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Cataclysm

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Alchemy is not a trade for the weak of heart. It’s an extremely dangerous skill. The wrong measurement can literally cause your death— not even from intaking your potion, just from the fumes alone. Like all forms of medicine, too much could kill you. The constant exposure could weaken your bones; there is continuous documentation of side effects. In the world of alchemy, nothing is considered perfect. 

 

However, there can be considered, in the world of alchemy, a perfect alchemist. Not perfect in keeping things safe, keeping things fair and free of side effects, but perfect in their measurement. These alchemists became perfect not because they know so much but because they practised the right things enough that it’s muscle memory. They could tell one vial of ingredient apart not by sight but by weight and instincts. They can be in a room full of unlabelled vials and tell which one is what by a single look, by a single touch, by a single whiff. 

 

These alchemists are known as Legends. But like all things in alchemy, too much could kill you. Be cautious of what you read. The information that will lay bare in front of you is not one for the weak of heart. Too much knowledge will kill you. Legends, after all, are only born once they stop being living myths and miracles. 

 

This page is the last piece of caution and the last bit of kindness you will ever get from me. Now. Turn the page and let your education begin.

 

- Introductory, transcribed by Ootori Mahiru

 

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“FUMI!” Claudine called when she realised she could breathe after hacking out the dust in her lungs. She stood up, the amour slowing her down as she wobbled her way up the hill. Claudine can’t lose Fumi. Not after she already failed Shiori. Not when it was her fault for noticing the moon— for staying behind to just ruin someone’s house out of anger. 

 

God, why was everything her fault when all she wanted to do was protect them? 

 

“Fumi!” She reached the shop now. Or what should be the shop? The third yell died in Claudine’s throat, the wreckage stealing everything she had. There was nothing there. It was all burnt, broken and gone. Piles and piles of wrecked rubble, even flowers littered the place.

 

Claudine vaguely remembered the garden Shiori mentioned once— back when they were friends. They were young, barely a teenager. Back then, Claudine would begrudgingly listen and tell her off. She didn’t start yelling at her until months later, fear driving the protective gears she had since Maya didn’t take the offhanded mention well. She saw her reaction once when Claudine mentioned it offhandedly— she didn’t want Shiori to share the same fate the chair had. 

 

Behind Claudine, up in the sky, the blood moon continued to give an eerie glow. 

 

Part of her wondered if this was the karma working in the world. This was the price she paid for her mistakes of being a failure of a sister. God, she would do anything to be the one hurt instead; she was the oldest sister. It was her job to carry the weight of the world so that they could be free— that was what their mothers told her to do before they died. 

 

“You never think about me!” said the voice of her broken sister screaming in her head. “Maybe if you did, you’ll learn the reason why I stopped having mum’s name was so that I can stop being related to you.”

 

Claudine shook the thought away, her entire body shaking. She flexed her hands, knowing too well that if she were to clench her fists, she’d dig her nails so deep that it would make her bleed. It’s not the first time she did that, nor will it be the last. Such was the case for unhealthy coping mechanisms. 

 

She hasn’t seen a body, so she’s not planting flowers for a gravesite just yet. Fumi had to be alive. 

 

“FUMI!” Claudine roared with all her heart, for if she did anything less, she might as well drop dead from the grief and regret. She lived for her sisters— she would die for them too if it came down to it. She ran closer to the wreckage, screaming Fumi’s name again as she tore away broken walls and burning wood. 

 

It’s only now where determination outlived the numbness did Claudine register that she wasn’t unharmed from the sudden attack. Something sharp stung her left arm, and when Claudine glanced back, she saw a bloody cut on the back of her arm. Her blood leaked to the already ruined floor, not that Claudine cared as she found nothing in a pile and moved onto the next— it was better her blood than Fumi’s.

 

“Fumi!” This time the plea was desperate. It was still as loud, still as powerful as before, but Claudine couldn’t stop the quiver on her lip as she yelled out her name. She would not cry. Crying meant that she would admit defeat. She would never give up on Fumi— not when there was still no corpse. “Fumi I still need you— SHIORI STILL NEEDS YOU!” 

 

“...S-Shiori?”

 

A cry, quiet and broken from a pillar up north. Claudine dropped everything, sprinting fast enough to make her lightheaded. She needed water— they both needed water. God, did they pack away food? Did they pack away anything for the prophecy? They can’t go back now, not to their teachers. They’ve been punished before for sneaking out. They were kinder back then because they were kids— she highly doubted they would be kind now. 

 

“Fumi?” Claudine begged, her throat heavy and hoarse. She should cry. She can’t cry— She wanted to cry. Claudine swallowed away the tears, deciding quickly she needed to be brave for Fumi. “Fumi, are you okay?” 

 

“I— yeah…” Her voice was dazed, Claudine picked up the pace. She ignored every sting from her open wound. “I think… I’m safe.” 

 

Claudine backed away, her arm raised to protect herself from the light. Blood splattered onto the opening, hitting the pink shield that surrounded her sister. Fumi stared at the stain, her hand falling to her spatial bag as a reaction. 

 

“Kuro!”

 

“I’m fine!” Claudine snapped back. She exhaled the rest of the anger, relieved that Fumi was alive enough to be mad at her recklessness. She got used to the glow of the pink barrier, different from Fumi’s green bubbles. They could actually hear each other for once. “I’m fine, you’re more important.” She tore away a shelf, glass pricking at her already reopening palm wounds. “Are you hurt anywhere?”

 

“A headache but nothing much,” Fumi called back before coughing. “Maybe a lot of dust inhalation.” Fumi stood up cautiously, not wanting to break the bubble. To her surprise, the bubble moved with her, rising as she stood up. “Claudine stop— I can handle this by myself now.” 

 

Claudine paused then backed away when she saw Fumi handling herself well. “Glad you used your magic in time— you always had better a reaction time than me.” She used to be jealous of that until Maya showed her how strong her body was, but now she was just thankful that it saved her life. 

 

Fumi took a sharp inhale. Claudine feared the worst, readying herself to dive in case her magic started to falter. “This is not my magic,” Fumi admitted, staring into Claudine’s eyes. “I only heard your voice before everything went black.”

 

Claudine nodded. The pink wasn’t really her colour anyways. “Must be Nana then, she must’ve noticed from her tower and saved you.”

 

“So much for sneaking away in secret,” Fumi grimaced as she started to walk, the wreckage groaning as she did. Claudine hesitated between stepping back from the danger or stepping in to help Fumi if she fell. 

 

“You’re safe so that’s all that matters.”

 

Fumi stopped, taking a moment to glare at Claudine, “You’re bleeding Kuro.” Claudine covered up her wound to the side; she didn’t like how warm her blood felt. Fumi only shook her head, speeding up her slow walk until the very edge of the barrier was away from the rubble. Only then did Fumi charge out— the barrier bursting as the wreckage from before caved into itself. 

 

“Give me your arm now idiot,” Fumi growled, a health potion in hand as she shoved the bottle into Claudine’s mouth like a milk bottle. Claudine stretched out her hand as she secured the health potion in the other. She drank it slowly, trying not to wince as Fumi bandaged it. 

 

“What happened?” She asked, making small talk, cleaning the wound as she wrapped, spreading another health potion over the injury. “This will leave a scar by the way.”

 

“I don’t know,” Claudine said as she stopped drinking the potion, only a third left now. “There was a lightning strike, no rain and suddenly everything was wrecked. Even the back with the flowers was ruined.” She continued to drink the health potion as Fumi growled under her breath. 

 

“Who do you think did it?”

 

“Who else but the villains,” Claudine said before taking a deep sigh. She didn’t want to say it, but they had to cover all the bases. “I don’t want to admit but if they meet Shiori already—” 

 

“They probably know about us already and want us out of the picture,” Fumi nodded before looking up at Claudine with a set jaw. “I get it.” Claudine nodded back, partially relieved that Fumi knew her better than anyone. They can live with this excuse— they can both ignore the idea that Shiori was the one that sent the attack. 

 

“Right, well we need to get going, just in case they attack again.” 

 

Fumi nodded, getting out a drink before sharing it with Claudine. “Let’s go save our sister then.” 

 


 

Elsewhere, somewhere long and far away from her sisters, Shiori woke up. Sweat sticking the hair onto her forehead or was that the water from the stalagmites. Shiori didn’t know; she could barely see in the depths of the cave. The water above her dripped down again. Her eyes twitched as she breathed. Louder— colder— there was an exhale of smoke. The smoke didn’t evaporate, coiling in front of her face. Shiori didn’t pay attention to it, too frazzled, too overwhelmed to realise that wasn’t normal. 

 

Where was she? Who saved her? All she remembered vaguely was the glow of red eyes, reminiscent of the time when she—. Shiori inhaled the fumes in front of her before she choked and struggled to cough it back out. The cave water dripped again on her head; the tears on her eyes followed it down her cheeks. 

 

God. Her sis— Shiori, did another sharp intake. She turned to her side, facing the distant light at the mouth of the cave. Did they have any right to be called her sisters? She already disowned her last name because of them; can she disown them fully after everything she heard? But if she would do that would mean she’s entirely alone, and that thought was— well. It only pushed the knife her sisters plunged deeper into her heart. 

 

Shiori placed a hand on her chest, hesitant before flinching when she touched the curves of her mark. Hero… she was the hero… and she was all alone. The realisation nipped at her skin, the tears heightening the temperature drop. This was the first time she’s ever been alone… she doesn’t like the feeling. 

 

The flicker of black in the corner of her eyes forced Shiori to focus on something else, clinging to the shadow on the wall like a lifeline. She wasn’t alone, she had people who saved her! The hope made her smile bloom. 

 

Then it all crumbled when she heard what they were saying. 

 

“I’m not letting you kill her,” The shadow of something smaller said. “It’s not time yet.”

 

“She’s the hero,” the taller one hissed, spatting out Shiori’s role like it was mud. “If we don’t kill her now we’ll ruin the best chance we got.” Her voice was feminine in nature, but it was rough, deep in its pitch— akin to a snarl of a beast. 

 

“The best chance  I got —” The smaller one reminded. Their voice was calm; it held no agitation nor anger. Instead, it was patient, wisdom clear in her articulation. “But no. I’m not killing someone who doesn’t know what she’s doing.”

 

“That’s cruel,” The taller one growled. The shadow’s shape danced as if the source of the light was trembling at the words. “To keep her alive. To force her to do the prophecy.” 

 

“I’m not a god.” There was a hint of a laugh in the smaller shadow’s voice. “I didn’t and will never force her to do anything.” The light-hearted amusement ended though, as Shiori watched the figure walk away then return with nothing but an open box in her hand. 

 

“But if you’re so eager to kill her—” The box fell with an aggressive thud. “Do it yourself. Take out the sword— Take her life with your bare hands. Do what you were born for.” 

 

Shiori’s heart raced. She pushed the blanket in front of her closer to her chest, terrified that the sudden pulse on her chest would force them to make their decision quicker. She needed to be quiet. She needed to be still. The wind around her stopped moving altogether. In the distance, the taller shadow stood, hesitating, her fingers twitching with uncertainty. 

 

“I—” 

 

“As I thought.” The box closed, the taller shadow flinched, stepping back from surprise. “That hesitation will get you killed in major moments like this,” the smaller shadow warned, their voice taking a deeper edge.  “Don’t let it happen again when you try to do anything that looks important.”

 

Just like that, the smaller shadow picked up the box and walked away, the shadow fading into the light of the fire. The taller shadow remained before it too stomped away from the light roaring into silence as they departed. 

 

Only then did Shiori let out a whimper of an exhale, the tears flowing from her eyes. She wished to move, but there was no motion in her leg— too exhausted to even consider moving. Helplessness filled her system, overriding her need to survive with overwhelming fatigue. She needed to rest— she didn’t want to rest. She was scared she wouldn’t wake up. She missed her sist— 

 

She missed Mahiru. She missed someone to feel safe around. She could only hope, as her eyes started to close without her consent, that Mahiru was okay despite everything. 

 


 

“My my after all these years you still put up a decent fight Mahiru chan.” Nana exclaimed as she started to lather Maya’s muscles with the health potions they took from Mahiru’s bag. “Did you plan for this after all these years?” Mahiru glared at Nana, her arm that had the lover’s mark was still burning. Of course, there was no actual burn mark, but Mahiru could still feel the muscles burn under Nana’s gaze. 

 

The power of the  Seer  was something else entirely. 

 

“I actually didn’t plan this,” Mahiru replied. Her voice was hoarse, partially scratchy from all the fighting and the time Maya tried to strangle her in a headlock. “Though if you planned this and you lost that says a lot about you then it does about me.” She cleared her throat, her body shifting on the stool that was bound to her. If she stepped away from the stool, her body would writhe again in pain.  

 

It was an obscure sort of punishment. To the naked eye, her restrictions would seem lax or uncaring. Her hands were not chained up or restricted, and Nana had been kind enough to allow one health potion for her wounds. Not to mention, apart from a few health potions, Mahiru was allowed to keep her potion bag. However, Mahiru knew this was not kindness.

 

 In reality, what Nana did was a demonstration— that even if Mahiru came at her with everything, she wouldn’t win against Nana. Besides, Mahiru knew that whilst Nana’s face was kind for now, it won’t be in the future. Unlike Maya, she played the long game. Nana wouldn’t be satisfied if she died now. She wanted her to suffer as much as Maya did. 

 

“What will you two do now though?” Mahiru asked, her voice taking a better shape after she cleared her throat. “Your plan to have the heroes be in the palm of your hands failed and the  real  hero already ran away.” She grinned, her grey eyes swirling to an unreadable mask of a smile. “Your plans aren’t so smart now without your brain is it?”

 

Maya’s nostrils flared, her snarl as deadly as the venomous tone of her tongue. “I should have killed you when I had a chance.” 

 

Mahiru didn’t blink at the threat. She laughed, snorted at the danger. “Please Maya, you already tried that. Several times actually.” She grinned again, enjoying the feast that was Maya’s rage building up in front of her. “Besides, the last time you actually had a chance before all of this backfired didn’t it? Poor Ju—”

 

Maya stood up, uncaring that her wounds started to reopen. She drew out her weapon, pointing the blade at the tip of Mahiru’s neck. “DON’T YOU DARE SAY HER NAME!”

 

Mahiru kept her head levelled, her eyes staring back at Maya’s. “You wouldn’t want to leave Daiba san all on her own, do you Maya san?” Sure, Nana can take her own and beat her with her eyes closed, but Mahiru would take down Maya in a heartbeat. 

 

“Oh how bold!” Nana grinned. She clapped her hands together, her eyes smiling with something unnatural. In that time, Maya hissed, and Nana attended to her wounds, bandaging with magic before she kissed her on the temple. She turned to Mahiru, her lover placated by her interval. “Good thing you were distracted by Shiori chan right?” 

 

Mahiru’s eyes narrowed. She didn’t like the way doubt invaded her mind so quickly. Shiori is too kind, too naive to be that two-faced. The way she was angered by her sisters over the years, the way she was genuine about wanting to learn alchemy. None of that could be faked… and yet here Mahiru was, thinking of the worst because she couldn’t afford to do otherwise. “Is that why you let her come over after all these years?” 

 

Nana shrugged. She stretched out her arms, wiggled her fingers. Mahiru noticed the small actions, but she was helpless to do anything about it. “Who knows, there are more ways to start a prophecy after all.” Nana’s grin widened to the point where it looked like her cheeks started to hurt, but if it did, she never showed it. 

 

Mahiru took a steady breath of air— inhaled and exhaled with a calmness they didn’t expect. She would not give them the pleasure of seeing her become undone. Even when she was reminded of how atrocious these two people were. Her stare levelled. “You planned for those sisters to fight.”

 

Still, despite her conviction, Mahiru could not clear the snarl in her voice entirely. 

 

“I didn’t plan if I already saw it,” Nana smiled, the type that was both smug and kind, depending on how you saw it. 

 

Mahiru’s hands trembled despite her determined attempts to calm them. “You knew Shiori was going to be the hero!” 

 

How dare they, how dare they trick all of three of them. How dare they take apart what once was a beautiful family. It was one thing to train two of them with the allure that they would be the hero, taking their chances to bend fate, but it was another thing entirely to use all of them as a ploy. The worst thing about it was that Mahiru had no clue what they were aiming for. 

 

“Be weary of blondes that can seal fate~” Nana giggled, and even Maya behind them chuckled out a cruel laugh. They were mocking her, this much Mahiru knew but still, she couldn’t help but glare back. She should’ve killed Maya when she had a chance. 

 

“Is that a new idiom you’re spreading around?” Nana always had a thing for idioms— for little sayings as if they were words of wisdom. Mahiru heard too often of Fumi lecturing Shiori with such things like blood is thicker than water, all without knowing its accurate phrase.

 

“Hah,” Nana laughed, jeering as she stepped closer to Mahiru. The subtleties of her kind facade tearing away as she laughed harder. “You mean you chased out your apprentice so quickly she didn’t seem to tell you the new prophecy.” A pause. The return of Nana’s smile was something cruel. “Was Karen chan’s mark too much for you, Love Interest.” 

 

Mahiru stood up, and she almost crumbled to the floor, the pain in her arm doubling down hard. She persevered, however, standing up to the pain as her hand reached for the pouch at record speed. 

 

A shame that speed could be nothing to a being who could see the future in flashes. Before Mahiru could react, Nana grabbed her hand like a snake bite. Her eyes lit up, the grin widened. “Actually, I think that title is pretty old don’t you think?” Nana didn’t wait for a response as Mahiru fell to the floor, a cry forced out of her as Nana pressed her fingers on her palm. 

 

There, Nana began to recite the prophecy all over again. Her eyes glowed, white— then brown, yellow, black. Mahiru gritted her teeth, shutting her eyes as the words forced their weight down, the scale of the world once again on her shoulders. Mahiru could barely feel the mark being drawn, cut and quartered into a cursed brand. Her lover’s mark was no longer painful. It was empty as everything was diverted to the palm of her right hand. 

 

Nana let the hand go the second she was done, shaking her hand to wash away all the smoke tethered to her fingertips. She overlooked her latest work, the mark of an M, decorated with the square hat of a graduate in the centre of Mahiru’s palm. “Does  Mentor  sound like a cute nickname for you Mahiru chan?” 

 

Mahiru stared at her hand, her fingers shaking as she clutched the wrist. She doesn’t dare to touch the fresh brand on the palm of her hand. She doesn’t want this to be real. After so many years, she’s back making the same journey that tore her away from her family. That tore apart her friends and family she made along the way— even when it was supposed to be over. 

 

The Mark of the  Mentor  is a stark red, decorated with raised skin of scars of the prophecy that came before it. Mahiru watched as the red faded into black so empty it sucked away all the energy her hand had. Finally, her hand fell, slumped against her leg. It’s not broken or gone— but Mahiru has no power to lift it. 

 

Pleased, Nana walked back to Maya with a gleeful smile on her lips. 

 

“Why did you let her join again, Nana?” Maya frowned, casting her eyes to Mahiru and back to Maya. “She’ll ruin the prophecy like last time.”

 

“She’s useful Maya chan,” Nana explained, kissing her head to calm her before her hands found Maya’s to hold it close. “And besides, it’s not like I’m not letting her leave alive, not entirely.” Their eyes met, and Nana loved the awe in Maya’s irises, the genuine divine love that they shared was always something pleasant to remember. 

 

“We’ll take her when she’s ripe,” Nana said, looking back at the pathetic excuse of Mahiru’s slumped body. Mahiru doesn’t deserve to die now. To give her such an easy death will be an insult to the person she slaughtered in cold blood. “Don’t worry, my love— if anything our students will help make her suffer.” 

 

Maya’s frown still remained, glancing back at Nana after observing Mahiru’s broken expression. “And if she takes off her hand?” 

 

“Then by all means,” Nana laughed. “Allow herself to cut off the hand— ring and all.” At the statement, Maya grinned, remembering all too well of Mahiru’s disgusting gesture she shared with that corrupted catalyst. She was glad Mahiru was so stuck within her long gone past. That anchor will be the thing that will make sure she stays drowning. “Death doesn’t need to come physically, after all.” 

 

“You’re a genius,” Maya whispered, so already in awe and proud of the person she named her divine lover. She reached out to cup Nana’s cheek, the awed smile softening at the way Nana stared at her so fondly. Within the next moment, Maya reached up to kiss her. “I love you so much Nana.” 

 

“It’s what she would’ve wanted,” Nana murmured when they parted. The sad look in her eye made Maya kiss her fingers, a sweet gesture that allowed her to mourn. 

 

“You’re a monster,” Mahiru hacked out, ruining the moment with a bittersweet growl. If Mahiru’s looks could kill both of them. Even if it didn’t, Mahiru looked at them with hate so visceral that if it could be bottled up, it would be the most torturous poison ever created. “Both of you.” 

 

“Are we really monsters when this was expected?” Nana sighed, looking over at Mahiru with a disappointed look, teeming with anger and irritation. 

 

“To right the last prophecy’s wrongs… All players must follow this story along—”  Nana recalled before she left Maya’s side to confront Mahiru directly. Now that she was part of the current prophecy, Nana couldn’t cause significant harm to her, not directly at least. Directly on the other hand... “Remember? We wouldn’t be here if you didn’t ruin the last prophecy.” 

 

Mahiru flinched, her hand acting up as Nana’s eyes flashed a dim white. “... I’ll leave the day after tomorrow,” Mahiru hissed, the pain calming down now that she agreed to follow the prophecy forced onto her. 

 

“I need to—” Mahiru paused, taking in a heavy inhale. She turned her head away in dire hope they wouldn’t see the reason why she would cry. She needed to see her wife’s grave— the flowers at the back of her shop. She needed to say goodbye. She needed to say that she was sorry for doing another big adventure without her. “I need to do my will,” she spat out in the end. 

 

“Oh don’t worry Mahiru chan,” Nana grinned, clapping her hands together. “I’ll save you the trouble.”

 

Mahiru watched Nana’s eyes flicker a violet set of yellow, and her mind snapped to the window. She paused, surprised at the blood moon in the sky before her mouth topped over at the streak of lightning racing to the ground. She didn’t care if the lightning left her blind. She needed to see the state of her house— the state of the graves. She couldn’t look away from her family dying again. 

 

The lightning came and went. Mahiru’s house came and went. A pile of rubble and wreckage was all Mahiru could see from a distance. A charred black ground was in the same place as her flowerbeds. The weight in Mahiru’s throat dropped to her legs as she leaned forward to the wall for support. She did not want to cry in the same room of her enemy— but nothing could stop the manifestations of grief. 

 

God, why was she so helpless to protect the things she loved? Had she learnt anything from the last prophecy?

 

“You’ll leave in the morning Mentor,” Nana’s voice whispered in her ear. The velvet coo was nothing but the silk sheath of a poisoned ornamental knife. “The Prophecy is waiting.”