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13 Seconds To Midnight

Chapter Text

 

 


 

Hakurei Barrier 


There was a ripple in the barrier that those versed with the boundary would have been able to see despite the covert action. 

Those passing though, the individuals whom had caused said disturbance, were none the wiser to what they had stumbled into, but they do realise the change in the air, feel its lack of density and smell its strange odour. 

The quietness of the Aokigahara Forest they had adjusted to had suddenly stopped, like someone had pressed paused before changing the track to white noise. 

It was disorienting, to hear the new array of noise, clamour, panic. 

They pause, catching their breath as they look around frantically for shelter, for help but are met with nothing but wilderness and chaos coming from somewhere in the distance.

It reminded them too much of when the world went to hell.

A world where common sense and critical thinking had become nothing more than a myth. 

Where speaking up against the oppressors meant death. 

To run into groups of the opposing factor would be lethal but the options they had could be counted on one hand and there still would be fingers left over. 

Their injuries make them wonder if they had perhaps died and this was the land between. 

It would make sense considering it was miraculous they were still alive after the trials they had faced, we're facing. 

The differentiation between the living and the dead had lessened, or perhaps they had amalgamated. 

Nobody could be precise anymore. 

Upon the guidance of the appointed leader, the trio decide to move further inland in hopes of finding sanctuary, at the very least medical care. 

One of the group members was in dire straits, teetering between consciousness whilst attempting to not further burden those she was in the care of. 

They had no choice but to push forward, trudging deeper into a place that seemed remote, alien.

There was something primordial about the location, almost pristine. Like it hadn't been touched by the barbarity of humans. 

However, they soon wondered if it was a decision that would cost them the remainder of their lives when a curtain of violet encompassed them. 

It spread to form a dome, trapping them whilst lighting the darkness they had been adjusted to. 

The sensations of surprise and consternation engulfed them as the trio stumbled back, not believing what they were seeing, more so considering the events which transpired next. 

A line of black parting in mid air, two red bows on either side and eyes, a multitude of unblinking eyes staring out of the chasm. 

 

***


Untrodden Valley/Genbu Ravine 

 

With the flames from the Hakurei Shrine roaring in the background, the babel from those watching increased. 

Everyone was doing what they could to guide people into the gaps and away from harm. That in itself was an ardous task given the confusion which had overtaken, speculation of what had happened running like the blaze the shrine was curled up in. 

An order had been established as the leaders left in charge had divided those helping into groups which aided to delineate a clear object through the upheaval. 

The crowd was eventually whittling down as night fell, both youkai and humans working side by side to secure the area. At times like this, the discrete species could often place aside their animosity and strive towards the common goal. 

"Here, I'll take her through" Fumi said and escorted a villager into a near by gap which freed Junko to seek others to move, "Just hold onto me". 

The woman obliged, too shaken to walk and leaned on the blonde to guide her into the gap which led the villagers to their home. 

She looked back at Fumi in gratitude before leaving. 

Arisa had been returned to Yukari's mansion, knowing she couldn't attest it and the sullen expression on her face buried in Saaya's mind as she took a youkai through a gap, rethinking the conversation, the look in Arisa's eyes. 

As if she had betrayed her by taking her to safety. 

In the Human Village, Lisa, Chisato, Sayo, Kotohime and Keine were providing support and protection, the half youkai at the gates. 

Claudine, Tamao and Tsukasa were working with Keiki, directing those that were addled in the flurry of pandemonium unfurling. 

Shiori, Misaki, Yuyuko and Meira had carried the last of the competitors to safety with Byakuren meeting them half way to finish off. 

Given the inebriated conditions of most, a few falls had occurred so Kaoruko was helping someone onto Shizuha's back after they had sprained their ankle. 

But the job was almost done, a few left behind. 

The rest of those in the midst of helping were scattered around, double checking that nobody was left behind. 

Yachiyo had just ushered someone through a gap before her eyes caught some movement in her peripheral vision.

It was a figure but they were walking in the opposite direction of where the exits were so she called out, trying to get their attention. 

"Hey? Are you okay? That's the wrong way". 

She wouldn't be surprised if it was someone drunk, unable to focus on anything so the woman made quick work of following the individual to catch up and return them. 

The night sky didn't allow much to be seen other than an outline of the shadow but they didn't seem to be stumbling which was a positive sign. She couldn't drag anyone back if the person fell considering the uneven terrain she had found herself on. 

"Hey!". 

She rose her voice a tad but received no response which made her sigh in irritation. 

Yachiyo wanted to turn back and get help but when she glanced in the direction she came from, the woman realised how much distance had been placed between where she was now and the main area. It was one thing to navigate the place during the day but a night with hardly any illumination made it daunting. 

She weighed up her options, opting to search for the missing spectator that she could still see the outline of, hoping she could find her way back. 

So on she went, navigating the tenebrous setting whilst calling out to the stranger now and then. Other than the wind whistling, she wasn't offered a response still. 

Given that it was warm, Yachiyo didn't fret too much about hypothermia at this point, especially in her light dress and the chase itself was keeping her temperature regulated. 

Yachiyo knew that pursuing the person at this time and alone wasn't a wise idea but she wouldn't be able to live with herself if someone ended up injured or worse, knowing that she could have avoided it. 

So she continued onwards as the figure seemed to take a turn and up a hill which overlooked a river.

The sight gave an idea to Yachiyo as to where she was. 

She was closer to Youkai Mountain now more than she was to the Untrodden Valley. 

It was disconcerting but at the same time, Yachiyo had to find the person whom had ambled away before they injured themselves. She had witnessed too much of that already thuugh in Yukari's controlled environment, it was enjoyable. 

Still, her thoughts drifted to Alice and Reimu's home, hoping they were okay. 

The woman walked up the steep incline, slightly panting now but kept her eyes on the silhouette that was highlighted by the moon, watching them reach the top of the cliff. 

Yachiyo picked up her pace, bunching up her dress as she reached the top, the overhang of what she was sure was the Genbu Ravine. 

For reasons unknown, her gaze had often fell onto the location since she arrived in Gensokyo, even before knowing what it was. 

The waterfall on her right was the conspicuous giveaway, the noise of it rushing cancelling out the silence. 

"Really? Is this the time to be sightseeing?" she called out, tucking back her hair which had shaken free, "Hello?". 

She was met with no response yet again. 

There was nobody on the ledge. 

Panic fuelled Yachiyo at the realisation of there only being one way down. 

"Oh, no" she muttered, heart rate increasing as she bound into action. 

She hurriedly ran to the edge and dropped down on her knees, fingers gripping the rubble as her eyes surveyed the area below. 

"Come on..where are you..". 

The drop from the overhang was daunting and one that couldn't be survived if falling onto the hard riverbank. Just looking down made her feel nauseated but she pushed it down, eyes concentrated. 

Yachiyo continued scanning the vicinity, the water lit up by the moonlight which worked as some source of light but the woman still couldn't see anything beyond outlines. 

In some ways, she was thankful for that. 

But the other side of her mind stalled when realisation dawned on her. 

If there was no body, where did they go?

Her question would soon be answered when she heard the scuffle of boots against gravel come from behind her. 

 

***

 

Hakurei Shrine 


The sight of the destruction of Reimu's shrine in past events had almost become something of a running gag, given that it was the one location in Gensokyo that would never be perdure for long. 

While Gensokyo had managed to maintain a balance, Reimu's existence and profession still irked many a youkai and human so for them to occasionally attack wasn't unheard of. 

But right now, there was nothing amusing about the condition of the area. 

It had disintegrated to its bare foundations, the flames out of control wherever one looked up until Mokou had arrived and began to tame them. She was in the sky, using her own abilities to combat it enough for everyone else to tend to the family which were found sprawled on the veranda. 

The fact that none of them were moving amplified the alarm bells. 

Reimu had her arms around Alice and Eri, like she had ushered them out and succumbed to her injuries and smoke inhalation before collapsing. 

Everyone had sprang into action, pulling them away from the building, moving them nearer to the tori where it was relatively smoke free. 

It was then Eirin would get a chance to take in their conditions. 

Panic laced her eyes when she found that Eri wasn't breathing at all, administering CPR immediately. She had escaped more of the skin based wounds and burns, likely due to her mothers intervention but the smoke was often what killed most during fires.

Carefully, Eirin tilted her head back by placing her hand on Eri's forehead and lifted her chin, making sure there was nothing broken before using the heel of her right hand, interlocking the fingers of her left over it, then placing it  over the third breastbone. She began pushing down at least 5 centimeters which covered one third of the diameter of the chest. 

It wasn't often Eirin had to perform CPR on a child so this occurrence was terrifying.

"We'll take Alice and Reimu through to Eientei" Sakuya said as she collected Alice, assessing the blood dripping from her arm and temple while Sanae and Marisa lifted Reimu. 

"Shit.." Marisa exclaimed, golden eyes lingering over Alice and Reimu, the scent of singed flesh overwhelming. 

Sanae carefully maneverued Reimu between them, feeling her pulse when she rested a hand to Reimu's chest, "Its faint" she gritted internally. 

The disconcertment was prevalent in Sakuya's voice despite her composure at the unmoving life form of the daughter of her friends. 

She didn't want to think about the what ifs, she just could not. 

Kaguya, Yumemi, Rikako and Shiori were already prepared and ready to go as the injured from both the shrine and the event came through. 

The rest had worked with Mokou to control the fires as Reisen remained by Eirin's side whilst patching up the few burn wounds on Eri. Her kimono had been burnt at the legs, the left one in particular sporting a severe burn. She cleaned the area slowly before applying ointment to soothe it down. 

Mima, Youmu, Aunn and a few other youkai had gone to scan the area in an effort to make sure nobody else had become incapacitated. 

If there was one thing clear, the destruction of the shrine was expansive with only one side of the storehouse remaining somewhat unscathed. 

The scale of the damage attributed to that, the char on the ground circling the area. 

Reisen clenched her teeth, her crimson eyes on Eri, watching out for any change, "Master". 

Eirin was becoming frantic though it was kept internal, not distracting her as she delivered the chest compressions and checking Eri's airway but so far nothing was working. 

"Come on, Eri, you can do this. You must" she muttered, "Eri!". 

The girl remained unresponsive despite the doctor's efforts. 

But Eirin didn't relent, she was not going to give up. 

Nobody was going to die tonight. 

There was always a risk with CPR, more so with children given the delicate nature of their rib cage and the problem that would occur is mostly likely one snapping. 

For the majority of the time, CPR didn't procure the desired results which is why timing was critical. 

With a few more compressions, Eri's debilitated heartbeat made its appearance. 

Eirin quickly breathed into Eri's mouth another 4 times and when she got back up, the sound of the girl coughing was euphoric. Her sigh mimicked Reisen’s as she turned the girl over on her side to ensure her airways didn't become obstructed further should she cough up blood or throw up. 

She wasn't out of the woods yet but at least she was breathing. 

"We need her on ventilation and fast " Eirin directed as Reisen placed an oxygen mask on the girl's face to help her breath, "The time between the explosion and us arriving wasn't much but the exposure to the smoke is detrimental enough. Considering they were inside the shrine, which room they were in would have made a difference". 

Reisen nodded as Eirin picked up the blonde and followed Eirin back to Eientei, the clinic area a hub of activity. 

Placing Eri down on a gurney, Eirin looked around. 

It had been a while since Eientei was like this, since Gensokyo was like this. 

She hoped that everyone else had been able to be rounded up as the woman continued to instruct those around her. 

The string of occurrences which had led up to this seemed like too much of a coincidence. 

Eirin hadn't felt this overwrought in a while and the more Yukari seemed to deteriorate and hide from her, the more her solicitude augmented. 

 

***

Genbu Ravine 

 

"I must be seeing a ghost, ironic since I've seen a few here in Gensokyo in the flesh. Or is that in the spirit?". 

Yachiyo's quip did little to push down the nausea she was feeling as she got to her feet. 

Oddly, she wasn't scared, perhaps slightly perturbed. 

How could she not be when she had seen the apparition the moment she had shoved a knife through their throat, blinded by crimson liquid whenever she looked a she plunged in deeper. 

The uniform, the mask, the gurgling. 

It had never left her, scarred her. 

"Watching me from the corners and in my nightmares. You should introduce yourself, we didn't really get off on the right foot". 

The figure said nothing, stepping forward. 

Their white uniform which showed their allegiance to E.B.O.S would have been pristine had it not have been for the blood spilling down from their throat. 

The knife Yachiyo had used was still lodged in their throat, Hikari's knife. 

A waterfall of crimson oozing down to the ground. 

Yachiyo wanted to throw up, could smell the scene unfurling. 

The rotting corpses. 

The odious blood. 

The harrowing screams. 

All of it a manifestation, staring at her through the helmet, motionless yet domineering all the same. 

Yachiyo shivered, eyes never leaving the deceased figure of the first and last she had to kill. 

Her hand ached, thinking back at the pressure needed to stab another human, shoving through the layers to guarantee their death. 

She couldn't do it again, the trauma too embedded and Shizuha understood, would never allow her to take another life. 

The figure which had followed her into Gensokyo after carving out a permanent chamber in her brain skulked closer. 

"What do you want from me?" she asked, aware that she wouldn't receive an answer, "Why can't you just let me be?!". 

Her fist shook as the apparition stepped forward, arms to the side, a splutter being heard like it was trying to talk but their throat was flooded. 

The knife in their larynx keeping the wound fresh and open. 

Yachiyo had accepted that she would see the person she had killed, accepted that every shadow she saw would make her skeleton leave the comfort of her skin. 

It was drilled into her head, the moment she plunged the knife into her assailants throat before they had a chance to kill her. If she has hesitated, she wouldn't be here, wouldn't have found Gensokyo. 

Wouldn't be able to be with Shizuha. 

She had no choice, she had to kill them. 

It had become a mantra that Yachiyo repeated to attenuate the constant stream of culpability she had submerged herself to. 

Survivor's guilt was a devastating concept and those which survived the initial trauma never truly healed.

Her expression was filled with anguish, turquoise eyes shimmering with tears now as her energy drained, the energy she needed to remain blasé and kittenish. 

She couldn't do it anymore and the more she lost the fight with her mind, the stronger the apparition became till she was spotting it everywhere

While she was working. 

When she attended the parties. 

Whenever her eyes closed. 

Especially when Shizuha held her at night and she would glance to the window, seeing their face looking back. 

The last time she saw it was during the conversation with Byakuren. 

And now that she ponders on it, her line of vision when she quickly glanced to see it that time led to the Genbu Ravine. 

She laughed, hollow as the soles of her feet dug into the rocks beneath them, "You're never going to leave me alone, are you? Even if..even if the reason this happened is because of you. I didn't want to kill you or anyone!". 

Yachiyo screamed, tears streaming down her cheeks, strands of hair sticking to her face as she took in a deep breath, "I didn't want to kill!".

The apparition stepped closer, watching Yachiyo. 

Yachiyo stared at it, they were close enough and she had to look up slightly to catch where their eyes would be behind the blacked out visor.

If she had to guess, the person in the uniform was nearer to Shizuha's height and that was all she could deduce. 

She wondered if it was best that she couldn't see a face. 

Maybe being haunted by a helmet was the only reprieve she deserved. 
 
Her bloodshot eyes drifted to the knife stuck in their throat, twisted and buried deep in. Bits of skin and clothing splintered out of the wound, the area appearing like a bloodied scab. If she could see behind them, the tip went through the spine given the adrenaline she was subsumed in when defending herself. 

Because that's all she did, defend herself. 

And yet, the guilt scarred her. 

She sobbed, lifted a hand up, hovering it over the knife before moving it up to apparition's cheek but not touching. 

"I..I'm sorry" she whimpered, "Please just forgive me". 

Another step was taken which led to Yachiyo moving backwards till her heels were on the precipice of the edge, debris falling down. 

Her hand touched the apparition's face, the coldness from their helmet seeping though. 

"Let me live, please, I don't want to die!". 

The noise in Yachiyo's mind amplified as a scattering of replies took over, listing the reasons she shouldn't even be alive. It was like a barrage of insects scuttling around her brain, their answers mixing and sticking to her skull as the loudness increased. 

She winced, thinking of Shizuha and everyone else. 

"I don't want to die!". 

In a first, the figure lifted a hand to their throat and wrapped their fist around the handle of the knife. 

They pulled, a sickening squelch being emitted. 

Yachiyo's eyes expanded, her breathing erratic as the final signs of panic engulfed her 

Her mind had succumbed, acquitted to the strain she had been drowning in. 

With a jut of their hand, the apparition stuck the knife into Yachiyo's throat. 

It pierced the hollow of it with ease, breaking flesh and sending a splurt of blood gushing out which splattered onto the figure's helmet. 

The last thing Yachiyo hears her mind say was a garble of voices melded together, like an AI device on the brink of malfunction. 

She stepped back one last time to escape, no more cliff beneath her feet and plunged down into the ravine. 

The horrifying thud of her body meeting the ravine floor reverberated, echoing as the rushing of the waterfall and trickling of the stream masked the gruesome sound. 

"What makes you believe that you deserve to live, Tsuruhime Yachiyo?".

 

***

 

Hakurei Barrier


Yukari figured that the term déjà vu would be apt in this situation. 

Widened eyes looked at the youkai and lunarians, abject shock on their faces as they shuffled back, unable to comprehend the spectacle. 

"Who are you?! And what is going on here!?". 

Despite the perplexed state, the brunette which had spoken up managed to reorient herself despite what she had seen, was seeing. 

A violet dome appearing above them, something opening in the air and three women coming out of it, one with a parasol, one armed with a sword, the other with fan. 

Normally, Yukari would have toyed around with the new arrivals but given what was happening, she wasn't in a puckish mood. 

Also, one of the women whom was being held up by the two on either side of her appeared too close to death. There was more blood on her, her clothes sullied as constant seeping of the liquid seem to form. 

"Yakumo Yukari. It seems that you too, have picked an unfortunate time to visit Gensokyo". 

"G-gensokyo?". 

The woman with dark blue hair repeated it, eyes never leaving Yukari, Yorihime and Toyohime. 

Yukari sighed as she motioned to the sisters that there was no immediate threat despite the fact that two of them had weapons in their free hands. 

A rapier and a mace. 

The glowing gems on their weapons did confirm that they were indeed someone part of the circle of the others. 

But it was safer to confirm. 

"We can share formal introductions later" Yukari said and motioned to the brunette in the middle, "She isn't looking well". 

All three were severely injured but the tall brunette was bleeding profusely from her lower abdomen. 

"So, while I would love to hold the 21 questions game with you, none of us have time. However, if it helps lessens your anxiety as to your location and our appearance, perhaps they can reassure you". 

Yukari opened a gap next to them, speaking up to those within it, "I hate to distract you but can some of you join us for a moment". 

She had picked the location where most of the Outside World residents were which was in the valley. They had just finished escorting everyone away so a foreboding silence seem to be tangible in comparison to how the evening commenced. 

Hurried footsteps followed as Saaya and Claudine were the closest, appearing through the darkness. 

"What is it, Yukari-". 

Claudine's sentence died in her throat, as did Saaya's when they took in the sight. 

"Mahiru..Maya" Claudine managed, voice cracking. 

The two women in turn reacted the same, their injuries and sullied forms just about being able to handle seeing them alive, and in this strange place. 

"Kuro!". 

"Claudine". 

Saaya's heart leapt to her chest, taking in the slumped figure between the two, "O-Tae..".

Her eyes watered when Tae managed to look up, her large green eyes dull but the shadow of her smile radiant, "Saaya, found you again" she replied before coughing. 

Maya and Mahiru couldn't get their minds to catch up to the sight of their eyes as they exhaled, calling out the blonde's name again before their knees buckled. 

Claudine and Saaya ran up to the dome, hands on it as they called out to them. 

Yorihime and Toyohime glanced at Yukari, "Is that the confirmation you were looking for?" the younger sibling enquired. 

"It is indeed".

Toyohime remained quiet, eyes switching from the dome to Yukari, wondering how it was that they had passed through the barrier. She knew the occasional humans drifted, less after the commencing of the pandemic but two groups of humans seemed out of the norm. 

She knew that Yukari's boundaries could rarely be infiltrated, barring the attempts by the lunarians but over the years, that seems to be changing. 

It was a cause of concern. 

She too had noticed Yukari's state, not bringing it up with Eirin yet but perhaps it was time to do so. 

Before anything else could be said, Kanako had flown down from the direction of the shrine and landed near them. 

While the scene she had stumbled upon begged so many question, the news she had took precedence. 

"Kanako, what's going on?". 

Yukari walked up to the taller woman, brows furrowed. 

The goddess steeled herself as she updated Yukari on the situation. 

"Eri's breathing won't stabilise so she is on a ventilator, Reimu is alive but unconscious and Alice is in surgery to see to the severe burns on her back. They'll heal faster but the damage is extensive". 

Yukari felt her stomach drop, but the ruminative look in Kanako's eyes indicated she wasn't done with the update, something equivocal in the way she had spoken. 

The woman's gaze swept to the Outside World denizens before returning to Yukari. 

"Kanako, tell me".

"Yachiyo is missing". 

Claudine snapped back at the name but the panicked cries from Saaya, Mahiru and Maya took over when Tae passed out. 

There was too much going on. 

There was too much happening. 

Yukari, for the expansive occurrences in her long life, now felt overwhelmed. 

 

***

Eientei

 

Locating Yachiyo was elementary enough for a being like Yakumo Yukari.

When you could manipulate, create and destroy the very fabric of existence, finding the whereabouts of a someone was child's play.

And yet, the moment she had stumbled upon Yachiyo, Yukari despised being able to do so. 

The image wouldn't leave her mind for some time.

Humans were terribly fragile. 

Nor would the crestfallen expressions she was met with when they divulged the news of Yachiyo's death.

Shizuha was motionless, staring at Yukari and Eirin like they'd been conversing in another language.

"I'm sorry".

The blonde's elucidated words didn't register, nor had the previous ones referring to Yachiyo. 

About her death. 

Shizuha could hear the restrained sobs around her as the news registered. 

Tsukasa was in front of her, hands on her shoulders, fingers shaking as she looked up at her friend. 

"You must be mistaken, Yukari. It must be someone else".

Her body trembled, a broken whisper continuing that trail of thought. 

"You're wrong. Yachiyo was..is alive. You're wrong".

"Shizuha" Tsukasa uttered.

The two sages said nothing, allowing the irrefutable news to resonate.

Fumi had Shiori in her arms, her younger sibling's desolate weeping meeting her chest as she held her tighter, her own tears spilling as Tamao and Yuyuko had their arms around them.

Kaoruko kept a hold of Claudine, her lover's face impassive, much like Shizuha's. 

She hadn't accepted it yet, her jaw clenching and eyes on Shizuha's tensed back. 

They hadn't given the news to Lisa and the others yet as they were still grappling with Tae barely clinching onto life herself, her moribund condition of concern.

To add in the news of Yachiyo's death would be catastrophic.

It was unpleasant enough for Yukari and Eirin to do this. 

Maya and Mahiru were stable, it was one silver lining but nothing could curtail the loss felt from losing someone dear to them all. 

Shizuha shook her head, fists clenching and moved past Tsukasa, going for Eirin.

She had the goddess by the lapels of her white coat for a second, "You are lying! That is not her in the morgue! You must check again, Eirin, please!".

Her fists were holding the goddess with such ferocity that Eirin feared Shizuha would break them. 

"Shizuha" she said before Yukari acted. 

Yukari's expression darkened as she grabbed Shizuha's wrists, not needing to add much pressure in order to make the distraught woman let go, moving her back as Tsukasa, Fumi and Claudine sprang into action. Yukari's physical strength was to rivalled with the rest of her abilities despite not relying on them. 

But moments like this certainly showcased it, increasing her grip just a tad, seeing Shizuha bite down her inner cheek. 

"Shizuha, no!" Claudine yelled, grabbing a shoulder as Fumi did the same with the other, "Let Eirin go!". 

Eirin sighed, her sympathy for the woman exuding so she placed her hand on Yukari's shoulder, indicating to release Shizuha and the blonde obliged but not before a warning

"I understand that this is too much to take in" Yukari said quietly as Shizuha finally winced, tone menacing, "But please refrain from going for Eirin like that again".

Yukari was impressed by the woman's pain tolerance, though she had a feeling things would change. 

Her mental durability would be tested, much like it had done for Sayo and even she hadn't fully recovered from Hina's death. 

"I apologise, I.." 

Shizuha couldn't continue, sobbed, legs buckling as Yukari's hold lessened till she had a much softer grip, matching her calmer countenance again, "I wish I could tell you all that this is false. I've yet to understand what happened but the reality is that Yachiyo has passed away and I'm sorry".

Denial faded at the sincerity in the youkai's voice and eyes.

Shizuha felt her body go numb, Yukari catching her from the front as Tsukasa held her, curled around her back. Her tears seeped into Shizuha's dress as the fragrance of Yachiyo lingered. 

"Yachiyo...".

 

The activity from then on was a blur. 

Everyone from the Outside World were to return to Yukari's home. 

No one protested. 

The leading figures of Gensokyo worked through the night to regain some order, advising when possible and using their resources to begin to piece together what had occurred. 

All humans were to remain in the village and all youkai were to remain in their places of dwelling too. 

The tengu which patrolled Youkai Mountain upon Megumu's orders, extended their patrols to the surrounding areas with high vigilance to the Genbu Ravine and Untrodden Valley. 

Nobody was to set foot there, or the decimated Hakurei Shrine. 

The hallways of the hospital had gained some peace as the patients had obtained some stability. 

Reisen, Yumemi and Rikako were carefully monitoring the new arrivals. 

They had been tested for the multiple strains of the coronavirus, the results negative which was one hurdle passed. 

Their injuries were extensive, much like the state the others had appeared that night. 

Yumemi took in Mahiru's stats, increasing the dosage of the painkillers whilst assessing the rest of her wounds. Widespread bruising present on her shoulder, the joints of her arm bandaged up having had not healed from a previous injury. Her countenance was sallow, a result of malnourishment which was to be expected, bones too notable and muscle degeneration occurring. 

The same applied to Maya and Tae, Rikako addressing the dire puncture on Tae's upper abdomen. It was a bullet wound which had opened again and the scientist grimaced, knowing of said weapons and the destruction they caused. She wondered how Tae had managed to survive long enough given the alarming state of her physical condition. 

Reisen had finished redressing Maya's bandage on her head, gently moving her brunette hair back. The woman's body was littered with contusions and welts, cuts of various depths scattered over her abdomen and shoulders. The lunarian dread to think of how she obtained them since they appeared deliberate, some precise, other's looking like they were crafted into her body through a fit of rage. 

At this point, Reise, Yumemi and Rikako were still grappling with the news of the Hakurei family and Yachiyo's death while doing their best to keep their three patients with them, not wanting another loss of life to occur.

Sentiments which their mentor shared when Eirin walked by and Reisen provided the woman with an update. 

Her tired eyes ran around the room, taking in the three women whom had walked beyond the barrier. 

Two major intrusions to the barrier in the space of 4 months. 

Something of a cataclysmic nature was brewing on the horizon, something that would change the face of Gensokyo. 

Of Yukari. 

Eirin then left the room, mind ablaze by the events, attempting to deconstruct everything. 

She thought back to Yachiyo, her body in the morgue. 

Mangled and twisted in ways that no solid form should be able to be angled. 

Eirin pushed her emotional aspects away whilst working to restore some order to the woman's corpse, to give her some reprieve and when she had managed to do so, she sat for a while. 

It didn't feel like that long ago that she had done the same for Hina. 

It wasn't long ago. 

Hina had been killed by a youkai. 

That much was confirmed and now, Yachiyo's death was already shrouded in mystery. 

Why was she at the ravine? 

Did she slip? 

Or the more invidious, was she pushed? 

Eirin had no answers leading to foul play as of yet after carrying out the post-mortem. 

What had ultimately killed Yachiyo was the fall, dead upon impact. 

There were no other wounds on her. 

Nothing was adding up as Eirin made her way to the section where the Hakurei family were situated. 

Regardless of how adjusted she was to her profession, moments like this took its toll. 

Reimu, Alice and Eri.

An entire family in her hospital. 

A family she had helped to conceive, a family she watched over, a family vital to Gensokyo and Makai, a family important to the woman she loved.

Yukari heard her coming from Alice and Reimu's room, turning on her heel when she saw the lunarian. 

Hours of keeping composed and phlegmatic yearned to come undone and when Eirin took her into her arms, Yukari exhaled, burying her face against her lover's neck, allowing it all free. 

Eirin wrapped around her tightly as her eyes took in the resting from of Reimu and Alice while glancing to the door to the room opposite where Eri was, intubated, the beeping of machines curbing the silence. 

It would be too soon to say stability had formed for any of them and this was the worry Yukari harboured. The next few hours would be critical, would be decisive on how the youkai sage would proceed to find out what had happened. 

She cleared her throat quietly as she looked up at Eirin. 

The lunarian had never seen Yukari appear so etiolated. 

Like something was draining the very essence of her life form. 

Eirin's blue eyes were laced with worriment and ire as she rested one hand behind the blonde's head, the other on her cheek. She knew she was still being kept in the dark, there was something Yukari was hell-bent on keeping from her and every fibre of her being wanted to bring it up but the vulnerability in her lover's voice brushed it away, just for now. 

"I should have sent them all back, Eirin. At the very least, Yachiyo would be alive. We would have been closer to the shrine to limit the amount of smoke inhalation they suffered.." she motioned to Alice and Reimu. 

"You and I both know that it doesn't work that way" Eirin replied softly, feeling the grip of the blonde's hands around her waist. 

The rest of the words went unsaid as Eirin pulled the woman back to her chest, feeling her crumble beneath her fingertips. 

Even they had no control over everything which occurred. 

Death stalled for nobody. 

***

 

Yakumo Mansion 

 

Sleep eluded everyone. 

Their minds were too engaged with the array of emotions conjured but the overall feeling of melancholia lingered. 

In the main living area, Sayo, Lisa, Chisato, Arisa, Saaya and Misaki were scattered around. 

Lisa's quiet sniffles against Chisato's neck was the main sound deduced. The blonde had her arms around her, seated on one of the couches, just holding her. 

There was nothing words could do for now. 

While the safety of Tae, Maya and Mahiru was something to rejoice, Yachiyo's demise was too much to bear. 

Particular for Lisa whom had found a confidant in Yachiyo. 

Sayo was sat on Lisa's right, her hand in her lover's, offering whatever support she could. She was thankful that Chisato was there, providing gentle words and touches to sooth the brunette. 

She looked at the blonde, expression muddled and she could only imagine Chisato feeling the same but right now, getting through this would be their priority. 

Absolving themselves of their own indiscretions had to wait. 

First Hina and now Yachiyo. 

The surrealism of the events was jarring. 

Arisa, Saaya and Misaki were on the other couch with Misaki sat near the low table, watching the steam billow from her tea. 

She understood that Yuyuko needed to be with Fumi, Tamao and Shiori right now, but the ache in her chest was overwhelming. Seeing Yuyuko cry was something that didn't happen often, even when they were on the run and at their breaking points. 

Her indifference remained. 

And now, it had been shed. 

While death had been a reoccurring theme for them all in light of the pandemic, it had been a while since it occurred in their group. 

Hina's death being the first since fleeing Tokyo. 

She felt a hand to her shoulder, knowing it was Saaya's so she placed one over it, squeezing in appreciation when she leaned back near the brunette's legs. 

Arisa was seated next to her lover, her head on her shoulder, mind working rapidly. 

They had presumed they would never see Tae again, their last memory of the woman nursing a bullet wound before the explosion displaced them. 

And yet, she was here, albeit injured. 

The anxiety of waiting for the brunette to stabilise churned in their stomach as grief toyed with them, burying them in too many emotions. 

Between the emergence of Tae, Maya and Mahiru, the loss of Yachiyo and the wellbeing of the Hakurei family, the turmoil was going to linger.

 

In one of the bedrooms, Fumi, Tamao, Shiori and Yuyuko were present. 

The younger Yumeoji sister had eventually passed out due to exhaustion against Yuyuko's shoulder. Given the fragility of her body, the addional strain was bound to reverse any progress she had made.

Everything had spiralled out of control too abruptly. 

Maya, Mahiru and Tae appearing in Gensokyo. 

The explosion at the shrine. 

Yachiyo's fall. 

Tamao went over and draped a blanket over them as they were seated near the wall of where the low table was present. 

Yuyuko offered Tamao an appreciative smile, tired and the older woman could feel it. 

One look at Shiori was enough to hammer home what had happened, her tear stricken face highlighted by the moon. 

They knew at this point that Shiori just wanted Tsukasa with her but the blonde was aware that right now, Shizuha needed her the most, supporting her best friend whom had lost the woman she loved. 

Shiori had lost a mentor in Yachiyo, the woman whom had guided her, supported her without a second thought. 

Tamao brushed back a few strands of familiar blonde before looking towards the patio. 

She left the two and walked up to Fumi, wrapping her arms around her midsection and pressing her face to her back. Fumi's body was rigid, slowly melting to the touch of her lover as her arms settled over Tamao's. 

Fumi's eyes were swollen too, tears still flowing as Tamao's joined. 

A part of Fumi would always love Yachiyo, that was a given, Tamao was privy of this given their history. 

So her loss was crippling and Tamao could feel the weight of it crushing her lover. Regret, guilt, anger, all of them spilling out of the blonde so Tamao held on harder, called out her name. 

Reminding her that she didn't have to shoulder this alone. 

She didn't know what else to say, death often left the bravest speechless with its presence. 

Tamao understood that too well. 


Over in Claudine and Kaoruko's room, the duo had finished up a discussion in regards to what had transpired. 

It had taken a while for Kaoruko to get Claudine to talk, to react but she was met with stony silence and occasionally given curtated answers. Regardless of how much she tried, Claudine would just look at her, like she was peering through her. 

Eventually, she had managed to get through to her, reiterating her that she was there, that they needed to talk

At the very least, to break through the mist which had settled over Claudine given Yachiyo's unexpected demise. A part of Kaoruko had yet to accept it too so she held her lover tighter, the two laying on the bed and resting on their sides. Claudine suspired against Kaoruko's chest, feeling the woman's fingers curl through her hair to abate her. 

She didn't know what to react to, all of it overlapping. 

Yachiyo dying. 

Mahiru, Tae and Maya returning. 

Maya

Seeing her again knocked the wind out of her lungs. 

She hadn't realised Kaoruko's mien at the moment the heiress saw them, Claudine too immersed in the sight of Maya. 

But Kaoruko witnessed it all. 

Saw the way Maya reached for Claudine.

Kaoruko held Claudine closer. 

 

One of Shizuha's habits which had remained since childhood was the tendency to fiddle with things when deep in thought. 

After her outburst, the woman had clammed up again once they arrived at the mansion. She paced for a while, hyperventilating the more the idea of never seeing Yachiyo again suffocated her. 

Because it was as simple as that. 

Yachiyo was no longer alive. 

Tsukasa placed her hand over Shizuha's that were playing with the trinkets on the dressing table, her fingers going over each line and curve till they were shaking. She wrapped her other arm behind Shizuha's shoulder, pulling her to her stomach as she was stood up and Shizuha was seated on the chair. 

With the news still processing, Tsukasa wasn't expecting Shizuha to be talkative. 

Not when Yachiyo's body was still warm. 

She flinched at the thought, a cracked sniffle forming and her body trembling with compunction. 

Shizuha pressed against her in understanding and took the fingers over her hand in hers. 

They wanted answers and the lack of was scraping away at their minds.

How had someone they had been conversing with mere moments ago end up dead

Shizuha kept replaying every moment with Yachiyo, everything up to her death. Just screening through, wondering what she missed. Her last sighting of her was when Yachiyo was helping others through the gaps, turning back to offer a warm smile, one that told Shizuha to hang in there. 

Yachiyo had been improving, had found her footing so for something, or someone to hurt her, to kill her, Shizuha couldn't accept it. 

Once she had answers, she would deal with the person responsible herself. 

She would end their life if it was the last thing she ever did on this earth. 

Shizuha was more than capable of it. 

Tsukasa felt the woman's form go rigid, lowering herself till she could embrace her properly and Shizuha accepted the support from her friend. 

Her maroon eyes gleamed within the darkness of the room, half of her reflection in the mirror opposite being illuminated by the moon's light which crept in through the large windows. 

"For as long as we draw breath". 

That was the last thing she had said to Yachiyo, just before the event commenced. 

Shizuha wondered, now that Yachiyo had stopped breathing, what would become of her.

The refuge they had staggered upon after fleeing from their own dystopia was turning out to be more convoluted and fatal than expected.