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Cataclysm

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In any part of a prophecy, the most dangerous thing is the consistency of human greed. It is also perhaps the most balanced enemy for either party because the abstract concept is expressed most neutrally. This danger can both impact the villain narrative and the hero narrative. In the beginning, in the end, and certainly in the middle. However, it’s most dangerous is in between the differing prophecies in every intermission. 

 

This is because greed is the most dangerous in the hands of Mark Hunters. These are people who desire to be marked and part of the pivoted prophecy. These are monsters in human flesh who would torch villages to create a tragic and inhumane massacre that brandishes a child to a villain. 

 

It steals away broken families and slaughters people marked in the futile attempt to steal their position. They lurk around the waterfalls of truth to be ordained in a pool of blood that is not their own. There are so many variants of these “Mark Hunters”. It is simply better to distrust all than to be backstabbed for the sake of greed and envy. 

 

#Memoir 34 - Mark Hunter by Tsuyuzaki Michiru

 

~

 

It was strange being within another party again. It almost made Mahiru feel nostalgic. Though she knew now what it was like being introduced to instead of introducing themselves. Though Yachiyo and Ichie were interesting. 

 

They grew up together, raised in a distant northern village, so far away that Mahiru wouldn’t know the name on a map. They were not sisters, even when their hair looked so similar, a coincidence apparently. But, according to Ichie, they had a calling to head down south, which they finally did after 4 years of leaving their hometown and headed to Primus. 

 

However, what was most nostalgic was not watching Ichie and Fumi bicker. Or the way Yachiyo explained the various differences between Claudine’s map and her own personal map. Or the ways they argued and bantered around the fire pit like the rest of the old party. 

 

It was, in fact, the nostalgia that came from how Mahiru kept a distance from the main party— it reminded her of Michiru. The catalyst kept her distance back in her day, only coming close to eat and when she was needed. Mahiru did the same thing. She offered her assistance, answered any questions. She kept her word to Claudine and Fumi, and they did the same— neither of them brought up much of the Temple. 

 

Each night, to Mahiru’s own surprise— Ichie knew the symbol for cave hopping and actually helped Fumi with her own runes. Though to Mahiru, it made too much sense that she knew— in fact, Mahiru wouldn’t be surprised if she knew too much. Ichie was always glancing at her when she thought she wasn’t looking. Her eyes held something unreadable— too often, too much. It was subtle enough that Claudine and Fumi wouldn’t pick it up, but it was telling enough for Mahiru to know. 

 

Likewise, Yachiyo did the same. She was eyeing her, the curiosity dimmed by the flicker of an impish grin and a foolish wink. It was all a jest, a playful show. The obvious ring on her finger was enough of a respectful deterrence, and Yachiyo respected that. Interestingly, Mahiru knew they had potions— yet she never saw them prepare anything at night. Deep down, she wondered how she got them. 

 

Claudine kept her distance, long unapologetic glares that almost dared anyone to question why. No one asked why, however, and Mahiru was content with that. Fumi, on the other hand… Fumi did the opposite for once, compared to her sister. She tried to get closer. She was the only person attempting to have a conversation that wasn’t Ichie or Yachiyo’s simmering curiosity.

 

(“Mahiru?” Fumi asked, once again in a starless night. They were near the riverbed, away from Ichie and Yachiyo and, most importantly, Claudine. “Do you like mushrooms?” Mahiru spared her glance, partially amused by how Fumi took that response and winced in return. “Shiori uh told me, and I thought maybe you would uh….” She faltered after that, shoving the mushroom into her hands before stalking off. “Don’t stay by the river for too long. Claudine wanted me to keep a check on you.”) 

 

It was awkward— clumsy. Mahiru knew from the first word what Fumi wanted. And she would’ve answered the unspoken question had Fumi actually admitted Shiori’s name without making it sound either a regret— or a crime. 

 

Before they knew it, after a couple of days of harmless getting to know each other (Ichie and Yachiyo were around the twin’s ages, Yachiyo being older than Ichie). And a bunch of mild teaching of the terrain and simple foraging. (Ichie doesn’t like mushrooms, which amused Mahiru had it not for the fact mushrooms remind her too much of Michiru). They finally made it back to a place Mahiru didn’t expect to see for quite a while. 

 

“Finally,” Yachiyo sighed as they walked along the worn-out dirt footpath, into the sight of a small town and the sound of river gulls and shouting. “Port Perle.”

 

“Perle?” Mahiru watched Claudine perk up, her eyes level against the busy terrain. There is a satisfied, almost arrogant smile playing on her lips. Mahiru rolled her eyes at the sight, looking away with a hidden sigh when she caught Fumi with the same expression. She wondered what it would take for them to take it seriously, that the prophecy wasn’t a fun adventure like they were raised to believe. 

 

“As in that elysion prophecy?” Fumi asked, her excitement innocent and naive in all of its bitter ignorance. It’s almost like a beacon and only made their sheltered lifestyle more prominent. Mahiru did not miss the way Ichie and Yachiyo eyed each other, a silent conversation spoken with a grimace. 

 

“Sure,” Yachiyo said, not caring at all if the story was real or not. “So guard your wallets and your—” She turned to Mahiru only to laugh when Mahiru already raised her hand, glove worn and mentor mark hidden to the world. “Right, a veteran— no need to tell you anything.”

 

However, the charm in her eyes became colder, sobering with a glare as she looked between Fumi and Claudine. “You two, keep your wits about. You’ll lose your life easily in this town.”

 

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Claudine scoffed, a hand on her sword hilt. “Shouldn’t these places be an act of servitude or at least help?”

 

 Yachiyo’s eyes widened, and she cackled, muffling her laugh by stuffing her hand into her fist. Ichie shook her head too, amused as they paused to the side of the path. She picked up her guitar, slung from her back and tuned it. 

 

“Maybe,” Ichie said as Yachiyo started to control herself. Ichie nudged her once to speed up the process before turning back to the twins. “If we were the heroes we might get help— but we’re not.” Now it was Claudine and Fumi’s turn to shuffle as much as one could shuffle from the unspoken tension loaded by such a statement. 

 

“No one knows where the Hero is,” Mahiru explained when Fumi looked at her. “So Mark Hunters take the next best thing—” She paused, gesturing to her right hand where she felt the mentor mark burning quietly underneath the leather. “The marked.” She then gestured to the sisters. “And the markless.”

 

“Okay,” Fumi sighed, pressing down against her nose bridge. “To some degree I get the marked but why markless?” She asked, glancing at Mahiru and then to the others. “Isn’t that everyone?”

 

“For the markless, it’s to get rid of the competition.” Mahiru wasn’t there when Karen and the others went to the waterfall of truth to get marked; she was the last to be recruited in the prophecy. But she heard enough stories; she knew enough of the threats. “For the marked people, marks would lead you to the Hero.” 

 

“Which is the best thing to assume,” Ichie pointed out as she strummed her guitar, testing out the sounds of her chords. Mahiru looked at her, not surprised at the faint metallic glint of the sword hidden within the hollowness. “Lest they want to take your mark.” 

 

Claudine’s eyes widened. “They want to take your what—” 

 

“Another time, another time—” Yachiyo waved them off, gesturing to them to continue along the path. “We’re losing daylight here.” 

 

“Wait,” Fumi stopped, pointing at Yachiyo and then at Ichie’s marks still on display across their upper arms. “How come your marks are fine?” 

 

“Because we’re regulars,” Yachiyo gave her a smug smile, flipping out a dagger stored from the inside of her vest. She flipped the weapon in her hand, juggling it before throwing it to a tree. The blade landed with a thud, wobbling from the strength until Mahiru walked over and pulled it out. “And people know not to mess with us.” 

 

“And they think we’re faking our marks like everyone else,” Ichie continued as she ran over and took the dagger from Mahiru’s hand. She threw it towards Yachiyo, the dagger spinning in a way that made it look impossible to catch. But Yachiyo simply raised her arm and caught it mid-air. Mahiru had the urge to clap at the display. 

 

“The problem comes with you three.” Yachiyo looked again at Mahiru then shook her head. “Well no, not Mahiru— just you two greenies.” She sheathed her dagger and patted both of them on the back before walking ahead. “Two sheltered looking idiots, in a town full of a lot of history and no Hero in sight. Just call yourself fresh bait and you’ll easily swim with the fishes by nightfall.”

 

Fumi winced, taking in her attire and Claudine’s. “It’s not that bad is it?”

 

“Oh it’s bad,” Ichie grinned. “Trust me when we first saw you walk in the pub I was already making bets on who’s going to rob you before my mark told us you were important.”

 

Fumi rolled her eyes, and her eyes fell on her rose ring still on her fingers. She slipped her hands into her pockets as she sighed to hide the gesture. “Gee how kind.”

 

“Which is why we’re updating your looks whilst we’re here.” Yachiyo turned on her heel, facing the rest of them as she walked backwards before batting her eyelashes at Claudine. “Actually, it’s just your look mi amour.”

 

“Mi Amore,” Ichie corrected and left ignored in the background. 

 

Claudine frowned, not even bothering to acknowledge the blatant flirt. She knew enough of Yachiyo to know she was just being a teasing ass again. Still, Claudine looked at her iron chest plate and the heavy iron casting she wore across her body. “What’s wrong with my armour?”

 

“It’s heavy—” Yachiyo clarified. She walked over and knocked on the metal, rapping it with the pads of her knuckles. The muffled sound made Ichie’s eyes lit up with a hint of mischief. Thankfully, Fumi noticed and had the foresight to stretch her arm out to stop her. “Perfect for a fight, not perfect for rough terrain. It will weigh you down. Leather armour and some padding would work fine as a replacement.”

 

“We’re not going to spend 3 hours looking for some armour.”

 

“We don’t need to,” Yachiyo grinned. She held her arms next, grasping the muscles and giving them a light squeeze. Her eyes marvelled at the strength. “I can easily tell your size with just a look. Your chest is considerably average considering your arms, and your height.”

 

Instantly heat flared from Claudine’s face as she pushed Yachiyo to the side. “I’m sorry!?” 

 

Mahiru giggled at the antics as the sight in front of her shifted, memory overlapping reality. Instead of Claudine and Yachiyo riling her up, there was the embodiment of strength and the sheltered healer.

 

The smile on Mahiru’s face wavered at the memory, sobering her enough to return to reality as she cleared her throat. “I prefer to spend my time shopping for potion ingredients if you don’t mind. Although, I passed through here before, I don’t think much would have changed.”

 

“I don’t mind,” Yachiyo shrugged. “But stay safe still.”

 

“Speaking of safety, I’m going to busk for some new information.” Ichie gave everyone a cunning smile as her fingers danced up and down the guitar strings, creating a tune so captivating birds flew down to rest on the branches nearby. 

 

Ichie paused her music, grinning at the audience before finishing it off with a bow to flourish. “I’ll be down by the left docks so I won’t go shopping with guys for new kits--Oh!” Ichie clicked her fingers before she rushed to Yachiyo’s side and dived her hand into her spatial bag. “Yachiyo I will need you to buy me a honey pot.”

 

Yachiyo’s eyes widened as she nearly stopped herself from falling by the sudden attack. “Ichie,” she growled. “I swear if you ruin my organised sets there!”

 

Mahiru raised her hand. “If you want I can go get that—” 

 

“No, no it’s fine,” Yachiyo sighed as Ichie took out a red vial, something Mahiru couldn’t spot before she tucked it away into a pocket. “Ichie here is picky with honey pots— anyways which one?”

 

“The shop in the far left, the medium size jar,” Ichie grinned. “Even though I like the larger ones like the window store honeypots, like the ones that’s about 60 mint gold coins but they’re hard to carry.” Ichie sighed as they finally went through the gates of Port Perle’s town. “Honestly between you and me, they should be worth 45 mint coins.”

 

“Right—” Yachiyo said, lingering the sound as she looked up at the docks ahead of them. “How much does that cost again?” 

 

She was eyeing left, and Mahiru followed her gaze. Funny enough, there weren’t any shops with honey from her vision. In fact, there was only one boat docked. It had two floors but wasn’t considered huge by any matter. Almost like it was a river houseboat if the house was a small cottage house.

 

“Does anyone understand what they’re saying?” Claudine asked, almost to air as she looked at the duo with a confused stare. Mahiru hummed under her breath, her brows furrowing. The honeypot meant something— but she forgot  what  it meant. The numbers themselves didn’t sound random either, almost sounding off.

 

“30 mint!” Ichie exclaimed. “Especially when you take the midday 00 discount.” She caught Fumi’s confused eyes and grinned, nudging her with her elbow. “The owner is eccentric,” she explained. “He likes to give discounts on the 00 hours on clocks.”

 

Fumi gave her an incredulous look. “Why are you telling me this?”

 

Something in Ichie’s eyes glinted as she winked at her. “I’m not.”

 

“But you—” Ichie turned around and ran into the docks, waving the rest of the party goodbye. “...and she’s already gone.”

 

“She’s a fast one,” Yachiyo laughed. “Come on, the quicker we get this the quicker we’ll be out of this place and on the river.”

 


 

“What was that about?” Claudine asked the second Yachiyo pulled her away for her armour fitting. Fumi went with Mahiru to go and buy potion ingredients, seeing that no one should really be left alone. They were walking through narrow alleyways now, children in rags ran around them, and Yachiyo had a habit, Claudine noticed, of putting her hand on her bag. 

 

“What’s what about?” Yachiyo mirrored back, glancing between a junction before turning the corner. No one seemed to notice them, but occasionally there was a glance towards their direction before turning around as if nothing or no one was there.  

 

“The honey pot— the numbers?” There were so much more Claudine could list. So many things she noticed when they thought she wasn’t looking. The way they glanced at each other, the way something unspoken whispered in their eyes. 

 

“Calling things Mint gold,” she continued as they passed a worn down archway. Graffiti dressed the decaying walls, almost acting as a visual bandage to the acidic spots splattered about. “There isn’t such a thing like that.”

 

“Look at you being smart,” Yachiyo giggled, smiling again with that coyish look. Claudine rolled her eyes, too aware that it didn’t mean anything for it to be flattering. “Didn’t realise you had brains with that amour.” 

 

“Again with the amour,” Claudine grumbled under her breath, her cheeks slightly pink from embarrassment. It was annoying that it was the one thing that made her stand out and look inexperienced. The armour worked well on her, and it brought her ample protection. But the way she noticed no one else wearing plate armour made her self conscious, in a way she hadn’t felt in a long time. 

 

What was the most annoying thing, perhaps, was how it made her look like an idiot. 

 

“Look,” Claudine sighed as they stopped near what looked like a tailor store. “I’m not an idiot yknow.” Yachiyo looked at her, a brow raised, and Claudine felt her cheeks flush. “I’m not some beef addled hero with no brain.” 

 

Yachiyo gave her an understanding smile. “Of course not,” she said sympathetically before she poked her bicep with a mischievous grin. “This meat could be pork for all we know.” With that, she opened the door to the shop and stepped, Claudine, following close behind with a sigh. 

 

“Are you always this annoying?” Behind Claudine, as the doors closed, the doorbell finally chimed. The annoyance faded quickly as her heels slowly turned, taking in the store and the way it was full to the brim with armour, dresses, shin guards and even daggers. 

 

“Hey—” Yachiyo called, almost sounding insulted. “Annoying is Ichie. I’m more a cunning femme fetale.”

 

Claudine stopped her admiration to snort, looking up and down at Yachiyo to assess her further. In the end, she raised her own brow like Yachiyo did before. “Femme fetale?”

 

“Chitose!” 

 

Claudine whirled her head again, barely stepping aside fast enough for a barrel of greying and faded out lavender hair jumping on Yachiyo with a massive hug. 

 

“Ahh Setsuna,” Yachiyo— Chitose laughed as she returned the gesture. “How’s the eye?” Only when Setsuna moved her head back did Claudine understand the question. Her right eye was missing, replaced with an eyepatch designed like an ornate metal flower. 

 

“Which one?” She giggled. “The living or the dead?” She glanced at Claudine, or at least Claudine could only assume that. She was on the side with the eye patch, and she looked away in fear that she was staring. 

 

Yachiyo smiled, easy as ever, as she placed Setsuna down on the floor. “Whilst I would love to play Schrödinger’s eye, we’re a bit busy right now.”

 

“Alright alright,” Setsuna laughed again before she walked around the staff side of the shop. “Where’s the bard?”

 

Yachiyo shrugged, taking out a paper from her pocket and a pencil from the can on the desk. “Ichie is busking, per usual.”

 

Setsuna clicked her tongue and gave a sober nod. “Gotcha, how much do you think she’ll get?”

 

“45 mint gold,” Yachiyo answered, almost like clockwork. She put the pencil to the side and slid the paper forward. “So I’ll need some leather armour with some padding as soon as possible, here’s the measurements.”

 

Setsuna laughed, the sound almost like barking as she peered into the paper closer. “Straight to the point as always Chitose,” she called as she turned around and walked down a set of steps Claudine didn’t see before. 

 

The second the door echoed below them, Claudine turned to Yachiyo. “Chitose?”

 

Yachiyo huffed, the smile still calm on her face. She placed a hand on her hip, eyeing Claudine with a gaze that almost looked like she was staring into her soul. “Never heard of a fake name Kuro?”

 

Kuro blinked. “How did you know—” She shut herself up as the door opened again and Setsuna came up the stairs, in her arms holding fresh leather armour. 

 

“Alright, leather armour,” She sighed as she dropped it on the counter. “Padding included.” Claudine stepped forward, glancing at Yachiyo and Setsuna before picking up the leather itself to inspect it. It was well made, crafted with care, and when Claudine knocked on the surface, the sound that echoed back at her only cemented its high quality.  

 

“Just realised Chitose,” Setsuna giggled, wiggling her brows. “The size is larger than your usual, did your chest grow out or did you have a potion—”

 

Instantly Yachiyo cackled, “Please, we don’t need another reason for people to get on our tail.” She nudged Claudine with her elbow, gesturing once more with her thumb for good measure. “Besides, the armour girl here is taking it.”

 

Setsuna turned to Claudine. Claudine struggled not to keep glancing at her eye path. “Alright, how much?”

 

Setsuna, however, noticed the glances and grinned wider. “1000 gold.”

 

A moment passed. Claudine turned to Yachiyo with a serious look in her eyes. “You’re getting scammed.”

 

“Pft—” Yachiyo held a hand to her mouth, muffling the sound before she sighed and dropped it. “You just don’t know how to haggle.” She patted down her clothes, a serious flicker in her eyes. “Setsuna, fine armour she’s wearing isn’t she—”

 

“If you’re expecting a trade don’t bother,” Setsuna interrupted, a frown across her old face. “No one here is dumb enough to wear that much iron. Not unless you expect you think things will go south—” Her eyes narrowed, and a chill spiked the air. Claudine looked around, the glass in some cases fogging over. She turned to Yachiyo, unsurprised but equally confused at the sharp look with its unreadable expression. “Everyone saw the blood moon.” 

 

“Of course you did,” Yachiyo said, acting unphased. The sharp gaze retracted, and a small curious smile played on her lips once more. “So did Tsukumo the blacksmith.” Claudine didn’t know who that person was, but she saw the way Setsuna froze in place, her face rigid as her skeleton. Interestingly enough, Yachiyo’s mark didn’t glow. “This can make at least 5 swords or 15 daggers. Good quality iron too.”

 

A long beat passed. “250.”

 

“You’re getting quality time with Tsukumo, 100.”

 

“150.”

 

“125.”

 

“150 and I’ll keep quiet.”

 

“Deal.”

 

They shook on it. 

 

“What was that about?” Claudine asked; the conversation and the exchange speed lost on her. 

 

“Haggling—” Yachiyo grinned as Setsuna went back down the stairs before coming back up with a screen. Yachiyo assisted her by pulling it over the counter before placing it in the corner of the room. “A social skill you need, now strip.”

 

Hot ragged air flushed Claudine’s cheeks scarlet red from the bluntness. “EXCUSE ME!?”

 

“Keep your voice down and strip,” Yachiyo repeated again. “Or else you’re paying 1000 gold for some armour.” 

 

“I suggest listening to her,” Setsuna said out of nowhere. Claudine jumped, her hand to the chest. Then, with the crow lines on her forehead, wrinkles around her eyes, Setsuna gave her a small smile as she looked at Yachiyo. “She’s alive for this long for a reason.”

 

Claudine’s brows furrowed. She looked back at Yachiyo, her mind whirling with thoughts, confused at what made her so special. Sure she wasn’t the Hero, and maybe her expectations were quickly losing steam on this journey she studied her whole life, but that didn’t make them that different. Right? 

 

“And that’s an achievement because...?”

 

“Pfft.” Setsuna clapped Claudine’s back hard, clutching her side in a crow-like cackle. “No wonder you agreed to keep me quiet about this sheltered kid.”

 

“What does that mean….” Claudine blinked, alarm bells ringing in the back of her head. However, she couldn’t figure things out, not when she was pushed and rushed to get behind the screen. But one thing was certain, something was off about Ichie and Yachiyo, and once she gained her mark, she would be the first to figure them out. 

 


 

From what Ichie knew, Port Perle wasn’t the worst place to be. Actually, no, there are many horrible things about the river dock town, but it was better than Primus. Then again, Ichie never liked Primus— she always hated being too close to the infamous Kirin Temple. 

 

For the sake of keeping the peace, Ichie would never say that to Claudine or Fumi, but there was something dark about that place. She did not like how death clung to the place. She did not like how old the stench was. But Ichie didn’t have time to worry about that, not when something bigger was at stake. 

 

Ichie peered around the corner, eyes narrowing at the wanted posters that may or may not have her face on them. She checked her surroundings, blending in with the sidewalk as she tore it apart as she walked. This was why she didn’t like Perle like its namesake; it was too good with its history. That and how many Mark Hunters prowled around looking for prey. Thankfully, Ichie’s destination was close by for her to scurry away and hide. 

 

 Tsukumo’s blacksmith, a fine place for anyone worth their coin. It was the only blacksmith who did the dealings inside a shop instead of the open market style, granted most of the blacksmith was outside in a fenced back. Shifting her guitar strap that most of it covered up her mark, Ichie pulled the door open to the familiar chimes of bells. 

 

“Setsuna, if that’s you, please come at a different time. Today is a busy day,” called an old, almost tired voice that sighed with age. Tsukumo was at the back of the shop, considering the echo and the banging of metal. 

 

Ichie grinned, her eyes glancing around with relief that the shop was empty. Out of her better judgment, she lowered her hood. “Not Setsuna but you did say I would look like her if I lost any limbs.”

 

Something at the very back tumbled to the floor before another thing slammed open. There, with googles up her forehead, soot and smoke dragging its black stain over toned arms and sleeves were Tsukumo. Her aged dark green eyes stared at her like she was a fish, mouth hung open in shock. 

 

“You shouldn’t be here.”

 

Ichie frowned. “That’s not really nice to say to someone after a year, Tsukumo.”

 

Tsukumo ignored the comment, racing over to the curtains and shutting the blinds. She went to the door, opened it for the barest of slits and turned over the open sign to a close before shutting it with a secure sound of a lock. She then turned and faced Ichie, a heavy glower on her face. 

 

“I mean it Ichie, you should not be here.”

 

Ichie did not miss the threat in her voice nor the frequent glances to the windows. She shifted where she stood, her hand reaching the cuffs of her hood. On her lips played a sad smile. “The prophecy started Tsukumo.”

 

Instead of sympathy Tsukumo’s glare intensified. “I don’t care Ichie, I mean hell— you probably saw the walls on your way here.” Her hands raised to her head, her fingers pushing at the sides as she slumped down to a spare seat nearby. “They’re hunting you down, you and Chistose. The bounty has doubled since everyone and their mother saw the blood moon.”

 

Ichie raised her hood again, hiding how her lips shook with an easy grin. “Good thing I’m not an easy catch right?” There was a long beat of silence, too long for Ichie to keep the facade for long. “You’re not… you haven’t snitched on us have you?” 

 

“They offered me a lot of gold—” Ichie’s breath hitched, her hands flying to her guitar strap to swing out her sword just in case. “But no, I didn’t say anything.” 

 

Ichie slammed a hand hard on the counter, the other hand pressed against her chest, her body sagged forward. “Do not—” she whined, looking at Tsukumo with a plea. “Do not scare me like that please for the love of Gods.”

 

“Oh please,” Tsukumo drawled, rolling her eyes. “I’m rather insulted that you think that I’m willing to snitch out on two kids—” Tsukumo looked back at Ichie, deep concern in her eyes as she got out of her seat. “Hang on— what are you even doing here Ichie? And without Chitose to keep looking out for you?”

 

Ignoring Tsukumo’s attempt at a warning before it devolved to a sigh, Ichie looked out the window. Her keen eyes specifically sought out the massive ship in the middle and then the one at the far end that was nothing but a small boathouse. “Honey Pot, and I’m the bait.”

 

Honey Pot was a term used to defend from thieves and steal from others. All anyone needed was a big target to act as bait whilst others would steal something smaller of less value. It was one of the more dangerous sets between her and Yachiyo, but when it worked, it worked like a charm. Even if that meant Ichie had to play bait and risk her life and livelihood. 

 

“Lord, why are you like this,” Tsukumo asked, not even trying for an answer as she stalked to the back of her shop. 

 

“Tsukumo?”

 

“Stay there and try not to die Ichie!” Ichie laughed at the comment, knowing too well that she wouldn’t die anytime soon. Still, she raised her hand out for a salute, one that Tsumuko glared at when she came back with a notebook. 

 

“You came here for information didn’t you?”

 

Ichie reached into her pocket and pulled out a small bag of coins. She slid it over the counter with a cheerful smile that didn’t match the mood of the shop. “And also to say goodbye, I think you and Setsuna should move elsewhere after this— just in case things go south.”

 

Tsukumo eyed the pouch warily, slowly reaching out to it before she juggled it in her hand. It was heavy. “For the prophecy, or for you Ichie?”

 

Ichie gave a dark chuckle, “Is there a difference?” 

 

“Ichie…”

 

Ichie bowed low, blinking away the tears forming in the corners of her eyes. “Thank you for looking after me and Yachiyo and saving us when we could’ve died. You know how important I am to the prophecy and I can’t guarantee anyone’s safety so please, be happy before anything else happens.”

 

Ichie expected tearful eyes and that old-person look for seriousness. Instead, she got Tsukumo looking at her like she said something weird. “Yachiyo?”

 

Ichie winced, hiding the awkward laugh as she raised her head. “Chitose’s real name, you don’t need to worry about me though, I’m the dumb one who said her real name first.”

 

Tsumuko gave a tired chuckle, “And this is why Chitose— Yachiyo,” she quickly amended. “Needs to keep an eye on you, you’re bound to do something stupid when she’s not here.” They stayed there in the comfortable silence before Tsukumo pushed the notebook forward. 

 

“Take it for free, and travel fast to the Waterfalls of truth. Everyone who wants to be someone already left to try and get inside so you better take a back entrance if you know any.” 

 

Ichie nodded, taking the book and quickly flipping through the pages. “Anything else?” 

 

“They won’t be fooled by that little doodle on your mark, Ichie,” Tsukumo warned, leaning over the counter to emphasise her point. “Not when it’s so sloppily drawn like that— what is it even supposed to be anyways?”

 

“A bard,” Ichie said flippantly as she stored the notebook away to a safe place in her inner vest pockets. On her arm, her Bard Mark glowed, except not all of it pulsed with light. A small fracture, shaped in another mark entirely, was alighted with a pink-tinted layer.

 

 “I figured that would be enticing enough but if they could see the smaller details.” Ichie shrugged as she turned around, giving Tsukumo one last wave goodbye. “That just means I’m a better bait right?”