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Shielded: A Presage

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During the gloaming time of day, a tranquil hum loitered around Gensokyo, days after the recent incident was resolved. 

While Gensokyo had a handle on its nodus, the same couldn't be stated for the hornet's nest that the Outside World had devolved into. 

"Is there any improvement from Ran's recent report?".

Yukari wasn't sure if improvement was the precise term she would use to describe the Outside World, but there was a slight abatement in the on-going events. 

Her expression remained stolid from what Eirin could notice as the gaps which were opened flickered close one by one. 

It was difficult to grasp that in a year, 2.6 million lives had been lost before pivotal actions were implemented in most countries. The on-going infection rate of 121.8 million was a bleak outlook in itself. 

Seated on the tori, Yukari was with Eirin as Alice and Reimu remained on the veranda, the brunette patting Shanghai who was nestled in Alice's arms while she in turn remained in Reimu's. 

"Improvement would be a stretch, I suppose" Yukari answered her lover who was watching the few opened gaps that Yukari had on display, "On the positive note, numerous functioning vaccines have been developed and the inoculation rate has been impressive. But on the downside..".

"The stupidity of humans is infinite". 

"A constant of the Universe". 

Yukari's sepulchral statement floated between them as snippets of said human stupidity were viewed in the gaps. 

From the idiotic anti-vaccine movement, to basic refusal of compliance to wear masks, the mark that humanity left was become tangible and rotten. 

Yukari's hope that the obdurate leaders that ran their countries would retain common sense had diminished as the handling of the pandemic deteriorated, save for a few that had managed to yield in the level of damage caused. 

The humans had simply increased their anathema with greed and their pertinacious minds.

Eirin peered up at the blonde as she reached for her sleeve, giving it a light tug, "Yukari".

The blonde snapped out of her thoughts and nodded before closing the gap and following Eirin back down to where Reimu and Alice were. 

Much like the previous year, Yukari understood that the actions of the Outside World were not of her responsibility, nor could she do what she normally did in Gensokyo to set them on the right path. 

For now, what positive news that was available had to be counted for something. 

Reimu took in the way Yukari appeared, seeming irate, "Drink up, Yukari, your face is scary enough when you aren't frowning". 

That got Yukari to smirk as she sat by Eirin, opposite of the other duo, "She's so charming with her words when comforting someone. It is no wonder you fell in love which such a boorish woman, Alice". 

"Please, increase the sarcasm more, I can't tell if you are being complimentary or not". 

The dry tone in both women's replies made their lovers chuckle as Yukari grinned, "Ah, there she is". 

"Like mentor like pupil" Eirin chimed in when Yukari rested on her shoulder while taking a drink from Alice. 

"I couldn't agree more" Alice added, Reimu appearing crestfallen at her, "As much as I don't want to remove this facile mood, are you all right, Yukari?". 

"I am, thank you. The sorry state of affairs in the Outside World is purely a kneejerk reaction to what happens here, you see". 

"The possibility of the virus being here, you mean?". 

Eirin nodded as she nursed the wine in her cup, courtesy of Yukari, as she turned her attention to the trio from her gaze towards Eientei. 

"It is something that should remain as a possibility, a contingency if nothing else" the goddess answered, "More is known about it than before but less is still understood about its properties. The creation of the vaccines was mainly in part of its genetics being similar to two other viruses that swept over the globe. In terms of Gensokyo, well, precautions would be necessary".

"Such as if someone is spirited away here?" Alice enquired. 

"Precisely".

"That explains why Sumireko hasn't been around since" Reimu mused and looked at Yukari, "Your doing?". 

"Not entirely" the youkai answered and sipped her drink, "I had gone to speak with her but she was aware of what was at risk if she was to come here. That petulant teenage side of her seems to have matured over the years" Yukari remarked and smirked at Reimu, "Humans are fascinating that way".

"Unlike certain youkai that will never mature regardless of how long they have existed for". 

"Eirin". 

The warning tone made Eirin simper as Reimu reached out for a high-five which the doctor happily reciprocated. 

Yukari scowled, poking Eirin's side, "The betrayal". 

"The theatrics" Eirin shot back as Alice smiled at the two. 

She could understand what Eirin and Reimu were attempting to do, swaying Yukari away from the scenario progressing in the Outside World, even if only for a moment. 

Chaos was commencing, this much they were all privy of and the dubiety of whether it could seep into Gensokyo remained to be seen. 

It lingered over those that were conscious of what was transpiring. 

Yukari's mind had been working on overdrive since the events developed over the year and such thoughts could be seen on her face when she exhaled softly and rested sideways on Eirin's chest, eyes facing the tori. Eirin wrapped an arm around the blonde's waist as the other went over her chest, steadying the grip over the youkai's form to keep her stationed. 

It could be felt in the air amongst them as Alice reached for Reimu's hand, squeezing it when Eirin spoke up. 

"We have precautions in place should an infected individual cross the barrier" she revealed to Alice and Reimu. 

"Do you mean..".

Reimu didn't need to vocalise it. 

Yukari's eyes hardened slightly as she nodded, "If it comes to that, it would be the only way to remove the threat and a requisite to the safety of Gensokyo. That being said, it is a last resort. With the help of Okina and the others, there are certain protocols we will follow". 

"There has been too much death already because of this" Alice noted, relieved that the prospect of extermination was a last act. 

"Indeed. Gensokyo is my priority but..I too would prefer not to see superfluous bloodshed". 

It went unsaid that the bloodshed was an option, it had to be, they all understood that. 

A year had passed in terms of the Outside World's fight with a communicable virus, with negligence, with misinformation. 

Gensokyo was at the cusp of the danger zone. 

It wouldn't take much for the same outbreak to manifest throughout the land. 

The desperation which accumulated in the world beyond the barrier would always be ready to drag Gensokyo down with it. 

Humanity rarely learned their lessons. 

The pensive yet comfortable silence which had befallen the group dispersed just as quickly when a plume of tobacco smoke wafted around, the white tendrils lapping hazily. 

Alice quickly put her hand over Reimu's nose and mouth while her eyes glanced around for the culprit but it appeared as if her appearance didn't rankle Yukari whatsoever which was strange. 

A rich chuckle broke the silence, a figure appearing from the roof of the shrine to stand on the veranda. 

"You don't have to be worried, this smoke is simple tobacco and not my other variant". 

Eirin eyed up the woman precariously; her resemblance to Yorihime was still jarring, a more sociable and coquettish version. 

"To what do we owe the pleasure, Sannyo? The mountains are in the other direction". 

Yukari's tone was levelled but the warning in her intonation was palpable. 

Reimu had managed to pry Alice's hand away and held it, "Great, now I have more troublesome people visiting my shrine". 

"Oh? But it seems like you are already surrounded by them by the looks of it" Sannyo grinned after taking a drag of her pipe, "You should be used to this kind of gathering by now". 

All Reimu could envisage was Meira in her place but she couldn't imagine the noble swordswoman behaving in a manner that Sannyo held herself. 

"She does have a point" Yukari sighed and relaxed given Eirin's reassuring stare, "Reimu is a magnet for youkai, she's unusually likeable for her strength". 

"That's not a good thing!". 

Sannyo smiled at the flustered priestess as Eirin's curious gaze remained on her, her body turned towards her like she was shielding Yukari. 

The recent incident had certainly rankled everyone given what was at risk but since it was resolved, it would only be a matter of time before the neutral atmosphere reappeared. 

"Is there something you required from Reimu?" Alice asked as Sannyo sat down and leaned back on her arms, revealing her fan tucked away in her obi as her smoking pipe balanced warily between her lips. 

"Not really. I was just getting friendly with more of Gensokyo. The mountain life is serene and monastic but I don't mind interacting with others now and then. Especially when they are interesting" the youkai commented and gave her guests a once over. 

Eirin stifled a roll of her eyes, "Serene is an unusual word to describe your profession". 

"I don't know, Eirin. I must say I'm intrigued by what she does. I've heard many a story from the tengu in regards to her den". 

Yukari was far more familiar with the craft than she let on as her visits to the Outside World in the past had allowed her to indulge in the habit. 

"You should certainly come by for a game or two" Sannyo grinned at the sage much to Eirin's dismay, "I could teach you if you're not familiar? If you know what I mean". 

"Okay, before Eirin puts you through a wall, quit the flirting" Reimu sighed and offered the youkai some sake which she graciously accepted. 

"If you insist" Sannyo jested, "Anway, what was with the morbid atmosphere you all were in when I arrived?".

Reimu wasn't sure how much she could say but Alice was quick to provide a vague yet honest answer. 

"The Outside World is..troubled at this moment". 

Sannyo contemplated Alice's words with a hum, "Troubled enough to mess up Gensokyo?". 

"The possibility is there, as we were saying" Eirin continued while facing Yukari again, "However, I'm certain that we have more preparation in dealing with it than those of the Outside World did. That alone is reason enough to not become too stressed about it".

They were keeping the details of the on-goings of the Outside World as ambiguous as possible, lest any sensitive ears and loose tongues caught wind of it and created a panic. 

Sannyo was a far more affable mountain youkai than the rest of her species and encountered a range of people in her den so Yukari couldn't be sure if she would reveal anything. 

Much like Reimu, the youkai sage was getting accustomed to the newcomers, unsure of their deeds and goal. 

Sannyo seemed nonchalant at best as she replied, "In that case, it's as the doc has said. Plan first and worry later if the problem arises". 

"I agree with her" Reimu stated painfully as Alice chuckled, "Given how much Yukari has been working me lately, the barrier should be enough". 

"You should be working yourself to attain your full potential, Reimu". 

"Hey, I have. I wiped the floor with them, remember?" Reimu refuted, jutting her chin towards Sannyo who to her credit laughed it off. 

"Yes she did. Scrapping with Gensokyo's angry priestess once was more than enough for me". 

"It had better be" the brunette warned as her gohei remained near the door. 

"At this point, Reimu's doesn't need to use any spell cards to disarm her opponents" Eirin mused and examined the gohei, "She could just poke them in the eyes considering the length of that. Baculine methods of punishment are quite common even in this day and age. Though Reimu's method would be rather unorthodox if she is aiming for ocular damage". 

"That may result in an influx of patients for you" Yukari teased, wrapping an arm behind Eirin's neck as the goddess feigned innocence. 

"Honestly, it would be less work to clean up after a fight". 

"Not the way I would do it". 

"Reimu..".

"The Hakurei priestess sure is something, huh" Sannyo commented with a wry grin. 

Reimu appeared too proud of herself as the conversation remained light given Sannyo's presence which enabled Yukari to slip into her thoughts.

While there was a possibility of not only the qualms of the Outside World reaching Gensokyo but the situation deteriorating further out there, only time would tell how both would reach their denouement. 

A year had passed, the true challenges were merely commencing for both locations.