Names have power. That is a message used multiple times— as warnings, threats and defiance. They are used most commonly as a sign of love. In other stories of love, there are narratives where the union of these people became one. Thankfully, a hero hundreds of years ago thought bullshit to that tradition and overturned it. This is perhaps one of the few times I’m grateful for a hero for changing things to fit their ideals.
The tradition is usually applied for two people, but the formula can be used for people who marry beyond two. When two people marry, they do not take each other’s last names at the start of the union. Instead, they keep their own family name, and they continue to love each other and follow through the vows of sickness and health.
It’s when your spouse dies that you take their last name.
You take their last name because you love them. Because you said till death do us part, but in reality, you say fuck you to death, and you take their name, and you live on in memory of them. You take their last name because you love them enough to wager against the gods and the entity that is beyond gods— you take their name because your love is power. It’s a warning, and it’s a threat, and it’s defiance to things too large for you to understand. You take their name because you still want them part of your adventure even when they’re not around. It’s devotion, loyalty.
And I took my wife’s name because I love her.
I will never see her again, and whilst I am alive, the person she loved may as well be dead. I am more of a corpse than a human, and I am not the same woman I was when we got married. Yet still, l wage war against death because I love her. If she’s still alive, I just hope she will take my name too if I’m considered dead in her eyes.
I do not expect her to, for I have wronged her more times than a person can sin. And if I were to meet her again, I will fully take her name in her inevitable death. But if she ever did take my name because she loved me… I will fight death with a smile.
-Memoir 65 Love and names by Tsuyuzaki Michiru
Fumi sighed as she looked out of the window in the moving travelling cart. Claudine was right next to her, glancing at the people that shared their space. They were lucky to find a travelling cart to take them to the nearest town, especially in that rain and storm. Fumi shouldn’t complain that it was a five day trip, and she can’t help but feel stagnated. Their sister was out there, doing whatever the villains were forcing her to do, and they were just sitting back in a cart of all places.
“I know you’re annoyed this is taking so long but we have nothing else to do,” Claudine whispered next to her, sensing Fumi’s dilemma. She felt the same thing too, but she knew travelling by foot would take longer. It was expected in some ways that the prophecies that they were raised on wouldn’t be full of easy pickings. No doubt, the heroes before them had to suffer through the ordeal of slow travel.
“Shiori’s waiting for us,” Fum mumbled. Claudine nodded, patting her arm in the act of solidarity. Shiori was waiting for them, but what could they do? Walk the rest of the journey on foot? Steal away two horses and travel on their own?
“Three more days, Fumi,” Claudine whispered, all whilst secretly wishing that it wasn’t three days and that they could get to Shiori as fast they could. Elsewhere in the world, a monkey paw finger started to curl down.
The carriage shook, and immediately Claudine’s hand fell to her sword as Fumi calmed the old ladies near them. Claudine peeked out of the window, checking both ends before realising that the carriage stopped altogether.
“Is there trouble!?” She called out, pushing past the protective blinds for a better view.
“I recommend the next time a carriage stops, you get a barrier up on the window before you poke your head out like a target.” Mahiru said as she rode down the path on a bare horse. She held onto the mane carefully as she commanded the horse to stop in front of the window. “I thought Maya taught you better than this.”
The first thing Claudine noticed was the lack of kindness in her voice. The second thing was that she was alive and away from the Kirin Temple where Claudine thought she would.
The rest of her vision fell apart to red anger, blinding Claudine as she stormed out of the cart, ignoring her sister and the other passengers inside. She didn’t notice the lack of fear in Mahiru’s eyes, the sudden change in hair or the difference in her clothing. She didn’t notice that the old simple potion shop owner was gone, and in her place like a phoenix from the ashes was an adventurer who had a prophecy under her belt.
“OOTORI MAHIRU!” Claudine yelled as soon as her feet touched the ground. Mahiru gave her a glance, looking down at her from her horse, and Claudine snarled. Her hand fell to the sword on her waist until her surroundings were tilted with a familiar green layer.
“What the Fuck, Fumi!” she yelled, forgetting that her sister wouldn’t even hear her in this state.
“Why are you here Mahiru?” Fumi glared, hand out of the window that Claudine previously occupied before grabbing their stuff properly and walking out of the cart. There was another growl next to her, and reactively Fumi placed her sister within another shield again. Fumi was as confused as Claudine was, but she knew they wouldn’t get any answers if Mahiru couldn’t speak or, in the worst-case scenario, dead.
“You don’t need to do that Fumi,” Mahiru said as she trotted up to the carriage, her back to the sisters.
If Fumi had a darker heart, she would have shot her at the back of the head with an arcane spell, but instead, she placed Claudine in another bubble the second she broke out again. Claudine would have words with her later, but she wanted to see what Mahiru would do right now. Her curiosity was the only reason why Mahiru was still alive— or at least not thrown away to Claudine’s anger.
Mahiru, however, was stupid to ignore that, barely glancing at the sisters as she laid out a free hand to the driver. “Their fare please.”
Fumi paused, stunned by the boldness that she didn’t even put Claudine back in a bubble again. Thankfully, Claudine was too stunned as well to reach for her sword. This was not the Mahiru they grew up with and hated.
“You’re joking ma’am,” The driver scoffed, his irritation transparent in his beady eyes.
“I’m not,” Mahiru continued, her voice as calm and stern as before. Fumi pinched her sleeve, wincing at the pain, still flabbergasted at the reality. This was real— Mahiru attempted to steal the driver’s hard-earned coin right in front of them. “Not when I can tell you scammed them out of their money.”
Fumi’s eyes widened, Mahiru’s eyes narrowed. “It takes 5 silvers to go to Primus and yet you charged them twice the amount per person.”
The driver sank into his seat. His guilt was easy to see against the sunlight. “Well uh, the red moon. It’s a bad omen, gotta price it higher cause of that. Can’t take any risk transporting people around.” Fumi turned back to Claudine for a moment, glancing quickly at the sound of a sword reentering its sheath. A frown marred Fumi’s focus, taking careful attention to the anger in Claudine’s face. She forgot that her sister did not like to be tricked.
Mahiru smiled, almost expecting this response, “Then you should pay me for taking away two people part of the prophecy then, for protection.”
The line, not even mentioning how it was expressed like a threat, made Fumi turn her head back. Her hand fell on Claudine’s wrist, stopping her from unsheathing the sword again. She did not trust the smile on Mahiru’s face.
“The prophecy?” Mahiru repeated, showing off her palm for a reason Fumi could not understand. Whatever the driver saw, however, rose the hair on Fumi’s skin. Something unspoken settled into the sky, throwing its weight around, making all of Fumi’s brain wired to be vigilant in case something broke out.
“Dear lord,” The driver gasped, his skin paling at sight. He fidgeted for his coin pouch, not even counting as he tossed the entire thing to Mahiru. “Here— take it and leave omen.”
Fumi watched as Mahiru caught it with ease, shifting through the coins with an amused smile. Was there a joke to that insult? What was so great at being labelled as a harbinger of bad news?
“I’m a kind person so you can have the change,” Mahiru said as she placed the coin pouch back into the driver’s hands. “I do recommend you speed up the pace just a little bit.” He nodded, taking that as a means to escape and hurried the horses to a fast trot away from the prophetic party.
It did not take long for silence to settle as Fumi watched the dust clouds evaporate— and it did not take long for the silence to break. The instant Mahiru hopped off her horse, the sharp whistle of Claudine’s blade unsheathed from the scabbard cut through the air. The wild horse seeing the weapon, fled. Its gallop fading into the dust clouds left behind.
“What the hell was that?” Claudine snarled, keeping her point towards Mahiru’s direction. Mahiru stilled, her eyes focusing on Claudine whilst occasionally glancing towards Fumi.
“Me saving you being scammed.” Mahiru explained slowly, taking out an unnamed vial from her bag. Her thumb pressed on the cork like it was a trigger to a bomb. Mahiru’s grey eyes locked with Claudine’s, and Fumi didn’t need to see her sister to know the face she was making. Claudine hated pity. “Don’t do this Claudine.”
“Fuck you Mahiru,” Claudine hissed as she lunged with an overhead swing. Mahiru popped open the bottle, flicking the liquid into the air as it solidified as a blade. Their weapons met in the centre, particles of the mixture flying out like sparks when they collided. “Why the hell are you here!?”
Mahiru smirked. The cockiness that laid bare against her cracked lips was enough to dispel the shock Fumi had at Mahiru’s weapon. “The same reason you’re here.”
The response wasn’t what Claudine wanted, seeing that she tried to power through to break the defences. It didn’t work. Her rage paved the way to sloppy mistakes, and Fumi watched as Mahiru allowed the blade to sink. The point was no longer off-centre as she circled around with a speed Fumi didn’t expect to see from someone who spent 15 years manning a near-empty shop.
“STAY THE HELL AWAY FROM SHIORI!” Claudine screamed, raising her sword again. Mahiru acted quicker, however, raising her sword as an overhead guard before shoulder bashing into Claudine’s chest. She knocked Claudine to the ground. The sword was kicked away, boot to hilt, and Fumi screamed as she entered the fight, hands raised.
They had a rule, as sisters, as acolytes— to never get into each other’s fights unless needed. Reliance on each other in combat would be a weakness. That was what their teachers preached. So they both agreed to be strong on their own individually for Shiori, and the tradition still stuck around even when Shiori was no longer needed.
“I mean the prophecy, Claudine and no—” Mahiru turned to Fumi, moving back away from Claudine with her guard up. “I won’t leave your sister alone, not when she came to me that night for help.”
“Your prophecy is over,” Fumi spat, sparks filtering through her fingertips. “Daiba Nana told me herself.” Claudine rose to her feet. A scowl laid heavy on her face, her elbows greased in the dirt. Instead of picking up her sword like Fumi expected, she nudged her at the side with her elbow.
Fumi frowned, only settling down when Claudine insisted, flaring with her eyes that screamed to stop. Reluctantly, Fumi lowered her hands, draining her magic away as she stared at Mahiru. It only then did Mahiru scoop up the potion blade, tucking away the liquid with a rubber cork.
“Maybe,” Mahiru then said, taking a deep sigh as she placed her bottle away. She didn’t step forward, only reaching out her hand, a blank mask of expressions on her face. “Your teacher thought differently two days ago when Shiori ran away.”
Fumi gasped, staggering back at not only the mark but the layers of implications that came at Mahiru’s statements. The first and perhaps the most jarring was that Nana was the one who forced Mahiru on this journey. Nana. Her mentor. The one who trained her and looked after her and taught her all she knew. All this time, she had the power to put people in a prophecy.
Fumi knew that her elusive mentor was powerful, but not like this. Prophecies were something only gods could do. At least… that was what she was taught. Then again, her teacher was the Seer… and seers had some powers of gods, so this was natural? Right?
“Mentor…” Claudine scoffed, staring at the mark like it was a personal offence. The aggravated tone snapped Fumi out of her internal thoughts, only to return at the second most jarring part of the situation. Mahiru’s new Mentor mark.
Fumi knew what it meant, and by the emotionless mask, Fumi knew Mahiru knew it too. Yet that wasn’t the most jarring thing about this. Instead, the thing that sent Fumi reeling was how calm Mahiru was, acting nonchalant as she ignored Claudine’s sneer with a shrug.
“Since Shiori isn’t here, I’m stuck teaching you two for as long as I can,” Mahiru said as she withdrew her hand.
“No.” Claudine said, the words were sharp like a knife, and already Fumi knew what she was going to say. Already, her stomach felt sick. “We already had our mentors.” Yes, Fumi wanted to say if her tongue wanted to work, yes, they had mentors, but not like this. They never had a prophecy assigned mentor.
Yes! Fumi hated Mahiru. She would hate her as much as the next person. She would hate her, never to Claudine’s personal extent. But she never wanted Mahiru to die. Not in the prophecy, not when her life was in their hands. Because that’s the role of the mentor— they were made to die.
Her teacher wanted Mahiru to die.
“And they did an incredible job teaching you how not to stay alive in a prophecy,” Mahiru bit back, not even noticing Fumi’s silent turmoil.
Claudine, in all her anger, in all her silent promises to be there for her sisters more-- she too failed to notice Fumi’s spiralling. She huffed instead, flaring her nostrils as she yelled through bared teeth. “You—”
“I survived the last prophecy when no one else did,” Mahiru snapped, cutting her off. She stared down at Claudine, her grey eyes sharing no sense of forced politeness it once did. “That should be enough of a portfolio to teach you how to last long enough to see your sister.”
“You survived because you cheated death!” Claudine howled, taking a step forward. She hated not going back to reach for her blade, but she did not trust Mahiru enough not to stab her as soon as her back was exposed. “You and that damn corrupted catalyst!”
“Hah,” Mahiru laughed, then cackled. She pushed her stray hair back, cackling so loud that the birds shrieked and flew into the air, to the point where it snapped Fumi out of her thoughts. “Maya sure likes to run her mouth when she’s a sore loser,” Mahiru sneered. “Did you know she was part of the prophecy too and she still survived. Maybe the reason it’s a tragedy was because of her.”
“FUCK OFF MAHIRU!”
“Enough!” Fumi screamed, hard and loud, as she slammed her fists together. At once, Two shields surrounded and trapped both Mahiru and Claudine, respectively. Fumi let out a heavy exhale, taking another deep breath as she popped the bubbles.
“Claudine I get your pissed but cool it,” Fumi said first, running her fingers through her hair as she glared with her eyes. Claudine matched her gaze, huffing reluctantly as she nodded. Fumi nodded back, turning to Mahiru with an equally angered gaze. “And you Mahiru, if you’re here to help us then stop agitating my damn sister and help. Whatever beef you have with our teachers leave it with them not us.”
“You’re right,” Mahiru admitted, startling Fumi, but she made an effort not to show it. Then to further Fumi’s surprise, Mahiru bowed low— not just to Fumi but to Claudine too. “My apologies for the outburst. I thought I got rid of my anger when your teacher put me in this role but—”. At this, Mahiru raised her head again. Her grey eyes were stern, determination swirling around the irises. “I didn’t go through a prophecy to get insulted. I’m the mentor, I’m here to guide the hero. The hero isn’t here. So it leaves with me and you.”
“We don’t need your help,” Claudine insisted still, her frown almost acting as a permanent expression. “And no, saving us from a small scam doesn’t count.”
Mahiru shrugged, smiling with a hint of arrogance as she glanced at the trail nearby before looking back at Fumi and Claudine. Fumi didn’t inherently trust that smile, but she knew that by law— Mahiru had to help. Mentor characters generally stay alive for as long as they are useful.
“Then how about moving faster?”
Fumi turned immediately to Claudine, catching her eye. Not much was said, the message between them already crossed by the time Mahiru could breathe. “On foot?” Fumi asked a raised brow in curiosity.
When Mahiru grinned this time, Fumi couldn’t fault it. She earned this right of arrogance, at least. “Did you really think we moved around walking all day without a form of short cut?”