Marks are curious things. It is said that they are there to define the roles for the narrative. Someone is marked as a Hero. Someone is marked as a villain. For the audience of gods watching, it makes it more transparent on who they should focus on. However, there are many ways to fake a mark.
The simplest way to fake having a mark is having the tattoo of a mark. Anyone who lived under a rock for the last couple of centuries, or anyone gullible, would believe the legitimacy of the faked mark. Anyone who had a brain would recognise that it is simply a copy and nothing more.
Another version is to create a brand new symbol and label it as a brand new mark. This is a more uncommon approach, for it's rare but not impossible for a mark of unknown nature to appear. The infamous Bard mark is an example of this. A few hundred years ago, it didn't exist but then one day it did, and it's been an uncommon mark ever since.
This is why the most distinct feature of a real mark, of the concrete proof that this person was chosen by the gods, that they were meant to be here— is the glow. The unnatural pulse of light in the eyes, or the way their marks would glow when their roles are being called upon. But of course, that has its own methods to be faked too.
#Memoir 5 Marks and fools by Tsuyuzaki Michiru
Yachiyo grinned to herself, watching the tavern erupt into life after Ichie disappeared. They didn't even ask where she was, and those who lined up trying to take the greenies stuff already downed their misery in a quick drink. Life was always a party when Ichie was around. That was what made them be such a good bard.
"Is Primus always this fun?" Said a voice that Yachiyo had never heard before. It was calm with a slight hint of age, weary like time itself has roughed up their throat. Yachiyo smiled, holding herself loose but aware.
"Only when the sun goes down." Yachiyo glanced at the tables that once occupied the visitors. The two blondes with their stuff were gone, and the person near them— the veteran was missing. Well, that cleared things up much more easily. "Then again, like you, I'm just a visitor."
"And how did you assume I would be a visitor?" The older lady's amusement was clear in a simple huff. Yachiyo didn't even need to turn around to register that she was right behind her, to the left side liable and close enough to stab her should she wish.
"Because if you did," Yachiyo mused, raising her hands almost inspecting it. Yet in the crowded room, with the stranger at her back, Yachiyo curled her fingers around, knives dancing in between the fingers like it was a magic trick. Mostly because it was a magic trick, a small showcase of her illusion magic that she honed in the years. "You would be scared of me."
"Maybe," The person shrugged, stepping near and around to Yachiyo's left. Yachiyo spared her a glance, holding back the casual surprise that she would expose herself so easily. "But I'm too old to be trembling with fear."
Unlike the view from a room's distance, this close Yachiyo can easily spot the subtleties that were lost before. The wrinkles around her eyes, the small but visible amount of silver hair, the determination in her eyes. But most importantly, the hidden potion tucked underneath the arm sleeve, given away by the unnatural bump near her cuffs.
"That," Yachiyo grinned, leaning against the pillar, her eyes flickering once to the bump. "And the fact you have a potion bottle hidden in your sleeves."
The veteran smirked, lowering her arm and catching the potion that rolled out of it. But Yachiyo wasn't interested in that. Instead, her eyes fell on something more interesting. The Mentor Mark, scarred on the palm of her right hand.
"So your mark isn't just for show," The veteran said, snapping Yahciyo out of her thoughts. On instinct, Yachiyo's jaw tensed despite the calm smile shining through. The grey eyes in front of her focused on the Watcher Mark on her arm. Yachiyo angled her arm enough to indulge her curiosity in the dim-lit lighting. "Though I've never seen it before."
The smile on Yachiyo's face widened, and her green eyes glinted with satisfaction. "No?" She hummed, tone light enough for a tease. "Granted I never saw yours before, Mentor." Now it was The Mentor's turn to act surprised, turning her hand around to give Yachiyo a clearer view. "I'm surprised I didn't notice."
The Mentor opened her mouth only to shut it when the crowd nearby roared with laughter as the band started to play another song once more. Just like that, the knowing atmosphere vanished and the reality that they were in a dinghy tavern full of mercenaries and people who wanted to be part of the prophecy dawned on them.
"I think this conversation is best elsewhere," The Mentor said as she placed her potion back underneath her sleeve. "Don't you agree?"
They locked eyes, and Yachiyo couldn't wipe the smug grin from her mouth. Finally, after a few days of waiting, their side of the prophecy would start to begin. "Yes. I believe we should, and I know the best place to talk." Ichie better be ready for an encore when they reach the church. The real show was about to begin.
Shiori was going to kill her, Fumi decided as she slammed the wall out of frustration. Shiori was going to kill her, she was going to turn rouge and become a villain, and it's all her fault for losing the rose ring they all had.
The most annoying thing to Fumi was that she should've seen it coming. The second they came in, music started playing. Then, she fucking appeared on the damn tables, dodging everything under her feet whilst her eyes were trained on Fumi. That should've been the first clue that she was skilled. Footwork was one of the most crucial things in a fight that many people underestimated. Fumi has been in enough spars with Claudine to recognise that.
And yet she sang her stupid sacrilegious song, smirked at her with those charming eyes and kissed her hand— Only to steal her fucking ring! Oh, and if that wasn't humiliating enough, she immediately goaded her. She sang a notoriously banned song in the Temple that was literally a week's travel away, almost as if she knew where they were raised there and fought her.
Some insignificant thief stole from her, fought her— and won. This wasn't some Veteran Mahiru who had decades of experience or Claudine getting too emotional and losing. Fumi was not her sister; she fought with her head screwed on. Fumi aimed for her constantly, shot her right in the face with magic strong enough to blind her but no— no matter what, she still kept on singing, still kept on dancing. She still kept on playing that stupid little fucking guitar and won .
Then when everything was over, she vanished into the night, taking the only connection to Shiori with her.
And to think, Fumi thought she could've been a hero... was she really that pathetic?
"--Or she'll understand that a real villain stole it away because she used a charm spell against you," Claudine said. She clamped Fumi's shoulder with her hand, pulling her up from the ground, snapping Fumi out of her thoughts just before they spiralled even more. Not that Fumi would tell Claudine that. She was her equal— to tell Kuro that she thought less of herself would only insult Claudine's worth.
"You can't call someone a villain just because they disagree with you," Fumi muttered, grateful for the small distraction as minor as it was. She didn't want to dwell on her weakness anymore longer.
"No, I'm calling them a villain for being a thief." Claudine then paused, giving Fumi a curious look as she let go of her sister. "Why are you defending them anyways?"
"Because of logistics," Fumi sighed as they continued to walk forward to a random alleyway. She tried not to focus on how empty her hand felt without the ring and how easy its absence felt in the evening breeze. "Say the right thing in the wrong way and you get a dictionary full of mistakes."
"A Daiba Nana saying?"
Fumi nodded, grateful that Claudine took the distraction like a hooked fish. "Names matter apparently, even small things like this."
Claudine grumbled, and Fumi followed her gaze to the church up ahead. "Whatever, she may not be the villain but she's still a bitch."
"That may be so, but she's a fun bitch." The unfamiliar voice, padded with the sudden addition of another, then a second footstep forced Fumi's hands to light up with magic. Basking from the green glow came the sharper reflection of emerald eyes, a coy smirk and a face that held two clawed scars on the cheek. "Also she made sure you two didn't stand out too much."
Fumi felt her eyes twitch at the new stranger, frustration bubbling a hot ire underneath her skin at the suggestion that the thief "helped them".
"Mahiru," Claudine growled, stepping up and close next to Fumi the second she noticed her twin's irritation. "Who is this?"
Fumi focused her attention on the duo behind them, now registering the second set of footprints to be the presence of Mahiru. The mentor stood near the stranger, a satisfied smile on her face. "Remember I told you about strength?"
"Mercenary who was scouted by the last prophecy's heroes," Claudine recounted. Mahiru gestured to the left of her, and the stranger did a small bow in response. Fumi's throat felt parched at the gesture, now noticing the strange mark on her left arm.
That was not a prophetic mark. It might be because of the lighting, but Fumi knew better— knew enough at least. And if they were with the person who stole her ring, it meant only one thing— She was being duped, they all were. Green eyes scanned the building, empty, abandoned houses that no one else really cared for.
In the next instant, another saying of Daiba Nana's flashed itself to the front of Fumi's mind.
"A site of ruin is another monster's nesting ground."
And Fumi froze, wondering briefly if her mentor would save her once more. Or if this would be the first time she would have to take a life, something she was trained for but never accomplished until now.
"You're joking—" Claudine laughed before the laughter stuttered when she realised Mahiru was serious, completely unaware of Fumi's own spiralling once more." Her!?" Claudine pointed at the stranger, her face twisting itself to an expression of disbelief. "She looks like a twig."
The pink-haired stranger took the insult with a light scoff and a wider grin. Her eyes flew up and down Claudine's frame and then Fumi's herself. "Well I'm sorry that not all of my muscles, brain included, are full of air balloons."
Claudine paused, her brows narrowed into a look of annoyance as her fingers clenched to a fist. "What did you imply about me?"
"Darling I didn't say anything about you," The stranger laughed, her voice coming out like a charming melody. Fumi didn't think much about it; instead, she readied herself, fingers and shoulders tense. "You implied yourself."
"Okay Mahiru," Fumi growled, knowing full well that a fight might escalate once more if she doesn't play middleman. Her heart raced, and she took a long scared exhale disguised as exasperation. Fumi cooled her features, only allowing the heated anger of her narrow stare visible in her eyes. "I'm not in a great mood right now, considering someone stole my ring so please… Can you and your new friend stop being an ass?"
"Well since you asked so nicely," the stranger said, stepping forward with a gloved hand outstretched. Fumi took it, pulling back her magic as she felt the leathery texture of her gloves grasping onto hers. “Tsuruhime Yachiyo, The Watcher.”
Immediately, Fumi flushed her green magic forward, up and over Yachiyo's arm as a bubble isolated them from the world. Claudine banged the outside wall almost instantly. But she still failed to learn, even after all the times she was trapped there, was that Fumi's bubbles can only break from the inside unless the outside force was more powerful than herself.
"Liar," she accused, snarling the word out as Yachiyo stared down at her with a calm, collected gaze.
"I memorised all the marks growing up," Fumi growled, gripping the hands roughly, hard enough to squeeze the bones out of the skin. "The Watcher isn't one of them."
Yachiyo gave a cruel cold laugh, tilting her head back with a slight sneer. She did not mention the tight grip Fumi had on her arms, not that she needed to. Wisps of magenta flowed down the corners of her eyes like tear tracks, and on the crude "Watcher's Mark", a glow pulsed, draining Fumi's face with all of her colours.
A glowing mark as proof of verification. Whether Fumi wanted to admit it or not, this 'Watcher' was part of the prophecy, Shiori's prophecy.
"Well," Yachiyo smirked, her once arrogant smile turned condescending now since she had the skills to back it up. "You must be working with old data then because unlike you two, I already got my mark."
"Impossible," Fumi gasped, yanking her hand away from Yachiyo like it was a hot iron, or at least she tried to. Yachiyo's grip on her hand tightened the second she attempted to flee. Fumi held back the wince as Yachiyo returned her previous gesture twice as hard. "The prophecy started only a couple days ago."
"You didn't know that some marks can be with people when they're born?" Yachiyo tutted, caressing the words with a pitying nature. She finally let go, and Fumi yanked her hand back, massaging the wrist. Yachiyo stepped back, took out a vial from her bag and spilt it over her side of the bubble.
In shock and horror, Fumi watched as her bubble didn't shatter like before with Claudine and Shiori but dissolved, melted until it was goo. Yachiyo popped the cork back on, not even using all of her potions and grinned. "Your tutelage must be really outdated."
"What the fuck—"
Fumi raised her hand out, forcing Claudine in her tracks. Her eyes locked onto Claudine, and immediately her sister simmered. This was not her fight to deal with, not this time.
"If you're the Watcher, a role we never heard about— what are you here for?"
Yachiyo smiled all too knowingly as she placed her potion into her spatial bag. "I watch the prophecy," she explained in a casual tone that undermined the entire thing's significance. Like the gods making a new role, a new mark wasn't a big deal. "I make notes on other people, I'm a casual observer. Think of it like a Guide but more knowledgeable."
Fumi frowned, mulling the words over her head, once then twice, to make sure she didn't miss anything. So far, it was unfortunately up to standard. "So it's a Guide mutation?"
"No not really," Yachiyo let out an amused chuckle, crossing her arms over her chest as she observed Fumi more closely. "And I'm surprised you know about mutations but I'm certainly no fraud. I know things even you two would know but never shared."
Fumi couldn't help but sneer. What would a stranger know that would surprise not only herself, Claudine and their education but Mahiru, the veteran. "Oh yeah?"
Yachiyo's lips widened like a cat pleased for a good meal. "Your heroic sister is far north of the river by the way, a charming blonde so I heard."
Before Fumi could stop her, Claudine shoved Yachiyo up against a wall/ She cuffed her hands and slammed it over Yachiyo's head with one hand. With her spare hand, she pointed a dagger at Yachiyo's throat. "How do you know about Shiori?"
"I'm the Watcher," Yachiyo grinned, but Fumi was pleased to recognise the telltale signs of hidden wince. Though she will admit, Yachiyo had an annoyingly better poker face than her. "And considering this is the finale of all prophecies: " The ending of this all will turn the stage of the world on its head" sort of deal, a new role shouldn't be that big of a stretch right?"
Claudine edged the blade closer, delicately balancing the blade's tip on the cloth around Yachiyo's neck. "I don't trust you."
"I wouldn't trust me either, muscles."
There was too much to think about. Suddenly 'The Watcher' existed, that she was friends with the person who stole her ring. The fact that she knew the prophecy and got her mark before they ever did. It was all too overwhelming, and she didn't trust Yachiyo either, yet Yachiyo knew where her sister was.
"Kuro back down," Fumi sighed, ignoring her own headache to focus on Shiori's well being. "She knows where Shiori is."
"Vaguely," Yachiyo said as she began to dust the dirt off her now after Claudine let her go and stalked her way back to Fumi. "Though she's not important right now."
Fumi blinked. How on earth can anything be more important than Shiori? The goddamn Hero of the prophecy? "I'm sorry?"
"Don't you want to find your ring? I know where my partner is."
Right. Yachiyo knew the little thief. Fumi growled under her breath, staring at Yachiyo with a hardened gaze. "Where is she?"
"A sister who gets too hot headed and a sister who becomes too cool," Yachiyo laughed as she turned around, spinning a finger around. She walked with ease, a sprint in her step, oozing with confidence. "The Gods must be loving this scene," she murmured underneath her breath, something that Fumi had a feeling she wasn't supposed to hear. Either way, she filed that little knowledge away.
"Just take us to her."
To Fumi's surprise, Yachiyo led them to a little church they were already walking towards. She held the large wooden doors' rusted metal handles and glanced back before throwing the doors wide open. Dust clouds rolled to the sides, almost bowing as they stepped past.
Inside there were the expected but rotting wooden pews and broken glass shards on the floor. The pillars were lined with torchlight, and the broken steeple allowed the altar at the very front to be bathed with moonlight. Small rivers of past rainwater dripped down the steps, fading to the side to one of the pews.
Now that there was no ruckus of the tavern, Fumi could fully take in the person in front of her, the thief who stole away something so precious from her. Fumi expected a slender build, mystery in every sense. A rouge, at least. What she got was a girl that looked no older than her and Claudine sitting on the damn altar itself with a leg dangling off the floor.
Her hair was wild, unruly and reluctantly tamed with the short scruffy ponytail. The colour itself was unnatural, pink bordering lavender, an ahoge curled high above the mess. Her face held youth, but the dark grey padded sleeveless tunic exposed the faint scars across her lean arms showed her experience.
On her lap was a jacket long-sleeved with a dark colour. Fumi could see a pair of leather gloves to the right, which meant her eyes immediately fell on the rose ring, still on her right hand, on the finger.
"Oh?" The annoying thief grinned, almost a cat-like smirk that made Fumi's blood boil. She didn't like that she immediately thought of the tavern and how close she was when she first saw those golden eyes up close. "Whose this?" Oh, that little—
Knowing better to attack with magic inside a church (superstition can be a deadly thing), Fumi lunged at her, only to be held back by Claudine. Her sister drew her arms up, almost lifting her away as Fumi kicked her feet at the thief. The recognition dawned in the stranger's eyes.
"Oooh~" she giggled, admiring the rose ring once more before looking directly into Fumi's eyes. "It's me indeed~ Otonashi Ichie is the name you need to yell out for an encore by the way~."
"You're the one that tried to rob us," Fumi snarled, her feet no longer fighting, yet Claudine continued to dangle her just above the ground.
"And now you're the one who tried to assault me," The thief teased, sticking out her tongue as she hopped off the altar. Fumi gawked at her, not only at the audacity but also at the fact that she tried to play the victim. "So I guess we can be considered even?"
"Don't tell me she's part of the prophecy," Claudine groaned, not looking at Mahiru but past her towards Yachiyo.
At the words, Ichie perked up. Her eyes glanced at Mahiru's hand, the golden eyes hesitating before the grin continued to widen. Fumi didn't let that action go, not when it proved that Ichie knew what the Mentor of the prophecy meant. "So you're the sisters…."
Claudine dropped her in an instant. Fumi stumbled on the landing, acting on instinct to grab hold of Claudine's arm. Not only to steady herself but also to stop Claudine from attacking Ichie. "How the hell do you know about Shiori already?" Claudine growled.
"Shiori…" Ichie mused. She turned around and grabbed the neck of the guitar. She swung it around, wearing the strap as she fumbled with the handles. "Sounds heroic enough,"
"Shiori," Ichie sang with a roguish smile, "Oh blessed child~."
Fumi already had a headache. "Shut up."
"Awww," Ichie pouted as she stopped playing. She leaned on the altar, the pout returning to her usual smile. "And I thought you're here for a little encore and introduction."
Fumi shook her head, stepping out into the moonlight as she reached her hand out to Ichie. "I'm here for my fucking ring."
Ichie gasped, a hand on her chest as she looked at Fumi with wide eyes. "Language," she gasped, and Fumi felt the corners of her eyes twitch once more. "And in a church no less."
"Ichie~" Yachiyo warned behind them.
"Alright alright," Ichie said as she slipped the ring off and tossed it towards Fumi. Fumi caught it with one hand. "Sorry for being a tease~ They say you can learn a lot about a person when they're irritated."
"And why do we need to know you?" Fumi asked, raising her hand to the moonlight. She inspected it before putting it on, the tension stuck in her shoulders easing away once she learned it wasn't damaged in any way. The weight of the ring on her hand was nothing but kindness.
"Really?" Ichie asked, genuine surprise seeping out. "It should be obvious by now, I mean with the whole singing and dancing and well, knowing who you guys are before you even came."
Fumi frowned at the list of hints. She glanced at her sister only to find Claudine was equally confused. Then came a gasp from behind them, and Fumi snapped her head to Mahiru, recognition in her grey eyes. "You're the bard."
"Ding ding ding~."
"You're joking," Claudine sighed, exasperated but probably not as tired as Fumi felt. "She's not the Bard, please tell me she's not the bard."
Fumi would've agreed with her, focusing on the mark on Ichie's shoulder. The Bard Mark didn't look like that from the books she read. Most marks form an UpperCase letter, never the lower case. The way it was designed made it look more like a rip off banjo tattoo than anything prophetic. If anything, it looked similar to a different mark entirely, but that was too big of a jump for Fumi to stomach.
"Would a bard--" Ichie whispered, her golden eyes glinting in the moonlight. It was akin to a reverse eclipse, the sun overshadowing the moon in all its glory. "--The infamous storyteller of a prophecy know that you two lived in the temple for most of your lives?"
Fumi tensed on reflex, her fingertips lighting up with her magical essence. Something on her chest felt heavy, like the weight of Ichie's casual words were shoved brutally against her. Yet despite it all, Fumi couldn't look away, not when her attention was so effortless caught by Ichie's knowing grin. She was getting too close.
"That on the day of the prophecy a lightning struck you down in a little alchemy shop and you were saved by a shield of pink energy?"
"How did you—"
Ichie placed a finger on Fumi's lips, respectfully silencing her before removing it a second later. "I know what you're thinking," she mused as she grabbed hold of Fumi's jacket and dusted it off. Fumi stood still, unsure how to act in such a situation. Was this a seduction? A display of power? "That my mark doesn't look like other marks of bards you probably studied."
Fumi could barely listen, too focused on the way her clothes got tugged every now and again. Her eyes fell to Claudine's nearby and almost glared at the way Claudine didn't even look too worried for her safety. Instead, she was smirking at her, a dubious raised brow that suggested things Fumi didn't even want to consider.
"You're probably thinking that I'm a fraud," Ichie whispered, a sudden sensation graced the shell of Fumi's ear, and she jolted, a hot flash of heat pulsing underneath her cheeks. Did she just?
Ichie stepped back, too amused at the reaction, yet the smile all too confirmed what Fumi thought. And yet, Fumi had no chance to even think about the action when another unfamiliar sensation grazed over her hand. She looked down, surprised but also not at the way Ichie held her hand. Instinctively she looked up, catching the smirk in Ichie's golden eyes pulsing yellow light.
"The same way my friend is with her Watcher Mark," Ichie crooned as her rough fingers traced the back of Fumi's knuckles. One by one, slow in a way that could be stopped, Ichie curled the glowing fingers down to Fumi's palm, respectively extinguishing the magic on the tips.
That alone should be a warning sign for Fumi that something was wrong, that this was something dangerous. And yet, Fumi did not seem to learn from the tavern. Her eyes were not focused on the glow of Ichie's bard mark and the simple inconsistency one would only see up close. Instead, she was fixated by Ichie's eyes and the smirk that played coyly on her chapped lips.
"But I'll tell you now, you won't get through the prophecy alive without either of us."
Ichie pushed the closed up fist back into Fumi's chest, hard enough to make Fumi jolt. Jarring enough to make Fumi realise that she was caught off guard and stepped back like Ichie was a stove on fire she needed to pull her hand from.
Ichie let her go with a cruel chuckle, waving her fingers one by one like a taunt. "Not when you're both unmarked."
"Of course," Mahiru sighed, sombre, and her eyes flickered to the right as another longer resigned sigh left her lips once more. Something unspoken rested there, something heavy that Fumi couldn't focus on, not currently with her mind wrapped up on Ichie's recent actions. "That's where we need to go."
"Unfortunately," Yachiyo chuckled, a sad smile on her face as she looked at both Claudine and Fumi, lingering more on the latter. "So forget your sister for now. She's safe where she is and no I can't tell you where, you both need to worry about yourself first. Because the way I see it, you two won't last long in this story."
Fumi cleared her throat, ignoring Ichie in favour of Yachiyo. "Where do we need to go?"
Ichie giggled, swinging her guitar around the front once more. "Have you two sisters ever heard of the Waterfall of Truth?"