Mercury is an interesting element. It’s the only metal that has a liquid format at a standard room temperature. It’s shiny, silver and can be stored in a glass vial like a potion. It can be drunk. It can be used as a poison. Mercury, as an ingredient, is fascinating.
Though if the natural world demanded a metal that has the basis of liquid, it would indeed allow the opposite to become true. A liquid that could solidify and become metal. Of course, if the natural world allowed this, it would’ve existed already. Therefore manmade, created by a highly skilled alchemist, would have to do.
This is how to make a blade from a potion that would solidify as a blade when stretched out, its own glass vial as its sword hilt.
- Bladed Potion, transcribed by Ootori Mahiru.
Red eyes. Red eyes, brown hair. Red eyes, brown hair, the letter C. Red Eyes brown hair, the letter C, and gold flashes.
Fire, wind, decay, music. Red eyes.
Anger, guilt, love, pain. Red eyes.
That was what Shiori saw— felt , dancing in time with the words of something she didn’t know how to perceive. All of it, captured in the canvas of red eyes. Red eyes vanished, leaving nothing but the sensation of something slamming into her chest, forcing her to breathe. And when she came back to the living world, her first vision was a ceiling in sterile white and a swaying, flicking light bulb hanging by an exposed wire.
“Where?” she croaked, barely able to exhale as her chest heaved the oxygen back into her lungs. She shifted her hands. Her eyes widened at the clatter of chains that followed.
Immediately, the weight of metal settled on her skin as her head whipped back and forth, barely catching the sight of her hands being chained down. The cold sensation of metal crawled up her spine, and all the oxygen she managed to capture escaped in a choked scream.
“WHERE!” She demanded as her chains rattled even more; she willed her legs to move. Her head snapped down as far as it could go when she heard another set of chains echo her movement. “WHERE!?” She repeated, her breathing getting erratic as the panic set in.
“She’s awake,” a person, an adult, coughed into the room. “Gods almighty,” the doctor, a man, Shiori realised as he fixed up his broken spectacles. His balance was unstable, catching himself on a broken desk on the floor as he righted himself. Yet before Shiori could ask a question, he raced towards the door on the other side of the wall and slammed it open.
“GET THE SEER TO THE INSTITUTE! SHE WOKE UP!”
Guards in heavy metal armour started pouring in at his command. Shiori’s chest tightened as her limbs fought back against the restraint, banging and injuring her own wrists because that was all she could do. It was getting hard to breathe. Tears pricked her eyes as the guards slammed her hands and legs back onto the metal table, trapping her entirely.
“QUICK!” Cried the doctor, sticking close to the door. “MUZZLE HER! KNOCK HER OUT AGAIN!”
“NO!” Shiori roared, biting the first hand that tried to muffle her. She needed to get out. The man screamed and pulled back, but Shiori pushed forward, the deviance to stay alive, giving her enough of a boost to snap the chains on her arms. She needed to escape.
“GET AWAY FROM ME!” More guards forced their hands on her arms and legs, but the strength of several men proved very little as Shiori pulled and screamed, fighting with all her might. She needed her sisters.
“ONEE CHAN!” Shiori screamed, unaware of how the room shook at her command. But where were her sisters? “ KURO NEE!” She cried, the ugly sobs heavy at the back of her throat slurring Claudine’s nickname. Why aren’t they here?
In her panic, Shiori didn’t notice a heavy weight pressing down on the skin of her chest. She didn’t recognise how despite breathing so fast, her breaths were deep as opposed to shallow. She didn’t notice anything unnatural about her. Not until something burned against her flesh and a light began to spark through the clothes.
She didn’t notice that she wasn’t the same as before until a light, similar to Fumi’s magic, blinded her with nothing but loud crashes following behind. Then, when she opened her eyes, there was no weight holding her down. She was light as air and just as quiet despite the carnage in the sterile room. Bodies littered the floor, blood staining the tiles and the unconscious bodies of guards and doctors already there before she woke.
“What…” Shiori gasped, her head spinning as her eyes glanced everywhere. She didn’t know what happened, but she knew that she did this. She did this somehow… and the thought terrified her. Her eyes followed the strange light flickering in the room and her hands shook as she touched her chest, right on top of her heart.
Almost branded on her skin, past the clothing that was now scorched, lined with black marks from the light she emitted, was a symbol. Curved lines that never broke away, looping into an H that had a loop at the top of each side. Then at the bottom of the sides, the lines curved to create the top of the heart. Shiori doesn’t know what this mark meant. But the name for the symbol hit her and left her trembling. As if the ghosts of her mothers gave her a kiss on her head and lied to her face. Telling her with coos to comfort a crying child that everything would be okay.
On her chest was the mark of the Hero . The one who used to be part of the prophecies Shiori knew, learnt and then forgotten all about.
But Shiori couldn’t handle such a revelation, not when the thud of footsteps racing ever closer forced her to snap out. Scared, frightened, terribly alone— Shiori did the only thing she knew. She did the one thing she always did ever since her mothers died in the Aftermath Plague. She ran away, keeping herself quiet, keeping herself unseen.
Fear overrode logic, and instinct overrode fear. Shiori glanced around the wrecked vicinity, her eyes catching the small vent tucked away in the corner. Shiori defied the logic buried in her head that she wouldn’t fit, and then she defied physics too by squeezing past. Not caring for the logistics of the impossible, Shiori burrowed through the vents, small enough to climb and crawl through with ease.
She didn’t notice how the vent hatchet was never loose or open to begin with, even when she entered. She didn’t see the way the wind blew the papers away when she entered the vent. She didn’t notice how the vent would be too small for a mouse to fit, let alone a young woman of 20 years old. She didn’t need to know, not that it would be adequately explained.
The will of the Hero was always one to defy the laws of the living world.
Elsewhere in the Kirin Temple, an armoured fist slammed down a wooden desk, and small sets of splinters exploded from where it rested.
“TENDOU MAYA EXPLAIN YOURSELF!?” Saijou Claudine, a newly graduated acolyte of the Kirin Temple, snarled. She was in her teacher’s room with her sister Yumeoji Fumi and Tendou Maya herself. Daiba Nana was here before, but she had to leave in an emergency. Something about an experiment gone wrong.
“I shall but my table doesn’t need to be the brunt of your anger Claudine,” Maya sighed, her gloved hands pinching the bridge of her nose. Simmering slightly with embarrassment, Claudine pulled her hand back, but the angry look in her eyes remained.
“Thank you.” Maya opened her eyes and pointed the tip of the rapier to the whiteboard near her. “Now I understand you two,” she paused politely even though the hard faces on their students said everything about the situation. “Won’t be comfortable with this but I assure you this is the best situation we have of the circumstances.”
On the wall, labelled in cursive writing, was a title: Cataclysm. A word that was synonymous with disaster.
“With the situation of the prophecy ceremony and your youngest sister—” Maya paused briefly, looking at the twins, the rare expression of confusion on her face. “What is… Shiori’s last name?”
Claudine scowled, turning away with a huff, her mouth smothered by her metal bracers as she grumbled profanities. Meanwhile, Fumi winced, adjusted her gloves and gave a wry smile. “She doesn’t have one,” she explained, almost like it was an apology. “Whilst me and Claudine took the last name of our respective mothers… Shiori uh… Shiori denounced them after a fight we had.”
There was more to that than the simple explanation went. Still, Fumi knew that Maya had better things to do than listen to the complicated mess of their family affairs.
“I understand…” Maya said before clicking her tongue, moving on from the little revelation. “Well,” she continued, clearing her throat. “After your youngest sister Shiori became the Hero it was evident that everything needed to change.”
“Can’t we just— “Claudine interrupted, her frustrations bubbling hard underneath her skin. She pulled her hand away from her mouth, staring down Maya from her seat. “Can’t we just not make her the hero?”
She had to ask at least once. It would be the easiest thing to do. It would be the best way for everyone to get what they want. She would be the Hero for the prophecy she trained her whole life for, Shiori would be safe like Fumi wanted, and Shiori can just stay out of their way.
Maya’s brows narrowed, her eyes baring down onto Claudine’s soul. “If you have the means to defy the laws of God by all means, Saijou Claudine, do so and then die for your sin.” Heavy was the room that held the most power. And Fumi could only look away in awkward respect as the raw anger pierced through the tension, the pressure point directly on Claudine’s seat.
Claudine bolted upright, instinctual shivers running down her spine as she looked down at her feet. “R-Right.”
“We can’t change the roles that were given to us.” Gradually Maya retracted her glare, and the looming pressure allowed Claudine to look up at her. Maya’s gaze became looser, kinder as a sympathetic smile graced her lips. “I understand your frustration since you and your sister have been vying for this responsibility ever since you became acolytes as children but what is done is done.” She paused, pursing her lips in thought. “Will your emotions impact today’s mission? I need to know now since time is a major constraint.”
“Never, we’re fine”, Fumi answered back, quick and unquestionable. She glanced back at Claudine, who closed her mouth, nodding her support. Relief lessened the weight on Fumi’s shoulders as she turned back to Maya, her confidence returning back in splinters. “It’s just shock still impacting us.”
Maya stared, her eyes darting over Fumi’s tense posture before widening her smile enough to bare teeth. “I’ll believe your word then Fumi.” Maya turned back to the board, pointing at the diagram underneath the title and the vows their students took lining the columns.
The Kirin demanded perfection.
The Kirin was All-knowing.
The Kirin was All-powerful.
The Kirin demanded a show.
“This plan is the safest thing we could think of in the time frame we had regarding the problems we face. Such as the blatant fact that your sister doesn’t trust us.” Maya looked back at the sisters, watching their guilty look pass between them. Maya didn’t say a word, allowing her silence on the matter to speak everything or nothing at all.
“That is a matter of the situation that we need to deal with,” Maya continued as she continued back to the diagrams, circling and tapping gently on the arcane words written there. “Furthermore she is not ready for a prophecy. She’s too young to be considered a hero. Although normally delaying a prophecy would ruin everything, the prophecy, though given, hasn’t started.”
“Due to our connection to the Kirin we are able to delay it for 4 more years if she stays within the realms of the city,” Maya explained, enjoying the way hope flickered back into the eyes of her students. “There she will stay at the temple and train and hopefully during that time both of you can help her and mend your estranged relationships.”
“However,” Maya said solemnly, slapping the metal blade against the wall. Strong enough to snap the hope out of their eyes to face the grim reality. “Trust is not our only problem.” Maya looked away, her hatred slipping out of her filter like dewdrops. “Her connection to Mahiru san exists as well.” Maya walked towards her desk, procuring something from the drawer at the back.
Claudine and Fumi’s eyes widened, Claudine even going so far as to stand up, the despair draining her face pale. In Maya’s hands, bagged carefully like it was a murder weapon was a leather bounded book. It was aged with time with its brown colouration, yet it was an object that the twins could never miss.
“This was found breaching our temple,” Maya said, putting the words bluntly that it didn’t even fail to hide her disgust. “The fault lies with me for not inspecting her before she went inside.”
Fumi broke the silent observation, standing as well to get a better look after Claudine blocked her. “It can’t be….”
“Ah but it is, Fumi. It’s a recollection of the cursed heroic journey,” Maya exclaimed grimly. Swirls of disgust swam in her eyes as she dropped the book on the table with an uncaring thud. “The one that this prophecy was supposed to fix.”
Claudine took a deep breath, shaking her head out of disbelief. Yet the truth was right there, in front of and the proof of what it implied sank a knife right to Claudine’s gut. “The prophecy before this one?” she asked. “The one that Mahiru came from? The Tragedy?”
Maya nodded, her brows scrunched together as she looked down at the book. Her voice was cold, heavy and held no sign of forgiveness. “The very same. I believe her possession of this book was what caused the chaos that we saw today at the ceremony.”
Claudine’s eyes widened. She stepped forward, not even wincing at the stumble her legs made. Nor the way she stubbed her toe on the table leg. To the side, Fumi held her bated breath, her head down— almost ready for punishment. “Your grace—”
“Maya,” Claudine flinched. She steeled herself, taking a deep breath. “Look I didn’t— we didn’t know she had this. Had we known—”
“You would’ve reported to me instantly, I’m aware.” Maya assured. She stepped forward, placing her sword away as she held Claudine. With one hand, Maya caressed Claudine’s hair, and the other hand draped around her shoulders, patting down her back.
“Don’t fear ma Claudine,” she cooed with the gentleness of a mother. “I know your heart well enough. I know neither of you would go against the Kirin.”
Fumi shook her head, relief flooding her with waves that were enough to knock her out. Instead, she peeled her eyes away from Maya before turning to the book. Something gnawed at her skin, and unlike Claudine, she didn’t have a teacher to chase it away. “What’s going to happen to Shiori?”
“She’s going to be rehabilitated naturally,” Maya explained as she let go of Claudine, stepping back to an appropriate distance. “Her trust in Mahiru san must be broken entirely.” She faced the sisters, her hands hidden behind her back. “Which is why, as I mentioned to you both before Claudine attempted to break my table— you both need to rescue her from Prison.”
Like last time, the last word made Claudine’s gut recoil. Her molars ground against each other as she looked away. Her bracer creaked as her hands curled to a fist. Likewise, Fumi’s eyes darkened as the tips of her fingers pulsed, ready and waiting for a fight.
“Fake Prison as I should’ve said first.” Maya coughed into her hand. “She is in no major harm, scared and perhaps traumatised but I assure you in the next four years she’ll get the best treatment to overcome this. Rescue her, explain what you know and paint Mahiru as the traitor she is.”
“So we need to lie to her?” Fumi scoffed, her head reeling despite this being the second time hearing the demand. “After everything we need to lie to her more?”
“I understand as sisters, this is a difficult emotional task I set upon you both….” Maya’s sympathy trailed off, her eyes sharpening with a resolution that demanded to be heard. Her voice was absolute, a cutthroat tone with no setbacks.
“But it’s for the will of the Kirin that we are doing this.” Maya pointed particularly at their giraffe mark of two pointed stars, a brand settling at the back of their shoulders. This was a set they were given as acolytes when they signed up to prove their loyalty and their worth. “Should we fail, you could lose your sister forever.”
Claudine raised her head, her eyes mirroring a similar set of bitter determination. “I’ll do it.”
Fumi snapped towards her sister, eyes aghast. “Claudine!”
“The Kirin has never led us wrong Fumi,” Claudine reasoned. She looked into Fumi’s eyes, her decision clear and unchanging. “It won’t start now.”
“I…” Fumi faltered, buckling under Maya and Claudine’s expectant gaze. Gashing her teeth, she looked to the side, her hand clenching against the giraffe brand on her arm underneath her armour. “I guess if you go… I can’t be left behind.”
“Excellent,” Maya clapped her hands, a jarring notion that snapped both sisters out of their thoughts. “I’ll go and double check on the situation and let the guards know. Right now your sister would be on the bottom floor of the temple.” She walked towards the door, stopping at the handles before she turned around to face the sisters.
“Remember, act like you fought with all your might—” she said tersely before her eyes widened in realisation. “--Oh and make sure to knock her out to make the recovery transition easier. After that, I’ll give you both 5 minutes to let any emotion out.” With that, Maya left the sisters, the doors slamming as her footsteps on the other side faded away.
“Okay,” Claudine sighed, not even waiting for the footsteps to fade entirely before she glared at Fumi. “Spit it out.”
Fumi blinked, then scoffed once she recognised that Claudine’s expression wasn’t going to change any time soon. “I’m sorry?”
“You think Maya is an idiot?” Claudine scowled, folding her arms against her chest. “She knows you have a problem with me.”
“Well yeah!?” Fumi countered, raising her hands up in the air. She flopped down to her seat with a tired mess of a laugh. “You just agreed to lie to Shiori even more!?” The entire crux of their terrible relationship was their lies, their secrets. Granted, these were secrets they had to keep until now, but it didn’t soothe the nagging feeling at the back of her head that this was a bad idea.
“Pot calling kettle black,” Claudine hissed, walking over and slamming her hands over the handrails on either side of the chair. She loomed over Fumi’s frown with a sneer. “You’re in the same boat too.”
“Yeah because you’re going to fuck up whatever relationship with Shiori if you go alone,” Fumi rebutted as she smacked Claudine’s hands off her chair before pushing her off. “Don’t even try to deny it,” she hissed, pushing a finger onto Claudine’s chest as she stood up. “You’ve been mad the second she was chosen as a Hero.”
Fumi could never forget it, the sudden despair, the shock that almost choked the confidence out of Claudine. Yet, Fumi could understand her anger. Between the two of them, Claudine was also the one that they praised to be the most heroic. Maybe because it was the oldest, maybe because she was the first one found— either way, they both acted like Claudine was the one to be the Hero.
“Well at least I’m not trying to be a hypocrite!” Claudine yelled, grabbing Fumi’s hand and forcing the hand against Fumi’s chest. She pushed her back, shoving her roughly. “You’re in the same fucking boat Fumi and you have the audacity to look like the higher sibling.”
Fumi stabilised herself, grabbing hold of the chair so that she didn’t fall down entirely. “I’m not—”
“Don’t lie to me Fumi.” Claudine flexed her hands, her breathing deep and steady and full of nothing but malice. “You hate her as much as I do right now.”
Fumi scrunched her hands, growling as she stood up away from the chair. “Alright fine!” She yelled, throwing up her hands in defeat. “Yes I’m mad at her, yes I hate that she fucked everything up. We did this for her and now she’s in this mess!”
Everything they ever did was for Shiori. It was the one thing that kept Fumi going whenever her faith in her teacher ever wavered. They became the Heroes so that they could protect Shiori. They enrolled in the Temple so that they can have the money to save Shiori. Shiori’s safety was everything. It was the one thing Fumi could do right, and now Shiori couldn’t even give her the chance to prove that all of their hardships were worth something.
“Yes I’m mad that she befriended Mahiru, yes I’m mad at myself for letting her keep it up even when you kept fighting me about it. Yes I wish they never met as when we were kids. Is that what you want to hear, Claudine!?”
Except Claudine wasn’t paying attention to her. She was before, but as Fumi screamed, allowing the pains and imperfections of her heart to become exposed, Claudine’s eyes moved away. Something clawed at her warrior’s instinct, implying that something else was in the room other than them.
“Do you feel better now?” Fumi snarled, turning back towards her sister. “That I don’t have my shit together?”
“Yes…” Claudine murmured, straining her ears as she unsheathed her sword. “But I need you to shut up for a second.”
Claudine covered Fumi’s mouth, pointing with her eyes to the vents above. Fumi gave her a glance but strained her ears, the magic starting to whirl on the tip of her fingers. Claudine removed her palm as they concentrated. Gently, almost like a ghost, was the faint sound of movement. A sound that, despite the origin, screamed nothing but an intruder.
“Ready when you are Fumi,” Claudine whispered, stepping aside as the green light on Fumi’s fingertips flickered.
Fumi nodded, and nothing but the soft whimpers filled the air until Fumi forced her hands forward, green lights jutting out and destroying the vents. A figure fell through, landing on the ground. With no hesitation, Claudine lunged in a sword at their throat.
“Are you going to kill me now Kuro nee?”
And the sword trembled, almost falling, when Claudine realised who she was pointing it at.
Shiori’s lips wobbled, the tears in her eyes blurring her vision. She found her sisters ages ago and would’ve jumped down if Maya wasn’t in the room, demanding an explanation. Yet, she didn’t need to. She received her answer anyways.
So what if Mahiru made her become like this. So what if it was because she brought Mahiru’s book. Who cared? Mahiru saved her life. Mahiru saved her life, and if they never met, Shiori would’ve died. She would’ve died surrounded by no one, wracked with a sickness no one could cure, left outside of the walls of the city to rot.
She would rot and die because she was a sick little girl who couldn’t even stand up. She would rot because she wasn’t chosen or special and wasn’t saved by the Kirin Temple that stole her sisters. Sisters who abandoned their mother’s promise to keep her safe. She was going to die because her sisters left her to die.
And now? Even when she was content to step away from the spotlight. The same one that grew pedestals from her misery for her sisters, she was forced to suffer. Later they said, they would explain. Now the truth she always feared was here, and it wanted her dead.
“You hate me….” Shiori heaved, barely being able to breathe as she staggered to her feet. She leaned against the wall as the paint on her stomach forced her to stumble. Instinctively she placed her touch on the pain before she pulled it away at the wet touch. Her hand was dyed with the crimson touch of blood. “Both of you….”
“Shiori,” Fumi gasped, running towards her before she suddenly stopped like a barrier was in front of her, a muffled bang echoing in the room as Fumi collapsed to the floor.
“Shiori…” A cold wind filled the air, the sound of hurricanes and whirlwinds manifesting as the papers started to flutter on the table. Fumi couldn’t even hear her own voice as Claudine helped her up. “Shiori, it’s not what you think!”
“THEN WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO THINK WHEN BOTH MY SISTERS WANTED ME DEAD AND ACTUALLY HURTED ME!?” Shiori screamed, her hurt and pain in evident agony as she staggered forward. Her sphere of wind, silently protecting her, pushed her sisters back, sending their hair into a flying mess whenever both worlds collided.
Fumi forced the magic back. Flashes of light scattered across the room as she shut her eyes and screamed, her throat raw with distraught. It was never meant to turn out this way. “WE NEVER WANTED YOU DEAD!”
“YOU NEVER WANTED ME TO MEET MAHIRU SAN!” Shiori yelled back, pausing only to cough up blood. “You…” she heaved, tears falling down her cheeks. “If I never met her, I would’ve died.” Shiori took out the broken potion that she kept, somehow still concealed in her pocket despite everything, and drank it. “Even now, she’s the one saving me when all either you do is hurt me.”
“We would’ve saved you,” Claudine insisted, her chest heavy with heartache, her throat weighed down by the agony at the back of her mouth. “We had the cure.”
Shiori shook her head, rubbing the tears away with the back of her bruised wrist. They were willing to lie to her just for their own selfishness. They were ready for her to be traumatised just for their own sake. Just like before, just like that time. “You would never make it in time. Not to the outside of the walls where all the corpses are left to rot.”
Claudine winced, her posture and confidence crumbling like a sandcastle to a tidal wave. “Shiori…”
“You never asked me where I was when I came back from the so-called dead.” Shiori snarled the words out, her voice rising higher and higher, erupting like a volcano, magma built up from the hot and messy emotions she buried over the years.
“You never sat me down and let me cry on your shoulder, any shoulder. You just looked at Mahiru and thought she stole me away. You keep saying you’re going to protect me but you never once said sorry for abandoning me. YOU NEVER THINK ABOUT ME!”
“Maybe if you did,” Shiori heaved, taking deep breaths despite the shaking of her body. Her fist clenched tight, the truth branding the back of her tongue with the reality she’s been denying herself the second she did it. Her voice croaked. The hanging knife that dangled in this web of tension dropped and plunged all of them at once. “You’ll learn the reason why I stopped having mum’s name was so that I can stop being related to you .”
Shiori loved her sisters; she loved them as much as she hated them. They were the only people she had left to call a family. They were the only two people that could break her like this.
Fumi broke, her powers withering away as she stared at her youngest sister. “Shiori…”
Whatever apology could’ve been said— should’ve been said— would’ve been said was gone as the door blasted open with the sound of breaking wood. None of that impacted Shiori. The whirlwind sphere protected her from most of the blast, allowing her to peek through the debris and rising smoke.
Not that she needed to… when a hero starts their prophecy, nothing is held back. The names of SEER and TRAITOR are branded onto the back of her eyes. She did not know why Maya was labelled as a TRAITOR. She did not want to know why. All she focused on the split second before everything fell apart was Nana’s title. SEER. The one person the doctor wanted when she woke up.
That was all Shiori needed to run.
Shiori barreled past her sisters, ignoring the yell as she grabbed Mahiru’s book she left behind. Lighting flashed behind her, but it was sucked up in the vortex of her wind powers manifesting. It rebounded towards her sisters and their mentors as thunder followed, banging and screaming in her ear.
Shiori didn’t know who called her name. She was busy jumping out of the window to care.