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13 Seconds To Midnight

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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".