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Cataclysm

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There are three ways to gain the mark of the prophecy. The first is to be born with it. This is common for secondary performance roles but high in importance, such as the Seer, the Catalyst and the Bard. There are also rare occasions where the role is designated by birth, such as the Lovers role. 

 

The second way is trial by fire and exposure. Something tragic will shape the life of a singular person, and the Gods will mark them as their own. This is common for the Hero and the Villain. After all, no one is born to be the incarnation of goodwill, and no one is born to be evil. These ideals are things that are taught from an external source. 

 

The third is the Waterfall of Truth. The waterfall of truth is the only known place to be hidden by the eyes of gods, and thus, it’s the only way for the nature of fate to play a role. In these instances, people who don’t have a mark would travel to this spot in hopes to be bathed in the sacred cavern pools and emerge a changed and marked man. 

 

Personally, I believe the waterfall of truth is the cruellest method to gain a mark. More blood has been spilt on those lands than the former choices combined. At least for the other choices, one can blame the will of the gods, but for the waterfall? The only truth revealed is how monstrous we can be when we try to be more than our own humanity. 

 

~ Memoir 68 How to become Marked by Tsyuyuzaki Michiru 

 

~

 

“Ichie, I said it before and I’ll say it again,” Yachiyo sighed. “Strip.”

 

They were trapped in the Captain’s quarters, Ichie was on the bolted-down bed, and Yachiyo was strategically blocking the door. In Ichie’s hand were her acoustic guitar, and between her fingers was the door’s key, acting as a makeshift pick. 

 

The story was this, Yachiyo gave some reason why Ichie needed to go inside the ship, and when she locked the door away, Ichie stole the key. She left Mahiru in charge of steering the boat, and the sisters were doing who knows what. They’ve been on the river for a day or two, and this conversation was already too delayed due to millions of eyes, two confused sisters and one stubborn, stubborn Bard. 

 

“And I already told you,” Ichie sang, ignoring Yachiyo as she plucked the guitar strings absentmindedly. The tune was sporadic and yet there was some simple refinement. Nothing so far was out of tune or out of scale. “I’m not hurt.” At the last word Ichie looked up, sending daggers in the forms of glares, and Yachiyo glared back. 

 

For the few days they’ve been travelling with the so-called party they had, this was Ichie reasoned with. She wasn’t hit with an arrow. It was all an illusion; the red in the water was simply the arrow hitting the potion. But Yachiyo knew better, at least. She knew Ichie long enough to know better. 

 

“The more you hide it,” she reminded— a careful and almost cold tone. It was something she barely used and rarely ever at Ichie. “The more obvious you become, so as your best friend, I’m asking you politely one more time. Strip.”

 

Ichie focused on Yachiyo, her eyes no longer on her fingers. The pluck intensified. “I told you Yachiyo, I’m—” Ichie paused at the sudden thwack of a string breaking, and even Yachiyo winced at the sudden off-beat sound. “Ow.” 

 

Both looked down, Ichie was now sporting a slight red line over her fingers, and her guitar strings were broken. When they looked up again at each other, Yachiyo raised a brow, and in turn, Ichie scowled. 

 

“Alright, fine,” she muttered as she moved the guitar off her lap and pushed it to the side. Sucking her injured finger, Ichie turned around and faced the wall. Yachiyo walked over, assisting Ichie as she tugged the back of her shirt until it was no longer tucked in. She then pulled it up far enough to expose the middle of her back. 

 

“Finally,” Yachiyo whispered as she took out a first aid bag from her spatial bag and opened bandages, her special medication and a few other things. It was no surprise that Ichie was technically right with her assumption. There was no sign of bleeding, no direct scarring— to the untrained eye, it was like she was never hit at all. 

 

But there was a slight colouration of the tissue, where the skin blended itself, patching over an insertion. The colouration faded in time, but Yachiyo couldn’t help but tsk in frustration. This would be less noticeable if she had looked at it earlier. 

 

“This will be easier if you lay down, you know,” Yachiyo warned as she started to prod the marred skin gently. 

 

“I’m going to be an ass out of spite,” Ichie grumbled before she hissed when Yachiyo touched a sensitive spot. Yachiyo frowned; there was a slight lump underneath the skin. 

 

“I meant easier for you, idiot.” 

 

Ichie grumbled at the retort and slowly leaned forward, resting her head against the wall. It wasn’t the best situation, but they’ve done this in worse and far less desirable situations. Yachiyo nodded and got to work, putting on gloves before she grabbed Ichie’s medication and started to draw runes on her skin.

 

The situation was simple. Correct any mutations, fix the skin and then add glamour to speed up the process. It was something they did over and over again— apart from a few deliberate scars, Ichie needed to look untouched. It was essential to both of them if they wanted to stay alive. 

 

“It didn’t heal right,” Yachiyo explained when Ichie hissed. She threw the key to the side. Yachiyo watched it as it landed close to her. She looked ahead of the scar. The one hand wasn’t holding her shirt, and under armour, up was bunched up to a fist. 

 

“When does anything heal right with me?” Ichie joked, a bitter and dark guffaw whispering in the room. 

 

Yachiyo gave her a concerned look Ichie didn’t see and pressed her palm against the rune. At once, the blood pushed to the top of Ichie’s skin, the heat of the rune forcing the skin red. Ichie grimaced as her mark glowed violently despite its unnatural dimness. Yachiyo ignored the sight, too used to the ordeal and focused on the discolouration and the small, subtle lump. 

 

She watched as the lump swelled before flattening. The second the skin was even, the discolouration shrivelled. By the time Yachiyo removed her burning hand, Ichie’s skin— though red, was clear of any scars. 

 

“I’m going to assume your blood congealed too fast,” Yachiyo said as she heaved oxygen back into her system. The cleansing rune took too much out of her, more than she expected. This didn’t bold well for either of them. “Probably due to the rush of water or something so when it healed, it became a small crystal.” 

 

Ichie nodded, lowering her shirt and tucked it once more into her pants. “When did you get a healer’s mark?” She asked, a playful smile on her face like she didn’t scrunch her hand in pain moments ago. She was always like this, hiding her pain with a smile— even now, when she knew why she was like this, it always hurt Yachiyo to see it.

 

“Ichie…” 

 

The smile on Ichie’s face dropped. It was replaced quickly by the guilty droop in her eyes, the way her eyebrows shaped and morphed into an apology. “Too soon to joke?”

 

Yachiyo shook her head— she would not deny Ichie her coping mechanisms. Not when there were worse things she could do instead of using humour. “No,” Yachiyo sighed before she fell back into the bed. “I’m just tired.”

 

Ichie shuffled around, and Yachiyo hummed in appreciation when Ichie lifted her head and placed it on her lap. Yachiyo closed her eyes, relaxing at Ichie’s skilled touch— so quick to remove her bun, so natural in carding her hair with her fingers. “You look more than tired to me.”

 

Yachiyo hummed in agreement, and her eyes opened. “I don’t think I can do this much longer.” The golden flecks of Ichie’s irises watched her, blinking with curiosity and also fear. No one else would spot that terror, not when Ichie wouldn’t let them have the luxury of being this close to notice it. 

 

Yachiyo heard Ichie gulp before she saw her throat move. She saw the pang in Ichie’s chest, reflected in the sudden shine of held back tears in her eyes before she heard her voice waver. “...what part?”

 

“Only the rune,” Yachiyo assured, raising her hand to hold Ichie’s cheek. She brushed her thumb across the lip scar, then used her fingers to wipe away the early tears. Then she laughed, taking in Ichie’s usual medication of smiling when it was supposed to hurt. “So don’t worry too much.”

 

“You’re right,” Ichie smiled, her laughter echoing Yachiyo’s just as it always had been between them. “You’re stuck with me, Watcher.”

 

The playful grin intensified, and Yachiyo pressed down on Ichie’s lip scar, laughing when Ichie squirmed away from her. “That sounds like your problem, Bard.” 

 

Ichie chuckled, grabbing Yachiyo’s wrists and pulling her away as she leaned into her face. “Good thing I’m not smart enough to solve it!”

 

Instantly, the light-hearted atmosphere dropped, and the smile faltered on Yachiyo’s face at the reference. Ichie pulled back, releasing her grip, and Yachiyo used the opportunity to sit up and face her. “Too soon?”

 

“You worried them,” Yachiyo said instead. She didn’t want to talk about the little joke, the implications that yes— Yachiyo being alive was Ichie’s problem to deal with. It was better for all of them if she deflected the conversation. 

 

 “Did I?” Ichie frowned, shifting a bit to sit next to Yachiyo, resting her head on her shoulder. Yachiyo pushed her head away lightly, moving her now loose hair to the side so that Ichie didn’t lean on it. It’s been a while since she let her hair down like this.

 

“Fumi went below deck,” Yachiyo explained. “Claudine screamed at me—” Yachiyo stopped herself, fingers in her hair as she looked beyond the door. She placed her hand down to the surface of the bed. The cold metal of the king tucked in between the space of her fingers. “I’m not used to other people caring.”

 

“What about Setsuna and—”

 

Yachiyo shook her head, “I’m not used to people caring about us when  they don’t know .”

 

Ichie looked down. “Oh…”

 

“They’re very….” Yachiyo looked back at Ichie again, touching her shoulder and pressing the space lightly. Ichie looked up. The breath she held exhaled the second she met Yachiyo’s eyes. There Yachiyo thinks back to the way Claudine snarled the word Catalyst like it was the name of the devil. She thinks back to the cold brutal stare Fumi mirrored. In the golden eyes of Ichie, Yachiyo could see Michiru’s blond tresses in the iris. 

 

“Rigid.” She managed to get out in the end, “They’re going to flip when they find out.”

 

Ichie shook her head. Yachiyo followed her gaze and was unsurprised when it fell to their scarred, messy arms. “You don’t know that.”

 

Yachiyo moved her hand from the shoulder, holding Ichie’s hand. Their fingers intertwined as she squeezed. Then, softly, with gentle care, Yachiyo broke the harsh news. “They thought Catalysts were monsters.”

 

Ichie squeezed her hand. Yachiyo looked to her, just catching the part when Ichie turned to look elsewhere. A beat passed, the weight in the air wasn’t suffocating, but it made it harder for Yachiyo to keep her eye on Ichie. It was so easy to look down, look away. “...Everyone thinks that.”

 

“I don’t.”

 

A low chuckle, a sound just on the edge of hope, tumbled from Ichie’s scarred lips. “You’re not everyone.” 

 

She turned back to Yachiyo, the faintest of smiles on her face. The relief rolled down Yachiyo’s shoulders, releasing them from the tenseness. The smile faltered slightly before it expanded once more. The light in her eyes was dim, but it was there. That alone was good enough.

 

  “I know you’re worried, Yachiyo, but I think….” Ichie squeezed their fingers together, Yachiyo held that warmth close. “We can trust these people.”

 

“Would you trust them with my life?” 

 

Ichie nodded like it was the easiest thing to do. “I won’t in the moment,” she quickly clarified. “But until we get there— yes, I trust them. They trust us, don’t they?”

 

“I guess…” Yachiyo murmured before she let go of Ichie’s hand. She stood up against the bed, her arms stretching before she fixed her hair back into the bun. “Alright, but we need to learn more about them— I don’t trust whatever the temple taught them.” After all, hatred was a learned skill, and it seemed that both Fumi and Claudine excelled in their studies. 

 

Ichie shrugged. “Fine by me.” She picked up her guitar, fixing the strings before quickly making sure it was in tune. “I’ll handle Fumi.”

 

Somehow, the comment and decision weren’t surprising. Yachiyo chuckled quietly to herself, reaching the locked door with her key before turning back to her friend. “Ichie?”

 

“Hmm?”

 

“Why didn’t you let me look at it?” Ichie stiffened, her head snapped to Yachiyo. They both still had their smiles, and the unspoken layers swam in tension all the way to their eyes. “We both knew you got hit, so why hide it from me?”

 

“It’s simple,” Ichie said after a silence that lasted forever. “When you fix my mistakes it takes a toll on you.” 

 


 

The ride to the Waterfalls of Truth was quiet, kinda. There was never real silence on the ship, not when Ichie was around. Though it’s only been a week or two since she met her, Fumi had a feeling she had known Ichie for years. That might be because it’s Ichie, because of that easy casual, friendly vibe she always gave.

 

 Which was why it said everything when Ichie acted like whatever happened to her was normal. Getting chased? Sure— Diving off high places? Maybe it was a hobby, but doing both? And getting shot and acting fine like she was never hurt? That was harder to swallow. 

 

Sure Fumi can just chalk this abnormality because Ichie was the Bard. There’s not much research on them or notes or memoirs about what a Bard does and their limitations, so it could be something she didn’t know. Bard or not, though, that didn’t stop the sunken emotion in the depth of the belly. The uncomfortableness of how comfortable Ichie was to get chased down, acting as bait, almost getting killed to get them a boat. 

 

Then there’s the revelation that Nana willingly shot lightning at Mahiru’s shop and almost killed her. Or the haunting question that if Nana didn’t save her, who did? And why? Would Ichie know because she’s the Bard? Would Yachiyo know because she was the Watcher, whatever that meant?

 

“Kuro?” Fumi asked, fiddling with the straps of her gloves to ease her racing heart. She doesn’t want to look weak in front of Claudine, not when it would make Claudine weak in comparison. 

 

Claudine was sitting near her, hand on the fishing rod, whilst Fumi looked at the surroundings near them. There was nothing but trees, maybe an animal on the river bed and more trees. “Hmm?”

 

Fumi swallowed hard, refusing to look at her sister. “Do you think we’re over our heads?”

 

“What?” 

 

Fumi hid her wince well, taking another heavy breath as she turned back to Claudine. “Kuro, we watched someone die—” Fumi hesitated, remembering how fine Ichie was even though the image of the river turning red haunted her sleep. She shook off the memory. “I think— I don’t know anymore.”

 

Instead of the disappointment in her that Fumi expected to hear. Or the question if she’s bad, then what does that say about Claudine? Her sister gave her a small, almost proud smile. “You’re worried for her.”

 

Fumi blinked, the steel in her eyes melting at the sheer bewilderment. Claudine huffed, almost amused, and suddenly the words made sense. She hated how warm her cheeks felt. “She knows where Shiori is—” She reasoned before Claudine laughed, cutting her off. 

 

“Yes,” She admitted before she placed down the fishing rod in a safe position.  “But you’re worried for her.”

 

Fumi scowled, Claudine laughed harder, and within seconds Fumi mellowed out again. Her glove felt loose, and looking down, she realised in her distress she untied it. She let out a reluctant sigh, the warmth dimming as she adjusted her glove.

 

 “I realised before we came here we didn’t have many friends in the Temple—” Actually, now that she thought about it, did they have any friends? Sure, people were respectful to them with their status, but was she actually close to anyone apart from Claudine? Fumi winced again, realising that she had made the glove too tight whilst deep in thought. 

 

“She helped me figure out how to do the teleportation runes,” Fumi murmured, trailing off as she loosened the string enough that it felt right. “...I want to trust in that kindness.”

 

“Awww~”

 

Fumi looked away. “Shut up.”

 

“No, no,” Claudine chuckled before jabbing her cheek. “You made a friend~.”

 

Fumi scowled, swiping Claudine’s hand away as the red on her cheeks intensified. “This is why I didn’t want to tell you.”

 

“Relax, I’m just teasing,” Claudine smirked, squishing Fumi’s cheeks one more time just to be an annoying sister. Fumi pried her off, punched her in the shoulder. Claudine looked out to the river, watching the fish line. The smile on her face faded away, replaced with a frown as she leaned against the railing on the boat. 

 

 “I just wish I could say the same thing with Yachiyo,” she murmured almost bitterly under her breath. 

 

Fumi sobered at the remark, standing up to observe her sister. She could read Claudine like she was a rune, every single tell she memorised, every single subtle change of her face understood. Right now, Claudine was sceptical, maybe alert with how tense her body language was. 

 

“You don’t trust her?” She said the words carefully, glancing down at the stairs that led to the lower deck that held the captain quarters. Then she looked up to the bridge where Mahiru was steering the ship.

 

“Oh I trust she knows what she’s doing—” Claudine scoffed. She turned around, her elbows on the rails as she looked at the stairs, almost daring for Yachiyo to come out. “I just don’t trust it’s truly for our benefit.” 

 

“I mean, come on—” Claudine continued, the words sounding more frustrated the longer she spoke. “Do you really trust her with that ‘Watcher mark’?” 

 

Fumi didn’t, not when she didn’t see it entirely in action. It was a weird mark; the design itself was reminiscent of a Seer. Her skills with cartography and knowing exactly where they needed to go was like a Guide. Yet the ability to know things that they never told her? Fumi would rather believe that it was just her ‘Watcher mark’ instead of anything else. 

 

“The more I spend time with her, the more I know that she’s skilled, yeah— but at the same time she’s an anomaly.” Claudine took a deep sigh. “There’s stuff about her that makes no sense. Did you know she had a fake name? She had a fake name? And the tailor for the new armour? She said to listen to Yachiyo cause there is a reason why she’s alive.” 

 

“Are you worried she’s more important than you?”

 

“To hell with the idea she’s more important than me!” Claudine screamed, slamming the side of the ship. Claudine tightened her hands to a fist, just barely remembering to not overdo her strength and hurt her hands.

 

“She has an angle, an agenda. We’re on a fucking boat she stole and we have no idea why— or what her Watcher mark even does and how it relates to the prophecy! At least Ichie has proof of her abilities when she distracted you in the pub!”

 

Fumi’s cheeks burned at the memory. “Hey—” 

 

“I’m just saying,” Claudine growled, turning back to Fumi with a dismissing wave of the hand. She looked at Fumi. The look of concern swam deep behind the glare. “Yachiyo is dangerous. I don’t like her. We can get along sometimes, but other than those happy moments,  I don’t trust her .”

 

“Well okay, but that still leads me to the thing I was saying. Do you think we’re over our heads?”

 

“No.” Claudine’s answer was direct, full of certainty and confidence. It was exactly as Fumi expected her to react. “I think we can manage whatever is going to happen in the waterfall of truth. Or whatever curveball Yachiyo and Ichie will throw at us.” She looked at Fumi with all the confidence Fumi wished she could have. “We trained for this, remember?” 

 

Fumi looked away, her stomach churning with regret now that the difference between her and Claudine was so clear. “Right…”

 

Claudine’s brows furrowed as she placed a hand on her shoulder. “What’s wrong?” she asked, “I know the thing with Ichie was scary and yeah—” Claudine paused, and Fumi looked back at her briefly, feeling comfort in the way her breath shuddered. It was nice knowing her sister wasn’t strong. It made it easier to pretend that they were the same. “I’ll admit, it made me realise that this prophecy thing isn’t a game. But you’re not normally like this….”

 

No, the Fumi Claudine knew was just like her— full of unabashed confidence, a bravado with her head on her shoulders. Except, the head on Fumi’s shoulders was too heavy, and her bravado was full of air— stolen away from reality. She doesn’t like what she’s becoming, but Fumi doesn’t know how to stop it. 

 

“I just…” Fumi whispered, her head down in shame. She should be better than this, she had to be better than this— but every time she thought of what happened in Port Perle, her hands would shake. “We were supposed to be the heroes… remember? And…” Her voice trailed off, and Fumi clicked her tongue in frustration. The weight lodged in her throat was too much, so was the shame eating her within. 

 

“You’re worried about Shiori?”

 

Fumi nodded her head out of habit. Yes she was still worried about Shiori. She would never stop being worried about Shiori but at the same time… How could she even breach the suggestion that Nana almost killed her? How can she explain without causing a fight that Mahiru told her, not even intentionally? How could she say anything without hurting Claudine, the person who was saved the most by the Kirin Temple? 

 

“I just don’t know if I’m fully ready for this….” Fumi admitted, in the end, a large understatement of her feelings. She stared down, away from any judging eyes Claudine could make. She couldn’t bear showing the shame in her eyes. “Any of this….”

 

“Hey,” Claudine whispered. There was a hand on her shoulder. The weight was familiar, and its grip was welcoming. “This isn’t like the trials we did when we were kids,” Claudine said softly, the gentle reminder teeming with a kind heart. “Remember them? We trained day and night just to make sure Shiori would get medication.” 

 

Fumi remembered those days, though it was vague. She remembered the dark tunnels, the torch-lit walls— the way Claudine was whisked away, and she was forced to wander the near-empty pathways in the Temple. She then remembered green eyes, dark yet curious, and words that she couldn’t understand. 

 

“I don’t—” Fumi confessed. She looked up at Claudine, just catching the surprise in her eyes. “I became Nana’s apprentice in a different way, remember?” Was the medication in line with the test they had to do? It’s been too long; memories are overlapping. 

 

“Right,” Claudine nodded, patting her shoulder before letting out a laugh, her eyes back on the passing scenery. “You were sneaking around and got caught. God you were so lucky, you would’ve gone to the dungeons if Nana didn’t notice your skills.”

 

Fumi nodded, the clarity improving in her memories. Right, that was when she met Nana— she remembered seeing the Seer symbol glowing. Before, it would hold such a happy memory, and now it felt haunting. For a moment, Fumi wondered if Nana saw herself lightning bolt hitting her when they first met. “I’m lucky I didn’t die.”

 

“From Nana?” Claudine scoffed, her carefree attitude only signalling the stark differences between them even more. “I mean,” she considered, humming the thought like it was a hypothetical and not the reality Fumi can’t stop remembering. “I’m not her student, but I don’t think Nana would go after a child. Maybe you’ll get in trouble, but I don’t think you would’ve died.” 

 

Fumi nodded her head. “Yeah…”

 

“Okay no seriously,” Claudine said, the air between them changing so quickly the translation caught Fumi in a panic. “What’s wrong?”

 

“I told you—” Fumi sputtered, cheeks red with embarrassment. Was she being too obvious? “I just… I’m just scared.” There was a pause, complete silence saved by the rocking waves. “I should be worried about Shiori, and yet, I’m just scared.” She hated how weak her voice sounded. She hated how much she struggled to open up entirely. “Is that bad?” 

 

Was it bad that she wasn’t like Claudine? Was she failing the expectations Claudine had for her, for the shoulder she relied on for so much? Was she a bad sister, not only to Shiori but to Claudine too?

 

“Never,” Claudine answered. Had it not been for the ache in her inner cheek from biting it. Fumi would’ve relished in relief, thinking it was an answer to her internalised questions. But no, it was an answer to what was said— that it wasn’t bad that she was scared. So she’ll take that victory, despite how small it was. 

 

“Look,” Claudine said, “Remember when we were what? 8? 9? And the plague hit?”

 

The worry in Fumi’s eyes hardened. “I will never forget.” 

 

“That was scary wasn’t it?”

 

 Fumi nodded sharply. “We had nothing, and you stole just to get by.” It was strange to recall those days, back when they were weak and small. It was funny in the same way that Claudine stealing from other people’s pockets was how she managed to meet Maya. 

 

“That’s right.” Claudine gave her a reassuring smile. “And it was scary but we made it, didn’t we?” Fumi nodded, too lost in the memories. “Then we were training to be acolytes. We couldn’t even communicate with Shiori unless we did well and passed their tests, remember? That was scary, and yet we managed to pull through and save her.”

 

Fumi looked away, “Mahiru—”

 

“Got there first. ” Just as Fumi expected, the response was tense. She nodded her head in agreement, and the anger subsided. “But we would’ve saved her even if Mahiru wasn’t there.”

 

“We’ve been through scarier,” Claudine continued, giving her a confident grin as she patted her shoulder. “We can get through this.”

 

Fumi sighed whilst silence continued to reign over them. Claudine returned to watching the scenery. After a second, Fumi turned around and copied her stance, staring out at the ever-changing scenery. There they stood, elbows touching each other. 

 

“What was scarier than the plague?” 

 

Claudine sniggered, “Remember when we first got caught sneaking out?”

 

Easy laughter rolled off Fumi’s lips. They were teenagers back when it happened, maybe 15, maybe 16. The ages blurred a bit. “God don’t remind me— I almost broke my wrist from writing so many runes.” 

 

It was a slight exaggeration of the truth but it said everything about how mad Nana and Maya were when it happened. As specialised acolytes to the Temple, they had a strict curfew to abide by. Shiori liked to sneak out at night for some reason, and they followed her to keep her safe out of concern. Until they both realised they could sneak out without looking after Shiori, at least until they were caught. Nana made her study so many runes to the point where Fumi could use magic without a mark or draw out a rune-like most people did, just at the price of an aching wrist. 

 

“At least you weren’t thrown into the forest in the middle of the night,” Claudine laughed, “Trial by fire or as Maya says it, trial by starlight.” 

 

“God, that was terrifying,” Fumi sighed, a nostalgic smile on her face. “You didn’t appear for a week.” She remembered Shiori being terrified for Claudine, too, not that she would have admitted it. After a talk with Maya and Nana, she could hardly leave her room for some reason. 

 

“Yeah, but hey—” Claudine grinned, bumping Fumi’s shoulder like the incident was nothing. “I know how to navigate in the woods so who’s winning now?” 

 

“No one,” said a voice, cold yet distraught. Empty and hollow despite the boiling bubbling anger. Both of the sisters turned around and stared at the space between them. Yachiyo could easily throw a dagger with her sharp eyes. Behind her was Ichie, who had a similar but more subdued look of worry. “Because what you went through wasn’t right.” 

 

Just like that, the jovial atmosphere of nostalgia died and was left rotting under the heat of the air. Fumi glanced at Claudine, not surprised by the shock in her face before it narrowed in rage. She took a step forward, the wooden boards underneath her creaked, almost sounding a groan. 

 

“I’m sorry?” She snarled, spitting the words like it was venom. “And also— why the hell are you two listening in!?”

 

“The thing you described,” Yachiyo said just as tense, just as angry for a reason Fumi couldn’t understand. “Your training— It felt odd when you said before you were trained for the prophecy but now I know why. That’s not right.”

 

“What the hell do you mean it’s not right!?”

 

Yachiyo was not paying attention to her, her hands were in her hair, and she let out a dying laugh one would only make in the bleakest of moments. “Suddenly this explains so much….”

 

Fumi’s heart was racing. She should have said something, but her voice was caught in her throat. Claudine was never this angry, never this defendant. She should say the same things, be angry about what Yachiyo was saying— but a little voice in her head reminded her that Nana tried to kill her. Something that she forgot on the nostalgia trip. 

 

“Hey!” Claudine slammed her fist on the railing near her. Fumi jumped at the loud sound, the way cracks breached the wood. “Answer the question, Yachiyo.”

 

“Okay,” Yachiyo sighed. She looked straight into Claudine’s eyes, her voice forced and level. “Don’t get too mad at me, but your teachers were abusing you.”

 

All at once, Fumi’s mind went numb, and her skin chilled. Her stomach dipped in a haunting ache. There was a weight on her throat, and no words left Fumi’s mouth even when she opened it.  They were what? 

 

“What the FUCK!” Claudine screamed, ignorant of how Fumi reacted. Unlike her sister, Claudine’s face was bursting with crimson anger. She could move her arms and her legs— and her voice was roaring, almost echoing down the river. 

 

“HOW— NO. EXPLAIN! Explain to me right now how deluded you are.”

 

“I’m not being deluded,” Yachiyo answered, tight lip and cold. “I know you can get trained and get tough love— but this level of manipulation, withholding the right to talk let alone visit your sister. How if you did something wrong you’re getting punished in a way that shouldn’t even morally exist? None of that is right.”

 

“What the hell are you talking about?” Claudine repeated once more, her voice shaking. “Sure Maya’s methods were rough at times but that’s because she wanted the best for me. To prepare me for the worse.” 

 

Yachyio scoffed, her glare cutting deep into Fumi’s chest even when it was directed to Claudine and not her. “What’s worse than denying a kid their basic right of communication?”

 

“Look,” Fumi interjected, surprising even herself that she remembered to breathe, let alone talk. “I think there might be some misunderstanding, they’re not like that.” 

 

They can’t be. They were tough people, sure, but they couldn’t be… They were more disciplined than abusive. Yeah— there was nothing more about that. They were strict and strong, and they were helpful and kind, and it wasn’t abuse. They were good people. They saved them— they can’t be abusive. Not to children. 

 

And yet, Fumi can’t kill the reminder in her head of Nana’s lightning strike. 

 

“Oh I can guess exactly what they’re like,” Yachiyo laughed, once more having an empty hollow sound to it, snapping Fumi out of her thoughts. 

 

“They take care of you,” she reasoned, her voice sickeningly sweet almost as if they were mocking them. “They give you trust, they give you responsibilities but you’re responsible for other people’s actions. So if they fail, that means you fail as a leader and a role model.”

 

Claudine’s knuckles cracked as she curled them to a fist.  “Shut up.”

 

“I won’t actually.”

 

“Yachiyo…” whispered a voice behind them. Fumi looked forward, finding solace in the distressed face Ichie was making. Yachiyo ignored her. 

 

“They would never hurt you, sure, but they’ll take out their anger on something else, someone else— just to show that they can and could.”

 

“I SAID SHUT UP!”

 

It all happened too fast. Fumi couldn’t react in time. One moment she was having a crisis about her childhood, and the next thing she knew it, there was a sudden whack of collision. She could only gasp when Ichie appeared in front of Yachiyo, stumbling to the ground with a bloody nose. Even Claudine looked surprised, her closed fist outstretched, tainted with the blood of a bystander.  

 

A long silence passed over all of them, fully unable to register what the hell just happened. 

 

“Wow,” Ichie laughed, her voice muffled before she turned around and spat out blood from her lip. She gave Claudine a grin, winking despite the blood. “You really are muscles.” 

 

Claudine flared up again with eyes ready to pounce but Fumi reacted faster, holding out her hands as she created another bubble to surround Claudine. Claudine banged the magic walls, her screams inaudible, but the way the mouth moved told Fumi all she needed to know. Claudine was pissed and maybe Fumi was a bad sister, but she was always the level-headed one between them. They don’t need a fight right now. 

 

“What the hell are you doing, Ichie?” Yachiyo cried, too busy focusing on Ichie to realise Fumi was listening in to their conversation. “Are you okay?”

 

“That’s something I should ask you—” Ichie coughed. Fumi glanced over in worry before her eyes widened at how serious Ichie looked. It didn’t look right on her. “You need to cool off right now, Yachiyo.”

 

Now it was Yachiyo’s turn to be surprised, and Fumi’s jaw dropped on the concept of Ichie being on their side and not Yachiyo’s. “I’m sorry?”

 

“Cool off, steer the ship,” Ichie continued, her golden eyes glowing like there was fire underneath them. “You’re overthinking again.”

 

Yachiyo stood up, a hand outstretched as she helped Ichie to her feet, her nose still bleeding. “You know more than anyone here, that I’m not.”

 

“I know,” Ichie said just as tense. “But we’re not in the  Circus  anymore, Yachiyo.” 

 

… Fumi had a gut feeling she wasn’t supposed to hear that.