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If Mahiru was around, she would scold me and tell me to turn back. To at least promise the girl that I would return as a token of kindness. But she isn’t around, so I’ll tell the voice in my head that sounds like my wife that to offer certainty about a bleak future is poison in a sweet taste. This is especially when the child I leave behind is the Villain. There is no shame in being the Villain, but I don’t want my kindness, my promise that I would return, to be the spark of learned cruelty. 

 

Then again, with the village… 

 

Regardless, I’m wasting paper to discuss this to keep me sane. The people I slaughtered at that village were the same. If not similar to who Shizuha mentioned in the past. The Circus. 

 

I’ve known Mark Hunters before. I had run from them— but these people… Disgusting. They’re the biggest organisation of Mark Hunters and were rumoured to be a likely ‘villain’ Factory. Well, the rumours are true— and despite Shizuha’s effort, like roaches, they still exist. 

 

No one protected Shizuha. They won’t land a single on Rui. Not when they pissed off a Catalyst.  

 

I’m going to personally destroy all of them before I do anything else. 

 

Memoir 53— The Circus By Tsuyuzaki Michiru

~

 

Mahiru took a deep breath. Her eyes followed the disgruntled face of Yachiyo as she stomped towards the navigation area, the echo of her metal stairs giving away her position. She had seen the fight, she heard the yelling— it wasn’t what she thought their first fight would be about, but considering the topic, she’s not surprised it got heated so quickly. 

 

Nana and Maya… Mahiru won’t lie. She heard what stories she could from Michiru and what they did to her. There was no point denying their shared history of abuse, but did that mean they would do the same to Fumi and Claudine? Maybe, but at the same time, was it too much to hope that they treated Shiori’s sisters better? 

 

The door slammed open, and Mahiru left the wheel for Yachiyo to automatically grab. Yachiyo gave her a look of sharp gratefulness, and Mahiru closed the door behind her. Then she locked it, her eyes focused on the woman in front of her. She doesn’t want Yachiyo to make the same mistakes as her. 

 

“You shouldn’t have said those things.”

 

Yachiyo tensed. Mahiru could spot the way the grip on the steering wheel turned white in her hand. “Don’t lecture me on this, Mentor,” Yachiyo said tersely. She turned her head. The sharpness in her green eyes was enough to make anyone else bleed. “I know what I’m talking about.”

 

“You probably do,” Mahiru agreed. There was no doubt from the visceral reaction and action that Yachiyo had her own history of abuse. There was no way you could have that hatred and vile disgust in her entire body without either knowing someone who was a victim or being a victim herself. Mahiru would never infantilise Yachiyo of her experience. But at the same time, whatever Claudine and Fumi went through wasn’t her story. 

 

“But those words have weight. It’s heavy. And it’s a serious accusation. No matter how you feel or what you’ve experienced unless you experienced it directly  from them  you can’t call strangers you don’t know from what you heard those terms. You can maybe suggest it to them. Say what they went through doesn’t sound right but if you go heavy handed like that they’ll never believe you.”

 

At once, Mahiru was no longer in a musty navigation deck. She was back in a forest somewhere, holding onto the sleeves of Michiru, who had a perfect blond bob with distrust in her eye. And then she blinked, and the subtle rocking motion of the floor reeled her back to reality. 

 

“Trust me,” Mahiru sighed, her stomach sinking at the memory. “I learnt that the hard way.” 

 

“Well so did I,” Yachiyo spat. She spun the wheel roughly, taking all her pent energy on the action. The ship veered to the left, missing a piece of jagged rock on the river floor before Yachiyo stopped and spun it back to the right with the same roughness. “I spent the first few of my life to be an acrobat and be part of a horrific system that ruined lives and-- “ 

 

Yachiyo twisted her eyes shut, her head bowed down as her body shook. The exhale that left her lips was staggered. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

 

Mahiru gave her a sympathetic smile, her heart breaking at what was said from what wasn’t said. “I’m sorry you had to go through that,” she whispered, meaning every word. She placed a hand in her pocket and pulled out one of the honey candies she bought in Port Perle.

 

Yachiyo eyed the candy and eventually grabbed it. In one hand, she rolled the sweet like it was a coin. In the other, she held tight to the wheel. “It’s old news,” she said with a smile. Mahiru saw the way the light only reached the surface of her eyes, almost as if there was a thin layer hiding her from something. But she won’t point it out; she’ll let Yachiyo have her pride— even when the truth is hidden behind an illusion. 

 

“Actually,” Yachiyo huffed before she unwrapped the sweet and plopped it into her mouth. “Be sorry that they’re going through it and not realising.”

 

Mahiru sighed and shook her head. “I still stand with what I said, you shouldn’t call them abusers from only stuff you just heard.” 

 

Yachiyo scowled. The crack of the hard candy between her teeth was enough to make Mahiru wide-eyed. “Come on, Mahiru, you know what they went through wasn’t normal.”

 

“I can’t say anything about it.” She would if she could, but the pact she made with Claudine and Fumi literally prevented her from it.

 

Yachiyo’s eyes narrowed. “Were you in on this too then?”

 

Mahiru matched her heated stare with a frosted look. “As much as I dislike their actions, I would never harm Claudine or Fumi in that way. They were my friend’s kids, not to mention Shiori’s sisters.” 

 

Yachiyo looked away, and Mahiru backed off, her shoulders relaxing from the tenseness in the air. “Sorry,” Yachiyo said after a moment of silence. “I’m jumpy.” 

 

“It’s understandable.”

 

“It’s just that—” Yachiyo looked across the windows, and Mahiru followed her gaze to Ichie and Fumi on the main deck. Next to her, Yachiyo moved her jaw slowly, deep in thought. “They don’t even see it, and when I point it out with clear reasons, they say it’s nothing bad. It’s insulting— especially when I could’ve easily been in their shoes.”

 

“You’re projecting.”

 

Yachiyo flinched, startled at the statement. She whirled her head to Mahiru, her green vicious, hurting from the accusation. “I’m the Watcher,” she declared, her voice tense and controlled, almost sounding held back. “I watch the scene and I know the signs when I see it.”

 

Mahiru nodded her head in agreement, though her eyes continued to stare at Yachiyo. She was stubborn as her soul. “And you’re still projecting and thinking the worst.”

 

It was an instant change, so quick Mahiru would’ve thought the change was magic or an illusion. Yachiyo’s face became red, dark and heated. Her green eyes were sharp and angled in a way that held a blade dipped in green poison. If looks could kill, this was where Mahiru would’ve died. 

 

“AND HOW THE HELL WOULD YOU KNOW HUH!?” Yachiyo screamed, uncaring of how below them, Ichie glanced their way at the muffled sound. “Do you know what it’s like to be forced to do something you don’t want to do? To be molded into this perfect person!?” 

 

Mahiru took a dangerous step forward. Her eyes never failed to leave Yachiyo’s weight and gaze. “I don’t.” Yachiyo opened her mouth— 

 

“But I had the experience of telling the previous catalyst that she was groomed during the prophecy.” 

 

Deep in her heart, Mahiru wished nothing but forgiveness that she shared this story about her wife without her permission. Even now, saying it out loud, even if it wasn’t her story, ached her bones. It’s been so long, but the thought that Michiru had to endure all of that pain growing up always sent something fiery in her blood. 

 

This fiery anger in her veins made Mahiru blind to Yachiyo’s own reaction. She missed the way her eyes widened, in shock horror— the way all of that red-blooded frustration drained into hollowness. It was a reaction that would make no sense if Mahiru noticed, for why would someone like Yachiyo care about the dead Catalyst? 

 

“She…” Yachiyo whispered after a long silence, the colour slowly returning to her face. “The Catalyst was groomed?” 

 

Mahiru looked away. “Technically, yes, but she would never call it that—” A laugh left her lips next, amused at the bittersweet memory of Michiru. “--And if she was alive now, she would probably never use that term….” Slowly, Mahiru raised her head, sending Yachiyo a sombre smile as her fingers fiddled with her wedding ring on her hand. “But what else are you supposed to call it when she goes on and on about how she’s been moulded or created to be the perfect catalyst?” 

 

“I never knew….”

 

Mahiru let out another laugh. “How could you know? It’s not like they talk about these things when they say how tragic the last prophecy was. The one we ruined.” 

 

Yachiyo paused, nodding along. She bit her lower lip for a moment as she faced the river again, carefully steering the ship. “What happened when you told her?” 

 

“Well…” Mahiru sighed, leaning back to rest against the ship. “I did the same thing you did. I went too heavy-handed. I didn’t listen to anyone, let alone her perspective. I said—   I declared  that she was being groomed and sure I was right...” Mahiru paused, taking a moment to clear the tears in her eyes.

 

“...But I cared more about being right than I cared about her at the time.” A long silence followed as Mahiru’s voice trailed away. She then looked down, pressing against the ring, trying hard to remember the sight of Michiru’s blood or how hot it was against her skin. 

 

 “The way I did it…” she confessed, her voice quiet and shamed. “It almost killed her.”

 

There was a weight at the back of her throat, and Mahiru exhaled, tilting her head back far enough as she could, pressing the cold metal to the back of her head. Even now, the memory and the decision haunted her. Slowly, her fingers curled tight to a fist, her thumb pressed over the wedding ring, holding it like a lifeline. 

 

“They say a Catalyst can’t get hurt, but I learnt that day, it only applied to them physically. Mentally? Emotionally? They can break so easily… In fact, a common way a Catalyst dies without a Seer killing them is insanity.” She paused, taking another shaking breath. Mahiru gave a quivering smile, a direct lie and mask to say she was fine as she met Yachiyo’s concerned and almost shocked eyes.

 

 “Did you know she ran away from the party when she found out—” Mahiru added, just another way to add insult to injury. “That’s how badly I hurted her.”

 

“And sure,” Mahiru continued, her voice wavering between bitter laughter and deep regret, “We’re married and we love each other. But everyday,  every damn day , I will always regret how I told her, and the ways I went to prove I was right. I know I could’ve done it better, made it easier to swallow.” 

 

Mahiru took another long exhale, pressing her eyes shut as the tears started to well in her eyes. She inhaled through the nose, and she wiped the tears away with her fingers. “And I’m trying to make sure you won’t make the same mistake.” 

 

Silence quickly befell them. The atmosphere hung heavy with the weight of the dead and the past. Slowly, Mahiru got out one of her hard honey candy and put it in her mouth, if only to lessen the ache in her chest and the back of her throat. 

 

“I’m not going to kill her,” Yachiyo said after a while. “She deserves to know.”

 

Mahiru nodded, swallowing the now small hard candy in her mouth. “You’re right, but you’re forgetting something.”

 

“And that is?”

 

“You’re a stranger to her,” Mahiru clarified. It was an observation enough for Yachiyo to turn back at her, surprise in her green eyes. Mahiru continued. “And you’re accusing the person who raised her and saved her life. She lived a good, happy life with a sister to share the experience with.”

 

“Now imagine me, a stranger saying, I don’t know Ichie was abusing you—”

 

“—She would never!”

 

“Do you see what I mean now?” Mahiru asked, pointing to Yachiyo before turning it down to the lower deck where Fumi was with Ichie. “Of course, she’s going to be defensive. Of course, she’s going to bite back. If she had easy contact with Maya, Maya would tell her that you’re a horrible person and isolate her, further sowing distrust. She doesn’t even trust you, worst-case scenario, she’ll think you’re a villain and kill you.”

 

“Then how did you do it? How did you prove to the Catalyst that she was… yknow— if you want to,” Yachiyo added hastily. 

 

“I want to,” Mahiru assured, even when her heart started to ache again. She needed to tell Michiru’s story. People needed to know the truth of the prophecy and not the diluted garbage that was told when it first ended. 

 

“In the prophecy,” Mahiru started after a steady inhale. “I was told that the Catalyst had no heart. I was also told that she was the perfect Catalyst despite the lack of a heart. After travelling with her, I noticed she took a medication from ingredients I recognised from my home village as poisonous.”

 

“Poisonous as in— it made her heart stop beating.” Mahiru paused for a moment, letting the weight of the sentence linger in the air before continuing. “She was still alive without a beating heart, most likely with her divinity and nature but I knew it wasn’t healthy for her to be like this for so long. So I confronted her, yelled at her— ignored what she was saying and destroyed the potion and any ingredient or way to make it.”  

 

“And when I broke it, she couldn’t stop bleeding.” Mahiru closed her eyes, squeezing them shut. It was so easy to remember the smell of blood, the heat of her blood. The scene, the scream. Mahiru opened her eyes again— her breathing haggard and heavy. Still, she pushed on through. 

 

“She couldn’t breathe— let alone speak.” Mahiru looked away, the shame eating her from the inside. “The healer saved her there and then but it’s what happened afterwards that almost killed her. She was shell shocked, an empty husk of who she was.” 

 

“She was a broken human….” Mahiru whispered to herself, the words trailing away slowly. She hung her head, deeply in shame. “And it was all my fault.”

 

“How did she even love you after that?” Yachiyo asked, her mouth partially open, her eyes revealing nothing but slight surprise and curiosity. 

 

As a response, Mahiru smiled to herself, chuckling as the ring around her finger calmed her heart. “I don’t know, but she did.” 

 

Somehow, Michiru loved her, and in time Mahiru grew to love her too, and then the prophecy ended, and things became messy. Though looking back, Mahiru guessed they were always a bit messy. Though she supposed it only proved how dedicated they were to each other, nothing about them was easy. Nothing about them was supposed to work.

 

But it did anyway. That’s the pure beauty of being in love with Ootori Michiru. 

 

“What I do know however,” Mahiru said as she pushed away from the wall and walked towards Yachiyo. “Is that unlike me— you don’t have solid proof that if you showed them, they would believe you. Which is good because you won’t break them like I did.”

 

“Unlike me, however,” Mahiru continued when Yachiyo opened her mouth. “They haven’t had the best childhood to know what’s healthy and what’s not.” At once, Yachiyo’s mouth shut as fast as it opened. “Their parents died young and so they were taken in by the people you accused of abuse.”   

 

“It’s important to know as well, that you are the first people outside of the temple that they’ve talked to.” Mahiru placed a hand on Yachiyo’s shoulder, her eyes focused on Yachiyo. “Regardless of how they have been raised, abused or not. They’re both sheltered green adventurers. Keep that in mind.”

 

“Then what do I do?” Yachiyo asked, “I don’t trust what happened to them, and I won’t just lie to them.” 

 

“Well… what I would do, if I had the chance again… I would say sorry— and I would explain why and then maybe they would understand.”

 

“I would also listen to them and make them at least admit it wasn’t perfect. Start them slowly, plant the seeds. Let them figure it out themselves. Whether it’s a story of manipulation or not, it’s not your story. Don’t get your need to be right, if any, undermine their narrative. And if you were right, be there for them. These things change people.”

 


 

The second Yachiyo left the deck, Claudine went downstairs to the lower part of the ship. Ichie flopped to the ground, uncaring of the way her shoulder stung when she collided with the railing. Sure it ached, but nothing was like the sobering weight of her cracked blood on her cheeks.

 

“Man,” she whispered to herself and the empty deck. She glanced up, just catching the movement in the closed-off navigation room. It seemed that Yachiyo was looking for some comfort or anything with Mahiru— a good choice if she were to be in her shoes. “All I ask is for a day without any hassle? Is that too much to ask?” 

 

“That depends,” a voice called nearby before it was followed by the echoes of rising footsteps. Ichie paused, a small smile on her face, when she saw the cold and serious face of Yumeoji Fumi appear. “Was it necessary to get punched in the face?”  

 

Automatically, Ichie winked at her, her smile already forming into a teasing grin. “Awww, you do care about me~.”

 

Fumi scoffed and rolled her eyes. “Shut up, Ichie.” Saying that she then sat down next to Ichie, leaning her head against the ship wall as she stared at the sky. Ichie’s smile faltered slightly, her taking in the way Fumi’s serious and calm eyes held that hint of tiredness. The way when she exhaled, it was slow and controlled— almost as if she was regaining autonomy over her own breath. 

 

At once, Ichie recalled what exactly made Claudine punch her face and realised that lifting mood would probably be the worst thing to do. A voice whispered in her head, fractured, old and still so calmly despite little recollection of the sound. 

 

Happiness and Sadness are neighbours, but sometimes the best place a person can be is not at either emotion but in the transition. For it is neutral, free and most importantly, silent enough to digest everything that happened. 

 

So Ichie settled back to the wall, basking in the sun and the way her cheeks itched with the blood on her cheek. She should clean it soon, but that’s a problem for later Ichie. Right now, she’s just going to digest— and try and most likely fail to remember who said that to her. 

 

Then after 10 minutes of mutual silence and feeling restless, Ichie asked a question. “How’s your sister by the way?”

 

“Claudine?” Fumi said, surprised at the sudden question before she hummed, glancing back down at the steps. “She’s… she’s angry obviously but she’s sorry that she punched you. She was aiming for Yachiyo.”

 

 “Obviously,” Ichie snorted before smiling sheepishly when Fumi glared at her. “I mean, why else would I jump in?”

 

Fumi sighed, looking away again, and Ichie watched how she looked at the Navigation room in front of them, one deck above. “...You really care about her, huh?”

 

“I’ve known her all my life,” Ichie mused, looking at Yachiyo, who turned around to Mahiru, yelling something that she couldn’t hear nor read from lips. “I owe a lot to her, so why wouldn’t I care about her?”

 

“Enough for a bloody nose?”

 

Ichie let out a chuckle, her smile growing when she turned her head to find Fumi already smiling at her. “And cracked lips.” 

 

Fumi smiled before her brows scrunched up together. “You still got blood on you idiot,” she chastised, pulling out a cloth from her pocket and dabbing it against her cheek. Ichie froze at the touch, her eyes wide, and immediately, Fumi pulled away. 

 

“Ah,” she said, smiling awkwardly. She cleared her throat, her cheeks red with embarrassment. “Sorry about that.” 

 

“It’s fine,” Ichie laughed in an attempt to ease the awkwardness in the air. She grabbed the cloth and wiped her face clean. By the time she was sure there was no more blood on her, she removed the cloth and looked down— laughing once more at the bloodstain. “Wow, that’s more than I expected.”

 

Fumi retrieved the cloth back before she cleaned it up, the tips of her fingers glowing green as the magic whirled around the napkin till it was clean. “Never been hit before?”

 

“Nah I got hit plenty of times—” Ichie shrugged. “I mean we fought when we first met, remember?”

 

“If I can recall, you kept dodging every attack I gave.” 

 

“Ahh~” Ichie grinned, nudging Fumi lightly with her shoulder, “Busted~.” 

 

“Whatever.” They shared a laugh then, quiet but genuine. Then it died down, and they looked away, unsure how to carry the conversation until Fumi looked up at the sky. Ichie watched her, something tingling at the back of her head as Fumi’s moved her mouth in hesitation. 

 

“Hey…If you know Yachiyo for so long, do you mind if I ask a question?”

 

“Hmmm?”

 

“What’s the circus?” Ah. Ichie should’ve expected the question, but even if she did— she had a feeling she wouldn’t have hidden her displeasure and comfort well. 

 

“It’s okay if you don’t answer,” Fumi said, backing tracking quickly, her calm facade broken by frantic eyes. Ah. Her discomfort must’ve shown. 

 

Ichie sighed, glancing up at the navigation room above them. “Ah, it’s fine— it’s just…” she paused with a frown, unsure how to word the depth of what happened. 

 

“It’s not hard to talk about,” she said slowly, glancing at Fumi with extreme caution. “But that doesn’t mean the stuff that surrounds it is an easy topic. Do you get what I mean?”

 

Fumi nodded her head, slow and hesitant. “I think so, yeah.”

 

“Alright,” Ichie sighed, exhaling the word loudly. “Well I need to preface that the Circus and everything I say is less about me. But more about Yachiyo so I won’t say everything because it’s not my story to tell.” 

 

She looked directly into Fumi’s eyes, just to make sure it hit home how serious she was. “The difference between us is that I was taken to the Circus—  Yachiyo was born into it .” 

 

Ichie watched Fumi gulp, and when she exhaled, it was wavering. “And what is the Circus?” she asked with a careful tone. 

 

Ichie sighed, stretching out her hands, rubbing her shoulders, pressing a palm against the mark on her shoulder. She was doing anything to get the unease and the restless energy out of the serious conversation. More importantly, she was busy figuring out how to even start the explanation. 

 

Eventually, Ichie cleared her throat and leaned into the way the river moved her gently, up and down, rocking the boat like a lullaby. “...Do you know what a Villain Factory is?”

 

“A what?”

 

“Ah, so you don’t know.” Ichie hummed, her fingers against her chin in thought as she looked across to Yachiyo and then backed away. “Hmm, you’d think the Temple would teach that if you two were aiming to be heroes. Then again—” she acknowledged with a shrug. “If you know about them, it would make villains less evil and more sympathetic.” 

 

“But what is it?” 

 

A place of utter hell but that was too partial and biased to be a proper answer.

 

 “Villains are made,” Ichie said, looking down at her hands. For a moment, she remembered the curve of Rui’s claws and the sharp sound it made when it sliced through the air. She remembered how scared she was of herself that she could do that. “Not born. Hatred is a learned trait and villains are made out of tragedy.” 

 

Ichie shut her eyes, clearing her throat before looking back at Fumi. “There is a phrase infamous in these circles. It’s called ‘You start them small’. Meaning, if you want to make a villain, you start them small— the same way you train a wild animal. Just swap a cub for a child.” 

 

Fumi’s eyes widened, and Ichie smiled, bitter and hurt because she hated how it made sense, despite its unethical standpoint. Kids were so gullible. They were so naive. They needed help and support, yet some people were so cruel as to corrupt them and make monsters out of their innocence.

 

 “So you’re telling me… Yachiyo?” 

 

Ichie shook her head. “She’s a special case. That’s all I can say about her.” Yachiyo never liked talking about it, and she only became more private about it as they aged. At least the nightmares stopped when they became older, or at least— that was what Ichie desperately hoped for. 

 

“And what about you?” Fumi asked, her words more frantic and worried than the last. “You said you were born with your mark.”

 

“I was!” Ichie said, with a hint of a smile too happy that it was easily false. At least this part was the easiest thing to say. “I was stolen from my dads, who are probably dead and brought to the circus.” Fumi gasped; her hands flew to her mouth in horror. It was a sweet thing to see, having sympathy for something Ichie could barely remember, but she’ll take it regardless. 

 

“I was going to be the main star for a show as a kid.” Ichie then showed the inside of her arm, showing off one of the more faint but deep scars across her arm. It’s gone now, but she still remembered the day she cut her arm to damage and ruin the brand of the Circus on her skin. “Aka, I was going to be auctioned off for rich people to have me and my mark.” 

 

“It’s a human—!”  

 

“-- YEP!” Ichie shouted, too deliberate in her enunciation, that this was something she didn’t want to name. 

 

She looked at Fumi with a smile that had too many teeth, with eyes that held too much of a plea. She didn’t want to call it what it officially was— even if it didn’t last long. It was an unspoken peace between her and Yachiyo to never say what the Circus did when it wasn’t trying to beat a villain out of a child. Giving it a name made it real, made it tangible. Ichie preferred the memory to be abstract, broken and buried in a place where no one can find it. 

 

The second Fumi looked at her, swallowed her words and nodded, Ichie relaxed and shut her eyes from relief. It took her a few more minutes of just breathing and silence before she started to talk again.

 

 “We got out obviously, I don’t know how but we got out before anything too bad happened. But still, I only stayed what? Three months there—” Ichie paused, shaking her head and breath out of her lungs. “It gives you scars.” 

 

“Personally, I hate physical examinations— tests, especially medical stuff.” Even the thought made her hands shake from the ingrained anxiety and fear. Sure, that was how she met Yachiyo since someone needed to look after her and make sure she ate, but Ichie hated it. Deep down, Ichie had a feeling she would’ve died there on a laboratory floor if it wasn’t for Yachiyo. 

 

 “I also used to be scared of fire a lot, but I think it died down over the years.” Yet the image of Rui snarling at her appeared. Surrounded by fire and blood on her face with claws and fangs. And without a beat, Ichie whispered in a quieter voice. “Maybe.” 

 

“So when Yachiyo was saying….” Fumi said, her voice quiet and cautious and teeming with something more than just the shock and horror. It was a tone that made Ichie curious, snapping out of her memories. “That our teachers were abusive….” 

 

“I don’t know.” 

 

The word was flippant and detached, but what else could Ichie say. Just because Yachiyo and her went through something shitty didn’t mean that the sisters did. Sure maybe barring the rights of communication was extreme— but maybe it was a one-time thing. Maybe this was the part of Ichie that liked to be hopeful even when she shouldn’t. Maybe it wasn’t that bad. It would give Ichie comfort that someone like Fumi or Claudine wouldn’t have a horrible childhood like they did for the first part of their life. 

 

“It’s your teachers, isn’t it?” Ichie continued when she realised that Fumi was silent. “Yachiyo is very….” How should she word this?  

 

“Jumpy,” Ichie decided in the end. “--When it comes to this stuff. She’s quick to accuse. Not that it’s a bad thing, sometimes she’s right but sometimes she blows things out of proportion. She doesn’t show it but she cares a lot about other people, and the thought of another person going through what we went through? She despises it.”

 

“But at the end of the day,” Ichie sighed, stretching her arms. She glanced up again, and whatever Mahiru and Yachiyo were yelling about had ended. They were hugging now, and the thought made Ichie smile. Yachiyo needed that hug. “It’s really up to you. Do you think your teachers were abusive growing up?” 

 

In the silence of the question, Ichie looked back at Fumi. Fumi’s hands were absentmindedly, picking at the strings of her gloves. Her brows were bunched up in thought, and her lips were sunken in a thoughtful but scared frown. 

 

“No,” she said in the end, quietly like it was a fragile thing. “I don’t think they did. But at the same time…” Fumi sighed, her eyes shut in terror and her exhale shaking. “I— I don’t think I really know. 

 

Ichie gave her a bitter but understanding smile. She slowly reached for Fumi’s gloved hand and gave it a squeeze of support. She’s been there before, and that uncertainty was sometimes worse than the confirmation itself. 

 

“Well,” she said quietly, softly pleased at the grateful squeeze back on her hand, or the way the corner of Fumi’s smile just shifted upwards just a fraction. “For better or worse you’ll find out soon enough. You can learn a lot about yourself in a prophecy, I just hope you’ll remember to be kind to yourself when you figure it out.” 

 

She doesn’t remember much from her past, Nor does she know a lot about how she and Yachiyo escaped the Circus. But she remembered the kindness and how much it kept her alive in the days she almost didn’t.