reimu muttered, "And you out of everyone has tried".

"Water under the bridge, or is that seas on the moon?" the blonde jested before continuing, "I need to ensure the safety of the residents of Eientei so in order for me to do that, you all have to follow some basic instructions, lest you end up in a worse predicament than you have endured. If we can avoid the bellicose interactions, it would be much appreciated".

Not that they had much of a choice now as they were worse for wear and unarmed, huddled together in a land that was apparently no longer their home.

With no objections, Yukari continued. 

"Firstly, we will see to your injuries, amongst other priorities" Yukari said and looked towards Hina, "Then, you will be tested. The outcome of your future depends on said results so..please adhere to all the help and instructions that Eirin gives you". 

"Wait a moment, we are not going anywhere" Fumi refuted, "How can we trust you?". 

"You can't" Yukari replied, gaze locking with the other blonde's. 

Reimu rolled her eyes, "Look, right now you're all literally bleeding to death so your only other option would be returning you back to the Outside World. What happens then? I heard it's not exactly the best place for any sort of health care right now. If you came back with us, we can treat you and figure out what to do from there".

"Listen to the cranky priestess, she knows what she is talking about" Yukari said coyly before a redoubtable tone took over, "It is as Reimu has said, you don't have many options right now so it would be foolish to fight this. If I wanted you dead, we wouldn't be having this conversation". 

"Charming" Chisato whispered, a chill running down her spine when Yukari's violet eyes landed on her. 

They were such a strange shade, alluring. 

Claudine turned back to the group as they mulled over their decision.

"I hate to admit it but they are right" Shizuha began pensively, "If we don't treat these wounds soon, we'll have more than one kind of infection to deal with".

"It would be a good way to centre ourselves and figure out what to do".
 
A round of agreement to Yuyuko's statement followed. 

"Kaoruko?" Lisa questioned the woman, "What do you think?".

Kaoruko's lips pursed, "Like that matters anymore. Do as you all please" she said, eyes flaring at Claudine who almost flinched, "It's a shame Tendou-han isn't here, right?".

The clipped tone silenced any further thought as the tension kept proliferating.

Tamao glanced back and forth between the two women before looking at Fumi whom could only shake her head as she replied, "We have to go, is everyone in agreement?".

With no answer from Kaoruko and a soft agreement from everyone else, Claudine turned back to face Reimu and Yukari. 

"All right, we'll go with you''. 

"Wonderful. I really wouldn't have wanted to add up the body count if you were to have refused" Yukari joked before an icy glare from Sayo made the blonde back track her words, "Do excuse me, that was rather distasteful of me. You exist for a millennia and death suddenly loses its effect on you" she smiled.

A hit to her upper arm from Reimu interrupted her, "Seriously..".

"Now, now, I am teasing" Yukari insisted as she opened up another gap in the dome, "Walk through the gap and you will find yourself in the location you need to be. Please keep all arms and legs in the required space at all times".

"Is she for real?". 

Reimu shrugged at Yachiyo's smirk, "Honestly, sometimes I don't even know". 

"Time is of the essence, ladies" Yukari reminded and motioned to the gap, "She is waiting".

Apprehension pooled at the pit of every women's stomach as they eyed up the dark line which had split the air, the edges shimmering violet like before. 

It wasn't as if it could turn for the more incongruous than it already was so they took in a deep breath, walking into the gap one by one till they all disappeared. 

Yukari then collapsed the dome as she hummed and ruffled the edges of her cap, "Seems like we have quite the situation on our hands, Reimu".

"It has been a while since we've had any humans find their way here accidentally".

"I suppose so. The timing seems dubious, admittedly. After Eirin's medical examination, we can go on from there". 

"Yukari, what if they do test positive?" Reimu enquired, "What happens to them?".

"Getting rid of them is one option. But if I can avoid that, I will do so. I'll have no choice but to send them back". 

"Is that okay?". 

"Who knows. I can't risk the virus being spread throughout the humans in Gensokyo. It'll rupture the balance if they die out by such means. Now that the possibility of creating a new vaccine to combat the mutated strains has culminated to a standstill thanks to the organisations which have rallied against any progress in the Outside World, it isn't a risk I'm willing to take. Killing them or sending them back isn't something I want to do either. However, should even one of them test positive, I will return them all to the nearest hospital. Well, one which hasn't been ransacked and demolished by the anti-vaccine movement".

Yukari knew that such health services were far and few in the Outside World now. 

Such was the state of the world outside the barrier.

Reimu ran a hand down her face, "I guess it is the only way to fix this. I did wonder something".

"And what would that be?".

"How come nobody uses honorifics here?".

"Ah, everyone is already somewhat familiar with each other and in comparison to the Outside World, Gensokyo is small enough to be acquainted well enough with others" Yukari answered before grinning, "Would you like to try"?.

Reimu paused for a second, lips parting "Yukari-san".

"Well?". 

Reimu cringed as the blonde chuckled, "Yeah no, definitely not gonna work".

"Reimu, you wound me".

"Go get your doctor to kiss it better. Anyway, idiot gap youkai works fine for you".

"As does stubborn shrine maiden for you".

"Such is the order of everything here" Reimu yawned.

"You should head back to the shrine, Alice might still be awake with Eri".

"Yeah, she has been restless these last few weeks" Reimu mulled over, "Motherhood is exhausting".

"More than fighting youkai, goddesses and the occasional human?" Yukari smiled fondly.

Reimu pondered it for a second, "Definitely" she grinned.

It was plain to see in Reimu's expression how that was far from the truth. The once indifferent priestess of Gensokyo had slowly but surely accustomed to her full life. 

The earlier years hadn't been kind to Reimu, being pushed into the role of being Gensokyo's defender at such a young age but she had progressed rapidly in both physical and mental strength. 

It was thanks to Reimu's efforts that the tentative balance in Gensokyo remained. 

And now, she was reaping the rewards of the myriad of trials she has faced. 

With Alice and their daughter. 

Yukari was relieved that the next generation of the Hakurei priestess would be following her mother's path as the peacekeeper of both human and youkai. 

"Well, off you go. Oh, I suggest you shower first".

Reimu scowled, "I don't smell".

The blonde laughed, "No, not due to that. I'd rather reduce the risk of you getting infected by being here. While Alice and Eri may be immune, you're still fully human". 

"I see. Yeah sure, I'll do that" Reimu nodded, "What are you going to do now?".

"I'm going to do a quick sweep of the barrier before returning to Eientei and see how Eirin is doing with them. We shall reconvene in the shrine later tomorrow so rest till then".

The weighty intonation in Yukari's parting words was disquieting.

She knew the woman well enough to at least deduce when she was deliberating something of significant importance and gravitas, especially when it came to Gensokyo. 

It was one of the rare moments that Reimu could read Yukari's thoughts. 

"All right, goodnight, Yukari".

The blonde opened up a gap for her as she waved the woman off, now left alone again. 

A gelidity in the air lingered as Yukari walked forward whilst gapping away her parasol and fan to her home. 

Something felt amiss. 

Not just in regards to their visitors, but the youkai which had attacked them. 

Closing her eyes, Yukari stretched a hand out, hovering it over the Hakurei Barrier that only she, Reimu and soon, Eri, could view. 

A surge of energy rippled through her as she healed the broken intricate lines which composed the barrier, feeling each segment tie together till it was solidified again. 

Breakages weren't uncommon but something had irked the woman enough to appear to remain pensive. 

Her violet eyes opened again as she lowered her hand while her head went up to look at the full moon in the sky. Her lips thinned into a line, watching the clouds cover the silver light as she thought back to the many escapades with the residents that lived on the far side.

Yukari couldn't help but wonder if the disturbances of the Outside World had finally broken through Gensokyo's defences. 

Chapter Text

 

 


 

Eientei

Gensokyo was a land that harboured a multitude of intriguing locations, such was in the aspect of a place which was a haven for the supernatural. 

One of said locations included the Bamboo Forest of the Lost, an expansive woodland that was as ominous as its name suggested. 

Without the usage of its guide or familiarity of the layout, becoming lost within the winding stalks was inevitable and if not found, fatal. Any aleatory excursions were not going to end well for those who wondered into the thicket of the unknown. 

That being said, within the forest was where Eientei resided, a mansion with a particular history and idiosyncratic residents. 

The mansion doubled as a clinic which had expanded over the years to have a fully functional hospital building adjacent to it. 

It was due to the care provided by the esteemed doctor that lured in patients to seek her care. 

Her expertise couldn't be rivalled by doctors in the Human Village or the Outside World, providing ailments to whatever the cause or concern was with practiced ease. 

However, even she wasn't gifted with the talent of bringing back the dead. 

In the mortuary, Eirin uncovered the sheet that was placed over Hina as her lifeless body remained on the steel table. Adorned in a white lab coat over her casual red and blue dress, the woman readied her apparatus whilst assessing the information she had obtained so far about the deceased. 

She looked on sympathetically, blue eyes taking in the peace that was on Hina's expression despite the horrific process of her death, something she was hoping to find out more about. 

The doctor's eyes moved to Hina's abdomen where three large scratches were prevalent, flesh open, exposing the emptiness of where her intestines and liver should have been. 

Eirin thought back to when they all appeared through the gap, noticing the body in Sayo's arm and what was definitely organ matter on the woman's shirt. 

She wondered how long Sayo had to hold onto her murdered twin sister. 

Reaching for a scalpel, Eirin began by cutting several samples from the torn skin in a hopes to identify the creature which had done this. It wouldn't be a simple task despite the increased documentation of all youkai species in Gensokyo. 

They were constantly being born, or always on the brink of death before coming to Gensokyo. 

So the data was obscure at best but the woman had to attempt to locate it before it killed someone else.

While it wasn't unusual for humans to disappear, especially from the direction of the Aokigahara Forest, a direct attack like this was strange and she could understand Yukari's solicitous behaviour as to what had happened. The few details they both had procured from the women was scattered at best which was to be expected so Yukari did intend on revisiting the questioning later on. 

Perhaps with Satori's insight. 

16 humans, one dead and 15 others being moved into the barrier was something that needed to be addressed. 

Once the collection of the epithelial tissue was completed, Eirin opened Hina's mouth to take a sample for a coronavirus test, just as a precaution and sealed the swab up, placing it on the tray next to her. The residue from beneath her fingernails was the next to be retrieved as Hina had been close enough to the youkai to attempt to fight back despite how futile it was. Whatever details could be salvaged from her clothing was also carried out, a process that was repeated with the other woman. 

Right now, Eirin was relying on the science side of the scale as Yukari would have to deal with the magical aspect. 

There was nothing more that could be done at this time as she stepped back and covered Hina's body again, the long teal strands hidden beneath the white sheet. With her skin pale after being drained of blood, her hair seemed to appear luminous despite her death, almost making her seem like she was just sleeping. 

For Eirin, there was a time where such a comparison wouldn't resonate with her, where she was clinical to the core but that has changed since her arrival to Gensokyo. 

The earthlings had taught her more than she had been knowledgeable of at one point in her life, making her sentimental about the concept of them dying. 

She couldn't recall a time when the clinic had been as busy as it had been tonight and Yukari did warn her, to prepare herself for an adventitious delivery of patients. The allocation of tasks amongst everyone that was ready to help had been done efficiently enough where she could provide treatments instantly as their belongings had been taken away to be disinfected and cleaned thoroughly. 

Including their blood tinged weapons. 

Eirin could only wonder what had transpired with the group before they had fled into the Aokigahara Forest, only to encounter a problem more detrimental.


Back in the main building where the patients were, two of Eirin's students were in the midst of doing their final checks on them before heading home since it was late. While they had their own professions, the two had learnt a great deal of the medical side under Eirin's edification which was coming to use now. 

As Eirin's apprentice, Reisen would take over after since she resided with the doctor whereas Yumemi and Rikako did not. 

The two women were putting on their gloves and masks, along with their white coats bearing Eirin's sigil near the collar. As the two were human, they had to follow the procedures set stringently.  

"It's odd to have to do all this" Yumemi expressed whilst adjusting her gloves, "But understandable". 

"Until Eirin acquires the test results, it is vital for us to be cautionary about contact with them, Yumeni" Rikako replied to the redhead, "The situation truly must be spiralling out of control out there". 

"I'm surprised most of them survived given their injuries". 

"Such is in the doctor's proficiency" Rikako noted whilst preparing the required equipment for their rounds. 

The two woman were recently privy to the details of who Eirin was, along with the rest of the residents of Eientei and were adjusting to it. 

"I mean, the spell card duels get destructive here but I guess it's different when something or someone is actually trying to kill you and you're running". 

The statement lingered as the beeping of machines in the room ruptured the silence. 

A maudlin atmosphere had set over them whilst their eyes took in the sleeping forms of the women whom had endured such trials when Yumemi continued her thought. 

"The Outside World barely has the concept of magic so I'm wondering how they are going to get used to that" Yumemi mused, "Sounds like the kind of place you would love, Rikako, even my world probably". 

As a scientist, Rikako tended to frown upon the prospect of magic whereas Yumemi, who was a professor not exactly of the current timeline, thrived off of the concept of magic and its capabilities. 

The redhead had a feeling that her colleague wasn't as sure about that anymore if the pensive look in her purple eyes that were framed by round glasses had anything to go by. 

"Limitations are necessary, you should know that more than anyone considering the types weapons you can create" she simply answered, not revealing her umbrage to Yumemi's statement as she motioned to the left side of the room, "I'll start on this side". 

Yumemi was about to refute the other woman's point but let it go. 

She wasn't exactly incorrect as Yumemi did indeed have the knowledge of creating weapons of mass destruction. 

She walked over to the first bed where Misaki was, taking her temperature with the scanner, the results appearing on the tablet. Her stats on the monitor appeared stable as the lacerations she had been sporting were treated. Yumemi brushed aside her dark hair which fell past her shoulders to check the cut near her throat, wondering how that happened. 

Sentiments Rikako shared whilst changing the dressing on Shizuha’s forehead, her blue hair hiding the lump that had been bleeding profusely when she was brought in. She increased some of the pain medication Shizuha was on when she noticed a flicker of a flinch before the woman settled again. 

Fumi was next on Yumemi's path, the blonde's breathing steadying out more than it had done since the last check. Still, the range of old scars scattered over her upper arm mingling with the new set was a cause for concern and the professor debated if that was due to the altercation with the youkai. 

Rikako had moved onto Chisato as she registered her temperature and pulse whilst watching for a few moments to see if any of the readings changed. She appeared stable despite the wound on her abdomen that Eirin had treated earlier along with the severe dehydration she had been plagued with. 

Next for Yumemi was Fumi's sister who had clearly required more medical assistance given the woman's poor health history. She topped up the dosage of one of the medications Shiori needed as per Eirin's instructions. From what Yumemi gathered from the chart, Shiori was younger than Fumi hence why she was so hesitant of their presence near her. 

Not just Fumi but Tsukasa too whom Rikako was treating now by changing the bag of fluids that the woman hadn't been receiving since their ordeal had begun. Some colour had returned to Tsukasa's cheeks which was a positive sign as her bandages near her foot were secured. It was evident that she had been on her feet more than she was idle. 

Kaoruko followed for Yumemi as the redhead assessed her statistics before double checking the stitches around her right wrist. The other was sprained and marred so it would require some time to heal, much like her other injuries. Even in her sleep, Yumemi could see how restless the woman was, face pained and teeth clenched. 

For Yuyuko, the scientist noticed that her breathing was slightly laboured, like it was strenuous to breath. She didn't have a fever and her other injuries were treated before getting infected so Rikako increased the oxygen she was attached to in an effort to alleviate the strain which she was thanked for when Yuyuko sighed. 

Yumemi was in the midst of cleaning and reapplying the bandage on Claudine's waist, something that Eirin reminded her of and she understood why as the injury had depth, running to the hip bone almost, like a rapier had skimmed by which was concerning. 

Given the injury to Arisa's leg and the infection which was festered, the limb was up in a sling. Luckil,  Eirin was able to ensure that nothing dire was needed to save it. Rikako upped the dose of Arisa's medication such as the antibiotics as she looked at the blonde's sleeping face, contorted like she was embroiled in a nightmare. 

Next for Yumemi was Saaya who she recalled was the one whom had administered many of the first aid to the group, essentially saving their lives. She wondered where she obtained the knowledge as she addressed the bruises that spanned around her neck, again wondering how such a thing would have happened. 

Rikako then went to check on Sayo, the woman laying on her side, almost curled up. She felt for the woman whom had witnessed her sister die and once the initial shock had settled, all of Sayo's anger and despair exited which resulted in her lashing out till Eirin had to medicate her. She hadn't awoken since then, fluids and nutrients being piped through the cannula. 

Resting in the bed next to Saaya's was Yachiyo. When she was brought in, Yachiyo couldn't stop shaking as she bled out from the abrasions on the back of her head and Yumemi was relieved to see the woman finally obtaining some reprieve as her lashes flickered in the dimly light of the room. 

Lastly, it was Lisa to be checked upon and Rikako was surprised to see that the woman was awake. Olive eyes peered up at her as Lisa smiled, a small one that too appeared to drain her of her energy. 

"Sorry, didn't mean to spook you". 

Rikako was quick to retrieve some water as she could hear the dryness of Lisa's throat, helping her drink, "Not at all. Is there anything I can do to make you more comfortable?".

Though Lisa couldn't see Rikako's mouth, she could hear the concern in the question. 

"How are they all? And Sayo" she asked, "Knowing that would help". 

Much like Saaya's nature to be the one all went to for aid, Lisa was very much the same, putting the wellbeing of others before herself. 

"Everyone is stable, rest assured. There should hopefully be no lasting damage, but it's early to say" Rikako answered, "At least, not physically". 

It went without saying as Lisa nodded, her thick brunette hair cascading down the white pillow as she strained her eyes to her lover. 

"Sayo is stable too. Her stats are promising and contusions should heal well thanks to Eirin".

"That's good" Lisa exhaled, "She's okay..she..".

Thoughts of Hina had never left her mind but the unasked question of how Sayo would cope with what happened remain to be seen.

Yumemi had joined them as she offered the brunette a smile, the corners of her red eyes crinkling, "There is a lot for you to unpack and that will happen but for now, just rest. I think a good night's sleep will be a start".

Rikako nodded, "Slow and steady".

"Yumemi and Rikako, was it?" Lisa asked when the women confirmed, "Thank you, not just for checking on us. My mind won't shut off. I don't know how to help her". 

It was said above a whisper as olive eyes remained on Sayo. 

"I believe it would best to help yourself first" Rikako empathised, "I don't know what happened out there and we cannot begin to comprehend it but you're in a place where you can recover". 

"And after that recovery, you can figure out what to do from there" Yumemi continued as Rikako set up a vial and syringe, "We'll give you something to help with the sleeping, okay?". 

Lisa suspired, squeezed her eyes shut as Rikako attached it to the cannula. 

"Its been months since we've slept on beds, you know" she said with a small laugh as downiness took over, "Without having to keep watch. Sayo always watched over us, even when we were in buildings". 

It was the last detail divulged Lisa as sleep engulfed her, leaving a quiet room again. 

Yumemi and Rikako looked at each other after tucking Lisa in, sharing their mentor's sentiments of what exactly had occurred before their arrival here. 

Human minds were fragile, they understood that. 

While their bones may heal, whether their minds followed was what would remain to be seen. 


*** 

"So, what's the verdict?".

Eirin turned in her seat from her laptop to find Yukari half immersed in a gap, her face passive and neutral.

Even to this day, she found it difficult to gauge Yukari's thoughts at times, such was in the enigmatic youkai's nature.

Still, the situation which had befallen on them would be enough to shake the blonde up considering the perilous nature of the recent event.

"They are all negative of all the COVID-19 strains" Eirin answered, "You did not say anything when you left this morning. It's unusual for you to be awake that early".

"Well, we have found ourselves in a quite a dilemma after years of uneventful happenings" Yukari chuckled and walked out of the gap, letting the air heal behind her, "I would have preferred to sleep in, you know that".

Eirin grinned slightly, looking up at her lover as she handed over the documentation, "Indeed".

Violet eyes scanned over the list of the patients whom were relatively cooperative which made Eirin's life easier. The doctor's bedside manner was going to be integral aspect of bridging the gap between them and the denizens of the Outside World. 

Barring the woman whom had endured the loss of her sibling and two others that seemed despondent, the rest filled in the details of their encounter, what had occurred and what had led them.

Which was a detail Yukari noticed on the paper.

But there was more to their story, both women knew that. 
 
"They are all inoculated, Yukari".

"Both doses?".

"Yes". 

"I see". 

Yukari thought back to the feisty blonde who was adamant about not being infected, a subtle fire in her hazel eyes which explained it now.

Eirin exhaled as she leaned back on her chair, a finger pressing beneath her lower eyelid, "Given the predicament in
the Outside World and the hysteria against vaccines, it wouldn't surprise me at all if the reason they were all fleeing was because they were being hunted".

"To think that humanity has devolved to such lengths" Yukari agreed and handed back the documents after taking in the information, "I don't see any chance of their world recovering from its path. The movement which had fuelled the rallies against common sense has only expanded since the height of the pandemic".

"What are you thinking?".

Eirin had stood up, towering over Yukari as she took her hand and led her to the seating area of her office and sat down, keeping her hand in hers. 

"Gensokyo exists as a place where the forgotten end up. Be it beings, information and relics, everything ends up here".

"Which has been useful for some of the knowledge regarding the coronavirus since it has appeared here considering the refusal of its existence in the Outside World".

"Which is perplexing in itself" the youkai mused, "However, the youkai that attacked them isn't native to here". 

"How so?".

"I've had Ran, Reimu, Sanae and Marisa scour the area but it hasn't been found. Nor can I locate it, Eirin".

Eirin arched a brow as her gaze flickered to her desk as to what Yukari had revealed.

As far as she knew, Yukari had absolute control of the dimensions of Gensokyo.

The barrier warping youkai was terrifying in that sense, so to have the admission of her not being able to know anything about a creature that was residing on the outskirts of Gensokyo was something considerable to fret over. 

Especially one that had killed a human.

"Do Okina and Kasen have any information?".

The blonde shook her head, "Not as of yet but they're looking into it".

"How strange indeed. Timing, that is what you are concerned about, is it not?".

The youkai smirked, "And here I was thinking that I was yet to be completely transparent to you, darling".

Eirin rolled her eyes and squeezed Yukari's hand in hers, "Please, I've had the unfortunate luck of becoming entangled with you too often to not be aware of some of your thoughts".

"Is that so?" Yukari replied, voice becoming a tinge licentious as she inched her face closer to Eirin's. 

Eirin said nothing, making up for the missing presence in her bed that morning by pressing her lips over Yukari's. She snuck her free hand over to Yukari's nape seeing as her hair was up in a loose bun while the warmth of her skin committed itself to her fingertips that dug in deeper, keeping Yukari still as she kissed her. 

Considering how malleable Yukari was being, Eirin could deduce that whatever incident was unveiling was going to be time consuming, and fatal. 

Speaking of timing, Eirin was just about to meet her lover half way after stopping to breath when a rapid succession of knocks interrupted them.

"Come in".

Reisen quickly barged in, bowing slight at the intrusion, "Excuse me! Master, one of the patients is seizing! Yumemi has stabilised her".

The two women stood up promptly and followed Eirin's apprentice to the ward in which the outsiders were being isolated in.

Though they had been confirmed negative, Eirin followed the protocol of isolating them for a minimum of two weeks just in case any were asymptomatic.

Upon entering the room, Eirin rushed to the bed that Shiori was in as as a panicked Fumi was held back by Yuyuko and Tamao, "What happened, what's going on with her!?".

Some of the others were gathered around as they watched the scene unfurl though with Yukari's attendance, they took a step back.

They had somewhat accepted the fact that this land was like no other and Reisen's presence itself amplified that considering her appearance. 

Eirin hadn't provided too many details yet in the fear of overwhelming them so she had only mentioned that Reisen wasn't particularly of earth and left it at that.

Depending on Yukari's actions, revealing all might not be necessary if she was going to send them back to the Outside World after wiping their memories. 

The doctor quickly undid the bandages on Shiori's stomach as she advised Reisen to inject 500 mg of Dilantin through the IV to control the seizing.

"Yumemi, keep a hold of her face for a moment longer. I'm not ruling out internal bleeding at this point" she directed as she saw a trickle escape the blonde's mouth. 

"Got it". 

Yumemi gently placed Shiori's head back on the pillow while Eirin pressed her palm over the blonde's stomach, feeling it indent. 

"Eirin, what is it?". 

"Her wound is infected on a deeper level than anticipated" she replied to Yukari and began preparing the blonde to take her into surgery before turning to Fumi, "You mentioned that your sister has been of frail health as a child and teen, is that correct?".

"Most of her life, she got a little better and stronger as an adult but still, her body can't handle this much stress and complications. It's been impossible to find anywhere to get the medications and treatments to keep it under control for the year we've been running" Fumi stressed, icy eyes staring into Eirin's, pleading to help her. 

"I see. Don't worry, Fumi, she will be all right" Eirin reassured as a few of the nurses raced in and waited for Eirin, "She is in good hands. Reisen and Rikako will come in and check on your vitals too so please remain here. Yukari?".

The youkai scanned her eyes over the group, "I'll talk to them, you go ahead and let me know if you need anything". 

Eirin nodded, excusing herself and left the room as Fumi dug her nails into her own fist, "Can she help her?".

"Eirin isn't quite like the doctors you are used to. Or were familiar with in the past. Rest assured, your sister will be okay. As will the rest of you. None of you are compromised so that in itself is reassuring news but your 2 week isolation period here at Eientei remains. It will also give me some time to think of what comes next since there are many things we need to discuss".

She looked at each woman wearing a range of expressions, some dubious, most anxious, others angry.

Her eyes drifted to one of the beds where Sayo was still asleep with Lisa laying next to her. 

The funeral of her sister is something that had to be explored but when Sayo was more reactive. 

"What does that mean? You're awfully vague when you speak" Shizuha enquired. 

"Perceptive" Yukari smiled, "The only thing you need to know right now is that you are safe here. Allow yourselves to physically heal and accept the help Eirin offers you". 

"That's fairly daring to say considering that we know nothing about her either. Does she even have a medical license?".

Yukari stepped forward, her heels slowly clacking as she reached Kaoruko. Given that her tone was pejorative, it was foreseeable that Yukari would react. 

All of them had picked up on the fact that Yukari and Eirin were very much involved and the blonde's cloying demeanour shifted the moment Eirin's name was tarnished. 

To Kaoruko's credit, she had the sense to recoil a tad but refused to depict her fear to Yukari.

While Claudine and Kaoruko may not have been on speaking terms at the moment, the blonde was quick to intercept herself between Yukari and her lover, brows furrowed and stance heightened. 

The action only made Yukari chuckle, sparking a flicker in her eyes, "Interesting. You're devoted enough that despite how your lover seems to be warring with you, you would put your life on the line for her just like that. Interesting".

"Back off..Yakumo".

The diminutive way Claudine had said Yukari's surname was tangible, each syllable coated with admonition. 

The atmosphere became fraught again as a stare off ensued but Yukari wasn't looking at Claudine now, her eyes on Kaoruko whose expression faltered between gratitude yet stubbornness.

"Well, it might be beneficial for you to know when to stand your ground, especially in a place like this and as a human. However, let's not forget where you are. You'll be aware soon as to why that is" she warned, voice minacious while she stepped back, folding her arms across her stomach after waving them goodbye, "I'll be seeing you all soon".

Her words lingered in the air whilst in the process of being consumed by a gap which proved that she didn't necessarily need to use her hands to control them. It appeared to be the aberrant woman's preferred mode of transport.

Something that none of the Outside World residents would get used to as it was chilling.

To know that this woman could appear out of nowhere and everywhere. 

"You didn't have to do that" Kaoruko said with a rankled voice when Claudine faced her again, tucking her hands into the pockets of her white robe, "I could have handled her".

"Sure, probably in a battle of being elusive and coy" Claudine stated with a sigh, not wanting to fight her, "I don't like her or any of this".

"I understand your apprehension, Saijou-san" Saaya commented from Arisa's bed, "But we don't have much of a choice. Everything here is unusual".

"But she is on a different level of zany" Misaki pointed out, "What's with this place anyway? It's modernised enough but seems like something out of ancient Kyoto".

They all knew what Misaki meant as they glanced around the ward they were in, technically unlike any hospital they had seen before. It was well furnished, clean and yet homely.  But outside the windows, all they saw was dense greenery, long stalks of bamboo that rose above the high fence of the establishment which appeared to be cloistered in.

"I haven't been able to get past anything besides ears when she checks up on us, Reisen, was it? And the nurses are the same" Tsukasa thought out loud, eyes on the door and waiting for any new on Shiori, "It's like a masquerade ball or something, but not a hopeless one"

"That's one word for it" Arisa shrugged, "You don't seem that bothered now that I think of it".

Yachiyo answered on Tsukasa's stead, "It's not as disturbing and unlikely as you think. Let's just say that we've encountered our fair share of unusual beings" the woman smirked, "Though Reisen is far more enjoyable as company".

"What is that meant to mean?" Misaki asked as Chisato listened in. 

"It means..." Yuyuko clarified while adjusting her red hoody that had been cleaned, "That our world, or what they refer to as the Outside World isn't as normal as you would believe. I think we can fill you all in as to what we use to do in the underground theatres. What we were fighting".

"Why not, they might as well know everything. It can't be anymore screwed up than knowing that science denying simpletons are the reason why we are here to begin with" Kaoruko scoffed, "We should have killed them and the rest when we had the chance but no, she had to intervene and you fell for it, as usual". 

Claudine clenched her fists, feeling fractious as Kaoruko limped off to her bed after bringing that memory back up to the surface. 

The damage control she would have to enact was stretching further and further, something that Tamao could see etched on the woman's face.

It was a discussion overdue between the couple and Tamao hoped that Kaoruko would eventually allow Claudine to explain. 

"Kaoruko".

Tamao gently placed her hand on Claudine's forearm, "Just leave her be for now, Saijou-san, she will calm down eventually. I think once we adjust to what is happening, it'll open up the grounds for talking again".

As much as Claudine wanted to deny it, she had to concur since the woman had known Kaoruko since they were children, "I know. One thing at a time" she said as she glanced at the door where Fumi and Tsukasa were waiting anxiously before Tamao joined them. 

One positive aspect about the outcome of what was on-going was Fumi's acceptance of Shiori's relationship with Tsukasa. She had eventually accepted that Shiori was old enough to make her own decisions and her connection with Tsukasa had always been there since school. 

Still, it was plain to see how delicate the atmosphere was between the two as Tamao stood by to mediate any tension even though the woman herself was struggling with her own demons. Tamao's own mask was crumbling, wearing out over the course of the year they had been on the run for. 

None of them had been left unscathed, too much had eventuated as a result of the pandemic. 

The injury on Claudine's waist tingled, returning her to the present and her own bed after chancing a glance at Kaoruko whom was facing the other way whilst laying down. She could feel the way Kaoruko was wound up, her back rigid and a hand balling the sheets. What was once a woman gifted in the art of appearing unperturbed and blasé was now reduced to a former version of herself. 

Claudine's gaze then turned to where Lisa and Sayo were, the brunette cradling her lover close as she slept, a hand running through her teal hair to allay her from the nightmares she'd been having. Sayo's voice had gone unheard of for two days while Lisa's was laden with consternation. 

Misaki and Yuyuko had joined Shizuha and Yachiyo at Shizuha's bed. While they appeared in positive spirits, Claudine could see how rattled they were, particularly Yachiyo who refused to leave Shizuha's side. Shizuha in turn appeared like she was going to peel away from her own skin at any sudden movement.

Misaki's captivating eyes kept straying to the bamboo stalks like she was reliving something horrific, more so the moment she had stepped into the Aokigahara Forest whereas Yuyuko's dry humour had traversed beyond subtle which indicated her inwards distress. 

Chisato was with Arisa and Saaya, the two fussing over Arisa whom was scowling but not without a rubescent tinge to her cheeks to mask how enervated she felt. Saaya's eyes belied her worries in regards to Arisa's leg, that much was prevalent but there was something deeper that was dragging her down, the same dreary energy surrounding her lover. 

As for Chisato, busying herself with Arisa was a distraction, a consolation for the fact that Hina was no longer here for her to fuss over. The younger Hikawa's death hadn't settled for her yet and it would only be a matter of time before she succumbed to the grief, much like Sayo and Lisa had. 

Claudine felt like she had let them all down. 

Any air she inhaled felt thick and arid as the chains of responsibility continued to tighten around her neck. 

The trembling of her hands returned with a vengeance, her own veneer of control beginning to fade. 

They had little choice but to take the events as they happened and she speculated if she had brought her group to an inevitable demise by agreeing to come to Gensokyo as Yukari's warning rang in her ears. 

Chapter Text

 

 


 

Eientei

Two weeks had passed since the arrival of the Outside World residents to Gensokyo and their physical health was on the mend thanks to Eirin's expertise, barring one patient. 

Eirin switched her penlight off as Sayo blinked away the glare from the bulb while she remained taciturn, unresponsive to the doctor jotting a few notes down.

A part of Sayo still believed that this was nothing more than a nightmare, that the last 4 years were nothing but a drawn out dream that was playing callous tricks on the globe. 

The world hadn't endured a pandemic.

The ugly nature of people wasn't as tangible.

Her sister and parents were still alive.

But the cool wave of reality came crashing down when the calming voice of the woman opposite her jolted her reverie apart.

"Lisa tells me you haven't been eating your meals again, Sayo".

"I don't have much of an appetite". 

"That's understandable. However, are you aware of the ramifications of your actions? Not only to yourself but to your partner and friends?".

Sayo's stomach twisted, the robe beneath her knees being yanked as the ignominy increased, "That is..".

"Sayo" Eirin said, curt but gentle, "Neglecting your own health isn't a way to come to terms with what has happened. Your sister-". 

"Don't".

The dangerous green eyes didn't deter Eirin whatsoever as she forged ahead delicately, "Would not want this for you. Nor do Lisa or the rest of your friends. I know that this is overwhelming and there is nothing that anyone can do directly to ease your pain but don't push out those around you. The help is there, from myself too".

It was taking everything for the usually stoic and saturnine woman to remain passive, to not let the guilt consume her, to not crumble.

But it was inordinate. 

Watching Hina die.

Feeling Lisa's solicitous stares. 

Sensing the eerie gaze of the supposed youkai which had saved them. 

Sayo's mind felt like it was being shredded and then pieced together momentarily, only to be disassembled again.

Over and over, the confines of the spaces in her mind were being flooded with the memories, the hallucinatory torrent feeling like it was coursing down her body, drowning her from the inside. 

Eirin reacted with celerity and placed a hand over Sayo's left hand on her knee. 

"Sayo, breath". 

The woman began to withdraw from the clutches of despair as Eirin continued to speak to her, lulling her back into the present with the breathing exercise. 

Sayo did as she was told, following the doctor's instructions after slamming her eyes shut. Panicking right now wasn't going to help, as much she wanted to lash out and then shut down.

It wouldn't bring Hina back.

While Sayo had returned from her vacuous state from two weeks ago, her temperament now was volatile, susceptible to fluctuating.

The trauma induced was reshaping her thoughts, manifesting into physical ailments which was something Eirin had been treating for the other women too. 

"That's good, slowly in through your nose".

A few minutes of steady breathing progressed till Sayo was ready to open her eyes again, running a hand down her face, allowing the nausea to settle as Eirin waited patiently. Her head strummed harshly whilst coaxing more air into her lungs, lowering her gaze to where Eirin's hand had slowly moved away from her own. 

It was then that Sayo noticed a certain pattern on the doctor's dress beneath her white coat. 

Her eyes ran over the constellation.

"Ursa Major".

Eirin smiled, "You are familiar with the constellations?"

"Yes, Hina loved astronomy" Sayo replied, a small smile forming on her lips "She would drag us to her favourite places to stargaze and go on about it. She was fascinated by anything and everything. But astronomy in particular mesmerised her. The history of Callisto's formation into that constellation is..was one of her favourites".

"She sounds like a wonderful person with a thirst for knowledge".

Sayo chuckled, the sound dry but genuine as Eirin continued.

"Callisto was a hunting assistant of Artemis, was she not? The goddess used a bow and arrow?" she enquired carefully. 

"That's right. Hina ensured that I was aware of that tale in particular as I did kyudo and taught classes before the situation deteriorated. Though my bow and arrow was displaced somewhere in the outside now after a particular eventful night".

The titbit of information piqued Eirin's interest, giving her a way for Sayo to channel her thoughts and compose herself. There was something familiar about Sayo's mannerisms, a way she used to be herself. 

Stoic, prescinded, prudent. 

Up until she came to earth. 

"Perhaps you would be interested in resuming the practice? I myself wield the bow and arrow" Eirin divulged as Sayo appeared more alive than she had done as of late.

"Really?".

"Quite so. The dojo is properly quipped so I think it would be an adequate space for you to try it".

Sayo couldn't deny that, fingers flexing at the ghostly hold of the two things which gave her the most comfort, her craft and Lisa. If this was a start in being able to heal, then she had to take the opportunity and the luck of such a thing to have occurred. While the absurdity of the scenario hadn't quite reached a stagnant stage, the discussion of something normal, something resembling a time before the pandemic was welcomed. 

"I would be grateful for the chance to do so again, Doctor". 

"Wonderful. However, that is only on the condition that you begin to eat your meals again" Eirin bargained with a laugh as Sayo blushed.

"Ah. Of course". 

"Sayo, at this moment of time, there is no rush for you all to find a rational as to what is going on here at Eientei. You have the place to recover, in preparation for everything else to fall into place once you are healed".

The earnest look in the striking blue eyes mirrored the sentiments and Sayo couldn't help but to believe Eirin despite the ridiculousness of the events they had experienced to date.

The world was in disarray due to the deposing of any sane body of government against an extremist organisation and now here they were, somewhere in a location that was enshrouded away.

"All of your questions will be answered soon, rest assured" Eirin said as if reading her mind. 

At this point, Sayo wouldn't be surprised if this enigmatic yet sagacious woman could do just that. 

There was something in the woman's emanation that reminded her that this location, Gensokyo, was unlike anything she had ever read about.


***

 
True to Eirin's words, come evening, they all found themselves in one of living rooms at Eientei. 

There was a slightly overwrought atmosphere in the air which was to be expected given the scenario as the Outside World residents were now face to face with Yukari again. 

With the blonde was Eirin and Reimu. 

Reisen had finished serving the tea and promptly left the room after acquiring Eirin's permission, much to her relief. While she was curious about the patients she had tended to and formed a bond with, the ambiance was too hostile. Closing the door, she caught a thankful smile from Yuyuko and Shiori, returning it back with added vigour and a nod of good luck. 

The importance of this conversation was substantial. 

Yukari herself didn't want to prolong it so she began speaking. 

"You're all looking better" she commented, "I'm pleased to see that". 

It was honest, no quips which took the group by surprise since the riddles and coyness that Yukari oozed was something they had come to expect. The surprise must have been evident as Yukari smiled, beemusement prevalent in her violet eyes. 

"Despite what you may think of my intentions, I do in fact consider your well being to be a priority". 

"She might be annoying.." Reimu smirked after drinking her tea, "But she is pretty caring in her own annoying way".

Eirin chuckled beneath her breath much to her lover's dismay as Yukari lamented with a theatrical sigh, "All the years of care I bestowed on Reimu and this is how she turned out". 

"Like mentor like student" Eirin quipped. 

"Eirin" Yukari chastised before returning her attention to the women in front of her, watching on with amusement, "As I was saying, your wellbeing is a concern so I am pleased that Eirin and everyone at the clinic could aid you". 

Much to the astonishment of Yukari, Eirin and Reimu, the women opposite them gave a small bow as Claudine spoke up. 

"Thank you for your care" she said as they all sat back up, "It has been a strenuous, especially when we ran into the forest and encountered whatever that was. Even prior, we were not at our best so your help was appreciated".

Yukari hummed in thought, knowing full well how guarded Claudine was from the get go which was to be expected but the sincerity was notable. 

Shizuha continued, "We have discussed at great length as to what could have occurred if you hadn't found us that night". 

"My regret is that I couldn't have been alerted sooner" Yukari noted with a glance at Sayo,  "Unfortunately, the location you were all attacked was an area of the barrier which is both remote from Gensokyo's side and the Aokigahara Forest". 

Sayo acknowledged Yukari's reasoning, "There would have been more casualties than just Hina so that is something we are grateful for in terms of your intervention". 

Reimu and Eirin watched the exchange quietly, noticing that the group hadn't been this relaxed around Yukari since meeting her so it was certainly a positive step in the right direction. They knew that the cooperation between them and Yukari would be integral for the upcoming step of the process. 

Shiori was the next to speak up, addressing Eirin, "Yagokoro-san?". 

The doctor smiled fondly, "Eirin is just fine. As you'll come to find, such formalities are not necessary in Gensokyo". 

"Oh, okay" the woman nodded, feeling Fumi's eyes on her too, "I also wanted to thank you for your help. For saving my life. Even before the start of this, I never had as much strength as others but after your care, I feel stronger. More so than I ever have done" she smiled, her shy mannerisms returning as Tsukasa grinned, "The medicine which you provided, it's unlike anything I have had before". 

The veneration in her voice was evident, turqouse eyes staring at Eirin in awe while reliving the moments she had consumed the required medication, wondering why she didn't have the usual adverse effects when taking them. 

"Yukari did mention that she wasn't like other doctors". 

"Is that so?" Eirin said with a cloying tone at Yuyuko's revelation, "Yukari speaking that highly of me to others, how charming" she teased the woman who rolled her eyes, "Think nothing of it, Shiori" she smiled, "I'm pleased that the medication and care has been effective. For all of you". 

"It does bring the conversation to where it needs to be" the youkai phrased, "Not just in regards to Eirin's background. I understand that you all still require time to fully heal and that will happen. However, you all have a decision to make". 

The atmosphere became pensive again as the women waited for Yukari to continue but it was Reimu who spoke up next. 

"Simply put, you have two options. The first choice is returning to the Outside World. Wherever you want to go, Yukari can take you there and leave you at the safest possible location" Reimu stated whilst adding, "But I'm not sure if there is anywhere safe anymore from what Yukari has seen". 

"What is the second option?" Tamao enquired. 

"You remain here in Gensokyo". 

Yukari's sentence lingered for a moment as the women's startled reactions were etched onto their countenance. 

"You build a life here, forgoing any connection to the Outside World which you have been deracinated from. Your life here would be fairly bucolic and serene despite the mixture of species but it does guarantee no imminent harm to you which is what you will face out there". 

"Humans from the Outside World resettling here isn't unheard of. Granted, it has been rare for any to end up here since the pandemic" Eirin added. 

"Why is that?". 

Reimu answered Chisato's query directed at Eirin, "The attachment to your world couldn't be severed. Even with everything going on, they chose to leave". 

"Though their return was short-lived". 

They could all deduce what Yukari was implying with that comment as the blonde scanned the room.

"If we remain here, then there is no way that we can return?". 

"No" Yukari responded to Saaya who glanced at Arisa, "Even prior to the pandemic occurring, the travel between Gensokyo and the Outside World was limited. For the sake of those that rely on the existence of Gensokyo, I can't permit free travel, hence the Hakurei Barrier. It keeps things out as much as it keeps things in". 

"The question is.." Reimu mused, "Do you have any attachments left out there?". 

"There was a group of us before we arrived at Kōfu" Claudine relayed as she felt Kaoruko stiffen next to her, "We split up to try and find a place where we could reside but just as we did, we were attacked". 

"By whom?". 

"Other humans, those that are associated with E.B.O.S, the group that started off the anti-vaccine movement before moving onto more ambitious schemes. Leading to their take-down of the world's system".

Yukari could feel the resentment in Claudine's tone given how it was tangible, as was the way her throat seemed to constrict which was noticeable since her hair was up in a ponytail. 

"There wasn't much time to think so everyone scattered. I..don't know if they are alive or not. The calls to their phones went unanswered" Yachiyo concluded. 

A forlorn aura settled which was to be expected. 

The possibility of the other group remaining alive was enough of a reason to deliberate going back to the Outside World but one woman in particular had a way to find out if it was worth returning for. 

"You can check, can't you, Yukari?". 

All three Gensokyo residents were taken aback by Lisa's request, more so Sayo who held the brunette's hand in hers. She had been laconic throughout the exchange, a fact Sayo had only realised which was perturbing. 

"With your gaps, I think they're called? You could check the last location they were to see if they might be there, or even left something to tell us they're okay" Lisa pressed on, "I don't know how those things work but..you can travel through them to different places so maybe you can go there?. If we know, we could make the decision".

"Hm, I do appreciate your observant nature and your casual approach to what I can do" Yukari grinned. 

"We've been watching you do it for
2 weeks and I'm still not used to it" the woman chuckled, "But it's amazing either way". 

It went unsaid as to what boundaries Yukari broke as a question from Shizuha a few days earlier reverberated within their minds.

"If you can control the essence of existence itself, be it physical or metaphorical, where is the apex of what you can and cannot do?". 

In other words, just how far did Yukari's influence reach? 

"Imai-san is not wrong" Misaki noted, tapping her knee with a finger, "It is pretty useful from what we've seen. Let's be real, once you see that and Reimu flying in, it gets easier to adjust to". 

The priestess laughed, "If you stick around, you'll get to see more of it. Including one dolt who can fly using a broom". 

Somewhere in the Forest of Magic, Marisa sneezed. 

Lisa's sanguine expression remained and Yukari understood the need for that closure, for them all. 

Human connections were powerful given how fleeting their lifespans were so she relented. 

"One of the perks of being able to bend barriers to my whim is that I don't actually have to leave" she smiled ominously, "That being said, I will need the precise location of where they were last". 

Lisa revealed the details eagerly as she wondered what Yukari was referring to. 

Though that would be answered soon enough when a gap parted to the left side of the room, the same motions of the air splitting and the bows materialising a majestic sight. It spanned the entirety of the side of the wall which resulted in Yuyuko letting out a low whistle which made Yukari chuckle. 

Some of the woman's mannerism replicated the Yuyuko she knew and loved. 

Once the gap parted fully in an horizontal manner, the expanse of the scene had been revealed. 

Yachiyo's small gasp was a shared sentiment at what they were seeing. 

Buildings decimated and some on fire as rubble, debris and bodies lay strewn. 

Some wore the white uniforms of E.B.O.S, the design a blend of military and formal, their helmets smashed and painted with blood.

The other corpses were those of the rebel forces, their attire casual yet still utilising armour for defence in shades of black and grey. 

Mixed amongst those bodies were clearly civilians caught in the crossfire and obstreperous carnage from the warfare. 

It was a small insight as to what the state of the globe was, no place left untouched by the atrocities of humanity. 

The black smoke pooled high into the air as the crackling of flames could be heard, but no speck of life could be located. 

Their eyes strained into the gap to pick up any signs of their friends throughout the chaos. 

Eirin could see the addled desperation in their eyes, hoping for an inkling of some proof that they made it out alive but that didn't seem to be the case. She noticed Kaoruko's probing stare, lips pursed as she had remained quiet throughout the exchange prior. 

However, given their lack of response, it was an indication as to what they couldn't see. 

Lisa still searched, leaning into Sayo as the woman steadied her. 

But despite their avid scoping of the scene, there were no remnants of anyone there. 

Just demolition, decay and death. 

Sayo's voice cut through the quietness, "Yakumo-san, close it please". 

Sayo seemed unmovable in terms of not using honorifics from the group whereas Kaoruko insisted on adding her suffix to the first names. 

There were no other objections so Yukari did so, letting the silence linger. 

"We will give you a moment alone to reach a decision" the blonde announced. 

"As unfortunate as it is, there is a way forward for you all here" Eirin added as they stood up. 

The duo left the room first whilst Reimu remained for a moment, all eyes on her. 

"Look, I get it's difficult to think right now and ignoring that gnawing feeling of the destruction of the place you call home is next to impossible. Trust me when I say it has happened here in the past so I get it" she explained, crimson eyes running over the group, "But it doesn't have to be the end for you. Keeping them alive in your memory, living on, it doesn't have to end".

The usually nonchalant priestess appeared to radiate a different energy, energy from a woman whom had endured too much, had lost enough. 

Reimu was human. 

She bore their pain, their dread, felt their hopelessness so what they needed to hear wasn't false promises of perfection, but of honest reality. 

"It won't be easy, not at first" Reimu carried on and recalled how difficult it was for Sanae to move into Gensokyo from the Outside World, "But you will get used to it. We have our fair share of..incidents but you won't be running like you're having to do now. So, just think it over". 

With the final words, Reimu stood up and departed from the room before Kaoruko called out to her. 

It was the first thing she had said since this discussion had commenced. 

"Reimu-han?".

Brown eyes peered up at her as the priestess waited. 

"Would you leave? If you were in our shoes?". 

Reimu shook her head, long brunette strands swaying, "No. The Outside World..it isn't sustainable anymore. Not even for you, even if you have grown up there". 

"I see, thank you".

With that, Reimu left and closed the door behind her. 

She let out a quick sigh before listening to the voices coming from the next room which was where Yukari and Eirin were waiting. 

"Is everything all right? Well, all things considering the circumstances". 

"Who knows" Reimu exhaled and stood next to Eirin near the window, "There are 15 fragile humans in that room, having to debate whether they want to abandon everything they have known, or return back to it knowing that they could die". 

"It isn't an archetypal situation for any one of them, sadly" Eirin agreed, "Truth be told, I do hope they remain here, at least for a while. They are in no shape to return to the Outside World as they are. Being seditious and going against the organisation is a death wish". 

Yukari took a seat at the table in the middle of the room as the other two women joined her, each on either side of her, "I'm inclined to agree, Eirin. I have the arrangements in place should they choose to say but it depends on them. Their health aside, they are rather skilled in their respective crafts". 

"You mean the ones that fight?". 

"All of them, Reimu" the youkai chuckled, "I've had the opportunity to look into them, at least with the details they have provided. Not only that, if they have survived the last four years whilst facing the challenges they have had to face, that in itself is a testament to their resilience. The lifespan of humans has been reduced considerably because of the COVID-19 strains and the hunting of those that are vaccinated".

"Damn.." Reimu muttered, toying with her wedding ring, "I suppose if they do stay here, they can adjust faster".

"That would be the plan".

"Yukari, what do you know about the organisation which controls the majority?". 

"E.B.O.S? Hm, well, it was a collaborative creation from the right wing anti-vaccine movement from the U.K and U.S. The Erup B Olod Syndicate..are nothing more than organised fanatics with the backing of the military. If they returned, it would only be a matter of time before they are targeted. There are only a few places left where being unmonitored and undetected by their surveillance and satellite network can be achieved. The advantages of technology have been pivotal for warfare".

"As expected. It is lucky Gensokyo has its own network" Eirin mused. 

Yukari acceded her lover, noticing the reflective expression, "Eirin?". 

"When you have that look, Reisen used to steer clear" Reimu smirked as she rested her knuckles on her cheek. 

The doctor feigned indignation before smiling, "I am trying to think of an alternative should they decide to return. But the sheer scale of the organisation leaves little room, their obscurant nature adding to that". 

"I know, darling" Yukari replied, pressing her shoulder against Eirin's, "We'll have to cross that bridge when and if we get to it". 

A knock to the door caught the trio's attention to find Shizuha stood there, expression neutral after Yukari called her in. 

"We have made a decision". 

They all returned back to the room, a tense atmosphere loitering and their had obviously been some movement from their previous seating arrangement. 

Some remained seated, others perched against the walls and a few were stood upright. 

Yukari preceeded to question them, "What have you decided?". 

Shizuha and Claudine exchanged a glance with each other before the blonde answered. 

"We would like to stay here, in Gensokyo". 

"And this decision is unanimous?". 

Yukari's eyes grazed over Kaoruko, Fumi and Chisato in particular. 

"It is" Chisato answered, relaxing her stance, "Thank you for providing the opportunity to do so".

Yukari simpered, "Well then, I'm glad you've decided to remain here. With that confirmation, I can begin the motions of your resettling".

Since it was agreed that they would remain in the land, Sayo spoke up, "Hina's funeral?". 

"Of course. Now that you have decided, we can aid you with the process" Reimu answered with consideration, "Along with the two Shinto shrines, we have those of the Buddhist and Taoist factions if that's your preferred religion. Or none will work too so let me see to the details and we'll go from there". 

"Thank you, Hakurei-san" Sayo nodded as Lisa and Chisato offered their support to the woman. 

"Don't worry about" Reimu replied before looking at Yukari, "What now?".

"For the time being, just relax and we will reconvene in this room tomorrow where I shall have more details such as where you will be settling. Along with that, there are various rules in Gensokyo much like any location that absolutely must be adhered to so I'll be discussing those too". 

"Sounds mundane but it is essential, lest you get on the bad side of Gensokyo's matriarch and its priestess" the doctor concurred. 

"And don't you forget it" Yukari smirked before turning to the others, "But I have reasons to believe that it won't be an issue for you all so do not overthink it. I understand that this is a grand change for you all, a decision you have had to make under dire circumstances but it won't be in vain". 

The Outside World residents sincerely hoped that this wouldn't be something they would come to regret. 

Chapter Text

 

 


 

 

Hakurei Shrine


Gensokyo was a location that was landlocked between a remote range of mountains, hidden away from the arid and soulless woes of modern humanity. 

It was a haven created by three sages, one being its main creator, Yakumo Yukari. 

The objective of her goals was simple: create an insular place where the supernatural could thrive. 

Since the formation of Gensokyo, Yukari's objectives had been maintained, improved upon and desired by those that sought refuge from a permanent demise. 

The creation of the Hakurei Barrier followed in a bid to increase Gensokyo's fortitude from threats from the Outside World, along from those within. The barrier was monitored and maintained by the Hakurei priestesses that up until Reimu and her predecessor, refused Yukari's help. 

Suffice to say, the lifespan of those priestesses were considerably less compared to Reimu and the previous priestess. 

In order for Gensokyo to thrive, both humans and youkai had to coexist together, maintaining a delicate balance between fear and peace. 

Without the fear of humans, youkai wouldn't exist. 

Without the Hakurei Barrier, both would fall into peril. 

Which is why its maintenance and recent disturbances was a concern for Reimu and the sages. 

The midday April chill wafted around her as she continued inspecting the barrier from  above the rolling treeline that headed in the direction of the Outside World. It had been on her mind as to how the barrier near her home was less affected than the other locations. 

She hovered around in the direction of her shrine, scoping her eyes over the notable points of Gensokyo. 

To her left was the Bamboo Forest of the Lost. 

On her right was the towering Youkai Mountain. 

Straight ahead led her eyes to gaze towards Misty Lake and the Scarlet Devil Mansion. 

Any areas beyond didn't necessarily require the barrier's protection as they were an extension of Gensokyo and could survive without it, such as Higan, the Netherworld and Makai, the entrance to the demon universe being near her shrine. 

Reimu had assembled a few of the others whilst guiding them to the areas where the barrier would be most susceptible to faults, hoping they could scour out anything peculiar or the youkai that had attacked the Outside World residents. 

The barrier near the shrine was at its peak without no issues which was a given since it could be easily monitored and amended so with that, the priestess floated back down to the line of tori which led to the top, spotting two familiar figures. 

Eri was the first to catch sight of her mother as she walked next to another woman whom smiled at Reimu when she touched down. 

The small girl ran to Reimu, crimson eyes alert as the barrage of questions began whilst clutching Reimu's skirt, "Did you find anything? Like the bad youkai? Or..a bad human maybe? I want to see it!". 

Reimu patted the blonde hair and offered Sakuya a sympathetic smile, "So that's the jist of your time with her I take it?". 

"Not that I mind. Eri's inquisitive nature is wonderful" Sakuya chuckled, "As to be expected". 

The brunette grinned and crouched down, "There was no youkai or human, okay? Don't be in such a rush. Everything you need to be aware of will be taught when it needs to" she reminded and ruffled the shoulder length hair through the red headband. 

Neither Reimu or Alice were in a haste for Eri to take the reigns yet in terms of her duties as Reimu's student and following priestess.

Reimu had had no choice when she was summoned to fulfil the role and based off of her experiences, she would ensure that their daughter was taught the correct way about her responsibility. 

The frown on Eri's face increased as she tugged at the collar of her red shawl that was over her white and blue kimono. 

"But Marisa said that I could fight soon". 

"Of course she did" Reimu muttered and took her daughter's hand as Sakuya laughed, "I'll show her a fight soon". 

"Not to worry, Eri. What you did today was very good" she said whilst they walked back up to the shine, "You spotted Cirno freezing bugs which isn't nice". 

"I like Cirno though. Freezing things looks fun. But not bugs since bugs are nice to look at. She had wings so is Cirno a bug!?". 

"Oh, something like that" Reimu said. 

The larger than life ice fairy could be just as troublesome Reimu mused. 

The two woman smiled at Eri's thought process as the girl let go of her mother's hand and gambolled up the path, Reimu yelling out to be careful as Sakuya's eyes landed on her, waiting for the brunette to speak. 

They were well-versed with each other's mannerisms now, remaining confidants despite Sakuya's past relationship with Alice. 

Remilia Scarlet's right hand and head maid was one of the most reliable individuals that Reimu could list and often confided in her, more so after Eri was born. 

"Did she show you that she can fly now?". 

"She did, it was impressive" the woman smiled, arms tucked behind her back, "To have mastered it already and stay in the air was quite the sight". 

"Yeah, it's crazy. It feels like yesterday that I was at Eientei, waiting for her to arrive and now at 5 she can see the barrier and is flying. It won't be long till she learns of Alice's abilities". 

"What about it that worries you, Reimu?". 

Sakuya's soft tone assuaged Reimu as her eyes remained on her daughter when Aunn, the Hakurei Shrine's komainu, ran down to meet her. 

Eri was a smart child, it was a given considering whom her mothers were so Reimu wasn't too rattled about the usage of Eri's abilities per se. 

"We want her to enjoy being a kid for a little longer. The training will begin in a few years, since I'm still here. So I just want her to enjoy it". 

Just like she was now, clinging onto Aunn as the youkai animatedly talked about something or anything. 

Reimu continued, "Providing her with moments that me and Alice didn't have as kids, that freedom. It's what we want for her now". 

The taller woman could understand Reimu's thinking, and Alice's too. It was only natural for them as parents to ponder such things. 

"And right now, do you believe that you are not providing her with such an opportunity?" Sakuya asked, motioning to the girl ahead, smiling without a care in the world. 

She had Alice's smile. 

Both Reimu and Sakuya noted that as the brunette sighed, twirling her gohei in her hand. 

"We are, I guess". 

"Reimu, it's perfectly normal to have doubts, especially with your role and Alice's. But, it is plain to see how Eri's life is different from yours because of the effort you both are putting into raising her". 

"Not just us" Reimu stated and looked up a Sakuya with a kind smile, "Without you all, it would have been even more problematic". 

"We will always be at your side, Reimu. Which is why I can assure you that you are going about this the most appropriate way possible" she reassured and placed a hand on the brunette's shoulder, "Eri is happy". 

Reimu inhaled softly as Sakuya's comforting presence remained, "Thank you, Sakuya". 

As challenging as it had been, both the conception of Eri thanks to Eirin's expertise, and her birth, Alice and Reimu were doing their utmost best to raise Eri.

A new generation of Gensokyo's defender. 

Not just as that, but also as compassionate being which would be integral as the next priestess of Gensokyo. 

It was Alice's heritage that would prove to be an obstacle for Eri. 

***

Eientei 


Back at the manor, the once quarantined residents were free to roam the grounds of Eientei as they simmered in the thoughts of their decision. 

They had no clue as to what rules would entail in a sequestered land which seemed to be the pinnacle of everything that was outside of the norm. 

A point reinstated as Yuyuko, Saaya, Arisa and Misaki found themselves in one of the living rooms, tucked under a kotatsu and with many others for company. 

"How many rabbits does one place need?" Misaki grumbled as another  jumped on her back, "Ichigaya-san, Yamabuki-san, you have practice with rabbits, what do I do?".

Arisa couldn't quite meet her lover's eyes, a forced smile on her lips, "You sit there and be a clinging post. I had to learn that the hard way".

What Arisa wouldn't give for those humdrum moments to return, for Tae to be here with them. 

But that was no longer a possibility. 

Saaya took the blonde's hand, squeezing it in hers, eyes uttering the unsaid which worked to sooth Arisa before she addressed Misaki who was struggling with the bundle of white fur resting on her shoulder. 

"Well, it wasn't like Arisa didn't enjoy it" Saaya grinned, "Just don't struggle against them, they are harmless and are quite comfortable". 

"Agreed. This is heaven considering that we could perpetually be in hell".

Yuyuko's mellow voice came from the floor where she was resting.

They had learned that the clinic and the hospital wards were an accretion to the manor and its size was quite vast, along with being a 3 story building.

A number of rabbits were happily piling over Yuyuko, their white fur a stark contrast to the woman's pink hair. Her eyes were closed as she patted one on the head absently, a soft smile on her face. 

It was the most relaxed the others had witnessed Yuyuko, a woman who concealed her worries rather skilfully. 

Misaki assessed her, relief settling a tad as she was content for even a slice of reprieve, even just to think. She understood Yuyuko well enough now, the two bonding immediately due to the similarities in their personalities. Throughout the carnage, Misaki hadn't expected to feel an inclination towards someone, especially after Kanon and yet, it had happened. 

However, she was unsure whether Yuyuko was aware of her feelings and she didn't have the courage to derail what they had if Yuyuko didn't felt the same. 

She let it be, for now. 

Misaki smiled faintly as she carefully set down the rabbit her shoulder, "A mansion in the middle of the woods with rabbits, human version of rabbits, one doctor and the other owner we haven't met yet. Sounds like a horror film on drugs".

"Don't forget Yukari" Saaya added in after consuming her tea, the refreshing taste of fresh ingredients revitalising her. 

Arisa shuddered as she thought of the gaps with the eyes, "I don't think I ever will. I wonder what is her story though".

"Who knows, Ichigaya-san. At least she hasn't decided to kill us".

"Tanaka-san".

Saaya chuckled, "She isn't wrong. It is something to be grateful of considering where we are".

"Where we might end living permanently". 

Yuyuko eyed up Misaki, "Think we made a mistake?". 

"It's hard to tell. They've helped us when they didn't have to so.." the woman mused and leaned back on her hands, eyes scaling around the elegant room, "I can't help but wonder what they get out of this, is all". 

"It might be optimistic but perhaps there isn't a catch. If Reimu's words are truthful, and I have a feeling she isn't one who likes liars, then the whole reason for saving us was an obligation, a duty". 

They dwelled on Saaya's reason as Arisa met her lover's blue eyes, noticing the introspective glint in them. 

She wanted to move to comfort her but her leg was still bandaged up and beneath the kotatsu and Eirin had instructed her to limit her movements until the fracture fully healed. 

"I'll take that reasoning" Yuyuko contended whilst sitting upright again and stroking a rabbit in her arms, "We might be going in blind but what else is new? It's what we have been doing since the start of the pandemic, maybe this time will be different. Besides, Reimu's a priestess, right? I don't believe she would go back on her words". 

The others hoped so, sensing a mood in Yuyuko that often evaded them as she did so in her private time and alone. 

Contemplation. 

Yuyuko also had a role as a priestess in the Outside World, one she continued up until it wasn't possible. 

Her attachment to a location like Gensokyo, to Reimu seemed inevitable. 

 

Outside of Eientei, Kaoruko and Tamao were in the midst of a walk which the former was in need of. 

Tamao's eyes skimmed over to her childhood friend, thinking of a time where the heiress of a renowned traditional dance school would frown at the thought of exerting herself too much. 

But their year on the run had changed her, changed them all. 

They had all lost too much, too soon. 

"I can feel your worry, Tamao-han". 

Her voice was playful, much like it had once been. 

Tamao smiled, "I believe it is necessary. What are you thinking?". 

'Are you all right?' was redundant now, they all had deduced that long ago. 

Kaoruko's eyes took in the stalks imposing over the gates as they slowed their pace, the early spring air remaining frigid but invigorating. 

To be able to enjoy it without the threat of being killed or infected seemed wrong, abnormal. 

"I wish I knew myself. My head is everywhere right now" the woman admitted as she looked at Tamao, "Two weeks isn't enough to process four years. It took long enough to deal with what happened at school". 

Her companion nodded in understanding, "From what it seems, we may now have the time to deliberate on what has happened and what will happen. However, I might be stepping out of line here..". 

Kaoruko smirked, "Oh, I'm used to that. Let's not forget the time how you waged war on everyone". 

"Desperate times" the other woman chuckled as they passed a group of rabbits, "I feel like that is the case now so, don't be too harsh on Saijou-san. Her reaction to Tendou-san's suggestion may have been automatic from their past. I don't believe for a moment she would have chosen to part from you in any way when we decided to split up". 

Tamao waited as Kaoruko digested her words, sensing her figure tense up like she was about to castigate her before she relaxed, "I know. None of us are or were in our right minds but it hurts, Tamao-han. If it was possible, I know Tendou-han would want to rekindle things with Kuro-han".

"And what almost happened makes you feel like there is a possibility that Saijou-san could feel the same?". 

"No need to be that blunt" Kaoruko chastised teasingly as Tamao chuckled. 

"Learned from the best".

"Probably too much. But yes, that is the sense of it. I know it's stupid".

They appeared near what was the entrance of the building when Tamao placed a hand on Kaoruko's shoulder, eyes oozing sympathy. 

"It isn't stupid, Kaoruko. It's understandable, more so considering what happened after. We've done what we can to remain unperturbed by the struggles we have endured but, we are only human at the end of the day". 

Maya's empty eyes never left Kaoruko's mind, nor would the scar she left on Claudine's abdomen, even if it wasn't intentional. 

While tensions were crippling and on the verge of snapping, none of them had anticipated the infighting to reach such a level. 

"Saijou-san is aware of this which is why she is doing everything she can to reassure you. Not that she needs to since you yourself are aware of how much she loves you". 

Kaoruko's eyes hardened as she was about to reply but the gates to the establishment had opened, a figure striding through which captivated their attention. 

Long dark hair framed her face and body, brown eyes twinkling beneath the flecks of her fringe as she appeared to float when she walked, her pink blouse and flowing red skirt moving in tandem with each step.

She was beautiful, devastatingly so. 

A shared thought between Tamao and Kaoruko as the woman approached them, a coy smile on her lips. 

Royalty seemed to flutter out of her. 

Her harmonious and well spoken tone merely enhanced that, the locution smooth. 

"Hello, you must be some of Eirin's patients" she said, eyes going to both women, "You look well. As expected of Eirin's skills. 

That was the second, well, third time they had heard such a sentiment, the other praise from Yukari and Reisen which again begged the question of who Eirin was. 

Tamao managed to speak up," Yes, she is quite remarkable" she said, "Please excuse our intrusion". 

"Oh, it is no intrusion at all. I'm glad you are recovering. Also, it has been a while since we have had such interest guests here in Gensokyo. How rude of me" she grinned before introducing herself, "I am Houraisan Kaguya, mistress of Eientei". 

Both Kaoruko and Tamao did a double take at the name. 

It was a coincidence, surely. 

Kaguya was a frequently used name but this woman appeared to own it. 

"Kaguya.." Kaoruko muttered, brown eyes taking in the woman, "No, that's unlikely". 

Tamao remained unsure, thinking back to the role she played in school as Princess Kaguya, the memories flooding her. 

The woman merely had an amused smile on her lips as she lifted a hand, tucking her knuckles beneath her chin as she laughed, knowing what Kaoruko was deliberating without needing to voice. 

"This is Gensokyo, anything and everything is possible as you will come to find out". 

Reisen exited from the front door, "Ah, princess, welcome back. Keine has been waiting for you". 

The woman bowed as the title being uttered from Reisen's mouth had all but confirmed that the legendary tale of the bamboo cutter, wasn't a tall tale at all. 

Tamao and Kaoruko were still somewhat dumbfounded by the possibility of such a thing being the case as Kaguya turned back to them. 

"If you may excuse me" the woman smiled, the excitement seeping from her aura in regards to whom had come to visit her, "However, I have a feeling we will be getting well acquainted soon. Till then" she chuckled as her words which were tinged with circumlocution reminded the two women of Yukari. 

They watched her return to the mansion as Reisen followed before the two looked at each other, expression befuddled. 

"Tamao-han?". 

"Yes?". 

"Do you get the feeling that all the plays we performed throughout our lives have become..real?". 

Tamao's lips parted to answer that such a thing couldn't be the case regardless of the land they were in but the words wouldn't form, a wry chuckle exuding instead. 

"I wonder". 

 

Back in the living area that Shizuha and Yachiyo had settled in, the duo were there with Lisa, doing a stock take of the clothing they had managed to salvage after their last confrontation before arriving at Gensokyo. 

Yachiyo and Lisa had instantly formed a nexus over the sartorial subjects despite the bleakness of the situation they had been placed in. 

In retrospective, the entire group had the necessary skills needed to survive based on what they had acquired throughout being involved in the performance and entertainment industry via the theatre and bands. 

Lisa and Yachiyo's proficiency with a needle and thread had proved invaluable. 

With every item being cleansed, it was easier to see what would need work and what other clothing they had to create. 

Yukari had told them that it wasn't going to be an issue but both Yachiyo and Lisa wanted to lessen whatever burden they had placed by arriving here. Since the two were skilled in clothing and fashion, they played a pivotal role in ensuring that their group was dressed properly and not exposed to the elements of fighting and the weather. 

Yachiyo held up one of Arisa's jeans, sealing up the cut that had been prevalent on the leg, the stitching looking like it was a part of the design. Lisa was in the midst of creating more scarfs as Shizuha had acquired some material from Reisen. 

The yarn was soft, which made sense as to what animals resided in the mansion. 

"I feel like adding more bows and frills" Lisa grinned. 

"It seems to be notable here, well, with Yukari and Reimu's outfits in particular" Shizuha mused as she folded some clothes away, "Quite elegant". 

"I was thinking the same. If we're going to be living here, we might have to blend in with their panache". 

Yachiyo had a point since they had no idea what was outside of Eientei and how Gensokyo worked, something that was going to be explained.

"Speaking of which, how are you both feeling about that?". 

Shizuha took a seat next to Lisa to help keep one of the scarfs straight as her maroon eyes drifted from both woman, the aura switching to thoughtful. 

While they had all agreed on what they were going to do, the implementation of being uprooted again was daunting considering what they had faced since leaving Tokyo. 

The loss of Hina was going to plague Lisa, Sayo and Chisato. 

Whereas Yachiyo's mind still deviated to what had happened in the Outside World, the blood on her hands remaining. 

Shizuha herself wasn't quite sure but it was better than being chased, an intractable situation which became dire with each passing month. 

A fact that Lisa pointed out, "Other than the lack of options we have, it seems safe here. You saw the state of Kōfu". 

"They demolished everything in sight". 

"I guess that answers that question" Yachiyo noted, collecting Claudine's black jacket, "It's a nice feeling, not having to watch our step, worrying about which psychopath is going to attack us, leaving us to fight back". 

The woman's lips were pulled into a flat smile, her turquoise eyes zoning into the fraying stitch coming loose as Shizuha walked over to her. 

Lisa offered a sympathetic glance, noticing the way Yachiyo's hands shook ever so slightly. 

The younger woman enshrouded her fears and insecurities but she was just as haunted so bowing to the eventual pressure was inevitable. 

Shizuha wrapped her arm around Yachiyo's waistand pressed a kiss to her pink hair, "It's okay, Yachiyo, I'm here. We'll figure this out together". 

Yachiyo's eyes closed as she exhaled, head resting against her lover's chest, allowing her in to be comforted. 

Figuring it out with each day was the only thing they could do. 

The brunette smiled sadly as her eyes went back to her task at hand, feeling the distance between herself and Sayo cripple her. 

 

Shiori was resting with Tsukasa, the duo at the hospital as the blonde finished another course of medication via the IV. 

Her stomach still required further care even though the rest of her form felt stronger so Eirin had the woman on some medications to aid that. 

She was laying down on the bed with Tsukasa by her side, the woman's hand pushing back her fringe, gently running her fingers through her hair. 

"You feeling okay?". 

Shiori nodded as her hands rested on Tsukasa's chest, their legs intertwined below the blanket, "Tired. But a good kind".

"That beats feeling the way you used to do during treatments before" the woman hummed, lips ghosting over Shiori's forehead, "Something good for a change huh". 

"I think so too" the blonde smiled, gazing into light violet eyes, "But with you here, it's always a positive thing". 

"Oh, are Tsuruhime-san and Hanayagi-san teaching you to be smooth still?". 

"Maybe" Shiori chuckled at Tsukasa's coy expression, "I can't help it with you, Tsukasa". 

Shiori may have retained some of her more shy and reticent sides but it wasn't as severe as it used to be. The woman had to face her hurdles regarding her health and once strained relationship with her sister before the commencing of the pandemic and she learnt from those lessons. 

Tsukasa merely enhanced that, adding to her resolution to live and Shiori loved the woman dearly. 

They brought out the best in each other. 

The ginger haired woman's expression turned lugubrious as her free hand trailed down to Shiori's neck, cradling her jaw. 

"I came too close to losing you, Shiori. Yumeoji-san has-". 

"No, she isn't mad at you" Shiori whispered, "Each one of us was at risk. You can't be in two places at once and I have learned how to protect myself because of everyone. Please, don't believe for a second that me or my sister blame you". 

Tsukasa exhaled, eyes blinking away the vulnerability she only showed to a few, especially Shiori. 

"I love you". 

The blonde giggled, her hazy state increasing pleasantly as Tsukasa pressed a line of kisses down her neck, starting from her lips till she was breathing into the crook of the woman's neck, winding her arms around. 

It was Tsukasa's way of showing that she had no intention of allowing danger to get that close to her lover again. She swore to Fumi that she would do anything and everything to ensure her sister's comfort, a fact she had stood by despite the slight slip though through no fault of her own. 

Something that Shiori would reassure her lover of as often as required. 

 

A knock came to the open door of Sayo and Lisa's room, prompting Sayo to turn around from the dresser she was stood at to see Chisato waiting there.

"May I come in, Sayo?". 

The woman snapped out of her daze whilst folding away Hina's clothing that the others had put aside, "Of course". 

Chisato entered the room whilst closing the door. 

The two hadn't had a chance to speak alone since Hina's death and Sayo knew it was overdue. 

Chisato was Hina's significant other so the grief she felt was similar to what Sayo was enduring. The blonde knew how to talk to the older twin given that their mannerism were similar and dealing with Hina's antics was something they had become inured to. 

Their bands from many years ago may have been different but the dynamics amongst them were the same. 

Sayo was thankful that Hina had found someone that loved her the way Chisato did. 

She looked at the woman whom had gotten closer to her, handing her Hina's flannel shirt she had last worn. 

Chisato's reserved mask faltered as she took the garment, holding it close as the pain in her chest trebled again. The way she held the material was akin to holding gold, something precious, something valuable. 

Much like their memories of Hina would become. 

Sayo gingerly placed a hand over Chisato's, pressing down to comfort her. 

"I'm sorry, Sayo". 

Sayo sighed, catching Chisato's pink eyes, "Why are you apologising?". 

Chisato didn't know, she just felt like she would be apologising to Sayo for eternity, for not being able to bring her sister back. 

She squeezed Sayo's hand, shaking her head as a pitiful laugh escaped her mouth, "I don't know. Nothing I say will bring her back to us" she answered and looked up into Sayo's eyes, "It is painful and I..miss her so much". 

Sayo's jaw clenched as she retracted her own guards knowing that Chisato needed as much comfort as she did right now. 

And Lisa too. 

Hina's death would leave a hole in them all. 

She wrapped her arms around the blonde, hands resting on her back as Chisato buried her face against Sayo's neck, soft sobs exiting while she clutched onto her black shirt. 

"I know, Shirasagi-san". 

Something she repeated against the woman's head, rubbing her hands over her back. 

It had taken years for Sayo to become comfortable with others, to allow them in, to have faith in her own abilities instead of feeling overshadow by her sister. Chisato was the same, relying on the similarities she and Sayo had to help her understand the younger Hikawa twin better. 

Sayo and Chisato had a tendency to be laconic, straight to the point and direct to a point where it could have been misconstrued as being rude but that wasn't the case and Hina loved them both dearly despite it. 

Once Chisato felt calm enough, she glanced up into concerned green eyes, sharper than Hina's, yet just as warm. 

It was akin to having Hina still there which would be the curse of Sayo existing as a twin, a fragmented and lamentable mirrored version. 

The teal hair, the colour of eyes, the features. 

It was almost like having Hina there. 

"It's ridiculous how much you look like her". 

Chisato's small grin was infectious, especially at the obvious she pointed out. 

"Genetics are interesting that way". 

"Yes..they are" Chisato murmured, gaze trailing over Sayo's face. 

The woman still had her arms around Chisato's back as the blonde's remained on Sayo's chest, their height difference ensuring the Sayo had to bend a tad to make the hug more comfortable for the other woman.

Neither knew what was occurring, more so when Chisato wet her lips, tasting salt and feeling Sayo's breath close to her own. 

All Chisato saw was Hina, while Sayo saw a mirror into her heart which was in tatters now. 

Before either women could use the judicious minds they were gifted with, they ended up in kiss that was both fiery yet hollow. 

Grief had overtaken their senses, the need to vent, to feel anything but sadness and anger sliding out and over each other. It was as if they were struggling as they gripped onto each other, bodies melding with each kiss that amplified the longer it went on. 

There was no stopping now since the taste of escape was on their lips and tongues. 

Through the blurriness of her eyes, Sayo found herself hovering over Chisato after backing her up to the bed whilst kissing her, tumbling over and pawing at each other's clothes till they were half dressed and consumed in each other. Her left hand went into the golden tresses, the finger of her other finding its way down the waist band of Chisato's skirt and underwear that had been yanked down to her thighs. 

Chisato's gravely moan was captured against her jaw as the blonde's nails gripped her shoulder, the other around her waist where her legs were coiled around the deeper Sayo moved in her. 

They were too gone, to subsumed in misery to allow the scent of Lisa that was on the bed beneath them to snap them out of what they were doing. 

The betrayal they were committing. 

 

"Claudine, it isn't wise to run towards the forest". 

Claudine ducked as enemy gun fire flew over them as the group huddled behind the desiccated armoured truck that the rebels had stolen. 

They had to decide which way to flee, away from Yamanshi to Nagano or to move deeper into the Aokigahara Forest and remain in Yamanashi. 

"It's going to be risky either way!" Junna had to shout as Nana speared her two katanas into an E.B.O.S member before kicking them off and running back to the group. 

Junna's arrows took down a few more that were trailing the tall blonde, each projectile lodging into their throats given the woman's expertise of her weapon. 

"We have to hurry and now" Fumi insisted, "They have back up on the way and I can't get in touch with the underground network for help". 

Mahiru pointed at the poles, "They've cut them". 

"Fuck.." Claudine muttered. 

Yachiyo's crossbow bolts flew through the air after Misaki had poured gasoline on them, the fireballs hitting the enemy as another explosion went off. 

"Shizuha? What do the maps say? What are we close to in terms of shelter?". 

"If we do finding a functional train to Nagano, we may be in luck but I can't gaurentee it won't be screened by E.B.O.S. The forest may provide cover, but it'll be temporary". 

"We have to be quick" Saaya's urged, the usually calm woman pressing her hand over Tae's lower ribs that had encountered a bullet. 

Claudine was at a loss, eyes trailing over her group as Kaoruko leaned back against the truck, breathing hard while Tamao tended to a contusion near her collarbone. 

"I think we need to get away from here. The longer we are near the city, the more they will search for us so heading towards the forest may work". 

"But the cover of the city can work in our favour, Hanayagi-san. Supplies are low as it as. Given the tourist spots here, we should be able to aquire more equipment and a place to rest". 

"You can't be serious. It hasn't been working so far has It? They are everywhere" Kaoruko scowled, holding Claudine's eyes, "Kuro-han, we need to get away from here". 

The blonde was at a crossroad between her lover and her ex as both options were reasonable but to choose one which levied the parity as opposed to bias was a conundrum for Claudine. 

A sharp whistle cut through the air, the reverberations of many explosion going off causing further scourge. 

Given the impact of the explosives, the armoured truck which had shielded them was flipped away. 

They all had to scatter as shrapnel hammered down, Tae's fading gurgle and numerous shouts from the others creating a dissonance. 

"Maya!". 

"Claudine! Hey, easy!". 

Claudine halted down the pace of her broadsword clashing against Fumi's sword breaker, the serrated edges capturing the weapon so that Fumi could yank it towards her. 

"Eirin said light exercise, not kill your sparring partner exercise". 

The two were in the dojo to let off some steam, more so after they had retrieved their weapons, ready for use.

Mild swings and defence mechanisms were the main objective but somewhere along the line, Claudine became aggressive, motions deleterious. 

She was panting erratically as Fumi released her sword and she hobbled to the floor, the feeling of the tatami mats beneath steadying her. Fumi offered her some water in a cup and a towel which Claudine graciously accepted. 

"I'm sorry, got a bit carried away". 

"No kidding, the next swing and I was sure my head would be impaled on it" the other blonde smirked and took a seat opposite her. 

"That would be me on Tamao's wrath and we know all hell and war would break loose". 

"That's my girl" Fumi grinned before her expression become wary, "Are you okay?".

"I guess so" Claudine answered as she looked at her broadsword, reflection glinting the grey weather outside, "Kaoruko did sleep in our room last night with me so it's a start".

Fumi nodded, "Is this about what happened that night we all split?". 

Claudine's raised eyebrow made Fumi chuckle whilst she dabbed her face with the towel, "Honestly, it's written all over your face. Your acting prowess is sinking, Claudine. Though, that is the case with all of us". 

"Something going on with Tamao?". 

Fumi's light eyes shifted and if Claudine wasn't looking at her, she would have missed it but Fumi brushed it away, rerouting the conversation back to her. She wasn't wrong, not even Fumi could hide her uncertainty about whatever she was thinking about. 

"That night wasn't your fault. We didn't even get a warning they were going to fucking use military grade weapons. But it isn't a surprise. They'll go to whatever lengths to finish us off and others with the supposed tainted blood". 

"If I had picked a place, we could have ran sooner" Claudine sighed and brushed her hair back behind her ears, "I stalled and because of that, Tae..and now Hina".

Fumi's stare hardened, "Hey, don't even go there. We don't know what happened to Hanazono-san and the others" she reminded, "I know what we saw was just rubble but I'm hopeful, you know?".

"Tamao sure did a number on you over the years, Fumi" the half French woman quipped, "The Fumi I met was such a grouch about the future".

"Well, we've all changed, right? Tamao has always been good to me, so I'd like to do the same for her. Even after all these years we've been together". 

"Same thing said for Shiori and Tsukasa?". 

"Hey, this isn't about me. Stop switching the conversation" Fumi frowned and picked at the material of her workout sweatpants, "But in regards to them, I'm okay with it. Shiori isn't a kid anymore, I get that". 

"It's fine to be worried, you are her sister, always will be. She's safe with Tsukasa, okay?". 

"I know, I see it. Things are still rough now with what's happened so once we are settled, I think it'll ease things up. For us all. You and Hanayagi-san will work it out" Fumi reassured, "Once we know what is going on and where we are, we might feel more stable. Thinking about it is exhausting though". 

"Tell me about" Claudine agreed, her hand resting near her waist when the muscles pulled, "Shit". 

Fumi was aware of which injury that was and helped the other blonde up, "Come on,  let's get you to Eirin. Either she is going to kill us or your girlfriend is". 

"Honestly not sure which would be worse". 

***

Evening had settled upon Gensokyo as Yukari had summoned everyone to one of the living areas at Eientei. 

While consternation was still palpable, it wasn't as substantial as it had been and that was due to understanding the nature as to what was going to happen.

That being said, the nerves were still tangible as Yukari greeted them and went on with her talk. 

"As you all should be aware of now, Gensokyo isn't like the world you know even though we inhabit the same planet. It is a sanctum for the forgotten and fading of everything outside of the barrier. Youkai, oni, vampires, goddesses and everything in between can be found here in Gensokyo". 

Misaki wearily raised a hand, a nervous chuckle, "I'm sorry, did I hear right? The other three I get but..goddesses?".

The rest of the group were curious to that detail too as they watch a small grin appear on Yukari's face, as well as Reimu and Eirin's. 

"They are an inconvenience to fight since they are virtually indestructible" Reimu scoffed, "But they're not too bad when you get use to them. The ancient goddesses and gods are a dying breed, especially in the Outside World where science has prevailed. Maybe not anymore considering what has happened". 

"So like how the Internet killed everything else, science killed the goddess and religion?" Yuyuko half quipped. 

The youkai chuckled at the reference, "Yes and no. Both can and should exist simultaneously like it does here in Gensokyo. But since belief and fear of the supernatural was waning due to logic, said creatures inevitably would meet there demise. Deities were no different" Yukari explained and tapped her finger on her fan, "Though I guess in Eirin's case, she can't really die at all, even as the moon goddess and its lunar sage". 

Several brows did reach the hairline much to the amusement of the Gensokyo residents

Sayo in particular finally had a distraction from the guilt and disgust coursing through her at that detail as she met Eirin's eyes. The conversation regarding Artemis, Eirin's choice of weapon, her otherworldly presence. 

It was befitting. 

If what Yukari was sprouting was true, then the reason for their timely recovery, at least physically explained at lot. Shiori was also amazed by this revelation given how she was under the doctor and now, goddess's, care. 

"My history with the moon is tumultuous at best, but those details can be conveyed another time. My lineage in particular stems from a line of deities that are intellectually gifted, serving those in need of knowledge". 

"Woah, so that explains the medicine and the sage title" Yachiyo stated with an impressed tone. 

"She isn't referred to as the Brain of the Moon for fun" Yukari gushed and rested her hand over Eirin's, "Her abilities make her a demiurge in her field, and then some". 

"Yeah, the same brain who trashed you during that time". 

"Reimu, now, now, less of that. Besides, I instigated my revenge" Yukari smiled ominously before getting the conversation back on track, "So, goddesses are a thing and you are in the presence of one". 

Saaya hummed in thought, "Yukari, are you a goddess?". 

"Me? Oh, no. I'm just a mere youkai". 

Both Eirin and Reimu shook their heads at that as the brunette spoke up, "Please, with what she can do, she's much more than that. Yukari likes to be latitant about her existence". 

"Fits the role of the unreliable and absurdly powerful narrator that likes to toy with everyone". 

The Outside World residents took in the conversation with intrigue as Yukari was indeed the kind of character that Eirin had explained. The glint in her eyes, that coy smirk like there was an ongoing joke that only she knew about, they wouldn't be surprised if the supposed youkai was like Eirin. 

"Your words charm me, Eirin" Yukari teased, "But that is enough about me for one day. Now, where was I?". 

"Boring them with your longwinded explanation. I would have expected more from you considering the way you can charm those around you". 

"Reimu, I would have assumed that years with your wife and having a child would have smoothed those rough edge of yours". 

Reimu smirked, "I was hoping Eirin would have done the same for you. And Yuyuko. And Byakuren. And Kanako. Oh, Okina too". 

"I swear it's like watching a skit" Arisa quipped as the others around her chuckled barring Sayo and Chisato whom avoided all contact with each other. 

"Unfortunately it has always been like so with them" Eirin divulged as she got the duo's attention by continuing, "So, Gensokyo holds a whole host of characters, be they human or otherwise". 

The youkai followed up, "To acclimate here, there are a set of ground rules that everyone needs to adhere to regardless of your species. 3 in particular. The first is, youkai are not permitted to eat humans under any circumstances". 

"Well, that's reassuring" Fumi muttered though she was relieved to hear that there was an outright rule forbidding it. 

"The second is, humans are not allowed to turn into youkai. Be it through magic, blood spell or otherwise, it is prohibited".

As obscure as it was, it made sense. 

There had to be some of control as to what existed so the group nodded in understanding of what had been said while Reimu spoke on. 

Her tone was grave, red eyes focused, "The breaking of those rules will lead to extermination". 

"Extermination as in..?".

Reimu looked them all head on when answering Claudine's query, "Death. I will have no choice but to kill you".

"It is one of the many roles of the Hakurei priestess regardless of whether she likes it or not" Yukari said as the atmosphere turned subdued, "Gensokyo's balance is tentative. There needs to be enough conflict between the two groups but not too much where each side will wipe the other out. Which comes to the third rule".

The group wondered if it could get worse than the second rule so they held their breath, eyes focused on the trio. 

"Conflict does happen, it's natural. But we have found a way to settle issues without the need for death and bloodshed. Reimu?".

"To settle disputes, we have this system called the spell card rules. Now, I don't think you'll need them, especially if you don't plan on learning magic but to put it simply, each person involved in the dispute will create attacks and moves..like this". 

Reimu pulled out an ofuda from her sleeve. 

"A charm?" Lisa asked. 

"It's my method of creating spell cards but it differs from person to person. So during a spell card match, a certain number of cards are set that can be activated for that match. I'm sure you'll get a chance to see one so don't overthink it. This is just the basics. The winner earns bragging rights over whatever the dispute was about and the loser has to accept it. But nobody dies". 

Yukari scanned the room, allowing the women to take in what they had heard. She was hoping that the usage of the rules won't be necessary but it was better safe than sorry. 

She was aware that those involved in the theatre aspect had already been exposed to magic and the handling of weapons. 

The youkai sage couldn't deny that she was intrigued as to how it would change the balance ever so slightly. 

"Any questions so far?". 

"What are the odds we are actually going to be attacked here?" Shizuha enquired. 

"It is unlikely, there are certain areas in Gensokyo that have high youkai activity and threat level but even then, without provocation, an altercation isn't likely" Eirin answered, "More so since you won't be venturing out on your own without any supervision for a while. Where you will be relocated to is where that comes into play".

"I see. That makes sense".

"If those terms are agreed upon, then we can proceed with the relocation aspect" Yukari stated, "Does everyone agree?". 

A few wane glances were exchanged, some wary, others faraway but they all knew that without agreement, they would have nowhere else to go so a unanimous yes went around the room. 

Yukari nodded, "Good. Now, as Eirin mentioned, where you will be moved will be with someone capable and is aware of the situation. My plan is to eventually relocate you all to the Human Village in due time but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. So as for the arrangements now, Some will remain at Eientei and that includes Shiori, medical reasons of course, along with Tsukasa, Misaki, Tamao, Kaoruko, Claudine and Fumi". 

"Wait.." Kaoruko paused just as Yukari was about to continue.

"Yes?". 

"Is there a chance that I can go elsewhere? Just for the time being?". 

"Kaoruko" Claudine uttered, pink eyes in shock, "Why? Look, we need to stay together. I know things are tense but please don't do this". 

Kaoruko took a hold of her lover's hand as she peered at the trio, "May we be excused for a moment?".

Yukari wasn't sure what the woman was thinking as a whole but she had an idea as to why she was doing what she was doing. She wondered how Claudine would deal with it, "Go ahead. Should Claudine agree, she will be joining me while you will remain here with Eirin". 

"It isn't going to come to that". 

Reimu surveyed them in wonder as the two left the room, Kaoruko's hand still in hers. 

That had to account for something she hoped. 

"Let's continue. If anyone else has any objections, let me know" the youkai reconvened, "Yuyuko will be joining me. Does that suffice?". 

The sedentary woman glanced at Misaki opposite her, wanting to object but she wasn't sure if after Kaoruko's decision whether Yukari would take kindly to it. 

That and she had some uncertainty as to whether Misaki would appreciate joining her. The woman's blue eyes looked on warmly though, encouraging her but what she was encouraging Yuyuko didn't know so she relented. 

"Okay". 

"Wonderful. Now, that leaves Shizuha, Yachiyo, Saaya, Arisa, Chisato, Lisa and Sayo to reside in the Myouren Temple which is situated near the Human Village. The Buddhist priestess, Hijiri Byakuren will be your advisor, so to speak" Yukari confirmed after a smirk, "I feel like like Kanako will be there often too so she will be able to aid her. Is that alright?. 

"I'd like to be elsewhere if that can be arranged, Yukari". 

Eirin was just as surprised as her lover and Reimu. 

Sayo went rigid as Lisa touched Chisato's arm, "Hey, are you sure? You'll have us, you know?". 

Saaya and Arisa nodded, expressions concerned as they wondered why Chisato didn't want to stay with them. 

"Shirasagi-san, is everything okay?" Arisa asked the woman she looked up to during her teenage years. 

"I'm okay" the blonde smiled at the duo, hoping her time of being a child actress could still be utilised, "I feel that it would be best to remain relatively alone, just to gather my thoughts".

Lisa wasn't convinced and turned to Sayo next to her, "Sayo?". 

Sayo's form was even more terse than normal as the contrition cumulated within her, chancing a look at Chisato. She wasn't sure where the woman stood despite knowing full well that what they had done was amoral, grief aside. 

"If it is more suited to Shirasagi-san's needs, then that may be for the best". 

"It will be" Chisato insisted, palms curling around her kneecaps as a vision of her deceased lover took the place of her sister again. 

Chisato looked away hurriedly, feeling the imprints of Sayo's nails on her hips, the burn raw. 

Lisa and Arisa remained doubtful but knew they couldn't say otherwise, opting to trust Chisato. 

She was renowned for being level headed, after all. 

Yukari's eyes hadn't left neither the blonde and Sayo, her perceptive nature telling her that something must have occurred but what she wasn't quite sure of. Regardless, the less stressed each woman was, the better it would be. 

Especially in terms of piecing together their journey up until they arrived on the outskirts of the Hakurei Barrier. 

With that, she accepted the decision, "Very well, Chisato. Once Claudine and Kaoruko return, I will proceed with the next part". 


Kaoruko had taken Claudine into one of the indoor gardens she had been shown by Reisen that wasn't too far from the gathering. 

The early spring air circulating around the lush area would aid in keeping her anxiety at bay as she stepped into the room with Claudine, turning to face her perplexed lover. 

The blonde slid the door close behind her, "Do you hate me that much, Kaoruko?". 

Shaking her head, Kaoruko stepped up to Claudine and took her face in her hands, pulling her down closer to kiss her. As confused as Claudine was at the turn of events, she went with it, with the feeling of her lover close her, kissing her.

The action in itself seem to raze the nauseating sensation agglomerating in the pit of her stomach. 

She couldn't recall the last time Kaoruko initiated any intimacy with her though the woman didn't blame Kaoruko for that. 

Being on the run for a year tended to hinder the need of hedonistic desires in exchange of living. 

Still, Claudine sunk into the warmth, wrapping her arms around Kaoruko's smaller frame and returned the kiss. She wanted to increase the haste but the gentle pace that Kaoruko had set spoke volumes as her lips swept over Claudine's, lingering for a moment before switching sides to capturing the blonde's top lip between hers. 

The serenity of the blooming garden and the crispness of the air nestled around the two as they remained in their embrace, locked around each other till Kaoruko finally let Claudine's lips free and sank down to her feet, hands still on Claudine's face. 

"I don't hate you" Kaoruko whispered, licking her lips and stroking her thumb over Claudine's cheekbones. 

"Then..why do you want to stay apart?".

"Because we need this. All of us, Kuro-han" Kaoruko verbalised, "We have a chance to regroup and think. This past year has been so much" she stressed, brown eyes glistening at the loss, "I feel like it hasn't settled yet and it is just festering. So before I do something stupid that will fuck us up, I need to just think". 

Claudine's hands squeezed the heiress's waist, stifling a scoff, "Sounds like you're ending things with me". 

"No, I love you so much, do you know that? And I hate how I have been with you as of late. It isn't fair to take my anger out on you". 

"I don't blame you for that. We've all been acting unlike ourselves". 

"Exactly" Kaoruko said, running a hand into the blonde strands, "And now we have the chance to go back to what it used to be like. Even if it'll never be the same. I don't want to lose you and this last year, it has been close to that too often for my liking. Some of the friction by my own doing, I know". 

"To think there used to be a time where you would admit that in such a roundabout way when we first met at school" Claudine managed to tease, though her heart was aching even if she now understand her lover's thought process. 

The woman in her arms merely grinned, lips parting as brown eyes stared up at Claudine, "Hm, well I wouldn't mind going back to those days".

"Fighting each other and other friends in underground revues instead of fighting for our lives" Claudine said bitterly, "I get that. But most of me wouldn't go back and change the route since it led to us being together". 

"Kuro-han" Kaoruko sighed fondly as some of her insecurities settled. 

"I mean it. Whatever you think happened with me and Maya, I promise it wasn't that". 

"I believe you" 

While it was something which needed to be addressed, Kaoruko trusted her lover enough to know that nothing of a licentious nature transpired which in itself was something to be grateful for. Once they had some space, some time to think, Kaoruko knew she could bring it up again. 

She kissed Claudine, trapping the woman's hair between her fingers and Claudine pushed her impossible closer, reveling in the peace brokered between them. 

It was start and that much Kaoruko was thankful of, for the understanding now formed and for Claudine to know that nothing between them has to necessarily change. 


The duo then returned back to the room, notifying Yukari that it was fine to continue with what they had suggested. 

Tamao gave a smile to Kaoruko as she noticed that the woman’s features regained some equanimity and was pleased that some of the remnants of their conversation lingered in the heiress's mind. 

It aided in relaxing the aura a tad more than it had been with the two of them on thin ice with each other. 

"Despite being split up, you all will be seeing each other more than you think, more so once I hand over the reigns to Keine". 

"Think of her as the liaison between the humans and youkai" Eirin clarified, "She is trusted by those of the Human Village despite being half youkai".

"Half youkai are a thing?" Tsukasa enquired with interest.

"They are" Reimu answered, "My daughter is also one" she added proudly. 

"And thankfully little Eri has enough of Alice's traits" Yukari quipped, earning a glare from Reimu, "The formation of half youkai can occur in many ways. But I will leave that lesson to the historian herself when you meet Keine whom is cognoscente of the history. Also, your introduction to Reimu's wife will follow soon since she'll be able to talk more in depth about clothing as that is one of her fortes".

Yukari pointedly glanced at Yachiyo and Lisa when saying so, both appearing pleased at the aspect of meeting the woman whom had tailored most of the outfits they had seen. 

"For now, becoming familiar with your new locations will be priority" Eirin picked up, "From then, you should be able to find your calling here, work wise too".

"Is everyone content with what we have decided?" Yukari asked them. 

The hesitancy was decreasing which was a given considering how the fundamental queries that they had had been answered, along with more information being revealed. While it was a lot to take in, they knew they would have the time and space to take it all in, to rest after four years of turmoil, of threats to their lives from every angle. 

With the sense of danger simmering enough to curtail the more probing questions that would come after, Shizuha spoke up on behalf of the group, "We are, thank you" she said and made eye contact with all three women. 

Yukari snapped her fan closed, "Wonderful. From tomorrow onwards, your lives as residents of this land will begin" she smiled, "Welcome to Gensokyo, ladies".

Chapter Text

 

 


 

Myouren Temple 


A couple of weeks had passed since the Outside World natives had relocated to their new domicile of residence, adjusting to another change whilst familiarising themselves with Gensokyo's structure. 

One thing they had noted was that it was possible to travel to the other locations by foot since everything was close by, barring the shrines which did need more of a journey. 

Still, given how close knit Gensokyo was, getting used to its landmarks was made easier given how distinctive they all were which meant that it could be distinguished wherever you were. 

This did exclude the forestry areas which getting lost was almost inevitable. 

For the residents at the Myouren Temple, their closest notable location was the Human Village in which Saaya was returning with Byakuren after shopping for supplies. 

Saaya was still enraptured by the pristine nature of the environment they had moved to. 

It felt healthier, clean. 

A feeling she had long forgotten in the Outside World. 

Byakuren was watching her from the corner of her hazel eyes, a soft smile on her lips at the wonderment on the gentle brunette's face. 

"It doesn't quite register, does it?". 

Saaya glanced at Byakuren, chuckling as she hoisted a bag over her shoulder, "Not really. Does it ever feel normal, to be here?". 

"The scenery itself is ever changing" the priestess replied, "But the sensation of comfort, well, that will remain. When I first arrived here, I wasn't sure what to expect after hearing so much about it from my followers, that a place where youkai and humans existed" she finished, "It is all I've searched for so, this is your home now as much as it is mine". 

"Thank you" Saaya smiled, still marvelled by the genial woman whom had taken them in, "I feel like we've caused a stir here already". 

Byakuren was the priestess of the Buddhist temple and a woman that truly did embody such a religion. 

She was welcoming and considerate which helped put their minds at ease. Her words were held in empyreal regards by those that followed her, trusting her wholly and Saaya could understand why that was. 

"Rest assured, Saaya, your introduction matches all of those that have relocated to Gensokyo" the woman laughed softly, "Including my own. I believe Reimu had a break from needing to fight you all for intruding on Gensokyo". 

The implications weren't lost to Saaya, "I can't imagine you being violent" she grinned. 

"Thankfully, the existence of the spell card rules did and does keep it to a minimum even to this day". 

From what they had learned, Byakuren was a human turned youkai magician. 

Though that transition occurred outside of Gensokyo. 

Her temple catered to any youkai that needed assistance or a place of refuge but with Byakuren's stance on Gensokyo being a place where humans and youkai could coexist, she wouldn't turn away humans that were in need either. Especially those that had no aversion to the existence of youkai like the Outside World residents which is why Yukari knew that Byakuren wouldn't reject her. 

Saaya wondered what the extent of their hostess's abilities were considering she was effortlessly holding numerous bags of items without breaking a sweat. She was happy to accompany the woman when she had asked if she would like to join her but Saaya deduced that when it came to carrying the shopping, her help wouldn't be required. 

It was the unspoken aid she offered, like Byakuren had a second nature to knowing when someone was in need. 

Much like Saaya herself. 

She deliberated Byakuren's words as her blue eyes returned to the scenery head, the humble and inviting structure of the Myouren Temple coming up to vicinity.

She was tired of fighting, of running, of seeing the ones she loved slaughtered mercilessly. 

If Gensokyo was the antithesis to that, then she was willing to acclimate to its rules. 

"Saaya?". 

"Oh, sorry!" the brunette laughed, "I was just thinking". 

"Take all the time you need to adjust" Byakuren said gently, "What you have all escaped is something that will require time to heal from. To survive such perils is a valorous feat".

Something that Byakuren understood all to well given her own history of being imprisoned for thousands of years just for wanting to create a place where youkai and humans could live harmoniously. 

Gensokyo was a haven for the damaged, for the different, for the lost.

Something she hoped the Outside World residents would learn. 

"It may feel as if you are not doing anything but you are, healing is a process. Be it religiously or physically". 

Saaya nodded, taking in a quick breath, "I need to keep that in mind. If I can't fix myself, I can't help Arisa and the others" she revealed, "I have to be there for her". 

The determination was prevalent in the gentle brunette's eyes, the fatigue notable but Byakuren knew it wouldn't hold Saaya back. 

Her tenacity and gentle nature was admirable. 

Her followers had taken to Saaya instantly, a fact that was easy to understand given how Saaya had the priestess's traits. 

Byakuren hoped that Saaya would learn not to shoulder the world on her own and let others in. 

 

Back at the temple, the other residents were reshaping to their new routine which included helping out with the day to day running of the temple. 

What they did find out that while Byakuren was a pinnacle of patience and upstanding behaviour, some of her followers were somewhat obstreperous which was apparently the norm whenever Byakuren left the temple. 

Ichirin sighed as she helped move Arisa to the steps of the temple with Lisa's help whilst watching the carnage unfold on the pristine grounds. 

Lisa grinned as she carefully rested Arisa's leg on the veranda, her crutches placed to the side, "This reminds me too much of Sayo and Hina whenever they didn't get along". 

"Except Sayo-san and Hina-san couldn't, you know.." Arisa motioned with her hand at what the two temple inhabitants were doing, one sitting on a giant anchor and the other on what seemed to be a red UFO aircraft. They then jumped off of their respective 'vehicles' and proceeded to become entangled in a brawl. 

"I'm sorry about this, some times they get too competitive" Ichirin added as she sat down on Arisa's left, "Shou should be here soon". 

"Is that the avatar of the war god?" Lisa enquired. 

"That's her". 

Arisa raised a brow at Lisa's nonchalance in saying that statement, "Lisa-san sure has adjusted to this". 

"I guess" the brunette laughed freely, "Honestly, it's nice to, exist? To not run or fear for our lives. I feel like this is redo and I want to make the most of it". 

"That is an excellent mind-set to have" Ichirin praised as the stands of her blue hair flickered with the wind, "Everyone deserves a second chance". 

"Byakuren seems to be all about those". 

"She is" Ichirin confirmed Arisa's comment, "The youkai and humans that come to this temple seek that second chance at life. I don't know what things were like for you in the Outside World but here, it's different". 

Ichirin's statement lost some of its sentimentality when Nue put Murasa into a headlock, their gauche behaviour humorous. 

"Well, perhaps not that different" Lisa snickered. 

"Lemme go!". 

"Sorry, can't hear ya! All that water you throw around has clogged up my ears!". 

"Fuck you!" Murasa yelled, shaking around to lessen the youkai's hold, "I swear I'm gonna-". 

Nue's eyes went to the temple entrance to see Byakuren and Saaya walking up, the two engaged in conversation, their amiable aura vibrant enough to encompasses their surroundings. 

"Shit, rematch later" the unknown youkai yelled and quickly released Murasa as they both fixed their clothing. 

"Wow" Arisa couldn't help but mutter. 

Ichirin merely laughed, "Such is the presence of Byakuren". 

"I think everyone is crushing on her" Lisa added before standing up, "Speaking of which, I'm gonna go check up on Sayo". 

"Sayo-san wasn't looking so well at breakfast". 

"Yeah" Lisa nodded, worry on her features, "She says she's fine but isn't really".

"Byakuren has many methods to sooth both physical and spiritual issues, perhaps she could discuss it with her" Ichirin offered, "It might help slightly". 

"I'm willing to try anything right now so I'll ask Sayo about how she feels about it. Thanks, Ichirin" Lisa smiled and waved bye to the duo in search of her lover. 

Sayo had been keeping her distance from everyone, including Lisa and it was salient. She hardly ate and became immersed in any task given to an obsessive length much to Lisa's consternation. 

The thought made the brunette's stomach feel bilious as she felt like Sayo was slipping away from her grasps and there was nothing she could do about it. 

Ichirin observed the remaining worry in Arisa's eyes, the shade similar to Byakuren's, along with the blonde hair which resembled the lower strands of the priestess's hair. 

She had heard snippets of what the Outside World had been enduring, had seen Yukari's terse expression when she came to speak to Byakuren and be comforted by her.

The youkai could only imagine the toll it had taken on the human heart and mind. 

As a priestess in training under Byakuren's tutelage, Ichirin took it upon herself to try and aid their new guests, to appease their minds. 

Her best approach right now was to distract Arisa from her thoughts and given how magic was still spellbinding to them, it would be a guaranteed way to entice her. 

"Arisa, do you know what a nyuudo is?". 

The blonde turned her gaze from her lover and Byakuren chatting with Nue and Murasa while Shou appeared to help them with their shopping. 

"Hmm, those monks that only look at their feet and if you look at them, they behead you?". 

The youkai grinned and retrieved one of the two golden rings she kept with her, "That's right, I have one". 

"You have one?". 

Ichirin stood up and summoned said being, a cloud of pink forming into the shape of Unzan, Ichirin's right hand whom had pledge allegiance to her when she encounter and defeated him. 

Arisa was certainly distracted, and partially terrified, but mostly distrait. 

"Holy..".


Deeper in the building, Shizuha was located in her room with Yachiyo whom had left a moment ago to go for a walk. 

She watched her retreating figure, seeing the knots form on Yachiyo's back despite her sunny disposition. 

Of course she saw through the younger woman's facade, her megrim prevalent but right now, there was only so much Shizuha could actively do until Yachiyo's opened herself up to her. 

It was the same for the group whilst unlearning to not have to take turns guarding while others slept, or sneaking around corners or quickly packing up their things when they were found. 

Disengaging from that kind of routine wasn't going to be easy but being here was a start, a place where they could learn to undo the damage. 

At least Shizuha hoped it would lead to some semblance of normality blanketing over them. 

The woman was seated at the low table with a laptop in from of her, provided by Yukari. 

Gensokyo's network was impressive as she navigated through the source codes of the web pages she was screening through. 

She chuckled at the network name; Gensokyo's technological overseer had a sense of humour. 

The Wi-Fi name read: GodSquad 

Her years of constructing her own PC systems and embarking in the world of gaming equipped Shizuha with far more skills beyond her acting, which allowed her to utilise methods to use technology in the Outside World where almost everything was controlled by E.B.O.S.

Which is what she gathering intel on, checking out if there had been any developments in terms of what was happening. 

In hindsight, they all knew where it was heading, World War 3.

It would take almost wiping each other out to reset the Doomsday Clock. 

The woman wasn't sure how it would impact Gensokyo, especially if nuclear and biological warfare broke out but something told her that Yukari was prepared for that.

Her maroon eyes scanned through the web pages, scouring through the propaganda and using the dissident sources she recalled, only a few being active now. The underground network she had aided in building seemed in tact but communicating with them was out of the question as she recalled Yukari's warning. As tempted as she was, Shizuha was venerated for her judgment for a reason and opted to browse and aquire information as opposed to exposing them all by contacting the group. 

It was a distraction, she knew it herself as she closed the laptop, fingers tapping the surface, a habit she hadn't lost when she was deep in contemplation.

A year of planning ahead, to save batteries, to hide within the walls, to scavenge for food, to find secure lines from the autocratic cabal. 

It had ended. 

She didn't know what to do with herself as she leaned back on her arms, "Is this it now? We..live in the moment?". 

The transition was dire, something she couldn't yet acquiesce to. 

But Shizuha knew that if she didn't centre her own thoughts, she couldn't aid Yachiyo. 

Couldn't fight against the guilt that Yachiyo was imbued in for carrying out deeds which would entail their survival. 

Yachiyo may have been inscrutable and playful on the outside but remove a few layers and one would realise that she was sensitive, fragile.

The shift in the world had made her grow, adapt, shedding her once composed exterior in a bid to survive. 

It may have been insouciant for Shizuha to adjust to taking lives, to kill other humans but Yachiyo wasn't the same. 

The woman stood up, smoothed down her clothes and went to find Yachiyo. 

In truth, she knew that there was no such thing as remaining idle just because they were not running for their lives anymore. 

It was the part after that required more work, the process of undoing the damage which the pandemic had caused. 


Within the temple, Lisa was scouring for Sayo.

She was still getting used to the layout but had eventually found herself near their room. 

Sayo wasn't there which led to her searching the bathroom when she heard coughing coming from one of them. 

She gently knocked, "Sayo, are you in there". 

"Lisa?". 

The croaky tone haunted Lisa as she stepped back, "Are you okay? Can I come in please?". 

A brief moment of silence flickered in the hallways before a latch clicked and the door slid open a crack, the action chary like a wounded animal. 

Lisa opened it fully to see her lover's face damp and patting a towel over it, like she was attempting to refresh herself. 

She still appeared cadaverous. 

Bags under her eyes, the green of her irises surrounded by red, cheekbones more prominent that should be given her gaunt appearance. 

"Oh, Sayo". 

She reached out, encircling her arms behind the taller woman and bringing her head to her shoulder. 

Sayo froze briefly before encircling her arms around Lisa but that brief pause was enough to slight Lisa further. 

"Please don't shut me out, Sayo. I can't help you if you do that. We..we got past this, didn't we, babe?". 

Sayo exhaled against the woman's shoulder, "I'm sorry". 

"You have nothing to apologise for". 

The sickness accumulated in Sayo's stomach again, her escapade with Chisato stating otherwise. 

"I know you're still in pain and you will be. What happened to Hina" Lisa trembled, "What you have lost..I can't bring back but I'm here for you, Sayo. Nothing is going to change that". 

Lisa's hold on her tightened, fingers threading into the teal strands, wrapping around her as much as she could. 

With Hina's funeral concluded, it felt like a part of their journey had been completed and it should have been, at least enough to know that Hina was at peace. 

But Sayo knew she had fucked that up by sleeping with Chisato. 

Lisa was going to leave her and she would have every right to do so. 

But Sayo couldn't bear that thought and was warring with herself as to whether she should reveal to Lisa what she had done. 

Chisato would also be in the firing line, hell, the whole group would be impacted by it. 

"Sayo, talk to me" Lisa begged, "Tell me what I can do to make this easier, please".

The woman pulled back and stood upright whilst placing her hands beneath the brunette's jaw. 

Both of them were in tears as they held each other close. 

Lisa waited, her hands clinching up the material of Sayo's white robe, waiting for a semblance of the Sayo she knew and loved to let her in. 

"I'm sorry, Lisa" Sayo began, "Please understand that I love you. Regardless of what I..what happens, that will always be a constant". 

It should have melted Lisa but it scared her, "Why are you apologising to me like that?". 

"It's just something I have to say to you. I'm grateful for your presence in my life. From the moment you joined the band to now. I know that being with me hasn't been easy, I am fully aware of how complex I am".

"That doesn't matter to me, Sayo" Lisa stressed as the woman wiped her eyes with her thumbs, "I love every part of you". 

"Even the messed up side of me?". 

"Even her" the brunette smiled, "I love her cause she's a part of you. Whatever you're apologising for, I forgive you". 

Sayo gulped, fingers trembling as Lisa leaned up to kiss her before resting her forehead beneath the woman's chin whilst embracing her again. 

In a land filled with magical beings and goddesses, Sayo prayed to each and every one that that forgiveness would remain when Lisa found out the truth. 

 

Behind the Myouren Temple was its cemetery which could be seen from the temple itself. 

Yachiyo wished she had changed her course of direction but she wasn't really paying attention to where her feet were leading her, body on autopilot. 

Before she knew it, she had stepped out of the temple to be met with the dreary site of the cemetery, the overcast increasing the already maudlin setting. 

Yachiyo gulped, her hand gripping her upper left arm as the gravestones seemed to loom over her, shadows curling behind them, their forms human like but not quite. 

She couldn't move, panic overriding her system as memories flooded of the first time she had to kill someone. 

The date was stamped into her soul, the bitter 23rd of March, a year ago after E.B.O.S gave out the command to kill or capture those that had been vaccinated. 

Yachiyo could smell the emetic stench of the warehouse she had been cornered in, the scent of rotting flesh, the sounds of flies, the scuttling of insects crawling all over her as she was pinned down by a member of the E.B.O.S army. 

Slain civilians lay next to her, gutted one by one after they were hoarded into the room. 

They had all been separated, their group bigger than what it was now. 

Misora, Yukina, Rei, Hikari, Kasumi, Michiru, Nanami, Rimi, Koharu. 

Just to name a few they were on the run with, many others lost on the way. 

She recalled the struggle of pushing the knife away as the assailant gripped her by the throat whilst they remained over her. She had no idea if the bodies next to her were of her friends or some other poor soul, not that it mattered. 

What E.B.O.S was doing was simply genocidal and nothing could be done to halt them. 

The imagery of the knife about to plunge into her heart was raw, as was the feeling of Hikari's knife when she reached out to her side, trying to find anything to stop it. 

Flight or fight. 

Kill or be killed. 

Yachiyo's mind went blank as she shoved the knife into the person's throat, the area unprotected by their helmet, the flesh split instantly while she drove the weapon in. 

Woman, man or otherwise. 

It didn't matter. 

Their blood splattered onto Yachiyo's face as they gurgled, hands landing onto their severe larynx as they topped backwards when Yachiyo shoved them.

She was crying, the red steaks on her face carving a path as the realisation of what she had done dawned on her. 

The door slammed open to reveal Shizuha, Claudine and Maya cutting through the rest of the personnel as they reached her. 

Shizuha ran towards her as another oppressor was about to reach for Yachiyo but Shizuha grabbed them, snapping their neck. 

She heard it, heard the clamour but could only register the body in front of her with Hikari's knife stuck inside their throat. 

It was her first kill. 

The rest never became any easier. 

"Yachiyo!". 

She was brought back to the present, eyes blinking to find Shizuha staring at her as she placed her hands on her face. 

"Shizuha?". 

"Don't got back there" Shizuha pleaded, "If you didn't do what you had to do, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. They would have killed you and I..".

Shizuha's voice pinched at the prospect of losing Yachiyo that night. 

"I would have lost you, sweetheart" she whispered, resting her forehead on her lover's, "That guilt you feel..it isn't for you to simmer in, do you understand? You are not to blame". 

Yachiyo's lips trembled, eyes slamming shut at the feeling of her lover going out of her way again to assuage her. 

To remind her that the world was cruel. 

Protecting themselves was a part of it, now in a literal sense. 

She gulped, face wet as a sharp billow of wind coursed around, her pink hair whipping with it whilst clutching at Shizuha's upper arms. 

"I can't stop thinking about it".

Shizuha nodded gently, "It doesn't go away but the reason we have to resort to it is enough to remind us why. You're not a monster or a murderer, okay? They are. Those that have pushed us to this".

Yachiyo took in a breath as Shizuha brought her to her chest, engulfing her in a hug whilst placing her chin on Yachiyo's head. 

"I'm..I'm not a monster" Yachiyo repeated, clutching onto her lover's body as she wept, "I didn't want to kill them!".

Shizuha held her tighter whilst hoping that the guilt Yachiyo had from that night would begin to disperse.

The situation of the world had driven them to such actions, to take lives. 

For those like Shizuha, it was a fact, for those like Yachiyo, it was a painful reality. 

Shizuha's eyes lingered on the cemetery, something watching them from the surrounding treeline. 

She wasn't sure if she could see red or yellow but there was something that was unmistakable in the being's hand. 

A scythe. 

***

Eientei 

Kaoruko couldn't deny that it had been onerous to part from Claudine. 

Despite the visits to Eientei by everyone for Eirin to check on their medical health, this had been the longest she had had to be away from the blonde. 

They'd been inseparable from the moment they had met, barring a few years when they drifted during their college days so Kaoruko couldn't hide the separation anxiety from the woman. 

She had already experienced it after Futaba's death, losing her childhood friend to the mutated Indian strain of COVID-19, unable to see the woman in her dying days before the world became apocalyptic. 

Thinking of her wrenched at her heart and not having Claudine to ameliorate the emptiness increased that pain. 

Her eyes stared outside of the grounds of the mansion's main entrance, the May weather still keeping the cold alive but there was a tinge of humidity prevalent. The silence was relaxing despite the restless of her thoughts, the sounds of wildlife pervading the vicinity. 

Kaoruko remained seated on the veranda, shielded from the dew droplets colliding with the warm air. 

She was so immersed in her thoughts that she hadn't realised that Reisen had walked out till the woman tapped her on the shoulder. 

In retrospect, Reisen should have known better than to do that to someone whom had witnessed and fled from the disastrous Outside World when Kaoruko barely concealed a scream.

The lunarian was quick to apologise, the plate in her other hand balancing effortlessly when she bowed. 

Kaoruko composed herself and waved it off, "That's okay, you just caught me off card". 

"I'm really sorry about that".

The heiress found it amusing how Reisen's ears pressed against her head, like a scolded child. 

They were unusual from the other rabbits that Kaoruko had seen, larger and crinkled with a golden button beneath each one. 

"You apologise often, don't you?". 

Reisen chuckled, "Usually on behalf of the princess's and Tewi's shenanigans" she answered before lowering herself, "Claudine mentioned that you like sweets so I thought these would help". 

Kaoruko hadn't even realised that Reisen was holding something so her eyes expanded at the range of confectionery available. 

Some she recognised, others she didn't which meant that they were native to Gensokyo's culture. 

"Oh, everything looks wonderful" she beamed, "Trust Kuro-han to reveal my secrets". 

Reisen smiled and left the plate next to Kaoruko, "She's worried and knew it would make you smile. She wasn't wrong". 

The sentiments warmed Kaoruko who glanced at Reisen's crimson eyes. 

"She always has. I hope she is doing okay at Yukari-han's place". 

"She is in good hands too. If you need anything, just let me know" Reisen reassured and was about to leave when Kaoruko asked her to join her. 

The look on Kaoruko's expression indicated that she didn't want to be left alone and Reisen could understand that, settling down next to the woman as a peaceful lull settled over them before Kaoruko spoke up. 

"Sometimes I think I'm still dreaming all of this up. That Gensokyo is just a place where we ran to escape our nightmares". 

"It can be a difficult thing to grasp" Reisen offered, "But, it is real and you are safe here".

"I feel like it" Kaoruko agreed, looking at the lunarian, "It's just surreal. You're all from the moon, the actual moon" she laughed after biting into some daifuku, "Kaguya-han, Eirin-han..it's crazy but makes sense?" she said in an rhetorical tone, "Did you all come to earth together?".

"No, princess arrived first following the tale you are familiar with. Master arrived after and then it was me" Reisen explained. 

Kaoruko could see the nostalgia on Reisen's face, the comfort she must have acquired from whatever her journey entailed when she reached earth. 

"On the moon, I was a soldier for the Luna Corps Army". 

"Wow, even up there a military presence is established?" Kaoruko hummed. 

"There is, the hierarchy is quite simple however. We were the footmen and the leaders gave the orders. That was it. So, what is happening in the Outside World, what you have had to escape from, I do understand, the trauma it leaves since I fled too. So if you need to talk, I'm all ears. Uh.." she motioned to hers with a laugh, “See?". 

The lunarian's warm smile melted Kaoruko as the carrot pin on her red tie just made her appear as human as anyone else. 

Then again, if there was one thing that Kaoruko had learned over the last four years was how it was humans whom were the parasites infesting earth, the true demons that stalked the vulnerable. 

The beings here in Gensokyo seemed more benevolent than humans ever would. 

"Thank you, Reisen-han, I'll keep that in mind" Kaoruko replied. 

"Oi, Reisen. This one is setting traps again for the villagers". 

The new voice interrupted the duo as Kaoruko turned her head to see Tewi, the mischievous earth rabbit grinning as a woman had her by the ears. 

"Tewi.." Reisen sighed, "I told you to stop doing that".

The small earth rabbit was released, flashing a peace sign, "It's fine, nobody died. Not this time!" and scampered off. 

"What.." Kaoruko could only mutter as the woman eyed her up, thumbs tucked beneath her red suspenders above her white shirt. 

Long silver hair splayed out, tied at the back with a red bow as curious red eyes took in Kaoruko. 

"Keine and Kaguya mentioned somethin about looking after a group of folks from the Outside World. She one of em?". 

"I have a name" Kaoruko tutted, arms crossing her chest.

"Oh yeah? And what's that?" the woman grinned, the cigarette balancing between her lips remaining in place. 

"Hanayagi Kaoruko". 

"Sounds like another princess-y type to me". 

"Got a problem with that?" Kaoruko laughed, amused by their guest's indifference, "Who are you, anyway?". 

Reisen rubbed her temple, "You know how we said there are 3 immortals in Gensokyo?". 

Kaoruko nodded whilst eyeing up their guest. 

"This is Mokou, the third one". 

"Nice to meet ya" Mokou smirked. 


In a room located within the mansion that harboured knickknacks throughout the ages, Misaki and Tsukasa had felt like they had walked into a time machine. 

Tsukasa whistled as she took in the many gizmos Kaguya had accumulated over the course of her existence. 

"Being an immortal sure has its perks" the woman chuckled as she took in the NEC PC-9821 set up placed next to a phonograph. 

Misaki smiled wryly, "Not sure if being a hoarder is one of those". 

"Come on, this stuff is amazing! It's like traveling through time but we're still in the present". 

Misaki couldn't deny that as she checked out the electronic equipment from the 60s, carefully assessing the conditions. 

"You're not wrong, some of this stuff is ancient". 

Tsukasa moved onto some scrolls from the Heian period, marvelling at the expanse of the artwork. As someone who enjoyed thrift stores and second hand goods, this was like a goldmine for the woman whom was captivated by the sights. One would have to have avarice tendencies to even begin to purchase the items in the room and while Tsukasa's family had wealth, the items in the room overshadowed that. 

To see things from before she was born was one thing but here, relics of the past had a different meaning.

"Would you ever do it if you had the chance to, Okusawa-san? Become immortal?". 

Wasn't that the question everyone pondered at least once in their life. 

"I don't know. It depends on the situation, don't you think?". 

Tsukasa took a seat on the chair available as she watched Misaki adjust her hat, her strikingly light eyes roaming around the room. She had come to adore the woman's common sense and straight-laced nature which had been employed whilst on the run.

"On what?". 

"Here's the thing, immortality doesn't guarantee happiness. You could live forever but what's the point of living like that if you're miserable?". 

Tsukasa couldn't refute that statement, "Hmm, that's fair". 

"The reason Eirin and Kaguya have coped is because they have had each other. Apparently Mokou was miserable until she came to Gensokyo and continued her 'sparring" with Kaguya since they know each other. So, while everyone else they know will die, they'd have each other. Also, everything lives longer here other than humans" Misaki noted and noticed some instruments in the corner, including guitars. 

She smiled at the sight, a morose variation whilst thinking back to everyone she had met via her band. 

To be immortal and not have the people she loved would be a fate worse than death. 

"So if everyone you liked and/or were crushing over became immortal, you would do it?" 

"Sure, I don't see why..Wait, what?". 

Tsukasa was grinning, leg folded over the other, "Tanaka-san sure is cute huh".

Misaki's face tinged red as she fixated on the out of tune strings of the guitar. 

"Well, obviously. I mean anyone can see that".

"Sure..anyone" Tsukasa winked, increasing her beleaguer motives to get to the root of Misaki and Yuyuko's attraction. 

Misaki fiddled with the drum set, "Anyway. What about you, Ebisu-san? Immortality or not?". 

The woman leaned back on the chair, "I'd do it for the same reasons as you. The idea of living forever with Shiori and her not worrying about..death. I'd take it". 

A warm coat of longing brushed over Tsukasa's face and Misaki understood the woman's expression. 

That kind of love, it would be enough to convince anyone to do anything to keep it going.

She felt a pang in her chest, thoughts of Yuyuko swirling as they always did.

There was something about Yuyuko that made Misaki..feel

More than often, Misaki had contemplated what the point of living was. She was pessimistic and realistic which wasn't an ideal combination at times and had more than once deviated to thoughts of cutting short her life, even after befriending everyone. 

Not even the company of others could erase that emptiness which is why being in that forest with the notoriety it was infamous for brought Misaki back to a place she had dulled. 

Had made room to accommodate Yuyuko. 

"You're missing her" Tsukasa smiled kindly and squeezed Misaki’s shoulder when she stood up and walked to her, crouching down next to her. 

"It's weird to be without her considering the years we have had" Misaki sighed, arms resting on her knees, "I wanna know why Yukari specifically wanted Yuyuko at hers". 

"You think she is up to something?". 

"I..can’t be sure. Not really been thinking as of late". 

"I get that" Tsukasa said as she patted the woman's back, "It's hard to get Yukari still but Saijou-san and Shirasagi-san are there. If Yukari does pull something, I can wager that those two wouldn't let anything happen". 

There was an abundance of truth to that. 

Both in regards to Yukari's true intentions with Yuyuko and Chisato & Claudine not allowing any harm to come their friends. 

There was still so much they didn't know about Gensokyo and those that watched over it so their guards had to remain up. 

Being in a room filled with relics, of thousands of years of history was another stark reminder as to where they were. 


As everyone had discovered, Eientei was a hopscotch of eclectic beings and that included the things they had amassed, which Tsukasa and Misaki were in the midst of discovering. 

Shiori and Fumi had also discovered that as Kaguya had presented them with a whole array of board games that were from the Outside World, much to their surprise. 

The enigmatic princess of the moon was truly something. 

It felt out of place to think about whilst playing Snakes and Ladders. 

But there was something so painfully mundane about it, something everyone has missed. 

Shiori chuckled to herself whilst her sister's piece landed on a lengthy snake's head, lowering her back down to 64.

"Really? I swear these dice must be rigged". 

"Or you have bad luck?". 

Fumi grumbled before sighing, a small smile on her lips as Shiori rolled the dice, "Maybe. This game is mainly luck I guess". 

The younger blonde rolled double sixes, shooting her piece up to 84.

Fumi's jaw dropped as she shuffled closer under the kotatsu to get a closer look at the board. 

"Or..this board hates me". 

"Onee-chan is too dramatic" Shiori laughed warmly, 

"We are actresses, we're allowed to be" Fumi chuckled, "Speaking of which, you doing okay? You sure you don't want to rest?". 

Shiori shook her head, wrapping Tsukasa’s sweater around her, "I'm okay. I feel like I've rested more since we arrived here than I did  when I was a kid and my health was worse" she joked, "I miss this with you too so I want to make the most of it". 

Fumi recalled those days where Shiori was bedridden for most of her childhood and how far she had come. 

From enrolling at Siegfeld, to pursuing her dreams, to rekindling her relationship with Fumi and then meeting Tsukasa. 

The woman had gone against all odds and Fumi couldn’t have been more proud of her. 

"Same here, Shiori. After the last year, it feels good to just be able to breath" she answered and leaned back on her hands, head slightly tilting up to the ceiling as she exhaled, "I'm just glad everyone is safe for now. You've been through a lot". 

The matching rose pins that she and her sister had had been fitted into a necklace form instead to help conceal their identities. 

Fumi's had appeared over her top, the green leaves poking through. 

Neither didn't want to lose their accessories given its sentimental value and Kaoruko had found a way to fix that. 

"So have you, Onee-chan" Shiori said as she leaned forward, turquoise eyes on her sister, "Without you, we still would have been stuck so many times when on the run. I..".

"Hey, don't cry" Fumi smiled and reached out, placing a hand over the other blonde's, "We're here, right? I said I'd protect you and I meant it. Not just me, obviously but more how you yourself have helped everyone". 

The praise from her older sister warmed Shiori, clasping their fingers, "It's what I learnt from you" her grip tightened, "I want to become stronger again too. If I lost you, I don't know what I would have done. I'd feel as lost as Hikawa-san does". 

Fumi's heart ached for the woman and she understood Shiori's fears. 

She had had them ever since Shiori was a child, born weak and susceptible to death given her fragile immune system.

But to die by a medical reason was one thing, to have been killed, murdered in front of a sister's eyes? 

That was something else. 

Sayo's demeanour said it all. 

"I know" Fumi said softly, "I wouldn’t too. But I won't let that happen" she reassured, "I know it's out of our control. However, I'll do what I can to make sure we aren't separated again". 

Much like the Hikawa twins, the Yumeoji sisters had faced their own problems in terms of misunderstandings and miscommunication. 

But like Sayo and Hina, they too had gotten through it. 

So it was demoralising, for Hina to be taken away. 

The pain of something like that rarely did disperse. 

The entire group had endured so much death and Hina's gruesome demise was the straw that broke Sayo's back. 

Shiori gulped, eyes teary as she smiled at her sister, her inspiration. 

Whatever happened, she believed Fumi's words. 

Believed that Gensokyo could help to heal them all. 


Over in another living area, Tamao still couldn't get her head around meeting Kaguya. 

The living princess of the moon, here on earth. 

She had just finished recounting the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, the many variations of the story, which humoured Kaguya before Tamao divulged the time she played the role as the princess. 

"You would make a fine princess, Tamao" Kaguya chuckled as she pet a rabbit, "I imagine the audience were enraptured by your performance". 

Tamao blushed at that, to be lauded by Kaguya herself. 

"It was the work of the whole department, pouring in all of their effort". 

"Modest too" Kaguya grinned as she let the rabbit go and faced Tamao properly, "Hm, I have an idea. Once a year, we hold a lunar expo here that is open to the residents of Gensokyo. Usually during a full moon. It is the one time we let others inside the manor so I'd be honoured if you could put on a performance?".

"R-really? You would want to watch it?".

It was the only thing Tamao could say, her violet eyes wide, hands on her lap feeling heavy at the proposal. 

No experience in her life could have prepared her for anything that had occurred since seeing Yukari appear from her gaps and the magic kept culminating. 

Not even the underground revues touched up on it. 

For Kaguya to request that, well, much like her other tasks, seemed impossible. 

The princess smiled, open and honest at Tamao's surprise. 

It was just another reminder as to why she could never return to the moon, earthlings were remarkable. 

Well, the benevolent type were. 

"Of course. I can never tire of the different renditions of my story so to see it being performed and by esteemed actresses no less would be wonderful" Kaguya reiterated, leaning closer, "Your description of your Kaguya seems exciting". 

Tamao chuckled, "Truth be told, it feels underwhelming considering the true story of your existence. I would never have believed that you chose to remain on earth". 

"Take my word for it, life on the moon as a royal was dull" the woman shook her head, "The earth, despite its impurity, is magnificent". 

"By impurity, you mean?". 

"Life and death, Tamao. The moon is devoid of that. My immortality may have been a brash action that Eirin had to suffer for but it allowed me to continue my existence here. Beings of the moon would become impure if they spent too much time here. It was meant to be a part of my punishment, to dwell on the consequences of my actions. That did happen, but I became enamoured with being an earthling, to return to the moon was impossible". 

"How did you manage to achieve that, if I may ask?" Tamao enquired. 

The details of Kaguya's journey here were extraordinary and Kaguya was only thrilled to divulge the stories.

Though this part did hurt her considering what she had put Eirin through as she cogitated on how to tell Tamao. 

"Eirin was sent to retrieve me with some emissaries. She was my mentor. I didn't want to go back, pleaded with her and she relented" Kaguya explained, "Eirin ran away with me, essentially becoming fugitives". 

"Oh, wow.." Tamao marvelled, her earlier statement of Kaguya's story being even more intense than their telling ringing true, "I wasn't expecting that". 

The princess smiled, soft as she looked at Tamao, "It was merely the beginning of our journey and refuge in Gensokyo. For Eirin to relinquish a society she had played a significant role in building with Tsukiyomi, it's a price very few could pay and something I will always be grateful for". 

"She is truly remarkable". 

"That is my Eirin for you" Kaguya chuckled, "She is happy here, with Yukari, with us. The journey may have been tumultuous but it was worth it. Something you all can relate to". 

"I can see the distinctions" Tamao said sombrely before something else came to mind, "So Tsukiyomi is another entity to exist?". 

"Yes he does, though he isn't the leader of the moon" Kaguya answered. 

"That's interesting. Saijou-san played the role too" Tamao recalled, "It seems like everything we have acted as is coming true". 

"Life imitates art, does it not?" Kaguya winked. 

A knock to the door came as Kaguya called out for the person to come in. 

"Uhm, princess? Mokou and Kaoruko are kind of..fighting?". 

Tamao and Kaguya looked at each other. 

Thankfully, the fight appeared playful as opposed to violent. 

They ran out to see Kaoruko wielding a bamboo stalk like she was holding her naginata, swiping at Mokou whom dodged her attempts. 

"She's so fast". 

Kaguya gasped at Kaoruko's moves as Tamao grinned with pride. 

"She does have the skills to back up her talk". 

Reisen could see that as Kaoruko jumped backwards, avoiding a swipe from Mokou before ducking and spinning the bamboo stalk between her hands.

Mokou was entertained by the sparring as much as Kaoruko was by the looks of it, opting to not fly to even the playing ground. 

"I think Mokou is enjoying the light sparring for a change, well, compared to our bloodshed. It's strange to not see her using fire". 

Tamao glanced at Kaguya, eyes expanding, "Fire?". 

"Oh, Mokou is a phoenix". 

The Outside World denizen could only chuckle at that after the initial shock wore off. 

At this point, everyone she had met had certain abilities which made them different. 

"The tale becomes more real" she laughed. 

Kaguya grinned as she saw someone walk up with a look of bewilderment on her face. 

"Keine". 

"Hey, what is going on here?". 

Kaguya threw her arms around the stranger's shoulders, pulling her into a kiss since she was a tad shorter than her. 

"Mokou found another friend to play with" Kaguya hummed over Keine's lips, "I missed you". 

Keine smiled, brushed a lock of dark hair away, "I missed you too. Though I am going to need more of an explanation as to what is going on". 

Her brown eyes glanced back to Tamao who quickly averted her gaze. 

Princess Kaguya had definitely found a suitor it appeared. 

The woman was donned in a long blue dress, white under layer and a red ribbon on her neck. She had an interesting hat on which was also blue and resembled a pagoda. Her silver hair was streaked with strands of light blue, expression friendly. 

"Let me introduce you" Kaguya said and tugged her closer, "This is Tomoe Tamao and currently giving Mokou a beat down is Hanayagi Kaoruko". 

Reisen chuckled at that as she watched the speedy heiress keep up. 

"Ah, you're from the Outside World" Keine smiled, "We were actually going to meet in a few days. I'm Kamishirasawa Keine". 

"The liaison that Yukari mentioned" Tamao remembered and bowed when the woman did, "It's a pleasure to meet you" she added whilst switching her gaze from Kaguya to Keine. 

Kaguya looked rather pleased with herself, "Turning down those suitors allowed me to wait for this" she motioned to Keine before raising her voice to Mokou, "Including your father, Mokou!". 

Mokou scowled, flipped the princess off as Keine sighed. 

"This certainly becomes the norm" the woman said, "It's lovely to meet you too, I look forward to getting acquainted with you all and helping you settle in". 

"Thank you. Though, Kaoruko has already settled in it seems" Tamao laughed. 

The woman had been caught by Mokou from the back, her bamboo weapon pushed up to her neck by Mokou's arms as she tried to wretch it free. 

A light struggle ensued as Kaoruko grinned, "Not bad". 

"Thanks, got some good moves yourself. You fight better than Kaguya in some ways". 

"Stop flirting with her, Mokou. Her girlfriend is going to gut you with her sword". 

Mokou actual blushed at that, sputtering her refusal which caused them all to chuckle. 

The Outside World natives wondered if the rest of Gensokyo was as lively as this. 

***

Y akumo Mansion


Unlike all the other homes in Gensokyo, Yukari's was..somewhat out of the way. 

It was a location that couldn't be found since it was sealed off by the youkai but still in Gensokyo. 

Rumour had it that Yukari's home was situated in between the Hakurei Barrier and the barrier created for the Youkai Expansion Project to call in supernatural beings from the Outside World. 

She often said it was on the North East ridge of Gensokyo but even that was too vague. 

Though, those were just rumours so the location of the blonde's home was just as ambiguous as she was. 

Those that had the knowledge of reaching the premises included Reimu, Ran, Okina, Eirin, Yuyuko, Byakuren and Kanako.

Currently in the mansion kitchen, Claudine was with Ran, helping her prepare dinner. 

Claudine, Yuyuko and Chisato were in for quite a surprise when meeting the woman who seemed amiable, not giving off a dangerous vibe. 

Not until Yukari divulged that she was a shikigami in the possession of a youkai fox. 

They had enough knowledge to understand the energy and power required to control a shikigami of any kind which again hinted towards Yukari's abilities. As Ran's master, the woman did as she was told, aiding Yukari in the day to day running and surveillance of Gensokyo. 

Apparently, Yukari was powerful enough to not only have a shikigami, but to allow Ran to have a shikigami of her own. 

Said being was a young bakeneko whom was in the room outside, playing with Yuyuko and Chisato. 

Eientei had truly only been an inkling into what lies in the Illusionary Land.

Claudine's gaze flickered from cutting vegetables to the nine tails splayed over Ran's back as she remained by the stove, stirring the contents of the pan. 

Being in the presence of such beings was nerve-racking still. 

Ran could feel Claudine's gaze, smiling slightly as she turned around. 

"Are you adjusting well?". 

The human jumped, almost taking her fingers off at the same time before gathering her wits. 

"Well might be ambitions" Claudine chuckled, "But compared to when we arrived here, better I guess".

Calculations ran off in Ran's head, figuring out the odds and details of Claudine's statement. 

It was simply another part of her abilities passed on by having a connection to Yukari, her intelligence substantial. 

"57%".

"Sorry?".

Ran repeated herself while acquiring the seasoning for the curry, "Your adaptability to Gensokyo is at 57%". 

"You can tell?". 

Claudine was wide eyed again as Ran nodded. 

"For Chisato, the figures are at 35%".

That was disconcerting to know as Claudine's eyes loitered near the door, "She's really not coping well".

"It is to be expected. Lady Yukari explained the events in which led to your arrival so the figures seem apt. Your statistics are as expected considering you have had to take charge, yes?". 

"I guess" the blonde replied hesitantly, gaze narrowed, "There wasn't a choice".

Ran took in the woman's lugubrious expression as she recalled the past, the strain prevalent. 

She wondered if Yukari was aware of the mental strain on each woman and Ran knew that she most likely was privy of it. 

Claudine pushed back the thoughts as she brought the vegetables to Ran to fry them, "So what about Yuyuko?". 

"Yuyuko is at 89% adaptability". 

"Why am I not surprised" Claudine grinned, "When we first saw that youkai, she was the calmest, instructing us on what to do. Even if there wasn't much we could do. She was crippled by the fear as much as we were but still took charge ". 

"Is that so?" Ran hummed, finding the sleeping woman quite intriguing, "It would explain it. Is there a particular reason as to why that is?. 

"Yuyuko was a priestess as a part time job thing. The other part of her life was dedicated to rakugo so legends and folklore is something she is versed in really well" Claudine revealed, "We all know the basics but Yuyuko seems to be at a deeper understanding. Though that may be a given for those who studied a Rinmeikan". 

"And that is?". 

"A revered performing arts school that specialised in traditional Japanese culture". 

"I see. Well, that could certainly be a contributing factor". 

Ran understood why Yukari wanted her here. 

There was potential and if nurtured properly, Yuyuko's presence could be even more beneficial than anticipated. 

Claudine returned to her task as Ran's eyes remained on her. 

It seemed that all of the Outside World residents had a purpose and reason for being drawn to Gensokyo. 

"And then Reimu kinda beat me up!". 

Yuyuko and Chisato were smitten with Ran's shikigami whom had finished telling them the story of when she met Reimu. 

Both women had been owners of dogs in the Outside World but they could certainly appreciate the occasional feline. 

Especially a chatty bakeneko like Chen. 

"Remind me not to get on Reimu's bad side either" Yuyuko laughed, "Chen's warnings will stick with me". 

Yuyuko hadn't missed the colour representation of the members of the Yakumo household in relations to their names.

Yukari, purple. 

Ran, indigo. 

Chen, orange. 

Reimu's theme seemed to be red which was the colour on the opposite spectrum of purple

There was definitely a link, this much she had deduced. 

Chen grinned, "Reimu's not that bad anymore. A lot more relaxed actually and then Eri came along and she changed even more".

"Motherhood does that" Chisato smiled as Chen focused on whatever she was drawing on the table.

Her two tails were batting around before her ears flickered, the golden earing shaking, "Yeah! Gensokyo is fun. You meet lots of strange people, some that like to fight a lot but it isn't bad!". 

"Well, it's better than the outside" Yuyuko said quietly with a knowing look at Chisato whom agreed, "I like the atmosphere here. How are you feeling about it, Shirasagi-san?". 

Chisato schooled her features as she toyed with the cup in her hands, the warm tea heating her flesh. 

She had to keep what happened with Sayo hidden, not just for their sake but for Lisa's. 

The woman would be devastated. 

From her last encounter with Sayo, the woman looked a mess and the guilt further fuelled her mind. But she smiled, action neutral as she responded to Yuyuko. 

"I have to weigh up the positives with the negatives so in that regards, being here in Gensokyo can be beneficial".

Yuyuko smirked, tugged on the cord of her red hoody, "Excellent none answer there. Perks of being a childhood actress and in a band within that industry too?". 

"Oh, you could say that" Chisato answered, impressed by the woman's perceptive nature, "There was some truth to it, however. I don't know how things would have panned out if we were still out there, whether Hina's death could have been avoided. At a furtive glance, it seems natural almost to respond in such a way". 

"Fair enough" Yuyuko replied, not wanting to push her luck, "Honestly, I see it as a fresh start. A second chance at living".

"That is a more optimistic method" 

"I wouldn't even call it that" Yuyuko said and peered at her phone on the table, "It's more of a realistic approach. Sure, we got swallowed up into a land with beings that could crush us but they haven't so, why not make the most of this peace. I'm not saying all the stuff from the past will disappear but, it's a start right?".

The blonde was hoping that Yuyuko was talking in a general sense and not to what she had done with Sayo. But she understood where she was coming from.

"I can see why Okusawa-san gets along with you. You have a steady head on your shoulders". 

Yuyuko glanced away under Chisato's teasing stare, "I don't know what you're talking about". 

"Hm, of course" the blonde laughed softly, "You know as well as I do. I think you should go for it, Tanaka-san" Chisato said genuinely, "Okusawa-san is someone who would be worthy of opening yourself up to. I don't have to talk her up, you've seen it yourself but she is quite incredible". 

In a sense, she could have been describing Sayo too which is why the guitarist had popped into her mind again. 

"I know, I just..after Rui.." Yuyuko began, "I didn't expect to feel that way for anyone else and yet it happened".

"The unexpected nature of connections catches off us guard," Chisato gently, "It may feel unusual but, it is as you said, a second chance". 

"Using my own words against me" Yuyuko grinned at the trenchant woman, "You could be a politician too". 

"A potential career option I'm sure" Chisato laughed, "But it is true. A second chance..we should certainly take it".

While the option was there for Yuyuko, Chisato wondered if she had ruined it for not only herself but for Sayo and Lisa too. 

***

Hakurei Shrine

Several days later, the annual flower viewing festival was being held at the Hakurei Shrine.

It would be a day and evening filled with festivities, all residents being welcome.

For the Outside World natives, it was a sight that would remain with them.

Humans and youkai mingling throughout the building, the animosity at a minimum as the beautiful landscape amplified the jovial atmosphere.

Cherry blossom trees lined each side of the shrine with the soft wind ruffling the petals that scattered everywhere. The weather was becoming warmer, warm enough to host stalls of food and entertainment as blankets covered the ground of the shrine with individuals seated around.

The parties at the shrines were once notorious, especially when the oni provided their alcohol which was a recipe for clangorous on-goings but over the years, they had become calmer.

At least the day parties where Eri and the other children were around. 

Evening was when the adults would resume their drinking.

So as the sun fluttered down onto the shrine, a relaxed ambiance remained as everyone opted to have a good time.

Within the shrine, the Outside World residents were in the midst of meeting Reimu and her family while the crowds outside continued on with the celebrations.

They'd heard about Alice whom was Reimu's wife and everything they had been told lived up to the expectations as the introductions came to a halt.

Alice smiled warmly, "It is a pleasure to meet you all. I'm relieved that you seem to be doing much better".

"We've been well looked after despite our intrusion" Shizuha returned the gesture. 

Reimu waved off the statement, chuckling, "Your arrival wasn't the worst turn up to Gensokyo so don't worry about it". 

"Nowhere near as imposing as your introduction to Makai, Reimu?". 

"Hey, I was young and reckless and your mother's underlings were causing a problem. I did what I had to". 

Alice laughed whilst taking her wife's hand in hers, "Of course, that is what it was. Though, I certainly have no qualms with the way you stormed into my life". 

The softness in Alice's tone and words melted the priestess. 

It was plain to see to their spectators how in love the two women were, clearly a bond which had been forming since they were kids from what it sounded like. 

With Reimu's traditional white and red priestess garbs and Alice's knee length light blue dress, they were the perfect amalgamation of eastern and western. 

The door behind slid open and a flash of blonde scampered up, hiding behind Reimu and Alice's legs. 

A collective round of 'aw' made its way through the room as Reimu grinned, "Speaking of stormy entrances, this is our daughter, Eri. Come and say hi". 

"She isn't usually this shy" Alice smiled as the girl stepped forward slightly, taking in all the new faces before bowing. 

"H-hi". 

"Hello, Eri" Lisa greeted warmly and crouched down to the girl's height, "It's nice to meet you. You're so cute". 

Eri blushed as the group looked on, marvelling at how easy it was for Lisa to build a rapport with anyone as Saaya, Shiori and Yachiyo gushed over her too. 

The girl was a spitting image of her mothers, long blonde hair from Alice and Reimu's crimson eyes. She was dressed like Reimu tonight, hakama pants which were red and a pink kimono with various floral designs in many different shades. 

"It's great to meet you, Eri". 

"You too" the girl managed a smile when Claudine and Kaoruko addressed her. 

"Once she warms up to you, you'll see the difference" Reimu offered whilst she ruffled her daughter's hair, careful not to disturb the French braid. 

"They are all like that" Misaki chuckled, thinking of her sister as Yuyuko smiled up at her, "But yeah, it's good to finally meet you all properly. Thanks again for having us". 

"That's okay" Reimu nodded, "This is the first of many festivals that happen in Gensokyo so relax and enjoy yourselves. Oh, and if Suika offers you any alcohol, say no" she sighed, "She's the oni, small, horns on the side and more than often, drunk. You have to prime your livers for that stuff". 

"It's a wonder you still have one" Alice quipped as Lisa and Tamao kept Eri distracted. 

Reimu groaned, "Yeah, my heavy drinking days are long gone. Anyway, if you need anything we'll be around so have fun". 

Which is what the group did, locking away their worries just for a few hours where they became acquainted with the rest of Gensokyo. 

The environment was lively, music floating through the air as said mingling was on-going. 

A most amusing encounter was underway beneath one of the cherry blossom trees to the side. 

Yuyuko eyed up the woman in front of her, one part of her face occluded but she could tell she was smiling, the action puckish before she lowered the fan.

"It's like looking into a mirror" Yuyuko deduced, "What's your name? Also, cool fan". 

"Why, thank you, I am Saigyouji Yuyuko of Hakugyokurou, Princess of the Netherworld. And you are?". 

"Tanaka Yuyuko of Tokyo, esteemed rakugo performer and serial napper". 

Yuyuko giggled, "A woman of culture I see". 

"Likewise". 

"Well, Yuyuko of Tokyo, your outfit is simply divine. Blue is complimentary on you. Alice has truly outdone herself". 

"Thanks, Alice seems to be skilled though it's funny cause I was thinking the same about you".

The magician in question had created outfits for them all which consisted of kimonos of various colours. Yuyuko's in particular was a darker shade of blue than the princess's, adorned in butterflies and cherry blossoms with a red obi. 

Apparently the Gensokyo residents had noticed the similarities in both women right away. 

Tamao and Fumi wondered if the two in question had realised while they watched on, just about keeping their faces neutral at the introduction 

"Well we've had Alice and Arisa, now we have two Yuyukos" Fumi whispered to her lover. 

Tamao laughed softly, tapping the blonde's arm linked over her own as they finished the introduction with Gensokyo's Yuyuko. 

"Once you are settled, you must come visit me at Hakugyokurou".

"Yeah, one catch to that" Marisa grinned whilst walking by, "Gotta be dead if you want to be a permanent resident there. Fancy place though!"

"Stop scaring the guest" Sakuya chided and pulled the woman's arm to lead her away, "Please excuse us". 

The three Outside World humans stared at Yuyuko whom seemed nonplussed, expecting such a reaction. 

"Dead?" Yuyuko questioned. 

"You can't tell me you haven't noticed those..friends floating around her" Tamao chuckled wryly. 

"Phantoms" Yuyuko of Gensokyo winked. 

Fumi froze. 

She was never one for ghosts

Yuyuko snapped her fan closed, motioning for another woman with silver hair in a bob cut to come to her. 

"Youmu, may you acquire some refreshments for our guests. I have a tall tale to spin" she smiled ominously whilst signalling for Yuyuko, Tamao and Fumi to sit, "Now, have you heard of the tale of the Saigyou Ayakashi?". 

"The tree that led people to their deaths?. 

"Wonderful!" Yuyuko clapped, "Well, there is more to that story". 

And so, the tale of the youkai tree which consumed souls was recounted, Yuyuko's listeners were unaware of the woman's true history since she herself had forgotten the details over the course of her existence. 

Her own tragic past. 

It was just one of the many mysterious of Gensokyo that only a few would be privy to. 


Meanwhile, Misaki and Shizuha were getting acquainted with another goddess in the form of Yasaka Kanako, the mountain goddess of wind, rain and technological innovation. 

Apparently there were certain distinctions between a goddess and a divine spirit with Kanako being both. 

"Gensokyo's power supply works differently from the Outside World in terms of using the more cleaner methods such as geothermal energy, hydro-electric power, nuclear fission to name a few. Oh, magic certainly aids in that". 

"It's cheating since our world doesn't have the magical capabilities that you use, not as much if it's dying out" Misaki adduced whilst they were seated on the veranda of the shrine near the donation box, "But it's clever. Mixing science with magic".

"Undoubtedly" Shizuha hummed, "What about the Internet here, how does it function?". 

"Gensokyo has several radio towers that found their way here, perfectly functioning and with a few adjustments from the Kappa and myself. We managed to run several lines throughout the land to provide the service. The cable car to the Moriya Shrine was the beginning of a revolution to commence in Gensokyo, a step towards the future if you will". 

From what Shizuha and Misaki had gathered, Kanako was quite the magnate in terms of the business side in Gensokyo, seeking innovative means to gather faith and better the land. 

"Does that have to do with the fact that you're a goddess from the Outside World?". 

Kanako grinned as she drank from her sake dish, one arm resting over her knee which was propped up, "It has its benefits being knowledgeable of both worlds. Percipient, aren't you?" 

"Gensokyo certainly is eye opening. It is quite surreal discussing amusing Wi-Fi names with living goddesses and youkai" Shizuha quipped. 

"There are some semantic errors with that. A living goddess would be what Sanae is over there" Kanako smiled and pointed to the Moriya Shrine priestess not so subtlety trying to flirt with Sakuya, "She can draw on the abilities of myself and Suwako, the actual deities". 

"Damn, there's a lot of hierarchical stuff even in the religious aspect huh".

Misaki accepted a drink from Kanako, the heat of the beverage building beneath her black kimono. 

"It may appear so, but the organisation is significantly more elementary here in Gensokyo. Whatever being you are, you abide by the rules or meet the end of Reimu's gohei which is not a pleasant experience" Kanako laughed, tone rich, "The fundamental system is basic despite the connections everyone has but, it's relatively simple to follow". 

"That does make it manageable for us to assimilate here" Shizuha said, her lengthy ponytail being tousled by the breeze. 

"It will occur in due time so overthinking it will only cause more stress. Drink, relax and what needs to be will come to be". 

"That might have been the most goddess like statement since the start of the conversation". 

Kanako laughed at Misaki's observation before her gaze turned to Byakuren whom was conversing with Shiori, Claudine, Kaoruko and Chisato. A fond smile braced her lips at the sight of her lover, her mannerisms effortless in the way she was making everyone feel tranquil. 

She wanted to bring up the events of the Outside World but refrained from doing so when she took in Misaki and Shizuha, the two women taking in the sights, appearing at peace. 

In hindsight, Kanako was thankful that she, Suwako and Sanae had left before everything in the Outside World went to hell. 

 

There was a band playing, capturing the attention of those that used to be involved in the music aspect. 

Arisa was mesmerised by the trio which were playing a upbeat and jaunty tune to get the mood going. It enhanced the jovial atmosphere remarkably as the evening started to creep up and Reimu wasn't kidding when she said that the parties could go on. 

The blonde's eyes were tuned on the brown haired keyboard player in particular, ears zeroed in and picking up the discombobulated notes that were concealed with the sounds of the violin and trumpet of the other two members. 

Something didn't sit right with ensemble, but the fact that they were floating made it a redundant thought to begin with. 

This was Gensokyo, after all. 

"Your fingers are moving". 

Arisa could feel her lover's chuckle as the brunette sat behind her, pressed up against her chest with her injured leg outstretched on a pillow. 

"She's good, but I can't feel it. Seems emotionless to be honest" she could only reply, blinking rapidly whilst feeling Saaya's chin rest on her shoulder. 

"Maybe a drummer would help. I wonder if there is one around". 

"You might be in luck as Raiko should be arriving soon. As for The Primsriver Sisters, they are certainly skilled but perhaps their music is not for human ears. Gensokyo is quite musically inclined all things considering". 

The duo looked to the side to see a woman appearing on a wheelchair, flowing blonde hair beneath an oddly shaped black hat. Her yellow eyes were playful, this much was prevalent, the smirk befitting as she oozed a confidence that was tangible almost. 

"Excuse my manners" she said, "I don't believe we have met but I have heard a lot about you from Yukari". 

"Uhm, are you a youkai too?" Arisa asked tentatively. 

"Her ploy of just being a youkai is always amusing" the woman laughed fondly, "But no, my name is Matara Okina. I'm a goddess and one of the sages which created Gensokyo with Yukari. You met Kasen earlier, the final sage I assume?". 

"Yes, she was very informative" Saaya replied, recalling how the woman wasn't particularly fond of neither Yukari or Okina. 

"All work and no play, that woman could do with relaxing and now would be the time for it" Okina lamented, "Speaking of which, are you enjoying yourself?". 

"I guess" Arisa said and turned her head to glance at Saaya, "You should go and mingle, Saaya. I'll be fine here. Just because I'm put out doesn't mean you have to be". 

"Don't be silly" Saaya reassured, "It isn't like I have to move to enjoy the atmosphere" she affirmed, "There is something happening everywhere". 

Okina chuckled, "Such is the nature of Gensokyo. But I would be happy to keep Arisa company for the time being if you wish to explore". 

Arisa kept her eyes on the goddess, wondering where the request was coming from and for some reason, it was almost passive aggressive in the way she had said it and she knew Saaya felt it too. 

The survival mechanisms they had learned came back, feeling it necessary in Okina's presence and Saaya's stalwart nature regarding Arisa reared its presence. 

"I'd prefer to stay, though your offer is appreciated". 

"Saaya". 

"I expected as much" Okina said nonchalantly, "I do understand your apprehension but rest assure I'm not a foe. I merely wish to discuss Arisa's predicament. Eirin has filled me in". 

The complications with the blonde's leg had been problematic to deal with. Given how it was obtained via Arisa getting caught in a bear trap which were set near an Inn outside of the Aokigahara Forest, too much nerve damage had settled. Her bones had been fractured beyond repair as femoral neuropathy had manifested to most of the nerves of her leg. Coupled with the inflammation because of the infection, her ability to walk had been hindered severally. 

"She has?". 

"The leaders of certain factions and those that can shift the balance of Gensokyo keep in touch" the blonde answered and rested her chin on her knuckles after propping her arm on her armrest, "It is so that were all on the same page. Naturally, I am one of the sages and a goddess, I have to be notified" 

"That's fair. What are you the goddess of anyway?". 

Okina's haughty aura decreased a tad, "That is a complex question. I'm a secret goddess with many faces and roles but those that revere me are the beings that are often tossed aside by society. The disabled, the discriminated, the oppressed, the lost" she summarised, "Gensokyo is a haven for those aspects and it's my duty as its deity to watch over those that lionise me". 

Saaya felt Arisa go rigid as that list certainly applied to them all. 

The blonde was facing the potential of the first one so it hit her, Okina's presence did. 

She stared at her leg, willing for it to move, to feel. 

Her hand balled against her thigh as she gulped, "That's specific". 

"Humans assume that deities exist to provide emotional and materialistic gains for those deemed 'ordinary', so to speak. But it extends beyond that, towards those that have endured the kind of suffering which lingers. You've all experienced that in some regards. Despite that fact and how dire it may feel, Gensokyo is a place where such differences are frivolous" Okina grinned, "Look around you". 

They did as the goddess suggested, taking in troves of beings coexisting. 

Individuals of all walks of life, mingling. 

"Gensokyo wasn't always like this. But things do change". 

Okina's voice seemed faraway, prophetically almost as the gentle aura settled around the shrine while the celebrations continued on. 

Change. 

Too much of it had been occurring since 2020. 

Perhaps now there could be some actual solace in the word and the process of seeking refuge in Gensokyo. 

 

A point that Misaki and Yuyuko were finally accepting as they stood near the side of the shrine grounds which overlooked the entirety of Gensokyo. 

Misaki gulped down her nerves, black hair being ruffled by the wind and Yuyuko couldn't have thought of her as more beautiful. 

The space had allowed them to think, along with the advice from their friends and their encounters from those that resided in Gensokyo. 

"Listen, Yuyuko. If this is a second chance.." Misaki stated, hands searching for Yuyuko's face, "Then I don't wanna waste it". 

The shorter woman's throat went dry at the expression on Misaki's face, the honesty in her eyes. 

She smiled, a crooked variation whilst trying to tame the bubbling feeling in her chest. 

"Neither do I".

The verification via their words paved the way for the kiss that followed when Yuyuko closed the distance between them and threw her arms behind Misaki's shoulders.

It was gentle yet ardent, their lips pressing together, soft and inviting. 

Years in the making, worth it for this little moment. 

This sense of reprieve of finding someone who not only understood you, but bettered you as a person. 

Misaki dropped her hands to wrap them around Yuyuko's waist as their kiss parted, both sporting a rubicund hue that could been seen even with the evening setting in. 

They smiled at each other, almost shy as Yuyuko tucked back a strand of dark hair behind the other woman's ear, "I want to say something painfully sarcastic to break the tension but I can't think of anything". 

"I think that worked" Misaki grinned, "But I know what you mean. I'm sorry it took this long".

Yuyuko shook her head softly, "The same could be said for me but with everything happening, I guess..I didn't want to ruin what we already had between us, Misaki". 

"Yeah, I was worried about that too" Misaki replied, her fingers tightening around Yuyuko's frame, "Things seems to have an odd way of working out, don't they". 

"That's cause the Universe has a warped sense of humour when working things out". 

Case in point, the fireworks display which had commenced, colouring the dark sky with much vibrancy. 

The two chuckled, eyes gazing out as they remained locked in an embrace. 

But Misaki couldn't take her eyes off of Yuyuko for long which is why she noticed something. At first she assumed it was the light from the fireworks but upon closer inspection, that wasn't the source. 

"Uh, Yuyuko? You're glowing". 

"That's your fault". 

Misaki laughed at that, feeling the sentiments, "She's so cute" she thought before elaborating, "I can accept the blame but..you're literally glowing".

She stepped back but kept her hands on Yuyuko's shoulders as they looked down to see a pink sigil appearing beneath Yuyuko's feet, the outer circle red. An intricate pattern appeared within the circle, runes forming along it as the fluorescent shade increased. 

Yuyuko gasped as the familiarity of it set, pink eyes widening while she was engulfed in a curtain of red, the wind picking up speed. 

Her hands went up, glowing with energy which felt like it was highlighting the entirety of Gensokyo as she felt it course through her. It was Misaki's grip that kept her grounded, reminding her that this was very much real. 

The last time Yuyuko had felt this was during the revues, when she had acquired a particular role for the Performance Festival. 

To see it now, for it to reappear in Gensokyo couldn't have been a mere coincidence. 

Misaki squeezed her shoulders, smiling, "So, this is the magician version of you, huh?". 

Yuyuko could only nod, feeling numerous eyes on her. 

Byakuren, Alice, Marisa, Patchouli and Ellen's in particular, the other magicians of Gensokyo.

A short laugh found its way out of Yuyuko's mouth at the incredulous circumstances of what was happening. 

"The universe truly does have a twisted sense of humour" she said quietly, inching into Misaki's embrace. 

Up on the roof of the shrine were Yukari and Eirin, watching over the display. 

"You were right about her". 

Yukari smirked, sipping her drink as she rested against Eirin's chest. 

Indeed, her delphic foresight had amassed something of a supernatural nature from Yuyuko the moment she had passed Gensokyo's barrier. 

The question which remained was how Yuyuko was going to be nurtured in terms of her blossoming capabilities. 

Gensokyo had just obtained another force to be reckoned with, after all. 

Chapter Text

 

 


 

Hakurei Shrine 

 

She recognised the location she had found herself in despite its decimated state. 

Flames engulfed the vicinity of the Human Village as shrill screams and cries of panic surrounded her. 

People were fleeing while those that could fight were doing so but it seemed pointless for the girl stood in the middle of the melee. 

Her eyes scanned round, looking for someone she recognised but it was a mistake because all she saw were bodies, some dead, some in the process of dying. 

She coughed into her hand as the smell of burning corpses coated her nostrils as her eyes stung due to the smoke that was poisoning the air. Every instinct she was embedded with was willing for her to run or fly, to reach safety and head back to the Hakurei Shrine but the girl was frozen. 

By fear or astonishment she couldn't deduce. 

Flickers of lights sped above the air, like needles till they pierced the back of a fleeing villagers which killed them instantly. 

The same scene played out over and over as more pitied wails punctured the air, death taking over by the hoards.

Whatever was killing them wasn't danmaku, not the bullets she was familiar with. 

These beautiful needles of light reeked of death and devastation with no consideration of any rules. 

By some resolve, the girl managed to snap out of her trance and ran forward, aiming to head out of the village whilst avoiding the rush of people and bullets. The night sky was ablaze given the flames surrounding the Human Village but not limited to the area. 

The entirety of Gensokyo was on fire, encumbered in dense smoke that occluded everything in its path. 

It was as if the Underworld she had heard so much of had flipped around, swallowing the surface up. 

Nothing was unscathed as she continued to sprint as quickly as she could, vision focused on the exit of the village but her escape was scuppered when a deafening explosion rang out, shaking the land to its core. 

The girl was thrown to the floor, scraping her knees as she scrambled to pick herself up. She couldn't hear anything but an incessant ringing and dulled reverb of the villagers around her bellowing in anguish. Her head was pounding as she crouched up but the disorientation hit her and she ended up catching her leg on something behind her. 

With one eye open, she glanced down at what had obstructed her path.

She wanted to scream, mouth widening as the body flailed for a moment before stilling. The sight was enough for her to inch backwards, breathing erratic as her small hands bled from where she had landed on them in an effort to break her fall.

The imagery she was greeted with made her stomach turn, whispering the names of the deceased as strands of blonde and brunette lay strewn on the floor, their bodies charred and beaten. 

Her mind kept uttering a pitiful "No" at the sight, unable to comprehend what she was witnessing. 

For Eri, her mothers were indestructible, always able to carry themselves with grace and continue on regardless of the hurdles. She rarely saw either of them at their worst and even during those rare displays, the girl saw strengh and resilience. 

So this image she was forced to engrave in her mind had petrified her in ways unimaginable.

Tears spilled from her eyes at Alice's bloodied form, "Mother.." as her gaze then glanced over Reimu's battered body laying over Alice's in a protective pose she cried, "Mama". 

The girl was frozen again whilst taking in the sight of her deceased mothers, clinging into each other as if they had thrown themselves in front of something that had been launched the girl's way, shielding her. 

Saving her. 

Her hands clawed at the ground as she leaned forward, not knowing what to do as she called out for her mothers to wake up but it wasn't happening, they remained lifeless. 

Despair cumulated with the confusion in her mind as she attempted to figure why this had happened and why she was the only one who was still alive. 

A soft voice came from behind the girl, light enough that she wouldn't have heard it if it wasn't quite close. 

Quickly, she spun around and backed away closer to her dead mothers whilst still on the ground and took in the women stood in front of her. 

She didn't recognise her. 

The woman crouched down, offering a hand, "It's going to be okay, Eri. Let me help you. It is what your mothers would have wanted". 

Eri gulped down, her intuition going haywire whilst she wondered how this stranger was familiar with her parents. 

Gentle light blue eyes remained on Eri as the woman's light silver hair billowed around her, running down her back. There was a long strand of her hair tied to the side, a red hair tie notable, bringing out the shade of her eyes. They seemed familiar, inviting, like she could trust the woman whom appeared almost out of place amongst the bloodshed.

She smiled, soft and lulling, a comfort that a traumatised child would take solace in. 

Eri's eyes glazed over as she mumbled, the words unable to form. Her hand was tempted in reaching out to accept the help she had been provided. 

She was lost and frightened. 

Gensokyo was burning. 

Her mothers were dead. 

She couldn't find anyone else. 

Slowly, she reached a small hand up, the tips of her fingers just about to reach the stranger's. 

But before they could meet, something grabbed Eri from the back. 

Her heart left her chest when she saw a wrist with a red wrist cuff and silver rings on the fingers clasp over her shoulder. 

"Eri, no..don't go with her..". 

Eri screamed. 

She woke up with a start, crying as she rushed out of her bedroom, not caring where she was. 

Her parents room was the only destination she had in mind as her footsteps pattered through the shrine till she stumbled and slid open the door. 

Alice and Reimu were up in an instant, eyes bleary from sleep but well aware that their daughter was there. 

"Eri?" Reimu yawned, "What's wrong?". 

Alice lifted the covers for the small girl to climb into their bed, her arms wrapping around Alice's shoulders as she whimpered into her mother's neck. 

"Hey, what's the matter?" she murmured and ran her hands down the girl's back as Reimu switched the bedside lamp on, concern on her features much like her wife's. 

"Bad dream again?". 

Eri nodded as Reimu scooted closer to stroke her hair. 

The girl's nightmares were becoming frequent, a cause of trepidation for her mothers. 

"Do you want to tell us about it, sweetheart?" Alice asked softly.. 

"I..can't remember a lot" Eri sniffed, "But the bad dream was different. There was so much fire a-and this person who wanted to save me" she revealed, clutching onto Alice's nightgown, "People were shouting and I couldn't find you". 

Reimu and Alice shared a look before the brunette pressed her hand over Eri's cheek to get the girl to look at her while she remained on Alice's chest. 

The fear in her eyes was palpable and it twisted Reimu's heart to see her daughter in such a state. 

"Remember what we said last time about dreams?".

"They are not real?".

Reimu smiled, brushing away the tears collecting beneath the small blonde's eyelids, "Exactly. Whatever happens in the dreams will not happen when you wake up, okay? Besides, whether it is real life or a dream, we will always find you, Eri".

Their daughter's lip trembled as she took in Reimu's words and the feeling of Alice's heartbeat, the combination working to assuage her. 

Alice smiled at her wife before looking at Eri, "She's right. No matter where you are, we will be there with you. So, even if the scary dream happened, it is just a dream. Your mama and I will always find you". 

"Do you promise?". 

Reimu took a hand, squeezing it lightly as she nodded, "We promise, Eri".

Though it may be just a word, every promise that Alice and Reimu made to Eri was testament to the arduous trial that the women had to endure in order to conceive her. 

The failures, the procedures, the pregnancy.

Despite the means of conception being the norm and possible between women through a combination of the progression of the Outside World's previous research and Eirin's expertise, each person differed and it took time for Reimu to finally become pregnant. 

Eri's birth was truly a blessing, hence her name, a truth that there was kindness in the world. 

When it came to the wellbeing of their daughter, the two women would turn everything on its head to keep her safe. 

"And you know we always keep our promises" Alice added, pressing a kiss to the blonde hair. 

"Okay" Eri managed to reply as the adrenaline began to decline, exhaustion taking over her till sleep finally settled. 

The duo waited a few moments as Alice lay back down to ensure that Eri was more comfortable, nestled in her arms and between her mothers. 

Reimu followed suit, resting on her arm, "Is this normal? I feel like speaking to Yukari about it. Or Doremy even". 

"It's hard to say" Alice mused, "Children are susceptible to nightmares but I am worried too. The frequency of them over the last few months is worrying". 

"That's what I was thinking" Reimu whispered and kept her other arm around Alice and Eri, "I don't know if Doremy can actually intervene with dreams though". 

"But as a Baku, she can eat nightmares. Perhaps that is why Eri woke up when she did. Have you noticed, it is always just about when it is set to get worse" Alice noted and clasped her fingers with Reimu's "That being said, Gensokyo being on fire is far enough". 

"The Outside World is already at the cusp of it" Reimu sighed and lay back down, "I'll speak to Yukari about it". She then pressed the back of her hand over their daughter's forehead, "She's warm". 

Alice shifted her hand to check after Reimu, brushing back the blonde fringe. 

"A fever" she sighed. 

The girl was shuddering as Reimu removed the covers a tad whilst getting out of bed again to retrieve a cloth and water, along with some medication. 

Eri was a resilient child but her mind had been waning for the last few months. 

She would have moments where she was fine and then after her nightmares, her demeanour would switch for a few days. 

Alice's eyes were lined with anxiety while she watched her daughter thrash lightly before Reimu sat behind her and placed the cloth on the girl's forehead. Her other arm encircled Alice's waist as her chin rested on her wife's shoulder. 

"We'll figure this out, Alice". 

Alice exhaled and leaned back against Reimu as they watched over Eri, the coolness of the cloth counteracting the flush as she stilled. 

This was just another parenting hurdle they had to endure, despite how helpless they felt. Guidance and advice was around them if they needed it but the two mothers couldn't help but wonder if there was something else afflicting Eri's wellbeing. 

The two had obtained a few enemies in the process of their betrothal and prior to that, from humans and demons alike. 

***


Human Village 

 

The Outside World denizens had familiarised themselves with their new routine as they settled into their now idyllic lives, at least on a surface level. 

Engaging with the residents of Gensokyo, both humans and youkai had allowed them to adjust to the setting. 

For some, it consisted of picking up where they had left their lives prior to fleeing, prior to the pandemic throwing things into deliration. 

In the case of Tamao, she had reprised her role as a teacher whilst under the guidance of Keine. 

She had learned that Kaguya's lover was a historian in particular who aided in ensuring that Gensokyo's history was documented. Tamao mused of how interesting that would have been considering the nature of the Illusionary Land. 

The school itself was small but comparing it to Rinmeikan would be unfair, especially given Gensokyo's population. 

But Tamao didn't mind it in the slightest since teaching, a task she had missed dearly, felt euphoric to engage in again. 

A small hand shot up at the back of the class, "Tamao-sensei! Tamao-sense!". 

Tamao chuckled and walked to the girl, crouching down so that she could talk to her. 

"Can you remember what Keine-sensei said about waiting after putting your hand up?".

"Uhh, that we shouldn't shout?". 

Tamao smiled as it dawned on the girl and she mumbled out an apology, twiddling her fingers on the desk. 

"That's okay" Tamao reassured, "Was there something you needed help with?". 

"I'm stuck on this one". 

Tamao took a look at the question on the paper, understanding the girl's confusion so she began to explain it and talk her through it. 

Keine was watching on from her desk whilst in the process of marking. 

Tamao was a natural with the kids, be they youkai or human. 

It certainly attenuated her burden even though her idea was to help Tamao integrate into Gensokyo's society and the woman proved to be learned and patient, two things required when teaching children. 

The kids adored her, enraptured during the story telling sessions in particular when Tamao would recount tales from the Outside World, a world that was alien to them. Keine herself was also learning simultaneously from Tamao's tales and creating a separate archive for them. 

Tamao had an innate ability in being able to establish a rapport with anyone which was meritorious in itself. 

The woman walked back to the front of the class and took a seat next to Keine who offered her a warm smile. 

"You're a natural, Tamao". 

"Ah, I've just had practice is all. Also, kids are easier to deal with. It is us adults that are far too complex for our own good". 

She thought back to her group of friends and the growth they have had to endure. 

The pandemic changed them, changed her. 

They were still learning how to unwind that coil of complexity which had been adumbrated by the ongoing crisis of the world. 

"I'm inclined to agree" Keine chuckled, "Perhaps Gensokyo's environment can help to tame that. Granted, it is almost as complex here but perhaps easier to navigate".

"After everything that has happened in the last four years, this feels normal" Tamao laughed quietly, her amethyst eyes glancing out of the window, "It has been a surreal experience to be here but one that is welcomed". 

Keine could notice the gratitude on the other woman's expression. 

Gensokyo's own history was tumultuous at best but as part human, Keine could understand Tamao's sentiments. 

"Oh, I'm sorry" Tamao quickly said, "I went off track there". 

"Not at all. The important thing is that you find some stability here so it's inevitable to fall back into the past. Have you per chance discussed this further with Fumi?". 

Tamao shook her head, keeping her voice low, "It takes Fumi longer to adjust so I really don't want to burden her". 

"I may not know her well but I get the impression that she would want you to be honest with her" Keine said gently, "Even discussing it vaguely would help".

Tamao knew that to be the case, knew that Fumi would take it personally if she kept things from her. 

It was because of Fumi's influence that Tamao had managed to share her mantles as opposed to shouldering them entirely. Nothing in regards to that had changed and Tamao was aware how it was essential to keep her lover in the loop. 

More so, Fumi could most likely tell that something was wrong and was waiting for Tamao to reach out, giving her the opportunity to do it on her own accord. 

"It would. Fumi has been thorough in reminding me of that" Tamao agreed, "I'd like to think that the hardship of the last four years has strengthened our connection in some way". 

Another two hands went into the air along with the sounds of bickering which caught the teachers attention. 

"It might have strengthened you to deal with situations like this" Keine said with a knowing grin which Tamao understood all too well, "You take a break and I will see to them".

Tamao nodded and looked on as Keine settled the dispute of who allegedly stole the other's pencil. 

The historian wasn't incorrect in her words as a sense of normality soothed her. 

She was back in a classroom again,  her loved ones were safe and Fumi's dedication to her was as robust as ever.

Despite this, the fleeting apparitions of her grandmother hadn't ended. 

***

Bamboo Forest of the Lost 

 

On the outskirts of Eientei, Shiori was on a small excursion with Reisen in the forest. 

The lunarian had a task of foraging some ingredients required for Eirin's medication and Shiori had offered to join her much to Reisen's delight. 

Shiori was back to her full strength and could manage to at least venture out beyond the mansion now. Despite Fumi and Tsukasa's initial apprehension, neither could deny that it would be beneficial for Shiori to get out and with Reisen with her, the older Yumeoji sister and Tsukasa were less reluctant.  

Her black boots crunched beneath the forest floor as she crouched down to get a closer look at some mushrooms, recalling how Reisen had pointed it out to be an ingredient Eirin required so she got to work in retrieving a batch and placed them in her basket. 

The weather was humid so she was dressed loosely but covered since she was going into a location her body wasn't familiar with which could be a detriment to her already compromised immune system. 

It didn't deter the woman as she smiled when she saw a cluster of butterflies float through the stalks of the bamboo trees.

Gensokyo truly was a magical place. 

While Shiori felt an ache in her chest in regards to their lives and losses, she couldn't help but to feel thankful for having such a place to reside.

Its occupants were remarkable. 

"Oh, I don't recall seeing you around". 

Shiori jumped at the voice as she turned around to see a woman floating there, her outfit comprised of a white jumpsuit with an oriental twist. 

Her ears were notable, much like Ran's so she had to be a fox youkai of some sort. 

However, the perturbing vibe she got from the newcomer didn't feel as amiable as it did with Ran. 

Shiori held her ground however, her thoughts automatically going to retrieve her saber which had become a habit but now she was unarmed without Reisen anywhere in sight. 

The blonde stranger smiled, sly and probing, "Seems like humans do get lost in these parts. Luckily for me.." she purred and inched forwards, "I've been meaning to get something to eat and you look like a delightful little snack". 

Shiori gulped, "Stay back!". 

"I do love it when my dinner bites back". 

"I'm warning you!". 

The human ambled backwards as the fox youkai began to close the distance between them but before she could, the air and ground separating them seemed to split which made the blonde take a step back. 

Shiori wasn't sure what was occurring as it appeared like a crevasse had formed but just as quickly, the forest ground was back to its usual state, nothing disturbed. 

A rustling to their right revealed Reisen walking through with another person with her. Reisen's eyes were glowing red, an austere expression on her usually pleasant face as she stepped in front of Shiori and she could hear the audible sigh of relief from the blonde behind. 

"That's enough. What are you doing here?" Reisen asked, "Your that fox youkai that master warned me about, Tsukasa, right?". 

Tsukasa smirked, her sharp teeth exposing, "My, how nice to be known of".

Shiori noticed that the girl who came with Reisen stepped back before changing her stance, an annoyed look now prevalent. The light blonde hair, a shade similar to her own and brown eyes stood out in the dimmed forest that despite it being day, didn't get a lot of light. 

"Not for benevolent reasons either" Reisen said and glanced back at Shiori, "Are you okay, Shiori?". 

"I'm okay, she just caught me off guard".

"What is a fox youkai doing here?" the other newcomer enquired. 

"I'm hoping it's the same as you, Ebisu. If Tsukasa became lost, I can ignore that but if she's here to cause trouble, I won't allow it". 

"Feisty rabbit" Tsukasa shrugged, gaze turning to Ebisu, "Either way, you both ruined my fun. How boring. Master wanted to know more about the new humans". 

Reisen shook her head, "And sending someone like you is meant to help that?". 

"Why? I'm not doing anything suspicious". 

Kudamaki Tsukasa was the embodiment of suspicious considering her role in the incident of the ability cards so Reisen was having none of it. Her gauche mannerisms allowed her to operate without remorse, using whomever and whatever to get her way. 

"I can see your lies. Wait here for Mokou, she will take you to the exit and I'm taking Shiori back home. Will you be alright with her?". 

Ebisu nodded, "It's fine. There are scarier things floating in the Sanzu River than her". 

"S-sanzu river?". 

The blonde grinned, "You must be human huh. You can see it from the edge of Gensokyo if you wanna come with me? Stacking stones is what I do but I don't mind having help, neither do the kids".  

"Uh, not that you need to consider visiting there!" Reisen interrupted before the soul of a stillborn and god of fortune could continue, "Anyway, you two stay here and Mokou will show you out". 

"Nice to meet you" Shiori managed to say to Ebisu before throwing a mild glare at Tsukasa. 

"See you around" the youkai winked, laughing to herself while Ebisu rolled her eyes and ushered her away before waving back at Reisen and Shiori. 

Reisen smiled at Shiori as she motioned for the woman to follow her, "Sorry for leaving you, nobody should have been here so close to Eientei but a fox is a fox after all". 

"It's okay" Shiori reassured as a thought came to mind in terms of the two beings she had met, "Ebisu..Tsukasa. What are the odds".

"I noticed that too" Reisen laughed, "Gensokyo is full of coincidences with all of you, like you are meant to be here".

That was an understatement but it certainly made for an amusing story to tell Tsukasa. 


***

Hakurei Shrine 

 


The forest behind the shrine was glistening with star shaped bullets, courtesy of Marisa's attempt in disintegrating some of the knives which were flying at her. 

She steadied herself on her broom as she flew around, eyes switching from where Sakuya was one moment and then gone the next. 

The woman always deemed it unfair how Sakuya could stop time at her convenience. 

But it did make for some interesting training sessions with the maid. 

"Your grazing needs to be sharper, Marisa". 

"Ya mean like your knives?!" the blonde yelled, ducking as a flurry of said weapons streamed through the air, "Oh, shit! Hey, I wasn't ready!". 

Sakuya smirked, small and refined as she dashed to the left when Marisa swooped lower over the trees, her many knives burrowing into the ground. 

While Marisa's attacks and spell cards boasted strength, firepower and coverage, it left little room for manoeuvring when an offensive was led in retaliation. Speed was the blonde's secondary forte but given the nature of Gensokyo's habitants and their abilities, speed itself wouldn't be useful in avoiding Sakuya's all encompassing attacks. 

The maid was working with her to resolve the weak spot. 

"Whether it is a friendly duel or an actual attack, your enemy will not adhere to your schedule so preparation is key". 

"So is keeping the skin on my bones" Marisa muttered as she flew towards Sakuya, retrieving a spell card, grinning, "But I don't mind!". 

Once Sakuya's attack had diminished, the ordinary magician declared her own in a reflexive manner. 

Black Magic 'Event Horizon' 

Sakuya readied herself as loops of the seven colours of the spectrum surrounded Marisa before smaller orbs of said colours manifested and ejected out. 

Such was in the name of the spell card, everything was consumed which made grazing the bullets difficult. 

The area was cluttered in the vibrant orbs as Sakuya zipped around whilst avoiding the attack till the finale appeared, the loops bursting into stars. 

For Marisa's lack of elegance in her attacks, she certainly made up for it with firepower.

Sakuya chuckled, "Old habits do die hard". 

 

From the lower slopes of the shrine, Reisen and Youmu were engaged in their own training, slightly distracted by Marisa's light show. 

"I believe her attacks are becoming even more aggressive". 

Reisen laughed at her sparring partner's grumbling, watching the half human half phantom wield her katana and wakizashi, the shorter sword in her right hand. 

"That's just how she has always been, Youmu, shoot first and think later" she replied, "Are you ready?". 

The stolid guard nodded and waited for Reisen to summon up multiple versions of herself around Youmu via her abilities of being able to manipulate brainwaves and insanity. 

While the two were romantically involved, their duties limited their time but they always made sure to see each other. 

They had similar personalities, serving eccentric women and often fought along with Reimu and Marisa when it came to resolving incidents so the two had eventually formed a bond which transcended their differences. 

Opportunities to train were taken advantage of so after orders from both Eirin & Yuyuko to spend the day at the shrine, the two were going to do just that. 

Reisen remained steady as her eyes flashed scarlet with Youmu staring into them, one of the ways that Reisen used her abilities. She was initiating the process in manipulating Youmu's mind as the many copies of herself were armed with her handgun, some in the form of shot guns, others as rifles and some clones duel wielding. 

The lasers and bullets fired were powerful, such was in the nature of Reisen being able to manipulate wavelengths but the lunarian knew that Youmu could handle the onslaught. 

"Okay, here we go!". 

Youmu flew upwards before dashing back down, slicing through the fake Reisen's ammunition with both of her swords. 

Flurries of red streamed through the air as Youmu and Myon, her phantom half, skimmed beyond the firepower as she began to take down the copies of her lover. 

She was light on her feet when she touched down, using her katana to banish away ten of the copies which is what that particular sword could do while the other could cut through confusion. 

The woman raised her blades to deflect a violent barrage from the assault rifle as she ducked and came face to face with the fake Reisen, slashing her away. 

Her lover was impressed but expected nothing less. 

Youmu was a proficient swordswoman, serious to a fault in her task as Yuyuko's bodyguard. 

The last clone disappeared via a horizontal strike when Youmu zipped passed her, blades of grass being shredded beneath her feet when she stopped and pivoted around. 

Not a strand of silver hair was out of place as she faced Reisen again. 

The lunarian could tell her lover was pleased with herself despite the almost insouciant expression on her face. 

"I was expecting more resistance" Youmu stated. 

Reisen rolled up the sleeves of her white shirt and grinned, "That was a warm up. Let's see how you do against the real thing". 


Back at the shrine grounds, there was a more peaceful training session ongoing. 

Reimu was sat in seiza in front of Sanae, the latter the priestess of the Yasaka Shrine which was located on the top of Youkai Mountain. 

The brunette didn't feel the need to have a physical session as Yukari was sparring with her more frequently. 

It was well know that Yukari preferred not to and didn't need to engage in physical combat and duels but when she did, Reimu certainly had her work cut out for her. 

Sanae's plan was more on the meditative side of training, helping her counterpart in polishing off one of her abilities in particular. 

Along with this, Reimu wanted to stay closer to the shine in case Eri needed her. 

The girl's health had improved rapidly over the last week but Reimu was vigilant, more so after Yukari advised her to be so. 

"Reimu, your thoughts are wandering" Sanae chided, "If you don't focus, you could summon something really unpleasant". 

It had happened before and Yorihime's help was required in sending it back. 

Reimu sighed and opened her eyes to see concerned blues looking at her. 

"Sorry, let's try again". 

"Hm, I think we need a break first" Sanae insisted, her green hair up in a ponytail whipping with the breeze, "It's funny, you know". 

"What is?". 

"Seeing you worry like this. Parenthood is something else" the living goddess smiled. 

Reimu rolled her eyes, "We'll see if you're laughing if you and Sakuya decide to have any. At least your daughter would have one sensible mother". 

"Hey, I'm sensible" Sanae frowned. 

"Yeah, only took over a decade to get there". 

Sanae poke Reimu's knee in jest before laughing, "Well for your information, we're happy as we are" she assured, her expression becoming soft, "Eri will be okay. I know it's easy to say that but come on, look at her mothers" Sanae reminded, "She is one kid that nobody is going to mess with, dream world or otherwise". 

The priestess scoffed playfully whilst her gaze went to her home, "I can't deny that. When it comes to the fighting and magic side, I know she can handle herself but stuff like medical issues, that freaked me out. I mean, it was due to the flu". 

"It's only natural for you and Alice to worry. As humans, we have to be wary even if we are strong. Especially considering what is going on out there". 

As Sanae was from the Outside World, the predicament which had embroiled the globe was disheartening on a personal level. 

Even if Gensokyo was her home now, she was born in the Outside World, had a life there with friends and family. 

So to know of its state and the possible demise weighed heavy on the otherwise jubilant woman's mind and Reimu could see it. 

"But Eri isn't out there, she is in here where there is enough help around to make sure she is okay" Sanae concluded, "You've got this but it's perfectly normal to freak out when she falls ill". 

"You're just saying that since you get a kick out of watching me panic". 

"No lie there" Sanae winked, "Gensokyo's scary priestess panicking is not a sight anyone thought we would see. Alice and Eri have softened you". 

"I swear I'm gonna show you otherwise" Reimu threatened as her friend made a sickeningly sweet expression. 

"Ooh, scary". 

The duo chuckled as Reimu pursued with a question of her own, "You sure you're going to be okay with teaching them?". 

"Hm?" Sanae said before realising what Reimu was referring to, "Oh, of course! Other than the mess, hearing their stories of the outside is nice and since I've been in their place once, who better to help them?". 

"It's still a lot to take in" Reimu nodded. 

"It is. They've been through a lot. I mean, leaving before all of that happened feels like a good thing even if I do sometimes miss it but it's not the same world I left, you know?".

Sanae had been helping the Outside World natives with teaching them about Gensokyo since she had knowledge of both worlds and the women seemed even more at serenity with her. 

Still, even for Sanae, the devastation occurring was surreal to think. 

"They're going to feel the same for a while as they get used to here but in the long run, they are better off somewhere safer than out there".

"That's a given" the brunette agreed as she took in a deep breath, "Well, you & Sakuya and the others are doing a good job."

"Wow, was that praise from Reimu! It's a miracle!". 

"A living goddess that can cause miracles using lines like that, how cheesy" Reimu grinned at the woman's pun. 

"The opportunity presented itself" Sanae said sagely, "So, ready to try again?". 

Feeling a tad lighter, Reimu returned to her previous concentrated stance. 

The air between them went silent as Sanae watched Reimu, the latter's face relaxed as she mumbled a few words beneath her breath. 

With Reimu's focus back in line, it would aid in gathering the spiritual energy needed to do what they wanted. 

A flash of energy appeared next to them, flickers of blue, crimson and silver lightning appearing around the figure whom had materialised. 

"Not bad, Reimu" the rich but teasing voice said as the two priestesses looked up to see Kanako there, "Though your timing to summon me was somewhat unfortunate since Byakuren had come cover to-". 

"You don't have to finish the sentence, Lady Kanako!" Sanae interrupted, "I don't need those details". 

Reimu was laughing as the goddess grinned, "I was going to say for tea since her magician in training arrived with her. Really, your imagination is too wild".

"I wonder why" Sanae stammered. 

While Kanako was enjoying teasing Sanae, her gaze turned to Reimu, "Good work with the summoning. As a first attempt at summoning me, it was smooth". 

"Thanks, Kanako. It is strange to summon a goddess I see often" the woman mused. 

"You never know when that may come in handy". 

"That's true, summoning Lady Kanako and Suwako helps with a lot of my power" Sanae explained, "But Reimu can summon any deity she wants". 

"Perks of being the Hakurei priestess" the brunette smirked, "I still have a lot to learn in order to summon properly but Yorihime and Yukari are helping with that". 

"Which is madness in itself considering the trouble Yukari had caused for her" Kanako laughed as she placed a thumb beneath her chin, "Gensokyo has an odd way of forging connections". 

"Big talk coming from you" Reimu hit back.

Such was in the nature of Gensokyo where adversaries could find themselves on the same side. 

***

Forest of Magic 

 

Prior to her marriage to Reimu, Alice's place of residence was in the forest behind the shrine, a natural habit for magicians and those that were brave enough to live there. 

Marisa's home and shop was also located in the vicinity. 

Now, Alice's home was more of a workspace be it in regards to her magic, doll making or tailoring services. 

The interior was neat and organised, homely and welcoming.

Whether it was magical research artefacts or materials for dolls, everything had a place. 

Yachiyo and Lisa had found themselves frequenting the location with Alice as they worked with the blonde, utilising their own skills when it came to being seamstresses. 

The two were in awe when they first arrived at Alice's home and the sheer materials available. 

As a doll maker and puppeteer, Alice was often seen with two dolls in particular that the woman controlled. 

Shanghai and Hourai were busy preparing tea in the kitchen as Lisa watched on with a grin from the living room. 

"I can't get use to that" the woman beamed, "It's so cool". 

"Right? Think of how much we could get done if we could do that" Yachiyo chimed in from the sewing machine humming lightly, "Eri's spoilt for choice too". 

Alice smiled, "It certainly does come in handy". 

"The fact that you're controlling them is even more impressive. Is there a limit to how many you can use at once?". 

"The limit resides in my own strength and skills so as of now, the number is quite large" Alice answered Yachiyo's question, "Granted, my main research is in creating autonomous dolls one day". 

"I want to say is that even possible but given that we're in Gensokyo, it might just be" Lisa chuckled, "There, this should be a good fit for Misaki. Her love of caps never disappeared".

"She looks good in them, Yuyuko thinks so too" Yachiyo said mischievously. 

They were in the midst of creating numerous clothing for the group, be it casual, formal or otherwise. 

"I think quite a few residents have taken an interest in her style" Alice smiled as she stitched up a dark pink capelet for Kaoruko, "Its been interesting to see the blend in cultures".

"Isn't it wonderful" Lisa agreed and held a dress to her chest designed for Chisato, "Wearing outfits like this for a casual thing is amazing".

Yachiyo thought so too, eyeing up several outfits she had created for Shizuha and Tamao. 

She thought back to Shizuha's performance as the Count of Monte Cristo and created a more casual version of the outfit, with the addition of a more subtle headpiece. 

Diving into the work had aided in distracting her from her thoughts, just as it had done for Lisa. For now, the imbroglio they had brought with them from the Outside World would have to be quashed down whilst they acculturated to Gensokyo. 

Alice's demeanour allowed that transition to further appear with grace given how inviting and cordial she was which was what they desperately needed. 

The more they grasped knowledge about Gensokyo and its residents, the more they felt at home. 

Alice stood up, excusing herself to retrieve the tea as Shanghai and Hourai kept Yachiyo and Lisa entertained. The blonde glanced back and smiled, thankful for the peace her now students were at. 

Her own mind had been in a flurry since Eri's night terrors but her daughter had gotten through it just like she always did. 

Gensokyo's prolonged moments of tranquillity were made the most of. 

A knock to the door interrupted the duo in the living room as Lisa called out, "I've got it, Alice". 

"Thank you".

Lisa went up whilst accompanied by Hourai who rested on Lisa's shoulder. 

The tiny doll was armed with a lance and though it wasn't specified by the doll maker, Lisa had a feeling that the weapon was as real and functioning as could be. 

She opened the door, eyes taking in a woman she hadn't seen before, "Uh, hi".

The woman was tall, which seemed to be a staple in Gensokyo. Her long blonde hair cascaded down her chest in light waves, framing a face with crimson eyes and a formal expression. Her attire consisted of a red and white maid's outfit, similar to Sakuya's as calf length brown boots complimented her ensemble. A brown cape was wrapped around her shoulders but it didn't conceal the two swords strapped to her back. 

"Hello. Please excuse the intrusion".

Her speech was just as refined and Lisa wasn't sure how to respond but thankfully Alice had arrived. 

"Yumeko?". 

The second she saw Alice, Yumeko tucked an arm behind her back as one went over her chest, bowing to her. 

"Princess".

At this point, Yachiyo had also joined to see what was occurring as she and Lisa looked at each other before glancing at Alice whom appeared almost sheepish. 

"Princess?" Lisa repeated. 

"With Kaguya and Yuyuko, that makes Alice the third one" Yachiyo mused with a sly smirk, "I love this place. Soon, we'll have enough to start a franchise like a certain company that used to exist". 

"No kidding" Lisa grinned. 

Yumeko wasn't sure who they were but felt the need to apologise, "I'm sorry for the intrusion. If you would prefer, I can come back later?". 

"No it is fine, Yumeko. Please come in" Alice said, "This is Lisa and Yachiyo. They are some of the new faces to move to Gensokyo" she introduced, "And this is Yumeko. My.." the magician wasn't sure how to word it, "My mother's head maid and right hand". 

Both Yachiyo and Lisa smiled at the blonde even though they were bursting to the seams with questions for Alice but those could be saved for later. 

"Nice to meet you" Lisa waved

"Likewise". 

"Would you like to stay for tea?" Alice asked the blonde, "I'm assuming this is a causal visit". 

"Partially. I dropped by the shrine to see Eri and Reimu told me you were here" Yumeko said, a small smile on her lips, "She is looking much more like you every time I see her". 

Alice smiled even though she was tense and it wasn't Yumeko in particular who was at fault for the feeling. 

"Yes, she loves it when you visit her. We can head back when we finish off here but I'm guessing you have a message from my mother?".

"Lady Shinki was wondering of your wellbeing". 

"Right, she couldn't come and see for herself? And by wellbeing, she means mine and Eri's, not Reimu's". 

Yachiyo and Lisa returned back to the living room as Alice led Yumeko to the kitchen. 

This was the first time they'd heard Alice so ruffled, an irritated frown on the blonde's face, her tone laced with acrimony. 

Yumeko remained silent for a moment as she tried to figure out how to approach the delicate situation between her mistress and her daughter. Alice's marriage to Reimu had caused friction for many factions, some being resolved eventually but the rift between Shinki and Alice remained. 

"You know" Alice started as she looked out of the window in the kitchen, the late afternoon sun streaming in, "I can understand her refusal to acknowledge Reimu to a certain extent, I can ignore the hurt of her not coming to our wedding" she listed before facing Yumeko again, "But not coming to see Eri, her own granddaughter..since she was born is where I draw the line. She is 5 years old, 6 soon. Eri asks about her, about the gifts and I don't know what to tell her in regards to why her grandmother doesn't visit her". 

Alice's dolour at that was prevalent and it made Yumeko wince. 

She had helped raise Alice so to see the woman embroiled in such a state of anguish was painful for the blonde. 

There wasn't much she could actively do to mend the rift between the mother and daughter, it was them that had to do the work. 

"I understand. However, I assure you that the last thing Lady Shinki wishes to do is hurt you". 

Alice scoffed, "Too late for that". 

"It may not be my place to say but.." Yumeko started whilst weighing up her options, “Your mother held a great amount of sadness when you first left for Gensokyo. She understands why you wanted to leave but she didn't expect you not to return. As a mother, that was a pain she had trouble coming to terms with". 

"I..get that" Alice sighed, guilt remaining, more so now as a mother herself, "I didn't intend to move here permanently but things have changed, Yumeko. She has every opportunity to be in my life now and yet she's being utterly stubborn". 

"If you may forgive me for my next words, it seems to be a trait". 

A small smile braced her lips as Alice grinned, glad that the once uptight head maid could crack a joke now. 

"Well, she is my mother for a reason even if blood isn't involved" the magician concluded, "I do want her in our lives. But if it involves looking at my wife like she is nothing, then I don't need that. It's a finality for me and my mother needs to be aware of it". 

Yumeko was expecting that but at least Alice had been receptive in the conversation in regards to her mother as opposed to past attempts. 

It was something and she knew Shinki was aware of the condition. 

Yumeko herself had no qualms with Reimu but her allegiance to her queen would remain. 

"Understood, princess". 

"Now that that is done, are you sure you don't want to stay for tea?". 

Yumeko bowed lightly, "I have a few more locations to visit on behalf of Lady Shinki. But I hope to see you again in due time". 

"You work too hard" Alice quipped, "My mother is as relentless as ever". 

"Such is the qualms with running an  empire". 

After a few more moments of catching up, Yumeko took her leave and Alice returned to the living room. 

She appeared contemplative as she sipped her tea before feeling inquisitive eyes on her. 

Lisa and Yachiyo were concerned given the blonde's demeanour as Yachiyo spoke up, "We can finish up here. You seem like you've gone 10 rounds with the devil". 

The magician laughed, "Your wording is oh so apt, Yachiyo. My mother is the goddess and queen of the demon underworld, after all".

"Hold on a second" Lisa managed at the revelation, "So, Yumeko?". 

"She is a demon".

"Which would make you the princess of said demon underworld?" Yachiyo connected the dots, turquoise eyes alight. 

Gensokyo wasn't as simple as it appeared and its surrounding environments seemed to continue on with that scheme. 

Alice smiled, "Correct. My mother's domain, Makai, can be accessed via a cave near the Hakurei Shrine. Irony at its finest". 

"From the sounds of it, she isn't too happy with you being with Reimu" Lisa enquired, tone dejected at Alice's faltered posture, "Ah, sorry, Alice!". 

"Oh, that's okay" Alice quickly reassured, "The situation is.. delicate".

"Is it the human and youkai thing?". 

"No, my mother has no issues with humans. I was one when she first got me".

That detail piqued the two women's curiosity further, wondering how a human child would have ended up in the care of a demon goddess but then again, they'd seen stranger. 

Alice ran her thumb over her ring finger, the design on the silver band different than the others considering how it was spotted with red detailing. 

They had seen a blue one on Reimu's ring finger. 

"My mother is a demon goddess, my wife is a youkai exterminator. Two sides of the same coin, light and dark. Me marrying Reimu..is a failure to my own kind. At least, that is my mother's perception and those she rules in Makai. Our marriage was deemed to be execrated by them". 

"Wow, sounds rough even if it makes sense in a screwed up way" Yachiyo noted sympathetically as she ran a hand through her pink hair, "But it's different in Gensokyo, right? I've seen plenty of intermingling". 

"In Gensokyo, it is the norm. Not that it was easily accepted since we faced the same thoughts from human and youkai here alike. But nothing could be done by them to stop it because, well, Yukari is not a woman one should cross". 

Yachiyo and Lisa firmly believed that. 

"As for Makai, it is different. It is my mother's empire of demons, demons that despise the Hakurei priestesses so for their queen's daughter to marry one, and bear a child" Alice chuckled darkly as she sat back on her chair, "Let's just say there was an outcry". 

"Seems like Gensokyo's version of star crossed lover's" Lisa mused. 

The woman was a stickler for romance, especially the troubled kind. 
 
It had often been pointed out by others how it could be why she gravitated towards women like Sayo but Lisa quickly dismissed the notion. 

Sayo was special and she would do everything she could do to make it work, to bring Sayo back to her. 

"That has been referenced" Alice smiled and glanced at the photo of her wife, daughter and friends on a shelf, "Regardless, my mother is aware of her options and I have no intent on abandoning my family or Gensokyo".

A testament that was prevalent in the magician's aura from what Lisa and Yachiyo could tell. 

The solecism which had been carried out by Reimu and Alice had been the catapult needed in strengthen Gensokyo's balance. 

***

Hakurei Barrier/Yakumo Mansion 

 

During the night of the waning gibbons moon, Yukari and Eirin were concluding a check on the Hakurei Barrier from the Bamboo Forest of the Lost. 

The duo were dressed in Outside World clothing in the event that someone does spot them.

Given the state of the world, those on the run from E.B. O.S habited wooded locations to evade the surveillance. Many had unfortunately met their demise in one way or another.

Eirin noticed a skeleton hidden behind a log as she wondered what the person had endured to simply sit there and take their own life if the bloodied gun next to them was anything to go by.

Coming to earth, to Gensokyo had allowed the goddess to sympathise with the earthlings, a species she was meant to detest.

Particularly the one next to her that took her hand in hers.

Eirin glanced to the side to see Yukari watching her.

Her expression was sombre.

When such a look appeared on Yukari, it felt unnatural almost considering the woman's natural disposition of appearing supercilious and coy.

She squeezed her once nemesis's hand, offering a smile, "It's fine".

"You are more human than you are lunarian at times".

"Oh? Well the same can be said for you, Yukari" she grinned as the blonde finally laughed, "I was just musing on the forlorn scenario of the Outside World".

"That's understandable" Yukari answered as she let go of Eirin's hand and moved closer to the barrier, assessing a small tear in it, "For all our separation from them, their existence and actions will continued to be felt by us".

Yukari had several gaps open as surveillance to ensure that nobody could sneak up on them and stymie their task as she lifted her hands up, parting the barrier from the outside. The thin strings of crimson pulled away, revealing the interior of Gensokyo while Yukari bent in closer to get a better look.

While the tampering of the barrier had decreased, the occasional disturbances followed but that was mainly due to the introduction of the Outside World denizens which was to be expecting since it did throw off the balance. But now that they were somewhat adapted to the land, the balance had realigned so minuscule abrasions were to be envisaged.

However, Yukari knew that this one was disparate from said disturbances in the barrier, something she had sensed the moment it had happened.

Flickers of violet wrapped around strands of crimson and silver, healing the tear again as it sealed to conjoin with the rest of the barrier. 

Eirin watched on with intrigue even if she couldn't see the barrier but Yukari's bearing said it all.

The woman had been in talks with Okina and Kasen in regards to the precautions necessary if there was something actively attacking the boundary, miring its job to protect Gensokyo. 

More so since nobody but those specific few should be able to see it.

"Is the damage severe?".

Yukari stood back up, her knee high boots crunching the foliage beneath them as she turned to face Eirin.

"Not as critical as the others..but the parlous nature of it is disconcerting nonetheless" she answered with a small sigh, "Considering that we still have an unidentified youkai on the loose, I cannot help but wonder if it is able to see the barrier".

"That should not be possible".

"Shouldn't, but it had occurred before when the lunarians invaded in an effort to relocate. So, it is plausible, much to my dismay" the blonde noted and looked into the distance of the forest whilst using the gaps.

There was nobody within miles of any direction, they were alone.

And yet, Yukari couldn't help the feeling that they were being watched.

Thinking of said lunarians often made a slither of dread course through her.

The fact that she was sleeping with one made the scenario that much more absurd. 

"We have contingencies in place should the impossible occur, including if the Lunar Capital was to attempt something" Eirin reminded and walked up to her lover, resting a hand on her shoulder, "You needn't deal with it alone".

Yukari smiled, "It is just like you to think ahead".

"If I don't, I am sure you would leave me behind" Eirin chuckled as Yukari leaned against her, "But in all seriousness, if the barrier is being attacked, we will have to set up some means in deflected whatever it is that is prying in".

"Do you have something else in mind?" Yukari queried as they began to walk ahead again, hand in hand.

The cool May air wafted around them as the night sky glistened above which accentuated the peaceful silence surrounding the couple.

One of Eirin's multiple roles from her time on the moon included being the leader of the Lunar Corps Army, including the emissaries so the woman was more than knowledgeable on that front too.

She looked at Yukari, "We station more defences at the points where the barrier seems to be a focal point in terms of being damaged. If it is the case that that youkai has contrived a means of getting in, then at least a sighting of it would be plenty to go on in terms of identifying it".

"That is a viable point. Other than our current defence strategy in place, did you have some others in mind?"

"Quite a few others in fact" the goddess elaborated, "Gensokyo has received a whole array of humans that are equipped with the knowledge in how to fight. Humans that seem more on board with us than those of the Human Village".

Yukari grinned slightly at the implications, "I see where you are going. We train them up under the guidance of Reimu and the others. More patrols around Gensokyo and the barrier?".

"Indeed. I believe they are quite capable. Have you watched them spar with each other?".

Yukari had so as she kept an eye on them and Eirin's observations were correct.

There were plenty in Gensokyo that could help train the women up in their respective fields.

"If it is another way to fortify Gensokyo, there would be no harm in attempting to do so." Yukari nodded, "Speaking of which, I wanted to discuss Yuyuko's training with you".

"She has been working with Byakuren and the rest, no?".

"She has been making progress" Yukari divulged, "However, I feel like a crash course would aid her in getting a feel of magic" she said, giving her a knowing look, "Considering that the magic that Alice, Marisa and Patchouli use is a derivative of the ancient magic you crafted, it would only be beneficial. Byakuren's magic has been guided by her faith and Shinki's influence so she can offer a different insight, though I am somewhat ambivalent about that given the situation between herself and Alice".

Eirin raised a brow, smirking, "I wasn't aware you know the history of my magic to that extent?".

"Alice and Marisa recounted a conversation you had when they faced you during the Imperishable Night incident. And really, anyone that can conceal the earth and create fake orbital satellites has an understanding of magic beyond what civilisation is aware of".

The goddess laughed as Yukari opened a gap and led them back to her home, "I see. Well, trust you to have your intel".

"Just because we are together does not mean my guards around you will be completely dispersed, Eirin" Yukari turned back and winked. 

Eirin's capabilities exceeded what could be comprehended which is why she had been a pain in Yukari's side when they were adversaries.

It was exactly why the two could see eye to eye, wielding unbelievable power that could reshape the world.

Through the years they had fought on the same side when Eirin and the rest of Eientei became a part of Gensokyo's society and long after Yukari instigated the second Genso-Lunar War with the sententious lunarians.

So it only made sense that the two sages gravitated towards each other, making them a force to be reckoned with.

They appeared inside Yukari's quarters now that the blonde was satisfied with the inspection of the barrier.

"I don't know, one could say that you are close to being vulnerable when with me" Eirin hit back as she sat on Yukari's bed after shedding her jacket.

"Me? Complacent? Unheard of".

Yukari's voice ran out from the bathroom as Eirin chuckled, "Not quite. But back to the question at hand. It shouldn't be an issue helping Yuyuko. I'm assuming there is a reason why but as always, you intricately and at times, unnecessarily, lace them in an elaborate maze".

"Well, that has rarely stopped you from figuring them out".

Eirin wondered that whilst pondering back to the few times her obscure youkai lover had stumped her as she made her way to the bathroom when the blonde called out to her.

They'd experienced worlds of changes during the course of their long lives, of death, of rebirth, more so for Yukari.

So to find some sort of mutual shelter in each other was a monumental event.

Together, they provided a quiet lull in their active and calculated minds. 

Such as now, coiled around each other beneath the hot water of the shower, the steam circling around them. 

For all the uncertainties accumulating, there was a sense of peace the two women found themselves in.

Eirin's fingertips slid down Yukari's back when the youkai kissed her shoulder before resting her head on it, her arms wound over Eirin's back. 

Their soft breathing and sounds of the water trickling were the only things heard, the other residents of the mansion now asleep.

To catch a moment of solitude like this was what the duo needed, the presence of each other soothing as their thoughts compartmentalised what needed to be done. 

The goddess continued to map her fingers over Yukari skin, brushing her palm over the curve of her lower spine, feeling the droplets of water meld with the blonde's form and given the pleasant hum from the woman pressed again her, it was the right move. 

Eirin smiled, kissing the blonde hair, "I have been wondering, what with everything going on, do you still plan to hold the event you have had in mind in a few weeks?". 

"I have been deliberating that" Yukari admitted, tangling her fingers into the wavy silver strands, "But I think it's best to go on with it. If we cancel it without providing a reason, it may lead to panic. Also, I think it'll be beneficial for everyone to attend and also give an insight to the newcomers into more of Gensokyo's..traditions".

Eirin scoffed at that, "Traditions? More like a youkai with too much power and leverage toying with her subjects". 

"It can be all of those things together, darling"

"Of course it can" Eirin said dryly, "Your justifying needs more work" she laughed, "But this time you may be right. Who knows, I may have more medical aids trained up to help with the injuries that occur". 

Yukari smiled and held onto the woman's solid body tighter as Eirin pressed down on her waist, the curve of the left in particular and the unexpected nature of it made her wince. 

Yukari gritted her teeth to minimise the disturbance and not alert Eirin but it was too late. 

It was not a reaction that the lunarian was expecting as she pulled back and looked at Yukari. 

"What was that?". 

"You just caught me by surprise" Yukari batted away. 

Eirin was unconvinced and stepped back, turning Yukari around carefully as the water continued to fall over them. 

"Eirin, it's fine". 

Moving away the strands of blonde, Eirin was horrified to find the cause of Yukari's wince. 

"When did this happen?". 

Her fingers went to the patch of reddish skin which covered quite an expansive area. There was no tactile touch to it but the wound was very much there, prevalent against the youkai's waist. 

Yukari tensed up as Eirin's fingers outlined the area, making sure not to touch it directly to irritate the contusion. 

"Training with Reimu can get volatile, you know that" she said whilst attempting to remain as equanimous as possible, "It'll heal soon so please don't worry". 

Yukari turned around and cupped Eirin's face as Eirin replied, "It's unlike for you to get injured let alone it staying long on you. Are you sure it was because of the training?". 

"You've faced her before, you know how ruthless she can be when she has to be" Yukari reassured, "Rest assured, I may have dished it out too" . 

Blue eyes remained on her, Eirin's hands carefully resting on her hips instead. Yukari's reason was factual as it wasn't the first time she had obtained injuries but again, they shouldn't last long and Yukari had trained with Reimu a few days ago. 

"Very well. But once we are done, I would like to have a closer look if that is alright. I barely touched you and yet it elicited such a reaction". 

"Hm, I wonder if it's a reaction to other activities we partake in. I mean, the injuries I obtain from that may have made me immune considering how voracious you can be". 

"Yukari" Eirin chided though the blush was evident, "You're skirting the topic". 

"Am I?" she replied and linked her fingers behind the lunarian's neck, "Perhaps I need another distraction from the pain, hm?". 

She leaned up and kissed her lover, clinging onto her as Eirin did the same till she relented to Yukari's temperament. Eirin wasn't going to let the topic fade just yet but if the blonde was hiding something, she would uncover it. 

For Yukari, however, the source of her injury had a more detrimental story but until she could confirm her suspicions, nobody could know what she was thinking. 

Not even those closest to her. 

Eirin remained sceptical, eyes pensive as her right hand slid up Yukari's abdomen. 

"Yukari, I'd like to hope that we are past the secrecy so please don't keep things from me". 

The gravitas in Eirin's tone made it a challenge to lie to her, adding to the guilt Yukari was swimming in but it was for Eirin's own good to deviate from the truth. 

"You have my word". 

She didn't specify which as she brought down Eirin's face, kissing her in a bid to return back to a more pleasurable mood. 

For now, she just wanted to enjoy the comfort Eirin was providing, intentionally being delicate when she moved Yukari against the wall and lifted one of her legs up, wrapping it around her lower spine. 

Yukari held on and tipped her head back as Eirin kissed her neck whilst moving against her, losing themselves to each other. 

Still, an atmosphere of uncertainty loitered as Eirin looked up from the blonde's shoulder, watching her closely as she came undone.

The injury on Yukari's waist remained on her mind while she steadied the blonde, holding her up as waves of tremors coursed through her at the feeling of Eirin joined with her.

While Eirin had every intention of respecting Yukari's boundaries, the woman was aware she would need to keep a closer eye on her. 

Because if there was a connection amongst the recent events which had transpired in Gensokyo, then it was an indication to something egregious occurring which could hinder them all.

Chapter Text

 

 


 

 

Misty Lake 

 

Gensokyo's main body of water was Misty Lake which was situated in the middle of the land. 

Given that Gensokyo was landlocked amongst mountains, there were no accessible oceans and seas.

Fumi had found herself perched on the edge of the lake, sitting on some logs after running an errand for Eirin. She took a moment to compose herself and take in the serenity of the early morning summer. 

It was quite a splendid sight as the lake truly lived up to its name, a swirl of dense mist surrounding the area. Despite it, the red mansion in the middle of the lake could be seen without much strain. 

It was the only western style building in Gensokyo and was aptly called the Scarlet Devil Mansion. 

According to everyone she had asked, the owners of the mansion were vampires.

Now the blonde was sceptical of such a silly detail but then she recalled that vampires were on the list when Yukari mentioned what kind of beings resided in Gensokyo so she had no choice but to take it as it was. 

Still, it was unusual yet comforting to see the modern structure in a place that was virtually alien to them. 

She checked beneath her cloak to ensure her sword breaker was there should something sneak up but Fumi hoped that that wouldn't be the case. The tranquil moment was doing wonders for her mind as she thought to bring Tamao with her next time. 

Given how they were all occupied now, it helped to establish some sense in their day to day lives as they adjusted to their routines. 

Tamao would be at the school, sometimes with Kaoruko so Fumi wouldn't see her till later on. She was relieved to see Tamao reverting back to her usual ways but the remnant of their lives post pandemic still remained which was a given. The death of Tamao's grandmother had impacted the woman drastically during the first year of the crises, changing Tamao's essence which was to be expected as she grew laconic after the woman's passing. 

Her grandmother was her inspiration, her drive to bring Rinmeikan back to its former glory which they had achieved. 

So for the woman's death and for Rinmeikan to fall back into ruin was merely the beginning of the collapse, the loss and displacement of the rest of their loved ones following. 

Fumi had vowed to Tamao to stand by her, a promise she had made as a teen so the blonde would do all she could to protect her, support her, just like she had been doing. 

Her eyes went to the rising sun on the horizon, her contemplative haze making her feel more tired than she already was but the silence was lulling. 

Despite this, Fumi was well aware of her surroundings. 

So when she saw a flicker of bright blue from the left side of her peripheral vision, Fumi rapidly leapt up and sprinted to the side as the log she was sat on splintered to pieces. 

"What the fuck.." she muttered whilst spinning around, retrieving her weapon to face the culprit whom had attacked her. 

"Heh, you're pretty fast" the woman grinned, "This should be fun".

Fumi noticed that the woman's sword was practically pulsing orange as she readied her stance. The crimson eyes and light blue hair contrasted, bringing a tinge of something mischievous to the stranger who donned a white dress with rainbow jewels on the end, brown boots and wide brimmed black hat completing the ensemble. 

Fumi grumbled, "It's too early for this" she thought as the stranger charged at her without any hesitance. 

She was quick to intercept the strikes of the sword, their weapons clashing as they circled each other with each altercation. Fumi had never seen this woman before, slicing her sword breaker up which made the stranger leap back but Fumi stayed on her trail. 

Right now, she wasn't sure if her life was in danger or not because everybody in Gensokyo must be aware of the no killing humans rule. 

But the glee in the red eyes made Fumi wonder about this woman. 

"What's your deal?!" she yelled out whilst ducking and using her left fist to punch the woman but missed. 

The stranger laughed and grabbed Fumi's fist, squeezing it. 

Fumi winced and realised that while the woman was small in stature, she was strong and her pertinacious attacks were starting to grate on Fumi's nerves.

"Nothing personal. You looked as bored as I do" she answered and shoved Fumi back while slashing her sword sideways against the blonde's abdomen, the edge sliding in, "Let's fight!". 

Fumi stumbled backwards as a line of crimson seeped from her grey top but she didn't have a chance to register it as the woman opposite her came at her, this time numerous cerulean orbs accumulating behind her. 

That explained the strength, her opponent was not human. 

Fumi's eyes widened as the bullets skimmed down without warning and she did her best to avoid each one, remembering that she could use her sword breaker to deflect or slice the bullets. 

While they hadn't encountered a proper spell card duek yet, they had been learning the schematics. 

This couldn't be classed as one since her assailant seemed to just be toying with her which pissed Fumi off that much more. 

The colourful bullets scattered everywhere as Fumi did what she could to avoid them but many grazed past her, causing lacerations on her skin through her top and jeans. 

She grew weary, unused to this level of moving swiftly since they arrived at Gensokyo and it was a whole different battlefield from fighting in the Outside World. 

Even the humans of Gensokyo that wielded strength were untouchable compared to them. 

Fumi's boots slid over the damp shore as she ran nearer to the lake but it was fruitless as the number of orbs had doubled, her enemy merely grinning whilst bringing her sword in front of her, like she was about to summon something. 

The blonde wondered if this was how she was going to die as she panted with exertion, diving forward into a roll as another onslaught of bullets hammered down. She quickly returned to standing position, mind addled while trying to get a handle on the situation. 

She couldn't keep deflecting but salvation had appeared in the form of a burst of light which eroded the opposition's bullets, engulfing them to stop the barrage.

Fumi shielded her eyes as the newcomer dashed forward in front of the enemy whom appeared sheepish now from what she could see. 

"Tenshi..". 

The blonde recognised the voice instantly; it was Byakuren. 

She collected what air she could as Byakuren turned around to steady Fumi from collapsing by bringing her arm over her shoulder. 

"Fumi, are you okay?". 

"I'm fine, just winded" Fumi managed as she eyed up the other woman coming closer, "Your timing is impeccable". 

The many cuts on Fumi's form said otherwise in reference to her well-being. 

"Damn, went a bit far didn't I? Why didn't you fly?". 

Byakuren sighed as she narrowed her eyes at Tenshi, "She is human. That aside, you should not be pulling a stunt like that with anyone without declaring it". 

A flash of red from the sky dropped down and Byakuren wondered how Tenshi planned to escape Reimu's wrath. 

The priestess's expression said it all as she grabbed Tenshi by the collar. 

"Reimu! What's the big idea!?". 

"The big deal is you attacking humans when I specifically warned you" Reimu spat out and looked at Fumi, "Rules, Tenshi. Not only that but those from the Outside World are off limits". 

"Hey, I didn't know. She seemed like she could handle herself" Tenshi chuckled wryly and looked to the magician for help. 

Byakuren shook her head knowing full well that Tenshi sometimes didn't learn, her celestial lifestyle becoming a catalyst to causing trouble. 

"You mustn't behave so recklessly" Byakuren chided. 

Fumi spoke up as she stood up straight though Byakuren kept a hand on her back, "It's fine, a warning would be nice next time". 

"Tenshi doesn't know the meaning" Reimu scoffed and released the woman who glared at her, "Apologies to Fumi. I don't have to do anything cause Yukari is the one that's gonna be after your blood if you mess with them". 

Tenshi's shoulders dropped as her sword pierced the ground whilst her hands were on the handle at the mention of the youkai. 

"Fine, fine" she relented and looked at Fumi, "Sorry for sneaking up on you. Although, you lasted long for a human not from here so I'm impressed". 

Reimu whacked Tenshi on the back of her head with her gohei, "What kind of an apology is that?". 

"Ow, like you can do better?!". 

Despite the situation at hand, Fumi was certainly inquisitive about the newcomer who seemed to be on good terms with Reimu despite their aggression towards each other. 

Byakuren sighed again at the duo's shenanigans before speaking up, “Tenshi, please refrain from doing that again". 

The woman hummed and tipped the rim of her hat as her attention turned to Fumi, "Got it. No hard feelings? Meeting a new face in Gensokyo was too much to pass up".

Fumi nodded, "I can imagine". 

"My name is Hinanawi Tenshi" the woman grinned, "I'm a celestial". 

"Oh.." Fumi could only express when introducing herself, "Yumeoji Fumi". 

She took Tenshi in, noticing the smirk as Fumi's knowledge on celestials went out of the window as this one was evidently unlike those from the tales she knew. 

"Yeah don't be too impressed by her. She's too chaotic to be the celestials you've probably heard about. If this didn't make it obvious" Reimu motioned to the mess around them. 

"At this point, nothing in Gensokyo is adding up to what we know so that part doesn't surprise me" Fumi agreed, "Didn't expect to fight a celestial when I woke up though, that's new" she laughed. 

Byakuren chuckled at that, "Everyday in Gensokyo can be unpredictable". 

"Like when I tell Yukari what she attempted to do and the events which will follow that". 

"Oh, Reimu! Don't bring her into it, she's gonna kill me!". 

"That's the plan" the brunette smirked and gave Fumi a small smile, "Will make you think twice next time". 

Tenshi grumbled as Byakuren spoke up, "Let's get you to Eientei. I doubt Eirin will be pleased with what has occurred either". 

The celestial merely cavilled some more as she walked with the group, offering Fumi another apology whilst preparing to be murdered by Gensokyo's power couple. 

Still, Fumi couldn't deny that Tenshi's grandiose introduction wasn't riveting. 

Perhaps they could have a rematch once she was better acclimated. 

 

***


Eientei

 

In one of the examination rooms, Arisa was in the midst of a physiotherapy session with Eirin.

The doctor had been working profusely on trying to find a way to revive any sensation in Arisa's left leg but it was proving to be unavailing.

Even the goddess's skills had limitations in what conditions and injuries she could mollify.

Right now, they were hoping to stimulate the nerves by attempting to use it. Arisa had one hand on the wall to support her balance where her functioning leg should have come to use whilst standing on the working one.

She was sweating now after attempting to walk on the leg for half an hour, body shaking as Eirin stood in front of her.

Slowly, Arisa maneuvered her upper body to move forward but once she put pressure on it, she would tumble forward where Eirin was ready to catch her.

"Fuck" Arisa mused to herself, frustration pooling as she gripped onto the woman's arms, "I'll try again".

"I think that may have to be it for today, Arisa. Exerting the rest of your health won't be beneficial in the long run".

"Not that it matters if I can't walk without crutches" Arisa began to remonstrate but attempting to walk had torpefied her so she had no choice but to accede. 

Eirin led the blonde back to the chair and eased her down, "If that is going to be the case, then let me assure you that it doesn't indicate an end to what you can do" she reminded and sat down in front of her, "As difficult and perplexing as it, do not be dissuaded. I've yet to complete my research in ways we can either revive or replace your leg".

Arisa closed her eyes and slumped forward, exhaustion accumulating.

She wanted to remain hopeful but the odds were against her.

Her nails dug into her leg but she couldn't feel anything regardless of how deep she dug them in.

"I keep thinking it's there, like a ghost" she laughed mockingly to herself, "It might as well be gone".

Eirin was about to speak when a knock to the door revealed Kaguya.

"Princess?".

"Sorry for interrupting. Is the hour up? I wanted to steal Arisa for a while".

Arisa cleared her throat and willed for the stinging in eyes to halt, swallowing thickly and offered the woman a small smile.

The lunarian knew Kaguya well enough to be in tune with her perceptive nature so she raised a brow, a subtle conversation going on without words in regards to not stressing Arisa out further.

Kaguya in turn smiled knowingly, importunate as always, "Have you no faith in me, Eirin? I wish to show her something I know she will appreciate".

The doctor sighed and offered Arisa a sympathetic smile, "We will continue this tomorrow at the same time. But please come by later too. While I cannot do much at this point in terms of the physical side, discussing your concerns will alleviate some". 

"The doctor is right, Arisa" Kaguya grinned as she handed the blonde her crutches, "Eirin's an excellent listener". 

"I should hope you know that, princess" Eirin said whilst shaking her head slightly. 

Arisa could see the small smile on the goddess's lips as Kaguya shared the same. 

It was no wonder they trusted each other without words given their history. 

She hoped that she and Saaya could obtain that sort of trust one day. 

"Thank you, Eirin" she said before standing up and walking out with Kaguya whom waved behind her. 

Eirin watched them go, mulling over the situation at hand. 

The odds of Arisa's leg recovering were worrying and her options were limited. But she wasn't about to give up yet as she pondered on what could be done. 

While the groups physical rehabilitation had been in a positive trajectory, the mental aspects were slowly coming along. The abject horrors they had faced in the Outside World wouldn't be dispersed so easily so Eirin and the others did what they could to support them down that path. 

The woman ran her fingers over some documents on her desk as Yukari's face came to mind. 

While Yukari might have been going out of her way to avoid the discussion of how she was, Eirin couldn't and made heed of watching over her. 

The goddess felt unsettled but pushed it aside to aid her patients just like a professional would. 

Kaguya's timing couldn't have been more apt as the woman knew that if there was somebody wbo had the innate capabilities of making one forget about their inner turmoil and qualms, it was the moon's exiled princess. 

Said woman had led Arisa back to her room and the blonde wasn't sure what to expect from the interior but it seemed to match Kaguya's personality. 

Eclectic but elegant. 

Her eyes ran around the room till they stopped at the windowsill and a familiar plant elicited a small gasp. Kaguya smiled as she led Arisa near and placed a chair, helping her take a seat while Arisa marvelled at the plant. 

Kaguya's listening skills were on par with her conversional wiles so she had picked up on Arisa's interest in said plant. 

At a glance, one would assume it was dead given its bare coral like branches which bore no fruit or flowers. It has a preternatural feeling to it in a sense that it didn't belong on earth.

"I've never seen a bonsai plant like that before, is it alive?". 

"It is. This bonsai requires certain conditions to bloom and it has began its process. The nurturing of such delicate plants requires patience, as I'm sure you are aware of". 

"You're telling me" Arisa agreed with a nostalgic look on her expression, "I can't count how many hours I spent growing them. Even if I knew I was going to sell them, when the time came to do so it was always a bit emotional".

"A lucrative business indeed, more so when the care over the item is as genuine as it is for you" Kaguya noted fondly, "I have other bonsai growing around Eientei and could do with the help in maintaining them, could I count on your expertise, Arisa?". 

"I'm not an expert!" Arisa spluttered at the offer which only made Kaguya giggle, "I mean I'd love to help out and be useful again". 

"Do you think you stopped being useful the moment your leg sustained its injury?". 

It was asked in a gentle manner and Arisa glanced at her leg. 

She did feel useless, purposeless and unable to help those around her no matter how much Saaya and the others reassured her. 

The answer was written over her face as Kaguya hummed lightly, "Everything has a purpose, regardless of its condition" she stated and glanced to the bonsai, "Even if it appears to be lifeless or immobile, time often is preparing something for it. Now, I am not saying you are a bonsai.." 

Arisa grinned, "Wouldn't be the first time I've been compared to it. High maintenance, sensitive and prickly". 

"Ah, those traits are applicable" the princess laughed, "But bonsai are also beautiful, calming and elegant. Being in their presence is rewarding once they flower".

The blonde blushed slightly at Kaguya's comparison as the woman continued, "So, it is always possible to remain as you are despite the things that deliberate you, Arisa. Saaya does not see you as any different, nor does anyone else. You are still Arisa regardless". 

Kaguya's earnest tone reiterated her words and Arisa was touched. Other than the hospitality provided, Eirin and the residents of Eientei and Gensokyo had gone above and beyond to help them. 

Strangers which had encroached onto their land and yet they were treated with such grace. 

"Thank you, I..guess I needed to hear that" she said quietly as her eyes turned to the bonsai, noticing specks of green forming. 

"You are most welcome. Though it may take time, there is plenty of it here to find your calling. Heaven knows I've been here long enough and it took me over a hundred years to discover the hobbies and interests which would be more than a fleeting fancy" Kaguya quipped. 

"That's a lot of years" Arisa chuckled, "Perfect for a gardening hobby". 

"Quite so" Kaguya smiled broadly, "Now, let us get you back to your room to rest and later, you can accompany to the gardens?". 

Arisa returned the look and took the crutches from Kaguya, feeling a tad at ease from before, "I'd like that".


***

 

Human Village 

 

The afternoon sun beat down on the village as the people went about their day's activities. 

It felt homely and panoramic to Tsukasa and Claudine that were walking by the rustic buildings, adjusting to the stares they received. 

While at first it was daunting, the Outside World denizens understood that their arrival was fortuitous to the humans as well as the supernatural beings but over the course of the months, the curious glances became less frequent and more out of appraisal. 

Since the two frequented the village often whether it was to work at Suzunaan like Tsukasa did, the establishment being a bookstore hidden away, or helping the locals with many odd jobs as Claudine did, the villagers had gotten use to their presence. 

Right now, the two women had arrived to meet with some individuals whom had been teaching them the dynamics of the village while introducing them to the outskirts of the area where potential threats could arise from. It was a commencement of Eirin's idea to utilise their strengths so both woman were armed too. 

Tsukasa's doubles axes were concealed behind her lower back in cases made by the carpenter and Claudine's broadsword remained in her scabbard on her upper back, angled diagonally.

"Hanayagi-san would lose her mind if she saw the kind of stares you get here" Tsukasa teased as she waved at a group which had passed by.

There were more than the fair share of venereous glances from those they encountered. 

Given that it was easy to tell they were from the Outside World, the group had amassed quite the admirers. Tsukasa smiled at a woman in particular who seemed to be farouche in the way she was appraising her which she found adorable, almost Shiori like. 

Her bright ginger hair styled in a cut that brought the edges to her neck and casual yet striking way she dressed in modern clothing drew the eyes of many. 

Considering that Claudine was half Japanese and half French, she stood out like a sore thumb already. 

"I can't even deny that. You wouldn't think she's the jealous type when you first meet her". 

"Really? I thought otherwise" Tsukasa chuckled. 

"Fair point" the blonde smirked as they approached a particular house.

But thinking upon it, it wasn't as if Kaoruko didn't have a reason for feeling as such given Claudine's past relationship with Maya so that was a sobering thought for the woman. 

"Are you moving back to Eientei soon, come to think of it?". 

"We were discussing it" Claudine replied and knocked on the door, "I do want to soon so depending on what Yukari and Eirin say, I'll return there. She seems to be coping well enough with you all but I'd rather be close to her too". 

Tsukasa could understand that as she hummed in agreement when the door to the home opened to reveal the two women they had been working with. 

They greeted them as the taller of the two spoke up, "Thank you for coming, we hope you were not waiting too long upon arriving?". 

The refined tone and archaic speech belonged to Meira, a samurai. Her purple hair was up in a ponytail as her red eyes appeared indifferent yet hospitable to the newcomers she had become acquainted with. Her katana remained in its scabbard by her hip, the white martial of her hakama bottoms making it stand out. 

Claudine indicated that they hadn't whilst stepping back, "Just arrived so nothing to worry about, Meira. How are you both?". 

The other woman stepped out from behind Meira and smiled at the duo whilst closing the door and locking it. 

"We have been well, thank you. How are you?". 

"Not too bad" Tsukasa replied warmly at the redhead, her hair in a loose low ponytail, "I think we're getting used to finding our way here but the help you and Meira have given definitely helps". 

"It is the least we can do" Meira answered, "Kotohime and I are grateful for the help. Despite the hesitancy between the humans and youkai, we would rather the harmony to exist. If what Yukari is concerned about will cause affliction for both, we would prefer to help". 

Kotohime and Meira could be considered as law enforcement for the Human Village with the aid of Keine. 

Despite Kotohime's nobility as another princess in Gensokyo, which delighted the newcomers and the tally they were keeping, she preferred to be more hands on whenever possible. 

She was eccentric in some ways, sharp in others which was a complimentary balance to Meira's refined and studious personality. 

Apparently Kotohime and Kaguya didn't see eye to eye which made things difficult for Keine. 

"Indeed" Kotohime agreed and tucked her jitte into its case which was over the obi beneath her purple kimono, "The elders of the village seem to be on guard too". 

The four women began their walk around as Claudine mulled over that statement, eyes taking in the campestral settlement while they moved away from the crowded areas. 

"Do incidents happen often?". 

"Minor incidents do happen frequently but they are usually resolved, either by Reimu and those whom accompany her. As for the major incidents, well, they are unpredictable and require more intervention". 

"It is weird" Tsukasa noted, "Things appear peaceful here but obviously that isn't always the case. Doubt that out presence has helped". 

"Are the villagers giving you trouble?" Kotohime asked as she flanked Claudine's side while her lover did the same with Tsukasa. 

It may have been unlikely for anyone to apprehend them but given what had occurred with Fumi a few days ago, no chances were taken. 

"No, no. Everyone has been helpful" Tsukasa quichly clarified, "It's just that since we have been here, I find it hard to imagine something disturbing the peace". 

"Conflict exists everywhere. For Gensokyo, it is a necessity despite what we as humans usually prefer to avoid". 

"I do recall Yukari saying something like that" Claudine recounted as her eyes scanned the surrounding area. 

The deeper the went into the outer areas, the more the forestry thickened. 

Given that the Forest of Magic was on the left and the Bamboo Forest of the Lost was ahead of the village, it was a given that the scenery would turn as such. 

Anything could be lurking there which made Tsukasa shudder a tad, her axes making her feel slightly protected. 

Along with Kotohime and Meira's presence. 

The afternoon heat accumulated as they walked on whilst Claudine and Tsukasa took in the information being divulged to them. 

From more information on the locations of Gensokyo, to the hierarchy which existed. 

It was a relatively peaceful patrol up until the group ventured beyond the village, closer to the shores of Misty Lake. 

There was something floating over the lake but its figure couldn't be made out, a black mass with a smoky exterior that seemed to shimmer with the wind. 

"What the hell is that?" Claudine uttered. 

Meira and Kotohime had moved in front of them whilst retrieving their weapons, ensuring that Claudine and Tsukasa weren't in the firing line of whatever it was. 

"There have been numerous sighting of something unwonted around the lake. Please step back". 

The gravitas of Meira's voice made the duo rethink pulling out their weapons as the princess glanced towards her lover. 

"Could it be what Kosuzu thought she had glimpsed last week?".

"It certainly fits the description" Meira mused. 

The darkening mass seemed to hover for a while, moving ominously through the fog of the lake before it whittled away just as quickly, like it had heard the group which couldn't be possible as they weren't in the vicinity. 

But given that it could be a youkai of some sort with excellent hearing and such, it would be plausible that it sensed them. Neither Kotohime or Meira relaxed their stance as they instructed the Outside World duo to retreat slowly. 

Tsukasa was unsure of what it was but it chilled her. 

There was something about it which seemed familiar. 

Its form and size in particular. 

She gulped as they reached the village with Meira ushering them back in and making sure that they were not followed. 

They were away from any villagers so Claudine reiterated her question to the duo who could only offer a vague explanation as they didn't know anything about it yet. 

"As we mentioned, both humans and youkai have noticed these clumps of shadows appearing" Kotohime explained whilst walking ahead, "However, nothing is known of them as of yet. Yukari will have to be alerted of this" she mused. 

Claudine wasn't satisfied with the answer but she knew that Meira and Kotohime might have been instructed by Yukari and the others to keep tight lipped which was understandable. 

Her eyes went to Tsukasa who kept looking in the direction of the lake, "Tsukasa? What is it?". 

The woman's eyes blinked rapidly when she felt a hand on her shoulder, violet eyes landing on Claudine's worried features, "Ah, sorry. I was just wondering what it was. Hm, don't you think it looked like a being, or person? The outline?". 

Meira released the hold on her sword, "It did bear a resembles to a human form".

"Do you think you've seen it before?". 

"I..don’t know" Tsukasa said wearily as Claudine's eyes furrowed, "No, it's unlikely but the way it was moving over the water had something human like to it is all". 

She didn't want to cause the blonde more solicitude so she brushed it away for now, hoping her mind would accept her own reasoning. 

Kotohime and Meira glanced at each other before the redhead spoke up, "Let's get back to our house. I think today has been informative enough" she said cautiously, "Some rest would be useful and we will report back to Yukari when she arrives".

"Yeah, sounds like a plan" Tsukasa smiled and went ahead with Claudine as Meira and Kotohime walked behind to ensure nothing jumped out. 

Still, the samurai was irked by the dark presence on the lake while Kotohime mulled over Tsukasa's reaction. 

The jittery and anxiousness was understandable but something in Tsukasa's mien indicated another reason for the woman's worries. 

 

***


Myouren Temple


Evening had settled around the temple as the residents retired to relax. 

It had been a bustling day since Byakuren had several ceremonies ongoing that required the help of everyone there. 

Shizuha had taken to working with the priestess in a way to appeal to those that had decided to appear at the temple for the first time and the woman was only pleased to help with that side. It turned out to be a miniature festival as everyone had eventually gathered through the day so there was a lot of engaging with the locals. 

The arrival of the Outside World denizens had garnered the interest of both humans and youkai alike so whenever there was a chance to see them, it was certainly utilised. 

Still, it was pleasant to simply enjoy the atmosphere for what it was and Shizuha in particular was pleased that Yachiyo seemed contented. 

She watched her get changed for bed, her routine now normal and it was this normality in which Shizuha was thankful for. It gave Yachiyo some order, something to focus on as she spent her days working with Alice and helping out with other aspects. 

They had found a place in the land which had welcomed them so it felt like they could finally give back in anyway they, be it through their jobs or otherwise. 

Yachiyo undid the ribbon that kept her pink hair in a side ponytail, the curly strands going down her back now as she ran a comb through it till she was satisfied and made her way to the futon. 

"I can feel you watching me, Shizuha". 

The teasing tone was prevalent in her lover's voice as she settled in bed next to Shizuha, the two side to side. 

"One can't exactly blame me, you are a feast for the eyes". 

Yachiyo smirked whilst running a hand through Shizuha's hair, letting the strands fall through her fingers. 

"Sweet talker". 

"Guilty, but it is the truth" Shizuha smiled and wrapped an arm around Yachiyo's waist, "Did you have a good day?". 

"I did, we were at the shrine for most of the day so playing with Eri was a must. There was something hilarious about watching a 5 year old and three fairies gain the upper hand on adults in a game of tag" she relayed, "Though, they did start flying so it wasn't a fair match". 

"Naturally" the older woman laughed softly, taking in Yachiyo's peaceful features, her turquoise eyes glistening. 

She had missed it, missed seeing Yachiyo appear alive. 

The possibility of Yachiyo not recuperating from her trauma was forefront in Shizuha's mind but as each day passed, Yachiyo seemed more like herself. That in turn aided Shizuha in calming her mind and worries about what could have happened. 

"How was your day, Shizuha?". 

Yachiyo had scooted closer, her hand resting on Shizuha's neck and stroking her fingers over the skin. It made the woman tremble at the clearly inviting touch as she pressed Yachiyo's hip in response. 

"Byakuren's sermon went off without a hitch and it was enjoyable to talk to more individuals. Gensokyo certainly isn't short of colourful characters. 

She thought back to meeting Jo'on and Shion, sisters and goddesses that were the polar opposite of each other. Then there was the encounter with members of Gensokyo's taoist faction who apparently had animosity with the temple in the past but thankfully nothing transpired. 

"I think we might have added to it" Yachiyo pointed out and Shizuha couldn't deny that. 

"Perhaps Gensokyo was a calling, in that case". 

 "Would you want to go back?" Yachiyo asked quietly, thumb brushing across Shizuha's jawline, "If the Outside World was suddenly free from everything happening, would you return?". 

Shizuha blinked slowly, gauging her lover's reaction as she answered with something that was a given, "I'm staying wherever you are, Yachiyo. So, if you wished to return, I'd be right there with you".

"I love you" Yachiyo whispered, a soft smile on her face, "I don't know what I would do without you". 

"You are far more resilient than you give yourself credit for". 

"No, I mean it" Yachiyo shook her head and moved up till Shizuha was on her back and she was resting on her, "I don't mean just with being on the run. Even before that, you've done so much for me and I'm so grateful". 

"Yachiyo". 

Shizuha's hands rested on her lover's back, skimming over the thin material of her nightdress. Her eyes never strayed from Yachiyo's as she wondered where this was coming from. It wasn't unlike Yachiyo to be like this but after being on the run, after taking that one life, Yachiyo's mask had splintered. 

It had disintegrated, much like everyone else's but on a more grand scale. 

She tilted her head and cupped Shizuha's face, "Don't mind me. I guess even I can be hit with sentimentality. That and I need you to know that everything you've done for me is the reason I've been able to go on". 

Yachiyo kissed her, lips pressed over Shizuha's which stopped whatever she was going to say back. 

It had been some time since Yachiyo had been willing to take things this far, usually satisfied with kisses and being held through the night which Shizuha was only thankful to do. 

Considering their year, it was a given that some of the relationships had felt the burden but since being in Gensokyo, that lock had slowly been pried open. As cumbersome as the journey might be, even the slightest improvement was worth celebrating. 

By falling into comfort and safety, allowing the guards to tumble down. 

So Shizuha did what she could to reassure Yachiyo that she would remain with her when she pulled back after rolling them over to the side. 

"That will always continue, Yachiyo. I love you" she stated as her hands bunched up Yachiyo's nightdress while the younger woman was in the midst of unbuttoning her shirt, pulling it down her arms, "I'm here". 

"You have been, throughout everything" Yachiyo thought to herself out, wrapping her arms behind Shizuha's upper back once she was free from her clothing. 

Shizuha's lips kissed her neck, slowly yet ardent as her hands caressed down Yachiyo's thighs which had parted to allow Shizuha to fit over her, their hips joined. She could feel Yachiyo's pulse spike in her mouth when she began to move against her, her hands nestled beneath her lover's thighs, keeping them up. 

All that was running through Shizuha's mind was providing Yachiyo with what she desired, kissing her way up to the woman's lips, taking them between her own and licking them. 

Yachiyo moaned, head tipping back as her legs coiled tighter around Shizuha's waist with each thrust, the collision of their hardened points unavoidable. 

Shizuha had been her rock, her mentor and that connection had only strengthened as the years went by. 

She had put her life on the line repeatedly whilst being chased. 

Without even needing to think twice, Shizuha was always there. 

"Shizuha.." she panted, grabbing the back of the woman's head to get her to look at her, "I love you so much". 

Her tone was ragged as Shizuha gulped, body shuddering as Yachiyo's light eyes seemed to peer through her. 

She kept up the movements of her hips, pushing down to ensure all of Yachiyo's senses were lit, merging with her own. 

The more Yachiyo uttered how much she loved her, the more Shizuha ground down till the slickness between them cumulated.  She gripped down Yachiyo's shoulder with one hand, the other still beneath the woman's left thigh when she returned the sentiments, ensuring that Yachiyo understood that she loved her. 

Yachiyo's ankles met above Shizuha's back with one final succession of thrusts from Shizuha, their bodies moving up the futon, the sheets dishevelled. 

She buried her mouth against Shizuha's shoulder as the woman did the same, riding out the waves of the undoing together.  

The sounds of their heavy breathing dotted the room while their hands ran over each other, the heat and sweat sticking to them but not being a deterrent once they gathered what energy they had amassed from the remnants of their orgasm. 

Yachiyo managed to snake her fingers down Shizuha's curvature body, slipping them between their slotted pelvic bones till she was met with wetness, running her digits over the folds. 

The woman on top of her groaned into her neck, whispering her name and Yachiyo smiled, face flushed. 

If there was something she hoped to convey, it was that Shizuha was the light which kept at bay the darkness that suffocated her, crawling into her mind when she wasn't around. 

It was only with Shizuha she could keep the ghost away. 

Yachiyo just pleaded that Shizuha was conversant of the reason she had made it this far and how it was because of her, even if the end was in sight. 

She kissed her lover's temple, holding her tight and hoped that in the near future, Shizuha's burdens would become lighter. 

Shizuha deserved that much more and being saddled by Yachiyo's encumbrance made the younger woman feel contrite. 

Yachiyo breathed out over Shizuha's neck, feeling her tremble as she vowed to herself that soon, Shizuha wouldn't be tied down by her. 

Nor would Yachiyo have to feel the same about herself.

 

***

 

Human Village/Hakugyokurou

 

Sayo had found the night's of Gensokyo to be the most soothing. 

There was a quietness she had missed which was a stark contrast from the Outside World. 

That quietness left everyone on edge, listening, focusing, unable to relax given how obscurant it felt. 

But here, the silence wasn't an indication of danger. 

The solitude could be enjoyed in the night without the worry of being rained on by a parade of military artillery. 

Her green eyes looked at the gravestone, the detailing of her sister's name reiterating the truth of the matter. 

That Hina was really gone. 

Sayo exhaled through her nose as her hands rested on the ground while she was sat down on her knees in front of her sister's grave. 

"Hina..". 

Her voice was hoarse, her silent sobs being kept minimum even if there was nobody there at this time. 

"I'm sorry" she whispered, "I..hope you can forgive me". 

What was it that Sayo needed the forgiveness for she couldn't deduce. 

Was it for letting her die? 

Or sleeping with her girlfriend? 

Either way, Sayo felt the disgust pool again as the two reasons conflated. 

It was getting strenuous to evade Lisa, to pretend that regularity had prevailed even though her mind occluded the lies and spilled them out of her mouth. 

She wondered if Lisa knew, knew what she had done. 

Sometimes she could swear that Lisa could feel it when she touched her. 

Sayo wouldn't be surprised as Lisa was perceptive when needed to be. 

The guilt of sleeping was Chisato was becoming suffocating despite keeping busy around the temple and the Human Village. Her multitude of skills had come in handy which allowed her to venture out but still, she couldn't depart from what she had done. 

"Sayo?". 

The woman jumped out of her skin when arms nestled around her, blonde hair notable from her peripheral vision. 

Chisato's canorous voice felt like a balm slathering over her guilt and the woman wondered if that was because they were accomplices. 

She felt like her heart was going to break but the woman's hold was tight, supporting her as the shock faded. 

"Shirasagi-san..what are you doing here?". 

"The same thing as you" she replied as she placed her forehead on Sayo's shoulder, "Asking for Hina's forgiveness".

Sayo relaxed as the blonde's warm breath snuck down her beige jacket and beneath her white top, cancelling out the chilly early summer air. At least, that is what she assumed the cold was coming from and not from the errors she had made. 

It only made sense that Chisato was here. 

Not only had she done the worst thing to her sister and Lisa, she'd also brought Chisato down with her. 

She closed her eyes, allowing the tears to fall once again as she lifted a hand and placed it over Chisato's arm across her chest. She could feel the blonde's heart on her back, each pulse erratic, an insight to the emotions the woman was attempting to keep at bay. 

"I'm sorry. I had no intention of causing this much pain for you. I took advan-". 

"Stop it, Sayo. Stop accepting responsibility like it is just yours to burden. What happened that afternoon was something we both got caught up in. I am just as responsible as you are". 

Though Chisato's voice was muffled, the words cut through to Sayo whom turned her head slightly till her forehead could press against the side of Chisato's. 

"Hina's death.." the blonde continued, "It wasn't an excuse for us to hurt Lisa like this". 

"I know" Sayo agreed, "I don't know how to fix this and I fear that once she knows, she is going to leave me. She will every right to do so" she confessed, "I'm not sure I can handle such a thing happening, Shirasagi-san". 

The light nightfall breeze bristled around them as the trees swayed along, almost making the cemetery come alive. 

It appeared that everything within the vicinity had more life to it than the two woman curled up in front of their deceased loved one's grave. 

Chisato didn't know what to say, couldn't spout empty lies like how Lisa wouldn't leave her. That would be cruel and Sayo had suffered enough. 

They all had. 

She looked up, pink eyes reading over the deceased Hikawa's name, the pang in her chest augmenting. 

"Telling her might be the only way to begin to fix things, Sayo" she instead said, "Lisa's friendship has been invaluable to me and I too don't wish to destroy things any further than I have but..it might be the only way to move forward'.

Sayo opened her eyes, staring into Chisato's. 

Chisato was tired. 

A feeling Sayo understood all too well since keeping their affair under wraps when they were all together was enervating. Lisa being supportive to them both, unaware of their indiscretion just made the scenario more sickening. 

"Shirasagi-san".

Chisato shook it off and pressed her palm against Sayo's cheek, "The fall-out may be brutal but tell me, is it worth what we are doing now by prolonging it? Secrets, of any kind eventually come out". 

The gravity and consequence of the secret itself depended on how it was revealed. 


Unbeknownst to the duo, a gap had been open nearby though the intent wasn't to spy on them as Yukari had opened it to retrieve Chisato once she was done. 

The youkai wasn't aware that she had gone to the Human Village. 

Yukari was currently at Hakugyokurou which was Yuyuko's mansion in the Netherworld. 

"Hm, this transgression is going to be problematic" Yuyuko commented sadly as she watched Yukari tap her fan against her chin, countenance unreadable, "Will you intervene, Yukari?". 

"It isn't my place to do so" the woman replied and closed the gap as Chisato and Sayo remained that way, "Unfortunately, this is a decision they will have to see through to the end, despite the relationships which will end. Quite disheartening. Though in hindsight, the strain on their minds and with each other was inevitable in one way or another. Sadly for them, the casualty has extended to Lisa". 

Yuyuko peered at the blonde whilst reclining back on the cushions, "And given the fact that Sayo is Hina's sister.." she mused, "This is going to be quite convoluted to resolve".

"Outside World relationships tend to be".

Yuyuko could decipher the youkai, she was one of the few that could read Yukari. 

"It isn't feasible at all times". 

"Indeed, at least on the scale of monogamy". 

"Such a strange concept" Yuyuko noted and toyed with the ribbon on Yukari's robe as she lay next to her in her bed, "At least to the lengths the Outside World holds it". 

"The customs of their world are advanced in some and archaic in others".

"Perhaps they will learn something in that case, or that could just be me thinking with unction" the princess said airily as Yukari smiled and brushed a strand of pink behind her ear, "It is as Chisato said, secrets of any kind eventually do come out". 

"However, it does clarify why Chisato wanted to make sure she was as far away as Sayo as possible" Yukari recalled. 

Yuyuko's words skimmed a little too close to her own truth, about the things she kept from them. 

"Still, they have enough of a draw and understanding to each other to rationalise what they have to do. It is admirable...and romantic". 

"Your time with Okina is skewing your perception of romance, Yuyuko" Yukari chuckled and leaned down to kiss the woman, "Please spend some time with Byakuren as soon as you can to fix that".

Yuyuko laughed and snuggled up to the youkai, resting on her chest, "Noted" she said as Yukari opened a gap again, "I wonder what they are going to do". 

Sayo and Chisato shared a quick embrace, trying with everything they could do make it seem platonic but that ship had sailed before they parted ways. 

It seemed that Chisato was heading back to where she had told Yukari she would be while Sayo remained behind for a bit and then went through the Human Village to return to the Myouren Temple. 

Yukari too wondered how this would pan out for the three as the complications surrounding the Outside World residents accumulated. 

***

 

Youkai Mountain 


Up on the cliffs of the mountain, there were numerous homes and businesses belonging to the many youkai that called the landmark their home. 

One of such locations was a gambling den owned by Komakusa Sannyo. 

The establishment was bathed in a soft light as she watched over her patrons that were in the midst of mingling and partaking in the many forms of gambling available. 

It was late at night so the crowd was rowdy enough though not out of control but she had the means of controlling the situation if it spiralled into an unfavourable path. 

Her purple eyes took in the group that were involved in the ability cards incident, the main assailants on amicable terms after the years which had gone by. 

Chimata and Megumu were seated at one of the tables with Tsukasa, Momoyo, Takane and Mike, the maneki-neko serving drinks and dazzling the patrons with her jovial nature. 

Which meant there was one person missing and Sannyo knew where to find her. 

She signalled to Saki that she was stepping out for a bit as the youkai nodded in understanding before turning to those she was conversing with. 

Yachie grinned at the exchanges, making Saki roll her eyes while Keiki was embroiled in the schematics of the game she was playing with Mayumi cheering her on. 

It seemed unlikely that anything would transpire so Sannyo tucked her yellow fan into her obi and made her way out of the parlour. 

As expected, the wayward goddess was stood at the edge of the cliff when Sannyo stepped out and covered the entrance behind her. She took in the way the woman's darker edges of her blonde hair were being whipped gently by the wind, the magatama jewels on her outfit being enhanced by the moonlight. 

The youkai waited a moment and was about to call out to her but the figure turned slightly and smiled. 

"Something on your mind, Misumaru? If it was getting too much in there, I could have calmed em down". 

Sannyo walked up next to her, eyes raking in the entirety of Gensokyo below them as she took a drag of her dragon pipe, watching the smoke float with the wind. 

"Not at all" Misumaru insisted and placed her arms down from where they were folded at her chest as the left one wound round Sannyo's hip to pull her in closer, "All things considering, I always expect more conflict with that particular crowd but they have been quite well behaved". 

"That's cause they know I'll kick them out if they act up" Sannyo laughed, "The breeze does feel good though". 

Misumaru hummed as Sannyo looked at her, dark red eyes shrouded in something indecipherable. The youkai had picked up on Misumaru's pensive mood, more so after Reimu came by to enquire about Eri's wellbeing which put the goddess on edge considering her link to Hakurei priestesses. 

Including the future generations. 

Yukari had been disquieted as of late too and that never ended well if Misumaru knew the youkai sage as well as she did. 

So it made sense that Sannyo could see her worrying tells, "Keeping it in won't do ya any good".

"So I've been told" Misumaru chuckled and squeezed Sannyo's hip before exhaling and returning her eyes to the view, "Gensokyo is experiencing a new shift and I am uncertain as to what will occur, Sannyo". 

"Hm, cause of the humans that arrived a few months ago?". 

"They are a part of it but I feel something more disconcerting on the precipice occurring".

Sannyo followed Misumaru's gaze to the Hakurei Shrine, "Even if anything does happen, it isn't like Reimu is gonna stand by so that's something to keep in mind". 

It was as Sannyo had stated but despite this knowledge, Misumaru felt discomposed. 

The coruscating lights of the homes below them reflected in the waning moon, creating and idyllic scene, nothing disturbed and all of Gensokyo's residents just existing.

Misumaru couldn't detach herself from the feeling that the darkness which surrounded the land would be turned against it.

By what, she didn't know.

Chapter Text

 

 


 


Human Village 

 

The morning sun illuminated the entirety of Gensokyo as its citizens rose to commence another day. For the village in particular, owners of businesses were first to rise, to set the motions and mood for those who required their services. 

Saaya had missed the fragrance of freshly baked delicacies, the heat of a kitchen and the sounds of people around town going about their day.

It felt anomalous to be able to experience it again and yet, it was happening.

She carefully stocked the shelves of the bakery she had found work in after Reimu mentioned the location to her and recommended her to the owners. 

The aging couple who ran the place had been thinking of closing it down but once Saaya was introduced to them, the women were ecstatic to be able to keep the place running. They were charmed by Saaya's genial mannerisms and her skills as a baker were simply a bonus.

So that was how Saaya found herself in a quaint bakery in the heart of the Human Village, opening up in a manner she would have done if she was at home.

If the pandemic hadn't occurred, if their lives hadn't been put a target on. 

The woman thought back to her family, her deceased parents and misplaced sister and brother.

The wave of sadness drowned her but she shook her head and went to open the door, flicking around the sign to indicate that they were open.

As dolorous as her heart felt at the loss and the constant anamnesis of it, she realised she had been offered a second chance, to live in their stead, to live for and by Arisa.

It was a miracle that any of them were still alive so it was a thought Saaya kept in mind.

So she smiled and took in a quick breath as she went back to the counter, the first customers coming through already. Her superb customer service hadn't relinquished in the slightest as she greeted them with vigour, returning her to a routine she had craved.

Her talent for baking had brought even more popularity to the bakery so there was rarely a lengthy pause throughout her day. 

Customers kept coming in and out as the lunch time rush started to approach. 

"Welcome!".

She turned around at the bell jingling and was pleasantly surprised to see Misaki pop in. 

"Hey, Yamabuki-san" she waved and stepped in. 

"Nice of you to drop by" Saaya smiled, "How is it going with Nitori?" she asked. 

Saaya already knew what Misaki was going to purchase so she began creating the meal as Misaki exhaled and took her cap off. 

She'd opted to keep her hair longer this time, the black strands brushing passed her shoulders even when up in a ponytail. Yachiyo and Lisa had been doing a superlative job of keeping up with the basics even on the run with a trusty pair of scissors but since they were no longer under threat, Misaki didn't mind growing it out. 

The woman had taken a liking to how Yuyuko often found herself playing with her hair, entangling her fingers within it whenever they slept. 

She adored the feeling, blushing slightly at the thought. 

"Busy. Who would have figured that kappa and yamawaro were so innovative. The stuff they're making is amazing, all of it bettering Gensokyo. I'm glad to be able to work with them". 

"All your past Dj experiences are coming in handy I see" Saaya grinned. 

"Tell me about it. In a land which has a blend of humans and youkai. Reality is crazier than fiction" Misaki laughed incredulously. 

"A lot has happened so this almost feels normal. If that makes sense?".

"I get you. Either way, I've decided not to overthink it when the woman I'm dating started glowing in front of me". 

Saaya chuckled at that as she passed Misaki her food, "It would be enough to convince anyone. How is Tanaka-san coping with that?". 

"All things considering? Pretty well" Misaki answered, "Since she was already familiar with things of a magical spectrum, she got over the shock pretty quickly. Then again, being taught by other magicians and some which have existed before humanity is something Yuyuko still needs to adjust to" she smiled. 

The brunette nodded, "That is to be expected. But it's wonderful that she has the support needed". 

"Agreed. Speaking of which, how's Ichigaya-san doing? I heard there's no progress in terms of Eirin finding a way to bring some sensation back to her leg?".

"Unfortunately" Saaya said, adding more rolls to the stock, "Eirin's still working on it but despite that, Arisa is feeling slightly better, mentally at least. Kaguya introduced her to bonsai again so..". 

Misaki grinned and placed her cap back on, "The rest is self-explanatory I take it. I'm glad though, having that kind of distraction is necessary". 

"I think so too".

Saaya's morose tone didn't go amiss which was concerning and Misaki was sure the brunette hadn't even realised it'd come out that way. Her appearance become undemonstrative, hands idly restocking, most of it second nature but an inkling of the process due to her wayward thoughts. 

"Yamabuki-san, what's up?". 

"Ah, don't worry about me" Saaya laughed, "Just went elsewhere". 

"If you wanna talk about it, I'm here, okay? I guess it's related to Ichigaya-san?". 

Saaya knew that if there was one person who was accustomed to Arisa's personality better than herself, it was Misaki. 

The two were like minded and had a strong connection so Misaki's concerns were warranted. 

Misaki walked closer to the counter where Saaya had rested her hands, fingers tapping idly. 

"She draws away still and sometimes I can't even reach her, Okusawa-san. I'm worried that she'll refuse to come to me for help". 

Misaki understood that, "It took a while for her to break that habit back then huh". 

As did it for Misaki. 

"Exactly. If she starts thinking like that again, which she does, then I don't know if I could even get through to her again. This whole thing, her leg, it's changed her which is to be expected. I just wish I could do more for her". 

"But you're doing your best, right? Just being there?". 

Saaya nodded, meeting Misaki's gentle gaze. 

"Sometimes that is all you can and need to do. Especially in terms of Ichigaya-san. Not being able to walk is already making her feel inadequate. So, I don't think she wants you to able find a quick fix because she knows it isn't possible. She just needs you there".

Saaya took in the words, allowed them to cancel out her doubts because she knew the other woman was correct in her exhorting. 

The situation and solution were out of her hands this time and Arisa probably already knew it, hence not requiring Saaya to be able to procure a quick fix. 

So sugar coated words and false hope would be more of a hindrance than being honest. 

"She wouldn't say it in an effort to not worry you". 

"Typical Arisa, it's just like her " Saaya smiled, "Thank you, Okusawa-san". 

"Hm, I didn't do much" Misaki insisted with a wry laugh, "Ichigaya-san can be predictable, as you know. Even with all of this happening, some of our pasts habits have remained". 

The duo glanced around before meeting eyes again, breaking out into humoured chuckles at the truth in that statement, coaxing a sense of levity into an otherwise taxing scenario. 

"Case in point" the brunette said as the bell rang and another customer came in. 

"Saaya! You got the goods? Raiko greeted, the drum tsukumogami grinned enthusiastically, "Also, we still need to get some practice in for our next performance".

"I'll let you get back to work" Misaki said with an amused smile. 

"Thank you. Make sure you come by to the temple, Arisa would love to see you". 

"Will do" Misaki waved. 

Saaya felt a tad lighter as Misaki's words aided in alleviating her concerns, wondering if she was doing right by Arisa, if she was being supportive enough. 

But it was as exactly as Misaki had said, sometimes being there was enough. 


When Saaya returned back to the temple after the shift, she found Arisa in their room, reading a book. 

"Welcome back, Saaya". 

She placed the book away, the title reading:

History of Gensokyo (The Not Redacted Version) 

Written by: Komeiji Satori, Mootori Kosuzu, Yakumo Yukari 

Saaya smiled as she sat down, tucking her hands under Arisa's legs to pick her up and onto her lap so that she was sat side ways. 

The woman then embraced Arisa, "I'm home".

"Did something happen?". 

The solicitude in her lover's voice was prevalent as she placed her chin on Saaya's shoulder. 

"No, don't worry" Saaya said quickly, breath skimming over Arisa's jaw, "I just missed you, Arisa". 

They pulled back as Arisa kept her arms around Saaya's shoulders, "I..missed you too but you'd tell me if something happened right? You don't have to keep things from me, like stuff that bothers you". 

Affection settled over Saaya's features as she rested a hand on Arisa's thigh, the other remaining behind her waist. 

There was a furrow between the blonde brows which she wanted to kiss away. 

Arisa was still Arisa, nothing would change that. 

"I wouldn't. But, I hope it is the same for you. If something is bothering you, tell me. You will never be an inconvenience to me, Arisa. I love you". 

Arisa gulped, heart warming, "That's fair. I'm sorry if I have been distant..".

"Don't be" the brunette reassured and pressed a kiss to Arisa's lips, "Take all the time you need, I'll still be here at the end of it".

She squeezed her thigh and glanced down at Arisa's leg which was propped up. Slowly, she swept her fingers down the bare skin, keeping in tune with Arisa's comfort levels. The trail ended at her knee where she left her palm there whilst looking into curious hazel eyes, watching her, exposing everything. 

"So if that is what worries you, in regards to us, please don't. I'm not letting you go again". 

Arisa scoffed, distracting her from the swell of warmth in her chest as she lightly tugged on Saaya's ponytail, "You're unbelievable" she muttered which was the woman's way of reminding Saaya that her ways of reaching her, no matter how arduous was successful and worth the meritorious words. 

"So you've been telling me since we met" Saaya teased as her lover rolled her eyes. 

Instead of retorting, Arisa kissed her. 

There was strength behind it, all of the things she couldn't convey being confessed and Saaya accepted it. 

Accepted Arisa wholly, just like the blonde had done with her. 

Their kiss ended a few moments later, lips lingering softly over the others, just enjoying the close proximity. 

"That reminds me, I've made some different pastries to try out with everyone. Join me?". 

"Anything you make has always been a hit so I can't say no to that, or you". 

Saaya grinned, smile refulgent, "So cute".

"Ugh, stop". 

"Up we go" the brunette declared as the only warning when they stood up. 

"Saaya, you'll break your back doing that!". 

"Worth it". 

***

 

Forest Of Magic 

 

"That's going to explode". 

"What? Nah trust me. I've done this plenty of times. This potion is fool proof". 

Yuyuko sincerely doubted that as the contents Marisa had added to the pot began to bubble erratically, dark foam oozing out from the sides and splattering onto the table below. While the shade was now an off purple, it started off as brown, though its actual colour could be subjective based on its metamerism. 

The blonde gave it a quick stir, adding in something else from another vial. 

It reacted to the contents, the eruptive nature increasing. 

Yuyuko stepped back, "Okay, now that is definitely going to explode". 

"Relax!" Marisa beamed and slung an arm down the magician in training's shoulder, "Part of the process of learning magic is trial and error so even if it does fuck up, you learn". 

"That sounds like sage advice but Alice has told me of the amount of times you've almost died" Yuyuko said wearily. 

"She's overreacting" Marisa insisted, "Besides, this is honestly the best way to hone your skills, to figure out what kind of magic you'll work better with. What you learn from me and Alice will be different from Byakuren and Eirin but the experience will be valuable". 

Yuyuko couldn't deny that as Marisa went to stir the contents again, not even bothering to look at the tome in which the spell was written to create a levitating pell. She was well aware of the difference in magic and the history behind it so seeing the various methods from each woman was proving to be inspiring. 

So learning alongside the lively magician seemed like a good step. 

If not, slightly disastrous. 

"Uh, is it supposed to create that?". 

Yuyuko's eyes widened at a clawed hand seeping out from the potion, the scales grey and reptilian like. 

"Oh, shit!" Marisa exclaimed and quickly slammed the lid over it, giving the shocked woman next to her an airy smile, "Of course, sometimes you gotta be careful in case you summon something from another realm!". 

"You don't say" Yuyuko managed to utter. 


Yuyuko's lessons with Alice were much more calmer and organised. 

It was comfortable enough that Yuyuko could definitely have a good nap. 

She shook her head though, not wanting that to occur as some of Alice's dolls brought another grimoire over. 

"What Marisa was trying to convey was that there are many layers to magic" Alice sighed, "She could have done so without summoning that creature from hell". 

Yuyuko chuckled, "She's chaotic but knows her stuff, I'll give her that". 

The blonde smiled as Yuyuko's eyes combed through the grimoire, absorbed with the language she couldn't quite decipher. 

"I can't disagree. She is competent in her own field so working alongside her will be beneficial for you. Though I do hope she tones it down, the last thing we want is for you to get hurt. Being a magician is an experience like no other. Has the surprise quelled yet?".

Yuyuko mulled it over, tugging the string of her hoody.

In many ways it had but she knew she would never truly adjust to it. 

She could feel the energy coursing through her, amalgamating with her blood, rewriting it almost. 

"In some ways, not so much in others" she answered quietly as she picked up another book, this one she could read, "I didn't think anything more surreal than going through Gensokyo's barrier was going to happen. Everything happening in our wold was maddening enough, I guess". 

"It is a lot to take in so don't feel the rush to progress quickly" Alice inspirited, "At this point, learning which craft suits you is what you should focus on. As for the physical changes, it settles". 

"Can everyone in Gensokyo read minds?". 

Alice chuckled at the woman's alerted expression, "Not quite. This is more of a case of, I've been there. That feeling will become more centred, steady. More so when you learn to control it. Eirin and Byakuren will able to guide you through that given their experience so don't be afraid of what you're feeling, Yuyuko". 

She gave the blonde an appreciative nod as Hourai pushed one of the tea cups to her after refilling it. 

"It does help to hear. You're a youkai magician, right?". 

"That is correct". 

"I'm guessing there are significant differences in all aspects?". 

"Somewhat, the lack of humanity does allow our powers to going beyond expectations but that should not be something used to inveigle humans into wanting to turn. Ah, though doing so is forbidden here, as you know. There are pros and cons to everything so being a human magician can be superior in some ways". 

"I see that" Yuyuko hummed, "And..your magic, it's related to she who shall not be named?" Yuyuko grinned sheepishly. 

"My mother did play a role" Alice laughed, which Yuyuko sighed in relief internally

She didn't want to pry but Alice was a captivating woman. 

Her marriage to Reimu, their daughter, her crafts, her royalty.

Yuyuko found her engrossing. 

Just like how she found Marisa stimulating in terms of her magic, her methods and her journey as a magician. 

Yuyuko just wanted soak in the knowledge, both for her own learning and to write. 

The way Gensokyo functioned was a rakugo play in the making, enough humour embedded in the quirky characters. 

Even her own journey would be amusingly apt for a play, as Misaki had mentioned. 

"So my change from human to youkai wasn't straightforward but I have no regrets. My magic has been advantageous for those around me as well as myself. It is something I hope you will come to discover too. Being curious will work in your favour so please don't hesitate to ask of anything". 

"Hm, well, since I've been given permission, What's that book there?" she pointed at the book resting in a glass case. 

It was detailed, the brown cover worn and with several red bows around it. Alice's name was written on it, the writing style cursive yet modern. 

"Ah, that is my grimoire. I have been adding to it since before my change into a youkai" Alice smiled, "It is essentially another part of me and many of my powers are tied to it". 

"Woah" Yuyuko marvelled, "When was the last time you used it? Seems like it's stored away more than used now". 

Alice indurated the point, "You're not wrong. Over the years, I've lessened my reliance on it. Here in Gensokyo, the spell card rules prohibit anything lethal so a lot of the spells compiled I cannot use. Also, with Eri around and more astute than most children, it's better to be safe than sorry if she was to become inquisitive and open it, which she will do" she chuckled. 

"That's fair" Yuyuko said in understanding, eyes taking in the cover, "To have that kind of power, scary. You don't seem like the type to want to go all out either". 

"I'd prefer not to" Alice agreed, eyes on the grimoire too, "Reimu is the same. I hope our daughter will be similar in that sense too. Violence isn't always a necessity".

Yuyuko had seen enough of it to last several lifetimes. 

She hoped it was the last of it and her training into a magician wouldn't require her needing to use her abilities to harm someone. 

"Firmly agree with that" she said as Alice smiled and passed her a plain parchment and pen. 

"In that case, why don't you try and indite a spell card now?". 

"Wait, you want me to create one now?".

Alice inclined her head to the apparatus, "No time like the present is there, Yuyuko?".

Her timbre was both encouraging and ludic, something Yuyuko found infectious. 

Exultation accrued within Yuyuko at the opportunity as she gripped her pen tightly, bowing her head closer to the parchment in hopes that it would inspire her. 

However, the woman already had a vague idea as to what her first spell card would be titled and the way it would be executed. 

'Arcanum Magicae'. 

 

***

Eientei 

 

"Shiori". 

The blonde knew the sing song voice anywhere as hands slung down her chest and a chin rested near her cheek. 

"Yachiyo-san" she answered, tilting her face against Yachiyo's in greeting. 

"I still can't believe how tall you have become. Almost close to your sister". 

Tsukasa chuckled as she chopped up some ingredients while Shiori remained at the stove, working on another dish. 

"The Yumeoji genes are something else". 

"Yeah, they both look so good in them". 

Yachiyo felt the woman's cheeks go through the process calefaction, all too self-satisfied at how she could still fluster Shiori. 

"I'd feel jealous about you knowing that but I can't disagree" Tsukasa winked as Yachiyo grinned and began helping them. 

"Please, dating Fumi-san was enough. Although, Shiori might have been a less dramatic option. Oh, wait, nope".

All three thought back to a particular Performance Festival and the revues which followed. 

Shiori had certainly depicted her true colours, especially when it came to her sister. 

"Let's not think about that. Those were stressful times" Shiori maintained with a mild laugh, "Has everyone arrived, Yachiyo-san?". 

"Almost" the woman replied, "Six hands are quicker than four to so I've come to help". 

"While I agree, you should really be with them" Tsukasa stated, "You've done more than enough already, Tsuruhime-san". 

"Tsukasa-san is a sweet talker but I don't mind, keeping busy is best".

"You sure?". 

Yachiyo nodded, taking the bowl of 
noodles to add to the bubbling water. 

"Absolutely. I don't know about you both but I missed the mundane routine. Of being with everyone and you know, just enjoying the moment". 

Shiori smiled, "I think so too. It feels homely again. Cooking together, talking, sleeping".

"I'm sure there is plenty of sleeping going on with you two". 

Tsukasa snickered at Shiori's stumbling of words, attempting to confute so. 

Her lover had pretty much landed herself in that one, knowing full well how Yachiyo was. 

"Yachiyo-san!". 

"Careful, don't want to burn yourself". 

"I think you're doing a good enough job of that" Tsukasa commented and came to the blonde's rescue, turning the heat down. 

Not that it did any good as their close proximity only added to the mischievous smile on Yachiyo's lips. 

"Ah, I love that expression" she sighed fondly, the chopsticks in her hand going back into the pan to stir the noodles, "But you're not wrong, Shiori. We have to make the best of this. Even if Gensokyo is a place that is unusual from our normal, I think it's a positive thing".

"It certainly put everything into perspective" Tsukasa mused and leaned back against the counter, "Shizuha said something about it too when she was working with Kanako, about how the possibilities here".

Yachiyo's smile softened even more so, "Apparently working with a goddess to set up servers in Gensokyo makes you reassess everything, obviously" she teased, "But she isn't wrong. We don't know what to expect but, we don't have to predict everything now. We should just leave a lasting impression on everyone here without any penitent". 

Shiori placed her hand on Yachiyo's shoulder, blue eyes glimmering, "I think you definitely have, Yachiyo-san. If it hadn't have been for you, Onee-chan and I wouldn't have fixed things. I doubt I would feel as confident as I do without you watching over me when we were at Siegfeld and even after that". 

"What's this, picking up on your honeyed tongue like your sister? Though I think Tsukasa-san has something to do with that too" she said in an effort to downplay how touched she was by Shiori's praise. 

Tsukasa could see through it, smiling at Shiori's ability to know when to say something and saying it with enough conviction to get the point across. 

"Honestly, this is all her" she said as Yachiyo pulled the younger blonde into a side hug, "She's right though, Tsuruhime-san" Tsukasa added, "It wouldn't be the same here without you". 

Yachiyo squeezed Shiori tighter, exhaling softly at the calming presence. 

"I guess so".

It was said quietly, Shiori not quite hearing the words but she couldn't focus as Yachiyo hugged her, held onto her. 

Doing exactly as they said and making the most of this after learning to survive through their ordeal, years worth of longanimity on their side.

As rueful as Yachiyo felt about events which had occurred in the past, this was her way of ensuring those around her knew of her thoughts and feelings without being too anfractuous about it. 

She needed for them to be aware of the impact they had had on her life. 

Watching Tsukasa and Shiori converse animatedly, imbued in such domesticity was a reminder of how much she had influenced them. 

For Yachiyo, she was content with that, with what small differences she had contributed to their group. 

 

***

Myouren Temple 


Gensokyo's summers felt more scorching than the Outside World's, this much Kaoruko could attest to as she walked back from the Human Village. 

She glanced up above the treeline, the rays from the sun burying through to reach her, causing her to grumble whilst trudging on. 

Her day comprised up of teaching a group from the village the ways of traditional dance which Kaoruko had more or less had been indoctrinated into as a child. 

The woman couldn't deny that it was enjoyable to dance without the responsibility of an entire organisation on her shoulders, one which existed during the time where Kyoto was still the capital. 

Even before the pandemic had engulfed the world, Kaoruko had been embroiled in a war of her own with the bilious elders of the Hanayagi contingent, resisting everything she did but Kaoruko was indefatigable, fighting back. 

Not that it mattered as she was the successor of the Senka-ru dance school; they had no choice but to yield. 

"Those times feel simple compared to this" she mused, "What a turn of events". 

Life had a facetious way of bringing things out from the left field with a celerity severe enough to break through the foundations of everything. 

To think her family would go to the lengths they did in an effort to separate Claudine from her, only relinquishing their endeavours once her grandmother passed away. 

Without the instigator, they had no grounds to shape her into the embodiment of their traditions. 

Kaoruko clenched her jaw at the thought, tucking her hair behind her ear as the ends of it were picked up by the scarce breeze, the long blue strands floating back. 

Truly, too much had occurred and even now she was processing it, the winding road of attrition. 

Gensokyo was just another layer to that. 

"Well, no point trying to figure it all out in one go as Kuro-han says". 

She walked up the steps to the Myouren temple, waving back at Kyoko and another person she didn't recognise. 

The spotless grounds seemed to shimmer due to the coruscating sunlight, making the heat more unbearable. 

Still, Kaoruko relented as she had come to see Arisa.

She and Tamao had been visiting Arisa when possible, knowing that the woman could do with the company, to be distracted for a moment. 

Not only that, but not to feel like she had to keep up an act. 

They had all become too versed in acting instead of living. 

Being hunted down like animals did that. 

Kaoruko hadn't noticed someone appear in front of her whilst in her thoughts, foot stopping midway the second she realised. 

"Oh, sorry" she said and took in the figure, "Ah, you are Kokoro-han, yes?". 

Kokoro nodded as Kaoruko observed the weapon in her hand. 

It was a naginata. 

The entirety of it was a light blue colour, including the blade as it curved inwards. 

"Is that yours?". 

"Yes". 

Kaoruko could admire the beauty of the weapon, more so as wielder of her own. 

Though Kokoro's expression seems aloof, the few masks which surrounded her were active. But if one looked closer, Kokoro's own facial features loosened, a small smile prevalent which was backed up the appearance of Ko-omote mask, the face of the young woman which represented joy. 

From what the group had been told, Kokoro was a menreiki, a type of tsukumogami born out of 66 masks which harboured her emotions. 

She may appear impassive but that was far from the case and her time in Gensokyo had aided in teaching her the ways of conveying emotions without relying on her masks. 

Yuyuko seemed to have no issue talking with her and Kaoruko knew that had something to do with the Rakugo and Noh. In fact, the theatre side of the group had bonded well with Kokoro because of the shared interest. 

"I have one too, did you know?". 

Kokoro's brow raised, "I saw you practicing with Claudine when we went to Eientei last week". 

"Oh, I see" Kaoruko replied before a horrified expression formed when she thought back to that particular session in the dojo, "And uh, how much did you see?". 

Kokoro tilted her head, "Just a bit. Byakuren had to leave soon". 

The heiress visibly sighed in repose, the back of her neck heating up. 

While she and Claudine had got some practice in, the session quickly deviated to the more bawdy when she had the blonde pinned to the ground after managing to knock her broadsword away, tipping her over to land on top of her 

The pole of her naginata had been pressed against the Claudine's chest as Kaoruko recalled the look on Claudine's face, the smirk, sharp and inviting. 

Luckily, it started in the dojo but didn't get anywhere as salacious till they got to their room. 

Kaoruko cleared her throat as Kokoro appeared confused, "I see, th-that's good then".

"Here you go". 

The menreiki handed her naginata to Kaoruko whom accepted it carefully with both hands. 

Kokoro's blade was much longer than her own, felt weighty and yet Kaoruko handled it with ease when she stepped back. 

She nimbly twirled the weapon between her hands, her fighting stance setting in. Kaoruko's technique incorporated a lot of her talents as a dancer, embodying her heritage along with her skills. 

Kokoro could see it in the way she handled the weapon, twisting elegantly, a smooth rise from the ground when jutting it upwards. She was impressed and could understand why Yuyuko, Yachiyo and Shizuha were discussing it recently. 

Content with the brief moment, Kaoruko faced Kokoro again and handed her back the naginata, "Thank you, Kokoro-han, that's an incredible naginata you have". 

"The way you handle it, it's beautiful" Kokoro replied, clutching the pole of her weapon to her chest, pink eyes glistening. 

"You're too kind" Kaoruko grinned, "Years of practice". 

"If you like, we can have a sparring session soon?". 

Kokoro's mask of hope fluttered, as did her eyes whilst peering up at the heiress. 

Kaoruko couldn't refuse such an expression which reminded her of the one's Karen used to make or the kids she used to teach made. 

"I'd love that".

Kokoro smiled, reached for Kaoruko's hand and squeezed, a simple gesture yet abundant with emotion. The action was endearing which made the heiress forget the heat and her inquietude again. 

It was gratifying to meet someone who could understand the naginata like she could so their session was something Kaoruko was looking forward to. 

 

***


Hakurei Shrine 

 

Reimu, Yukari and Kanako were in the living area of the shrine, going over the leaflet the blonde had procured. 

"Do I even want to ask how many of these are up and around Gensokyo?". 

"You could, however, not enquiring would save you from an impending headache". 

Reimu managed a slight shake of her head as Eri was in her arms and asleep, "Whenever you're around, that happens anyway".

"I love you too, Reimu" Yukari grinned from behind her fan. 

"I try to imagine Sanae's relationship with myself and Suwako being like yours". 

Yukari hummed, "And how did that appear?".

"Interesting. Sanae never really had the churlish energy" the mountain goddess chuckled, more so at Reimu's indignant frown, "Which is fine with me as watching you both is amusing enough". 

"We do make an excellent team" Yukari reminded, sipping her tea, "But to answer your question, I have invited a specific set of individuals to partake in this tournament".

Eri readjusted herself against her mother's chest, mumbling something which made Yukari and Kanako smile fondly, more so when Reimu gently soothed her. 

"I'm guessing there is a point to that". 

Kanako continued, "Isn't there always with her" she smirked, "But yes, there is. It would be a more controlled setting for everyone from the Outside World to view a duel. Since these matches are one round, they would have a concise viewing of them without needing to be involved". 

"Hm, that's fair. Except these tournaments aren't proper spell card matches". 

"Which is acceptable too. The point would be to give them an insight so that they know what to expect".

"And watching people slam against the dome and each other whilst mostly drunk?". 

"I call that entrainment, my dear Reimu" the youkai smiled knowingly, "They have settled in well so it's about time we introduce them to one of Gensokyo's many traditions". 

"Calling it a tradition would be a stretch but.." Reimu mused, "It's not a bad plan. It'll give them something else to focus on". 

"That is the plan, and if they want to, they can get involved in betting for their winner" Yukari added. 

"Sure, come to Gensokyo, where gambling and fights are the norm" Reimu deadpanned. 

"Sannyo would love that slogan". 

Alice's voice came through when she walked in, taking her boots off and leaving them on the side. 

Kanako agreed as she responded to Alice's greeting, "She might adopt that idea, Alice". 

"Much to the horrors of my wife. Thankfully, Sannyo does prefer to operate in a calmer manner" she laughed and took a seat next to Reimu. 

"Hey, welcome home" Reimu smiled, a quick peck to her lips from Alice melting her. 

"Thank you, how has she been?". 

Yukari had poured the magician some tea which she thankfully accepted after pressing a kiss to Eri's hair. 

"She's okay, tired out after playing with Claudine and Chisato. She is filled with questions though". 

Alice chuckled and sipped her tea, "Chatty as always. I hope she didn't disturb them or you too much, Yukari".

"Not at all, I love having her over" the woman insisted, "It's hard to believe she is part Reimu". 

"You're asking for it tonight, Yukari" the priestess glared, much to the amusement of Kanako and Alice. 

"That is the norm" Yukari quipped before drawing her attention back to the leaflet, "So, I do have all the details arranged".

Alice eyed up the information, recalling the last tournament, "It's that time of year again. Eirin will be busy". 

"At this point, she is probably used to Yukari's schemes sending patients her way" Kanako joked.

"An occasion like this will keep her occupied which she doesn't mind, I'm a doting lover that way".

"Doting? More like insane but Eirin has a type so that's on her" Reimu hit back. 

Yukari appeared pleased with herself at that, "As am I". 

"Hey, kids in the room!" the brunette whispered. 

"Speaking of doting" Alice smiled and rubbed her wife's back, "But I'm looking forward to it and I'm sure they will too."

"Indeed. Well, the details are settled so it should be steady to commence with" Kanako stated, "There is still a week left so if any changes occur, let me know. Are we holding it in the same location?". 

"Yes, the Untrodden Valley will be the best location applicable. Reimu?". 

"I'm fine with it, not that I have a choice since this one would find a way to make it go ahead" she motioned with a thumb. 

"Reimu, you know me too well" the youkai sage chuckled. 

"It is unfortunate". 

"So harsh". 

With the plans for the tournament in motion, the festivities which often surrounded the event would aid in ensuring there was an amicable atmosphere amongst everyone. 

Yukari sat back from the conversation, musing about the long term scenario in terms of Gensokyo's safety and the humans which now called it home. 

There was much to be assessed, this much she knew but for now, she would simply observe to see how the coterie would function. 

***

Myouren Temple


During the early hours of the morning, Yachiyo found herself seated outside on the veranda, the night occluding everything.

The flickering of the candle next to her set an air of something maudlin which was perfect for the mood given what was in the woman's hand.

She glanced down at the letter, still sealed and now signed with her neat handwriting.

It felt heavy.

Yet there was no way around that considering the contents of the letter.

She sighed softly whilst tucking it inside her robe as her eyes went back to the scenery.

Yachiyo felt a sense of tranquillity whilst listening to the environment call out to her, gentle wisps of wildlife and something else reaching out, offering a metaphorical hand on her shoulder to reassure her.

She smiled to herself, feeling oddly nostalgic but it was a given considering her state of mind, opting to allow the nepenthean feeling to preoccupy her. 

To be able to experience this level of peace again after the arduous years which had passed was something the woman was thankful for, more so to be able to enjoy it with those she loved.

It was a memory she would take with her, regardless of where she ended up.

The sound of the door sliding open caught her attention, head craning back to see Byakuren.

She motioned to the priestess to join her.

"I thought someone was awake".

"I hope I didn't disturb you".

Byakuren smiled warmly and sat down next to Yachiyo, "Not at all. It's quite late, or early depending on how one looks at it. Sleep eludes you?".

"Sleep is slippery that way" Yachiyo quipped, eyes facing the temple grounds again, "That would usually be the case but the night feels comfortable, it's not too hot and sitting here feels refreshing".

"I can see that. There is something appeasing, more so when it is the right kind of darkness to comfort you".

"Right kind.." Yachiyo repeated softly, "People wouldn't really think of it that way".

Byakuren pulled her robe around her, deliberating the other woman's statement.

"It is an impressionistic opinion. Based on experiences, the darkness could aid those that require tranquillity".

"Sometimes it is welcoming to not be able to see anything".

"Is there something you do not wish to see here, Yachiyo?" the priestess enquired.

Yachiyo smirked, Byakuren could tell from the soft hue of the candlelight.

She just couldn't deduce what kind it was.

Yachiyo was recondite in her own right, she was much more astute and careful despite her blasé way of behaving. From what Byakuren had gathered, the woman had always been that way.

She wished to aid Yachiyo, to offer her a helping hand and she hoped that it would be accepted.

Yachiyo leaned back on her elbows, eyes swiftly glancing over in the direction of the Genbu Ravine before returning to the temple grounds.

"It's more what I want to see now" she answered.

"Which is?".

"As clichéd as it'll sound, I went them all to remain here, happy and alive" Yachiyo said softly, "That no matter what happens, what other levels of darkness they will have to deal with, there will be a positive end for them. A year ago, I didn't think we would even get here so we're heading in the right direction" she chuckled.

"It's only natural for you to feel as such" Byakuren smiled, "You have seen it for yourself, despite what you may be feeling. I believe that that in itself is a reason to simply exist".

Existing, a concept Yachiyo was all too familiar with.

Not in the sense of living, but more in regards to a being whom was merely there, here.

Her hands tingled as the wooden surface kept her grounded, kept the emotions sealed up.

Things had changed drastically from those days through the attendance at Siegfeld, to meeting everyone else.

She had a purpose beyond existing.

Yachiyo thought of Shizuha.

The woman she loved with very crevice of her soul, the woman who was the beacon of something bright which cut through the darkness.

She thought of the Yumeoji sisters.

How two siblings, so divergent from each other had changed her in an abundance of ways.

Her mind shifted to Tsukasa.

Another kindred spirit she had found solace in, found someone who understood her quirks and supported her, encouraged her. 

Then there was Claudine.

A woman whom she had admired the moment she met due to her strength, her reliability and being able to read her with ease.

Everyone else too, had given Yachiyo a reason to find fulfilment within existence.

She turned to face Byakuren, expression somewhat unreadable before she grinned in understanding.

"You're right, Byakuren. Thank you" she added genuinely, "Not just for being here tonight, but for taking us in". 

Byakuren waved off her thanks, "This is your home now. Gensokyo is a place where everyone belongs, please do not think otherwise. We are here for you".

Yachiyo nodded, feeling the candour and warmth from the woman easily encompass her and Byakuren reached out to embrace her which Yachiyo accepted.

Her mind was still analysing her choices, wondering which ones would be for the best.

The answer always remained the same.

"Thank you".

It was mumbled into Byakuren's shoulder as Yachiyo held on tighter.

While Yachiyo was enigmatic, Byakuren knew melancholia all too well.

And Yachiyo was often shrouded by it.

 

After a while, Yachiyo returned to her room. 

Byakuren's sedulous words lingered as she got into the futon with Shizuha, wrapping her arms around her. 

She took in the woman's features, serene and restful which is how she wanted Shizuha to remain. 

It would be onerous for her to do so at first but she knew Shizuha, knew of what she had endured to become the woman she was. 

Shizuha would always understand. 

Yachiyo's hand floated over Shizuha's cheek, the warm skin lingering beneath the digits as she continued to run her fingers over her face and then her hair. 

She took in all the details, the way Shizuha felt, the sensation of her pulse, the blue lashes flickering. 

Committing them to her memory. 

Remembering why she had made it this far. 

"Yachiyo?". 

Shizuha's sleepy voice made the woman shudder as she pulled her to her chest, entangling herself around Shizuha. 

"It's okay, go back to sleep" Yachiyo gently coaxed, "I love you". 

Shizuha mumbled something whilst coiling her arms around Yachiyo's waist, hold unyielding despite her slumbering state.

Existing, that is all it was, all it could be ever again. 

Yachiyo wondered if she still had the right to do so.

Chapter Text

 

 


 


Untrodden Valley 

 

The day of the tournament had arrived and the excitement was palpable all throughout Gensokyo.

Yukari had opted to stage the event in the Untrodden Valley which was located near Youkai Mountain.

Considering that the area was spacious enough and away from the Human Village, it was the apt location to choose without being inaccessible to those that wanted to view the yearly spectacle.

She watched on as various vendors and services set up stalls, bustling around to make sure their businesses could be utilised during the occasion.

There was nothing quite like a bloodied brawl between powered beings to maintain the supply and demand of Gensokyo.

Her eyes drifted to the side where the stage in question was set up, where the duels would be held.

A large violet dome, ripples of energy shimmering off of the outside while Yukari's sigil over took the floor of the structure.

The size of the structure was specific considering how the duels worked so that that in turn would create a close cutting match between the fighters.

"Correct me if I am wrong but, the dome is getting smaller as each year goes by".

The blonde smiled as she turned to Eirin whom was busy setting up the medical bay.

It was always required.

"Astute as always. I have come to realise that those who are not deterred do not mind the slight changes. That is to say if they actually recall the schematics when you take into account their inebriated states".

"If this is your way of ensuring that all of this is put to use.." Eirin motioned with her hand to the bay, "I would rather you didn't".

"Now, now, Eirin. I wouldn't be going out of my way to allow the contestants to become injured to that extent" she said, head raising in a nonchalant way before she grinned, "They manage that on their own accord rather well, don't you think?".

The goddess shook her head lightly.

Over the years, Gensokyo had crafted their own versions of the Hippocratic oath which posits the basics of health care.

Including playful youkai sages not endangering the lives of the inhabitants for her own entertainment, even if she does reward them.

She reached out a hand to place over Yukari's cheek, concern laced in her light blue eyes, "Are you sure you are not overdoing it, Yukari?".

"Hm, I'm sure" the woman purred while following the movements of the hand on her cheek, "The leg work is done by everyone else, including the prep. Ran has been as diligent as ever".

Eirin remained pensive, more observant of her lover given what she had discovered a few weeks ago. She regularly made sure to check Yukari's health and her body to ensure no other bruising had formed.

The mind, well, that was a different story as even now, Yukari could be inscrutable.

"Perhaps, but I would rather you do not burden yourself. The maintenance of the barrier recently has kept you occupied, along with Reimu so an event of this scale can be problematic" she reminded, hand dropping to the side of Yukari's neck, "Do come to me should you need anything else".

"Eirin, we are in public" Yukari smirked, "Speaking in such a way is making my heart, body and mind wonder".

As coy as she was being, Eirin felt the heat emanating from Yukari and chuckled at the blonde's rejoinder, the rare bouts of her demure side emerging.

"Be that as it may, do not forget so".

"Thank you" Yukari said earnestly and tilted her head up, offering a light kiss to Eirin when the woman leaned down, "I appreciate that. All in all, everything is going accordingly. Come evening, the event will commence and provide everyone with a chance to enjoy the show. There are contingencies in place should anything go awry".

Her hand had landed on Eirin's chest, pressing down in reassurance as they pulled away.

That was a given, Yukari always had a plan.

Eirin looked around to see various gaps open that led to certain areas of land should the Outside World denizens become overwhelmed or wish to return home.

As of date, there hadn't been any major disturbances during the event other than a few fights breaking out amongst the crowds or participants which was to be expected given how freely the drinks flowed. But other than that, the tournament was contained and carried out without any consequences. 

This year would be no different. 

Her gaze turned back to Yukari, giving the woman a smile before removing her hand, "Very well. I assume you have the line up polished?". 

"Naturally. Let's just say this year's event will be filled with surprises" Yukari stated cryptically. 

At this point, Eirin was expecting something of that nature when it came to her lover so her reaction was the norm, a small sigh, "I feel like I may have to increase some of the supplies".

"Preparation is key, my dear Eirin" Yukari laughed as the goddess walked back to the bay where Reisen was waiting for her next commands. 

Yukari watched the duo, arms folding across her chest as Eirin retrieved something from the gap opened which led into Eientei's primary clinic. 

She thought back to the once stoic and unapproachable goddess, her adversary, deliberating on how things had changed. 

How Gensokyo was a location where even enemies could find a middle ground. 

Where those fleeing from conflict could rebuild their lives. 

Such was in the essence of a strange land hidden away. 

Yukari would do whatever was in her capacity to protect Gensokyo and those residing within it. 

This much had been set in the stone the moment Gensokyo had been formed. 

 

***


Myouren Temple 


Yachiyo hummed whilst taking in Claudine's outfit, fluttering around from different angles whilst muttering something beneath her breath. 

The blonde smiled, accustomed to this behaviour from the woman. 

It brought her back to the days where they had met on the stage the first time to fight to save Starlight, marvelling at how they had all remained together despite the circumstances. 

She had watched Yachiyo grow, her drive to become a designer, to see her outfits on actresses and used on stages come to life while her descant mannerisms made those she worked with swoon. 

There was a sense of relief to be able to relive moments like this again, a taste of the norm they once they left behind. 

"Let's see, I think it's perfect as it. I was wondering whether to add a belt around your waist but there won't be a need for it" she explained, the knee length red skirt and loose black v neck blouse allowing the heat of the summer to be alleviated, "Kaoruko-san knows you too well when she asked me to make these. Though that is obvious since she gets to have you up close and personal and without clothes". 

"I can't deny that. The both of you are too alike. More than should be necessary" Claudine teased while Yachiyo smoothened out her side ponytail. 

"Great minds think alike, Kuro-san" Yachiyo winked back with her riposte, deft fingers curling the strands down Claudine's chest.

Cunning minds more like" the blonde replied before her expression turned slight serious when the younger woman stifled a yawn, "Yachiyo?". 

"Hm?".

Yachiyo had moved in front of her again, the signs of fatigue pronounced. 

The tell-tale signs of lack of sleep were notable, eyes slightly red, lids puffy. 

"Are you getting enough sleep?". 

"Kind of? Its been busy recently so I won't deny that I've been pulling some all nighters. Old habits die hard" she scoffed, "Ah, but don't worry, I do sleep. Shizuha has literally picked me up and taken me to bed and you can't exactly argue with her when she's like that". 

Claudine sighed, thankful Shizuha had intervened. 

Still, it perturbed her when Yachiyo became like this. 

Busying herself till nothing else mattered. 

It was a toxic habit they had all built up as a coping mechanism during their escape in an effort to survive. She knew it wouldn't be easy to relinquish but she hoped that Yachiyo would relax.

"She's right" Claudine reiterated as Yachiyo moved to the dresser to collect some accessories, "After today, you'd better take it easy".

"You can count on it" Yachiyo insisted, flashing her best smile whilst fixing Claudine's collar, "Thank you for looking out for me as always".

"It's what I'm here for, Yachiyo. Are you sure you are okay?". 

Claudine placed her hands on the younger woman's shoulders to keep her still, pink eyes focused on Yachiyo. 

She couldn't glance away from the blonde's solicitude laced stare, feeling her mind settle ever so briefly. The last thing she wished to do was worry anyone more than she already had. 

"A little tired". 

Claudine could see that as Yachiyo managed to bite down another yawn as Claudine drew her in closer. She wrapped her arms around her while Yachiyo settled against her chest, not fighting the blonde's embrace. 

Yachiyo allowed it, just to remember the feeling. 

She would let herself be greedy. 

"You're going to sleep now for a bit. The tournament isn't happening till later so get some rest or so help me I will get Shizuha here and tie you down". 

Yachiyo laughed softly at the woman's chiding tone, "Yes, yes" she answered, "Thank you, Kuro-san". 

Claudine smiled, brushing her fingers through Yachiyo's hair before taking her to the futon and helped her get settled in. 

She watched the woman for a moment, taking in her features that seemed to finally begin to uncoil, the tension seeping. 

It was a cause for concern and Claudine knew she would have to bring this up with Shizuha, though she knew the woman was well aware of Yachiyo's fluctuating demeanour. 

 

***

Untrodden Valley 


The surrounding area of the event had been constructed, the designated seating locations selected and the stands now set up. Lines of said businesses scattered around, many serving alcohol which was an integral part of the competition. 

Despite it appearing chaotic, there was a system which had to be followed that was set by Yukari, right down to the minuscule details when hosting such large scale gatherings. 

From the buying and selling aspects left to Chimata, the goddess of the marketplace, to the betting booths which was set up by Sannyo, naturally.

Decorative lights surrounded the location, including the dome since the spectacle was commencing in the late evening. 

The sun was still somewhat risen in rhe sky, the mood comparable to what summer nights were meant to be composed up of. 

Warm, lazy and enjoyable. 

Though for those fighting, it would be a different story. 

Since the Danmaku Under the Influence (D.U.I) event was only held once a year, Yukari went all out. 

That included who she rounded up to fight and while some pairings were random, others were deliberate. 

The rules of the competition were simple enough and were written on the event posters which followed, as word for word. 


Duel Requirements:

 
1. The two participants fighting need to be mild to moderately inebriated (the more wasted, the more entertaining)

2. Each participant may use one attack and both will be unleashed at the same time (as if dodging one isn't chaotic enough when sober)

3. Graze like your life depends on it (it does)

4. The winner can request anything they desire which will be granted by Gensokyo's eccentric creator (because when she wields that much power, why would she not screw with everyone for her own amusement)

Good luck! (you'll need it)


The parting words were not an exaggeration given the conditions of the fight but Gensokyo's inhabitants were nothing if not acclimated to being crapulent after one too many. 

For the Outside World denizens, it would be something unlike they have ever witnessed before. 

Which is telling in itself considering what they had experienced to date. 

 

***


Eientei 

 

Seated at one of the living areas within the mansion, Yachiyo was engrossed in reading The Tale Of Genji when she realised a cup of tea had been placed near her. 

She knew exactly whom had brewed it, smiling whilst looking to the side to see Fumi sit next to her. 

"Oh, for me?".

"No, I thought the table might enjoy it more" Fumi quipped as Yachiyo laughed when she placed her own in front, "Yeah, it's green tea". 

"Thank you" Yachiyo said, "You and Shiori make the most delicious tea. Though I am a little biased since you have the likes of Tamao-san and Kaoruko-san as competition. And now most of Gensokyo apparently" she chuckled. 

The beverage was still hot, the fragrance infiltrating her senses when she held it in her hands. 

She could feel her ex's gaze on her, shifting as she took a sip of her own beverage. 

"Its been interesting, brewing it their way but I like the flavour it brings out. Even Yuyuko doesn't mind indulging Tamao when she rounds up everyone for tea".

"Can't disagree with that".

Fumi glanced at the novel on the table, "Some light reading before the tournament?".

"Kaguya had the original manuscript which went missing in our world..so I couldn't not pass up the opportunity when she showed me her library". 

Yachiyo saw Fumi smirk from the corner of her eyes and looked at her, waiting for the woman to elaborate. 

"It's nothing. When we met, I wouldn't have thought of you as a bookworm". 

"Looks can be deceiving, Fumi-san. You should know that better than anyone else" Yachiyo teased. 

Fumi grumbled in her usual farouche mannerisms which Yachiyo still found endearing to this day. 

It was one of the many attributes that lured her to one of Siegfeld’s esteemed students. 

"I guess you aren't wrong" Fumi relented, "But it was something that made you do what you do perfectly, be it acting or creating".

"Praise from Fumi-san, wow, we must be in another world". 

"Yachiyo" Fumi sighed, causing the woman to giggle.

Even now, she knew how to get under Fumi's skin. 

"Fumi-san?". 

The blonde looked her way, Yachiyo's expression sombre almost in a switch that only Yachiyo could be capable of. 

"I don't regret what happened between us and I..if I haven't said this before, I do forgive you. For leaving us..for leaving me". 

Fumi's chest tightened considering that Yachiyo had never actually said it.

"Without Tamao-san and Rinmeikan, we might not have met again" Yachiyo smiled, "At least I got a chance to love you once". 

"Yachiyo, I.." Fumi gulped lightly as Yachiyo faced her properly so she did the same, "I'm glad to hear you say that. You truly were the reason why Siegfeld was tolerable. You made me better. And you did that for Shiori, too". 

"What can I say, everyone knows I have a soft spot for the Yumeoji sisters" Yachiyo chuckled as Fumi did the same, "But to hear that from you, it makes me happy. Being able to remain friends is something I didn't expect but it happened. Tamao-san has always been a positive influence on you. Ah, well, minus the starting a war back in school. Although, all that drama needed to happen so bonus points for her". 

Fumi smiled fondly, "Yeah, she has. The same for you and Kocho-san. She is a lucky woman". 

"Flattery will get you everywhere, Fumi-san". 

"I don't want to hear that from you". 

The two shared a laugh before a comfortable silence settled over them. 

Claudine's enforced nap had worked wonders which let Yachiyo centre her thoughts, content with the way she had left things between them and now with Fumi too. 

There was a time she couldn't have imagined loving someone other than Fumi but looking back now, Yachiyo understood why she had been able to move on. 

Had gained enough closure from the blonde, leading to her relationship with Shizuha to blossom  

While Fumi had felt that Yachiyo had bettered her as a woman, the sentiments were mutual for Yachiyo. 

Another heartening feeling to keep within her. 

 

***


Untrodden Valley 

 

Everyone has gathered at the location, the pre battle zeal running through the crowd as the final preparations were seen to. 

Since the contest was yet to begin, Yachiyo took the time to have a moment alone with her Shizuha. 

Yachiyo took a hold of her hand and led her away from the group.

The sounds of the event could still be heard, musicians active and stalls surrounded by people which provided a charming ambiance as the couple continue their walk till Yachiyo stopped and turned to face Shizuha. 

"If I haven't already said so numerous times today, you look beautiful, Yachiyo. You always do".

Her casual white dress appeared majestic on her, the hem at her knees and the skirt section fluttering with the breeze. The woman's hair was let free and running down her chest, the signature curls voluminous. 

"Even with blood on my face and hands?" Yachiyo wanted to say but decided not to.

Not with the way Shizuha was looking at her.

It made her heart ache.

"Thank you, Shizuha" she smiled and placed her hands on the taller woman's shoulders, "The same for you. Which is a given since I get to play dress up with you".

"And play you do" Shizuha replied as she felt Yachiyo run her fingertips over the straps of her purple dress, similar to Yachiyo's own, "We can head back whenever you feel like it gets too much, Yachiyo".

The woman hummed, returning her arms behind Shizuha's neck, "Sounds like a plan. You know, it's the perfect place to.." she began swaying with her lover, "Have a dance, don't you think? The stars here are visible and the moon close enough that you could almost touch it" she grinned. 

"Ever the romantic".

"Of course, my version of Cupid was enhanced alongside you playing Venus" Yachiyo laughed, "Though that would make this awkward since they are mother and son". 

Shizuha chuckled, linking the fingers of their joined hands near her shoulder as her other arm was around Yachiyo's waist, keeping her close. 

"Well, the Greek deities were infused in taboo, tragedians and scandals. That aside, you're right about the atmosphere". 

She lowered her head as Yachiyo smiled and inclined her head, meeting Shizuha’s lips as they continued to dance slowly. 

They were in tandem, as always, Yachiyo following Shizuha's steps as she swayed around over the grass as the cosmos above them shimmered in a mystical land. 

Yachiyo couldn't have been more content after placing her head on Shizuha's chest, hearing the calming heartbeat as Shizuha guided her. Her turquoise eyes closed when Shizuha hummed a soft melody, each dulcet note sweeping over her. 

Shizuha was renowned for her powerful voice, for the range of roles she could play, villains in particular. 

One couldn't help but to stop and stare whenever she performed and Yachiyo had become enthralled by the commanding yet soft hearted woman she had performed with. 

But this lulled side of the decadent tone, one she often used with Yachiyo, only for Yachiyo, melted her. 

She felt a kiss to her hair and Shizuha's arms tighten around her. 

Keeping her anchored, close. 

Yachiyo wanted to cry, slammed her eyes shut to halt the tears. 

This was a happy moment, this was the version of her she wanted Shizuha to think of. 

She lifted her head up and cupped the taller woman's face, staring into the eyes which steadied her, loved her without judgement. 

"I love you, Shizuha, I always will". 

Shizuha rested her hand over the one on her face, brushing her thumb over it. 

"Why are you saying that like you are saying goodbye?". 

"I just want you to know that I'll love you even if that goodbye happens someday. Like you said, I'm a romantic through and through" she smiled, "Ah, but this side of me is only for you". 

Shizuha blinked slowly, wondering if that was all it was. The glow in the younger woman's eyes was discernible, like she had obtained a level of peace she had been searching for in the verism they had found themselves in. 

Yachiyo looked happy. 

That is all Shizuha yearned for. 

So she smiled, kissed the palm on her face before doing the same to the other, "You never fail to amaze me. I love you, Yachiyo. For as long as we draw breath". 

They shared another delicate kiss beneath Gensokyo's night sky, entangled around each other. 

Yachiyo thinks of Altair and Vega, her eyes feeling damp. 


Everyone had eventually settled at the grounds, the raucous noise of many individuals gathered reverberating around the place. 

Yukari's limpid tone seeped through the crowd as she continued to explain the rules, "The fighting will occur within this dome". 

An incandescent silver glow of the violet dome pulsed with swirls of red and azure decorating the walls of the interior and exterior. Yukari's power was prevalent on the ground of the fighting area, her sigil flashing, the amethyst hue radiating from its etching as an obsidian layer of fog hovered over it elegantly. 

The circumference of the dome was by no means large as it only provided the basic freedom to move around.

But that was the point and not a fallible occurrence on Yukari's part. 

The dimensions of the dome were precisely large enough to fly around in, but small enough to be exposed to all the projectiles because that was the aim of the game.

Yukari pressed on, "Your main goal is to ensure that you do not hit the sides of the dome, the ground or become incapacitated to a point where you forfeit or are knocked out. If any of these occur, you have lost".

A round of murmurs scattered and again, Yukari wondered how many individuals were still aware of their basic functions, chuckling inwardly at the chaos about to unfurl. 

"This is a test in your ability to think whilst under pressure. The initial aim is to see how long you can go without being hit by the other's choice of spell card. Hand to hand combat is also allowed, as are usage of other weapons such as swords but the fundamental rules of the most beautiful danmaku does apply. Anything too undignified like certain holds or biting is grounds for disqualification".

Yukari's violet eyes scanned the group, selectively narrowing at certain individuals whom would resort to such tactics. 

"Hey, why are you looking at me for?!". 

Seiga, Seija, Tsukasa and Yachie had said it at the same time. 

"And that is why" Yukari grinned, "Now, those are the core rules to be adhered to. As for the spell card, only I will have to be notified of which you will choose to use just to make sure they follow some of rules in place. For the crowd and the opponent, it will indeed be a surprise but I will ensure it is not too lethal" she explained "I will choose the pairings from those that have agreed to participate. If there are no more questions, then we shall begin in a few moments". 

The verve was tangible, more so after Yukari had gone over the rules as she floated down from the sky. 

The information offered was being soaked up by the group of humans not native to Gensokyo, the reality of what was about to occur settling in. 

"This is insane". 

"Honestly, what isn't here?" Yuyuko replied to Fumi's statement whilst seated next to Misaki, "I guess that is what makes it fun". 

"Easy for you to say, Miss Magician" Claudine grinned, "But I'm not going to deny that this is going to be interesting to watch. We haven't seen a match yet with the danmaku". 

"Hm, nothing like watching people swatting each other like flies with magical abilities to wet the palate" Yachiyo chuckled. 

She was seated next to Shizuha, leaning on her after carefully sipping her cup of sake. 

Just one would be enough for tonight as she wanted to pay full attention to the duel, her lover and friends, both old and new. 

She felt at ease, something she hadn't felt in so long and this is what she wanted to remember to stave of the scintilla of anxiousness left. 

Shizuha squeezed her hip, "It will certainly be a learning experience. The organisation is impressive".

Lisa beamed, "Are we expecting anything less from Yukari". 

Sayo offered the brunette a small smile as she clung onto her, feeling Chisato’s gaze. They hadn't conversed much after their last discussion but it was enough to know which path they had to take. 

Not right now however, not when those around them were in uplifted spirits. 

That was the justification but it was also partial to them dragging their feet in doing something that would disrupt everything. So for now, they let it be, savouring the serenity before they unleashed hell again. 

"I wonder who is going to fight who" Arisa mused whilst nestled between Saaya's legs and leaning back on her, leg propped up on a pillow, "If she is choosing, it won't be as random, will it?".

Tamao mulled over the blonde's enquiry whilst looking around, "There are many contenders so who knows. Reimu and Alice are not here, though. I heard that Reimu used to participate every year upon Yukari's insistence". 

"And then Eri came along?". 

Tamao shook her head at Chisato's query, "Even after she was born, Reimu participated. I think her slipping this year is due to Eri's wellbeing as of late so she hasn't left their side. Or so Kaguya has mentioned". 

"That makes sense" Kaoruko nodded, toying with the food on her plate, "Priorities do change with children". 

"Especially if they're the daughter of a priestess and magician". 

Saaya chuckled at Tsukasa's point,  "It is a lot of pressure. I went by the shrine earlier to help and Eri is doing much better thankfully". 

Shiori sighed in relief "That's good. They brought her to Eientei a few days ago so I got to keep her company". 

Fumi smiled at her sister's concern, catching Yachiyo's warm expression too. The younger blonde had been working along Eirin in the field of health so she had amassed a fair amount of knowledge. She seemed to have assimilate into her role at the mansion, more so with the residents help.

Thinking about it now, this tranquillity and her earlier conversation with Yachiyo seemed to fit hand in hand. 

Though the tranquillity was going to disappear for a while as Yukari faced the audience and called out to the first pair to fight. 

Tenshi and Momoyo. 

A chaotic pairing if anything since both thrived off of a thorough fight which was an apt way to begin the spectacle. 

The two approached Yukari, grinning at each other. 

"Huh, a celestial? This is gonna be fun". 

Tenshi's bravado matched the youkai's, "Yeah, you'll be spending a lot of time sleeping off your wounds in that cave of yours". 

"Wanna bet?". 

The two squared up to each other as Yukari smiled behind her fan, "Let's save the aggression for the ring. Now, please reveal your choice of spell card". 

They did as instructed and Yukari's eyes glanced over both before nodding in approval. 

"Very well. Please make your way to the dome". 

She turned back to the audience, a quiet lull falling when Tenshi and Momoyo entered their stage, awaiting Yukari's command. 

"Begin!". 

"Was it wise to pair those two?" Eirin asked from her seat next to her lover when she flew down again. 

"Of course, this is going to prove to be a vigorous altercation". 

"Which is what you had planned, I'm sure". 

Yukari winked at Eirin whom only rolled her eyes, chuckling. 

It was always like this. 

The crowd roared to life as the two sped at each other, activating their spell cards simultaneously. While some contenders drew it out, evidently Momoyo and Tenshi were eager to get their teeth stuck in. 

Scarlet Night Sign "Bullet Keystones of Hourai"

Tenshi laughed since there was no rule stating that she couldn't use a spell card which was co created with someone else, in this case Kaguya. 

In the crowd, said princess was filled with pride, "To think we made something so beautiful". 

Keine sighed as she watched the dome become littered with rainbow coloured orbs, swirling out like the arms of the Milky Way to encompasses everything. In addition to Kaguya's side being deployed, Tenshi’s trademark followed as keystone began hammering down from above, the large rock formations acicular at the bottom and the sides flamed. 

At the same time, Momoyo's attack had formed. 

Kodoku "Cannibalistic Insect"

Lines of faded blue orbs spiralled out of Momoyo's vicinity, twisting around the dome in a way a a swarm of insects would. 

A centipede in particular which was in essence, Momoyo's motif. It was a simple yet tricky formation to evade considering how the blue bullets drifted back at sharp angles, leaving little time to avoid before the lines suffocated the prey, trapping them. 

The tone of the fight had been set as Tenshi and Momoyo circled each other, avoiding their attacks and the sides of the dome. 

"Eat dirt, princess!" Tenshi bellowed and charged with her sword in hand, "This match is mine!". 

"Ya must be dreamin!" the woman slurred. 

Momoyo smirked, bringing up her golden pick axe and spade, deflecting the celestial's fervent slashes. 

"All the fumes in your cave must be getting to you" Tenshi sneered, seeing two Momoyo's instead of one, "Oh, fuck". 

She shouldn't have overdone it with the alcohol. 

The in fight banter continued to go back and forth as the two faced off, the clashing of their weapons reaching a crescendo whilst they avoided to storm of bullets and keystones surrounding them. 

From the audiences view, it appeared to be neck and neck, neither woman relenting with their attacks. 

The flurry of danmaku picked up celerity which was making it more difficult to carry on with the close range combat as a keystone smashed into the youkai’s leg. Her inebriated state had left her exposed, stumbling in the air. 

She winced but didn't let up, the sight of a grinning Tenshi just fuelling her so she zipped forward, slicing and batting the bullets away. Her main aim was to get behind Tenshi, close enough to get her pick axe hooked beneath one of the woman's arms. 

Which is what happened. 

Tenshi was stuck on the tool and before she could free herself, Momoyo's spade slammed down over her fade, hard enough to knock the celestial out. 

She went plummeting to the ground whilst unconscious, landing on Yukari's sigil which aided as a barrier that opened up to the beds at the medical bay which is where she ended. 

The crowd cheered with vigour as Momoyo grinned, lifting her weapons into the air as the danmaku faded around her. She was breathing heavily, her exposed arms and legs cut up, true to Tenshi’s nature of providing a worthy fight and she respected that in a woman. 

"Well done to the winner of the first round, Momoyo" Yukari applauded lightly. 

She genuinely thought Tenshi had this in the bag but clearly Momoyo had been a tad craftier. 

As expected of someone involved with Tsukasa. 

Meanwhile, Eirin and Reisen were working on making Tenshi comfortable, the doctor cleaning up the blood trailing down her forehead. Yukari could practically feel her lover’s sigh as she turned back to Momoyo. 

"Wonderful show indeed". 

"Thanks. She ain't bad for a celestial". 

"Tenshi does have her charms" Yukari chuckled, "Now, what is it you would like as your prize?". 

The princess stuck out her weapons, "Make these bigger" she smirked, twirling them around, "I can do more things like that with whoever wants to go a round with me". 

Yukari had already anticipated that it would be related to fighting so she nodded, an unreadable smile on her lips, "Very well. And with that, this concludes our first round". 

Cheers erupted again from the bacchanalian crowd, the atmosphere jovial while conversation of all sorts occurred. 

"I wonder if Tenshi is still alive" Misaki winced, replaying the way Momoyo's spade had connected with the woman's skull.

"She is durable, trust me" Fumi said wryly as Tamao gave her a quizzical look, unaware that the two had met. 

If she told Tamao what had happened, Fumi knew that her lover would be on a war path, "Violence aside, the bullet formations are beautiful". 

"Elegant even" Kaoruko hummed, "Though deadly, they were getting cut up while trying to dodge". 

"I noticed that too" Tsukasa mused. 

Her eyes glanced back to the dome to notice the farrago of debris cleared up; Yukari was always ahead. 

"Yukari did say they could get hurt. Eirin said she was counting on it. I don't know if it's because we've gotten comfortable here but we probably shouldn't let our guard down around her". 

"You think she's going to do something?" Fumi asked Arisa. 

"To hurt us? No. To fuck with us? Definitely". 

A round of agreement and snickers followed Arisa's explanation. 

It wasn't an incorrect observation in regards to their quirky hostess. 

The next two challengers had been called out. 

Yuuka verses Remilia. 

Now, they hadn't been fully acclimated yet to Gensokyo's power houses but clearly these two were in the higher tiers given the excitable gasps from the spectators. 

"This seems more intense" Chisato noted, the others agreeing, "Bad blood?".

"Who knows but what a way to sort out differences. And look.." Misaki added, "They both have a parasol". 

"We're going to ignore that Remilia has wings and fangs, okay" Yachiyo quipped. 

Kaoruko jested, "She is a vampire so it fits. Sakuya serves under her and she had some stories to tell". 

The two had approached Yukari, giving each other goading grins.

Though Remilia being Remilia, she couldn't help herself. 

She seemed in control but one could tell her movements were quite lagging, "Oh, aren't you making this too easy for me, Yukari? I would hardly call a flower youkai a challenge". 

Yuuka chuckled, sharp smile widening, "Your confidence is admirable. However, whether it is due to the alcohol or not, it seems you are lacking manners. It might be up to me to teach you some". 

Remilia's wings batted softly, fangs peeking out, "Lessons? Me? You clearly have no idea as to what I am capable of. I, the princess of the night, the descendent of Vlad Tepes, the-". 

"Remilia, perhaps you can continue this later. The match itself will put to the test as to which of us is superior" Yukari interjected. 

The vampire didn't appreciate the interruption but showed her spell card as Yuuka did to same. 

"Actions speak louder" the blonde said.

Yukari smirked as the two flew into the dome, wondering what the outcome of this fight would be. 

Both had reputations around Gensokyo for a reasons. 

Reisen’s voice caught Eirin's attention, "Master, none of these entries have a precise way of treating vampires". 

"It's alright. We should manage with what we have. With night falling, Remilia will get stronger". 

Which is what the youkai sage was counting on. 

"Begin!". 

Yuuka smiled, parasol resting on her shoulder, watching Remilia and waiting to see what the impulsive vampire would do. 

She could adapt either way as her alcohol management was quite impressive. Other than the reddish tint to her face, one wouldn't assume that the flower youkai was drunk at all and Yuuka knew Remilia hadn't taken that into account. 

More so when she rushed towards her, engaging in a bout of flurries with her parasol. 

The way they were going around the dome whilst attacking each other was startling, gusts of air being left in the wake of each collision. 

Remilia succeeded in digging her nails into Yuuka's arm, slashing down as the tip of Yuuka's parasol scraped across her throat, a thin red appearing the pale skin. 

"How rude, Sakuya will be mad if I ruin this dress". 

"My apologise" Yuuka said, tone saccharin as she bowed, actions facetious, "I will try and keep this as clean as possible. We'll be done here soon enough". 

The vampire scoffed as Yuuka dashed backward, aura around her glowing. 

She then split into a clone of herself. 

Technically, still not against the rules. 

'Duel Spark'.

Two beams of light began to form from the parasols, the shade yellow and blue, scintillating as it increased in size.

Remilia simply thought she was seeing double, blinking rapidly as she summoned her own spell. 

Divine Spear "Spear the Gungnir"

She raised her free hand into the air, a budding light of red forming before it enlarged in size, turning into the shape of her spear. The area above shifted to darkness as the eerie red hue from the weapon dominated everything in sight. 

They released each projectile, a cataclysmic collision happening between them as they poured everything into the attack. 

Whoever lost the deadlock was definitely going to be ejected out of the dome. 

The sizzling of power oozed out from them both as the spectators watched in awe, breathing hitched. 

This was where having control of the cognitive bases came into play as Remilia's Gungnir should have succeeded since it never missed, however, their were two versions of Yuuka and even individually, the woman was a force to be reckoned with. 

Something she was aware of, smiling whilst dashing forward till both sparks engulfed Remilia's attack, the beams hitting the vampire square in the body. 

She flew backwards through the air, eyes widening at the impact before breaking through the barrier and ending up in the medical bay. 

The audience erupted with wild encouragement once again as Yuuka gave a polite wave and bow. 

Sakuya pinched the bridge of her nose as Sanae patted her back, laughing quietly. 

She would have to deal with a pouty mistress for a while to come. 

"The winner of this round, Yuuka" Yukari smiled as Yuuka flew to her. 

Eirin was quick to aid Remilia, seeing to the cuts and burns which formed given the power of light within the spark. She was surprised her lover had allowed Yuuka to use said move. 

"Thank you, Yukari. I hope I didn't go too far, Eirin?". 

The doctor shook her head, "She will be fine but that was quite something. If that was the basis for Marisa’s Master Spark, it makes sense". 

"She learned well, more so with Mima's aid". 

Said magician was on her broom, soaking in the attention she was getting from Yuuka's win, bragging about her 'own' spark. 

"Indeed. So, Yuuka, what is it you wish to receive as a prize?". 

Yuuka took a look at her parasol, slightly charred and damaged given the fight. 

"If you would be so kind to replace this, Yukari?". 

The group just watched on with amazement

"How do you even that level of polite?" Misaki whispered. 

"I get what you mean, she is really sweet though" Lisa chuckled, "She visits Alice often when we're working". 

Yuuka glanced back at the group, smiled at them as Yukari nodded, amused. 

"That should be no problem at all". 

The next few rounds continued on as night fell. 

It included Chimata and Megumu going against each other and as masterminds of the ability cards incident and now adversaries, the bad blood was palpable. 

The match went to Megumu after physically pushing Chimata out of the barrier with enough force that she went out too. 

Shion and Hina ended up fighting, both very much drunk as their match was messy, uncoordinated. They just about managed to unleash their spells cards without really focusing on that as opposed to having a drunken tirade on how life was unfair. 

Which was to be expected as one was the goddess of poverty and the other the goddess of misfortune. 

The duel led to the two floating down to the middle of the dome and having a rant whilst calling it a truce. 

Yukari was in a pleasant enough mood to allow both of them to ask for something. 

A more brutal matched followed in the form of a inebriated Benben and Sekibanki, two individuals who were normally taciturn and kept to themselves. 

But alcohol did things. 

Especially to feelings and in their case, they were vying of Wakasagihime’s attention, a mermaid princess who resided in Misty Lake. 

So they didn't pull any punches, releasing an impressive level of bloodshed before ending it with the usage of their spell cards. 

The winner was Sekibanki, using her certain skill set as a rokurokubi to confuse her pray before Kagerou eventually succumbed to her wounds. 

Their fight had roused the crowds again, and mortified the humans of the Outside World. 

Eventually, Yukari announced the final match. 

"As we have approached the concluding round, I do have something in particular planned". 

"You mean another way to screw with them" Okina grinned. 

"Well, I wouldn't word it that way..".

"But yes that is exactly what she means" Kanako added. 

Yukari chuckled, closed her fan and opened up a gap next to her. 

The ominous youkai had everyone's rapt attention, including those that were stumbling across the grounds. 

This had become an expectation for the D.U.I event and every year, Yukari did outdo herself.

"The final match will be 4 verses 2".

As far as announcements went, Yukari had certainly delivered as the viewers reacted with aghast.

Even Kanako, Okina, Eirin, Yuyuko and Byakuren looked at Yukari in bewilderment. 

"4 against 2" Byakuren mused, "Is that wise, Yukari?". 

"Oh, not to worry. Rest assured that the lethality of this fight will be of the same as the other rounds. However, the team of 4 will have to be far more coherent than expected". 

Eirin was unsure if there was anyone left in a functioning state as she looked around. 

"I assume you know whom the team will be?" Okina enquired as Yuyuko's head remained on her shoulder. 

Yukari merely smiled, that all knowing variation. 

Eirin could only wonder what her feckless lover was up to though she'd find out soon enough. 

The first figure sauntered out as the rest followed. 

Mima, Misumaru, Junko and Keiki. 

It was a line-up that nobody expected. 

A haughty vengeful spirit, a mercurial divine spirit and two equable goddesses. 

Kanako laughed, "How did Yukari rope you all into this? Well, Mima I get, you're all for carnage". 

"I choose to take that as a compliment" the woman winked, staff in hand and dark wings fluttering around. 

Misumaru crossed her arms over her chest, expression unreadable, "Yukari can be quite persuasive and I was intrigued about our challengers". 

"Junko?" Eirin asked. 

The blonde gave a small nod to the goddess, "My reason too, aligns with Misumaru's".

Yukari said nothing, knowing full well that that wasn't the entire reason. 

"As for me" Keiki explained, "Mayumi insisted it would be entertaining. Also, showing my presence here should let the humans become more accustomed to me, no?". 

"That is fair" Byakuren chuckled, "Though now I do wonder whom these two contenders are". 

"Well, I won't keep you all in suspense anymore" Yukari said and opened another gap next to her. 

The curtain of eyes and darkness parted to reveal the two guests walking out.

Yukari took in Eirin's reaction, along with the rest of the lunarians present.

"Now the line up makes sense" Yuyuko commented and waved to the newcomers. 

"Well, we do like to make an entrance". 

"Toyohime, Yorihime" Eirin smiled after shooting her lover a look. 

The lunarian princesses bowed to Eirin from the waist with all the reverence they could muster. 

Eirin was their mentor before she left the Lunar Capital and the two women had continued their fealty to the goddess as the denizens of the moon branded her a fugitive. They could never turn their back on the woman whom had taught them everything. 

Which is why they were formidable opponents and the only two to have defeated Reimu and Yukari, something that no other had managed. 

Yorihime had also taken down Sakuya, Remilia and Marisa before dealing with Reimu when the four went to the moon. 

But that is a story for another time. 

"It is good to see you again, master" Yorihime greeted fondly. 

"Now that I think of it, it has been a while since we visited. Things have been busy at the capital" Toyohime mused as Reisen approached them. 

The process the princesses had carried out with Eirin was done by Reisen since the two were her original owners. 

"Masters!". 

"Ohh, look at you" Toyohime gushed and engulfed a blushing Reisen to her chest as Yorihime chuckled, "You're even taller than before". 

"Master..can't breath". 

"Don't give me that look, Eirin" Yukari smirked, "Your students did this willingly".

"I'm having a hard time believing that" Eirin replied, humoured by the turn of events. 

But she was glad to see the two women regardless, watching them converse with their competition. Kaguya had joined them with Keine, the younger princess pleased to see her cousins. 

Yorihime bore a resemblance to Meira and Sannyo whereas Toyohime could be likened to Yukari, more so given their abilities. 

Which made sense why a team consisting of Misumaru, Mima, Keiki and Junko would be required. 

Yorihime could summon deities and use their power while Toyohime could also manipulate boundaries.

“I have a feeling we've just witnessed history in the making" Claudine mumbled as they watched on. 

Just the sight of all the figures was intimidating, their strength radiating. 

"Tell me about it. Two more moon princess, one mermaid princess and an..insect one I believe?". 

Yachiyo looked over at Momoyo to clarify, the woman still preening from her win as Tsukasa praised her. 

"Yeah, that". 

"I don't know about you guys but I'm looking forward to this final" Tsukasa grinned as Shiori agreed, "Given how everyone reacted, this match is going to be charged". 

"Agreed" Chisato chimed in, unable to look away from the sight. 

She met eyes with Yukari who smiled at her, though again, it was a smile that could mean a multitude of things which in turn caused many thoughts to form in Chisato's head.

It was crammed enough with Sayo. 

The crowd watched on as Yukari took a look at what spell carda they were going to use, asking Mima to change one as it would be too destructive. 

"They can handle it I'm sure" she insisted. 

"Rules are rules, Mima".

"When has that ever applied to you?". 

Yukari conceded with a knowing wink. 

A few more moments were taken, the anticipation from the crowd reaching a fever pitch as everyone waited for the final duel. 

Once Yukari was content with the attacks, she was about to ask the women to head to the dome but was interrupted.

The thunderous explosions ricocheted around as the night sky in the direction of the Hakurei Shrine lit up, shades of orange and crimson lapping the air. Black smoke plumes rose up, the crackling of further explosions followed. 

"The shrine!" Misumaru shouted out, "Yukari!". 

Yukari's eyes didn’t leave the scene as her body froze over with a different sensation. 

One which often followed the death of a priestess or a disturbance to the barrier. 

The thought of either terrified her. 

"Yukari" Eirin called out and grabbed the woman's shoulder, "The gaps, open more. Everyone needs to head back inside". 

She snapped out, the usual Yukari returning, eyes hardening, inscrutable, "All the humans head for the Human Village now. The horizontal one's are for the youkai to disperse. Everyone is to remain away from the shrine" she instructed, "The gap will lead you there. Keine?". 

The teacher nodded and left as she had the ability to hide history, included places. 

Marisa, Sakuya, Mima, Sanae, Youmu and Reisen had already headed for the Hakurei Shrine as Misumaru was about to leave too before she looked back at the youkai sage. 

"Everyone else, ensure that nobody is left behind here. Kanako, Byakuren?" she motioned to those which had been injured.

"Leave it to us".

"Okina and Yuyuko, take them back to mine" Yukari asked in regards to Claudine and the others whom had risen to their feet the moment the explosion occurred. 

"Wait, we have to help" Shizuha said, looking at Yukari. 

Claudine spoke up too, "There are too many individuals that can't even walk straight anymore".

"We can take them to the gaps" Sayo pressed on with determination.

Yukari looked over the group, timing was of the essence. 

The last thing she needed was more casualties but right now, she had to get everyone out of here. 

"We will also aid them so don't worry".

"It is as Junko said. You do what you have to do".

"Junko and Keiki will keep things in order here" Eirin interjected, knowing her lover was in two minds, "I'm going to check on Reimu, Alice and Eri. Go to the barrier".

Yukari blinked rapidly, taking in Eirin's strength and calmness. 

Though Yukari appeared unperturbed, Eirin and Misumaru could feel the tension, "Okay, thank you, Eirin" she exhaled, "Take care of them" she added as Misumaru reassured her.

They all left as the youkai sage turned to the lunar princesses, hands clenched, eyes fixated on the sight of Reimu's home in ruins as panicked cries surrounded her.

She couldn't dwell any further as she turned to the two remaining women.

"Yorihime and Toyohime, please come with me". 

Something was amiss, something didn't make sense which was a portent in itself. 

The barrier had definitely been breached again.

Whether it had anything to do with the explosion would be revealed in due time.

Chapter Text

 

 


 

Hakurei Barrier 


There was a ripple in the barrier that those versed with the boundary would have been able to see despite the covert action. 

Those passing though, the individuals whom had caused said disturbance, were none the wiser to what they had stumbled into, but they do realise the change in the air, feel its lack of density and smell its strange odour. 

The quietness of the Aokigahara Forest they had adjusted to had suddenly stopped, like someone had pressed paused before changing the track to white noise. 

It was disorienting, to hear the new array of noise, clamour, panic. 

They pause, catching their breath as they look around frantically for shelter, for help but are met with nothing but wilderness and chaos coming from somewhere in the distance.

It reminded them too much of when the world went to hell.

A world where common sense and critical thinking had become nothing more than a myth. 

Where speaking up against the oppressors meant death. 

To run into groups of the opposing factor would be lethal but the options they had could be counted on one hand and there still would be fingers left over. 

Their injuries make them wonder if they had perhaps died and this was the land between. 

It would make sense considering it was miraculous they were still alive after the trials they had faced, we're facing. 

The differentiation between the living and the dead had lessened, or perhaps they had amalgamated. 

Nobody could be precise anymore. 

Upon the guidance of the appointed leader, the trio decide to move further inland in hopes of finding sanctuary, at the very least medical care. 

One of the group members was in dire straits, teetering between consciousness whilst attempting to not further burden those she was in the care of. 

They had no choice but to push forward, trudging deeper into a place that seemed remote, alien.

There was something primordial about the location, almost pristine. Like it hadn't been touched by the barbarity of humans. 

However, they soon wondered if it was a decision that would cost them the remainder of their lives when a curtain of violet encompassed them. 

It spread to form a dome, trapping them whilst lighting the darkness they had been adjusted to. 

The sensations of surprise and consternation engulfed them as the trio stumbled back, not believing what they were seeing, more so considering the events which transpired next. 

A line of black parting in mid air, two red bows on either side and eyes, a multitude of unblinking eyes staring out of the chasm. 

 

***


Untrodden Valley/Genbu Ravine 

 

With the flames from the Hakurei Shrine roaring in the background, the babel from those watching increased. 

Everyone was doing what they could to guide people into the gaps and away from harm. That in itself was an ardous task given the confusion which had overtaken, speculation of what had happened running like the blaze the shrine was curled up in. 

An order had been established as the leaders left in charge had divided those helping into groups which aided to delineate a clear object through the upheaval. 

The crowd was eventually whittling down as night fell, both youkai and humans working side by side to secure the area. At times like this, the discrete species could often place aside their animosity and strive towards the common goal. 

"Here, I'll take her through" Fumi said and escorted a villager into a near by gap which freed Junko to seek others to move, "Just hold onto me". 

The woman obliged, too shaken to walk and leaned on the blonde to guide her into the gap which led the villagers to their home. 

She looked back at Fumi in gratitude before leaving. 

Arisa had been returned to Yukari's mansion, knowing she couldn't attest it and the sullen expression on her face buried in Saaya's mind as she took a youkai through a gap, rethinking the conversation, the look in Arisa's eyes. 

As if she had betrayed her by taking her to safety. 

In the Human Village, Lisa, Chisato, Sayo, Kotohime and Keine were providing support and protection, the half youkai at the gates. 

Claudine, Tamao and Tsukasa were working with Keiki, directing those that were addled in the flurry of pandemonium unfurling. 

Shiori, Misaki, Yuyuko and Meira had carried the last of the competitors to safety with Byakuren meeting them half way to finish off. 

Given the inebriated conditions of most, a few falls had occurred so Kaoruko was helping someone onto Shizuha's back after they had sprained their ankle. 

But the job was almost done, a few left behind. 

The rest of those in the midst of helping were scattered around, double checking that nobody was left behind. 

Yachiyo had just ushered someone through a gap before her eyes caught some movement in her peripheral vision.

It was a figure but they were walking in the opposite direction of where the exits were so she called out, trying to get their attention. 

"Hey? Are you okay? That's the wrong way". 

She wouldn't be surprised if it was someone drunk, unable to focus on anything so the woman made quick work of following the individual to catch up and return them. 

The night sky didn't allow much to be seen other than an outline of the shadow but they didn't seem to be stumbling which was a positive sign. She couldn't drag anyone back if the person fell considering the uneven terrain she had found herself on. 

"Hey!". 

She rose her voice a tad but received no response which made her sigh in irritation. 

Yachiyo wanted to turn back and get help but when she glanced in the direction she came from, the woman realised how much distance had been placed between where she was now and the main area. It was one thing to navigate the place during the day but a night with hardly any illumination made it daunting. 

She weighed up her options, opting to search for the missing spectator that she could still see the outline of, hoping she could find her way back. 

So on she went, navigating the tenebrous setting whilst calling out to the stranger now and then. Other than the wind whistling, she wasn't offered a response still. 

Given that it was warm, Yachiyo didn't fret too much about hypothermia at this point, especially in her light dress and the chase itself was keeping her temperature regulated. 

Yachiyo knew that pursuing the person at this time and alone wasn't a wise idea but she wouldn't be able to live with herself if someone ended up injured or worse, knowing that she could have avoided it. 

So she continued onwards as the figure seemed to take a turn and up a hill which overlooked a river.

The sight gave an idea to Yachiyo as to where she was. 

She was closer to Youkai Mountain now more than she was to the Untrodden Valley. 

It was disconcerting but at the same time, Yachiyo had to find the person whom had ambled away before they injured themselves. She had witnessed too much of that already thuugh in Yukari's controlled environment, it was enjoyable. 

Still, her thoughts drifted to Alice and Reimu's home, hoping they were okay. 

The woman walked up the steep incline, slightly panting now but kept her eyes on the silhouette that was highlighted by the moon, watching them reach the top of the cliff. 

Yachiyo picked up her pace, bunching up her dress as she reached the top, the overhang of what she was sure was the Genbu Ravine. 

For reasons unknown, her gaze had often fell onto the location since she arrived in Gensokyo, even before knowing what it was. 

The waterfall on her right was the conspicuous giveaway, the noise of it rushing cancelling out the silence. 

"Really? Is this the time to be sightseeing?" she called out, tucking back her hair which had shaken free, "Hello?". 

She was met with no response yet again. 

There was nobody on the ledge. 

Panic fuelled Yachiyo at the realisation of there only being one way down. 

"Oh, no" she muttered, heart rate increasing as she bound into action. 

She hurriedly ran to the edge and dropped down on her knees, fingers gripping the rubble as her eyes surveyed the area below. 

"Come on..where are you..". 

The drop from the overhang was daunting and one that couldn't be survived if falling onto the hard riverbank. Just looking down made her feel nauseated but she pushed it down, eyes concentrated. 

Yachiyo continued scanning the vicinity, the water lit up by the moonlight which worked as some source of light but the woman still couldn't see anything beyond outlines. 

In some ways, she was thankful for that. 

But the other side of her mind stalled when realisation dawned on her. 

If there was no body, where did they go?

Her question would soon be answered when she heard the scuffle of boots against gravel come from behind her. 

 

***

 

Hakurei Shrine 


The sight of the destruction of Reimu's shrine in past events had almost become something of a running gag, given that it was the one location in Gensokyo that would never be perdure for long. 

While Gensokyo had managed to maintain a balance, Reimu's existence and profession still irked many a youkai and human so for them to occasionally attack wasn't unheard of. 

But right now, there was nothing amusing about the condition of the area. 

It had disintegrated to its bare foundations, the flames out of control wherever one looked up until Mokou had arrived and began to tame them. She was in the sky, using her own abilities to combat it enough for everyone else to tend to the family which were found sprawled on the veranda. 

The fact that none of them were moving amplified the alarm bells. 

Reimu had her arms around Alice and Eri, like she had ushered them out and succumbed to her injuries and smoke inhalation before collapsing. 

Everyone had sprang into action, pulling them away from the building, moving them nearer to the tori where it was relatively smoke free. 

It was then Eirin would get a chance to take in their conditions. 

Panic laced her eyes when she found that Eri wasn't breathing at all, administering CPR immediately. She had escaped more of the skin based wounds and burns, likely due to her mothers intervention but the smoke was often what killed most during fires.

Carefully, Eirin tilted her head back by placing her hand on Eri's forehead and lifted her chin, making sure there was nothing broken before using the heel of her right hand, interlocking the fingers of her left over it, then placing it  over the third breastbone. She began pushing down at least 5 centimeters which covered one third of the diameter of the chest. 

It wasn't often Eirin had to perform CPR on a child so this occurrence was terrifying.

"We'll take Alice and Reimu through to Eientei" Sakuya said as she collected Alice, assessing the blood dripping from her arm and temple while Sanae and Marisa lifted Reimu. 

"Shit.." Marisa exclaimed, golden eyes lingering over Alice and Reimu, the scent of singed flesh overwhelming. 

Sanae carefully maneverued Reimu between them, feeling her pulse when she rested a hand to Reimu's chest, "Its faint" she gritted internally. 

The disconcertment was prevalent in Sakuya's voice despite her composure at the unmoving life form of the daughter of her friends. 

She didn't want to think about the what ifs, she just could not. 

Kaguya, Yumemi, Rikako and Shiori were already prepared and ready to go as the injured from both the shrine and the event came through. 

The rest had worked with Mokou to control the fires as Reisen remained by Eirin's side whilst patching up the few burn wounds on Eri. Her kimono had been burnt at the legs, the left one in particular sporting a severe burn. She cleaned the area slowly before applying ointment to soothe it down. 

Mima, Youmu, Aunn and a few other youkai had gone to scan the area in an effort to make sure nobody else had become incapacitated. 

If there was one thing clear, the destruction of the shrine was expansive with only one side of the storehouse remaining somewhat unscathed. 

The scale of the damage attributed to that, the char on the ground circling the area. 

Reisen clenched her teeth, her crimson eyes on Eri, watching out for any change, "Master". 

Eirin was becoming frantic though it was kept internal, not distracting her as she delivered the chest compressions and checking Eri's airway but so far nothing was working. 

"Come on, Eri, you can do this. You must" she muttered, "Eri!". 

The girl remained unresponsive despite the doctor's efforts. 

But Eirin didn't relent, she was not going to give up. 

Nobody was going to die tonight. 

There was always a risk with CPR, more so with children given the delicate nature of their rib cage and the problem that would occur is mostly likely one snapping. 

For the majority of the time, CPR didn't procure the desired results which is why timing was critical. 

With a few more compressions, Eri's debilitated heartbeat made its appearance. 

Eirin quickly breathed into Eri's mouth another 4 times and when she got back up, the sound of the girl coughing was euphoric. Her sigh mimicked Reisen’s as she turned the girl over on her side to ensure her airways didn't become obstructed further should she cough up blood or throw up. 

She wasn't out of the woods yet but at least she was breathing. 

"We need her on ventilation and fast " Eirin directed as Reisen placed an oxygen mask on the girl's face to help her breath, "The time between the explosion and us arriving wasn't much but the exposure to the smoke is detrimental enough. Considering they were inside the shrine, which room they were in would have made a difference". 

Reisen nodded as Eirin picked up the blonde and followed Eirin back to Eientei, the clinic area a hub of activity. 

Placing Eri down on a gurney, Eirin looked around. 

It had been a while since Eientei was like this, since Gensokyo was like this. 

She hoped that everyone else had been able to be rounded up as the woman continued to instruct those around her. 

The string of occurrences which had led up to this seemed like too much of a coincidence. 

Eirin hadn't felt this overwrought in a while and the more Yukari seemed to deteriorate and hide from her, the more her solicitude augmented. 

 

***

Genbu Ravine 

 

"I must be seeing a ghost, ironic since I've seen a few here in Gensokyo in the flesh. Or is that in the spirit?". 

Yachiyo's quip did little to push down the nausea she was feeling as she got to her feet. 

Oddly, she wasn't scared, perhaps slightly perturbed. 

How could she not be when she had seen the apparition the moment she had shoved a knife through their throat, blinded by crimson liquid whenever she looked a she plunged in deeper. 

The uniform, the mask, the gurgling. 

It had never left her, scarred her. 

"Watching me from the corners and in my nightmares. You should introduce yourself, we didn't really get off on the right foot". 

The figure said nothing, stepping forward. 

Their white uniform which showed their allegiance to E.B.O.S would have been pristine had it not have been for the blood spilling down from their throat. 

The knife Yachiyo had used was still lodged in their throat, Hikari's knife. 

A waterfall of crimson oozing down to the ground. 

Yachiyo wanted to throw up, could smell the scene unfurling. 

The rotting corpses. 

The odious blood. 

The harrowing screams. 

All of it a manifestation, staring at her through the helmet, motionless yet domineering all the same. 

Yachiyo shivered, eyes never leaving the deceased figure of the first and last she had to kill. 

Her hand ached, thinking back at the pressure needed to stab another human, shoving through the layers to guarantee their death. 

She couldn't do it again, the trauma too embedded and Shizuha understood, would never allow her to take another life. 

The figure which had followed her into Gensokyo after carving out a permanent chamber in her brain skulked closer. 

"What do you want from me?" she asked, aware that she wouldn't receive an answer, "Why can't you just let me be?!". 

Her fist shook as the apparition stepped forward, arms to the side, a splutter being heard like it was trying to talk but their throat was flooded. 

The knife in their larynx keeping the wound fresh and open. 

Yachiyo had accepted that she would see the person she had killed, accepted that every shadow she saw would make her skeleton leave the comfort of her skin. 

It was drilled into her head, the moment she plunged the knife into her assailants throat before they had a chance to kill her. If she has hesitated, she wouldn't be here, wouldn't have found Gensokyo. 

Wouldn't be able to be with Shizuha. 

She had no choice, she had to kill them. 

It had become a mantra that Yachiyo repeated to attenuate the constant stream of culpability she had submerged herself to. 

Survivor's guilt was a devastating concept and those which survived the initial trauma never truly healed.

Her expression was filled with anguish, turquoise eyes shimmering with tears now as her energy drained, the energy she needed to remain blasé and kittenish. 

She couldn't do it anymore and the more she lost the fight with her mind, the stronger the apparition became till she was spotting it everywhere

While she was working. 

When she attended the parties. 

Whenever her eyes closed. 

Especially when Shizuha held her at night and she would glance to the window, seeing their face looking back. 

The last time she saw it was during the conversation with Byakuren. 

And now that she ponders on it, her line of vision when she quickly glanced to see it that time led to the Genbu Ravine. 

She laughed, hollow as the soles of her feet dug into the rocks beneath them, "You're never going to leave me alone, are you? Even if..even if the reason this happened is because of you. I didn't want to kill you or anyone!". 

Yachiyo screamed, tears streaming down her cheeks, strands of hair sticking to her face as she took in a deep breath, "I didn't want to kill!".

The apparition stepped closer, watching Yachiyo. 

Yachiyo stared at it, they were close enough and she had to look up slightly to catch where their eyes would be behind the blacked out visor.

If she had to guess, the person in the uniform was nearer to Shizuha's height and that was all she could deduce. 

She wondered if it was best that she couldn't see a face. 

Maybe being haunted by a helmet was the only reprieve she deserved. 
 
Her bloodshot eyes drifted to the knife stuck in their throat, twisted and buried deep in. Bits of skin and clothing splintered out of the wound, the area appearing like a bloodied scab. If she could see behind them, the tip went through the spine given the adrenaline she was subsumed in when defending herself. 

Because that's all she did, defend herself. 

And yet, the guilt scarred her. 

She sobbed, lifted a hand up, hovering it over the knife before moving it up to apparition's cheek but not touching. 

"I..I'm sorry" she whimpered, "Please just forgive me". 

Another step was taken which led to Yachiyo moving backwards till her heels were on the precipice of the edge, debris falling down. 

Her hand touched the apparition's face, the coldness from their helmet seeping though. 

"Let me live, please, I don't want to die!". 

The noise in Yachiyo's mind amplified as a scattering of replies took over, listing the reasons she shouldn't even be alive. It was like a barrage of insects scuttling around her brain, their answers mixing and sticking to her skull as the loudness increased. 

She winced, thinking of Shizuha and everyone else. 

"I don't want to die!". 

In a first, the figure lifted a hand to their throat and wrapped their fist around the handle of the knife. 

They pulled, a sickening squelch being emitted. 

Yachiyo's eyes expanded, her breathing erratic as the final signs of panic engulfed her 

Her mind had succumbed, acquitted to the strain she had been drowning in. 

With a jut of their hand, the apparition stuck the knife into Yachiyo's throat. 

It pierced the hollow of it with ease, breaking flesh and sending a splurt of blood gushing out which splattered onto the figure's helmet. 

The last thing Yachiyo hears her mind say was a garble of voices melded together, like an AI device on the brink of malfunction. 

She stepped back one last time to escape, no more cliff beneath her feet and plunged down into the ravine. 

The horrifying thud of her body meeting the ravine floor reverberated, echoing as the rushing of the waterfall and trickling of the stream masked the gruesome sound. 

"What makes you believe that you deserve to live, Tsuruhime Yachiyo?".

 

***

 

Hakurei Barrier


Yukari figured that the term déjà vu would be apt in this situation. 

Widened eyes looked at the youkai and lunarians, abject shock on their faces as they shuffled back, unable to comprehend the spectacle. 

"Who are you?! And what is going on here!?". 

Despite the perplexed state, the brunette which had spoken up managed to reorient herself despite what she had seen, was seeing. 

A violet dome appearing above them, something opening in the air and three women coming out of it, one with a parasol, one armed with a sword, the other with fan. 

Normally, Yukari would have toyed around with the new arrivals but given what was happening, she wasn't in a puckish mood. 

Also, one of the women whom was being held up by the two on either side of her appeared too close to death. There was more blood on her, her clothes sullied as constant seeping of the liquid seem to form. 

"Yakumo Yukari. It seems that you too, have picked an unfortunate time to visit Gensokyo". 

"G-gensokyo?". 

The woman with dark blue hair repeated it, eyes never leaving Yukari, Yorihime and Toyohime. 

Yukari sighed as she motioned to the sisters that there was no immediate threat despite the fact that two of them had weapons in their free hands. 

A rapier and a mace. 

The glowing gems on their weapons did confirm that they were indeed someone part of the circle of the others. 

But it was safer to confirm. 

"We can share formal introductions later" Yukari said and motioned to the brunette in the middle, "She isn't looking well". 

All three were severely injured but the tall brunette was bleeding profusely from her lower abdomen. 

"So, while I would love to hold the 21 questions game with you, none of us have time. However, if it helps lessens your anxiety as to your location and our appearance, perhaps they can reassure you". 

Yukari opened a gap next to them, speaking up to those within it, "I hate to distract you but can some of you join us for a moment". 

She had picked the location where most of the Outside World residents were which was in the valley. They had just finished escorting everyone away so a foreboding silence seem to be tangible in comparison to how the evening commenced. 

Hurried footsteps followed as Saaya and Claudine were the closest, appearing through the darkness. 

"What is it, Yukari-". 

Claudine's sentence died in her throat, as did Saaya's when they took in the sight. 

"Mahiru..Maya" Claudine managed, voice cracking. 

The two women in turn reacted the same, their injuries and sullied forms just about being able to handle seeing them alive, and in this strange place. 

"Kuro!". 

"Claudine". 

Saaya's heart leapt to her chest, taking in the slumped figure between the two, "O-Tae..".

Her eyes watered when Tae managed to look up, her large green eyes dull but the shadow of her smile radiant, "Saaya, found you again" she replied before coughing. 

Maya and Mahiru couldn't get their minds to catch up to the sight of their eyes as they exhaled, calling out the blonde's name again before their knees buckled. 

Claudine and Saaya ran up to the dome, hands on it as they called out to them. 

Yorihime and Toyohime glanced at Yukari, "Is that the confirmation you were looking for?" the younger sibling enquired. 

"It is indeed".

Toyohime remained quiet, eyes switching from the dome to Yukari, wondering how it was that they had passed through the barrier. She knew the occasional humans drifted, less after the commencing of the pandemic but two groups of humans seemed out of the norm. 

She knew that Yukari's boundaries could rarely be infiltrated, barring the attempts by the lunarians but over the years, that seems to be changing. 

It was a cause of concern. 

She too had noticed Yukari's state, not bringing it up with Eirin yet but perhaps it was time to do so. 

Before anything else could be said, Kanako had flown down from the direction of the shrine and landed near them. 

While the scene she had stumbled upon begged so many question, the news she had took precedence. 

"Kanako, what's going on?". 

Yukari walked up to the taller woman, brows furrowed. 

The goddess steeled herself as she updated Yukari on the situation. 

"Eri's breathing won't stabilise so she is on a ventilator, Reimu is alive but unconscious and Alice is in surgery to see to the severe burns on her back. They'll heal faster but the damage is extensive". 

Yukari felt her stomach drop, but the ruminative look in Kanako's eyes indicated she wasn't done with the update, something equivocal in the way she had spoken. 

The woman's gaze swept to the Outside World denizens before returning to Yukari. 

"Kanako, tell me".

"Yachiyo is missing". 

Claudine snapped back at the name but the panicked cries from Saaya, Mahiru and Maya took over when Tae passed out. 

There was too much going on. 

There was too much happening. 

Yukari, for the expansive occurrences in her long life, now felt overwhelmed. 

 

***

Eientei

 

Locating Yachiyo was elementary enough for a being like Yakumo Yukari.

When you could manipulate, create and destroy the very fabric of existence, finding the whereabouts of a someone was child's play.

And yet, the moment she had stumbled upon Yachiyo, Yukari despised being able to do so. 

The image wouldn't leave her mind for some time.

Humans were terribly fragile. 

Nor would the crestfallen expressions she was met with when they divulged the news of Yachiyo's death.

Shizuha was motionless, staring at Yukari and Eirin like they'd been conversing in another language.

"I'm sorry".

The blonde's elucidated words didn't register, nor had the previous ones referring to Yachiyo. 

About her death. 

Shizuha could hear the restrained sobs around her as the news registered. 

Tsukasa was in front of her, hands on her shoulders, fingers shaking as she looked up at her friend. 

"You must be mistaken, Yukari. It must be someone else".

Her body trembled, a broken whisper continuing that trail of thought. 

"You're wrong. Yachiyo was..is alive. You're wrong".

"Shizuha" Tsukasa uttered.

The two sages said nothing, allowing the irrefutable news to resonate.

Fumi had Shiori in her arms, her younger sibling's desolate weeping meeting her chest as she held her tighter, her own tears spilling as Tamao and Yuyuko had their arms around them.

Kaoruko kept a hold of Claudine, her lover's face impassive, much like Shizuha's. 

She hadn't accepted it yet, her jaw clenching and eyes on Shizuha's tensed back. 

They hadn't given the news to Lisa and the others yet as they were still grappling with Tae barely clinching onto life herself, her moribund condition of concern.

To add in the news of Yachiyo's death would be catastrophic.

It was unpleasant enough for Yukari and Eirin to do this. 

Maya and Mahiru were stable, it was one silver lining but nothing could curtail the loss felt from losing someone dear to them all. 

Shizuha shook her head, fists clenching and moved past Tsukasa, going for Eirin.

She had the goddess by the lapels of her white coat for a second, "You are lying! That is not her in the morgue! You must check again, Eirin, please!".

Her fists were holding the goddess with such ferocity that Eirin feared Shizuha would break them. 

"Shizuha" she said before Yukari acted. 

Yukari's expression darkened as she grabbed Shizuha's wrists, not needing to add much pressure in order to make the distraught woman let go, moving her back as Tsukasa, Fumi and Claudine sprang into action. Yukari's physical strength was to rivalled with the rest of her abilities despite not relying on them. 

But moments like this certainly showcased it, increasing her grip just a tad, seeing Shizuha bite down her inner cheek. 

"Shizuha, no!" Claudine yelled, grabbing a shoulder as Fumi did the same with the other, "Let Eirin go!". 

Eirin sighed, her sympathy for the woman exuding so she placed her hand on Yukari's shoulder, indicating to release Shizuha and the blonde obliged but not before a warning

"I understand that this is too much to take in" Yukari said quietly as Shizuha finally winced, tone menacing, "But please refrain from going for Eirin like that again".

Yukari was impressed by the woman's pain tolerance, though she had a feeling things would change. 

Her mental durability would be tested, much like it had done for Sayo and even she hadn't fully recovered from Hina's death. 

"I apologise, I.." 

Shizuha couldn't continue, sobbed, legs buckling as Yukari's hold lessened till she had a much softer grip, matching her calmer countenance again, "I wish I could tell you all that this is false. I've yet to understand what happened but the reality is that Yachiyo has passed away and I'm sorry".

Denial faded at the sincerity in the youkai's voice and eyes.

Shizuha felt her body go numb, Yukari catching her from the front as Tsukasa held her, curled around her back. Her tears seeped into Shizuha's dress as the fragrance of Yachiyo lingered. 

"Yachiyo...".

 

The activity from then on was a blur. 

Everyone from the Outside World were to return to Yukari's home. 

No one protested. 

The leading figures of Gensokyo worked through the night to regain some order, advising when possible and using their resources to begin to piece together what had occurred. 

All humans were to remain in the village and all youkai were to remain in their places of dwelling too. 

The tengu which patrolled Youkai Mountain upon Megumu's orders, extended their patrols to the surrounding areas with high vigilance to the Genbu Ravine and Untrodden Valley. 

Nobody was to set foot there, or the decimated Hakurei Shrine. 

The hallways of the hospital had gained some peace as the patients had obtained some stability. 

Reisen, Yumemi and Rikako were carefully monitoring the new arrivals. 

They had been tested for the multiple strains of the coronavirus, the results negative which was one hurdle passed. 

Their injuries were extensive, much like the state the others had appeared that night. 

Yumemi took in Mahiru's stats, increasing the dosage of the painkillers whilst assessing the rest of her wounds. Widespread bruising present on her shoulder, the joints of her arm bandaged up having had not healed from a previous injury. Her countenance was sallow, a result of malnourishment which was to be expected, bones too notable and muscle degeneration occurring. 

The same applied to Maya and Tae, Rikako addressing the dire puncture on Tae's upper abdomen. It was a bullet wound which had opened again and the scientist grimaced, knowing of said weapons and the destruction they caused. She wondered how Tae had managed to survive long enough given the alarming state of her physical condition. 

Reisen had finished redressing Maya's bandage on her head, gently moving her brunette hair back. The woman's body was littered with contusions and welts, cuts of various depths scattered over her abdomen and shoulders. The lunarian dread to think of how she obtained them since they appeared deliberate, some precise, other's looking like they were crafted into her body through a fit of rage. 

At this point, Reise, Yumemi and Rikako were still grappling with the news of the Hakurei family and Yachiyo's death while doing their best to keep their three patients with them, not wanting another loss of life to occur.

Sentiments which their mentor shared when Eirin walked by and Reisen provided the woman with an update. 

Her tired eyes ran around the room, taking in the three women whom had walked beyond the barrier. 

Two major intrusions to the barrier in the space of 4 months. 

Something of a cataclysmic nature was brewing on the horizon, something that would change the face of Gensokyo. 

Of Yukari. 

Eirin then left the room, mind ablaze by the events, attempting to deconstruct everything. 

She thought back to Yachiyo, her body in the morgue. 

Mangled and twisted in ways that no solid form should be able to be angled. 

Eirin pushed her emotional aspects away whilst working to restore some order to the woman's corpse, to give her some reprieve and when she had managed to do so, she sat for a while. 

It didn't feel like that long ago that she had done the same for Hina. 

It wasn't long ago. 

Hina had been killed by a youkai. 

That much was confirmed and now, Yachiyo's death was already shrouded in mystery. 

Why was she at the ravine? 

Did she slip? 

Or the more invidious, was she pushed? 

Eirin had no answers leading to foul play as of yet after carrying out the post-mortem. 

What had ultimately killed Yachiyo was the fall, dead upon impact. 

There were no other wounds on her. 

Nothing was adding up as Eirin made her way to the section where the Hakurei family were situated. 

Regardless of how adjusted she was to her profession, moments like this took its toll. 

Reimu, Alice and Eri.

An entire family in her hospital. 

A family she had helped to conceive, a family she watched over, a family vital to Gensokyo and Makai, a family important to the woman she loved.

Yukari heard her coming from Alice and Reimu's room, turning on her heel when she saw the lunarian. 

Hours of keeping composed and phlegmatic yearned to come undone and when Eirin took her into her arms, Yukari exhaled, burying her face against her lover's neck, allowing it all free. 

Eirin wrapped around her tightly as her eyes took in the resting from of Reimu and Alice while glancing to the door to the room opposite where Eri was, intubated, the beeping of machines curbing the silence. 

It would be too soon to say stability had formed for any of them and this was the worry Yukari harboured. The next few hours would be critical, would be decisive on how the youkai sage would proceed to find out what had happened. 

She cleared her throat quietly as she looked up at Eirin. 

The lunarian had never seen Yukari appear so etiolated. 

Like something was draining the very essence of her life form. 

Eirin's blue eyes were laced with worriment and ire as she rested one hand behind the blonde's head, the other on her cheek. She knew she was still being kept in the dark, there was something Yukari was hell-bent on keeping from her and every fibre of her being wanted to bring it up but the vulnerability in her lover's voice brushed it away, just for now. 

"I should have sent them all back, Eirin. At the very least, Yachiyo would be alive. We would have been closer to the shrine to limit the amount of smoke inhalation they suffered.." she motioned to Alice and Reimu. 

"You and I both know that it doesn't work that way" Eirin replied softly, feeling the grip of the blonde's hands around her waist. 

The rest of the words went unsaid as Eirin pulled the woman back to her chest, feeling her crumble beneath her fingertips. 

Even they had no control over everything which occurred. 

Death stalled for nobody. 

***

 

Yakumo Mansion 

 

Sleep eluded everyone. 

Their minds were too engaged with the array of emotions conjured but the overall feeling of melancholia lingered. 

In the main living area, Sayo, Lisa, Chisato, Arisa, Saaya and Misaki were scattered around. 

Lisa's quiet sniffles against Chisato's neck was the main sound deduced. The blonde had her arms around her, seated on one of the couches, just holding her. 

There was nothing words could do for now. 

While the safety of Tae, Maya and Mahiru was something to rejoice, Yachiyo's demise was too much to bear. 

Particular for Lisa whom had found a confidant in Yachiyo. 

Sayo was sat on Lisa's right, her hand in her lover's, offering whatever support she could. She was thankful that Chisato was there, providing gentle words and touches to sooth the brunette. 

She looked at the blonde, expression muddled and she could only imagine Chisato feeling the same but right now, getting through this would be their priority. 

Absolving themselves of their own indiscretions had to wait. 

First Hina and now Yachiyo. 

The surrealism of the events was jarring. 

Arisa, Saaya and Misaki were on the other couch with Misaki sat near the low table, watching the steam billow from her tea. 

She understood that Yuyuko needed to be with Fumi, Tamao and Shiori right now, but the ache in her chest was overwhelming. Seeing Yuyuko cry was something that didn't happen often, even when they were on the run and at their breaking points. 

Her indifference remained. 

And now, it had been shed. 

While death had been a reoccurring theme for them all in light of the pandemic, it had been a while since it occurred in their group. 

Hina's death being the first since fleeing Tokyo. 

She felt a hand to her shoulder, knowing it was Saaya's so she placed one over it, squeezing in appreciation when she leaned back near the brunette's legs. 

Arisa was seated next to her lover, her head on her shoulder, mind working rapidly. 

They had presumed they would never see Tae again, their last memory of the woman nursing a bullet wound before the explosion displaced them. 

And yet, she was here, albeit injured. 

The anxiety of waiting for the brunette to stabilise churned in their stomach as grief toyed with them, burying them in too many emotions. 

Between the emergence of Tae, Maya and Mahiru, the loss of Yachiyo and the wellbeing of the Hakurei family, the turmoil was going to linger.

 

In one of the bedrooms, Fumi, Tamao, Shiori and Yuyuko were present. 

The younger Yumeoji sister had eventually passed out due to exhaustion against Yuyuko's shoulder. Given the fragility of her body, the addional strain was bound to reverse any progress she had made.

Everything had spiralled out of control too abruptly. 

Maya, Mahiru and Tae appearing in Gensokyo. 

The explosion at the shrine. 

Yachiyo's fall. 

Tamao went over and draped a blanket over them as they were seated near the wall of where the low table was present. 

Yuyuko offered Tamao an appreciative smile, tired and the older woman could feel it. 

One look at Shiori was enough to hammer home what had happened, her tear stricken face highlighted by the moon. 

They knew at this point that Shiori just wanted Tsukasa with her but the blonde was aware that right now, Shizuha needed her the most, supporting her best friend whom had lost the woman she loved. 

Shiori had lost a mentor in Yachiyo, the woman whom had guided her, supported her without a second thought. 

Tamao brushed back a few strands of familiar blonde before looking towards the patio. 

She left the two and walked up to Fumi, wrapping her arms around her midsection and pressing her face to her back. Fumi's body was rigid, slowly melting to the touch of her lover as her arms settled over Tamao's. 

Fumi's eyes were swollen too, tears still flowing as Tamao's joined. 

A part of Fumi would always love Yachiyo, that was a given, Tamao was privy of this given their history. 

So her loss was crippling and Tamao could feel the weight of it crushing her lover. Regret, guilt, anger, all of them spilling out of the blonde so Tamao held on harder, called out her name. 

Reminding her that she didn't have to shoulder this alone. 

She didn't know what else to say, death often left the bravest speechless with its presence. 

Tamao understood that too well. 


Over in Claudine and Kaoruko's room, the duo had finished up a discussion in regards to what had transpired. 

It had taken a while for Kaoruko to get Claudine to talk, to react but she was met with stony silence and occasionally given curtated answers. Regardless of how much she tried, Claudine would just look at her, like she was peering through her. 

Eventually, she had managed to get through to her, reiterating her that she was there, that they needed to talk

At the very least, to break through the mist which had settled over Claudine given Yachiyo's unexpected demise. A part of Kaoruko had yet to accept it too so she held her lover tighter, the two laying on the bed and resting on their sides. Claudine suspired against Kaoruko's chest, feeling the woman's fingers curl through her hair to abate her. 

She didn't know what to react to, all of it overlapping. 

Yachiyo dying. 

Mahiru, Tae and Maya returning. 

Maya

Seeing her again knocked the wind out of her lungs. 

She hadn't realised Kaoruko's mien at the moment the heiress saw them, Claudine too immersed in the sight of Maya. 

But Kaoruko witnessed it all. 

Saw the way Maya reached for Claudine.

Kaoruko held Claudine closer. 

 

One of Shizuha's habits which had remained since childhood was the tendency to fiddle with things when deep in thought. 

After her outburst, the woman had clammed up again once they arrived at the mansion. She paced for a while, hyperventilating the more the idea of never seeing Yachiyo again suffocated her. 

Because it was as simple as that. 

Yachiyo was no longer alive. 

Tsukasa placed her hand over Shizuha's that were playing with the trinkets on the dressing table, her fingers going over each line and curve till they were shaking. She wrapped her other arm behind Shizuha's shoulder, pulling her to her stomach as she was stood up and Shizuha was seated on the chair. 

With the news still processing, Tsukasa wasn't expecting Shizuha to be talkative. 

Not when Yachiyo's body was still warm. 

She flinched at the thought, a cracked sniffle forming and her body trembling with compunction. 

Shizuha pressed against her in understanding and took the fingers over her hand in hers. 

They wanted answers and the lack of was scraping away at their minds.

How had someone they had been conversing with mere moments ago end up dead

Shizuha kept replaying every moment with Yachiyo, everything up to her death. Just screening through, wondering what she missed. Her last sighting of her was when Yachiyo was helping others through the gaps, turning back to offer a warm smile, one that told Shizuha to hang in there. 

Yachiyo had been improving, had found her footing so for something, or someone to hurt her, to kill her, Shizuha couldn't accept it. 

Once she had answers, she would deal with the person responsible herself. 

She would end their life if it was the last thing she ever did on this earth. 

Shizuha was more than capable of it. 

Tsukasa felt the woman's form go rigid, lowering herself till she could embrace her properly and Shizuha accepted the support from her friend. 

Her maroon eyes gleamed within the darkness of the room, half of her reflection in the mirror opposite being illuminated by the moon's light which crept in through the large windows. 

"For as long as we draw breath". 

That was the last thing she had said to Yachiyo, just before the event commenced. 

Shizuha wondered, now that Yachiyo had stopped breathing, what would become of her.

The refuge they had staggered upon after fleeing from their own dystopia was turning out to be more convoluted and fatal than expected. 

Chapter Text

 

 


 


Myouren Temple 


Shizuha had perused the letter to the point each sentence, each word had been engraved into her mind. 

A few days had passed since that fateful night and the uncertainty lingered around Gensokyo. 

Yachiyo's inscrutable and sudden death had left everyone in shambles and Shizuha was barely clinching onto the seams of reality. 

Guilt. 

She was breathing and tasting it now. 

"I should have known.." she muttered beneath her breath, pacing what was their room at the temple, "I should have known". 

"There was no way you could have guessed what she was thinking, Shizuha" Tsukasa tried to reason. 

"That's not good enough!" Shizuha snapped, footfalls stopping in front of the other woman. 

Tsukasa flinched, expression twisting in worry which was enough to retrieve Shizuha out of her stupor, if only temporarily. Her face relaxed, eyes softening as she lowered her head. 

"I'm sorry, Tsukasa. I didn't mean to snap at you" she said quietly, apology genuine. 

Fumi was by the door, biding her time to speak up as she watched Shizuha. 

The woman's renowned stability and doughty composure had crumbled, much like her own. 

Yachiyo's death. 

Her suicide

She still felt the ringing in her ears and she could understand why Shizuha was shovelling piles of accountability on herself. 

Fumi had felt the same, was feeling the same. 

But she knew Yachiyo well, in some ways, better than Shizuha. 

Yachiyo didn't act without thinking. 

"It's okay" Tsukasa reassured, "But you have to stop this, stop letting guilt consume you. You can hardly stand upright". 

"I..I'm fine". 

Fumi scoffed, catching Shizuha's glare. 

While the blonde herself had been in a state, Shizuha was a walking corpse. 

Her face was sallow, pale due to lack of food and sleep. 

Behind her relatively put together facade, if one knew what to look for,  they would be able to spot the tell-tale signs of her deteriorating condition further. 

Like the small tremors. 

Her inability to focus her eyes. 

The crescent shape mark on her wrists. 

Tsukasa bared her teeth, voicing what Fumi was thinking, "Fine? You can hardly stand! Do you think this is what Yachiyo would want to see you as? Running yourself to the ground?!". 

"What Yachiyo wants.." Shizuha said quietly, an empty smile present as she stepped back, "What would I know of what Yachiyo wanted?! She's dead, Tsukasa! There is nothing I can do or say that will bring her back and what is worse is that I didn't see the damn signs. I should have known that that night would never leave her, poisoning her to a point where dying was the only plausible escape!" she bellowed, chest heaving as tears sprang to her eyes, her gaze going to her hands, "For a while, she seemed at ease and I was reckless enough to let my guard down, to not see beyond her words and smiles. What would I know of what Yachiyo wanted..".

Her voice trailed off, fists balling as light-headedness engulfed her and she toppled forward but Fumi and Tsukasa were already there to guide her back to her chair. 

Tsukasa took her hands in her own, squeezing softly, "Slow breaths". 

The woman's voice sounded rougher, worn out and it tunnelled into Shizuha's heart. 

Despite Tsukasa dealing with the crippling loss of Yachiyo, someone she considered as her protégé, she hadn't left Shizuha's side. 

How many more times could Shizuha apologies for her outbursts before it wore thin. 

The pain in her head amplified, crushing the nerves till each one made her experience the immensity of the anguish. 

It was Fumi who spoke up this time, "That's the thing with Yachiyo. When she wants to hide something, she'll hide it in a way you will never figure out". 

She moved away and settled near the wall next to the duo, arms folded across her chest, blue eyes staring at the ground. 

"It's one of the reasons why she was such a skilled actress". 

Fumi's throat clenched at the usage of was

But she continued, looking up ahead, "When I first met her, it used to drive me insane just how elusive she was and yet, she knew how to figure me out so easily, picking me apart until she could trust me enough to open up. That is just how Yachiyo functioned and I was shocked to see how much she had changed when we met again, when you both held that event for Valentines day and asked Shiori to perform with you". 

She smiled whilst thinking of how Yachiyo had figured out where she lived, walking around the details, never taking or giving too much. 

"She had started opening up, allowing herself to be vulnerable" Fumi went on, breathing slowly, "But old habits die hard, if at all" she said and looked at Shizuha, "She shows what she wants others to see so there is no way of you being able to know what was going on in her mind, Kocho-san. To blame yourself for that, it's pointless. Yachiyo's compassion and guilt for taking a life was something we couldn't help her with, only support her". 

Shizuha listened on, eyes trained on the blonde. 

Fumi knew that both Shizuha and Tsukasa needed to hear this, she herself needed to accept that Yachiyo's decision to end her life was just that. 

Her decision to make. 

"And we all know sometimes it isn't enough" Fumi added, "We lose ourselves and run away from the shit that terrifies us. For Yachiyo, that thing, that fucker.." she grit out, "It didn't let her go". 

She let the words settle, to allow them to ruminate because shouldering the burden on her own was going to kill Shizuha. 

Which was one thing Yachiyo had painstakingly written in her letter to them, to make sure that Shizuha didn't fall to despair. 

Yachiyo had written many, for Shizuha and for everyone else before hiding them in the futon, rolling them up. 

Byakuren had been the one to find them. 

"I wish I could have done more, just like you. The regrets, they're the worst but sometimes, nothing will change the end result". 

She sighed and rubbed the edge of her palm against her temple before addressing Tsukasa, "Can I speak to her alone for a minute?". 

Tsukasa gauged Fumi's body language, hesitant to do so but she knew Fumi and Shizuha needed to have this conversation. 

If it got through to Shizuha, Tsukasa would be thankful and besides that, she trusted Fumi too. 

Her influence on Shiori was telling itself so she nodded to her before pressing her hand on Shizuha's shoulder, "I won't be long". 

Shizuha managed a weak nod, watching Tsukasa leave the room before facing Fumi again. 

The woman had grabbed the other chair and sat opposite her. 

A brief moment of silence passed between the two, both reliving the past. 

While the two respected each other as actresses and friends, their was a tinge of friction between them considering their link to Yachiyo. 

Prior to the beginning of the deleterious pandemic, they hadn't crossed paths much so their communications were brief but polite. 

It was after the take over by E.B.O.S and finding themselves on the run where the colliding had occurred, where they were made to look beyond their grudges. 

The pressure, the loss, the anger shook them, changed them which was a given. 

But they had eventually reached an understanding, the one they found when they fought on the same stage. 

They were similar in a sense, compassionate, reliable, resourceful. 

Yachiyo had her fair share of moments teasing the two when there was a lull in the bloodshed about how she gravitated towards a particular type. 

It was because of this that Fumi understood the plight the other woman was placing herself in and as a last favour to Yachiyo, she would pull Shizuha out of the hopelessness with her own hands if she had to. 

"Kocho-" she shook her head, "No, Shizuha".

The usage of her first name was certainly unexpected, the surprise prevalent on Shizuha's tired expression. 

At this point, almost all of the group had dropped the honorifics. 

What were formalities when you were fleeing from a virus ridden world overtaken by dictators and transported into a land which harboured supernatural beings? 

"I wake up and expect to see her, prepare myself for her to mess with me. Honestly, Tamao started to do it more when we all started hanging out" she lamented with a fond smile, "I don't know if that feeling will fade. It hasn't with everyone else we have lost along the way". 

"I didn't think we would have to have anymore funerals once we settled here".

Fumi nodded, looked away, "Me neither. Hina..she, nobody else was meant to die, not like this but it has happened" she exhaled, "I'm sorry, I'm not being succinct. I just need you to know that losing yourself, shutting yourself out, it's not going to do anything for you. Sayo just about ended up detached".

Shizuha thought back to said woman, constantly on the precipice of living and existing. 

She understood why that was but Shizuha knew that Yachiyo wouldn't want her to live in such a way. 

Her lover had made it clear enough. 

"I think she is still struggling". 

"Yeah, I see it too. I don't want it to be like that for you, hell, Yachiyo would have my head" Fumi explained, earning a small laugh from the woman opposite her, "So, don't keep it in, but more importantly, you have to stop letting the guilt swallow you. So do I..".

Everyone felt the same, felt responsible for not seeing beyond Yachiyo's daedal mask. 

"It isn't going to happen over night but ending up like this" she motioned to Shizuha's form, "Isn't going to end well for you. And, it doesn't have to end that way at all". 

Shizuha knew Fumi wasn't much of a talker unless necessary, certainly not conversations of this degree but such was the change in them all. 

Changes Yachiyo had left embedded within them. 

"This emptiness.." Fumi added, gaze dropping, "Isn't going to go away anytime soon but, Yachiyo won't either. She'll be with us". 

They met eyes again when Fumi lifted her head, noting the appreciation in the other woman's reddened eyes. 

She unclenched her shoulders, allowing herself to breath, leaning forward into Fumi's space. The blonde reached out by placing a hand on Shizuha's shoulder, steadying her. 

"Thank you" Shizuha said, gaze earnest, "Fumi". 

The blonde offered a small smile, feeling Shizuha's hand over her own which was still on Shizuha's shoulder. 

While it was only a nascent step, it was enough. 

Just to aid Shizuha into not spiralling. 

The arduous part was yet to come. 

Yachiyo's funeral was to be held on the Friday coming.

She would be buried next to Hina. 

 

***

 

Hakurei Shrine 

 

The work to rebuild Reimu and Alice's home was carried on with celerity. 

Everyone had pitched in to help the family and the construction of it was more or less done. 

There was careful consideration of whom was to be directly involved as the sages of Gensokyo wanted to ensure that nothing of a malicious nature was implanted within or placed into the foundations. 

Magic based or other wise. 

Tenshi had once aided in rebuilding the shrine after destroying it the first time round, inserting some keystones while at it which would have resulted in her being able to create an earthquake beneath the building. 

Yukari had figured it out and had made the celestial redo it again. 

So it wasn't paranoia to assume that anyone involved wouldn't have ill means. 

Especially since the cause of the explosion had yet to be discovered. 

Yukari and Okina were in front of the building as Kasen flew down from the roof. 

The hermit shook her head. 

Yukari sighed, her parasol lower than usual, "I see. Well, if there is no apparent sign of foul play, we will need to dig deeper. Shrines don't explode on a whim, not even in Gensokyo".

Okina tapped her finger against her cheek as she looked at the entrance where the kappa were doing something that could endanger their life. She shrugged it off, wondering what they could do to find the source of the explosion. 

"Nothing on this scale wouldn't leave some sort of residual. It's as Yukari said, it has been hidden quite well". 

"Oh, and who but the hidden goddess to locate it". 

Kasen rolled her eyes as Okina smirked up at the other blonde. 

It was somewhat disturbing how they could appear so nonchalant but Kasen could see through it, had known both women for long enough and as sage of Gensokyo, she could sense their apprehension. 

"Be that as it may, I don't feel comfortable with Reimu, Alice and Eri moving back right away. Not until we find something". 

Yukari pursed her lips, violet eyes peering at the shrine, "They don't have any intention of being anywhere that isn't near Eri so until the little one wakes up, the shrine will remain empty. That being said, I have an idea as to what to do about that. While Sanae can handle any incidents with the others, I'd rather the Hakurei Shrine wasn't uninhabited. The message that sends would be..damaging". 

"I'm sure we will find out what that plan is soon enough. As for Reimu, that's understandable" Okina mused, "There is too much at risk at the moment. I feel we are too exposed". 

Kasen met Okina's eyes, "In what sense?". 

"In the sense that something or someone is travelling under the radar. The number of sightings by humans of youkai is increasing". 

"I thought those youkai were seen to?". 

"Most were accounted for. They were newly formed youkai which had been called to Gensokyo. However, there are some which remain elusive. Such as the one that killed Hina and Tsukasa may have seen at the lake". 

Kasen took in the information, noting that Yukari hadn't interjected with anything, as had Okina when the goddess finished speaking. 

Her eyes were on the shrine, expression unreadable. 

Okina and Kasen had noticed Yukari's weariness over the last year and when questioning the blonde, they were dismissed by Yukari's usual mannerism. 

"Yukari?". 

She returned from her daze and addressed Kasen, "Yes, we've yet to locate said youkai. I've had Ran screening the interior of the barrier but there has been nothing of concern. The last intrusion was of course a few days ago." 

"Are you not overdoing it?" Okina chided, moving closer in her wheelchair to where Yukari was stood, "Eirin has been concerned and quite frankly, so are we". 

"It is nothing to be concerned of. The barrier is as robust as ever". 

Kasen narrowed her eyes, "Your well-being was the concern, Yukari".

"Oh, Kasen? I'm flattered. It has been too many years since you've shown solicitude for me". 

The redhead glowered at her, "There are good reasons for that. But stop digressing, you need to take a step back". 

Okina and Kasen held Yukari's stare, sending her a warning that they were far from joking. 

"I will, in due time. Not until there is some stability reached after what has occurred . Surely that would be permissible?". 

"Very well" Okina relented after a moment, "At this point it is unavoidable. With Sakuya and the rest watching over the shrine in intervals, there is no need to be too troubled as to any other issue which may arise".

"Is there going to be another gathering with the faction leaders?".

"After Yachiyo's funeral" Yukari answered, "The humans guarding the village with Keine need to be present too. Everyone needs to be on the same page at this point as the discussion of Gensokyo's defences will be pivotal" she finished as she made a move towards the shrine, sending her counterparts a smile, "Kasen, have you checked by Reimu and Alice yet?".

"I have, Reimu is usually resting since she has just started to regain consciousness. I'll check up on them later too".

"Hopefully that will ease Alice's strain a bit" Okina mused, "Speaking of which, I'm going to speak to Narumi".

"The youkai magician living in the Forest of Magic?" Kasen enquired. 

"Yes, in regards to Alice".

Yukari waited for Okina to continue, the goddess having had gotten lost in thought for a moment. 

"I didn't want to mention anything yet until I had checked it out myself but she has noticed some odd activity around Alice's house. The forest itself seems to reflect this". 

"Is there anything in particular she has observed?". 

"Shadows". 

Yukari's eyes showed a glimmer of surprise, as did Kasen's. 

"So they've been appearing around the forest. Which means it hasn't been limited to human based areas". 

"It can't be a coincidence how something is visiting Alice's home and the Hakurei Shrine just happens to be the only location to be destroyed" Kasen said in response to Yukari, "More youkai?". 

Okina nodded, "My thinking too. Once I acquire more details, I'll inform you at the meeting. Yukari?". 

"That is fine with me" the youkai said, eyes lingering on the shrine, "Well, till then. Please keep me posted of anything else and do be careful".

She looked at the two, offering an indecipherable smile before waving and heading into the shrine when they said their goodbyes. 

It was unusual for Yukari to end the discussion that way. 

Kasen sighed, "She cannot keep this up, Okina". 

"I'm aware" the blonde said, resting her chin on the back of her hand after sitting back, "Right now, there is nothing we can do. In order to recalibrate the stability, we must see to what is happening here. The more dissonance, the more the barrier weakens. Eirin has realised the effects of it on Yukari so, it is only a matter of time till she figures out the truth". 

"I don't like the idea of sitting around and waiting". 

"We won't be" the goddess insisted, waving her hand to open a door to the Forest of Magic, "Perhaps this lead will aid us. Join me?". 

Kasen generally didn't work directly with Yukari and Okina unless it involved Gensokyo and right now, the safety and existence of the land was at stake. 

So she followed the woman before glancing back at Yukari entering the shrine. 

As on edge as the relationship amongst the three sages was, Kasen would rather no harm came to her counterparts either. 


The anomalous silence of the shrine felt unnerving having had adjusted to the warmth it had built up over the years. 

Yukari walked through the structure, bare feet slowly padding over the floor of the newly placed tatami in one of the rooms. 

Years worth of gatherings by humans, youkai and the likes transcended the interior of building, something which hadn't been done prior to Reimu, starting with her predecessor. 

Yukari's expression mirrored her distaste for what had occurred, thinking of her protégé and her family at Eientei. 

If what Narumi had been seeing is confirmed, then it adds to the hypothesis of the attack on the shrine being deliberate. Yukari had yet to speak to Reimu and Alice, giving them some time as she wanted to know exactly what had happened that night. 

She exited the room, her casual purple dress flowing along, eyes taking everything in. 

Along with the eyes she had opened around the home, discreetly hidden from those working on the building. 

She wasn't going to be taking any risks. 

After the work was to be completed, Yukari was going to place some seals around the building, her specialised wards in order to ensure that the temporary resident of the shrine was to be protected until Reimu could return to her duties. 

The woman entered the living quarters, scanning each room, the area empty, a contrast from how it was merely days ago with the family's belongings. 

She dwelled on that night from every angle and yet could arrive at no concrete conclusion. 

However, the search for answers had only commenced. 

Something or someone was accountable for what had been occurring and Yukari had every intention on finding out who. 

She slid open the shōji screen, the afternoon sunlight streaming into the room as she stepped out onto the veranda. 

Over the rise of the hill where the Hakurei Shrine was situated, the entirety of Gensokyo could be seen from the backyard area. 

The tip of Yukari's parasol nestled over the ground, both hands on the handle. 

Something or someone had decided to wage war on Gensokyo, this much was prevalent. 

Yukari smirked.

She had enough experience starting and finishing them. 

If the fight was being brought to her, she would end it.

 

***

 

Yakumo Mansion 

 

The lingering warmth of the late summer night was welcomed by Shizuha as she was seated on the patio of her bedroom. 

She had been spending more of her days there, reminding her of that last moment with Yachiyo. 

How she smiled with alacrity despite the fear she was feeling when they danced together. 

How she reiterated how much she loved her. 

How she was alive on the surface, but dying within. 

Fumi's words aided her but Shizuha knew it wouldn’t be enough to be rid of the guilt she felt, the grief that was curling around her. 

Her fingers held the missive as her other hand had Yachiyo's crossbow in the palm. 

She looked at the weapon, at the pink gem on the brown barrel. 

It'd never light up again. 

Her grip around it increased as her eyes skimmed over the letter. 

This time, there was no intent to decipher it like she had been doing, trying to find a way of knowing if she could have saved her lover. 

Because Yachiyo was a woman her worked between the lines, left clues, was obscure. 

The letter was anything but. 

The suicide note. 

Shizuha had refused to refer to it as that yet. 

Regardless, spread across the many pages was Yachiyo's honesty in its rawest form. 

Nothing coquettish or equivocated because the intent of the letter was to exculpate herself. 

Shizuha, 

I was thinking of starting it with dear but that is way too formal for us. I'm sure you agree even if you hate me right now. I hate myself for making you read this, for having to write this but I need for you to know why 

Shizuha, I need for you to understand that this is not your fault. 

It hurts me to leave knowing how much pain I'm going to cause you but believe me when I say that it is better than the pain I would have caused you. 

You would take it, accept me no matter how damaged I became and help me through it. But there is a point where there is such a thing as too damaged, right? 

I'm scared, Shizuha. 

Shizuha could feel that fear and every time she read that part, she placed herself in her deceased lover's shoes as Yachiyo rarely was blunt about her fears. 

I feel like I lost myself the night I took that life and ever since then, it's haunting me. 

Coming to Gensokyo made it worse even though we are safe here. I just see it everyday, that feeling of them watching me. 

I can't do it anymore. 

I can't have you trying to fix me because all I'm doing is dragging you down. 

You're the reason why I made it so far, before everything went to hell and after and I want you to always know that. 

With you, I was at peace

Shizuha refrained from repeating the question she had been asking, if that was the case, then why leave? 

Yachiyo had reached her limit, her mind becoming chained in her guilt and nothing could sever that. She had depicted her phlegmatic mannerisms expertly, fooling those around her into thinking she had achieved some stability. 

But I couldn't escape my own head and I couldn't expect to stay glued to you. Every time I looked at you, the worry would be there no matter how hard your tried to hide it. Don't get me wrong, you're a remarkable actress as we all know. You're my favourite villain, remember? 

Shizuha could imagine her winking there. 

It's different when it comes to things we have seen and dealt with, harder to hide. 

I just wanted it to end, Shizuha. The noise in my head, the strain I caused you. 

There was no other way, please understand that. 

Shizuha tried. 

She closed her eyes, squeezed them tightly as a wave of tears emerged so she stopped reading for now. 

The letter was more of a memoir, pages upon pages. 

Like Yachiyo was trying to make up for all the conversations she had taken away with Shizuha. The older woman had noticed how into her writing Yachiyo had been but never would she have believed it would be a suicide note. 

One of many as she had written a departure for the others too, as closure. 

But for Shizuha, she had composed a novel with the hopes that the woman would read back when it got overwhelming, when missing her turned unbearable. 

So she could read how much Yachiyo loved her. 

However, it would never replace the sound of a voice, the touch of skin, the gazes exchanged. 

Yachiyo would live on through the memories, through the clothes she made, through the impressions she left. 

But it wouldn't be enough. 

Whether it was the Outside World or Gensokyo, death never departed without leaving a mark. 

 

***

 

Eientei 

 

Reimu stirred awake from her impromptu consopiation, eyes remaining heavy as she registered the slight light creeping in from the circular windows. 

She had been in and out of sleep all day which in itself was an improvement from not rousing at all. Her body still ached, the burns settling so movement was restricted while she healed. 

Feeling a cool palm on her head, Reimu exhaled and was slowly able to open her eyes.

"I passed out mid conversation again?".

"You did" Alice smiled, her hand moving softly to cup her wife's cheek, "Don't apologise. How are you feeling?". 

"Like I'm living the dream" she responded dryly with a grin, "But better. Can you believe I used to love laying around and do nothing?". 

"You still do but don't get the chance".

Reimu frowned, "Is that any way to speak to your injured wife?". 

Alice chuckled and leaned forward to kiss Reimu gently, "I'm sure you can forgive me". 

"Hm, always. Are you okay? I know you don't need to sleep but staying awake and watching over me and Eri isn't helping". 

"I'll be okay, Reimu" Alice ensured as she felt Reimu lift a hand to her face, stroking her thumb beneath her eyelid, "I'm just glad you're awake". 

Reimu smiled and sat up slightly till she could lean back on the pillows, "Eri will too, Alice. You know how strong she is and with Eirin watching over her, we just have to wait". 

The magician suspired and leaned into her wife's embrace. 

When the mothers had found out that their daughter wasn't breathing on her own, both could barely be kept in place, disturbing their injuries. It took a while for them to be placated, Yukari showing the girl through a gap so that neither had to get out of bed. 

As was any parent's worst fear, the idea of Eri not waking was severely distressing until Eirin's reassurances conciliated them slightly and when the two women had enough strength, they then saw their daughter. 

Right now, it was a waiting game until Eri's lungs healed enough so that she could breath on her own. 

"She's our daughter, Alice" Reimu reminded. 

Alice nodded carefully, holding her wife, "If she's as stubborn as you are, it will work in her favour". 

They pulled away, Reimu unamused again before cracking a grin and kissing the blonde, a hand resting on her shoulder.

"Isn't it my stubbornness that made you fall for me?".

"That may be one way to explain it" Alice laughed. 

Reimu's gaze went to the bedside table next to her, piled with all sorts of gifts. 

"We've had a few visitors" Alice chuckled when she followed Reimu's red eyes. 

"No kidding". 

Flowers, snacks and gifts for the family piled up. 

Reimu shook her head fondly before laying back down but keeping a hold of Alice's hand in her own. 

"I hope Shizuha and the rest have been coping". 

Alice's expression fell, hand tightening as Reimu squeezed it. 

"I.." she swallowed, thinking of Yachiyo, "I can't believe she is gone, Reimu. And in such a way. All that time she spent working with me yet, she was herself. I wish I had seen beyond her smile". 

"You can't blame yourself either" Reimu said firmly, "It's a screwed up situation..and out of our control, okay?". 

Alice blinked her eyes, thinking back to the many moments spent with Yachiyo. 

She was a breath of fresh air, talented at her craft and her jovial personality made her instantly likeable. 

But Alice did see something, something she had see in herself before moving to Gensokyo. 

Loneliness. 

There were moments she would glance at the woman to see what she was doing and she would notice a faraway look on Yachiyo's face in a foredone manner, her eyes shifting around the room. 

"Alice..".

Reimu sat up properly and pulled her wife in against her chest, running her fingers through the longer blonde hair. 

Death hadn't been much of an occurrence in Gensokyo, other than those of old age or diseases that were too far gone for Eirin to see through. 

So Yachiyo's death was bound to leave a stifling atmosphere, more so for those whom had known the woman and considering how close she had gotten to her since Yachiyo's arrival, it was hitting Alice too. 

With Eri's condition and Yachiyo's death, Alice had too much to process. 

A gentle knock to the door would see to Alice's guards being heightened as she separated from Reimu. 

Similar light blue eyes, white hair and a soft smile made the magician freeze. 

"Hello, Alice". 

Reimu's instincts kicked in, ready to act should the intruder begin to make her wife feel uncomfortable so she waited, circumspect of the atmosphere as Alice stood up. 

"Mother..". 

Shinki walked in with Yumeko following, the maid bowing to Alice and greeting Reimu. 

"Eirin allowed me to enter, I hope that is okay. I heard what happened". 

The aura was tense as a stare down ensued between mother and daughter. 

It had been years since they had seen each other so there was too much unsaid, too much to say. 

Alice gulped, crumbled when Shinki spoke up and outstretched her arms, "I'm so sorry". 

Unable to keep the onslaught of emotions at bay, seeing her mother was the final straw for Alice as she stepped around the bed and into her mother's arms. 

Yumeko internally sighed a breath of relief but Reimu was still on edge, something feeling unwonted. 

Still, she couldn't deny that Shinki finally being there for her wife didn't take away some of the ice she felt towards Shinki.

Alice held on, hugging her with what energy she could muster and Shinki did the same, eyes closing in contentment. 

The last time she had held or saw Alice, she was a few years older than Eri.

A thought which ran through the goddess's mind as they pulled apart and she looked down at her daughter, wiping her tears with her thumb. 

The child she had raised was no longer that. 

She had a wife and daughter of her own. 

Speaking of which, Shinki could feel Reimu's hardened gaze on her. 

The woman pressed a kiss to Alice's forehead, "I was away from Makai for a while. Louise and Sara notified me the moment they felt the explosion from the cave. I wish I was here sooner". 

Alice shook her head, "It's..fine. I didn't think you would come here at all". 

"Alice, no matter what has occurred in the past or our feelings, I will always be here for you. You're my daughter, my only concern is for your well-being.." she said and then glanced at Reimu, "Just as much as it is for Eri and Reimu". 

That admission took them all by surprise, even Reimu was stupefied by it. 

Eri was a given but Shinki had made her disapproval towards the priestess prevalent. 

"I believe we all have much to discuss if you both feel well enough to do so. But before that, may I see her?".

"You want to meet Eri?". 

Alice's voice was quiet, eyes locked with her mother's, hopeful. 

If something positive could come from this, she would grasp it. 

"I have done since the moment of her birth, Alice. My...pride however, quelled it" Shinki explained, sounding regretful, "She is my granddaughter. The thought of not meeting her has been dreadful. I feared that I wouldn't get the chance. Yumeko tells me of her visits and I wish to change this wall between us. May I see her, please? ". 

"The wall is there because of you" Reimu managed and slowly got out of bed but her body was still weakened. 

Alice was quick to run to her wife's side, placing an arm around her waist to hold her up as Reimu continued 

"But if you're willing to change that.." she said, "I don't see why not. Alice?". 

Alice's expression said it all, thanking her wife with her eyes, "Yes".

The delight in the goddess's face amplified, "Thank you, both of you".

With that, Alice and Reimu led them to the room across theirs. 

Shinki and Yumeko were perplexed to see Eri as she was, wires everywhere, the repetitive beeping of machinery cutting through the silence. 

"I don't understand, why..is Eri asleep?". 

Shinki walked to Alice's side as Reimu and Yumeko were on the other side of the bed. 

"She can't breath on her own yet. Her lungs were damaged from the smoke, mother" Alice managed, keeping her voice as steady as she could, "Until she is breathing on her own, she is relying on these machines". 

Yumeko's eyes ran over the complex structure before landing on Eri, missing the girl's cheerful greeting she would give whenever she visited. 

The idea of her not being able to breath made her anxious. 

Shinki's eyes flashed dangerously, similar sentiments running though her mind, "Has the cause of the explosion been discerned?".

"Not yet. We're going to talk to Yukari later" Reimu said and brushed back Eri's hair, "She has been giving us space to gather our thoughts as to what happened that night". 

"I see" Shinki said before moving closer to Eri, taking a small hand in hers. The dangerous look had faded completely, "She's beautiful" she beamed, looking at Alice and Reimu, "From what Yumeko has told me, she isn't the kind to give up at all". 

"Which lands her in trees trying to catch fairies" Reimu grinned. 

Shinki chuckled, cradling Eri's hand between her own, "Then the determination is there" she said softly and looked at Alice, "Don't lose hope, Alice". 

The blonde managed a nod as Shinki embraced her with one arm, her other hand still holding Eri's. 

It was a scene that Alice thought would never play out. 

Her mother coming to Gensokyo, to see her and Eri, to actually make an effort with Reimu. 

There was a silver lining in the tragedy as a comfortable atmosphere lingered in the room, surrounding Eri. 

While they all had much to discuss, steps had been made to mend the relationship between Alice and Shinki. 

 


***

 

Eientei/Yakumo Mansion 

 

Given that the 2 week isolation period was completed, Maya, Mahiru and Tae were allowed to be visited. 

Back in one of rooms in the hospital, Tae had finished eating a light meal as Saaya moved her tray to the side table. 

They'd been in the midst of their own catch up when Arisa had fallen asleep next to the brunette, resting her head near her shoulder so Tae settled back to provide some comfort for her. 

Saaya smiled at the scene, "Are you okay like that, O-Tae? We have to be careful of your injuries". 

"I'm fine, Arisa is as small as always so she fits nicely" she noted with a fond glance, her gaze switching to the woman's feet. 

Her expression furrowed, recalling the story of what had happened and why Arisa couldn't use her leg. 

The external injuries had healed but the internal damage was set in the stone. 

When they first met after Tae had woken up, it was of immense surprise to see Arisa in a wheelchair. She could see and feel the discomfort of the blonde despite the way she held her when they embraced, crying at the relief of seeing Tae alive. 

But Tae had noticed how Arisa had changed. 

Saaya too. 

The brunette was as perceptive as ever despite her aloof mannerisms. 

"It took a while to convince her to switch to the wheelchair. She was willing to endure the pain in her arms from the crutches to avoid it". 

Saaya's tone was faraway as she drew the blanket over them, exhaling. 

With the blonde on Tae's right, she patted the space next to her, "Saaya". 

How Saaya had missed that gentle voice, no matter the state or mood Tae was in. 

To hear it again ameliorated the rush in her head. 

She was exhausted. 

"Your wound is on that side". 

"Saaya" repeated. 

Large green eyes watched her, beckoning her and Saaya relented like she always did when it came to either of them. 

She carefully crawled into the bed, not spacious enough for three but they made it work, used to this arrangement. Still, she was careful to avoid the taller brunette's abdomen whilst leaning back and resting on Tae's shoulder. 

Tae's fingers linked with Saaya's, her other arm trapped in Arisa's, clinging onto her. 

She waited till Saaya was ready to speak, simmering in the warmth she had missed, something she thought she would never experience again. Evidently, a substantial amount had transpired between Saaya and Arisa but she hoped it could be fixed and would do whatever she could to help them. 

"Are you okay? Do you need any more painkillers?" Saaya asked, "Eirin has left me the dosage so I can set that up". 

Tae pressed her lips against Saaya's hair, "The pain isn't as bad anymore. Besides, you never have answered me properly whenever I asked you that. You laugh it away, like always. Arisa has been doing the same, except she scowls. I missed it". 

Saaya smiled, lashes flickering over Tae's jaw as she glanced down at the blonde. 

She was overwhelmed with longing and sadness, regret and a whole host of emotions she couldn't pinpoint. 

But most of all, she felt like she was letting Arisa down. 

"I feel like I'm losing her, O-Tae. It's like going back to the days we first met, the Arisa of that time". 

Reclusive, withdrawn, anxious. 

"I can't help her and any way that I can, she pushes me away". 

Tae exhaled, held Saaya's hand a little tighter. 

"We didn't adjust to the idea of never seeing you again. The explosion..we couldn't find you when we went back but there was blood everywhere. Before we could check, E.B.O.S arrived again and we had to run. Running blindly through the forest until..". 

Arisa's scream never left Saaya's mind. 

Nor did the sight of her foot stuck in between the jaws, the spikes impaled into her skin. 

While most bear traps were not designed to be lethal, the one Arisa become ensnared in had been tampered with, had been modified to cut one's leg rather than trap. 

It was rusted, the aged device unhygienic. 

Arisa was fortunate that her foot hadn't been amputated. 

It took Shizuha, Claudine, Sayo and Fumi to grip each side of the jaw to release the spring so that they could pull them apart to free the blonde. 

It was enough to make Arisa faint, the blood loss and shock settling in. 

Saaya slammed her eyes shut, tears prickling through as Tae moved so that she could hold the other brunette, pulling her in close. 

"She has been through so much and I feel like I'm letting her down".

It would be easy to say that that wasn't the case but that wasn’t what Saaya needed to hear from Tae. 

At times, it was comfort one required when opening up, not a solution. 

They both knew Arisa would never feel that way, no matter what the situation beheld because she knew Saaya was doing everything within her capabilities to support her. 

Tae and Saaya were the ones that could handle and comfort Arisa in ways others couldn't. 

They understood her brash behaviour, her reticent thoughts. 

Tae just held them closer. 

She didn't know how but a solution would be found. 

Something to remind Arisa that nothing had changed, had to change.

 
As for the rest of the group, they were seated in one of the living areas as Mahiru and Maya were recounting what had occurred after they had been separated. 

The two women were healing well but it was plain to see the strain remaining, on edge in this unearthly location but knowing that everyone had made it was enough for them to lessen their cautionary sides. 

Almost everyone. 

Mahiru's eyes remained forlorn as Maya's were pensive upon hearing the news of Hina and Yachiyo. 

"And this happened when we arrived?". 

"Yes, Yachiyo that night and Hina before we arrived" Tamao answered Maya's query. 

"I don't understand.." Mahiru managed. 

She couldn't clarify which. 

Hina being murdered. 

Yachiyo taking her own life. 

Shiori placed a hand on the woman's back since she was sat next to her at the low table. 

Misaki, Fumi, Tamao, Lisa, Yuyuko, Claudine, Kaoruko were present for the catch up. 

Tsukasa was with Shizuha and Saaya and Arisa remained with Tae since the brunette was still too debilitated to be up and about. 

Sayo and Chisato stayed back at Yukari's mansion.

For the time being, the group were limited in where they were allowed to go, under strict supervision till the Gensokyo's natives could figure out what has been happening. 

Each woman was to speak with Byakuren or Eirin every week, about anything they wished in an effort for the two to gauge where they were at, especially mentally. 

In order to avoid what Yachiyo had endured, the focus on their mental being was upped with Yukari going as far as to consider asking Satori to peer into their hearts and mind, or doing it herself. 

But Yuyuko had managed to dissuade the blonde from doing so, pointing out that they'd be less likely to communicate, more so if that trust is broken so Yukari let it be, for now. 

The group had also taken matters into their own hands in terms of communicating with each other, or simply being around each other. 

Yachiyo's struggle, the pain she was weathering was concealed too well so they had all agreed to remaim in the company of one other at least. 

All of this was relayed to the new arrivals and they had agreed. 

Still, it was disheartening to hear of the deaths of Hina and Yachiyo. 

"There has been too much happening even after we got here" Fumi said quietly as Tamao had a hold of her hand, "Even so, we're glad you all managed to evade them". 

"How did you manage that? What happened to Nana and Junna?". 

Maya managed a smile at Claudine, it felt strange to be able to do so but the woman was relieved despite the upsetting news of two of their friends. 

"After the explosion, myself and Tsuyuzaki-san managed to find Hoshimi-san and Daiba-san whom had taken Hanazono-san to safety. We ended up moving away from the forest given that we were being chased and eventually found shelter in an abandoned residential area".

"It didn't last long until we were found though" Mahiru continued, "E.B.O.S..their aggression just became..".

Maya offered Mahiru a reassuring gaze which the woman appreciated, taking in a quick breath after drinking some water. 

"There were no limits they wouldn't go to when it came to silencing anyone on the opposing side. Junna had disappeared after she warned us that they were coming so Nana went after her". 

The gravity in Mahiru's voice didn't sound promising, much to the dismay of the others. 

But the retelling of their ordeal only worsened when they continued. 

Maya had been apprehended and taken to one of the bases of the enemy, subjected to torture for a month until Mahiru and Tae had managed to usurp her captors and free her. 

What they had managed to find in terms of supplies at the small base had been pivotal to their survival for the next month as they made their way to reach a supposed destination that was free from E.B.O.S.

But the intel had been a farce, orchestrated by the organisation to trap those who arrived at said location. 

Luckily, the trio had figured it out at the last minute and avoided it but had winded up back to Kōfu, where they started. 

Tae's bullet wound had opened up several times along the way and their last ambush before they found themselves in Gensokyo was their bloodiest altercation yet. 

The story settled, eyes looking upon them sympathetically. 

It was miraculous and laudable that any of them were still alive. 

"You're safe here" Claudine said, placing a hand above Maya's whilst looking at Mahiru, "While there are things going on, it is nothing like out there". 

Kaoruko's eyes flickered to the contact, something stirring in her chest before she pushed it down. 

"Can we trust them?". 

Lisa nodded, "We can. I think it has been made clear that if they wanted to hurt us, they could have done but..everyone has been nothing but kind" the woman reassured, thinking of Yachiyo, "We're better off here than out there".

"Your doubts are warranted, Tendou-san" Tamao added softly, "But we can assure that our presence here in Gensokyo has been accepted".

"You've spoken to Yukari, right?". 

Mahiru answered Misaki's enquiry, "Yes, a week after. She seems..knowing. It was strange".

"Sounds like her" Claudine scoffed, though there was no animosity to it, "The point being, we can trust her, Maya, Mahiru. It's going to take some to time to not feel like you're watching over your shoulder. I guess we all still do it but compared to actually being out there..it's different, even though we're on earth". 

"Had it not have been for our experiences, it would have been difficult to accept this" Maya noted and pressed a hand to her stomach, feeling some discomfort, "Magic, the supernatural..".

"We can agree with that" Misaki pointed out whilst meeting Lisa's eyes, "You know, since we have no experience battling in underground revues". 

A small chuckle went around the room as Kaoruko turned her attention to Misaki and Yuyuko, "And now you get to date a magician. You're going up in the world, Misaki-han".

Maya and Mahiru's head snapped towards the duo, "Magician?" the latter repeated. 

Yuyuko grinned lazily, eyes meeting Misaki's. 

"Long story short, coming to Gensokyo seems to have 'unlocked' something of my lineage" Yuyuko explained. 

"Apparently, making out with your love interest does that" Lisa managed to tease, revelling in the blush from the duo. 

Tamao and Fumi shared the sentiments, grateful for the brief moments of levity and from the looks of it, Maya and Mahiru appreciated it too. 

"Hey, it wasn't like that" Misaki insisted, pushing back her hair as she felt Yuyuko lean on her, "Okay, yeah. It was definitely like that". 

"That is fascinating" Maya smiled, "And congratulations on your relationship. I suppose everyone was correct in their observations". 

Yuyuko raised a brow, "Observations?". 

"I have a bad feeling about that sentence, Tendou-san". 

"It's nothing bad, Misaki" Claudine spoke up, "Just a bet to see how long it would take for the two of you to get together". 

Yuyuko groaned, hiding her face into Misaki's neck, "Even you, Fumi-san, Tamao-san?". 

Shiori smiled at the duo, owning up to their involvement. 

"Sorry, Yuyuko. For all the times you called me and Tamao oblivious". 

"Shiori?". 

The blonde chuckled, "Me and Tsukasa did the bet too" she answered apologetically as. Misaki groaned this time. 

The younger Yumeoji could just imagine Yachiyo with a quip, ready to go and tease till they were rubicund in the face. It warmed her to see Yachiyo's presence left in everyone around her, keeping her alive. 

Her funeral had been less about grieving and more about retelling the best moments of her existence, just as she had stated in her letter. 

That they should keep living, even if she herself couldn't. 

There would be a lot for Mahiru, Maya and Tae to process in regards to their new location, their new home but given the way the group seemed, assimilation could be acquired. 

With an additional 4 months of fleeing, their turmoil had been extended, damaging. 

But knowing that most of their group were alive certainly gave them hope to continue, to start afresh. 

Further conversation continued as they filled the two in about Gensokyo, the details Yukari couldn't cover. 

Kaoruko stood up to leave, not before Claudine placed a hand on her shoulder, "You okay?".

"I feel tired so I'm going to head back to Yukari's". 

"I'll come with you". 

Kaoruko shook her head, eyes drifting to Maya, violet eyes slightly widening when Claudine had mentioned leaving. 

That feeling resurfaced again. 

"I'll be fine, Kuro-han. You stay and catch up with them". 

The blonde raised a brow, "Are you sure?". 

Kaoruko leaned back down slightly and kissed the woman, lingering before moving back, "I'm sure. I'll see you all later". 

She felt Maya's eyes on for the duration of the kiss, making her extend it till she was satisfied. 

"Ah, I'll go with you, Kaoruko" Lisa said and stood up, "Ran mentioned something about new ingredients" 

"Oh? I'm looking forward to that already" Kaoruko replied, tone somewhat forced. 

 

They then left the room to head to where Yukari had left a gap tunnel open to the mansion, Kaoruko's smile fading from her lips as her eyes lost all mirth. 

Claudine hadn't realised that her hand was still in Maya's throughout the exchange. 

The women went in their way as Lisa noticed the ruminant expression on Kaoruko's face as they walked up to the second floor. 

"Let me say hi to Sayo first and then you can be my assistant in the kitchen? First access to whatever Ran and I make".

Lisa couldn't imagine their Ran baking, a melancholic look filtering over. 

But she pushed those thoughts aside, grinning when Kaoruko capitulated with ease. 

"Very well, Lisa-han, dazzle me" she smirked. 

Lisa's culinary expertise was worth the effusive praise she got and it was enough for Kaoruko to forego the perturbation she was shrouded in. 

They arrived at the brunette's room, Lisa walking in before Kaoruko. 

She assumed Sayo was alone but that wasn't the case. 

Chisato was with her, more so, in her arms, hands on Sayo's cheek. 

Sayo had her hands secured over Chisato's upper arms, like she was trying to steady herself, their faces close, lips closer. 

"Sayo..?".

The duo pulled apart when they heard the door open, the perplexed expressions of both Lisa and Kaoruko highlighting the nature of the situation. 

Sayo's eyes expanded as she placed space between herself and the blonde. 

"Lisa".

Lisa loathed how guilty they appeared, seeing them together like that, close and intimate. 

There was really only one conclusion when it came to a scene such as this. 

Lisa stepped in, eyes switching between the two, "What is going on here?". 

Silence reigned for a few seconds as Chisato looked away when Sayo spoke up. 

"Hanayagi-san, I'm sorry but may we be left alone for a moment" Sayo asked. 

Kaoruko looked at Lisa, telling her that she would stay, she only had to ask. 

Her brown eyes softened, the anguish on Lisa's countenance tangible and it hurt to witness. 

"I'll be okay". 

"Are you sure?". 

Lisa gulped, "Yeah, I..I'm sure it's nothing". 

The heiress knew otherwise, sighed softly, "Okay, I'll be around". 

With that, Kaoruko left and the silence resumed. 

Sayo shuffled on her feet, "Lisa, I.." she started and met Chisato's gaze, "We have to tell you--".

"Tell me what? You're scaring me, Sayo" the brunette interrupted, a waver in her voice, "Why were you both like..".

She couldn't even say it. 

"I'm sorry". 

"What for?" Lisa questioned, tone subdued and marched up to lover, "Why are you apologising to me?" she repeated, "Chisato?". 

She met Lisa's teary eyes, "Sayo, just tell her, please". 

Sayo felt the nausea pool in her stomach as she took a hold of Lisa's wrists, "Do you recall something you said to me? Not long after we relocated to the temple?". 

The brunette was on the verge of snapping as she felt the desperation in Sayo's hold. 

"Lisa, do you remember?" the taller woman asked, pleaded. 

Of course Lisa did, anything related to the woman she gave her heart to remained so that conversation in the bathroom was there. 

The memories of Sayo's grief, her vacuous stare, her desperation when spoke. 

Her broken apology. 

"Why are you apologising to me like that?". 

"I know that being with me hasn't been easy, I am fully aware of how complex I am". 

"That doesn't matter to me, I love every part of you". 

"Even the messed up side of me?".

"Even her. I love her cause she's a part of you. What ever you're apologising for, I forgive you". 

Lisa remember it vividly, "Sayo? What happened?". 

There was no going back bow. 

Sayo steeled herself and held her lover's stare before moving her eyes towards the floor. 

She couldn't look at her as she broke her heart. 

"A few weeks after we settled at Eientei, I was packing up Hina's clothes. Shirasagi-san came by to see how I was doing as we hadn't really spoken about it..about Hina's death". 

Sayo's tone when quieter, lower. 

"And then?". 

Chisato braced herself, one hand wrapped against her other arm where Sayo had held her not long ago when she was reassuring her. 

They were going to tell Lisa the day after but the opportunity had truly been fortuitous to present itself now. 

"It wasn't intentional, Lisa. You have to believe this. Neither one of us wanted it to happen.." Sayo continued, tasting the betrayal on her tongue, "There are no excuses for what we did, even if grief was the factor, it was..not intended". 

Lisa shook Sayo's hands off of her and backed away.

"What you did..you and Chisato..". 

The softness in her voice was jarring. 

Sayo reached out but Lisa slapped her hand away, the reality of Sayo's duplicitous behaviour sinking in. 

There was no other insinuation as to what Sayo had said, no other way to justify what she saw, what she was hearing. 

"Lisa" Sayo pleaded, hands wanting to reach out again but Lisa shook her head. 

She was crying now, olive eyes overflowing with tears as the revelation hit her and she was trying to process it. She was staring at Sayo, as if wondering if she had forgotten who she was along the way. 

The Sayo she knew was loyal, would never stray, just like she was to their band. 

But those days were long gone now. 

Her breathing became uneven, hardened eyes landing on Chisato, "Hina was dead a month and you decided to move on to her sister?!". 

Lisa's raised voice shocked both of them, as did the words. 

"It wasn't like that" Chisato stated, "We didn't-". 

"Stop, stop talking, Chisato" Lisa lashed out, "You..don't you dare. I should have known something had happened with you both" she laughed with derision, "All this time, I thought we were genuinely friends". 

"Lisa, we are". 

Lisa's balled her fist, "Friends don't fuck their friend's girlfriend. No matter the reason". 

Chisato stood back, her head clouded as she struggled to refute that. 

She looked over to Sayo whom had remained silent but she could tell there was so much she wanted to say, to attempt to defend her but Chisato didn't want that. 

The blonde knew that they were in the wrong. 

She abhorred that she had hurt them, hurt Hina. 

Lowering her gaze, Chisato apologised, "I'm so sorry". 

"Get out". 

The sharpness of the tone cut through, as did the eyes when she met them again before looking to Sayo.

Sayo appeared enervated and defeated, motioning that it was best if she left.

As much as she wanted to remain and help Sayo, leaving them be was the only option. 

This was a conversation for them. 

With that, Chisato bowed again before making a haste exit to the door. 

She was on the verge of tears, her stability bristling away to irreparable lengths. 

This could be the last event to break her completely. 

The door shut as Lisa began to pace, her head in disarray, tears falling at the thought of Sayo and Chisato. 

"Lisa, let me explain" Sayo said, the quietness suffocating as she reached out for Lisa's shoulder. 

"Don't touch me!". 

Sayo ignored her, tried to pull her into an embrace whilst apologising as Lisa struggled against her. 

She wound her arms around Lisa's waist and placed her head on her shoulder, "I'm sorry, please let me fix this". 

Lisa's hands pushed at Sayo's chest, her blouse in her palms as she cried out, "You can't fix this, Sayo! How could you do this..to me, to Hina. All this time you've been with her, pretending to love me". 

"It was once, Lisa, just once". 

"You think that makes a difference?" Lisa breathed out, using what strength she had to shove Sayo back, "You fucked her once? Oh, that's good to know. Now we can go back to how it was since it was only once". 

Sayo was as breathless as Lisa was, eyes reddened as she took in the look of utter defeat on her lover's face. 

Every word pierced her skin, over and over and there was nothing she could do to amend this, to halt the pain for any of them. 

"What can I do-". 

"Nothing, Sayo! Nothing you do or say will ever undo this, don't you understand? I feel like an idiot with the way you both were looking out for me but without getting too close to each other. The guilt of cheating is something else. You know what the worst thing is?". 

Sayo wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, not daring to move towards Lisa again even though every inch of her being was telling her to. 

"One of my worst fears came true. That one day, you'd wake up and want someone more like you". 

"Someone like me.." Sayo repeated, stunned at the admission. 

"Everyone always did say that it was weird how we ended up together and you and Chisato didn't. We're the complete opposite of each other, you hated me when we met".

"You're wrong" Sayo interjected, nails digging into her palms, "I could never hate you, Lisa".

Lisa just scoffed, legs feeling shaky as her blood rushed to her ears, "I am wrong. I should have listened..". 

"To who?". 

"Everyone! I know you heard it too, how Chisato would be better for you. How you're with the wrong bass player. How you have so much more in common, how you both could have achieved so much. How being with me..was wrong". 

"Do you think I had an ounce of care in regards to what others said!" the woman finally yelled back and walked up to Lisa, taking her cheeks in her palms, shaking, "When have the opinions of others mattered to me? I love you, Lisa. Our differences are what brought us together". 

"But it wasn't enough" Lisa replied, tone broken and eyes looking up into the greens she had loved, "It wasn't enough for you to seek me during one of the worst moments of your life. You went to her instead. Someone who understood you". 

"Please, it was not like that". 

Lisa wrapped her hands around Sayo's wrists, "Leave me alone, Sayo. I..can't be around you anymore". 

With that, she pulled Sayo's wrists down, releasing the calloused fingers from her face and turned away, making her escape out of the room. 

Sayo couldn't move, legs feeling like lead as she watched Lisa leave, her lustrous brunette hair following behind till the door closed softly. 

She was alone with silence again, mouth dry and heart erratic at what had happened. 

Lisa had left her. 

Sayo swallowed thickly as her cheeks became damp again, knees finally shuddering when she took a step but couldn't go any further. 

Just like the night when Hina died, she felt helpless, she had now lost someone else she loved. 

Chapter Text

 

 


 

 

Eientei 

 

The atmosphere surrounding the group had shifted immensely over the coming weeks. 

Now approaching early September, the brisk weather had began to engulf Gensokyo, replicating that of the mood of the Outside World denizens and Gensokyo's natives. 

The activity amongst the faction leaders had increased as they worked tirelessly to increase the fortitude of the land. Stringent plans were implemented to ensure any further attacks were minimised in damage or foiled completely. 

Such means included certain times that humans were free to wonder, especially after dark. 

It all involved keeping an eye on the more dubious youkai like Yuuma, Yachie and Seija in the precaution that they had something else planned. 

In addition to this, Yukari had instigated what she and Eirin had been discussing in regards to training up the humans of the Outside World. 

So for those that could fight, their days and night were spent training and patrolling while the others were taught the basics in self defence. 

Given what had occurred, they were all on edge, the consternation furthered by the revelation regarding Sayo, Chisato and Lisa. 

At the very least, a distance could be placed amongst the group as they focused on the tasks they were allocated. 

Alice and Reimu had moved to Eientei for the time being considering that Eri had yet to breath on her own. However, some progress was being made as Eirin noticed that the girl had regained some strength in her lungs which was a relief. 

Yukari, Eirin and Reimu were currently in Eirin's office, talking over the events which had occurred and any changes that needed to be discussed. 

Reimu gleaned through some of the documents spread on the seating area in the corner of the room. 

Some referenced Gensokyo's history which were composed by Akyuu and Keine as the documents provided detailed annotations. The two had been scouring through everything that had written in the past whilst searching for any clues as to similar disruptions to Gensokyo. 

"Nothing of use" Reimu sat back on her chair, "I guess if it has happened, Yukari would know about it". 

"I can see why you would assume that but believe it or not, there have been some incidents that have almost eluded me". 

"Like sleep?". 

Yukari smirked at Eirin whom was seated near her side, "I sleep plenty, as you know". 

The goddess failed to find the humour as Yukari was looking more worn down with each passing day. Her routine was becoming more circumscribed, locking her in which was taking its toll on Yukari's well-being. 

"Eirin isn't wrong" Reimu said whilst reaching for her tea, taking a sip, "But with everything happening, even you would been worried enough to forget sleep".

While Reimu had a point, Eirin knew there was more to it but would press later, "More so with these continuous dead ends. Did Shinki come up with anything?". 

"Not as of yet, granted, it has been beneficial to obtain her eyes. Your mother in law is daunting in her own right". 

"Yukari.." Reimu warned. 

Though her expression depicted annoyance, it was clear to see how relieved Reimu was with the peace found with Shinki. The goddess had been visiting often, staying with Alice which was the case at this moment. It helped to ease the burden on Reimu considering how Alice was ecstatic at the involvement of her mother while they watched over Eri. 

"Teasing aside" Yukari surrendered and collected a few pieces written in Shinki's language, "It has been useful to acquire knowledge on beings not of Gensokyo's nature. We still have two on the loose. One which killed Hina and the one who went for the shrine". 

"I wonder if the first one could have infiltrated the barrier and attacked the shrine. Maybe it isn't two". 

"It is a possibility" Yukari nodded to her lover, "I'm not ruling out anything at this point. The shrine itself is heavily protected now by spells and those guarding it so if it did attack again, we would be prepared". 

"How is Yuyuko doing? Settled into the role?" Reimu enquired. 

"Slowly but surely. Her previous experience as a priestess has allowed her to interact with the humans that come to visit. Given that and her status as a magician, it seemed apt to offer this temporary role to her". 

"By offer, you mean coerce?" Eirin chuckled, eyes on the documents but she could feel the youkai's glare. 

Reimu's snicker didn't help. 

"I have tact, if you must know" Yukari sighed, "She was more than compliant actually. All of them have been in terms of helping to figure out the source of this upheaval". 

"Gensokyo is their home now so that seems befitting" Eirin noted, "Despite how turbulent it has become considering the string of tragedies". 

"I kind of regret saying that this place would be slightly safer" Reimu groaned, thinking back to the conversation she had with them when they arrived. 

"You weren't wrong, Reimu. If they were in the Outside World, the survivability is dangerously low. My conversations with Maya, Mahiru and Tae have shed light onto how severe it is".

"Indeed, as for what has occurred, not even I could have anticipated it so don't fret" Yukari added from Eirin's point, "In the mean time, we simply have to plan ahead as much as we can. There are certain locations where everything coincides in some way so we're pooling what resources we have into those". 

"Forest of Magic, Genbu Ravine and Misty Lake?". 

"Correct. Alice's home in particular". 

Reimu frowned, "What did you find out?".

"It is indeed a place of interest. The activity surrounding it has increased". 

"Is anyone patrolling that area?". 

"No, and before you ask why.." Yukari quickly added as she saw the priestess's frown deepen, "This is intentional". 

Eirin stood up and went to her desk, searching for something as Yukari continued. 

"In order to lure in a culprit or someone who might know something, we are pretending to not be focused in order to demarcate their movements without making it obvious".

"Bait, in other words. Clearly there is some attention to Alice's home, or rather her workshop. Magicians attract attention given the range in the magic they cultivate. What is Alice's main objective?". 

Reimu didn't have to ponder Eirin's query, "Autonomous magic".

"Exactly. She is close to reaching the fruition of her research, isn't she? Imagine being able to wield that kind of power, applying it to any being" Yukari finished as she watched the dots connect for Reimu. 

It was plain to see why Alice would be targeted. 

If it was an attempt to take Alice out to steal her research and encumber her with distractions, the potential list of assailants only increased but it does offer a why. 

"That night, Alice and I felt something seconds before the explosion. We didn't even get a chance to react but our first thought was to reach Eri" Reimu recalled, "Alice's reaction in particular was..something". 

"What do you mean, Reimu?".

"I don't know but she noticed it first".

Reimu remembered r that brief flash of fear in her wife's eyes just before the explosion occurred, like a delphic reaction to it. 

She hadn't brought it up yet but now would definitely be the time to do so. 

"It would explain the fixation on her" Eirin said, brows furrowed, "Alice is a powerful magician, she can sense and see through illusions faster. However, something had evaded her to a point where it was the very last minute she realised".

Eirin and Yukari watched the woman ruminate as she stood up, "I'm going to see Alice. If that is the case, then she needs to be aware".

"Of course. While you are there, tell her that we'll need a reference or index to what she has researched. Now, I'm not asking a magician to reveal her secrets but I'll need something to trace back, or use as leverage. It isn't just supernatural beings that would be interested in her work". 

"It's fine. She can give you what you need" Reimu answered and collected her gohei, "If this is the reason we were almost killed, why Eri isn't awake..then, nothing matters other than finding the being responsible". 

Reimu's tone grew icy, a subtle anger flashing in her eyes at this knowledge. 

To go as far as hurting her family for Alice's research, it was unforgivable. 

With that, they said their goodbyes as Reimu left the room. 

Eirin walked back to the table when Yukari leaned back on her chair as the goddess approached her and stood in front of her. 

"Was it wise to tell her now, Yukari?". 

"I was unsure at first but the sooner Alice can deduce if there was anything missing, the sooner we can obtain an idea as to our assailant. Also, they can begin to prepare additional spells and wards to protect themselves and Eri. If someone is after Alice's work, then I'm afraid they are not done". 

"They must be aware that Shinki is around. How brave can they be to attempt something now?". 

"Well, they have already attacked the shrine so my intuition tells me that whoever they are, they posses little fear". 

Yukari was correct in her observation so Eirin left it be and walked back to her desk, pacing a tad as the restlessness kicked in. Her arms were folded against her chest as she neared her window, peering out whilst mulling over her thoughts. 

The state of Gensokyo. 

The fragility of the Outside World humans. 

The hidden aspects of her lover that seemed to mire her. 

It had been some time since Gensokyo had been tipped on its head and she realised she had gotten too comfortable. She had sworn to defend Gensokyo, to shoulder the burden with Yukari and yet it felt like Yukari was attempting to find a solution on her own.

The goddess chided herself for becoming negligent. 

"Eirin?". 

She felt a hand to her shoulder, urging her to turn around and glance into concerned violet eyes. 

"I was thinking". 

"I can tell. You go off in your own world when you become that pensive". 

"Another trait we share" Eirin pointed out, though the jovial nature of her tone was difficult to continue considering how worn out Yukari appeared. 

She hid it well enough but the few that could see beyond the youkai's exterior could tell. 

Yukari smiled and stepped forward whilst encircling her arms behind Eirin's shoulders, exhaling against her neck, "Hm, that list will grow, I'm sure". 

The lunarians hands wound around her waist, one palm on her lower back before the fingers skimmed upwards. Eirin wondered about that as she slowly continued her movements till her fingers reached Yukari's upper back, her hair up which allowed the digits to skim over the surface. 

Yukari concealed a shudder as her arms tightened around the goddess’s shoulders. Her eyes had closed, reveling in her lover's cautious actions when Eirin restarted the journey of her fingers. 

She smiled to herself, "You're touching me like I am going to break, Eirin". 

"That seems quite likely at this point" Eirin thought to herself before pulling back without parting from the embrace, "Just savouring the moment. Speaking of which, I think we are due a break now. Dinner should be ready so let's go. No arguments". 

Yukari stopped before she could refute it, lips turning into a grin while her fingers linked behind Eirin's neck, "Very well, I can't object to the doctor's order, can I?". 

"You say that and then you do the exact opposite" Eirin deadpanned. 

The blonde chuckled and was led by Eirin out of the room, both moving at a languid pace as Eirin watched her out of the corner of her eyes. 

She tried to push down the gnawing feeling, noting a portentous tinge lingering over Yukari. 

It had become too tangible now and Eirin wondered when Yukari's facade would collapse on itself. 

 


 ***

 

Yakumo Mansion 

 

Lisa tentatively took a hold of Kaoruko's naginata when she handed it to her. 

"Are you sure about this, Kaoruko?". 

"Trust me, you'll feel way better. Bottling it up and pretending everything is fine isn't doing you any good" 

The brunette laughed, sound vacuous which stymied her goal of appearing okay, "Saw through that, huh". 

She held the weapon by the pole as Kaoruko looked on, sympathy in her eyes before she demonstrated to Lisa the proper way to hold the naginata. 

They were in the expansive field area adjacent to Yukari's home which had now become a training area. 

Since Yukari's home was cut off, they had the isolation to work here safely after Yukari had discussed the plan. 

Maya and Claudine were next to them, both engaged in a fight as they moved around the grounds like they were on stage. The sounds of their swords clashing was reassuring in a sense but Kaoruko still couldn't help but to peer at them now and then. 

But right now, Lisa was the priority as Kaoruko had watched her appear cheerful during the day while crying herself to sleep at night since Sayo left. 

It wasn't healthy so she did the best she could to help the woman through it, as did the others. 

Claudine offered them a thumbs up as she had Maya's rapier buried in the ground, foot on the blade as Maya tried to free herself, a sight which was amusing. 

The duo shared a chuckled when Kaoruko spoke up, "Getting it out of your system is better. I'm not saying it'll fix everything but that anger you're holding in will have an outlet".

"I..guess so" Lisa managed as she extended the naginata outwards and aimed at the target ahead. 

"To start off, just charge at the Sayo-, I mean the dummy. Same thing. Just stab it". 

"Kaoruko" Lisa finally grinned slightly,  appreciating the heiress's humour as she looked ahead. 

The practice dummy was floating in the air, the size of an average human, grey in colour and made out of a spongy material.

So Lisa channeled everything she had been feeling, fingers tight around the weapon as she exhaled. 

With a quick sprint, Lisa rapidly closed the distance between the tip of the blade and the dummy, impaling it in the stomach. The cushioned material sank in, covering the blade as it was shoved in further till Lisa was satisfied. 

Kaoruko watched on, impressed by Lisa strength. 

Sourced from dolour. 

With what happened in regards to Sayo and Chisato's indiscretion still unfurling, Kaoruko couldn’t deny that her own insecurities were rising with the arrival of Maya. 

If someone as loyal as Sayo could stray under the pressure of grief, what did that mean for Claudine? 

Her history with Maya was well-established. 

Lisa pulled the weapon out and stepped back, opting to run towards it again, jamming the blade into the target's stomach.

Kaoruko didn't stop her as she folded her arms across her chest. 

All those fake smiles she had seen from Lisa since Sayo's betrayal came to light had irked on the heiress's every nerve. 

Why was Lisa having to suffer for Sayo and Chisato's mistakes, why did she have to pretend to be coping? 

Lisa had every right to lash out, but the woman did the opposite which in a sense was more damaging. 

But it had all come loose now. 

The brunette walked back again, slightly panting before she raced forwards to slam the naginata against the dummy, this time the force of the entry point splitting the material which left a hole in it. 

Lisa collapsed to her knees as Kaoruko rushed over, "Lisa-han..". 

"I'm fine" Lisa breathed out as she clutched the shards of grass beneath her fists, "I'm okay, just got carried away". 

Kaoruko placed her arm around her, motioning to Claudine and Maya to remain as they were when they were about to rush to them.

The despair that Lisa had been keeping sealed was seeping out, "How could she do this to us..I..".

Lisa's body trembled as Kaoruko balanced on her own knees and pulled the woman into an embrace. 

"I miss her so much, Kaoruko. But at the same time, I don't want to see her. I don't know what to do!". 

Kaoruko held her tighter and let the woman cry on her shoulder as she sighed at the turmoil Sayo and Chisato had made. 

Out of all the ways to deal with grief, Sayo took the most deleterious road. 

Lisa was broken. 

Kaoruko couldn't say anything but she knew Lisa wasn't expecting it, she just wanted comfort.

What could be said even if she did want to utter words of reassurances? 

Nothing could right Sayo's mistake and the woman had tried at every opportunity to get through to Lisa.

Kaoruko thought of Sayo as foolish. 

Even if she could sympathies with Sayo and Chisato given Hina’s death, the end result was that they had betrayed Lisa in the worst way possible. 

Claudine and Maya watched on, waiting for any signal from Kaoruko in case she needed something but the heiress simply motioned that she was taking Lisa back inside.

They then went to collect Kaoruko's weapon as the duo walk back into the premises. 

"What a mess" Claudine sighed. 

"Unfortunate indeed. Hanayagi-san has been with her throughout this which is a relief". 

"Hm, she was there when it was about to come to light. You know how Kaoruko is, how much she cares for others. I feel like I haven't seen much of her but it's to be expected. I'd rather Lisa did have someone she could open up to like this. I mean instead of wearing that mask with us".

Claudine assessed her lover's weapon, feeling Maya's eyes on her. 

"What are you thinking, Claudine?". 

"What makes you think something in particular is on my mind?". 

Maya smiled, "I know you".

"Just cause we were rivals once doesn’t mean you know everything about me" the blonde rolled her eyes without any actual irritation. 

"Well, to be fair, we were more than that". 

Claudine's gaze shifted. 

It was a topic they hadn't discussed since they split during their college years. 

And Claudine had no intention of going down that memory lane. Not when she was in love with Kaoruko, nothing could distort that. 

She cared for the brunette, and to some degree would always love her but that is all it was. 

"That was a long time ago, Maya. Anyway, we should head inside since it's getting late. Eirin said you still shouldn't be overdoing it. Mahiru would have my head if something happened to you too". 

"Of course" Maya chuckled. 

The blonde walked in front as she followed, eyes never leaving Claudine. 

Claudine had yet to realise that while Kaoruko had been taking care of Lisa, she had hardly left Maya's side as she continued her convalescence. 


***


Hakurei Shrine 


The last few visitors to the shrine disappeared beyond the tori gates as Yuyuko watched them go, waving to Marisa whom was on her broom and escorted them down. 

In order to ensure the safety of both Yuyuko and any visitors, Marisa and Sakuya monitored the path leading to the shrine as Sanae remained with the Magician throughout the day. They sequestered any unnecessary or problematic contacts in order to ease the burden for Yuyuko as she acclimated to her role. 

Such disruptions included troublesome fairies.

Despite the atmosphere and what had happened to the shrine, Yuyuko didn't feel at unease here but that could be down to those protecting her.

She was sure it would be a different feeling if she was alone. 

The woman picked up the broom and began sweeping away the falling leaves from the grounds as Sanae walked to her. 

"It's like you were taught by Reimu herself" she grinned. 

"She did give me some tips" Yuyuko smirked, "Brush the grounds, keep the donation box area clean, drink enough tea to drown England and prepare to be interrupted by every youkai and human in the area". 

"That is a solid checklist" Sanae chuckled as she kept an eye on the surrounding area, "Reimu will be proud". 

"It is similar to what I did at home. Just without the discussions with youkai and living goddesses. I didn't get any visits from them". 

Said goddess winked, walking with the woman as she continued her task, "That has got to be weird". 

"It's Gensokyo, everything here is weird. Honestly, so was our world now that I think about it". 

"Hm, definitely. A lot has happened in both places" 

"I think you might have had a lucky escape when you left" Yuyuko said, "Like a miracle" she snorted. 

Sanae laughed at the nod, understanding why Yuyuko's relaxed charm was working wonders with everyone. 

She certainly brought a new feel to the current and ever growing list of Gensokyo's magicians. 

"I see what you did there" she commented before leading Yuyuko back to the veranda where she had tea set up, "You did forget one of Reimu's rules, no getting cosy with the rival priestess". 

"Don't tell her, Sanae, I fear for my life" Yuyuko lamented. 

She placed the broom down and followed Sanae, taking a seat next to her. Her pink eyes ran around the environs of the shrine, taking in the changing colours of the leaves, a reminder to the months which had passed. 

How much had occurred within those months. 

"Reimu didn't want you to take on too much since you're training with Byakuren and the others so relax. I get you want to stay busy but don't overdo it" Sanae smiled whilst passing Yuyuko a cup. 

"Thank you. I think it's more to do with being able to get used to my abilities quickly, just in case something else happens" she said, curling her fingers around the warm cup. 

"You mean incidents?". 

"Yeah, I..don’t want to see anyone else go. Yachiyo's death, it feels like something worse to come. I can't explain it". 

"I get it, Yuyuko. We feel it too" Sanae reassured, "Everything is out of sorts at moment what with the attack on the shrine. But you don't have to force it, your abilities will come naturally". 

Yuyuko felt otherwise as she sipped the tea, watching Sakuya and Marisa in the distance. 

The maid turned and waved at them, Sanae all to eager to return it. 

"We all have a reason to protect Gensokyo" Sanae spoke up, "But if it is at the expense of your health, it's kind of pointless, right? Misaki wouldn't want to see you hurt or anything".

"I..yeah, she wouldn't".

"Take your time, try and enjoy the process" Sanae encouraged, "It isn't everyday you get to go through this process. You're also practicing with physical combat?".

Yuyuko nodded and retrieved a kunai from her waist, tucked into her modified priestess uniform, all white kimono and red hakama pants. 

She held the weapon out for Sanae to observe, the woman dazzled by it. 

"A kunai throwing magician..someone needs to make that into an anime".

"I'd watch that". 

"Same, Yuyuko, same". 

 
***

 

Eientei 

 

At the dojo, Sayo was in the midst of shooting her arrows at the numerous targets placed horizontally. 

It was safe to say that her concentration was nowhere near stable as she retrieved another arrow from the quiver, carefully nocking it onto the bow then pulled back the string. 

She tried to still her tumultuous thoughts, focusing on nothing but the target ahead before letting the arrow fly. 

It missed the centre, landing on the third circle. 

Sayo scowled as she lowered the weapon, her fingers tensing to a painful level. 

But she didn't stop, at least it gave her something else to focus on rather than the dissary she had caused. 

Lisa had refused to even acknowledge her existence. 

Chisato kept away, only looking at her in a manner which was askance, hiding her eyes. 

The woman didn't even know if there was a way to amend anything, the realisation that Lisa was hurting carving out her heart. Every attempt she made to talk to her ended up disastrous, as if even seeing Sayo heightened the pain she was feeling. 

So for now, Sayo had moved back to Eientei, to their previous room. 

As much as she wanted to check up on Chisato, the chance of Lisa finding them again was something Sayo couldn't risk. She knew she had hurt Chisato too and had apologised profusely even though the blonde had insisted that there was no need. 

But Sayo saw how distraught Chisato was. 

She felt disgusted as she nocked another arrow, pushing through the pain of her wrist before Eirin's voice cut through. 

"Sayo, if you let that one go, the damage to your wrist will be irreparable. Even for me. I understand that you are not in your right mind, but please put the bow down". 

Sayo ignored Eirin. 

She deserved it, deserved to relinquish her talent to wield the bow and arrow. 

Maybe that would be enough of a concession for Lisa to take her back?

Her teeth gnashed together, hands shaking as Eirin watched her wrestle with the countless of demons which had been glued to her shoulders. 

"I deserve it, after what I've done, this pain is nothing" she repeated in her head. 

Eirin saw the flexor muscles tug on Sayo's wrist, bulging out against the brown glove. Given Sayo's demeanor, she was expecting her to not adhere given how deep Sayo's guilt ran but she wasn't going to let the woman make a permanent mistake. 

"Sayo, lower the bow". 

Just as the sentence exited Eirin's mouth, she could see Sayo begin to release the arrow and quickly summoned her own bow, frowning at Sayo’s recklessness. 

In a speed that no human or otherwise could reach, Eirin's arrow sped through the air and split the shaft below the fletching index on Sayo's arrow clean.

Sayo stepped back as the remainder of the arrow slipped from her fingers and fell to the ground. She was breathing rapidly as she lowered the bow and turned to face Eirin, giving her a look that asked why she had stopped her. 

The goddess shook her head, tone low in a warning, "Come with me". 

Before Sayo could answer, Eirin turned her back and walked on which left the woman no choice but to follow. She had already pissed off everyone else, might as well add her now mentor to the list. 

Still, Sayo's rational side chided her, lowering her head as she walked behind Eirin. 

She was led to Eirin's office in the clinic and sat down at the woman's desk. The look on the lunarian's face was stony, her blue eyes rigid as she collected a few supplies to see to Sayo's wrist. 

In her haze of self-deprecating, Sayo had forgotten the insurmountable pressure that the Eirin was in. 

She was the one who had to see to Hina and Yachiyo's bodies. 

It was Eirin who bore the pressure of healing them if they were injured. 

The goddess was one of Gensokyo's leaders, now at loss of what to do with the ongoing events. 

When Eirin sat down opposite her, Sayo stood up, her arms to the side and bowed in apology. 

"I'm sorry for my negligence". 

Eirin’s expression softened as she placed a hand on Sayo's shoulder to get her to stand up, "Now, now. There is no need for that, Sayo" 

"There is. My own decisions shouldn't be exacerbated by further imprudent behaviour. You've been more than understanding and I feel like I have pushed my luck". 

"You haven't" Eirin insisted and moved Sayo till she was sat down again, "Let me see your wrist first". 

She took off the glove and rested her hand on the table as Eirin retrieved some sore patches and numbing cream, applying it after cleaning the area. 

"I understand you are in an unfortunate situation but pushing yourself like this will not amend the situation". 

"I know, it was selfish and unconscionable. I just..".

Sayo exhaled and ran her free hand through her hair, not sure of how to word it. 

How to get Lisa back, how to make things better for Chisato. 

"Has she not spoken to you at all?". 

"No. Which I wouldn't deserve but I need to see her" Sayo said, voice shaky.

She hadn't seen her since she left the Yakumo residence, the longest they've been apart and it was hurting Sayo severely. 

The numbing agent eased the pain as Eirin turned her hand over, applying the same procedure to the upper part of her wrist. 

Eirin had been aware of the details of the issues which had erupted and wasn't surprised that Yukari had known, opting to leave it to unravel its own. 

Whichever way it did come to light, consequences would follow. 

"As redundant as this will sound, Lisa needs time, Sayo. To be made aware of what had occurred..it isn't something that will settle with ease".

Sayo stared at her wrist, "I felt like the longer we left it, the more my chances of fixing this would lessen but it was irrelevant regardless. She doesn't want anything to do with me. I cannot lose her, Eirin. I can't allow that".

The lunarian saw the fear in Sayo's eyes. 

In truth, there wasn't much she could say to assuage Sayo. 

Sayo had betrayed Lisa, had slept with another woman. 

In a human way of thinking and the ties to monogamy, Sayo had made a grave error. 

It would be unrealistic to say that Lisa would forgive her, that she would take Sayo back and Eirin didn't want to offer her that kind of false hope. 

Just looking at the distraught woman reminded her of the first conversation they had when Sayo was coming to terms with the death of Hina.

She sighed softly whilst putting the apparatus away, "I cannot give you any false hope. This is something that will progress along the way. If Lisa needs space, it is what you can do for her. Not to mention it will benefit you too. But I understand that you can't train like this either. May I ask what is your relationship with Chisato? 

"Chisato.." Sayo repeated and looked up at the goddess, "I care for her deeply. She has been someone, much like Lisa, that could see beyond my flaws and I have tarnished that. As well as her friendship with Lisa. I can't even begin to get into the fact that she was my sister's partner". 

It was a complex situation indeed as Sayo groaned into her palm that had rubbed down her face in exhaustion. 

"You are remorseful for your actions. That does count for something". 

"But it isn't enough". 

"Not right now it won't be, Sayo" Eirin said, "You have to give it time. If there is anything that can be salvaged, let Lisa take the time she needs. You cannot simmer in the guilt but instead, ponder on how you can make this right. That includes not neglecting your health". 

"I don't know how to stop my head and the thoughts. All I can see is Lisa's face when I told her. I've seen her hurt so often over the years and I swore that I’d stop being the cause. Instead, I betrayed her in the worst way possible". 

Eirin sympathised, "It won't be a simple process. But for the time being, we need to take a moment to collect ourselves and step back. Be that with increased training sessions or you aiding me with research, we will find a way to centre your thoughts. Up until Lisa is ready to talk, and she will be. This much I can say with conviction". 

Sayo nodded slowly as she took in a deep breath again, taking in the woman's calming tone as she mulled over her thoughts. 

Right now, her hands were tied and Lisa held all of the cards. 

She had to wait. 

"I understand, I..I'll wait for as long as she wants me to" Sayo answered and gazed at Eirin again, "Thank you, Eirin. My voice of reasoning has become obsolete so hearing it from you helps". 

The goddess chuckled, "This is the same conversation we had when we first spoke, do you recall?". 

Sayo managed to do the same, "You'll have to forgive me, I am a creature of habit as you know". 

"Indeed, but it is not a negative thing" Eirin smiled. 

Sayo was a fountain of potential, both in intelligence and skills. She was expecting great things from her but at the same time, the woman was human. 

Eirin hoped that the resolution would found soon, for all of their sakes. 

 

***

 

Yakumo Mansion 


Yuyuko stretched out on the chair at the desk located in the corner of her bedroom, reading over a few books that were provided by the magicians. 

She wanted to take heed of Sanae's advice and unwind but the part of her which was stubborn wouldn't allow it. 

Her nocturnal habits had remained and had come to work in her favour after the collapse of society. 

Still, she was technically still human and the fatigue hit her by the tenfold, eyes unable to focus on the words on the pages. She stifled a yawn whilst lifting her palm and staring at it, summoning a reddish orb. The action was much more smooth now than it had been when she had began training. 

It was radiant, specks of white and black energy forming around it. 

Even now, Yuyuko found it unbelievable that she could do this, summon things on a whim, tapping into this newfound power that was constantly with her, a quiet hum in her ear. 

Despite this, she was still in two minds about it. 

One part whispering how she could utilise her abilities to help everyone. 

The other side screaming of what could go wrong, what if she hurt someone in the process. 

What if she accidently burnt Misaki when she touched her?

Yuyuko sighed and extinguished the orb, feeling the remnant warmth settle as she stared ahead. 

Things had deviated to the complicated. 

Yachiyo's death being the reminder that they weren't exactly as safe as they should be. 

One couldn't outrun their mind. 

In her musings, Yuyuko hadn't realised that Misaki had walked back into their room after freshening up before they headed to bed. The woman's hands rested on her shoulders, now too familiar, anchoring her. 

Yuyuko tilted her head back and looked up. 

"I could hear you thinking from the bathroom, Yuyuko". 

"I guess I'm not the only one with powers" she grinned. 

Misaki chuckled as she swept her hand over Yuyuko's cheek, leaning down to kiss her. 

Despite the angle, they were well coordinated, lips brushing as Yuyuko lifted her hand and buried it into the black locks, tugging delicately. 

They pulled away after a moment with Yuyuko returning to her original position so Misaki swung her arms down Yuyuko's chest whilst leaning forward and placed her chin on her shoulder. 

"Talk to me". 

Yuyuko interlaced her fingers with Misaki's, hands joined near her stomach when she noticed a red line down Misaki's arm. 

"What happened here?" she asked, a finger running down the laceration. 

"Ah, an experiment gone wrong with the kappa. We are working on making some motion sensors and one of them exploded". 

"I think you should be getting danger pay. Apparently the kappa are known for their temerity".

Misaki grinned, "I can't blame them since the pressure is on to increase Gensokyo's defences so mistakes were made".

"Arming Gensokyo from a technical side while panicking? Terrible combination, Misaki". 

Misaki had long learned to figure out the various levels of Yuyuko's sarcasm and the way she was swerving from the discussion at hand was impressive. 

She had done what she could to support her lover through the fall out of the loss of Yachiyo while seeing to Chisato. For all logic the Misaki harboured, the two situations couldn't be resolved that quickly. 

For now, Yuyuko's well-being took precedence as she tilted her chin to get the woman to look at her. 

"Wanna talk about it?". 

Yuyuko shook her head whilst turning in the chair, "No". 

There had been too much talking lately, Yuyuko was tired. 

She just wanted a moment with Misaki, away from the thoughts that plagued them. Misaki concealed it as well as she did but Yuyuko could feel the fatigue surround the older woman. 

Their safe haven was turning out to be anything but. 

The awakening of Yuyuko's precocious powers seemed more like a burden the more adroit she became when wielding them. 

So she didn't want to talk, something Misaki understood as Yuyuko shuffled in her chair to the side as Misaki met her in the same direction, knees landing on the floor as she kissed Yuyuko, her arms around the woman's waist. 

There was a desperation in the kiss, fevered and needy as they succumbed to each other, cancelling out the rest of the world. 

Yuyuko grabbed Misaki's shoulders as the woman's lips travelled down her jaw, finding refuge against her neck, lips tugging the skin. The magician's fingers shook, digging into Misaki's shoulder blades till she could grab the material of her t-shirt and yank it up, palms meeting flesh. She swallowed roughly, pink eyes slamming shut as the tongue on her neck remained active, running over her clavicle, pulling the skin tenderly.  

Misaki's hands pushed down Yuyuko's robe, revealing her body clad in her underwear, her digits instantly cruising over whatever she could touch. She exhaled, felt a tug to her hair which made her look up at Yuyuko's exalted expression. 

Finally, the crease between her brows lessened, tensing in a pleasurable way whenever Misaki touched Yuyuko where she liked it. 

Her thumb skimmed down her lower spine slowly, watching Yuyuko's breath hitch when she stroked up again while her other hand gripped her hip, feeling the bone twitch with each ministration. 

Yuyuko managed a hazy smile, her eyes lidded as she leaned forward to kiss Misaki again, deep and filled with longing and desire. 

She knew that without Misaki's rational nature, she would have had an onerous time in accepting her newfound fate which had propelled her to work harder, to cultivate her crafts so that she could protect Misaki and the rest of their friends. 

But tonight, she just wanted the two of them together, barricaded away from what could occur. 

Sentiments which were mirrored in Misaki's mind when she released Yuyuko's tongue and moved back to discard her t-shirt before her hand slipped behind Yuyuko's back to undo her bra, kissing her way down the woman's body. Her fingers hooked under the band of the underwear, slowly peeling it down as her lips lingered over Yuyuko's left breast, pulling gently. 

Yuyuko whimpered, biting down on her lower lip as she gripped the back of the chair with one hand and the other clamping behind Misaki’s head. 

This wasn't the first time they'd been intimate since getting together but every time rendered Yuyuko into a mess, like Misaki had some preconceived notion on how to love her. 

It left her breathless, legs parting when she felt Misaki's right hand skim down her stomach and naval, lingering over the mound, the dampness sticking to her digits immediately. 

She could gauge when Yuyuko was ready, feeling the woman's heartbeat against her lips while kissing her way to Yuyuko's other breast, mouth engulfed over the soft flesh. She had every intention of helping her forgo the traffic in her head, to just enjoy the moment as it was happening as her own fulfilment garnered. 

If she could offer Yuyuko some reprieve, Misaki was content. 

Her intense blue eyes flickered open as she released the pink nub from her mouth, moving further down while she ushered her lover to spread her legs as much as she could whilst on the chair. 

Yuyuko obliged, gasping with each action, Misaki's finger slowly pushing in. 

Misaki never rushed, was observant of how much Yuyuko could handle as she allowed her lover to adjust to her finger before moving in further. 

The hand in her hair tensed, pulling the dark strands as Yuyuko's hips jutted forward at the feeling of Misaki's breath on her protruding bud and the finger insider her. 

Her mind went blank at the sensation, legs crawling up till her thighs balanced on Misaki's shoulders, trapping her when she pulled her in closer. 

The combination of the swift tongue and the digit working within her toppled Yuyuko over, body drenched as she muttered out Misaki's name. 

The sounds were sonorous to Misaki's ears, as was the taste covering her tongue and muscles engulfed around her finger. She felt Yuyuko’s legs shudder, her left arm wrapping around her thigh as she continued pleasuring her lover till the full extent of Yuyuko's orgasm was all that could be heard. 

Misaki didn't relent, groaning, tongue circling the hard spot till she could press the flat of her tongue repeatedly in the cadence with the finger inside Yuyuko till the woman went rigid, writhing on the chair which creaked beneath her. 

Her hand released Misaki's hair and grabbed the edge of the desk as the other remained behind the chair to steady herself while her orgasm ran rife. Her thighs locked behind her lover's head, the bare skin as damp as the centre till the spasms ran their course. 

She was panting heavily when her legs finally slackened and fell to the side, giving Misaki the chance to breath but she was far from done. 

One look up into Yuyuko’s satisfied face fuelled her further, light blue eyes taking her in as Misaki licked her own lips to savour Yuyuko's taste. 

Yuyuko managed to look down, fingers still on the solid surfaces. 

The sight made her moan audibly, stomach tightening again. 

When she considered all the doom and gloom life had provided her so far, it was a reminder that not everything was dismal. 

Misaki was there, was hers. 

The soft fingertips holding her waist and bright eyes watching her reminded Yuyuko of that. 

She gulped shakily, one hand resting on Misaki's face, her chin glistening as she kissed her. 

Misaki was here with her, she always would be. 

That was enough of a reason to keep going. 

 

***

 

Myouren Temple

The morning sun illuminated the grounds of the cemetery, the distant sounds of wildlife  stirring the land awake. 

Chisato had arrived at the temple early to help Byakuren with the daily errands. 

She made it a point to leave Yukari's home as soon as she could to avoid Lisa and give her space. 

Everyone had noticed and had attempted to broker some peace between them but Lisa wasn't having it, which was understandable. 

So she kept occupied, processing her own thoughts but the answer didn't become concise. 

Chisato had been cleaning the gravestones and lighting incense for each, taking her time, actions gentle in respect to those whom had perished till she reached the recent additions. 

The blonde stood back and placed the cloth in the bucket, sighing as she took in the graves of Yachiyo and Hina. 

Compunction pooled in her stomach. 

All the memories with Hina swirled in her mind, how she missed her bright smile, her carefree nature which had followed her into adulthood and the means she had in taming Chisato. 

She could never tire of her antics, as frustrating as it used to be. 

Even after they were forced to run, Hina was her light. 

They were the last remaining two of their group. 

Eve, Aya and Maya. 

All dead. 

Chisato breathed in through her nose whilst patting down her dress, willing herself not to cry. 

What good could it do now?

The repercussions of her dalliance with Sayo had come full circle and knowing that she had scuppered Sayo's relationship was just another thing to bare the guilt of. 

Chisato was at a loss in a land even more outlandish than anything she could have imagined. 

All she did was damage those closest to her, she felt like a pernicious disease. 

Nothing could be undone. 

She steadied herself when hearing footsteps coming from behind her. 

Turning slightly, Chisato saw that it was Shizuha. 

The woman smiled gently, "Good morning, Chisato". 

"Good morning" Chisato greeted back, "You are early today". 

Shizuha hummed whilst walking up to Yachiyo's gravestone, placing her hand on it, "Good morning, Yachiyo". 

Chisato's heart ached, knowing that Shizuha's did the same. 

Over the last few weeks, the two often spent the mornings at the cemetery. Whether it was to clean or simply spend time with their deceased lovers, it had become a routine. 

"I couldn't sleep, truth be told. I also have to see Kanako later so I want to make the most of this". 

Chisato managed a smile as Shizuha stepped back and stood next to her. 

"More talks in regards to what has happened?". 

"Yes. It is jarring to see them this perturbed but it is understandable" she answered, "Oh, and thank you for cleaning up Yachiyo's gravestone". 

"No need for the thanks. It is the least I can do. May I ask how you are doing?".

Shizuha folded her arms against her chest as she mulled over Chisato’s question. 

It had become too complex of a question to answered but with each day, Shizuha had regained some stability. Her days would be started off by reading Yachiyo’s letters as motivation to live on, to grieve but to never stray from those around her. 

"A script in progress" she laughed softly, eyes going to the blonde, "And how are you?".

"Well, I’m not exactly the poster girl for coping mechanisms" Chisato scoffed, "I..am a little lost at this point, Shizuha" she admitted. 

Shizuha was aware of what had occurred and was sympathetic to all involved. 

It was a sticky situation, such was grief.

"The last thing I wanted was to hurt Sayo and Lisa..". 

"Everyone is aware of that, Chisato. You are not that kind of person and I think that deep down, Lisa is aware of this too" Shizuha reminded, "We handle grief in numerous ways and unfortunately, most involve losing ourselves along the way. The pain doesn't stop, does it?". 

"I wish I could tell you that it does" Chisato said, tone morose, "I wish I could tell you that you can talk to me about what and how you feel but I'm the last person who can help considering the trouble I've caused". 

"You're being too hard on yourself". 

Chisato pursed her lips and looked up at the taller woman, the gentle maroon eyes still on her. 

"I'm sorry, the last thing you need to hear is me wallowing about the consequences of my own actions". 

"You know that isn't what I meant" Shizuha chuckled, "Mistakes were made. It is impossible to think when the one you love is taken away from you" she said, voice going distant, "There have been days where I want to follow Yachiyo. Existing without her is something I'm not sure I can handle. I took it out on everyone else, thinking that if I did, the anger and emptiness will leave my system".

Chisato listened intently as Shizuha paused, the sounds of the temple behind them becoming lively as it was almost time for breakfast. 

"But it didn't and I am not sure it ever will. My point is.." she said as she looked at the shorter woman next to her, "Grief makes us act irrationally. We're only human. We're all still making it up as we go along. Don't be so hard on yourself" she repeated. 

She held Shizuha's comforting words and gently smiled before turning her gaze back to the gravestones. 

Every day was a challenge, to exist. 

Mistakes were inevitable, no matter how grand or miniscule. 

Chisato understood the scope of her mistake and it was something that wasn't going to be amended soon. 

But she had to try and find a solution that would benefit them all, would help Sayo and Lisa if there was one last thing she could do. 

She would find it. 

"I'll try if you do, Shizuha". 

Shizuha returned the blonde's smile, aware of how astute Chisato was. 

In the end, they truly were just scripts in progress. 

 

***

 

Misty Lake 
 

With the late afternoon warmth settling over the shore of the lake, the collision of a saber and axes could be heard. 

Shiori charged at Tsukasa, slashing her saber horizontally but the older woman had dashed back before slamming her two axes against the blade. 

She grinned at Shiori who returned the gesture, pushing against Tsukasa's weapons till she shoved the woman back.

Tsukasa mused how much Shiori now resemble Fumi as the years went by, especially when she fought

The one cherubic face had matured, sharper and alluring as the pale blonde hair swept behind her in a ponytail with each move. Her eyes too were much more vivid yet reserved, showing the testament of her strength and determination. 

From a sickly child to a strong woman. 

To see that journey made Tsukasa proud. 

They became entangled in another bout of fighting as they skilfully dogged each other as if they were dodging bullets, swift footwork skimming over the ground.

The group had been thrown into practice sessions with danmaku as Yukari insisted they knew how to at least navigate their way from magic based attacks. 

They had agreed on such training and had a engaged in sessions with numerous youkai to heighten their abilities. 

Given that the risk to their lives hadn't diminished, they had to take countermeasures whenever possible. 

Tsukasa charged forward and ducked as her lover thrust her saber quickly from left to right which led to Tsukasa rolling forwards and rising, providing enough pressure to her axes to knock Shiori’s blade out of her grasp. 

"I left myself open" Shiori breathed out as she relaxed her posture, scolding herself for such an error. 

"It's okay" Tsukasa insisted, grinning as she tucked her axes into the cases on her waist, "I had to think fast or else you definitely would have knocked my axe away. Seriously.." she added whilst rolling her arm, "Your muscle mass seems to have increased. My arms hurt". 

Shiori quickly stepped to Tsukasa, her hands resting on Tsukasa's upper arm, massaging them slightly whilst she fret over her. 

"I'm sorry, are you okay?" 

And then there was this side of Shiori that would always remain. 

Openly compassionate. 

Tsukasa laughed and used her free arm to pull the shorter woman into a hug before parting. 

"I'm fine, don't worry, Shiori. It's a positive development. As tough as things have been here, your health improving is one major silver lining".

She crouched down and collected Shiori’s saber, handing it to her. 

"If what Yukari said is true, about something threatening Gensokyo and us, then I want you to be ready" she smiled as Shiori took the weapon, "I'm not losing anyone else". 

There was sadness in her lilac eyes that Shiori noticed, she often did when Tsukasa would let her guards down, only when they were alone. 

Yachiyo's demise had left its mark on them all and the blonde knew how hard Tsukasa was trying to remain upbeat for them, for her. 

She walked up to the other woman after placing her saber back its scabbard and embraced her, arms enclosing around Tsukasa's shoulders. 

Tsukasa exhaled over the crook of Shiori’s neck, fingers running over the woman's back. 

"It won't happen again, Tsukasa. I won't let it. Nobody else will leave us". 

The assurance in Shiori’s tone was imprinted into her, though the slight waver could be heard. 

They were all trying to cope, remembering to hold onto what they still had. 

It could disappear at anytime. 

They pulled apart as Shiori smiled when Tsukasa kissed her. 

"Nobody else" Tsukasa repeated, "Shall we head back soon? I don't want you to push yourself". 

The shore was highlighted by the setting sun, the waves lapping at their feet. Curls of mist began to linger around the edges of the lake as the noise of youkai around them came alive. 

It was refreshing to be able to train in said location, away from the suffocating atmosphere of the homes. 

Wherever one went, something apprehensive could be felt. 

By the lake, the two had been able to fully immerse themselves in their training. 

"Let's go, Tsukasa". 

With that, the two turned to head to the gap left open to the mansion. 

They weren't exactly sure how Yukari had connected them all, or how only they could use them but this was Yukari so it was better to not question it too much. 

Just as they stepped forward, Tsukasa felt something wet coil around her ankle and before she knew it, she was being dragged into the lake. 

"Tsukasa!". 

Shiori's eyes widened as she watched her lover being violently pulled across the shore before she leapt into action and chased after her. 

"No, not this. What's happening?!". 

"Shiori!". 

Tsukasa's terrified shout pierced Shiori before she disappeared beneath the surface, her nails digging into the muddied ground but the force of whatever had grabbed her was overwhelmingly powerful. 

Shiori waded in, took in a deep breath and dove into the lake, legs pumping furiously as she scanned around for the other woman. 

It was too murky, the fading light of the sun barely illuminating the depths as weeds and plant life obstructing her vision. 

The blonde had to remember that this was no ordinary lake.

It was home to many youkai. 

She thought back to Tsukasa discussing her first visit to the lake with Claudine, Meira and Kotohime, how she had seen and felt something

Was this it? 

Shiori didn't have the time to think as her own breathing, as stronger as she was, wouldn't last long. 

The woman swam back up to the surface and drew her saber, along with another gulp of air before diving back in. 

She couldn't lose Tsukasa. 

A mantra she repeated whilst looking for Shiori, finally seeing a flash of orange. 

Swimming through the depths, Shiori located the woman. 

And the creature which had its gangly arms curled around her neck as Tsukasa struggled against it, lurching forward to try and swim away. 

Shiori had never seen anything like this creature, standing at around 8 feet tall, a shadow almost given that it was just a shape of darkness. However, upon closer inspection, the being was humanoid but demonic given the large wings spread across its back. 

Its face was contorted into a snarl, the mouth full of needle like teeth that were red in colour which were notable on the gaunt face. 

The crimson eyes were unblinking as it kicked its elongated legs that turned into claws. 

If hell was composed up of water, then this was it. 

The creature let out a deafening snarl as Tsukasa managed to get her axe and slash into its arm, spurts of ink black and dull maroon substances oozing out. 

Shiori took the chance to swim around since it hadn't noticed her and was too busy trying to strangle Tsukasa. 

Only a few minutes had passed but it was too many. 

Tsukasa would be losing her breath, more so with the pressure from the creature around her throat. 

Despite her own lungs screaming out, Shiori ploughed on till she was behind the creature, rage filled in her expression as she brought her saber up. The jade gem glowed, lighting up the turbid water of the lake, guiding Shiori as she swam up and aimed for the creature's lower spine. 

She desperately hoped that this would work. 

Was this being any different than the Korosu they had to face on stage? 

It resembled them, just a more grotesque and malicious form. 

Shiori lurched forward, her chest tightening as she plunged the tip of her saber into the spine, twisting it in as the creature screeched.

The water almost parted under its yell but Shiori didn't let up, dragged her sword upwards till she severed the creature in half by swimming upwards. It took all the energy she had, fighting against the pressure of the water and whatever the creature was created of. 

It split neatly but Shiori couldn't relax yet as she saw Tsukasa sink from its monstrous grasp. 

Panic gave her an additional burst of adrenaline as the black and maroon liquid covered them and the surrounding area while Shiori hooked her arm around her lover and grabbed her floating axe before swimming upwards. The first priority was to reach the surface to get air, and then she could get them back to safety. 

She was debilitated, her body overworked as her immune system reacted to the exertion, the ramifications coming through. 

With a few more thrashes, the blonde broke through the surface, coughing violently as the sound of the lake gurgling beneath them made her swim to the shore with one final burst of energy. 

The creature's blood curdling cry seemed to come from all around, prompting Shiori to swim harder till her legs finally reached the lake bed. 

She dragged Tsukasa onto the shore, horrified that the woman wasn't breathing which was to be expected so she proceeded to perform CPR. 

"Wake up, Tsukasa! Wake up!" she screamed between each attempt. 

Shiori felt so weak but she didn't stop, kept applying pressure to her chest. 

"Please..you can't leave me too!". 

Tsukasa's skin was pale, her hair sticking to her face with lacerations on her cheeks that were bleeding. 

"Tsukasa..". 

Another attempt was underway when Shiori heard footsteps rushing out from the gap just as Tsukasa coughed up, water ejecting from her mouth and Shiori was quick to turn her onto the side. 

Tears escaped Shiori's eyes when she pulled Tsukasa onto her lap as a relieved sigh escaped her lips at the feeling of Tsukasa finally breathing. 

The bruises around her neck were concerning, as were the welts around her body. 

Tsukasa gave the creature a fight it seemed. 

She rested her hand on Tsukasa's cheek, vision clouding over. 

"Shiori!". 

The blonde collapsed just as Fumi reached her, holding her up.

Tamao, Mahiru and Saaya followed to assist while they took in the scene. 

Yukari appeared not a second later, not thinking twice and opened another gap to engulf Shiori and Tsukasa to transport them to Eientei right away. 

"What the hell happened?" Fumi demanded, voice laced with fury as Tamao held her back. 

"That is what I would like to know. Head to Eientei now as I'm closing all the gaps. Your sister will need you". 

As much as she wanted to pull the answers out of the youkai, Fumi held back for now and left with the others.

Yukari's violet eyes were chilling as she closed the gaps before flying up into the air and over the lake. 

It would be too easy to destroy everything beneath the surface in order to finish off what had attacked Shiori and Tsukasa she refrained for the time being. Instead, Yukari opened her gaps all over the lake and beneath it, trying to find the being or anything else lurking. 

All that was left was the fading smoky residual of the creature coalescing with the water. 

Yukari gripped the handle of her parasol while she hovered above the rippling surface, mist rolling back in. Imprecations ran through her mind at being blindsided again, at what could have been imminent death of Tsukasa. 

Shiori wouldn't be out of the woods yet either. 

The scales had once again tipped in the favour of the unseen and omnipotent adversary terrorising Gensokyo. 

 

Chapter Text

 

 


 

Eientei 

 


Tsukasa stirred awake several hours after the ordeal at the lake, vision bleary as she attempted to deduce where she was.

The familiarity of the hospital at Eientei hammered home reality, along with the ghostly sensation of feeling like she was being asphyxiated.

In panic, her hands went to her throat, nails trying to breach the skin but someone had grabbed her wrists.

"Tsukasa!".

The sight of Shiori aided in calming the panicked woman down as she took in several erratic breaths before Shiori instructed her to suspire slower, to follow her pace. Such a simple task now felt onerous, like commanding her lungs to receive oxygen was asking too much. 

Fragments of what had occurred flittered through Tsukasa's mind. 

The lake. 

She could feel the creature's cold flesh around her neck, crushing her oesophagus as the tepid water pooled down her throat. 

Convinced that death was on the cards, she only hoped that Shiori had escaped. 

But in hindsight, Tsukasa knew her lover would never leave her regardless of what situation befell them so seeing her descend from the surface, a ferocious look on her face kept Tsukasa breathing. 

She gulped lightly, lips and mouth dry, a hand reaching out to touch Shiori's cheek to feel the warmth. 

To feel her alive. 

"You're okay". 

Shiori smiled and shook her head, cradling Tsukasa's hand against her face, "I should be saying that to you. I thought I was going to lose you, that I wouldn't be able to save you". 

"Shiori" Tsukasa said gently, other arm going behind Shiori's shoulders, "You did. Even if it was a risk to you. Putting yourself under that much stress could have triggered your immune system" she sighed, "But you still came after me". 

"I always will. I don't care if it is a risk to me. The thought of losing you.." the blonde said firmly, voice shaky, "I love you". 

Tsukasa felt the heat of Shiori's forehead meet her own as her fingers stroked the woman's face. She could sense the fear course through Shiori at the prospect of losing her. It was understandable, especially given what they had been discussing mere moments before she was dragged into the lake. 

The idea of never seeing Shiori again left a gelid sensation trickling into her stomach, every nerve trying to inveigh against the thoughts. 

Yachiyo's death had yet to shed its first layer of ice. 

So that consternation she could see in Shiori's eyes mirrored her own. 

"It won't happen again, Shiori. I love you. How can it given the way you jumped into a dangerous situation like that?" she chuckled, a cough forming in her throat due to the action. 

Shiori smiled as she sat back and handed a cup of water to Tsukasa after moving her so that she could rest back on the pillows. 

"I'll do anything if it means keeping you safe" she insisted, brushing back the woman's orange hair behind her ear. 

Her eyes travelled to Tsukasa's throat, now covered with contusions, the mixture of red and purple marring her skin. 

Just the sight of it was a reminder to how close she was to losing her lover. 

Tsukasa's ankle had also been sprained given the hold the creature had on it, dislodging some of the joints so Tsukasa would be off of her feet for a while. 

A small price to pay to escape death. 

The two were alerted to Shizuha and Fumi at the door after they'd knocked so they motioned for them to come in. 

Shizuha's expression was contorted into apprehension and relief as she made her way to Tsukasa's other side, accepting her embrace. 

"Thank goodness" she exhaled, arms curled around Tsukasa's back. 

"Just a scratch, Shizuha" Tsukasa managed to tease, eyes closing and arms tightening around the other woman, "We've felt worse". 

"Tsukasa". 

The Yumeoji sisters left them be when Fumi indicated for Shiori to join her. 

Shizuha thanked the blonde when she pulled back slightly to examine Tsukasa. 

Being notified of what had happened, Shizuha felt her heart stop for a second time. 

It went without saying that if Tsukasa had died, it would push the other woman off of the edge. 

"How are you holding up? Do you need anything?". 

"I'm okay, I promise. A little sore but that was to be expected". 

Shizuha nodded, hands still around Tsukasa, "I'm sorry I wasn't there. But more than that, I'm thankful that Shiori was there. If I lost you too, I-". 

Tsukasa halted the sombre train of thought, putting her hands on Shizuha's shoulders. 

"Please don't put yourself through that, Shizuha. Easier said than done, I know, but I'm still here, okay? For a moment, I..didn't think I'd get to see any of you again. Of all the near death experiences I have had, that one was just another wake up call. I was so scared..".

The violet eyes glimmered as the realisation of what could have occurred settled in for Tsukasa. 

It was a constant weight being added with each incident, the respite they had gained slipping through their fingers. 

Shizuha brushed her thumb over the trail of tears coursing down her friend's face. 

Tsukasa took a breath in, the action painful which made her body oscillate as Shizuha gently brought her to her chest, her chin resting on the woman's head. Her right hand swept through her hair in a soothing motion while they both came to grips on what could have happened. 

More so, what had been averted. 

Shizuha wondered if this was simply another coincidence, of some errant creature wreaking havoc. 

First Hina, then Yachiyo and now Tsukasa. 

Was there going to be a next? 

Over in the waiting area, Fumi and Shiori were seated, embroiled in conversation. 

Shiori had divulged all the details to Yukari about what had transpired, hoping that the woman could do something with the information. 

Misty Lake was now off limits to humans. 

The youkai were also warned to avoid the area but logically speaking, Yukari knew she couldn't exactly enforce it given that it was their natural habit. She made it clear the risk was theirs to take should they remain there. 

"You should get some rest now, Shiori". 

"I'm fine". 

Fumi's glare to depict her dissatisfaction had remained the same throughout the years, along with the efficacy of it. 

So Shiori relented, fingers balled into fists, "I know. I just want to spend some more time with her".

The image of Tsukasa in the creature's grasp made the blonde's anger blossom but it was quickly put to ease when Fumi placed a hand on her shoulder. 

"She could have died". 

It was whispered, light blue eyes staring ahead. 

"Even if the whole thing lasted a few minutes, every second was closer to Tsukasa being killed. I.." she swallowed, "I can't lose anyone else" she managed and turned her gaze to her sister. 

"I know" Fumi said gently, her hold on her sister's shoulder increasing, "I get it. That being said, you have to be careful, Shiori. You almost died. It took Eirin several times to revive you".

The younger blonde was now aware of it, "I still wouldn't change what I did". 

"You can't be reckless" Fumi reminded, "If this happened in our world, the doctors wouldn't have been able to do anything to save you". 

"So I was just meant to let Tsukasa die?!". 

Shiori had stood up, indignation on her usually soft features morphing it to an ossified state as Fumi followed suit. 

The area was free from other patients though Yumemi was around the corner and kept her eyes on the duo. 

"That isn't what I'm saying". 

"Would you have left Tamao in there? Or me? Would you have waited for someone else to save us?". 

"Shiori!" Fumi sighed and gripped her sister's forearms, feeling the way her body was quivering in rage and fatigue. 

Shiori snapped out of her tirade, her breathing heavy as she looked at her sister. 

There was no anger on her face, just understanding and solicitude. 

"I wouldn't have thought twice. I am not telling you off for saving Tsukasa. Honestly, I've come to expect that from you now and I know you are more than capable of handling yourself".

"Onee-chan..".

"Exactly that. I'm your sister, I'm allowed to freak out like this. I want you to be careful whenever you can even if it isn't always possible" she said and closed her eyes briefly before opening them, "You passed out the moment I reached you and didn't wake up till hours later. Fuck, Eirin didn't tell me about your almost death until after she saved you because she knew I'd lose it. I've always been like this when it comes to you. Yachiyo used to scold me, you know. 'Let her breath, Fumi-san, you worry too much'".

Shiori relaxed further, noticing the way her sister's expression shifted into one that Yachiyo could evoke out of her. 

Annoyance and endearment. 

Yachiyo had always been there for the sisters, repairing their relationship, supporting them in their endeavours. 

She was the reason why Tsukasa had finally confessed her feelings to Shiori. 

Though the woman had received some harsh words from Fumi about that. 

"But she was right" Fumi continued, "Even so, I'll always be worried when you come to harm".

Shiori's ire drained with ease, understanding Fumi's concerns. 

"I'm sorry". 

"Don't be" Fumi smiled, "The most important thing right now is that you are both okay".

It was a scenario where both women could have met their demise, a thought that went unsaid. The dangers of Gensokyo had become amplified which meant that the comfort they had found was no longer as strong. 

Depending on the actions which followed from Yukari, they all knew their guards had to go back up, much like prior to reaching Gensokyo. 

 

The same applied to Gensokyo's natives too.

Eirin was with Shinki in Eri's room, the doctor adjusting the girl's equipment. 

She was now breathing on her own which allowed the rest of the machines to be put away much to Shinki's relief. The curative measures were monitored with diligence as the combination of medicine and magic aided in stabilising Eri. 

The two goddesses were in the midst of discussing the recent event at the lake. 

Eirin changed the I.V as Shinki remained seated on the chair next to Eri, the small hand in her own. 

"It is difficult to assume at this point whether the creatures targeting us were already in Gensokyo. Their assiduous attacks have no distinguishable characteristics". 

"You believe there is more than one?". 

Eirin nodded, jotting some notes down, "The creature at the lake was killed by Shiori. The one at the shrine escaped. There is also the identity of the being which killed Hina". 

"That is disturbing. On the topic, other than Gensokyo's humans, I had no idea other humans were capable of apprehending magical beings". 

"The Outside World isn't quite devoid of magic yet so there are a few that have had their own encounters, such as those whom had arrived in Gensokyo" Eirin answered and placed her clipboard and pen down, "In the case of Shiori and Tsukasa, their demise was evaded because of their ability to harbour the energy dispersed by their weapons".

"They are resilient it seems". 

"They haven't had the option to not be" Eirin explained, "Essentially, they have left one war zone to end up in another. The scope of their resilience is apropos". 

A soft exhale escaped Eirin's lips, Shinki watching her as she tucked Eri in. 

The demon goddess had long admired Eirin's machinations with her projects, be that the construction of the Lunar Capital or establishing herself as doctor for Gensokyo. 

From what Alice had told her, there was rarely an aliment Eirin couldn't deal with. 

Her expertise was enough to keep Eri alive and for that, Shinki would be thankful. 

"It is regrettable" Shinki said, "How does Yukari plan to proceed?".

"Nothing has been definitively decided. But knowing Yukari, she has something planned". 

"I see. If there is any way that I can be of aid, please do not hesitate to ask. Gensokyo is also Alice's home and I would truly be dejected to see it come to harm, along with its inhabitants". 

Eirin inclined her head in thanks, "Your presence has certainly made this process bearable for Alice and Reimu".

"It is the least I can do. As a mother, I understand their pain" Shinki spoke up, cradling Eri's hand between her own, her blue eyes softening, "There are no limits in which a mother will go to in order to ensure the safety of their child". 

Eirin could feel the sincerity in the words, along with something else, something foreboding. 

It was as Yukari had said, an attack on Alice was going to incur the wrath of Shinki. 

The goddess's power could be beneficial in not only finding the culprit but fortifying Gensokyo till the threat was dissolved. 

In the room adjacent to theirs, Alice was in the midst of going through some of the materials from her home. 

Reimu was out with Sanae, Youmu and Sakuya, following up some potential leads which she had provided the three. Marisa was at the library within the Scarlet Devil Mansion, working with Patchouli to cover more of Alice's journals and research in order to reach more conclusions at a quicker rate. Reisen remained at Eientei, under strict instructions from Eirin to monitor Eri, Tsukasa and Shiori, both medically and as a guard. 

The stakes had risen given the recent attack so time was of the essence to find concrete evidence of whether the occurrences were related. 

At least with Eirin around and now her mother, Alice's mind was somewhat assuaged about Eri. 

It gave her the time to peruse her works, looking for a link between the creatures, the attack on the shrine and her magic. 

If the culprit was indeed going to extreme lengths to obtain her research, Alice would provide them with some bait. 

 

***

 

Human Village 


Sunset approached the village as Keine stood watch near the school, ensuring that people returned to their homes. 

The incident which occurred at the lake had been concealed, only those required to have the information being aware. Little would be achieved by stirring panic amongst the humans, especially after it had somewhat quelled given what had happened at the shrine. 

Those in the know were instructed to keep quiet whilst increasingly monitoring the village and surrounding areas. 

She waved back at some of the locals passing by, watching them go. 

The dusky orange of the skyline shimmered in an almost eerily beautiful manner, like an omen. 

It would be a full moon tonight so she couldn't be out for too long. 

Keine could already feel the changes settling into her body as she squeezed her right arm with her hand, taking a quick breath in. Thankfully, distraction came in the form of Kotohime whom rounded the corner of the school and greeted her. 

"You should retire for the night, Keine. All the villagers have returned home".

Only a handful of humans were aware of Keine status as half youkai, including Meira and Kotohime. 

Keine smiled, "That is good to know. I don't mind waiting a moment longer, at least till Meira is done with her patrols too in order to make sure you aren't alone". 

"I appreciate it. Given the current circumstances, we cannot be too careful" Kotohime agreed and glanced towards Misty Lake, her red hair being brushed by the wind. 

Her mind drifted back to the day they were accompanying Claudine and Tsukasa, how the latter had been perturbed. 

The precursors seemed to be littered every where and Kotohime pondered if they could have halted the attack from happening but she knew it wasn’t plausible. 

"Or prevent everything" Keine enunciated, noticing the faraway look on the princess's expression, "The most important thing we can do is prepare ourselves for what may happen. The lake itself has been known to harbour many youkai so whether it was the same being Tsukasa saw, we cannot be sure". 

"That is plausible. On a positive note, whatever it was has been eradicated and hasn't resurfaced".

"Indeed. And we have told the villagers to avoid the lake when possible. For the time being, we stay alert and-".

Keine's head whipped towards the roof of the school, her sharp hearing picking up on the almost airy footfalls skimming across the second layer of the roof. 

The scent itself had established that the person approaching them wasn't a threat but they couldn't be too sure considering what was happening so Keine remained vigilant. 

Not a moment later, Meira jumped down from the building, the sound of her feet meeting the ground barely audible as she greeted the two. 

"My apologies, I did not mean to sneak up on you both". 

"I'm not sure it is possible to sneak up on Keine when she is like this". 

"Kotohime". 

The redhead chuckled at Keine's subtle diffident chiding, "It is an useful trait to have". 

"I am inclined to agree" Meira added, "With that said, the northern section of the village is secure and everybody has returned home. I believe it should be fine to end the night here". 

"Alright, I will see you both tomorrow in that case" Keine replied. 

They all exchanged a few more words before they parted ways. 

Meira reached for Kotohime's hand, her senses still alert to everything around them. 

"Meira, you can relax now, please". 

The woman glanced to the side to see Kotohime eyes on her, "At this point, it is more of a reflex" she answered, offering Kotohime a warm look. 

Given what had occurred, Meira's protective instincts had heightened, not wanting to make the mistake of letting something into the village. She was reluctant in Kotohime going on the patrols to begin with but she knew that the woman could hold her own. 

Still, the apprehension was there when she thought back to their visit to Eientei to see Tsukasa and Shiori. 

Kotohime understood her lover's weariness and squeezed her fingers, "I know. Until the source of this is revealed, we can't let our defences falter. That being said, we should rest tonight, okay?". 

"Of course. Ah, that does remind me, Sanae enquired if I can remain at the Hakurei Shrine with Yuyuko tomorrow. I believe her goddesses require her presence. Would that be of any issue?". 

"What if I was to say yes it would be an issue and insisted you remain here with me?". 

Meira almost missed her step at the way Kotohime had said it. The giggle which followed proved Kotohime's intent as she remained innocuous to her lover's flustered expression. 

"There we go, now you are worried about something other than my safety". 

"Such measures were not necessary, Kotohime". 

The princess moved her arms up to wrap them over Meira's upper arm as they approached their home, "I'll have you know that it was. But to answer your question, I have no problem with you being there. Will you be alone?".

"No, Youmu and Sakuya will be there should something else occur. What will you be doing?". 

"Taking over Keine's lessons for the day with Tamao since she won't be able attend" the woman answered as she opened the door. 

"Would it not have been wiser to cancel the day?". 

"In a way yes, but Keine insisted". 

Meira chuckled, "Such is the essence of their strict teacher". 

"Education is important" Kotohime relayed, "Not to worry, the lesson plan should be enjoyable for the children. Tamao and I have something entertaining planned".

The woman's refrained smile made Meira chuckle, wondering what her whimsical lover had in store. 

Given the dispiriting aura that had settled given recent events, a jolt of something pleasant was necessary. 

 

Before returning home, Keine did one more surveillance of the village before checking in with Mokou at the entrance of the Bamboo Forest of the Lost. 

While humans refrained from entering the forest at night, some intrepid youkai did so and ended up lost so Mokou would scan the location intermittently. 

After ensuring that the woman would be careful, Keine made her way back home. 

She could feel her heart racing as the moon had ascended in the sky now. 

Time was of the essence, the teacher breaking into a sprint. The pain in her head had increased, the incoming signs of her transformation coming through.

Keine knew it was slightly reckless to have done that final sweep but it wasn't in vein, so long as everyone was safe. She could fight back should she be attacked so even if she was alone, it wasn't that much of an issue. 

The transforming side was the part she was most uncomfortable with, both the process and the potential of a human seeing her. 

She reached her home and quickly opened the door as her tongue felt the sharpness of her fangs extending.

Keine knew she had locked the door before she left which meant only one thing. 

Her senses had already heightened when Kaguya walked in and hooked Keine's arm around her shoulder, moving them into the living area after Keine had removed her shoes. 

"There we go" Kaguya said gently as she placed the woman down and sat in front of her, "Calling it quite close tonight, aren't we?" she chided playfully. 

Keine managed a grin as Kaguya's hands rested on her shoulders, "It can't be helped. You don't have to be here for this, Kaguya". 

The lunarian rolled her eyes, "How many times have we had this conversation?". 

"Too many too count" Keine answered , "I won't stop giving you the option". 

"And I won't stop saying no to it". 

Keine's breath shuddered as her brown eyes, a shade similar to Kaguya's, now turned crimson. 

Her teeth had elongated fully, along with the change of colour in her outfit, the royal blue switching to an electrifying verdant. The blue highlights of her hair shifted to a light green, Kaguya's fingers stroking the strands after removing Keine's hat. 

It had been this way for years and yet, Kaguya showed no signs of finding this side of her tedious or unsightly so Keine knew the woman wouldn't leave, would be there for her during every full moon. 

The pain in her skull increased, palms on the floor as her horns began to protrude at the same time as her tail appeared. She winced at the sensations as Kaguya held her close, wrapping her arms behind Keine's shoulders tightly. 

"You're almost there". 

Keine's eyes slammed shut as her hands gripped Kaguya's waist, careful not to injure her with her strength as the last processes of her horns extending was carried out. Her form went rigid as Kaguya clutched onto her with fervour, the soft texture of the woman's lustrous tail curling up Keine's back to tickle her arms. 

Regardless of how long Keine had had the abilities of a werebeast, a hakutaku at that, the morphing phase never appeared without an arduous level of pain and discomfort. 

The physical changes were just as dire as the mental ones, her hormones going out of synch, like a concealed side of her personality was attempting to escape and did so. 

It truly was reckless to not stay in but there was nothing she could do about it now as the horns final stopped extending and a red bow appeared on the left one. 

Her body slumped over Kaguya's, the woman's hands petting over her hair and back. Her breathing steadied and eyes opened as she carefully pushed Kaguya onto the floor, the princess easily following the pace. 

Brown eyes looked up at her while Kaguya's arms curled behind her neck. 

"Are you alright, Keine?". 

Keine nodded, blinked open her eyes whilst trying to reign down the primal desires of her transformation. 

"You don't have to hold back".

There was a point after their first meeting where Keine couldn't imagine seeing eye to eye with the lunarian, especially given her tumultuous history with Mokou. 

Through a vicissitude course of encounters, Keine's opinions quickly wavered the more she was in the princess's presence.

Opinions were not immutable, always changed regardless of how long one lived. 

Kaguya and Mokou's hatred abraded to more friendlier terms which allowed Keine to see beyond Kaguya arcane and exterior. 

Stripping back each layer till Kaguya exposed her soul and Keine was captivated, imparted. 

So she believed her when she whispered that statement, leaning down to kiss her as she settled between Kaguya's legs. Her hand went to the white bow of Kaguya's top, tugging it before peeling back the garment and ran her hand up Kaguya's abdomen. 

The lunarian shivered, feet flat on the floor while her hands made work on the red ribbon on her lover's dress, pulling it and throwing it to the side. Keine's canines ran over her tongue before freeing her, lips travelling to Kaguya's throat as the tips of her teeth scraped down the column. 

She knew Keine was holding back. 

It was the case whenever their love making began and Kaguya had to remind her that she is immortal, that she couldn't kill her. 

Despite this, Keine was cautious. 

Immortality wasn't an escape from pain, even if the princess was well versed in the pleasures of such sensations too. 

Keine exhaled, felt hands in her hair while her own hand had moved beneath the waistband Kaguya's brown skirt as her teeth broke skin. 

The restlessness faded from the reserved youkai's mind, eyes closed as she revelled in the texture of Kaguya's blood in her mouth and the deluge coating her fingertips when she brushed them over the damp lips. 

It went without saying that the process of regaining her stability was a painstakingly timely event, both the transformation and wielding the abilities of the majestic hakutaku. 

In Keine's human form, she had the ability to hide history, which included being able to conceal landmarks and beings. 

Her hakutaku form allowed her to create history, to add and remove whatever she desired . 

The woman's awareness of the entire history of Gensokyo was also a part of that. 

So it went without saying how it was essential for Keine to remain level headed, especially during her hakutaku form in which her behaviour became erratic. 

She was still a youkai, even if half. 

Mokou used to keep her company during the full moons and after that, Kaguya took it upon herself to do so, knowing that she could offer more since Keine was hesitant about hurting Mokou given their friendship regardless of Mokou's immortality.

She knew had to assuage Keine, both the human side and the youkai. 

Kaguya held into Keine, head tipping back as the youkai continued to take from her unabashedly. 

Gensokyo's delicate balance played a pivotal role in every being which existed there and with the change in the atmosphere and recent incidents, the status quo was shifting.

The unpropitious aura remained with Keine as she removed her mouth from Kaguya's throat, eyes taking her in while her palm pressed over the wound to halt the bleeding. 

For the long lived, existence was fugacious. 

For the immortal, existence was perpetual. 

Keine was thankful for that. 

 

***


Yakumo Mansion 


Sleep circumvented Claudine as the quietness of the Yakumo household rang through. 

Given what had happened to Shiori and Tsukasa, she was agitated, as was everyone else.

It was as if for every positive event, a negative followed, pushing their tentative stability back to the nadir. 

Tae, Maya and Mahiru were safe but Tsukasa and Shiori almost died. 

She sighed whilst tightening her hold around Kaoruko's waist, pressing a kiss to the woman's shoulder. Claudine couldn't bare the thought of Kaoruko being placed in a similar situation, already too close to losing her prior to reaching Gensokyo. 

Moving a hand, she brushed Kaoruko's long hair back before running her fingers down her upper arm. She was sound asleep much to Claudine's relief, hoping the woman actually got some rest tonight. 

Kaoruko spent most of her day training but not with her which the blonde found concerning, unusual. She wanted to bring it up but the timing never presented itself. 

Claudine wondered if this was all in her own head, a culmination of the stress. 

The group were stuck to each other for an entire year and now were free to pursue their own paths in Gensokyo. 

So not having Kaoruko around often was anomalous. 

Though in some way, this was beneficial for them. 

Claudine tried to convince herself that this was the case. 

Slowly, she extracted her arms from around her lover's body without disturbing her. She did not want to wake the woman up with her restlessness so going for some air might help settle her mind. Covering Kaoruko with the duvet, the blonde placed a kiss to her temple before leaving. 

It was strange to adjust to the silence of the mansion even now. 

The quietness, the peace, it was jarring. 

Her slippers padded over the floor as she tied her robe and went down the stairs. From the corner of her eyes, she saw a light on in the patio which was on the right side of the house. The glass door was open and Claudine wondered who else would be awake at this time. 

"Hello?" she called out in an effort to not scare whomever it was. 

On the chair, Maya turned, "Claudine?". 

"Oh, it's you". 

"Sorry to disappoint" she chuckled. 

Claudine tutted, "Can I join you?". 

The brunette motioned to the chair next to her own, "Of course. You cannot sleep?". 

"No, just one of those mercurial moods. How about you?". 

"Likewise. I didn't want to disturb Mahiru since she is sleep". 

Claudine smirked at that as she kept her eyes on Maya, "So you and Mahiru huh. Can't say I'm surprised at that happening".

"Is that so?". 

"Yeah, even before all this, Mahiru was someone you got along with well. Now, I think it might have something to do with your potatoes obsession and love for food, two things Mahiru excels at. But it's just a theory". 

Maya grinned as her eyes peered across the grounds of the mansion, the glimmering stars and moon highlighting everything in a silver glow. 

"She has always had a calming presence about her. Had it not have been for her myriad of support, well, I may not have been here at this moment". 

The blonde took note of the way Maya's form shivered beneath the thin material of her nightshirt. 

It was as if she was a million miles away, back in the Outside World. 

She couldn't begin to envisage what Maya, Mahiru and Tae had endure following their separation.  

"Is that why you can't sleep, Maya?". 

The brunette exhaled, blinking out of her stupor. 

"Unfortunately, yes. After we were all displaced, the situation became more dire and difficult to obviate. Daiba-san and Hoshimi-san's disappearance. My capture.." Maya said, voice pinched, "It is difficult to halt the nightmares". 

Memories

Of her ordeal when she was subjugated. 

"If you want to talk about what happened, I'm here. It might not fix everything but getting it out of your system is a start".

"Mahiru insists the shame". 

Claudine smiled, "She's a clever woman". 

"I agree" Maya responded, "She has been patient with me in regards to disclosing what had occurred during the time of my capture. Be it with the night terrors or other fears, Mahiru has been there. But I feel like I am burdening her with the way I am currently". 

Claudine could understand the sentiment but she knew Maya was aware as to how Mahiru wouldn't think such a thing. 

It just felt natural for personalities like Maya's to not rely on others, something which had softened over the years. It went without saying that she would feel obsolescence to those around her even if it wasn't the case. 

She listened as the other woman continued, "There are moments that I convince myself I dreamt the whole thing up. That I hadn't been captured and subjected to interrogation. Despite what they did, I had no intent on reveling the whereabouts of Mahiru and Hanazono-san". 

What they did. 

The words chilled Claudine as she watched Maya dwell in the past. 

She reached out a hand, taking Maya's in her own. 

Claudine wasn't sure if she was the one who needed the support or Maya. 

Her thoughts were going astray with the images of a captured Maya at the hands of the E.B.O.S personnel. 

An organisation so ruthless that any means to silence the opposition were acceptable. They had showcased that first hand as they turned the world upside down, taking advantage of the perils befalling on humanity. 

"To be honest, I like to think I was one of the more fortunate ones at the facility. We know of their human experimentation programs, whether one was inoculated or not. So in that regards, the violence and torture was a walk in the park to endure". 

"Maya..".

Claudine was on the edge of her seat as her hands cradled the brunette's, rapt attention on the woman. The fact that Maya was correct in her observation left a bitter feeling because either way, she was in their clutches for months. 

Maya smiled and pushed on, taking in the warmth of Claudine's compassion. 

It brought her peace to know Claudine wouldn't look down at her, or think of her as weak. 

"Whether I would survive or not faded after a few weeks. The routine of being questioned, manual labour and being beaten became repetitive. I was not counting on escaping the facility alive".

The violet eyes looked away, shimmering slightly. 

Claudine could hear the pain in her words, her heart aching. Even now, Maya strove to conceal her emotions so when she did reveal them, the effects of what had occurred were detrimental. A raconteur when it came to conveying stories, be it through plays or anecdotes, Maya managed to pull Claudine into her nightmare.

She squeezed the hand between hers, "You don't have to continue". 

"Thank you, Claudine. The rest is self explanatory, I suppose. Mahiru and Hanazono-san waited, biding the right time, using any means to disrupt the power circuits. Those that could escape did so. They saved not only myself but many others. I..want to recall those pleasant moments but my mind drifts to that room, the dark, the feeling of..". 

"Hey, it's okay, Maya" Claudine shushed and embraced Maya softly, arms around her form, "It isn't going to be easy to leave that behind. So don't push yourself. You've been through so much. I know what you are like, always wanting to be first but take your time with this". 

Maya laughed at that and gripped the soft robe beneath her palms. Her breathing was tremulous as she sunk into Claudine’s body and words. 

"Old habits.." she replied, "Intermingling with negative new ones are a recipe for disaster".

Claudine couldn't agree more as she patted the woman's back before Maya pulled away. 

"That and the physical reminders often muddy the process of recovery". 

Maya sat back and unbuttoned the last three buttons of her night shirt, the cold air hitting her instantly but she didn't halt her movements. 

She parted the white garment to allow Claudine to see a glimpse of the damages which had been inflicted on her, to ratiocinate the words she couldn't expel. 

Only Mahiru and Tae had witnessed the full scale of it considering that they had to dress her wounds after they escaped.

The blonde barely managed to conceal her gasp. 

Scar upon scar, some deep and others light over the expanse of her abdomen. 

"Oh, Maya.." she sighed, "I'm sorry you had to go through this".

Her fingers flexed, the urge to run her digits over the wounds prevalent but she was unsure of if the woman would be okay with it. The fact that Maya was showing her was a step in itself, showcasing her vulnerabilities. 

However, Claudine's doubts were erased when Maya held her wrist and moved her hand towards it, nodding. 

With that, Claudine gently ran her fingers over Maya's abdomen, feeling the ridges and the crevasses left on the firm skin. Her warm hands combated the early autumn night which Maya appreciated. Her eyes never left Claudine's face, witnessing the range of emotions flutter by.

Choler, sympathy, frustration. 

Maya was touched, "It's okay, Claudine".

"How.." she paused, took a quick breath and looked up at the other woman, "I know. I just wish we were there to help you all too".

It went without saying as Claudine retracted her hand and buttoned Maya's shirt back up.

"I know without a doubt you would so please don't dwell on it. Seeing you all here and alive, it made those 4 months worth it. Despite the losses along the way, we stuck together and will continue to do so".

"Always with the motivational speeches" Claudine shook her and smiled.

"Well, we may be following each other but it counts. Now more than ever to support each other" Maya reminded and tucked her dark hair behind her ear as the wind picked up, "We should head back inside".

"Sure, you feel okay to do so?".

"I do. Thank you, Claudine". "

Don't worry about it".

They made their way into the mansion after locking the door and heading upstairs where they encountered Mahiru just stepping out of the bedroom.

The sleep left completely as the two reached her and she took Maya's hand in her own.

"I think you lost something, Mahiru".

Claudine grinned as Mahiru blushed slightly, "Thank you for finding her. Are you okay?".

Maya wrapped her arm around Mahiru's waist, causing the other woman to move in closer, "Other than the cold, I'm okay. I didn't want to disturb you so Claudine kept me company".

"Best company there is" the blonde winked at Mahiru.

Their hushed voices reverberated around the landing as Mahiru smiled and attempted to warm Maya up.

"That can't be refuted" Maya said, "I've kept you awake enough, Claudine. Thank you for the company"

"No problem. I'll see you both in the morning. Hopefully you'll get some rest. Good night, Mahiru, Maya".

They parted ways as Maya and Mahiru returned to bed, the shorter woman pulling Maya to her chest as they lay side by side. The outside chill still lingered so she rubbed Maya's back whilst stroking her hair, feeling the brunette's breathing even.

"I revealed to her some of the details of what happened".

Mahiru kissed her hair, "Only if you feel comfortable with it. Kuro is nothing but supportive, isn't she?".

"She is. Her reaction was touching. I owe that to you, Mahiru".

"That's not true" Mahiru whispered, ghosting her fingertips down Maya's spine and over the scars there.

"On the contrary, it is. I don't think I would have had the courage to tell her without your support. You've always been there".

Maya closed her eyes, revelling in the feeling of Mahiru's heartbeat against her lips. The psychological toll of her captivity and reprobate acts of E.B.O.S would have broken her and without Mahiru's help and attention, as well as Tae's, she would have lost herself. 

While a part of her would always love Claudine, what she felt for Mahiru was different. Much like the same was for Mahiru in regards to Karen and Hikari. 

They had built up an elemental support system long before the pandemic and it now had flourished.

"I'll always be with you, Maya". 

Back in Claudine's room, she was relieved to see that the heiress was still asleep as she settled in behind her, resuming their previous position. 

Her thoughts remained on what Maya had shared, pleased that she could still confide in her. 

It made her that much more thankful of the woman in her arms, safe and sound.

The thought of Maya enduring such a thing was horrific enough so imagining her lover in that situation terrified her. 

She held her close, lips against the blue strands as she bid Kaoruko goodnight, reminding her that she loved her.

Unbeknownst to Claudine, Kaoruko was awake.

She had been since the moment she left their bed.

Kaoruko played the audience to the untenable exchange between Claudine and Maya.

The pernicious image imprinted into her mind.

Claudine's hands on Maya, Maya's soft expression. 

Though she couldn't make out the conversation, their actions were telling enough 

Her brown eyes stared ahead, unblinking as her lover's hands rested around her waist.

Kaoruko's own arms remained slack in front of her, not touching Claudine.

The bile in her stomach rose as visions of Maya luring Claudine in with her touch swirled around her head.

Kaoruko didn't sleep.

Felt something cold weave into her subconscious, curling within it before infusing.

Chapter Text

 

 


 

Myouren Temple 

 

Several weeks had passed by without any disturbances, more so since the security around Gensokyo had tightened. 

Yukari had delegated certain locations to specific factions to ensure that the entirety of the land was covered.

While she kept her gaps open in the most problematic areas, to have a physical presence of safeguarding should aid in deterring whatever was attacking them.

It allowed the residents of Yukari's home to venture out again and return to their jobs and errands, but with strict orders to not be alone or unarmed. 

Which is why Arisa and Saaya could sense the presence of Satono and Mai, Okina's servants, flying above them to give them some privacy. 

The two were returning from the bakery, opting to take the scenic route back to the Myouren Temple. Arisa had been helping the brunette with the tasks she could manage and she was grateful that Saaya had eased up in dancing around her like she would break. Having Tae back seemed to have allowed her to share the burden and receive some insight, or rather, a reminder of how durable Arisa was.

It was progress, despite the small steps which let Arisa accept the help when it was offered. While the oblivescence of what she endured wouldn't occur, letting those around her in and beyond her guards was a metaphorical step she had to take.

Such as now as Saaya pushed her wheelchair up the winding paths without any opposition. 

"Are you cold, Arisa?".

The blonde shook her head and lifted the bag of baked goods that were on her lap, "These are keeping me plenty warm" she joked before placing them back down, "I think we will have to start dressing in thicker clothing soon though. It is getting colder".

Autumn was on the horizon, the shedding of the trees commencing which allowed more daylight to creep through the stalks despite the encroaching feeling of the days becoming shorter. 

"You're right" Saaya answered, turning them around a bend, "It still feels homely, don’t you think? Like the park we used to live near. It was always as pretty as this".

"Hm, I guess so" Arisa hummed, hazel eyes taking in the scenery, "Just more quiet".

"Well, once we get back to the temple, the silence will be gone" the brunette chuckled. 

The antics of the temple brought about a familiar familial feeling that Saaya had missed.

"I don’t mind either I guess" the woman mused as she turned slightly to see her lover, "What about you, Saaya?".

Saaya smiled at her as Arisa faced forward again.

It was something Arisa did now as a habit, looking over her shoulder to make sure that Saaya or Tae were there. It was reflexive at this point and both she and Tae would ensure that they were in her vicinity, just to assuage those fraying fears of them leaving her. 

She leaned forward and kissed the back of Arisa’s hair as she pushed her along, "I'm okay with either too. I think I have gotten used to both and honestly, considering how calm its been, I'm okay with it all".

"Now that you've said that, it's going to go haywire again".

Saaya could hear the mordant tinge in her lover's tone, relieved to hear her incisive humour making an appearance again.

"This is Gensokyo so it could happen" she grinned, "Oh, look".

Arisa had spotted the small stall on the side of the path, not too far from the temple now.

A delicious scent permeated the air, drawing them in closer.

"That smells delicious".

Arisa hummed in agreement as they got close to the stall. 

They were use to them now, be it a vendor who dabbled with food or items, so to see one here wasn’t unusual. 

A woman waved at them as they approached her, long white hair and light blue eyes which were gentle beckoning them.

"Welcome!".

"Thank you, those smell wonderful" Saaya complimented, "Its been a while since we had roasted sweet potatoes, right, Arisa?".

Arisa took note of the woman whom had greeted her just as any other customer, without any curious staring or judgmental looks like she had experienced when going to the village. 

It aided in her appearing less hostile, "Yeah. They smell really good. I guess it would be the season for it now".

"Indeed" the vendor smiled and motioned to the air, "The autumn goddesses seem to be in good spirits".

Saaya and Arisa looked over to the side to see two blondes zipping passed, waving at Satono and Mai.

The Minoriko sisters.

"Autumn goddesses, huh" Arisa repeated. 

"Gensokyo's autumn is splendid" the woman stated as their attention turned back to her, "From the food, to the company, to the change of foliage, it truly is a sight to behold. Here you go".

Saaya paused for a moment before she reached over the counter and accepted the two sweet potatoes wrapped up in paper, piping hot with the scent of it as enticing as could be.

"I believe it's going to be a bountiful harvest".

Arisa accepted one of them from Saaya, looking at it before biting into it.

While it was hot, the soft and sweet flavour coated their tongues right away, spirals of steam coming off from the bitten potatoes. The orange exterior of the vegetable indicated its fulfilling and robust taste, the need to take another bite following immediately. 

The vendor was pleased with the expressions on the two, arms folding against her chest and an appreciative smile forming.

"The proof of that is in the flavour".

"Very much so. They tasten as incredible as they smell" Saaya beamed, "Soft yet creamy".

"I think they're better than the ones at home".

"Agreed, Arisa".

The vendor laughed, the action jovial, her light eyes glowing with pride, "Oh, you're both too kind".

"Just the truth" Saaya grinned as she handed Arisa her potato so that she could collect some money from her pocket, "How much do I owe you?".

The woman put her hands up and shook her head, "Nothing. Consider this a gesture of goodwill" she laughed.

"I couldn't" Saaya insisted but the woman had made up her mind, refusing any further protest so she chuckled, "Thank you very much".

Arisa said the same, the heat from the food mirroring what she was feeling inside.

It may have been a small act but it spoke volumes of Gensokyo and the sense of community despite the problems the land faced.

A far cry from what the world on the outside of the Hakurei Barrier had become.

"It's my pleasure. I have heard of your situation from the other villagers and sympathise greatly, so if this gesture can offer you some warmth, then nothing has been lost" she said, tone earnest. 

"We're very fortunate" Arisa spoke up, "To have ended up here, really. It has been.." she drawled off, eyes meeting the woman's as she felt Saaya's hand on her shoulder, "Difficult..but for all of those moments, things like this remind us that we have a lot to be thankful for".

The woman smiled and rested her arms on the wooden counter, meeting Arisa’s gaze, "With that mentality, you're going to be fine here. Nothing worth having comes easy".

"Isn’t that the truth" Arisa chuckled wryly, looking up at Saaya. 

While she had slowly but surely come to accept her fate, Arisa knew how providential it was to be alive to experience this.

To remain with her close ones.

Not everyone had been as auspicious in regards to that.

"Well, you keep doing what you need to do and I can guarantee better days will await you both".

They all made more idle chatter before parting ways, the essence of companionship lingering. As the days went on, their integration into Gensokyo had been strengthening despite the issues.

It only compelled Saaya to lean forward again as she walked on, chin on her lover's shoulder as Arisa fed her the potatoes.

To be in such positive spirits felt reinvigorating, surreal, something Saaya knew Arisa felt too as she exhaled over her cheek.

She just wanted Arisa to be at ease with herself and finally, a semblance of that had come through.

The kindness of strangers often went a long way.

 

***


Youkai Mountain/Bhava Agra

 

At the peak of Gensokyo's highest point, Yukari and Eirin had gathered with Yorihime and Toyohime. 

From their angle, the entirety of Gensokyo could be viewed and if they looked up, the floating islands of Bhava Agra were notable through the clouds.

They had been at the Moriya Shrine to converse with Byakuren and Kanako before heading further upwards where the lunar princesses could depart from once they were done via the usage of the lunar veils. 

"I would prefer the Lunar Capital were not privy of this to a great detail. They some how seem to know of when Gensokyo is at dire straits and it usually leads to an altercation with us".

"You said it yourself once, Yukari. They won't shoot their own head, which the earth is, so I wouldn't worry about something happening".

"That is quite the quote, Toyohime" Eirin chuckled as she floated back down to the other three.

"It is a Yukari quote so that would explain the absurdity" Yorihime reminded, "But in this scenario, she isn't incorrect. At this point, they sense a disturbance that we cannot inviolate from them for long. With the events of the earth in general, the higher ups are being more astute about their observations. That aside, I feel that master would know if they will attempt anything without us knowing".

"The faith your students have in you is immutable" Yukari sighed pleasantly.

It was met with Yorihime's eye roll and Toyohime's chuckle, "Master hasn't been wrong in her monitoring and solutions to date. Although, if Yukari has no idea as to how to counteract this issue facing Gensokyo, then I doubt the higher ups have anything".

"That would be a problem in itself as it may force them to act. It is as you said, the earth is the moon's head and without it, what is the Lunar Capital. So they could attempt to rectify the problem should they attain a solution before us" Eirin stated as she glanced around, feeling the gaze of her lover and students, "The last thing we need is direct involvement from the Lunar Capital as Yukari said".

"Agreed. For the time being, Toyohime and Yorihime should continue your surveillance".

"Got it" the blonde replied to Yukari, "As far as the Lunar Capital is aware, we are here on a casual basis. Their suspicions may have lessened but after that incident you created by sending Reimu to the moon, they are still wary of us" 

"Despite their watchfulness, they are not aware of most of our interactions with master" Yorihime added.

"Or..they may be giving the illusion to being incognisant of what you are doing".

"Yukari has a point" Toyohime sighed, a slight frown on her lips.

Eirin looked at the youkai sage, "So, you have not ruled out the possibility that this could be orchestrated by the Lunar Capital?".

The lunarians watched Yukari ponder on the statement even though they knew she had an answer already. Hearing it would confirm it, would lead to the princesses having to be more conscious of their tracks and how they concealed them.

Within the walls of the Lunar Capital were spies.

"Not without concrete proof. We are all knowledgeable of what they are capable of and I may have made my fair share of enemies there".

"Technically, you're sleeping with one of them".

Yorihime balked at her sister's statement, admonishing her for being so blasé. While they had adjusted to Eirin and Yukari's relationship, Yorihime in particular could do without the more intimate details being laid bare while Toyohime enjoyed said suggestions.

Eirin cleared her throat as Yukari winked at the other boundary breaking blonde, "That was a pleasant consequence of your master moving here".

"Yukari".

The youkai brushed her fingers over Eirin's which were near her own, "I digress. As I was saying, the lunarians not aligned with Gensokyo are not without motive to stir something. With the rest of the world on the brink of collapse, it would be the perfect opportunity to strike. Unlike earthlings, their tactics would be more subtle, no?" She enquired and faced Yorihime.

The younger of the sisters was in charge of training the Lunar Corps Army so she and Toyohime knew how they could and would attack. Training the emissaries was also one of Eirin's roles prior to leaving the moon so the princesses, Yorihime in particular, was stringent in ensuring Eirin's tactics were used to train the soldiers. 

"They would gauge the strength and defences of their enemy before deploying an all out assault".

"So a disturbance here and a disturbance there would be the pattern" Eirin continued, "Just enough to toy with their opposition".

Which was the case so far in terms of what was happening in Gensokyo. 

"However, let's say they had found the means to roam Gensokyo without being spotted, would they truly attempt to attack Reimu?" Toyohime questioned, golden eyes going to the direction of the shrine, "Even they are mindful enough to know that doing so would be a declaration of war with Gensokyo".

Yukari had deliberated on that too as it had taken years for a ceasefire to occur between the two sides. While the iconoclastic nature of either faction's beliefs and existence remained, they were wary about inciting another war.

She was also under the impression that Alice was the primary target here.

"There lies the issue. The motive is yet to be determined hence why I am biding my time at this point. Any false accusations against any factions is going to be additional stress so we must proceed with caution".

A thunderous crash of lighting drew their eyes to the source.

"Caution isn't a word a certain somebody is familiar with" Yorihime motioned with her hand to above the clouds.

Toyohime grinned, her tone becoming dreamy, "If worse comes to worst, Tenshi will be happy to deal with any rogue lunarians".

Eirin and Yukari merely chuckled as their eyes followed the flickers of blue coming from the bullets.

Toyohime wasn't incorrect in her swooning appraisal of the rambunctious celestial. 

 

From the precipice of Youkai Mountain, one could look up to see an array of floating rock formations high above the clouds.

This was the home of the celestials, the ethereal beings which transcended to the pinnacles of pleasure and comfort after death. 

It was indeed a paradise where one was free to simply exist and revel in the luxurious lifestyle. The status of becoming a celestial was something that most humans aspired to reach.

Tenshi found it overrated, had done so for most of her existence but her ascent itself had been a controversial affair caused by the Hinanawi clan.

The mundane routine and stuffy attitudes wore thin on the larger than life woman, leading her to causing one or two scuffles in Gensokyo.

She found the ground dwellers to be fascinating, impressed with their strengths and thus, she had more than acclimated to the traits of youkai and humans. 

Something Fumi had had the unfortunate luck of experiencing when she first met Tenshi. 

However, it was different when she was warned of the celestial attacking her rather than without notice as she was helping her train now.

So on a floating island next to Tenshi's home, the two were embroiled in said sparring session.

They were toe to toe with their weapons, clashing in a maenadic manner while a parade of cerulean bullets hailed down on them, leading Fumi to graze whilst dealing with Tenshi’s sword.

It made her sensitive of her surroundings, constantly second guessing Tenshi to meet every thrust of her weapon. She skimmed to the side, the gem of her sword breaker activating to unleash a swathe of gold and white energy to cover Tenshi’s path when she flew up.

The time gained let Fumi use the keystones Tenshi had dropped on her as stairs, darting up them with the celestial in sight.

With a shout, she launched herself at Tenshi once she jumped from the final keystone, blade above her head and aiming for Tenshi's arm.

Fumi fell swiftly, nicking her opponent's arm before she used the other keystones to slow her fall as she reached the ground, switching to the defence in time to miss Tenshi's orange blade swiping at her. Fumi then ducked and turned, swinging her sword breaker upwards, deflecting a halation of bullets back to Tenshi. 

The celestial was thoroughly impressed with Fumi's progress, landing numerous hits on her in comparison  to their spar at the lake. 

Though to call that a spar would be inaccurate. 

Tenshi had witnessed how humans had their limits and Fumi had passed hers.

She zipped forward, twirling her sword in one hand before bringing it down to send Fumi's weapon out of her grip and barreling across the verdant grass.

That called the match and Fumi exhaled, hands resting on her knees as Tenshi slapped her back gently.

"Nicely done, Fumi!" she grinned, "You drew blood".

Tenshi pointed to a streak of red trickling down her upper arm.

"I didn't think celestials could bleed" Fumi smirked as she stood up, "Sorry about that though. I might have overdone it".

"Overdoing it is what we need so don’t worry about that. Your dodging is getting better too" Tenshi insisted and motioned for Fumi to take a seat on the ground, "Besides, the more serious you get, the more fun it is for me to fight you".

"Even for a celestial you're too carefree" Fumi chuckled, wiping her face and hands with the towel Tenshi offered, "You remind me of someone".

"Yeah?".

"A friend of ours" Fumi answered, voice going faraway for a second with the thought of Ichie, never knowing what came of her, "She had too much energy for her own good. Seriously, you could not get her to sit still. It was one of the best things about her".

"She sounds like my type of woman" Tenshi smiled.

She noticed Fumi's distant tone, catching the brief flicker of it.

Those mannerisms were synonymous with all of the humans whom had arrived from the Outside World.

It was as if they were a different species all together and when Tenshi thought of it, they virtually were.

"I could see the two of you being best friends and driving me insane" Fumi laughed softly, "Yeah, she was something else".

"Catch".

It was the only warning Fumi received when she quickly glanced to the side to where Tenshi was sat, a smooth peach zipping through the air and aiming for her head. She managed to catch it before it hit her in the face, the velvety skin of the fruit both soft yet firm.

Heaven's peaches were unlike anything Fumi had tasted before. The succulent sweet flavour and crunchy yet soft interior was something she felt spoilt for being able to enjoy and she couldn't get enough of them.

She felt the revitalising energy of the fruit the first time she tried it, the waves coursing through her body like it was medicating her.

"Thanks" she chuckled as she looked at it, "Eating peaches in heaven with a celestial. Each day here just becomes more spectacular. Tamao hanging around with the Kaguya from the legends. Sayo training with a lunar goddess. Misaki working with kappa. I feel I've taken some heavy duty drugs".

Tenshi hummed as she bit down into her peach before answering, "Never a dull day here. I mean the good and the bed but more the good. Yukari isn't having me train you for fun but, you gotta enjoy the enjoyable moments too. The more ridiculous, the more memorable. Humans need that. I know you all do".

"I guess so. It's just..".

The blonde understood the sentiments all too well and she was trying but there seemed to be a roadblock at every turn. 

Shiori and Tsukasa had recovered thankfully and the lull in perilous activity had given them a brief moment of respite.

But Fumi was on edge constantly, waiting for something to happen, running on fear when there was no need for it.

She knew they were all suffering with the anxiety and now, even the denizens of Gensokyo were too.

"Fumi".

Tenshi threw another peach at the woman who scrambled to catch it without throwing the one she was eating.

"Don’t play with food, Tenshi".

"Don’t space out" the celestial countered with a smirk and took off her hat, letting the breeze cool her down, "Worrying isn’t going to change the outcome of anything, you know".

"I have a hard time believing that you would know something as philosophical as a line like that".

"Excuse me, there isn’t much that Hinanawi Tenshi does not know about".

Fumi smirked, "Yeah, sure. I've heard all of the stories about you. Reimu warned me. Yukari warned me. Kasen warned me. Iku warned me. Shion and Toyohime kind of warned me?".

"I'm infamous, what can I say".

Tenshi laughed with verve as Fumi smiled at the woman’s bravado, thankful for her presence. 

Her blue eyes took in the setting sun glimmering over Gensokyo as a comfortable silence lingered while they finished their peaches. 

It was unreal to experience the view from this height, to feel the rays fall over her.

A heavenly sight if there was such a thing. 

"Hey, tell me more about the Outside World. I mean before all hell broke loose".

"You want to hear about it?".

Tenshi nodded and laid back on her elbows, "It sounds like a different world from when I was human so if you don’t mind, I wanna know more".

"It feels like a different world for us too" Fumi mused out loud, "Alright, I tell you".

There was positivity in the world, long before E.B.O.S took over. 

Despite the turmoil, Fumi was appreciative to be able to discuss those uplifting events, of their past, of being on stage.

With any luck, something of a similar template could be replicated in Gensokyo. 

 

***

 

Yakumo Mansion


Falling into a daze whilst washing some dishes, Lisa hadn't realised that she had company till someone had turned the tap to a cooler temperature and it was then Lisa realised that her skin had come close to scalding.

She chided herself whilst turning her face, "Thank you-" she paused, gulping lightly, "Sayo".

"I was aiding Okusawa-san and Hanazono-san before passing through here. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you".

"You creeping up on me is a habit that will never leave".

"I apologise".

Lisa was sure that this was the most Sayo had apologised in her life, noting the way the woman kept her distance. 

They had caught glimpses of each other since the revelation and that was it, no other conversation occurring since then.

Sayo shifted on her feet awkwardly before collecting a drying cloth from the rack, "May I help?".

"Your hands" Lisa managed, catching sight of the bruising and healing skin.

"Ah, I had gotten carried away with training, is all. Eirin has intervened and ensured that I do not exert myself so it is fine".

Every urge in the brunette's body was telling her to take Sayo's hand in hers, to hold it, to apply anything to ease the pain.

But flickers of Chisato intruded her mind and the thought of Sayo's hand touching her which expunged the urgency to help her. 

She managed to refrain from attending to the woman before turning back to the sink, uttering one word.

"Sure".

Sayo's eyes widened, thankful that Lisa hadn't declined. 

It may have been a minuscule occurrence but it meant something to Sayo at least. The sting of being avoided and unable to at least be in Lisa's presence dulled enough by this acceptance alone.

Despite the silence between them, Sayo was content to just be there, drying whilst Lisa washed. Her gaze would go to her now and then, noticing the sunken cheeks, the tinge of red around her olive irises and the gaunt expression. 

Guilt settled heavily in Sayo's stomach again, hand gripping the plate before she loosened her grip and placed it away.

She wanted to say something now but the thought of ruining this moment between them scared her.

Being away from Lisa for this long was taking its toll on her too so she opted for a topic of conversation which was safe.

"Thank you for the new outfits, Lisa, they are wonderful".

"Oh, you're welcome. The cold season here is just as unpredictable according to Alice".

"Since Gensokyo is still on earth, it makes sense that climate change would have had its effects too" Sayo reasoned.

"I guess so".

The sound of the tap running took over again and Sayo picked up on the cue that Lisa did not want to continue the conversation so she respected the woman's wishes.

For Lisa, the silence was easier to handle than hearing Sayo's voice and having her so close.

While her anger had simmered, the hurt and despair at what Sayo had done circulated throughout her system at every given moment. 

Just looking at her evoked a hopscotch of emotions and she was regretting letting Sayo help her. She swallowed down the tears which were forming as she focused on scrubbing a cup, fixated on the way the cleaning cloth ran over the white surface.

There was an abundance of words she wanted to throw at Sayo, yet she was too enervated to do so.

Lisa's emotions had been spilling out, clouding the room enough for Sayo to act. 

She would rather Lisa tear her down than keep it inside, to fester to unmanageable lengths so she pushed on, her extemporaneous side taking the lead.

Her hands turned off the tap this time as she walked up to Lisa, a hand resting on the edge of the sink. She was close enough that Lisa's shoulder was brushing against her chest, could see Sayo in her peripheral vision, could smell her scent and feel her coldness.

Sayo's body temperature had always been on the lower side which is why Lisa had reflexively made Sayo's new clothes thicker, like the grey sweater she had on.

"Sayo, I need space".

"I know" Sayo said, voice pensive, "I just..need you to know that I won't stop trying to fix this. I have no intention of giving up on us".

"You did that the moment you slept with Chisato".

"No".

Sayo's fingers gripped the edge as her other hand was tempted to rest on Lisa's back but she refrained.

She was well aware that she was already pushing her luck.

"I was foolish, there are no excuses but you must know that my mistake isn't a reflection on us. Of me giving up. I love you".

Lisa tensed, her own hands seeking solace on the cup she was gripping.

"You don’t get to say that".

"I know. Despite this, I will not stop my efforts to help you love me again, and trust me. Even if you choose to never take me back, I at the very least hope to attain your forgiveness, Lisa. Regardless of how much time you need, I will wait".

"What if I can't ever forgive you?".

Lisa's tremulous tone wounded Sayo further as she glanced to the window, ingeminating her point, "I..I will accept it. If you turn around one day and tell me to stop pursuing you, to tell me that you have had enough of me trying, then I will leave you be. I'd rather you do not resent me more than you already do".

With that, Sayo stepped back after collecting the last cup from Lisa's hands, the grip slackened. She wiped it and placed it in its shelf before tucking the drying cloth back and facing Lisa whom had yet to look at her.

Sayo was aching to reach out again but she restrained herself, not going any further than she had.

"I miss you" was all she said before turning and exiting the kitchen, pace rushed in an effort to not break down in front of Lisa.

The retreating footsteps quickened, disappearing to leave Lisa alone.

She breathed, the action feeling more arduous than it should have been as she hunched over the sink, wet fingers burrowing into her upper arms. Her lips trembled, eyes watering as she allowed the adrenaline to dissipate from their interaction.

While Sayo sounded adamant, Lisa wondered if she could ever forgive her.

Getting back together didn't even seem like an option anymore and the thought frightened the woman.

The thought of a world where she and Sayo became strangers, living and passing each other by in a stranger land.

"I miss you too".