A long time ago, but not so far ago that it remained forgotten entirely. A story was in the making. It is not a love story, and it will never be. For it to be a love story would mean this truth is a lie, fabricated by the people who would not mourn for the moments of loss this story has like humans would do.
This is not a love story, but it has a story of love. Of love, of loss, of guilt— of pain...
“Mahiru san are you sure I need to transcribe this word from word?” Shiori called from the back of the apothecary, dropping her pen against the wooden desk. She leaned back, sighing as she moved her hair out of the way, taking time to adjust the chain around her neck that held her unused rose clip.
Shiori stretched her wrist, already starting to ache at the thought of writing this entire narrative with her hands. Sure she already wrote out the introductory, but to do the following was just too much! When Mahiru told her that part of her dream job was to transcribe the recipes for the potions, she didn’t expect a story to go with it. She betted that the story didn’t even relate to a plant growing potion.
“Yes you need to do word for word,” Mahiru called with a laugh as she entered the back room of her little shop in the abandoned meadows. Mahiru was dressed in a working apron paired with gloves, and like Shiori, her hair was also in a ponytail. Immediately Shiori pulled a pout, and for a moment, Mahiru felt some pity for the assistant. “Oh don’t look at me like that Shiori, what you’re writing down is important.”
Shiori’s pout remained. “But it’s not important to—” She flicked the page she was on, quickly scanning the handwriting for a name. “Fungi growth?” She asked, her brows scrunching as Mahiru walked over to the desk, pushing back her rack of experimental potions closer to the side of the wall.
Mahiru nodded as she moved around Shiori, putting stuff in drawers, checking on her potions before moving elsewhere. The business was enough for Shiori to feel agitated, out of place in her own stillness. “They help plants grow in certain cases, the one for this recipe however is to speed up growth of fungi used in medicine like antibiotics.”
Shiori’s eyes widened, the matter of writing what could be a life story before a simple recipe was dropped in disbelief. “There’s mushrooms in antibiotics?”
A laugh escaped Mahiru’s lips as she paused in the middle of the room, giving Shiori a fond smile. “You have much to learn about the alchemy business young apprentice.”
The mention of her title coloured Shiori’s cheek red with pride, her eyes darting towards the heavy book full of Mahiru’s personal handwritten recipes. The same one that may or may not is filled with pages of a narrative instead of recipes. Her wrist twitched as Shiori’s excited smile gradually dimmed.
Noticing the difference, Mahiru patted her shoulder with her free hand in consolidation. “I would do it myself,” she admitted quietly, “But it would take much more time.”
Shiori nodded as she rested her hand over Mahiru’s. Shiori could feel the old scars of long hard labour by touch alone, the rough patches of her potions gone wrong, the slight sag of time wearing her down. Shiori stared down the pages in front of her, not letting go of Mahiru’s hand just yet.
It was amazing how long these accounts lasted after 15 years; they were well kept if not for the slowly disappearing ink. With how busy Mahiru acted, Shiori wouldn’t be surprised if she kept the book updated with new recipes and, most likely new stories to go along with it. Shiori just hoped the more recent recipe entries won’t have 10 pages worth of backstory. Then again, Mahiru was nearing 50, so there would probably be nuggets of wisdom still sprinkled around the recipes even when Shiori catches up.
“Alright,” Shiori admitted with a kind smile towards Mahiru. “I’ll try not to complain too much.”
“Oh you have every right to complain, Shiori,” Mahiru grinned as she let go of her shoulder. “Heavens know I wrote a lot when I was younger. Just make sure that you write it down okay?” Her voice echoed through the shop as she made her way back to the front. “I am paying you for this!”
Shiori laughed at the reminder, taking the pen with much more eagerness than before. Yes, she chose to be paid by Mahiru even if the wage was meagre. Yes, this was a job she chose to do instead of taking part and learning within the Kirin temples like her sisters did. Yes, she chose this. To help an old but kind lady because she helped her when no one else would.
And no, despite what her sisters thought, she wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world.
Mahiru won’t lie. A part of her felt bad for making Shiori write all of her recipes, life lessons included. Those life lessons held pain, her pain, and her late wife’s too since Mahiru transcribed those stories by hand. Word by word, all from her wife’s writing. Goodness, her wife wrote so much. She didn’t really need another third copy, but it was crucial to remember them. Those recipes she made, the stories she wrote.
Mahiru paused as she looked through the ledger behind the cash register as her free hand twisted the metal band around her ring finger. Writing those stories by hand made sure she would never forget about her…. Making Shiori write them made sure the world wouldn’t forget her too.
The faint sound of the doorbell forced a customer winning smile on Mahiru’s face despite the sombre memory of her wife. She rose to her feet, closing the ledger as the customary greetings left her smiling lips. “Welcome to Ootori Mahiru’s potion emporium, is there anything I can do for you today?”
“Yeah we want our sister back.” And instantly, Mahiru’s customer smile fell to a line of neutrality.
“Your sister, Claudine,” Mahiru said slowly, holding back the urge to glare back at the oldest of the Yumeoji-Saijou siblings. “Is working...” she turned her gaze towards Fumi, her twin, who had a familiar look of displeasure. “At her job .” She stressed the last word, making sure that they both knew that they can’t pull her away like they did before. Their teachers even allowed Shiori to work with her after 2 years of hassle.
Fumi raised a brow, her frown on her face. “On a holiday? How anti-Kirin of you.”
Underneath the table, Mahiru’s hands gripped the book. Her nails made dents into the leather spine as she struggled to keep her calm. She forgot that it was that day, the Divination Day. Underneath her garments, a familiar pulse branded her skin; the searing heat forced her left arm to wince unnoticed.
Claudine walked to the side of her store; the noise of her armour pierced through the silent but tense atmosphere. Her eyes fell on the various potions on display, almost looking curious at what was in store. Yet Mahiru knew her better; she wouldn’t touch anything that wasn’t approved by the Temple of Kirin. She could spot Claudine’s maroon eyes, watching her through the reflection of her potion.
Mahiru swallowed quickly, not having the luxury to do it slowly after the already long silence. She levelled her gaze towards Fumi, willing her heart to still, if only for a moment. She didn’t want to be alive to say this.
“My apologies for the mighty Kirin,” she declared, voice partially deadpanned. Another pulse of heat burned against the spot again, but this time she hid the wince well. “This mortal forgot.”
Near the shelves, Claudine barked out a laugh. “Please, save that apology for later for someone who actually cared, Mahiru.” She closed her hands, and the metal gloves she always wore creaked against the glass. A crack splintered against the pressure, the sound deafening in the silence.
“Whoops,” she said with no apology, a smirk on her lips. “I forgot my own strength.”
“Then you must have a terrible teacher Claudine,” Mahiru snapped, glaring at the Kirin warrior with enough bite in her eyes to not care about the consequences. If it was that day , she would no longer be polite. Her days were already numbered, and now that it has started to count down in twos. “And that would be 20 silvers.”
The hate in Claudine’s eyes flared more at the insult of her teacher than Mahiru’s blatant disrespect. “I’m sorry?”
“Store policy, you break it you buy it,” Mahiru fired back. She glanced a cautionary eye at Fumi, and Fumi glanced back but said nothing. Unlike her mentor, who Mahiru knew enough to manipulate everything for her favour, Fumi’s face was unreadable. “Kirin Acolytes like yourselves should know how to follow rules.”
“And the people who live here under Kirin Terrority should know the rules too,” Fumi replied. She crossed her arms against her chest, a frown marred her face, her eyes turning into daggers. “Forcing our little sister to work on a holiday of rest, it’s considered barbaric. It’s enough to arrest you, Mahiru.”
Mahiru opened her mouth, noticing the tips of Fumi’s fingers pulse with the light of her magic. Then it calmed itself as Fumi’s frown curled upwards, a smile blooming like a poisonous flower. “But cause it’s a special day for us, we can turn a blind eye if you want. In fact we can help clean up some shelves that have never been touched by a customer’s hand.”
Mahiru stilled, the frustration in her eyes seething at the smile on Fumi’s lips. The blonde hair, long and cascading over her shoulders, doesn’t help her imagine Fumi’s mentor instead. But this was her student, not her mentor. She will not harm someone who doesn’t know they’re being toyed with already. Even if the student was learning too well from the teacher.
Claudine smirked, catching onto Fumi’s words. “I agree, on the sake of my mentor, we can keep things civil for a price.”
“And you wonder why I didn’t want to train under the temple when the best acolytes of our generation act like this,” Shiori scowled, glaring vitriol hatred towards her sisters. Instantly the bravado of the twins deflated. The shock of her sudden appearance wore them down to look aside, caught in the horrible act of disappointing their little sister.
However, the guilt did not last long as Claudine scowled. “She started it so it’s in our right to react this way.”
Shiori scoffed at how quick they were to play victim, though she wasn’t surprised. They were always like this, and they always had the gall to pretend they weren’t like this when they thought she wasn’t watching. The audacity angered Shiori so much.
Shiori stepped away from the door frame and marched to her oldest sister. Under her eyes, Claudine didn’t protest when Shiori yanked the broken bottle from her hand. Though she looked away, her hands turned into fists as Shiori called her out.
“Yes Claudine, she started it by asking you to follow company policy because you have the mentality of a child and decided to break things because you’re upset despite being 23.” Her eyes then snapped towards Fumi when a reactionary snicker left her lips. “And you too Fumi,” Shiori continued, stopping at the counter to hand Mahiru the bottle to ring up. “If Mahiru is considered barbaric would Daiba san or Tendou san be considered barbaric too since they’re making both of you do their work?”
“Shiori!” Fumi yelled red, coloured her cheeks with flames of embarrassment and anger.
Mahiru kept quiet, holding back her smile as her eyes glanced at the growing fight between the sisters. Of course, she should not condone the division, but what can she do to something that has existed for years.
“It’s their job to host the festival of divination,” Claudine reminded as she walked towards Fumi’s. “As acolytes of the Kirin Temple it’s our job to assist them. We are not allowed to rest.” Claudine stood by her side, making it clear how the dynamics worked. Fumi and Claudine had each other’s back, and Shiori was alone. Alone with no one but Mahiru backing her as much as she could behind the counter, literally and metaphorically.
Shiori gritted her teeth, “It’s also part of a medical institute to be open every day, even on an event of rest.” She pushed several silver pieces from her coin pouch and placed them on the counter, making sure to leave behind more than 20 pieces. “Even if they’re not under Kirin’s banner— “she slammed the purse in realisation, whirling back to her sisters.
“Actually— if we’re so called anti-Kirin in theory because we are working instead of resting, then we don’t need to celebrate this event do we? Yet you just tried to exhort Mahiru san because you’re on Kirin Territory. So make up your damn mind. Are we so called evil or not?”
“That’s not for us to judge,” Claudine snapped, her eyes narrowing in disappointment. “As our sister you should understand that right belongs to the high priestesses.”
“Well,” Fumi started as she cleared her throat. “I think we should calm our tensions for now.” She nudged Claudine’s side, willing her to calm down underneath her stare. Claudine huffed, looking away, and Fumi turned back to the youngest sister. “Despite everything, you two are both requested to rest.”
“Yes,” Claudine sighed, her anger forced down through the grit of her teeth as she looked back at Mahiru. “You’re both invited by the grace of the High Priestess and Starlight Warrior Tendou Maya—”
Mahiru didn’t want to hear another word. “--I graciously decline her offer.” Underneath her clothes, the same searing pain on her left arm pulsed once again.
“--To accompany her with us to the balcony seats for the divination ceremony….” Claudine trailed off, huffing when her words only met a quick rejection. Her nose flared as her eyes narrowed in distrust. “Really? You’re just going to turn down an offer like that?”
“I have no obligation to explain myself Claudine, to you or your teacher,” Mahiru said, her voice as calm as ever. She ignored the volcano that was about to erupt and turned to Shiori with a gentle smile. “But as your manager you’re free to have the day off for the ceremony if you want to go, Shiori.”
Shiori opened her mouth—
“It’s also technically our graduation from acolytes too by the way,” Fumi mentioned, a small smile on her face, eyes casting that hopeful gleam. “Depending on what happened at the ceremony.”
Claudine nodded, her tense posture relaxed as she looked at her sisters. Despite everything, something shone in her eyes. The love she always had was so unmistakable in her eyes. “I know things have been strained between us recently, with the intense training we have and your—”. She paused, looking at Mahiru specifically before looking away back at Shiori. “--Your chosen profession.”
“But we would love it if you could join us for this Shiori,” Fumi said, her voice taking another dip in that soft pitch. Shiori looked away from the sisters, the anger inside her ebbing away when she didn’t want it to. She always struggled to be mad when they acted like that-- like they were her sisters. “It might be the last big celebration we would have together for a while.”
Shiori walked back, her eyes firmly shut until her back touched the edge of the counter table. At the slight collision, Shiori turned to Mahiru. Her eyes sought guidance.
“You should go,” Mahiru said behind them; she placed a hand on Shiori’s shoulder. Mahiru glanced up at the sisters before she turned back to Shiori. The hidden mark on her left arm once again pulsed, searing her again. A part of her felt terrible that she was more focused on being left alone than giving genuine advice. “It’s told to be a once in a lifetime event.” Though in Mahiru’s case, it was a two times lifetime event.
“Exactly,” Fumi grinned, her eyes catching Claudine’s before she turned back to Shiori. “If Mahiru said it’s okay then don’t hold back.”
Shiori bit her lip. She glanced back at her sisters, then at Mahiru. “Alright fine I’ll come,” she decided with a firm nod. Though it was more for Mahiru than for her sisters, she didn’t want Mahiru’s shop to get ruined if Claudine had a temper tantrum.
“Let me get my stuff and no—” She headed back to the back of the store, stepping out quickly when she realised something important. “If you two harass Mahiru san in the time I’m gone I’ll be staying here instead.”
“We’ll behave!” Fumi called as she gave a look towards Claudine. Claudine rolled her eyes, the happiness and kindness out like candlelight as she glared at Mahiru. Mahiru held her breath, awaiting her judgement. Claudine snorted, rolled her eyes and left— banging the door as she did.
“Always a theatric,” Mahiru muttered, her eyes narrowing at the slightly splintered wood on the door. But, then again, considering who her teacher was— Mahiru wasn’t surprised that she wanted to show off. Even when it wasn’t necessary.
“That’s my sister you’re commenting about.” Mahiru turned to Fumi, her willed blood forcing the searing pain in her arm to calm itself. Whilst Mahiru was not scared about Claudine, Fumi was something she needed to be wary about. The light glow on her gloved fingers was proof of that.
“Will you go and act out like she did then?” Mahiru questioned, scoffing at Fumi’s bravado as she pushed forward the health potion. “Twins can be similar that way.”
“This is why she doesn’t like you,” Fumi scoffed, looking down to sneer at the broken potion. She turned on her heel, glaring at Mahiru before glancing at Shiori behind the curtain of beads. “We’ll be waiting outside, you have 5 minutes Shiori!”
“I’m sorry about them Mahiru san,” Shiori said as the door chimed Fumi’s exit. She popped out of the bead curtain, her hand busy stuffing something inside her brown satchel. Shiori sighed at the broken potion left on the counter and shoved that in her bag as well.
“It’s alright Shiori,” Mahiru called back, staying at her post behind the counter. She didn’t want to give any reason for them to return to her store. Not when through the window pane Claudine was still stalking her every move. “Just enjoy the ceremony.”
With those words acting as a goodbye, Mahiru waved Shiori goodbye before the door too chimed her exit. She watched, staying still as she waited for the sisters to disappear over the borders of the window pane. The second they were gone, Mahiru moved. She locked the door. She drew the store blinds— shut the windows too. She turned the open sign to a closed one.
Only then did Mahiru feel safe. Only then did Mahiru allow her body to express itself. To quiver and shake the adrenaline coursing through her veins. Only then did Mahiru lower her head, ducking it down, pressing it to the side of her furniture. Her body crumpled to the floor, one hand pressing against the shot of fire bursting on her arm. Her arm grabbed hold of a health potion off the tables, not out of blindness but out of muscle memory. She made this potion enough times to know the weight of its value.
She held onto the potion. She had onto the whispers of her wife when she recounted the health potion, telling a short story to go with it. Mahiru remembered her laugh, her fingers that smelt of stone and ink, of lips that held and tasted of things indescribable. Mahiru remembered it all— clutching the lost memories like an anchor, the memories of everything else before that time threatening to overwhelm her.
Mahiru did not like to lie.
But she hoped neither Claudine nor Fumi graduated today. Not out of malice or pettiness. She did not think they were not worthy. Mahiru was just selfish. She didn’t want to be part of the prophecy— not again.