The morning sun illuminated the entirety of Gensokyo as its citizens rose to commence another day. For the village in particular, owners of businesses were first to rise, to set the motions and mood for those who required their services.
Saaya had missed the fragrance of freshly baked delicacies, the heat of a kitchen and the sounds of people around town going about their day.
It felt anomalous to be able to experience it again and yet, it was happening.
She carefully stocked the shelves of the bakery she had found work in after Reimu mentioned the location to her and recommended her to the owners.
The aging couple who ran the place had been thinking of closing it down but once Saaya was introduced to them, the women were ecstatic to be able to keep the place running. They were charmed by Saaya's genial mannerisms and her skills as a baker were simply a bonus.
So that was how Saaya found herself in a quaint bakery in the heart of the Human Village, opening up in a manner she would have done if she was at home.
If the pandemic hadn't occurred, if their lives hadn't been put a target on.
The woman thought back to her family, her deceased parents and misplaced sister and brother.
The wave of sadness drowned her but she shook her head and went to open the door, flicking around the sign to indicate that they were open.
As dolorous as her heart felt at the loss and the constant anamnesis of it, she realised she had been offered a second chance, to live in their stead, to live for and by Arisa.
It was a miracle that any of them were still alive so it was a thought Saaya kept in mind.
So she smiled and took in a quick breath as she went back to the counter, the first customers coming through already. Her superb customer service hadn't relinquished in the slightest as she greeted them with vigour, returning her to a routine she had craved.
Her talent for baking had brought even more popularity to the bakery so there was rarely a lengthy pause throughout her day.
Customers kept coming in and out as the lunch time rush started to approach.
She turned around at the bell jingling and was pleasantly surprised to see Misaki pop in.
"Hey, Yamabuki-san" she waved and stepped in.
"Nice of you to drop by" Saaya smiled, "How is it going with Nitori?" she asked.
Saaya already knew what Misaki was going to purchase so she began creating the meal as Misaki exhaled and took her cap off.
She'd opted to keep her hair longer this time, the black strands brushing passed her shoulders even when up in a ponytail. Yachiyo and Lisa had been doing a superlative job of keeping up with the basics even on the run with a trusty pair of scissors but since they were no longer under threat, Misaki didn't mind growing it out.
The woman had taken a liking to how Yuyuko often found herself playing with her hair, entangling her fingers within it whenever they slept.
She adored the feeling, blushing slightly at the thought.
"Busy. Who would have figured that kappa and yamawaro were so innovative. The stuff they're making is amazing, all of it bettering Gensokyo. I'm glad to be able to work with them".
"All your past Dj experiences are coming in handy I see" Saaya grinned.
"Tell me about it. In a land which has a blend of humans and youkai. Reality is crazier than fiction" Misaki laughed incredulously.
"A lot has happened so this almost feels normal. If that makes sense?".
"I get you. Either way, I've decided not to overthink it when the woman I'm dating started glowing in front of me".
Saaya chuckled at that as she passed Misaki her food, "It would be enough to convince anyone. How is Tanaka-san coping with that?".
"All things considering? Pretty well" Misaki answered, "Since she was already familiar with things of a magical spectrum, she got over the shock pretty quickly. Then again, being taught by other magicians and some which have existed before humanity is something Yuyuko still needs to adjust to" she smiled.
The brunette nodded, "That is to be expected. But it's wonderful that she has the support needed".
"Agreed. Speaking of which, how's Ichigaya-san doing? I heard there's no progress in terms of Eirin finding a way to bring some sensation back to her leg?".
"Unfortunately" Saaya said, adding more rolls to the stock, "Eirin's still working on it but despite that, Arisa is feeling slightly better, mentally at least. Kaguya introduced her to bonsai again so..".
Misaki grinned and placed her cap back on, "The rest is self-explanatory I take it. I'm glad though, having that kind of distraction is necessary".
"I think so too".
Saaya's morose tone didn't go amiss which was concerning and Misaki was sure the brunette hadn't even realised it'd come out that way. Her appearance become undemonstrative, hands idly restocking, most of it second nature but an inkling of the process due to her wayward thoughts.
"Yamabuki-san, what's up?".
"Ah, don't worry about me" Saaya laughed, "Just went elsewhere".
"If you wanna talk about it, I'm here, okay? I guess it's related to Ichigaya-san?".
Saaya knew that if there was one person who was accustomed to Arisa's personality better than herself, it was Misaki.
The two were like minded and had a strong connection so Misaki's concerns were warranted.
Misaki walked closer to the counter where Saaya had rested her hands, fingers tapping idly.
"She draws away still and sometimes I can't even reach her, Okusawa-san. I'm worried that she'll refuse to come to me for help".
Misaki understood that, "It took a while for her to break that habit back then huh".
As did it for Misaki.
"Exactly. If she starts thinking like that again, which she does, then I don't know if I could even get through to her again. This whole thing, her leg, it's changed her which is to be expected. I just wish I could do more for her".
"But you're doing your best, right? Just being there?".
Saaya nodded, meeting Misaki's gentle gaze.
"Sometimes that is all you can and need to do. Especially in terms of Ichigaya-san. Not being able to walk is already making her feel inadequate. So, I don't think she wants you to able find a quick fix because she knows it isn't possible. She just needs you there".
Saaya took in the words, allowed them to cancel out her doubts because she knew the other woman was correct in her exhorting.
The situation and solution were out of her hands this time and Arisa probably already knew it, hence not requiring Saaya to be able to procure a quick fix.
So sugar coated words and false hope would be more of a hindrance than being honest.
"She wouldn't say it in an effort to not worry you".
"Typical Arisa, it's just like her " Saaya smiled, "Thank you, Okusawa-san".
"Hm, I didn't do much" Misaki insisted with a wry laugh, "Ichigaya-san can be predictable, as you know. Even with all of this happening, some of our pasts habits have remained".
The duo glanced around before meeting eyes again, breaking out into humoured chuckles at the truth in that statement, coaxing a sense of levity into an otherwise taxing scenario.
"Case in point" the brunette said as the bell rang and another customer came in.
"Saaya! You got the goods? Raiko greeted, the drum tsukumogami grinned enthusiastically, "Also, we still need to get some practice in for our next performance".
"I'll let you get back to work" Misaki said with an amused smile.
"Thank you. Make sure you come by to the temple, Arisa would love to see you".
"Will do" Misaki waved.
Saaya felt a tad lighter as Misaki's words aided in alleviating her concerns, wondering if she was doing right by Arisa, if she was being supportive enough.
But it was as exactly as Misaki had said, sometimes being there was enough.
When Saaya returned back to the temple after the shift, she found Arisa in their room, reading a book.
"Welcome back, Saaya".
She placed the book away, the title reading:
History of Gensokyo (The Not Redacted Version)
Written by: Komeiji Satori, Mootori Kosuzu, Yakumo Yukari
Saaya smiled as she sat down, tucking her hands under Arisa's legs to pick her up and onto her lap so that she was sat side ways.
The woman then embraced Arisa, "I'm home".
"Did something happen?".
The solicitude in her lover's voice was prevalent as she placed her chin on Saaya's shoulder.
"No, don't worry" Saaya said quickly, breath skimming over Arisa's jaw, "I just missed you, Arisa".
They pulled back as Arisa kept her arms around Saaya's shoulders, "I..missed you too but you'd tell me if something happened right? You don't have to keep things from me, like stuff that bothers you".
Affection settled over Saaya's features as she rested a hand on Arisa's thigh, the other remaining behind her waist.
There was a furrow between the blonde brows which she wanted to kiss away.
Arisa was still Arisa, nothing would change that.
"I wouldn't. But, I hope it is the same for you. If something is bothering you, tell me. You will never be an inconvenience to me, Arisa. I love you".
Arisa gulped, heart warming, "That's fair. I'm sorry if I have been distant..".
"Don't be" the brunette reassured and pressed a kiss to Arisa's lips, "Take all the time you need, I'll still be here at the end of it".
She squeezed her thigh and glanced down at Arisa's leg which was propped up. Slowly, she swept her fingers down the bare skin, keeping in tune with Arisa's comfort levels. The trail ended at her knee where she left her palm there whilst looking into curious hazel eyes, watching her, exposing everything.
"So if that is what worries you, in regards to us, please don't. I'm not letting you go again".
Arisa scoffed, distracting her from the swell of warmth in her chest as she lightly tugged on Saaya's ponytail, "You're unbelievable" she muttered which was the woman's way of reminding Saaya that her ways of reaching her, no matter how arduous was successful and worth the meritorious words.
"So you've been telling me since we met" Saaya teased as her lover rolled her eyes.
Instead of retorting, Arisa kissed her.
There was strength behind it, all of the things she couldn't convey being confessed and Saaya accepted it.
Accepted Arisa wholly, just like the blonde had done with her.
Their kiss ended a few moments later, lips lingering softly over the others, just enjoying the close proximity.
"That reminds me, I've made some different pastries to try out with everyone. Join me?".
"Anything you make has always been a hit so I can't say no to that, or you".
Saaya grinned, smile refulgent, "So cute".
"Up we go" the brunette declared as the only warning when they stood up.
"Saaya, you'll break your back doing that!".
Forest Of Magic
"That's going to explode".
"What? Nah trust me. I've done this plenty of times. This potion is fool proof".
Yuyuko sincerely doubted that as the contents Marisa had added to the pot began to bubble erratically, dark foam oozing out from the sides and splattering onto the table below. While the shade was now an off purple, it started off as brown, though its actual colour could be subjective based on its metamerism.
The blonde gave it a quick stir, adding in something else from another vial.
It reacted to the contents, the eruptive nature increasing.
Yuyuko stepped back, "Okay, now that is definitely going to explode".
"Relax!" Marisa beamed and slung an arm down the magician in training's shoulder, "Part of the process of learning magic is trial and error so even if it does fuck up, you learn".
"That sounds like sage advice but Alice has told me of the amount of times you've almost died" Yuyuko said wearily.
"She's overreacting" Marisa insisted, "Besides, this is honestly the best way to hone your skills, to figure out what kind of magic you'll work better with. What you learn from me and Alice will be different from Byakuren and Eirin but the experience will be valuable".
Yuyuko couldn't deny that as Marisa went to stir the contents again, not even bothering to look at the tome in which the spell was written to create a levitating pell. She was well aware of the difference in magic and the history behind it so seeing the various methods from each woman was proving to be inspiring.
So learning alongside the lively magician seemed like a good step.
If not, slightly disastrous.
"Uh, is it supposed to create that?".
Yuyuko's eyes widened at a clawed hand seeping out from the potion, the scales grey and reptilian like.
"Oh, shit!" Marisa exclaimed and quickly slammed the lid over it, giving the shocked woman next to her an airy smile, "Of course, sometimes you gotta be careful in case you summon something from another realm!".
"You don't say" Yuyuko managed to utter.
Yuyuko's lessons with Alice were much more calmer and organised.
It was comfortable enough that Yuyuko could definitely have a good nap.
She shook her head though, not wanting that to occur as some of Alice's dolls brought another grimoire over.
"What Marisa was trying to convey was that there are many layers to magic" Alice sighed, "She could have done so without summoning that creature from hell".
Yuyuko chuckled, "She's chaotic but knows her stuff, I'll give her that".
The blonde smiled as Yuyuko's eyes combed through the grimoire, absorbed with the language she couldn't quite decipher.
"I can't disagree. She is competent in her own field so working alongside her will be beneficial for you. Though I do hope she tones it down, the last thing we want is for you to get hurt. Being a magician is an experience like no other. Has the surprise quelled yet?".
Yuyuko mulled it over, tugging the string of her hoody.
In many ways it had but she knew she would never truly adjust to it.
She could feel the energy coursing through her, amalgamating with her blood, rewriting it almost.
"In some ways, not so much in others" she answered quietly as she picked up another book, this one she could read, "I didn't think anything more surreal than going through Gensokyo's barrier was going to happen. Everything happening in our wold was maddening enough, I guess".
"It is a lot to take in so don't feel the rush to progress quickly" Alice inspirited, "At this point, learning which craft suits you is what you should focus on. As for the physical changes, it settles".
"Can everyone in Gensokyo read minds?".
Alice chuckled at the woman's alerted expression, "Not quite. This is more of a case of, I've been there. That feeling will become more centred, steady. More so when you learn to control it. Eirin and Byakuren will able to guide you through that given their experience so don't be afraid of what you're feeling, Yuyuko".
She gave the blonde an appreciative nod as Hourai pushed one of the tea cups to her after refilling it.
"It does help to hear. You're a youkai magician, right?".
"That is correct".
"I'm guessing there are significant differences in all aspects?".
"Somewhat, the lack of humanity does allow our powers to going beyond expectations but that should not be something used to inveigle humans into wanting to turn. Ah, though doing so is forbidden here, as you know. There are pros and cons to everything so being a human magician can be superior in some ways".
"I see that" Yuyuko hummed, "And..your magic, it's related to she who shall not be named?" Yuyuko grinned sheepishly.
"My mother did play a role" Alice laughed, which Yuyuko sighed in relief internally
She didn't want to pry but Alice was a captivating woman.
Her marriage to Reimu, their daughter, her crafts, her royalty.
Yuyuko found her engrossing.
Just like how she found Marisa stimulating in terms of her magic, her methods and her journey as a magician.
Yuyuko just wanted soak in the knowledge, both for her own learning and to write.
The way Gensokyo functioned was a rakugo play in the making, enough humour embedded in the quirky characters.
Even her own journey would be amusingly apt for a play, as Misaki had mentioned.
"So my change from human to youkai wasn't straightforward but I have no regrets. My magic has been advantageous for those around me as well as myself. It is something I hope you will come to discover too. Being curious will work in your favour so please don't hesitate to ask of anything".
"Hm, well, since I've been given permission, What's that book there?" she pointed at the book resting in a glass case.
It was detailed, the brown cover worn and with several red bows around it. Alice's name was written on it, the writing style cursive yet modern.
"Ah, that is my grimoire. I have been adding to it since before my change into a youkai" Alice smiled, "It is essentially another part of me and many of my powers are tied to it".
"Woah" Yuyuko marvelled, "When was the last time you used it? Seems like it's stored away more than used now".
Alice indurated the point, "You're not wrong. Over the years, I've lessened my reliance on it. Here in Gensokyo, the spell card rules prohibit anything lethal so a lot of the spells compiled I cannot use. Also, with Eri around and more astute than most children, it's better to be safe than sorry if she was to become inquisitive and open it, which she will do" she chuckled.
"That's fair" Yuyuko said in understanding, eyes taking in the cover, "To have that kind of power, scary. You don't seem like the type to want to go all out either".
"I'd prefer not to" Alice agreed, eyes on the grimoire too, "Reimu is the same. I hope our daughter will be similar in that sense too. Violence isn't always a necessity".
Yuyuko had seen enough of it to last several lifetimes.
She hoped it was the last of it and her training into a magician wouldn't require her needing to use her abilities to harm someone.
"Firmly agree with that" she said as Alice smiled and passed her a plain parchment and pen.
"In that case, why don't you try and indite a spell card now?".
"Wait, you want me to create one now?".
Alice inclined her head to the apparatus, "No time like the present is there, Yuyuko?".
Her timbre was both encouraging and ludic, something Yuyuko found infectious.
Exultation accrued within Yuyuko at the opportunity as she gripped her pen tightly, bowing her head closer to the parchment in hopes that it would inspire her.
However, the woman already had a vague idea as to what her first spell card would be titled and the way it would be executed.
The blonde knew the sing song voice anywhere as hands slung down her chest and a chin rested near her cheek.
"Yachiyo-san" she answered, tilting her face against Yachiyo's in greeting.
"I still can't believe how tall you have become. Almost close to your sister".
Tsukasa chuckled as she chopped up some ingredients while Shiori remained at the stove, working on another dish.
"The Yumeoji genes are something else".
"Yeah, they both look so good in them".
Yachiyo felt the woman's cheeks go through the process calefaction, all too self-satisfied at how she could still fluster Shiori.
"I'd feel jealous about you knowing that but I can't disagree" Tsukasa winked as Yachiyo grinned and began helping them.
"Please, dating Fumi-san was enough. Although, Shiori might have been a less dramatic option. Oh, wait, nope".
All three thought back to a particular Performance Festival and the revues which followed.
Shiori had certainly depicted her true colours, especially when it came to her sister.
"Let's not think about that. Those were stressful times" Shiori maintained with a mild laugh, "Has everyone arrived, Yachiyo-san?".
"Almost" the woman replied, "Six hands are quicker than four to so I've come to help".
"While I agree, you should really be with them" Tsukasa stated, "You've done more than enough already, Tsuruhime-san".
"Tsukasa-san is a sweet talker but I don't mind, keeping busy is best".
Yachiyo nodded, taking the bowl of
noodles to add to the bubbling water.
"Absolutely. I don't know about you both but I missed the mundane routine. Of being with everyone and you know, just enjoying the moment".
Shiori smiled, "I think so too. It feels homely again. Cooking together, talking, sleeping".
"I'm sure there is plenty of sleeping going on with you two".
Tsukasa snickered at Shiori's stumbling of words, attempting to confute so.
Her lover had pretty much landed herself in that one, knowing full well how Yachiyo was.
"Careful, don't want to burn yourself".
"I think you're doing a good enough job of that" Tsukasa commented and came to the blonde's rescue, turning the heat down.
Not that it did any good as their close proximity only added to the mischievous smile on Yachiyo's lips.
"Ah, I love that expression" she sighed fondly, the chopsticks in her hand going back into the pan to stir the noodles, "But you're not wrong, Shiori. We have to make the best of this. Even if Gensokyo is a place that is unusual from our normal, I think it's a positive thing".
"It certainly put everything into perspective" Tsukasa mused and leaned back against the counter, "Shizuha said something about it too when she was working with Kanako, about how the possibilities here".
Yachiyo's smile softened even more so, "Apparently working with a goddess to set up servers in Gensokyo makes you reassess everything, obviously" she teased, "But she isn't wrong. We don't know what to expect but, we don't have to predict everything now. We should just leave a lasting impression on everyone here without any penitent".
Shiori placed her hand on Yachiyo's shoulder, blue eyes glimmering, "I think you definitely have, Yachiyo-san. If it hadn't have been for you, Onee-chan and I wouldn't have fixed things. I doubt I would feel as confident as I do without you watching over me when we were at Siegfeld and even after that".
"What's this, picking up on your honeyed tongue like your sister? Though I think Tsukasa-san has something to do with that too" she said in an effort to downplay how touched she was by Shiori's praise.
Tsukasa could see through it, smiling at Shiori's ability to know when to say something and saying it with enough conviction to get the point across.
"Honestly, this is all her" she said as Yachiyo pulled the younger blonde into a side hug, "She's right though, Tsuruhime-san" Tsukasa added, "It wouldn't be the same here without you".
Yachiyo squeezed Shiori tighter, exhaling softly at the calming presence.
"I guess so".
It was said quietly, Shiori not quite hearing the words but she couldn't focus as Yachiyo hugged her, held onto her.
Doing exactly as they said and making the most of this after learning to survive through their ordeal, years worth of longanimity on their side.
As rueful as Yachiyo felt about events which had occurred in the past, this was her way of ensuring those around her knew of her thoughts and feelings without being too anfractuous about it.
She needed for them to be aware of the impact they had had on her life.
Watching Tsukasa and Shiori converse animatedly, imbued in such domesticity was a reminder of how much she had influenced them.
For Yachiyo, she was content with that, with what small differences she had contributed to their group.
Gensokyo's summers felt more scorching than the Outside World's, this much Kaoruko could attest to as she walked back from the Human Village.
She glanced up above the treeline, the rays from the sun burying through to reach her, causing her to grumble whilst trudging on.
Her day comprised up of teaching a group from the village the ways of traditional dance which Kaoruko had more or less had been indoctrinated into as a child.
The woman couldn't deny that it was enjoyable to dance without the responsibility of an entire organisation on her shoulders, one which existed during the time where Kyoto was still the capital.
Even before the pandemic had engulfed the world, Kaoruko had been embroiled in a war of her own with the bilious elders of the Hanayagi contingent, resisting everything she did but Kaoruko was indefatigable, fighting back.
Not that it mattered as she was the successor of the Senka-ru dance school; they had no choice but to yield.
"Those times feel simple compared to this" she mused, "What a turn of events".
Life had a facetious way of bringing things out from the left field with a celerity severe enough to break through the foundations of everything.
To think her family would go to the lengths they did in an effort to separate Claudine from her, only relinquishing their endeavours once her grandmother passed away.
Without the instigator, they had no grounds to shape her into the embodiment of their traditions.
Kaoruko clenched her jaw at the thought, tucking her hair behind her ear as the ends of it were picked up by the scarce breeze, the long blue strands floating back.
Truly, too much had occurred and even now she was processing it, the winding road of attrition.
Gensokyo was just another layer to that.
"Well, no point trying to figure it all out in one go as Kuro-han says".
She walked up the steps to the Myouren temple, waving back at Kyoko and another person she didn't recognise.
The spotless grounds seemed to shimmer due to the coruscating sunlight, making the heat more unbearable.
Still, Kaoruko relented as she had come to see Arisa.
She and Tamao had been visiting Arisa when possible, knowing that the woman could do with the company, to be distracted for a moment.
Not only that, but not to feel like she had to keep up an act.
They had all become too versed in acting instead of living.
Being hunted down like animals did that.
Kaoruko hadn't noticed someone appear in front of her whilst in her thoughts, foot stopping midway the second she realised.
"Oh, sorry" she said and took in the figure, "Ah, you are Kokoro-han, yes?".
Kokoro nodded as Kaoruko observed the weapon in her hand.
It was a naginata.
The entirety of it was a light blue colour, including the blade as it curved inwards.
"Is that yours?".
Kaoruko could admire the beauty of the weapon, more so as wielder of her own.
Though Kokoro's expression seems aloof, the few masks which surrounded her were active. But if one looked closer, Kokoro's own facial features loosened, a small smile prevalent which was backed up the appearance of Ko-omote mask, the face of the young woman which represented joy.
From what the group had been told, Kokoro was a menreiki, a type of tsukumogami born out of 66 masks which harboured her emotions.
She may appear impassive but that was far from the case and her time in Gensokyo had aided in teaching her the ways of conveying emotions without relying on her masks.
Yuyuko seemed to have no issue talking with her and Kaoruko knew that had something to do with the Rakugo and Noh. In fact, the theatre side of the group had bonded well with Kokoro because of the shared interest.
"I have one too, did you know?".
Kokoro's brow raised, "I saw you practicing with Claudine when we went to Eientei last week".
"Oh, I see" Kaoruko replied before a horrified expression formed when she thought back to that particular session in the dojo, "And uh, how much did you see?".
Kokoro tilted her head, "Just a bit. Byakuren had to leave soon".
The heiress visibly sighed in repose, the back of her neck heating up.
While she and Claudine had got some practice in, the session quickly deviated to the more bawdy when she had the blonde pinned to the ground after managing to knock her broadsword away, tipping her over to land on top of her
The pole of her naginata had been pressed against the Claudine's chest as Kaoruko recalled the look on Claudine's face, the smirk, sharp and inviting.
Luckily, it started in the dojo but didn't get anywhere as salacious till they got to their room.
Kaoruko cleared her throat as Kokoro appeared confused, "I see, th-that's good then".
"Here you go".
The menreiki handed her naginata to Kaoruko whom accepted it carefully with both hands.
Kokoro's blade was much longer than her own, felt weighty and yet Kaoruko handled it with ease when she stepped back.
She nimbly twirled the weapon between her hands, her fighting stance setting in. Kaoruko's technique incorporated a lot of her talents as a dancer, embodying her heritage along with her skills.
Kokoro could see it in the way she handled the weapon, twisting elegantly, a smooth rise from the ground when jutting it upwards. She was impressed and could understand why Yuyuko, Yachiyo and Shizuha were discussing it recently.
Content with the brief moment, Kaoruko faced Kokoro again and handed her back the naginata, "Thank you, Kokoro-han, that's an incredible naginata you have".
"The way you handle it, it's beautiful" Kokoro replied, clutching the pole of her weapon to her chest, pink eyes glistening.
"You're too kind" Kaoruko grinned, "Years of practice".
"If you like, we can have a sparring session soon?".
Kokoro's mask of hope fluttered, as did her eyes whilst peering up at the heiress.
Kaoruko couldn't refuse such an expression which reminded her of the one's Karen used to make or the kids she used to teach made.
"I'd love that".
Kokoro smiled, reached for Kaoruko's hand and squeezed, a simple gesture yet abundant with emotion. The action was endearing which made the heiress forget the heat and her inquietude again.
It was gratifying to meet someone who could understand the naginata like she could so their session was something Kaoruko was looking forward to.
Reimu, Yukari and Kanako were in the living area of the shrine, going over the leaflet the blonde had procured.
"Do I even want to ask how many of these are up and around Gensokyo?".
"You could, however, not enquiring would save you from an impending headache".
Reimu managed a slight shake of her head as Eri was in her arms and asleep, "Whenever you're around, that happens anyway".
"I love you too, Reimu" Yukari grinned from behind her fan.
"I try to imagine Sanae's relationship with myself and Suwako being like yours".
Yukari hummed, "And how did that appear?".
"Interesting. Sanae never really had the churlish energy" the mountain goddess chuckled, more so at Reimu's indignant frown, "Which is fine with me as watching you both is amusing enough".
"We do make an excellent team" Yukari reminded, sipping her tea, "But to answer your question, I have invited a specific set of individuals to partake in this tournament".
Eri readjusted herself against her mother's chest, mumbling something which made Yukari and Kanako smile fondly, more so when Reimu gently soothed her.
"I'm guessing there is a point to that".
Kanako continued, "Isn't there always with her" she smirked, "But yes, there is. It would be a more controlled setting for everyone from the Outside World to view a duel. Since these matches are one round, they would have a concise viewing of them without needing to be involved".
"Hm, that's fair. Except these tournaments aren't proper spell card matches".
"Which is acceptable too. The point would be to give them an insight so that they know what to expect".
"And watching people slam against the dome and each other whilst mostly drunk?".
"I call that entrainment, my dear Reimu" the youkai smiled knowingly, "They have settled in well so it's about time we introduce them to one of Gensokyo's many traditions".
"Calling it a tradition would be a stretch but.." Reimu mused, "It's not a bad plan. It'll give them something else to focus on".
"That is the plan, and if they want to, they can get involved in betting for their winner" Yukari added.
"Sure, come to Gensokyo, where gambling and fights are the norm" Reimu deadpanned.
"Sannyo would love that slogan".
Alice's voice came through when she walked in, taking her boots off and leaving them on the side.
Kanako agreed as she responded to Alice's greeting, "She might adopt that idea, Alice".
"Much to the horrors of my wife. Thankfully, Sannyo does prefer to operate in a calmer manner" she laughed and took a seat next to Reimu.
"Hey, welcome home" Reimu smiled, a quick peck to her lips from Alice melting her.
"Thank you, how has she been?".
Yukari had poured the magician some tea which she thankfully accepted after pressing a kiss to Eri's hair.
"She's okay, tired out after playing with Claudine and Chisato. She is filled with questions though".
Alice chuckled and sipped her tea, "Chatty as always. I hope she didn't disturb them or you too much, Yukari".
"Not at all, I love having her over" the woman insisted, "It's hard to believe she is part Reimu".
"You're asking for it tonight, Yukari" the priestess glared, much to the amusement of Kanako and Alice.
"That is the norm" Yukari quipped before drawing her attention back to the leaflet, "So, I do have all the details arranged".
Alice eyed up the information, recalling the last tournament, "It's that time of year again. Eirin will be busy".
"At this point, she is probably used to Yukari's schemes sending patients her way" Kanako joked.
"An occasion like this will keep her occupied which she doesn't mind, I'm a doting lover that way".
"Doting? More like insane but Eirin has a type so that's on her" Reimu hit back.
Yukari appeared pleased with herself at that, "As am I".
"Hey, kids in the room!" the brunette whispered.
"Speaking of doting" Alice smiled and rubbed her wife's back, "But I'm looking forward to it and I'm sure they will too."
"Indeed. Well, the details are settled so it should be steady to commence with" Kanako stated, "There is still a week left so if any changes occur, let me know. Are we holding it in the same location?".
"Yes, the Untrodden Valley will be the best location applicable. Reimu?".
"I'm fine with it, not that I have a choice since this one would find a way to make it go ahead" she motioned with a thumb.
"Reimu, you know me too well" the youkai sage chuckled.
"It is unfortunate".
With the plans for the tournament in motion, the festivities which often surrounded the event would aid in ensuring there was an amicable atmosphere amongst everyone.
Yukari sat back from the conversation, musing about the long term scenario in terms of Gensokyo's safety and the humans which now called it home.
There was much to be assessed, this much she knew but for now, she would simply observe to see how the coterie would function.
During the early hours of the morning, Yachiyo found herself seated outside on the veranda, the night occluding everything.
The flickering of the candle next to her set an air of something maudlin which was perfect for the mood given what was in the woman's hand.
She glanced down at the letter, still sealed and now signed with her neat handwriting.
It felt heavy.
Yet there was no way around that considering the contents of the letter.
She sighed softly whilst tucking it inside her robe as her eyes went back to the scenery.
Yachiyo felt a sense of tranquillity whilst listening to the environment call out to her, gentle wisps of wildlife and something else reaching out, offering a metaphorical hand on her shoulder to reassure her.
She smiled to herself, feeling oddly nostalgic but it was a given considering her state of mind, opting to allow the nepenthean feeling to preoccupy her.
To be able to experience this level of peace again after the arduous years which had passed was something the woman was thankful for, more so to be able to enjoy it with those she loved.
It was a memory she would take with her, regardless of where she ended up.
The sound of the door sliding open caught her attention, head craning back to see Byakuren.
She motioned to the priestess to join her.
"I thought someone was awake".
"I hope I didn't disturb you".
Byakuren smiled warmly and sat down next to Yachiyo, "Not at all. It's quite late, or early depending on how one looks at it. Sleep eludes you?".
"Sleep is slippery that way" Yachiyo quipped, eyes facing the temple grounds again, "That would usually be the case but the night feels comfortable, it's not too hot and sitting here feels refreshing".
"I can see that. There is something appeasing, more so when it is the right kind of darkness to comfort you".
"Right kind.." Yachiyo repeated softly, "People wouldn't really think of it that way".
Byakuren pulled her robe around her, deliberating the other woman's statement.
"It is an impressionistic opinion. Based on experiences, the darkness could aid those that require tranquillity".
"Sometimes it is welcoming to not be able to see anything".
"Is there something you do not wish to see here, Yachiyo?" the priestess enquired.
Yachiyo smirked, Byakuren could tell from the soft hue of the candlelight.
She just couldn't deduce what kind it was.
Yachiyo was recondite in her own right, she was much more astute and careful despite her blasé way of behaving. From what Byakuren had gathered, the woman had always been that way.
She wished to aid Yachiyo, to offer her a helping hand and she hoped that it would be accepted.
Yachiyo leaned back on her elbows, eyes swiftly glancing over in the direction of the Genbu Ravine before returning to the temple grounds.
"It's more what I want to see now" she answered.
"As clichéd as it'll sound, I went them all to remain here, happy and alive" Yachiyo said softly, "That no matter what happens, what other levels of darkness they will have to deal with, there will be a positive end for them. A year ago, I didn't think we would even get here so we're heading in the right direction" she chuckled.
"It's only natural for you to feel as such" Byakuren smiled, "You have seen it for yourself, despite what you may be feeling. I believe that that in itself is a reason to simply exist".
Existing, a concept Yachiyo was all too familiar with.
Not in the sense of living, but more in regards to a being whom was merely there, here.
Her hands tingled as the wooden surface kept her grounded, kept the emotions sealed up.
Things had changed drastically from those days through the attendance at Siegfeld, to meeting everyone else.
She had a purpose beyond existing.
Yachiyo thought of Shizuha.
The woman she loved with very crevice of her soul, the woman who was the beacon of something bright which cut through the darkness.
She thought of the Yumeoji sisters.
How two siblings, so divergent from each other had changed her in an abundance of ways.
Her mind shifted to Tsukasa.
Another kindred spirit she had found solace in, found someone who understood her quirks and supported her, encouraged her.
Then there was Claudine.
A woman whom she had admired the moment she met due to her strength, her reliability and being able to read her with ease.
Everyone else too, had given Yachiyo a reason to find fulfilment within existence.
She turned to face Byakuren, expression somewhat unreadable before she grinned in understanding.
"You're right, Byakuren. Thank you" she added genuinely, "Not just for being here tonight, but for taking us in".
Byakuren waved off her thanks, "This is your home now. Gensokyo is a place where everyone belongs, please do not think otherwise. We are here for you".
Yachiyo nodded, feeling the candour and warmth from the woman easily encompass her and Byakuren reached out to embrace her which Yachiyo accepted.
Her mind was still analysing her choices, wondering which ones would be for the best.
The answer always remained the same.
It was mumbled into Byakuren's shoulder as Yachiyo held on tighter.
While Yachiyo was enigmatic, Byakuren knew melancholia all too well.
And Yachiyo was often shrouded by it.
After a while, Yachiyo returned to her room.
Byakuren's sedulous words lingered as she got into the futon with Shizuha, wrapping her arms around her.
She took in the woman's features, serene and restful which is how she wanted Shizuha to remain.
It would be onerous for her to do so at first but she knew Shizuha, knew of what she had endured to become the woman she was.
Shizuha would always understand.
Yachiyo's hand floated over Shizuha's cheek, the warm skin lingering beneath the digits as she continued to run her fingers over her face and then her hair.
She took in all the details, the way Shizuha felt, the sensation of her pulse, the blue lashes flickering.
Committing them to her memory.
Remembering why she had made it this far.
Shizuha's sleepy voice made the woman shudder as she pulled her to her chest, entangling herself around Shizuha.
"It's okay, go back to sleep" Yachiyo gently coaxed, "I love you".
Shizuha mumbled something whilst coiling her arms around Yachiyo's waist, hold unyielding despite her slumbering state.
Existing, that is all it was, all it could be ever again.
Yachiyo wondered if she still had the right to do so.