Several weeks had passed by without any disturbances, more so since the security around Gensokyo had tightened.
Yukari had delegated certain locations to specific factions to ensure that the entirety of the land was covered.
While she kept her gaps open in the most problematic areas, to have a physical presence of safeguarding should aid in deterring whatever was attacking them.
It allowed the residents of Yukari's home to venture out again and return to their jobs and errands, but with strict orders to not be alone or unarmed.
Which is why Arisa and Saaya could sense the presence of Satono and Mai, Okina's servants, flying above them to give them some privacy.
The two were returning from the bakery, opting to take the scenic route back to the Myouren Temple. Arisa had been helping the brunette with the tasks she could manage and she was grateful that Saaya had eased up in dancing around her like she would break. Having Tae back seemed to have allowed her to share the burden and receive some insight, or rather, a reminder of how durable Arisa was.
It was progress, despite the small steps which let Arisa accept the help when it was offered. While the oblivescence of what she endured wouldn't occur, letting those around her in and beyond her guards was a metaphorical step she had to take.
Such as now as Saaya pushed her wheelchair up the winding paths without any opposition.
"Are you cold, Arisa?".
The blonde shook her head and lifted the bag of baked goods that were on her lap, "These are keeping me plenty warm" she joked before placing them back down, "I think we will have to start dressing in thicker clothing soon though. It is getting colder".
Autumn was on the horizon, the shedding of the trees commencing which allowed more daylight to creep through the stalks despite the encroaching feeling of the days becoming shorter.
"You're right" Saaya answered, turning them around a bend, "It still feels homely, don’t you think? Like the park we used to live near. It was always as pretty as this".
"Hm, I guess so" Arisa hummed, hazel eyes taking in the scenery, "Just more quiet".
"Well, once we get back to the temple, the silence will be gone" the brunette chuckled.
The antics of the temple brought about a familiar familial feeling that Saaya had missed.
"I don’t mind either I guess" the woman mused as she turned slightly to see her lover, "What about you, Saaya?".
Saaya smiled at her as Arisa faced forward again.
It was something Arisa did now as a habit, looking over her shoulder to make sure that Saaya or Tae were there. It was reflexive at this point and both she and Tae would ensure that they were in her vicinity, just to assuage those fraying fears of them leaving her.
She leaned forward and kissed the back of Arisa’s hair as she pushed her along, "I'm okay with either too. I think I have gotten used to both and honestly, considering how calm its been, I'm okay with it all".
"Now that you've said that, it's going to go haywire again".
Saaya could hear the mordant tinge in her lover's tone, relieved to hear her incisive humour making an appearance again.
"This is Gensokyo so it could happen" she grinned, "Oh, look".
Arisa had spotted the small stall on the side of the path, not too far from the temple now.
A delicious scent permeated the air, drawing them in closer.
"That smells delicious".
Arisa hummed in agreement as they got close to the stall.
They were use to them now, be it a vendor who dabbled with food or items, so to see one here wasn’t unusual.
A woman waved at them as they approached her, long white hair and light blue eyes which were gentle beckoning them.
"Thank you, those smell wonderful" Saaya complimented, "Its been a while since we had roasted sweet potatoes, right, Arisa?".
Arisa took note of the woman whom had greeted her just as any other customer, without any curious staring or judgmental looks like she had experienced when going to the village.
It aided in her appearing less hostile, "Yeah. They smell really good. I guess it would be the season for it now".
"Indeed" the vendor smiled and motioned to the air, "The autumn goddesses seem to be in good spirits".
Saaya and Arisa looked over to the side to see two blondes zipping passed, waving at Satono and Mai.
The Minoriko sisters.
"Autumn goddesses, huh" Arisa repeated.
"Gensokyo's autumn is splendid" the woman stated as their attention turned back to her, "From the food, to the company, to the change of foliage, it truly is a sight to behold. Here you go".
Saaya paused for a moment before she reached over the counter and accepted the two sweet potatoes wrapped up in paper, piping hot with the scent of it as enticing as could be.
"I believe it's going to be a bountiful harvest".
Arisa accepted one of them from Saaya, looking at it before biting into it.
While it was hot, the soft and sweet flavour coated their tongues right away, spirals of steam coming off from the bitten potatoes. The orange exterior of the vegetable indicated its fulfilling and robust taste, the need to take another bite following immediately.
The vendor was pleased with the expressions on the two, arms folding against her chest and an appreciative smile forming.
"The proof of that is in the flavour".
"Very much so. They tasten as incredible as they smell" Saaya beamed, "Soft yet creamy".
"I think they're better than the ones at home".
The vendor laughed, the action jovial, her light eyes glowing with pride, "Oh, you're both too kind".
"Just the truth" Saaya grinned as she handed Arisa her potato so that she could collect some money from her pocket, "How much do I owe you?".
The woman put her hands up and shook her head, "Nothing. Consider this a gesture of goodwill" she laughed.
"I couldn't" Saaya insisted but the woman had made up her mind, refusing any further protest so she chuckled, "Thank you very much".
Arisa said the same, the heat from the food mirroring what she was feeling inside.
It may have been a small act but it spoke volumes of Gensokyo and the sense of community despite the problems the land faced.
A far cry from what the world on the outside of the Hakurei Barrier had become.
"It's my pleasure. I have heard of your situation from the other villagers and sympathise greatly, so if this gesture can offer you some warmth, then nothing has been lost" she said, tone earnest.
"We're very fortunate" Arisa spoke up, "To have ended up here, really. It has been.." she drawled off, eyes meeting the woman's as she felt Saaya's hand on her shoulder, "Difficult..but for all of those moments, things like this remind us that we have a lot to be thankful for".
The woman smiled and rested her arms on the wooden counter, meeting Arisa’s gaze, "With that mentality, you're going to be fine here. Nothing worth having comes easy".
"Isn’t that the truth" Arisa chuckled wryly, looking up at Saaya.
While she had slowly but surely come to accept her fate, Arisa knew how providential it was to be alive to experience this.
To remain with her close ones.
Not everyone had been as auspicious in regards to that.
"Well, you keep doing what you need to do and I can guarantee better days will await you both".
They all made more idle chatter before parting ways, the essence of companionship lingering. As the days went on, their integration into Gensokyo had been strengthening despite the issues.
It only compelled Saaya to lean forward again as she walked on, chin on her lover's shoulder as Arisa fed her the potatoes.
To be in such positive spirits felt reinvigorating, surreal, something Saaya knew Arisa felt too as she exhaled over her cheek.
She just wanted Arisa to be at ease with herself and finally, a semblance of that had come through.
The kindness of strangers often went a long way.
Youkai Mountain/Bhava Agra
At the peak of Gensokyo's highest point, Yukari and Eirin had gathered with Yorihime and Toyohime.
From their angle, the entirety of Gensokyo could be viewed and if they looked up, the floating islands of Bhava Agra were notable through the clouds.
They had been at the Moriya Shrine to converse with Byakuren and Kanako before heading further upwards where the lunar princesses could depart from once they were done via the usage of the lunar veils.
"I would prefer the Lunar Capital were not privy of this to a great detail. They some how seem to know of when Gensokyo is at dire straits and it usually leads to an altercation with us".
"You said it yourself once, Yukari. They won't shoot their own head, which the earth is, so I wouldn't worry about something happening".
"That is quite the quote, Toyohime" Eirin chuckled as she floated back down to the other three.
"It is a Yukari quote so that would explain the absurdity" Yorihime reminded, "But in this scenario, she isn't incorrect. At this point, they sense a disturbance that we cannot inviolate from them for long. With the events of the earth in general, the higher ups are being more astute about their observations. That aside, I feel that master would know if they will attempt anything without us knowing".
"The faith your students have in you is immutable" Yukari sighed pleasantly.
It was met with Yorihime's eye roll and Toyohime's chuckle, "Master hasn't been wrong in her monitoring and solutions to date. Although, if Yukari has no idea as to how to counteract this issue facing Gensokyo, then I doubt the higher ups have anything".
"That would be a problem in itself as it may force them to act. It is as you said, the earth is the moon's head and without it, what is the Lunar Capital. So they could attempt to rectify the problem should they attain a solution before us" Eirin stated as she glanced around, feeling the gaze of her lover and students, "The last thing we need is direct involvement from the Lunar Capital as Yukari said".
"Agreed. For the time being, Toyohime and Yorihime should continue your surveillance".
"Got it" the blonde replied to Yukari, "As far as the Lunar Capital is aware, we are here on a casual basis. Their suspicions may have lessened but after that incident you created by sending Reimu to the moon, they are still wary of us"
"Despite their watchfulness, they are not aware of most of our interactions with master" Yorihime added.
"Or..they may be giving the illusion to being incognisant of what you are doing".
"Yukari has a point" Toyohime sighed, a slight frown on her lips.
Eirin looked at the youkai sage, "So, you have not ruled out the possibility that this could be orchestrated by the Lunar Capital?".
The lunarians watched Yukari ponder on the statement even though they knew she had an answer already. Hearing it would confirm it, would lead to the princesses having to be more conscious of their tracks and how they concealed them.
Within the walls of the Lunar Capital were spies.
"Not without concrete proof. We are all knowledgeable of what they are capable of and I may have made my fair share of enemies there".
"Technically, you're sleeping with one of them".
Yorihime balked at her sister's statement, admonishing her for being so blasé. While they had adjusted to Eirin and Yukari's relationship, Yorihime in particular could do without the more intimate details being laid bare while Toyohime enjoyed said suggestions.
Eirin cleared her throat as Yukari winked at the other boundary breaking blonde, "That was a pleasant consequence of your master moving here".
The youkai brushed her fingers over Eirin's which were near her own, "I digress. As I was saying, the lunarians not aligned with Gensokyo are not without motive to stir something. With the rest of the world on the brink of collapse, it would be the perfect opportunity to strike. Unlike earthlings, their tactics would be more subtle, no?" She enquired and faced Yorihime.
The younger of the sisters was in charge of training the Lunar Corps Army so she and Toyohime knew how they could and would attack. Training the emissaries was also one of Eirin's roles prior to leaving the moon so the princesses, Yorihime in particular, was stringent in ensuring Eirin's tactics were used to train the soldiers.
"They would gauge the strength and defences of their enemy before deploying an all out assault".
"So a disturbance here and a disturbance there would be the pattern" Eirin continued, "Just enough to toy with their opposition".
Which was the case so far in terms of what was happening in Gensokyo.
"However, let's say they had found the means to roam Gensokyo without being spotted, would they truly attempt to attack Reimu?" Toyohime questioned, golden eyes going to the direction of the shrine, "Even they are mindful enough to know that doing so would be a declaration of war with Gensokyo".
Yukari had deliberated on that too as it had taken years for a ceasefire to occur between the two sides. While the iconoclastic nature of either faction's beliefs and existence remained, they were wary about inciting another war.
She was also under the impression that Alice was the primary target here.
"There lies the issue. The motive is yet to be determined hence why I am biding my time at this point. Any false accusations against any factions is going to be additional stress so we must proceed with caution".
A thunderous crash of lighting drew their eyes to the source.
"Caution isn't a word a certain somebody is familiar with" Yorihime motioned with her hand to above the clouds.
Toyohime grinned, her tone becoming dreamy, "If worse comes to worst, Tenshi will be happy to deal with any rogue lunarians".
Eirin and Yukari merely chuckled as their eyes followed the flickers of blue coming from the bullets.
Toyohime wasn't incorrect in her swooning appraisal of the rambunctious celestial.
From the precipice of Youkai Mountain, one could look up to see an array of floating rock formations high above the clouds.
This was the home of the celestials, the ethereal beings which transcended to the pinnacles of pleasure and comfort after death.
It was indeed a paradise where one was free to simply exist and revel in the luxurious lifestyle. The status of becoming a celestial was something that most humans aspired to reach.
Tenshi found it overrated, had done so for most of her existence but her ascent itself had been a controversial affair caused by the Hinanawi clan.
The mundane routine and stuffy attitudes wore thin on the larger than life woman, leading her to causing one or two scuffles in Gensokyo.
She found the ground dwellers to be fascinating, impressed with their strengths and thus, she had more than acclimated to the traits of youkai and humans.
Something Fumi had had the unfortunate luck of experiencing when she first met Tenshi.
However, it was different when she was warned of the celestial attacking her rather than without notice as she was helping her train now.
So on a floating island next to Tenshi's home, the two were embroiled in said sparring session.
They were toe to toe with their weapons, clashing in a maenadic manner while a parade of cerulean bullets hailed down on them, leading Fumi to graze whilst dealing with Tenshi’s sword.
It made her sensitive of her surroundings, constantly second guessing Tenshi to meet every thrust of her weapon. She skimmed to the side, the gem of her sword breaker activating to unleash a swathe of gold and white energy to cover Tenshi’s path when she flew up.
The time gained let Fumi use the keystones Tenshi had dropped on her as stairs, darting up them with the celestial in sight.
With a shout, she launched herself at Tenshi once she jumped from the final keystone, blade above her head and aiming for Tenshi's arm.
Fumi fell swiftly, nicking her opponent's arm before she used the other keystones to slow her fall as she reached the ground, switching to the defence in time to miss Tenshi's orange blade swiping at her. Fumi then ducked and turned, swinging her sword breaker upwards, deflecting a halation of bullets back to Tenshi.
The celestial was thoroughly impressed with Fumi's progress, landing numerous hits on her in comparison to their spar at the lake.
Though to call that a spar would be inaccurate.
Tenshi had witnessed how humans had their limits and Fumi had passed hers.
She zipped forward, twirling her sword in one hand before bringing it down to send Fumi's weapon out of her grip and barreling across the verdant grass.
That called the match and Fumi exhaled, hands resting on her knees as Tenshi slapped her back gently.
"Nicely done, Fumi!" she grinned, "You drew blood".
Tenshi pointed to a streak of red trickling down her upper arm.
"I didn't think celestials could bleed" Fumi smirked as she stood up, "Sorry about that though. I might have overdone it".
"Overdoing it is what we need so don’t worry about that. Your dodging is getting better too" Tenshi insisted and motioned for Fumi to take a seat on the ground, "Besides, the more serious you get, the more fun it is for me to fight you".
"Even for a celestial you're too carefree" Fumi chuckled, wiping her face and hands with the towel Tenshi offered, "You remind me of someone".
"A friend of ours" Fumi answered, voice going faraway for a second with the thought of Ichie, never knowing what came of her, "She had too much energy for her own good. Seriously, you could not get her to sit still. It was one of the best things about her".
"She sounds like my type of woman" Tenshi smiled.
She noticed Fumi's distant tone, catching the brief flicker of it.
Those mannerisms were synonymous with all of the humans whom had arrived from the Outside World.
It was as if they were a different species all together and when Tenshi thought of it, they virtually were.
"I could see the two of you being best friends and driving me insane" Fumi laughed softly, "Yeah, she was something else".
It was the only warning Fumi received when she quickly glanced to the side to where Tenshi was sat, a smooth peach zipping through the air and aiming for her head. She managed to catch it before it hit her in the face, the velvety skin of the fruit both soft yet firm.
Heaven's peaches were unlike anything Fumi had tasted before. The succulent sweet flavour and crunchy yet soft interior was something she felt spoilt for being able to enjoy and she couldn't get enough of them.
She felt the revitalising energy of the fruit the first time she tried it, the waves coursing through her body like it was medicating her.
"Thanks" she chuckled as she looked at it, "Eating peaches in heaven with a celestial. Each day here just becomes more spectacular. Tamao hanging around with the Kaguya from the legends. Sayo training with a lunar goddess. Misaki working with kappa. I feel I've taken some heavy duty drugs".
Tenshi hummed as she bit down into her peach before answering, "Never a dull day here. I mean the good and the bed but more the good. Yukari isn't having me train you for fun but, you gotta enjoy the enjoyable moments too. The more ridiculous, the more memorable. Humans need that. I know you all do".
"I guess so. It's just..".
The blonde understood the sentiments all too well and she was trying but there seemed to be a roadblock at every turn.
Shiori and Tsukasa had recovered thankfully and the lull in perilous activity had given them a brief moment of respite.
But Fumi was on edge constantly, waiting for something to happen, running on fear when there was no need for it.
She knew they were all suffering with the anxiety and now, even the denizens of Gensokyo were too.
Tenshi threw another peach at the woman who scrambled to catch it without throwing the one she was eating.
"Don’t play with food, Tenshi".
"Don’t space out" the celestial countered with a smirk and took off her hat, letting the breeze cool her down, "Worrying isn’t going to change the outcome of anything, you know".
"I have a hard time believing that you would know something as philosophical as a line like that".
"Excuse me, there isn’t much that Hinanawi Tenshi does not know about".
Fumi smirked, "Yeah, sure. I've heard all of the stories about you. Reimu warned me. Yukari warned me. Kasen warned me. Iku warned me. Shion and Toyohime kind of warned me?".
"I'm infamous, what can I say".
Tenshi laughed with verve as Fumi smiled at the woman’s bravado, thankful for her presence.
Her blue eyes took in the setting sun glimmering over Gensokyo as a comfortable silence lingered while they finished their peaches.
It was unreal to experience the view from this height, to feel the rays fall over her.
A heavenly sight if there was such a thing.
"Hey, tell me more about the Outside World. I mean before all hell broke loose".
"You want to hear about it?".
Tenshi nodded and laid back on her elbows, "It sounds like a different world from when I was human so if you don’t mind, I wanna know more".
"It feels like a different world for us too" Fumi mused out loud, "Alright, I tell you".
There was positivity in the world, long before E.B.O.S took over.
Despite the turmoil, Fumi was appreciative to be able to discuss those uplifting events, of their past, of being on stage.
With any luck, something of a similar template could be replicated in Gensokyo.
Falling into a daze whilst washing some dishes, Lisa hadn't realised that she had company till someone had turned the tap to a cooler temperature and it was then Lisa realised that her skin had come close to scalding.
She chided herself whilst turning her face, "Thank you-" she paused, gulping lightly, "Sayo".
"I was aiding Okusawa-san and Hanazono-san before passing through here. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you".
"You creeping up on me is a habit that will never leave".
Lisa was sure that this was the most Sayo had apologised in her life, noting the way the woman kept her distance.
They had caught glimpses of each other since the revelation and that was it, no other conversation occurring since then.
Sayo shifted on her feet awkwardly before collecting a drying cloth from the rack, "May I help?".
"Your hands" Lisa managed, catching sight of the bruising and healing skin.
"Ah, I had gotten carried away with training, is all. Eirin has intervened and ensured that I do not exert myself so it is fine".
Every urge in the brunette's body was telling her to take Sayo's hand in hers, to hold it, to apply anything to ease the pain.
But flickers of Chisato intruded her mind and the thought of Sayo's hand touching her which expunged the urgency to help her.
She managed to refrain from attending to the woman before turning back to the sink, uttering one word.
Sayo's eyes widened, thankful that Lisa hadn't declined.
It may have been a minuscule occurrence but it meant something to Sayo at least. The sting of being avoided and unable to at least be in Lisa's presence dulled enough by this acceptance alone.
Despite the silence between them, Sayo was content to just be there, drying whilst Lisa washed. Her gaze would go to her now and then, noticing the sunken cheeks, the tinge of red around her olive irises and the gaunt expression.
Guilt settled heavily in Sayo's stomach again, hand gripping the plate before she loosened her grip and placed it away.
She wanted to say something now but the thought of ruining this moment between them scared her.
Being away from Lisa for this long was taking its toll on her too so she opted for a topic of conversation which was safe.
"Thank you for the new outfits, Lisa, they are wonderful".
"Oh, you're welcome. The cold season here is just as unpredictable according to Alice".
"Since Gensokyo is still on earth, it makes sense that climate change would have had its effects too" Sayo reasoned.
"I guess so".
The sound of the tap running took over again and Sayo picked up on the cue that Lisa did not want to continue the conversation so she respected the woman's wishes.
For Lisa, the silence was easier to handle than hearing Sayo's voice and having her so close.
While her anger had simmered, the hurt and despair at what Sayo had done circulated throughout her system at every given moment.
Just looking at her evoked a hopscotch of emotions and she was regretting letting Sayo help her. She swallowed down the tears which were forming as she focused on scrubbing a cup, fixated on the way the cleaning cloth ran over the white surface.
There was an abundance of words she wanted to throw at Sayo, yet she was too enervated to do so.
Lisa's emotions had been spilling out, clouding the room enough for Sayo to act.
She would rather Lisa tear her down than keep it inside, to fester to unmanageable lengths so she pushed on, her extemporaneous side taking the lead.
Her hands turned off the tap this time as she walked up to Lisa, a hand resting on the edge of the sink. She was close enough that Lisa's shoulder was brushing against her chest, could see Sayo in her peripheral vision, could smell her scent and feel her coldness.
Sayo's body temperature had always been on the lower side which is why Lisa had reflexively made Sayo's new clothes thicker, like the grey sweater she had on.
"Sayo, I need space".
"I know" Sayo said, voice pensive, "I just..need you to know that I won't stop trying to fix this. I have no intention of giving up on us".
"You did that the moment you slept with Chisato".
Sayo's fingers gripped the edge as her other hand was tempted to rest on Lisa's back but she refrained.
She was well aware that she was already pushing her luck.
"I was foolish, there are no excuses but you must know that my mistake isn't a reflection on us. Of me giving up. I love you".
Lisa tensed, her own hands seeking solace on the cup she was gripping.
"You don’t get to say that".
"I know. Despite this, I will not stop my efforts to help you love me again, and trust me. Even if you choose to never take me back, I at the very least hope to attain your forgiveness, Lisa. Regardless of how much time you need, I will wait".
"What if I can't ever forgive you?".
Lisa's tremulous tone wounded Sayo further as she glanced to the window, ingeminating her point, "I..I will accept it. If you turn around one day and tell me to stop pursuing you, to tell me that you have had enough of me trying, then I will leave you be. I'd rather you do not resent me more than you already do".
With that, Sayo stepped back after collecting the last cup from Lisa's hands, the grip slackened. She wiped it and placed it in its shelf before tucking the drying cloth back and facing Lisa whom had yet to look at her.
Sayo was aching to reach out again but she restrained herself, not going any further than she had.
"I miss you" was all she said before turning and exiting the kitchen, pace rushed in an effort to not break down in front of Lisa.
The retreating footsteps quickened, disappearing to leave Lisa alone.
She breathed, the action feeling more arduous than it should have been as she hunched over the sink, wet fingers burrowing into her upper arms. Her lips trembled, eyes watering as she allowed the adrenaline to dissipate from their interaction.
While Sayo sounded adamant, Lisa wondered if she could ever forgive her.
Getting back together didn't even seem like an option anymore and the thought frightened the woman.
The thought of a world where she and Sayo became strangers, living and passing each other by in a stranger land.
"I miss you too".