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".
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?!".
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.
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.
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.