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Cataclysm

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A long time ago, but not so far ago that it remained forgotten entirely. A story was in the making. It is not a love story, and it will never be. For it to be a love story would mean this truth is a lie, fabricated by the people who would not mourn for the moments of loss this story has like humans would do. 

 

This is not a love story, but it has a story of love. Of love, of loss, of guilt— of pain...

 

-

 

“Mahiru san are you sure I need to transcribe this word from word?” Shiori called from the back of the apothecary, dropping her pen against the wooden desk. She leaned back, sighing as she moved her hair out of the way, taking time to adjust the chain around her neck that held her unused rose clip. 

 

Shiori stretched her wrist, already starting to ache at the thought of writing this entire narrative with her hands. Sure she already wrote out the introductory, but to do the following was just too much! When Mahiru told her that part of her dream job was to transcribe the recipes for the potions, she didn’t expect a story to go with it. She betted that the story didn’t even relate to a plant growing potion. 

 

“Yes you need to do word for word,” Mahiru called with a laugh as she entered the back room of her little shop in the abandoned meadows. Mahiru was dressed in a working apron paired with gloves, and like Shiori, her hair was also in a ponytail. Immediately Shiori pulled a pout, and for a moment, Mahiru felt some pity for the assistant. “Oh don’t look at me like that Shiori, what you’re writing down is important.”

 

Shiori’s pout remained. “But it’s not important to—” She flicked the page she was on, quickly scanning the handwriting for a name. “Fungi growth?” She asked, her brows scrunching as Mahiru walked over to the desk, pushing back her rack of experimental potions closer to the side of the wall. 

 

Mahiru nodded as she moved around Shiori, putting stuff in drawers, checking on her potions before moving elsewhere. The business was enough for Shiori to feel agitated, out of place in her own stillness. “They help plants grow in certain cases, the one for this recipe however is to speed up growth of fungi used in medicine like antibiotics.” 

 

Shiori’s eyes widened, the matter of writing what could be a life story before a simple recipe was dropped in disbelief. “There’s mushrooms in antibiotics?”

 

A laugh escaped Mahiru’s lips as she paused in the middle of the room, giving Shiori a fond smile. “You have much to learn about the alchemy business young apprentice.” 

 

The mention of her title coloured Shiori’s cheek red with pride, her eyes darting towards the heavy book full of Mahiru’s personal handwritten recipes. The same one that may or may not is filled with pages of a narrative instead of recipes. Her wrist twitched as Shiori’s excited smile gradually dimmed. 

 

Noticing the difference, Mahiru patted her shoulder with her free hand in consolidation. “I would do it myself,” she admitted quietly, “But it would take much more time.”

 

Shiori nodded as she rested her hand over Mahiru’s. Shiori could feel the old scars of long hard labour by touch alone, the rough patches of her potions gone wrong, the slight sag of time wearing her down. Shiori stared down the pages in front of her, not letting go of Mahiru’s hand just yet. 

 

It was amazing how long these accounts lasted after 15 years; they were well kept if not for the slowly disappearing ink. With how busy Mahiru acted, Shiori wouldn’t be surprised if she kept the book updated with new recipes and, most likely new stories to go along with it. Shiori just hoped the more recent recipe entries won’t have 10 pages worth of backstory. Then again, Mahiru was nearing 50, so there would probably be nuggets of wisdom still sprinkled around the recipes even when Shiori catches up. 

 

“Alright,” Shiori admitted with a kind smile towards Mahiru. “I’ll try not to complain too much.”

 

“Oh you have every right to complain, Shiori,” Mahiru grinned as she let go of her shoulder. “Heavens know I wrote a lot when I was younger. Just make sure that you write it down okay?” Her voice echoed through the shop as she made her way back to the front. “I am paying you for this!” 

 

Shiori laughed at the reminder, taking the pen with much more eagerness than before. Yes, she chose to be paid by Mahiru even if the wage was meagre. Yes, this was a job she chose to do instead of taking part and learning within the Kirin temples like her sisters did. Yes, she chose this. To help an old but kind lady because she helped her when no one else would. 

 

And no, despite what her sisters thought, she wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world. 

 


 

Mahiru won’t lie. A part of her felt bad for making Shiori write all of her recipes, life lessons included. Those life lessons held pain, her pain, and her late wife’s too since Mahiru transcribed those stories by hand. Word by word, all from her wife’s writing. Goodness, her wife wrote so much. She didn’t really need another third copy, but it was crucial to remember them. Those recipes she made, the stories she wrote. 

 

Mahiru paused as she looked through the ledger behind the cash register as her free hand twisted the metal band around her ring finger. Writing those stories by hand made sure she would never forget about her…. Making Shiori write them made sure the world wouldn’t forget her too. 

 

The faint sound of the doorbell forced a customer winning smile on Mahiru’s face despite the sombre memory of her wife. She rose to her feet, closing the ledger as the customary greetings left her smiling lips. “Welcome to Ootori Mahiru’s potion emporium, is there anything I can do for you today?”

 

“Yeah we want our sister back.” And instantly, Mahiru’s customer smile fell to a line of neutrality. 

 

“Your sister, Claudine,” Mahiru said slowly, holding back the urge to glare back at the oldest of the Yumeoji-Saijou siblings. “Is working...” she turned her gaze towards Fumi, her twin, who had a familiar look of displeasure. “At her  job .” She stressed the last word, making sure that they both knew that they can’t pull her away like they did before. Their teachers even allowed Shiori to work with her after 2 years of hassle. 

 

Fumi raised a brow, her frown on her face. “On a holiday? How anti-Kirin of you.” 

 

Underneath the table, Mahiru’s hands gripped the book. Her nails made dents into the leather spine as she struggled to keep her calm. She forgot that it was that day, the Divination Day.  Underneath her garments, a familiar pulse branded her skin; the searing heat forced her left arm to wince unnoticed.  

 

Claudine walked to the side of her store; the noise of her armour pierced through the silent but tense atmosphere. Her eyes fell on the various potions on display, almost looking curious at what was in store. Yet Mahiru knew her better; she wouldn’t touch anything that wasn’t approved by the Temple of Kirin. She could spot Claudine’s maroon eyes, watching her through the reflection of her potion. 

 

Mahiru swallowed quickly, not having the luxury to do it slowly after the already long silence. She levelled her gaze towards Fumi, willing her heart to still, if only for a moment. She didn’t want to be alive to say this.  

 

“My apologies for the mighty Kirin,” she declared, voice partially deadpanned. Another pulse of heat burned against the spot again, but this time she hid the wince well. “This mortal forgot.” 

 

Near the shelves, Claudine barked out a laugh. “Please, save that apology for later for someone who actually cared, Mahiru.” She closed her hands, and the metal gloves she always wore creaked against the glass. A crack splintered against the pressure, the sound deafening in the silence. 

 

“Whoops,” she said with no apology, a smirk on her lips. “I forgot my own strength.”

 

“Then you must have a terrible teacher Claudine,” Mahiru snapped, glaring at the Kirin warrior with enough bite in her eyes to not care about the consequences. If it was  that day , she would no longer be polite. Her days were already numbered, and now that it has started to count down in twos. “And that would be 20 silvers.”

 

The hate in Claudine’s eyes flared more at the insult of her teacher than Mahiru’s blatant disrespect. “I’m sorry?” 

 

“Store policy, you break it you buy it,” Mahiru fired back. She glanced a cautionary eye at Fumi, and Fumi glanced back but said nothing. Unlike her mentor, who Mahiru knew enough to manipulate everything for her favour, Fumi’s face was unreadable. “Kirin Acolytes like yourselves should know how to follow rules.”

 

“And the people who live here under Kirin Terrority should know the rules too,” Fumi replied. She crossed her arms against her chest, a frown marred her face, her eyes turning into daggers. “Forcing our little sister to work on a holiday of rest, it’s considered barbaric. It’s enough to arrest you, Mahiru.” 

 

Mahiru opened her mouth, noticing the tips of Fumi’s fingers pulse with the light of her magic. Then it calmed itself as Fumi’s frown curled upwards, a smile blooming like a poisonous flower. “But cause it’s a special day for us, we can turn a blind eye if you want. In fact we can help clean up some shelves that have never been touched by a customer’s hand.” 

 

Mahiru stilled, the frustration in her eyes seething at the smile on Fumi’s lips. The blonde hair, long and cascading over her shoulders, doesn’t help her imagine Fumi’s mentor instead. But this was her student, not her mentor. She will not harm someone who doesn’t know they’re being toyed with already. Even if the student was learning too well from the teacher. 

 

Claudine smirked, catching onto Fumi’s words. “I agree, on the sake of my mentor, we can keep things civil for a price.”

 

“And you wonder why I didn’t want to train under the temple when the best acolytes of our generation act like this,” Shiori scowled, glaring vitriol hatred towards her sisters. Instantly the bravado of the twins deflated. The shock of her sudden appearance wore them down to look aside, caught in the horrible act of disappointing their little sister. 

 

However, the guilt did not last long as Claudine scowled. “She started it so it’s in our right to react this way.” 

 

Shiori scoffed at how quick they were to play victim, though she wasn’t surprised. They were always like this, and they always had the gall to pretend they weren’t like this when they thought she wasn’t watching. The audacity angered Shiori so much. 

 

Shiori stepped away from the door frame and marched to her oldest sister. Under her eyes, Claudine didn’t protest when Shiori yanked the broken bottle from her hand. Though she looked away, her hands turned into fists as Shiori called her out.

 

“Yes Claudine, she started it by asking you to follow company policy because you have the mentality of a child and decided to break things because you’re upset despite being 23.” Her eyes then snapped towards Fumi when a reactionary snicker left her lips. “And you too Fumi,” Shiori continued, stopping at the counter to hand Mahiru the bottle to ring up. “If Mahiru is considered barbaric would Daiba san or Tendou san be considered barbaric too since they’re making both of you do their work?”  

 

“Shiori!” Fumi yelled red, coloured her cheeks with flames of embarrassment and anger. 

 

Mahiru kept quiet, holding back her smile as her eyes glanced at the growing fight between the sisters. Of course, she should not condone the division, but what can she do to something that has existed for years. 

 

“It’s their job to host the festival of divination,” Claudine reminded as she walked towards Fumi’s. “As acolytes of the Kirin Temple it’s our job to assist them. We are not allowed to rest.” Claudine stood by her side, making it clear how the dynamics worked. Fumi and Claudine had each other’s back, and Shiori was alone. Alone with no one but Mahiru backing her as much as she could behind the counter, literally and metaphorically. 

 

Shiori gritted her teeth, “It’s also part of a medical institute to be open every day, even on an event of rest.” She pushed several silver pieces from her coin pouch and placed them on the counter, making sure to leave behind more than 20 pieces. “Even if they’re not under Kirin’s banner— “she slammed the purse in realisation, whirling back to her sisters. 

 

“Actually— if we’re so called anti-Kirin in theory because we are working instead of resting, then we don’t need to celebrate this event do we? Yet you just tried to exhort Mahiru san because you’re on Kirin Territory. So make up your damn mind. Are we so called evil or not?”

 

“That’s not for us to judge,” Claudine snapped, her eyes narrowing in disappointment. “As our sister you should understand that right belongs to the high priestesses.” 

 

“Well,” Fumi started as she cleared her throat. “I think we should calm our tensions for now.” She nudged Claudine’s side, willing her to calm down underneath her stare. Claudine huffed, looking away, and Fumi turned back to the youngest sister. “Despite everything, you two are both requested to rest.”

 

“Yes,” Claudine sighed, her anger forced down through the grit of her teeth as she looked back at Mahiru. “You’re both invited by the grace of the High Priestess and Starlight Warrior Tendou Maya—” 

 

Mahiru didn’t want to hear another word. “--I graciously decline her offer.” Underneath her clothes, the same searing pain on her left arm pulsed once again. 

 

“--To accompany her with us to the balcony seats for the divination ceremony….” Claudine trailed off, huffing when her words only met a quick rejection. Her nose flared as her eyes narrowed in distrust. “Really? You’re just going to turn down an offer like that?”

 

“I have no obligation to explain myself Claudine, to you or your teacher,” Mahiru said, her voice as calm as ever. She ignored the volcano that was about to erupt and turned to Shiori with a gentle smile. “But as your manager you’re free to have the day off for the ceremony if you want to go, Shiori.”

 

Shiori opened her mouth— 

 

“It’s also technically our graduation from acolytes too by the way,” Fumi mentioned, a small smile on her face, eyes casting that hopeful gleam. “Depending on what happened at the ceremony.”

 

Claudine nodded, her tense posture relaxed as she looked at her sisters. Despite everything, something shone in her eyes. The love she always had was so unmistakable in her eyes. “I know things have been strained between us recently, with the intense training we have and your—”. She paused, looking at Mahiru specifically before looking away back at Shiori. “--Your chosen profession.”

 

“But we would love it if you could join us for this Shiori,” Fumi said, her voice taking another dip in that soft pitch. Shiori looked away from the sisters, the anger inside her ebbing away when she didn’t want it to. She always struggled to be mad when they acted like that-- like they were her sisters. “It might be the last big celebration we would have together for a while.” 

 

Shiori walked back, her eyes firmly shut until her back touched the edge of the counter table. At the slight collision, Shiori turned to Mahiru. Her eyes sought guidance. 

 

“You should go,” Mahiru said behind them; she placed a hand on Shiori’s shoulder. Mahiru glanced up at the sisters before she turned back to Shiori. The hidden mark on her left arm once again pulsed, searing her again. A part of her felt terrible that she was more focused on being left alone than giving genuine advice. “It’s told to be a once in a lifetime event.” Though in Mahiru’s case, it was a two times lifetime event.  

 

“Exactly,” Fumi grinned, her eyes catching Claudine’s before she turned back to Shiori. “If Mahiru said it’s okay then don’t hold back.”

 

Shiori bit her lip. She glanced back at her sisters, then at Mahiru. “Alright fine I’ll come,” she decided with a firm nod. Though it was more for Mahiru than for her sisters, she didn’t want Mahiru’s shop to get ruined if Claudine had a temper tantrum.

 

“Let me get my stuff and no—” She headed back to the back of the store, stepping out quickly when she realised something important. “If you two harass Mahiru san in the time I’m gone I’ll be staying here instead.” 

 

“We’ll behave!” Fumi called as she gave a look towards Claudine. Claudine rolled her eyes, the happiness and kindness out like candlelight as she glared at Mahiru. Mahiru held her breath, awaiting her judgement. Claudine snorted, rolled her eyes and left— banging the door as she did. 

 

“Always a theatric,” Mahiru muttered, her eyes narrowing at the slightly splintered wood on the door. But, then again, considering who her teacher was— Mahiru wasn’t surprised that she wanted to show off. Even when it wasn’t necessary. 

 

“That’s my sister you’re commenting about.” Mahiru turned to Fumi, her willed blood forcing the searing pain in her arm to calm itself. Whilst Mahiru was not scared about Claudine, Fumi was something she needed to be wary about. The light glow on her gloved fingers was proof of that. 

 

“Will you go and act out like she did then?” Mahiru questioned, scoffing at Fumi’s bravado as she pushed forward the health potion. “Twins can be similar that way.” 

 

“This is why she doesn’t like you,” Fumi scoffed, looking down to sneer at the broken potion. She turned on her heel, glaring at Mahiru before glancing at Shiori behind the curtain of beads. “We’ll be waiting outside, you have 5 minutes Shiori!”

 

“I’m sorry about them Mahiru san,” Shiori said as the door chimed Fumi’s exit. She popped out of the bead curtain, her hand busy stuffing something inside her brown satchel. Shiori sighed at the broken potion left on the counter and shoved that in her bag as well. 

 

“It’s alright Shiori,” Mahiru called back, staying at her post behind the counter. She didn’t want to give any reason for them to return to her store. Not when through the window pane Claudine was still stalking her every move. “Just enjoy the ceremony.” 

 

With those words acting as a goodbye, Mahiru waved Shiori goodbye before the door too chimed her exit. She watched, staying still as she waited for the sisters to disappear over the borders of the window pane. The second they were gone, Mahiru moved. She locked the door. She drew the store blinds— shut the windows too. She turned the open sign to a closed one.

 

Only then did Mahiru feel safe. Only then did Mahiru allow her body to express itself. To quiver and shake the adrenaline coursing through her veins. Only then did Mahiru lower her head, ducking it down, pressing it to the side of her furniture. Her body crumpled to the floor, one hand pressing against the shot of fire bursting on her arm. Her arm grabbed hold of a health potion off the tables, not out of blindness but out of muscle memory. She made this potion enough times to know the weight of its value. 

 

She held onto the potion. She had onto the whispers of her wife when she recounted the health potion, telling a short story to go with it. Mahiru remembered her laugh, her fingers that smelt of stone and ink, of lips that held and tasted of things indescribable. Mahiru remembered it all— clutching the lost memories like an anchor, the memories of everything else before  that time  threatening to overwhelm her. 

 

Mahiru did not like to lie. 

 

But she hoped neither Claudine nor Fumi graduated today. Not out of malice or pettiness. She did not think they were not worthy. Mahiru was just selfish. She didn’t want to be part of the prophecy— not again. 

Chapter Text

They say the party was your family. In some ways, that quote made sense. These are the people you would live and die for, carried and fuelled by the love for family, even if the said family was found. 

 

That love is beautiful. It has moved mountains, literally or metaphorically; it has moved people into an adventure that changed their lives. But this sort of love is false. It is coddled and made only possible not because the people wanted it but because it was needed. Co-operation was needed to survive. Being kind was needed to survive. 

 

Not to lessen those of purer hearts, for love can even come from basic manipulation. But really. When you’re nothing but tools for entertainment, is everything you are or anything at all genuine? Or was it all fabricated for God’s amusement and fondness? 

 

...Of course, it was real. Gods like perfection, and love is everything but perfection. And it shines most when it surrounds the imperfections of every damned human. This is why the most crucial factor of the healing potion is not Love but the intent of Love. The intent of love and honey to sweeten the taste is needed, especially for young children or adults with picky taste buds. 

 

- Health Potion Recipe, Transcribed by Ootori Mahiru.

 

She hated her sisters. Shiori didn’t want to hate her sisters, but it was hard to remember when they acted like this. Stupid, arrogant top stars of the Kirin Temple. Shiori hated it all— she hated being related to them when they were like this. Unfortunately, this was more common than Shiori could stomach. 

 

“Y’know I’m not a child anymore.” Shiori yelled. She didn’t attempt to hide the bite and the anger in her voice. She stormed away from Mahiru’s house the second they were out of eyesight, leaving her sisters in her dust before they caught up to her. “You two can stop acting like you know better than me.”

 

“Shiori,” Fumi sighed as she caught up first, reaching out to Shiori with her gloved hands. “Shiori you know it’s not because of that.” Shiori stopped reluctantly; she didn’t want Fumi to actually use magic to stop her. She did it before once they were younger, and it was humiliating. Still, Shiori didn’t turn around to face her. And when Claudine came into view in the corner of her eye, Shiori avoided her too. 

 

“No,” Shiori drawled, rolling her eyes as she kept her eyes to the sky. “It’s because Mahiru is an exiled member of society, an anarchist who is against the mighty Kirin.” She spat the statement out like it was rotten food, the snarl and sarcasm dripping down her teeth. 

 

It was always the same old excuse. The same old reason why Shiori’s sisters, acolytes of the Kirin, kept saying to get out of trouble. Mahiru was a bad person. Mahiru shared anti-kirin propaganda. Mahiru was dangerous. They always told Shiori off for associating with Mahiru, for going out of the city to befriend her in the little shop. 

 

They never even bothered to tell her why.

 

If she wanted to know why Mahiru was a “menace”, she needed to be an acolyte too. When Shiori first heard that, she laughed. She’ll be an acolyte, but then she wouldn’t learn the information cause it was “too dangerous” for her, or she would be too young. Or even worse, her sisters, aka her higher-ups, wouldn’t tell her just to “protect her.”

 

She was 20 years old, now nearing 21. She wasn’t a child needing protection, even if her sisters kept acting like she was. Besides, they can’t precisely preach safety when they failed her already after their mothers died. 

 

It may have been years— but she still couldn’t forgive them for abandoning her when they were kids. 

 

“Shiori,” Claudine said with a tone that was stern as always. Like it was to a menace of the public instead of her little sister. Claudine stepped in front of her, and Shiori closed her eyes out of stubbornness. She didn’t see Claudine’s shoulder sag, but the tired, disappointed sigh told her about it instead. “Shiori, I’m not going to tell you off about Mahiru this time but you need to watch how you say things. People won’t like that tone.”

 

Something about that last sentence forced Shiori’s eyes to open, the green shade turning acidic as she sneered at Claudine.

 

“People won’t like that tone,” she repeated; the frustration of the hypocrisy made Shiori shove past Claudine. “Just like people wouldn’t like that tone you used against Mahiru in the shop?” She walked faster, her fists clenching tight against each other. She can tell her sisters didn’t follow her, and for once, she was glad. “Consider this even,” she murmured under her breath. She couldn’t do much for Mahiru, but she was delighted she could at least do this. 

 


 

“Did you really have to do that?” Fumi asked, pinching her nose as she stood next to Claudine. Claudine was staring at Shiori’s leaving figure, a contemplative expression on her face. “She’s already mad at us.”

 

 Fumi didn’t like how strained their relationship had become over the years when Shiori turned 18. Then again, she was the one that moved out of the temple that all three of them called home ever since their mothers died. Fumi still couldn’t figure out a reason why— and she was the reasonable one. 

 

“It’s not my fault that Mahiru deserved it,” Claudine grumbled as she kicked a stray pebble to get out some of her pent up frustration. Claudine glanced back at the dirt road that led to Mahiru’s shop. “Why can’t Shiori understand that Mahiru is dangerous behind that kind facade?” She snorted, kicking another pebble that was close to her feet. “She’s lucky that I’m holding back.” 

 

Fumi sighed at Claudine’s words, playing with the strings of her gloves to destress. If she wasn’t due for a ceremony soon, she would remove the glove entirely and play with the rose ring. Despite being Claudine’s twin, Fumi was the unfortunate one who was born a few hours later. This meant she was now the middle child mitigating Claudine and Shiori’s constant fights. Especially when it was about Mahiru. 

 

Even then, Fumi knew that her attempts at being a neutral party were poor. She knew, and Shiori knew that she was more biased for Claudine’s view since Fumi was an acolyte too. She was in a different branch than Claudine, Runes, and Magic instead of Weaponry Combat, but she was an acolyte nonetheless. 

 

That meant neutrality was hard when she knew things the public would never understand. Mainly because she was Daiba san’s personal student after she rescued her when she was a child. There was stuff Fumi couldn’t even say to Claudine unless they graduated. So telling Shiori anything important without Daiba san’s permission was difficult without putting a target on her back. Shiori had every right to get angry at them for keeping secrets, but they had to keep it a secret.

 

 Loose tongues made heads roll— at least that was what Daiba san preached. 

 

“Look,” Fumi said as she raised her hands up in pre-self-defence. Claudine rolled her eyes. “Playing the devil’s advocate, you didn’t exactly help by smashing her potion in the store.” Fumi then winced, remembering how quick she was to antagonise Mahiru when Claudine got involved. “And the attempted extortion probably didn’t help either.”

 

“Look I just saw her stupid face and I just wanted to punch it,” Claudine scowled, the vitriol hatred rolling off her tongue. The hate then simmered into what it really was deep inside, behind the surface rage and hate— to something only Fumi knew and saw. The hues of worry dampened Claudine’s eyes; the fear stretched her lips to a frown. Claudine placed a stray hair behind her ear— a rare exposure of Claudine’s rose stud piercing. “I don’t like Mahiru’s influence on Shiori.” 

 

Claudine shook her head at the thought, and the hair fell forward, hiding the earring once again. 

 

Fumi shook her head. The weight of her own rose ring underneath her gloves felt heavy. Whilst she knew why Claudine hated Mahiru, she never fully understood the hatred, or at least this depth. If Fumi’s own reasoning for not liking Mahiru and being weary of Mahiru from Nana’s warnings was a lake, then Claudine’s was a trench underneath the sea. Her hate would be powerful enough to create volcanic islands. For now, it was subdued, spitting only hot air up to the surface above. 

 

“Come on Kuro,” Fumi laughed as she slapped Claudine’s shoulder. “We don’t need to worry about her now, we’re graduating from being acolytes today remember?” She nudged her side, a cheerful smile on her face. “We’re finally going to get what we came for after 15 years. When we graduate no one can tell us what to do.” 

 

“Yeah,” Claudine laughed, her worry easing away to the wind. “Yeah, we don’t need to hold back anymore— we’re going to graduate.”

 

“We’re going to be heroes,” Fumi grinned, whispering the words like it’s a birthday wish before the blowing of the candles. “Just like we always planned as kids.”

 

“The Hero and her lancer.” Claudine mirrored Fumi’s excitement, the smug smirk on her face as she wrapped her in a side hug. “The brains and the brawns.” 

 

“Why do you put me as the sidekick?” Fumi laughed as she pushed Claudine away. “I could be the hero for all you know.”

 

“Please since when did a mage become a hero,” Claudine scoffed. She placed her hands on her hips before she pointed at Fumi. “You’re more of a merin type, all assistant but more powerful when we’re in the side plot.” 

 

Fumi cocked one of her eyebrows up, looking up and down at Claudine’s chainmail armour. “You only say that because you got all the muscles huh, miss berserker.”

 

“Oh how dare you!” Claudine yelled, but there was no bite in her carefree smile. Instead, she chased after Fumi, uncaring how she was literally proving Fumi’s point. Though it seemed Fumi didn’t matter either. 

 

“Aren’t you glad Mahiru didn’t join in after all, Claudine?” Fumi laughed as she ran. However, she halted immediately when she didn’t hear Claudine’s steps behind her. Her eyes widened, her hand immediately went to her face when she realised what she did. 

 

“AND THEN SHE GOES AND REJECTS TENDOU MAYA’S OFFER!” Claudine yelled again, kicking not just a pebble but a larger stone into the wall, making a crack in the defence. 

 

Fumi followed up Claudine’s outburst with a loud groan of her own, only partially muffled with her face in her hands. She will allow herself a moment of self regret before she assured the guards nearby that no— there wasn’t an attack. It was just her sister being rowdy. 

 

Neither of them noticed that Shiori didn’t go too far. That she was looking back when she heard them laugh, that her anger faded away from the longer she looked. They didn’t notice the way her eyes narrowed with guilt, her upper lip wobbling with hesitation. Neither of them saw the way the familiar, nostalgic hint of family bonding shined in her eyes before it dropped entirely. 

 

The conflict of whether she should laugh with her sisters already ended as soon as it properly began. She couldn’t laugh with them, even when the desire to join ached her chest so hard she forgot to breathe. 

 


 

For all her years living here, Shiori never learnt the proper name of the city. She called it Kirin City because the Grand Temple was in the centre of it. But when she moved out of the temple when she was a teenager, she never bothered to learn the city’s real name. Though Kirin City would have to do considering everyone’s near fanatic worship and praise to the Kirin God. 

 

No shops were open as far as Shiori could see, weaving and passing through the celebrations out on the streets. She made her way to the Grand Temple itself, overwhelming in its obnoxious design. It was decorated with towers reaching the heavens, patterned tiles that mimicked the pattern of a giraffe. She doesn’t know why the animal of worship was a giraffe. Then again, Shiori never paid attention to her religious studies when she was in the temple. 

 

“Ma’am you need to be escorted to the side,” a guard up ahead called, forcing Shiori to stop and observe. Shiori kept one hand deep into her satchel, holding the book she may or may or not took from Mahiru’s shop. She didn’t want the book to be taken, not when she planned to at least transcribe the potion she was working on after the ceremony.

 

“And let you ruin my cake I made for the heroes?” A lady, roughly around Shiori’s age or older, scowled, refusing to bridge. Shiori rolled her eyes and immediately walked away, moving away from the apparent crowd. She sneaked through the villagers, making her way to the side entrance of the temple. 

 

Whilst there were enough guards around, most of them focused on the main entrance for the growing fans that Claudine and Fumi had. It didn’t make the sides bare of protection, but there was a small amount for Shiori to be comfortable with. She pulled herself up on a large crate, sitting there cross-legged when they moved to block her path. The reaction made Shiori snort. They were quick to forget her appearance, even when she was the infamous black sheep of the Temple.

 

Since a more subtle path to the temple was blocked, there was nothing for Shiori to do but sit and wait for her sisters. Which was just  marvellous . The championing heroes, the two best acolytes of the generation and saviour of the city, needed to escort their wayward sibling for the ceremony.  How glorious. 

 

Of course, Shiori knew better than to say that out loud. Any sort of criticism would lead to a lecture of gratefulness from random strangers. How dare Shiori criticise the people who saved her life and many more from the  Aftermath Plague . Completely unaware that the actual person who saved her life was the person her sisters despised, Ootori Mahiru. 

 

A commotion and the stride of military boots next to her stirred Shiori out of her thoughts. Still, she didn’t budge from the frantic whispers of the guards, the quiet gasps and awed heavy breathing. There was only one person who could garner that sort of reaction who weren’t her sisters. Yet Shiori wouldn’t be bothered to look their way, not when her eyes were focused on the crowd lining up for her sisters.

 

“I’m honoured you would spare your time with me, your grace,” Shiori commented, seeing the person’s shadow on the ground near her. Already the awed whispers turned to low murmurs, of gossips and stories Shiori knew all too well growing up. Shiori was glad she went ahead. Claudine would have her head for showing disrespect towards her teacher. 

 

It was a good thing that Tendou Maya didn’t care for these small moments of disrespect in her old age. 

 

“Oh believe me,” Maya grinned as she looked over the youngest of the sisters she sheltered growing up. “The honour is mine Shiori, it’s why I invited you to the best seats after all.” 

 

Shiori nodded as she finally turned her head to face the infamous Tendou Maya with a low bow out of gratitude. To do any less would just ask for unnecessary troubles from the other acolytes. The reputation of her sisters won’t stop them from showing their unwavering respect to Kirin’s finest warrior. Shiori can still remember the “private lessons of respect” scattered on her body in her youth.  

 

When Shiori raised her head, she was struck with the sunlight in her eyes and the picturesque view of Tendou Maya. Her hair was a dutiful silver and parted almost perfectly on her scarred brows to create her iconic set of bangs, and the rest was draped over her shoulders like a cloak. 

 

A charming smile of wisdom and kindness matched her sharp violet eyes, the golden monocle on her left eye emphasising the experience she held. A navy silk scarf lined her neck, tucked into the finely pressed linen shirt. Her black waistcoat, often barren, held the medals she earned on her left breast. Something she must’ve added for the occasion, Shiori realised. 

 

Her black leather gloves were part of her standard attire from what Shiori could remember, but the elegant coat of blue hues and gold was new. Yet it’s been 2 years since Shiori last saw her properly, and she couldn’t tell if this part of the outfit was ceremonial or not. The pressed white breeches were ceremonial that much Shiori could tell, sophisticated Tendou Maya was, but the combat was always part of her attire. Much like that rapier at her side, sheathed at Maya’s waist. 

 

“You dressed up well, your grace.” Shiori complimented with a genuine smile. She ignored the stares of the other guards watching, aware of their jealousy and the way they checked her out in comparison. Claudine’s mentor, their higher up and role model, was dressed to the finest whilst their troublesome sister was in nothing but casual work clothes. 

 

Maya’s grin widened, her hands fell to the cuffs of sleeves, adjusting it with pride. “Today is the day Kuro would graduate so a sense of formality is naturally required.” Shiori’s smile faltered a bit at the mention of Claudine; she hasn’t used the Kuro nickname for so long. She hasn’t called Fumi’ Onee chan’ either for a long time.

 

 “Shiori?”

 

Shiori forced a smile to return. There was no time for those thoughts now, not when they graduated today. “I’m fine,” she lied. “I just noticed how Fumi thought they wouldn’t graduate.”

 

“Your sister’s concern is fair since Daiba san is a harsh judge.” Maya rolled her eyes, leaning forward to whisper in Shiori’s ear, carefully pushing the hair away. “But between you and me, no matter what would happen in the ceremony, your sisters would graduate today.” She pulled away, winking at Shiori with that mischief only seen in grandmothers.

 

Shiori opened her mouth but quickly shut it at the sudden screech in front of them. Her head whipped around to the source, her closed lips turning into an uncomfortable frown. Together Maya and Shiori observed how the crowds started to part, and there at the mouth of the split ocean of admiration and respect was her Shiori’s two sisters. 

 

Saijou Claudine: dressed in her armour of chainmail, iron plating and a cocky smirk. She was known as the heartbreaker of maidens, Tendou Maya’s champion, the master of the broadsword. The same one that was sheathed on her hip, mirroring Maya’s own rapier. She was the youngest acolyte to ever be recognised as a hero in the making and the fastest one to gain Maya’s trust, or so the gossip goes. 

 

Then there was Yumeoji Fumi, Kirin’s best mage under the elusive Daiba Nana. Whilst her merits aren’t as known as Claudine’s achievements, her intelligence and attunement to Kirin’s magic was something else entirely. She could memorise any rune and can do spells without a book to bind them to. Moreover, her calmer attitude played well with Claudine’s hotheaded personality, and together they made history at the moment. 

 

Shiori heard all these titles, accomplishments and more growing up. She heard all of them and the unspoken expectation that she would be the best of all of them— had she actually followed in their footsteps. There was a branch of alchemy and potion making amongst the acolytes, but that didn’t matter to Shiori. She wanted nothing to do with Kirin’s temple, not after everything. 

 

“It’s seen as an honour to be related to your sisters,” Maya mentioned. They watched the guards struggling to keep the crowds back, desperate to catch Fumi and Claudine’s attention. Shiori hummed, patiently watching as the cheers became louder and louder. She wondered if her sisters would spot her in the crowd. She wondered that if she was just another face to them. They didn’t spot her so far, and the anticipation corroded at her heart like it was acid. 

 

“Then is it a dishonour for those sisters to be seen being related to me?” She countered so quietly that it wouldn’t be heard above the noise. She glanced up at Maya, the unspoken truth leaking through the words. Did the people,  did her sisters , hate that she was related to them but didn’t follow in their footsteps?

 

Maya chuckled. Her eyes were still on her sisters. “You’ve grown sharper.” 

 

A double meaning response— the perfect non-answer. Not that Shiori minded. For all their faults and arguments, she didn’t want to know how she would feel if Maya said yes. She loved her sisters, even when loving them made everything hurt more. 

 

There was no other conversation to be had, so Shiori joined Maya watching her sisters say their hellos and write on parchment for their autograph. Any hope that they would spot her face in the crowd ebbed away in pieces—bit by bit like water trickling through cracks in a container. 

 

“Is Mahiru already inside for the ceremony?” Maya asked once everything was over. 

 

Shiori shook her head. “She declined your offer, your grace.” 

 

A low sound left Maya’s lips. Shiori glanced up before blinking away in surprise at the split-second emotion she caught in Maya’s eyes. When Shiori focused again on whatever she saw, that malice, that flash of hate and disgust appeared to have never existed. 

 

“A shame then,” Maya sighed. Disappointment, but not the vitriol hate Shiori saw, was seeping out through and through. “Your sisters are probably going to go through interviews by the journalists. We still have around 45 minutes until the ceremony begins properly.” She paused and looked at Shiori. “Shall I escort you to our wing Shiori?”  

 

Shiori looked once more to the crowd. To the path her sisters left behind, she deemed by herself and everyone else around her, whether they admitted it or not, unreachable. She nodded once and stepped off the crate. It was time to see her sisters graduate.

Chapter Text

No one could tell the future. Even if you knew the future, you wouldn't be able to go back in time to stop yourself. The future was something the gods couldn't even control. To see the future was allowing yourself to be further and more powerful than the gods. No one, not even the god's own experimental tool, should be able to tell the future. 

 

Of course, the gods like breaking their own rules just to make things more fun. Hubris is a mortal term. Hubris is Man trying to reach God. They don't need to fear the punishment best given towards their own creations. 

 

That is why the  Seer  and the  Catalyst  exist. 

 

They are tools, made only for God's purposes. They are the only creations known to have a glimpse of god's power and perhaps beyond. But one doesn't need to be crafted to manipulate laws even Gods fear to tread. So whilst there is no potion to see into the future like a seer or speed up time like a catalyst, one could hide from the Gods. Partially at least. Though the Price to create a glamour potion is dangerous, and it's considered expensive, one could even call it Hubris. And yet, this is the recipe for falling into such hubris. 

 

- Glamour Potion, transcribed by Ootori Mahiru

 

 

The journey to the east wings of the ceremony stage wasn't as smooth sailing as Shiori hoped. She knew the higher officials of the city would try to talk to Maya, and as always, Shiori kept her mouth shut, staying away from the spotlight. But, unfortunately, Maya surrounded herself with sweet-talking, power-hungry leeches, and Shiori couldn't be left alone with their questions. 

 

"Who was she?"

 

“I thought the rumoured child was smaller— anyways… is she your next student after Claudine leaves?”

 

"Are you sure she's their sister? I never knew they had a third sister."

 

The last one stung more than Shiori expected it to. 

 

Eventually, Maya and Shiori managed to shake them off, with Maya offering numerous apologies for the interruptions and rude comments. "My sincerest apologies Shiori, after the ceremony I'll deal with them personally."

 

"Please don't," Shiori muttered under her breath though she gave an ill convincing smile when Maya gave her a concerned look. "It's honestly fine, your grace. I'm used to these comments." She didn't mention how she had to endure it growing up in the temple, nor did she mention how it became more than just words. Not risking the exposure of her childhood or anything that could be seen as dishonourable, Shiori stepped forward and opened the doors of the balcony. 

 

"It's admirable that you're used to this but every human has their tipping point for the abyss," A delicate voice called out the second the doors opened. Shiori froze at the soothing whisper, the sound of light in all its audible incarnations. If it wasn't for Maya pushing past her, Shiori would've stayed there frozen in time, blocking the doorway. 

 

She would not be ashamed of such a reaction— not when she knew Fumi had the same reaction when she came face to face with the elusive Daiba Nana. 

 

The rumours say Daiba Nana was older than time itself, that the connection she had to the gods made her immortal. They say the gods whispered to her in the sleep. They say she was the  Eternal Seer.  In old stories about prophecies that Shiori knew as a kid, the kids liked to joke that she was part of the fables, that she was the one who wrote them. 

 

Shiori knew all of them were lies since she grew up in the temple, but there was something mystical about Daiba Nana now that she was face to face with her. To think this person was Fumi's teacher, she was the one who looked at Fumi when she was a kid and offered her personal tutelage. To think she's in the same room as both of her sister's teachers.

 

"Daiba san," Maya whispered, cupping Nana's cheeks with a fond look in her violet eyes. "You look beautiful." 

 

Nana chuckled, her green eyes shining like emerald jewels as they roamed over Maya's attire. "Please Maya chan, you're the one whose most beautiful today." When they shared a smile and kissed, Shiori struggled not to squeak, opting to turn around in high embarrassment when they noticed her. 

 

"Please ignore me!" She stammered, the heat on her cheeks threatening to knock her out if her embarrassment didn't swing at her first. "I- I didn't see anything."

 

There was a flutter of an ethereal light captured in a laugh, followed by the rough clearing of a throat. "It's fine Shiori," Maya said, the rare colour of red filling out her cheeks. "The fault lies on me."

 

"Yes indeed it is Maya chan," Nana giggled as she walked over to Shiori and gently peeled away the hands on her face. "Shiori chan right? Fumi chan's sister?"

 

Shiori nodded. This close, she can see the subtle marks of ageing on Nana's face, the crow lines around her green eyes and the grey lines scattering between the styled banana-like tails at either side of her head. "Y-yes uh…" she trailed off, unsure how to address the high priestess.

 

Nana smiled like she knew the troubles Shiori was facing. "Please, call me Nana." 

 

"First name basis!?" Shiori blurted out, shocked by the sudden closeness. After all of her tutelage, even her sister wasn't allowed to call Nana by her first name. Not without an honorific or title. 

 

"Or Daiba san if you want to be polite," Nana grinned, the corners of her lips turning sheepish, if only for a moment. "Sorry about that, I was getting too excited. I've been waiting for this day for the longest time." 

 

"Right…" Shiori nodded, eager for the safer route. Granted, she did find it cute that even powerful women like Daiba Nana can be excited about small things like today. "Thank you Daiba san," Shiori smiled, bowing her head in respect. "Tendou san was right by the way, you do look beautiful today."

 

Nana's attire was more ceremonial than Maya's, or at least that was what Shiori assumed. She never knew what Nana would look like outside of the ceremonial robes of white and the gold threading. The tails of her robes reached the back of her knees, and her sleeves were wide enough to hide away a book or two. The hood as well was a clear reference to her high status and magical prowess. 

 

4 pointed stars decorated the lapels of her coat, the cuffs of her long sleeves were threaded with crystals and rocks, and a magic circle was stitched on the back of her coat. The dress she wore was dyed with the shade of the sun and gold, reaching just over her knee as her high length boots covered up the rest of the skin. 

 

She was radiant, beautiful like the sun herself. It was no wonder Maya was drawn to her so inexplicably. 

 

"Thank you Shiori chan," Nana smiled as she gave her hands a soft squeeze before letting go. Shiori smiled, hiding her hands behind her back as a tingling sensation pricked the tips of her fingers. 

 

"Again my apologies for startling you," Maya reiterated as she walked towards the two blondes. She turned back to Nana, reaching out with her hand with as much grace as a dancer. Nana accepted it and leaned closer to her, their shoulders touching in a subtle show of intimacy. "I wasn't expecting Daiba san's company so soon."

 

"I'm in charge of the ceremony you see," Nana explained with a smile and a mischievous wink towards Shiori before turning back to Maya. "And I'm here because I wanted to wish my last student luck like you planned to do, Maya chan."

 

"Ma Claudine doesn't need luck," Maya scoffed, arrogance gracing her smirk. "She'll graduate with the highest honour." 

 

"Mmm," Nana hummed, a finger pressed at the bottom of her chin, "Fumi chan can run circles around Kuro chan if she really wanted to." 

 

"If she wanted to," Maya conceded. "But that lack of will power won't let her win our bet." Shiori smiled, hoping that it was enough not to be questioned. She did not know what her sisters were doing. And she did not want to be involved with their graduation beyond being there for them. 

 

Nana laughed once more before she slid away from Maya, kissing her hands goodbye with a fond adoration before moving towards the closed doors. "If you say so Maya chan~." 

 

Maya rolled her eyes at the gesture not before glancing at her hands with a soft smile. Shiori said nothing, watching all of this. For once, she was grateful for her sisters to appear at the door when Nana opened it. She did not want to be a silent third wheeler to her sisters' teachers. Though the relief made way to surprise the second she saw Claudine and Fumi's shocked faces. 

 

"Daiba sensei!" Fumi greeted immediately with a bow, Claudine following right behind her. "I didn't expect to see you here." Shiori's eyes widened, they didn't know Nana was there, but the way Nana opened the door made it seem like she expected to come at that exact moment. The divination Nana had… no wonder she was in charge of the ceremony. 

 

"Raise your heads young acolytes," Nana said with a smile that was equally intense as it was kind. She grabbed their chins, one sister for one hand, and slowly lifted them up for their eyes to meet. "You two are going to change the world like your teachers once did, you can talk to us with equal respect." 

 

"We can't!" Claudine stammered a sound that startled Shiori once more. Claudine wasn't one to lose her confidence like that, not so quickly and not in front of the people she idolised and looked up to. 

 

"You will," Maya defended, her voice powerful enough to shut everything else in the room. She stepped forward, reaching Nana's side. Like Nana, she held her sister's shoulders and straightened them, standing tall and proud. "After everything Claudine you will see us in the same light as we see everything else." She moved closer to the duo, blocking Shiori from the sight of her sisters lest she edged around to watch them. 

 

It was clear that whilst Shiori was silent, Nana and Maya were still aware of her. And that she wasn't needed in the discussion anymore. Shiori didn't feel slighted at the exclusion. It was pleasant enough of a surprise for her to view as much as she did. As much as the thought stung her chest, she wouldn't even be surprised that her sisters took notice of her when they entered the room. 

 

Ignoring her thoughts, Shiori moved to the balcony at the far side of the room. There was space for three chairs and a small table, but none of that mattered to Shiori. She sat down on the left chair and looked out beyond the gold railing. Overlooking the ceremony stage, amusingly enough— she considered the place similar to a theatre stage. 

 

At first glance, it would be just a simple wooden platform. However, the longer Shiori looked, she noticed how the wings on either side at the back would stay still even when the breeze from the windows made everything else move. On the ground floor, beyond an orchestral pit that held various sizes of drums, the common folk were busy conversing about the ceremony. Yet none of them seemed to notice or stare at the uncanniness. 

 

A mystic fog made from the same clouds of thunderstorms surrounded the bottom of the stage, rising and falling like the chest of something breathing. Then like a tide, it washed and retreated on the steps of the drum pit. There was a pedestal in the centre, curved and sculpted into a porcelain bowl. Yet, there was a glimmer visible from Shiori's angle. A letter T stood in the middle behind the pedestal, which Shiori assumed would be where Nana needed to stand to start the ceremony. 

 

"We'll make you proud Tendou san, Daiba san, I promise," Claudine called from behind Shiori. Shiori grinned at the pride and hope in Claudine's voice, and she scrunched up her fists in her lap. 

 

It was hard hearing that. 

 

It was hard knowing that Claudine said that to her and before to their mothers once upon a time. Twice she promised that sentiment, twice she failed. Third time's the charm, however, or so Fumi would say. Shiori did not like how her heart ached. In all of its bitter and unjust jealousy, wondering how Claudine would fail for the third time.

 

The sharp bang of the doors shutting jolted Shiori out of her thoughts. She cleared her throat, calming herself in time for her sisters to return on her right side. As she expected, from the corner of her eye, Fumi took the middle, and Claudine took the one furthest away from her. 

 

When they were younger, Shiori would be in the middle to make sure there wouldn't be any accusations of favouritism. Now that spot belonged to Fumi, just to make sure they wouldn't fight, even when all the tension in the air suggested it. Shiori looked around, hoping to see if Tendou san was still around to ease the atmosphere. Yet the place was empty apart from her two sisters.

 

"Daiba sensei asked her to assist in the ceremony," Fumi said when she noticed Shiori looking around. "Said they needed to have a private talk." 

 

Shiori had a feeling there was more to that since she interrupted what probably was a "private talk" by accident. Then again, Shiori wasn't close enough to anyone in the temple to know if their romance was well known. "I see…" she murmured before she returned to casually watching the crowds below. 

 

"Did you thank her for the invite?" Claudine asked, her voice abrupt as always. Shiori glanced her way, noting how Claudine was also avoiding her gaze like she did. At that moment, Shiori thought of the question she asked Maya; she thought about the non-response of the comment. Without ever elaborating how or why. 

 

She was getting sharper.

 

Yet that sharpness was picking at her sides from the inside, where she was left defenceless. 

 

"I didn't," Shiori admitted, catching how Claudine's nail clenched on the wooden armrest of her chair. They dug into the wood, chipping away the varnish. "I just assumed you already thanked her when you asked your mentor to invite me to your seats instead of waiting till tomorrow to hear the news."

 

There was a tch from Claudine, and Shiori saw the anger snarl for a moment before a flash of light blinded both of them. When Shiori blinked away the light, she saw a bubble separating her from the world. A cage. 

 

"FUMI!" She yelled, banging against the side of the sphere. Fumi didn't hear her, arguing with Claudine on the other side, mouths moving fast with no sound. "Fumi what the hell!!?" Nothing yet until Shiori's shoulder charged the same side of the bubble, causing it to shatter. 

 

"You weren't supposed to come out yet," Fumi chided as another flash blinded them both. This time, Claudine was in the bubble. "To make it fair," Fumi reasoned as she brushed her hair away from her face. 

 

"Or you could just not put us in a bubble."

 

"You two were about to fight, what was I supposed to do?"

 

"Anything but that!" Claudine snarled as she punched her way out of the sphere.

 

"For once, I agree with Claudine." 

 

"Then you can both chew me out when everything is over," Fumi sighed as she waved her hands, the door clicking itself with a heavy clack. "The doors are locked and soundproof, we can stay here after the ceremony to just talk about this. Properly."

 

Shiori was about to fight back. To scream and shout how even when they tried to talk, they would never listen, that they would never tell her things. They don't trust her with secrets. They don't trust her to be her own person. But then she saw the regretful look in Fumi's eyes, the clarity seeping and smothering out the fiery rage in Claudine's eyes. She looked at the people she hadn't registered as sisters for the longest time and settled, sitting down on her chair, her heart clogging up her throat. 

 

"Both of you?" She didn't know how to feel when her voice wavered. She didn't want to admit to herself that all she wanted for the longest time was her sisters, not the two acolytes of Kirin. They used to be sisters once, then the plague happened, then their parents died. Then Claudine and Fumi became mentored, and Shiori was abandoned. 

 

Nothing was the same after that moment. 

 

"We'll tell you everything," Claudine promised, for once meeting her eyes without an underlying emotion. There was something raw in her voice, the unspoken desire that maybe perhaps, they were telling the truth. "After the ceremony, after we graduate, we'll tell you everything."

 

Shiori wanted to believe them. "Why now— Claudine." She almost said Kuro nee, a name long lost, a name they haven't earned yet. She swallowed the childhood guilt to burn within the stomach acid. Her voice shook, violence churning from years of pent up frustration. "Why now after everything?"

 

"We were allowed," Fumi explained as calm as she could. She glanced at Claudine before placing all her eyes on Shiori. "Our teachers, I don't know why but they said we can tell you." 

 

"I was angry at you for not thanking her because if you didn't come today, maybe we wouldn't have this opportunity." Claudine admitted the words quietly, looking away from Shiori. "You don't know how hard it is to keep this stuff secret from you, not just recently but over the years."

 

"I was angry at you too," Shiori whispered back. A sense of liberation lifted her shoulders and her chin when her sisters stared back at her, confused. What she said will hurt, but it would be nothing to all of her years being alone. "Because it almost felt like you both ignored me again until the last moment." She didn't want to tell them of the rumours none of them would ever hear, the comments of snobbish people telling them they never knew she existed. That would be too far, Shiori wanted some form of justice, but she would never stoop that low. 

 

"Shiori," Fumi sighed, almost expectantly at this point. "It's never like that."

 

"I know—" Shiori gulped, clenching her shaking hands. "But the same words you keep repeating can only go so far."

 

Shiori watched Claudine take a deep breath. She watched her turn to look at her with determined eyes. She opened her mouth and—

 

"The ceremony of the divine will start now!" A voice called below, followed by the cheer of the public on the ground floor. 

 

Claudine growled, shutting her mouth with a frown as she looked forward. "Later," she offered, a small piece of a larger promise. 

 

Shiori accepted it, nodding as she turned her focus to the stage below. "Later." A huff of pride left Fumi's lips. Still, she said nothing more, opting to follow their gaze down, something unexplainable glinting in her eyes. 

 

Together, the sisters sat and watched from the balcony seat in utter silence. The cheers from below where the public sat accompanied the slow, steady beat of the drums. 

 

Dum. Dum. Dum. 

 

Entering from the right side, stopping directly in the middle, stood Daiba Nana, her white hood up, her green eyes glowing with magic. She took a step forward. Her movements were precise and in times with the heavy thuds. 

 

Dum. Dum. Dum. 

 

And then… 

 

DA DA DA DA DA DA DA DA DA DA DA DA DA 

 

DUM. 

 

A flourish of movements of acrobatics Shiori wouldn't expect from such an old lady. First, a running start, followed by a front flip and then a roll, landing and only stopping at the X on the floor. Silence followed only for a moment as her hands gripped the side of the bowl before she let out a cry, one that was echoed throughout the chamber and encouraged by the crowd below.

 

The drumming was reborn again. This time it was a faster pace, at a mechanical speed. The echoes and thuds sounded more and more like the sound of cogs whirling of machinery only found in the wealthier parts of the city. 

 

Nana's hands bent and weaved across the bowl as the fog around her followed her gestures. There was a chant leaving her lips, loud and proud, and in a language, Shiori didn't understand but heard whispers next to her. Shiori glanced at her sisters, unsurprised that Fumi was following along with Nana under her breath whilst Claudine's grip on the armrests strengthened, the nails digging and splintering the wood. 

 

Another cry and a rising heavy beat of the drums forced Shiori to turn back to the ceremony. Spots grew on the porcelain bowl, decorating the sides in the same pattern of the Kirin's symbolic animal— The Giraffe. A glow of two stars flicking in red and gold appeared in the centre of the empty bowl, and the fogs and the arm movements became more intense and complex. 

 

The drumming mirrored the movement, each beat overlapping the next in a fast motion until it all stopped as one. The echo of the final drumbeat lingered through the air as Daiba Nana lifted her hands to the sky, reaching something in the far distance with her eyes glossed over. 

 

Shiori stood up. A cold chill forcing the hair on her skin to rise up as the faint curls of lingering fog graced their balcony, almost clawing at her skin once before fading away with no impact. 

 

Shiori didn't hear her sisters calling her name. 

 

She just heard a voice, a lull of a child-like whisper that evolved to a siren call. 

 

The story unending will turn a fresh page 

 

Fueled by the past and their rage 

 

Heroes of light shall face 

 

The villains in an arm's race

 

Be wary of blondes who can seal fate 

 

Be cautious of red eyes and what they create

 

To right the last prophecy's wrongs

 

All players must follow this story along

 

As justice will return from the dead 

 

The ending of this all will turn the stage of the world on its head .

 

That was the last thing Shiori heard before she fell over the balcony railing.

Chapter Text

Mercury is an interesting element. It’s the only metal that has a liquid format at a standard room temperature. It’s shiny, silver and can be stored in a glass vial like a potion. It can be drunk. It can be used as a poison. Mercury, as an ingredient, is fascinating. 

 

Though if the natural world demanded a metal that has the basis of liquid, it would indeed allow the opposite to become true. A liquid that could solidify and become metal. Of course, if the natural world allowed this, it would’ve existed already. Therefore manmade, created by a highly skilled alchemist, would have to do. 

 

This is how to make a blade from a potion that would solidify as a blade when stretched out, its own glass vial as its sword hilt. 

 

- Bladed Potion, transcribed by Ootori Mahiru.

-

 

Red eyes. Red eyes, brown hair. Red eyes, brown hair, the letter C. Red Eyes brown hair, the letter C, and gold flashes. 

 

Fire, wind, decay, music. Red eyes. 

 

Anger, guilt, love, pain. Red eyes. 

 

That was what Shiori saw—  felt , dancing in time with the words of something she didn’t know how to perceive. All of it, captured in the canvas of red eyes. Red eyes vanished, leaving nothing but the sensation of something slamming into her chest, forcing her to breathe. And when she came back to the living world, her first vision was a ceiling in sterile white and a swaying, flicking light bulb hanging by an exposed wire. 

 

“Where?” she croaked, barely able to exhale as her chest heaved the oxygen back into her lungs. She shifted her hands. Her eyes widened at the clatter of chains that followed. 

 

Immediately, the weight of metal settled on her skin as her head whipped back and forth, barely catching the sight of her hands being chained down. The cold sensation of metal crawled up her spine, and all the oxygen she managed to capture escaped in a choked scream.

 

“WHERE!” She demanded as her chains rattled even more; she willed her legs to move. Her head snapped down as far as it could go when she heard another set of chains echo her movement. “WHERE!?” She repeated, her breathing getting erratic as the panic set in. 

 

“She’s awake,” a person, an adult, coughed into the room. “Gods almighty,” the doctor, a man, Shiori realised as he fixed up his broken spectacles. His balance was unstable, catching himself on a broken desk on the floor as he righted himself. Yet before Shiori could ask a question, he raced towards the door on the other side of the wall and slammed it open. 

 

“GET THE SEER TO THE INSTITUTE! SHE WOKE UP!” 

 

Guards in heavy metal armour started pouring in at his command. Shiori’s chest tightened as her limbs fought back against the restraint, banging and injuring her own wrists because that was all she could do. It was getting hard to breathe. Tears pricked her eyes as the guards slammed her hands and legs back onto the metal table, trapping her entirely. 

 

“QUICK!” Cried the doctor, sticking close to the door. “MUZZLE HER! KNOCK HER OUT AGAIN!” 

 

“NO!” Shiori roared, biting the first hand that tried to muffle her.  She needed to get out.  The man screamed and pulled back, but Shiori pushed forward, the deviance to stay alive, giving her enough of a boost to snap the chains on her arms.  She needed to escape.  

 

“GET AWAY FROM ME!” More guards forced their hands on her arms and legs, but the strength of several men proved very little as Shiori pulled and screamed, fighting with all her might.  She needed her sisters.

 

“ONEE CHAN!” Shiori screamed, unaware of how the room shook at her command.   But where were her sisters? “ KURO NEE!” She cried, the ugly sobs heavy at the back of her throat slurring Claudine’s nickname.  Why aren’t they here? 

 

In her panic, Shiori didn’t notice a heavy weight pressing down on the skin of her chest. She didn’t recognise how despite breathing so fast, her breaths were deep as opposed to shallow. She didn’t notice anything unnatural about her. Not until something burned against her flesh and a light began to spark through the clothes. 

 

She didn’t notice that she wasn’t the same as before until a light, similar to Fumi’s magic, blinded her with nothing but loud crashes following behind. Then, when she opened her eyes, there was no weight holding her down. She was light as air and just as quiet despite the carnage in the sterile room. Bodies littered the floor, blood staining the tiles and the unconscious bodies of guards and doctors already there before she woke. 

 

“What…” Shiori gasped, her head spinning as her eyes glanced everywhere. She didn’t know what happened, but she knew that she did this. She did this somehow… and the thought terrified her. Her eyes followed the strange light flickering in the room and her hands shook as she touched her chest, right on top of her heart. 

 

Almost branded on her skin, past the clothing that was now scorched, lined with black marks from the light she emitted, was a symbol. Curved lines that never broke away, looping into an H that had a loop at the top of each side. Then at the bottom of the sides, the lines curved to create the top of the heart. Shiori doesn’t know what this mark meant. But the name for the symbol hit her and left her trembling. As if the ghosts of her mothers gave her a kiss on her head and lied to her face. Telling her with coos to comfort a crying child that everything would be okay. 

 

On her chest was the mark of the  Hero . The one who used to be part of the prophecies Shiori knew, learnt and then forgotten all about. 

 

But Shiori couldn’t handle such a revelation, not when the thud of footsteps racing ever closer forced her to snap out. Scared, frightened, terribly alone— Shiori did the only thing she knew. She did the one thing she always did ever since her mothers died in the Aftermath Plague. She ran away, keeping herself quiet, keeping herself unseen. 

 

Fear overrode logic, and instinct overrode fear. Shiori glanced around the wrecked vicinity, her eyes catching the small vent tucked away in the corner. Shiori defied the logic buried in her head that she wouldn’t fit, and then she defied physics too by squeezing past. Not caring for the logistics of the impossible, Shiori burrowed through the vents, small enough to climb and crawl through with ease. 

 

She didn’t notice how the vent hatchet was never loose or open to begin with, even when she entered. She didn’t see the way the wind blew the papers away when she entered the vent. She didn’t notice how the vent would be too small for a mouse to fit, let alone a young woman of 20 years old. She didn’t need to know, not that it would be adequately explained. 

 

The will of the Hero was always one to defy the laws of the living world. 

 


 

Elsewhere in the Kirin Temple, an armoured fist slammed down a wooden desk, and small sets of splinters exploded from where it rested. 

 

“TENDOU MAYA EXPLAIN YOURSELF!?” Saijou Claudine, a newly graduated acolyte of the Kirin Temple, snarled. She was in her teacher’s room with her sister Yumeoji Fumi and Tendou Maya herself. Daiba Nana was here before, but she had to leave in an emergency. Something about an experiment gone wrong. 

 

“I shall but my table doesn’t need to be the brunt of your anger Claudine,” Maya sighed, her gloved hands pinching the bridge of her nose. Simmering slightly with embarrassment, Claudine pulled her hand back, but the angry look in her eyes remained. 

 

“Thank you.” Maya opened her eyes and pointed the tip of the rapier to the whiteboard near her. “Now I understand you two,” she paused politely even though the hard faces on their students said everything about the situation. “Won’t be  comfortable  with this but I assure you this is the best situation we have of the circumstances.”

 

On the wall, labelled in cursive writing, was a title:  Cataclysm. A word that was synonymous with disaster. 

 

“With the situation of the prophecy ceremony and your youngest sister—” Maya paused briefly, looking at the twins, the rare expression of confusion on her face. “What is… Shiori’s last name?”

 

Claudine scowled, turning away with a huff, her mouth smothered by her metal bracers as she grumbled profanities. Meanwhile, Fumi winced, adjusted her gloves and gave a wry smile. “She doesn’t have one,” she explained, almost like it was an apology. “Whilst me and Claudine took the last name of our respective mothers… Shiori uh… Shiori denounced them after a fight we had.”

 

There was more to that than the simple explanation went. Still, Fumi knew that Maya had better things to do than listen to the complicated mess of their family affairs. 

 

“I understand…” Maya said before clicking her tongue, moving on from the little revelation. “Well,” she continued, clearing her throat. “After your youngest sister Shiori became the Hero it was evident that everything needed to change.”

 

“Can’t we just— “Claudine interrupted, her frustrations bubbling hard underneath her skin. She pulled her hand away from her mouth, staring down Maya from her seat. “Can’t we just not make her the hero?” 

 

She had to ask at least once. It would be the easiest thing to do. It would be the best way for everyone to get what they want. She would be the Hero for the prophecy she trained her whole life for, Shiori would be safe like Fumi wanted, and Shiori can just stay out of their way. 

 

Maya’s brows narrowed, her eyes baring down onto Claudine’s soul. “If you have the means to defy the laws of God by all means, Saijou Claudine, do so and then die for your sin.” Heavy was the room that held the most power. And Fumi could only look away in awkward respect as the raw anger pierced through the tension, the pressure point directly on Claudine’s seat. 

 

Claudine bolted upright, instinctual shivers running down her spine as she looked down at her feet. “R-Right.”

 

“We can’t change the roles that were given to us.” Gradually Maya retracted her glare, and the looming pressure allowed Claudine to look up at her. Maya’s gaze became looser, kinder as a sympathetic smile graced her lips. “I understand your frustration since you and your sister have been vying for this responsibility ever since you became acolytes as children but what is done is done.” She paused, pursing her lips in thought. “Will your emotions impact today’s mission? I need to know now since time is a major constraint.”

 

“Never, we’re fine”, Fumi answered back, quick and unquestionable. She glanced back at Claudine, who closed her mouth, nodding her support. Relief lessened the weight on Fumi’s shoulders as she turned back to Maya, her confidence returning back in splinters. “It’s just shock still impacting us.”

 

Maya stared, her eyes darting over Fumi’s tense posture before widening her smile enough to bare teeth. “I’ll believe your word then Fumi.” Maya turned back to the board, pointing at the diagram underneath the title and the vows their students took lining the columns. 

 

The Kirin demanded perfection. 

 

The Kirin was All-knowing. 

 

The Kirin was All-powerful. 

 

The Kirin demanded a show. 

 

“This plan is the safest thing we could think of in the time frame we had regarding the problems we face. Such as the blatant fact that your sister doesn’t trust us.” Maya looked back at the sisters, watching their guilty look pass between them. Maya didn’t say a word, allowing her silence on the matter to speak everything or nothing at all. 

 

“That is a matter of the situation that we need to deal with,” Maya continued as she continued back to the diagrams, circling and tapping gently on the arcane words written there. “Furthermore she is not ready for a prophecy. She’s too young to be considered a hero. Although normally delaying a prophecy would ruin everything, the prophecy, though given, hasn’t started.” 

 

“Due to our connection to the Kirin we are able to delay it for 4 more years if she stays within the realms of the city,” Maya explained, enjoying the way hope flickered back into the eyes of her students. “There she will stay at the temple and train and hopefully during that time both of you can help her and mend your estranged relationships.”

 

“However,” Maya said solemnly, slapping the metal blade against the wall. Strong enough to snap the hope out of their eyes to face the grim reality. “Trust is not our only problem.” Maya looked away, her hatred slipping out of her filter like dewdrops. “Her connection to Mahiru san exists as well.” Maya walked towards her desk, procuring something from the drawer at the back. 

 

Claudine and Fumi’s eyes widened, Claudine even going so far as to stand up, the despair draining her face pale. In Maya’s hands, bagged carefully like it was a murder weapon was a leather bounded book. It was aged with time with its brown colouration, yet it was an object that the twins could never miss.

 

 “This was found breaching our temple,” Maya said, putting the words bluntly that it didn’t even fail to hide her disgust. “The fault lies with me for not inspecting her before she went inside.”

 

Fumi broke the silent observation, standing as well to get a better look after Claudine blocked her. “It can’t be….”  

 

“Ah but it is, Fumi. It’s a recollection of the cursed heroic journey,” Maya exclaimed grimly. Swirls of disgust swam in her eyes as she dropped the book on the table with an uncaring thud. “The one that this prophecy was supposed to fix.”

 

Claudine took a deep breath, shaking her head out of disbelief. Yet the truth was right there, in front of and the proof of what it implied sank a knife right to Claudine’s gut. “The prophecy before this one?” she asked. “The one that Mahiru came from? The Tragedy?”

 

Maya nodded, her brows scrunched together as she looked down at the book. Her voice was cold, heavy and held no sign of forgiveness. “The very same. I believe her possession of this book was what caused the chaos that we saw today at the ceremony.” 

 

Claudine’s eyes widened. She stepped forward, not even wincing at the stumble her legs made. Nor the way she stubbed her toe on the table leg. To the side, Fumi held her bated breath, her head down— almost ready for punishment. “Your grace—”

 

“Maya.” 

 

“Maya,” Claudine flinched. She steeled herself, taking a deep breath. “Look I didn’t— we didn’t know she had this. Had we known—”

 

“You would’ve reported to me instantly, I’m aware.” Maya assured. She stepped forward, placing her sword away as she held Claudine. With one hand, Maya caressed Claudine’s hair, and the other hand draped around her shoulders, patting down her back.

 

 “Don’t fear ma Claudine,” she cooed with the gentleness of a mother. “I know your heart well enough. I know neither of you would go against the Kirin.”

 

Fumi shook her head, relief flooding her with waves that were enough to knock her out. Instead, she peeled her eyes away from Maya before turning to the book. Something gnawed at her skin, and unlike Claudine, she didn’t have a teacher to chase it away. “What’s going to happen to Shiori?” 

 

“She’s going to be rehabilitated naturally,” Maya explained as she let go of Claudine, stepping back to an appropriate distance. “Her trust in Mahiru san must be broken entirely.” She faced the sisters, her hands hidden behind her back. “Which is why, as I mentioned to you both before Claudine attempted to break my table— you both need to rescue her from Prison.”

 

Like last time, the last word made Claudine’s gut recoil. Her molars ground against each other as she looked away. Her bracer creaked as her hands curled to a fist. Likewise, Fumi’s eyes darkened as the tips of her fingers pulsed, ready and waiting for a fight. 

 

“Fake Prison as I should’ve said first.” Maya coughed into her hand. “She is in no major harm, scared and perhaps traumatised but I assure you in the next four years she’ll get the best treatment to overcome this. Rescue her, explain what you know and paint Mahiru as the traitor she is.” 

 

“So we need to lie to her?” Fumi scoffed, her head reeling despite this being the second time hearing the demand. “After everything we need to lie to her more?”

 

“I understand as sisters, this is a difficult emotional task I set upon you both….” Maya’s sympathy trailed off, her eyes sharpening with a resolution that demanded to be heard. Her voice was absolute, a cutthroat tone with no setbacks. 

 

“But it’s for the will of the Kirin that we are doing this.” Maya pointed particularly at their giraffe mark of two pointed stars, a brand settling at the back of their shoulders. This was a set they were given as acolytes when they signed up to prove their loyalty and their worth. “Should we fail, you could lose your sister forever.” 

 

Claudine raised her head, her eyes mirroring a similar set of bitter determination. “I’ll do it.”

 

Fumi snapped towards her sister, eyes aghast. “Claudine!”

 

“The Kirin has never led us wrong Fumi,” Claudine reasoned. She looked into Fumi’s eyes, her decision clear and unchanging. “It won’t start now.”

 

“I…” Fumi faltered, buckling under Maya and Claudine’s expectant gaze. Gashing her teeth, she looked to the side, her hand clenching against the giraffe brand on her arm underneath her armour. “I guess if you go… I can’t be left behind.”

 

“Excellent,” Maya clapped her hands, a jarring notion that snapped both sisters out of their thoughts. “I’ll go and double check on the situation and let the guards know. Right now your sister would be on the bottom floor of the temple.” She walked towards the door, stopping at the handles before she turned around to face the sisters.

 

 “Remember, act like you fought with all your might—” she said tersely before her eyes widened in realisation. “--Oh and make sure to knock her out to make the recovery transition easier. After that, I’ll give you both 5 minutes to let any emotion out.” With that, Maya left the sisters, the doors slamming as her footsteps on the other side faded away.  

 

“Okay,” Claudine sighed, not even waiting for the footsteps to fade entirely before she glared at Fumi. “Spit it out.”

 

Fumi blinked, then scoffed once she recognised that Claudine’s expression wasn’t going to change any time soon. “I’m sorry?”

 

“You think Maya is an idiot?” Claudine scowled, folding her arms against her chest. “She knows you have a problem with me.”

 

“Well yeah!?” Fumi countered, raising her hands up in the air. She flopped down to her seat with a tired mess of a laugh. “You just agreed to lie to Shiori even more!?” The entire crux of their terrible relationship was their lies, their secrets. Granted, these were secrets they had to keep until now, but it didn’t soothe the nagging feeling at the back of her head that this was a bad idea. 

 

“Pot calling kettle black,” Claudine hissed, walking over and slamming her hands over the handrails on either side of the chair. She loomed over Fumi’s frown with a sneer. “You’re in the same boat too.”

 

“Yeah because you’re going to fuck up whatever relationship with Shiori if you go alone,” Fumi rebutted as she smacked Claudine’s hands off her chair before pushing her off. “Don’t even try to deny it,” she hissed, pushing a finger onto Claudine’s chest as she stood up. “You’ve been mad the second she was chosen as a Hero.”

 

Fumi could never forget it, the sudden despair, the shock that almost choked the confidence out of Claudine. Yet, Fumi could understand her anger. Between the two of them, Claudine was also the one that they praised to be the most heroic. Maybe because it was the oldest, maybe because she was the first one found— either way, they both acted like Claudine was the one to be the Hero. 

 

“Well at least I’m not trying to be a hypocrite!” Claudine yelled, grabbing Fumi’s hand and forcing the hand against Fumi’s chest. She pushed her back, shoving her roughly. “You’re in the same fucking boat Fumi and you have the audacity to look like the higher sibling.”

 

Fumi stabilised herself, grabbing hold of the chair so that she didn’t fall down entirely. “I’m not—”

 

“Don’t lie to me Fumi.” Claudine flexed her hands, her breathing deep and steady and full of nothing but malice. “You hate her as much as I do right now.”

 

Fumi scrunched her hands, growling as she stood up away from the chair. “Alright fine!” She yelled, throwing up her hands in defeat. “Yes I’m mad at her, yes I hate that she fucked everything up. We did this for her and now she’s in this mess!”

 

Everything they ever did was for Shiori. It was the one thing that kept Fumi going whenever her faith in her teacher ever wavered. They became the Heroes so that they could protect Shiori. They enrolled in the Temple so that they can have the money to save Shiori. Shiori’s safety was everything. It was the one thing Fumi could do right, and now Shiori couldn’t even give her the chance to prove that all of their hardships were worth something. 

 

“Yes I’m mad that she befriended Mahiru, yes I’m mad at myself for letting her keep it up even when you kept fighting me about it. Yes I wish they never met as when we were kids. Is that what you want to hear, Claudine!?”

 

Except Claudine wasn’t paying attention to her. She was before, but as Fumi screamed, allowing the pains and imperfections of her heart to become exposed, Claudine’s eyes moved away. Something clawed at her warrior’s instinct, implying that something else was in the room other than them.

 

“Do you feel better now?” Fumi snarled, turning back towards her sister. “That I don’t have my shit together?”

 

“Yes…” Claudine murmured, straining her ears as she unsheathed her sword. “But I need you to shut up for a second.”

 

“Excuse—”

 

Claudine covered Fumi’s mouth, pointing with her eyes to the vents above. Fumi gave her a glance but strained her ears, the magic starting to whirl on the tip of her fingers. Claudine removed her palm as they concentrated. Gently, almost like a ghost, was the faint sound of movement. A sound that, despite the origin, screamed nothing but an intruder. 

 

“Ready when you are Fumi,” Claudine whispered, stepping aside as the green light on Fumi’s fingertips flickered. 

 

Fumi nodded, and nothing but the soft whimpers filled the air until Fumi forced her hands forward, green lights jutting out and destroying the vents. A figure fell through, landing on the ground. With no hesitation, Claudine lunged in a sword at their throat. 

 

“Are you going to kill me now Kuro nee?” 

 

And the sword trembled, almost falling, when Claudine realised who she was pointing it at. 

 

“S-shiori?”

 

Shiori’s lips wobbled, the tears in her eyes blurring her vision. She found her sisters ages ago and would’ve jumped down if Maya wasn’t in the room, demanding an explanation. Yet, she didn’t need to. She received her answer anyways. 

 

So what if Mahiru made her become like this. So what if it was because she brought Mahiru’s book. Who cared? Mahiru saved her life. Mahiru saved her life, and if they never met, Shiori would’ve died. She would’ve died surrounded by no one, wracked with a sickness no one could cure, left outside of the walls of the city to rot. 

 

She would rot and die because she was a sick little girl who couldn’t even stand up. She would rot because she wasn’t chosen or special and wasn’t saved by the Kirin Temple that stole her sisters. Sisters who abandoned their mother’s promise to keep her safe. She was going to die because her sisters left her to die. 

 

And now? Even when she was content to step away from the spotlight. The same one that grew pedestals from her misery for her sisters, she was forced to suffer. Later they said, they would explain. Now the truth she always feared was here, and it wanted her dead. 

 

“You hate me….” Shiori heaved, barely being able to breathe as she staggered to her feet. She leaned against the wall as the paint on her stomach forced her to stumble. Instinctively she placed her touch on the pain before she pulled it away at the wet touch. Her hand was dyed with the crimson touch of blood. “Both of you….” 

 

“Shiori,” Fumi gasped, running towards her before she suddenly stopped like a barrier was in front of her, a muffled bang echoing in the room as Fumi collapsed to the floor. 

 

“Shiori…” A cold wind filled the air, the sound of hurricanes and whirlwinds manifesting as the papers started to flutter on the table. Fumi couldn’t even hear her own voice as Claudine helped her up. “Shiori, it’s not what you think!”

 

“THEN WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO THINK WHEN BOTH MY SISTERS WANTED ME DEAD AND ACTUALLY HURTED ME!?” Shiori screamed, her hurt and pain in evident agony as she staggered forward. Her sphere of wind, silently protecting her, pushed her sisters back, sending their hair into a flying mess whenever both worlds collided. 

 

Fumi forced the magic back. Flashes of light scattered across the room as she shut her eyes and screamed, her throat raw with distraught. It was never meant to turn out this way. “WE NEVER WANTED YOU DEAD!” 

 

“YOU NEVER WANTED ME TO MEET MAHIRU SAN!” Shiori yelled back, pausing only to cough up blood. “You…” she heaved, tears falling down her cheeks. “If I never met her, I would’ve died.” Shiori took out the broken potion that she kept, somehow still concealed in her pocket despite everything, and drank it. “Even now, she’s the one saving me when all either you do is hurt me.” 

 

“We would’ve saved you,” Claudine insisted, her chest heavy with heartache, her throat weighed down by the agony at the back of her mouth. “We had the cure.”

 

Shiori shook her head, rubbing the tears away with the back of her bruised wrist. They were willing to lie to her just for their own selfishness. They were ready for her to be traumatised just for their own sake. Just like before, just like that time. “You would never make it in time. Not to the outside of the walls where all the corpses are left to rot.”

 

Claudine winced, her posture and confidence crumbling like a sandcastle to a tidal wave. “Shiori…”

 

“You never asked me where I was when I came back from the so-called dead.” Shiori snarled the words out, her voice rising higher and higher, erupting like a volcano, magma built up from the hot and messy emotions she buried over the years.

 

“You never sat me down and let me cry on your shoulder, any shoulder. You just looked at Mahiru and thought she stole me away. You keep saying you’re going to protect me but you never once said sorry for abandoning me. YOU NEVER THINK ABOUT ME!”

 

“Maybe if you did,” Shiori heaved, taking deep breaths despite the shaking of her body. Her fist clenched tight, the truth branding the back of her tongue with the reality she’s been denying herself the second she did it. Her voice croaked. The hanging knife that dangled in this web of tension dropped and plunged all of them at once. “You’ll learn the reason why I stopped having mum’s name was so that I can stop being related to  you .”

 

Shiori loved her sisters; she loved them as much as she hated them. They were the only people she had left to call a family. They were the only two people that could break her like this. 

 

Fumi broke, her powers withering away as she stared at her youngest sister. “Shiori…”

 

Whatever apology could’ve been said— should’ve been said— would’ve been said was gone as the door blasted open with the sound of breaking wood. None of that impacted Shiori. The whirlwind sphere protected her from most of the blast, allowing her to peek through the debris and rising smoke. 

 

Not that she needed to… when a hero starts their prophecy, nothing is held back. The names of SEER and TRAITOR are branded onto the back of her eyes. She did not know why Maya was labelled as a TRAITOR. She did not want to know why. All she focused on the split second before everything fell apart was Nana’s title. SEER. The one person the doctor wanted when she woke up. 

 

That was all Shiori needed to run. 

 

Shiori barreled past her sisters, ignoring the yell as she grabbed Mahiru’s book she left behind. Lighting flashed behind her, but it was sucked up in the vortex of her wind powers manifesting. It rebounded towards her sisters and their mentors as thunder followed, banging and screaming in her ear. 

 

“Shiori!” 

 

Shiori didn’t know who called her name. She was busy jumping out of the window to care. 

Chapter Text

Not every potion is made for the sake of kindness. This is important to recognize as an alchemist. Coincidentally, not every potion is made for a distinct purpose. Some brews are purely made due to the acidic nature of the chemicals. They are made because it is simply the most effortless concoction to create— after all, all you need is a failure. 

 

Logically speaking, if a person would pit two failures against each other, or even worse— take a success and smash it against the failure. Then, the entire experiment would be a failure, right? 

 

Wrong. It would be a brilliant display of quiet murder. The fumes of such toxicity can only be prevented by immediate healing, the intervention of God and an antidote taken beforehand. But, of course, if one would take one before the collision, then the fumes would reek of attempted death. That being said, the convicted could easily hide the plot with innocence. How they didn’t know the failed potions collided despite it being the first rule to empty the failed potions separately and safely. 

 

Dangerous, isn’t it? 

 

This is the murkiness that lurks under the oil spill of such a title of an alchemist. Here, this is how you make the antidote. Try not to get caught so easily. 

 

- Antidote for acidic fumes, transcribed by Ootori Mahiru.

 

-- 

 

There was a storm in the air. 

 

Even when Mahiru huddled in her closed-off shop away from the city, Mahiru could feel the energy in the air. She could never forget that haunting spark of lighting, the jolts that forced her body upright. There were only a few moments in Mahiru’s life where she felt this energy— each one was worse than the last. 

 

Within her eyes, the hue of her grey pupils swirled to the husk of dark clouds. This shade dyed itself in the dreary colours of ominous foreboding. She closed the book on her wife’s notes, her heart sinking once more at the name labelled there. Yet, it was the dedication on the cover that made Mahiru press her palm on her eyes to block the tears from falling. It’s been so long since she died, and now—

 

Mahiru let out a long exhale. There was no time to reflect, weep and mourn. She can do it later when she made sure everything was safe, not now when there was still enough time to plan her escape. She would not be forced into a prophecy again— no matter what Maya or Nana forced on her. She already spent most of her younger life being a chess piece and running from it. If Shiori’s sisters wanted to throw themselves on the board, then they could do so. Mahiru couldn’t care any less for them— not when they are so stubborn to listen. 

 

Mahiru returned the book of her wife’s notes into the escape bag, giving it the best protection possible before she walked down to the store below her living quarters. It was best to start packing away the optimal potions she could take with her whilst leaving enough for Shiori. She made sure she left her will and right of transfer to her apprentice. That way, Shiori could live a life away from her sisters if she so wished. 

 

Mahiru paused at the front of the entrance, her gut wrenching her head to the back of her shop. Beyond the glass panes decorated with rain, her eyes fixated on the unruly set of flowerbeds in the back garden. Her stomach dipped further, haunting her heart in an unbearable ache. She won’t be able to take flowers from her wife’s grave, let alone say goodbye to the empty bed next to it. She swallowed the regret down her throat, forcing the heavy lump to settle in her chest. 

 

Rapid-fire knocking on the door forced Mahiru to tear away from the flowers. Automatically, Mahiru reached for the bat she kept hidden underneath the register, holding it up like a sword even though it’s been years since she last wielded one. 

 

“Mahiru san,” a voice cried out as the rampart of knocks repeated again on the wood. Mahiru’s eyes widened as she lowered her weapon. She peaked out of the window, the gasp leaving her lips as she undid the locks and allowed the girl in. Shiori’s attire was soaked, hands red in the raw cold, bruising from the wooden door. 

 

The thunder roared as the wind bellowed into Mahiru’s store. It swayed the potions, some looser ones falling to the floor until Mahiru shut the door. A bang like a gunshot silenced everything at once, and instantly Mahiru looked around for any damages only to find there was none. Yes, several potions fell, but nothing was damaged or cracked. It seemed like a miracle, at least until Mahiru looked at Shiori. 

 

“Mahiru san,” Shiori begged, whimpering. Her hair was soaked and a puddle formed at her feet. Yet her clothes were drying. Waving in an air that shouldn’t exist— evaporating all the rainwater out of her. “Mahiru san help me— my, my…” Shiori’s voice trailed off. The hesitance to call Fumi and Claudine, her sisters, was clogging up her throat. It made it hard to breathe, let alone speak. 

 

Mahiru should’ve focused on Shiori’s pitying face, the quivering frame, the ache and plea in her green-blue eyes. Mahiru should’ve seen a young woman terrified for her life with something she doesn’t fully understand. Mahiru should’ve seen Shiori. But, instead, she saw an old, old friend, one that was promised to her a long time ago. A Hero that died so fast she didn’t even have the time to plead. 

 

The Hero’s mark on Shiori’s chest pulsed with light, and the old prophetic mark on her left arm, the scars of regret that Mahiru always carried, answered back. 

 

“Leave.”

 

 Mahiru’s voice was not her own— not entirely. Her voice was rough, faint but raw in its indescribable emotions. This was not the voice of Ootori Mahiru, a widow who tried to make the best of what was given to her. This was the voice of Mahiru, the denounced “cursed one” who feared a new prophecy like it was the end of time. 

 

“Mahiru… san?”

 

“LEAVE!” Mahiru screamed. The door of her store burst open behind her, illuminating Mahiru in this frame of her strength simmering underneath for the last years. The torrent of wind blasted through a glass plane and cracked another. Her hair flew around her, pigtails whirling. Another person would’ve fallen over, forced down to cower from the sheer force. Instead, Mahiru stood there. Unmoveable with a face indescribable— feeling a rage she hadn’t felt for a long time. 

 

“LEAVE HERO!”

 

“Mahiru san please!” Shiori screamed back. Her tears turned into sobs, her voice hoarse from her wails. Mahiru ignored her, grabbing hold of Shiori’s bag and flipped the lid open. She shoved any potions she could reach, any that would fit into her bag. In all of her blind rage, this was the most kindness she could do. “Not you too Mahiru san please. Please don’t send me away.”

 

“You need to leave now,” Mahiru hissed more from fear than anything else. She gripped Shiori’s arm roughly and turned her around. With her strength, it was easy to push Shiori back, forcing her through the doorway only to stumble back herself when the wall of wind rose up to protect the Hero.  

 

“I can’t— not again,” Mahiru wavered, her words becoming more incoherent as her breathing became unravelled. It was getting hard to breathe, and in her lingering moments of clarity, the notion that this could be because of Shiori’s new powers getting out of control terrified her. “I can’t— please, I don’t want to lose anyone else again from prophecies.” She already lost so much for the sake of a story. 

 

“I’m not part of the prophecy!” Shiori lied, denying herself the truth she refused to acknowledge. She did not want to be part of something that tore her family apart. She did not want to be part of something that made Mahiru look at her with eyes that wished she never saved her in the first place. 

 

“Please, I— they… Fumi… Claudine…” Her head fell, the weight of her rose necklace was almost like it was acid, corroding her as if she was iron becoming rust. 

 

“Run—” Mahiru repeated again, this time raising her arm as opposed to the bat. Her arm shuddered as something burnt from the fabric, like lava melting through concrete. Shiori’s eyes widened. “Stay away from me Hero, before I make you.”

 

Shiori blinked, her mouth opening wide. “Mahiru san… you too? I… they were telling the truth?” Shiori was not looking at Mahiru, not entirely. Her eyes were focused instead on the words flickering and fading on the skin. Words that described the mark that was long hidden on her arm, of history that Shiori, despite her closeness, was not privy to. 

 

Yet, despite the truth so blatantly in front of her, Shiori could not turn to hate her. Her sisters may be right for once and justified in their ruthlessness towards Mahiru growing up. Still, Shiori could not shed the kindness so quickly. Instead, in Shiori’s eyes, the surprise and fear morphed into compassion, into empathy. 

 

“I’m so sorry that the prophecies ruined your life too Mahiru san….” 

 

How Heroic it was to care more about the person attacking instead of her herself. It was unfortunate, however, that the words of a Hero never had an effect on Mahiru. For if the words ever did, Mahriru and perhaps Shiori would not be here, to begin with. 

 

The ancient and worn mark of  the Lover  glowed violet, in a rich colour deep and dark and enshrouded with violence. The shadows of such a shade loomed over the untainted and unnoticed mark of an  deep in the centre of L’s lop-sided heart like curve. Again, Mahiru spoke, but this time, her voice was not her own. 

 

“Leave Hero, take what you have with you and run— run as far as your body, powers and all can take you. Run and never return until you drop by death’s door first.”

 

Purple fire streamed through the tip of Mahiru’s finger, igniting the wall of wind and trapping Shiori in her own domain. Shiori couldn’t see anything but purple, the heat forcing her mind to go hazy as her body willed itself in a way she couldn’t control. 

 

“Mahiru san!” Shiori coughed, ducking her head from the flames that attempted to smother her as her legs stumbled out of the room. Her hands furiously clutched Mahiru’s book and the bag that was forced into her arms. “Mahiru san!”

 

Shiori’s words were nothing but a faint whisper. The second the flames were within the rain, the heat evaporated— but not to the downpour. Instead, it was to the wind rushing so fast that it extinguished what stubborn flames dared to cling on. Shiori’s feet ran, the wind racing against her ears. The power and influence of an unused prophecy mark were too much for the young Hero to counter. 

 

Scared, frightened, terribly alone— under the influence of the lover’s old charm Shiori did the only thing she knew even when, for once, she didn’t want to do it. Her body ran away, keeping herself quiet, keeping herself unseen, disguised to onlookers as a sudden whirlwind of cold breeze. All Shiori could do was shut her eyes and brace the sting on her cheeks from her own tears leaving before she could blink. 

 

There was no time to grieve and cry, not when the prophecy began. 

 


 

There was no time to grieve and cry. Really there was no time for Mahiru to do anything. The Hero has fled beyond the threshold of the Kirin’s eyes— the new prophecy has begun for real. Her arm ached in searing pain, but she knew better to touch the marred skin. It wasn’t the first time her own flames were hot enough to burn her, but it was the first time she dealt with it on her own. 

 

Mahiru grunted through the gritted teeth as she stumbled, one hand just gripping the part underneath the old Lover’s Mark. Behind her, the storm continued to rage on, the thunder roared ever closer. Her time, already borrowed, was getting stolen. Soon she will not have any time left, not to heal her wound, not to say goodbye. She highly doubted she could hide the recipe book— the one transcribed by her wife. She couldn’t even burn it to stop Maya’s hands from getting hold of it. The thought of destroying it in such a disgraceful way was enough to ruin Mahiru’s heart. 

 

The thunder roared again, this time accompanied with the backing of soldiers marching, marching ever closer to her little shop. Mahiru took out one of the burn healing potions she made sighed, biting her lip as she popped open the cork. She could never perfect this potion, made almost specifically for her own flames— no matter how much her wife wrote to perfect it, she couldn’t get the same results. 

 

If she focused for a moment, shutting her eyes to drown out the marching that acted like sands sinking through the hourglass, Mahiru could hear her wife again. The thunder would be replaced with the pops and bubbles of her potions boiling over the open fire; the rain would be the grinding of stones into power. 

 

Mahiru could almost see her, the golden blonde hair that held strands of silver that always needed to be cut, except her wife was always too busy to cut it. She could see her loving ruby coloured eyes, the cocky smirk that she loved so much. She could see the smirk soften, the ruby shade turning to the hue of a red giant of a star. Her wife would always tease and flirt that the sun in her eyes was merely a reflection of Mahiru’s soul. 

 

There was no time for Mahiru to mourn or grieve. Yet she was grateful that she was allowed this moment of peace, even when the memory of something long gone stung more than the mark. The pain of her mark was temporary— the ache in her heart was not. 

 

Mahiru downed the potion, wincing as her fingers gripped the arm beneath the mark. The pain intensified as if water was tossed haphazardly to an oily fire. She bared her throat, tilting her head to the sky as she bit her bottom lip; an enduring rumble of growls slipped through the gritting teeth. Then time collapsed upon itself, reversing and vacuuming space and the law it confined itself in— the weak touch of Hell’s personal flames evaporated, gone within seconds. 

 

Mahiru opened her eyes, taking time to pry one finger one by one away from her arm before inspecting the damage. The nails dug deep but not enough to bleed, and the mark on her arm held no trace of usage. The only proof that Mahiru used her forbidden power was the taste of blood on her tongue, one she knew she didn’t cause from biting her lip and the singed edges of her sleeve.

  

Mahiru stood up, straightening herself. She did not have time to hide her mark anymore. Not that she cared— judgement day was here. Still, she found a spare bag and began packing the potions away, not all but just enough. Just small enough for her to take it when they take her away, just in case… just in case she needed to prepare for the worst. 

 

Mahiru took a breath, her eyes glancing at the place she called her home for the last 15 or so years before she looked in the distance at her backyard. She glanced back at the empty flower bed before she looked at the one next to it. She stared at the flowerbed of her wife’s grave, admiring the forget-me-nots, the red tulips and the lilies of the valley blooming through the rain. Those flowers were not in season, but they dared to bloom so defiantly. 

 

Mahiru could almost hear her wife’s voice, translating the meanings even when Mahiru knew it by heart already. The messages of eternal love of the forget-me-not. The declaration of love of the red tulips and the return of happiness spoken through the unfurled flower heads of the lily of the Valley. In that brief moment of space and freedom, Mahiru wondered if there was a flower, meaning I’ll see you again in the afterlife. 

 

Her lips quirked up as she squared her shoulders. Perhaps Ambrosia— returned loved, would probably do. 

 

Mahiru stepped outside of her shop, the rain battering down her for only a second as the wind howled up ahead. Her vision became blurry as rainwater pelted down on her, the lightning flashing fast to blind her. Yet all the help did not stop Mahiru from stepping to the side, taking a broken plank of her ruined door to block the overhead thrust of a sword. 

 

Blood dripped from her skin, the sharp blade nicking the back of her hand, but she did not care. Instead, her eyes were solely focused on the feral rage of Saijou Claudine. 

 

“Where is my sister?” Claudine hissed, forcing her weight onto Mahiru. Her instincts, though rusty, kicked in, and Mahiru twisted the plank, pushing it deeper into the blade before shifting to the side and letting go. Claudine’s body fell forward, she caught herself, but now the plank was stuck on her weapon’s edge. 

 

Not that it mattered, Claudine slammed the sword against the concrete walls, her strength shattering the wood entirely. Mahiru’s hand fell to her satchel before her gaze snapped to Fumi in the background, her arms raised— the tips of fingers glowing a deadly ivy shade. Mahiru let go of the satchel, the glow dimmed. 

 

Claudine’s scream caught Mahiru’s attention in the next second. And Mahiru stepped back, making sure that her back wasn’t in front of Fumi as Claudine embedded her sword on the doorframe. The thunder roared around them, almost displeased. Mahiru’s frown darkened. This poor girl was running nothing but emotion. 

 

“WHERE IS SHE!?”

 

“Gone,” Mahiru replied, her voice sore and scratchy from her yelling before. She could still taste the blood on her tongue. 

 

Claudine’s eyes flashed red. Mahiru stepped to the side, doing a double-take when she saw green cuffs on Claudine’s grieves. Her weapon dropped anticlimactically, the hilt dirtying itself with mud and muck. Mahiru turned her eyes to Fumi, the lighting flashing behind her— now distant with its subsequent roars. 

 

“We need to bring her in Claudine,” Fumi reasoned any trace of sweat and struggle blending in with the rain. Even the bared gritting teeth could be disguised as shivering. The clack and grumble of chains rattling and colliding against each other faded slowly, quieting down as reason flooded away most of Claudine’s anger, like a flood that extinguished a forest fire. One Disaster following another. 

 

“I’m not going anywhere without searching this damned place for Shiori,” Claudine barked. Her nostrils flared, smoke curling from her nose— the fire still creating smoke, still condensing in the truth of rainfall. 

 

“Go ahead.” Mahiru moved aside, raising her arms to Fumi. “Let’s get this over and done with or will you attempt to kill me too?”

 

Fumi’s brows furrowed as she raised her hand, caution drifting through her bones as green stretches and enshrouded her arms, locking them firmly in place. “You’re surprisingly obedient.” 

 

“You’re not someone I want to spend my energy on to be frank.” She’s saving her fight for who started it all. No matter how much Maya and Nana trained their students, they didn’t pose any threat to Mahiru. Mahiru, after all, went through a prophecy.  They survived the previous prophecy .  Compared to that mess, these kids were barely a warm-up. They haven’t even started the current one. 

 

“THAT’S WHAT YOU THINK!” 

 

Mahiru’s body ducked down on instinct. Claudine’s sword sliced through hair only— even then, it was only loose end strands, nothing important. Mahiru pressed her arms down to the mud as she swung her legs. She swept Claudine off her feet before standing up, kicking the sword away from her. Mahiru did not care that the edge of the blade nicked her skin. It was nothing important. 

 

“What you think doesn’t matter, Saijou Claudine,” Mahiru lectured as she stepped back, avoiding Claudine’s attempt to grapple her legs. She kicked mud into Claudine’s face, sparing a glance towards Fumi. Fumi caught her eye. The thunder roared behind her. 

 

“Enough Claudine, you’re too angry to think properly,” Fumi yelled, forcing her restraints on her sister. “You need to let her go.”

 

“SHE LET SHIORI GO!”

 

“She’s not a child anymore, she had to go whether you liked it or not—” Mahiru interrupted. “You cannot stop the prophecy no matter how hard you try.” 

 

“Yeah you would know that wouldn’t you,” Claudine spat, wiping the dirt off her eyes. Yet muck still clung to the corners, stubborn like mould. “That’s why your—”

 

“Shut your mouth before I make you.” Mahiru shouldn’t have stepped out of line. Mahiru shouldn’t allow her lover’s mark to pulse, angry, elevated. Exposed where they could see. Mahiru shouldn’t have said anything. But she knew where that sentence would go if Claudine ended it. Mahiru knew Claudine would not be alive if she ended it. 

 

“Respect the dead,” Mahiru warned. Uncaring how Claudine and Fumi and everyone else, even the rain and thunder in the sky, paused and stared at her lover’s mark shining in the dark like a beacon— or a target. “Even if you didn’t respect your mother’s wish.” 

 

Disasters followed disasters. Mahiru couldn’t stop her mouth even if she tried. 

 

“OH YOU—” 

 

“ENOUGH!” Fumi roared, forcing all her magic against Claudine. She trapped her within a bubble, reinforcing it again and again as Claudine forced her way out with brute strength. Fumi turned to Mahiru, then to the commanding guards who stood to the side, unsure what to do. “Get her to the high priestess. All of you go. I’ll deal with my sister.” 

 

At her command, the common guard moved away, two of the strongest grabbed Mahiru by the arm. Neither of them checked for Mahiru’s bag. None of them checked Mahiru’s bag. Behind the cold shivering lips, Mahiru hid a smile. 

 


 

Elsewhere, far far away from the thresholds of the beginning, the breeze began to dance. They twirled and swirled around each other like an entire ballroom filled with dancers doing the same choreography. The elements of wind and air slid to the side— tearing apart a tree, forcing it to the ground. They fluttered to the right— splitting an entire river in half for a moment. They lifted their partner off the ground at once— a mountain broke away, forcing a rockslide. 

 

Yet despite all these calamities, the star of the show didn’t notice. Not that Shiori could notice, a common flaw within Heroes archetypes, after all, was how self-centred they could be. Though it wasn’t entirely her fault for this, stories tended to be centred about them after all. What Shiori did notice was the wind. It was howling, blocking out sound, blocking out vision, blocking out everything. It was a shield. 

 

It was a shield in all the worst ways. Yes, it kept everything out, but that meant nothing else came in. No sense of logic or rhyme could sneak in within this tornado of ill convinced coping mechanisms. All Shiori can hear was Mahiru’s last words; all she could remember is her sister’s words. 

 

Was this part of the prophecy? Was this what her sisters abandoned her for? She became a hero, stole what they worked for all their lives for this? Being hated. Being chased out and hated by family and friends alike. Even the person who saved her life— Mahiru. The person who gave her a way out of the Kirin Temple, the person who started to teach her, an apprentice to being an alchemist. Even she wanted Shiori to leave. 

 

The problem with shields, however, or in this case, a blessing. They tended to fold and break in the force of something powerful— of a strength incomprehensible. Shiori’s winds can force ancient trees to bend; it could split and divide the rapids and rivers-- destroy the strength of mountains. 

 

But winds are nothing but fuel in a forest fire. 

 

Disasters follow disasters. But as the initial disaster that is to be followed-- the Hero? Or the villain? 

 

Shiori stumbled into a clearing. She could’ve fallen— she would’ve fallen, but the lingering winds halted her fall. The moon was gone, yet there was still light. There was no shadow, yet darkness was all Shiori could see. The red eyes in front of her, Shiori could not see it. She could feel them instead. She could not forget that familiar haunt of judgment she felt before in the Institute. The kind that was staring through her soul, staring through and splitting past her shields. 

 

Something pulsed in Shiori’s chest. Everything was becoming too hot, the muscles building up the fatigue within the heated friction. The wind may have carried her, but her legs still ran. This was the price to pay. Shiori reached her hand out, desperate as darkness started to consume the corners of her vision. The words left her mouth as she fell to the ground. “Don’t make me leave too.”

 

She was unaware that another pair of scarlet ruby eyes, wrinkles near the edges, was next to her too, watching with great interest.

 

The moon appeared again. It was bathed in red. 

 

Chapter Text

To create specialised potions, it needs a key. It can be ingredients from hard to reach places like voidence water in the waterfalls of truth. Or it can be more sinister, requiring the blood of a marked one— a person chosen by the prophecy to play a specific role. But most of the time, the key is Timing. Some potions may only be brewed when the sky is blind. Others require the event where the stars are crying. Perhaps the worst timing of all is what you need to make the highest quality value of this potion. Its low quality is doable and more achievable than the high quality. Still, I’ll state the timing anyways for those curious. 

 

What you need— is for the moon to start bleeding. 

 

- Low-Quality regeneration potion, transcribed by Ootori Mahiru.

 

--

 

“Alright, they’re gone now,” Fumi sighed as she dropped her magical restraints against Claudine. She shook her hands, relaxing it after faking her way to look like she struggled. They needed to look angry enough for the guards to leave her alone, trusting them to come back in their own time. Not that they would come back again to this place. 

 

When Shiori ran away, all Fumi really wanted to do was scream that she was sorry. To scream that Shiori was wrong. She wanted nothing to do but run after her and tell her that they were still her sisters despite everything. That they loved her. That they did everything to protect her. That her sisters were only angry because they couldn’t save her like they promised when they were younger. 

 

Instead, Fumi was focused on making sure Claudine didn’t defenestrate herself out of the window, following Shiori down. Fumi shook her head at the memory, blaming the wetness near her eye on the chilling rain. She could still hear the raw emotion in Claudine’s shout, the desperation, the fear. No matter what Shiori said, what Shiori thought— Claudine loved her sister. She loved her so much to risk everything for her when they were kids. 

 

If only they explained and showed that when they were growing up. 

 

Maybe they could’ve found loopholes past the rules, be more flexible, less rigid with the rules. Perhaps if they did things differently, Shiori wouldn’t think that they hated her. Maybe… it didn’t matter anymore. The prophecy has begun, and Shiori was missing. She was the Hero. There was no reason to go back to the temple. 

 

Claudine stepped up from the ground, mud and dirt sticking to her clothes like glue. Her breathing was uneven, the cloud from her exhales never keeping a consistent shape. Fumi winced at the messy attire, waving a sigil in the air over Claudine to magically wash out all the dirt. 

 

“Thanks,” Claudine muttered, the mud squelched underneath her boots as she picked up her fallen broadsword. She swung the dirt of the blade, swinging it like an angry child. Fumi hoped it took all the remaining anger out of her system. Nana and Maya didn’t know they were here, they were told to go to their rooms, and like rebellious children, they snuck out instead. They weren’t going to sit still when Shiori was missing. 

 

“You’re welcome, good job on holding back by the way.” Fumi stepped inside, the walls absorbing the sound from the outside. She missed Claudine’s words, barely catching the growl. The lightning flashed behind her sister, and Fumi turned around. For a second, Fumi thought Claudine’s darker maroon eyes were blood red. “Huh?” 

 

“I wasn’t holding back.” Claudine stepped into the shop, shaking her head to get the rain out. She glared at the register counter, almost as if she was manifesting Mahiru was there to punch. “I wanted to punch her so badly.”

 

“Well,” Fumi started, glancing around as her brain processed the information beforehand. Claudine, the strongest person she knew around their age, gave it her all— only to then be played with and mocked. Fumi remembered Mahiru’s words as she allowed herself willingly to be cuffed and handicapped. 

 

“You’re not someone I want to spend my energy on to be frank.”  

 

Her fingers curled into a fist, her green magic flaring out of the spaces between her fingers. Fumi inhaled, and when she exhaled, the magic dimmed. She relaxed her hand. 

 

It was no use getting mad at Mahiru; it was their fault for underestimating her. Though she wouldn’t tell Claudine this now in her angered state. Still, there was a reason why their teachers kept close but at a distance. Keeping the friends close but enemies closer. Close enough to backstab them when the opportunity came. The thought of Mahiru getting her comeuppance made her grin. 

 

“You made her bleed,” Fumi offered as she turned her head. She picked up a potion, frowning at how it wasn’t labelled. She looked around her. Nothing on display or the bottles on the floor, but the health potions were labelled. 

 

“Not in a way that mattered,” Claudine growled as she took a health potion and began to down it, the magical red essence dripping down the corner of her lip. 

 

Fumi watched Claudine’s shoulders regain the straight posture, the fatigue slipping out of her chainmail armour. Then, out of curiosity, she placed her hands over her eyes, murmured something underneath her breath and blinked. When her eyes opened, the room was nothing but a disco light of colours— a colourful classification on which stuff was needed. This would be useful in telling which potions were actually required or not. 

 

“You can now though,” Fumi smirked as she opened her spatial bag, something that had nearly limitless storage that she prepared for their prophecy adventure. She blinked slowly, the magical clarification ebbing away from her vision momentarily. 

 

Claudine frowned, wiping the spilt potion from the corner of her mouth with the back of her sleeve. “I thought our plan was to take what we need and leave?” That was the plan, but Fumi had to clear away that itch at her throat. They couldn’t just leave after being insulted like that. 

 

“That doesn’t mean we can’t do anything bad,” Fumi cocked her head towards Claudine. The lighting in the background flashed once more. It highlighted the now shared grin on Claudine’s face. Fumi was sure that their teachers would be too busy with their guest to pay attention to them judging from this lightning and stormy weather. Lightning, after all, was Nana’s speciality. “We always wanted to ruin this place didn’t we?” 

 


 

“You are permitted to stay here until the priestess comes for you,” The guards said when they all but shoved Mahiru into an empty room. The only thing here was a mirror, a stool and a barred window to the outside. Mahiru snorted as she walked around, the door slamming behind her. They still didn’t even check her bag. 

 

Mahiru glanced at the room around her. There was no camera or spell watching her as far as her eyes could tell. Granted, Nana might have improved her spells, but she highly doubted that if she spent most of her days teaching Fumi how to do magic. Either way, she was in the clear now. 

 

Mahiru sat down on the floor, digging her elbows to the side of her pouch, her bottles rattling and clanking against each other. She leaned forward, lowering her body. Shaking her elbows slightly, she spilt the bottles slowly onto the ground, gentle to ensure the glass didn’t crack. None of them was named, but Mahiru could tell which potion was in front of her.

 

She continued pouring, her eyes lighting up at an orange vial. She let go of the pouch on her side, leaning her hands forward to grab the potion. She unscrewed the cork, fumbling slightly from the positioning of her hands. Then Mahiru began to tip it slowly towards herself. The acidic nature of the potion stung her hands and forced her to bite the bottom of her lip. The pain was worth it; however, the light in Mahiru’s eyes danced as she saw the magic binds corroding against the potion.

 

As soon as the bindings were weakened enough, Mahiru broke apart the rest, the tearing sound ripping through the empty space. Mahiru shook the potion away from her-- each splatter to the ground hissed like meat on a grill. Wasting no time, Mahiru picked the rest of her potions and placed them back into the bag. She shifted through, getting one of the labelled health potions and drinking it fast. She needed all the energy she could get when Maya and Nana appeared. 

 

Mahiru looked out of the window. The lights in her shop were still on. 

 

It was easy to think back to the past when Mahiru first appeared in this walled-off city. It was raining back then too, stormy with the lightning roaring as opposed to the thunder. Back then, she was here with her wife. She was nothing but a shell after everything that happened to get here, but she was there. She was alive. 

 

Mahiru bit her lips at the memory. It was her fault for bringing them here, but there wasn’t anywhere else for them to go. They would be walking into the palms of the gods they feared, but they would have each other. That was enough for Mahiru. They wouldn’t have the freedom they fought for, but they would be alive, they would be happy.  They would be together.  Mahiru looked away from the window, finding the mistake to stare at her reflection in the mirror. The weight of their wedding ring felt heavy on her finger. 

 

There were many things Mahiru regretted in her life, but nothing would top that decision. Not when it meant she lost everything in a matter of weeks. Apparently, her wife died alone, told by family friends she met when they first walked into the walls. She died trying to find the cure for the plague that wrecked Mahiru’s body. 

 

She died, walking away from an argument they had. 

 

And the reason why was right in front of her. 

 

“Maya san,” Mahiru said. Her eyes moved away from her reflection to the deadlier face behind her. Mahiru didn’t turn around just yet, cocky in the idea that Maya wouldn’t just outright kill her. But, no, Maya wasn’t that merciful. Mahiru will live for now. “How’s your eye?”

 

Maya’s calm, gracious host-like smile thinned, the eye behind the monocle blinked faster than her other eye. The hue almost looked like the shade of blood roses. “Good, how’s your dead wife?” 

 

Mahiru’s own smile winced. She stared at Maya’s reflection, then at the door behind her. It was closed, but that didn’t matter much, she was in their domain, and Nana was objectively better at magic. Mahiru wouldn’t be surprised if she appeared out of the mirror itself. “My wife is perfectly fine, I can’t say the same about yours.” 

 

The smile on Maya’s face stretched, thinned out like a rapier blade. “You should watch your tongue Mahiru san.” Her hand fell on the rapier to the side, but Mahiru was faster, sidestepping away a hand deep inside her pouch. Maya’s eyes widened, but even her reflexes can’t dodge a wide net of acid. 

 

Mahiru threw her potion, crushing the bottle as she threw the shards into Maya’s face. Glass embedded itself into Mahiru’s hand, but Mahiru didn’t care. Her hands were already calloused and scarred; what was a few more for the mix? 

 

Maya hissed but otherwise wasn’t affected by the burns scratching her face. Mahiru let out a tsk as Maya swiftly changed direction, but this time she was more prepared. As Maya turned, Mahiru took out two different potions, drinking another potion whilst she popped off the cork of the other and slashed in front of her. The liquid formed a blade— the glass bottle acting as a hilt. 

 

Their blades collided with the liquid, bending before solidifying around the rapier. Mahiru grinned as she used the weight to thrust into Maya. Maya, however, let go of her sword, allowing Mahiru to fall forward. Maya then grabbed Mahiru’s wrist, the interlocked blades falling to the floor as she quickly manoeuvred around Mahiru. Unfortunately, the rust of Mahiru’s abilities was catching up to her as Maya caught her in a headlock.  

 

Mahiru’s nails dug into Maya’s shirt, ripping through the fabric by sheer strength, even denting through the armoured chainmail. She was struggling to breathe, but that didn’t mean she was going to let Maya let off easy. Instead, she was going to make her bleed— one minor injury at a time. 

 

Below them, the liquid blade deformed itself to smoke on contact with the already corroding acidic floor. The orange and purple mess of a gradient cloud rose up, the stench and its content forcing Maya to back away, loosening her grip as she hacked and coughed out the fumes to the side.

 

 Mahiru breathed in the air, unafraid of the chemicals due to the antidote she had drunk before. She elbowed Maya at the shoulder. A sickening crunch left Mahiru grinning. She turned around, blocked one of Maya’s arms, lashing out. She punched her again at the opening, forcing Maya to the wall.

 

Mahiru ran towards the rapier, picking it up just in time for Maya to charge at her. She stopped in front of the blade, almost slipping when she stepped back as Mahiru wasted no time to thrust. Maya took the stool near them, acting as a shield and a weapon. Mahiru’s loose pouch forced random bottles to the floor. Their dance of life and death was accompanied by the encore applause of glass shards and dangerously mixed chemicals, littering their stage like thrown roses. 

 

It was the potions that did it in the end. Mahiru was tired, but her constant exposure and antidote made her adapt better to the toxic fumes. Maya, try as she might, kept on struggling. Yes, she outlasted Mahiru in terms of stamina and skill (not strength). Still, everything else was worthy in a fight, but even the strongest warriors fell to dangerous chemicals. Mahiru knew that lesson by heart.

 

Maya fell first, stumbling as she slipped partially on the wet floor, trying to step away from Mahiru. She stumbled on her weapon, the stool acting as the force that made her hit head first to the wall. Her body shattered more glass underneath, and for once, Maya winced and let out a painful cry— her pride demolished. Mahiru ate it up with a wicked smile.

 

 She would like Maya to suffer more, but she wasn’t picky with this ending. It didn’t matter if Nana would appear and kill her, torture her or make her bleed. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. Disaster followed disaster. What they did to her would be paid back with this death. Nana should’ve intervened sooner if she actually cared. Mahiru lunged for the final attack. 

 

Only to step to the side when Maya’s blade bent outwards instead of piercing her skin, returning the edge back to Mahiru the more she pushed. Mahiru’s eyes widened. The blade sliced the back of her arm that wasn’t fast enough. She gritted through the pain as she tried to attack Maya again, aiming for a slice instead of a thrust. Maya caught the blade in the middle, uncaring how much she bled as she grinned. 

 

In the reflection of Maya’s monocle, Mahiru spotted a flock of blonde hair. 

 

Mahiru turned around, a hand to her potion pouch only for her arm to twist in agony. She dropped the health potion in her hand. It didn’t fall to the floor. Instead, Maya caught it, her blood staining the glass as she kicked Mahiru to the ground. Mahiru hissed, gritting her teeth as Maya pressed her boot on Mahiru’s wrist. On Mahiru’s left arm— the mark of the lover continued to eat away her skin. 

 

“Oh don’t look so upset,” Nana grinned, her steps echoing in the room. Mahiru could only see her legs as she walked forward. Mahiru sucked in her lips, breathing in through her nose. With each step, Nana washed away the potions on the floor. Like an eraser, the chemicals acted like they never existed. Finally, Mahiru saw Nana stop, her legs and boots making way for knees and a ceremonial robe. Nana crouched down, tiling Mahiru’s head up with a stick that acted more like a conductor’s baton. “All is fair in love and war Mahiru chan.” 

 


 

“FUCK YOU MAHIRU!” Claudine yelled as she slammed Mahiru’s bat against the cash register. Change clattered to the floor, the register itself crashed to the wall, scrap passing through mangled beads at the back store entrance. Claudine jumped over the counter, smashing the register once more, not holding back until the register was nothing but scraps of metal. 

 

“Did you at least take the money there?” Fumi asked as she sat on the display table. In her hands were two potions and her eyes flickered a spectrum of colour as she tried her hardest to decipher which unnamed vial was what. 

 

“Of course I did,” Claudine scoffed, picking up the few silver pieces off the floor. “There wasn’t anything in there anyways but our 20 silver.” 

 

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Fumi sighed as she lowered her hands, the colours of her eyes flickering back to the same teal eyes she always had. “I don’t know how she made a profit with this sort of organisation.” She put the two different vials back into her spatial bag. “I don’t know why we didn’t even notice before.” 

 

“We didn’t notice because she’s shit and I don’t know why Shiori liked her,” Claudine growled. She smashed the glass display case on the wall. Liquid flowing out of the broken glass vials. 

 

Fumi frowned, remembering Shiori’s last words she said before they ran away. 

 

“You never asked me where I was when I came back from the so called dead, you never sat me down and let me cry on your shoulder, any shoulder. You just looked at Mahiru and thought she stole me away. You keep saying you’re going to protect me but you never once said sorry for abandoning me. You never think about me.”

 

“Because she saved her.”

 

A crash forced Fumi to jolt, her shoulders hunching herself as she braced for impact. She raised her hands reactively, the magic from her fingertips creating a bubble just in time for the wooden planks to bounce off her. The countertop was gone, replaced with nothing but rubble and a broken bat.

 

“Kuro!” Fumi yelled, getting angrier when she noticed Claudine wasn’t paying attention to her. She was busy huffing, throwing the bent bat onto the ground. Fumi then realised that she was still within her own bubble and immediately took it down. Fumi hoped at least the blush on her face could be mistaken as anger. “KURO WHAT THE HELL!?”

 

“We would’ve saved her,” Claudine murmured. The desolate, spiteful voice sobered all of Fumi’s emotions, sucking away all the blood from her cheeks. Claudine’s fists tightened, cracking itself with her own strength. “I should’ve saved her.”  

 

The back of Fumi’s throat felt heavy, the regret acting like a stone that would’ve made her crumble. She reached into her bag, taking out one of the health potions they stole. Maybe if Mahiru made something to heal the ache in their hearts, then Fumi would’ve respected her at least. Unfortunately, these potions were nothing but for physical pains, nothing for the wounds that the past tore through. 

 

Fumi jumped off the table, the glass crunching underneath her feet. Her eyes did not leave Claudine’s shaking hands. “You did everything you could Claudine.” 

 

“Stop lying to me Fumi.” 

 

Fumi reached out, taking one hand. She held the wrist, looking up to watch Claudine’s face. The barest hint of emotions was there, hidden behind walls of training to keep her composure together. Yes, Claudine looked angry. Yes, she looked like she wanted to murder someone or punch a wall. But Fumi could see the way she was hurting, the regret in slow breaths, the glisten of tears that would instead evaporate than fall on her cheeks. 

 

Slowly, Fumi pried Claudine’s fingers against herself, unsurprised and unflinching at the bloodied palms.

 

 “You were 8 years old,” Fumi reminded, her eyes still on Claudine. She uncorked the potion, rubbed the ointment against the calloused skin. “You did everything you could. Don’t blame yourself for stuff you couldn’t control.”

 

“But—” 

 

Fumi snapped her fingers, the ointment on her tips flying to parts of her armour. “Hey.” Fumi’s eyes narrowed, and she had a rare moment to experience a surprised Claudine. Though that only spoke of how long she’s been trapped in her own head. Fumi didn’t want to think about that anymore. “Snap out of it. You did everything you could and yes—” 

 

Fumi inhaled sharply, looking down and focused on Claudine’s other hand. She could’ve done this without looking away, too used to patching Claudine up with her magic after intense training with Maya. “We made mistakes. But we’re trying to fix it. We’re trying to save her, to help her.”

 

“We kept making mistakes, Fumi,” Claudine growled— the bitterness visible on her tongue. “We kept trying to save her and now look where we are.” Claudine scoffed, her shoulders slouching as she looked to the ground— to the mess she made in her anger. The one that intertwined her own self-hate and the one she had for Mahiru. “We tried to keep the training we went through a secret to protect her from the prophecy and look— she’s now the Hero.” 

 

“She is,” Fumi swallowed the rock of jealous and ugly negative emotions. None of that mattered when Shiori was out there, unsure and lost. “And we’re going to go find her and look after her.” She took bandages out of her bag and wrapped Claudine’s hands up. “That’s why we’re sneaking out. That’s why we’re here. To find clues, to find stuff to help us save her.” 

 

Then they’ll tell her the truth, then everything will be over. They can deal with the prophecy the way they should’ve done in the very beginning— Together. 

 

“Fumi?” Claudine said, the name spoken like a question. Fumi looked up. Claudine’s eyes were not on her; they were instead past her. Fumi followed the gaze, stumbling upon a book covered in fallen chemicals yet had no stain. It was like there was a layer protecting it. “Was that book always there?” 

 

“Wait what?” Fumi turned around. However, the darkness of the broken room made it hard for her to see. The lightning outside continued to flash, though the rain started to slow itself down to a drizzle. 

 

“This book,” Claudine exclaimed, pointing now with one of her bandaged hands. Seeing Fumi’s confused face made her sigh as she began to move away. “Hold on—” 

 

“Wait, I’m not done—” Claudine took the bandage, wrapped the bloodied hand hastily before she tied it up and tore the bandage with her teeth. She tossed the unused dressing behind her, Fumi catching it in her hands as the glass crunched under Claudine’s feet. She crouched down, careful not to cut herself again as she swept away the glass on top of the book. 

 

“Holy shit—” Claudine stood up, her eyes widened in disbelief. A smile grew from her lips, the maroon eyes she carried turning feral with glee. Finally,  finally , she could make Mahiru hurt in a real way that mattered. “Fumi, it’s Mahiru’s recipes.”

 

“You’re joking,” Fumi gasped before racing over and snatching the book away. “Give me that before you rip it.”

 

“What come on—” Claudine said as she ran after Fumi. She growled in frustration when Fumi used magic to raise the book into a high enough place where she couldn’t reach it. “Let me tear it up a bit.”

 

“Hell no,” Fumi snorted as she placed Claudine in another bubble. She barely gave her twin a glance as she brought the book down. By the time Claudine got out, Fumi skimmed read most of the book, flipping it fast and reading off titles. “Even if we can’t figure out stuff we can easily sell this on the road. One recipe page at a time or something.”

 

Claudine scoffed, annoyed mainly at the logic of Fumi’s suggestion. Whilst they have money now, they have no idea how long or how much it would take for them to even meet with Shiori. “Is it even worth selling?”

 

“Her skills  are  good—” Fumi reasoned. She raised a brow when Claudine rolled her eyes, waving her hand in disbelief as she checked anywhere else underneath the counter. “Her labelling is just shit.” 

 

“Fine whatever—” Claudine sighed as she rose back from her feet. Nothing else was underneath the counter but rubble and broken glass. “Let’s get out of this crap, my anger is all gone now.”

 

“Sure sure,” Fumi waved her own hand away as she combed through the pages slower now that her sister wasn’t going to rip it apart. “Just—” Fumi paused, her brows furrowing as she brought the book closer for her to see. “Claudine… is this Mahiru’s hand writing?”

 

Claudine whirled her head around, almost disgusted that her sister would think she would pay attention to Mahiru enough to know her handwriting. “How the hell should I know?” She turned back around, getting the sword she left behind near the window sill. She wouldn’t break her sword just to destroy this stupid shop. Her sword had better things to do. 

 

Claudine looked up, swinging her sword to check on it. She barely could slip it into the sheath, her mind too busy fixating on the moon to care if she missed and stabbed herself. 

 

“Just look at this— “

 

“Fumi.” Claudine wasn’t one to gasp, but if Fumi ever made attention to that pause, that way her breath left, she would’ve looked up in an instant. Claudine was never one to show her surprise that openly. 

 

“-- it’s more messy yet clear and—” 

 

“Fumi!” 

 

“--I think Mahiru stole this.”

 

“FUMI LOOK AT THE FUCKING MOON!” 

 

“Huh?” Fumi looked up from the book, flushing from embarrassment at the annoyed look on Claudine’s face. “Sorry,” she said as she walked over, her eyes widening as she looked up past the broken window. “Oh my god.” 

 

In front of them was the moon, the dark clouds were still around, but there was no rain. Usually, the black clouds would be enough to hide or at least muffle the light of a full moon. However, the red light shone through despite the denseness, bathing the twins with something unnatural. 

 

Fumi felt every single molecule in the cold breeze burn her skin. 

 

“You know the theory stuff better than I do—” Claudine said, biting her lip. She tapped her feet away, the nerves draining her the more Fumi stared in silence. She knew this had to do with the prophecy. There was nothing natural with a bloodied full moon. “What does this mean?”

 

“It means we got to go—” Fumi spoke, her voice still far away as her mind continued to reel with the symbolism in the sky. They were trained, Fumi in particular, to understand the symbols that would appear during a prophecy. She learnt this just in case— yet she never hoped it would come true. Not when Shiori was the Hero. Not when they weren’t there to save her. “Like right now.” 

 

Fumi bolted back to the cabinets, storing the book inside her spatial bag before she shoved anything— everything in as well. She didn’t care if half of these unnamed potions were useless. They needed everything they could get right now. If they get anything worthless, they’ll sell later. They don’t have much time left. 

 

“What do you mean right now?”

 

“I mean our sister—” Fumi hissed before she took in a deep breath, realising that Claudine won’t get it unless she used the technical terms. “ The Hero! ” she emphasised instead. “Met with the Prophecy’s  Villain.”  

 

Claudine stumbled back, catching herself on the window sill. “Fuck.” She shook herself out of the surprise fast enough, her surprise morphing to seriousness. “Well, what are you waiting for? Grab that book and let’s go.” She ran out of the door, taking a few steps before she turned back to the door. 

 

Her eyes widened once more, and her jaw fell in disbelief.

 

“I’m coming,” Fumi called inside the shop as she started to run to the door. “I’m coming, I’m coming!”

 

“FUMI WATCH OUT!” 

 

That was all Claudine could yell out before the force of a lightning strike blasted her away from Mahiru’s shop— and Fumi was still inside. 

 

Chapter Text

Alchemy is not a trade for the weak of heart. It’s an extremely dangerous skill. The wrong measurement can literally cause your death— not even from intaking your potion, just from the fumes alone. Like all forms of medicine, too much could kill you. The constant exposure could weaken your bones; there is continuous documentation of side effects. In the world of alchemy, nothing is considered perfect. 

 

However, there can be considered, in the world of alchemy, a perfect alchemist. Not perfect in keeping things safe, keeping things fair and free of side effects, but perfect in their measurement. These alchemists became perfect not because they know so much but because they practised the right things enough that it’s muscle memory. They could tell one vial of ingredient apart not by sight but by weight and instincts. They can be in a room full of unlabelled vials and tell which one is what by a single look, by a single touch, by a single whiff. 

 

These alchemists are known as Legends. But like all things in alchemy, too much could kill you. Be cautious of what you read. The information that will lay bare in front of you is not one for the weak of heart. Too much knowledge will kill you. Legends, after all, are only born once they stop being living myths and miracles. 

 

This page is the last piece of caution and the last bit of kindness you will ever get from me. Now. Turn the page and let your education begin.

 

- Introductory, transcribed by Ootori Mahiru

 

---

 

“FUMI!” Claudine called when she realised she could breathe after hacking out the dust in her lungs. She stood up, the amour slowing her down as she wobbled her way up the hill. Claudine can’t lose Fumi. Not after she already failed Shiori. Not when it was her fault for noticing the moon— for staying behind to just ruin someone’s house out of anger. 

 

God, why was everything her fault when all she wanted to do was protect them? 

 

“Fumi!” She reached the shop now. Or what should be the shop? The third yell died in Claudine’s throat, the wreckage stealing everything she had. There was nothing there. It was all burnt, broken and gone. Piles and piles of wrecked rubble, even flowers littered the place.

 

Claudine vaguely remembered the garden Shiori mentioned once— back when they were friends. They were young, barely a teenager. Back then, Claudine would begrudgingly listen and tell her off. She didn’t start yelling at her until months later, fear driving the protective gears she had since Maya didn’t take the offhanded mention well. She saw her reaction once when Claudine mentioned it offhandedly— she didn’t want Shiori to share the same fate the chair had. 

 

Behind Claudine, up in the sky, the blood moon continued to give an eerie glow. 

 

Part of her wondered if this was the karma working in the world. This was the price she paid for her mistakes of being a failure of a sister. God, she would do anything to be the one hurt instead; she was the oldest sister. It was her job to carry the weight of the world so that they could be free— that was what their mothers told her to do before they died. 

 

“You never think about me!” said the voice of her broken sister screaming in her head. “Maybe if you did, you’ll learn the reason why I stopped having mum’s name was so that I can stop being related to you.”

 

Claudine shook the thought away, her entire body shaking. She flexed her hands, knowing too well that if she were to clench her fists, she’d dig her nails so deep that it would make her bleed. It’s not the first time she did that, nor will it be the last. Such was the case for unhealthy coping mechanisms. 

 

She hasn’t seen a body, so she’s not planting flowers for a gravesite just yet. Fumi had to be alive. 

 

“FUMI!” Claudine roared with all her heart, for if she did anything less, she might as well drop dead from the grief and regret. She lived for her sisters— she would die for them too if it came down to it. She ran closer to the wreckage, screaming Fumi’s name again as she tore away broken walls and burning wood. 

 

It’s only now where determination outlived the numbness did Claudine register that she wasn’t unharmed from the sudden attack. Something sharp stung her left arm, and when Claudine glanced back, she saw a bloody cut on the back of her arm. Her blood leaked to the already ruined floor, not that Claudine cared as she found nothing in a pile and moved onto the next— it was better her blood than Fumi’s.

 

“Fumi!” This time the plea was desperate. It was still as loud, still as powerful as before, but Claudine couldn’t stop the quiver on her lip as she yelled out her name. She would not cry. Crying meant that she would admit defeat. She would never give up on Fumi— not when there was still no corpse. “Fumi I still need you— SHIORI STILL NEEDS YOU!” 

 

“...S-Shiori?”

 

A cry, quiet and broken from a pillar up north. Claudine dropped everything, sprinting fast enough to make her lightheaded. She needed water— they both needed water. God, did they pack away food? Did they pack away anything for the prophecy? They can’t go back now, not to their teachers. They’ve been punished before for sneaking out. They were kinder back then because they were kids— she highly doubted they would be kind now. 

 

“Fumi?” Claudine begged, her throat heavy and hoarse. She should cry. She can’t cry— She wanted to cry. Claudine swallowed away the tears, deciding quickly she needed to be brave for Fumi. “Fumi, are you okay?” 

 

“I— yeah…” Her voice was dazed, Claudine picked up the pace. She ignored every sting from her open wound. “I think… I’m safe.” 

 

Claudine backed away, her arm raised to protect herself from the light. Blood splattered onto the opening, hitting the pink shield that surrounded her sister. Fumi stared at the stain, her hand falling to her spatial bag as a reaction. 

 

“Kuro!”

 

“I’m fine!” Claudine snapped back. She exhaled the rest of the anger, relieved that Fumi was alive enough to be mad at her recklessness. She got used to the glow of the pink barrier, different from Fumi’s green bubbles. They could actually hear each other for once. “I’m fine, you’re more important.” She tore away a shelf, glass pricking at her already reopening palm wounds. “Are you hurt anywhere?”

 

“A headache but nothing much,” Fumi called back before coughing. “Maybe a lot of dust inhalation.” Fumi stood up cautiously, not wanting to break the bubble. To her surprise, the bubble moved with her, rising as she stood up. “Claudine stop— I can handle this by myself now.” 

 

Claudine paused then backed away when she saw Fumi handling herself well. “Glad you used your magic in time— you always had better a reaction time than me.” She used to be jealous of that until Maya showed her how strong her body was, but now she was just thankful that it saved her life. 

 

Fumi took a sharp inhale. Claudine feared the worst, readying herself to dive in case her magic started to falter. “This is not my magic,” Fumi admitted, staring into Claudine’s eyes. “I only heard your voice before everything went black.”

 

Claudine nodded. The pink wasn’t really her colour anyways. “Must be Nana then, she must’ve noticed from her tower and saved you.”

 

“So much for sneaking away in secret,” Fumi grimaced as she started to walk, the wreckage groaning as she did. Claudine hesitated between stepping back from the danger or stepping in to help Fumi if she fell. 

 

“You’re safe so that’s all that matters.”

 

Fumi stopped, taking a moment to glare at Claudine, “You’re bleeding Kuro.” Claudine covered up her wound to the side; she didn’t like how warm her blood felt. Fumi only shook her head, speeding up her slow walk until the very edge of the barrier was away from the rubble. Only then did Fumi charge out— the barrier bursting as the wreckage from before caved into itself. 

 

“Give me your arm now idiot,” Fumi growled, a health potion in hand as she shoved the bottle into Claudine’s mouth like a milk bottle. Claudine stretched out her hand as she secured the health potion in the other. She drank it slowly, trying not to wince as Fumi bandaged it. 

 

“What happened?” She asked, making small talk, cleaning the wound as she wrapped, spreading another health potion over the injury. “This will leave a scar by the way.”

 

“I don’t know,” Claudine said as she stopped drinking the potion, only a third left now. “There was a lightning strike, no rain and suddenly everything was wrecked. Even the back with the flowers was ruined.” She continued to drink the health potion as Fumi growled under her breath. 

 

“Who do you think did it?”

 

“Who else but the villains,” Claudine said before taking a deep sigh. She didn’t want to say it, but they had to cover all the bases. “I don’t want to admit but if they meet Shiori already—” 

 

“They probably know about us already and want us out of the picture,” Fumi nodded before looking up at Claudine with a set jaw. “I get it.” Claudine nodded back, partially relieved that Fumi knew her better than anyone. They can live with this excuse— they can both ignore the idea that Shiori was the one that sent the attack. 

 

“Right, well we need to get going, just in case they attack again.” 

 

Fumi nodded, getting out a drink before sharing it with Claudine. “Let’s go save our sister then.” 

 


 

Elsewhere, somewhere long and far away from her sisters, Shiori woke up. Sweat sticking the hair onto her forehead or was that the water from the stalagmites. Shiori didn’t know; she could barely see in the depths of the cave. The water above her dripped down again. Her eyes twitched as she breathed. Louder— colder— there was an exhale of smoke. The smoke didn’t evaporate, coiling in front of her face. Shiori didn’t pay attention to it, too frazzled, too overwhelmed to realise that wasn’t normal. 

 

Where was she? Who saved her? All she remembered vaguely was the glow of red eyes, reminiscent of the time when she—. Shiori inhaled the fumes in front of her before she choked and struggled to cough it back out. The cave water dripped again on her head; the tears on her eyes followed it down her cheeks. 

 

God. Her sis— Shiori, did another sharp intake. She turned to her side, facing the distant light at the mouth of the cave. Did they have any right to be called her sisters? She already disowned her last name because of them; can she disown them fully after everything she heard? But if she would do that would mean she’s entirely alone, and that thought was— well. It only pushed the knife her sisters plunged deeper into her heart. 

 

Shiori placed a hand on her chest, hesitant before flinching when she touched the curves of her mark. Hero… she was the hero… and she was all alone. The realisation nipped at her skin, the tears heightening the temperature drop. This was the first time she’s ever been alone… she doesn’t like the feeling. 

 

The flicker of black in the corner of her eyes forced Shiori to focus on something else, clinging to the shadow on the wall like a lifeline. She wasn’t alone, she had people who saved her! The hope made her smile bloom. 

 

Then it all crumbled when she heard what they were saying. 

 

“I’m not letting you kill her,” The shadow of something smaller said. “It’s not time yet.”

 

“She’s the hero,” the taller one hissed, spatting out Shiori’s role like it was mud. “If we don’t kill her now we’ll ruin the best chance we got.” Her voice was feminine in nature, but it was rough, deep in its pitch— akin to a snarl of a beast. 

 

“The best chance  I got —” The smaller one reminded. Their voice was calm; it held no agitation nor anger. Instead, it was patient, wisdom clear in her articulation. “But no. I’m not killing someone who doesn’t know what she’s doing.”

 

“That’s cruel,” The taller one growled. The shadow’s shape danced as if the source of the light was trembling at the words. “To keep her alive. To force her to do the prophecy.” 

 

“I’m not a god.” There was a hint of a laugh in the smaller shadow’s voice. “I didn’t and will never force her to do anything.” The light-hearted amusement ended though, as Shiori watched the figure walk away then return with nothing but an open box in her hand. 

 

“But if you’re so eager to kill her—” The box fell with an aggressive thud. “Do it yourself. Take out the sword— Take her life with your bare hands. Do what you were born for.” 

 

Shiori’s heart raced. She pushed the blanket in front of her closer to her chest, terrified that the sudden pulse on her chest would force them to make their decision quicker. She needed to be quiet. She needed to be still. The wind around her stopped moving altogether. In the distance, the taller shadow stood, hesitating, her fingers twitching with uncertainty. 

 

“I—” 

 

“As I thought.” The box closed, the taller shadow flinched, stepping back from surprise. “That hesitation will get you killed in major moments like this,” the smaller shadow warned, their voice taking a deeper edge.  “Don’t let it happen again when you try to do anything that looks important.”

 

Just like that, the smaller shadow picked up the box and walked away, the shadow fading into the light of the fire. The taller shadow remained before it too stomped away from the light roaring into silence as they departed. 

 

Only then did Shiori let out a whimper of an exhale, the tears flowing from her eyes. She wished to move, but there was no motion in her leg— too exhausted to even consider moving. Helplessness filled her system, overriding her need to survive with overwhelming fatigue. She needed to rest— she didn’t want to rest. She was scared she wouldn’t wake up. She missed her sist— 

 

She missed Mahiru. She missed someone to feel safe around. She could only hope, as her eyes started to close without her consent, that Mahiru was okay despite everything. 

 


 

“My my after all these years you still put up a decent fight Mahiru chan.” Nana exclaimed as she started to lather Maya’s muscles with the health potions they took from Mahiru’s bag. “Did you plan for this after all these years?” Mahiru glared at Nana, her arm that had the lover’s mark was still burning. Of course, there was no actual burn mark, but Mahiru could still feel the muscles burn under Nana’s gaze. 

 

The power of the  Seer  was something else entirely. 

 

“I actually didn’t plan this,” Mahiru replied. Her voice was hoarse, partially scratchy from all the fighting and the time Maya tried to strangle her in a headlock. “Though if you planned this and you lost that says a lot about you then it does about me.” She cleared her throat, her body shifting on the stool that was bound to her. If she stepped away from the stool, her body would writhe again in pain.  

 

It was an obscure sort of punishment. To the naked eye, her restrictions would seem lax or uncaring. Her hands were not chained up or restricted, and Nana had been kind enough to allow one health potion for her wounds. Not to mention, apart from a few health potions, Mahiru was allowed to keep her potion bag. However, Mahiru knew this was not kindness.

 

 In reality, what Nana did was a demonstration— that even if Mahiru came at her with everything, she wouldn’t win against Nana. Besides, Mahiru knew that whilst Nana’s face was kind for now, it won’t be in the future. Unlike Maya, she played the long game. Nana wouldn’t be satisfied if she died now. She wanted her to suffer as much as Maya did. 

 

“What will you two do now though?” Mahiru asked, her voice taking a better shape after she cleared her throat. “Your plan to have the heroes be in the palm of your hands failed and the  real  hero already ran away.” She grinned, her grey eyes swirling to an unreadable mask of a smile. “Your plans aren’t so smart now without your brain is it?”

 

Maya’s nostrils flared, her snarl as deadly as the venomous tone of her tongue. “I should have killed you when I had a chance.” 

 

Mahiru didn’t blink at the threat. She laughed, snorted at the danger. “Please Maya, you already tried that. Several times actually.” She grinned again, enjoying the feast that was Maya’s rage building up in front of her. “Besides, the last time you actually had a chance before all of this backfired didn’t it? Poor Ju—”

 

Maya stood up, uncaring that her wounds started to reopen. She drew out her weapon, pointing the blade at the tip of Mahiru’s neck. “DON’T YOU DARE SAY HER NAME!”

 

Mahiru kept her head levelled, her eyes staring back at Maya’s. “You wouldn’t want to leave Daiba san all on her own, do you Maya san?” Sure, Nana can take her own and beat her with her eyes closed, but Mahiru would take down Maya in a heartbeat. 

 

“Oh how bold!” Nana grinned. She clapped her hands together, her eyes smiling with something unnatural. In that time, Maya hissed, and Nana attended to her wounds, bandaging with magic before she kissed her on the temple. She turned to Mahiru, her lover placated by her interval. “Good thing you were distracted by Shiori chan right?” 

 

Mahiru’s eyes narrowed. She didn’t like the way doubt invaded her mind so quickly. Shiori is too kind, too naive to be that two-faced. The way she was angered by her sisters over the years, the way she was genuine about wanting to learn alchemy. None of that could be faked… and yet here Mahiru was, thinking of the worst because she couldn’t afford to do otherwise. “Is that why you let her come over after all these years?” 

 

Nana shrugged. She stretched out her arms, wiggled her fingers. Mahiru noticed the small actions, but she was helpless to do anything about it. “Who knows, there are more ways to start a prophecy after all.” Nana’s grin widened to the point where it looked like her cheeks started to hurt, but if it did, she never showed it. 

 

Mahiru took a steady breath of air— inhaled and exhaled with a calmness they didn’t expect. She would not give them the pleasure of seeing her become undone. Even when she was reminded of how atrocious these two people were. Her stare levelled. “You planned for those sisters to fight.”

 

Still, despite her conviction, Mahiru could not clear the snarl in her voice entirely. 

 

“I didn’t plan if I already saw it,” Nana smiled, the type that was both smug and kind, depending on how you saw it. 

 

Mahiru’s hands trembled despite her determined attempts to calm them. “You knew Shiori was going to be the hero!” 

 

How dare they, how dare they trick all of three of them. How dare they take apart what once was a beautiful family. It was one thing to train two of them with the allure that they would be the hero, taking their chances to bend fate, but it was another thing entirely to use all of them as a ploy. The worst thing about it was that Mahiru had no clue what they were aiming for. 

 

“Be weary of blondes that can seal fate~” Nana giggled, and even Maya behind them chuckled out a cruel laugh. They were mocking her, this much Mahiru knew but still, she couldn’t help but glare back. She should’ve killed Maya when she had a chance. 

 

“Is that a new idiom you’re spreading around?” Nana always had a thing for idioms— for little sayings as if they were words of wisdom. Mahiru heard too often of Fumi lecturing Shiori with such things like blood is thicker than water, all without knowing its accurate phrase.

 

“Hah,” Nana laughed, jeering as she stepped closer to Mahiru. The subtleties of her kind facade tearing away as she laughed harder. “You mean you chased out your apprentice so quickly she didn’t seem to tell you the new prophecy.” A pause. The return of Nana’s smile was something cruel. “Was Karen chan’s mark too much for you, Love Interest.” 

 

Mahiru stood up, and she almost crumbled to the floor, the pain in her arm doubling down hard. She persevered, however, standing up to the pain as her hand reached for the pouch at record speed. 

 

A shame that speed could be nothing to a being who could see the future in flashes. Before Mahiru could react, Nana grabbed her hand like a snake bite. Her eyes lit up, the grin widened. “Actually, I think that title is pretty old don’t you think?” Nana didn’t wait for a response as Mahiru fell to the floor, a cry forced out of her as Nana pressed her fingers on her palm. 

 

There, Nana began to recite the prophecy all over again. Her eyes glowed, white— then brown, yellow, black. Mahiru gritted her teeth, shutting her eyes as the words forced their weight down, the scale of the world once again on her shoulders. Mahiru could barely feel the mark being drawn, cut and quartered into a cursed brand. Her lover’s mark was no longer painful. It was empty as everything was diverted to the palm of her right hand. 

 

Nana let the hand go the second she was done, shaking her hand to wash away all the smoke tethered to her fingertips. She overlooked her latest work, the mark of an M, decorated with the square hat of a graduate in the centre of Mahiru’s palm. “Does  Mentor  sound like a cute nickname for you Mahiru chan?” 

 

Mahiru stared at her hand, her fingers shaking as she clutched the wrist. She doesn’t dare to touch the fresh brand on the palm of her hand. She doesn’t want this to be real. After so many years, she’s back making the same journey that tore her away from her family. That tore apart her friends and family she made along the way— even when it was supposed to be over. 

 

The Mark of the  Mentor  is a stark red, decorated with raised skin of scars of the prophecy that came before it. Mahiru watched as the red faded into black so empty it sucked away all the energy her hand had. Finally, her hand fell, slumped against her leg. It’s not broken or gone— but Mahiru has no power to lift it. 

 

Pleased, Nana walked back to Maya with a gleeful smile on her lips. 

 

“Why did you let her join again, Nana?” Maya frowned, casting her eyes to Mahiru and back to Maya. “She’ll ruin the prophecy like last time.”

 

“She’s useful Maya chan,” Nana explained, kissing her head to calm her before her hands found Maya’s to hold it close. “And besides, it’s not like I’m not letting her leave alive, not entirely.” Their eyes met, and Nana loved the awe in Maya’s irises, the genuine divine love that they shared was always something pleasant to remember. 

 

“We’ll take her when she’s ripe,” Nana said, looking back at the pathetic excuse of Mahiru’s slumped body. Mahiru doesn’t deserve to die now. To give her such an easy death will be an insult to the person she slaughtered in cold blood. “Don’t worry, my love— if anything our students will help make her suffer.” 

 

Maya’s frown still remained, glancing back at Nana after observing Mahiru’s broken expression. “And if she takes off her hand?” 

 

“Then by all means,” Nana laughed. “Allow herself to cut off the hand— ring and all.” At the statement, Maya grinned, remembering all too well of Mahiru’s disgusting gesture she shared with that corrupted catalyst. She was glad Mahiru was so stuck within her long gone past. That anchor will be the thing that will make sure she stays drowning. “Death doesn’t need to come physically, after all.” 

 

“You’re a genius,” Maya whispered, so already in awe and proud of the person she named her divine lover. She reached out to cup Nana’s cheek, the awed smile softening at the way Nana stared at her so fondly. Within the next moment, Maya reached up to kiss her. “I love you so much Nana.” 

 

“It’s what she would’ve wanted,” Nana murmured when they parted. The sad look in her eye made Maya kiss her fingers, a sweet gesture that allowed her to mourn. 

 

“You’re a monster,” Mahiru hacked out, ruining the moment with a bittersweet growl. If Mahiru’s looks could kill both of them. Even if it didn’t, Mahiru looked at them with hate so visceral that if it could be bottled up, it would be the most torturous poison ever created. “Both of you.” 

 

“Are we really monsters when this was expected?” Nana sighed, looking over at Mahiru with a disappointed look, teeming with anger and irritation. 

 

“To right the last prophecy’s wrongs… All players must follow this story along—”  Nana recalled before she left Maya’s side to confront Mahiru directly. Now that she was part of the current prophecy, Nana couldn’t cause significant harm to her, not directly at least. Directly on the other hand... “Remember? We wouldn’t be here if you didn’t ruin the last prophecy.” 

 

Mahiru flinched, her hand acting up as Nana’s eyes flashed a dim white. “... I’ll leave the day after tomorrow,” Mahiru hissed, the pain calming down now that she agreed to follow the prophecy forced onto her. 

 

“I need to—” Mahiru paused, taking in a heavy inhale. She turned her head away in dire hope they wouldn’t see the reason why she would cry. She needed to see her wife’s grave— the flowers at the back of her shop. She needed to say goodbye. She needed to say that she was sorry for doing another big adventure without her. “I need to do my will,” she spat out in the end. 

 

“Oh don’t worry Mahiru chan,” Nana grinned, clapping her hands together. “I’ll save you the trouble.”

 

Mahiru watched Nana’s eyes flicker a violet set of yellow, and her mind snapped to the window. She paused, surprised at the blood moon in the sky before her mouth topped over at the streak of lightning racing to the ground. She didn’t care if the lightning left her blind. She needed to see the state of her house— the state of the graves. She couldn’t look away from her family dying again. 

 

The lightning came and went. Mahiru’s house came and went. A pile of rubble and wreckage was all Mahiru could see from a distance. A charred black ground was in the same place as her flowerbeds. The weight in Mahiru’s throat dropped to her legs as she leaned forward to the wall for support. She did not want to cry in the same room of her enemy— but nothing could stop the manifestations of grief. 

 

God, why was she so helpless to protect the things she loved? Had she learnt anything from the last prophecy?

 

“You’ll leave in the morning Mentor,” Nana’s voice whispered in her ear. The velvet coo was nothing but the silk sheath of a poisoned ornamental knife. “The Prophecy is waiting.” 

 

Chapter Text

In the eyes of the prophecy, the Seer is a being that can see the future. They are known as many things to the public, oracles… fortunetellers… leaders. They can’t do it often, but they will be the first to know if something important happens. 

 

Similarly, in the realm of the prophecy, the Catalyst is a being that can speed up the present. Catalysts are known as alchemists… weapons… murderers. They can speed up everything in the present if they so wished, even another person’s own life span. 

 

Much like the Hero and the Villian, the gods, when creating their tools, made sure that they were the antithesis of the other. The Seer and the Catalyst cancel each other out. The Catalyst can speed up the present to the point the Seer can’t see. The Seer is immune to a catalyst’s direct influence. Together, they are useless. Together, they only view each other as a threat. 

 

There is rarely a prophecy where both exist. At least… that’s what we’re taught. Stories are told by the victors, after all. Who knows how much blood was spilt just to get the winner’s name written in ink. 

 

Though much like all things in nature, there are likely to be mutations…. If a prophecy exists where a role has the blend of the two… I pity that actor. The world would make them bleed twice as hard just to give a sunset its red sky. 

 

- Memoir #34: The Prophetic tools by Tsuyuzaki Michiru

 

-

 

“Ichie!” Yachiyo called even though shouting in a forest with a cliff near the distance probably wasn’t the best thing to do. But, then again, if Yachiyo was going to die, then she’s going to blame Ichie for also doing the not best thing to do and leaving her alone in the morning. 

 

“ICHIE IF YOU’RE UP TO NO GOOD AGAIN I’M GOING TO ADD MUSHROOMS TO YOUR DINNER!” Yachiyo called out again, the birds up on her tree fluttering out in the nearby branches. Yachiyo ducked her head, grabbing a few feathers that floated down and placed them in her spatial bag. Even if they might not make good feathers for her arrows, they would make good kindling. 

 

After hearing no response for the second time in a row, Yachiyo pressed her hands to her temple and carefully tried to think this through. First of all— Ichie woke up in the middle of the night and needed her help to cast a spell. Then a blood moon appeared. So that leads to the second point. The prophecy has officially started— maybe even ended if the meeting with the hero went south. 

 

But Ichie didn’t dream of anyone they knew, which meant the prophecy would continue for now. Yachiyo growled, opening her eyes to the apparent truth she somehow missed. Ichie was doing an errand for the prophecy. 

 

The cry of birds made Yachiyo snap her head up in the distance. A wry smile made its way to her lips as she climbed down the tree. Speak of the devil, and it shall appear. Yachiyo barely made it on the ground with two feet landing before something grabbed her arm and threw her forward to a running stance. 

 

“Ichie what did you do this time?” Yachiyo asked as she ran next to Ichie, who was busy looking behind her. Yachiyo didn’t even dare to follow her actions. She wanted to explicitly hear it from Ichie’s own voice, what trouble she wanted to cause this time. 

 

“If I told you would not put mushrooms into our dinner?” Ichie asked, not panting when she increased their pace a bit more. Yachiyo didn’t miss the slight change, increasing her speed to match Ichie. Yachiyo heard the thunder of footsteps and the wreckage of trees behind her. Still, she decided to ignore it, for the dramatics of it all, if anything else. 

 

“Depends, will the thing chasing us will answer first before you do.” 

 

“I swear it’s nothing bad,” Ichie said as her golden eyes caught Yachiyo. As her best friend, Yachiyo would’ve naturally believed her. Then the roar behind them, loud enough to make the earth shake, answered her question before Ichie did. 

 

“You woke me up-- in the middle of the night,” Yachiyo added, forcing her voice to remain calm and collected despite the rage boiling underneath her skin. She knew better to shout when you’re running for your life; it was just wasted breath in a matter that needed it most. “Then had breakfast on your own and left me sleeping in only to come back with a mole bear right on your tail?” 

 

“Andrew was needed okay!” Ichie pleaded, pouting with a whine in her eyes as she looked back at the mole bear again. Unfortunately, the name was just the tiny bit that broke the camel’s back. Or, in this case, Ichie’s eardrums as Yachiyo turned her head to scream at her. 

 

“YOU NAMED THE MOLEBEAR TRYING TO KILLS US ANDREW!?”

 

“Cliff!” 

 

“Oh so it’s name is Cliff now!?”

 

“No I mean-- CLIFF!” 

 

Yachiyo growled as she looked ahead of her. Indeed the cliff that she was dreading about was finally coming within eyesight. In the same breath, she inhaled and grabbed two identical potions from the spatial bag and tossed one to Ichie. “Is it safe?”

 

“I mean,” Ichie said, catching the potion with a confident grin. “I said Cliff didn’t I?”

 

Yachiyo nodded, pressing her thumb on the corkscrew of the potion firmly, ready to let go any second. “Let it go after we jump,” she instructed. 

 

“Yes ma’am!”

 

The mole bear behind them said its own agreeing terms. One that made Yachiyo look back when she heard the footsteps pounding the ground, the space between the thuds narrowing and narrowing. Instantly she regretted that choice, the gigantic maw of the beast was too close for her liking. 

 

“Yachiyo jump!” Ichie reminded and like a performer Yachiyo did. The familiar feeling of the air beneath her legs was sobering. Her mind only sharpened as her thumb pressed harder on the cork, knocking it off entirely. Within a second, she was back on the cliff. This time she was on top of a potion-created shield to ride down on. 

 

“Woo!” Ichie laughed, her potion shield bouncing against the rough cliff terrain. “I love cliff surfing!” 

 

“I thought you hated extreme sports,” Yachiyo snorted before a thud behind them forced the ground to shake. Thankfully it was one of the potion’s features to stick onto the rider’s feet to make sure they didn’t go flying when the ground shook. This was often since one of the more annoying features of molebears was their ability to walk on anything made of the earth. 

 

“And looked like we still have your guest,” she drawled, glaring at Ichie when the tremors of the molebear following them caused rockfalls in the distance. 

 

“I promise,” Ichie said as she steadied her balance, as she quickly glanced back to the mole bear. “Andrew is very much needed.” 

 

Yachiyo rolled her eyes, then she shifted a bit to the side to catch some air on a ledge of rock. “To do what? Are you going to save another blonde again?”

 

Ichie perked up, her stupid proud grin shining bright enough to fight the sun. “It’s for the prophecy obviously!” 

 

“Gah—” Yachiyo said as she landed roughly, back on the cliffside. “Fuck the prophecy.” 

 

“Maybe later,” Ichie cackled as she turned her head. Yachiyo turned to her, the annoyed frown morphing into a smirk when she caught the glint in Ichie’s eyes. Her smile was flimsy, loose— like a mask falling apart to reveal the fangs underneath. “Right now we need to take out an eye.”

 

Yachiyo cocked a brow up, looking at the distance. They were nearing the foot of the cliff by now. There was a tree she could land on, depending on the side. “Which one?”

 

“Left one,” Ichie nodded as Andrew roared behind them. “Don’t worry, I’ll cause a distraction.” 

 

Yachiyo nodded, taking out her bow from her back, holding the bow firmly as she grabbed one of her arrows too with a rope. She looked back at the molebear, eyeing the red eyes of the pale blue fur like it was a target. There, she created an illusion sigil in the air, blinding the mole from her actions. “Don’t get eaten idiot.”

 

“No promises!” 

 

With that positive reassurance, Yachiyo leaned her shield to a rock that stuck out. She finished the knot on her arrow as her shield flew up into the air. Yachiyo let go of the vial in her hand, the shield disappearing underneath, turning into acid to corrode the earth. The mole bear roared at her sudden disappearance, but their ears flicked and flinched, changing direction to Ichie’s song and cackle. 

 

Relieved that the plan was working, Yachiyo reached out to the branch with her spare hand, grunting at the hard texture as she used her momentum and strength to flip herself around to the top of the branch. She landed there with a smirk, picking off a leaf from her hair as she unfurled her bow properly and stretched the string back. All she had to do now was to wait. 

 


 

“Elixir of love, Elixir of life~”  Ichie chanted out as she raced down the cliff. It was a shame the shield potion needed her to hold onto the vial for it to work, or she would’ve taken out her guitar.  “Is all good and fair~”  God, she really loved this song, even when it’s such a fresh tune. 

 

However, it felt fitting to sing about the last prophecy at the very beginning of the newest one. Of course, it helped that the prophecy Ichie knew when she was young meant that the stories were interlinked. Granted, Ichie didn’t know much about the so-called tragic prophecy that wasn’t about the Catalyst and the Lover. 

 

“But the story I have for you~”  Ichie turned to the side, barely missing the sudden pounce of a bear paw that attempted to slice her body in two. But the near-death experience only made Ichie’s voice shook with a laugh, still continuing with her little ditty.  “Is one beyond compare!” 

 

She was glad that Andrew was receptive to her songs, going out of his way to touch her like a rabid fan in a bard concert. Unfortunately, it took her all day to find the right bear she saw in parts of her dreams. Thankfully, all they needed to do was a few small things that way,

 he would be a  threat  but nothing life-threatening. 

 

“--It’s all about a gemstone, the prophecy and a girl~”  She sang, laughing as she eyed a large boulder in front of them as they neared the foot of the cliff. Thankfully, it was large enough and stable enough that it would take her strength and then some.  “A tale of star crossed lovers that onced defied the gods!” 

 

With a defiant laugh worthy of the ending of the song’s chorus— Ichie turned around. She smirked, glancing to Yachiyo nearby as she threw the glass vial, shield and all to the direct face of Andrew. The mole bear hissed at the sudden acid to their face, blinding their eyes with enough time for Ichie to land and stabilise herself— back against the boulder. 

 

The roar and the smell of rotten carcass made Ichie wrinkle her nose as spittle landed on her arms as Andrew lunged, mouth wide open to grab a bite. Ichie jumped, positioning herself to land on the bottom lip of the mole bear. Her hands then flew to the protruding canines as the spittle almost made her stumble and forced the mouth up like she was stopping a vertical door to fall to the ground. 

 

The molebear roared in frustration, and Ichie grinned as her grip against the fangs intensified. “Oh no you don’t Andrew!” Parts of her tattoo of a guitar on her left arm started to pulse as Ichie barred her teeth. Her strength was the only barrier that would stop her from getting eaten. “If I get eaten I’ll get mushrooms for dinner.” She pulled her head back, the stench overwhelming her. “ANY TIME NOW YACHIYO WOULD BE GREAT!” 

 

Yachiyo laughed on her tree, her eyes catching Ichie’s glare. She wasn’t normally petty or this petty, but Ichie deserved it for scaring her earlier. Still, Yachiyo willed her breath to calm itself. She allowed the smile to straighten as she focused on the left eye. Like any trained archer, all Yachiyo could hear was the very faint tremor of her own breathing. 

 

She let go of the string. The arrow whisking past her, the sound of the rope flying whipped through the air. Yachiyo took hold of the end of the rope, grabbing the end and taking out another arrow. She didn’t even look when the arrow pierced the eye. Only looking up at the cry before she loaded her new arrow with the other end of the rope attached and fired it— away from the monster. 

 

Another cry tore through the mole bear’s lungs as it flayed, blood gushing from the open wound. Yachiyo smirked as she jumped down the tree, avoiding how the eye left blood trails as it flew off into the distance. Yachiyo did not have the strength to pull out the eye herself, so she hoped that firing the end of the rope away would be enough to tear it out. 

 

“Thank you Andrew,” Ichie smirked, unfazed at the way Andrew’s blood splattered on her wrists. The pulse in her arm continued to quicken until it was a constant glow as her grip intensified once more. Then, with a grunt, Ichie twisted her hands. A sickening crunch forced the mole bear to shake. Ichie jumped away, landing on a backflip as she twirled her new fangs in her hands, acting as dual daggers in case the mole bear wanted to fight. 

 

As Ichie expected, Andrew didn’t lunge at her. Instead, the monster hobbled away, taking its strongest weapons as a sign of defeat. Ichie watched, rising up to stand as Andrew raced down the cliff again and away from them. 

 

“You need to change as soon as we get to the river,” Yachiyo called from a sizable distance from Ichie, her nose wrinkling in disgust. “Your distraction was great but you stink Ichie.” 

 

“But~” Ichie grinned, the light from her arm dying down into a typical tattoo again as she twirled the fangs, blood from the bottom of the teeth dotting the blood around them with red. “I got two new daggers~” 

 

The so-called impressive achievement pulled Yachiyo’s lips back, reeling her head back as she eyed Ichie warily. “You’re washing them too you idiot.” Yet despite her words, Yachiyo fished out a potion and rolled it over the grass to Ichie. “Next time you do something stupid warn me.” 

 

“But I—”

 

“--Need to take that potion so I don’t get infected by the molebear’s poison? Yes, yes you do. Also no--” Yachiyo said as Ichie picked up the bottle reluctantly and swallowed the antidote. “It doesn’t count as a warning when you already did it and were running for our lives.” 

 

“Fine~” Ichie sighed as she took some of the remaining parts of the antidote and slathered it down the fangs, resting on the boulder to protect herself adequately. “But only if we head to the river tonight. I want to eat some fish.” 

 

Yachiyo nodded as she pulled her map from the spatial bag, unfolding the paper carefully as she looked over where they were. Two more days until they reached the river, in the place where Ichie saw in her dreams last night. Yachiyo held her map tighter, careful not to tear it apart from the emotions inside her. Now was not the time to think about meeting  her  again. 

 

“We’ll get there in a few days,” Yachiyo said, forcing her voice to stay calm as she looked up to Ichie. She glanced then at the cliff behind them and held a smirk. “Unless you want to jump off the cliff.” 

 

Ichie looked up, tilting her head in thought. “I mean—“

 

“No we’re not diving off the cliff,” Yachiyo deadpanned. “The wind would ruin my hair.”  

 

“How about—“ 

 

Yachiyo sighed, already knowing too well what Ichie was going to say. “No, I’m not going to push you off the cliff.”

 

“Boo~” Ichie stuck out her tongue, and Yachiyo felt childish to stick her tongue out in retaliation. They shared a laugh as yachiyo put her map back into the bag. “Oh!” Ichie stood up from her boulder, racing up to Yachiyo. Yachiyo brought the cloth around her neck up to her nose like a mask. “We can’t clear our tracks by the way.”

 

Behind her clothed mask, Yachiyo’s green eyes blinked in surprise. “You want the bear to come after us?” 

 

Ichie grinned as she tried to reach for the spatial bag for her new fanged dagger blades, Yachiyo took a step back, but that didn’t stop Ichie’s cheerful optimism. “Yep!”

 

Yachiyo rolled her eyes, her body still avoiding Ichie’s grabby hands. There is no way she’s letting the fangs into the bag, not when it’s going to ruin how she organised things. “For the prophecy?” 

 

“For a good story!” Ichie insisted. Underneath her breath, Yachiyo heard a grumble for her to stay still. 

 

Yachiyo then decided to run down the path, ignoring the way Ichie chased after her and the way she struggled to smile at Ichie’s yelling. Despite the fun she was having, messing around with her best friend she knew since they were kids, the words that left her lips were nothing but the harsh and haunting truth that Yachiyo had. 

 

“I hate the prophecy.”

 

Chapter Text

The world and its universe exist in a land of balance. Without balance, there would be no struggle— at least, no struggle that would be considered interesting to watch. One-sided battles are predictable; one-sided stories are boring. Therefore in a prophecy, the gods gave both the hero and the villain the same amount of hope. The same amount of opportunities.

If things were becoming too cruel, too overpowered— the gods would slight the victor. If things become too unstable, they will stabilise the narrative… at least until the story works in their favour. But in the beginning, when the casting is revealed, there will only be one. One Hero for One Villain. One Catalyst for One seer. 

 

Even if the survivors of the last prophecy survived to see the current, they would be recast to something else. They would be made new. There will never be more than one hero, one villain, or more than one Catalyst or Seer. The universe would never allow it, and the one that came before will give way to the present. They would either crumble entirely or just enough to be remade. There will never be doubles… not in the title, not in their ability, not in name. 

 

- Memoir #37: Marks and Prophecies by Tsuyuzaki Michiru

 

--

 

Shiori woke up, the lights blinding her. Her mind reeled, staggering reality with the past. The weight on her stomach reminding her too much too fast, of the lab that held her down. She raised her hand, relieved at how fast it flew up, the way the wind gave it that extra boost she didn’t need. Something in front of her clattered, falling over itself on a shelf but not to the floor. 

 

Shiori breathed. 

 

She did nothing but breathe for a long time. She was somewhere— inside, on a bed. A soft bed, her mind noted when she sat up, the blanket on her stomach rolling down. She was in a bedroom— not her bedroom in her rundown flat— not the bedroom of a childhood she can barely remember. But she was in a bedroom. She was safe— 

 

“She’s the hero,” the taller one hissed, spitting out Shiori’s role like it was mud. “If we don’t kill her now we’ll ruin the best chance we got.” 

 

She was not safe. 

 

Shiori looked at her hands, rubbing the wrist at the lingering red marks from the lab. There was no clock in the room, nor anything to tell her how many days it has been. The sun outside suggested it was near noon in the morning, and there was nothing but some apple slices with a cutting knife on a chair next by. A glass of water stood next to the bowl. 

 

Shiori eyed the food, hesitating only for her stomach to make its demand, urging her to ignore the risk of poison to drink and eat. Shiori downed the water first— the crisp of the water acting as if it was flavoured with ambrosia with how good it tasted. The apples, though partially brown from a few hours of exposure, were sweet. Despite the fears for her life, Shiori allowed her eyes to close. She wanted to savour this flavour in case it was the last thing she would ever taste. 

 

Shiori then picked up the knife, holding it carefully in her hand as she inspected it. This was a simple knife, sharp enough to cut through fruit, a short, almost curved blade specialised for slicing. Yet when Shiori held it, it felt comfortable in her hands— almost as if she held it before. This was strange when Shiori never held a knife before, not counting Mahiru’s cutting knife when she had to slice ingredients for potions. 

 

Shiori shook her head. She’ll figure out that later when she’s safe. She gripped it in her hand, the fingers filling up the hilt perfectly. Then she put the blade down, pressed the palm of her hands onto the edge and surface of the bedside drawer and exhaled when she moved out of the bed. As she thought, her legs already gave way— the wind she can’t control pushing her back up to stand as she used the drawer as leverage. 

 

Shiori took a deep breath, controlling the pace of her inhales and exhales before pushing off the drawer, stumbling but not falling. Progress. She can now walk— maybe run if she needed to. Was this being a hero had to entail? Being threatened each and every day? 

 

She wondered briefly if this was what Fumi and Claudine had to deal with each day for their training. From the thoughts emerged an iron weight, like a dandelion from the cracks of Shiori’s heart. The gravity of the metal on such a fragile surface allowed Shiori to fall and stumble to the floor, barely able to stop a cry wretch through her throat as her eyes shut. “Onee chan… Kuro nee…” 

 

She hated how much she missed them. She hated how she still cared. Even when for all their words and promises, they never acted like they cared back. The click of the door handle was enough for Shiori to snap back to the present. To dry the tears that never fell and stand up despite her struggles beforehand. 

 

She reached for the blade on the table, her fingers filling out the hilt perfectly as she gripped it. Her legs moved to the door, behind the door— holding back her surprise when she felt the wind wrap around her ankles, the cold air muffling her own steps. No floorboard creaked, no sound was made. There was nothing but the cool air and the fluttering of curtains for a window that wasn’t open. 

 

The door opened, the loud creak of the old hinges screamed in the silence. Shiori did not breathe when the door started to brush against her skin as it opened wider. Thankfully, the person did not open it wider, allowing it to close behind them as they walked forward to the curtains that continued to flutter. 

 

The grip on the cutting knife was clammy, sweat starting to loosen the grip. Shiori launched herself forward, aiming for the back of the shoulder, pulling her hand back to take the plunge. A hand caught her wrist before she could even bring it forward past her body. Shiori’s eyes widened— she didn’t even catch how the person turned around. It happened too fast. 

 

Red eyes. 

 

All she saw was red eyes and dark brown locks framing her face before something kicked in— familiar yet strange, like the reins of a horse she hasn’t ridden for a long time. Shiori head-butted the person in front of her, bearing the pain as the person hissed in surprise. She then yanked away her dagger, getting into a protective stance she used to take with old acolytes when they tried to hassle her as a child. 

 

The person in front of her was tall. That was all Shiori could notice as she stepped back away from their range. They were frustrated the more Shiori dodged. It was expressed through their frown and the way her lips pulled back, stretching the scar on her cheek. Shiori took a swipe at their arms, eyes widening when the stranger grabbed it and pulled her in. 

 

Shiori used her free elbow to knock her away, yelping when the stranger twisted her arm in a way that forced her to drop the knife. Except the knife was then kicked back up into the air, leather boot to the hilt, grabbed by the other person. 

 

Shiori’s eyes widened as she twisted her body, the wind working in her favour as it bellowed a storm that blew the assailant into the wall. Unfortunately, it was the wall that had the door. The knife fell to the floor once more, and Shiori lunged to it. The stranger scrambled to it too, and their hands met, fingers touching— their nails clawing and scratching skin.

 

Shiori grunted as she rolled on top of the person, putting pressure on her kidney as she wedged her elbow into it. The red eyes burst open in pain, almost as if the winds were knocked out of her. Shiori snatched the blade from her hands and attempted to pin her down. Yet despite the elbow to the stomach, the assailant recovered quickly. Shiori struggled to keep her hands away from the knife, let alone lowering it fast enough to stab them. 

 

Their hands met again. This time, the stranger’s callous hands were wrapped around her fingers. Shiori pushed the knife down, barely touching the linen before the stranger’s nostrils flared. Shiori yelped, a sudden heat drawing itself into the room as the assailant attempted to bite her. They missed, but that was all they needed for Shiori to lose concentration from sheer shock and allow the person to reverse the situation, rolling them over.

 

Shiori let out a grunt at the heavy weight on top of her. Her eyes catching the bared teeth and the canines that almost looked like fangs. The knees strangled her waist, almost daring to squeeze the life out of her abdomen. Shiori growled, reactively pressing her hands against the wrists that attempted to sink the knife down to her chest. The wind continued to bellow around them, objects flying in an attempt to push the person off. 

 

A growl, boiled in ire like a cauldron of toxic poison, was the only response. The red eyes flashed, gaining a darker hue as the knife continued to edge closer to Shiori’s heart. The teeth were bared fully now, fanged and sharpened pearly whites were on full display. Shiori glanced down, trying to hide her surprise at the way her Heroes Mark glowed against her clothes, shining but not burning through the material. It pulsed violently, the flicker made to blind. 

 

Shiori hissed, a sharp intake as the assailant tried again. Pushing further, the knife did sink, the razor’s edge skimming over the fabric for only a moment. Sweat bled down Shiori’s face, her breathing getting harder the further she pushed back. The wind grew frantic, the light flickering more and more in an attempt to blind. Shiori had no idea if it worked, but the ire— the hatred in the red eyes was too vague in motive to distinguish.

 

Was it hate for Shiori’s title in the prophecy— or was it hate because they haven’t killed her already. 

 

Shiori thought the fight would end, climatically as all fights she envisioned would go. Granted, she imagined her sisters fighting her current battle, but it would end all the same. After a struggle, they— the hero, would win. The situation would be overturned, and they would end in nothing but brutal victory. That was not the case. 

 

The door opened instead, and the wind died like it all fled through the opening. Both eyes snapped to the intruder to their fight, and the momentum died— Unnaturally so. Where all of the naturalness of a sudden private affair was ousted to the public eye. Underneath the stare, Shiori felt like a child being told off for roughhousing instead of protecting her own life. 

 

Then again, what else could she feel under the observant stare of an old, smiling lady? 

  

She was shorter than what Shiori expected, messier too. Ignoring the rough and tattered outfit of a hood, pouches and trousers. Her hair was a mess of blond and greying waves held back by coiling braids at either side. Its length dangled to the top of her shoulders in uneven chops, and a little ahoge stuck on from the very top. 

 

The figure had red eyes too, something Shiori expected. What she didn’t expect was the look of calmness too, an emotion that terrified her. Wrinkles around her eyes and the slight sag of her cheeks gave away an approximation of old age amongst the subtle hints of grey within the blond mess of the hair. She looked like a veteran. She looked like the real problem Shiori had to overcome. 

 

“Rui,” the woman said calmly, glancing at the assailant to whom Shiori finally could label properly. “Be a dear and let go of our guest.” 

 

Shiori’s eyes widened at the familiar voice and pitch, remembering it so clearly as the reason why she was still alive. Did that mean? Shiori turned back to the assailant— to Rui. Only to feel slightly offended when the person wasn’t even staring at her; the cutting knife was already to the side. 

 

Rui was instead looking back at the lady with blonde hair. Her red eyes were narrowed, her bottom lip was jutting out. “She tried to kill me.” Shiori knew that the person in front of her. It was the same voice that threatened to kill her when she passed out on the first night. Hearing it now, so close to her ears, made her feel faint. 

 

The person who wanted to kill her— almost succeeded. If it weren’t for the mysterious blonde interrupting once again, Shiori could’ve been a goner. 

 

“Dear,” The blonde smiled though it was not kind. “She woke up in a strange place, she would injure anyone who she thought was a threat.” Shiori wanted to point out that she wouldn’t, but she caught the wince in Rui’s brow, the way it pinched together almost with a hint of shame. Was there something she missed in words? 

 

“Now,” The lady said, not even paying heed to the change of expression in Rui’s face nor Shiori’s confusion. “Would you get off the poor girl and get us something to eat? Perhaps you can explain the ruckus you were causing to the innkeeper?” 

 

There was a mumble. Shiori almost didn’t believe her eyes that the person she fought against would stand up obediently, not even sparing her a glance and walked out of the door. The only time she even looked back was when she glanced back at the lady, almost for confirmation, before continuing to walk away, dejected. 

 

“My apologies for Rui,” The lady said as she entered the room, fixing up a few things lying in the room and putting them in the right place. “She gets impulsive when she’s stressed.” Only now did Shiori notice the walking stick, a dark mahogany colour. She leaned on it heavily. 

 

“It’s fine,” Shiori stammered before beating herself up at the instinctual apology. 

 

“Maybe it is,” the lady hummed as she looked at Shiori, the red eyes almost peering into her soul. “For someone still in shock.” The accusation made Shiori laugh, more out of guilt and awkwardness than anything else. Her shoulders hunched together, almost trying to make herself small even though Shiori knew she would tower over the person if she actually stood up.  

 

“Relax, Rui won’t harm you any time soon,” The lady assured. “For all her bark she has no or little bite.” 

 

“What about you?” Shiori asked, the words leaving her tongue before she could stop herself. “For all your talk, would you bite?”

 

The lady turned to her, silent with surprise in her eyes. Then the tension broke apart with her laugh, the surprise in her eyes turning into something unreadable. “My my my, you have a bite to your bark yourself dear.” 

 

“You haven’t answered my question.”

 

“That’s because I’m too old to play your game,” the lady grinned, almost pleased as she tapped Shiori’s leg with the tip of her stick. “My name is Tsuyuzaki Michiru after all.” 

 

Shiori frowned, her eyebrows scrunching up in thought. “What does your name have to do with anything Michiru san?” 

 

Shiori swore that she saw it, a frown that appeared too fast and ended too quick to hide away in a wince. Yet the second she blinked, the mirage of an expression was gone. The smile that was always there didn’t look like a smile anymore; it was a straight line straining itself to bend. 

 

“It means nothing of your concern,” Michiru smiled. Shiori’s frown deepened, but the knock on the counter by Michiru’s stick was enough of a jump to snap her out of it. “Now, I’ll be double checking on Rui, you should come downstairs for lunch when you’re ready okay?” 

 

Shiori nodded. Though she had apple slices beforehand, it was nothing compared to the idea of an actual meal. “Okay Michiru san.” 

 

Michiru gave her one last grin, something hiding within the cracks of her dry lips. “I’ll see you there then Shiori.” 

 

With that, Michiru closed the door, her steps and her stick fading away into the ambience. It was there that Shiori breathed. She fell back to the wooden flooring. Her eyes closed in the relief of peace. Birds were outside; below her was the muffled voices of the inn, reminding her that despite the sudden brawl, she was safe. 

 

 Only to sit up a moment later, all her appetite gone and the wind knocked out of her. Shiori had no idea who Rui was. She never met a person called Tsuzuyaki Michiru before. 

 

But Michiru knew her name. 

 

She knew her name before Shiori even revealed it to them. 

Chapter Text

What makes a person a hero? Is it their good nature? Is it the way they strive for justice? Is it because they're likeable and we only know their best thoughts and views? Or is it because we're told they're the hero so therefore they're the good person. 

 

Of course, in stories, the hero is a good character, the one people like. The one to get the happy ever after in the end. The one who vanquished evil and sat down in front of a bard to get their story told. In fiction, that's understandable. It's harmless. It's fiction— it doesn't exist, and everyone knows that. 

 

But when you write stories where the hero was once a living thing— then things become murky. Victories are what gets the words down. Little lies to make things more juicer to read gets written down. Sometimes the truth is boring, sometimes the truth is that the hero wasn't doing anything heroic. In time, the truth becomes a tool instead of an unexplainable sensation. It's the truth because dead people long ago said it was true. Nah. It's the truth because the winners said it will be.

 

That's why I dislike coming across stories of past prophecies sold and shared amongst young people. Everyone counts them as mere fables, but I know, once upon a time, these stories were alive and living out an adventure no one can properly fathom. Though I will admit, these stories do have some semblance of truth. It's in broad strokes, but it's there. Like an old painting, all of the details are lost to time. 

 

Even my own adventure of the prophecy. The tragedy they write is full of broad brushstrokes of the truth, but the details aren't lost to time. They are lost instead to the empty space after the end, right before the book closes. Though that act is deliberate. The real story is not done yet, and my love life is not meant for public consumption. Not yet. 

 

- Memoir #60: What makes a prophecy by Tsuyuzaki Michiru

 

~

 

"How do you know my name?" Shiori asked the second she walked down the inn. It was full of strangers, people that barely batted an eye, only glancing at her when she walked towards Michiru and Rui's table. Except Rui left the second she saw her come down the stairs. She glared once, finished her drink and walked away-- grabbing something off the table as she did. 

 

"Well that explains why Rui left so suddenly," Michiru mused instead of answering. Her eyes are on the parchment in front of her, pen scribbling down the ink. "Please do sit down and eat Shiori, I wasn't sure of what you liked so I bought an assortment of everything." Shiori eyed the food with caution, and the hesitance made Michiru laugh. "Oh don't worry Rui wouldn't poison anything, not when I ate stuff from the same plate." 

 

"After you explain to me how you know my name," Shiori insisted. Michiru glanced up at her, and Shiori noticed the new frame of spectacles on the bridge of Michiru's nose. "I never said it out loud before so I can't trust you."

 

"Well at least you're cautious," Michiru said instead. "Plenty of heroes out there who suffered far worse due to their naivety and willingness to trust open heartedly. Not that's a bad thing mind you," she amended as she continued to scribble stuff down. "But the cautiousness is refreshing."

 

"Are you part of the prophecy?" 

 

Michiru stopped once again, looking at Shiori with a deadpan expression. Shiori didn't like the way doubt and foolishness invaded her heart. "Will you eat if I told you an answer?" Shiori nodded before sitting down for real when Michiru gave her a knowing glance. "Thank you." 

 

Once again, silence reigned. Michiru went back into writing, and Shiori kept staring at her waiting for an answer. A beat passed until Michiru looked up, pausing briefly to stare at Shiori. Shiori stood up straighter under her sharp gaze. "You haven't answered it yet." 

 

"Because you're not stuffing your mouth," Michiru sighed. "I paid a good coin for your meal. So I figured we could wait until you ate something before I ended any appetite you had." Michiru explained dryly, snorting only when Shiori's stomach rumbled. "You have a fair head on your shoulders but it's only going to spiral if you don't eat anything after being unconscious for two days." 

 

Her eyes widened as Shiori let out a gasp. "Two days!?" 

 

"Less yapping more munching hero," Michiru scolded. Reluctantly, Shiori picked up one of the bread available, tasting it politely before everything went out of the window. Her hunger overwhelmed her as she started to stuff things down her mouth. 

 

 "Good," Michiru grinned before she stopped writing entirely. "Now your question, I knew your name Shiori because of the prophecy."

 

Shiori stopped eating. "But prophecies don't share names like that."

 

The grin on Michiru's face widened. She placed her pen on the table and removed her glasses. Now without the glass pane separating them, her red eyes bled into Shiori's soul. A shiver crept within Shiori's heart, and underneath the table, her hands trembled. "Oh really? Then what do your prophecies share?"

 

Shiori felt that no matter how she answered, whatever she would say would be the wrong thing to say. 

 


 

Michiru really did want Shiori to eat. She honestly was concerned for her health. The softer side of her cared for the young hero, even when she was the one person who could stop everything Michiru worked so hard on. Yet despite the weak side, Michiru wasn't someone considered soft. Even clay would harden given enough time, Michiru wouldn't give the hero any chances if she kept avoiding them. 

 

"The prophecy?" Shiori asked, her brows furrowing in thought. Michiru marked down the uncertainty, tapping her finger against the table. She drank from her mug before pointing it to the platter between them. Then, taking the hint, Shiori began to eat again. 

 

"Take your time," Michiru mentioned as she placed down her mug and folded away her papers. 

 

It wasn't nefarious in case Shiori looked. It was primarily ingredients for her potions, notes on how many days since the prophecy started. Medication. She needed to keep track of everything. Find the outlier or, even worse, the pattern. Anything that made too much sense was a hazard. Anything that made no sense was a risk. Pattern recognition was something embedded into humanity after all, and Michiru liked to remember that she was a human every now and again. 

 

It's been three days since the prophecy officially started, counting the first day it actually began since the blood moon appeared that same night. That should be considered an outlier. No story should ever start with the hero and the villain meeting by the end of the day. Then again, these outliers should be expected. The entire prophecy itself has practically implied that this would be the finale. 

 

Everything would change no matter how the narrative ended. 

 

"The prophecy is a forewarning of a calamity," Shiori answered, jutting Michiru out her thoughts. Michiru sat up straighter at the determined look in Shiori's eyes, taking apart all of the information her face naively gave away. She had her mother's eyes. Green and caution masking over the unique light of kindness. Michiru frowned. She forgot which of Shiori's mothers she inherited her eyes from. 

 

Shiori flinched subtly at the frown, her words stammering before her confidence regained itself around the same time Michiru returned her thoughts back to the present. "That's why people are chosen to protect the world from it. It's something that happens every few decades, when the world is in trouble the gods who can't come down to earth call on us for help. People get chosen and they prevent whatever calamity would happen." 

 

Michiru hummed, crossing her arms as she looked at Shiori's forehead. Shiori looked away even when their eyes never connected, was that a small flinch? The answer, if so, did not bold well. It would be easy to test that theory, to pierce her eyes directly to the heart of the hero. Baptise her in the reality of the world with nothing but a gaze. 

 

But that would be cruel; more importantly, it wasn't worth the risk. This was not her prophecy, and the hidden potential within a hero was a dangerous thing. Still, a facade would do if only for a bit of test of courage. And it seemed as if the newest hero was failing that. 

 

"Calamity huh…" Michiru clicked her tongue. The answer was… generic. Boring. Taken out of a textbook or something similarly basic. Granted, not every hero had their way with words or thought about things as deeply as she did, but Michiru couldn't help but feel disappointed. After all the bite she had from the conversation upstairs, Michiru was treated to this. "So you're chosen to protect the world from this calamity?" 

 

Shiori shrugged in the end though her earlier anxiety made it seem more forced than nonchalant as she took a bite of her sandwich. "I'm the hero aren't I?" 

 

Michiru chuckled, noting the same snark that Shiori had before. In the white noise of the room, Michiru could only hear the tapping against the table leg. "You sure are."

 

"You're part of the prophecy right?" Shiori asked once again, and the smile on Michiru's face fell. She didn't even bother to hide her disappointment at such an obvious question, and it showed when Shiori looked away, cheeks flushing with embarrassment. "Don't look at me like that, I— I wasn't trained for this."

 

Michiru stopped tapping the table. She leaned forward, a brow raised in genuine curiosity. "You can get trained for prophecies?" She knew villains trained in the same way but never the heroes. Was this an outlier? A hazard or a risk? 

 

Shiori looked to the side, her head falling. Her bottom lips trembled, and Michiru curbed her curiosity, leaning back to her seat. She could recognise grief a mile away. "...My sisters were trained for this," Shiori admitted quietly after a moment of silence. "To be the heroes..." 

 

Ah. So that's the fate of Claudine and Fumi. Michiru did wonder why they weren't here protecting her, but now it all made sense. This incident wasn't an outlier, nor was it a threat. All it was proof that her studies over the years were correct. No 'Hero' was trained for the prophecy, even if they were trained-- all they would do is nullify all of their chances of being the hero in the first place.   

 

"And you were left behind," Michiru remarked, unsurprised by the way Shiori bristled at the comment. A cold breeze brushed past despite all the sunny weather outside. Michiru took note of that too, tapping her finger against the table once more. 

 

"I wasn't left behind!" 

 

"No, you really weren't," Michiru smiled, the crooks of her grin dipping in sad sympathy. Everything made sense now. The way Shiori didn't know anything, the way her sisters weren't around. Shiori wasn't left behind at all. She was chosen, in fact, by the process of elimination. And Michiru knew precisely who could manipulate things to that level. 

 

The damn Seer. The thought of the blonde bastard made Michiru sneer, a flash of hatred seeping through her calm mask as she leaned back against her chair, ending her drink in one long gulp. 

 

"Those teachers of your sisters," Michiru said, tapping the table as she eyed Shiori's reaction, lowering her mug down. "They're quite cruel you know." 

 

Michiru won't say how not when Shiori wouldn't even understand how cruel the act really was. Train the two sisters and trick them into thinking they would be the hero for so many years.  Just  to make sure the last sister would be left untouched and therefore guaranteed to be the hero. Beware of the blonde who can seal fate indeed. 

 

Shiori stiffened, and Michiru pretended not to notice. She filed the reaction away in the back of her mind, making a pin on a mental corkboard with something connecting that to her hurt expression of betrayal and guilt. Was the connection between her sisters and their teachers? Was it because they left her out? 

 

"They're not," Shiori stammered. Her eyes were fidgeting, looking everywhere but Michiru. Something would be undone here, and Michiru knew it wouldn't be her. She's grown too old, too tired in some ways, to be surprised at how the world bitterly spun. 

 

"Your hesitation says otherwise dear," Michiru replied as she refilled her drink, taking something more potent than bitter water. She took a sip. It tasted of regrets— a flavour that was too coincidental for Michiru to feel safe in. "You already knew this."

 

At once, Shiori froze. Not in terror or shock that Michiru expected, however. It was natural, yet something unnatural, like a flame, staying upright and still.

 

"They're not."  Shiori growled, almost daring for Michiru to suggest otherwise. 

 

Instead, Michiru nodded, hiding her smirk behind a drink. She liked the fire she could see in Shiori's eyes. It would be something she would need if she wanted to survive everything in the prophecy. "Better," she laughed, not surprised at the way her breath condensed to a cloud briefly. "Keep that conviction up and maybe someday I might believe you." 

 

Shiori bristled, her confidence regaining itself as she sneered. "And why do I have to believe you?" 

 

Michiru raised her brow, hiding back a laugh with a smile. "Because the prophecy isn't made to stop calamities," Michiru explained calmly, unaware of the way her lips continued to stretch. "It's made to tell stories." She took a note of Shiori's reaction. The slight quiver to her frame, the way her eyes couldn't stop and stare, flashing and changing from distrust, disbelief and anger like a turning of a kaleidoscope. 

 

Yet despite her observations, Michiru was unable to notice that the reaction was less about her words and more about Michiru herself. 

 

"It's nothing but entertainment, to teach people things because it's packaged and easy to digest," Michiru continued despite the reactions. "The entertainment is mostly for the gods by the way, except how years later we repackage the adventures into something palatable and maybe teachable for us mere mortals."

 

It may be the worst idea to explain all the hidden lore she spent years painstakingly figuring out. Still, Michiru wasn't going to let someone so new,  so green,  walk around blind. Not when the Hero was Shiori, it could be perhaps-- the final debt to pay.  

 

Michiru tapped the table, pausing for a drink before continuing. "Gods can't directly interfere with us or a prophecy but they can have some input, divine intervention is what they're called." Michiru paused, a confused frown on her face. "Actually no, maybe I'm not explaining this right— hold on."

 

What was the metaphor she used when she explained this to Rui? 

 

"Ah, I have it now," Michiru nodded, leaning forward to fully grab Shiori's attention. "You know puppet shows, right? On the streets for little boys and girls who show stories of prophecies and all of that malarkey, yes? We're that puppet show right now. The prophecy is our strings, and whilst we have some agency— we're all tied by fate to act and dance in some ways and the gods?" 

 

Michiru laughed, the sound more hateful and pitiful with every second. "They're all the children watching us, jeering and cheering for demise and victory like spoiled brats. They can't interfere directly with our mortal world or the prophecy, but they can have input like I said before. Audience interactions is what we call it on the street, in the prophecy, it's called divine interventions. They can force people to stay, to do things they don't want to do."  

 

It was a funny thought, explaining a blasphemous truth to the next hero. It would be easier to just show the girl, but Michiru didn't want to do that if she could. She was trying to be kind. 

 

Shiori shook her head. "That's not true." 

 

Out of kindness, Michiru didn't point out the way Shiori's voice shook, defying her. Instead, Michiru glanced around, swallowing the words she was about to say. The inn itself was getting emptied, and yet no one was telling Shiori and herself to move. In fact, she wasn't surprised if she ever caught their eye. She took a sharp inhale, hand in her spatial bag for her medication. 

 

If this wasn't divine intervention, she wouldn't know what was. That being said, Michiru wouldn't point it out, despite it being the quickest solution. It would be easier to point out the anomaly in the room, the uncharacteristic actions of people who wouldn't even remember the incident come tomorrow. It would be blunt and cruel to point this out and mock Shiori, asking her to explain this sensation in any way that wasn't divine intervention. 

 

Yet Michiru won't— not when the eyes would come soon. Michiru doesn't want Shiori to deal with them so early on. 

 

"Then why do people write these calamities down," Michiru questioned. The question left like a bullet, unlike her usual calmness or controlled manner. Michiru placed a hand close to her heart, counting not the beats but the space between, counting and wondering the damage it would take this time. 

 

"Why do people write them like they're good things to happen?" Michiru continued, squinting with her eyes at the snarl in her chest as she pulled out her potion. She didn't need to see it, already memorising the weight like a great alchemist should, but she brought it out just to be sure. Just to be safe. The sight of the dark belladonna hue was a sight to behold.  

 

"Even when we take your definition, we celebrate the fact these people stopped a monster attacking. Yet we have no idea if these heroes were good people." A sudden weight sunk its claws on Michiru's shoulders, familiar and still unkind. Not wasting time, Michiru poured two medical droplets into her cup, swirling it before downing it all in one gulp.

 

"People wrote the last prophecy as a tragedy," Michiru laughed, unable to stop herself despite all her wishes to stop. She grinned, looking past Shiori as her hand dug deep into her thigh. The wince of pain made Michiru bare her teeth. "And it's  horrible.  Instead of mourning for them, people mock them. Made light and joked of their death despite their families still being alive to hear it."  

 

A door banged open, yet Michiru could not look in that direction. She knew who entered. She could feel Rui's eyes on her. She wondered how the outside of the inn looked now. She wondered if she should have a second dosage of her medication. No. She shouldn't try to bleed; that would make a terrible first impression. 

 

"Instead," Michiru laughed, sighing out the pain as her nails dug deeper into the flesh. The pain was grounding her, but it was not enough— it should be but not now, not when so many eyes were on them. "It's taught this is why you should follow the prophecy—" she spat the word out, spitting it into the sky. Launching it like acid to the gods above, watching. She would ruin them— slowly, inevitably. "The rules and everything the Gods said so, instead of doing something you wanted to do that was  different ."

 

"Why is that Shiori?" 

 

 "I don't know," Shiori squeaked— a sound that she hasn't heard in 15 years. Michiru looked down, a grimace of a grin reaching her lips as she caught herself in the reflection of Shiori's eyes. Just like before when they first met 15 years ago, Michiru scared her once again. So much for good impressions. 

 

"And yet you know that prophecies exist primarily to stop calamities," Michiru sighed, disappointed but more towards herself than Shiori. "For people to be heroes— That your sisters can be trained to be heroes. Or if they're not trained, gods choose people to be heroes, calling them because they're special." The eyes were finally leaving, trickling out like sand from a broken hourglass. Finally, her medication was kicking in, and Michiru's shoulders slumped, exhausted from the weight of the world and beyond watching.

 

"How do you know that it's not real then!?" Shiori barked back, loud and angry and desperate. "How do you know that prophecies are simply made to be stories and for entertainment?" 

 

 With all the wind amplified, her shout knocked something over, jolting Michiru enough to lift her hand up as a reaction. There was no mark on the skin; there wouldn't be no matter how many times her nails dig into the flesh. The weight on her shoulders was gone now, getting tangled instead in the tenseness of the atmosphere. With a calm head, Michiru looked over Shiori, taking all the notes she took from simple observations. 

 

In front of her was Saijou Yumeoji Shiori. The youngest of two sisters who were thrown away to make her the hero without realising it. Here was a girl who knew betrayal and hurt, whose belief in the gods was so fragile but genuine that she would fight tooth and nail to be right in a conflict of belief. Here was a person who had a fire in her eyes despite the pain, who wanted freedom so badly that the wind became interwoven with her. 

 

Here was the girl who gave a person she was terrified of fifteen years ago, all because Michiru was caught crying and she wanted to make her feel better. 

 

"Because you're the hero." 

 

Shiori blinked, blindsided by such a simple yet obvious response. "What?"

 

"Tell me," Michiru said as she tapped the table in thought. "What makes a more compelling hero, an underdog who was left out and doesn't know anything or two sisters who were trained and have complete agency and who knows exactly what to do." There was more than Michiru could say, but for Shiori's sake, she would not. She will remember to be kind, even when things would be so much simpler if she wasn't. 

 

"Actually, you don't even need to tell me which is more compelling— just tell me which 'hero' do you see more often in the picture books." 

 

 "I—" Shiori paused, struggling to get a single word out, each sound punctuating the silence around them. "No," Shiori said in the end, setting her jaw straight, staring deep into Michiru's eyes. "You're lying." 

 

"My dear, for your sake I wish I was." Michiru smiled, parts of her heart breaking at the desperation in Shiori's eyes. She hated that it would come to this, but sometimes experiencing it was the only way when all words failed. She just hoped that, unlike Michiru's revelation, this moment would be kinder. Michiru reached into her pocket, fishing out a pouch full of gold coins she prepared just in case it came to this.  

 

"But if you don't want to believe me," she started, her voice showing how old she truly was. "Learn it for yourself." The sound of gold coins hitting the table echoed louder than it should.  

 

"Here is 500 gold," Michiru explained as she started to stand up, fetching her stick that was propped off to the side of the table. "You can take this and run away. Yes I'm part of the prophecy but I won't force you to do anything. I'm not a god." She stressed the last sentence out with difficulty. Her mark from the previous prophecy flared up again— a late brutal reaction from all the distress. 

 

Shiori stared at the pouch, fingers barely touching the fabric as she eyed Michiru carefully. "Why does being a god has to do with anything?" 

 

"Because a god can create tethers and you're the main character," Michiru explained flippantly, trying hard not to hiss despite her chest burning once more. "They will force you to stay, not me. I just don't want you to blame me for something gods can do." With that, Michiru hobbled off, her footsteps and her walking staff leaving Shiori isolated in her thoughts.

 

Michiru did not have to go so far to hide from Shiori. Not when there were tracks on the floor leading up to the kitchen. Michiru pushed past the door, frowning at the touch of rot on the wood. She shoved her free hand into her front pockets, knowing full well gloves won't work. 

 

"You can stop hiding now Rui," She called into the empty space, eyeing the mould in the ceiling and the smell of dead fish. 

 

"Of course you noticed me," Rui snorted, stepping away from the wall she hid behind. 

 

"You walked right in, how could I not notice you," Michiru commented as she stepped in, turning around to examine the entire space before she stopped, eyes falling on Shiori in the distance. "However our hero is quite the dense type."

 

A growl whispered nearby, muffled by the dense fabric of a scarf. "Your hero."

 

Michiru glanced at Rui, taking track of the distance and stepping away for safety.  "Your Hero,"  Michiru emphasised, forcing Rui to turn to her. "Whether you liked it or not. Rui's shoulder tensed, and the frustration in her eyes faltered slowly when she noticed the distance between them. She opened her mouth, baring the tips of her fangs before Michiru interrupted her. 

 

"How are you feeling?"

 

Rui growled. She stretched out a hand, adjusting the gift around her neck. She looked away from Shiori, grabbing a ladle from the countertop and began prodding at the wooden furniture. A gentle nudge on a stool on the floor made it collapse. The sound was muffled, less of a snap and crash, more of a crumble— like an infestation tore its way through, like a decay. Rui placed the ladle back on the countertop. 

 

"Apart from the urge that I want to kill her, flaring up every now and again," Rui grunted. Despite the mould, she placed her back against the wall as she shut her eyes and exhaled through her nose. "Manageable."

 

Michiru nodded, tapping her finger against the inside of her coat as she looked around. The place looked like it would collapse any second. It won't— not now at least, the hero was here. If the place collapsed, it wouldn't make a good scene.

 

 "The place is a mess at the front by the way," Rui continued, "Not just the inn but the village is at a stand still. They were like statues, Michiru, even the water in the ponds." 

 

Michiru chuckled, and Rui's eyes snapped open at the sound. Michiru's face was calm like always, but Rui knew her enough to understand her subtleties of expressing fear. "Oh dear, the gods seem to be fond of this story or at least wanting something better." Michiru turned to Rui. "I suppose we should leave when Shiori is finished." 

 

Rui nodded, stepping away from the wall, turning her gaze to the young hero alone in the dining area. She looked away after a few seconds; the same feral heat boiling at the back of her spine continued to claw at her skin, demanding blood. 

 

"Does she know that I'm her villain Michiru?" She whispered, her tongue placing itself at the tip of the fangs, careful not to cut against it. 

 

"She didn't notice who you are," Michiru answered, her mind already whirling up calculations about the costs of repercussions. These people didn't choose to be caught in the crossfires of the prophecies, and she wasn't a god. She's not going to ignore them for the sake of the plot. "She didn't know what I was either so our glamour potions worked."

 

"She's not going to stay." Rui said— almost certain, but Michiru knew Rui long enough to know the tilt of fear, the desperate plea she didn't like to share. 

 

"She won't have a choice—" Michiru said, relinquishing the kindness she tried to give before to Shiori with the nice bluntness of reality. She turned to Rui, explaining the truth with a sad smile. "A girl who doesn't know what she's doing is thrown to the jaws of the villains. The gods won't let such a plotline drop."

 

As she expected, Rui scowled, crossing her arms, gripping her jacket tightly but not enough to tear through the fabric. "She's not going to like it."

 

The grin on Michiru's face widened to something more genuine. "I'm glad you care about her." 

 

Instantly Rui flared up, red borderline anger or embarrassment spread across her cheeks like a wildfire. "I don't—"

 

"I jest," Michiru laughed, snickering at how quick Rui was to deflate. "But I'm glad you care."

 

"I told you I don't—" Rui growled, then sighed, catching a glance at Michiru's teasing face. "Fine, whatever." She ran her hand into her hair, careful not to undo the ponytail. The frustration melted into curiosity as Rui glanced between Shiori and Michiru. "How did you even know her? She never stirred once when I carried her here and yet you already knew her name."  

 

The tapping against the coat pocket paused, and Michiru looked away, leaning heavily on her stick. "I met her a long time ago," Michiru admitted, swallowing any emotions that weren't neutral calmness to burn in the acidity of her stomach. "Before I met you actually."

 

"And you recognised her?" Rui asked before taking a step back, mulling over the words, tilting her head as she did. "If it's before me, she was probably a baby by then." 

 

Michiru shrugged; she wasn't. She was five years old and had the same eyes as one of her mothers. She had a smile, proud and kind despite all the fears. It was something Michiru only saw once before, but she could never forget it. She couldn't forget anything that occurred in that part of her life. 

 

"She was," Michiru lied, clearing her throat as she looked away. "I thought they talked about me, even if it's in the past tense." Underneath her breath, she murmured, disappointment colouring her words. "I guess I mattered less to her mothers than I thought." 

 

"She's crying." 

 

Michiru jerked her head back to Rui, not surprised at the actual flash of empathy in her red eyes. Despite everything, the stress and frustration, Michiru knew she raised Rui to be kind. Even when every part of her said otherwise. Michiru's eyes then turned to Shiori. Something familiar and dying twisted her heart. Shiori was hunched over the table— unable to move despite having the power of the wind and its freedom. Unable to do anything because the prophecy said so. 

 

"Of course she is," Michiru whispered, her voice was soft but distant like she was somewhere else apart from an inn crumbling with decay and a hero's muffled cry. "She just realised her entire life was a lie."   

Chapter Text

Names have power. That is a message used multiple times— as warnings, threats and defiance. They are used most commonly as a sign of love. In other stories of love, there are narratives where the union of these people became one. Thankfully, a hero hundreds of years ago thought bullshit to that tradition and overturned it. This is perhaps one of the few times I’m grateful for a hero for changing things to fit their ideals.

 

The tradition is usually applied for two people, but the formula can be used for people who marry beyond two. When two people marry, they do not take each other’s last names at the start of the union. Instead, they keep their own family name, and they continue to love each other and follow through the vows of sickness and health.

 

It’s when your spouse dies that you take their last name. 

 

You take their last name because you love them. Because you said till death do us part, but in reality, you say fuck you to death, and you take their name, and you live on in memory of them. You take their last name because you love them enough to wager against the gods and the entity that is beyond gods— you take their name because your love is power. It’s a warning, and it’s a threat, and it’s defiance to things too large for you to understand. You take their name because you still want them part of your adventure even when they’re not around. It’s devotion, loyalty. 

 

And I took my wife’s name because I love her. 

 

I will never see her again, and whilst I am alive, the person she loved may as well be dead. I am more of a corpse than a human, and I am not the same woman I was when we got married. Yet still, l wage war against death because I love her. If she’s still alive, I just hope she will take my name too if I’m considered dead in her eyes. 

 

I do not expect her to, for I have wronged her more times than a person can sin. And if I were to meet her again, I will fully take her name in her inevitable death. But if she ever did take my name because she loved me… I will fight death with a smile. 

 

-Memoir 65 Love and names by Tsuyuzaki Michiru 

 

~

 

Fumi sighed as she looked out of the window in the moving travelling cart. Claudine was right next to her, glancing at the people that shared their space. They were lucky to find a travelling cart to take them to the nearest town, especially in that rain and storm. Fumi shouldn’t complain that it was a five day trip, and she can’t help but feel stagnated. Their sister was out there, doing whatever the villains were forcing her to do, and they were just sitting back in a cart of all places. 

 

“I know you’re annoyed this is taking so long but we have nothing else to do,” Claudine whispered next to her, sensing Fumi’s dilemma. She felt the same thing too, but she knew travelling by foot would take longer. It was expected in some ways that the prophecies that they were raised on wouldn’t be full of easy pickings. No doubt, the heroes before them had to suffer through the ordeal of slow travel. 

 

“Shiori’s waiting for us,” Fum mumbled. Claudine nodded, patting her arm in the act of solidarity. Shiori was waiting for them, but what could they do? Walk the rest of the journey on foot? Steal away two horses and travel on their own? 

 

“Three more days, Fumi,” Claudine whispered, all whilst secretly wishing that it wasn’t three days and that they could get to Shiori as fast they could. Elsewhere in the world, a monkey paw finger started to curl down. 

 

The carriage shook, and immediately Claudine’s hand fell to her sword as Fumi calmed the old ladies near them. Claudine peeked out of the window, checking both ends before realising that the carriage stopped altogether. 

 

“Is there trouble!?” She called out, pushing past the protective blinds for a better view. 

 

“I recommend the next time a carriage stops, you get a barrier up on the window before you poke your head out like a target.” Mahiru said as she rode down the path on a bare horse. She held onto the mane carefully as she commanded the horse to stop in front of the window. “I thought Maya taught you better than this.” 

 

The first thing Claudine noticed was the lack of kindness in her voice. The second thing was that she was alive and away from the Kirin Temple where Claudine thought she would. 

 

The rest of her vision fell apart to red anger, blinding Claudine as she stormed out of the cart, ignoring her sister and the other passengers inside. She didn’t notice the lack of fear in Mahiru’s eyes, the sudden change in hair or the difference in her clothing. She didn’t notice that the old simple potion shop owner was gone, and in her place like a phoenix from the ashes was an adventurer who had a prophecy under her belt. 

 

“OOTORI MAHIRU!” Claudine yelled as soon as her feet touched the ground. Mahiru gave her a glance, looking down at her from her horse, and Claudine snarled. Her hand fell to the sword on her waist until her surroundings were tilted with a familiar green layer.

 

 “What the Fuck, Fumi!” she yelled, forgetting that her sister wouldn’t even hear her in this state. 

 

“Why are you here Mahiru?” Fumi glared, hand out of the window that Claudine previously occupied before grabbing their stuff properly and walking out of the cart. There was another growl next to her, and reactively Fumi placed her sister within another shield again. Fumi was as confused as Claudine was, but she knew they wouldn’t get any answers if Mahiru couldn’t speak or, in the worst-case scenario, dead. 

 

“You don’t need to do that Fumi,” Mahiru said as she trotted up to the carriage, her back to the sisters.

 

 If Fumi had a darker heart, she would have shot her at the back of the head with an arcane spell, but instead, she placed Claudine in another bubble the second she broke out again. Claudine would have words with her later, but she wanted to see what Mahiru would do right now. Her curiosity was the only reason why Mahiru was still alive— or at least not thrown away to Claudine’s anger. 

 

Mahiru, however, was stupid to ignore that, barely glancing at the sisters as she laid out a free hand to the driver. “Their fare please.” 

 

Fumi paused, stunned by the boldness that she didn’t even put Claudine back in a bubble again. Thankfully, Claudine was too stunned as well to reach for her sword. This was not the Mahiru they grew up with and hated. 

 

“You’re joking ma’am,” The driver scoffed, his irritation transparent in his beady eyes. 

 

“I’m not,” Mahiru continued, her voice as calm and stern as before. Fumi pinched her sleeve, wincing at the pain, still flabbergasted at the reality. This was real— Mahiru attempted to steal the driver’s hard-earned coin right in front of them. “Not when I can tell you scammed them out of their money.”

 

“Bullshit!” 

 

Fumi’s eyes widened, Mahiru’s eyes narrowed. “It takes 5 silvers to go to Primus and yet you charged them twice the amount per person.” 

 

The driver sank into his seat. His guilt was easy to see against the sunlight. “Well uh, the red moon. It’s a bad omen, gotta price it higher cause of that. Can’t take any risk transporting people around.” Fumi turned back to Claudine for a moment, glancing quickly at the sound of a sword reentering its sheath. A frown marred Fumi’s focus, taking careful attention to the anger in Claudine’s face. She forgot that her sister did not like to be tricked.

 

Mahiru smiled, almost expecting this response, “Then you should pay me for taking away two people part of the prophecy then, for protection.” 

 

The line, not even mentioning how it was expressed like a threat, made Fumi turn her head back. Her hand fell on Claudine’s wrist, stopping her from unsheathing the sword again. She did not trust the smile on Mahiru’s face. 

 

“The prophecy?” Mahiru repeated, showing off her palm for a reason Fumi could not understand. Whatever the driver saw, however, rose the hair on Fumi’s skin. Something unspoken settled into the sky, throwing its weight around, making all of Fumi’s brain wired to be vigilant in case something broke out. 

 

“Dear lord,” The driver gasped, his skin paling at sight. He fidgeted for his coin pouch, not even counting as he tossed the entire thing to Mahiru. “Here— take it and leave omen.” 

 

Fumi watched as Mahiru caught it with ease, shifting through the coins with an amused smile. Was there a joke to that insult? What was so great at being labelled as a harbinger of bad news? 

 

“I’m a kind person so you can have the change,” Mahiru said as she placed the coin pouch back into the driver’s hands. “I do recommend you speed up the pace just a little bit.” He nodded, taking that as a means to escape and hurried the horses to a fast trot away from the prophetic party. 

 

It did not take long for silence to settle as Fumi watched the dust clouds evaporate— and it did not take long for the silence to break. The instant Mahiru hopped off her horse, the sharp whistle of Claudine’s blade unsheathed from the scabbard cut through the air. The wild horse seeing the weapon, fled. Its gallop fading into the dust clouds left behind. 

 

“What the hell was that?” Claudine snarled, keeping her point towards Mahiru’s direction. Mahiru stilled, her eyes focusing on Claudine whilst occasionally glancing towards Fumi. 

 

“Me saving you being scammed.” Mahiru explained slowly, taking out an unnamed vial from her bag. Her thumb pressed on the cork like it was a trigger to a bomb. Mahiru’s grey eyes locked with Claudine’s, and Fumi didn’t need to see her sister to know the face she was making. Claudine hated pity. “Don’t do this Claudine.”

 

“Fuck you Mahiru,” Claudine hissed as she lunged with an overhead swing. Mahiru popped open the bottle, flicking the liquid into the air as it solidified as a blade. Their weapons met in the centre, particles of the mixture flying out like sparks when they collided. “Why the hell are you here!?”

 

Mahiru smirked. The cockiness that laid bare against her cracked lips was enough to dispel the shock Fumi had at Mahiru’s weapon. “The same reason you’re here.”

 

The response wasn’t what Claudine wanted, seeing that she tried to power through to break the defences. It didn’t work. Her rage paved the way to sloppy mistakes, and Fumi watched as Mahiru allowed the blade to sink. The point was no longer off-centre as she circled around with a speed Fumi didn’t expect to see from someone who spent 15 years manning a near-empty shop. 

 

“STAY THE HELL AWAY FROM SHIORI!” Claudine screamed, raising her sword again. Mahiru acted quicker, however, raising her sword as an overhead guard before shoulder bashing into Claudine’s chest. She knocked Claudine to the ground. The sword was kicked away, boot to hilt, and Fumi screamed as she entered the fight, hands raised. 

 

They had a rule, as sisters, as acolytes— to never get into each other’s fights unless needed. Reliance on each other in combat would be a weakness. That was what their teachers preached. So they both agreed to be strong on their own individually for Shiori, and the tradition still stuck around even when Shiori was no longer needed.

 

“I mean the prophecy, Claudine and no—” Mahiru turned to Fumi, moving back away from Claudine with her guard up. “I won’t leave your sister alone, not when she came to me that night for help.” 

 

“Your prophecy is over,” Fumi spat, sparks filtering through her fingertips. “Daiba Nana told me herself.” Claudine rose to her feet. A scowl laid heavy on her face, her elbows greased in the dirt. Instead of picking up her sword like Fumi expected, she nudged her at the side with her elbow. 

 

Fumi frowned, only settling down when Claudine insisted, flaring with her eyes that screamed to stop. Reluctantly, Fumi lowered her hands, draining her magic away as she stared at Mahiru. It only then did Mahiru scoop up the potion blade, tucking away the liquid with a rubber cork. 

 

“Maybe,” Mahiru then said, taking a deep sigh as she placed her bottle away. She didn’t step forward, only reaching out her hand, a blank mask of expressions on her face. “Your teacher thought differently two days ago when Shiori ran away.”

 

Fumi gasped, staggering back at not only the mark but the layers of implications that came at Mahiru’s statements. The first and perhaps the most jarring was that Nana was the one who forced Mahiru on this journey. Nana. Her mentor. The one who trained her and looked after her and taught her all she knew. All this time, she had the power to put people in a prophecy. 

 

Fumi knew that her elusive mentor was powerful, but not like this. Prophecies were something only gods could do. At least… that was what she was taught. Then again, her teacher was the Seer… and seers had some powers of gods, so this was natural? Right? 

 

 “Mentor…” Claudine scoffed, staring at the mark like it was a personal offence. The aggravated tone snapped Fumi out of her internal thoughts, only to return at the second most jarring part of the situation. Mahiru’s new Mentor mark. 

 

Fumi knew what it meant, and by the emotionless mask, Fumi knew Mahiru knew it too. Yet that wasn’t the most jarring thing about this. Instead, the thing that sent Fumi reeling was how calm Mahiru was, acting nonchalant as she ignored Claudine’s sneer with a shrug. 

 

“Since Shiori isn’t here, I’m stuck teaching you two for as long as I can,” Mahiru said as she withdrew her hand.   

 

“No.” Claudine said, the words were sharp like a knife, and already Fumi knew what she was going to say. Already, her stomach felt sick. “We already had our mentors.” Yes, Fumi wanted to say if her tongue wanted to work, yes, they had mentors, but not like this. They never had a prophecy assigned mentor. 

 

Yes! Fumi hated Mahiru. She would hate her as much as the next person. She would hate her, never to Claudine’s personal extent. But she never wanted Mahiru to die. Not in the prophecy, not when her life was in their hands. Because that’s the role of the mentor— they were made to die. 

 

 

Her teacher wanted Mahiru to die. 

 

“And they did an incredible job teaching you how not to stay alive in a prophecy,” Mahiru bit back, not even noticing Fumi’s silent turmoil. 

 

Claudine, in all her anger, in all her silent promises to be there for her sisters more-- she too failed to notice Fumi’s spiralling. She huffed instead, flaring her nostrils as she yelled through bared teeth. “You—”

 

“I survived the last prophecy when no one else did,” Mahiru snapped, cutting her off. She stared down at Claudine, her grey eyes sharing no sense of forced politeness it once did. “That should be enough of a portfolio to teach you how to last long enough to see your sister.” 

 

“You survived because you cheated death!” Claudine howled, taking a step forward. She hated not going back to reach for her blade, but she did not trust Mahiru enough not to stab her as soon as her back was exposed. “You and that damn corrupted catalyst!”

 

“Hah,” Mahiru laughed, then cackled. She pushed her stray hair back, cackling so loud that the birds shrieked and flew into the air, to the point where it snapped Fumi out of her thoughts. “Maya sure likes to run her mouth when she’s a sore loser,” Mahiru sneered. “Did you know she was part of the prophecy too and she still survived. Maybe the reason it’s a tragedy was because of her.” 

 

“FUCK OFF MAHIRU!” 

 

“Enough!” Fumi screamed, hard and loud, as she slammed her fists together. At once, Two shields surrounded and trapped both Mahiru and Claudine, respectively. Fumi let out a heavy exhale, taking another deep breath as she popped the bubbles. 

 

“Claudine I get your pissed but cool it,” Fumi said first, running her fingers through her hair as she glared with her eyes. Claudine matched her gaze, huffing reluctantly as she nodded. Fumi nodded back, turning to Mahiru with an equally angered gaze. “And you Mahiru, if you’re here to help us then stop agitating my damn sister and help. Whatever beef you have with our teachers leave it with them not us.”

 

“You’re right,” Mahiru admitted, startling Fumi, but she made an effort not to show it. Then to further Fumi’s surprise, Mahiru bowed low— not just to Fumi but to Claudine too. “My apologies for the outburst. I thought I got rid of my anger when your teacher put me in this role but—”. At this, Mahiru raised her head again. Her grey eyes were stern, determination swirling around the irises. “I didn’t go through a prophecy to get insulted. I’m the mentor, I’m here to guide the hero. The hero isn’t here. So it leaves with me and you.”

 

“We don’t need your help,” Claudine insisted still, her frown almost acting as a permanent expression. “And no, saving us from a small scam doesn’t count.”

 

Mahiru shrugged, smiling with a hint of arrogance as she glanced at the trail nearby before looking back at Fumi and Claudine. Fumi didn’t inherently trust that smile, but she knew that by law— Mahiru had to help. Mentor characters generally stay alive for as long as they are useful. 

 

“Then how about moving faster?”

 

Fumi turned immediately to Claudine, catching her eye. Not much was said, the message between them already crossed by the time Mahiru could breathe. “On foot?” Fumi asked a raised brow in curiosity. 

 

When Mahiru grinned this time, Fumi couldn’t fault it. She earned this right of arrogance, at least. “Did you really think we moved around walking all day without a form of short cut?” 

Chapter Text

Villainy and Heroism, in the conventions of a prophecy, were the two sides of the same coin. This assumption and observation have been touted for generations, narrative after narrative. Yet no one truly understands it— not the way I have observed. I am not a villain within the action or in the title. Yet, I know in the narrative of the future, I will be. 

 

My confidence in this theory was the basis of this observation. Villainy and Heroism were described as two sides of the same coin— but no one has described what the coin is made out of. I believe, from observation, the material of this alleged coin is nothing but a tragedy. 

 

Tragedies are common. They are often life-changing. From the fires of hell, a phoenix, a symbol of rebirth and good, can be born— but dragons are born from flames too. And dragons are symbols of greed and monsters. Outside of the prose, the observation was this— Tragedies on a wide scale, big enough to grab the attention of gods, can either create a hero or a villain. This, in turn, made everything more tragic— these figures, once struck with the hand of God, no longer have the privacy to grieve. 

 

Memoir #71- Heroes and Villains by Tsuyuzaki Michiru 

 

~

 

Rui did not hate Shiori. She really didn't. Sure she wanted to kill her every now and then, but that wasn't entirely her fault. However, she hated that Shiori was the Hero and that she had no idea how important her role was. Yumeoji, whatever Shiori, was her hero. The person destined and fated to kill her. 

 

And she had no idea about anything regarding the Prophecy. Coddled privileged Hero. 

 

She should've killed her when—

 

Rui breathed out, and her body staggered as it was hit with cold water. Yet there was no cold water, just her own body heat screaming underneath her clothes. Rui breathed in, a reaction occurred, a hit to her leg with her walking stick— An extra precaution. 

 

There was no distinct pain, nor any major changes, but Rui hunkered down regardless. She steadied her breath, focused on the ground on her knees, counting the grass strands that were below her. One two three four five six seven—  inhale , one two three four five six seven—  exhale. 

 

The heat on her back cooled itself the longer she stood there against the burning grass. Moments later, she relaxed her grip on the walking staff. "My name is Akikaze Rui," She whispered, feeling the pulse vividly underneath her skin. It was so hot-- it was so cold. Everything was burning, switching between the two extremes.   "And I am not a monster." 

 

She was the Villain, yes— but she was not its monster. 

 

Rui rose from her knees, taking another sharp but confident breath as she walked ahead. Her pace slowed, taking one step at a time accompanied by her walking stick. She was alone right now, moving ahead from Michiru and Shiori, keeping her space and distance. 

 

It was easy, unfairly so in some regards for these thoughts to plague her. Rui didn't want to kill anyone. Rui would rather just leave the Hero alone. And yet-- here she was, terrified but listening to the monstrous commands in her head to kill the  stupid  Hero. 

 

Michiru knew that, of course, and sent her ahead to get something for dinner. Instructing to only meet up at sunset in the cave they used to travel to this area. So here she was, finally reaching the edge of the river to collect their dinner. 

 

Out of instinct, Rui scanned the surroundings near her, eyeing any wild predators or unwanted people. Michiru taught her this as they travelled together—  Always be weary at riverbanks. The river has no eyes, but it has many mouths to feed. 

 

Out of the corner of her eye, something flinched ever so slightly. Rui didn't tense. She kept the facade of ignorance so that she didn't alert whoever was there, whether it was an animal or a person, that she noticed them. Her fingers played subtly against the wood of her stick, the grip changing ever so slightly. 

 

A snap.   Rui acted fast, throwing her walking stick in the general area. Her hand flew down to the knife she had before on her belt, racing towards the tree in question. There was a thud— a body fell, and Rui pounced. Her body straddled the waist, locking the legs so they wouldn't move. One hand fell on the wrist, forcing the arms above the head. Her free hand moved down to the throat— 

 

"Hey Hot stuff."

 

Then it was stabbed to the ground next to the head instead. 

 

Rui let out a long, exhausted sigh, all the tension before seeping out in a glare as she let go of the wrist above the head before sitting up. Her red eyes never left the amused gaze of Tsuruhime Yachiyo. It has been many years since she saw her face, and the sight chilled unease into her bones. 

 

"I could've killed you, you know," Rui mentioned, off handly as she yanked the knife back from the earth and placed it on her belt. Yachiyo gasped, and Rui turned around, a flash of worry in her eyes before the red pupils rolled at Yachiyo's expression. She was staring at the clump of dirt that now ruined her worn-out scarf that doubled as a bandana mask. "It was already dirty by the time you fell over Yachiyo."

 

"Yeah but I just washed it earlier," Yachiyo pouted, shoving Rui lightly. "You big brute."

 

"Maybe you shouldn't have sneaked up on me," Rui growled, taking the push as a sign to get off Yachiyo. Rui tripped over herself, her nails shaking until she pulled herself into a grip. Her back burned, and she exhaled from her nose as she straightened herself to stand. 

 

"Oh please, I was busy minding my own business and then guess who stumbled onto the watering hall," Yachiyo scoffed. Her eyes rolled as she stood up and dusted all the dirt off her. "Nice greeting by the way, it's not like I haven't seen you in four years or something." 

 

And like a spark of flame to dry grass, something consumed the air around them. Rui looked away, her shoulders standing off stiffly. She focused on her walking stick instead, laying there on the base of the tree. She ignored the intensity of Yachiyo's eyes on her. 

 

"Sorry," Yachiyo said, a smile on her face that screamed her regret. "That sounded a bit bitter didn't it?"

 

"It would be deserved considering how we left," Rui murmured, shuffling on her feet as she looked to the ground. She held her wrist with the other hand, pressing the surface of her thumb against the nerves. 

 

"Yeah… well." Yachiyo sighed, turning around and grabbing Rui's stick off the ground. "It's been four years now. I'm over it." Yachiyo paused, tilting her head with a quick shrug as she turned around and walked back to Rui. "Mostly," she amended, "Seeing you and then knocking me out of my tree got me riled up but even that's gone now." 

 

Rui nodded, clearing her throat as she grabbed her stick. Her head faced Yachiyo, but still, their eyes refused to meet. Instead, it fell to the two curved scars on Yachiyo's cheek, and the quiet intake shifted to a gasp. "And Ichie?"  

 

"She remembers who you are," Yachiyo smiled as Rui tore herself to stop looking at Yachiyo's two scars she forgot she had. The smile on her lips was a familiar bitter way that Rui had seen so many times before they separated. "But not Michiru." And just like all those other times before, it was that same smile that twisted Rui's heart despite standing perfectly still. 

 

"Ah…" Rui looked down for what else was she supposed to do. It's been four years since she saw Yachiyo, four years since she saw Ichie, and here she was, acting like a stranger when she should be celebrating— smiling that she saw an old friend again. 

 

"She took the forgetful potion on her own accord by the way," Yachiyo assured, her voice kind with a soft yet confident smile. The same one that grinned when Rui met her eyes the second Yachiyo ducked her own head, staring up at Rui, to meet it. "So don't feel guilty."

 

"I did suggest it to her," Rui reminded, her voice as distant as the look in her red eyes. She would never forget that day, the selfishness, the anger, the desperation. She tore Ichie apart just to keep her sanity whole. Then she left the next week without so much as a goodbye to either of them. 

 

"You suggested a lot of things to her, and to me—" Yachiyo retaliated, frowning at Rui's hazy expression. She snapped her fingers in front of her, smirking when she watched reality return in the irises of Rui's red pupils. "You still owe me dinner by the way." 

 

Rui frowned, her shoulders slumping with a silent sigh of disbelief. She stepped back, creating distance between the two. "It's been four years and that's the one thing you remember?"

 

"Oh I remember a lot of things," Yachiyo chuckled, stepping back from Rui's space as she put a finger to the tip of her chin. She eyed her up and down, humming as she did before their eyes met once again. "And guessing by your obviously awkward approach you remember a lot too."

 

Rui coughed into her hand, taking the opportunity to walk to the river, sitting down on the boulder nearby as she grabbed her knife again. She ignored the layered meaning in Yachiyo's words, even if she was correct. "Right…"

 

She sat there in silence, taking out her rope for her bag. She glanced left once, just to see where Yachiyo was and wasn't surprised that in that brief moment of distraction, Rui saw her leaning against a tree. She turned her head again, focusing on the rope, her knife and the walking stick that she aimed to change into a makeshift spear to catch fish. 

 

 "You haven't changed much you know." 

 

A stumble between the knots. Rui made haste to rewrap the rope again. The sharp intake was not as subtle as she wanted it to be. "I'm sorry what?" Was that a compliment or an insult? The past self was naive. She was cruel in selfish ways; she wasn't a good person. She was then she wasn't— now she's just trying to be kind. There was a difference in that, wasn't there? 

 

Yachiyo crossed her arms, her smile stretching the distinct scars on her left cheek. "You're still the socially anxious, awkward tree of a girl I met…." She recalled watching Rui's emotions unwind themselves slowly in her muscles and form. Rui was a taut bowstring, ready to snap— in more ways than one. "And you're still as self blaming as ever."

 

Yachiyo laughed; there was fondness in the echoes. Her eyes, for a moment, softened. "You still managed to look after that scarf I gave you for your 16th birthday." And at once, the garment around Rui's neck held an entirely new weight. It took everything within her not to get buried within it out of habitual comfort. It would say too many things she could not say right now to Yachiyo in front of her. Things she didn't want to admit. 

 

Rui let out a silent breath, baring her teeth and fangs as she concentrated on the knot in front of her instead of Yachiyo's words— even when they were correct. In that light, Rui hasn't changed at all— but in so many ways, she had. The scar on her left cheek twinged, and the pressure of her filled down fangs on the top of her lips was proof of that. 

 

"Granted the fangs are new," Yachiyo hummed, tilting her head as she considered the style with Rui's ponytail too, not that Rui could see. "They look hot on you by the way." Rui sighed, shaking her head when she heard Yachiyo laugh at her response. 

 

She then paused, drinking in the sound. It was different. It was familiar. It aged. Rui's shoulders dropped, a weight lifting from her arms as she focused on the sound, on the pitch. She wanted to memorise this sound. For all she knew, this could be the last moment of peace she could have with Yachiyo. The prophecy never waited for happy moments; time always felt unfairly fast.  

 

Rui stood up, taking her new makeshift spear with her. This time— she looked Yachiyo in the eye. Her eyes aged too; all of her did. Her scrawny arms had muscles, her dainty skin wore scars, her curled pink hair that was always dangling and loose was up in a bun. Her outfit was less fashionable and more practical, and her eyes… green was always complimentary to red, even after four years of a missing palette.

 

 "Well," Rui whispered, basking in Yachiyo's beauty, remembering to breathe. Maybe Yachiyo was right. Maybe she hasn't changed too much, not when Yachiyo can still make her feel this way. "I'm glad to know despite the new hair you're still the same as ever."

 

Yachiyo raised a brow, stepping away from the tree behind her as she played with one of the stray pink curls. "Being a massive flirt?" She asked, winking as the comfortable smile stretched wide enough that the edge could've kissed the lining of her scars. 

 

Rui shook her head. The shuddering sigh was genuine as the tension dipped in her red pupils. "Being honest." 

 

Rui watched, silent in respect as Yachiyo's eyes widened and her mouth hung wide. She remembered back when she said that to her the first time, back when they were teenagers, back when they were free. They wore matching flushed faces then, near the apple orchards. Now in a forest edging a river, they wore matching scars instead. 

 

Did they even match? Parallel, maybe— another note on how different they were now. 

 

"Hah…" Yachiyo laughed, snapping out of the moment. It was one lone laugh, cold and dry, sapped out all of its warmth and rushed the blood to the cheeks. Rui fidgeted, unsure whether to apologise or not for the assumption.

 

 "Rui please," Yachiyo said— no smile, no flirt— no sense of confidence that Yachiyo would wear as amour every day. The words were quiet, spoken like it would break the law. "You know I'm not like this with everyone else."

 

Rui looked away, yanking the makeshift spear out of the ground with some force. A clump of dirt flew and rolled in the direction of Yachiyo, missing her feet by a few inches. She wasn't even aware of her own strength, nor how much she depended on Yachiyo's answer. 

 

The Yachiyo she knew was kind; she was beautiful and cared even when she was sly about it. She was always honest to Rui, even when it hurt. Even when they were kids, and Yachiyo started to learn illusion magic, she never used it on Rui. Yet the version Yachiyo spoke about was the truth too, even if she didn't like it, even when she was honest about it. 

 

"Even Ichie?" There was no mistaking the growl buried six feet under the question. 

 

"Especially Ichie." Yachiyo stood taller, bracing her back, bracing the sudden turn of eyes. She stared into the swirls of red, of an ocean dyed with every shade but blood. She lifted her chin. Rui admired that bravery; not many would stare at a villain, not after everything she did, to Yachiyo specifically. "Especially with the prophecy happening." 

 

Rui remained silent. Biting the inside of her cheek, gnawing and bruising the inside with her molars. She understood— she hated that she understood, but she understood. She also couldn't be honest, not even to Ichie, not even to Yachiyo. That's why she always admired Yachiyo's honesty. In a world of lies, her truth was a breath of fresh air. It was a flowery meadow in a land of concrete. It was something that shouldn't be here. 

 

"Why are you here, Yachiyo?" Rui asked. Her voice wasn't cold, but there was an edge. The same way a knife could be blunt but still whisk in the air when drawn fast enough.

 

There was no time for pleasantries now; they've aged, they've changed. Despite all the memories, Rui needed to remember that. There was no time to be happy. Not where there was a Hero 30 minutes walk from here, and if Yachiyo was here, then it meant Ichie was close behind. Whilst Yachiyo was a welcomed sight, her travelling partner was not right now— not when certain things were uncertain. 

 

Yachiyo smiled, relaxing her body, tilting her hip to the side. She walked forward, hands on her hip. Rui frowned at the lax attitude, twitching her hands as she held onto her spear. "Because a little birdy told me that if you don't calm yourself now you're going to explode." She touched Rui's sleeves, and Rui's arm tensed. 

 

"And you're volunteering as a chew toy to calm me down?"

 

"I'm here because my unorthodox methods worked before," Yachiyo grinned, deciding to pull on Rui's arm instead, laughing at the nostalgic but still comedic expression of utter confusion. Yachiyo stuck her heel out, Rui stumbled, loosening her grip on her spear. It fell to the ground with an unnoticed thud, rolling to the left when Rui's boots connected with it. 

 

"Also because I still care about you, idiot." Yachiyo huffed, blowing the statement directly into Rui's face and open jaw. Rui, in turn, just stared at Yachiyo's chuckles. She was naturally taller than Yachiyo, but here she was looking up— her left arm was pulled with her fingers barely grasping on Yachiyo's tunic. It didn't help that Yachiyo's other hand was clutching Rui's shirt, keeping it a good distance away despite the closeness. 

 

"You really shouldn't." Rui said, staring up at Yachiyo, pulling her hands away from Yachiyo's waist, carefully standing up. Yachyio allowed her to be free, stepping back already, smiling coyly as usual. If she wasn't so frazzled, it would be a look that Rui would know automatically, though if the goal was to be frazzled, it would make sense that Yachiyo was like this.  

 

Yachiyo shrugged, cocking her head to the side as she watched Rui pick up her dropped spear. "Ichie still cares about you." 

 

Rui froze. She counted to ten. Then to 20. Then to 30. It was only when she reached 50 did she respond in a way that could hide her guilt from Yachiyo's hawk-like eyes. "That's Ichie, she's different."

 

"And your ex isn't?"

 

Rui looked aside as she stood up. She observed her spear even though it was fine. Nothing was broken. No rope string was frayed. Everything was fine— everything that wasn't her was fine. She relaxed her shoulders, rolling them to ease the tension building there as she looked towards Yachiyo. "I was really hoping we wouldn't touch on that." 

 

"Yeah well," Yachiyo hissed, regretting her words even when she knew it had to be said at one point. "4 years is a lot of time to grow up," she reasoned to Rui, staying back as Rui walked back to her boulder and sat down, stripping her boots away and rolling up the tattered sleeves of her trousers. "I'm a big girl now, I can fight my fears face on."

 

Rui's arms paused as her fingers caught up and froze, the last of her knot undone. "I'm a fear?" She asked, almost hesitating to even question.

 

"Losing you is," Yachiyo answered a moment later, equally hesitant, equally scared. 

 

Rui nodded, taking off her boot before leaning down and removing the other with a quick procession. It took her stripping off her socks until Rui began to speak again, saying the words slowly like it was a well-thought plan. "... I'm not going to die."

 

Yachiyo shook her head, marching forward until she was right in front of Rui again. "Not whilst I'm here you're not." 

 

Rui looked up. "You could die."

 

"If I could die right here right now with you as either my witness or the reason," Yachiyo scoffed as she laid her hands out and gestured to both of them, to the silence that surrounded both of them. "Do you think I would be here right now to risk that? Do you think Ichie would let me be out here to risk that?"

 

Rui paused before nodding in defeat, taking off her socks and placing them inside her shoes. "No, she wouldn't."

 

"That's what I thought—" Yachiyo said. The smugness in her voice was all Rui needed to roll her eyes. "Now strip."

 

Rui blinked, swallowing down the flush that bloomed on her cheeks. "I'm sorry?" She hated that she still squeaked like she was a teenager at the suggestion. 

 

When Rui looked up, she wasn't surprised to see the coy, flirty grin that Yachiyo wore like a badge of honour. She knew exactly what she was doing. "There's no one here to kill you but yourself so strip so that I can tell you how badly that V looks like." 

 

"I mean yeah but—" Rui paused, unable to finish her sentence. She didn't want to admit what Yachiyo was implying. She did not want to think that she thought about that with her ex. Her face was burning up, and for once, it was a heat that Rui wasn't protected against. 

 

"Oh do you want me to do it with you?" Yachiyo gasped, her eyes full of bullshit layered over with a facade of understanding. Instantly Rui's eyes widened as Yachiyo removed the bag that she carried, holding the sleeveless jacket that she slowly lowered down her shoulders. "So you won't feel weirded out yeah sure I can do that—"

 

"Yachiyo!" 

 

"What?" Yachiyo asked, her shoulders exposed with the sunlight hitting the forearms in all the right way. Rui forced her head to the ground, covering up her face with her hands. She did not like the taste of her own sweat but better the sweat than blatantly staring at a friend. "You would always get angsty whenever we look at your mark."

 

"But you're—" Rui hissed, putting her head back to the ground the second she saw Yachiyo through the gaps of her fingers. "Don't you have any shame!?" She was burning up, and she couldn't even blame Yachiyo entirely for this. 

 

"A bit," Yachiyo shrugged, she was amused at what was happening, but she'll protect Rui's innocent eyes. She snorted at the idea of calling the Prophecy's villain 'innocent'. "Not the kind you're thinking of though. Honestly I'm surprised how you're not dying in all those layers."

 

"I have a higher body temperature."

 

"Right," Yachiyo drawled, clicking her tongue in annoyance that Rui had that little benefit. "I forgot it's a literal physical trait of yours to be hot."

 

Rui squirmed, her cold and stern exterior she had before breaking apart as steam blew through her ears. "Why are you still like this?" She looked up, believing to be safe, only to sigh in regret when Yachiyo was bending over. She forgot how shameless Yachiyo could be at times. 

 

Yachiyo slipped on her jacket, uncaring of the question. She leant down, chuckling, when she heard another one of Rui's sighs. "You still need to strip by the way." 

 

Rui grumbled, taking a deep breath as she stood up. As much as the execution was a horrendous mess, Yachiyo's intentions were clear and helpful. Besides, there were only three people Rui could trust her back for, and even if Yachiyo stabbed her there— at least she would be justified. "Can you at least turn around?"

 

"Well, would you look at that," Yachiyo chirped, taking Rui off guard. She looked back to Yachiyo, wearing a familiar look of daze and confusion. Like before, all Yachiyo would give as a response was a grin, assured yet playful like she never changed— like they never changed. "You're already calming down. I still got it."

 

Rui couldn't stop the absurd laugh bubbling from her throat if she tried. "That's the take away from all of this!?"

 

"You're blowing off steam from your flustered red cheeks instead of angry ears so yes," Yachiyo laughed, a sound that sounded melodious after nearly 5 years of an absence. "A win to my unorthodox methods of calming you down."

 

"You're literally flirting!"

 

"Maybe that's just what you need!" Yachiyo winked. Rui baulked at the bluntness, closing her mouth consciously when she remembered that it was still hung open. "I don't think your mum would let you flirt with any strangers any time soon." 

 

Just like that, all of Yachiyo's work of calming her down froze, gone in a flash flood of emotions. Rui felt the rigidness in her bones, and her eyes fell on the scar on Yachiyo's cheek. The mirrored scar on her cheek started to sting again. 

 

"Michiru is not my mum," she reaffirmed, continuing to admit despite all of the bustling ache deep within.  It's complicated. 

 

"I know," Yachiyo said, her words sombre but still sincere from moments ago. A moment passed, and Rui watched as Yachiyo blinked the seriousness away, wearing a smile Rui swore she stole from Ichie at one point. "The point still stands though." 

 

Rui shook her head, shooing her off with a hand as she started to unbutton her jacket, shaking it off her shoulders, making sure it didn't tangle in her long hair. "You're insufferable."

 

"Missed you too Rui," Yachiyo said, waving her goodbye and a flying kiss as she sauntered her way to the treeline. 

 

Rui watched as Yachiyo climbed up a tree, her aerobics skills shining through as she perched like a bird and kept watch. "Yeah…" Rui mumbled, dipping her head down as an old memory of Yachiyo sitting by the apple trees flashed past. The smile she wore as she dropped her jacket to the side near her boot was one of sadness, but it was a genuine one.

"I missed you too."

Chapter Text

Not all prophecies are the same. This knowledge was almost universal. What other people don't know is that they're not the same for a different reason. Going on this analogy I created before, to explain the connection between Gods, Humanity and Prophecies with a puppet show. The story of each prophecy is different because the genre is different. This is vital because if one could predict the genre of the prophecy, they could predict the roles. 

 

… 

 

The prophecy that everyone knows deems as a tragedy, my prophecy… It was marked as a love story. Hence why there was a Lover role… They wanted, they aimed for the Hero and the Lover to get together. They say it's marked as a tragedy because they failed to fall in love. Speculators who shun my existence don't realise that between the Hero and the Lover, they were the greatest friends anyone could ever know. 

 

Maybe if the Gods viewed things differently, things wouldn't be a tragedy. Maybe if they could accept the change in prophecies... But that's in the past, knowing the Villain now as a child... I'm unsure what her story would be, but considering the life we both lived, I hope I can prepare her for all the pain that's in store.  

 

Memoir 63: Genres of fate by Tsuyuzaki Michiru 

 

-

 

"I hate her," Claudine spat the second Mahiru turned around and led them somewhere. She didn't exactly know where they were going, but Claudine didn't trust it. She didn't trust her. Especially not as a teaching figure, there was nothing useful for Claudine there. She wasn't magically inclined, nor did she lack a maternal figure or whatever Shiori saw in her. 

 

Fumi rolled her eyes, glancing up ahead at Mahiru. She still didn't know how to feel about Mentor Mark. Sure she hated Mahiru, never to Claudine's extent but hated her enough to wish ill on her, but did she want her dead? Was this a test from Nana to prove her loyalty?

 

In the end, she focused on her sister, something she always did whenever her thoughts got messy. "I know you do."

 

"No I mean," Claudine continued, clenching her fists in anger, releasing them quickly when Fumi glanced towards her. She sighed, flexing her fingers apart. "I really fucking hate her."

 

"Please don't kill her now."

 

"I'm not—" Claudine paused, taking a second to register the jarring but subtle plea in Fumi's tone. She stopped, turning to Fumi the second she realised Mahiru was following a beaten down footpath. "I'm not going to kill her," she said under her breath.

 

Fumi, in turn, raised an eyebrow at her, scoffing. "Really?"

 

"Yeah, she's not worth my effort." Claudine grumbled, peering down the path where Mahiru turned around, saw them stopping and paused herself. She opened up a map from her spatial bag, and Claudine rolled her eyes, deciding to look away. "If Mahiru were to die and I was there to help, well…." The curl of a smile in the corners of her lips made Fumi's stomach fill up with lead. "Maybe I just won't help and leave it to Karma."

 

Fumi sighed, nodding along at the expected response. She looked away, down to the ground. "Right."

 

"Why are you so worried about her dying anyways?" Claudine frowned, glancing back at the map in Mahiru's hands. "I didn't realise you cared about her." 

 

Claudine shouldn't be surprised that someone like Mahiru knew how to read maps. However, it was still unexpected that Mahiru remembered the skill after 15 years of staying in one place. Even then, that wasn't a skill Claudine didn't need to be 'mentored in'. Claudine remembered those skills vividly since there were moments in her training. Away missions, Maya would dump Claudine in the middle of nowhere with a map and the stars and task her to return home. 

 

"I don't—" Fumi said reactively before sighing. She looked to the sky, eyeing the canopy of the forest around them, her frown deepening. "I just…"

 

"Go on…"

 

"Shiori chose her over us," Fumi said, looking at Claudine directly. She said the bold declaration quietly, almost as if it was a sin that shouldn't be overheard. Of course, it didn't help that both of them glanced at Mahiru despite being over 5 feet away. "And I want to know why."

 

"Oh come on," Claudine hissed, narrowing her eyes when Mahiru caught them looking the one time Mahiru lifted her head up. "We know why." The reason why was unspoken all over the years but was yelled, screaming when Shiori left. They failed Shiori in a way they didn't realise. The reason why was the schism that was never healed after their mother died. The reason why was literally five feet away from them.

 

"We need to get moving, so talk whilst you walk!" Mahiru yelled, and Claudine simmered her frustration when Fumi nodded, sent a thumbs up and actually listened to her. 

 

"I know that we failed—" Fumi continued, shutting her eyes in pained grief before opening them again. Claudine stayed silent, glancing at Fumi as they continued to walk together, side to side as always. Fumi bit her lip. The tension and its weight were apparent in her hunched shoulders, and when it came out in waves, her bones shaking, not the sea tide kind but like a tsunami. "And I know Mahiru saved her life."

 

Immediately, Claudine clenched her fist. She released it, counting to seven, then fourteen, then twenty-one. "Not this again—" She stressed, trying her best to calm herself despite the visceral frustration, anger and hate smothering all of her logic deep down. 

 

"I know it fucking sucks," Fumi bit back, glaring up at her as they continued to walk. "And I know we saved her first but that's not what Shiori believed and damn it Claudine I'm trying to fix things before I see her again."

 

Claudine stopped, turning directly on Fumi, sending a middle finger to Mahiru when she heard a sound of displeasure. "You know something else don't you." This wasn't a question. This was a fact. And it was cemented from the way Fumi looked away.

 

Something gnawed deep within Claudine's gut. She never liked secrets. Despite what Shiori thought, she never liked keeping things away from her. Not unless she had to— not unless the lies made things safer. She never liked being lied to either. She valued honesty and loyalty as much as she gave it. Unfortunately, her twin from the womb was the only person she could trust to give her complete honesty and loyalty. That and Tendou Maya, but her teacher wasn't here to answer any questions she had. 

 

"Please don't—" Fumi begged, crumbling under that hawk-like stare. She pressed a hand against Claudine's arm, careful not to touch the bandages still there from the shop. "Not now Claudine."

 

Claudine shook her head, her frown edging out a warning. "Fumi…"

 

Fumi took a deep breath, glanced up at Mahiru, waiting for them for the distance and swore underneath her breath. "Right, fine—" she hissed, taking Claudine and taking her to the side for a moment. "I just—" She started before stopping, still unable to handle everything of what this meant. “Nana wants Mahiru to die, okay?” It wasn't everything, but she will tell Claudine everything in time, by tonight at the latest. 

 

Claudine frowned, more confused than frustrated. She looked less shocked than Fumi expected. "I mean yeah I know that."

 

Fumi blinked, "You do?"

 

Claudine shrugged; this was an open secret as far as she knew. It was something she figured out by the time she was twelve, putting the pieces together and how Maya reacted whenever the alchemist was spotted. It was only common sense that Nana would feel similar even if she rarely saw her, especially when Maya had relations with her. Another open secret. 

 

"Maya wants her dead for god knows how long," Claudine explained. There was no point keeping the secret hidden now. "That's why I made sure that she never found out that Shiori kept trying to visit her when Shiori lived in the temple with us. I wouldn't be surprised if Nana felt the same way." Claudine paused, staring at her sister curiously. "Did you know that they were dating by the way?"

 

Fumi reeled back, "Nana and Maya? Wait— hold on, I'm getting side tracked."

 

Claudine smirked, laughing as she stared at her sister with incredulous disbelief. It was right in front of her, and she never realised? "You're getting oblivious that's what you are—"

 

"Shut up." Fumi growled the threat out, even forcing her fingers to glow as a threat. Yet compared to her sister, it was nothing but dog barks as opposed to bites. It didn't help that Claudine held a stupid grin or how Fumi's heavy embarrassed blush undermined the scowl. "I'm not that dense. I just—" Fumi looked away again. "Priorities okay?"

 

Claudine laughed. "I bet some girl could serenade you with a song and you wouldn't even notice anything."

 

"Claudine."

 

"Shutting up," Kuro teased, popping the p with a little smirk. Fumi glared at her before sighing, glancing at Mahiru, who was still waiting before focusing on Claudine. 

 

"Nana wants her dead  now , as in this prophecy now." The words came somberly, sucking all the light banter in the air as Claudine shifted, adjusting to the new atmosphere. "The Mark of Mentor is a walking death sentence. I don't know how long Mahiru will last with everything or everyone connected to the prophecy trying to kill her—." Fumi paused, the words hesitating to leave her lips. "So I just want to get on her good side for a bit. I want to see where I failed as a sister before we meet Shiori again."

 

Claudine placed her hands on Fumi's shoulders before she could continue any further. "You didn't fail as a sister."

 

"Shiori—"

 

"Didn't understand that we did our best," Claudine stressed, her concerned look falling down to a small frown, "Besides, if you failed and you're trying to mend our relationship where would I fall? Would I fail her too? Would I fail you? We're twins but I'm the oldest."

 

Fumi snorted, pushing Claudine lightly. "Only for an hour so don't act so melancholy with me." 

 

Claudine rolled her eyes. "Don't beat yourself too hard and maybe I won't be melancholy." 

 

"Asshole."

 

"I would be an asshole if I continued being rude to Mahiru." Claudine looked up to Mahiru, eyeing her knowingly before turning to Fumi with a smirk. "I know we don't need anything from her— but if you want to see where we could possibly mess up. I won't be that much of an asshole to her."

 

Fumi doesn't hug people. It was never really a thing that was common in the temple. The closest person she would hug was Shiori, but she lost that right to that action years ago. (She hated that she didn't know when). Still, she does the next thing and punches Claudine on the shoulder in a way that doesn't hurt at all but is strong enough to move her slightly. "Thanks Claudine."

 

"If she pisses me off though, then it's fair game."

 

Fumi does nothing else but laugh. 

 

————————-

 

She wasn't dead yet. 

 

Mahiru thought they would've killed her by now. Nana and Maya in the morning after the prophecy day, or on her way to her ruined house. Or when she tried to tame a wild horse to chase after Claudine and Fumi. Or when she actually met them. Throughout the entire time, Mahiru thought they, the damn gods above, would've ended her by now. A part of Mahiru wouldn't mind dying, in all honesty. At least that way, she would be reunited with Michiru. 

 

But she wasn't dead yet, though she knew she wouldn't last long. The mark of the mentor was similar to a black spot for pirates. That's why it's ingrained with black ink, why people run the second they see it. Mahiru was a dead woman walking, and when she died, the surroundings would die with her. 

 

Throughout the stories and the prophecies, the death of the mentor was often a memorable one. Mahiru just liked to hope when she passed on, she could take down Nana or Maya with her. At least she liked to hope. 

 

Mahiru turned around, watching her new charges carefully as they followed her climbing up the hill path. They were slow— not in a bad way, but it was clear for all their training they never did any rocky terrain. It was a stupid thing, considering the entire terrain of the nearby countryside were hills and valleys and places outside the main footpath. 

 

However, they were keeping up four of five paces behind as they continued to talk to each other and whisper. After their initial stopping at the very beginning, they didn't pause without a break. Which would be impressive for anyone else who wasn't Mahiru. They had training for this prophecy, and she was still faster than them when she started all those many years ago. And she had no training whatsoever.

 

These hills were hard to navigate, but she became used to this since most of her job meant exploring the forest and hills further away from her shop for ingredients. Once upon a time, when Michiru died, she scoured the lands to search for her body. She didn't find her body in the end. She found Shiori's barely breathing one instead. She didn't have much time to search for her wife's body after that. She just hoped when it decomposed into decay and rot that her favourite flowers bloomed there.  

 

Mahiru shook away her thoughts as she paused, taking in the surroundings. The sun was nearly setting; the world wasn't on fire. There was a cave that didn't seem to hold any form of life. And there were no molebears around. Perfect. 

 

"Do you want your lesson now or later?" she asked, turning her head to Claudine and Fumi. 

 

"Depends," Fumi said, hands on her knees as she took in deep and heavy breaths. Claudine wasn't doing better, glaring at Mahiru as she always did whilst moving her hair away from her sweaty forehead. "What do you have in mind?"

 

Mahiru paused, eyeing the bags they held, eyeing the clearing and the forests with all of its birds and leaves rustling. "Do either of you know how to cook?"

 

Claudine rolled her eyes, crossed arms against her chest. "Don't tell me that's all that you're going to teach us?

 

"Oh not at all," Mahiru smiled. "There's an extra lesson included in the bundle: How to look after a fire properly without burning the entire forest down."

 

Claudine gave a level stare. "We know how to cook. It was optional but we were allowed to learn that."

 

Mahiru clapped her two hands together. "Well I'm glad for your independence. Did you have to fight for that right too?"

 

Claudine's eyes narrowed. "Don't talk about Shiori like that."

 

Just like that, the polite smile shifted. It was no longer kind. It no longer had warmth. Instead, it was sharp, a sweet sickly kind in its flavour. "Oh I never said her name, I was just curious if you guys knew. And now I know you did." When Claudine was taken back, Mahiru couldn't help but eat up the harsh reaction. "I would ask if you knew before or after she left but honestly I don't know if I would like either answer."

 

Claudine froze, realising exactly what trap she fell into. Her jaw tightened, her knuckles cracking underneath her angered grip. "Oh you bitch."

 

Mahiru opened her mouth again but closed it when Fumi came in between them, her hands to pacify both parties. "Can we stop with the fighting already?" She sighed, exasperated, before turning specifically to Mahiru. "You're supposed to be better than this."

 

Ignoring the usually biased opinion, sisters over logic, Mahiru supposed Fumi does have a point. She is the more experienced adult, old enough to be their parent. Maybe at another time, she would be kinder. When she wasn't due to die any time soon. Maybe when she wasn't forced to be in another prophecy. Maybe if the world was kind to her, then she would be kind back. 

 

"I usually am," Mahiru said, her words full of bitter venom as her eyes fell on Claudine. "But I'm still bitter about your sister trying to kill me at least twice now."

 

"Excuse me?"

 

"At my shop and when I try to save you out of your coin," Mahiru said. She took out her coin pouch, pulled down a few coins and tossed it over. Fumi caught the coin with ease. "Here by the way, your scammed money."

 

Fumi looked down, counted the coins with a click of her tongue. "Claudine," she said, turning her head to throw her fare properly. "Say sorry."

 

If Claudine wasn't supposed to apologise to her, Mahiru would've laughed at how stupefied Claudine looked at the notion. She wondered if it was the act of the apology or that her twin of all people asked her. "EXCUSE ME?" 

 

"We're not going to get anywhere if this thing keeps cropping up!" Fumi stressed before she turned back to Mahiru. "If she apologised will you stop being an ass?"

 

Mahiru snorted, "No."

 

Fumi threw her hands up, her words dripping with sarcasm. "Well that's great." 

 

"I'll be honest," Mahiru sighed. "You two have done nothing but antagonise me over the years with petty things and a better person would wash that all away for the sake of the prophecy. But I'm a bitter old lady and honestly I don't care anymore. You can both hate me, you don't need to apologise— not unless you ever mean it but it's more likely I would die before you do that."

 

Mahiru paused, laughing at her own fated demise before chuckling even harder at Fumi's own squeamish or there she even thought it, guilty expressions! And then she saw someone else in Fumi's face. She saw Aina's face. Then, for a brief moment, she saw Reo in Claudine's face too. Just like that, all of the self demise and the boiled up bitterness that accumulated over the years wavered. 

 

These two were Reo and Aina's daughters. They were Shiori's sisters. Even if the word sister held no merit for either Shiori or herself, it didn't take away that they were daughters of the women who saved her life. Mahiru wasn't like Michiru when it came to respecting the dead, but this much-- she could do at least this much for them out of respect. 

 

"But whilst we're on the same side," Mahiru began again, slowly with struggling compassion. "I won't do anything harmful towards either of you and I'll actually teach you things you need to survive for the prophecy. The only exception is self defence." She looked directly at Claudine as she said that last one. Fumi was dangerous when she wanted to be, but right now, she was mild. Claudine was a volcano rearing to erupt, however. 

 

"Whilst we're on the same side," Claudine mocked with a jeer. 

 

"For your mothers' Reo and Aina, and for your sister Shiori's sake," Mahiru nodded, smiling as pleasantly as she could. "That's all I will offer."

 

Claudine rushed forward instantly, only to be held back by Fumi as she snarled at Mahiru. "Don't talk like you know our family."

 

"Claudine," Fumi hissed, forcing her sister to stand down.  "Mahiru,"  She said just as tensely. 

 

Mahiru ignored the warning. She knew she had every right to talk about their mothers. She was their final friend in the end. "Those my terms, do you want to add anything else?"

 

"Yeah—" Claudine spat as she shoved away from Fumi. She stalked closer, her chest heaving with anger. "Don't talk about Shiori like you know her."

 

"Fine," Mahiru said as calmly as she could, the anger festering underneath her skin again. This time not for herself but for Shiori, how dare they ignore her once more. How dare they belittle the friendship they had— belittle the fact that Mahiru was Shiori's only friend. "As long as you don't talk about Shiori like you know her."

 

"I'm her sister." 

 

"She denounced  your name ."

 

"MAHIRU!" Fumi yelled, and maybe Mahiru took that step too far, but it had to be said. To claim Shiori as her sister was laughable. It was only out of politeness that Mahiru spoke the truth instead of laughing right in their face. Sisters. As if that had any meaning to Shiori after everything. 

 

"Oh," Claudine chuckled darkly, a cruel smile on her face. "I really want to kill you right now."

 

The sight would be intimidating, but Mahiru faced worse. She raised a brow, turned her left cheek towards Claudine, almost daringly. "Kill me and you'll never survive to see your sister, let alone figure out how to travel millions of lands overnight."

 

"I have a condition!" Fumi said before anything could escalate further. 

 

Mahiru turned to her, "Speak."

 

"Neither of us bring up whatever happened in the past," Fumi replied, taking place right between the two antagonising forces once more as a peacemaker. "Not to each other and if we meet anyone else in the future, we explain both sides. That way we're both fair and that way we don't bring up shit that would get any of us killed by anything else because we're at each other's throat."

 

It was a fair deal, logically the fairest one Mahiru would get. At the very least, Mahiru wouldn't need to worry about dying pathetically to them. "Very well, just one last thing."

 

Fumi sighed, almost sounding as tired as Mahiru felt. "What?" 

 

"Do you take Fumi's words as your own, Saijou Claudine?"

 

Claudine bit her lip; she then exhaled roughly. "She's my sister and my twin by blood. What she says I will follow, and vice versa."

 

That would be enough for Mahiru. "Good." She reached out, grabbed Fumi's hand, reaching forward to grab her wrist instead as she stared deep into her eyes. Claudine took her sword out but, with one glance from Fumi, sheathed it again. Then Fumi followed through with the same motion, gripping tight to Mahiru's arm like it was a cliff edge. Around their forearms, the magic of purple and green flowed like water. 

 

"I swear on my wife's name that I'll never bring up the past with the twins Yumeoji Fumi and Saijou Claudine. I swear to teach them properly about the prophecy as my duty as their mentor and to never make any attempt to harm them." As Mahiru spoke, her mark— both Mentor and Lover- flashed and pulsed with the same prophetic energy that shrouded them.

 

"And I swear," Fumi continued, less confident but equally as determined as Mahiru. "On my mothers' name, on behalf of my twin Saijou Claudine, to listen to the Mentor Ootori Mahiru as adventurers of the prophecy and to never make any attempt to harm her." Unlike Mahiru, nothing else happened, there was wind and a swirl of magic, but there was no prophetic pulse. There was no mark. 

 

"And the oath is secure," Mahiru said as the magic disappeared. She let go first, massaging her hand with relieved shoulders. 

 

"Now are you going to teach us?" Claudine asked. 

 

Mahiru nodded, looking at the caves near them. "How good are you with runes Fumi?"

 

"Efficient enough," Fumi answered, massaging her hands too, trying hard not to think about the differences between herself and Mahiru when making the oath. "I prefer hand magic more."

 

Mahiru did her best not to roll her eyes, "Following in Nana's footsteps I see," she murmured mostly to herself. She stepped inside the cave, beckoning the girls to follow. The cave was dark; the footsteps talked in a miserable echo. Behind her, Fumi used her magic to create fire. Not that Mahiru needed it, she could do this rune in her sleep. 

 

Mahiru took out a potion, acidic by nature and popped the cork open. This shouldn't be done with a finger, not when the acid could easily corrode the skin if someone wasn't careful. So Mahiru took out the antidote, dipped her finger into it, then dipped it into the acid before she carved the rune into the cave walls. 

 

 "Memorise this Rune," Mahiru called, stepping out to the side for Fumi to see better. 

 

Fumi glanced at it, studied it for a few seconds before she nodded at Mahiru. "Done."

 

Mahiru blinked. "That fast?"

 

Fumi smirked at her, the light of her fire highlighting the curve of her lips. "I have a photogenic memory."

 

"Conditional," Claudine coughed loudly into her fist. Fumi rolled her eyes and shoved her playfully back. 

 

"Conditional photogenic memory," she reiterated. 

 

Mahiru nodded. "I won't ask how but that's good to know."

 

Claudine stepped around Fumi, and unlike her sister, she stared at the symbol with squinted eyes. "What does this even do?"

 

"It's shorthand name is fast travel," Mahiru explained. "But some people like to use the term cave hop. Essentially, everyone in the cave becomes teleported, so long as this rune is drawn. The rune would move them closer towards the path of the prophecy and the inhabitants wake up in a new location from the cave."

 

Fumi nodded. "Hence the name cave hop."

 

For once, Mahiru smiled in the presence of the sisters and meant it. "Exactly."

 

"That's it?" Claudine scoffed, quickly ruining the moment. "That's all you need?"

 

Mahiru chuckled to herself quietly when it was Fumi who sighed in exasperation. If only things like this could ever be that simple. "It needs to be carved on the stone wall, unless you were a catalyst, and you need to have an intent to travel and to fulfill the prophecy." Mahiru supplied before turning seriously to Fumi. "I suggest you start practising, it's much harder than it looks." 

Chapter Text

In the narrative of the prophecy, there is the marked. Then the unmarked. The marked characters are needed. The role they fulfil  must be  played out entirely for a prophecy to succeed. The unmarked aren't important. Often they are there as fodder. If the audience wants death and a tragedy but can't risk someone important being killed? That role falls to the unmarked. 

 

Then again, when a prophecy is played, all civilians are considered unmarked— to the point where they all have a generic title: Non-Prophetic Character. NPC for short. NPCs are from all walks of life, from the villagers slaughtered by the Villains to the pub owner who feeds the Hero. They contribute to the prophecy, but they play no vital role. There is rarely any NPC that plays a vital role. 

 

There are not many who choose to be part of the prophecy. More often than not, the chosen heroic party and the villains are forced to be there. No one sane would volunteer. Not when by having no Mark, your death is most likely guaranteed. 

 

#Memoir 25 - Intricacies of a Prophecy  by Tsuzyusaki Michiru 

 

~

 

It was nice, knowing that she was missed. Not that Yachiyo doubted that she would be missed. Rui, for all her monstrous features, had a human heart. Still, it was nice to hear it, even when she wasn't supposed to. Yachiyo looked down at her fingers, comparing her short nails to Rui's nails', filed down with a claw-like shape. Instinctually, her left cheek ached. She fought the urge to scratch the scar there. 

 

"You can look now!" Rui called from down below. 

 

Yachiyo nodded, "Coming!" she called out as she stretched her arms. 

 

There, in that span of tension before the relief, Yachiyo exhaled. Her fingers brushed against the leaves, and her nerves flittered down the tree trunk-- the same way lighting raced to the ground. And just like her nerves, the rest of her body followed as she landed safely on the ground. There was no time to reminisce now, or get lost in thought, not when Rui needed her. 

 

 "Alright now let's see how chiseled you became—" The teasing comment dried up on Yachiyo's tongue. Her mouth closed. And somehow she swallowed something down, but when she opened it again— it was still dry as ever. 

 

It wasn't because of the proportions of Rui's now exposed back. The jacket with the scarf Yachiyo made her was on the floor near her boots. The suspenders were dangling on either side of her trousers. Her shirt and undershirt garments were rolled over, wrapping around her arms and the lower parts of her shoulders. Even the ponytail was swept away, giving Yachiyo a clear view of everything. 

 

Rui's back was chiselled as Yachiyo joked, defined in every way that showed her physical prowess. Her shoulders exuded the weight of her upper strength. Her back was toned, shaped in all of her extreme activities. But all of these traits and strength was something Yachiyo already knew. That was something she expected. 

 

What she didn't expect was the tattoo that stretched from the nape to the tailbone, black as ink, like a flower in bloom—. Ornate with runic designs and pentagrams and symbols that almost looked like chains when no one knew its meaning. In the middle, right where the heart would be, the Villain's mark pulsed. It was one massive container, one yachiyo knew well to draw. A V at the bottom, a V at the top— connect them and strike a V in the middle. 

 

The pentagram acted like a container. And within those black lines, a dull red light rose and fell like an ocean wave. Rui's mark when she saw it as a teenager was never like that. Yes, it had the V shape and faded red lines, but they never glowed. It was never a sight that could pull out so much fear from a single stare. 

 

This was new. This was terrifying. Yet even that did not make Yachiyo shut up, No. It was the slashes across the back tattoo, not against the mark but near enough. It was the scars that suggested puncture wounds. It was the marring and discolouration of the skin that one could only have when they nearly died. 

 

"How is it?" Rui asked. I Yachiyo could pay any more attention, she would've noticed that it was quiet, understanding. There was a sombre kindness to it that would remind Yachiyo of Michiru. Yet Yachiyo was barely coherent enough to recognise that Rui expected this response. 

 

"Oh Rui…" Yachyio whispered, edging closer but not enough to touch. She knew better not to touch Rui's back; it was always so sensitive. A single touch was enough to make Rui on edge. It spoke a lot already of how much Rui trusted her, exposing her weaknesses like this. It would be so easy to stab her right here and now, right where it hurts, deep inside the Villian Mark where she's most vulnerable. 

 

"I'm fine Yachiyo," Rui continued. "Just tell me how far that red has risen in my mark."

 

Yachiyo shook her head, too lost in thought, barely remembering to breathe. She swallowed something, her mouth was still dry, but there was a lump stuck in her throat. 

 

She needed to remember this, all of it. The scars, the body tattoo, the Villain's mark and the form of Rui's broad shoulders. She needed to memorise and burn this version of Rui into her head. If only to scrub away the gnawing guilt and stupidy at her previous self ten minutes ago. How ignorant she was for suggesting that Rui didn't change much from her past. It was clear that enough time had passed for her to change, that too many things happened in those four years of separation.

 

Yachiyo looked up, catching Rui's eyes that looked over her shoulder. The voice that whispered from Yachiyo's gasp was as fragile as the tension in the air. "What happened to you?" 

 

"Not important right now." Rui's voice was blunt. Her eyes were more focused on gazing down her shoulder than Yachiyo's reaction." You wanted to look right?" 

 

"It's a quarter up—" Yachiyo answered, swallowing the lump, her breath shuddering at the weight. "The red— I…." She turned away as Rui lowered back her shirt, the ruffle of fabric tossing itself in the air. It didn't cut the tension but tangled it, made the entire thing more casual than it ought to be. Or maybe it was something casual. Yachiyo could just be the fool overthinking. Then again, life-threatening situations were never something Yachiyo would take lightly, even if it was casually addressed. 

 

"Hmmm…" 

 

"Is that bad?" Yachiyo asked, averting her eyes out of respect as Rui began to dress herself in front of her. However, her scarf and her red jacket were still kept to the side, in a neat pile near her shoes. 

 

"No— it meant your methods did actually work," Rui chuckled, buttoning up her shirt as she glanced back at Yachiyo. 

 

Rui's smile, small as it was, had her complete sincerity. It was enough to blast Yachiyo for the second to the past, where the bruises on her back only came from falling off trees. Then Yachiyo blinked, and suddenly she could spot all of the faded scars on Rui's arms. She could pinpoint which scars sliced over nerves and tendons, which ones were just a centimetre off an artery. Yachiyo could spot every time Rui should've died but didn't. 

 

 "The last time Michiru checked," Rui continued, not even noticing the turmoil that Yachiyo was going through. "Back when I almost caused a fight with the Hero, it was 75% full." 

 

"What does that even mean?"

 

Rui glanced up at Yachiyo's face. A slight shift in the iris indicated left for a mere moment. Yachiyo caught it with a sudden tenseness across her shoulders. Yachiyo's breath shuddered, her eyes widened as it refocused like a camera zooming in and out, clearing up the blurs and like that— the entire picture was clear. 

 

"Oh."

 

"Yeah." 

 

Rui looked down, avoiding her gaze. Yachiyo avoided her gaze too, looking down at Rui's hands instead. An instinctual reaction that she tried, and now failed, to break. Rui's fingers were curled, almost hiding how the sharpened nails refused to retract and become normal again. There was a shame there, and it was enough for Yachiyo to look away again. 

 

Between them now was a ghost of memories, of haunted situations they both knew they hadn't fully moved from. Yachiyo hated it all. The way she would look up and watch in painful knowledge why Rui refused to meet her eyes. The way her eyes would glance to Rui's own scar on her cheek, too straight of a line to be accidental. 

 

"You have the Hero with you?" Yachiyo cleared her throat, desperate for the deflection. Both for Rui's sake and her own. 

 

Out of the corner of Yachiyo's eye, she could see Rui's nod. "There was a blood moon when the prophecy officially started didn't it?"

 

"Yeah," Yachiyo said, raising her head and walking around Rui. She leaned against the boulder that was there before, mindful of Rui's shoes as she looked out across the river. She wondered briefly how Ichie was enjoying her river bath after the excursion against Andrew two days ago.  

 

"Ichie woke me up and we had to save—" Yachiyo froze, her eyes fixated on reflection on the murky water, staring at the sun reflected on the surface. The sky above them was turning pink, maybe amber. In the water reflection that Yachiyo wasn't paying attention to, Rui was staring at Yachiyo. 

 

( "This isn't going to work Ichie---"  Yachiyo remembered screaming that, somewhere amongst the firelight. They were outside of the cave. They had to be outside of the cave. They had to be exposed for this to work. On the floor, Ichie was scribbling runes into the dirt. Scratch scratch. Scratch Scratch Scratch. 

 

"Well it needs to or else we're screwed! " More scratches, one bleeds into two, into ten. Then one big  screech.  Yachiyo jolted herself awake after that. 

 

"It's the middle of the night and you want me to—"  She remembered anger, the frustration, the lack of good sleep creeping up that made her blind and dazed to the obvious. She did not see Ichie's arm glow— she confused it for firelight when no torch was lit in reality. It didn't matter then that she didn't notice. Despite everything, Yachiyo trusted Ichie enough to do whatever she said anyways.)

 

When Yachiyo returned to reality, her hardened gaze in the murky water was the first thing she saw. The next was Rui's concerned red eyes staring at her mirror reflection, not her, but the reflection. So Yachiyo decided to do the same, eyeing Rui's wavering face in liquid space. 

 

"Your hero is a blondie isn't she?"

 

Rui's eyes widened. Her eyes snapped from the reflection to the actual person. Yachiyo continued to watch Rui in the reflection. Her red eyes dipped up and down with the motion of the water. "How did you know—"

 

"Did you see any pink light anywhere?" Yachiyo interjected instead, still staring at the reflection. From here, the fangs looked more like noodles than actual teeth. The thought was a good enough distraction from everything else in her head. "Did you guys have a fight already?"

 

"We fought but not when we met—" Rui admitted, glancing from the actual Yachiyo to the watery reflection. Her eyes were narrowed, her brows were knitting up. Rui pushed up the hair on her forehead, a habit she didn't lose from the four years of separation. "Why, what you—"

 

"There is another one, another blonde." This time, Yachiyo turned her head, raising it to meet Rui's gaze. She wanted to see the surprise in her eyes. She wanted to know if Rui had the same fear she had. "We saved her that night. I thought it would be you but if it wasn't…." 

 

Yachiyo hated how her voice faltered, but if this was the finale like Ichie kept saying, she had to check all the boxes. There were too many outliers already in place. They can't afford another one like this. "Is there another hero?"

 

Never had Yachiyo been so relieved to see the anger erupt in Rui's eyes. Her set jaw and the nostril flare of such a notion was enough for Yachiyo to relax her shoulders. This time, she embraced the coldness in Rui's snarl. "There can never be another Hero. No doubles."

 

"But if they're important enough that Ichie—"

 

A realisation dawned on Rui, enough of a jarring look that it made Yachiyo shut up before she even heard the whisper. "Sisters…" 

 

Yachiyo blinked. "What?" She must've heard that wrong. There was no way the Hero would be lucky enough to have a family, at least a family that was alive. The Gods would never be that kind, nor would they be that cruel. 

 

Either the unsaid thoughts were clear on Yachiyo's face, or Rui was thinking the same thing she did. The face Rui wore, eyes shut, subtle pressure on the eyelids like she was forcing them to close. It was enough of a warning that Yachiyo took a step back, careful glances down at Rui's fingers. 

 

"The hero has sisters," Rui spat out, taking a long exhale, opening her eyes to the sight of the river. "I remember Michiru was talking to her, telling her about the truth—"

 

"Already!?" Yachiyo yelled, her gut reaction taking over from her more logical thoughts. To hell with the sisters and their implications, Michiru planned to tell the Hero the truth of the prophecy!? The one thing that, as far as Yachiyo knew, was their only advantage Rui and Michiru had against the heroes!? "Are you serious?"

 

"I don't know what's going on with her head Yachiyo—" Rui screamed back, her voice stretching to a vicious snarl. Yachiyo stepped back, instinct demanding to pull out the knife she always kept inside of her shirt. She compromised, keeping a hand within reach just in case. Ichie said this meeting would be safe in the end, and dammit, if Yachiyo could do anything right, it's putting all her trust in Ichie. "She's— "

 

"Rui," Yachiyo said, keeping her voice nice and calm despite every hair on her arms tensing up. "Rui, calm yourself."

 

Rui cackled at her, her fangs bare and out in the open. She stepped back, stumbling on the boulder before resting her back against it. Clawed fingers tangled within the stresses and the messes of her brown hair. She laughed again, exhausted, her red eyes almost bloodshot, almost glowing.  

 

"I don't think you can unorthodox your way out of this Yachiyo," Rui laughed, digging her feet, still bare from her attempt to prepare herself for the river into the dirt. Maybe it was the fear playing with her head, but Yachiyo couldn't help but stare when black started to colour Rui's feet, rising slowly up her ankles. 

 

"I know," Yachiyo admitted, gritting her teeth at her own internal frustration. She did not like the glow coming from the rock, the stone crackling away like embers. Her free hand, not reaching for her knife, went for her potions in her spatial bag. "But I don't think you're unable enough to stop yourself."

 

"They're watching…." Rui hissed, ducking her head burying her chin to her chest as she pulled her knees up. 

 

"Of course they are," Yachiyo scoffed, glaring once at the setting sun. In her own stupidity, Ichie's lingering influence, she threw her middle finger up too. "Stupid gods."

 

"They're angry at you."

 

"Old news Rui," Yachiyo drawled, smirking when Rui glanced up at her. Taking the opportunity, Yachiyo moved her mask down as she winked at her with a flirtatious grin. "I've been annoying their ass for the last four years. Even without my illusion magic playing games on them." 

 

"Hah," Rui laughed once more. This time the sound was more tired than tense. She took a deep breath and behind her, where the boulder began to blacken as the heat cooled down. Steam rose like a signal fire as debris crumbled down like volcanic ash. When Yachiyo looked at her feet, there was no hint of black anywhere apart from her shadow. "Okay, maybe you can unorthodox your way out of this."

 

Yachiyo flashed a sincere smile, masking it with the hint of arrogance. She stood up straighter, forcing her body to relax, forcing her expression to hide the true depth of her relief. "I'm glad to know I can still make you laugh."

 

Rui shook her head. She allowed her arms to flop to the side of her body. The corners of her lips twerked upwards in that same fond but exasperated smile that Yachiyo hadn't seen in so long. When their eyes met, something familiar and warm sank in Yachiyo's stomach. As was the custom when Rui looked at her like she was more than words could ever describe. "You can always make me laugh, Yachiyo."

 

Yachiyo shifted. Sweat pooled at the surface of her palms, but she did not wipe it down on her trousers. She kept her head up, her eyes forward. Her eyes darted over the outfit, over each marred visible skin. The elongated scar on Rui's cheek, the faded burn mark on her forehead that she still attempted to hide away. 

 

Yachiyo remembered the days when they were younger, teenagers. In those days, she used to part those unruly tresses that covered her brows and kiss all the places Rui hated, all the same places Yachiyo loved about her. She would look past all the fears and tell her she was beautiful. She did not have that luxury now. No one did. 

 

"I'll be honoured then," Yachiyo whispered, the words coming off more raw than she liked. Can she blame herself, though? To be vulnerable like this? She always struggled lying to Rui. She always struggled holding back what was close to her chest when it came to them. Their relationship would never be that romantic angle again, but even now, after four years, there was no one else Yachiyo trusted more than Rui. "To have that privilege around you."

 

Rui smiled, and this time, the fangs that Yachiyo teased and secretly feared, the sharp evidence that they've both changed and aged in the absence, didn't look as intimidating or as jarring as before. "And I'll carry the same privilege about your honesty."

 

"I think I'm going to need a new shirt," Rui laughed, her voice rising in pitch in all of its awkward motions. She slapped her hands against her knee caps whilst Yachiyo cleared her throat, eager for the distraction instead of addressing the nostalgic vibes in the air. "Maybe black would work since it would hide any ash or soot from this near miss."  

 

"Maybe," Yachiyo hummed before she looked down, then up with a shaking exhale. She stared directly at Rui's eyes as the words stumbled out of her lips. "I'm going to take Ichie south."

 

Rui frowned, one hand touching the boulder behind her as she helped herself up. "South?"

 

"Down the river, the fastest way to Primus," Yachiyo explained, the words firing out as fast as possible. It's been something that was on her mind, not entirely since Rui always took priority. Still, it was there since the revelation of two sisters. "I think that's where our blondes are. We will need a boat to get there fast enough and I don't want to cave hop."

 

"Primus…" Rui murmured, tasting the name on her tongue. She blinked as her brain started to work through the information and the distance like clockwork. "That's a long way down by boat, the river will take you far but even then… are you sure you can't cave hop?"

 

"I think," Yachiyo said as she pulled out her map, kneeling down on the grass to mark it since Rui already ruined the boulder. "If we cave hop without creating some distance, we'll be pulled along to you and I don't think that's the best idea for any of us right now."

 

"No I don't think so either…." Rui agreed, walking over as she stripped herself of her shirt, grimacing at the tattered state of the back. She tossed it to the side, opting to wear her jacket, with the suspenders over it to cover herself and what undergarments she had. "Do you plan to guide her sisters?"

 

 Yachiyo stilled, pressing her fingers too hard on the thin parchment. She swallowed, allowing the silence to sink in before she looked up. She wondered if her eyes said the apology she kept in her heart. Maybe her honesty would reach that level too. "Yes." 

 

Rui paused, staring back towards Yachiyo, digesting the information and the lack of lies. "They will probably want to kill me."

 

Yachiyo nodded. "I know." 

 

"And you will still do it?"

 

"Yes." Never had a single word been so hard to say, at least say it and mean it. "I am to guide them," Yachiyo explained, forcing the words out of her lungs no matter how much the thought poisoned her deep down. "Slow them down. Give you more time."

 

"Slow them down?" Rui laughed, raising a brow. Yachiyo held her breath, watching, observing the way Rui looked to the side and the way her fist clenched and then unclenched. "With Ichie?"

 

"She's trying to be a bard, y'know" Yachiyo smiled, relaxing her grip, releasing her held breath. Rui was not mad, not entirely. Yet, it was the fact she tried her best to hide her disappointment that stung Yachiyo the most. But Yachiyo couldn't focus on that. They didn't have time to go over any plans or to reassure Rui of the thoughts and schemes she had. She didn't want to lie to her and break one of the few good reputations she had. "She has a guitar and everything." 

 

"A bard…" Rui whispered, leaning back and clicking her tongue in thought. Her eyes then dropped down, past the scars and lean muscles. Yachiyo smirked, knowing exactly what she was staring at. 

 

"I know enough information," Yachiyo explained as she moved her arm over, showing off the risen lines of scarring, of a mark that was a tattoo that was nothing but an Eye. "Like an all seeing eye. I picked it up in the last four years, it can fool enough people when I make it glow." 

 

"Does it have a name?"

 

"Watcher."

 

"Like an observer…." Rui nodded out of understanding, then once more, her eyes full of determination and acceptance. She looked at Yachiyo, her smile showing off the tip of her fangs. "It fits you." 

 

"Thanks." Yachiyo inhaled quick and exhaled long, hoping that the motions would remove the blush dusting on her cheeks. "Like I said this is the safest way for all of us, Ichie and Michiru included."

 

"That is if you have a boat," Rui said as she looked towards the forest. She stood up, unfurling her jacket and tossing it towards Yachiyo. "Take this and give me 3 hours."

 

"What are you—" Yachiyo asked before her eyes widened, grabbing the sudden spear thrown at her. 

 

"I'm going to not explode and I'm going to carve you a boat." Rui continued. She stretched her neck, then her arms. Yachiyo watched in awe at how long those nails grew and how fast the dulled fangs sharpened. "As payment you can fish as much as you want and take as much as you want as long as I can have some dinner."

 

The callback was enough to snap Yachiyo out of her thoughts. "You're keeping your promise," she murmured. She ignored the pang in her chest at the notion and all of the weight it held. 

 

"Four years late," Rui said, taking a light chuckle as she stalked towards the forest. 

 

Yachiyo's eyes widened, her mouth moving faster than her brain could. "Think you can keep another one?" 

 

Rui stilled, her muscles tensing. From far away, the Villain's mark looked more of an untreated scorch burn than an actual prophecy mark. A simple glance showed that it was only half-filled. "Yachiyo—" Rui said, her voice carefully measured. 

 

"Can you stay alive?" Yachiyo continued, blurting out the question even when she knew it was unfair. She knew better to ask this towards Rui. She knew, and yet she made the wrong choice anyway. "When all of this is over, can you try and be alive?"

 

"..."

 

"You can lie if you want to," Yachiyo said, looking down with a bittersweet smile on her face, trying hard to hold back the pathetic, sad laugh bubbling at the back of her throat. "I'm the honest one somehow between us."

 

Rui nodded, the action slow and careful. "I'll try. I promise."

 

That was no lie. And it broke Yachiyo's heart that Rui didn't lie. Tears were lining her eyes when she looked up and caught Rui's gaze once more. "I said you could lie, Rui."

 

Rui smiled but said no more. Yachiyo turned around, removing her boots and pulling up her trousers as she started to wade into the river, Rui's spear in hand. If she heard the sound of a tree falling or the sound of claws hacking through wood, sawing through its curved edges. Well. Yachiyo didn't comment and focused on fishing. 

 

They both had jobs to do, and the prophecy always made time move so unfairly fast. 

 

Chapter Text

The nature of a bard is a flexible one. It’s considered a secondary Seer and Catalyst. Not because of the bard’s inherent powers, but because it’s as essential in the long run. The bards are the people who tell the story when all is done. They dilute the harsh reality to something palatable for the rest of the world. The world would not care about the time the Hero would weep, homesick for a home that no longer existed. No, they would instead focus on the war cry and the speech they would make when all hope is lost. 

 

Not only that, like a catalyst and a seer, if one was lucky, the bard would know what the prophecy is about before it even begins. They are not bound by the laws of magic; they are not bound by the rules of the prophecy entirely. They can switch sides or defy expectations with no major retribution. They are a wild card. A joker in a deck of 52.  

 

Of course, not every prophecy gets a bard. But when do they get one? Everyone watches and listens. Such attention is the only consistent nature of a fluid mark. 

 

Memoir 16~ The Bardic marks by Tsuyuzaki Michiru 

 

~

 

“This?” Fumi scoffed as they finally stumbled into the next sight of civilisation after a series of cave hopping. To her surprise, throughout the journey Claudine and Mahiru actually kept their peace. At most, they would antagonise each other was distant glares (Claudine) and dry remarks (Mahiru). “This is Primus?”

 

“Did you expect a massive scrawling city where everyone would worship your feet?” Mahiru joked. 

 

Fumi scowled, hating the way her cheeks flushed red. She may have thought that every now and again when she was younger, but she knew better. Even then, she would’ve thought that her debut would be more noteworthy, at least. 

 

“I don’t believe this,” Claudine moved next to Fumi, putting her once more in the middle as Kuro kept her distance. “This place looks like a shit hole.”

 

Fumi wrinkled her nose at the blunt word choice. She wouldn’t use that crude description personally, but she had to agree with her sister. Primus was nothing but a village. There was nothing wrong with a village, but this village was long past it's peak. There were abandoned shops, drunks lying on the street. There was a horse and a stable, but there was barely anything there. The fanciest place was a stone church in the centre with a bell tower, but the broken glass windows with a hollow roof said everything too. 

 

“Trade barely goes here since the Temple takes the first dibs,” Mahiru explained with a grim look. “People get by but it’s not the best place to be.”

 

“Then why are people here?” Surely no one would live in this dump by choice.

 

“Because Primus is a place for heroes, has been for many prophecies, hence the name-- First,” Mahiru explained. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they never taught you since you would’ve had each other as sidekicks. Mercenaries and pilgrimages come by here, probably waiting to be picked by the hero for a chance of glory and riches.”

 

Claudine narrowed her eyes in suspicious disbelief. “You’re joking. I know you don't know how to make a joke, but you got to be joking.” Fumi snickered at the light insult whilst Mahiru rolled her eyes, too busy being amused to be actually insulted. 

 

“I wish,” Mahiru laughed. “They did the same thing in my prophecy, not in Primus— they were more north when they first started but that’s how my Hero found their third friend.”

 

“Strength?” Fumi asked, recalling the story that Nana told her often. The Hero back then was an archetype of Hope. She grew up with a Lancer with a blue dagger, and they stumbled across a fierce warrior with a lion draped over her shoulder, a small woman with a strong heart and stronger muscles. “She was a mercenary?” 

 

Mahiru nodded, “The difference with Strength was the fact she had a calling, and the fact she knew where to go, which is exactly what we need.”

 

Fumi blinked. “Directions?” 

 

Claudine groaned, glaring at Mahiru like it was all her fault. “Can’t we just cave hop our way there?”

 

“You need a direction to fast travel,” Mahiru said as she walked towards Primus and the only alive building around. An overcrowded Tavern. “If you have no direction it won’t work, or even worse it could make you lose your way. It’s a shortcut, not a cheat.”

 

Not satisfied, Claudine spoke once more. “And you can’t guide us there?”

 

“The terrain can change in 15 years,” Mahiru claimed as she turned around to face the twins. “I can do my best to lead you, yes, but I can’t guarantee our safety as easily.” 

 

Fumi nodded, quick to weigh the options before nodding again more firmly. She glanced at Claudine before looking at Mahiru. “So the sketchy tavern then?” 

 

“We’re not eating together,” Claudine suddenly pounced, her red eyes glaring as usual. 

 

Mahiru laughed at her, “Oh god forbid a frail old woman sitting alone.” 

 

“Frail my ass,” Claudine glowered as they walked past her. 

 

“Oh look at that,” Mahiru jeered, though it was not as bitter as it once was. “You’re finally learning.” Fumi laughed, and when Claudine shoved her almost right through the door, she didn’t care at all. 

 


 

See, despite all of the drunks, dreamers and the people who honestly would kidnap her if they knew anything about her, Ichie liked Primus. Actually, no, that was a blatant lie. She never liked Primus at all. Not with all the attempted kidnapping and murder and general oh you’re part of the prophecy bullshit— But! She liked having money, so Primus wasn’t that bad since people tipped well for a good song. Just as long as no one recognised her. 

 

“The new pigeons finally entered the nest,” Yachiyo said as the doors of the tavern opened wide. She spotted a trio of two blondes and an old lady earlier from the murky window, and Ichie perked up from her thoughts. Unfortunately, Ichie wasn’t as tall as her, leaning up against the wall, so she had to make do with what Yachiyo could point out. 

 

“Ahh…” her best friend winced. “They’re so fucking green.”

 

Ichie snickered at Yachiyo’s blatant disappointment. “Nobleman?” 

 

“Worse,” Yachiyo scoffed, playing with the edges of her scarf. “They look like they want to be heroes, like the prideful idiot kind.”

 

Ichie kicked a stool over, ignoring when someone glared at her for stealing their seat. They didn’t follow through, however, not with Yachiyo’s eyes almost daring her to fight. So instead, Ichie climbed up on the chair, her hooded hair now part of the decor of the tavern. “How so?”

 

Yachiyo sighed in a tired, frustrated way that signalled nothing more but a rant, and Ichie brushed her ruly mess of hair to see better. “Well who wears fucking plate armour and doesn’t even put their wavy, okay wavy, hair up?”

 

Ichie chuckled quietly to herself, spotting the plate amour blonde quickly amongst the crowd. “A rich idiot.”

 

“Exactly,” Yachiyo nodded. “Primus will carve them whole.”

 

Ichie stared at them all as they sat at different tables near each other. The two blondes sat near the window, and the old lady sat alone. There was no pull to either of them, yet something about them was familiar. Did Ichie see them before? “No marks?” 

 

“Not that I can see….” Yachiyo sighed before her eyes suddenly shifted, her body straightening as she perked up. Her lips curled upwards as she placed a finger on her chin. “Maybe the old lady actually.”

 

Ichie’s eyes widened, and she followed Yachiyo’s gaze to the old lady in the corner, sitting on her own in an empty but broken chair and table. “Oh?”

 

“She looks like a veteran—” Yachiyo muttered before suddenly ducking down, pushing Ichie off the stool before she shuffled Ichie further into the crowd. “No definitely a veteran.” 

 

“Yachiyo?” 

 

“She spotted me, even through my illusion magic,” Yachiyo hissed back before standing up, glancing between the three blatant visitors again. “But she seems unaffiliated with the greenies, Maybe.” 

 

Ichie sighed, taking a spare stool and used the lower rung to stand on it. Damn her small height, it was helpful in a forest to stay hidden, but in a crowded tavern full of massive and often tall mercenaries, she couldn’t catch a break. “Which one looks more like an idiot?”

 

“I would say the plate amour blonde with wavy hair but honestly? Easier to steal from the blonde one with a braid, she looked like she had looser pockets.” 

 

Ichie nodded, suddenly spotting the other people in the crowds slinking away to the new targets as they stood talking in a table seat near the window. “Seems like the other thieves noticed too.”

 

Yachiyo chuckled, spotting the threat as quickly as Ichie did. “Want to make a bet which one will bite first?”

 

Ichie was about to answer, genuinely and then also for a laugh. But then the room shifted; everything was a centimetre to the left. Her golden eyes underneath her hood pulsed bright, and the smell of blood rotted the air. Then Ichie blinked, and the stench ceased to exist. On her arm, her mark burned. 

 

“People in the pool can’t bet,” Ichie said hastily, dropping her hood down. Eyes were drawn to her automatically, but Ichie didn’t care. 

 

“What are—” Yachiyo paused, her sentence cut off as Ichie shoved her coat into her arms. She continued to stare, laughing once out of disbelief, already understanding what Ichie was about to pull. “You’re joking.” 

 

Ichie chuckled, fishing out her guitar from the spatial bag as she began to quietly tune it. “Rui said sisters, right?”

 

“They have no marks.”

 

“And yet I saw them in my dreams.” Ah. So that’s why they looked familiar before. She saved one with the braid the night the prophecy started. Ichie shook her head, quick to fix her mistake, when she overtwisted a tuning handle. “And speaking of dreams, I should sing a song about them.” Yachiyo’s eyes widened, grabbing Ichie’s shirt just as Ichie was about to jump onto the table. 

 

“Ichie we’re literally in the closest town to the temple.” The words came out as a hiss, anger running through them, but Ichie knew Yachiyo was just concerned. Still, Ichie couldn’t help but giggle, a hand on her Yachiyo’s as she peeled off the fingers carefully. Though that part was easy, after the carefree smile she gave, Yachiyo’s grip loosened significantly. Good, she still trusted her. This was something she needed to do-- to protect everyone she needed to protect. 

 

“Guess I’ll see you in church to repent,” Ichie laughed, closing out with a wink as she stood on top of the table. The table shook, and the people below complained. Still, all went silent as Ichie’s hands fell to the guitar’s neck, plucking out a noticeable tune that made the tavern either grin, scowl or get out a knife. What a charming audience. 

 

“Well some songs are happy,”  Ichie sang, her fingers casually dancing up and down the strings, her steps following her tune as she moved across the tables. “ And some songs are sad.”

 

 “Some songs are really well rehearsed, and other songs are bad.”  Ichie raised her head, smirking with a wink to the blondes sitting at the table. As she expected, she got their attention, and now she could move closer. “ Well some songs are angry, and some songs are sweet.”  She danced swiftly around the table and the plates, cocking a smile towards the tavern band in the corner. She took a chair, placed a foot on the backseat and fell forward, the crowd giving way. 

 

“Some songs are made to help you wake up in the morning.”  And there was the girl of her dreams. Blonde hair, sharp green eyes, beautiful braid and no blood at all. There she was, glaring at her like she was a nuisance. Not that Ichie minded. The reaction was a breath of fresh air, really.  “Well here’s a little song to help you go back to sleep.” 

 

Ichie winked once more, leaning down to kiss the stranger’s hand, right on top of the rose ring— and stole it, hiding it away when she turned away. Ichie slipped it on her finger, admiring the design of roses briefly whilst she continued to strum her guitar. One— two, three! 

 

“There isn’t any God and when you die, you’re just dead,”  she cooed, smiling and holding back a laugh at the gasps behind her.  “And heaven’s just a fairy tale to put you to be d.” She turned around to the blondes, cocking an eyebrow as she blew them a kiss, the stolen rose ring out on full display.  “Sometimes I think about the chance that I’m wrong, and then I close my eyes and just remember this song.”

 

“I said there isn’t any God, and when you die, you’re just dead.”  Ichie jumped back, stumbling on herself with a laugh. She looked at where she once stood, a burnt smoking pile of a broken, scorched stool. Yet, despite the laughter, the shocked gasps, and the downright murderous glare, Ichie still singing. It was one of the few things she excelled in. “ And heaven’s just a fairy tale to put you to bed.”

 

“There ain’t nobody watching us ’cause nobody cares,”  She roared, taking coins from her pocket and tossing it to the crowds. They scrambled for it, blocking the path as Ichie’s special listener stalked towards her. Her other sister Ichie noticed, plate armour was stuck to her seat but was equally as mad.  “And in the end, we’re living all alone.”

 

“If I could live forever!”  Ichie sang, stamping her feet to the beat that the band gave her. She looked around to other patrons. Yachiyo wanted to crumble into the earth, which was a given, but everyone was having fun, excluding the obvious.  “I’d do it if I could.”  She raised a hand to the air, cheering when most of the company did the same too. 

 

Then another spell was cast her way, and Ichie thrummed her guitar, the magical waves rebounding the green energy back towards her assailant.  “Leave it all behind everything that I’ve done. It’s just as bad as if it never begun.”  To her surprise, that attack forced the rest of the tavern to separate. They dragged all the chairs and the tables and whatever coin was left to the sides. Now there was a space for Ichie and her special listener. 

 

“Give me that ring or else I’ll rip it from your corpse,” snarled the lady with enough of a growl that made Ichie smirk, heart thumping from surprise. A pretty face and a stunning voice too? Man, the hero’s side was never fair. 

 

In the background, her sister decided to play along too, “Kick her ass Fumi!” Which really meant three things, A pretty face, a stunning voice and a cute name? She was a triple threat, and Ichie didn’t even consider her magical prowess yet. 

 

“And if I was a believer,”  Ichie answered instead, winking at Fumi as they circled around each other. Her fingers still worked on the spine of her guitar, pulling and plucking on the strings.  “And Lord knows I’ve tried.”

 

Taking that as a correctly formed, no— Fumi lunged at her. Her hands pulsed with that green light, and Ichie flashed her smile. 

 

“Well, I could be at peace when I close my eyes,”  she whispered. It might just be her, but time seemed to slow just enough for Ichie to dodge, spin and grab Fumi’s waist, turning on her heel so that she dipped her with one hand. Sure she dropped her guitar for this, but thankfully the band was playing loud. 

 

“And I can go to heaven on the day that I die.”  She whispered, the mark on her arm burning in a way that went unnoticed by the crowd around them. She hoped for blush and wasn’t surprised by a green flash that would’ve blinded anyone else, literally anyone else— but Ichie. 

 

Ichie was moved back, her feet skidding on the wooden flooring. Thankfully, she had time to grab her guitar as she moved back. Man-- Fumi sure could pack a punch. Even when it didn’t hurt Ichie, the green light was enough to create a swarm of fog and dust around them. But a dust cloud will not be enough to stop her. 

 

“But there isn’t any God,”  Ichie sang, deep within her pink bubble that activated naturally the second she was hit. The smoke continued to block the vision of everyone else. At that moment, Ichie snapped her fingers, the bubble disappearing instantly. “ And when you die, you’re just dead.”

 

“Sometimes I think about the chance that I’m wrong.”  The loud cheer when she stepped out from the heavy fog, unharmed, unchanged and playing along to the band was music to her ears. Fumi stared at her, the surprise shifting into frustration, into anger. Ichie was sure the little come hither motion, with the finger that held the stolen ring, didn’t help either.  “And then I close my eyes and just remember this song.” 

 

Fumi pounced, pulling out a knife, and Ichie reacted in kind. Ichie moved back, missing the first strike, and in the same motion, she wore the guitar strap she never liked to wore and flung the instrument behind her back. There was another attempted hit, and this time-- this time! Ichie moved a hand behind her back, pulled out a weapon from the bottom of her guitar, and parried her.

 

Her personal short blade was in her hands, made of dark iron and often stored underneath the hollowness part of the guitar for emergency or flair. It was a shame she had to give away such a neat trick, but she always liked adding a flair when she could.

 

 “ I said there isn’t any God, and when you die, you’re just dead,”  Ichie grinned. She savoured the wide eye stare and the shocked open mouth before it narrowed and only became fiercer when she hit her again. Metal clashed against metal. Their faces were inches apart once you discounted the blades in between.  “And heaven’s just a fairy tale to put you to bed.”

 

Ichie continued to belt out the lyrics, her voice reaching far and wide as the rest of the tavern joined in, singing along to the chorus. They stamped their feet, clapped their hands, slammed their tavern mugs on the counter. All the while, Ichie continued to sing, careful to orchestrate their slashes to the beat. 

 

“There ain’t nobody watching us—”  Slash-- cut. A melody and tempo, dueted by two different instruments of metal.  “Cause nobody cares!”  Ichie forced Fumi back, clear that despite the drawing of the blade, her listener, her opponent, was not as proficient as she was. The fight ended with Fumi on the ground, stumbling on the very stool she first burnt when Ichie first sang. 

 

“And in the end, we’re living all alone.”

 

That should be the end, the sign that everything should be over. Ichie made her peace, she made her mark, she made an impression neither of them would forget. But of course, things would never be that easy for Ichie. Not when the Gods were listening, eyes boring deep into the night sky, disguised as starlight. 

 

Ah. She might’ve overdone it. 

 

Ichie blinked, the acceleration of her emotions blended puke and alcohol to the stench of blood. And there, Ichie laughed; she sheathed her sword back into the guitar as she swung around to the front. Well, go big or go home. 

 

“Love don’t matter cause you die in the end!”  She screamed the bridge out, her words acting with waves of fearlessness or defiance, balancing on the familiar line of sanity.  “Money don’t matter cause you die in the end !” 

 

Ichie strung the chord strong, her eyes glowing gold, and her body moved. She danced to herself, the tavern patrons and to the girl who was on the floor because of her. She would dance for Yachiyo, a shadow she could not see but was always watching. But for the Gods… Ichie laughed. She laughed, and she sang, and she belted out the final lines of the bridge. 

 

“And life don’t matter cause you die in the end! But it’s really never over, no it’s really never over!”

 

She will do nothing to the Gods in the name of the Gods. For the Gods, she’ll laugh and sing this song to spite them and refuse to listen to their whispers and dreams that weren’t nightmares. The Gods will not break her now— not when she had stories to tell. 

 

The tavern erupted for the final song of the chorus, petty arguments forgotten for only a moment. Amongst the chaos, Ichie sheathed her sword and blended into the audience, only glancing once at the abandoned woman on the floor. The second she broke through the nameless sea of dreamers, drunkards, and everyone else in between, Ichie found herself in the back entrance of the tavern. The night sky was full of lights, something unnatural-- there were too many stars in the skies. 

 

“Well…” Ichie exhaled, a hand on her mark, wincing at the scalding heat. “That was an experience.” She threw her hood up, covering her features as she scampered off to the side. Her little scurry became a run, darting to the left to an alleyway. Something was following her, given away by the rush of feet and armour clinks. Acting on instincts, Ichie jumped over, hoisting herself over a wall and onto the tavern roof. 

 

The blondes followed her as she expected. They continued to follow expectations as they ran past her and underneath her wall, not noticing her at all. Ichie stayed quiet, watching her breathing so that it wouldn’t give her away. Not that it would be due to the hustle and music, but habits were hard to break. Ichie laid her body against the metal tiles. She laid there still, watching the eyes— the stars flicker out and die. 

 

She missed the days when stars could be just that— stars, distant and uncaring. Now they were just the abyss full and swarmed with Gods, and she knew what all people said about the abyss! Well— she actually didn’t, but she remembered the words once.  

 

“In terms of colour, black absorbs light, in terms of light, black reflects light. So really when they say if you stare into the abyss long enough, the abyss stares back. The abyss is not looking back, you’re just recognising your own reflection.”  

 

...She wondered who actually said that to her. 

 

Below her, the last words were trickling from chipped walls and small holes on the roof, snapping Ichie out of her thoughts. Ichie nodded to herself, glancing away from the night sky to the left. The desire to stay and linger, if only for a moment, deepened. Then again, the church was only a few blocks away. Yachiyo wasn’t going anywhere since she hadn’t appeared yet, so ideally, she should be safe. So Ichie closed her eyes, smiling as the last line of her blasphemous, famously outlawed song left her lips. 

 

“And in the end, we’re living all alone.”

Chapter Text

No one can be trained for a prophecy— mainly because no one knows what is at stake. The Heroes are never the people who initiate a prophecy. That responsibility falls to the Villain. The Hero is responsible for reacting, however, to whatever the Villain aims to do. So really, without the Villain, there is no Hero. That is why, whenever a new prophecy wants to begin— The Villain is the one that is marked first. 

 

That is the first tragedy. 

 

For if you control the Villain, you control the stakes of the prophecy. If you control the stakes of the prophecy, you can allegedly change the world. But how do you manipulate villains who listen to the voices of Gods and has the power to kill you to do your bidding? From what I learnt, it’s the same way you train a beast with carnal instincts to slaughter. 

 

You start them small. 

 

#Memoir 52~ Origins of Villainy by Tsuyuzaki Michiru 

 

~

 

Shiori was a person who kept track of things, kinda. It was a trait she had to learn growing up. The Temple, though generous enough with its education, was limited with its comfort. Her sisters were fine, and inside the walls, Shiori was raised well, better than most at least. It’s only outside the Temple where she faced troubles. 

 

Jealous people, bitter people, acolytes who hated her sisters more than she could ever dream of hating them took her as a weak link. It never lasted long, not when her sisters kept too much of an eye on her, not when she was fast enough to run and then hide in Mahiru’s shop. Mahiru always had a reputation of being cursed; they didn’t want to risk anything by going near her. 

 

Sure, when they hit her hard, she would get sent to the medical floors. Her sisters would be told that her illness resurfaced (for when the assailant was too valuable to lose). Or that she was bullied (when her assailant was too much trouble to keep). 

 

She knew. She denied it deep down, but she knew that the Temple wasn’t the greatest. Ignoring the way it stole her sisters, ignoring the way anyone who criticised anything within the walls would be served with punishment. Anyone who wasn’t her, at least, whose sisters made sure most harms did not come to her. 

 

But she still knew. She kept track of the patterns. She ignored it. She didn’t want to believe any other alternative. Sure Mahiru saved her, but the Temple saved her sisters. She didn’t want to believe that whilst it was terrible to her, it was not cruel to her sisters. 

 

And yet. 

 

“Those teachers of your sisters,” Michiru said, tapping the table as she eyed Shiori’s reaction, lowering her mug down. “They’re quite cruel you know.” 

 

It was terrifying how certainty could strike a hammer to her heart and break everything down. 

 

It was terrifying how mad the person looked whilst they struck the final blow. 

 

It was terrifying that no matter how hard Shiori tried, she couldn’t escape the person who pulled the trigger. 

 

“We’ll be staying here for the night and here on after,” Michiru said as they stopped on a raised clearing. It was almost on a hill, except the incline wasn’t that steep, and there was a river in walking distance. Trees gathered around the two of them like the linings of the cage, and in this clearing was enough space for two things. A cave and a fire. 

 

“Why?” Michiru gave Shiori a glance, and Shiori shuffled in her feet, trying her hardest to stay strong. “Is this really how far you’re going to take me?”

 

“Where would we take you, my dear Hero?” Michiru walked into the cave, her words mirroring a scream as the words echoed in the cave. “You are as green as the ground.”

 

“Green?”

 

“Young, new— fresh blood.” Michiru Stepped out of the cave. Her eyes paused, staring at Shiori before her shoulders dropped with a sigh. “You don’t even have a change of clothes.” 

 

Shiori looked down at herself, grimacing at the dry mud and the grass stains on her trousers, not even counting the slight tear against her blouse where Rui tried to kill her before. 

 

“Sorry, I didn’t get to pack for a hero’s journey,” she grumbled, mildly out of spite. 

 

Michiru shook her head. “No it’s fine, it was an oversight on my part.” She placed her hand into a bag, something Shiori had never seen before except her sisters. Her eyes widened when a clean set of clothes were pulled out. “Here, change into these— they should give you some proper protection.” 

 

Shiori begrudgingly accepted the clothes. It felt worn out, clean lines of mended fabrics that were almost invisible unless one looked closely. She looked down at Michiru’s bag, surprised at how there was a dim glow from the entrance before Michiru closed it. “What is that?” 

 

Michiru looked up, perplexion in her eyes. “What is what?”

 

“That bag?”

 

Michiru raised her eyebrows, the surprise clear on her face. “You’re that green?” Shiori glared at her, and Michiru gave an apologetic grin. “Sorry. It’s a spatial bag, you can hold anything you want there as long as it can get through the entrance.”

 

Shiori nodded, her mind supplying how Fumi and Claudine had their own share when they reached 18. She remembered that in the jealousy of others taking her for another easy target, Shiori stayed at Mahiru’s house for most of the celebrations. Her sisters did not take that decision kindly. “It’s endless?” 

 

Michiru shrugged. “To some degree. It’s magically made,” she explained as she patted the bag before she grabbed her walking stick on the ground. Shiori watched as Michiru took one hand and dug through the earth, creating a small but recognisable stone rune. “Anyone who is good enough with magic can create one, or at least find a way to get their own.”

 

Shiori watched, partially in awe and curiosity, as Michiru tapped the rune with her stick once more. Stray rocks, hidden underneath the trees or otherwise rolled across the ground towards the rune. There they created a small circle, big enough to house fire.  

 

“Right…” 

 

“Anyways,” Michiru clapped her hands, snapping Shiori from her thoughts. “Go inside, you’re getting the entire cave to yourself so get changed, preferably before Rui comes over.”

 

Shiori blinked. “The person who tried to kill me?”

 

“Yep,” Michiru grinned. Shiori struggled to hide a shudder with how the red eyes glowed against the setting sun in the background. “And she’ll be bringing our dinner.” 

 


 

The dinner turned out to be fish and rice. The rice was cooked over the flame in a pot, bubbling away. Underneath it, propped up by many sticks, were various fish, already descaled and deboned, grilling against the fire. Rui was saying something, what? Shiori couldn’t figure out— she went silent the second Shiori appeared. The glare was as unsettling as the atmosphere. 

 

“Shiori, glad you came out,” Michiru grinned, almost ignorant of the tangible tension in the air. The fire continued to burn between them, near-silent as it continued to crack the wood like bare knuckles. “I was worried I would need to send Rui.” She gestured to a log nearby, tapping the bark with her knuckle. 

 

Shiori recognised the threat and sat down. Rui entering the cave would result in another fight, and all three of them knew it. Rui could not stop looking at her, and in a strange sense of defiance, Shiori dared to stare back. The grip Rui had on her trousers tightened. Shiori barely saw it from the corner of her eyes. 

 

“Come now you two,” Michiru said, clapping her hand as she moved around the fire unaffected by everything. She pulled out a serving spoon and a plate and gave both of them some rice and fish. Chopsticks were given next, followed by a canter no doubt full of water. “I put some runes around so the bigger game won’t come over but still, eat soon.” 

 

Shiori eyed her food. Her stomach gnawed at her, but the distrust in her gut extinguished the sensation. She looked at Michiru, her insides tightening at that off-putting smile. “I’m not hungry.” 

 

Michiru’s eyes dropped, her smile remained, but the kindness frosted over. It felt hollow. “Saijou Yumeoji Shiori, you barely regained your strength, you need to eat.” Shiori poked the food, smoke risen up with warmth. It was homemade cooking made in the wild; much like her, it did not belong. The whiplash made her feel sick.

 

 Shiori swallowed hard. “I’m not hungry.”

 

“Look,” Michiru sighed, “I know it’s nothing like your mother’s home cooking—”

 

Something sharp struck her stomach. “My mothers are dead,” Shiori spat. The paleness in Michiru’s face cursed Shiori’s stomach; it made it hunger more. Something was not right here, and Shiori did not belong. “And I have no last name.” 

 

The silence lingered; the food had gone cold. Michiru swallowed hard. “I see… I apologise for my mistake.” 

 

Shiori wondered, was that mistake slipping out her last name, or was it mentioning her mothers? Either way, Shiori wasn’t going to let this be buried. Not when her parents were involved. 

 

“How do you know my mothers?” 

 

Michiru’s response was swift, like a cornered animal sounding hurt. The sound aggravated Shiori. Why on earth would she sound hurt? Why did she have a link to her mothers? “Same way I learned about your sisters.”

 

Nothing felt right. Shiori didn’t care anymore for Rui, even when she only tried to kill her this morning. Michiru was an enigma, and she knew her— prophecy be damned. A part of her wanted to trash the food, throw it to Michiru’s face. She wouldn’t, however, not when she knew deep down she was starving. 

 

“Bullshit!” Shiori yelled, rising to her feet. “They died long before the prophecy began.” They died of a plague that ruined the city and the life Shiori knew and loved. They died days a week or two in separation. It was the worst thing that ever happened to Shiori. She would not be so fooled to think that it was ever linked to the prophecy. 

 

“Their death is the reason why this prophecy began!” Michiru screamed back, taking out another small vial that Shiori had seen before. She did not down the vial in desperation like Shiori thought she would do. Instead, Michiru allowed one drop to fall in her water before chugging it whole. Still, amplified by the same certainty in Michiru’s voice that crushed her before, Shiori fell silent at the madness in the scene. 

 

“Now,” Michiru sighed as she wiped her lips with the sleeves of her outfit. “Eat for their sake alone if you don’t want to care about yourself.” 

 

Everything felt hollow, and yet, Shiori did as Michiru asked. She sat down and ate, questioning everything she knew once more. Were her dead mothers the reason why she’s in this prophecy? It made a lot of painful sense if it did. Everything went wrong the day they died. 

 

If her mothers didn’t die, Shiori wouldn’t have been abandoned. The Temple wouldn’t have found and stolen her two sisters away. If her parents were still around, she wouldn’t have gotten sick herself with the plague. If her mothers were alive, if only just one— either Reo or Aina were alive, then she wouldn’t have been cast beyond the walls to die in the forest in a nearby mass burial. 

 

If her mothers had been alive, she wouldn’t have met Mahiru. Mahiru, who was part of the last prophecy as the Lover. Mahiru was the biggest ire of her two sisters who trained to be heroes for the current prophecy…. 

 

In the agony of the realisation, Shiori didn’t notice that Rui was watching her, red eyes flaring in saturation in the firelight as they all quietly ate. 

 

The silence lasted for a while, broken once more by Michiru. She cleared her throat and looked at Rui with a thin line of lips. 

 

“You’re training her,” Michiru declared. Rui choked on her food, the sound stirring Shiori out of her thoughts to look up properly. 

 

“I’m sorry?” Rui asked, almost offended. 

 

“You’re training her,” Michiru repeated. She paused eating, looked at both of them, particularly Rui, with an eye of disappointment and sighed like they were too dumb to get the picture. The sight reminded Shiori too much of her sisters, and it gnawed the insides of her stomach hollow once more. “I’m not leaving the damn hero of the prophecy clueless.”

 

The hair on Shiori’s body tensed up underneath the fiery heat of Rui’s glare. She let out the words like a snarl, “If you care about her so much then you train her.”

 

Michiru smiled, it wasn’t kind, and it wasn’t happy either. There was something eerie within that thin line, emphasised by her obvious age. It made Shiori shrink into her new clothes, and although it’s clear they weren’t friends, the look on Rui’s face suggested the same. “Would you like to deal with any consequences then, should I train her even though this isn’t my prophecy, my dear Rui?”

 

The fear in Rui’s red eyes flickered, any expression melting away as she scowled, looking down and deep into the fireplace between all three of them. “She starts tomorrow morning.”

 

Michiru’s grin curled, pleased in every way possible. “That’s what I like to hear, my dear.” Rui nodded and started to scrap the sides of her bowl with her spoon, shoving everything she could into her mouth.

 

 “Oh Rui,” Michiru said before she drank her medicated drink again. “Train her like I trained you.”

 

Rui scowled, holding back a swear as she hissed and ran. Her cooked fish laid a mess on the grass, and all Shiori could do was watch, still and quiet as Michiru ran after her. The brush of a breeze danced on her skin, but she did not care. 

 

Everything else grew cold. 

 


 

Rui hit the ground running. She had to run, burn out all of this built up energy and emotions. She jumped off the charred tree, hearing it ache and groan as it fell behind her. She landed on the next tree, sliding down like it was a pole, running her hand through the wood like it was water. Instead of water flying through the air, shreds of bark tore away by her nails, filling down the claws. She only pulled away when the sound of fabric tearing apart distorted the ambience. 

 

She’ll deal with that later, Rui decided as she jumped down to a roll on the forest ground, the birds squawking once the ground shuddered, the tree behind her already rolling off down to a ditch. She continued running, dirt flinging off her feet as she sprinted. Her palms grew hot, itchy in a familiar but uncomfortable way. 

 

Stupid fucking Hero, wearing the old clothes she outgrew, stupid Rui for agreeing to train her even though the Hero would want her dead. Stupid Michiru— 

 

Rui stumbled to the ground, hitting a tree, rolling into a boulder in a ditch that made her shoulder wince. She stood up, rolling her arms with an aggravated hiss. Yeah, she deserved that one. She knew why Michiru asked her to train Shiori, and it’s not Michiru’s fault for playing it safe, not when Rui would do the same thing in worse ways. 

 

“That was quite a fall,” Michiru hummed as she appeared out of the forest woods. “Need a drink?” Rui shook her head, fixing her hair as she detangled the fallen leaves away from her hair. She then winced, touching the wet texture of blood from her jaw. Michiru chuckled, pulling out a health potion, and she swirled it around enticingly. “Are you sure~”

 

“I’m fine Michiru,” Rui grumbled, removing her glove as the pads of her palm started to heat up. She moved up, pressing it to her jaw only to wince and drop her gloves. “Ow—” She whined, looking down at Michiru, who had her stick out, armed and ready. “Michiru what are you—” She raised her hand up, Michiru smacked the hand down again. “Michiru!” 

 

Michiru glared at her, in that disappointed motherly stare that Rui doesn’t like thinking about. She hasn’t forgotten Yachiyo’s comment, no matter how much she would like to forget. “I know I’m asking a lot for you today but that doesn’t mean falling into bad habits.”

 

Rui bristled, frowning. “What habits?”

 

Michiru glared at her again. “You were about to cauterise your open wound again weren’t you?” 

 

Rui looked away, “N-no.” She hated the way she was brought to a stammer; she thought she outgrew it. Stupid Rui. Rui cleared her throat, levelling her gaze as she looked up at Michiru, matching her stare. “I mean, it was only a small wound so it won’t be that bad—” Michiru hit her again with the stick. 

 

“OW!” Rui yelled out, rubbing the top of her head with a wince. “What was that for?”

 

“No cauterising a wound when you haven’t disinfected it first, or when there is a health potion right there,” Michiru frowned, shoving the potion into Rui’s hand. “It’s a bad habit and you know it.” 

 

Rui frowned, opening the potion begrudgingly before downing the drink. “It was only a small wound.” 

 

Michiru shook her head, “That doesn’t matter. You’re doing your bad habits again, and it’s my job to make sure you don’t fall even further.” 

 

Rui grumbled, tossing the empty potion back to Michiru as her bones creaked and the wounds started to patch themselves together. “Yes, Michiru.” The name sounded more bitter than she would like it to sound.  

 

Michiru placed the lantern she was holding and hooked it on her staff before she walked forward towards the cave. Rui fixed her broken gloves back onto her hands and followed, one pace behind per usual. She lifted up Yachiyo’s scarf back to her nose. The memory of her was comforting, no matter how bitter or sweet it truly was. 

 

The walk up the hill was quiet, save for the way the undergrowth got crushed underneath their feet. 

 

Then, Michiru spoke. “Are you mad at me?”

 

“No.”

 

Michiru stopped, turning around where Rui was close enough to be at eye level with her despite the higher ground. “You’re allowed to be mad at me, Rui.”

 

Rui rolled her eyes, a huff underneath her breath. “I’m mad at you then.” She refused to look at Michiru, knowing too well she would falter in the gaze. 

 

As expected, Michiru’s voice was soft— softer than anything that Rui ever heard back in the makeshift camp. Maybe it was because she could still remember Yachiyo’s comment on Michiru being her mother. Maybe it was because she was stressed and wanted comfort. Either way, it made Rui feel like a child again. 

 

“You know why I had to do this,” Michiru said, her voice apologetic. 

 

Rui looked down. Her foot kicked a leafy bush to distract herself. “That doesn’t mean I have to like it.” How predictable, her own words were wavering. 

 

“If I could teach her I would,” Michiru continued, and already Rui shut her eyes, knowing too well what topic they would breach that she wasn’t ready to face. “But—”

 

“Can we not talk about this,” Rui interrupted, fast— hazy. Desperate. She was not ready for this conversation that lingered beneath the surface. This was more than just Michiru teaching a hero, and even when they talked about ‘this’ before, Rui didn’t want to hear it again. “Please?”

 

Michiru nodded, “Alright, how was Yachiyo?”

 

Rui stiffened, glancing in the direction of the river, red colouring her cheeks at the memory of Yachiyo’s face. Of her smile, of her laugh. “Should I even ask how you knew?”

 

“You came back in a daze and calmer than usual. Enough that you didn’t freak out that Shiori had to wear your old clothes,” Michiru replied, smirking with a mischievous glint in her eyes. “Pattern recognition indicates the only person who could do that to you, with casual ease, was Yachiyo.” 

 

“Who knows,” Rui murmured, looking down at her feet. “Maybe I saw a cute deer or something.” 

 

Michiru hummed, tapping her fingers against the staff. “Well then I’ll be proud of your control.” Rui looked up and saw the knowing smile Michiru had, the one she always wore when she knew better. “That even a cute deer could pull you out of that state.”

 

“…”

 

The smile on Michiru’s face softened, and her hand reached out, dusting the dirt off Rui’s suspenders before completing the task in full, subtly fixing up Rui’s attire. Rui stayed still, taking in the luxury of this softness with a hidden but sharp intake. It wasn’t that Michiru wasn’t soft, she was, but it was rare for her to do so out in the open. Was her fear, her embarrassment so open? Or did she just forget in all of the chaos that Michiru knew her so well? 

 

“How was she, Rui?” Michiru whispered, cupping a frail hand against Rui’s cheek. The thumb brushed tender over the years-old scar, and Rui crumbled at the touch. Her eyes closed, basking in comfort Michiru readily gave over the years they’ve known each other before Michiru, inevitably, pulled away. 

 

“Better,” Rui admitted. That much she was willing to say. She did not want to tell Michiru about Yachiyo’s scar, the complex emotions about seeing her and seeing her be happy. She did not want to tell Michiru that she missed Yachiyo. That if Rui was any weaker, she would beg her to stay. She didn’t want to tell her about the supposed Watcher mark and everything that came with that.

 

 “She has her hair up, she continued her archery. Her illusions probably improved but I wouldn’t know, she never did any with me around.” Yachiyo rarely did those tricks on her. In the same way, Rui could fold up her armour and raise the hem of her shirt, Yachiyo did the same kind of honesty. It was their own way of saying they trusted each other. 

 

Michiru nodded, clear that she was listening. She glanced up and Rui, in all her foolishness, stared at the clawed scars on Michiru’s right cheek. “And how are you?”

 

Rui let out a staggered breath, unsure how to respond. Something hit her cheek. Michiru raised her hand and wiped the stray tear away. Rui blinked hard. “Ichie forgot about you.” Her voice was breaking. Her heart ached. She could not say anything more. 

 

Michiru chuckled, the old silver parts of her hair swaying with the motion. “That explains a few things, but not your feelings.” 

 

Rui shuffled, being the first to step away. She didn’t look in Michiru’s direction, glancing down at the river and the woods and the faint curl of dying smoke in the air far away from them. They must be having dinner right now, and she couldn’t even visit for their sake and Michiru’s sake.  

 

“I mean I was calmer, wasn’t I? At least until now.” 

 

Michiru shook her head. She stared down at Rui’s hand, the claws tearing away at the gloves once again. When Michiru looked back at Rui, she looked less at her student and more at Yachiyo’s gift around her neck. Her voice sobered. The kindness was going dry. “And in a daze.”

 

A sharp intake left Rui’s lips and the tension in the air burned into something else entirely. The yearning of her friends turned to ash. The lining of the scarf was dyed with black soot. 

 

“Can we not—” Rui snarled, stumbling into politeness with jarring heavy steps. She turned to Michiru, the red in her eyes pulsing like lava popping in the air. “Talk about this as well? Please?” 

 

Michiru’s eyes were kind, but her grip on her staff tightened. “Alright, let’s talk about your training with Shiori.”

 

Rui laughed, shutting her eyes as she dragged her hand over her face. Smoke curled at the corner of her lips, twisting and twirling in a grey cloud before disappearing entirely. But, unlike her guardian, when she looked at Michiru, her eyes held hatred. “You just love to make things difficult for me don’t you.”

 

Stupid fucking Hero, stupid fucking— 

 

Michiru’s kind eyes diminished, regret and sorrow filling out the holes that were left. She looked down to the ground, tapping the walking stick in slow, heavy gestures. “Only because we don’t know the consequences of making things easier for you,” she admitted quietly, the tone of shame saying everything else that went unspoken. 

 

Rui bit the inside of her mouth, her tongue licking up the taste of blood. It was hot, tasted too much iron and had too much regret. 

 

Stupid fucking marks, making her become a mess like this. Stupid Rui, Stupid Yachiyo for visiting her even when she shouldn’t. Stupid Ichie for likely leading her here. 

 

“I would teach her if I could,” Michiru continued, the hollowness in her eyes morphing into that look of seriousness that Rui was familiar with. It was the same sight that made Rui calm down, the one that forced her senses to return whenever she stepped too close to the edge. Her back burned, but this sight alone forced it to cool. “But we both know things won’t end well if I gain a Mentor mark.”

 

Rui shivered at the title, careful not to look at Michiru and the scars on her cheeks again. She looked down at her gloves instead. They were torn and barely holding together before that alone was too much, and she looked away to the sky.

 

Rui would not last long if Michiru was the Mentor or if she was chosen to die in an unavoidable way. It would be so easy to kill her, especially when Rui was around. A villain liable to break, a loose cannon who already had one massacre underneath her name. They stayed there in quiet thought, the tappings of Michiru’s finger against her staff breaking the silence. 

 

“She’s going to die if we don’t do anything I’ll agree,” Rui broke, her breath haggard. The smoke left her lips the same way a breath did on a cold day. It collected too quickly, almost invisible in the night sky. “But— if I train her she’ll kill me.” 

 

Michiru shook her head; the light between their two bodies flickered dangerously. “You don’t know that.”

 

“I saw the look in her eye,” Rui grunted, her eyes once again meeting Michiru. “Something dangerous is there—”

 

Michiru’s eyes hardened. “Hero’s are always dangerous.”

 

“She looked ready to kill!” Rui barked back. “She wants to kill me and she doesn’t even know what I’m supposed to be for her.” 

 

“She’s her mother’s daughter—”

 

“I see it in her eyes, Michiru,” Rui snapped, biting back a feral growl. She flexed her hands, tearing more of her gloves just a bit more. “I don’t care-- I don’t know!” She yelled, “--How you think otherwise just because you met her when she was a baby but she’s not whoever you thought she was! She’s the Hero now so stop being blinded by nostalgia!”

 

Stupid Fucking Hero. Stupid Michiru for making her do this. Stupid Fucking Rui. Stupid— 

 

“Do you see it in her eyes?” Michiru said calmly, her age showing off the wisdom it harboured as she stared down Rui. She did not care for the anger, the held back snarl or the way Rui’s claws sharpened on natural instinct. She just stared, the light intensifying the dark crimson colour of Michiru’s iris. “Or do you see your own thoughts reflected in hers?”

 

Rui clenched her fist, understanding the unspoken words but refusing to believe them. “We have different irises.” 

 

Michiru didn’t change her expression. “But her eyes are similar to Yachiyo’s.”

 

Rui backed away, turning away from Michiru. The fire snapped from her fingertips. Smoke snarled its way out of her lips, slipping past her fangs and her gritted teeth. “Don’t!”

 

Yet, it was already too late. Rui already imagined the day everything fell apart. The way Yachiyo glared at her, bow in her hand, blood on her cheek. The word monster slipped out of her tongue Rui once adored. The kindness in her eyes hardened to a weight made to kill.

 

“I’m sorry,” Michiru said, meaning it truly as she walked around to face Rui once more. “But that needed to be said.” 

 

“Did it really?”

 

Michiru’s eyes narrowed, and she dug the foot of her staff into the ground. “Considering you met her recently, yes.” Uncaring for the rising heat, or the way dark smoke continued to coil itself out of Rui’s lips, Michiru pressed a finger into Rui’s chest. On the ground, the grass curled and faded into a brown decay. 

 

 “You’re letting your emotions control you again,” Michiru said. Her voice gained more momentum as the tips of her hair began to fade into silver ash. She stared down at Rui, her red eyes glinting in the heat. “Or do you think I wouldn’t notice that you’re more on the edge than normal. That you’re making easy mistakes. That you’re forgetting your grounding techniques and falling back to terrible habits like self caturising yourself because you don’t think you’re worth saving.”

 

“WELL MAYBE IF YOU RAISED ME BETTER I WOULDN’T BE THIS WAY!” 

 

Michiru stepped back, almost as if she was slapped. A visceral reaction of guilt was on her face. Rui stared into her eyes, horrified at her expression that was reflected back to her. She shouldn’t have said— she shouldn’t have said anything. God, she would love to get murdered now by the behind, preferably not by Shiori, just to escape the look on Michiru’s face. 

 

“I’m sorry,” Rui muttered, fumbling to put the words back into her mouth. “That was uncalled for.”

 

“It’s okay,” Michiru whispered, clearing her throat, blinking fast. She pulled out her walking stick and turned around. The ground squelched as she shifted. They both looked down, unsurprised that the grass had decayed into the mud. In fact, the sight made Rui feel worse. “I know you get impulsive when you’re stressed.” 

 

Rui opened her mouth but silenced it as Michiru began to walk. “You can get angry at me all you want Rui, I deserve everything you have to give.” Below her, the ground started to squelch again, and even if Rui couldn’t see her face, she knew from the way the shoulders sank, Michiru was laughing at her own misery. “Just remember, you’re the different sides of the same coin.”

 

“Train her like you trained me,” Rui finished, knowing the words by heart after hearing it so much growing up. “Be kind. I know.” If only being kind came naturally, much like the effortless way Michiru acted. If only every part of Rui wasn’t sharp and angled in a way that was deemed threatening. If only Rui could be a single percentage of what Michiru was raising her for, then maybe things would’ve been different. That Rui wouldn’t be—  Rui

 

Michiru’s laugh snapped Rui out of her thoughts, just enough for Rui to catch the three bottles of healing potions flung at her. She looked down, biting her lip at the one labelled strictly for Shiori. Even now, when Rui said cruel things, Michiru was kind. Even when they hadn’t started anything yet, she was always ready to prepare something.

 

“I taught you well,” Michiru grinned at her, brushing off the moment a few minutes ago like it was nothing. Rui smiled back, awkward and small as she felt. Michiru did teach her well, but Rui was never that great of a student. 

Chapter Text

It is a sinister line comparing humans to animals. Starting them small as the line suggests. It is nothing but cruel and mocking. Yet. It is not wrong. Manifestation of powers, especially for those within the Villains mark, begins young. No Villain is the same, and to make matters worse, the power they wield is never weak. 

 

It is why, similar to a Catalyst, they are labelled monsters. 

 

There is nothing more terrifying than seeing a child, a height to your knees— have the strength to murder a man. Or set an entire fire ablaze. 

 

Monsters are not afraid of other monsters, however. 

 

Training Rui, though I will never label her that horrific title— will be difficult. Not because she is a villain— it’s easy to be a villain. It’s effortless to be cruel and have little care of the world. No, the hardest thing for anyone to do regardless of their marked status— is to be compassionate, just and most importantly, kind not only to others but also to themselves. 

 

Memoir 61: Training by Tsuzuyaki Michiru

 

~

 

There was one lesson Michiru preached time and time again. To be kind. It was, in Rui’s honest opinion— something she wished she said less. It was predictable, the way Michiru would fall back to that lecture.

 

You must be kind. You must be understanding. You must have compassion. Those were the words Rui grew up hearing and will hear continuously. Even though Rui would never hear a reason why beyond the fact it would keep you sane, and it would keep her human. It’s a philosophy she would never fully understand. 

 

Maybe it was the effects of the Villain mark, maybe it was the way— for once in her life, the kindness Michiru is giving freely is stabbing Rui in the back. It was Michiru’s kindness, after all, that forced Rui into this awkward position of teaching the Hero all the tricks she needed to kill her. 

 

It was so stupid. 

 

Stupid kind philopshy, stupid Michiru. Stupid Hero, stupid fucking prophecy. She hated everything. But still, she had a job to do. 

 

“Before we begin,” Rui said as she tightened the knots on her gloves. Shiori was right in front of her, her long hair tied up and already in a decent fighting stance. “I need to know how skilled you are, or at least how badly you’re going to lie to me.” Shiori’s frown intensified, and her body stiffened, alert. A good start, but nothing really beneficial. If you were too stiff, you would fall over the second you were hit. A minute passed, and Rui rolled her eyes when she got the silent treatment. 

 

Stupid Hero. Stupid Michiru. Stupid kindness. How could she even be ‘kind’ if Shiori wouldn’t even let her? It looked like she wouldn’t teach Shiori the way Michiru taught her. Well, at least she could blame Shiori and the killing glare in her eyes. 

 

“Alright,” Rui sighed as she pulled the scarf around her neck and set it to the side. “If you want to play that game, we’ll play that game.” She raised her hands up, and the second Shiori shifted to accommodate her, Rui pounced. 

 

If the Hero wasn’t going to talk, it was up to the Villain to make her talk. 

 

The first jab to the head was blocked, but the follow up one to the stomach wasn’t. In the inn, they fought a decent fight, but Rui wasn’t going to underestimate her anymore. There was a gasp, heave of breath, and Rui grappled Shiori under her arms as her form crumbled. Instantly, Rui gripped her hair and pulled it up to her mouth, ignoring the sharp winces under her.

 

“Listen to me Hero,” she hissed. “Michiru wants me to go easy on you, but we don’t have all fucking day and I don’t have the time to deal with anything stupid. So you either work with me here and listen or you get the hard way. Do you understand?”

 

Rui waited. The response was still heavy but stabilised breathing and a muted growl. Rui yanked her hair again until there was a cry. She let go, taking that as Shiori’s answer. “Good.” She shoved Shiori away from her and smirked when, as she thought, Shiori fell down because of rigid form. 

 

“The first thing I’m going to teach you—” Was all Rui could get out before wind erupted in her face. The sudden blast launched her backwards. Each attempt of breath was cut off, almost like choking, whilst the cold washed all over like the rain. Then her back slammed into a tree, and everything burned until nothing was left but soot and ash.

 

 

“Hello?” Said a voice from a blurred vision. Something was spinning— everything was ringing. Was that the scent of fire? Smoked wood? 

 

“Rui— are you alright?” A voice again. There was a pressure on her skin— on her— 

 

On instinct, Rui grabbed the hand on her shoulder, snarling with her fangs bare and her red eyes glowing. “Don’t touch my back.” Just like that, her vision cleared, and in the grip of her ruined gloves and nails that dug just a bit more than it should be, was the bleeding hand of Shiori. 

 

“I’m sorry?” Shiori gasped, her skin pale as she gawked at Rui, her body tilting back in the familiar reaction of fear before she looked away at her hand. Rui let her go. 

 

“Next time, wear gloves.”

 

“Next time?” Shiori asked, almost affronted and then offended by the notion that this would be a common thing. 

 

“Yeah,” Rui snapped, taking her time to stand before she glanced down at Shiori, still gripping her bloodied wrist. Something, probably Michiru, whispered in her ear about kindness and against everything else claimed such action was stupid— Rui put a hand to her pocket, glad that the health potion wasn’t broken and tossed it over. 

 

Shiori caught it, Rui turned away. She couldn’t look down at her hands, not when she could see the blood still clinging to the tips of her own fingers. “I get sharp nails so if you’re going to even pull that stupid stunt, wear some protection.” 

 

“What—” Shiori laughed as she rose to her feet, the empty potion bottle in her other hand. Her bloodied hand was healed, and what red was there was beginning to dry and crack against her fingerprints. “You mean saving your life because when I found you, you were unconscious? That stupid stunt?”

 

Rui snarled, whipping around and using her height to tower over her. “I mean that fucking thing with the wind. I didn’t realise it in the inn but that explained everything. Sorry I made you bleed but you don’t get to blast me 20 feet away because you had a stiff stance.” 

 

Shiori glared, green eyes holding nothing but resentment. She stepped closer, tilting her chin up to even what little distance was between them in height. “Well you didn’t need to punch me!”

 

“Oh so should I just sit you down and baby you?” Rui mocked, pulling a face until she growled once more. She gripped Shiori’s jacket before Shiori quickly pushed the hand away. “Even though I know you could throw a punch, greenie.”

 

The green eyes glowed with a violent shade of viridian. “Shut up!”

 

Even though Rui knew what Shiori’s power was, she couldn’t help but step back, hands to her face, when the wind whirled around her. The speed was inconsistent. The power was raging hot and cold. Shiori had no control over her strength, and it showed. Rui knew from her own experience how monstrous a wild display of powers could be, how much damage it could do to the area around them. 

 

She had to stop this. Not because it’s from what little goodness she had for the Hero, but because if she didn’t keep an eye on Shiori, people could get hurt. Michiru, who has no mark, could… Rui growled, smoke hissing from the flares of her nostrils as she took a deep breath and screamed. The heat of her anger burned all the breeze around them.

 

 “See!” She screamed, grabbing Shiori with enough force to snap her out of the concentrated gaze. Around them, branches and pulled apart bushes with thousands of clumps of dirt rained down. “This is what I’m talking about,” Rui spat whilst Shiori looked around with the audacity and stupidity to be shocked that her actions had consequences. “This stupid stunt is what I’m talking about. You’re a hazard. A danger. So control yourself or else I will make you.”

 

This was going to be a tough and long battle but damn it. Rui wasn’t going to be outdone by a Hero who had no idea what they were doing. 

 


 

Shiori’s mothers died. Michiru didn’t expect it, or rather— she didn’t want to assume that they died. Reo and Aina, their names that Michiru could recall after that night— they were good people. They were kind people. 

 

Not anyone would welcome a broken and dying set of strangers on their doorsteps one stormy night. Not anyone would look at *Michiru* specifically, whose broken powers of a catalyst— her decay was already eroding the rust on the nails, breaking away the hinge of the back door. Not anyone would claim with the similar boldness of a warrior, who was once a hero, that they were friends on the first meeting. 

 

Gods. Michiru could only hope that they lived past the plague that struck whilst she was there. Was it a coincidence that when they appeared, such a plague affected the entire city or was that the Gods flaying an already decaying horse? Either way— Michiru needed to pay her respects. 

 

They were good people. And even if Michiru only met them and knew them for a little over a month, Michiru dearly missed them. 

 

Whilst Rui and Shiori were having their first session, Michiru excused herself, claiming to go ingredients hunting and moved deeper into the forest. Michiru always liked the forests. Everything good and bad happened here. Everything important in her life claimed its stage on these earthy leaf trodden grounds. However, none of that compared to how Michiru belonged in such a land. Each step she took, something broke down, and it would benefit the ecosystem at large. 

 

Decay was nature in the forest. If she were to die, she would not mind such land for a burial. But Michiru knew better to bring that up now, especially towards Rui, and yet she couldn’t let the thought leave her mind. Maybe it was because she had no mark. Maybe it might be because she was going to plant flowers for Reo and Aina. Though in the end, it might be because death hung over her shoulder like the kind arm of an old friend. 

 

“This should do,” Michiru murmured to herself as she wandered into a small clearing, it was bare with the saplings of trees, and there were the footprints of deers on the grass. The sun shined down in this spot, and there were stones nearby. With a careful hand, Michiru brushed the hair out of her hand and took off her long coat. Then, she rolled up her sleeves, dug her hands deep into the soft dirt, and began to carefully sculpt the earth. 

 

She wouldn’t do this all the time, but the first impression post mortem was always important. The same way she was taught to say only good things in her final breath: The last words alive are your first words to death.  

 

“I’m sorry that I left so suddenly,” Michiru said as she began to outline the small 2 by 2 plot of land for five with her hands, the dirt rotting underneath her skin. “I hope your deaths were kind as the lives you lived, Aina.” She finished one plot and did another one. “Reo.” 

 

“I hope you don’t mind that I do one for others too,” she continued, “It’s been a while since I planted flowers for them and gave my respects. I hope you don’t mind the company.” Michiru then paused, looking over her progress before letting out a bitter laugh as she continued. “Though I guess some of them didn’t want to bloom.” 

 

Planting flowers for the dead was an old tradition, one that Michiru, for all her extended life, could never find nor trace back to the origin. She knew it was a hero who made this, but she had no idea who to thank for such a tradition. 

 

The dead were eternal and were no longer bound by mortal realms and laws; they were everywhere. Which meant they could be buried anywhere— at least that’s how the jurisdiction went. When you plant flowers for the dead, there can be an official grave, but anyone can make a flower bed with the intention of respecting the dead for them. 

 

An easy example is that for the last prophecy, Karen and the others were buried in a hill forever abandoned. No one knew where they were, so no one would know where their bones were kept. And yet— whenever Michiru travelled after the prophecy ended, every town she saw had these burial plots for the sake of the deceased Hero. And each plot had flowers blooming. 

 

“Thank you for looking after me and Mahiru when we appeared,” Michiru whispered as the dirt began to fill her nails in one of the plots. “I know I said it when you were alive but it’s still important now.” 

 

Flowers were also a way of communication. Most of the time, it was messages from the dead to the present. It was simple messages, expressed with the flower language— they couldn’t say who killed them, for example, but they could say that they loved you. That was how most of the conversations went. The words of love were always things people regretted never saying when they were alive. 

 

“Shiori…” Michiru paused, her breath shuddering. “She has your eyes. I forgot which one of you had it— but she has your kind eyes. I don’t know about her sisters but I wish Claudine and Fumi the best.” She let out a tired laugh, the nostalgia earnest in her voice. “I highly doubt they would remember a person like me. They were always cautious kids— and rightfully so.”

 

Michiru shook her head, careful not to lose herself in memories again. “But that’s enough about you and my speculation. You’re probably wondering what happened to me after I disappeared huh?” 

 

Despite the attempt and determination not to remember, her brain already was littered with the last words she said, the emotions she felt. It was an old wound acting up, a weed that kept returning in her garden. 

 

“Where are you going, Michiru san?” 

 

Michiru turned around, her hands tucked into her trousers. There was a satchel on her back, and the silence awaiting her answer was broken with the fragile groan of her wife on a makeshift cot nearby. It was a good question to ask, but Michiru didn’t know how to answer. She had no idea where she was going. All she knew was that it was safer for Mahiru if she wasn’t here. It was safer for everyone if she wasn’t here. She doesn’t want to kill another person she cared about so soon. 

 

“Out.”

 

Reo, or was it Aina? One of them turned back to Mahiru. She was murmuring names, words that made not much sense. It broke Michiru’s heart to see it, so after a glimpse, she looked away, unable to bear the sight. She did this to her, and despite the fight, they had a night before, she still loved her.

 

“Will you be back?”

 

Again, another good question. Something was calling her to disappear; something was whispering in her ear that she had done enough. The Catalyst was never made to live this long, and in her case— she was never meant to live past the prophecy that killed all of them but two. Was fate finally coming back to control her? Was she destined to die now? 

 

“I don’t know.” 

 

Shiori’s mother nodded and offered a kind smile. “She loves you, don’t forget that okay?”

 

The weight on her finger, a golden band that said everything about them, ached so hard it was almost as if it was Michiru’s heart. “If she ever gets better, make sure that she knows that too okay?” 

 

Michiru gasped, her heart palpating. In between the spaces of her fingers, there were fungi already growing— like a weed. Michiru grunted and plucked them away, throwing them far away from the barren earth. 

 

“I’m sorry that I tainted your place like this,” she whispered, bowing to the empty land. She took a heavy sigh and continued, trying hard to tie herself back to the present. 

 

Another thing that many people forgot when it came to this tradition was that the dead could listen. That the dead would pay every attention to anyone planting flowers for them if they wanted to. Though Michiru could understand why people forget or deny this part of the ritual, it’s a double-edged sword in this method of communication. On the one hand, there was the gentle relief that you are heard with a flower as a response. And on the other— there was nothing but torture when all the effort is returned with silence and barren land. Michiru wondered when it came to these two wives what kind of reaction she would get. 

 

“I’m still alive, to everyone’s surprise really.” Michiru paused her careful shovelling. In her thoughts, she already moved to all of the other 2 by 2 plots. She didn’t even notice; she wondered if her decay helped. The soil was softer than usual, and even though she made this for Reo and Aina, her legs couldn’t help but crumble.

 

 In front of her was the flower bed she made for Mahiru.  

 

It’s taboo to do this sort of ritual and this sort of care for someone who was still alive. When you did it for the living, it was said that you would be pushing them an inch closer to death. It also meant in some places, the one planting the flowers would be closer to death. Not to mention it’s a flawed and limited communication, with sources saying that it doesn’t even work. Yet what else could Michiru do? 

 

Michiru already took her name, she has no mark, so maybe she’s already on her deathbed just waiting. Even so, Mahiru needed to know, even when this method won’t work if they’re both still alive. She needed to know, somehow, in every way Michiru could achieve that Michiru loved her. That she would always love Mahiru even when they could no longer meet. She had to know that she loved her so much that she was terrified to meet her, just in case her decay and corrupted powers speed up her life and kill her. 

 

So even if the endeavour of planting funeral flowers for the living was selfish and ill-fated. Even if this method was spiritually taboo. Everything about them was taboo when they fell in love post prophecy. Their way of love was never right— it was never normal, and even now, to the world, it’s villainised. And yet, they were happy. What could one more sin add to their list of penance awaiting them when they both die? 

 

“I…” Michiru took a deep breath, her throat already holding a weight, strong enough to suffocate her. She ploughed through. “You would be proud— happy.” Her chest burned. So did the old catalyst mark stretched and scarred over her waist. “Maybe… I raised the Villain. I’m sorry, I said it before but I’m so sorry.” 

 

After a few minutes, Michiru raised her head, her exhale staggered. “The person who is fighting your daughter, I raised her.” She attempted to stand, but the ground gave away. It was too soft to hold her fully, and Michiru fell down to one knee. “I’ll try and make sure they won’t kill each other, maybe they could be friends.”

 

There was a hopeful, sad laugh and Michiru leaned back, staring up at the sky. “Rui hasn’t said it, but she’s getting influenced. It was the same thing Karen went through, being told by the Gods to do what they say instead of her own heart. Sure Karen managed to get it out in the end, but I don’t know how to help Rui. I think deep down, I’m making it worse. But still, I want Shiori and Rui to be friends, they would get on well if they get past their differences.” 

 

“Wouldn’t that be nice,” Michiru laughed once more before she looked at two more plots on the other end. “Karen— Shizuha?” The sight of their empty flowerbeds sent chills to her spine, and a hand fell to where her catalyst mark lay. Despite it all, Michiru grinned through the pain. 

 

“Do you think I can fix my mistake?” She asked sincerely. “Or do you guys still hate me after what happened with Mahiru?” 

 

Only the breeze answered. Nothing bloomed in the overturned earth. It was something Michiru expected, but expectation did nothing to ease the way her gut twisted itself. 

 

“Silence.” A low, bitter chuckle rang out in the silent clearing, where only a few flowers bloomed. “As expected, you’re both still holding that grudge.”

 

“And you,” Michiru whispered, her eyes falling to a flower bed that was already drying out, the overturned earth melding into the grass too quick to be natural. “Are you still holding that grudge?”

 

Nothing. 

 

Michiru let out a long tired sigh. She looked over at the other flower beds, specifically the one with Mahiru. She took what small victory there was to gain at the saplings already growing from her words. “Well… at least it’s deserved.” 

 

With that, Michiru picked up her bag and her stick and walked away. There is nothing left to say. The dead and the living deserve their peace. At the very least, they deserve a flowerbed that isn’t desecrated by her decay. She could only hope she could do better in this prophecy than the last.

Chapter Text

Marks are curious things. It is said that they are there to define the roles for the narrative. Someone is marked as a Hero. Someone is marked as a villain. For the audience of gods watching, it makes it more transparent on who they should focus on. However, there are many ways to fake a mark. 

 

The simplest way to fake having a mark is having the tattoo of a mark. Anyone who lived under a rock for the last couple of centuries, or anyone gullible, would believe the legitimacy of the faked mark. Anyone who had a brain would recognise that it is simply a copy and nothing more. 

 

Another version is to create a brand new symbol and label it as a brand new mark. This is a more uncommon approach, for it's rare but not impossible for a mark of unknown nature to appear. The infamous Bard mark is an example of this. A few hundred years ago, it didn't exist but then one day it did, and it's been an uncommon mark ever since. 

 

This is why the most distinct feature of a real mark, of the concrete proof that this person was chosen by the gods, that they were meant to be here— is the glow. The unnatural pulse of light in the eyes, or the way their marks would glow when their roles are being called upon. But of course, that has its own methods to be faked too. 

 

#Memoir 5 Marks and fools by Tsuyuzaki Michiru 

 

Yachiyo grinned to herself, watching the tavern erupt into life after Ichie disappeared. They didn't even ask where she was, and those who lined up trying to take the greenies stuff already downed their misery in a quick drink. Life was always a party when Ichie was around. That was what made them be such a good bard. 

 

"Is Primus always this fun?" Said a voice that Yachiyo had never heard before. It was calm with a slight hint of age, weary like time itself has roughed up their throat. Yachiyo smiled, holding herself loose but aware. 

 

"Only when the sun goes down." Yachiyo glanced at the tables that once occupied the visitors. The two blondes with their stuff were gone, and the person near them— the veteran was missing. Well, that cleared things up much more easily. "Then again, like you, I'm just a visitor."

 

"And how did you assume I would be a visitor?" The older lady's amusement was clear in a simple huff. Yachiyo didn't even need to turn around to register that she was right behind her, to the left side liable and close enough to stab her should she wish.  

 

"Because if you did," Yachiyo mused, raising her hands almost inspecting it. Yet in the crowded room, with the stranger at her back, Yachiyo curled her fingers around, knives dancing in between the fingers like it was a magic trick. Mostly because it was a magic trick, a small showcase of her illusion magic that she honed in the years. "You would be scared of me."

 

"Maybe," The person shrugged, stepping near and around to Yachiyo's left. Yachiyo spared her a glance, holding back the casual surprise that she would expose herself so easily. "But I'm too old to be trembling with fear." 

 

Unlike the view from a room's distance, this close Yachiyo can easily spot the subtleties that were lost before. The wrinkles around her eyes, the small but visible amount of silver hair, the determination in her eyes. But most importantly, the hidden potion tucked underneath the arm sleeve, given away by the unnatural bump near her cuffs.

 

"That," Yachiyo grinned, leaning against the pillar, her eyes flickering once to the bump. "And the fact you have a potion bottle hidden in your sleeves."

 

The veteran smirked, lowering her arm and catching the potion that rolled out of it. But Yachiyo wasn't interested in that. Instead, her eyes fell on something more interesting. The Mentor Mark, scarred on the palm of her right hand. 

 

"So your mark isn't just for show," The veteran said, snapping Yahciyo out of her thoughts. On instinct, Yachiyo's jaw tensed despite the calm smile shining through. The grey eyes in front of her focused on the Watcher Mark on her arm. Yachiyo angled her arm enough to indulge her curiosity in the dim-lit lighting. "Though I've never seen it before."

 

The smile on Yachiyo's face widened, and her green eyes glinted with satisfaction. "No?" She hummed, tone light enough for a tease. "Granted I never saw yours before, Mentor." Now it was The Mentor's turn to act surprised, turning her hand around to give Yachiyo a clearer view. "I'm surprised I didn't notice."

 

The Mentor opened her mouth only to shut it when the crowd nearby roared with laughter as the band started to play another song once more. Just like that, the knowing atmosphere vanished and the reality that they were in a dinghy tavern full of mercenaries and people who wanted to be part of the prophecy dawned on them.

 

 "I think this conversation is best elsewhere," The Mentor said as she placed her potion back underneath her sleeve. "Don't you agree?" 

 

They locked eyes, and Yachiyo couldn't wipe the smug grin from her mouth. Finally, after a few days of waiting, their side of the prophecy would start to begin. "Yes. I believe we should, and I know the best place to talk." Ichie better be ready for an encore when they reach the church. The real show was about to begin. 

 


 

Shiori was going to kill her, Fumi decided as she slammed the wall out of frustration. Shiori was going to kill her, she was going to turn rouge and become a villain, and it's all her fault for losing the rose ring they all had. 

 

The most annoying thing to Fumi was that she should've seen it coming. The second they came in, music started playing. Then, she fucking appeared on the damn tables, dodging everything under her feet whilst her eyes were trained on Fumi. That should've been the first clue that she was skilled. Footwork was one of the most crucial things in a fight that many people underestimated. Fumi has been in enough spars with Claudine to recognise that.

 

And yet she sang her stupid sacrilegious song, smirked at her with those charming eyes and kissed her hand— Only to steal her fucking ring! Oh, and if that wasn't humiliating enough, she immediately goaded her. She sang a notoriously banned song in the Temple that was literally a week's travel away, almost as if she knew where they were raised there and fought her. 

 

Some insignificant thief stole from her, fought her— and won. This wasn't some Veteran Mahiru who had decades of experience or Claudine getting too emotional and losing. Fumi was not her sister; she fought with her head screwed on. Fumi aimed for her constantly, shot her right in the face with magic strong enough to blind her but no— no matter what, she still kept on singing, still kept on dancing. She still kept on playing that stupid little fucking guitar and  won

 

Then when everything was over, she vanished into the night, taking the only connection to Shiori with her. 

 

And to think, Fumi thought she could've been a hero... was she really that pathetic?

 

"--Or she'll understand that a real villain stole it away because she used a charm spell against you," Claudine said. She clamped Fumi's shoulder with her hand, pulling her up from the ground, snapping Fumi out of her thoughts just before they spiralled even more. Not that Fumi would tell Claudine that. She was her equal— to tell Kuro that she thought less of herself would only insult Claudine's worth. 

 

"You can't call someone a villain just because they disagree with you," Fumi muttered, grateful for the small distraction as minor as it was. She didn't want to dwell on her weakness anymore longer. 

 

"No, I'm calling them a villain for being a thief." Claudine then paused, giving Fumi a curious look as she let go of her sister. "Why are you defending them anyways?"

 

"Because of logistics," Fumi sighed as they continued to walk forward to a random alleyway. She tried not to focus on how empty her hand felt without the ring and how easy its absence felt in the evening breeze. "Say the right thing in the wrong way and you get a dictionary full of mistakes."

 

"A Daiba Nana saying?"

 

Fumi nodded, grateful that Claudine took the distraction like a hooked fish. "Names matter apparently, even small things like this."

 

Claudine grumbled, and Fumi followed her gaze to the church up ahead. "Whatever, she may not be the villain but she's still a bitch."

 

"That may be so, but she's a fun bitch." The unfamiliar voice, padded with the sudden addition of another, then a second footstep forced Fumi's hands to light up with magic. Basking from the green glow came the sharper reflection of emerald eyes, a coy smirk and a face that held two clawed scars on the cheek. "Also she made sure you two didn't stand out too much."

 

Fumi felt her eyes twitch at the new stranger, frustration bubbling a hot ire underneath her skin at the suggestion that the thief "helped them". 

 

"Mahiru," Claudine growled, stepping up and close next to Fumi the second she noticed her twin's irritation. "Who is this?" 

 

Fumi focused her attention on the duo behind them, now registering the second set of footprints to be the presence of Mahiru. The mentor stood near the stranger, a satisfied smile on her face. "Remember I told you about strength?"

 

"Mercenary who was scouted by the last prophecy's heroes," Claudine recounted. Mahiru gestured to the left of her, and the stranger did a small bow in response. Fumi's throat felt parched at the gesture, now noticing the strange mark on her left arm. 

 

That was not a prophetic mark. It might be because of the lighting, but Fumi knew better— knew enough at least. And if they were with the person who stole her ring, it meant only one thing— She was being duped, they all were. Green eyes scanned the building, empty, abandoned houses that no one else really cared for. 

 

In the next instant, another saying of Daiba Nana's flashed itself to the front of Fumi's mind. 

 

"A site of ruin is another monster's nesting ground." 

 

And Fumi froze, wondering briefly if her mentor would save her once more. Or if this would be the first time she would have to take a life, something she was trained for but never accomplished until now. 

 

"You're joking—" Claudine laughed before the laughter stuttered when she realised Mahiru was serious, completely unaware of Fumi's own spiralling once more." Her!?" Claudine pointed at the stranger, her face twisting itself to an expression of disbelief. "She looks like a twig."

 

The pink-haired stranger took the insult with a light scoff and a wider grin. Her eyes flew up and down Claudine's frame and then Fumi's herself. "Well I'm sorry that not all of my muscles, brain included, are full of air balloons."

 

Claudine paused, her brows narrowed into a look of annoyance as her fingers clenched to a fist. "What did you imply about me?"

 

"Darling I didn't say anything about you," The stranger laughed, her voice coming out like a charming melody. Fumi didn't think much about it; instead, she readied herself, fingers and shoulders tense. "You implied yourself."

 

"Okay Mahiru," Fumi growled, knowing full well that a fight might escalate once more if she doesn't play middleman. Her heart raced, and she took a long scared exhale disguised as exasperation. Fumi cooled her features, only allowing the heated anger of her narrow stare visible in her eyes. "I'm not in a great mood right now, considering someone stole my ring so please… Can you and your new friend stop being an ass?"

 

"Well since you asked so nicely," the stranger said, stepping forward with a gloved hand outstretched. Fumi took it, pulling back her magic as she felt the leathery texture of her gloves grasping onto hers. “Tsuruhime Yachiyo, The Watcher.”

 

Immediately, Fumi flushed her green magic forward, up and over Yachiyo's arm as a bubble isolated them from the world. Claudine banged the outside wall almost instantly. But she still failed to learn, even after all the times she was trapped there, was that Fumi's bubbles can only break from the inside unless the outside force was more powerful than herself. 

 

"Liar,"  she accused, snarling the word out as Yachiyo stared down at her with a calm, collected gaze. 

 

"I'm sorry?" 

 

"I memorised all the marks growing up," Fumi growled, gripping the hands roughly, hard enough to squeeze the bones out of the skin. "The Watcher isn't one of them."

 

Yachiyo gave a cruel cold laugh, tilting her head back with a slight sneer. She did not mention the tight grip Fumi had on her arms, not that she needed to. Wisps of magenta flowed down the corners of her eyes like tear tracks, and on the crude "Watcher's Mark", a glow pulsed, draining Fumi's face with all of her colours. 

 

A glowing mark as proof of verification. Whether Fumi wanted to admit it or not, this 'Watcher' was part of the prophecy, Shiori's prophecy.

 

"Well," Yachiyo smirked, her once arrogant smile turned condescending now since she had the skills to back it up. "You must be working with old data then because unlike you two, I already got my mark."

 

"Impossible," Fumi gasped, yanking her hand away from Yachiyo like it was a hot iron, or at least she tried to. Yachiyo's grip on her hand tightened the second she attempted to flee. Fumi held back the wince as Yachiyo returned her previous gesture twice as hard. "The prophecy started only a couple days ago."

 

"You didn't know that some marks can be with people when they're born?" Yachiyo tutted, caressing the words with a pitying nature. She finally let go, and Fumi yanked her hand back, massaging the wrist. Yachiyo stepped back, took out a vial from her bag and spilt it over her side of the bubble. 

 

In shock and horror, Fumi watched as her bubble didn't shatter like before with Claudine and Shiori but dissolved, melted until it was goo. Yachiyo popped the cork back on, not even using all of her potions and grinned. "Your tutelage must be really outdated."

 

"What the fuck—" 

 

Fumi raised her hand out, forcing Claudine in her tracks. Her eyes locked onto Claudine, and immediately her sister simmered. This was not her fight to deal with, not this time.

 

"If you're the Watcher, a role we never heard about— what are you here for?"

 

Yachiyo smiled all too knowingly as she placed her potion into her spatial bag. "I watch the prophecy," she explained in a casual tone that undermined the entire thing's significance. Like the gods making a new role, a new mark wasn't a big deal. "I make notes on other people, I'm a casual observer. Think of it like a Guide but more knowledgeable."

 

Fumi frowned, mulling the words over her head, once then twice, to make sure she didn't miss anything. So far, it was unfortunately up to standard. "So it's a Guide mutation?"

 

"No not really," Yachiyo let out an amused chuckle, crossing her arms over her chest as she observed Fumi more closely. "And I'm surprised you know about mutations but I'm certainly no fraud. I know things even you two would know but never shared."   

 

Fumi couldn't help but sneer. What would a stranger know that would surprise not only herself, Claudine and their education but Mahiru, the veteran. "Oh yeah?"

 

Yachiyo's lips widened like a cat pleased for a good meal. "Your heroic sister is far north of the river by the way, a charming blonde so I heard."

 

Before Fumi could stop her, Claudine shoved Yachiyo up against a wall/ She cuffed her hands and slammed it over Yachiyo's head with one hand. With her spare hand, she pointed a dagger at Yachiyo's throat. "How do you know about Shiori?"

 

"I'm the Watcher," Yachiyo grinned, but Fumi was pleased to recognise the telltale signs of hidden wince. Though she will admit, Yachiyo had an annoyingly better poker face than her. "And considering this is the finale of all prophecies: " The ending of this all will turn the stage of the world on its head"  sort of deal, a new role shouldn't be that big of a stretch right?"

 

Claudine edged the blade closer, delicately balancing the blade's tip on the cloth around Yachiyo's neck. "I don't trust you."

 

"I wouldn't trust me either, muscles."

 

There was too much to think about. Suddenly 'The Watcher' existed, that she was friends with the person who stole her ring. The fact that she knew the prophecy and got her mark before they ever did. It was all too overwhelming, and she didn't trust Yachiyo either, yet Yachiyo knew where her sister was. 

 

"Kuro back down," Fumi sighed, ignoring her own headache to focus on Shiori's well being. "She knows where Shiori is." 

 

"Vaguely," Yachiyo said as she began to dust the dirt off her now after Claudine let her go and stalked her way back to Fumi. "Though she's not important right now."

 

Fumi blinked. How on earth can anything be more important than Shiori? The goddamn Hero of the prophecy? "I'm sorry?"

 

"Don't you want to find your ring? I know where my partner is."

 

Right. Yachiyo knew the little thief. Fumi growled under her breath, staring at Yachiyo with a hardened gaze. "Where is she?"

 

"A sister who gets too hot headed and a sister who becomes too cool," Yachiyo laughed as she turned around, spinning a finger around. She walked with ease, a sprint in her step, oozing with confidence. "The Gods must be loving this scene," she murmured underneath her breath, something that Fumi had a feeling she wasn't supposed to hear. Either way, she filed that little knowledge away. 

 

"Just take us to her."

 

"Hai Hai~." 

 

To Fumi's surprise, Yachiyo led them to a little church they were already walking towards. She held the large wooden doors' rusted metal handles and glanced back before throwing the doors wide open. Dust clouds rolled to the sides, almost bowing as they stepped past. 

 

Inside there were the expected but rotting wooden pews and broken glass shards on the floor. The pillars were lined with torchlight, and the broken steeple allowed the altar at the very front to be bathed with moonlight. Small rivers of past rainwater dripped down the steps, fading to the side to one of the pews. 

 

Now that there was no ruckus of the tavern, Fumi could fully take in the person in front of her, the thief who stole away something so precious from her. Fumi expected a slender build, mystery in every sense. A rouge, at least. What she got was a girl that looked no older than her and Claudine sitting on the damn altar itself with a leg dangling off the floor. 

 

Her hair was wild, unruly and reluctantly tamed with the short scruffy ponytail. The colour itself was unnatural, pink bordering lavender, an ahoge curled high above the mess. Her face held youth, but the dark grey padded sleeveless tunic exposed the faint scars across her lean arms showed her experience. 

 

On her lap was a jacket long-sleeved with a dark colour. Fumi could see a pair of leather gloves to the right, which meant her eyes immediately fell on the rose ring, still on her right hand, on the finger. 

 

"Oh?" The annoying thief grinned, almost a cat-like smirk that made Fumi's blood boil. She didn't like that she immediately thought of the tavern and how close she was when she first saw those golden eyes up close. "Whose this?" Oh, that little— 

 

Knowing better to attack with magic inside a church (superstition can be a deadly thing), Fumi lunged at her, only to be held back by Claudine. Her sister drew her arms up, almost lifting her away as Fumi kicked her feet at the thief. The recognition dawned in the stranger's eyes.

 

  "Oooh~" she giggled, admiring the rose ring once more before looking directly into Fumi's eyes. "It's me indeed~ Otonashi Ichie is the name you need to yell out for an encore by the way~."

 

"You're the one that tried to rob us," Fumi snarled, her feet no longer fighting, yet Claudine continued to dangle her just above the ground. 

 

"And now you're the one who tried to assault me," The thief teased, sticking out her tongue as she hopped off the altar. Fumi gawked at her, not only at the audacity but also at the fact that she tried to play the victim. "So I guess we can be considered even?"

 

"Don't tell me she's part of the prophecy," Claudine groaned, not looking at Mahiru but past her towards Yachiyo. 

 

At the words, Ichie perked up. Her eyes glanced at Mahiru's hand, the golden eyes hesitating before the grin continued to widen. Fumi didn't let that action go, not when it proved that Ichie knew what the Mentor of the prophecy meant. "So you're the sisters…." 

 

Claudine dropped her in an instant. Fumi stumbled on the landing, acting on instinct to grab hold of Claudine's arm. Not only to steady herself but also to stop Claudine from attacking Ichie. "How the hell do you know about Shiori already?" Claudine growled. 

 

"Shiori…" Ichie mused. She turned around and grabbed the neck of the guitar. She swung it around, wearing the strap as she fumbled with the handles. "Sounds heroic enough," 

 

"Shiori," Ichie sang with a roguish smile, "Oh blessed child~."

 

Fumi already had a headache. "Shut up."

 

"Awww," Ichie pouted as she stopped playing. She leaned on the altar, the pout returning to her usual smile. "And I thought you're here for a little encore and introduction."

 

Fumi shook her head, stepping out into the moonlight as she reached her hand out to Ichie. "I'm here for my fucking ring."

 

Ichie gasped, a hand on her chest as she looked at Fumi with wide eyes. "Language," she gasped, and Fumi felt the corners of her eyes twitch once more. "And in a church no less."

 

"Ichie~" Yachiyo warned behind them. 

 

"Alright alright," Ichie said as she slipped the ring off and tossed it towards Fumi. Fumi caught it with one hand. "Sorry for being a tease~ They say you can learn a lot about a person when they're irritated."

 

"And why do we need to know you?" Fumi asked, raising her hand to the moonlight. She inspected it before putting it on, the tension stuck in her shoulders easing away once she learned it wasn't damaged in any way. The weight of the ring on her hand was nothing but kindness. 

 

"Really?" Ichie asked, genuine surprise seeping out. "It should be obvious by now, I mean with the whole singing and dancing and well, knowing who you guys are before you even came."

 

Fumi frowned at the list of hints. She glanced at her sister only to find Claudine was equally confused. Then came a gasp from behind them, and Fumi snapped her head to Mahiru, recognition in her grey eyes. "You're the bard."

 

"Ding ding ding~." 

 

"You're joking," Claudine sighed, exasperated but probably not as tired as Fumi felt. "She's not the Bard, please tell me she's not the bard." 

 

Fumi would've agreed with her, focusing on the mark on Ichie's shoulder. The Bard Mark didn't look like that from the books she read. Most marks form an UpperCase letter, never the lower case. The way it was designed made it look more like a rip off banjo tattoo than anything prophetic. If anything, it looked similar to a different mark entirely, but that was too big of a jump for Fumi to stomach. 

 

"Would a bard--" Ichie whispered, her golden eyes glinting in the moonlight. It was akin to a reverse eclipse, the sun overshadowing the moon in all its glory. "--The infamous storyteller of a prophecy know that you two lived in the temple for most of your lives?"

 

Fumi tensed on reflex, her fingertips lighting up with her magical essence. Something on her chest felt heavy, like the weight of Ichie's casual words were shoved brutally against her. Yet despite it all, Fumi couldn't look away, not when her attention was so effortless caught by Ichie's knowing grin. She was getting too close. 

 

"That on the day of the prophecy a lightning struck you down in a little alchemy shop and you were saved by a shield of pink energy?"

 

"How did you—" 

 

Ichie placed a finger on Fumi's lips, respectfully silencing her before removing it a second later. "I know what you're thinking," she mused as she grabbed hold of Fumi's jacket and dusted it off. Fumi stood still, unsure how to act in such a situation. Was this a seduction? A display of power? "That my mark doesn't look like other marks of bards you probably studied." 

 

Fumi could barely listen, too focused on the way her clothes got tugged every now and again. Her eyes fell to Claudine's nearby and almost glared at the way Claudine didn't even look too worried for her safety. Instead, she was smirking at her, a dubious raised brow that suggested things Fumi didn't even want to consider. 

 

"You're probably thinking that I'm a fraud," Ichie whispered, a sudden sensation graced the shell of Fumi's ear, and she jolted, a hot flash of heat pulsing underneath her cheeks. Did she just?

 

Ichie stepped back, too amused at the reaction, yet the smile all too confirmed what Fumi thought. And yet, Fumi had no chance to even think about the action when another unfamiliar sensation grazed over her hand. She looked down, surprised but also not at the way Ichie held her hand. Instinctively she looked up, catching the smirk in Ichie's golden eyes pulsing yellow light. 

 

"The same way my friend is with her Watcher Mark," Ichie crooned as her rough fingers traced the back of Fumi's knuckles. One by one, slow in a way that could be stopped, Ichie curled the glowing fingers down to Fumi's palm, respectively extinguishing the magic on the tips.  

 

That alone should be a warning sign for Fumi that something was wrong, that this was something dangerous. And yet, Fumi did not seem to learn from the tavern. Her eyes were not focused on the glow of Ichie's bard mark and the simple inconsistency one would only see up close. Instead, she was fixated by Ichie's eyes and the smirk that played coyly on her chapped lips.

 

"But I'll tell you now, you won't get through the prophecy alive without either of us."

 

Ichie pushed the closed up fist back into Fumi's chest, hard enough to make Fumi jolt. Jarring enough to make Fumi realise that she was caught off guard and stepped back like Ichie was a stove on fire she needed to pull her hand from. 

 

Ichie let her go with a cruel chuckle, waving her fingers one by one like a taunt. "Not when you're both unmarked." 

 

"Of course," Mahiru sighed, sombre, and her eyes flickered to the right as another longer resigned sigh left her lips once more. Something unspoken rested there, something heavy that Fumi couldn't focus on, not currently with her mind wrapped up on Ichie's recent actions. "That's where we need to go."

 

"Unfortunately," Yachiyo chuckled, a sad smile on her face as she looked at both Claudine and Fumi, lingering more on the latter. "So forget your sister for now. She's safe where she is and no I can't tell you where, you both need to worry about yourself first. Because the way I see it, you two won't last long in this story." 

 

Fumi cleared her throat, ignoring Ichie in favour of Yachiyo. "Where do we need to go?"

 

Ichie giggled, swinging her guitar around the front once more. "Have you two sisters ever heard of the Waterfall of Truth?"

 

Chapter Text

It's said before that the eyes in the sky indicate the Gods— and only Gods, watching above. Typically, they occur at the site of divine intervention. However, they can appear when they get interested in a specific scene in the narrative. For example, an epic battle or when two significant people meet. 

 

However, what is interesting is that as far as my research is concerned, not everyone sees them. My companion doesn't experience these judgmental eyes as I do. However, she mentioned that our Hero did. Therefore, if Karen managed to see these prophetic eyes, does that mean the Villain can also? The Seer, I have no doubt, can see them but is that all? The only connection between the four is their unique relationships to the Gods. The Villain and Hero are the core parts of any prophecy. The Seer and the Catalyst are tools made from divinity.

 

But that can't be all of them, right? Surely there is more… No living prophetic story shows this aspect of the prophecy. Even then, Mahiru mentioned that Karen didn't see it until I… 

 

 

There should be more to understand this, not only how to know how it appeared but how to remove it. 

 

Memoir #10 - Eyes of Gods by Tsuyuzaki Michiru 

 

~

 

Shiori woke up, haggard of breath, unable to see properly. Dark haze lingered around her eyes, and she staggered to a sitting up position. Nightmares. That was all Shiori has been getting in the past few days. Nightmares and bruises and whatever Rui wanted to bring through the pits of hell that she dubbed "Training." 

 

Days after the initial wake up to this reality of the prophecy, Shiori could still remember the night that began this. The way Michiru knew her last name, her parents. The person who tried to kill her was training her to be better with her powers. That night was a mess, a cruel, horrible mess. 

 

Shiori hated that memory; she hated Michiru. Every time she closed her eyes at night, she would picture her red eyes glowing wild and mad in that tavern. Either that or the way she screamed out how her parents died for this prophecy.

 

Shiori exhaled, combing through her hair tying the long length to a ponytail. She glanced out of the cave they temporarily lived in; the sun was shining high and made it clear that she was already late. Dawn was when she practised after Rui was aware of how little she actually knew. 

 

Day and night, Rui would make her run around, gaining her stamina, then she would try to attack her, to force her wind powers to appear as they did before. It wouldn't work. Shiori would tell her that she couldn't control the wind, Rui would get mad, and they would do some sparring. She would walk to dinner with a new layer of bruises across her arms, legs and shoulders. 

 

"Shiori dear?" Michiru asked, making Shiori jump from the sudden appearance. She peeked out from the cave entrance, pushing away the curtains she placed there to give a better sense of privacy. She smiled at the Hero, her red eyes almost glowing in the shadows. "Are you alright?"

 

Shiori shook her head, standing up as she took the spare clothes from the clothesline on the further side of the cave. "I'll be fine. Just give me space to change." 

 

Michiru nodded, glancing at the Hero before walking out, "Alright but Rui is on a run, waiting for you."

 

Shiori held back a growl at the mention of her trainer. She removed her nightshirt, the cold breeze made her hiss, her bruises weren't ready for another training session. Then again, she realised as traces of the prophecy echoed in her mind, she might've never been ready. 

 

Be weary of blondes who can seal fate 

 

Be cautious of red eyes and what they create

 

And just like that, everything made sense. 

 

Michiru was the Villain of her prophecy. 

 

With that thought, Shiori shoved her shoes on and bolted from the cave. Michiru was already gone, and it did nothing to calm her. All this time, the Villain was right there, hiding right in front of her. There was breakfast near the fire, cold and old, but it was enough for Shiori to swallow down before rushing to her training ground near the river. 

 

It was obvious now that Shiori thought about it more. Michiru had red eyes; the prophecy mentioned red eyes. The prophecy mentioned to be cautious around the creation, and Rui was right there. Sure, she also had red eyes, but she was nothing like Michiru. Rui was rude, an asshole, but she was too emotional to be manipulative; she was too forward to be cruel. Michiru acted more of a villain than Rui, saying almost flippantly words that would always turn Shiori's mind upside down. 

 

Michiru was old enough to know cruelty, and even though Shiori had just met her, she knew that whilst Rui could be crude-- she wasn't cruel. 

 

Fueled by the past and their rage. To right the last prophecy's wrongs.

 

Both of these lines indicated a lot about Michiru, even if the latter was extremely jarring. For all Shiori knew about the last prophecy, and whilst she rebelled and didn't go to the classes a lot in the temple, she knew a lot. Most importantly, she knew Mahiru was the only current survivor. Which meant, if Michiru was part of the last prophecy, Michiru was on the side of the villains that unknowingly survived.

 

Everyone on the Hero's side was destroyed in the final battle with the Villain, caused by the unnatural relationship between the Catalyst and the Lover. That was what they taught at school at the temple. The others didn't know that Mahiru was the Lover— and that Mahiru's wife, the presumed Catalyst, was dead. 

 

Even when Shiori only realised the former fact about Mahiru being the Lover on the evening of the divination ceremony. Shiori could never forget the way Mahiru mourned for her wife. It's an unspoken thing, the way Mahiru longed for her. Unspoken but constant, like the way the world would spin on an axis. Even saying her name proved too much of a burden for Mahiru. 

 

"My wife liked to claim she was never a romantic, only considerate." So spoke a long-forgotten memory of Mahiru tending to the flowerbeds back when Shiori was ten years old. One was empty and bare, but the other held a display of forget-me-nots and other sentimental flowers. "She's a bit of a dense and difficult thing, but I think I understand what she meant now."

 

"Is that why you don't say her name?"

 

Mahiru paused, silent in a heaviness that even now in her 20s looking back, Shiori doesn't understand. "I don't say her name out of privacy. The person I know and love is not the same person everyone talks about and hates. So for her sake, even when she's dead, I will not share her name. It's a secret I will take to the grave. That's what I mean by understanding her words, not romantic, only considerate."  

 

Shiori shook her head, removing the memory. She had no time to be blinded with nostalgia, not when her life was at risk by the Villian Michiru. 

 

Sure the entire theory of Michiru being the Villain could flop the second it's revealed Mahiru had a second wife after splitting with the Catalyst post tragic prophecy. But that could easily mean that Michiru was the last prophetic Catalyst. Except now, she would no longer be the prophecy's Catalyst if that was the case. 

 

People in the past prophecy wouldn't retain their last role, so it would be likely her Mark would be transformed into something else, such as the Villian. This was also taught in the temple, something to reinforce the change. 

 

It was also the reason Claudine and Fumi pushed to explain why they changed their name. They were no longer Yumeoji Saijou— a family connected by the last names of their mothers. One became Saijou Claudine and the other Yumeoji Fumi. Each took the name of their mothers, and both expected Shiori to choose one too. She took neither and did what all other orphans did when the plague hit them. She had a blank space for a family name. 

 

The sound of rushing water pulled Shiori out of her thoughts, and her feet slowed near the river. A quick glance shared that Rui wasn't here yet, which meant that she would be taking instructions from Michiru. 

 

...

 

What would Rui be if Michiru was the Villain? It was clear that in terms of hierarchy, Michiru was at the top but did that mean Rui was a victim like Shiori? Or was she part of this whole scheme to make her miserable? 

 

Shiori remembered how hostile Rui was towards her and how visceral charged her glares were when Michiru pushed and forced the idea that Rui should be the one to train her. Could Michiru talking about Maya and Nana cruelty to her sisters be a reflection of herself? Was she being cruel to Rui and using her as a scapegoat? 

 

 "What are you doing here, Hero?" 

 

Shiori stood up straighter, her shoulders tense as she whirled around to the sound. Near the ridge, back in the trees, Rui was staring down at her from her vantage point. In her hands was her usual stick and in the other three bottles of potions, juggled on one palm. 

 

"Taking a break," Shiori answered as honestly as she could. She'll decide later if Rui was a friend or foe, not right now, not when she has too little information. 

 

"Already?" Rui scoffed, walking down the side of the hill onto the flatter lands below. The sound of the river nearby acted as white noise, save for the occasional chirps of birds and the flops of fish jumping. "I considered you sleeping in late to be your break."

 

The corners of Shiori's mouth moved up without realising. "Does that mean I can do it again tomorrow?"

 

At once, Rui's red eyes narrowed. "Don't push your luck, Hero." She threw something at Shiori using her underhand toss. Shiori leaned forward, cupping her hands to catch it as it hit her chest with a soft thud. 

 

Shiori brought the vial to her face. From the colour and basic training she learnt under Mahiru, she had a feeling this was a health potion from the pink pigment. Yet the back of her mind reminded her that acidic potions could be any colour. "What's this?"

 

"Just because you couldn't handle the heat doesn't mean you're getting off easy," Rui said as she placed the other two health potions away to the side before stretching her arms. "A health potion so you can continue in your best condition. Michiru's orders."

 

Shiori eyebrow's furrowed. Why would Michiru give her anything like that? Did she notice the bruises? If so, how did she know? The thought left a knot in her stomach, stripped of everything sane and left being tangled. "Why?"

 

Rui huffed, growling under her breath, "You think she tells me anything?"

 

"Considering you're her only lackey," Shiori said before popping up the cork and downing the content in one go. To Shiori's surprise, the taste was similar to Mahiru's own health recipe, with its hint of honey loosening the regular acquired taste of medicine. At once, the bones in her skin shifted, loosening all of the joints and all of the aches. "I would think so, yes."

 

Shiori rolled the empty glass vial away before turning at the sudden heat drawn to one particular space. Rui stood there, smoke rising from the ground, the grass at her feet folding onto itself as black tainted their burning skin. Rui stood there with her eyes pulsing with a bloodlust hue, the tips of her fangs bare with a controlled snarl. 

 

"Lackey…"

 

"Am I wrong?" Now it was Shiori's turn to narrow, taking in the scene with extreme caution. Mahiru warned her once, back when people used to judge her and harass her just because she was related to her sisters. Another person's reactions to things they can't control could tell a lot about them. If that was the case, what did that say about Rui? 

 

"You act like you're in charge," Shiori continued, throwing out a sharp cut of her own tongue as she sneered at Rui. It was a huge gamble to torment the person who regularly beat her with her eyes closed, but the reward would be worth it. Besides, she was the Hero— she wouldn't go down so easily. "But really you're just doing everything she's saying. Do you even have any thoughts of your own?"

 

"My current thought is that you don't deserve that potion," Rui snarled. Her right eye twitched as the heat around them flared, the tension in the air melting to something indescribable. Yet whatever flared was only secondary to Shiori's attention, not when she focused on Rui's nails growing out into claws, ripping apart the battered leather gloves she wore. Well, that explained why they looked so broken all the time. "Not when your arrogance doesn't even match your skills."

 

The rip echoed in the heated space, and Rui smirked, unfazed at the way her gloves fell to the ground. Shiori flinched at the unconcerned nature, recoiling then inwards at how quick she was to be scared. Then again, with the red eyes, bared teeth and claws that didn't seem human, Shiori realised it was normal to be this unsettled.  

 

And yet, Shiori took a deep breath, the wind blowing around her as she looked forward to the challenge head-on. "So you're willing to beat my skills into me, still bruising from yesterday's spar like a dead horse?"

 

Rui let out a cold chuckle, and grey smoke curled like an overflowing wine glass from her bottom lip. "You learn quickly when the lessons are embedded in you."

 

Shiori felt the wind rush and dance down her spine. Her words almost echoed-- amplified by the unspoken relationship she had with the wind. "Speak from experience?"

 

That shut Rui up, stitching the mouth together as her eyes quietly fumed. In the heat of the madness, the clear calm before the heatwave, Shiori noted that small reaction and filed it away for the future. Maybe Rui was a victim like Shiori. Maybe she was being controlled, possessed. It seemed surreal that only after a few words, after giving away a health potion, Rui would get this riled up so quickly. It was unnatural, more unnatural than Rui's claws or fangs or smoke. 

 

"How's your control?" Rui asked as she stalked forward in slow, heavy steps. 

 

"Why does it matter to you that I can control the wind?" Shiori bit back, startled by the sudden question. It was one of the things Shiori was told to learn but failed. Meditation didn't help, thoughts didn't help, no runes or anything that Shiori could use to control this so-called power she had as a hero. "I told you already, I can't control it like you think I can."

 

"How's your control?" Rui repeated, her stride picking up the pace. 

 

"It doesn't listen to me!" Shiori yelled, her eyes widening at how Rui was quickly closing the distance.

 

"How's your control!?"

 

"I can't control it—" 

 

The declaration became quiet as Rui lunged at Shiori, sticking an arm out as flames spiralled past her shoulders, wrapping around the elbow before jetting out from her clawed hands. Shiori instinctually raised her arms to shield herself, the wind acting as a barricade before Rui landed her lunge with a roll, her clawed hands reaching for Shiori. 

 

Shiori dodged to the side, missing the blast of fire once more. Legs then danced, stepping back to the side, her wind adjusting her position and keeping the flow even when Shiori knew she stumbled at one point. Each time, Rui was on the attack, smoke wrapping around her neck like a clump of melted wax as she stepped closer and closer. 

 

Shiori's eyes steeled themselves, and she positioned her feet, standing her ground as Rui attacked once more. Shiori, this time, swerved her head to the left, parts of her wavy hair burning away into nothing as the wind was quick to snuff it out. Her hands, however, blocked Rui's arms, trapping them briefly before punching her square in the stomach. 

 

The wind barreled in her arms pushed Rui to the back of a boulder; a large shriek of stone cracking signified the defeat of the exchange. Shiori herself skidded across the ground, the back of her ankles deep in mud. Her breath was heavy, deep and left her panting despite not losing any breath. Green eyes marvelled at her hands, rough and coarse but never powerful, not like her own sisters. 

 

"That seemed like control," Rui coughed as she rose herself up to her feet. "Finally there's something there worth a being a hero." 

 

"Only because you're trying to kill me!" Shiori yelled back, her anger rising once more at Rui's carefree attitude. 

 

Rui laughed. She wiped the dirt off her cheeks with the back of her hand as she looked down at her shirt. The suspenders were already ruined, one already dangling, so she ripped it away from her like it was a necklace chain and tossed it to the ground. 

 

"If I wanted to kill you—" She exhaled, shifting her muscles that groaned and creaked with the motions. Rui opened her eyes. The feral crimson shade oozed with a pulsing light, quivering with bloodlust and hatred. "You would've been dead by now." 

 

At this, Shiori smirked— unaware of the many eyes, secret but watching, in the skies. Unaware that she wasn't acting like herself but more of a simple puppet, unaware of her own bodily ache as the wind continued to crowd her like a hurricane. 

 

"Prove it."

 


 

"Oh Mahiru," Michiru murmured to herself as she sat near the fire pit across the cave entrance. She wanted to stay before, but Rui needed her opinion, so she left and talked to her. They had another disagreement that Michiru had already forgotten, and she gave her some health potions. By the time she came back to the base, Shiori was already gone. 

 

"What would you do here, my love?" Michiru continued to whisper. The heel of her left palm was pressed to the corner of her lip, reminiscent of the way her wife did to calm her. In front of her, a regeneration potion swirled in an iron cauldron. 

 

Things were not going well, and it was hard not to find herself at the biggest fault. Despite the training, Shiori didn't progress, and Rui was getting more agitated by the second. It was almost a ticking time bomb. Was she being too involved? Maybe, but she couldn't just allow Rui to kill Shiori, not when she finally realised that her eyes had Aiai's defiance. That they had the same green shade of her kind mother, Reo. She can remember them now. 

 

"How about you Karen?" She asked, a sad smile on her face. The ghosts of the past will not listen, even when Michiru has planted the flowers. After Rui became an adult and the prophecy started, no petals ever bloomed. The only ones that did for her were Aiai and Reo. "How about you Hikari? You were a Lancer but you taught Karen to be more of a hero than a mentor ever would." 

 

Underneath her feet, Michiru caught a glimpse of a mushroom growing and scowled. She trampled the fungi underneath her heel and stood up. 

 

"Maybe I should've asked Shizuha," Michiru laughed, taking her staff and rocking the pot instead of stirring. She sighed, calming the waves that threatened to overspill against the rim. "A dead villain teaching a broken catalyst ways to teach the new Villain. By a sentence alone that makes little sense." 

 

"Aiai's and Reo's youngest girl is the hero," Michiru continued to speak as her eyes glanced at the alchemy pot roasting over the fire. "Their eldest daughters were manipulated by that bastard Seer. And perhaps, they're on their way to kill me." She laughed at the assumption and moved her greying hair out of her eyes. It's been a while since she had a haircut, but she was never good with scissors. 

 

"Did they kill you already Mahiru?" Michiru murmured as she killed the flames underneath the pot before carefully dropping the pot against the mountain of ashes and charred wood. "No, I would've noticed if the world was a little lighter than before." Her flowers would also bloom had she been killed-- it's the only bare plot that would make Michiru's heart lighter. 

 

"Maybe I should've saved them?" Michiru sighed before shaking her head. She could barely survive when she left the temple all those years ago. "No— the children would've died long before I would reach Primus all those years ago. I would've killed them just like I killed—" Michiru shut her eyes, taking a long exhale before she ducked her head. Her hair flew forwards, hiding the way water lined her eyes. 

 

"Oh Mahiru, you were always a better parent than me," She gasped. Her heart, fragile and weak, doubled its pressure. The ache was familiar, as was the memory. Michiru wiped her eyes with the palm of her hand. "So what would you do if you failed your child a second time?"

 

Michiru was not blind. She knew what Rui wanted from her. She knew what she wanted when Michiru abandoned her as a child ages ago, and she knew it hadn't changed when she came back for Rui. But still, it was dangerous for a person like her to raise children. Even more so to raise the child that would grow up a villain, doomed to be hated by all humanity. 

 

On some days, that made Michiru glad that she was never fully human due to technicalities— not with her divinity warping her to an unnatural life. That meant Michiru, on the technicality that she wasn't human, would never hate Rui. But on most days, Michiru despised that side about her. Gods never made good parents, and whilst Michiru was not a God— her snippets of divinity proved that she had this one thing in common with them. 

 

She could not be the parental figure Rui wished for, not when there were more graves in her name than humanity. The fragility of her weak human heart would not allow it. Rui already had a mother, and her last name is a reflection of that already. She can't be her parent, not when she already tried to abandon her. Parents don't abandon children; cruel people do-- which is why Michiru does all she can to make up for it. 

 

Still, it hurt Michiru. Rui was nearing the edge of her restraints, and she couldn't do anything. She couldn't even make the potion needed to calm her, to slow down the pain. The tattoo on her back was all she could, but even that had its limit. 

 

Michiru opened her eyes, absentmindedly glancing to the sky and all the thoughts crumbled at the blackening pillar of smoke. Her heart dropped to the ground, landing softly across the grass until she stood up, crushing the valves and arteries underneath her boot heel. 

 

"Rui…"

 

At the name the world decayed, the grass died to a path that even stone couldn't set and save. The fire next to her decayed and returned to ash. Within a breath Michiru ran, her feet barely touching the muddled mess of grass and ground. She gripped her staff tight, using it to pole vault over vegetations and anything that stood in her way. 

 

"Please be safe," Michiru whispered on repeat, pleading the words like a chant or a prayer. "Please be safe Rui, I swear." 

 

The sound of an explosion, the cry of birds and the heavy rush of air and smoke forced Michiru to lift her hands up to her face with a grimace. Her eyes glowed with the haunting look of crimson as the earth sank, rotting to her feet as her catalyst mark on her stomach burned like acid. 

 

And yet Michiru continued to move, keeping one hand up as she held her staff in the other, sweat pouring from her head. Her washed-out blonde hair shifted to silver tresses, a notion of her catalyst powers overpowering the medication she used to keep it at bay. 

 

A typical catalyst power would protect her and those she cared about as it once did when she was younger. Nowadays, her power was the complete opposite, she can speed up time as usual, but she can only destroy the entire life around her. And just like the original catalyst power of protection, Michiru couldn't control when the decay wanted to act out. All she could control was her emotions— a common instigator for a flare of decay and the damage control. Still, decay had its uses sometimes, at least when it wasn't trying to destroy her body from the inside out. 

 

Once her power decayed the possible soot and smoke and flames, Michiru lowered her hands and dashed forward. She barely could stop herself at the foot of a ridge bringing up an arm to shield herself from another explosive attack. 

 

Right in front of her, near the riverbank full of broken boulders, singed grass and leaves burning in nearby charred trees, was the Hero and the Villain fighting. It wasn't an efficient fight, both people were making sloppy mistakes, but it wasn't a brawl like what happened in the inn. It was a brutal showing, a display of aggression and domination. It made Michiru sick. Then it made her furious when she saw the polka dot image of eyes scattering across the skies. 

 

"Oh you sick bastards," Michiru snarled before she threw down her staff in between them before jumping down, rolling forward to land safely. 

 

 She caught their attention briefly before they continued to focus on each other. Shiori's clothes were ruined, her sleeves shredded with claw marks ripping through. Rui herself was rid of her jacket entirely, and the patches of black rose from the depths of her skin. The off colouring looked like burns, but it was a sight to make Michiru's skin pale. It was a miracle enough that Rui's shirt was still holding on. 

 

Michiru growled as she slammed her hand to the ground. The rot erupting from her hands spread out in streams, cracking the earth and turning it to mud and muck. Shiori and Rui slipped and tumbled in the rotting decay as Michiru rushed towards them, unfazed by her own makeshift terrain. 

 

She started with Rui first, standing in a guarded stance as Rui shot up to her feet and blocked the first jab. She then dodged the second before lunging a fist at Rui's abdomen. Rui hissed, and before she could do more, Michiru kicked out her leg, grabbed her arm and tossed her to the ground, ignoring her heart tearing itself apart when Rui cried out in pain. 

 

 She turned to Shiori, her actions not as kind as she swiftly dodged her set of attacks. Left, right-- duck when the wind decided to lodge a heavy tree branch to the back of her skull. It moved upwards when it missed avoiding Shiori, but it gave enough blindness that Michiru jumped and kicked in her spleen hard enough to create some distance. 

 

When she landed back on her messy rotting land, Michiru stubbled-- her heart beating too fast for her to calm. She swiped the sweat from her brows, swallowing down the blood clawing at the inside of her throat. It had been a while since she did this, any of this. The martial arts she learnt from her childhood, "The Insistituion", and using her Cataclyst powers as a weapon. 

 

Still, she was not done. As Rui and Shiori stumbled back to their feet, Michiru threw two different potion bottles up in the air and kicked her staff with her feet. In the next beat, she spun her staff, hitting them both with one end whilst ducking the rain of glass shards. The second both fluids fizzled at one end, Michiru stuck it into the corroding dirt and ran. She needed a 10ft circumference of a circle and fast. 

 

"Rui calm down!" Michiru yelled as Shiori stared at her, the wind blowing her hair up. Never had green eyes look so vicious, but poison could come in any colour, Michiru supposed. "Remember your training!"

 

"YOU MANIPULATED HER TO DO THIS!?" Shiori yelled, and Michiru forced herself to stay calm despite the sudden spike in her heartbeat. Manipulation was a  strong word.  But what was more terrifying was that it was Shiori's first thought— it wasn't training, it wasn't mentoring or teaching— it was manipulation. 

 

"WHAT'S WRONG WITH IT?" Rui screamed back. More black marks appeared on her skin, disfiguring her appearance. "HUH HERO?"

 

"Rui you're not helping," Michiru growled underneath her breath, ignoring the headache on the new information Shiori spilt. Michiru shouldn't think of scenarios when she couldn't calm the raging fight, but the implications meant dangerous things. She shook her head, glancing more at Rui's condition than anything else. Her shirt was on, even from the back, which meant she was around 80%. Too much for her to be comfortable with. Hopefully, when she was finished with this rune, Michiru could stop her before it was too late.

 

"EVERYTHING IS WRONG WITH IT!" Shiori roared, the wind amplifying her rage and her visceral hatred, blasting it as an attack on its own in Michiru's direction. "EVERYTHING IS WRONG WITH YOU!" 

 

Rui snarled and launched another fire attack. This time flames burst from her mouth as she screamed. She then ran, sprinting with a look of determination to kill that Shiori mirrored in turn. 

 

Michiru wasted no time, her hair rising to the sky as she grinned, sharing too many teeth, too much despair and too much energy. The Gods would not win this time. The second the circle was completed, she stabbed the ground with her staff. At once, the gem on the staff, the gem on her shirt and in her eyes glowed. It shimmered once before sending out a shockwave that silenced the entire air and ground. 

 

 Steadily, the gods watching with their giant eyes in the sky were pushed back, clouds flickered before returning to normal. The fire in the trees silenced itself, shrinking into nothing within seconds. The wind froze before dropping all of the broken wood down to the ground. In the distance, wood dropped with a splash, burnt bark turning to driftwood— and then all was quiet. 

 

In the centre of all the chaos, the decay still bleeding out to the grass underneath, rot and fungi sprouted as sprinkles of blood rained down on the soft earth. Michiru heaved, rising— staggering to her feet in a stumble forward. She coughed once, blood spurting out in a heavy gush. She grimaced, wiping the already dark clots from her lips from the back of her sleeves. 

 

Ah, she forgot she wasn't marked,  not yet , for this prophecy. Still, she wasn't going to die just yet— not today. 

 

"Rui," she gasped, leaning heavily on the stick as she swallowed down the blood rising from the back of her throat. She grimaced at the taste, her shoulders shaking as she continued to march forward. She needed to make sure Rui was okay, damn herself all she wanted but Rui— she had to be okay. "Rui!?"

 

In front of her, curled up in an armadillo stance, the brown locks of her hair loose and covering up the small display of her bare back was Rui. The black discolourings were gone, her nails were long but dulled, and her fangs as short as it once was. She was safe. She was fine— Michiru could breathe in peace. 

 

"Michiru?" Rui coughed, her eyelids fluttering to stay open before opening wide in a panic once she accidentally rolled on her back. A scream of agony tore through her lungs as her back arched, desperate for any distance. 

 

"Rui!" Michiru reached out to grab her, hesitated upon glancing at her own bloody hands, before settling to nudge her with her stick. Rui grabbed the end, wincing and used to heave herself up to a sitting position. The jacket was gone, her black shirt was ruined and piercing past the fabric was the daunting red pulse of the Villain's mark. 

 

"I'm sorry," Rui hissed through the pain and gritted teeth. Sweat dripped from the sides of her head, pooling and dripping down at the tip of her jaw. "I tried Michiru, I tried to be kind but—"

 

"It's okay," Michiru cooed, passing Rui a health potion she should've saved for herself but didn't. "You're okay now, just rest alright?" 

 

"I…" Rui ducked her head in shame, the voice wavering in the ocean's depth of shame.

 

"I'm going to check up on Shiori," Michiru said. She took off what remained of her cloak and draped the clothing over Rui's shoulders gently, careful to hide but not touch the exposed mark. "I want you to stay here okay?" 

 

"And don't blame yourself," Michiru added quickly just as she turned around, facing Rui once more. The sight of Rui's eyes, a washed-out red from the lining of tears and the darting away in shame made Michiru's mouth dry. "I should've gotten here quicker, I should've done a lot better to help you even when I know I shouldn't… so please Rui, be kind. Not to Shiori but to yourself too. Kindness is a thing all humans deserve and you're human too." 

 

Rui nodded, her body shaking and drew her knees to her chest. She buried her head there, clutching the hems of Michiru's jacket like a lifeline. Michiru supposed that would do for an answer now, even if it was neither a yes, or a no.

 

Taking her stick and another heavy stride forward, Michiru hobbled her way to the other side of the battleground. The wind still acted up, fluctuating in both its strength and distance. Funny enough, the decay did nothing in return. It was almost muffled when Michiru reached the eye of the hurricane— a crumbled form of Shiori on the ground. 

 

Except Shiori's form wasn't exactly crumbled, nor on the ground. It was cradled, floating a centimetre off the ground as she rested like she was asleep. Her hair was a wild entanglement of blonde curls and locks, and there was a pendant on a chain around her neck, a rose with an angel wing. 

 

Much like Rui, the Hero's mark on her chest was pulsing a violent golden light— fluctuating like a dying lightbulb. And on her shoulder, exposed by the rips and tears of Rui's attack, was a sight that stopped Michiru's heart for a moment. 

 

A tattoo rested on the exposed skin, a diluted figure of two pointed stars that gleamed brighter with every shudder of Shiori's body. Almost as if it was enjoying her agony. Even blood from the claw wound above would trickle and skirt around the image like it was something to be afraid of. 

 

This tattoo was the mark of The Institution, a name Michiru thought had died long before Shiori was born. 

 

"Mama…" Shiori whimpered, her brows tousled together as she cried in her sleep. "Don't let the Temple take away onee chan and kuro nee..." 

 

"Oh you bastard Seer," Michiru hissed under her breath as she took in the scene, her hands shaking in rage, hatred and fear. The Institution was now the Temple, the acclaimed place that Michiru feared, the one that taught Shiori's sisters-- The sole place that held the Eternal Seer. 

 

This explained so much, and yet Michiru couldn't help but quiver at the hauntingly familiar brand on Shiori's skin. And, even though she disfigured her own copy, her shoulder ached at the haunted memories. 

 

Lost in the discovery, Michiru looked up, and in the eye of a hurricane, a single eye crossed and stitched with a faded  Seers  mark on its iris, stared back. 

Chapter Text

This is an intermission. We're in an intermission. I heard rumours about this, but I never thought— I never believed that I would be in one. And yet… 

 

An intermission is a grace of peace between the old prophecy and the new one. It's similar to a happy ending, except the significant difference is that the new prophecy has begun. Not officially, however, hence the title' intermission.'  

 

… 

 

I found the new villain. She's a child, and I—

 

I found her... burning... 

 

She was burning-- and she was alive. She was the only one alive. 

 

 I never knew that was how villains were made. I always thought… 

 

Oh God, Shizuha… 

 

I always thought the Hero started the prophecy! That's what they taught me! That's what they taught everyone! Does this mean that the others… the Catalyst might be out there now, so is the Seer. God, they must be children too. 

 

Did that mean? M— 

 

No. I won't follow that thought. This is an intermission. I have the villain of the new prophecy, and I don't know what to do. 

 

Mahiru, I wish you were here. You always knew what to do~

 

Memoir 50. The intermission By Tsuyuzaki Michiru (Unfinished)

 

~

 

Yachiyo woke up at midnight like clockwork. She stretched her arms, glanced around— realised they were in an abandoned church and dropped the rest of her midnight watch routine. She huffed, almost silent underneath her breath, and stood up with a careful degree of caution. 

 

Near them, the quiet sounds of snoring filled the far end of the church. Yachiyo rolled her eyes at Fumi and Claudine as they slept peacefully near each other on the ground. She would've been honoured at their trust in her if it weren't for the lack of protective runes. The likelihood was that they probably slept like that because they didn't know any better. 

 

There was no protection, no runes or tripwires or any way to indict trouble whilst they slept. Yachiyo could probably kill them right now, and they wouldn't even notice, but she won't— it was too much effort. 

 

Yachiyo glanced at the wall nearby with an amused smile. Even in her sleep, Mahiru acted like a veteran Yachiyo knew she would be. Unlike the twins, there were hidden runes of protection sketched onto the rotting wooden pews she slept on. Yachiyo didn't recognise all of them and would go close to check on them had it not been for the faint whisper of something ethereal. 

 

Yachiyo turned left, facing towards the altar that held too much rainwater. The altar in the centre had mold growing on the old cloth and had cracks in the marble. In the middle was none other than Ichie, her back exposed to the party, her head tilted back to face the sky. The moon was bathing her with white lights and white lies, for as peaceful as the picture was— nothing about it implied peace. 

 

"Darling close your weary eyes,"  Ichie murmured, her echo— hollow and yet full of emotion acted as an encore and as a backing singer. With each reflection and vibration that bounced off the walls and into Yachiyo's ears, she could only decide to walk slower. Just so that she could hear less of her own footsteps and more of Ichie's voice. 

 

"Everything will be fine…."  Ichie raised her hand up to the sky, almost as an offering and in the dull moonlight, Yachiyo could see the mark on her arm glow, unnaturally so. Yachiyo wasn't surprised. She was too used to anomalies that came with knowing Ichie. Instead, the sight dimmed the smile on Yachiyo's lips, her eyes wincing for a brief moment of weakness gained for knowing too much.  "Let the breeze wipe away your tears…."  

 

Oh, Ichie… She was singing Michiru's song. 

 

"There is no need to cry~"  Yachiyo sang as she stepped out of the shadows, her shoulders relaxed with an easy smile on her face. Ichie didn't turn around, only lowered her outstretched hand. Though if she did, she wouldn't spot any emotions in Yachiyo's eyes. 

 

"Did I wake you?" Ichie asked after a moment of silence, head still tilted up to face the moon. 

 

"Funny you say that," Yachiyo laughed as she walked towards the altar, "Singing away at a lullaby." She jumped across the small puddle of water that remained at the base of the first step before climbing up the small stairs to the altar directly. "But no, lucky for you and your guilt, you didn't wake me this time."

 

Ichie chuckled. This close, Yachiyo could spot the gallows hanging from Ichie's lip, dark humour swinging to and fro every time she opened her mouth. It was hard seeing her like this, her best friend dangling on the edge of cruelty, a fate only common at night. Ichie shined so much in the day, but still, it would never be easy seeing her light twist like this. 

 

"This time," Ichie said after clearly long deliberation.  

 

"I walked past Fumi, Claudine and Mahiru," Yachiyo said. She placed her elbows on the freezing marble and glanced at the moon from the broken roof opening. She blinked fast, unused to the sudden beam of moonlight in her eyes, almost as if she was staring into the sun. "It seemed that they became more tired hearing you sing."

 

"Ah," Ichie giggled, kicking Yachiyio's arms that were within reach. Yachiyo hit back, shoving Ichie's leg into the other. "I need to keep on practising then." 

 

"Maybe," Yachiyo said before she turned around and lifted herself upon the altar. "Scooch over and let me in." Ichie scooted left, grabbing Yachiyo's arm and pulling her up. The second she was on, Yachiyo sketched a rune made from glamour on the altar using the water nearby as the ink. She grinned as the rune flashed before it faded away.  

 

"There," she sighed as she lowered her head onto Ichie's lap, smirking coyly when Ichie gave her an amused smile. "Now no one can hear you or see you." The glamour rune wasn't perfect, and it wouldn't last long considering it was made with water, but it would be enough for tonight. 

 

"Your illusion magic is growing," Ichie laughed. She looked up to the moon, carding her fingers through Yachiyo's hair. The familiar scratching sensation made Yachiyo close her eyes, focusing on Ichie's voice. "It seems like yesterday when you first used it, hiding a crack in the wall when we threw that ball to the barn." 

 

"I remember that," Yachiyo laughed, the image of the three of them as little children appeared at the front of her mind. Gods, they were so young back then; Ichie even had long hair. "Rui got so worried when she threw it."

 

Ichie laughed harder, and Yachiyo could feel her arm shaking against her hair. "I still can't believe even back then I was capable of breaking that wall with my elbow when I caught it." Oh yes, even then, Ichie's mark was still working, even when she couldn't control it. 

 

"Yeah…" Yachiyo opened her eyes, the smile on her face shifting to a small frown at the water lining Ichie's eyes. She reached up, brushing the unshed tears as Ichie looked down at her, the genuine smile watery. "We've changed since then huh?"

 

"I miss her," Ichie murmured, tilting her head back when a droplet fell on Yachiyo's cheek. It was too hot for a tear, almost scalding, and Yachiyo sat up. Automatically she shifted as Ichie's face buried itself to her shoulder. There were no tears yet, at least the vocal kind, but Yachiyo still brought Ichie's face to her chest. Something she always did when they were growing up when the nightmares were getting too much. 

 

"Rui misses you too," Yachiyo whispered into Ichie's ear. She brushed the mess of Ichie's hair to the side, taking in the quiet shakes of her body. Yachiyo looked down. Ichie's golden eyes were screwed shut, but there was a small light glowing faintly to her side. Her mark dimmed, pulsing a yellow light like a warning. Yachiyo turned to the side just to avoid the light. 

 

"She was one of my greatest friends," Ichie murmured, her voice muffled but not the pain. Still, Ichie chuckled and lifted her head up. A small smile reached her teary eyes as Yachiyo caught her gaze. "Not including you of course."

 

Yachiyo laughed, brushing the silent tears away from Ichie's cheek before swiping the stray looks of lavender hair to the side. "We'll see her again."

 

Ichie bit her bottom lip, and Yachiyo stilled. She knew that action all too well, and if she was honest to herself, she would admit that she was scared of it. It was a subtle action, a minor coping mechanism caused by the prophecy. Back when they were kids, Ichie was a person with an open heart and an open mind. Her heart was on her sleeves as a child, but now it was dangerous to put her heart anywhere. Especially on her tongue, especially when she knew too much. 

 

"Hopefully…" Ichie whispered. The quiet word teemed with fear and hesitation and careful, cautious consideration for the other person. 

 

"Ichie…" Yachiyo warned, holding her hands with a gentle grip. Her fingers brushed over the pads of Ichie's thumbs, feeling the bumps of scars, blisters and the calluses of playing the guitar. 

 

Ichie sniffled and leaned away. She wiped the tears from her eyes as she looked behind them to the sleeping trio. She sighed, her emotions gone and filtering to a wavering monotonous state, like a new sheet of paper with dog ears at the edges. "Fumi is someone we got to keep an eye on by the way."

 

Yachiyo narrowed her eyes. "You're deflecting." 

 

Ichie ignored her, eyes narrowing in almost spite and determination. She shifted her entire body around to face the trio, and Yachiyo could only sigh in defeat. "Claudine is strong, probably as strong or stronger than me— and I'm not just talking about strength. She's hot headed but she can get through a lot, potentially."

 

"And Mahiru?" Yachiyo asked, shifting her attention more on the new people. She was already aware of the twins and their capabilities, more worried for Fumi and her intellect. Still, she agreed with Ichie's judgement of Claudine. She was a person who looked like she would survive the prophecy. Ichie nodded her head, bringing her hands to her lap, only to then move one to the arm that held her mark. 

 

"She's part of the last prophecy," Ichie stated, not even questioning the weight of that sentence. Yachiyo nodded her head, a heaviness settling in her stomach that her past assumptions were correct. "You can't be a Mentor unless you have experience—" Ichie continued before her eyes widened, and she grabbed Yachiyo by the shoulders. "Do you think?"

 

Yachiyo knew what Ichie was going to ask. It's the only thing Ichie would focus on whenever they brought up the last prophecy and the tragedy of it all. So Yachiyo gave Ichie a focused stare, burying all of her thoughts of Michiru to her stomach so it would burn with the acid. "That she's the past Catalyst?"

 

"Yeah!" Ichie grinned, and for once, excitement and the euphoric gleam of hope shone in her eyes. It ached Yachiyo deep down to see it, despite the fact she would never show it. "Do you think she's that person?" 

 

No , Yachiyo wanted to say.  No, Ichie, Mahiru wasn't the past Catalyst because you already met and then, for her safety, forgot the past Catalyst.  Yachiyo smiled neutrally, caught up in Ichie's frantic nodding and hopeful energy. But, in her mind, the words she wanted to say continued to spiral, whispering like haunted ghosts. 

 

Her name was Michiru, and she's smaller than you by an inch, even when you turned 18. She was Rui's guardian and kept an eye on us growing up.

 

"Because you know," Ichie rambled, her hands moving left to right to assist her reasoning, expelling all the extra energy she had pent up within. "She's the mentor—" 

 

You were always envious of Rui being her kid, even when Michiru would never admit seeing her as her child. So you called her Auntie when it was only the two of us talking. 

 

 "She's going to die soon and well," Ichie paused, hesitating as she looked away. Something was caught in her throat, and the words came out straggled and broken. "I— it would be nice to know her, if she was the Catalyst, before she died."

 

Even then, you looked up to Michiru a lot, and she was almost like a teacher to you, giving life advice you still remember even though you don't know who told them to you. 

 

"If the Hero isn't here," Ichie continued, slower and cautious with hope draining from her eyes like sand in an hourglass. "But she's already the Mentor, who else would need her guidance more than me?" 

 

You loved her so much. You loved her so much that the thought of hurting her, even when it wasn't your direct fault, broke you so much. You took the forgetful potion the second you woke up and erased her from your life. 

 

Yachiyo gave her a small smile, a surface-level reflection of her inner turmoil deep inside. "I don't think she's the Catalyst Ichie…."

 

I'm so sorry, Ichie, that I didn't tell you, that I kept silent all these years when you kept chasing this ghost. It would break her if you knew, it would break Rui if anything happened, and it would break you too. Hope is the most dangerous thing to have in a prophecy born from a tragedy. 

 

"But she would know her, right?" Ichie gasped, desperation tilting the edge of her voice to a broken cry. "The Lover and the Catalyst survived… so do you think...? Do think she'll…."

 

"I don't know," Yachiyo said, holding Ichie's hands with a gentle squeeze. "But I don't want your own hope to break you Ichie."

 

"Right…" Ichie laughed, shaking her head before she looked up to the moon. She laughed again, and the hair on Yachiyo's arms stood up from the sound. It sounded too much of a raven caw for the dead. "Don't ask for too much and you won't get disappointed." 

 

"Another saying?"

 

Ichie nodded, dropping her head down to avoid Yachiyo. "I still don't remember who said them."

 

Yachiyo gave her a bittersweet smile, a brief glimpse of honesty spared at the moment. "I wish I could help…." Thankfully, Ichie was already turning away, putting her attention on the other people in their party. 

 

"She's going to find out you know—" Ichie said, jutting her chin towards Mahiru's direction. "That I'm not really the bard."

 

"Who?"

 

"Mahiru," Ichie clarified. "She's the veteran and even when we don't know her mark before, she survived the last prophecy. Give her time and she'll figure it out."

 

"Actually," Ichie sighed before it morphed into another cruel laugh. "I wouldn't be surprised if Fumi figured it out in time too— she would have realised tonight had I not distracted her."

 

"Fumi?" Yachiyo raised a brow in surprise. She expected Mahiru but not Fumi, not when she was so easily distracted when Ichie smiled at her— Oh… Clarity swam in Yachiyo's eyes. Ichie, despite acting like a bard, wasn't much of a flirt. She was kind and charming in her own right, but she wouldn't normally go out of her way like last night. "Is that why you flirted with her?"

 

Ichie made a face before she covered up her still glowing mark on her arm. "It's not really…." Then after some thought, she nodded her head. "I mean yeah, past saving her life and all, she memorised things." She looked at Yachiyo, her golden eyes hardening. 

 

"Memorised ," she emphasised. "That's different from being taught, she memorised those marks."

 

"So you did overhear our discussion," Yachiyo mused, a hand on her chin as she continued to explore what that word meant. Ichie was right; memorisation was different from the word 'taught or studied.' It implied different things, and now that Yachiyo thought about it more, it implied dangerous things. Yachiyo matched Ichie's gaze, extremely aware of how close they were to falling apart, from keeping Ichie's much-needed secret hidden. 

 

"This massive hole in the building made that easy," Ichie said, craning her neck up once more to look at the moon. "Anyways, even though we complained about the heavy armour, the other one had the strength to back up it's uses."

 

"Now that you mention it," Yachiyo said, glancing back at Fumi resting on the floor near her twin. She remembered her surprise of Fumi's sudden spell, of the way she immediately sensed danger and raised her illusion magic as a backup. "Fumi could do spells outside of the book. I mean yeah we can do the same thing, but we're different."

 

Ichie hummed, sighing another time as she continued to stare at the moon. "As expected from the sisters of the hero…." 

 

"Man," Yachiyo laughed, suddenly feeling exhausted from the sheer realisation of how close they were to being exposed. "And they brag about being trained for this stuff, kinda makes you wonder what the actual hero can do right?" 

 

Ichie didn't reply, too busy staring up at the moon. Unused to the silence, Yachiyo glanced her way and froze once more at the way Ichie bit her bottom lip. Her hands were trembling, and the quiet gulp Ichie made sounded like a gunshot this close. 

 

"Ichie…" Yachiyo whispered, grabbing hold of Ichie's arm. "I can't help you when you don't tell me." 

 

"I don't need to wonder…." Ichie said after a long, tense silence. The words were jagged, jarring like prying a box open with a rusty crowbar. "I already saw it."

 

"Ichie?"

 

"She's not trained," Ichie continued, her voice quiet and haunting. "She's younger than us, sure, but she's dangerous. More than any of them… She…" She turned her head, buried her hands into her face, and her whole body quivered. 

 

Yachiyo placed a hand on her back, rubbing it in soothing gestures as she held her close. "What did you see?"

 

"The Hero is a strong person," Ichie cried, anguish bubbling over as she struggled to get the words out loud. "But death clings to her like a shadow, in more ways than one. I can't say anything more— I don't want to make it real."

 


 

"The forgetful potion created in the eve of a solstice, whether in the winter or the summer variants, is one of the most powerful potions of losing memory. This is not to be confused with memory erasing or modifying potion. The forgetful potion is named bluntly for the fact that things that are forgotten can be remembered. Similarly, it can be known as selective amnesia, but it's unprofessional to label a potion an already medical term, even if there are some similarities. 

 

One can forget that Seer is as equally flawed and corrupt as Catalyst can be. Still, in time, they can remember that both are made from the same cloth, and most importantly, both are humans despite what the teachings believe." 

 

Nana slammed the book in her hand shut, a loud thud echoing in the empty amphitheatre that once housed the divination ceremony. 

 

"So this is how they viewed us," Nana mused before she yawned, scrunching her nose as she absentmindedly flipped through the pages once more. "Like we're the bad guys…."

 

In the background of the near-empty room, a chorus of air being sliced and diced intensified. Nana smiled at the sound, glancing up towards the person in the centre, dancing around the bowl used for the ceremony. Tendou Maya, the starlight warrior and Nana's lover, was practising her cuts on the stage. 

 

"Granted I guess," Nana sighed as she rose from her seat and walked closer to the sound. "We can be seen as that." She stepped up to the podium, jumping over the curls and clouds of smoke and white noise. 

 

"Good and evil is all about perception in the end," She shrugged, tossing the book to a table with little care. "Even murder can be seen as a something, not good but reasonable in the name of self defence." 

 

"I still don't understand why you read that snivelling piece of garbage," Maya said before her eyes narrowed. She aimed at Nana, striking and hitting fast.

 

 Nana grinned at the attention, sidestepping to the left as the Seer mark just underneath her chin pulsed, and she ducked. Maya's sword whisked past her hair before Nana reached out, grabbing her free arm before Maya could stop her and capture her in her arms, the weapon falling out of her grip. In this position, using a free hand, Nana wiped the sweat from Maya's face. 

 

"Hate them all you want Maya chan, my love," she said as she kissed Maya's head to pacify her before letting her go. "But they are legends of alchemists in their own right," Nana continued. Maya cleared her throat, a tinge of red on her face before she picked up her sword and sheathed it. "Their potions, though the anecdote for each one is laughable, are interesting."

 

Nana paused, looking down at the book of Mahiru's book that slipped through their defence and was copied before Shiori stole the original version. "To think they could create a glamour to hide from the gods themselves. Granted it heavily implies the usages of either a Seer or a Catalyst."

 

"That explains how they hid from us all these years," Maya warned as she took a towel she placed nearby. She took off her monocle, a flash of red shining in her iris before it was covered with the towel to wipe off the remaining sweet. 

 

"Now you see why this garbage can be useful," Nana giggled as she walked around the bowl, a finger brushing against the surface of the water. There was no ripple as her finger moved, for why would it? This bowl, as basic as it seemed, was something only those with enough divinity to touch. "One man's trash is another person's treasure."

 

"That treasure is cursed," Maya grumbled. Nana looked up, and eventually, she moved her hand away. There, a ripple emerged, and its waves created a symbol of two pointed stars before disappearing entirely. 

 

"Are you still upset that I allowed Mahiru chan to join in?"

 

"She's dangerous," Maya spat, throwing the towel around her shoulders as she adjusted the monocle again on her left eye. It was a magic trick, really, seeing Maya's gorgeous crimson eye return to its usual lavender shade, but it was that Nana adored seeing it again and again. After all, she was the magician in such a humble trick. "Even with that Mentor mark, she could twist the minds of our students."

 

"Awww Maya chan," Nana teased with a slight giggle as she reached out and held her arms. "It's cute you think she's a threat."

 

"Daiba san." Unfortunately, Maya didn't seem to play at Nana's game. Bringing out their last names whenever they were alone was always such an indicator that Maya was upset with her. 

 

"I know…" Nana whispered, sobering for a moment. She would not forget, could never forget, the way Mahiru murdered their once third lover, Hoshimi Junna, many years ago. She placed their heads against each other, eyes shut to honour Junna, and in turn, Nana focused on Maya's ragged breath. How calming it was to hear Maya like this— it almost made Nana feel human. 

 

"But don't worry—" Nana said as she opened her eyes, a smirk rising on her lips when she saw the hint of red over the rim of Maya's monocle. "She will die in this life." Maya matched her grin. The greed and power stretched the hungry smile in a way that took Nana's breath away. 

 

"I saw her death so many times," Nana cooed, her hands moving up Maya's arm that made her feel every muscle in them shiver. "In so many different ways— such is a power of the Seer." She leaned in, blowing in the corner of Maya's smirk before looking directly at Maya's eyes. "There's even one version where she is killed by you."

 

"I'm still mad at you," Maya whispered. Flashes of warmth spilt over to the air in between them though it was getting smaller every second. "Even when you say such sweet things like that." Maya's cool breath, the slight pant lingering from her daily practise, the way it brushed against Nana's lips like a tease made Nana's own back tingle. 

 

"I love you too," Nana murmured, earnest and genuine as her love has been for many years and decades. They closed the gap together, as equals, as the greatest companion each other was to the other. Then they separated, smiling and cheeks red with a soft hue. When one was together for long enough, not every kiss needed to be magic— sometimes simplicity was its own sense of beauty. 

 

"How are they," Maya asked, their gloved fingers intertwining as they walked side by side to the bowl in the centre. "Our students?"

 

In her free hand, Nana touched the side of the bowl, drawing out a simple rune that activated the rest. Runes lit up in patches of black, brown and white before fading out to a yellow. In the centre of the frozen water, the images of Claudine and Fumi rested in the centre. And from this side of the scene, the tattoos they got when they became acolytes glowed dimly underneath their clothes. 

 

"Claudine and Fumi are in Primus meeting others in the prophecy," Nana said as she traced her hand around the rim of the bowl. The water rippled, and on the floor, in a cave floor resting near an empty healing potion and a bandage laid Shiori. Just like her sisters, the mark of the two stars glowed. 

 

Nana, personally, was glad that this locating rune, embedded with the Seer's inability to  see,  worked well on Shiori too. For such a rushed job, only implementing it when Maya saved her from the balcony before handing her off to one of the Institute's rooms. It was a great thing, too, that her sisters trusted her so implicitly. The name of the Kirin was enough for their permission to place a secret mark on their youngest sister. 

 

"And Shiori met," Nana paused, unsure how to word the surprise she saw from the other side of the scene. A catalyst she thought was gone either from death or insanity was glaring back at her with eyes fit for murder. In the end, Nana laughed as the old and worn face of Ootori Michiru appeared in the water itself, checking up on Shiori with gentle grace. The sight was almost laughable. 

 

"Well," Nana chuckled, glancing at Maya with a teasing smile. "A familiar face… A curious child, actually."

 

"The corrupted Catalyst is still alive?" Maya growled, gritting her teeth before the rage reached her hands. Had it been anyone else, Maya would've crushed their bones entirely, but since it was only Nana, she barely felt a thing. In fact, Nana squeezed her hand back to placate her love. "I thought she went insane by now."

 

"From what I saw—" Nana chuckled, too amused by the coincidences and parallels that presented themselves in this prophecy. "She raised the Villain." 

 

"The Villain?" Maya rose a brow in surprise before the joke hit her square on the head. She cackled, looking at the old face with a cruel smile. "Oh that's incredible. The child is still a dreamer."

 

Nana raised her head at the word, looking to the towering red curtains as the door backstage creaked open with an echoing screech. Nana and Maya gave each other an amused look, a discussion spoken between their eyes. Then as the gentle steps of a child waddled down the wooden flooring, Nana kissed Maya on the cheek for good luck. 

 

"Speaking of dreamers," Maya chuckled like a child, no older than 7 holding a blanket full of purple flowers Nana never cared about to learn appeared around the corner. "Aren't you supposed to be in bed Elle?" 

 

Elle shook her bedridden hair, light blue in colour before she rubbed her lavender eyes with a yawn. "It was cold." 

 

Maya laughed as she walked close enough and scooped Elle up into her arms. "That's because you took your blanket with you." 

 

"Noooo," Elle frowned before grumbling into Maya's embrace. "It's cold… like a ghost again." 

 

At the word, Nana sighed before frowning, understanding but also concerned. They found Elle abandoned in a forest, barely able to breathe. It took everything in both of them to bring her back to life, but so close to death, her internalised magic fluctuated ever since. Even now, despite saving her a decade and a half ago, she couldn't properly grow up like the other kids. 

 

Barely anyone knew about Elle, of course, especially since Elle spent most of her days sleeping unless something important happened. For example, Elle's magic fluctuating or ghosts haunting her sleep. It was Nana's job to keep both at bay with her magic, but even then— this was the second time this week alone, and the only conclusion Nana could think of was the prophecy. Maya even had to be called in to calm her during the Divination ceremony. 

 

However, Nana pushed those thoughts aside, giggling underneath her breath at Maya's reaction. Maya froze in place, still unable to fully get rid of her ghost phobia. "Must be your magic fluctuating again," Nana said as she walked closer and bopped Elle's nose. She turned back to her lover and kissed her once more on the lip. "Maya chan please put Elle to sleep. I'll follow you later."

 

Elle blinked her lethargic eyes open, a frown serious enough to distort her sleepy face. "Are you going to do something again Nana?"

 

Nana simply smiled as she patted Elle's head. "Yes, but not to you…." She glanced behind her as a spark glinted in her eyes. "A ghost appeared near our Hero, so I need to make sure I destroy it to help you sleep okay?"

 

"Okay…" With that, Nana and Maya gave each other a fond look in parting before Maya exited the theatre room from the backstage wing. 

 

Alone in the room where everything started, from the prophecy and the prophecy before— Daiba Nana, the eternal Seer, grinned over the bowl. And in her reflection, the eye of Seer underneath her chin flared with intense light. 

 

"Now…" Nana cooed, her excitement stretching her skin far too wide to be considered humane. "Little Shiori, help me get rid of a Catalytic ghost, will you dear?" 

 

Chapter Text

Despite the abundance of mentors in stories and prophecies, there is barely any recognition of the heroes having children post prophecy. Whilst it's likely that they aren't documented for respect and the privacy of the Hero's life, it's an interesting phenomenon to note. Especially in comparison to the Villains. 

 

There are numerous cases where the children or lineage of past villains rose up again in the following prophecy(ies) after the Hero won. This act is named promptly after the sole circumstance where the Hero was the child of a past victorious Villain in one prophecy. The sins of the Father. 

 

Yet, that narrative only happened once. In this world, the children of the villains continued to take their parental role of a villain. In contrast, Heroes never sired a future prophetic hero. This is not even related to the fact it's near impossible for the divine tools, Catalyst and Seers, to sire actual biological children. 

 

But still, past heroes did exist in future prophecies. They might not be biologically related to the heroes or roles of the future prophecy. Still, even when they had the role of the mentor on their back, these older figures gained a parental stance, especially if the encounters were young. 

 

...

 

How dangerous it is to be the person they look up to. Children are so impressionable. They can become monsters, saviours, heroes and villains all by how they were raised...

 

Memoir 75-- Children of the Marked by Tsuyuzaki Michiru 

 

~

 

Shiori was dreaming, this much, Shiori knew. It was vague in this world of fog and smoke, silver linings made real with astral light and stardust glitter. In front of her were red eyes— familiar yet dangerous, fearsome and yet kind. The duality of such a sight made her head throb. She has seen those eyes before, blinking with a crimson glow at the outline after the divination ceremony. 

 

Even now, the eyes— plural— a set and only a set, were blinking. Its motions were slow and lethargic, like they were fighting sleep. And just like before, images flashed in Shiori's vision, but this time, it was more advanced than before. Brown hair— dark and long like a mahogany tree. The letter C, crooked and crumbled like a layer being peeled off its skin. Gold gleaming in its most tainted form, glistening despite how the shell of such metal was coloured like mouldy hay. 

 

"Shiori," a voice whispered to her, forgettable in the wonders of this dream world. 

 

Fire existed within this celestial fog, scarlet and burning. It raged on, directionless and stubborn like a flood. It didn't circle Shiori, now that she noticed such a demanding heat. Instead, the fire stayed distant from her, almost as if there was a boundary. Except there was no direct boundary around Shiori. The dying embers and the flickering flames were touched by her hands— and unlike the burning scorching sensation Shiori expected, the flames were warm. It was kind. 

 

"Shiori!" 

 

The wind blared around her, greeting her like an old friend or a faithful companion. It rushed underneath her sleeves, lifted up her hair. It danced around her, energetic and free and controlled. Shiori could sense how it moved from one layer of clothing to the next within a precision she couldn't see before. 

 

Maybe she could control the wind— 

 

"--Shiori, wake up!"

 

Shiori gasped, her chest heaving as light attacked her from all angles. She winced, raising a hand to cover her face as the shadows faded out, bringing shape and colour to the people hovering over her. 

 

"F-fumi?" Shiori blinked. Her eyes widened at Fumi's gentle smile. At once, her heart throbbed once more, hollow and overflowing with an acidic burn. She turned her head left, attempting to avoid the jarring kindness on Fumi's face— only to startle herself, stumbling back onto the pillow. "Claudine?"

 

Claudine frowned, her brows creasing. "Eh, Shiori, what happened to Kuro nee."

 

Befuddlement silenced Shiori's tongue as she stared. "Uh…" 

 

Fumi took notice, for how could she not, and nudged Claudine with an elbow. She winked subtly at Shiori like they were in with some joke before she grinned impishly. "She just woke up, Kuro nee~" She puckered her lips with that, leaning forward only to laugh it away when Claudine pushed her aside. 

 

"Eww don't say it like that," Claudine cringed, "You make me sound old."

 

"You are old by like, three hours."

 

This time it was Claudine's turn to huff and push Fumi away. "Well it's your fault for going late outside of the womb."

 

Shiori sat there, on a bed she can't remember staring with her heart aching and her head throbbing. How beautiful it was to see the sisters she cared about— the sisters she, deep down despite all the pain, could never tear away. To deep down, how painful it was to doubt that any of this was real— that none of this could be real. Not after how badly they failed her on the night of prophecy. 

 

"Can you guys be quiet," Shiori gasped, barely able to get the words out of the twisting and complex emotions and cries in her throat. "Please?"

 

"Oh right," Fumi winced, "You just woke up." She shuffled further at the end of the bed, for once actually listening to Shiori and making some space. To say it was jarring would be a complete understatement. 

 

"Sorry Shiori," Claudine equally said in an apologetic voice— another bizarre amendment that shook Shiori to her core. When was the last time Claudine ever admitted she was in the wrong?

 

"Mum—"

 

"--WHO!?" 

 

"--Made your favourite tea by the way so get it whilst it's hot." Not noticing the horror on her younger sister's face, Claudine nudged Fumi on the shoulder with her usual competitive smirk. "Come on Fumi, I want to play knights and dragons."

 

Fumi grinned, also oblivious to Shiori's blatant outburst. Instead, she raced towards the door, her laughter echoing down the hallway. "Last one to the forest is a stinky dragon."

 

"Hey no fair," Claudine yelled back, chasing after her twin, "You cheated!"

 

The name of such a nostalgic game was enough to shake Shiori out of her thoughts surrounding the fate of her mothers. Her sisters played Knights and Dragons when they were kids, and their mothers were alive. 

 

Shiori's eyes widened with a sudden epiphany. She scrambled out of bed, gasping at the mirror nearby before the shock forced her back on the floor. The rose clip, no longer around her neck, was on her hair. Ignoring how pale and sickly her skin was, already bruising from her sickness, that was the biggest indicator of her youth. She really was a child— which ultimately meant none of this was real. 

 

Yet that didn't stop Shiori's eyes from watering when she heard footsteps and her late mother appearing in the reflection of the mirror. 

 

"Shiori?" Her late mother, Reo, a compassionate and cautious person, walked into her room. The golden hair, full of curls and softness, swayed as she crouched down to Shiori's level. "Shiori my dear are you alright?" 

 

Shiori's bottom lip wobbled. The agony of her sisters. The crushing relief and exhaustion that none of this was real disappeared at the sight of her mother. How much she missed her. Ignoring all of her inherited caution, Shiori stumbled to her feet and ran into Reo's arm, gripping her waist in a tight hug. "Ma…" 

 

"Oh my sweet baby," Reo cooed, kissing the crown on her head. The tenderness made her crumble, almost forgetting that all of this was an illusion. Illusion or not, Shiori missed her mothers dearly, even when she could barely remember them. "Did you have a bad dream?"

 

"Yeah," Shiori broke, gasping for breath with a watery smile. "My sisters were kind to me and listened after 10 years and one of my mothers returned from the dead." She looked up, a heavy weight on her lower jaw as she sniffled. "I'm hugging a ghost, that's kinda scary isn't it Ma?" 

 

The smile on Reo's face faltered, only solidifying the weight in Shiori's chest into a heavy piece of lead. "I'm sorry my darling…." 

 

"Why is this a thing…." Shiori raged, grasping onto the shirt of her mother, her voice simmering low like a heavy breeze seconds away from developing into a hurricane. "WHAT'S THE POINT!? IS THIS ANOTHER HERO THING TOO!?"

 

"Hey," Reo said, patting Shiori's cheek to make Shiori look at her. "Shiori ,look at me." Reo grabbed the bottom of her chin, guiding her daughter to see her head on. "Just because this isn't real, doesn't mean I'm not real."

 

"Huh?" 

 

"You need help," Reo smiled. She cupped Shiori's cheeks, thumb against the skin in gentle circles. "You were calling for me in your sleep… and so I came. Not all divine intervention is a bad thing you know. Besides, I know those villains won't help you will they?"

 

Something churned in the pit of Shiori's stomach. As much as Rui had been rough and how manipulative Michiru had been, they were helpful to some degree. They gave Shiori her privacy, and they attempted to teach her how to control her powers. They failed in doing that assignment, but they tried, compared to her sisters over the years— it was better than nothing. "I…"

 

"You plant flowers for me," Reo continued her grin widening. "Outside of the walls because I never got a proper burial thanks to the plague. Right near our house that Mahiru stole."

 

Shiori blinked, the churning in her stomach intensifying. "Mahiru stole that?" She shook her head violently, stepping back and throwing her mother's hands away. "No—" Shiori declared, her eyes holding a stern gaze as her brain racked itself for the memories. 

 

"You… you gave that to her." That's right, Mahiru mentioned it once when they were gardening in the backyard. That was why Shiori was allowed to plant her flowers there. Mahiru was a family friend despite how little time she had known them. What failing memories she had of her mothers growing up, Mahiru was there to fill in the gaps as best she could. "That was our future house, yeah— I planted your flowers there, with Mama's too. Right opposite Mahiru's flowerbeds for her wife." 

 

"Right…" Reo said, unsure, faltering before she shook her head, smiling like before. Yet now, with the unsettling feeling in Shiori's stomach, the smile looked more predatory than it was kind. "Sorry, it's— it's been a while. I forget what I did."

 

Shiori paused. "If you're my mother," she said slowly. "Tell me what flowers appeared on your flowerbed."

 

"Shiori!?" Reo gasped, hand on her chest at the sheer accusation. 

 

"I'm your daughter, Mother," Shiori spat that last word out like a curse, raising her hands up as the thin layer of cold breeze hovered in the cuffs of her sleeves. "Mahiru said I was cautious, something I inherited from you, remember?"

 

Reo paused. A beat passed, and she stood up properly, her eyes dull. Shiori shifted minutely, somehow finding comfort that her mother was a liar. "Roses…" Wind erupted from Shiori's sleeves, bursting through and slamming the fake into the wall. 

 

"HOW DARE YOU PRETEND TO BE MY MOTHER!" Shiori roared, her heart beating fast. Tears bleed from her eyes, angry hot tears. How insulting it was to treat her like a child, to believe she was someone so easy to manipulate and control. 

 

"You're right," The fake laughed as she stood to her feet, her kind smile vicious as the hair flickered from curls to a mess. Her kind eyes flashed crimson, and Shiori gasped.

 

"Michiru san?"

 

"Don't you remember me Shiori?" Michiru grinned. Her mother's curls shaped itself to a thorn bush of knots and edges. Michiru spread her arms out like a performer, ready to give a bow. "I remembered you with great detail."

 

"What—" Shiori looked around. The unfamiliar setting of the bedroom warped itself into a childhood home. A place Michiru never should've known. She knew that Michiru knew of them, but she never thought it would be this extent. 

 

"How…" Michiru didn't answer. She stepped closer inside, careful; and daunting. "You met us before?" Shiori asked, grasping for straws. "Is that how you knew my sister's name?"

 

"And your mothers," Michiru said with a nod, "Aina, Reona though she liked to go as Reo." Michiru stopped right in front of Shiori. Even though Shiori was taller, she couldn't help but freeze when Michiru grabbed her stick and tilted her head down to face her. "You remind them an awful lot about them, your wit… your eyes."

 

"I…" Shiori took a deep breath, swallowing all of her mixed emotions as she glared down at Michiru. "I thought the prophecy told you."

 

"Does the Villain need to stay truthful to it's Hero?" Michiru sneered, swinging the stick back. Shiori's eyes widened, and she raised her hand, blowing Michiru back a few steps— her blood pumping adrenaline around her system. "I'm a master of lies after all—" Michiru chuckled, unfazed as she grinned at Shiori.

 

"In this face—" Her features warped once more, and Shiori saw red, filling out her vision the second she saw Reo's face again. 

 

"DON'T USE HER FACE LIKE THAT!" 

 

She lunged towards Michiru, but Michiru poked her hard on the stomach with the long reach of her staff. Shiori stumbled knee on the ground, her hand clutching the new purple hue on her stomach.  

 

"And the next," Michiru taunted, her face shifting to Shiori's second mother, Aina.

 

"I'll— I'll kill you," Shiori hissed, hatred spewing from her gritted teeth. Michiru placed her staff underneath Shiori's throat, jabbing it lightly enough for Shiori to stutter. "You bastard."

 

"As if you have the guts," Michiru sneered, towering off the fallen Hero as Michiru rotated her staff around, the other end sweeping Shiori to the floor, on her back. "You can't even get through my personal bodyguard."

 

"Your…" Shiori sat up, heaving when Michiru pressed her foot on her stomach. "Bodyguard?"

 

"I raised her, you see, the brown haired one." Michiru mused, her pride in such a cruel act showing its true colour amongst the red glow of her eyes. "They start them small, a phrase used for children and wild animals alike."

 

"You…" Shiori growled, barely able to speak as Michiru pressed her shoe more into Shioir's already bruised stomach. "You're just like the Kirin Temple. Did you steal her from a broken family too?"

 

Michiru chuckled, the sound low and dark— nothing at all like Michiru's laughter Shiori heard before, but it was familiar in some ways. "Well," she drawled, satisfaction oozing from her lips. "I won't say we're not affiliated in one way or another."

 

Shiori barred her teeth, throwing her hands up to push Michiru back. Only to then cry from her lungs when Michiru slammed her staff on her arms. One— Two, beat after beat, and her arms limped out to the side. 

 

"Like I said," Michiru chuckled, pushing the end of her staff once again up to Shiori's face, gloating the fact that no matter what she could do— Shiori couldn't touch her. "You can't even kill me— not with your little book could aid you now." 

 

"My little book," Shiori murmured. A moment passed before her eyes widened in a gasp. "Mahiru's recipes!" 

 

"Ah yes," Michiru rolled her eyes, tutting at the name. "That book. It bested me before when I made that plague—"

 

Shiori's heart stopped, frozen in a second of shock. Then all of the anger narrowed into this pinpoint raw hatred.  "-- you what."

 

"But I won't let it best me again," Michiru continued, ignoring the hurricane of anger, hatred and every destructive nature underneath her. "Even the death potion won't stop me."

 

"But you can try all you want," Michiru swept her staff away from Shiori's figure and hopped off her stomach. Shiori groaned as her body instinctively curled to protect herself. "Say hi to your mothers for me." She waved Shiori goodbye, taunting her with innocent giggles as she did.

 

Shiori screamed, hand against the wooden floor as she lunged herself on instinct, powered by the sudden burst of wind from her fingertips. In time for the collision, Michiru turned around, her eyes wide and flickered from red to emerald green. 

 

The sudden colour change would've made Shiori fixated on the anomaly had not the world disappeared entirely. Instead, the scene shifted, and Shiori was once more in a forest— but in Mahiru's forest, a 10-minute walk behind the house. 

 

Someone was crying. 

 

And Shiori's legs moved on her own. She walked, stumbling over logs, the sound getting louder and louder, more remorseful and full of sorrow. There was a person crumbled in a clearing full of death and decay. Her hair was ragged and ruined, a blonde mess that barely made sense above the neckline. Her body was shuddering. 

 

Shiori, on instinct, reached out her hand. The fingers were small, and the sound she made was smaller. Yet it was enough, and the stranger stopped, stifling the cries they looked up. There were eyes full of blood, but all that trickled down her cheeks were tears.

 

In Shiori's hand, there was a purple hyacinth. The same flower that always bloomed on both of her mother's flowerbeds— It meant that they were sorry. 

 


 

Shiori woke up, this time— the wince in her motions of shuffling around indicated that it was reality instead of a dream. She clutched her head; the searing pain forced a hiss to escape her lip. Her throat held a heavy ache, and when Shiori felt around it, she could sense the lining of a bruise. 

 

She didn't get hit in the throat when she fought Rui. Did that mean the dream was a reality? But if it was a reality, what did that mean? And thirdly, why did she have to deal with this stupid bullshit? Was it because she was the Hero? 

 

The thought made Shiori laugh, the palm of her hand resting on her forehead. To think, both of her sisters wanted to be the Hero, to be the star of this madness. Shiori pushed her palm upwards, running her hand through the messy curls as her laughter turned to cackles. Then it crumbled, breaking down into the hollow ache in her chest, the loneliness and confusion shifting her pitch to sobs. 

 

Her sisters hated her. Her teacher chased her away. Her parents are dead, and she's surrounded by people who want to kill her. All because she was the Hero. She didn't even want this! She was content being forgotten, alone, misunderstood and isolated because she didn't want to be like everyone else— she was used to that! 

 

But now… did she even have a chance to run away? Michiru said she would never force her, but she was the villain— who knows if what she said about Gods was real? Sure she couldn't leave them, not when every time she would attempt, she would stay still, unable to cross an invisible barrier. 

Honestly, all of this would be more tolerant or accepting if Shiori had one person on her side. Just one person to rely on and doesn't want her to die. 

 

"I refuse to listen!" 

 

Shiori perked her head up, the sobs filtering out in the sudden quietness. The voice sounded distant, and yet it was all too clear for Shiori to pick up. In fact, it was so clear that Shiori thought it was— 

 

"Refuse to listen to what, Rui?" Michiru's faint voice replied back, confirming Shiori's previous assumption. "My explanations, my decisions?" Shiori got out of her makeshift bed, shuffling her way to the cave entrance only to see nothing but an empty clearing. Air rushed to her face, and the breeze gave Shiori all the clarity she needed— the wind was carrying their voices over.

 

Shiori closed her eyes, breathing in the cold, inhaling the lingering taste of nature into her lungs. Her eyes opened, and a flash of green light sparked in her eyes, illuminating the iris and within the next few seconds, Shiori could not only hear the two people but see them too. 

 

"I know how maddening this all seems Rui," Michiru stressed— her hands holding onto Rui's arm as her staff laid to rest on the floor. The same staff that hit her in Shiori's dream. They were at the side of the river, the same site, in fact, when Shiori fought against Rui. "But believe me this had to be done."  

 

Rui's face contorted into malice and frustration. She bared her teeth, yanking her sleeve away from Michiru's grip. "I refuse to listen to all of it!" 

 

"All of these words and delusions—" Rui continued, howling out her words so loud that the birds shook and flew away from the charred trees. "You say to be kind and yet now—" The fangs that Shiori knew were unnatural, elongated in length, and there, Shiori realised that it wasn't unnatural as she thought. It was only something Rui did in the heat of anger.  

 

"NOW YOU WANT ME TO KILL SHIORI!"

 

"I know," Michiru said, not denying the statement as she stood her ground. Surrounding the dirty layer at the ends of her coat, a wall of fungi started to emerge from the mud. "It's maddening like I said but—" 

 

"But what!?" Rui raised her hands up, disbelief expressing through the tired sigh, the way her arms fell to the side— the plea in her eyes for any sense of logic. "For the last few days you've been talking about this, making potions and muttering to yourself—." The disbelief faltered, peeling away to concern and confusion and a stronger case of plea to the point it almost looked like begging. 

 

"Had I known any better I would deem you—" Rui paused, tearing her head away from the elder in front of her. Then quiet underneath her breath but loud enough still for Shiori to hear, Rui spoke. "This isn't you Michiru." 

 

Michiru sighed. She stepped forward, slow and cautious— almost hesitant. "I know…" She admitted, shaking her head in the act of sympathy. "It's cruel of me to push this onto you Rui but I don't have a choice." 

 

Rui's eyes hardened, her fist clenched into fists as she stepped back from Michiru's range. She looked at Michiru with an angry, heated gaze. "So you give me this difficult illusion of choice?" She snarled, "You can't hide this from me like you always did Michiru— I have the right to know."

 

"I—" Michiru spoke before her head whipped around to the air, her red eyes glowing an intense red. "Someone's listening—" She hissed before a sudden weight tackled Shiori, out of the air, out of the sky, and she fell back to the empty floor. She hacked air back into her lungs, her throat aching in agony she had never felt before. 

 

After 5 minutes, the pain faded away, leaving Shiori alone on the floor with her head spinning. Not just from the pain but the sudden influx of information. Shiori wasn't alone— Rui was forced to do all of these cruel things, set by Michiru. Michiru was the villain, and Rui was here by force. 

 

And as cruel as that reality seemed, Shiori was glad. It meant she had someone on her side, after all. 

Chapter Text

When the Hero meets an entourage of other marked people, of the various roles that would help them in their journey, this company becomes The Party. The Party was a group of adventurers, often limited to five people ignoring the Catalyst or Seer that joined them as assistance. Often regarding the prophecy and other people’s perceptions, the Seer and Catalyst are nothing but tools. Therefore, they aren’t deemed as human. 

 

But that is another can of worms one must open and then lie in. 

 

I often wondered how genuine the connection within the Party can be. After all, it’s a bunch of different people with different backgrounds forced to unite for one goal. It’s even worse when there is an opposition of beliefs and merits and goals, as drastic infighting could be the deciding factor for the villains to win. 

 

Come to think of it, there is rarely anyone who exists outside of their prophecy once it’s over. People often turn against each other out of hate, greed, jealousy. All before a second prophecy in their lifetime appears. So outside of the prophecy, would these sets of people even be friends? Would they be friends once they achieved their goal or died trying? 

 

Sometimes I wish I could learn, but the prophecy never even gave me a chance. 

 

Memoir #23 The Party. By Tsuyuzaki Michiru

 

~

 

It was strange, talking to other people the same age as them. Not that Fumi and her sister were isolated growing up. But it was stranger still that when Yachiyo and Ichie talked to them, they acted like nothing in the past mattered. Then again, it was to be expected— they were, by all definitions, strangers. Yet, the reality didn’t stop the inner disappointment that Fumi created and idealised growing up. 

 

Though she wished Ichie knew when to shut up. 

 

“You’re doing it wrong,” Ichie said, popping out from the side. Fumi grimaced when her spell scratched against the wall, the transportation rune fading out of existence. They needed to head to Port Perle, a riverside town. And according to Yachiyo— they were only a few more cave hops away from the destination. 

 

“Well,” Ichie hummed, having the nerve to chuckle. “At least you can start over?”

 

It took all of Fumi’s willpower not to snap at her— they knew where Shiori was. She can’t be too mean, or else they wouldn’t help. “What are you doing here Ichie?” 

 

“What?” Ichie grinned, the golden eyes twinkling from the soft glow of the torch in her hand. “Can’t I assist you on this fine night?” 

 

Fumi glared at her, “It’s not—” she looked up, past the cave entrance, and the sun she was reliant on was already dying across the hill. She looked back at Ichie, scowling with a light blush on her face when Ichie smirked at her. “Don’t say a word.”

 

“Then shall I sing a ditty?” Ichie sang, wiggling her brows. “For a lady, thou pretty?” 

 

If Fumi’s cheek felt warmer, she blamed it on the embarrassment or the second-hand embarrassment. Regardless, she placed a hand on her tired face and sighed. “You’re not even using the word ‘thou’ right.” 

 

Ichie shrugged, “It’s not a no~.”

 

“No,” Fumi snapped instantly, pointing the finger at Ichie. “Don’t sing a song, or don’t do it around me— go back to the camp or something.” 

 

“Technically,” Ichie mused, hand on her chin. “This is the camp— we are sleeping here tonight after dinner to cave hop.”

 

“Well we can’t cave hop if you’re distracting me,” Fumi growled, her patience reaching its limit. “And since I’m the only one who can do this, it’s best to leave me alone to work.”  

 

Ichie laughed again, grinning with confidence that Fumi only saw in her own reflection or in Claudine’s expressions. “I can make the rune.”

 

Fumi raised a brow, “You do realise it’s a rune and not a tune right?”

 

Ichie frowned, stamping her feet to the ground. “I can do both! I’m good at multitasking.” It was there, Fumi realised how close the girl was to her and took a cautious step back when she last remembered what happened when she was too close.

 

“Sure…”

 

“Come on,” Ichie pleaded, her eyes getting rounder and more watery by the second. Oh, Gods, was she about to cry? Fumi never made a girl cry before, and even if she did— she felt like Claudine would make fun of her if she found out. “We’re now a party! You gotta trust in my abilities.”

 

Fumi looked back at the cave entrance. From the shadows on the ground and the familiar sound of Claudine yelling, Fumi knew that they were close. Judging from the way the cave echoed as well, Fumi couldn’t shout at Ichie too or else Claudine would overreact. She took a long delicate sigh. 

 

“Look,” she started, staring down at Ichie. “I trust your skills in playing music and theft.” The last word was hissed out roughly, her fingers squeezed on her ring between them as a reminder that yes, she hadn’t forgiven Ichie for stealing her rose ring a few days ago. “But when my sister is on the line— I’m not trusting you to get us from one place to another.”

 

She expected Ichie to make a fake pout. She expected her to complain or make a funny joke, or hell— even flirt with her! So when Fumi got an almost sincere rendition of puppy eyes that she had ever seen, she had no idea what to feel. Which doubled when Ichie’s voice became a whisper, almost whimpering in a way that Fumi wouldn’t call cute even if it was annoying. It was simply a play on her emotions, nothing more— said emotions were a dip in her stomach anyways. 

 

“Really?” 

 

Fumi doubled down on her cold stare, hoping that it didn’t make things worse. “Yes—” Immediately, there was a sudden tackle to her stomach, and Fumi lurched her head and hair away when the torch was too close for comfort. “What—” 

 

She looked down, and her face bloomed from a sudden shade of red. Ichie was giving her a hug, hiding her face away with one hand around her waist and the other holding the torch away from the hug. 

 

“ICHIE!” She screamed, her hands awkwardly to the side, her eyes darted from Ichie hugging her to the flame of the torch. “What are you—“she struggled, finishing her sentence, unsure how to even speak. It wasn’t a bad thing, but still, it caught her off guard. 

 

Ichie lifted her head up, a sincere but playful smile graced her lips. “Cause you trust me.”

 

She stepped back, making space, and for the third, maybe the fourth time of this entire interaction, Fumi’s mouth dropped in disbelief. “... That’s the take away from all of this?”

 

“Yep!” Ichie swung on the heels of her foot, nervous laughter echoing softly around them. With her free hand, she scratched the back of her head and shot Fumi a bashful smile. “I was worried I messed up with my original impression— mind you it had to be done!” She interjected with a serious look in her eyes before that too faded away as quickly as it came. “So I’m glad you can trust me, even if it’s just for small things.” 

 

“I…” Nothing prepared her for this. Why didn’t anything prepare her for this? This wasn’t in her exams when she got tested for prophecy stuff growing up. “Is there any reason why I shouldn’t trust you?”

 

Ichie shrugged, “Maybe.” She then ribbed Fumi with her elbow, smiling playfully. “But~ if you ever lose something I probably know where it is.” 

 

And just like that, the confusion Fumi harboured disappeared. She crossed her arms and glared down at Ichie, unamused by her antics. “Don’t.”

 

“Oh no,” Ichie gasped, a dramatic hand to her chest. “You lost your sense of humour!” 

 

“Ichie.”

 

“Don’t worry I can find it!”

 

Fumi let out a long tired sigh. She glanced at the cave ceiling and counted the stalagmites to keep herself sane. “Why are you even here again?”

 

“Like I said, is it a crime to assist a lady on this fine night?”

 

Fumi opened her mouth and then closed it upon staring at Ichie further. She was humming a melody, and there was a playful air around her that Fumi was already familiar with despite only knowing her for a few days. But there was something else about Ichie that made her shut up... Maybe it was the way she looked past Fumi towards the broken rune, the fire highlighting the knowledge in her eyes. 

 

Either way, Fumi didn’t stop her when Ichie moved a step further to inspect the broken rune. 

 

“The reason why you’re struggling with the rune is because the wall is cold,” Ichie explained as she briefly touched the cavern wall and promptly shuddered. She turned around to Fumi, bringing the torch between them closer. “When you touch it with your finger, the coldness makes it shake which is why the lines are so unsteady. Some warmth and some light might help you warm up a bit.”

 

“If that was it,” Fumi said, trying hard to keep her cool that such a simple overlook made everything else more difficult. “You should’ve answered that in the first place.”

 

Ichie cracked a grin, doing her best to hide her chuckles. “But then where’s the fun?” Fumi rolled her eyes, and Ichie laughed harder. “There’s more to life than the prophecy you know. When things get dark you need to either make your own light, or just embrace what light you have.” 

 

“Interesting.” Fumi hummed under her breath, focusing instead on the rune now that she had one problem out of the way. “The phrase I heard growing up is that when things get dark be weary of light since monsters glow in the dark.” 

 

It was something Nana warned her about, and why when she was younger, she used to be afraid of the dark until she got better with her magic. The dark held many mysteries and dangers, so it was better to be wary of it when something wanted to be seen. In her thoughts, however, Fumi didn’t notice the way Ichie stiffened, the smile dead during her quote. 

 

“Ah well,” Ichie laughed, quiet in a way that wasn’t noticed with the echoes of the cave. “Ahaha…” It was the dying laugh that got Fumi’s attention, and there was a grimacing smile on Ichie’s face as she looked at Fumi. “That’s kinda grim don’t you think? There’s nothing wrong with having some optimism and maybe that light is asking for help? Y’know like a flare.”

 

Fumi hummed under her breath, tilting her head in thought. “I guess... I never realised it could be seen like that.”

 

Something in Ichie’s eyes sparkled, and her smile perked up as if there was nothing wrong, to begin with. “Isn’t that what an adventure is for?” She asked, shifting her position slightly so she could face Fumi head-on. “To meet new people and learn different things and different perspectives?” 

 

Fumi nodded her head. Maybe Ichie was right. There was too much she didn’t know. Considering the mutated Bard mark Ichie had or the new Watcher mark, there clearly was more for her to learn. “Yeah… say, do you have any other advice on how to make this whole process easier, do you?” 

 

This time when Ichie smiled and started to get into her space, talking her mouth off with improvements and how to make the rune, Fumi didn’t mind it. 

 


 

Claudine wouldn’t say she hated the new people, but she certainly didn’t enjoy their company. Then again, it might just be Yachiyo’s company. Ichie was irritating since she always liked to hum under her breath, but at least Ichie didn’t narrow her down to one physical aspect of her. 

 

“Hey there, Muscles.” 

 

Speak of the devil, and they would appear. 

 

Claudine glanced up, giving her usual glare before she returned back to lighting the fire. “What do you want, Yachiyo?”

 

“Oh would you look at that,” Yachiyo grinned with that infuriating teasing tilt in her voice? In the corner of her eye, Claudine watched as Yachiyo sat down in a log nearby and stretched. “You actually responded this time~.”

 

Claudine scowled, turning her head to focus on the flint and steel she had. She did not like that her cheeks felt warm when there was no fire yet. It wasn’t entirely her fault, and she’s not dense like Fumi. Yachiyo, for all her annoying personality, was good looking, and what was worse was that they both knew it. 

 

“What?” Yachiyo continued the chin on the palm of her hand, elbow on her knee. “They don’t teach fun back at the Temple?”

 

Claudine reeled back, “How did you!—” the surprise crumbled the second Yachiyo glanced at her mark, and she scowled. “Oh never mind.” She hated that Yachiyo got her mark before she did, especially when it was something unorthodox like the ‘Watcher’-- whatever that meant. Claudine scratched the flint harshly, and sparks spewed out— alighting the kindle with the flame needed. 

 

Yachiyo whistled appreciatively, Claudine ignored it as she stood. She glared once more at Yachiyo before scowling when Yachiyo winked back. She had a feeling this would be the routine between them. 

 

“Where’s Mahiru?” 

 

“I don’t know,” Claudine spat, “I don’t care.”

 

Yachiyo shook her head, unsatisfied with that answer. “Come on, she’s the Mentor, she’s here to teach us something.”

 

“I don’t need it,” Claudine grumbled instinctively. She looked back at the cave nearby, catching a glimpse of Ichie’s and Fumi’s shadows in the distance. She hoped that her sister would fare better with her pink-haired menace. 

 

“Good thing you’re not the only one in this party.”

 

“Huh?”

 

Yachiyo shook her head, “Don’t worry about it.”

 

Claudine held back a growl and crossed her arm as she sighed underneath her breath, “Well, she’s off doing something on her own. So I don’t care. She’s not my mentor anyways.”

 

“Right,” Yachiyo laughed, her head tilting up the night sky ahead. Claudine’s jaw clenched, seeing Yachiyo roll her eyes and the way her lips smiled like there was a joke she didn’t know. “You were trained for this.”

 

“Lay off with the sarcasm please,” Claudine snapped. Yachiyo raised a brow at her, and the arrogance made Claudine’s fists clench. “I don’t question how you knew the prophecy so—” Claudine’s eyes widened. “Hang on. How did you know the prophecy?”

 

At this, Yachiyo burst into a loud cackle of laughter. “What happened to ‘I don’t question how you knew the prophecy?’”

 

“Question redacted,” Claudine answered flippantly. Her hand fell to the hilt of her blade strapped to her belt as she sat down, away from Yachiyo. She didn’t spot the way Yachiyo’s eyes followed the movement, nor did she spot the flash of seriousness dash across her face. “Be as sarcastic as you want.” 

 

When Yachiyo laughed, there was a subtle change as it sobered quietly. “Still,” Claudine continued, none the wiser. “Answer the question.”

 

“Alright,” Yachiyo mused, her wicked grin stretching the scar on her cheek. “But you won’t like it.”

 

Claudine sat up closer, and she ignored the massive scar on Yachiyo’s face to look into her eyes directly. “That’s for me to decide.”

 

Amused, Yachiyo gave a quiet chuckle. “Ichie sang it.”

 

“What?”

 

“Ichie, the Bard—” Yachiyo explained. “She sang it, a divine intervention happened a few years ago and I was there with her.” 

 

Claudine leapt to her feet, her jaw on the floor and a finger pointing accusingly at Yachiyo. “But how—!” There was no way they could learn from divine intervention, not when they weren’t even a major character like a Catalyst or a Seer! “You-- the prophecy only started recently!”

 

“Time works differently when you’re a neutral party,” an old tired voice explained from the bushes. Claudine and Yachiyo turned around, and whilst Yachiyo gave a friendly wave, Claudine’s glower intensified. Mahiru ignored her, however, and continued to walk closer to the fire, continuing her explanation. “And everyone has a different starting point.”

 

Yachiyo shifted to the side, freeing up a place on the log for Mahiru to sit. “Oh there you are Mahiru.”

 

Mahiru smiled gratefully and sat next to her. Meanwhile, Claudine scowled. “And where have you been?”

 

The smile on Mahiru dimmed as she gave a polite but infuriating glance at Claudine. “I made some wards.” As always, the tension between them was thick and tense as usual. 

 

“Protection wards?” Yachiyo asked, snapping the two out of the staring contest. 

 

“What else is there?” Claudine said. The only wards that were of any use were protection runes, it was something that was for Fumi, but that didn’t mean Claudine was an idiot and didn’t know anything. She was more than her strength. 

 

“Illusion wards,” Yachiyo replied. She took out a dagger from her pocket and dragged the knife into the wooden bark. It was a small branding, but Claudine couldn’t help but gasp in surprise when it made the colour change from brown to red. Yachiyo slipped her knife away with a smug grin. “They help mask where we are.”

 

“It’s impressive,” Mahiru murmured, a finger tracing over the innings and carvings of the rune. “But I’m not that proficient in that.”

 

It was something that Fumi wasn’t proficient in either. There was no need for illusions when they both thought they would be the Hero. There was no need to lie. So the fact that Yachiyo brought it up… sure it was useful now but was it before? And if so, was it beneficial to all of them or Yachiyo solely? 

 

“It’s alright,” Yachiyo shrugged, “I’ll do it after dinner.” Claudine bit the inside of her cheek, keeping that little tidbit in mind. “Do you have any Glamour potions?”

 

Claudine perked up. Why on earth would Yachiyo need a stealth potion when she already was going to use illusion runes? “Glamour?” 

 

“It acts as a conduit for runes,” Mahiru explained, going through her bag and tossing over a potion. “It’s not needed to make a rune but if you want to make a rune with a good base, it sets things up quicker.” 

 

Yachiyo nodded, giving Mahiru a light-hearted salute with her fingers. She tucked the potion deep into the pockets of her jackets. “Thank you, Mentor figure.”

 

“ICHIE!” 

 

Immediately, Claudine snapped to the entrance of the cave, a hand directly on her hilt. “What is your friend doing?”

 

“What she does best,” Yachiyo smiled, though Claudine didn’t miss how her eyes fell to her sword. Their eyes met as Yachiyo glanced upwards. “Don’t worry about it.”

 

Sensing the deeper glare from Mahiru, Claudine moved her hand back, away from the hilt, biting back a growl. “That’s my sister she’s harassing.”

 

“And that’s my friend you’re accusing,” Yachiyo snapped back, the nonchalant smile and attitude gone. Her green eyes almost glowed in the firelight like a poison cloud. At least that’s what it felt like. That stare alone was suffocating her. “Ichie’s fine, besides you should be more worried about yourself than your sister.”

 

Claudine reeled back, a hand on her chest in accusation. “Me?”

 

“I mean,” Yachiyo shrugged, taking in a deep breath. “You’re not doing much are you?”

 

Claudine clicked her tongue, a bark of a laugh leaving her throat in a low cold tone. “The nerve…”

 

Yachiyo raised a brow, “Do you want to prove me wrong? Or are you just going to stand there offended, or maybe someone else should do that too on your behalf?”

 

“Sharp words for someone saying they’re here to help us.”

 

“Help, not hold your hands—” Yachiyo clarified before her eyes roamed over Claudine’s body. The wicked grin on her face intensified, and adding to the insult, she laid out her palm near her and winked. “But if you want to do that, Muscles, buy me dinner first.” 

 

Claudine hated how warm her face felt, even when she knew the heat came from anger and nothing else. “You!”

 

“We’re back!” Ichie called, dragging Fumi in tow, their arms linked together. Claudine died down instantly, her anger dying down the second she saw Fumi— then the frown turned to an amused smirk when she saw how red Fumi’s face was. “We left the torch there for ease of light.”

 

In the presence of others, Fumi untangled her arm from Ichie. “I told you,” she hissed, “You didn’t need to drag me back.”

 

“Come on,” Ichie pouted— “What did we say about new experiences?”

 

“That doesn’t mean you need to spontaneously drag me everywhere!” 

 

Instantly, Ichie wiggled her brows, leaning in closer with a teasing laugh. “Oh I could’ve dragged you anywhere?”

 

Whatever anyone else could’ve said, however, vanished at the sound of laughter. Claudine turned her head, and there was Mahiru, smiling at all of them with mirth in her eyes. “Sorry,” she grinned, tiny giggles escaping her apologies. “You four just reminded me of the old party.”

 

“Old party?” Both Yachiyo and Claudine asked in unison before they snapped their eyes on each other in surprise. 

 

“SEE—” Ichie gasped, poking Fumi’s arm with her finger. “I told you we’re a party.”

 

Fumi grabbed her hand before she could poke her again. “I never said we weren’t!”

 

“Aww they grow up so fast,” Yachiyo cried, faking the tears as she looked proudly at Ichie. “I leave you alone with a pretty face and you’re already holding her hand.”

 

Despite herself and how she felt about Yachiyo, Claudine burst into laughter as Fumi burned, instantly letting go of Ichie’s hand. Ichie, in turn, laughed quieter than usual as she settled down next to Yahiyo. 

 

“I’m going to set up some runes,” Fumi declared, quickly walking into the darkness. 

 

“Mahiru already set some up you idiot!” 

 

“THEN I’LL CHECK UP ON THEM THEN, KURO!” Fumi screamed back whilst her sister cackled even more. 

 

“Kuro?” Yachiyo asked, her green eyes holding nothing but genuine curiosity. Claudine looked away from her, not surprised that Ichie was sitting close to Mahiru and asking quiet questions. Most likely about the last prophecy, something Claudine had already caught her doing before. 

 

Seeing that there was nothing else to do, Claudine sat next to Yachiyo and nodded. “But you’re not allowed to call me that.”

 

Yachiyo shrugged, her lips wearing her usual cat-like smirk. “Fine by me, Muscles.”

 

Claudine shook her head. “God I hate you—” That being said, there was a slight smile on Claudine’s face when she looked back at Yachiyo. “But nice one.” Because kids their age didn’t talk to them much growing up, and the fact they held such high positions in the Temple, not many people would speak to them— let alone tease Fumi like that. It was a refreshing sight. 

 

“Thanks…” Between them, the fire crackled quietly. The silence was surprisingly comforting, but it wasn’t long until Yachiyo spoke again. “Sorry for saying you didn’t do anything.” Claudine looked at her, surprised at the way Yachiyo scratched the back of her head and looked away. “I get… protective.”

 

That was something Claudine could understand, her status as the eldest meant that despite the small hours difference, Fumi looked up to her. Once upon a time, Shiori did too, but now that she didn’t, or it was because she didn’t, Fumi’s eyes for some sort of guidance was obvious. 

 

“Are you sure you’re not sisters?”

 

Yachiyo barked out a laugh, turning her head to watch Ichie talk using her hand gestures wildly. “Considering we’ve both had crushes on each other when we’re kids, I sure hope we aren’t.”

 

Claudine blinked. “Wait you—”

 

“It was at different occasions and we’re not dating now,” Yachiyo interjected before Claudine could misunderstand anything else. “It wouldn’t work out.” 

 

“No, I was more surprised you liked girls.” Instantly, Claudine covered her mouth, cursing her mouth who moved too fast and too blunt for her to stop it. Yachiyo burst out laughing. “Yachiyo, shut up.”

 

“And I thought you were observant,” Yachiyo wheezed, a hand grabbing her stomach. “Ichie—” she called tears in her eyes. “We got this one wrong. She’s blind as shit.” 

 

“SHUT UP YACHIYO!” 

 

Chapter Text

Broken Glamour is the generic name for a particular potion. Built from the glamour potion, it’s a potion that would hide and manipulate various elements of the world: Magic, Light, Fate. And use it to hide marked ones for the prophecy. Essentially it was a blind spot potion, but everyone and their mother would hunt and slaughter for a blind spot, so having this recipe alone is a risk. Writing it down is riskier, which is why Broken Glamour has its name. Glamour potion for short so that people get confused and think I’m using a generic glamour potion. 

 

Regardless of the risks, I need to write this just in case Mahiru would need this. I know I certainly do, with my Catalyst powers malfunctioning and the world trying to kill us for something I can’t even remember. Broken Glamour needs to be made, written, used for the future. 

 

…. (the rest of the words are either ruined or ripped apart)

 

**Edit. This potion has been modified and amplified for further use. Instead of hiding the marked from wandering eyes, Seers or Gods, it serves a different role. This potion is used as a medication. Upon writing this, my powers have decayed, pun intended. This potion is needed to keep me safe as it would cut the connection to the Gods quicker than a rune would and keep my decay from spiralling to a point I can’t control it. 

 

Granted, this medication is also poison. And using it daily would accelerate my lifespan to an unprecedented degree. It’s only used for emergencies, in significant moments of emotional or spatial weakness. It is also used to protect the people I care about, make sure I do not affect them, and speed up or decay their bodies and lifespan. 

 

Only use 2 drops per usage, twice a day at max. If I do not take this, I will hypothetically be at my full power. Must be diluted with water when drunk or in a great emergency from the vial itself. Any more than 2 drops can backfire drastically, and in the end, there is a high potential I could die. 

 

Memoir 22 Edit: Memoir 42 By Tsuyuzaki Michiru

 

~

 

Michiru gasped. The pushback from her sudden use of her cataclysm powers forced her to stumble to the ground. She shouldn’t have used her powers, especially in this unstable state, but it had to be done. Only a Catalyst could counter a Seer, and she wouldn’t want Nana anywhere near her. Her eyes found Rui, and it hardened. She didn’t want Nana near Rui either. 

 

“Michiru,” Rui hissed— her expressions tittering between the crux of worry and anger. 

 

Michiru coughed, hitting her staff with her leg with enough brunt to roll it over. “Don’t worry about me.” 

 

It was a mild difficulty rising to her feet, but she managed it. Leaning heavily on her staff, Michiru slicked her hair back to clear her vision. The second she was standing, she went into her bag and grabbed her medication and a water bottle. She ignored the heavy gaze Rui had on her as she poured a drop into the bottle and sipped it frequently to calm herself. “It’s Shiori you need to worry about.” 

 

“Again with Shiori,” Rui sighed, raising her hands up in the air before they dropped in a defeated manner. “I told you Michiru, I’m not killing her. Not when you haven’t explained anything to me.”

 

Michiru glanced away, her eyes skirting the overlap of the riverbed and the grass. It was burnt, black creeping along the edges like volcanic ash. Michiru knew, logically, that if she touched it— it would be cold and moist. However, despite all of the times she preached it, logic was a learned trait. So her natural response was to stare, stare and feel the burning sensation crawl over her shoulder, memories flickering in flames and a lash of a whip. All in her head before something snapped. 

 

The snap was Rui’s hands, slapping together close to her face. “You’re zoning out again Michiru.” The voice wasn’t angry; it was an attempt to be neutral. Rui wasn’t like Michiru, however. No matter how badly she would try to steel her expression when you knew her well enough, her humanity would always shine through. And right now, Rui looked scared, scared for her. 

 

Michiru nodded, taking her stick and walking to the almost collapsed boulder. She didn’t sit on it. Instead, she took the ash on the ground, still soft as chalk and drew on what remained. It was a rune, and once the circle was complete, the stone became a chair, and the pebbles nearby aligned themselves to a circle. 

 

“Make a fire, Rui.” Michiru pulled out her cauldron from her spatial bag, followed by various ingredients for anything really. She knew that whatever she would try to make would fail with her mental state, so better to just create acid. Even then, a potion was always enough to keep her focused. 

 

Rui frowned but gathered up the kindle nearby and threw it in the circle. She took off her newly threaded gloves and clicked her fingers, fire jutting out of her hands into the kindle before. When there was a slow but growing burn, Rui hacked down low hanging branches and snapped the twigs, throwing them into the fire. 

 

The second the fire was burning so hot that the heat licked the coattails of Michiru’s jacket, her hands moved like clockwork. She threw on the cauldron to the flame, moved her hands in a way that drew in air, condensing the water particles and splashing them into the heated pot. Various mundane ingredients were cracked by her knuckles and were cast to the pot to brew and boil. 

 

“Are you making anything in particular?” Rui asked. She sat down nearby, hauling a broken tree log to the area. “Or is this just for focus?”

 

“The latter,” Michiru replied, snapping a longer branch from Rui’s log to act as a ladle. “But if I accidentally make anything out of memory that isn’t acidic, I’ll take it.” She mixed in the content; the bitter fragrance made her nose twitch. She turned to Rui, her red eyes dull with seriousness. “Don’t ask until it’s over.” Rui shifted, her hands clutching hard on the knees of her trousers, and she nodded. 

 

With that out of the way, Michiru sighed and looked over the boiling pot. “It’s contradictory, and it’s ludicrous and delusional. But you need to kill Shiori in order to save her.” Automatically, Rui shot up from her seat, her teeth baring her sharpened fangs. Michiru snapped her hard gaze towards her, and reluctantly, Rui sat back down. 

 

“I know what it sounds like but there is a reason for this.” She took the branch from the pot and tapped its length against the rim before setting it down near the rocks. She undid the clasp of her jacket, removing its gem before she unbuttoned the top two buttons of her white shirt. With the free space, she pulled down the arm sleeve, just enough to expose her shoulder.

 

“It’s hard to see it, but this is the reason.” Said reason was nothing but a harsh acidic burn. Her skin was pink, faded out red with mangled lumps and bumps. Yet every time Michiru looked at that part of her body, all she could see was the broken ruins of two 4 pointed stars branded on her skin. 

 

“What is that…?” Rui asked, even though she knew she wasn’t supposed to say anything. But Michiru would let it drop. The shock in her eyes and the fingers inching forward to a respectable distance despite the desire to continue said it all. 

 

The words left Michiru’s lips easily, almost robotic with how dull and practised she sounded. “A Kirin tattoo, scalded and ruined by an acidic potion I did to myself the second I realised I could get hurt.” 

 

She remembered that day clearly, the sudden drumming of her heart in her hands, the weight of her existence heavy in her head. She remembered the blood. Even now, it surprised her how much she could bleed, have bled. 

 

Michiru recalled the happiness, the joy-- the ache and the burn intertwining pain with relief. The way her body was so tired but so free, the gut wrench in the depths of her stomach, the sudden storm that allowed her emotions to dance across the dried blood and ruined skin. 

 

For Rui’s sake, she doesn’t mention that she got it the same age she was currently or was a year or two older. She doesn’t say any more than what was needed. Too much could ruin her entirely. She’s already shaking, hands cupped together to hide that fact altogether. 

 

Thankfully, Rui was too confused and too in thought to notice. “I thought catalysts can’t be hurt during a prophecy?”

 

Michiru bit back the dark laugh crawling up her throat with great consideration. She took a deep sigh, catching Rui’s attention as she sat up and looked into her eyes. “You’re right, in a prophecy no one can hurt a catalyst.” 

 

Underneath the flames, a branch snapped, cracking in the air, and Michiru froze. It didn’t last long, forcing herself to remain focused as she counted the rise and fall of the alchemic brew in front of her. 

 

“But at the end of the day a catalyst is considered a tool, and tools can harm tools.” The words came out unphased, neutral in every masking way. Deep inside, however, Michiru burnt her eyes staring into the cauldron. She reminded herself, like a chant, that there were no whips here, and she was no longer a child. “So I harmed myself to hide this symbol as best as I could.” 

 

Rui looked at her hands, biting her lower lip. Michiru already knew what she was thinking, considering how Rui stretched out the palm of her hands.M could see her thoughts now. The debate of what Michiru did to her tattoo was the same as her bad habit of self cauterising her wounds. 

 

“But we’re not going to talk about that.” Rui raised her head, her mouth opening before Michiru waved her off. She took out a bladed potion, flicked it out to an arc to form a sword and used it to poke at the flames, spread the wood and the kindle around. “We would get too derailed if we did.”

 

“But I thought that scar was the reason why we needed to kill Shiori?”

 

“It is, but how I destroyed it isn’t as important  as the why .” The potion bubbled, Michiru stirred it. On the other hand, she played with the ring on her finger, rolling it along her thigh. Her eyes became downcast, and she focused on the flames. Silence passed between them, thick and uncomfortable, until Michiru let out one long sigh. 

 

“I grew up very south of where we lived, in fact it’s closest place was Primus. I was there ever since I was 7, raised and trained— putting the word  ‘trained’  lightly.” A moment passed, a dark chuckle left Michiru’s lip. The more accurate word would be something too heavy for her to hear, even now. “--To be the perfect Catalyst for the previous prophecy. I was so perfect, I forgot I was human.” 

 

Michiru picked up a stone from the circle, inspecting the sharp ridges and the bumpy textures. It was strange, remembering how easily she saw this object as a mirror. “You were nothing but stone, they said. You are an alchemist stone-- A catalyst. I was the Kirin Temple’s greatest asset until I had to leave for the prophecy.” 

 

The fire crackled once. Michiru heard the lash of a whip, a ghostly sound, a phantom pain. Her breath shuddered as she blinked. Would it be too much to mention how she didn’t have a heartbeat? Stone cold, no expressions— she could barely remember her name Michiru growing up. Ootori was something she stole in a village. It wasn’t her birth name. She was simply the Catalyst, a tool for divinity— she was not human. She was not anything humane until Mahiru came and then, many years down the line, Rui. 

 

A beat passed, and a question was brewing in the air. Michiru would know. She’s been in this scenario too many times to count. The only difference is that this time she’s actually answering it. Rui opened her mouth, Michiru braced herself for the many sledgehammers she could swing. 

 

“You lived in the temple?” Rui asked, her voice exposing herself to all of her shock, horror and fear. She learnt her lessons well, Michiru taught her too well, and now lessons and implications were too much to sugarcoat. 

 

“It wasn’t the temple back then.” Michiru dropped the stone, kicked it back into its position and stirred the potion to keep it from bubbling over. Relief whispered into her heart. This was easier to explain. Brushstrokes opposed to details. “It was something called the Institution. Or maybe it was the temple of Kirin, but I grew up in it’s underbelly named the Institution.” 

 

Michiru can remember it now— she was given a sizable room, bed and drawers. She was given access to the outside but supervised, taken out to the back and tested upon. She did not like it when there was a thunderstorm. The weather, even naturally, reminded her too much of everything else. 

 

“Remember the fight a week ago with Shiori—” Michiru took upon the bladed sword again and curved it inwards. The potion was sucked back into its potion, and she corked it. “She said something interesting, I don’t know if she remembered but I certainly did.” She looked at Rui, her red eyes cold and dangerous. “Do you know what she said?”

 

A heavy silence followed. Even the potion simmered down, quiet in the tension.

 

“She said manipulation,” Michiru answered, snarling the word out, not out of anger but out of the implied disgust. Rui doesn’t know what she would mean, but she did. She knew it far too well. “She accused me of manipulating you.”

 

Rui rose to her feet, the flames underneath the pot shooting up in height. “What the fuck— how dare she—!” 

 

Michiru grabbed two empty potion bottles and uncapped the lid. With eyes glowing red, she dove her hand into the flames, sucking up the fire and forcing it down the vials. She capped the now roaring vials of fire and patted down the stray flame on her coat.

 

“She had every right to accuse me of that—” Michiru said nonchalantly.

 

“--BUT YOU!”

 

“Was raised in the same way she was raised!” Michiru snapped. Michiru and Rui’s eyes locked, and they kept on staring until Rui backed down. The flames no longer existed, the fire matching Rui’s emotions. “Maybe not her— maybe her sisters. Either way, that was her first thought. Not trained, not taught, not even disciplined. She said manipulation and that rang alarm bells.”

 

Rui started to pace now, her hands stretching out and curling in— each time she did, her nails sharpened to claws. “So the hero is being manipulated by this— this Institution? By the same people that raised you?”

 

Michiru took a long sigh, even admitting yes was a burden on her soul. She never liked sharing anything about this part of her life. Mahiru was the only one who knew enough of this ache, but even then, it wasn’t by choice. “By the  Eternal Seer .” 

 

And just like that, Rui froze. Her mouth hung open as shock escalated to fear and strengthened into anger. Meanwhile, Michiru crumbled into herself. She pressed her ring finger against her chest, the other hand clutching her wrist as she manoeuvred the palm of her hand to her lips. She felt her heartbeat. Slow, staggered and barely audible. 

 

Nana wasn’t the only person, however—not that she would admit that to Rui. She was the only person capable of giving punishments because, in her youth, Michiru wouldn’t scar or bleed. As a Catalyst, nothing could actually harm her, but Nana made her feel like she was the exception to that rule. 

 

Maya was also there. She was a partner, a lover— the person who though kind at times, was cruel. She would train her up physically, force the lessons of combat into her. When you pleased her, she was your friend. And at first, Michiru thought she was a friend. She was the closest one to her before expressing her fear towards her lovers. Maya being mad was something Michiru could never forget. The betrayals Maya created broke her in ways Nana couldn’t. 

 

Then the worst person of all, Hoishimi Junna, the now-dead wife. A scientist, an alchemist. She took the word Catalyst and embedded it into her bones. She was the first to proclaim that she was not human but a glorified Catalyst stone. Michiru hated her guts, but she was a genius, after all— the reason why Michiru was so prolific in alchemy was that she had her as an example and as a threat. 

 

“Is that why you want to kill her?” Rui asked, snapping Michiru back to the present. She didn’t even realise she was zoning out and completely missed how Rui was right in front of her. “....Want me to kill her?” Michiru did not miss the hesitation in Rui’s words and stood up. 

 

“To save her,” Michiru replied, staring absolute at the anger building in Rui’s eyes. “I want you to kill Shiori with the intention of saving her.”

 

Rui snarled, smoke curling from her nose, and when she opened her mouth, fire licked the tip of her tongue.  “Save.”  

 

“Michiru, she can literally kill you!” She raised her hand, nails into claws, and her teeth were sharp with fangs baring. She pointed her hand to the sky, her voice howling with an explicit rage. “That SEER you keep telling me about, that Seer wants you  dead .” 

 

“That Seer wants me crippled, driven mad and broken entirely before she even attempts to kill me,” Michiru deadpanned, more out of habit than anything. She was too used to Nana’s ego. She was too aware of how a quick death would be kind. It was something Nana wouldn’t do; Nana was a being that survived off cruelty. 

 

Her shoulders shrug in an automatic gesture, not even noticing the way Rui stared at her face, hollow in shock horror. “I’ll live.”

 

 Rui grabbed Michiru in an instant. The claws morphed into nails when Rui gripped her tight as she lowered herself to Michiru’s height. Too scared she would vanish if she let her go. 

 

“YOU have no mark and you’re dying!” A horrid cry wretched itself from Rui’s throat, her voice breaking at the weight of words. Around them, the birds flew away as if they knew the horrific danger of said event occurring.  

 

“You’re dying Michiru….”  

 

Tears, hot and thick like blood, rolled down Rui’s cheek. Her fear and anger morphed into desperation, grief, and Michiru could do nothing but stare back. She could not do anything, not when a single expression of their shared grief could overrun her medication and kill them both. 

 

 “— and instead of trying to save you—” Rui continued, stammering, her tears and her humanity forcing her to stumble and fumble over the words. “You want me to save her! SHE COULD KILL US!” 

 

Rui let go of her Michiru, standing to her full height as she buried her sleeves and tried her best to wipe the tears from her eyes. She kept failing. Each action made more tears shed instead. “She’s the hero, remember?”

 

Michiru shut her eyes, counting to ten before opening them. She reached for Rui’s arms, lowering them and Rui herself for her to reach. Quietly, softly, Michiru brushed away the tears. Then, like the bearer of bad news, she braced herself hard for Rui’s reaction. “She deserves the chance to be saved.”

 

“WHY!?” Rui screamed. 

 

The fire behind them erupted like a volcano; hot and scalding acid rained down around them. The cauldron itself bounced along the ground, emptying itself on the charred earth. The dirt underneath them hissed almost as if it was being grilled. Rui gripped Michiru’s hand strong enough to pierce but kind enough to hold the strength back. “TELL ME WHY AND DON’T YOU EVEN DARE REASON THAT IT’S BECAUSE SHE’S THE HERO.”

 

“Because her mothers saved my life,” Michiru responded, giving her a stare so defiantly it smothered any anger Rui held. “And they saved my wife’s life, and if they didn’t save me— I wouldn’t be able to save you.” Rui exhaled sharply, smoke brushing past Michiru’s face as the grip on her hand loosened. There was a scent of burnt blood in the air. Michiru watched as Rui licked her bleeding and bruised lip with a fang dipped in red. 

 

“And with her mothers dead I owe it to them to try and save her. I will regret it for the rest of my life if I don’t try.” There was another reason too, but that thought even in brief reference plummeted a knife to Michiru’s chest. And if she were to say it out loud, the knife would be plunged into Rui’s. 

 

“You’re saving Shiori,” Rui growled, “For the dead?”

 

Within the next second, Michiru reached out and grabbed Rui’s suspenders and yanked her down so that they could see eye to eye. “The dead are to be respected,” Michiru whispered before letting go. “I am nothing but actions made by the dead.” 

 

She was never this direct, bold and aggressive when it came to her teachings. B that all in all showed how much Michiru respected the people that came before her. And whilst a part of her wanted Rui to understand, most of her didn’t. For if Rui were to understand, that meant she lost someone. 

 

Rui shook her head, refusing to understand the meaning of that sentence. Instead, she paced, picked up the ruined cauldron as she stepped over the acid pit and tossed it back to Michiru. 

 

“This is insane,” Rui said as Michiru caught the cauldron and placed it to the side. “If Shiori was this dangerous, why didn’t you do it before?” She asked, facing Michiru once more. “Back in the inn? She was near dead there too.”

 

“Because I didn’t know she had that symbol, it only appeared at the fight—” Michiru paused, her eyes widening in a sudden motion. “I don’t even think she knew she had it.” 

 

Rui shifted at her spot, pacing once more up and down as she thought more and more about the situation. “What… can this tattoo do?”

 

“On its own? Unless anything hasn’t changed in 50 years it would give away it’s location— and the Seer can see what’s around the person from an altarpiece.” Back in the first prophecy, before Mahiru essentially saved her, it was how Nana would keep an eye on the party with its hero and lancer and Mahiru, the Lover. 

 

“If the person had a mark,” Michiru trailed off, a hand placed around her abdomen where her worn down Catalyst mark remained. “The tattoo would use the power of the mark, of that piece of divinity to….” Something became lodged in her throat, and her spine shuddered. “Guide— guide the thoughts into their own agenda. Take subtle controls, whisper suggestions in their ear.”

 

In Michiru’s opinion, the notion was too much like the gods. Especially with their eyes in their skies and their divine interventions. Except it was so much worse than a one-off intervention. Intrusive thoughts and depressing reminders plagued her head so much that Michiru thought it was normal once upon a time. 

 

Michiru watched as Rui’s body tense, all too familiar with how she struggled for autonomy in her own body. Michiru knew too well how badly these Gods wanted her to transform into a beast she couldn’t control— spiking her aggression and thoughts to make things crueller. “Like a god?”

 

“Like the devil—” Michiru hissed, grasping at her ring to compose herself. “At least the Gods can disappear with a spell. The only way to get rid of this mark is to cut the connection, or in simpler terms. Death.” 

 

Rui missed the implications of such a method, busy facing away from Michiru with murmurs leaving her lips, and for once, Michiru was glad. She could not share that story just yet, not without breaking herself. “Then how are you supposed to save her?”

 

For the first time since this hard conversation began, Michiru smiled. “Plot armour— the hero won’t die this early, certainly not at the hands of the villain who created such low stakes. The Gods won’t allow it, they’ll perform a divine intervention to bring her back to life. But in that window of death and rebirth— you need to burn away the two pointed stars to fully cement her freedom.” 

 

Yet that smile left as quick as it came. Michiru reached down to her inner pocket holding out a luminescent purple vial. It was small, barely the length of a pinky, and it looked even tiny when Michiru pushed the vial into Rui’s shaking hands. 

 

“And just in case, the gods won’t save her and unless you don’t stab her in the heart where her mark is, this should save her.” Michiru looked up, curling the fingers inwards to ensure Rui had a firm grasp. This time, she had to look in between Rui’s eyes— had she been brave and looked into it, her entire composure would shatter. “The base of this regeneration potion was created on the night of the blood moon, but I only managed to perfect it recently.”

 

“You’re giving up the highest tier regeneration potion,” Rui gasped, the shock and the new fresh tears ruined her voice, but she still continued. “The potion that could save you if you seriously injure yourself, the kind that can make the lame walk and save people from dying—  for her?

 

Michiru shut her eyes, unable to witness such a heavy burden. “Yes.”

 

“Is she more important to you than me?” Rui begged, her voice so quiet and broken that on instinct alone, Michiru eyes opened, looking for danger. Instead, she found the despair and confusion weighing down her frown as tears evaporated from the heat of Rui’s cheeks. The sight didn’t last for long, not when Rui crumbled, Michiru quickly supporting her weight as Rui pressed her head on her shoulder, outright sobbing. 

 

 “I can’t do this alone without you Michiru. I’m not strong enough like you.”

 

“You think I’m strong,” Michiru laughed, a heavy lump in her throat choking her off her chances to sound assured and strong. “Rui my dear… I’m alive because of you, you are far more stronger than I will ever be.”

 

Rui wrapped her hands around her, hugging her so tight that Michiru stumbled back to the ground, falling back on her butt as Rui continued to get closer to her. “Don’t talk like you’re going to die, Michiru.” 

 

Michiru sighed, a watery smile wavering between a frown and a knowing grin. Gently, she carded her hands through Rui’s hair, careful not to touch her back with her elbow as she went through the motions. They stayed there together in this quiet space, Michiru humming an old lullaby she used to sing to her when Rui was a child.

 

Darling, close your weary eyes, everything will be fine~

 

“Be kind to her,” Michiru whispered in between the words. 

 

Let the breeze wipe away your tears… There is no need to cry~

 

“Why do you keep insisting that I be kind?”

 

“Because it’s the only thing that kept me human for the last 30 years,” Michiru answered. Her mind automatically pictured Mahiru and all of their friends from the last prophecy. “There is kindness in cruelty sometimes, and you are more than your mark.” Rui can be more than just a Villain she was forced to be. She was more than a monster. 

 

And so Michiru would never let that instruction go, the notion of kindness. It’s hard and perhaps not the best way considering the circumstances, but Michiru knew nothing else. Anything else could make things worse, not only for herself but for Rui. 

 

Michiru might not be the best person. She might be the worst person for Rui since Michiru rarely considered herself a human— but damn it. She would always be there to make Rui remind herself of her humanity. She’s going to try and make her be the best version of herself. She was more than anything Michiru could claim to be.  

 

“I still don’t want to kill her—” Rui murmured into Michiru’s jacket. “Even when I know I said I should. I just…” She trailed off, but Michiru already knew what she couldn’t say. When they first met, Michiru already said it to Shiori, and she still stood by that statement. 

 

Rui was all bark and no bite. Even when Shiori was unconscious on the night of the blood moon, back when Rui first suggested killing the hero— she couldn’t. The only dangerous thing about her was her impulsiveness when she was stressed. That and the pulls of the Gods that kept trying to unravel the kindness and humanity Rui clung onto desperately. 

 

 “The thought of hurting someone, just to save them… it doesn’t sit right with me,” Rui continued, “If I had a choice, I won’t be a part of that. It’s not right, I don’t care that there is kindness in cruelty— I don’t want to be cruel at all.”

 

Michiru laughed, pride and fondness swimming in the dark chuckles. She pushed Rui away, just enough for her to cup her cheeks, wipe the stray tears and smile. “This is why you’re stronger than me Rui.” She leaned in, pressing a gentle kiss on her head. “Be kind to Shiori then, for my sake, I won’t ask for anymore.” 

 

Rui tried her best to smile. The curve kept wobbling as Rui shut her eyes. “Will you tell me that you’re going to live?” She whispered, sounding so small for such a heavy desire. “Even if it’s a lie… Can you tell me?”

 

“Oh Rui,” Michiru whispered, crumbling once more as she pulled Rui for another hug, shutting her eyes to squeeze any hint of tears. “I’ve spent all my life trying to be kind, not cruel.”

Chapter Text

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?” 

 

Chapter Text

When making potions, the biggest contributing factor is intention. For example, suppose a person intended to create a healing potion, but they make it whilst hoping for the illness to continue. In that case, the potion might not even work as well as it could or, even worse, make other people suffer. That, however, is not the only contribution of intentions. 

 

The prophecy is a story— the prophecy is set on a stage. It’s the will of the actors, the people marked to have a strong enough will to play their parts. A hero who becomes a hero for wrong intentions such as greed and power will mostly fail to a villain paving a dark road for best intentions. 

 

It may not seem like it, but sometimes the best intentions are delivered in the worst ways. And sometimes, there is cruelty hidden in kindness. 

 

-Memoir #12 Intentions by Tsuyuzaki Michiru. 

 

~

 

Maybe it wasn’t the best idea to follow Mahiru to the potion shop in Perle Fumi realised. The second they stepped inside, she stood awkwardly to the side, acting more as a carrier bag than a person. 

 

“Do you really need this much?” Fumi asked when Mahiru placed several packets of leaves in the already heavy bag that Fumi was magically floating in the air. She eyed the new addictions, warily confused about what made them so special since the only difference they had was the shape of the leaves. 

 

“You have no idea what we’re heading towards,” Mahiru replied curtly before going to a new aisle. The shop itself was fairly busy; Fumi could overhear five different conversations on trade and five more on the blood moon. 

 

Fumi rolled her eyes. “The water—mmhm!?” Fumi cried at the last second when Mahiru shoved leaves into her mouth. 

 

“Sweet?” Mahiru asked just as Fumi swallowed the strange lavender-like taste. Mahiru didn’t care for her answer, nodding her head with a smile as she took the packet she opened along with another unopened one and put it into the basket. “Good, we will need it for health potions.” Mahiru dragged her by the arm to an emptier aisle before Fumi could even question what was going on. 

 

“Do not mention the place we’re heading at all,” Mahiru warned as they turned the corner, harsh and sharp underneath her whisper. “You have no idea who would be listening and who would be a threat.” 

 

“That’s a bit too much, don’t you think?” Fumi whispered back as Mahiru stopped in front of a set of knives on a rack. Mahiru rolled her sleeves back as she picked up in its case and expected it, fingers sliding over the blade, eyes focusing on the length and sharpness. 

 

“You spent your entire life in one town, I spent the same amount of time travelling and then running for my life.” She put down the knives she was eyeing and then grabbed a wooden spoon in the opposite aisle on the other side. “Trust is a relative thing but my experience should speak for itself.” Mahiru glanced over their shoulder before walking forward. “Come on, I think we need to check the clearance stuff.” 

 

Fumi opened her mouth, thought about it and then closed it. She followed Mahiru’s steps, one pace behind, struggling not to look behind her. The distant footsteps fading away behind them left her tense. 

 

Fumi was a person who could read behind the lines. And although Mahiru implied they were in the clear, the fact that they were being watched sent uncomfortable pinpricks across her spine. She didn’t even notice, and that fact scared her. 

 

“I thought you were getting a knife?” Fumi asked, mostly to deflect her thoughts.

 

“I don’t need a new cutting knife, I already have my own set.” 

 

They were in an aisle now full of different vials of different ingredients Fumi didn’t know but had seen before. “It wasn’t taken from you?” 

 

Mahiru’s brows furrowed in confusion as she placed what was labelled honey into the basket. “What do you mean?” 

 

“I mean with the shop being blown apart,” Fumi continued. “I assumed you brought it with you when you went to the temple.” 

 

The confusion in Mahiru’s eyes intensified, “You knew that Nana blew up my shop?”

 

“No, I mean we were there when it—“Fumi froze, Mahiru’s words catching up to her. Her heart lept up to the throat. After a tense silence, Fumi managed to swallow it enough to speak. She looked directly into Mahiru’s eyes, her mouth dry from the subtle implications that her teacher almost killed her. “What do you mean Nana blew up the shop?” 

 

The hard lines in Mahiru’s face crumbled, a look flared dimly in her eyes. Fumi’s stomach gnawed itself, unused to this look of empathy or pity from Mahiru of all people. 

 

“I—“Mahiru hardened again, eyes narrowing as she glanced ahead over Fumi. “This is not the time to talk about this.” She walked away. 

 

“Mahiru?” Fumi followed fast, uncaring of the eyes of other customers glancing at them. She grabbed hold of Mahiru’s sleeves before she could turn the corner. 

 

“This is not the time, and I’ll be honest I know we made a pact about this not to talk but even if we did—“Mahiru slung her arm, getting rid of Fumi’s grip. “I highly doubt you would trust a word I say.”

 

Fumi growled. “Why?”

 

Mahiru rolled her eyes. “As if that needs answering.”

 

“It does because I’ve been trying,” Fumi stressed the last word out. The frustration she had deep down forced her eyes to plead, “Keeping the peace between you and Kuro, for example. So why?” 

 

Mahiru paused, glancing over at Fumi before she continued to walk. Fumi followed her, not surprised at another empty aisle. The second they were in the middle, Mahiru didn’t bother trying to hide or be subtle. Instead, she turned around, looked Fumi directly in the eyes and sneered. 

 

“Because everytime you try to talk to me about Shiori or anything similar you sound either guilty or pitiful.” 

 

Fumi opened her mouth, her nostrils flaring as something burned in her eyes. How dare she!? What the hell does she mean? 

 

“Your sister is not a regret,” Mahiru continued as if she expected Fumi to try and interrupt her. “And she is not someone to pity—“Mahiru sighed, digging her hand into her hair. “You phrase her to seem like some misguided child and as her only friend.  I can’t stand it . “ 

 

 Mahiru stood straighter, and she stared right into Fumi’s soul, quiet anger ablaze in her eyes. “For someone who speaks so much of being a bridge between people, you are terrible at building them or mending broken ones.”

 

Fumi shut her mouth, the tension in her arms exhaled out, fading away as she stood there. She could only watch, fully taking in the subtle slip that Mahiru was Shiori’s only friend. It made her feel stupid, pathetic, the worst of the worst. For everything she has done for Shiori, she hurt and insulted her friend in the same breath. No wonder she hated them.

 

“I—” Fumi swallowed— hard. She glanced around absentmindedly, recognising the curious gazes others gave them. She returned to face Mahiru, now was not the time for any apologies, not when Mahiru would be the wrong person to hear them. “You admittedly have a point.” 

 

“Took you long enough to listen,” Mahiru scoffed, crossing her arms. “You and your sister are so hardheaded I wondered if you would ever learn at all.” 

 

“The side comments don’t help you know—“Fumi growled, her anger rising slowly in her gut. Despite the frustration, Fumi shoved her hand into the bag and yanked out the book they found before the shop was destroyed. “But here—” Fumi pushed the book into Mahiru’s hands, looking away heated cheeks as she trod lightly in this foreign conversation. “Take this book we— Mahiru?”

 

Mahiru’s eyes were glossy, water already piling up in the edges of her eyes. She held the small book in her hand, clutching to her chest. Her fingers grazed the leather cover longingly. 

 

“Michiru…” Mahiru whispered, slowly flipping the pages almost to absorb all that could’ve been lost. “I—” Mahiru continued, her voice breaking and sounding so much older than Fumi realised. Fumi, for once in her life, looked past the anger in her eyes, taking in the haggard eyes and the crow lines, the sunken cheeks that signified age. Was Mahiru always this old? 

 

“Where did you find this?” Mahiru whispered, breathless in another subdued gasp. The ring on her finger gleamed better when a stray tear fell on it. 

 

“Underneath your counter,” Fumi answered, the words fumbling on her tongue. The deep, sincere gratitude in Mahiru’s eyes was something she could never forget. “And you—” Fumi froze, her words dying in her throat at the sudden embrace Mahiru gave her. It was so surprising that the basket that Fumi was carrying dropped to the floor. Thankfully nothing was broken. The hug itself was warm, strong, and for a split second, Fumi remembered her mothers. 

 

“This does not fix everything,” Mahiru whispered in Fumi’s ear, snapping Fumi out of her thoughts. “But it’s a start.” Mahiru squeezed her tighter, unable to stop the smile in her voice in between the light sniffles of tears. “So thank you….” 

 

Fumi grinned warily at the interaction. Her hands were up at her sides, unsure exactly what to do. She was hugged by Ichie before, but that singular experience did not prepare for this. Then again, the situation was an outlier in her plans-- never she had imagined the person she agonised all her life to give her a hug. “No problem? Can you uh…”

 

“Right,” Mahiru laughed, another thing Fumi hadn’t heard before. She stepped back, holding the book close to her chest whilst wiping the tears from her eyes. Her grin was small, watery but it was the most genuine Fumi had ever seen from her. “I’m sorry I just— I thought I lost everything that….” 

 

Mahiru paused, a hesitance in her eyes. “I’ll say this to you out of gratitude, but I would kindly ask if you don’t spread this beyond your sisters, but this book belonged to my wife. As of now....” Mahiru looked at her arm with the now fading Lover’s mark before glancing at the palm of her gloved hand. It didn’t take Fumi anything to know that she was looking at her Mentor Mark. Then in a quiet and longing voice, Mahiru smiled. “It’s the only thing I have left of her.” 

 

Fumi paused, taking in the side she had never seen before. “Alright,” she says, unintentionally quiet in awe of the moment. She doesn’t mention how she stupidly thought Mahiru stole it or forgot how she had a wife. Instead, Fumi stood there, doing one thing she didn’t do in a long time. Keep a secret from Kuro by choice. 

 


 

As much as she hated to admit it, Claudine actually looked good. The leather armour was snug and fitted appropriately along her body. It was certainly lighter, and removing her hidden chainmail which bumped the price down to 125 with silence, she had more freedom to move her sword around. Admittedly, her arms were more exposed, but she had a feeling Yachiyo intended that to happen. 

 

“Yachiyo, Kuro,” Fumi called as they walked along the promenade to the far left dock. “You guys made it.” Fumi then grinned, whistling as she walked around Claudine. Claudine graced her with a flick of her hair. “I forgot how much you pack underneath all of that armour.” 

 

Claudine laughed, punching Fumi lightly on the shoulder. “Maybe that should help you remember then.”

 

“Now it seems that the Muscles nickname has more weight to it,” Yachiyo laughed, easy as ever, as she looked around the near-empty dock. Fumi snorted and backed away, hands up in surrender when Kuro whirled around for another friendly punch. 

 

Claudine scowled, “Do you really need to call me that?” 

 

“If you want a change,” Yachiyo hummed, looking Claudine up and down before her green eyes lit up with a gleam. “How about hothead or blondie?” This time it was Mahiru who laughed in the background. Instantly, heat rose on Claudine’s cheek before she growled, refusing to make Yachiyo’s point even clearer. 

 

“Anyways, you two make it seem like we’re late, saying that we made it—” Yachiyo looked up, hand to her brows as she peered up at the skies and the position of the sun before looking at both of them. “Wait, why are you two early?”

 

“Mahiru wanted to find the honey pot shop,” Fumi shrugged, pointing to Mahiru. “There was honey in the apothecary but nothing else.”

 

“That’s because we’re not the honey pot,” Yachiyo explained, turning all heads towards her. She walked to the edge of the dock at the tiled border. And she stared up at the houseboat before her. “Ichie is the honeypot.”

 

That made no sense at all, and yet something nagged in Claudine’s mind that there was something more with that confusing sentence. She looked at Fumi, who in turn looked at her for advice. Claudine then looked at Mahiru, who was looking instead at how two men with swords ran past them. 

 

“EVERYONE!” A third man called as he chased after his two friends. “THERE’S A CATALYST ON THE DOCKS.”

 

Claudine’s eyes widened, her own sword unsheathed as hot unbridled rage and fear exploded in her veins. “What!?” 

 

She remembered Maya’s teachings, the way her lessons focused on the destruction said tool can bring. She was warned how they weren’t human, how they could kill people with a single thought. With enough training, they can deteriorate your heart and mutate the cells fast enough to create cancer. They were only useful if they were controlled, and if they weren’t controlled, they were deemed a monster. A monster that no one can kill until the prophecy is over. 

 

Fumi echoed her thoughts, flaring up the magic on her fingertips. The echo of the green light created a shadow over her eyes. “Where!?”

 

The man stumbled at the sisters before sneering at them. “As if we’re going to tell you freaks!” He raced forward, and Claudine met him in the middle, blocking his overhead swing. He followed with another attack on the left side, feet pressing forward until Claudine growled as she parried him once more. The second he was open, Claudine didn’t hesitate and grabbed his hand holding the sabre and twisted it. 

 

Suddenly a green sphere circled them as the man screamed, the bones cracking and snapping underneath her grip. The sword dropped, and Claudine pulled the howling man in, butting the back of his head with the hilt of her sword, knocking him out entirely. Claudine looked up, barely losing breath as she locked eyes with Fumi. They nodded, and Fumi dropped the bubble. Neither of them noticed the way Mahiru clutched a book to her chest nor how Yachiyo’s perfect facade crumbled to a glower, not only at the sisters but also at the docks further down. 

 

“We need to get going,” Claudine said as she dragged the man over and tossed him to a corner. She did not see that the second her back was turned, the man started to disappear, fading away into the walls. She did not notice either, the way their little corner was empty and deprived of noise— even any muffled down the dock about this ‘Catalyst.’ 

 

“We do,” Yachiyo nodded, the sudden look in her eye gone as she held an apathetic expression. She threw a potion down, watched as the pink liquid swelled and swelled until it became a ramp connecting the dock to the boat. She placed a foot down on the ramp, stamping on it to check its stability.

 

 “Come on,” She called to the rest of the party. “We need to go now whilst people are distracted.”

 

“What— what are you doing?” Claudine yelled, her sword still out as she gestured in sheer bafflement. “There’s a catalyst on the run— and you want to—”

 

Yachiyo sighed, walking down the ramp to the dock to face Claudine. “There is no Catalyst.” Claudine opened her mouth, turning back to the man before blinking at the sudden disappearance. She then turned to the other openings of the dock; the small archways they walked under were quiet. 

 

“I told you,” Yachiyo called again, catching Claudine’s attention as she faced Yachiyo.  “Ichie is the honeypot.”

 

Claudine stared before the confusion in her eyes snapped open and fell apart. Distrust— anger rose through the debris. The confusing mint gold information from before suddenly made sense. There was no such thing as Mint Gold. But Mint was one letter away from Mins— minutes. They were planning a heist, and Ichie was their bait. 

 

Claudine lunged with her sword, snarling when it was held in place with a dagger whose blades were littered with arrow-shaped forks. In Yachiyo’s other free hand, there was another dagger. It was cleaner with a fine blade that helped push the broadsword down. 

 

“CLAUDINE!?” Fumi yelled, off guard by the sudden attack. Claudine didn’t hear her, or if she did, she didn’t acknowledge it. Instead, she tried to yank her sword free, only to get frustrated at couldn’t budge at all, helplessly clinking. The sword was trapped between two arrow-tipped forks, then held down by the other dagger. 

 

“YOU!” Claudine screamed, growling with frustration. Finally, she let go of the sword and tried to deck Yachiyo. “YOU ASSHOLE!”

 

“Been called that before,” Yachiyo grinned as she threw the sword and the daggers into her spatial bag. She dodged left, missing the punch before backflipping away from another punch. She landed on the stump connecting the boat to the dock with poise and grace. The rope tied around the stump did not even move. “So come up with a better nickname, Muscles.” 

 

“You’re stealing this ship,” Claudine gnashed her teeth together, hugging her fingers tight to a ball. “And Ichie is the decoy.”

 

“Took you long enough, now help me get us out of here—” Yachiyo hopped off the stump, brushing her vest off as she glared at Claudine then Fumi. “I wasted some time playing around with you but we need to get going as soon as we can.”

 

Automatically, Claudine held her hand out to stop Fumi or Mahiru going forward. “We’re not helping a fraud, not when you tricked us.”

 

Yachiyo raised a brow. “Excuse me?”

 

“You’re a fake, Chistose,” Claudine sneered, enjoying the way the raised brow lowered itself, a cold daring stare piercing the soul. “You and Ichie. Cowards the both of you, trying to steal something in the name of the—”

 

Whatever Claudine could’ve said ended the second Yachiyo kicked her in the face with enough force that it forced her to stumble to the floor. 

 

Fumi raised her arms out, “Claudine!” Claudine waved her off, freezing when Yachiyo pointed Claudine’s own sword at her neck. 

 

“Don’t you dare touch her!” Fumi warned, directing her magic-filled hands to Yachiyo. Yachiyo didn’t care; her eyes focused on Claudine and Claudine only.  

 

“Listen fucking here, you sheltered privileged sister of a hero,” Yachiyo growled, “Shove those happy’ everything is amazing’ up your goddamn ass. My best friend is risking her fucking life to keep you two safe so show her some goddamn respect and don’t call her a fucking coward.” 

 

As if she was proving her point more, Yachiyo edged the sword closer, the dull blade pressing lightly on Claudine’s skin. “I meant it on the night we met, and I meant it at the entrance. If people got a fucking whiff of what you are and your relation to the Hero— you’re gone.” She looked at Fumi, and underneath the gaze, Fumi’s will to attack faltered. “You’ll be dead. Worse, you’ll be captured, left to rot— used and toyed with.”

 

She turned back to Claudine, and for a split second, Claudine thought she would go further. After a few tense seconds, that seemed like the case until Yachiyo pulled back. The sword was still pointing at her neck, but it wasn’t so dangerous that a single flinch could slice her skin.

 

“I go by a fake name around here for a reason—” Yachiyo sighed, bitter and disappointment seeping through. The patronising sound of groan was slowly making Claudine see red. “And I don’t have these fucking scars for show. So you get into that fucking boat and help me steal it or gods help me you won’t last a day out here even if you had a divine intervention.” 

 

With that, Yachiyo tossed the sword down, nailing the blade directly in between the concrete tiles and walked away back to the ramp. She turned around to face her, the raised brow asking the question she didn’t ask. Was Claudine going to listen? 

 

Claudine didn’t know how to answer, not when her attention was stolen from Fumi rushing to her side. Claudine massaged her throat, surprised at how no blood was spilt as Fumi helped her to her feet. The second Claudine looked stable, Fumi stepped away. Claudine, in turn, reached for the sword and pulled it out. Chunks of concrete rolled at her feet. 

 

“I think we should listen to her, Kuro.”

 

Kuro shook her head, glaring directly at Yachiyo. “Shiori wouldn’t want this.”

 

“Shiori is currently dealing with the villian,” Yachiyo remarked, “She’s too busy with herself to think about you, l et alone care about what you do .” 

 

Fumi’s eyes widened, and whatever patience Claudine had left snapped like twine. She lunged once more at Yachiyo, running up the ramp before her view turned, quite literally, upside down. One second she’s running at Yachiyo with a sword. The next second she’s on the ground looking up at the sky, groaning at the metal thwack underneath her.

 

“I told you—” Yachiyo said, picking up Claudine’s sword once again as Fumi shoved past her to assist her sister. “I don’t have these scars for a reason. Now stay in the boat.” Claudine heaved, hand on her back as she watched Yachiyo walk away. Only now, glaring at the Watcher, did it ever occur to Claudine how many scars either faded or healing was on Yachiyo’s arms. Decorating her arms like scratches on a blade.  

 


 

“Stupid fucking muscles,” Yachiyo growled as she walked down the ramp, swinging the sword around to test it. It was one thing to be new to the prophecy and the reality of the world. But it was another thing entirely to be so ignorant of it that you judged people for the smallest thing morally wrong even when it was needed. Sure stealing was wrong, but it was the safer option.

 

Ichie and herself were wanted in Perle, and getting a boat meant getting a license, which meant losing money or, worse, having a trail to be tracked from. Yachiyo was not the greatest person, but she cared about her friends. She won’t let Ichie deal with that experience ever again. 

 

“Hey Veteran, are you getting on the boat?” Yachiyo paused, blinking in surprise at the way the rope was already broken, sizzling away from acid splashes that just looked like a faded beer spillage. On the bottom of the ramp, already starting to head up, Mahiru smiled.

 

“Acid burns and hides better than a cut rope,” She explained as she walked past Yachiyo. “Too easy to leave a trail when sawing.”

 

Yachiyo gave her a hard look before placing the sword back into her bag. She would give it back to Claudine later. “Thanks.” 

 

“You’re not in the wrong, by the way,” Mahiru continued as Yachiyo followed her behind. “Stealing stuff like this.” Soon enough, they were on the ship. Yachiyo snorted that the two sisters were already downstairs. But, on the bright side, they were on the boat, and that’s all Yachiyo cared about right now. 

 

“I didn’t say I was,” Yachiyo murmured, taking out an acidic potion and tossing a few of the contents onto the ramp. Just like that, the ramp crumbled, stumbling into the river. Yachiyo closed the gate, turning her head at the sound of Mahiru turning the anchor, bringing it up with all her muscles exposed. 

 

“I did this in the last prophecy,” Mahiru said, grunting as she turned the last rotation of the anchor and made sure it stuck. “Me and the catalyst had to hide away from people. It’s easier to steal than to just buy a new boat. Harder to track too.” She glanced back at the closed hatch. “I just hope they understand.”

 

Yachiyo should’ve gone to the wheel and hijacked the controls, but she couldn’t— not when something as big as this dropped right in front of her. Mahiru knew Michiru. Mahiru was her acclaimed wife Michiru only referenced a few times but loved dearly. Mahiru was the sole person right now capable of killing her wife if she ever reminded Ichie of her existence. 

 

The world started to shift, and Yachiyo wished she had the luxury of blaming it on the boat sickness. “You were part of the last prophecy.”

 

Mahiru laughed and walked towards Yachiyo. She stood next to Yachiyo, this close— for a split second, Yachiyo could see Michiru’s mischievous smirk on Mahiru. “For someone smart, you sometimes miss the more obvious things, don’t you?” Mahiru turned her shoulder, and there, faded out in broad daylight, was a dimmed Lover’s Mark. 

 

“I’m going to go start the boat,” Yachiyo nodded— barely climbing the steps coherently to the navigation deck a floor above. Instantly, her fingers fast in a sense to calm herself, Yachiyo removed the bottom panelling in one of the monitors and jump-started the engine. However, before Yachiyo could return the panelling and steer them away with the wheel, something below them on the main deck thudded. 

 

Yachiyo peered over the Captain’s wheel. The glass panels allowed her to see the main deck, and the sight of Fumi on the floor made Yachiyo groan. Yachiyo sighed, setting the engine to park as she ran down the steps. 

 

“What the hell is happening?” she asked, mostly to Mahiru as Claudine helped Fumi back to her feet. Instantly, Fumi pushed past Yachiyo to the edge of the deck, staring ahead of them with a desperate look in her eyes. Yachiyo followed her gaze as muffled sounds of firecrackers filled the air. The river started to smell like gunpowder. 

 

“I don’t know,” Claudine hissed. “What’s your bard doing?”

 

Yachiyo gave her a sharp look before focusing again on the ship in front of them. The muffled sound sharpened to the crystal clear sound of shouting, screaming. There was the familiar echoed twang of a bow, and there was another colder sound of either bombs or the very rare gun. Yet all of those noises gave way to the sound of laughter-- Of a voice that yelled a few stray curses. Otonashi Ichie was running on a stowaway boat, heading away from them.

 

“She’s nearing the end of her distraction,” Yachiyo answered with a sharp intake before she ran up the steps to the wheel. Immediately she forced the engine to life. The boat lurched forward as she spun the wheel as the boat moved, turning the ship around. To everyone else’s surprise, Yachiyo was moving them away from her partner in crime.

 

“WHERE THE HELL ARE WE GOING!?” Fumi screamed the second Yachiyo went down after putting it on autopilot. “Ichie is that way!”

 

“Ichie will live,” Yachiyo replied, going down the deck to the storage area and pulling out two fishing rods before hastily walking back out to the deck. “We’ve done this before, she will get here in time.” 

 

“So you’re just going to leave her on that boat? With a bunch of people hunting her down?” Claudine hissed, forcing her way to Yachiyo’s personal space. “Didn’t you say getting captured is worse than dying?”

 

Yachiyo gave her a level gaze. “Ichie won’t get caught. I hate this as much as you do but she wouldn’t plan a heist if she didn’t trust that she’ll come back.” With that said, Yachiyo shoved Claudine back and set up two different fishing rods, each with a long line. “If you’re so worried about her, just keep watching.” 

 

Yachiyo wouldn’t watch. She never liked seeing this part in the heist. This was always the most common time for Ichie to get hurt. Ichie wouldn’t die, but Yachiyo never liked it whenever Ichie would gain a new scar, especially when it would be life-threatening for anyone but Ichie.  

 

“ICHIE!” Fumi screamed, and despite her thoughts, Yachiyo’s head immediately turned around, just in time to see Ichie dive down from the crow’s nest to the river. Only to get interrupted mid-jump with an arrow puncturing her shoulder. She landed with a splash, and it wasn’t long until the spot was dyed red with nothing else resurfacing.

 

Yachiyo looked away, stilling her hands as she focused on the scars on her arms. Ichie would be safe; she would be fine. In the background, she could hear Fumi’s fast breathing. She could sense the shocked silence in Claudine’s rigid stance. She felt cruel to tell them to watch what Ichie would do to get out of any situation, but it had to be done. They needed to realise that Prophecies, despite the glory and the reward, was a dangerous journey. And if you ever return home, it would change you. 

 

But also, there were more monsters out there that weren’t their typical villain. 

 

Something tugged on the fishing line, and the motion snapped Yachiyo out of her thoughts as she reeled in the catch. In the background, focusing on the release and pull, She could barely hear the hushed conversations between Mahiru and Claudine. Fumi was already down for the count, going downstairs so that she wouldn’t be sick— blaming motion sickness instead of reality breaking down. 

 

“Do you need help?” Mahiru asked, perhaps the kindest Yachiyo ever heard her speak to Claudine. “Knowing the prophecy isn’t how you planned it to always hit you hard. It still hits me hard even now.”

 

Claudine shook her head like a liar, her face was pale, and she looked like she saw a ghost. “I don’t need your help,” she snarled. 

 

“I do though,” Yachiyo called as she tried to reel in the line. “Mahiru, do you mind holding the pole? I need to get something.” Mahiru gave Claudine a concerned look before starting to reel in the line. 

 

“You’re a horrible person Yachiyo,” Claudine spat as Yachiyo passed her to walk down to the storage unit to get a towel. “I hope you know that. You left her to die.” 

 

Yachiyo ignored her. What words can she say? The two seemed to understand better with actions rather than words. And yet, Yachiyo turned around, her teeth bare and her shoulders tense. 

 

“Yachiyoooooo~” A voice whined near her. Instantly Yachiyo shut her mouth and swallowed the harsh words to form an arrogant smile. In front of her, Claudine’s eyes widened in shock. “Yachiyooo~” Ichie whined as she staggered onto the boat, her clothes wet and dripping with red.” “I’m tired... Where’s my blanket?”

 

Yachiyo threw the towel on her face with a laugh. “If you’re going to sleep I’m giving you mushrooms for breakfast.” Ichie made a face as she buried her hair into the long towel that covered her shoulders too.

 

“You’re alive!?” Claudine yelled, her finger pointing accusingly. “HOW IS SHE ALIVE!?”

 

“Oh I was never hit,” Ichie shrugged.

 

“BUT THE BLOOD!” 

 

Ichie cracked a grin and pulled out a broken potion bottle, the same red Glamour potion bottle she stole earlier from Yachiyo. “It’s just some potions, don’t worry about it, and I didn’t lose the spatial bag this time!” Still sitting on the floor, Ichie hit the back of Yacihiyo’s calf. Yachiyo, in return, smacked Ichie at the back of the head as she actually redid the fishing line for some actual fish. “I wouldn’t leave this idiot alone. She’ll get so lost without me.”

 

Yachiyo huffed, bent down and pulled on Ichie’s ear. “Says the one who got us lost because she can’t read a map.”

 

Ichie whacked the hand away and retaliated by using the arm to help herself up to stand. She wobbled backwards into Yachiyo’s arms, and Yachiyo grabbed hold of her to steady her. 

 

“You need this,” Mahiru smiled, laughing inside at the quick banter as she presented a health potion. 

 

“Thanks Mahiru!” Ichie preened as she undid the cork and chugged it down. “Ooo this one tasted like honey, anyways—” Ichie poked Yachiyo to the side. “All the squiggly lines confuse me!” 

 

Yachiyo rolled her eyes, getting the broken potion glass and taking it downstairs to dispose of it later. “And yet you can read musical sheets.”

 

“THOSE SHEETS HAVE CIRCLES WITH A STICK!” Ichie yelled, quickly following her despite a stumble here and there as she walked down the stairs. “THEY’RE NOT SQUIGGLY LINES!” 

 

“Ichie!?” Fumi gasped upon seeing the bard, “You’re alive!?” 

 

“Awww, Fumi~” Ichie grinned as she changed targets. “Did you miss me?”

 

Fumi bristled, crossing her arms as she gave Ichie a serious look. “No!”

 

Ichie’s grin widened. “You missed me!” 

 

Fumi growled, pushing past Ichie to go up the stairs only to stop in the middle to turn around and face her. “You and Yachiyo are the only clue to Shiori I have so if I lost either of you I would’ve lost her too. So really all I want to do is kill you right now for scaring me.”

 

Ichie looked at her, her eyes wide and watering. It was enough that even Yachiyo had to stop what she was doing and watch, just to make sure Ichie was okay. Only to burst into laughter at Ichie’s teasing voice that Yachiyo was all too familiar with. 

 

“You want to be the last person I see before I die?” Ichie asked, her voice cute and annoying and the perfect vocal image of a puppy making pleading eyes. Fumi’s cheeks flared red and ran up to the main deck, Ichie following behind, asking more annoying questions as Yachiyo cackles echoed behind them. 

 

“Damn idiot,” Yachiyo chuckled to herself, laughing as she rested her head against the wooden walls of the ship. Only to fall apart, her laughter sobering. Her mind trickled back to the red in the water, the way Mark Hunters chased after Ichie on the ship. That’s not to mention the revelation of Mahiru being Michiru’s wife, nor the way Fumi and Claudine have such visceral reactions to a Catalyst in reference alone. Already there was such a headache and the prophecy barely begun.

 

“Man,” she laughed to herself, pressing her hand against her mark. “For such a fraud, I’m sure in a right mess of things.” 

Chapter Text

The creature promptly named the “Molebear or Mole Bear” was a monstrosity created by the Hero’s side. It was known as a failed rite. A failed rite was an extreme reaction when the Hero or the villain failed to deliver their expectations. In this case, the Hero held hubris and tried to become God. Of course, the gods would not have this sort of blasphemy. So they turned the Hero’s favourite animal and their closest friend into a monster. 

 

This was set over a century ago, enough for the creature to grow in numbers, to grow cruel— to grow monstrous. It gave them time to hunt down those who held marks and evolve. It’s funny how history would remember things differently. 

 

They say the villains made the creature, born from the greed and the downfall of man. Nah. It was the heroes who cursed the world of this rite— for why else would it still exist if it was the villain? The other side, the Hero or villain, would cease to exist when the prophecy has ended. Either the Hero won, or the villain and neither could co-exist peacefully unless dead. To let both sides win risks the lives of millions.

 

So now you wonder, how on earth I, a mere broken catalyst, would know of such a tale. Not only that, but to verify its mere existence? It’s simple. We needed to know the risks of tempting fate and the consequences of failing. 

 

Memoir 44 Tempting fate and consequences. By Tsyuyuzaki Michiru 

 

~

 

Everything changed that day, after that talk, after learning the truth that has been hidden from Rui for years. In hindsight, it made sense. Back when she was younger, when things were easier, and things were different, Michiru would hold her close in a thunderstorm. The blinds would be shut, and they would hide— deep in a basement Michiru made of their house. 

 

That was not the only thing that Rui would remember. She remembered the ways Michiru would stop, pause in the moment of the day for no reason. She would remember the way she would flinch when a potion went wrong, and glass exploded. She remembered the days when she could not touch Rui, not when the decay was growing mushrooms around her. That the only thing they had between them for comfort was a stick. One half falling apart, and the other half nearly crushed underneath Rui’s tight grip. 

 

So many moments where Michiru crumbled, so many times Rui wondered when she would be trusted enough to know and handle the unspoken weight. Now that she knew, Rui could barely keep her head together. No wonder Michiru wouldn’t tell her, not including the way she clearly struggled to say anything at all. 

 

“Be kind,” Rui whispered to herself, psyching herself up as she stretched her arms. She was sitting on a tree, something she used to do with Ichie or Yachiyo to calm down or hang out. In her hands was a sewing needle and her broken pair of gloves once again. “I promised that I would be kind.”

 

“That should be simple right?” she asked no one in particular. “I mean all you had to do is smile and be considerate and yknow, be a decent person.” A beat passed. Rui hit the side of the tree so hard, the birds flew from the tree, not that Rui noticed with her head in her hands. 

 

“Oh come on who am I kidding—” she groaned. “I’ve been trying to kill her ever since I saw her.” She raised her head, flicking a stray leaf from her hair before she continued to sew her glove back together. “It doesn’t help the last time I tried to be kind and give her a health potion, the hero tried to kill me--Ahh!” 

 

Rui hissed, a little droplet forming on the skin of her thumb. She scowled at her own clumsiness as she brought it to her mouth and suckled the blood out. Her tongue lapped the metallic taste, brushing gently against her own fangs. It would be nice if her nails and fangs would stop sharpening and extending, but she knew it would never happen. 

 

This small little tidbit was a punishment for never being the villain the Gods wanted to see. That was what Michiru theorised anyways when they were growing in years ago. She was not dangerous enough, apparently. It made sense. For as long as she could remember, Rui suppressed her own power. A proper villain would’ve killed Shiori already— or at least toyed with the food. 

 

Rui couldn’t do either, not until the gods would force her. But even then… 

 

Rui took her thumb out of her mouth. Her eyes followed the puffs of smoke in the forest, far from the river’s edge. She recognised those clouds, the sight of a campfire and the way air had a hint of something unusual. Michiru was likely brewing something down there, maybe finishing the potion she made and discarded in the middle of their conversation. Ideally, she should be resting, but when does Michiru ever rest? 

 

Rui looked down at the shambles of a mess she called her gloves and tried hard to focus on fixing the constant wear and tear her claws would make. It did not work well, not when the memories of that fight remained clear in her mind. She could remember the way Michiru staggered when she stopped herself and Shiori from killing each other. The way the smell of blood clung desperately to her. 

 

Michiru even gave her jacket away. The jacket was laced with projective runes and potions dyed into the fabrics. A layer of protection peeled away for Rui’s sake to cover up the scars and the raw exposure of her mark. A single touch, even the ground, would send a deep sensation of agony, and yet Michiru did not hesitate. Even now, Rui could see the relief in Michiru’s red eyes, clouded and hidden away by the pale face and fatigue in her eyes. 

 

Rui swallowed down a heavy gulp; a weight crept up on her tongue and nestled there. Michiru had done and would continue to do so much for her, and yet she wouldn’t give herself the same courtesy and kindness. The side pocket in Rui’s jacket felt heavy. Michiru’s life was literally in her hands. 

 

A small vial of potent regeneration, it was so strong it could save a life, it could save Michiru’s life. But Michiru wanted to save Shiori with it— even now, the decision felt bitter on Rui’s tongue. Yet what else could she do? Michiru was stubborn. As she said it herself, she was a person made for others. 

 

Rui pressed her hand to her eyes to wipe the tears, careful not to scratch herself like before. She wouldn’t want to scare Michiru with another face scar. Subconsciously, her hand dropped down to her face, feeling the bump and rise over the scar that paralleled Yachiyo’s scar so perfectly. The faint chuckle left Rui’s lip. She forgot how much Michiru worried when she did that to herself. 

 

Another tired sigh left Rui’s lips. “I don’t want to worry Michiru again…” She had to be kind now, not for herself or for even the Hero’s sake. She had to be kind for Michiru’s sake, even when it would be the hardest thing. Who knows, maybe she’ll make this work out for all of them. Maybe Shiori could be saved without being killed.

 

Or maybe it was all for nought because Shiori was someone who was destined to kill her. She was someone who wanted nothing but pain and suffering. The stupid Hero didn’t even realise that someone was manipulating her, so really she deserves to die— 

 

Rui slammed her head against the tree, almost causing herself to fall off the branch. 

 

“No more,” she growled, cursing through grit teeth and a dull ache. “No more stupid voices.” Another slight thud against the tree. “No more stupid hero I need to kill. No more, no more, no more….” With every repeated word, Rui continued to hit her head against the tree, ignoring the way pain seared at her forehead or patches of blood decorated the exposed bark. 

 

Rui stopped moments later, hands gripping tight to her semi-broken gloves. “I’m tired.” 

 

She was so tired of being the villain she never wanted to be. 

 


 

Everything is so stupid. 

 

Shiori hated that everything was so fucking stupid. 

 

She found the death potion in Mahiru’s potion book she brought with her. Still, it was buried underneath layers and layers of stupid text. She remembered when Mahiru tried to make her copy her book and that story at the beginning of each recipe. She could barely get past the first few paragraphs without her hands aching, and now this story was over 2 pages long. 

 

The fact that she was supposed to copy all of this jargon was stupid. It was so fucking stupid. Maybe Shiori would have cared more in the past, but now that her life is at stake, she doesn’t care about this silly little story. Why would it matter anyway? It’s not like Mahiru would kill anyone. She was too kind to hurt anyone like that. No wonder her sisters would always walk over her, stupid Mahiru for never stopping them. 

 

Shiori growled under her breath as she used her knife to cut the ends of some leaves and tossed them into the pot. The fire was roaring underneath her, so she had to make this quick or else this second attempt would be a waste as well. 

 

“So that’s why the smoke was black,” a cold voice murmured behind her. Shiori turned her head, knife gripped in hand only to falter at Rui’s restrained expression. Shiori’s eyes widened, and tension in her shoulders fell apart in shock. Rui’s head was bruised, blood clots patching up on her forehead. Her blood fell down the sides of her head like it was sweat. 

 

How was she so unconcerned about the injury?

 

“A-are you alright?”

 

Rui ignored her, raising her hand instead and something flared behind Shiori. Shiori turned herself again, her mouth open in shock at the way her roaring fire quieted down into a small crown of flames.

 

“I’m fine,” Rui answered as she moved past Shiori to a bag where she fished out the familiar red colour of a healing potion. “I just need a drink.” Rui downed the health potion before getting her sleeve and wiping away the loose blood as her skin patched itself up. 

 

Shiori continued to watch her, questions forming and leaving unanswered in her head. Was this because Rui didn’t want to hurt her? Did Michiru hurt her because she didn’t want to listen? The thought made Shiori’s hand shake. She lowered her gaze, focusing instead on the potion in front of her, before blinking when Rui stirred it. 

 

Did she know what she was doing? If so, why is she helping her? Even then, why was she trying to help her at all? Was it kindness? A way to say sorry for trying to kill her before? Shiori had no idea how to react. But she did know the gesture was meaningless and stupid. A part of her knew better to trust her so blindly. 

 

“How did you get hurt like that?” Shiori asked when Rui stopped stirring and just observed the cauldron hanging in front of the fire. 

 

Rui gave her a glance as she sat down opposite Shiori. She continued to stare at the flames, the fire adjusting with just a look. “It’s none of your business.”

 

Shiori bit her lip in thought and hesitation. She shouldn’t make such a bold accusation… But if Rui was going to be the only person she could try to trust. Even though they both tried to kill each other, Shiori needed to be involved in her business. “Is it because of Michiru?”

 

The glare grew fierce, baring teeth and fangs. Between them, the fire roared, rising to a height that Shiori leaned back in instinctual fear before it died down just as fast. “I said it’s none of your business.”

 

“Sorry,” Shiori said, curious as to why Rui looked away in regret after the outburst. “How did you do that?”

 

“Do what?”

 

“Control the flame like that.”

 

Rui snorted. Shiori glared at her, almost defensively. “You didn’t notice?” Rui gave a short smirk that made Shiori’s lip twitch in annoyance. Before Shiori could say anything, Rui clicked her hand and a flame sprouted from the tip of her fingers. It then danced around her bones, shifting and mingling as it grew to the size of Rui’s palm. 

 

Shiori gasped. “You control fire.” The stark difference in their abilities inadvertently sent a chill down Shiori’s spine. She can’t even summon wind, she can only use the wind in the air around her, but even then, they didn’t listen to her. Meanwhile, Rui could already do small finessed things like this. 

 

What’s worse was that Rui already knew this before Shiori did this. With a grim look, Rui killed the flame in her hand. “There’s a reason why Michiru assigned me to train you, if you do anything stupid I can shut you down, Hero.”

 

There was something off with the way Rui spoke. The word Hero addressed from her lips… somehow it felt right. Which was odd because Rui wasn’t her villain; Michiru was. Rui was just someone trapped in the crossfire. No, maybe it was  because  Rui didn’t want to harm her; the word felt off. After all, the term ‘Hero’ had been nothing but a sore spot so far for Shiori. 

 

“There’s no other reason?”

 

Shiori spotted the sudden tenseness in Rui’s shoulder. The way her red eyes were alert with attention. “What?” She didn’t trust that response at all, a stupid idiot trying to hide it all when she needed help. 

 

“I mean—” Shiori started, her confidence losing faith when Rui continued to stare at her, confused yet daring. “Michiru, she’s not what you—” Shiori sighed, ignoring the way she’s on the verge of ruining another potion once again. She rose to her feet and walked away, heading to the riverbed to calm herself. “Forget it,” she called, “You’re not going to listen anyways.” 

 

Shiori scowled, trampling the undergrowth in grumpy stomps, hitting the flora with a massive stick like how she watched Michiru and Rui walk before. She didn’t even know where she was heading, only focusing on her thoughts as she followed the sound of the river. 

 

Stupid Rui for trying to protect Michiru. Stupid Michiru for being the villain and wanting Shiori dead. Stupid Shiori for even being the Hero. Gods dammit, why was everything so fucking stupid! Shiori hated it.

 

In her thoughts, Shiori didn’t even realise the shadow racing towards her in silent but hurried steps. The way red eyes peered in the shadows like the blood moon many nights ago as it continued to haunt and chase after Shiori. In the same way, Shiori didn’t realise how silent the forest was. Any birds had died out— all the noise made was the thrashing of leaves. 

 

She hated that she couldn’t even make a potion, that she had to be assisted by Rui of all people. Not that it was a bad thing, but she was trying to be Mahiru’s assistant! She should’ve learnt how to make a potion. Rui could figure out what she’s trying to make and then what? Her chance for killing Michiru would’ve blown up in flames! God, she was stupid. 

 

Stupid, stupid, STUPID!

 

Something grabbed Shiori by the shoulder and spun her around. Before Shiori could even blink, the stranger pushed against a tree and forced her palm against her lips. In the split second of chaos, before clarity sunk, Shiori felt a stray thread on her tongue. 

 

Her eyes widened at Rui’s sudden appearance. She trapped her against a random tree, a hand against her mouth. She was quietly panting, and each hot breath was a gentle breeze against Shiori’s cheek. Her fatigue shone through with the red cheeks and the sweat on her head. 

 

It was only now that Shiori forgot to breathe for a brief moment. Rui’s eyes… whilst it had a dark shade of crimson, they held so much light. 

 

Rui shut her eyes, and her body slowly straightened. She pulled back her hand from Shiori’s mouth, pressing a finger to her mouth in a sign to stay quiet before she glanced at the river in the distance. Shiori pressed her lips together, determined to keep it shut before she followed Rui’s gaze. 

 

She froze. Her mouth opened, and Rui pressed her hand to her mouth again, muffling her as she held from behind. In front of them in the far distance was a monster. On its back was the jagged shell of rocks. Its paws were full of sharp, angled claws shaped like diggers. The creature yawned, baring its maw full of rotten flesh and rows of sharp teeth.

 

Yet the thing that made Shiori freeze from fear was the way it held broken fangs and the way it was missing an eye. This was a monster that was already injured, and yet it could terrify Shiori so much. It could terrify Rui to the point that she was stopping Shiori now, even from such a long distance. 

 

Once more, Rui let go of her hand against Shiori’s mouth, and with a tight grip, she led Shiori back to camp. The monster of the river didn’t notice and just drank from the edge, unaware of any life behind it. 

 

 

“It’s a mole bear,” Rui explained the second they were back at the camp. Shiori was still shaking from the encounter. Her hands were wrapped around a hot drink as Rui poured herself her own cup. “It’s a monster designed to kill anyone marked.”

 

Shiori nodded, filing that creature away for another stupid thing that wanted to kill her. At least this time, the monster was extremely serious with its threat. She drank her cup, surprised at the soothing nature of her hot tea. “Is that why I froze?”

 

“You froze because a mole bear is terrifying,” Rui assured, taking a swig of her burning hot tea. Shiori blinked, surprised that she could even handle that without burning her own tongue off. “Even jumping off a cliff won’t save you. As long as there is earth, it can climb all over it.”

 

“You’re joking.”

 

“I’m not,” Rui laughed, a sad and dark sound. “The more dangerous versions can create pillars of earth to walk across if they really wanted to. So if you even managed to fly above us it would make a pillar underneath you just to grab you.”

 

Shiori laughed, a hand deep within her hair as the laugh became another manic cackle. “That’s great, so another thing wants to kill me.” Tears welled in her eyes, and Rui frowned, the coldness on her face morphing to one of pity. 

 

“Take it easy today, Hero,” Rui sighed as she finished her drink and placed her cup nearby. She grabbed her walking staff and started to head north. “I won’t do any training today since I need to tell Michiru about the Molebear. But if you can do some independent training, that would be better than doing nothing.”

 

“Why do you need to tell Michiru about this?”

 

“Because Molebears have a fifth sense called visual smell,” Rui explained, turning around to Shiori. “Essentially, if you talk within 20 meters of the creature, they would be able to tell where you are because they’ll smell and differentiate mouth odor.”

 

Shiori nodded before red coloured her cheeks. She looked back at Rui, the sudden memory of how close they were flashed in her head. “Is that why you…”

 

Rui’s eyes widened, and to Shiori’s surprise, Rui’s own cheeks heated up too. “Ah yeah…” she nodded, in an awkward way that Shiori saw before. “Sorry about that. I mean now you know why, but—” She froze, and Shiori giggled at the sudden side of Rui. “I need to get going.” With that, Rui all but ran away. She took her staff near her to vault over the bigger bushes and land on branches of trees. 

 

Alone in the camp, Shiori sighed. Then the smile on her face darkened as she rose to her feet. “It can kill anything marked huh?” She whispered to herself, grinning as she continued to walk down the path to the river. “How stupid of the gods to leave such a gift to me.” 

 

Alone in the camp, no one was there to witness the way Shiorir’s eyes shifted to colour, from a light and bright green to a deep shade of viridian green. No one noticed the way the clouds darkened above or the way, burning through her clothes— the mark of the Seer burned like a beacon on her shoulder. 

 

Chapter Text

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. 

 

Chapter Text

The Waterfall of Truth is more than just an orientation. It’s more than the blessing of Marks. It’s a dangerous, hollow land. Truth does not even accurately describe what it holds. In those empty black pools is nothing but the void, and the void does nothing but inhale what truth you have— and repeat it right back to you. That’s why it’s dangerous. No secret is safe once you fall in. 

 

Unless you are there to be marked at the start of the prophecy— only then are those pools safe. Any other time, when the pools are no longer useful after their purpose is fulfilled...The water becomes hungry, and the truth becomes distorted. The unfortunate being becomes torn and ripped apart. They are transformed, turned upside down— inside and out. The mark becomes corrupted. 

 

That is why despite being a Catalyst, all I could do was cause destruction. That is why without my own medication, I can rot the world, speed up time too fast to control, to the point a single touch of my skin will make the surface decay. By all merits, a Catalyst should not be able to get hurt— and unless it’s with intent, they should not be able to speed up time and hurt others. 

 

And yet here I stand, a Catalyst corrupted; decayer of land, decayer of bones. 

 

Memoir 33 The corruption by Tsuyuzaki Michiru

 

~

 

Rui raced up the hillside, her eyes darting around her in search of Michiru. It’s been already an hour, and still, she couldn’t find her. She was starting to get desperate. So desperate that a part of her wanted to scream to find her easier, but she knew if she did, the Molebear might find her. Even if it was injured, she wouldn’t be able to survive it. Sure maybe she could kill it, maybe she can fight back and win— but at what cost? 

 

Will she lose her humanity? Will this moment push her over the edge? Everything she was taught, will that all crumble away? Was she going to be the monster she always feared? 

 

The sky ahead of her was darkening; the clouds were drawing close. Only minutes ago was the sky a light grey, overcast with the faint hints of sun. She wasn’t an idiot. Michiru raised her. She knew something big was happening, and even if she didn’t, the sensation of her back burning her skin screamed everything.

 

Something was playing out, a scene that needed the presence of a Villain. 

 

The thought terrified her. Her brain reacted in response, reminding her in such cruel kindness- why said fear was justified. It was enough that it halted Rui in her running, skidding to a crumble, her knees dirty and her mouth covered with the fabric of Yachiyo’s gift. 

 

It did not calm her this time. 

 


 

“What did you do!” Rui remembered screaming, her voice a guttural sensation made from millions of screams at once. There was so much fire. There was so much heat. She could barely see from the dark clouds surrounding her, the fog that only darkened the further she stepped in. 

 

There was rain, quiet and stubborn. It was not enough to douse the flames sprouting from Rui’s lips, nor did it smother any of the anger that dwelled within her. She remembered repeating the question again, the ache of her teeth elongating forgotten in the overwhelming sensation of deep primordial fear. 

 

“I don’t know,” Ichie cried back. Otonashi Ichie, her friend— the closest friend. The answer she gave didn’t satisfy her, and Rui remembered screaming again, slashing something— something strong, deadly, and there was more than one blade. Ichie screamed, arm bleeding. She knew what she did. She knew what she did to the woman they both looked up to.

 

“Tell me what you did to her, Ichie.” 

 

“I didn’t do—”

 

“LIES!” There was another scream, and there was the sound of skin tearing apart. This time, the sound was sharper, piercing through the burning and the rain. It was raw, reminiscent of a way beasts would tear through prey. 

 

“Yachiyo….” Ichie gasped with her eyes wide, unable to tear away. Rui, in turn, froze— the weight on her hands, on her claws, was heavy from the blood that dripped down in cascades. Yachiyo’s left cheek was ripped apart, and yet she didn’t care. One hand was raised, holding Ichie back, protecting her and the other hand held a dagger. The grip was steady as her green eyes, gearing up for slaughter. 

 

“Stay the hell away from her, you monster.” 

 

-

 

“Stop,” Rui begged to herself, to the parts of her that relished in her own agony. She was struggling to breathe, her hands were on the edge of the scarf, but there was no strength in her grip if she ever tried to pull it away. How cruel was fate to make the source of constant comfort suffocate her. 

 

Something fell on Rui’s shoulder. It was wet, cold and it quickly multiplied from one to several. Rui looked up, her knees now drenched in mud, her hands clutching the hem of the scarf. Her lips moved, frantic, and her breathing was shallow. The dark clouds circled the sky as the rain continued to pour, narrowing the once mid morning sun to a single beam. It almost looked like a desperate prayer to an indifferent God. 

 

-

 

“She looked ready to kill!” Rui barked back. “She wants to kill me and she doesn’t even know what I’m supposed to be for her.” 

 

“She’s her mother’s daughter—”

 

“I see it in her eyes, Michiru,” Rui snapped, biting back a feral growl. She flexed her hands, tearing more of her gloves just a bit more. “I don’t care-- I don’t know!” She yelled, “--How you think otherwise just because you met her when she was a baby but she’s not whoever you thought she was! She’s the Hero now so stop being blinded by nostalgia!”

 

“Do you see it in her eyes?” Michiru said calmly, her age showing off the wisdom it harboured as she stared down Rui. She did not care for the anger, the held back snarl or the way Rui’s claws sharpened on natural instinct. She just stared, the light intensifying the dark crimson colour of Michiru’s iris. “Or do you see your own thoughts reflected in hers?”

 

Rui clenched her fist, understanding the unspoken words but refusing to believe them. “We have different irises.” 

 

Michiru didn’t change her expression. “But her eyes are similar to Yachiyo’s.”

 

Rui backed away, turning away from Michiru. The fire snapped from her fingertips. Smoke snarled its way out of her lips, slipping past her fangs and her gritted teeth. “Don’t!”

 


 

It was the distinct echo of fabric tearing itself that snapped Rui out of it. Then it was her laboured breath, the lack of cotton against her lips. Slowly, steadily, like the build-up of water on a leaf before it fell, Rui gathered her breath. And in the following exhalation, she shut her eyes. She knew what she did. She could feel the tethers and the stray threads looping around her extended nails. She can feel the taste of string on the tip of her fangs. 

 

She knew what she did. She knew what she repeated. This time as she stuffed the broken scarf deep into her pockets, she will give herself the mercy to deny it. Just for now, just for the prophecy. She stuffed it far down, enough that it wrapped the fragile regeneration potion like a cocoon. 

 

“I’m so sorry Yachiyo,” Rui whimpered. The tears on her cheeks blended too well with the rain. She was so cold, even when the back of her neck, the tip of her spine was burning up. “I did it again. I had hurt you.” 

 

“You didn’t hurt her.”

 

Rui’s head snapped up, and the whimpers increased tenfold. “Michiru…”

 

Michiru stepped into the space, her hand buried into Rui’s hair as Rui wrapped her arms around her waist. Michiru hummed, kissing the dark tresses. “It’s okay, you did really well Rui.”

 

“There’s a—” 

 

“I know, I know….” Michiru leaned back, edging her thumbs around Rui’s glowing red eyes. She wiped the tears with a delicate intimacy that made Rui crumble. “I’m sorry I couldn’t find you in time to stop you. But I’m here now.” 

 

“Her scarf…”

 

“Can be fixed in due time…” Michiru answered, her words gentle and understanding. She knew more than anyone else how much Rui needed that scarf to stay calm, the way she Rui would always remove it from a fight when she could. To remind herself that once upon a time, someone saw her and called her beautiful, both inside and out. “But right now, I need to make sure you’re safe, okay?”

 

When Rui nodded and rose to her feet, Michiru smiled at her softly. “That’s my girl.” And for a moment, Rui felt nothing like the Villain she could’ve been, just a child needing comfort in her mother’s arms. 

 


 

The camp was empty. Shiori was gone, and there were no ruins from a mole bear. Rain fell, and yet all of the water slid off the surface of the pot like it was oil. But no, the second Michiru glanced at the misshapen, black concoction, it was simply just acid. Strong, brutal and corrupt acid. It didn’t take long to identify what Shiori was trying to make. It almost made Michiru throw up from the recognition. 

 

“She tried to make a death potion.”

 

Rui snapped her head at Michiru, peeking from the cave entrance, her eyes blown out and wide. “A what?”

 

“A potion made only to kill,” Michiru explained as she stuck her staff on the handle of the cauldron. Carefully she lifted up the pot as splatters of acid fell as it moved. Whatever concoction that existed hissed upon collision with the dirt and forced it to crumble and crack. Michiru winced and tightened her grip, slowly moving it to the side, against the wall of the cave. 

 

“It’s a potion she wouldn’t know about,” Michiru sighed as she carefully moved her staff out of the way. This place, exposed to the wind and rain, wasn’t the safest, but they had worse things to prioritise about. “Let alone attempt to make and fail, unless they’re a master at the craft.” She looked at Rui with a grave expression. “We ran out of time.”

 

Rui’s eyes hardened, and she stepped out from the cave. Her scarf was tucked away in a bag, and her clawed hands were exposed. She was no longer hiding, and the sight relieved and also worried Michiru. “What does that mean?”

 

Michiru looked away, a heavy burden on her throat. “Shiori needs to die today—”

 

“No.”

 

“She’s already possessed by the Eternal Seer,” Michiru justified. Across the sky, something flashed stark white, and Michiru froze. She came back a second later, her hands shaking despite being still. A second later, the late call of thunder roared around them.  

 

“And…” Michiru continued, her heart staggering as she looked up at Rui. She hoped that Rui could see the kindness in her eyes, the deep consideration that Michiru still listened to her. “I won’t force you to make the blow. But—”

 

Rui shook her head, striding fast to Michiru and towering over her. “Don’t you dare ask.”

 

Michiru grabbed her suspenders, tugging Rui down enough that they reached eye level. “I dare, Rui.” And in the brief moment, Michiru stared into Rui’s red eyes, remembered everything they went through and steeled herself. “If anything were to happen, take Shiori and run.” 

 

It was a miracle that she did not break, asking this favour from her. This close, Michiru saw every aspect of Rui’s lips quivering, the way her eyes shuddered and saw the face move as she exhaled. She did so well trying to hide how much she hated this, but Michiru knew her.  She raised her. 

 

“I’m not leaving you behind Michiru.” Damn her and her loyal, stubborn heart. The response was as exactly as Michiru expected. 

 

“You won’t.” The word came out instinctively, the need to comfort spitting faster than her rational mind could comprehend. If the worst was to happen, like Michiru anticipated, there is little chance she would come out of the exchange unscathed, let alone alive.

 

“Rui…” Michiru whispered, her voice getting heavier as the pressure of what was to come clogged her throat. “You’re—” Rui shook her head and jerked away from Michiru, her hands falling away from the suspenders it held.

 

 “Don’t say those words,” Rui gasped, already knowing what dire words Michiru would’ve said. “Because you’re not saying goodbye.” Her voice broke, staggering in haggard pauses. She sounded so small, Michiru wanted to do nothing but hold her close. “Don’t. You’re not dying today— tell me you’re not dying today.”

 

“Rui…” Michiru whispered, reaching out her hand. Rui stepped back, her face hardening at the gesture. 

 

“Lie.”

 

Michiru paused. Lightning flashed, and the thunder roared, but Michiru didn’t hear them. She ignored the explicit triggers that gave her nightmares or reminded her of her cruelty that she never deserved. None of that was important as she stared at Rui. 

 

Here was the child, now aged in her 20s— the same age Michiru was when she was thrust out to a world to a now tragic prophecy. Here she stood, towering above her with eyes. Red and sharp and full of kindness, and conflict and desire to be nothing more than a good person.

 

 Here stood the child she abandoned before she returned with the responsibility to raise her right. Here was the Villain, who was nothing like a Villain. Here was the girl who wanted nothing but fantasy, even if that naivety would make her a more vulnerable creature. 

 

Here was Akikaze Rui, a person Michiru loved only second to her own wife. 

 

With a heavy but full heart, Michiru swallowed down the lump in her throat and smiled at Rui, her lie as explicit as the endearment of her grin. “I won’t die today.” 

 

A harsh sound interrupted the scene. It was louder than the thunder, yet it pricked Michiru’s skin like it was lightning. 

 

Clap. Clap. 

 

Michiru turned her body to the noise; the smile went within a blink of an eye. In front of them, unfazed by the rain, was Shiori, her eyes a violent shade of dark green. The tattoo of the temple was alight like a torch against the skin. To make matters more transparent, Shiori had her hair up, twin tails— too similar to the curve of a banana. 

 

“Awww,” Shiori grinned in a voice that was too cruel to be her own. “So you two do love each other~.”

 

From the corner of Michiru’s vision, she saw Rui’s eyes flare up in anger, and she stuck her hand out to stop her. Their eyes locked briefly before Rui relaxed. Michiru turned her head back to Shiori, or what was left of her.

 

 “What are you doing here?” 

 

Shiori gave her a cruel smirk, further cementing the belief that whilst Shiori was talking, Nana was the one in control of her actions, influenced too much by the Seer’s touch. “Well, I wondered what took you so long so like a good hero, I saved you the trip.” 

 

Michiru took a cautious step forward, her feet automatically drawn to a guard stance. She adjusted the grip of her staff as she continued to glare at Shiori and the person behind those green eyes. “Down there was the mole bear.”

 

“Exactly!” Shiori laughed, the tone too sickly sweet for it to be genuine. “We don’t have time,” she sighed, almost sad despite the wind starting to pick up around her eagerly. “It can smell us the longer we speak.”

 

“Alright,” Michiru growled, picking up the pace as she gripped tightly to the staff. “Let’s get this over with, Shiori.”

 

“Finally,” Shiori laughed, “You’re showing Villain colours Michiru.”

 

And with those words, Shiori descended onto Michiru, the wind blasting dirt into her eyes. Michiru grunted from the surprise, the dirt decaying as she raised her arm. However, the attack blinded her enough for Shiori to close the distance. 

 

Shiori jabbed left with a knife, then right. Michiru, despite the dust in her eyes and the rapid beat of her heart, deflected both attacks, blocking them with her staff. She swung her staff at Shiori’s legs, and Shiori jumped, the wind helping her to avoid it before she lunged at Michiru again. 

 

This time Michiru countered the swing of the knife, the blade digging hard to the wood. Yet Michiru’s eyes widened, a sudden elbow connected to her face, and Michiru grunted, letting go of her staff. Within the next breath, Shiori grabbed it— laughing with glee before Michiru held the centre of the staff and jerked it. She didn’t jerk it towards herself, however, but to Shiori, making the girl hit herself in the face. 

 

In the slight distraction, Michiru made her move and disarmed Shiori of the staff. Shiori reached out to grab it again, but Michiru grunted, jabbing her fast in the liver. Shiori stumbled, a groan hissing her lips. In the next blink, Michiru attacked her limbs as she spun around behind Shiori, looped her arms around her neck and forced her into a chokehold, the wooden staff pressed hard underneath her chin. 

 

Shiori dug her nails deep into Michiru’s skin with a snarl trying hard to break free. Above them, the thunder roared, yet there was no flash of lightning. 

 

“I am— I’m a cruel, horrible person.” Michiru huffed, out of breath already, as she pulled out the knife still lodged to the staff. “To some, a monster—” She angled it towards the tattoo, and in her hold, she could hear Shiori go quiet as she eyed the weapon warily. “But for you? I was the wrong blonde to fear.” 

 

Michiru stabbed the shoulder, treating the tattoo like a bullseye. She ignored the howl of agony before Michiru let go of one end of the staff and pressed her hand over the mark. Shiori thrashed in her grip, struggling to get free as her skin darkened into a black bruise-like colour. There it continued to decay and decay until there was nothing but sudden heat— and Michiru’s vision was blinded with white. 

 


 

When Michiru returned, it was to the sound of ringing. She was on the floor, and Rui’s shadow towered over her. Her back was facing her, and her eyes were too busy glaring at a figure in front of them. In her arms, much to Michiru’s own surprise, was an unconscious Shiori, her hair no longer in ponytails and with her shoulder already bandaged up.

 

 Michiru let out some noise, a slight groan to indicate her being well, and Rui’s tense figure immediately relaxed a bit at the sound. 

 

“Michiru,” Rui whispered under her breath. “We have some company.” 

 

Immediately, Michiru tensed and stood up, adjusting her foot subtly to get used to the rotten ground below her. It appeared that she used her decay too much. Though as her eyes narrowed in disgust and hatred at the person in front of them, she had a deep feeling that this sort of extreme use of her powers was just the beginning. 

 

“So,” Nana hummed, a thumb pressing the bottom of her chin. “That’s how you removed your waypoint all those years ago, Cataclyst— countering me with your own powers.” She then sighed as the thunder crashed behind her. “I guess I still have a lot to go through, if a broken catalyst can counter a Seer such as I.”

 

“Nana…” 

 

Nana grinned, lightning flashing harsh and bright that for a moment, Michiru was a little child being forced to count the spaces between each flash out loud before the lightning struck her body again. Then she was back, the next second with her fragile heart quivering. 

 

“Hello little dreamer,” Nana laughed, cold and cruel as Michiru always heard in her nightmares. “I hope you last longer this time.” 

 

Chapter Text

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. 

Chapter Text

Everyone is dead. Everyone. No… That’s a wrong statement. 

 

I’m not dead. Mahiru is not dead. 

 

I think we’re the only two people alive out of the entire prophecy. Lalafin is gone, Shizuha went… I thought Catalysts were the only people who can go insane, but no— I guess it makes sense if Villains can go berserk too. 

 

Where did it all go wrong? We had a plan, a plan to make sure everyone was happy— a plan to at least free us from the prophecy but… where it did go wrong… 

 

Was it when Lalafin died, and Shizuha had nothing else to live for? Was it when Mahiru and I fell in love? Was it when Karen decided to change the ending that was predestined for everyone? 

 

Where did it all go wrong? 

 

Where did I go wrong? 

 

And what do I do now? 

 

....

 

I remember when I wrote this, I can’t believe I found this page. I wish I could answer her, but I never learned how it went wrong or why it did even years later. I can’t remember what happened on the last day of the prophecy, on the day it was immortalised as a tragedy. There was a flash of light— and next thing I know, everyone but us died. Though I do remember one thing, the sky was red… 

 

…And there was no sun or moon in the sky. 

 

-Memoir 1 by Tsuyuzaki Michiru 

 

~

 

Nana was different. This was the first thing Michiru had realised. She has aged certainly, slightly sunken eyes, and the way she seemed taller than before. Then again, this might be her inherent fear making things worse than usual. Then again, it could be her mind overthinking. Then again, Nana might have changed looks with no correlation to her strength or power. 

 

Oh, as if things were that simple. 

 

Around them, the thunder continued to storm. Nana had her hands together like she was either patiently waiting or just finished clapping. Her twin tail hair, curved in that distinct banana shape, dropped under the weight of the rainfall. Clerical robes of pale blues and white were now darkened to greys and silvers. 

 

“Is she awake?” Michiru asked, her eyes still focused on Nana even though her question was directed at Rui. 

 

“Shiori?” Rui repeated, glancing down at the hero in her arm before shaking her slightly. The blonde stirred reactively but not enough to signal consciousness. “No, she’s still out of it.” 

 

Michiru nodded, she reached out her hand, and the glow of her gem on her robes pulsed once. Within a second, her familiar staff returned to her, and she gripped it tight as she used it to stand up taller. Nana raised a brow but did nothing; if anything, she looked amused at what she saw. 

 

“Then get out of here, and make sure she’s safe.”

 

“MIchiru—”

 

“This isn’t your fight Rui!” Michiru screamed, daring to glance at Rui even when it meant taking her eyes away from their enemy. In a brief flash, her brain played a cruelty Michiru wished she could forget. She couldn’t, however, and despite the faint screams taunting her head, Michiru charged forward. 

 

“I can’t let her kill you,” she whispered, begging through her eyes since her voice would give away all of her weaknesses. “Please.” 

 

Rui opened her mouth, except a distant scream answered it for her. Both of them snapped towards the sound, the way birds began to squawk and fly overhead. Fuck, she forgot about the mole bear. Michiru no longer hesitated, taking her stick and hitting Rui on the arm with one end with a hiss.

 

“GO NOW!” 

 

Rui nodded, giving her one last glance before she ran behind them. Michiru could only watch as Rui hoisted Shiori over her shoulder, fireman style to free her hands. By the time she turned back to Nana, the sound of Rui climbing trees and running through them blended in with the rain. 

 

“You’ve turned soft, Little Dreamer.” Michiru hid the shiver that aroused from her spine at the old haunting name. She turned back to Nana. The fear that erupted at sight boiled over into a fit of calm but fiery rage. Then, taking an assured breath, Michiru moved to a fighting stance.

 

“When it’s compared to you,” She hissed, one hand edging the rim of the spatial bag that was tucked to her waist. “It’s an easy comparison.” 

 

Nana chuckled, taking a step every time the sound left her lips. Above them, the thunder roared, and lightning danced across the clouds and the treetops. “I’ve eased over the years, did you know?” She stopped a few metres away, far enough that she was out of range, close enough that if Michiru struck fast, she would land a hit. 

 

“And I learnt from the mistakes made when raising you,” Nana raised her hand, and lightning struck the palm. The sparks drooped and dangled like it was an elastic fluid. This close, Michiru could see how the lightning hopped between the falling raindrops. 

 

“For example,” Nana continued as she waved her fingers, pulling them in and out of the centre of her palm. It was like she was a spider creating a web, and soon enough, rope and a whip was wrapped around her hand as she spoke. “For example, I now dangle the carrot as opposed to using the stick all the time.”

 

If Nana was meant to create the same whip used against Michiru growing up to scare her, it didn’t work. Maybe the sight alone made Michiru freeze up for a second, but all of that fear was swept away the second she remembered Rui. There was nothing she would do to make sure Rui was safe. 

 

“So you did manipulate her sisters,” Michiru hissed. The pain in her abdomen from her Catalyst mark doubled in agony, but Michiru didn’t care. She moved a step closer, ignoring how the mud below her squealed. Decay was around them all, and she wasn’t going to stop it any time soon. 

 

Nana hummed, her free hand on her chin as she pretended to be in thought. “Is hard earned trust really considered manipulation?” She asked before tilting her head back to Michiru with a sick grin. “If so, you manipulated that villain quite well.”

 

A hot flash of anger imploded in Michiru’s skull. Near them, a tree fell, the rot from inside breaking apart the wooden ring-like blood pulsing out of a ripped chest. Mushrooms decorated the battlefield that hadn’t begun. 

 

Michiru howled, baring her teeth and the feral look in her red eyes. “I’m not like you—!”

 

“Of course not,” Nana tutted, shaking her head in disappointment. Still, there was that cruel smile, too genuine to be faked, too insincere to be considered kind. “You were better than me, Little Dreamer.” Lightning struck the ground between them, showering Nana with this halo glow from the back as she smiled softly and sweetly. The same way a hunter would calm its prey right before the slaughter.

 

 “You were perfect.”

 

At once, flashes of a childhood long-buried rose from its grave and their sunken trenches.

 


 

A dark room, a blinding light. Ropes are strung along the wrist, along the arms and legs. It strangled any blood that could get to Michiru. The chair was uncomfortable; it was too big. Or she was too small. 

 

“What’s your name?” A voice rang out like a bullet, haunted and cold. 

 

Michiru swallowed, her lips shaking, her throat dried out and was left to die in the desert. She cried already; she didn’t know if she would ever stop crying. “Michi—” She screamed, her left cheek throbbed as the impact of the slap reverberated in the room.

 

“Wrong. You are a Catalyst, Catalysts don’t own names.” Michiru continued to sob. “Now what’s your name?”

 

-

 

“Now acolytes,” Tendou Maya called out, proud and confident. Michiru was behind the curtain, the iron straining her wrists as she shook the chains against the pole she was stuck on. They were tighter than last time, then again last time Michiru actually escaped and dodged. “What we have here is target practice. Many are prepared to attack another person, but none of you are ready to kill.”

 

The grind of the cog work struck a blow in Michiru’s face as she winced, the curtain pulling apart to reveal the harsh sunlight. When there was the murmur of young, small voices around Michiru’s age, Maya began to speak.  

 

“That changes now.” Maya laughed as someone gave her a bow and arrow. Michiru blearily watched as Maya notched the arrow and pulled back the string. “This is a Catalyst. They can’t be hurt, but I want every arrow to be stuck into her chest.” Michiru’s vision became blurry once more by the knockback of a sharp collision against her torso. 

 

-

 

“I don’t think she’s ready for the prophecy Nana,” A voice objected as Michiru turned around in a long winding corridor, Nana was next to her. 

 

“Junna, my love,” Nana soothed, reaching out to her with open arms and a kiss on the cheek. “I understand the concern but look at her, feel her—” Cold fingers press against Michiru’s chest; she does nothing to fight it back. She just waits. 

 

“I can’t feel her heartbeat.”

 

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Nana gasped her smile wide in awe. “A tool who is more god than human, she is perfect. Absolutely perfect.”

 


 

“Are you back?” Nana asked the second Michiru shook herself from the past. Her skin was cold, and the horror dawned on her that she was gone for too long. Then again, a single second was far too long. Nana, however, was still in the same place where she was— though her lightning whip was too bright, almost like a beacon. 

 

As relieving as it was that Nana didn’t take advantage of her in that vulnerable state, all it did was solidify her own arrogance to kill her. Not to mention it showed just how much she wanted Michiru to suffer first before she killed her. “Did you dream of me this time, little dreamer?”

 

“I dreamed of killing you,” Michiru gasped, her throat hoarse. It was a lie, and they both knew it. Michiru could smell her tears in the air before she could feel its cooled down the heat on her cheeks. 

 

“Ah so nothing changed,” Nana hummed, “You always like to live in delusion.” 

 

Michiru’s eyes hardened. She was not the only one with a weak point. She was not the only one here shaken by words. “I lived there precisely because it’s all that Junna taught me.”

 

The mocking smile vanished, the light in Nana’s eyes darkened to something horrid. Her expression was bloodthirsty, tainted with nothing but burning anger and hatred. Oh, how Michiru loved and savoured the taste of it. 

 

“Get her name out of your filthy mouth.”  

 

The snap of the whip for once in her life didn’t scare Michiru. In fact, all it did was entice her, intoxicating her lips with cruel laughter. Oh, how feeble and human the mighty eternal Seer was to be damned like regret. To be on her pathetic level. 

 

“Junna was nothing but a monster in a human form,” Michiru continued, cackling away all the fear in exchange for raw energy and excitement. Sure she would die today, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t hit Nana where it hurt. 

 

“But mostly, she was useless. All she ever did was try to make me forget who I was, to make me be nothing but your tool. At the end of the day all of Junna’s work was worthless. I remember my name, my humanity and most personally—” 

 

The thunder rang loud as a warning, the lightning struck the earth like a red flag, but Michiru only smiled further. “I remember my wife killing her with her own bow and arrow.”

 

Michiru raised her staff to block before she saw the flash of the whip shot towards her. The collision made her step back to hold steady and pull back on the whip’s grip. Her hand, edging the rim of the bag, already reached in and threw an acidic potion towards the whip. 

 

Instantly, Nana retracted the whip. “I warned you before, you broken Catalyst. Get her name out of your mouth or I will show you no mercy.” 

 

Michiru scoffed, one hand already in her bag as she threw up potions in the air. With two hands on her staff, she spun each end to collide with each bottle twice. “Since when did a monster like you ever show mercy?” 

 

Nana screamed, rushing to Michiru only to quickly sidestep to the left. The sound of teeth tearing through fabric made Michiru laugh. The molebear they both forget dropped the rags to the ground; the broken fangs and ruined eye did nothing to hinder their intimidating stance. 

 

 “You don’t want to be part of this fight,” Nana hissed, lashing the whip against their hide. The mole bear roared, stepping back at the impact. “I know you can understand me!” Nana hissed, her anger and frustration leaking through. It was enough for Michiru to stay prepared and slowly moved closer. “Interrupt this fight again and you will die.” 

 

The mole bear in question hurled dust at Nana and roared. However, it sniffed the air again and dashed forward. They were likely to go for Rui, but Michiru couldn’t stop it, not when something else was more dangerous. 

 

“Now…” Nana sighed and slicked her hair back, already wet and doused with rain. “Where were—” 

 

Michiru didn’t give her a chance to finish the sentence. The second the mole bear left the scene, she lunged at her. 

 


 

“Are you sure this is safe?” Rui remembered asking. The wet branches were dry, and her hands were small and soft instead of the roughness it held now. Ichie was next to her, legs dangling off another branch. She simply smiled, taking away some of Rui’s fears as they both looked to the most experienced one out of all of them. 

 

“Parkouring between trees?” Yachiyo asked before giving a reassuring smile when Rui nodded. Her body shifted a bit, and Rui yelped, holding tight to the branch above them. Leaves fell down, one tickled Rui’s nose, and she sneezed. Ichie laughed quietly at that. 

 

“You’ll be fine, Rui,” Yachiyo said, reaching out a hand to Rui. Rui swallowed her fear and reached a hand out in return. Her hands, though small and calloused, were warm. It made Rui feel less scared about everything. “I used to jump off large platforms to perform tricks in the air when I was younger and I turned out fine.” 

 

Rui frowned. “That doesn’t sound very nice or safe.” The smile in Ichie’s eyes dimmed, and the swinging of her legs slowed. Yachiyo, in turn, gave a wry smile, her eyes reaching an epiphany that she was too young to ever receive.

 

“You’re right,” Yachiyo whispered. “It wasn’t safe, so that’s why you’ll have us. We’ll make sure you’ll be safe, Rui.”

 

“Promise?”

 

Yachiyo smirked, using her free hand to flip her hair back. Ichie near them grinned when her hand accidentally hit the leaves, and more fell down. “Have I ever lied to you before?” 

 

-

 

Rui doesn’t know why she remembered that memory where she was first taught how to parkour with Ichie and Yachiyo. She could guess it was because of the circumstances she was in. But even then, this was vastly different from back then. They had Michiru supervising them back then, and they drank some potions to slow down the fall if there were any mishaps. 

 

Now, the branches were wet, prone for her to slip at any point. In addition, Rui had to carry the one person who could kill her, restricting her movement and morale. Then to top it off, someone was trying to kill Michiru. 

 

Someone was trying to kill Michiru. 

 

That thought alone was enough to sober and motivate whatever side thoughts Rui had as she leapt from tree to tree. For once, Rui couldn’t fault the way her hands moulded into claws, not when the way it dug into branches stopped her from slipping more than once. 

 

If Rui had her way, she wouldn’t even be on a tree, running for her life. Instead, she would be out there, fighting side by side with Michiru and escaping with her. But no, Michiru told her to run and look after Shiori, so here she was, briefly stopping to double-check on Shiori’s health and to collect her breath. 

 

Rui leaned against a tree, feet firmly planted on the branch’s root. Looking around, the sky darkened unnaturally, and the thunder and lightning continued to scream around them. The sporadic flashes of light were enough for Rui to catch Shiori’s expression. Her hero was still unconscious, she was still breathing, but there was no sign of her waking up soon.

 

Rui glanced at her bloodied shoulder and remembered what happened; what felt like hours ago but was really twenty minutes ago. When Michiru struck the tattoo, the first thing she saw was Shiori curled up into a ball, her shoulder bleeding. Michiru was a foot behind them, groaning but still not waking up. 

 

Normally, Rui would check on Michiru, but there was something in the corner of her eye, moving towards Shiori. She reacted before she could stop herself, one hand was already shifted into a claw to swipe whilst the other grabbed Shiori’s body and dragged her in. 

 

“Stay away from her,” she remembered growling before the anger morphed into fear when a dark chuckle responded back, amused at the turn of the events. 

 

“A villain, protecting a Hero?” Chuckled the voice of Daiba Nana, the eternal Seer. “Has this prophecy failed already?”

 

Rui didn’t answer her, taking her free hand and moving it over the wound and burning it to make it heal and to follow the last instruction Michiru gave her. Then before Nana could stop her, Rui moved backwards, shifting Shiori in her hand that she was bridal carrying her just in time for Michiru to wake up. 

 

A slight groan made Rui snap out of her thoughts. Rui glanced at her shoulder again, relieved that Shiori was jostling slightly. Good, the second she was awake, the second Rui could dump her in a safeish place so that she could back up Michiru. 

 

“What would Michiru do?” Rui whispered to herself before she continued to climb up the trees, one hand on Shiori and the other holding a branch for support. Well, Michiru would get Shiori safe, but the cave they were in was in the battleground, so that was out of the way. There was a village nearby where Rui and Shiori first thought in the inn, but Rui didn’t want them to be involved again. Despite the chaos, she could still remember when they were all unnaturally still thanks to Divine Intervention. 

 

Without warning, Rui paused. Something tickled and pricked the back of her head. Lightning flashed, a bolt struck near them, causing a branch to fall. Except that wasn’t what Rui noticed in the corner of her eye. Rui jumped in that instant, barely dodging the swipe of the mole bear that snarled in frustration. 

 

Rui landed on the tree nearby, slipping on a branch but hanging on enough with how her claws anchored deep into the bark. Thunder roared but was cut short by another bolt of lightning, illuminating the hunger in the Mole bear’s eyes as it stood on a pillar of earth. Rui growled back, the voice booming from the back of her throat. 

 

Without much fanfare, the Molebear roared and jumped towards them, biting the branch near them as Rui continued to climb and jump away. The sound of rock and earth intertwined with the orchestra of cruel weather conditions. Clearly, it wasn’t enough that Rui had constant drumming in her ears from her heart or the way everything in her body gasped like a soul desperate for air. 

 

It was so easy to lose control. The eyes appearing in the sky goaded that transformation. Rui knew it would just be a disaster following a disaster. So it takes everything within her to hold herself back and commit to the role of being chased. If she wanted to hunt, the mole bear would die, and so would everything else alive in the forest. 

 

The molebear continued to rush towards her, wild and feral, turning more monstrous than the intelligent, terrifying creature that Rui knew and feared it to be. If it wasn’t chasing her, Rui would feel some sense of sympathy— she knew what it was like being deformed to a lesser creature due to the gods watching them. But as it was chasing her, Rui grabbed the weakness and squeezed it for all of its value. After all, a monster knew how monsters would act. 

 

Rui turned around once she was on a sturdier oak tree and, for a second, sat Shiori down, bundled in the mess and tangle of smaller branches and leaves like it was a nest. She then stared down at the molebear as it continued to chase after them, no longer having the intelligence to stop. Rui dropped down and clawed their paws before burning their face off to respond. 

 

The mole bear screeched as it tumbled off the earth pillar, the earth itself moulding itself to be a basket to catch it. Rui slashed it through the face, the smell of burning flesh wrinkling her nose before she jumped away, landing on a nearby tree, her claws dug into the bark like an anchor. 

 

Below her, the molebear howled in pain, limping as it bared its broken fangs and ruined face. Rui looked down and snarled back, her voice sounding more guttural than she was prepared for. Her eyes were wide, her breathing heavy as the deadly red glow in her eyes dimmed. 

 

She was not a monster. She was not a monster. She lost control of herself once, and she won’t do it again. She was not a monster. 

 

Rui shook off her thoughts, glancing down to double-check the mole bear. It looked injured enough that it won’t follow them. Even then, the flames, despite the storm, were slowly spreading. Taking another sigh, Rui leapt upwards, clawing her way up to where she left Shiori. As she continued, the wind picked up around her, washing away all the dirt and blood. By the time she reached Shiori, cocooned in delicate bundles of branches, Rui was spotless. 

 

“Are you up yet?” Rui asked, grumbling under her breath when Shiori didn’t wake up just yet. Underneath them, the Molebear screamed from the flames. Rui ignored it and lifted Shiori up, holding her in her arms firmly, one hand supporting her entire weight and the other holding onto a branch. 

 

“Stupid Hero,” Rui whispers under her breath before she leaps into the forest near her and continues to find a place that could keep Shiori safe. 

 

Chapter Text

It’s said that villains are born from tragedies, and I know I said that villains and heroes are made out of the same material, for they are two sides of the same coin. Still, that material is a tragedy. We know why a villain’s origin story is tragic. We all heard the phrase. So why is it a Hero’s story is the same? 

 

Well, in theory, it’s because of how easy it is to become a hero and a villain. How poetically cruel it would be to face a person who could easily be you in another life. In actuality, it’s because Prophecies are desperate. People go on these sorts of journeys for revenge, a purpose, glory or anything else that oozes with desperation. A tragedy is nothing but a well of desperation. 

 

The other reason, one that actually extends past the Hero, is this: No one happy and content with life would go on a journey that would radically change them. So if a tragedy struck and destroyed everything you held close and dear, what is stopping you from doing a prophecy? There is nothing else holding you back, is there? 

 

Memoir 10 Being a hero, by Tsuyuzaki Michiru

 

~

 

To say Claudine was mad was an understatement. To stay, she was furious was still 6ft under her, buried right underneath the river they were on. If she was at the Temple, she would go to the training room and throw weights around. She would get some gloves, get a bag and start beating it till grains trickled down. Either that or the blood on her knuckles, whichever came first. 

 

But Claudine wasn’t at the Temple. She was on a stupid stolen ship that Yachiyo stole. The same Yachiyo who accused Maya and Nana of abusing her and manipulating her! How could they do that— they saved her life. They gave her a purpose. They gave her a chance to make her life better, not just for herself, but for her sisters too. 

 

Sure they weren’t the best sometimes, sure Maya was stricter than she could’ve been, but they gave her a home, they gave them an education. They raised her when her mothers died. So how can Nana and Maya be cruel when they save her. 

 

“They take care of you,” Yachiyo reasoned, her voice sickeningly sweet, almost as if she was 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 barely flinched when her nails pierced her palm. The blood trickled from down the palm to the connection of the wrist before turning sideways and dripping down. Claudine stared at her hand, still bleeding. The fury in her eyes was raw, the shaking of her bones vivid in the exhale. 

 

She squeezed her hand further. More blood oozed and stained the floor, sloshing side to side thanks to the river moving the boat to and fro. The worst thing out of all of this... Despite the accusation, despite the gall that Yachiyo dared to say that. The worst thing and the reason why Claudine wasn’t getting anything to stuff and fix her bleeding hands like she would usually do was that a part of her thought Yachiyo was right. 

 

It was a simple whisper, a devil’s tongue of lacking faith. It wasn’t that they were downright abusive, but it was questioning. It was questioning the regulations she had growing up. It interrogated her memory, wondering if maybe it wasn’t the paradise Claudine thought it was. It whispered the one question that Claudine didn’t want to answer. 

 

“Is this why Shiori grew distant?”

 

Of course, it wasn’t the reason, because Nana and Maya wouldn’t go after children and hurt them. And when they first met, that’s all they were— children. Yet still, the possibility scared her because Claudine was the one to lead them to the Temple. If anything happened to any of them, it would be her fault. All of it. 

 

She could still remember everything when it all happened— she could never forget. 

 


 

“Fumi,” Claudine whispered, her voice seeming like a whisper but was more of a hushed shout. She closed the window to the back of their basement, wincing at the slight shutter as the rotten wooden frame bounced until it settled. So much for quiet. Claudine turned around and climbed over the boxes of their old storage units. She continued to whisper Fumi’s name. “Fumi, come here.”

 

“Kuro?” Fumi called from the middle of the stairs, her small childlike eyes widening as she ran down it, holding onto the wooden railing for support as Claudine jumped down to the dusty floor. She coughed once, waving her hands out. “Why were you hiding in the basement?” 

 

“I wasn’t.” Claudine sneezed, and the distinct rumble when her hand hit the side of her bag made Fumi look at it with a frown. Claudine’s eyes widened, a glimpse of fear and terror surrounding the pupil before she grabbed Fumi’s arm and dragged her to a corner despite no one else in the room. 

 

“I need you to keep a secret, Fumi.” The desperation was obvious, and Claudine’s tongue was dry and panting despite all of the sweat that accumulated on her brows. Fumi said nothing, and there was a small nervous smile on Claudine’s face as she slowly opened the bag around her shoulders and waist. 

 

Inside was food, wrapped hastily but with a decent amount of care. Stuffed in between the meals were small coins, pouches with half-closed strings and the glitter of glass shards. It was no use hiding what Claudine did, using the hidden window of the basement as a way to escape and steal. Because that’s what it was, that’s what Claudine could read from the horror and shock in Fumi’s eyes, that’s what her aching feet say, and the dirt on her dress moaned about. 

 

At the tender age of eight years old, Claudine, amongst a plague that forced her family from their house in the meadows to live in the city looking for help, stole. 

 

“Kuro,” Fumi gasped, her voice shaking. There are tears in her eyes, and the guilt in Claudine’s stomach is dunked back into the water, so eager to drown her deep down. “You stole…” 

 

“I had to Fumi,” Claudine begged, pleading. Her eyes mirrored her twin. The red look from the exhaustion and the guilt gained a new shade as tears streaked down the cheek. “Trust me, I had to.” 

 

She didn’t want to do this. She didn’t want to be a bad person like mama warned her about. She wanted to be a good person, just like they taught her, but she had to do this. If she didn’t steal food, then maman on the bed, riddled with the sickness, wouldn’t get better. And Shiori was hungry. Claudine couldn’t stand her being so hungry. 

 

Fumi opened her mouth, and Claudine panicked, gripping her hands so tight it stung. Claudine began to weep. 

 

“It’s from a bad man, okay,” she gasped, her words fumbling over the heavy breaks in the sentence where she needed to breathe. “The one who keeps trying to kiss Mama even though she’s married.” She wouldn’t steal from anyone good; they don’t deserve it. This man deserved it. This man kept being rude, and being rude was bad, so this man was bad. 

 

“Kuro…” 

 

“And the shop was empty!” Claudine begged, the tears blurring her vision now. She heaved her chest, gulping the air back into her lungs. Her words were tired, aching with every pronunciation. She needed at least Fumi to back her up. Fumi was her sister. She was her twin. She needed someone to tell her that she was still a good sister despite doing bad things. 

 

“The shop was empty like no one was around and no one saw me and—” 

 

“You still stole Kuro!” 

 

“But they need to eat!” 

 

Claudine fell forward, leaning her head on Fumi’s shoulder for a second before she took a deep breath through the nose and stood up. She wiped her eyes furiously with the sleeves of her jacket, ignoring how it stung even more, when it touched the dirt. Of course, none of this would happen if they stayed back in their house in the meadow, but mama gave it away to a stranger, so they can’t go back to it anymore. And now Maman is sick, and Shiori is hungry. 

 

“Mama…Mama is busy looking after maman, and maman is sick and shiori is so small.”

 

She looked up, relieved that Fumi was crying just like her, her mouth quivering just like her, the understanding in her eyes was just like her. Finally, Claudine can feel at ease. She was still a good sister. 

 

“Please.” The word came out mumbled, aching but this time with relief. “Don’t tell them where I got it.” 

 

Slowly, Fumi pulled her hand away, the bones still shaking before she nodded. “Okay.” The words were soft, kind and sweet. There was a hint of fear, a taste of concern, but that didn’t matter. Fumi had her back, and Claudine knew she could do anything with that. 

 

“Just promise me one thing, Claudine,” Fumi continued, staring at the red marks on her hands when Claudine gripped too hard. “Promise you’ll stay safe.” 

 

Claudine’s eyes hardened. This she could do. This was the least she could do to help ease her sister’s worries. “I promise.” 

 


 

“Fumi,” Claudine gasped, turning around and forcing the window to close. It was a struggle, she was already tired, and her arms ached, and so did her legs. She was shivering from the rain and the wind. Her hand stung. After a second and a sharp wince from her palm, there was a large slam, and Claudine slumped herself briefly over the closed window. 

 

“Fumi, I—.” Claudine stopped herself, taking time to catch her breath as she recalled the chaos for today’s haul. It’s been a while since she started doing this, but this is the first time someone almost got her. Not that it mattered, they didn’t catch her, and she was safe. “I got a lot today.” The adrenaline was still pumping in her blood, the sound of her heart heavy in her ears.  

 

Everything ached. Something ached just a bit more than the others. 

 

The door to the basement slammed open, there was a shout of concern in the background, but Fumi didn’t care. The lights flickered on, and Claudine’s eyes squinted. The intensity of the lights almost reminded her of the torchlights that almost found her. 

 

“Kuro!” Fumi yelled, almost slipping at the last step before catching herself. “Where were you? It was getting dark and it was thundering and the lightning strikes were close and—”. She ran towards her twin, stopping a few steps away. The despair and worry in her eyes, the subtle pause in the air, the shift of anger to worry made Claudine look away. She couldn’t bear the sight. Not when she knew it was because of her. 

 

Her sister stared at her, her mouth shuddering and her breath light and rasping like it was her running for her life, trying to get them food by stealing. “Claudine?” 

 

Claudine snapped her head up, and her hand jerked up too. Fumi never called her Claudine. She didn’t like how stiff it was, how it was longer. That’s why they used Kuro. It had four letters, just like Fumi’s name. Though any accusation for the sudden shift died when she heard her blood splatter on the floor. 

 

Claudine looked down, noticing the stark red on her palm, oozing slowly, dripping like the cut was a faucet that couldn’t close properly. Ah. That’s why it ached so much. She didn’t even know what did this to her. 

 

“You broke your promise….” Fumi whispered, her pale face haunted by sight. 

 

“It didn’t get on the food.” Claudine grimaced internally at her own words. That was the wrong thing to say, and it showed with Fumi’s wide eyes. Claudine swallowed her guilt, her trembling voice gaining a stronger foundation of foolish stubbornness. “It’s a bit wet from the rain, but I swear it didn’t get on the food. I promise.” 

 

“You cut your hand and all you can think about is—!” 

 

“Take the food Fumi before it gets ruined!” 

 

“Kuro!” 

 

“Girls?” A voice called out from the top of the stairs. Before Claudine could blink, Fumi grabbed the bag and stood in front of Claudine and the red spot on the floor. “What’s going on?” 

 

“Nothing Mama!” Fumi yelled back, giving Claudine one last look over her shoulder. Kuro shifted, uncomfortable with the guilt in her gut as she hid her bloody hand behind her back. She tried her hardest not to cry. She needed to be strong, just like mama told her. 

 


 

“Claudine?” Aiai, a mama of three, whispered, knocking on the bathroom door. 

 

Standing on a stool to reach the tall sink, Claudine pressed the towel to her newly wrapped bandages. She didn’t know if she did it right since it was still red, and it really really hurt, but it’s fine. She’s fine. “I’m fine Mama!”

 

“Kurodine,” Aiai whispered, soft and gentle. Claudine took a deep breath. She wiped the tears hastily with her arm. She ignored the red rims already colouring her maroon hue and jumped down from the stool. “My Kurodine, I’m not mad.” 

 

Claudine paused, her hand pulling away from the doorknob. Her lips were shaking, and the frown wavered, wobbling as she breathed in. In and out, slow and steady. Just like maman taught her whenever she got scared or mad. Still, it didn’t do much, not when her heart was already clogging up her lungs. 

 

She doesn’t deserve to be called Kurodine. It was a name made for someone who was a good sister. It was something Fumi and Shiori made for her. And she wasn’t a good sister or a good person. 

 

“You will,” she whimpered, her emotions tainting her voice. She hated sounding like this, high pitch and so quiet she couldn’t even hear herself. “You’ll hate me.” 

 

“Now who would say that?” 

 

Claudine looked to the ground; her vision was getting blurry. She thought she had already removed her tears? She mumbled the culprit underneath her breath, the name alone making her body wrack itself with subdued sobs. 

 

“Kurodine my dear, I can’t hear you.” 

 

Claudine lowered her head. The one arm she didn’t injure was pressed into her eyes as the other hand clenched. Her cut hand stung so hard. “I did.” 

 

The door opened, Claudine recognised the way it creaked. She forgot she didn’t lock it, so she turned around, facing the wall. She couldn’t look at her mama. She was a bad person; she was a bad sister. She broke her promise with Fumi. 

 

And yet, Claudine couldn’t stop her body from turning around, seeking her comfort, when Aiai wrapped her hands around her waist. She didn’t bother being a strong and reliable sister, burying her running nose, her puffed up cheeks and her bawling eyes into her mama’s shirt. And when Aiai hushed her softly, holding her close like she was so scared to never let her go, Claudine found the strength to speak. 

 

“I’M SORRY— Imsorryimsorryimsorryim—” 

 

“Shhhh,” Aiai said. There was a gentle press on her head, featherlight like a kiss and Claudine nodded, whimpering herself to silence. “It’s okay, my sweet Kurodine, your maman and I will never hate you.” Slowly, a small hand gripped into the fabric of her mother’s shirt, holding it so tight there was a loose seam. 

 

“I did a bad….” Claudine gasped, raspy and desperate. “You’re sup—posed.” Breathe. In and out, in time to Aiai’s own heartbeat. “You’re supposed to tell me off… when I did bad.” 

 

“What bad thing did you do?” 

 

It was so easy to confess that she stole; Claudine knew that her mama knew. Yet, all Claudine could think of was the hollow and shocked face, the fear in Fumi’s eyes. The desperation and broken face that all but screamed how Claudine destroyed their trust, their relationship as sisters. 

 

Claudine buried herself deeper into the wet blouse. “IbrokemypromisetoFumi.” 

 

“Hmm?” 

 

“I—” Breathe, slow and steady. Something murmured to take her time, it sounded like forgiveness, but Claudine wasn’t going to take it. “I broke my promise to Fumi. I promised her I won’t get hurt, and then I did, and now she hates me.” 

 

“She doesn’t hate you.” 

 

“She does! She doesn’t want to be my sister anymore.”

 

“Did she tell you that?” 

 

It took Claudine a while to find her voice, and in the end, she was too ashamed to speak. She shook her head, knowing full well it was herself who said those mean words. 

 

It took Aiai a while to say the next question, her gentle and kind eyes watching her eldest daughter with a distraught emotion that only a mother could understand. Oh, it pained her to see how smart Claudine was, and in turn, how quick she was to understand what it meant to hate herself. “Did you say that?” 

 

The quiet, scared nod broke her heart. 

 

“Promise me, Saijou Claudine,” she whispered, kissing and hugging and rocking her baby tight. Claudine held on, quietly sobbing. “Promise me that you’re going to stop hurting yourself like this okay?” 

 

“Mama?” 

 

“You’re not a bad person, my Kurodine. You’re a great sister, you’re a kind sister. Fumi would never hate you. So promise me, that no matter what— you’re going to be kinder to yourself, and you’ll always be there for your sisters. Even if they hate you. Do you understand?” 

 

At the tender age of eight, Claudine did. She held on tight to her mother and swore it in her heart just as she whispered the words directly in front of her mother’s heart. “I promise.” 

 


 

Claudine was still eight years old, but she felt older. She felt old enough, at least, to stare Fumi down even when they’re the same age. 

 

“Fumi,” she hissed, glancing at the basement window she would use to sneak out of the house and steal things for them to eat. “Let me go.” 

 

Fumi’s gaze hardened. “Mama said not to let you go anymore.”

 

Kuro tutted, her fingers tightening to a fist. She’s not going to yell at her sister; she’s trying to keep her promise this time. Fumi might hate her for being this stubborn, but Kuro would still be a good sister and be kind because that’s what mama told her to be. “Mama is in bed with maman. She can’t tell me off anymore.” 

 

“Kuro.” 

 

“They’re both sick.” Kuro didn’t mean to say that, not with that sharp cut in her voice. She took a deep breath looked away. She doesn’t want to think any more on the matter, her mothers are both sick with the plague, and now there are only the three of them left standing. She won’t let anything happen to her sisters, and she will do everything she can to make them feel better. 

 

“I promise I won’t do anything rash, but I have to do something.” She’s not good at comforting others. She’s not as smart as Fumi or as kind as Shiori. But she’s brave, she’s strong, and Kuro can do something with that. 

 

“And if you don’t come home?” Fumi asked. Her arms unfurled, reaching out to hold Claudine by the shoulders. “What am I going to tell Shiori? What am I going to tell mama?” This close, Claudine can see Fumi’s green eyes waver. The gasp from her throat did little to hide her fear. “Don’t leave me behind, Kuro.” 

 

Claudine rested her hand over Fumi’s and squeezed as she removed it. “I promise I’m not. We are just needed at different places.” 

 

Fumi bit her lip. She removed her hands, fiddled with her fingers, scratching the knuckles, looking away. When she sighed, it sounded resigned. “And I need you to be back here at 6 at the latest. The earlier, the better. I need to know when you’re coming home.” 

 

“I promise.” 

 


 

The town bell echoing seven times in the night sky and the lamps acting like a searchlight was the last thing on Claudine’s mind as she raced in between the alleyways. She didn’t dare to look behind her. She couldn’t waste a single second getting away. 

 

“CATCH THAT THIEF!” 

 

Claudine pushed herself to be just that second faster, climbing over fences, shoving and pushing people around her. She didn’t care that she was heading deeper into the higher, richer sectors of the city. She just needed to get away.

 

Claudine skidded, seeing more acolytes ahead of her and turned right, just missing the lasso of magic aimed in her direction. Sure, it was her own fault for trying to steal from an acolyte of the Temple, but she had to. There was no one else left to steal from. People are dead. This plague took more people than Claudine realised, and the saving potion that the Temple preached about doesn’t exist. If it did, then why are so many people still dying? 

 

Either way, it didn’t matter now. What mattered now was her sisters and her mothers. That meant getting the hell out of this uptight Temple sector. 

 

Luck managed to grace her when, going through another alleyway, she spotted an open window to an underground basement. The kind that Kuro knew she could slip through because she had done that before just to get on the streets. Unaware of a keen set of eyes watching above her on the rooftops, Claudine dived headfirst into the open window, wincing when at the cut on her forearm from the broken glass. 

 

Despite the pain, Claudine kept her mouth shut as she lay there on the wooden floor of the abandoned basement. Not even daring to breathe from her nose in case they would find her. Seconds later, a stampede of footsteps and shouting and confusion rumbled the air around her. 

 

Then after a second that felt like an eternity, the noise faded away. Still, Claudine didn’t dare to breathe, barely inhaling the quietest sound through the nose. One minute passed, then two, then five. Claudine exhaled. She was finally free. 

 

Claudine stood up, flinching at the sudden pain on her arm and the sight of her own blood made regret and shame drown her inside. The weight of her broken promises sank her down, further and further into this shame. Claudine took the ripped hem of her dress and tore it, the rip haunting the empty room with its echoes. She wiped it down, then used the same rag to tie it the best she could. 

 

She’ll treat it when she gets home if she ever gets home. 

 

Bracing herself, Claudine touched the wooden frame and pulled herself up and out of the window. 

 

“You know,” a voice from the shadows said, making Claudine jump at the sound. “The reason why you got caught was because of the weight.” Claudine was about to run, she should have run, but all of her instincts died when a beautiful woman, the lines of silver framing her old and scarred face. 

 

She wore a monocle over an eye. The purple irises seemed to glow in the dark and empty alleyway. There was a sophisticated air about her with the lace on her throat, puffed up shirt and other things Claudine could spot before the stranger spoke again. 

 

“People tend to know when something goes missing the second they feel lighter.” There was a soft chuckle this time, their age showing when they smiled. Only old ladies Claudine seen in the market, the ones behind the stalls, smile like that. There was a small clink in the air, and Claudine’s eyes darted to the stranger’s hand. 

 

In her hand was the bag that was around her shoulder. Or at least it was until Claudine looked down, saw it missing and realised exactly what that meant. She doesn’t even know how that happened or that it was possible to steal something that easily. Maybe magic was involved? Claudine wouldn’t be surprised, especially when Claudine couldn’t hear her at all outside when she checked if the coast was clear. 

 

“Am I…” she began slowly, surprised at how calm her voice was when she was terrified deep down. “Am I going to jail?” What a great sister she was, an eight-year-old criminal. 

 

The stranger gave her a kind smile and another one of those amused chuckles. “Why would a child like you go to jail?” She tossed the bag back, and Claudine’s eyes widened at the sudden weight change. “You saw the stolen object and gave it back.” 

 

In the stranger’s hand was the stolen artefact or whatever Claudine stole from the acolyte, and in her hand, deep in her bag, was a bunch of coins. It was enough to make Claudine feel light-headed, or that might be because of her injury. Either way, this amount of coins would get her sisters something to eat. If not tonight, tomorrow for breakfast. 

 

“I— I don’t understand ma’am.” 

 

“It’s a reward for being a good citizen,” The stranger explained, stepping closer to Claudine. She paused, staring at the bloody arm before looking at Claudine in the eyes. They both know she was lying, not when the proof was so clear to see. And yet, Claudine gasped, almost dropping the bag of coins when she watched the stranger pour an ointment on her arm, the skin stitching itself together. 

 

“May the Temple bless you and your family.” This close, Claudine watched something in her eyes shift, and the kindness darkened. There was a sense of danger present there, something deadly. Claudine didn’t miss the threat when the stranger next spoke. “So promise me, you won’t do this again.”

 

“I promise.” Somehow, Claudine had a feeling this would be another promise she would break.  

 


 

“Are you still going after that Temple Warrior?” They were nine now. Nine years old, the two of them. Twins that were more distant than they were close. They were nine years old and at an impasse in front of the basement window. 

 

Claudine rolled her bottom jaw, each subtle stiffness a reminder of the last time Fumi caught her sneaking out again. She never knew her sister could throw such a good left hook. “She still has money doesn’t she?” 

 

Fumi shook her head. “This is wrong, Claudine.” 

 

“She lets me.” 

 

“Is that not a warning sign?”

 

“So what?” Claudine barked, raising her arms up in a mocking gesture. “What do you want me to do? Do anything else that will get me arrested or killed?”

 

Claudine knew it was strange. She wasn’t an idiot. No one in their right mind would let her, a child, be on the streets for so long. No one who cared about their wallet would then let the said child, specifically target her to steal from. But the motives didn’t really matter to Claudine. That stranger kept giving her coins if she managed to steal something in return for the stolen object. That was enough for her to keep coming back. 

 

The frostiness in Fumi’s eyes melted to a plea. “I want you to stay home and help me.” 

 

Claudine shook her head kept her eyes down. “If I stay at home, then who is going to make sure our mamas get a funeral instead of a pit?” Too many people die nowadays, and no matter how hard Claudine tried, her mothers became part of that statistic. It was easier for all of them to bury them in a pit outside of the walls. Only people who can afford funerals can have their families die in dignity. 

 

Nothing more was to be said, and Fumi stepped to the side. Claudine hated how hostile she was to Fumi, but there was no other way. If not for the funeral, Claudine needed the money to make sure they had food on the table. Shiori and Fumi were the only people she had left. She can’t lose anyone else. 

 


 

Claudine made a mistake. She should’ve stopped; she should’ve listened to Fumi. She should’ve stayed home to take care of Shiori. But no, in her arrogance, in her hubris, she flew too close to the sun. And now it will burn her from the inside. She couldn’t lose anyone else, but now Fumi and Shiori were about to lose her. 

 

It was a badge. This time she stole a badge from the stranger— no, not a stranger. 

 

High Priestess Tendou Maya. 

 

She had been stealing from the Temple, from one of the highest positions of power. And now it was going to kill her. Even now, as the metal and gem-encrusted proof of identity laid heavy on her hand, Claudine couldn’t believe the reality in front of her. 

 

Then she believed it when reality sunk to her gut and punched her by rumbling. She forgot she was hungry. She forgot she was stealing for food. Would Tendou Maya come after her with coins? Was this a sign that Maya had enough? If anyone sees this from her, they’ll arrest her, kill her. They’ll bring her corpse to the steps of the Temple for a hot meal and medication. It wasn’t what Claudine would do, but she stole from the Temple for smaller things, so she can’t exactly judge. 

 

Maybe it was time for her to stop. Maybe if she gave it in, she might be rewarded. Maybe. It wasn’t the best plan, but Claudine couldn’t risk her life anymore. If she can’t keep her mama’s promise if she’s dead. 

 

 

The Temple was cold. It wasn’t like the miracle place of warmth, comfort and healing Claudine heard about. It was busy, an orchestration of long lines and rows of sickness. Too many people were crying; too many were being turned away. Claudine herself was not in the line yet, but it was enough for her to step away and figure out another way in. 

 

This wasn’t going to work, getting through the front door, in front of everyone. It would make a fool of the Temple, and maybe if Claudine was bitter, she would’ve done that to insult them. Their greatest priestess was pickpocketed by a nine-year-old orphan. However, Claudine’s sole reason for survival was Tendou Maya’s stupid quirks. And whatever made her actually give out her money to some lone child trying to rob her. And so, Claudine won’t try the front entrance. She’ll use the side. 

 

Except a gentle hand grabbed her shoulder, and before Claudine could shake it off, the grip tightened, just enough that it made Claudine freeze. She felt this touch before, this warning signal that kept her body alert. 

 

“Is that you Tendou Maya?” 

 

“You know,” said the cool and collected silver fox voice Claudine knew all too well. “Whilst it’s not a crime to address a high priest in full title. That doesn’t mean it won’t go unnoticed or unpunished.” 

 

Claudine took a deep breath and knocked the hand off her shoulder, turning around to face the once stranger, now high priestess, with a guarded look in her eyes. “But as a child, I won’t go to jail, especially if I’m returning something.” Claudine could only catch the way Maya’s eyes widened for a fracture before it darted down, her gloved hand grasping out for the badge instinctually. “I’m done playing your games. Or anything about this.” 

 

“You don’t need to,” Maya said, her voice solemn as she looked ahead to Claudine, her fingers pressing the badge back to Claudine’s chest. “You passed the test.”

 

“I’m sorry?” 

 

Maya chuckled, tilting her head in amusement, crouching down to Claudine’s level. A sign of respect more than anything else. “Do you really think a high priestess would allow herself to be stolen from? Have you ever been curious why I was doing this?” 

 

“I….” She was, but at the same time, it didn’t matter. The reasons were never a problem since it gave Claudine what she needed, a way to help her sister. “No?” 

 

“You’re not a fool, Saijou Claudine,” Maya whispered. Her voice was absolute and backed up by the piercing stare that made her bones shiver. “So don’t act like one now.” 

 

“How did you— I—”

 

“I know you,” Maya continued, the seriousness of the stare ebbing away as a kinder shade of purple coloured it. “Because I saw you had a gift, because you’re strong.” 

 

Claudine looked away, her fingers trembling as she held her satchel closer. She was strong? Her? A child who left her sisters behind and committed theft just to get them something to eat? How was a person like her strong? 

 

“When I first met you,” Maya continued as if she heard the thoughts in Claudine’s head. “You were leading a goose chase with my students, my acolytes. You even stole from one. Do you know how near impossible that scenario is?” 

 

“Is that why you let me take the money?” 

 

“The first time, I was more amused than curious, thinking it was a fluke. You caught my attention when you kept on targeting me.” Maya shook her head with a quiet laugh. “Even adults don’t try to do something so silly.” 

 

“Oh… I uhm…” 

 

“Which is why you’re so exceptional, you were willing to go to great lengths to save not only yourself, but your family. The second I realised your potential, I’ll be honest. I wanted to study under me properly, and not just the meetings we have in the street.” 

 

Claudine blinked, a gasp leaving her mouth in awe. That was a thing people could do? “Study under you?” She repeated, the words tasting foreign in her mouth. She didn’t believe anything good could happen to her, not after everything she had been through. 

 

“Yes,” Maya nodded. She pressed a gloved finger to Claudine’s chest, poking it as if she was proving her worth. “And this action, this good deed. It only proved something to me that I already knew.” 

 

“What?”

 

“That you’re a hero.” At once, Claudine’s eyes widened. Maya looked at her, the polite smile stretching as she brushed the tears away from Claudine’s eyes. She didn’t even realise she was crying. “That if you came and studied and stayed at the Temple, you can be a hero to everyone.” 

 

“Me…but…”

 

“You’ll have a free food, free place to sleep in, it’s warm—” 

 

“Will my sisters?” Claudine interjected, reaching out and grabbing Maya’s arms. She squeezed the sleeves in desperation, the pleads expressed in the shake. “Will my sisters come, you must know about them right? If you know about me.” 

 

“I do,” Maya nodded, placing a hand on Claudine’s fingers. “Sometimes I forget how clever you are at the age of nine, picking up on things people don’t.” 

 

With great care, Maya peeled away Claudine’s gentle grip, brushing the back of her palm with an assuring motion. “They need to pass a health test, but yes— they are your responsibility are they not? And with this plague… it hurts my heart to separate families already broken.” 

 

Claudine shook her head. “We’re not broken—” 

 

“Hmm?”

 

“My family isn’t broken because we’re orphans. My family is my sisters, so together we’re whole. In fact, the only reason why I’m here is because of them— because I wanted to save them.” 

 

“Well then, Saijou Claudine…” Maya said, rising back to her feet as she reached out her hand. “Are you ready to save your family?”

Chapter Text

Divine interventions, I’ve never seen them be anything more than the Gods playing and toying with human fate. My wife disagrees. She claims that they are helpful, that sometimes they are kind. In some cliche wording, she would say that it led her to me. 

 

Considering how unorthodox our initial meeting was, I can’t find myself disagreeing. When I met Mahiru, we first found her hidden village, Karen claiming that she saw her in a vision. The woman of her dreams~. And yet, the one who convinced Mahiru to leave her life behind and her family was not Karen. It was me. 

 

It’s a shame no one in the world would know that truth when they tell this story. That’s what I hate about these stories about the tragic prophecy. It’s barely a sliver of the reality we lived through. No one would care about a Lover who loved too much. A Lover who loved her family so much that leaving behind kept her homesick throughout the journey. No one would care about the Catalyst. A creation who cared too much about reducing the pain of others, convincing the Lover to leave them behind so that they won’t be forced to a tragic end. 

 

It’s hard to consider our meeting to be divine intervention. Not when from my end: it was a rush and desperate attempt to mitigate as much pain as possible. But I guess, when it’s about love, if you’re desperate enough, anything can be divine intervention. 

 

 Memoir 8 Divine Interventions and love, By Tsuyuzaki Michiru 

 

~

 

Shiori was dreaming again. She could tell from the gradual rise and fall of warmth as if the world was exhaling and inhaling on her skin. It was a familiar feeling, this burning gentleness. So when her eyes opened, she wasn’t surprised by the crimson fire in front of her. 

 

The fire was taller than her but not as wide. It was almost a column reaching the sky, a spinal cord that swayed left and right. The shade of the fire was dark, rich as blood, but whenever Shiori reached out, the colour would lighten to something vibrant. A red scarlet gleam that didn’t want to hide, only willing to be exposed. 

 

“You’re Rui aren’t you?” Shiori murmured, her brows furrowing in contemplative thought. Even if the pillar of fire can’t talk, the symbolism gave it away. Who else garnered such a vibrant shade? Who else would be that intimidating and yet so warm? 

 

But why would Rui be here in her subconscious? What was Rui’s connection to Shiori? Was it because she didn’t want to kill her or use her? The only person that Shiori had met ever since the prophecy began? Shiori chuckled to herself, shaking her head. What was she thinking? Rui had tried to kill her, the cave conversation overhead, the way she fought in the inn. Rui wanted to kill her. And yet, Rui didn’t, and when given the opportunity, she refused. 

 

How sad it really was that the only person she could trust was someone who wanted to kill her once upon a time. 

 

“Why would you want this life, Kuro nee?” Shiori asked herself, taking a step away from the flame to look at the sky. Astral lights and stardust decorated the ceiling. The wind danced in the space around her, calm yet sombre. It had a touch of a chilliness like it was an expression of her own emotions. “You and Onee chan, why did you abandon me for this?”

 

She knew now that the dreams of her sisters when she was younger was manipulation. She knew now that maybe Michiru wasn’t her Villain. Maybe her monsters were right in front of her; maybe it was already decided long ago in her childhood. 

 

“Do you hate yourself, Kuro nee?” She asked even when she knew she would never get an answer. Too much has passed for that sense of closure, and Claudine was never a person to fully share her emotions. Not in front of Shiori anyways. “Is that why you wanted to be a hero? Because you hate yourself enough to be chased? To be hunted? To lose your sense of being? 

 

“Why Kuro nee…. Why isn’t being my sister good enough?” 

 

“It’s precisely because she thought she wasn’t doing enough as a sister. She wanted to be a hero.” The whispering voice was haunting and hollow, gasping for breath. And yet, the tears in Shiori’s eyes multiplied, her arms trembling as she shook her head in disbelief. No wonder why it was cold. She wasn’t alone in this empty space.

 

“You’re not an illusion are you, Ma?” Shiori whimpered, brushing her eyes with the palm of her hand. “Like last time?”

 

When her shoulders shivered, Shiori leaned her head up, shutting her eyes as the goosebumps tickled her arms. “You’re willing to trust a voice like this? So quickly after everything?” 

 

Shiori opened her eyes, her smile watery and wavering, the light reaching her eyes. “Do you really think I could forget my ma’s touch? Or her kindness?” 

 

In the starlight, morphed in the swirls of space dust and materialisation of hope, Reo Saijou Yumeoji smiled. Her form was nothing but dust, barely holding together in the thread of air and wind. And yet, no incorporeal form could restrain the awed expression in her eyes, the love of her once human heart shining through the wind. 

 

“Oh Shiori….” 

 

“You always kept talking to me, you always grew flowers back for me,” Shiori explained, embracing the runny nose, the chilled red cheeks. “It’s been so long but I never forgot what your love is like.” 

 

Reo chuckled a faint sound despite the emptiness around them. “Funny you should mention flowers. Look to the ground.” 

 

Shiori followed her instructions and gasped when flowers, flowers she’s seen before in the graveyard plots of her mothers, were wrapped around her legs. The gasp then erupted to a laugh, broken and stuttering that Shiori fell back down to her knees. The blooming petals welcomed her, and the smell of her Mama’s perfume tickled her nose. 

 

“Mama…” Can flowers be warm? Shiori knew they really couldn’t, but she didn’t care. This was her reality, and she’d become God to rewrite the laws of the world. Her mother’s flowers were warm. It was the hug that she had needed for the longest time. 

 

“How are you even here?” 

 

Reo chuckled, the coldness of her spirit melting as flower petals surrounded her. “Apparently it’s through divine intervention.”

 

Shiori frowned as she sat up. “The Gods aren’t that kind, though….” Shiori then giggled, the cool breeze of her mother lifting her to her feet. Meanwhile, the vines kissed her waist, a flower sprouting between her fingers. 

 

“They’re not,” Reo mused, taking the flower across Shiori’s hands and allowing it to fly between her air. “But their tools can be….” She paused, chuckling as the flower petals brushed the tears away from Shiori’s face. “With the right intention, their small touch of divinity can do wonders.” 

 

“Nana is not that kind—” Shiori interjected, sighing heavily as she looked behind her, to the column of crimson fire. She didn’t forget what just happened to her, nor the way Nana tried to use her against the others. She remembered feeling Nana in her head, the numbing sensation that she was not in control of her own body. “Not to me, I’m not Fumi.” 

 

“You’ll know in time,” her mother said, taking Shiori’s attention again. “But only if you remember to open your eyes.” 

 

“Open my eyes?”

 

A cold breeze washed over her cheeks as the touch of her other mother kissed her hair, carding the blonde tresses with small daisies. “You’re still young Shiori, there’s so much more for you to learn. But until then, just know that we will always love you.” 

 

Shiori nodded, leaning into the way her breath shuddered. A cloud of her breath exhaled over the air of her mother. It was almost like her parents never died, this sort of intimate closeness between them. “You’re not alone in this world, never was and never will be.” 

 

“Ma,” Shiori whispered, looking down at the flora around her body, healing her from internal emotional wounds. “Before you go…. What did you mean when you talked about Kuro nee?”

 

“Maybe if we had more time I’ll explain,” Reo sighed before a blast of cooling air on the top of her head. “But your sisters still love you— just open your eyes.” 

 

“They need you.” 

 


 

Somehow, Rui found it— that safe place she was searching for. Tucked away further in the distance, the terrain got hillier the more she traversed. There was no cave to protect Shiori from, there was no hollowed-out tree to hide her, and there was no sight of civilisation. Instead, it was a clearing, entirely exposed to the weather. 

 

It would’ve been something that Rui would’ve missed entirely if not for something pricking the back of her head. Except it was less of a pricking, more of a gentle brush of a leaf. That alone was enough for Rui to slow down and observe. It took her a few seconds to realise how and why this supposed clearing that had nothing but a few flowers and some stone piles was important.

 

There was no rain. 

 

There was no rain, thunder, or hint of lightning striking that clearing despite the clear skies. It was void of the calamity and chaos that pelted down on the earth. Sure, the mole bear can access it, but for now, this small clearing was nothing but the word ‘safe’. It was somehow, despite all odds, a safe haven. 

 

Rui climbed down, one hand still supporting Shiori against her waist before she ran over to the clearing, near the flowers that unfurled their petals and bloomed the second she stepped in. Rui didn’t think much about it. Her mind racing to fully comprehend the old lessons Michiru taught her long ago about flowers and their connection to the dead.

 

Regardless, Rui laid Shiori to rest, right near the blooming flowers. 

 

“Okay,” Rui sighed, carefully reaching for the base of her neck only to pause, swallowing hard when she remembered that her scarf was in her pocket. Too torn apart to be properly warned and used as an anchoring object. “Right… it’s gone.” She stood up, walking away to the edge of this impossible perimeter of safety. It didn’t make any sense, but Rui wasn’t too bothered to care. 

 

A frustrated growl scratched the back of her throat, and Rui snarled, hissing out a lick of flames from her tight lip grimace. Then the grimace translated to a tired hacking cough. Instinctually her claws gripped the back of her jacket, swiping past her long hair. She was this close to tearing it apart, thrashing it, throwing it from her body. 

 

“Calm yourself, Rui,” she repeated, breathing in the heated air between her nostrils. “Michiru still needs you. Michiru is dying.” The last sentence was enough to sober her up, and despite the flickering heat, Rui let go. A brush of wind infiltrated her skin, sneaking in from the holes she made on her jacket. 

 

Rui turned around, eyes wide at the stark differences. The wind around her was warm, influenced by her ever-expanding body heat. And yet, goosebumps trickled across the scars of her arms like it was the taste of winter. This was a paradox, something that wouldn’t make sense— not unless it meant Shiori was waking up. A Hero was always made to counter the Villain. 

 

Except the wide eyes weren’t at Shiori’s inherent abilities, it was at the scene in front of her. The flowers extended past their grave, past their boundaries and curled themselves onto Shiori’s body. Leaves brushed against the skin, gentle like the way a mother deer would lick the dirt of their calf. The stems were weaved and intertwined between the curls of Shiori’s hair. A flowery vine of tentacles amongst a blonde tress sea. The petals would droop bloom in a way that reminded Rui too much of what home used to be. Of inked parchments and flowery scents of mixed potions. Things that were inherently Michiru. 

 

“Mama…” Shiori whimpered a tearful and pitying sound. Rui didn’t get why she said that not until she saw the flowers respond. Petals wilted as it was bleeding as if it was weeping. And just like that, everything clicked, the reason why Shiori was safe— the reason why the world didn’t expect anything in this little clearing: 

 

It’s because Shiori’s parents were buried here. If not buried properly, they were held in reverence— treated with respect. This was proof that love could transcend death, that it was stronger than fate and prophecy. 

 

It was beautiful, Rui realised until she saw other empty plots, one already covered up by the moss and grass. It was a sight Rui saw before as a child. She would stay up without Michiru realising, watching her in the trees, planting flowers for graves that wouldn’t listen. It was a staggering bullet to know that Michiru made these graves, that her love for these strangers was enough to transcend fate. Such a staggering bullet it was, to know that for the living— for her, Michiru wouldn’t do the same. Not until it was too late. 

 

Rui hit Shiori’s shin with a tap of her toes. “Wake up, Hero.” Shiori frowned, grumbling. The plants near them turned to Rui, petal heads titling expectantly. Despite being an animated flora, Rui shuffled in her stance, stepping back from the flowers like she had committed a crime. 

 

“If she doesn’t wake up,” Rui hissed, curling her clawed hands into fists. “I’ll leave without explaining anything.” The flower and stem drooped, more petals wilting before it uncoiled itself, slithering back into the dirt. 

 

“Grhh…” Shiori gasped before Rui had a chance to collect herself. She sat up, her body shaking. Tears fell from her eyes, and the wind was colder than ever. “I… what…” Her shoulders tensed for a second when she glanced up, her eyes falling on Rui before they collapsed in relief. “Rui?” 

 

“Yeah that’s me,” Rui nodded, taking a step back before she looked back to where Michiru last was. The quicker she could say what she needed to say, the quicker she could leave and be at Michiru’s side. “Listen, I don’t— I’m not going to question what the hell is happening here with these flowers and whatever. I just need you to stay here.” 

 

“What—No!” Shiori stood to her feet before the iris in her eyes narrowed in panic before she stumbled forward. Rui leaned forward, catching her on the arms before pulling away when she realised that her claws were still out. As much as Rui hated her, she didn’t want to hurt Shiori— if she were to hurt her, she would have to stay with Shiori for longer. 

 

Regardless of Rui’s opinion, Shiori stabilised herself, patting herself down with a fiercely determined look in her eye. “I need to be there.” 

 

Rui snorted, shaking her head. “You’ll get in the way.”

 

“I’m the Hero—” Shiori reasoned, and Rui laughed, cackling as thunder roared in the distance. “I have to get there!”  

 

“It’s  precisely, ” Rui shouted, emphasising her point as she looked back at Shiori, pointing with her finger. “Because you’re the Hero, you need to stay here.” Shiori’s eyes narrowed, Rui watched her fingers curl into a fist. It’s a cute attempt, trying to look tough and strong— everything a Hero was supposed to be. 

 

But Shiori wasn’t a typical Hero, the same way Rui wasn’t a typical Villain. They were two sides of the same coin, and it was more frustrating than amusing that Shiori hadn’t picked that up yet. It’s even more agitating that Shiori hasn’t fully learned her place despite everything. 

 

 “It’s your side trying to kill Michiru.” The words were angled in a sharp tongue despite the soft-spoken voice. And when Shiori flinched, Rui’s expression sobered at the sight. Her pointed finger lowered, finding solace amongst the buttons of her jacket. The same jacket that acted more of a chokehold than a layer of protection. It had to go. 

 

In a sudden motion, Rui slipped out of her sleeves, of the red jacket that she always wore growing up. Something jingled in her left pocket, and she froze momentarily, eyes focusing on the nestled fabric of Yachiyo’s scarf. The best regeneration potion in the world, the one that Michiru instructed to save for Shiori. 

 

….

 

Damn herself and her obeying heart. 

 

“And I won’t let you help her,” Rui whispered, her eyes shut as she dropped her jacket to the floor. The scarf and potion were still tucked inside, safe and secure.

 

“My side?”

 

Rui rolled her eyes before she landed on Shiori. Shiori was staring at her, not at her face but at her skin. Rui followed her gaze and understood why. Her shirt sleeves only reached a third of her upper arm, and everything below exposed all of her secrets.

 

The slashed scar reaching her elbow on her left arm was from a group of bandits. The arch of punctures came from when some wild animal tried to rip her arm off because it noticed that she was the Villain. There were patches of black sprouting along her skin. Rui exhaled, and the colour shifted, flipping over subtly as the heat continued to crawl along her spine like a demon. 

 

“That Seer came from the temple didn’t she?” Rui asked, catching Shiori’s attention as her Hero bristled. 

 

“Nana is not on my side— “

 

“I don’t care.” A flash of lightning behind them made Rui turn, the quiver in her breath getting stuck in her throat as she shook her head, turning back to Shiori. She shouldn’t be wasting any more time on this. Shiori was safe— Rui didn’t need to be here anymore.

 

 “Besides,” Rui sighed, already turning around to go back to assist Michiru. “Even if you wanted to help, you can’t. You can’t even control your powers, you’ll only get in the way.” 

 

A rush of wind bellowed behind her, cold enough to cool the heat burning underneath her shirt but not strong enough to blow it out. If anything, all it did was stoke the flames. “I can control my powers!”

 

Rui turned on her heel, fangs sticking past her lips as she smirked. The mockery in her eyes gleamed when she set her hand on fire. “Oh can you now?” 

 

“Blow it away, Hero,” she dared. “Kill my fucking fire, the way you’re destined to—” Each word was a bullet, ricocheting Shiori back with a staggering step. Shiori exhaled through the nose, a grimace painted on her lips as she launched a ball of wind towards Rui’s palm. 

 

The flame on the palm of her hand shifted, splitting apart into five separate candlelight fires— one on each clawed deformation of a finger. The ball of wind sped past them all, only making them sway or lean to a side before it returned to normal. Shiori growled, flicking her hand back at Rui. Sharp slices in the air echoed, the sound of each slice bouncing off each other. Except for this time, Rui clenched her hand again, and the flames erupted into one singular entity once more. 

 

“Are you really going to be an asshole Rui?” 

 

“What do you think Nana is just going to sit there and let you hit her?” Rui raised a brow, not realising she was smirking until she saw it reflected in Shiori’s green eyes. She killed the smirk the second she saw it, nodding solemnly when Shiori looked away, bitter. The coldness in the air weakened, and Rui removed her own light. 

 

 “That’s what I thought. It’s stupidly heroic of you for wanting to help, but you can’t. Not this time.” 

 

“And what about you?”

 

“Hm?” 

 

“How come you can help her?” Shiori stood up straighter. The wind swirling around her was proof of how much she had improved, but at the same time, it highlighted how far she would need to go. “How come you can go after Nana!?”

 

“Like I said,” Rui said, glancing behind her. Was the mole bear still around? Did it follow her here, or can she sneak past it to reach Michiru? “She’s on your side, not mine.” 

 

“And what’s your side?” Shiori continued. Her brows were creased, her hands were shaking. There was a determined look in her eyes, steady and ready to kill. Rui remembered seeing it once, in the inn when they first fought. “Why are you so important?” 

 

Ever since Rui met Shiori, she had dreams of this moment, nightmares even. She imagined a rage so strong it could make the sun burn in the nighttime. A fiery, incomprehensible heat melting her flesh, the tattooed chains that kept her sanity and humanity together. She fantasised the satisfaction, the rage. The despair and the hope crumble in her Hero’s eyes that her Villain wasn’t Michiru but Rui. 

 

At the moment, in this strange outlier space that held no rain. This separate haven, an outlier from the rage and the lightning storm. This place, away from the Temple and the Molebear that threatened both of them. None of that anger she envisioned was within her chest. There was no fire burning her desires to cause pain and mayhem. 

 

Funny how this happened, that the reality was underwhelming compared to everything she ever thought. But in the same vein? It made complete sense; it felt right. It reminded Rui too much of them. 

 

“A villain, protecting a Hero?” Chuckled the voice of Daiba Nana, the eternal Seer. “Has this prophecy failed already?”

 

Maybe the prophecy has failed. Rui highly doubted that it did already, but even if it did. A part of Rui doesn’t care. She had seen the life Michiru had led; she’s not afraid to become a person like her. Rui took a deep breath, and when she exhaled, there was no cloudy exhale from her lips. Instead, there was smoke tickling the back of her neck. She can feel the effects of the glamour potion. The illusions of her hidden mark burn away like paper. 

 

She watched, red eyes focused on the green of Shiori’s. The shock present was gradual, but it never dimmed; it never dulled. Instead, it intensified, a hand to her mouth in shock, and when Rui smiled, she could see the knife plunge into Shiori’s chest. How cruel and underwhelming reality was for people like them. 

 

“Because I’m your Villain, Shiori.”

 

“But you—” 

 

“I hid it with a glamour potion,” Rui explained, “Something to do with illusions and the prophecy.” Rui turned around, stretching her claws, accepting the stare on her back and the wind frosty enough to bite. “So please understand Shiori, you may be the Hero of this prophecy but you’re the Villain in my story.” 

 

Rui stepped outside, shutting her eyes to embrace the harsh dampness of the rain and roaring thunder ahead of her. “So if you try to intervene as Hero, I won’t hesitate to kill you for real.” 

 

Chapter Text

Children. There were still children in the Circus. Even when they are nothing but a glimpse of what they once were! These cockroaches still kept their horrible practices and other cruel things to children. The thought makes me so mad. I wouldn't be surprised if I ruined an entire forest or a river. Contaminate them all with my anger. 

 

I… I saved a lot of the kids, but some of them were… I was too late. I buried them with my greatest regret and my own tears. But most of them… When everything was gone, I teleported most of them to the nearest village. All but two… 

 

They… These kids…. Mahiru, I hope you're proud of me. I'm not leaving them alone. However, even when you won't know, I need you to know that somehow maybe out there, this message reaches you. 

 

Mahiru, I came across my death today, and it's going to follow me back home. 

 

 Memoir 54 Report on the Circus by Tsuyuzaki Michiru 

 

~

 

 It's been world-shattering to learn about Michiru's past. Still, at the same time, Yachiyo can't help but feel stupid for not realising it sooner. It was obvious the second she met Michiru all those years ago when she rescued her and Ichie from the Circus. Why else would she lead them in the direction to her village, to Rui, if not for breaking the cycle of abuse? 

 

Though it was painful to learn about Michiru's love life with Mahiru. It's funny; Yachiyo always thought that what Michiru had with her life was perfect, that it was worth everything. When they were younger, she used to joke with Rui that Michiru's love for her wife was a goal to reach. Now, it just felt like reality crashing down. They were messy. Mahiru literally made Michiru bleed; Mahiru made a  Catalyst  bleed. 

 

Despite everything, how they managed to love each other feels like an impossibility, something that shouldn't exist. It's commendable. It made Yachiyo regret walking out of that room without saying what she knew. But she knew, better than anyone, why Mahiru couldn't know Michiru was alive. If Mahiru were to spill any details, Ichie would know, and then Michiru would die. It's why Ichie took the forgetful potion, to begin with, to save her. 

 

"You two seem chummy," Yachiyo commented as she walked to the deck of the boat. Ichie grinned, her smile wide enough that it distracted Yachiyo from the stare Fumi was giving her. "Found a new best friend Ichie?" 

 

"You're so mean Yachiyo, can't a bard tell stories to the audience?" Instantly, Ichie pouted and raced to Yachiyo, slamming her strong arms around her waist as she squeezed Yachiyo tight. Yachiyo chuckled, hugging Ichie close, her eyes shutting to embrace the moment. Then they remained shut in a fake smile as Ichie pulled her down and whispered in her ear. 

 

"I told Fumi about the Circus, she overheard us before, is that okay?" Yachiyo nodded her head, squeezing her a bit more at the worried subtle warble in Ichie's question before letting go. Yachiyo patted Ichie's shoulder once more in reassurance watching from the corner of her eyes as Fumi rose to her feet. The second Fumi was fully on her feet, Yachiyo took a step forward, eyes focused on the subtle motions of Fumi's reaction. 

 

"How much do you know?" She trusted Ichie implicitly, so she wouldn't be mad if Ichie shared a bit of her personal story, considering how much it was intertwined with Ichie's. 

 

"Ichie told me about the Villain Factory and her side of the Circus," Fumi answered without any hesitation. Yachiyo glanced behind her, her tense shoulder relaxing at Ichie's subtle nod. 

 

"And what about me?" 

 

"Not enough of the full story but enough to glean things from it." Fumi stopped and looked away. There was a solid attempt to hide her emotions. Still, Yachiyo could spot the uncomfortable and awkward motion of her fingers playing with her glove strings. It's something Fumi tended to do if she was scared. "I'm sorry you had to go through that."

 

Yachiyo chuckled, giving Fumi a gentle but playful smile. "Would it be too soon to say the same thing to you?" 

 

Ichie gave a small whack at her back.  "Yachiyo." 

 

Fumi stopped playing with the strings on her gloves, and Yachiyo watched how her fingers curled against each other instead. Not only that, but something was bubbling underneath Fumi's emerald eyes, an underwater volcano of hidden emotions. "Only if you say it to me and not in front of Claudine."

 

Yachiyo grinned wider. "How did you know I would be looking for her?" 

 

"Because you're not the type of person, I think," Fumi answered, the underwater volcano Yachiyo saw before calming down, replacing the clouded anger with clarity. "--Who would leave things unfinished."

 

Yachiyo hummed, pressing a finger to her lip, smirking in a way to distract Fumi from any thoughts leaking through the facade. She didn't expect that answer, but maybe that's on her end. She was too focused on Claudine to forget that Fumi was a threat too. She was a lesser threat but a threat all the same. "Maybe you are the brain to the brawn…."

 

Fumi shrugged, leaning her shoulders back on the railing again. "Maybe…." She repeated, looking to the side at the scenery. "My teacher was more of a scholar than a warrior—" She shook her head, refusing to say anymore. That was fine with Yachiyo. She got some useful information already with what was said. "But she's downstairs, probably in her room or something."

 

"Thank you." With that, Yachiyo gave Ichie a hug, a conversation playing in their eyes. 

 

Are you sure you want to tell her?  Said the sudden dart of golden eyes between Fumi and the stairs leading down to the lower deck. 

 

A pair of green eyes looked at Fumi before focusing on Ichie and then to the stairs behind her.  You told Fumi, didn't you? It's my turn to share what I need to say. 

 

"Oh Yachiyo?" Fumi called. 

 

"Hm?" 

 

"She's like you—" And with that, Yachiyo snapped her head up, just catching the tense roll of Fumi's jaw and all of the underlying tension that wasn't said. "It's different to her than it was to me." 

 

"I don't think being similar to me is a good thing." This time, when Yachiyo smiled, the curve wasn't kind. Fumi looked at her after the response, barely hiding the flinch. Yachiyo wasn't surprised at the reaction. She knew well enough how ruthless her cold stares could be. "And you should know since you have gleaned enough from Ichie's story."

 

Ichie tugged on her arm, and Yachiyo pulled back the heated gaze, turning around stiffly before heading to the stairs. Fumi's words followed her as she descended. 

 

"You'll know what I mean when you talk to her, Yachiyo, just keep that in mind." 

 


 

It didn't take long to find Claudine, her room with Fumi was the closest thing to the stairs, opposite the storage room. However, that didn't stop Yachiyo from entering the room with a startled look in her eyes. The stench of blood hit her before the sight did. Claudine looked up, equally surprised as she sat on the floor. Her nails were dipped in crimson as they trickled off her palm and across her wrist until they eventually reached the floor. 

 

"Yachiyo?" 

 

"Claudine!?" Yachiyo didn't waste any more time, her body moving on autopilot as she whipped out bandages and a healing potion from her bag. "What the hell were you doing?" 

 

Claudine growled, pulling her hand towards herself with a narrowed, heated gaze. "It doesn't concern you Yachiyo." 

 

Yachiyo stomached the fire building up in her lungs, now wasn't the time to get mad. Claudine's hand was her priority, whether Claudine wanted her help or not. "Your hand is bleeding." 

 

"And?" Claudine looked down, started pressing on the skin to cover it up and Yachiyo held back her frustrations. "I know how to take care of myself." 

 

"Clearly." 

 

"Shut up and leave me alone." Ah, it was so tempting, but Yachiyo came here for a reason, even if the said reason was stubborn and bleeding. 

 

"And tell Fumi what you've done?" Yachiyo retorted. She didn't want to use that card, but it was nice to see how Claudine stiffened out of instinct. "I'm sure she would love to hear it after worrying all day about you."

 

Claudine scowled, grumbling as she moved her hand to Yachiyo. "You're such an asshole."

 

Yachiyo nodded her head as a thank you before sitting down next to Claudine, quickly going through the process of cleaning the wound and then bandaging. It's something that she had done for years. "As a medically trained healer, people ignoring medical help piss me off." 

 

Claudine chuckled, contempt spitting out of her lips. "You say that but you don't have a healer—Ah!"

 

Yachiyo only smirked, loosening the grip she had on the palm as she continued to dab the punctures with a cotton swab full of a healing potion. "Just because I don't have the mark doesn't mean I can't help people." Taking out the bandages, Yachiyo then carefully wrapped the wound. "That sort of thinking is dangerous, you know. People are more than their marks, or lack of marks." 

 

"Is that all you're here to do? Scold me and 'help me'?" Claudine said, yanking her hand out of Yachiyo's grip the second the bandages were secure. "I haven't forgotten what you said, Yachiyo and I haven't forgotten the feeling." 

 

"I'm here…" Yachiyo said. Her pronunciation was slow as she put her equipment away in her bag. "...To say sorry." 

 

"Really?"

 

Yachiyo threw her a dulled look. "Did you not grow up with apologies, that the very thought of someone admitting their faults is a marvel and a wonder?"

 

Claudine growled, "I'm saying, 'really', because I highly doubt you mean it sincerely with snide comments like this." 

 

"I'm sorry for that too."

 

"Doubt you mean it."

 

"I mean it." Yachiyo snapped with enough of a bite that surprised both of them. Yachiyo paused, taking a deep breath before looking at Claudine straight in the eyes. The genuine honesty that swam in the green pupils was enough for Claudine to keep quiet. "I'm sorry for you accusing your teachers of abuse when I don't know them because I saw parallels from my shitty past." 

 

Then like a flash, all of the sincerity was gone, and the neutral look in Yachiyo's eyes was there once more. "There, is that genuine enough for you?"

 

"It was until the last sentence." Claudine looked down at her hand, surprised at how little it hurt or how hasty the procedure went. It was extremely ordered and efficient. If Fumi did it or herself, there would be a mess. "I don't forgive you, by the way."

 

"Didn't expect you to," Yachiyo said, rising to her feet as she looked down at Claudine. It peeved her that this was their ending, but it was better than making things worse. "But despite your opinion, just know that I'm being honest."

 

"What, so you thought I was being abused because you were abused?" 

 

"Well…" Yachiyo said, intentionally drawing out the last syllable. "If you consider an adult telling me that everything I do will impact the younger people that I care about. Therefore I must be the best person I can be or else they will suffer, abuse— then sure." 

 

With that, Yachiyo turned away, trying hard to keep her mouth shut lest she said more and upset Claudine again. Only to then stop at the sharp response behind her. 

 

"Don't do that."

 

Yachiyo turned around, not surprised at the way Claudine was standing, glaring at her like she was a threat. Yachiyo ignored it all and smiled. "Do what?"

 

"Stop using my past against me." Claudine looked away, a bitter frown on her face, her brows tense and knitted together. "Yeah what you went through sounds something like abuse but I'm not calling what I've been through, abuse." 

 

Yachiyo raised an eyebrow at Claudine. Was this what Fumi meant when she said that Claudine was similar to her? "You went through—"

 

"Don't." 

 

Yachiyo quickly backtracked, raising her hands up in defence. "I'm not, I'm not." She paused, lowering her arms and taking a cautious step. forward to Claudine. "But you have to admit, it's shitty." 

 

"It's not abuse."

 

"But it's shitty?" Yachiyo backfired just as fast as Claudine's response. Yachiyo waited, patient for that clink in the armour, for that flicker of doubt. She knew Claudine was smart. She knew deep down that whatever she went through wasn't perfect. It's just a matter of how much unearthing was needed for her to face it head-on. "Isn't it?"

 

"I—"

 

There. 

 

"Or maybe that's not shitty," Yachiyo fired, unwavering in the casual commentary of her own past. "Maybe it's shitty when adults express their rage in front of you but never on you, so you know what would happen if you disappoint them." 

 

"Shut up."

 

Yachiyo didn't, she kept her face neutral, but her eyes focused on the wavering fear apparent in Claudine's maroon eyes. Even if her face was calm, her eyes gave all of her emotions away. She hated how Claudine related to her; she really did. "This is then contrasted with how sweet they are to you, so you'll be in constant worry of how much you'll lose if you anger them."  

 

"I said shut up!" Claudine snapped, rushing towards Yachiyo before throwing her against the wall. "How the hell do you know all of this about me!?" Yachiyo grunted quietly underneath her breath. She should've expected that reaction, but at the same time, she was too busy making her point to remember how strong Claudine was physically. 

 

"I don't—" Yachiyo grunted, glancing around her and feeling the air beneath her feet. Claudine was holding her by the shoulders, arms tucked away to the side so they could barely move. It was an effective hold, but her legs were free enough to kick if she really wanted to. "Fumi said you're similar to me, and I'm testing to see how strong that theory holds." 

 

At once, the tension in Claudine's grip loosened, naked shock swam in her eyes. This close, Yachiyo could see the unfiltered questions burning in the iris. She also saw herself, not cold, frustrated or even in her neutral facade. Instead, she saw herself, brows arching down in sympathy, the sad smile that held too much empathy. She wondered if Claudine could see that, though, when her vision was clouded by her own messy thoughts. 

 

Claudine moved her hands down in time, bringing Yachiyo back to the floor. She removed her hands, muttering sorry as Yachiyo rubbed her shoulders. Then, with a cautious heart, she spoke. "....How much do you know?" 

 

"Barely anything," Yachiyo answered, just as cautious, just as genuine. "But I'm willing to listen, if you're willing to listen."

 

"To what?"

 

"To my story," She explained, hiding her amusement at Claudine's shocked eyes and open mouth. "So you know why I was so aggressive, and I'll listen to your explanation on why you were so defensive." 

 

"Fine," Claudine sighed, pretending that whatever happened a second ago didn't happen. She moved to the bed, sitting on it with her knees up to her chest. "But only if you don't say any snide comment."

 

"Depending on the conversation," Yachiyo said, following Claudine. Except she was leaning back, one hand on the pillow as she swung a leg back and forth, dangling over the bed. "I'll limit it to two max." 

 

"Alright now shut up, Yachiyo."

 

"Sure thing Muscles."

 


 

The story started quiet, almost hesitant. Yachiyo could understand that. These tragic origins were so close to the chest that it would be hard to get it past the ribcage alone. Not only that, Claudine was telling Fumi's story, Shiori— the Hero's story. Out of respect, Yachiyo tried hard not to make comparisons, not to think ahead and see how early it was set in stone that someone in that family would be the Hero. 

 

Then she stopped thinking entirely, turning away with a napkin outstretched in her hand when Claudine started to tear up. She could barely do it, but she managed to recount how her mothers died and the desperation for them to be properly buried and not be in a pit outside the walls. Respect for the dead was something Michiru instilled in them, and even now, Yachiyo listened to her words. 

 

Eventually, the story ended. Claudine returned Tendou Maya's badge and was allowed to join the Temple. Claudine didn't share anymore, but Yachiyo could only assume that Fumi followed her, whatever happened to Shiori, whatever made her become the Hero… that wasn't so easily grasped. 

 

"So that's my story," Claudine sighed, absentmindedly folding the napkin Yachiyo gave her. "An orphan finding a safe place again." 

 

Yachiyo nodded her head, filing away as well, everything that wasn't said. She didn't share how Fumi joined or her relationship with Shiori. It was clear Claudine loved her sisters, even more than she loved the Temple— that was a good sign. Yachiyo won't push anymore, following Mahiru's own advice. "I see why you got defensive." 

 

"Yeah, you're accusing the people who saved me and my sisters from poverty and likely death." 

 

Yachiyo nodded her head in acceptance. "I was, but you have to admit that out of context, hearing what you said before—" Her eyes sought Claudine's and caught them narrow, shifty but scared. "It makes them horrible people, doesn't it?"

 

"I don't think so," Claudine refuted, bristling her shoulders as she looked away. "It's a fair punishment."

 

"Not talking to your sister?" Yachiyo asked, holding back the urge to laugh in bafflement. She knew Claudine enough to know that won't be taken well. "Who is still a child? Whilst you're still trying to be an acolyte?" 

 

"Okay but, it was a test—" Claudine defended, turning back to Yachiyo, a closed hand, the uninjured one, pressing hard against the mattress. "And besides… I didn't want to leave Shiori behind."

 

Yachiyo's neutral facade broke from the sheer surprise alone. "You left her—"

 

"SHE WAS SICK!" 

 

Claudine punched the pillow next to her, yet the sound was overlooked compared to Claudine's heavy breathing or how she struggled to clear her throat, in her gulps wavering. She took the napkin and brushed it over her eyes, fast and rough. She refused to look in Yachiyo's direction, keeping her head low as if the posture could repent her inner sins.

 

And Yachiyo stayed quiet, unsure how to react, unsure how to stand in such a brutal narrative. She can barely imagine it, the guilt, the shame… She imagined it anyway, comparing Shiori to Ichie, to leave Ichie behind because she wasn't well. What happened if Ichie was sick when Michiru saved them? What if she had to leave her behind to get help? It was no wonder why Claudine didn't want to share it. 

 

"She was with my mothers too long," Claudine explained after she regained her composure. She was focusing on her arms, on the bandages, picking on the straying thread. "Shiori can be stubborn, especially as a child, and she got—" Another heavy pause. Another staggering attempt to keep the composure alive. "That's why I get mad. Without Maya, without being an acolyte. Me and Fumi could never get the antidote and save her." 

 

"I see…"

 

Claudine acknowledged Yachiyo, looking back at her with hardened eyes, determined and fighting. For a moment, Yachiyo was reminded of Michiru. Despite the subtle differences in their eye colours, Claudine had the same fighting stare that Michiru always had— full of love.  

 

"I love my sisters, more than you think. I don't care what I had to go through, and this antidote was sought out by everyone— the trial was hard because it was supposed to be. I couldn't talk to her because I couldn't get sick. I had to save her, do you understand!?" 

 

"I can understand," Yachiyo answered within an instant. "Love is a very strong motive." Now it was her turn to look away from Claudine's piercing stare to look at her body, to look at the collection of faded scars. A melancholy smile pried itself free from her calm facade. "It's a lesson I learnt well in my youth." 

 

"Is it your story now?"

 

"I would say so," Yachiyo mused, brushing her fingers across the scars. She only got these scars during the four years she and Ichie travelled, but Claudine didn't need to know that. In fact, it would be better if Claudine could think whatever she wanted to. Her scars were invisible, embedded into her bones and her very existence. It was the kind that was hard to heal, even after so many years. 

 

"But… I don't think I'll share much," Yachiyo gave Claudine a sad smile, her mind slowly undressing her barriers, her armour. It was the least she could do after Claudine unfurled herself in front of her— this sort of interaction deserved some respect from both sides. "It's a tough thing to swallow even after so many years." 

 

"But first…" Yachiyo sighed, taking in a sharp intake as she looked Claudine in the eyes. Here came the first undressing of her armour. "How much do you know about the Circus and the Villain Factory?"

 

"You mean the organisation behind Kocho Shizuha," Claudine answered, a curious look in her eyes as she settled herself into a crossed leg sitting position. "The Villain of Despair of the now tragic prophecy." 

 

"Wow."

 

"What?" Claudine said, smirking slightly as she pressed a closed fist to the side of her cheek, the elbow resting on her knee. "Did you not grow up with a sense of recent history, that the very thought of someone reading and researching why the last prophecy ended as a tragedy is both a marvel and a wonder?" 

 

Yachiyo rolled her eyes. "Oh shut up."

 

"You said it first."

 

"I did," Yachiyo laughed before the sad smile flickered on her lips. "But I'm saying wow because no— I didn't need to grow up with a sense of recent history, especially since I was born in the Circus." 

 

The teasing look on Claudine's face shifted. She sat up straighter, her mouth open in shock. "Wait… you mean—"

 

"She didn't kill everyone important when she escaped with Lalafin—" Yachiyo sighed, "Assuming you know about her too." Claudine nodded, and Yachiyo continued. "Yeah, well, certain people survived and tried to remake it again. And I was born right in the early stages." 

 

A delicate silence passed as Yachiyo watched Claudine absorb the information and slowly digest it into something she could understand. "...No wonder you called it abuse."

 

To take the edge of the heavy atmosphere Yachiyo did a little bow, flourishing her hand before sitting back up. "To cake it with so many layers of sugar, they never hurt me— not physically." Yachiyo took out a coin from her pocket, playing it to distract herself as she rolled her fingers. Every time it stumbled, she would stop, compose herself and then try again. 

 

"I was the ringleader's daughter, or so I was told. They trained me to be skilled at everything I could be, so I was young when I started to know how to juggle, throw knives, walk the tightrope, be a healer, anything and everything. And when I wasn't used for the shows they did as a cover, I was being trained to help and heal the people they were trying to make into a villain."

 

The coin fell from her hand. She didn't bother picking it up again.

 

"They were my age as a child…." Yachiyo could barely let the words leave her lips. The knuckles of her hand were pressed lightly against her lips. Yachiyo was not a religious person, not when the gods were out there trying to kill them. Still, if such an action gave their souls peace, she would not hesitate to be religious for them. "If not younger."

 

"Gods…."

 

"It's how I met Ichie did you know," Yachiyo continued to murmur. "Except she already had a mark so there was no need for her to be a Villain, they just… wanted to experiment on it." Yachiyo growled, clenching her fist. "Bastards."

 

Claudine nodded, an understanding look in her eyes. "Is that what you mean when you say how you're responsible for other people…" Yachiyo looked up at her, and Claudine looked away again, her voice trailing off." Or… barring communication rights."

 

Yachiyo gave her a subtle nod before she picked up the fallen coin and continued to roll it along her knuckles. "If things didn't go well, Ichie would… they isolated her. Then they saw that I was attached to her, and they would blame me."

 

"How did you get out?"

 

They got out because Michiru saved them. Because Michiru knew Shizuha. Because they already created a Villain in a random village mission. They had already created Rui, and Michiru saved her and was still trying to save her by destroying the Circus. Of course, Yachiyo would never say anything about that. 

 

"Someone saved us, someone who just wanted the Circus to be destroyed entirely— and they are dead." Yachiyo shrugged, brushing away the memory of her dead mother on the floor, or the woman she assumed was her mother. "So I guess I'm like you, an orphan but in a good way." 

 

Yachiyo paused, stopping the coin in between her knuckles before she tapped the edge against her chin in thought. "Yeah I would say so…Two kids were saved from a horrible place, and my saviour brought us to a safer place, and tried to give us a good childhood." 

 

It's funny saying that out loud. Michiru didn't even escort them; she just gave them a map, directions and the money before going after the stranglers. Only when she was done did she find them and personally guide them from a distance. After that, an old lady looked after her and Ichie, paid by Michiru whilst she raised Rui nearby, and the rest was history. 

 

"And you say what I went through was abuse."

 

Yachiyo shrugged. "I saw my life in the Circus in your stories, and you related to me— not even realising it was from the Circus. What was I supposed to think?" 

 

"That maybe it's not?" Claudine scoffed, though the bite was lesser than before. "That maybe you're overreacting."

 

Yachiyo gave her a pointed look. "I did come here to apologise."

 

Claudine grumbled, resting her chin on her palm as she looked away. "Still don't forgive you."

 

"But do you admit that it's shitty—" Claudine scowled again, harsher like before, and Yachiyo let out a tired sigh. 

 

"I can accept that it's not abuse," Yachiyo said, with enough of a stern gaze that it compelled Claudine to look back at her. "But what I can't accept is that what you've been through is something to be praised or looked back on with positive nostalgia. Not when it brought me nothing but nightmares and trauma." 

 

"Okay— Fine," Claudine snapped, more frustrated than annoyed. Even then, it was nothing like the rough snarls. "It's shitty. It's probably wasn't the best. I'll admit that—" Claudine stopped, her words caught in her lungs as she looked away, her voice smaller than ever before. "I just don't… it's all I've ever known, Yachiyo."

 

Yachiyo looked at Claudine, her eyes showing all of the sympathies she could muster. She's been there before, especially when it came to Michiru or knowing Rui as a kid. It was funny how people would think she would be the one who interacted first as a kid. In reality, it was Rui who reached out and even then, Ichie was the one who talked the most until she opened up. 

 

"Do you not remember your mother's parenting?" 

 

At the question, the sad expression soured, and Claudine turned around, laying her head on the pillow and looking away. "Shut up…" She murmured, "You got what you wanted." 

 

"Well," Yachiyo whispered, crawling towards Claudine's end before resting with her on the other side. "I wanted us to understand each other a bit better, so yeah, I did get what I wanted."

 

For a moment, they lay there next to each other in silence. Claudine was facing the wall, and Yachiyo was facing her. It wasn't until Claudine sighed and turned around the lion main of blonde wavy hair was tousled over her shoulder. It was a peaceful look, reminding Yachiyo of the other thing Mahiru said: Herself and Ichie were probably the first people they knew beyond the Temple.

 

"For what it's worth, Claudine…." Yachiyo continued, keeping her distance but still offering that close comforting smile she gave to Rui millions of times before. "I'm sorry you went through such a tough childhood. Really, No one should have gone what you had to do to keep your family alive." 

 

To Yachiyo'ssurprise, Claudine gave a gentle huff before smiling back, just as sweet and genuine. "Thank you… for what it's worth, I'm glad you're out of that place." 

 

"What," Yachiyo chuckled, her smile stretching the scar on her cheeks. "Scared you would have to face me as an enemy?"

 

Claudine shook her head with a laugh, turning her body so that her head faced the ceiling. "Please, just because you can do your flips, doesn't mean I can't hold my ground." 

 

"You hold your ground, I'll do flips over you."

 

"As if…" Claudine scoffed before she paused, her face morphing to slight worry. "Hey, Yachiyo." 

 

"Hm?"

 

Claudine glanced at her, maroon eyes showing off that trickle of vulnerability. "Are we good now?"

 

"I would say so—" Yachiyo mused before giving one last cattish smirk to Claudine. "At least until I kick your ass in this hypothetical spar, muscles."

 

Claudine sat up and scowled, but it wasn't as angry as before. In fact, the corner of her lips was subtly quirking upwards. "God, you're so annoying." 

 

Chapter Text

I didn’t want to write this down. A part of me doesn’t want to remember. But I will because I’m tired, angry at how the stories already told are wrong. How openly mocking they are to our friends and what they stood for. I know who exactly wrote this false narrative; I know them well enough to correct it publicly is asking for a death sentence. 

 

So my wife said I should write it here because I’m the only one who really remembers it. She can’t anymore. It hurts her too much to remember. And sure, it hurts me, but… it doesn’t hurt me enough to forget if I could forget. And besides…. I helped Karen with the plan.

 

And the plan was this: 

 

Karen wanted to change the prophecy, ever since that night when Hikari almost died, and my wife and I fell in love, and so many things happened. Ever since the Hero fell in love with her Lancer, her second in command. Ever since that day— Karen wanted to obliterate the concept of prophecies. 

 

And funny enough, I knew from my short time spent with her, I knew Shizuha, the Villain, wanted the same thing. No more prophecies, no more Gods telling them what to do, forcing them to do things they didn’t want to do. It was probably the first time ever that both the Villain and the Hero wanted to do the same thing. 

 

So I played messenger for the two of them, mitigating any tension, telling Karen that all of the Villain attacks before were orchestrated by the Circus instead of Shizuha herself. They were supposed to meet on a hill, somewhere where there was a lot of ground to cover, to see if others would try to stop them from breaking the world we knew. 

 

They would meet, the sky would turn red, and they would fight, faking the gods to believe this was the finale everyone was after. And then they would kill each other, not entirely but enough for them to be saved. In that same limbo, Karen and Shizuha would do whatever with the Gods as I— the Catalyst would decay their marks. Cutting off their connections to the Gods entirely. 

 

We would use the best regeneration potion out there, made by the Healer and Mahiru, to save them both from the dead. And then we would’ve won. Except that wasn’t what happened on the day. I don’t remember what really happened on that day. Lalafin died, Shizuha… She went berserk from the grief and the loss. The sky was red, and… everyone… died. 

 

I don’t think I can share more than this; this is too much for me already. 

 

-Memoir 2, the tragedy of the tragic prophecy. By Tsyuzaki Michiru 

 

~

 

Fighting a Seer wasn’t what the stories would say. People would say a fight with a Catalyst and a Seer would be a battle in the mind, always one step ahead since they’re both on equal footing. Nana wasn’t like any other Seer, and Michiru knew she wasn’t like any other Catalyst. Though equal, this fight wasn’t a battle of the mind— no. This was too personal. 

 

“Come back here, you broken Catalyst!!” Nana screamed as she cracked her whip, the lightning arching not from tree to tree but the array of lightning bolts that shot the earth. Michiru glanced over her shoulder as she stood on a tree branch. Blood was already on her lip, and her gloves were gone. Nails were black from dirt and grime, and her eyes glowed, simmering red in the darkness. 

 

There was a creak, a splintering of wood and Michiru jumped away to another branch. The tree she was on corroded away, falling onto the incoming lightning strike and forcing its electric pulse to the ground. The ground shuddered, groaning as Michiru steadied her grip, careful to not use her decaying power on her platform. 

 

“I have a name, Nana!” Michiru roared as Nana glared up at her from the ground. Nana’s face was a myriad of mistakes, of bruises and burns. One of her robes was already torn apart and charred from how Michiru was pummelling her with the staff. “USE IT, AND I MIGHT COME DOWN!” 

 

“Subject 001!” Nana lashed out, striking again with her whip as Michiru used her staff to hook onto another branch and vault away, missing the curve of the lighting. She landed on the edge of a rocky cliff, the rock beneath her already eroding as Nana followed her. 

 

“Subject 001 is something Junna would say,” Michiru growled before her eyes flickered cruelly. She grinned, the blood dripping down her lip from when Nana struck her before. 

 

“Oh that’s why you don’t want to say my name….” Michiru placed her hand on the rocks and forced her decay through its crevices, the rain seeping through the cracks to further aid the erosion. She continued to laugh, chuckling low and oozing with mockery. “If you say my name, you agree that she failed— that you admit that she made a mistake. That she was wrong.” 

 

Nana growled, screaming with baring teeth as she cracked her whip towards the sky, the air snapping as it bolted towards Michiru. “My Junna was never wrong!” 

 

This time, instead of running, Michiru merely held out her arm, grunting at the pain as it slithered around her wrist. It couldn’t go any lower than, nor could it penetrate the skin and impact the nervous system. The power of the Seer was too busy being decayed with the remnants of Michiru’s Catalytic powers. 

 

Michiru shook her head; the twisted frown and snarl from the lighting strike morphed to a terrifying grin. The rain continued to shun her, dripping heavily as the static screeches from the lighting swirling around her wrist became white noise. “Michiru believes she was.”

 

Michiru smashed the wall cliff next to her before Nana could do anything. The cliff exploded. The fragile state left behind from the decay followed by the sudden impact of lightning was enough to send boulders flying. The cliff face crumbled, forming a wave of jagged debris to stampede across the sharp incline towards Nana. 

 

Nana’s eyes widened. Something whirled underneath her chin, emitting a faint yellow hue to her battered chest. The surprise died quickly after that. Nana tucked her head to her chest as she slashed the air in front of her. Just as the first flying rock towered over her, a lighting strike shattered it into two. 

 

Nana struck the air again, and once more, a rock that could’ve killed her didn’t. It was broken into several smaller pieces, held stagnate as Nana waved her free hand. One by one, this continued, Nana dodging with ease as a barrier of broken stone was built around her, her eyes glowing a violent yellow. 

 

“God damn your hand magic,” Michiru grumbled under her breath, still on the rocky platform. She turned to the other side and readied her hands, allowing the decay to fester and rot away the skin cells in preparation. Beneath her, mushrooms sprouted like it was a harvest. 

 

“ARGH!” Michiru punched the wall to her side, the other cliff face shuddering with a groan. She punched it again, heaving as the black streaks of decay raced across the rocks with a splintering crack. She punched it again before getting into a steady rhythm. Left hand. Right hand. Left hand, right hand. Again and again, the madness went as more and more jagged stones crumbled to the ground and rolled in Nana’s direction.

 

Nana steadied her ground and continued to slash the air. Multiple lighting strikes attacked the earth at her call. It was a magical mechanism made in self-defence, but Michiru didn’t care. She continued to punch the earth, gritting her teeth, ignoring the way her fallen blood would turn into clots instead of staying in liquid form. She knew Nana couldn’t run from this onslaught— whilst a Seer could see the future, they couldn’t react to everything at once.

 

Nana was best in a one to one combat, especially against a living creature. Sure, things like a rockslide, Nana could hide and get to a safe place, but why would she? It would hurt her more if she ran away from Michiru. Her pride wouldn’t handle the concept, and it’s that arrogance that Michiru learnt to exploit. 

 

By the time Michiru ruined and decimated the cliff face, plumes of smoke rose to the sky. It was too dense to evaporate, leaving Michiru with an unfortunate smokescreen. But that didn’t matter, Nana was in that pile of rubble, and that was enough for Michiru. Another time, Michiru would come down and fight her, but that wasn’t the priority. The priority right now was Rui. It was Shiori. She needed to find them fast. 

 

Michiru placed a broken hand into her spatial bag she still had wrapped around her body. She threw it up in the air, grabbing the bottle by the neck with her teeth. Then, with her other hand, eyes still on the rubble, she carefully popped the cork and downed the potion. It won’t be enough to kill the side effects the decay had on her body, but it was enough to fix her broken bones and seal the open wounds. 

 

After a few seconds, Michiru flexed her fingers and nodded. Grabbing her staff and closing the cover of her bag Michiru took a heavy breath and looked up. It would be hard, and the rainwater won’t help, but she could climb it. She could climb it and get away from Nana; she would observe the terrain, find the others and— 

 

“You’re not going to kill her, Michiru chan?”

 

And there was a ghost in her head. A ghost that sounded awfully like Lalafin.

 

“I’m not in your head. Turn around.” Michiru did what she was told, and she staggered backwards, almost slipping on her own mushrooms as she steadied her grip on the rocks. In front of her was a ghost, a literal ghost dressed in a summer dress torn apart and ripped at the hems. The colour was muted, fading away the way paper dies stained by time, but Michiru would never forget this shade of pink hair. 

 

“Lalafin?” Michiru stood up, her fingers shaking as she stared at the astral figure sitting on the ground next to her, legs dangling off the edge. How—”

 

“Divine Intervention?” Lalafin laughed, a hollow echo that made silence desirable. She turned away from Michiru, her eyes directed at the burial of rocks. “I wish I wasn’t here, really….” 

 

“Why?”

 

Lalafin gripped her hands together, tight. She ducked her head down, hiding the way her face was squashed together, pinching with an intensity that suffocated her lungs. “....because… I…. you….”

 

“Lalafin?”

 

“You’re not killing her.” The words burst from Lalafin’s lip, she shook her head. It was a slow, heavy action, almost like chains on her neck resisting the movement. “I— don’t want to… be here… because you’re not killing her.”

 

Michiru shook her head, glaring at the pile of rocks beneath her. “Now isn’t the right time,” she reasoned, remembering her duty to look after Rui and Shiori. “I need to find—”

 

“She killed me.”

 

What.”

 

Lalafin gave her a broken smile and further broken eyes when Michiru met the gaze. “They found…” she started and then ended with a jarring pause of breath. Michiru reached out to her but stopped; Lalafin had her hand up before crumbling into a fist. Her eyes held her heart together, desperate to hold on. “Shizuha went to meet up with you, and I stayed at our blind spot and they—”

 

“You don’t need to say anymore.” The words were out of Michiru’s mouth before she could process them. She couldn’t stand it, the face Lalafin was trying to hide, the way her body twisted in agony. 

 

At the words, Lalafin sighed, the tension exhaling out of her body with ragged relief. “I want to go back….” she whispered, as if the words said out loud was a crime. “I don’t like being here. I’m not even here by choice.” She turned back to look at the rubble, at Nana. Her knuckles continued to fold in themselves, curling to the tightest ball she ever could. 

 

“The gods want me to kill her….” Michiru’s eyes widened as the words left her lips. There was a heavy exhale, staggering as she took a step back at the prospect— at the possibility that Nana could die. That someone else beyond her and her family wanted Nana dead. “So they sent you to convince me.”

 

Lalafin shook her head as a heavy sob racked her form. “I’m sorry,” she begged, trying her hardest to look up at Michiru. “I can’t…. I don’t want to….” Her mouth moved, but there was no sound. Instead, there was a muted reaction as something burnt away at her soul. Her body reacted as if it was shot, then punched, then ripped apart. The light continued to crackle, lighting up the mountain like it was a storm of its own accord. 

 

“Lalafin?”

 

Lalafin looked up, her form already crumbling. Instead of crying, she did her best to give a smile—