When the Hero meets an entourage of other marked people, of the various roles that would help them in their journey, this company becomes The Party. The Party was a group of adventurers, often limited to five people ignoring the Catalyst or Seer that joined them as assistance. Often regarding the prophecy and other people’s perceptions, the Seer and Catalyst are nothing but tools. Therefore, they aren’t deemed as human.
But that is another can of worms one must open and then lie in.
I often wondered how genuine the connection within the Party can be. After all, it’s a bunch of different people with different backgrounds forced to unite for one goal. It’s even worse when there is an opposition of beliefs and merits and goals, as drastic infighting could be the deciding factor for the villains to win.
Come to think of it, there is rarely anyone who exists outside of their prophecy once it’s over. People often turn against each other out of hate, greed, jealousy. All before a second prophecy in their lifetime appears. So outside of the prophecy, would these sets of people even be friends? Would they be friends once they achieved their goal or died trying?
Sometimes I wish I could learn, but the prophecy never even gave me a chance.
Memoir #23 The Party. By Tsuyuzaki Michiru
It was strange, talking to other people the same age as them. Not that Fumi and her sister were isolated growing up. But it was stranger still that when Yachiyo and Ichie talked to them, they acted like nothing in the past mattered. Then again, it was to be expected— they were, by all definitions, strangers. Yet, the reality didn’t stop the inner disappointment that Fumi created and idealised growing up.
Though she wished Ichie knew when to shut up.
“You’re doing it wrong,” Ichie said, popping out from the side. Fumi grimaced when her spell scratched against the wall, the transportation rune fading out of existence. They needed to head to Port Perle, a riverside town. And according to Yachiyo— they were only a few more cave hops away from the destination.
“Well,” Ichie hummed, having the nerve to chuckle. “At least you can start over?”
It took all of Fumi’s willpower not to snap at her— they knew where Shiori was. She can’t be too mean, or else they wouldn’t help. “What are you doing here Ichie?”
“What?” Ichie grinned, the golden eyes twinkling from the soft glow of the torch in her hand. “Can’t I assist you on this fine night?”
Fumi glared at her, “It’s not—” she looked up, past the cave entrance, and the sun she was reliant on was already dying across the hill. She looked back at Ichie, scowling with a light blush on her face when Ichie smirked at her. “Don’t say a word.”
“Then shall I sing a ditty?” Ichie sang, wiggling her brows. “For a lady, thou pretty?”
If Fumi’s cheek felt warmer, she blamed it on the embarrassment or the second-hand embarrassment. Regardless, she placed a hand on her tired face and sighed. “You’re not even using the word ‘thou’ right.”
Ichie shrugged, “It’s not a no~.”
“No,” Fumi snapped instantly, pointing the finger at Ichie. “Don’t sing a song, or don’t do it around me— go back to the camp or something.”
“Technically,” Ichie mused, hand on her chin. “This is the camp— we are sleeping here tonight after dinner to cave hop.”
“Well we can’t cave hop if you’re distracting me,” Fumi growled, her patience reaching its limit. “And since I’m the only one who can do this, it’s best to leave me alone to work.”
Ichie laughed again, grinning with confidence that Fumi only saw in her own reflection or in Claudine’s expressions. “I can make the rune.”
Fumi raised a brow, “You do realise it’s a rune and not a tune right?”
Ichie frowned, stamping her feet to the ground. “I can do both! I’m good at multitasking.” It was there, Fumi realised how close the girl was to her and took a cautious step back when she last remembered what happened when she was too close.
“Come on,” Ichie pleaded, her eyes getting rounder and more watery by the second. Oh, Gods, was she about to cry? Fumi never made a girl cry before, and even if she did— she felt like Claudine would make fun of her if she found out. “We’re now a party! You gotta trust in my abilities.”
Fumi looked back at the cave entrance. From the shadows on the ground and the familiar sound of Claudine yelling, Fumi knew that they were close. Judging from the way the cave echoed as well, Fumi couldn’t shout at Ichie too or else Claudine would overreact. She took a long delicate sigh.
“Look,” she started, staring down at Ichie. “I trust your skills in playing music and theft.” The last word was hissed out roughly, her fingers squeezed on her ring between them as a reminder that yes, she hadn’t forgiven Ichie for stealing her rose ring a few days ago. “But when my sister is on the line— I’m not trusting you to get us from one place to another.”
She expected Ichie to make a fake pout. She expected her to complain or make a funny joke, or hell— even flirt with her! So when Fumi got an almost sincere rendition of puppy eyes that she had ever seen, she had no idea what to feel. Which doubled when Ichie’s voice became a whisper, almost whimpering in a way that Fumi wouldn’t call cute even if it was annoying. It was simply a play on her emotions, nothing more— said emotions were a dip in her stomach anyways.
Fumi doubled down on her cold stare, hoping that it didn’t make things worse. “Yes—” Immediately, there was a sudden tackle to her stomach, and Fumi lurched her head and hair away when the torch was too close for comfort. “What—”
She looked down, and her face bloomed from a sudden shade of red. Ichie was giving her a hug, hiding her face away with one hand around her waist and the other holding the torch away from the hug.
“ICHIE!” She screamed, her hands awkwardly to the side, her eyes darted from Ichie hugging her to the flame of the torch. “What are you—“she struggled, finishing her sentence, unsure how to even speak. It wasn’t a bad thing, but still, it caught her off guard.
Ichie lifted her head up, a sincere but playful smile graced her lips. “Cause you trust me.”
She stepped back, making space, and for the third, maybe the fourth time of this entire interaction, Fumi’s mouth dropped in disbelief. “... That’s the take away from all of this?”
“Yep!” Ichie swung on the heels of her foot, nervous laughter echoing softly around them. With her free hand, she scratched the back of her head and shot Fumi a bashful smile. “I was worried I messed up with my original impression— mind you it had to be done!” She interjected with a serious look in her eyes before that too faded away as quickly as it came. “So I’m glad you can trust me, even if it’s just for small things.”
“I…” Nothing prepared her for this. Why didn’t anything prepare her for this? This wasn’t in her exams when she got tested for prophecy stuff growing up. “Is there any reason why I shouldn’t trust you?”
Ichie shrugged, “Maybe.” She then ribbed Fumi with her elbow, smiling playfully. “But~ if you ever lose something I probably know where it is.”
And just like that, the confusion Fumi harboured disappeared. She crossed her arms and glared down at Ichie, unamused by her antics. “Don’t.”
“Oh no,” Ichie gasped, a dramatic hand to her chest. “You lost your sense of humour!”
“Don’t worry I can find it!”
Fumi let out a long tired sigh. She glanced at the cave ceiling and counted the stalagmites to keep herself sane. “Why are you even here again?”
“Like I said, is it a crime to assist a lady on this fine night?”
Fumi opened her mouth and then closed it upon staring at Ichie further. She was humming a melody, and there was a playful air around her that Fumi was already familiar with despite only knowing her for a few days. But there was something else about Ichie that made her shut up... Maybe it was the way she looked past Fumi towards the broken rune, the fire highlighting the knowledge in her eyes.
Either way, Fumi didn’t stop her when Ichie moved a step further to inspect the broken rune.
“The reason why you’re struggling with the rune is because the wall is cold,” Ichie explained as she briefly touched the cavern wall and promptly shuddered. She turned around to Fumi, bringing the torch between them closer. “When you touch it with your finger, the coldness makes it shake which is why the lines are so unsteady. Some warmth and some light might help you warm up a bit.”
“If that was it,” Fumi said, trying hard to keep her cool that such a simple overlook made everything else more difficult. “You should’ve answered that in the first place.”
Ichie cracked a grin, doing her best to hide her chuckles. “But then where’s the fun?” Fumi rolled her eyes, and Ichie laughed harder. “There’s more to life than the prophecy you know. When things get dark you need to either make your own light, or just embrace what light you have.”
“Interesting.” Fumi hummed under her breath, focusing instead on the rune now that she had one problem out of the way. “The phrase I heard growing up is that when things get dark be weary of light since monsters glow in the dark.”
It was something Nana warned her about, and why when she was younger, she used to be afraid of the dark until she got better with her magic. The dark held many mysteries and dangers, so it was better to be wary of it when something wanted to be seen. In her thoughts, however, Fumi didn’t notice the way Ichie stiffened, the smile dead during her quote.
“Ah well,” Ichie laughed, quiet in a way that wasn’t noticed with the echoes of the cave. “Ahaha…” It was the dying laugh that got Fumi’s attention, and there was a grimacing smile on Ichie’s face as she looked at Fumi. “That’s kinda grim don’t you think? There’s nothing wrong with having some optimism and maybe that light is asking for help? Y’know like a flare.”
Fumi hummed under her breath, tilting her head in thought. “I guess... I never realised it could be seen like that.”
Something in Ichie’s eyes sparkled, and her smile perked up as if there was nothing wrong, to begin with. “Isn’t that what an adventure is for?” She asked, shifting her position slightly so she could face Fumi head-on. “To meet new people and learn different things and different perspectives?”
Fumi nodded her head. Maybe Ichie was right. There was too much she didn’t know. Considering the mutated Bard mark Ichie had or the new Watcher mark, there clearly was more for her to learn. “Yeah… say, do you have any other advice on how to make this whole process easier, do you?”
This time when Ichie smiled and started to get into her space, talking her mouth off with improvements and how to make the rune, Fumi didn’t mind it.
Claudine wouldn’t say she hated the new people, but she certainly didn’t enjoy their company. Then again, it might just be Yachiyo’s company. Ichie was irritating since she always liked to hum under her breath, but at least Ichie didn’t narrow her down to one physical aspect of her.
“Hey there, Muscles.”
Speak of the devil, and they would appear.
Claudine glanced up, giving her usual glare before she returned back to lighting the fire. “What do you want, Yachiyo?”
“Oh would you look at that,” Yachiyo grinned with that infuriating teasing tilt in her voice? In the corner of her eye, Claudine watched as Yachiyo sat down in a log nearby and stretched. “You actually responded this time~.”
Claudine scowled, turning her head to focus on the flint and steel she had. She did not like that her cheeks felt warm when there was no fire yet. It wasn’t entirely her fault, and she’s not dense like Fumi. Yachiyo, for all her annoying personality, was good looking, and what was worse was that they both knew it.
“What?” Yachiyo continued the chin on the palm of her hand, elbow on her knee. “They don’t teach fun back at the Temple?”
Claudine reeled back, “How did you!—” the surprise crumbled the second Yachiyo glanced at her mark, and she scowled. “Oh never mind.” She hated that Yachiyo got her mark before she did, especially when it was something unorthodox like the ‘Watcher’-- whatever that meant. Claudine scratched the flint harshly, and sparks spewed out— alighting the kindle with the flame needed.
Yachiyo whistled appreciatively, Claudine ignored it as she stood. She glared once more at Yachiyo before scowling when Yachiyo winked back. She had a feeling this would be the routine between them.
“I don’t know,” Claudine spat, “I don’t care.”
Yachiyo shook her head, unsatisfied with that answer. “Come on, she’s the Mentor, she’s here to teach us something.”
“I don’t need it,” Claudine grumbled instinctively. She looked back at the cave nearby, catching a glimpse of Ichie’s and Fumi’s shadows in the distance. She hoped that her sister would fare better with her pink-haired menace.
“Good thing you’re not the only one in this party.”
Yachiyo shook her head, “Don’t worry about it.”
Claudine held back a growl and crossed her arm as she sighed underneath her breath, “Well, she’s off doing something on her own. So I don’t care. She’s not my mentor anyways.”
“Right,” Yachiyo laughed, her head tilting up the night sky ahead. Claudine’s jaw clenched, seeing Yachiyo roll her eyes and the way her lips smiled like there was a joke she didn’t know. “You were trained for this.”
“Lay off with the sarcasm please,” Claudine snapped. Yachiyo raised a brow at her, and the arrogance made Claudine’s fists clench. “I don’t question how you knew the prophecy so—” Claudine’s eyes widened. “Hang on. How did you know the prophecy?”
At this, Yachiyo burst into a loud cackle of laughter. “What happened to ‘I don’t question how you knew the prophecy?’”
“Question redacted,” Claudine answered flippantly. Her hand fell to the hilt of her blade strapped to her belt as she sat down, away from Yachiyo. She didn’t spot the way Yachiyo’s eyes followed the movement, nor did she spot the flash of seriousness dash across her face. “Be as sarcastic as you want.”
When Yachiyo laughed, there was a subtle change as it sobered quietly. “Still,” Claudine continued, none the wiser. “Answer the question.”
“Alright,” Yachiyo mused, her wicked grin stretching the scar on her cheek. “But you won’t like it.”
Claudine sat up closer, and she ignored the massive scar on Yachiyo’s face to look into her eyes directly. “That’s for me to decide.”
Amused, Yachiyo gave a quiet chuckle. “Ichie sang it.”
“Ichie, the Bard—” Yachiyo explained. “She sang it, a divine intervention happened a few years ago and I was there with her.”
Claudine leapt to her feet, her jaw on the floor and a finger pointing accusingly at Yachiyo. “But how—!” There was no way they could learn from divine intervention, not when they weren’t even a major character like a Catalyst or a Seer! “You-- the prophecy only started recently!”
“Time works differently when you’re a neutral party,” an old tired voice explained from the bushes. Claudine and Yachiyo turned around, and whilst Yachiyo gave a friendly wave, Claudine’s glower intensified. Mahiru ignored her, however, and continued to walk closer to the fire, continuing her explanation. “And everyone has a different starting point.”
Yachiyo shifted to the side, freeing up a place on the log for Mahiru to sit. “Oh there you are Mahiru.”
Mahiru smiled gratefully and sat next to her. Meanwhile, Claudine scowled. “And where have you been?”
The smile on Mahiru dimmed as she gave a polite but infuriating glance at Claudine. “I made some wards.” As always, the tension between them was thick and tense as usual.
“Protection wards?” Yachiyo asked, snapping the two out of the staring contest.
“What else is there?” Claudine said. The only wards that were of any use were protection runes, it was something that was for Fumi, but that didn’t mean Claudine was an idiot and didn’t know anything. She was more than her strength.
“Illusion wards,” Yachiyo replied. She took out a dagger from her pocket and dragged the knife into the wooden bark. It was a small branding, but Claudine couldn’t help but gasp in surprise when it made the colour change from brown to red. Yachiyo slipped her knife away with a smug grin. “They help mask where we are.”
“It’s impressive,” Mahiru murmured, a finger tracing over the innings and carvings of the rune. “But I’m not that proficient in that.”
It was something that Fumi wasn’t proficient in either. There was no need for illusions when they both thought they would be the Hero. There was no need to lie. So the fact that Yachiyo brought it up… sure it was useful now but was it before? And if so, was it beneficial to all of them or Yachiyo solely?
“It’s alright,” Yachiyo shrugged, “I’ll do it after dinner.” Claudine bit the inside of her cheek, keeping that little tidbit in mind. “Do you have any Glamour potions?”
Claudine perked up. Why on earth would Yachiyo need a stealth potion when she already was going to use illusion runes? “Glamour?”
“It acts as a conduit for runes,” Mahiru explained, going through her bag and tossing over a potion. “It’s not needed to make a rune but if you want to make a rune with a good base, it sets things up quicker.”
Yachiyo nodded, giving Mahiru a light-hearted salute with her fingers. She tucked the potion deep into the pockets of her jackets. “Thank you, Mentor figure.”
Immediately, Claudine snapped to the entrance of the cave, a hand directly on her hilt. “What is your friend doing?”
“What she does best,” Yachiyo smiled, though Claudine didn’t miss how her eyes fell to her sword. Their eyes met as Yachiyo glanced upwards. “Don’t worry about it.”
Sensing the deeper glare from Mahiru, Claudine moved her hand back, away from the hilt, biting back a growl. “That’s my sister she’s harassing.”
“And that’s my friend you’re accusing,” Yachiyo snapped back, the nonchalant smile and attitude gone. Her green eyes almost glowed in the firelight like a poison cloud. At least that’s what it felt like. That stare alone was suffocating her. “Ichie’s fine, besides you should be more worried about yourself than your sister.”
Claudine reeled back, a hand on her chest in accusation. “Me?”
“I mean,” Yachiyo shrugged, taking in a deep breath. “You’re not doing much are you?”
Claudine clicked her tongue, a bark of a laugh leaving her throat in a low cold tone. “The nerve…”
Yachiyo raised a brow, “Do you want to prove me wrong? Or are you just going to stand there offended, or maybe someone else should do that too on your behalf?”
“Sharp words for someone saying they’re here to help us.”
“Help, not hold your hands—” Yachiyo clarified before her eyes roamed over Claudine’s body. The wicked grin on her face intensified, and adding to the insult, she laid out her palm near her and winked. “But if you want to do that, Muscles, buy me dinner first.”
Claudine hated how warm her face felt, even when she knew the heat came from anger and nothing else. “You!”
“We’re back!” Ichie called, dragging Fumi in tow, their arms linked together. Claudine died down instantly, her anger dying down the second she saw Fumi— then the frown turned to an amused smirk when she saw how red Fumi’s face was. “We left the torch there for ease of light.”
In the presence of others, Fumi untangled her arm from Ichie. “I told you,” she hissed, “You didn’t need to drag me back.”
“Come on,” Ichie pouted— “What did we say about new experiences?”
“That doesn’t mean you need to spontaneously drag me everywhere!”
Instantly, Ichie wiggled her brows, leaning in closer with a teasing laugh. “Oh I could’ve dragged you anywhere?”
Whatever anyone else could’ve said, however, vanished at the sound of laughter. Claudine turned her head, and there was Mahiru, smiling at all of them with mirth in her eyes. “Sorry,” she grinned, tiny giggles escaping her apologies. “You four just reminded me of the old party.”
“Old party?” Both Yachiyo and Claudine asked in unison before they snapped their eyes on each other in surprise.
“SEE—” Ichie gasped, poking Fumi’s arm with her finger. “I told you we’re a party.”
Fumi grabbed her hand before she could poke her again. “I never said we weren’t!”
“Aww they grow up so fast,” Yachiyo cried, faking the tears as she looked proudly at Ichie. “I leave you alone with a pretty face and you’re already holding her hand.”
Despite herself and how she felt about Yachiyo, Claudine burst into laughter as Fumi burned, instantly letting go of Ichie’s hand. Ichie, in turn, laughed quieter than usual as she settled down next to Yahiyo.
“I’m going to set up some runes,” Fumi declared, quickly walking into the darkness.
“Mahiru already set some up you idiot!”
“THEN I’LL CHECK UP ON THEM THEN, KURO!” Fumi screamed back whilst her sister cackled even more.
“Kuro?” Yachiyo asked, her green eyes holding nothing but genuine curiosity. Claudine looked away from her, not surprised that Ichie was sitting close to Mahiru and asking quiet questions. Most likely about the last prophecy, something Claudine had already caught her doing before.
Seeing that there was nothing else to do, Claudine sat next to Yachiyo and nodded. “But you’re not allowed to call me that.”
Yachiyo shrugged, her lips wearing her usual cat-like smirk. “Fine by me, Muscles.”
Claudine shook her head. “God I hate you—” That being said, there was a slight smile on Claudine’s face when she looked back at Yachiyo. “But nice one.” Because kids their age didn’t talk to them much growing up, and the fact they held such high positions in the Temple, not many people would speak to them— let alone tease Fumi like that. It was a refreshing sight.
“Thanks…” Between them, the fire crackled quietly. The silence was surprisingly comforting, but it wasn’t long until Yachiyo spoke again. “Sorry for saying you didn’t do anything.” Claudine looked at her, surprised at the way Yachiyo scratched the back of her head and looked away. “I get… protective.”
That was something Claudine could understand, her status as the eldest meant that despite the small hours difference, Fumi looked up to her. Once upon a time, Shiori did too, but now that she didn’t, or it was because she didn’t, Fumi’s eyes for some sort of guidance was obvious.
“Are you sure you’re not sisters?”
Yachiyo barked out a laugh, turning her head to watch Ichie talk using her hand gestures wildly. “Considering we’ve both had crushes on each other when we’re kids, I sure hope we aren’t.”
Claudine blinked. “Wait you—”
“It was at different occasions and we’re not dating now,” Yachiyo interjected before Claudine could misunderstand anything else. “It wouldn’t work out.”
“No, I was more surprised you liked girls.” Instantly, Claudine covered her mouth, cursing her mouth who moved too fast and too blunt for her to stop it. Yachiyo burst out laughing. “Yachiyo, shut up.”
“And I thought you were observant,” Yachiyo wheezed, a hand grabbing her stomach. “Ichie—” she called tears in her eyes. “We got this one wrong. She’s blind as shit.”
“SHUT UP YACHIYO!”