Chapter 1:

Rites of Preparation

A World of Future Past

Fissures and magic burst forth from the world in majestic cascades. The earth rumbled with anger as two battered children scrambled to find purchase on the unsteady soil around them.Bookmark here

“Wait!” the boy yelled, “Hold on!”Bookmark here

A column of cobalt lightning shattered through the ground, throwing them to the side. Their grip on each other broke, and they desperately reached for each other’s hands. The girl screamed the boy’s name as she tumbled away. She whimpered as she shakily pushed herself up, and clawed into the ground as it shook and split in front of her. Her eyes widened as she looked up in terror.Bookmark here

He stared back with the same amount of surprise and shock. He tried to reach across the divide, but the expanse between them was only growing. “Just stay there!” he shouted. He fumbled with the torn satchel at his side. “I’ll use an accelerator to—!“Bookmark here

“No!” She cried, her hand outstretched. “You’ll fall. I-I'm alright." Bookmark here

The two figures braced themselves with each tremor. The sky started to swirl with clouds that flashed black and blue. In the far distance, the radiant mountains began to crumble with the tidal waves of energy that rang against the nearby toppled shrine; shining like a beacon, the shrine was blinding to look at. Another pulse crashed against it, and the world thrummed as it overflowed with mana.Bookmark here

Climbing to the edge of the fissure, the boy cried, “I won't leave you! Not again. We'll make it through this. I can’t…“ His eyes fogged as he stared at the girl, her eyes beaming with something soft and gentle.Bookmark here

“It’s okay!” she told him, holding a hand to the pendant on her chest. “It’s okay.” She held her breath as the world shook again. Her spot of unbroken earth rumbled, and she felt a sting behind her nose. Bookmark here

“Don’t forget me—“Bookmark here

NO—!Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

I frown as I splash my face and let the water drip into the basin.Bookmark here

Something is wrong. I stare into the settling water and frown. Those two figures in my vision... that’s the most I’ve ever seen.Bookmark here

A voice calls from outside the curtain, the only thing separating my room from the rest of the world. “Riku? Are you almost done?”Bookmark here

Grabbing a towel, I pat myself dry and sigh. “Yes, Grandmother. I’ve finished with the washing.”Bookmark here

“Remember the markings. You are being Presented today. This is the highest honour in the village—“Bookmark here

“-And the greatest blessing on the family.” I murmur in sync as I stare at the table full of brushes and paints. “Yes, Grandmother. I know.”Bookmark here

“Good.” I watch her shadow shuffle away before pausing at the edge of the curtain. “The gods have been growing restless these past few days. I’m glad you’ve finally realized how important this is.”Bookmark here

I lean heavily on the table as I hear her feet disappear. I shut my eyes and begin to shake as a flood of anxiety rushes through me. It passes within a few seconds, but effects me all the same. I unclench my hands and fall to my knees. “Why me?” I whisper to no one. Me, an outcast from the edges of the village, whose only notable skill is being a Seer, one of three coveted skills that can only be passed down by a master of said skill. But what use is being able to see all of time, if all anyone does is mock and scorn you for it? When all you can see for your future is certain doom?Bookmark here

I shake my head to get rid of those thoughts. It isn’t certain doom. Not even a Seer can predict the changes that can come with the tides of time. If it were that simple, Seers would have been found and abused throughout every generation. As it stands now, Seers are only guides to possible futures, and explorers of times past. Something a village living from day to day doesn’t really need. No, not me.Bookmark here

I grab the first cup of paint and turn to the mirror to set it down. I then look into it and hesitate as I take a paint brush and dip it in.Bookmark here

If I do this, I condemn myself. If I don’t, I condemn the village. If I do this, my life as I know it is over. If I don’t, the world as I know it is gone. Every option is terrible. Every choice is my own. And I hate it.Bookmark here

The paint touches my skin and my heart burns. An image superimposes itself in the mirror and I nearly drop the brush. The girl from my vision stands just behind me, smiling sadly. Her lips move, a silent plea I cannot hear, and she lays her hands on my shoulders. I can almost feel them, and I look down at my side…but I don’t see anything. Frowning, I turn back, but she’s gone. “What…” I whisper to an empty room.Bookmark here

I sigh and muster whatever nerves I still have. My hand moves the brush and lines begin to form. The white contrasts against my skin, and I can see it almost glow as I set the paint aside. Blues and greens, reds and yellows begin to dot my face and my arms until I look like a tapestry, a walking of painting of an autumn forest the colour of harvest.Bookmark here

The colours of dying life and waning light.Bookmark here

I reach out to the mirror. My fingers brush against the cold surface, and it almost seems to burn them. I meet eyes with the girl in the mirror and she looks uncertain and scared. Most of all, the girl looks sad. Like she has the weight of the world on her shoulders. One step away from breaking.Bookmark here

The girl blinks at the same time I do, and the illusion breaks. Gasping, I rip my fingers from the mirror only to hear a knock at the curtain. “Riku?” The voice calls. It is familiar and kind: the voice of my Aunt Momo.Bookmark here

I quickly begin to comb through my hair and begin to braid it. “Y-yes, Auntie?”Bookmark here

“Are you almost done getting ready? Do you need help?”Bookmark here

I pause in the middle of braiding and turn my head slightly towards the voice. With a small voice, I nod and say, “Yes… I would like that, Auntie. Come in.” I finish with my braid and begin to pin it with flowers as Aunt Momo walks in. I let her watch as I finish decorating it before I turn to her with a soft smile.Bookmark here

“Rikku…” Momo’s eyes gleam softly as she approaches me. “You look…”Bookmark here

I can feel her soul begin to leak with emotion as she comes close and sits down next to me. I shake my head and sigh scornfully. “I look like a mess, Auntie.”Bookmark here

Aunt Momo doesn’t say anything for a moment, and I look up to see her eyeing me with a gentle frown. “A beautiful mess.” There’s nothing I can say to that, so I look down and begin to fiddle with the sleeves of my robes. I can feel her emotions beginning to swirl, and I’m unsurprised to see her slowly grab my hand and hold it tight. “A beautiful girl that I’m proud of.”Bookmark here

“There’s nothing to be proud of, Auntie,” I whisper. “We both know what being Presented means. What will happen.”Bookmark here

“You don’t know that,” Momo says. “There’s always a chance that you can come back.” She pulls my hand closer. “You… you would be welcomed with open arms.Bookmark here

I turn to look her in the eyes, and they tell me everything. I laugh sadly “Your hope is misplaced, Auntie.” Her eyes widen as my vision grows unfocused and a soft glow fills the room. “I’ve already lost more than I can regain. There is no more place for me in Yaruk.”Bookmark here

“Rikku, your eyes…”Bookmark here

Something wet begins to fall down my cheeks as images and feelings flit through my mind.“I see no future for me here, Auntie. Every path leads to more pain, more sorrow.” I blink those feelings away and grab her hands with my own. “But I’m grateful for how you’ve taken care of me, Aunt Momo. You’ve made my life here the best that it could be. That’s all I could have asked for.”Bookmark here

Aunt Momo begins to shake her head as her own tears start to fall. “Rikku, you don’t have to do this. Grandmother doesn’t need to know. You could run. You could run and hide. I have family, family in other villages. They could take care of you, they could—“Bookmark here

I silence her with a hug. She gasps, and for a moment, she freezes. I then feel her arms wrap tightly around me and she begins to shake. “I loved your mother, Rikku. She was my best friend. We were basically sisters, and now…” She buries her face into my shoulder, and I hug her tighter. Bookmark here

We stay like that for a few seconds that span an eternity before I pull away. Aunt Momo sniffles and nods before holding me by the shoulders and giving me a wobbly smile. “Y-you look just like your mother, Rikku. Now, a spring flower, painted with an autumn shine.”Bookmark here

I giggle softly as I grab a cloth and pat my face dry. “Your idioms don’t work here, Auntie.”Bookmark here

“I know,” she whispers, “But your mother loved them. She thought they were funny.” She smiles as she cleans herself up. “And I know you like them too.”Bookmark here

“Of course, Auntie.” I breathe deeply and exhale before turning back towards the mirror. Thankfully, the paint on my face had been crafted so that the Presentation could happen in any weather condition, so it hadn’t rubbed off, but… I sigh, combing through the rest of my hair.Bookmark here

“Auntie… Momo, can you help me with my hair?”Bookmark here

I watch her rise quickly and nod. “Of course, Rikku.”Bookmark here

With Aunt Momo helping, my preparations finish, and the hour of the Presentation grows ever closer.Bookmark here

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