It is a sinister line comparing humans to animals. Starting them small as the line suggests. It is nothing but cruel and mocking. Yet. It is not wrong. Manifestation of powers, especially for those within the Villains mark, begins young. No Villain is the same, and to make matters worse, the power they wield is never weak.
It is why, similar to a Catalyst, they are labelled monsters.
There is nothing more terrifying than seeing a child, a height to your knees— have the strength to murder a man. Or set an entire fire ablaze.
Monsters are not afraid of other monsters, however.
Training Rui, though I will never label her that horrific title— will be difficult. Not because she is a villain— it’s easy to be a villain. It’s effortless to be cruel and have little care of the world. No, the hardest thing for anyone to do regardless of their marked status— is to be compassionate, just and most importantly, kind not only to others but also to themselves.
Memoir 61: Training by Tsuzuyaki Michiru
There was one lesson Michiru preached time and time again. To be kind. It was, in Rui’s honest opinion— something she wished she said less. It was predictable, the way Michiru would fall back to that lecture.
You must be kind. You must be understanding. You must have compassion. Those were the words Rui grew up hearing and will hear continuously. Even though Rui would never hear a reason why beyond the fact it would keep you sane, and it would keep her human. It’s a philosophy she would never fully understand.
Maybe it was the effects of the Villain mark, maybe it was the way— for once in her life, the kindness Michiru is giving freely is stabbing Rui in the back. It was Michiru’s kindness, after all, that forced Rui into this awkward position of teaching the Hero all the tricks she needed to kill her.
It was so stupid.
Stupid kind philopshy, stupid Michiru. Stupid Hero, stupid fucking prophecy. She hated everything. But still, she had a job to do.
“Before we begin,” Rui said as she tightened the knots on her gloves. Shiori was right in front of her, her long hair tied up and already in a decent fighting stance. “I need to know how skilled you are, or at least how badly you’re going to lie to me.” Shiori’s frown intensified, and her body stiffened, alert. A good start, but nothing really beneficial. If you were too stiff, you would fall over the second you were hit. A minute passed, and Rui rolled her eyes when she got the silent treatment.
Stupid Hero. Stupid Michiru. Stupid kindness. How could she even be ‘kind’ if Shiori wouldn’t even let her? It looked like she wouldn’t teach Shiori the way Michiru taught her. Well, at least she could blame Shiori and the killing glare in her eyes.
“Alright,” Rui sighed as she pulled the scarf around her neck and set it to the side. “If you want to play that game, we’ll play that game.” She raised her hands up, and the second Shiori shifted to accommodate her, Rui pounced.
If the Hero wasn’t going to talk, it was up to the Villain to make her talk.
The first jab to the head was blocked, but the follow up one to the stomach wasn’t. In the inn, they fought a decent fight, but Rui wasn’t going to underestimate her anymore. There was a gasp, heave of breath, and Rui grappled Shiori under her arms as her form crumbled. Instantly, Rui gripped her hair and pulled it up to her mouth, ignoring the sharp winces under her.
“Listen to me Hero,” she hissed. “Michiru wants me to go easy on you, but we don’t have all fucking day and I don’t have the time to deal with anything stupid. So you either work with me here and listen or you get the hard way. Do you understand?”
Rui waited. The response was still heavy but stabilised breathing and a muted growl. Rui yanked her hair again until there was a cry. She let go, taking that as Shiori’s answer. “Good.” She shoved Shiori away from her and smirked when, as she thought, Shiori fell down because of rigid form.
“The first thing I’m going to teach you—” Was all Rui could get out before wind erupted in her face. The sudden blast launched her backwards. Each attempt of breath was cut off, almost like choking, whilst the cold washed all over like the rain. Then her back slammed into a tree, and everything burned until nothing was left but soot and ash.
“Hello?” Said a voice from a blurred vision. Something was spinning— everything was ringing. Was that the scent of fire? Smoked wood?
“Rui— are you alright?” A voice again. There was a pressure on her skin— on her—
On instinct, Rui grabbed the hand on her shoulder, snarling with her fangs bare and her red eyes glowing. “Don’t touch my back.” Just like that, her vision cleared, and in the grip of her ruined gloves and nails that dug just a bit more than it should be, was the bleeding hand of Shiori.
“I’m sorry?” Shiori gasped, her skin pale as she gawked at Rui, her body tilting back in the familiar reaction of fear before she looked away at her hand. Rui let her go.
“Next time, wear gloves.”
“Next time?” Shiori asked, almost affronted and then offended by the notion that this would be a common thing.
“Yeah,” Rui snapped, taking her time to stand before she glanced down at Shiori, still gripping her bloodied wrist. Something, probably Michiru, whispered in her ear about kindness and against everything else claimed such action was stupid— Rui put a hand to her pocket, glad that the health potion wasn’t broken and tossed it over.
Shiori caught it, Rui turned away. She couldn’t look down at her hands, not when she could see the blood still clinging to the tips of her own fingers. “I get sharp nails so if you’re going to even pull that stupid stunt, wear some protection.”
“What—” Shiori laughed as she rose to her feet, the empty potion bottle in her other hand. Her bloodied hand was healed, and what red was there was beginning to dry and crack against her fingerprints. “You mean saving your life because when I found you, you were unconscious? That stupid stunt?”
Rui snarled, whipping around and using her height to tower over her. “I mean that fucking thing with the wind. I didn’t realise it in the inn but that explained everything. Sorry I made you bleed but you don’t get to blast me 20 feet away because you had a stiff stance.”
Shiori glared, green eyes holding nothing but resentment. She stepped closer, tilting her chin up to even what little distance was between them in height. “Well you didn’t need to punch me!”
“Oh so should I just sit you down and baby you?” Rui mocked, pulling a face until she growled once more. She gripped Shiori’s jacket before Shiori quickly pushed the hand away. “Even though I know you could throw a punch, greenie.”
The green eyes glowed with a violent shade of viridian. “Shut up!”
Even though Rui knew what Shiori’s power was, she couldn’t help but step back, hands to her face, when the wind whirled around her. The speed was inconsistent. The power was raging hot and cold. Shiori had no control over her strength, and it showed. Rui knew from her own experience how monstrous a wild display of powers could be, how much damage it could do to the area around them.
She had to stop this. Not because it’s from what little goodness she had for the Hero, but because if she didn’t keep an eye on Shiori, people could get hurt. Michiru, who has no mark, could… Rui growled, smoke hissing from the flares of her nostrils as she took a deep breath and screamed. The heat of her anger burned all the breeze around them.
“See!” She screamed, grabbing Shiori with enough force to snap her out of the concentrated gaze. Around them, branches and pulled apart bushes with thousands of clumps of dirt rained down. “This is what I’m talking about,” Rui spat whilst Shiori looked around with the audacity and stupidity to be shocked that her actions had consequences. “This stupid stunt is what I’m talking about. You’re a hazard. A danger. So control yourself or else I will make you.”
This was going to be a tough and long battle but damn it. Rui wasn’t going to be outdone by a Hero who had no idea what they were doing.
Shiori’s mothers died. Michiru didn’t expect it, or rather— she didn’t want to assume that they died. Reo and Aina, their names that Michiru could recall after that night— they were good people. They were kind people.
Not anyone would welcome a broken and dying set of strangers on their doorsteps one stormy night. Not anyone would look at *Michiru* specifically, whose broken powers of a catalyst— her decay was already eroding the rust on the nails, breaking away the hinge of the back door. Not anyone would claim with the similar boldness of a warrior, who was once a hero, that they were friends on the first meeting.
Gods. Michiru could only hope that they lived past the plague that struck whilst she was there. Was it a coincidence that when they appeared, such a plague affected the entire city or was that the Gods flaying an already decaying horse? Either way— Michiru needed to pay her respects.
They were good people. And even if Michiru only met them and knew them for a little over a month, Michiru dearly missed them.
Whilst Rui and Shiori were having their first session, Michiru excused herself, claiming to go ingredients hunting and moved deeper into the forest. Michiru always liked the forests. Everything good and bad happened here. Everything important in her life claimed its stage on these earthy leaf trodden grounds. However, none of that compared to how Michiru belonged in such a land. Each step she took, something broke down, and it would benefit the ecosystem at large.
Decay was nature in the forest. If she were to die, she would not mind such land for a burial. But Michiru knew better to bring that up now, especially towards Rui, and yet she couldn’t let the thought leave her mind. Maybe it was because she had no mark. Maybe it might be because she was going to plant flowers for Reo and Aina. Though in the end, it might be because death hung over her shoulder like the kind arm of an old friend.
“This should do,” Michiru murmured to herself as she wandered into a small clearing, it was bare with the saplings of trees, and there were the footprints of deers on the grass. The sun shined down in this spot, and there were stones nearby. With a careful hand, Michiru brushed the hair out of her hand and took off her long coat. Then, she rolled up her sleeves, dug her hands deep into the soft dirt, and began to carefully sculpt the earth.
She wouldn’t do this all the time, but the first impression post mortem was always important. The same way she was taught to say only good things in her final breath: The last words alive are your first words to death.
“I’m sorry that I left so suddenly,” Michiru said as she began to outline the small 2 by 2 plot of land for five with her hands, the dirt rotting underneath her skin. “I hope your deaths were kind as the lives you lived, Aina.” She finished one plot and did another one. “Reo.”
“I hope you don’t mind that I do one for others too,” she continued, “It’s been a while since I planted flowers for them and gave my respects. I hope you don’t mind the company.” Michiru then paused, looking over her progress before letting out a bitter laugh as she continued. “Though I guess some of them didn’t want to bloom.”
Planting flowers for the dead was an old tradition, one that Michiru, for all her extended life, could never find nor trace back to the origin. She knew it was a hero who made this, but she had no idea who to thank for such a tradition.
The dead were eternal and were no longer bound by mortal realms and laws; they were everywhere. Which meant they could be buried anywhere— at least that’s how the jurisdiction went. When you plant flowers for the dead, there can be an official grave, but anyone can make a flower bed with the intention of respecting the dead for them.
An easy example is that for the last prophecy, Karen and the others were buried in a hill forever abandoned. No one knew where they were, so no one would know where their bones were kept. And yet— whenever Michiru travelled after the prophecy ended, every town she saw had these burial plots for the sake of the deceased Hero. And each plot had flowers blooming.
“Thank you for looking after me and Mahiru when we appeared,” Michiru whispered as the dirt began to fill her nails in one of the plots. “I know I said it when you were alive but it’s still important now.”
Flowers were also a way of communication. Most of the time, it was messages from the dead to the present. It was simple messages, expressed with the flower language— they couldn’t say who killed them, for example, but they could say that they loved you. That was how most of the conversations went. The words of love were always things people regretted never saying when they were alive.
“Shiori…” Michiru paused, her breath shuddering. “She has your eyes. I forgot which one of you had it— but she has your kind eyes. I don’t know about her sisters but I wish Claudine and Fumi the best.” She let out a tired laugh, the nostalgia earnest in her voice. “I highly doubt they would remember a person like me. They were always cautious kids— and rightfully so.”
Michiru shook her head, careful not to lose herself in memories again. “But that’s enough about you and my speculation. You’re probably wondering what happened to me after I disappeared huh?”
Despite the attempt and determination not to remember, her brain already was littered with the last words she said, the emotions she felt. It was an old wound acting up, a weed that kept returning in her garden.
“Where are you going, Michiru san?”
Michiru turned around, her hands tucked into her trousers. There was a satchel on her back, and the silence awaiting her answer was broken with the fragile groan of her wife on a makeshift cot nearby. It was a good question to ask, but Michiru didn’t know how to answer. She had no idea where she was going. All she knew was that it was safer for Mahiru if she wasn’t here. It was safer for everyone if she wasn’t here. She doesn’t want to kill another person she cared about so soon.
Reo, or was it Aina? One of them turned back to Mahiru. She was murmuring names, words that made not much sense. It broke Michiru’s heart to see it, so after a glimpse, she looked away, unable to bear the sight. She did this to her, and despite the fight, they had a night before, she still loved her.
“Will you be back?”
Again, another good question. Something was calling her to disappear; something was whispering in her ear that she had done enough. The Catalyst was never made to live this long, and in her case— she was never meant to live past the prophecy that killed all of them but two. Was fate finally coming back to control her? Was she destined to die now?
“I don’t know.”
Shiori’s mother nodded and offered a kind smile. “She loves you, don’t forget that okay?”
The weight on her finger, a golden band that said everything about them, ached so hard it was almost as if it was Michiru’s heart. “If she ever gets better, make sure that she knows that too okay?”
Michiru gasped, her heart palpating. In between the spaces of her fingers, there were fungi already growing— like a weed. Michiru grunted and plucked them away, throwing them far away from the barren earth.
“I’m sorry that I tainted your place like this,” she whispered, bowing to the empty land. She took a heavy sigh and continued, trying hard to tie herself back to the present.
Another thing that many people forgot when it came to this tradition was that the dead could listen. That the dead would pay every attention to anyone planting flowers for them if they wanted to. Though Michiru could understand why people forget or deny this part of the ritual, it’s a double-edged sword in this method of communication. On the one hand, there was the gentle relief that you are heard with a flower as a response. And on the other— there was nothing but torture when all the effort is returned with silence and barren land. Michiru wondered when it came to these two wives what kind of reaction she would get.
“I’m still alive, to everyone’s surprise really.” Michiru paused her careful shovelling. In her thoughts, she already moved to all of the other 2 by 2 plots. She didn’t even notice; she wondered if her decay helped. The soil was softer than usual, and even though she made this for Reo and Aina, her legs couldn’t help but crumble.
In front of her was the flower bed she made for Mahiru.
It’s taboo to do this sort of ritual and this sort of care for someone who was still alive. When you did it for the living, it was said that you would be pushing them an inch closer to death. It also meant in some places, the one planting the flowers would be closer to death. Not to mention it’s a flawed and limited communication, with sources saying that it doesn’t even work. Yet what else could Michiru do?
Michiru already took her name, she has no mark, so maybe she’s already on her deathbed just waiting. Even so, Mahiru needed to know, even when this method won’t work if they’re both still alive. She needed to know, somehow, in every way Michiru could achieve that Michiru loved her. That she would always love Mahiru even when they could no longer meet. She had to know that she loved her so much that she was terrified to meet her, just in case her decay and corrupted powers speed up her life and kill her.
So even if the endeavour of planting funeral flowers for the living was selfish and ill-fated. Even if this method was spiritually taboo. Everything about them was taboo when they fell in love post prophecy. Their way of love was never right— it was never normal, and even now, to the world, it’s villainised. And yet, they were happy. What could one more sin add to their list of penance awaiting them when they both die?
“I…” Michiru took a deep breath, her throat already holding a weight, strong enough to suffocate her. She ploughed through. “You would be proud— happy.” Her chest burned. So did the old catalyst mark stretched and scarred over her waist. “Maybe… I raised the Villain. I’m sorry, I said it before but I’m so sorry.”
After a few minutes, Michiru raised her head, her exhale staggered. “The person who is fighting your daughter, I raised her.” She attempted to stand, but the ground gave away. It was too soft to hold her fully, and Michiru fell down to one knee. “I’ll try and make sure they won’t kill each other, maybe they could be friends.”
There was a hopeful, sad laugh and Michiru leaned back, staring up at the sky. “Rui hasn’t said it, but she’s getting influenced. It was the same thing Karen went through, being told by the Gods to do what they say instead of her own heart. Sure Karen managed to get it out in the end, but I don’t know how to help Rui. I think deep down, I’m making it worse. But still, I want Shiori and Rui to be friends, they would get on well if they get past their differences.”
“Wouldn’t that be nice,” Michiru laughed once more before she looked at two more plots on the other end. “Karen— Shizuha?” The sight of their empty flowerbeds sent chills to her spine, and a hand fell to where her catalyst mark lay. Despite it all, Michiru grinned through the pain.
“Do you think I can fix my mistake?” She asked sincerely. “Or do you guys still hate me after what happened with Mahiru?”
Only the breeze answered. Nothing bloomed in the overturned earth. It was something Michiru expected, but expectation did nothing to ease the way her gut twisted itself.
“Silence.” A low, bitter chuckle rang out in the silent clearing, where only a few flowers bloomed. “As expected, you’re both still holding that grudge.”
“And you,” Michiru whispered, her eyes falling to a flower bed that was already drying out, the overturned earth melding into the grass too quick to be natural. “Are you still holding that grudge?”
Michiru let out a long tired sigh. She looked over at the other flower beds, specifically the one with Mahiru. She took what small victory there was to gain at the saplings already growing from her words. “Well… at least it’s deserved.”
With that, Michiru picked up her bag and her stick and walked away. There is nothing left to say. The dead and the living deserve their peace. At the very least, they deserve a flowerbed that isn’t desecrated by her decay. She could only hope she could do better in this prophecy than the last.