Shimamura Hougetsu had still not become used to Adachi—No, Sakura’s absence. It’d been three years since she’d departed for the American Isles to undergo Rithmatic training at one of their prestigious academies. Three years Hougetsu had spent by her lonesome, with the only traces of her spirited lover being the trinkets they’d gathered from years spent together and the young girl they had adopted two years before she’d left.
The large home they’d worked so hard to come by felt empty. Hougetsu’s footsteps and humming echoed off its walls and corners. She kept the small garden out front ornately manicured, hiding the ugly interior—herself. She felt empty. She’d grown so used to Sakura always being by her side, that with her no longer here, her life had grown bland and colorless.
Against her best wishes, Hougetsu often found herself jumping in excitement at any knock on the front door. Her heart would begin to beat faster, praying that against all odds, her wife would return home. Her heart was often disappointed.
Nevertheless, as she cleaned every corner of the solemn house, she still hoped.
Shimamura Yuu drew a Line of Vigor, aimed directly at the weak spot in her opponent's defense. How sloppy. She thought, laughing at her opponents sad attempt at an Eskridge Defense. Compared to her own Shoaff, it was like a hound at her heels.
Yuu hoped that when she was finally able to follow her mother to America, she’d find better opponents. Surely she would, the Isles were known for their amazing Rithmatic schools, boasting eight large schools. Her home country, Japan, had two.
Nevertheless, her opponent's Line of Warding was breached.
This would be her fourth consecutive victory at the tournament held in Kyoto every year. Yuu was considered a prodigy, just like her mother was. She had a natural talent for Rithmatics, but that could only take her so far. Her professor often told her, “In America, things will be different. You won’t be the only prodigy.”
Yuu hoped that was true, because fighting the same half-wit Rithmatist every year was getting repetitive. And so was her other mom’s constant complaints.
Shimamura Hougetsu did not approve of Yuu’senthusiasm for Rithmatics. Her actions spoke louder than her words, however, as she still paid for the train fee from Tokyo to Kyoto every year.
“Where’s your mother, Yuu?” Professor Takagachi asked, adjusting his glasses and grey bangs as he watched the girl walk away from her crying opponent.
“Not here,” She replied matter-of-factly. Despite paying to bring Yuu here, her mother had stopped coming to her matches years ago. When it’d become apparent that regardless of whom she dueled, Yuu would win. “You know how she is, professor. Always saying, ‘You don’t need to follow after your mother!’”
He grumbled in something that could almost be called agreement and began to walk alongside her. Here we go again, she grimaced. Time for another one of his critic sessions.
“Your nine-point was off,” He started, glancing at her. “The space between ellipses six and seven was too wide. If your opponent had been able to see it, you’d have been in his position in a matter of minutes.”
“It’s hard to take the criticism seriously,” She sighed, turning away and giving an off handed wave. “When none of my enemies ever take advantage of the things you point out. Are you sure you can’t convince my mother to let me go to America?”
The sounds of onlookers and paper-writers, hoping to get a peek at the sixteen-year old Rithmatic prodigy, covered up the annoyed grunt the professor gave in response. The man had long tried to persuade Shimamura to let her daughter attend one of the American universities, and each time he was given the same answer: ‘no.’
When the teacher and student broke out of the excited mass and into the fresh spring air, they hurried down the steps of the arena. It was always best to get away quickly from these events, or else Yuu would be bogged down with the reporters questions. And it wasn’t until she piled herself into the back seat of the professor’s car that he answered her with more than a grumble and a wave.
“You know I’ve tried, kid,” He said, starting the car—brought over from the American Isles. “But she has her reasons for not letting you go, you know. You’re mother doesn’t want you to leave, especially not when Sakura has yet to return.”
It’d been seven years since her second mother left for America. Seven years since Yuu had become fascinated with the one thing the woman she’d barely known left her. Rithmatics. Yuu had since spent five of those years dedicating her life to the Rithmatic arts, in a false hope that if she became good enough, she’d be able to travel east and prove her worth. And here she was, the best Rithmatist in Japan and no closer to leaving for America.
An hour or so later, the professor dropped her off at the station. It didn’t take Yuu long to find her mother. The women stood out everywhere she went, her hair a light brown against a sea of black. When she’d asked why her mother kept it dyed, the only response she received was; ‘She liked it this way.’
Yuu found it silly. Then again who was she to talk?
“How did it go?” The woman asked, bending down to grab her suitcase—similar to the one Yuu herself rolled behind her.
“Another win!” The girl replied, raising her fist anti-climatically. Her fake enthusiasm brought a slight grin to her mother’s face. She might not have approved of her endeavor in Rithmatics, but she did approve in comedy. “Though, is that really a surprise?”
“No… I suppose it’s not.” She mumbled.
When they finally got back to Tokyo, Yuu caught sight of a man hurriedly walking away from the front door of her home. She sprinted the last leg to her house, but by the time she got there, the man was too far gone. Shaking her head at the oddity, she walked past the small garden, the red, blue, and white flowers overshadowed by the now blooming sakura tree.
She climbed up the last step and saw a letter resting on the doormat. It was addressed to her mother, the one in Japan at least. Yuu picked it up and slid open the door. Setting the letter down on the table in the awning, she hurried up to her room and began to settle back in.
It wouldn’t be long before she’d have to start preparing for the next tournament, she wasn’t going to miss out on a chance to relax. Even for a moment.
Hougetsu sent down the letter with her name written on it in elaborately drawn kanji. She knew the handwriting as if it was her own, regardless that the last time she’d seen it was almost four years ago. When she’d last received a letter from her wife.
That letter had detailed that Sakura had finally been able to head to Nebrask. That she’d won a tournament they called The Melee in America. It’d also said that she didn’t know when she was going to return, that she most likely wouldn’t be able to write letters every month anymore. It had turned out she hadn’t been able to write any at all.
Yet, here this letter was. Hougetsu broke the wax seal, the same one they’d used to officiate their marriage, and opened the envelope.
As she read, tears began to flow, staining the dark ink.
Dear my beloved Hougetsu,
If you’re reading this, I am dead. Accused of a crime I did not commit, the soldiers I’ve fought alongside with for the past three years have executed me. Whether by lawful means or not, I do not know. They, however, are not to blame. No, my death is the work of the Forgotten. A group that infiltrated this camp in Nebrask. In our search to root them out, I committed grave sins. I sealed the fate of death to an innocent man, I failed to keep another from the same fate, and I stood by while a third was convicted wrongly. These missteps are what led to my orderly demise. At least these men have hopefully given me the mercy to deliver this letter. For that, I am grateful.
I ask you one thing, dear: do not come for my body. You will not find it. It will most likely be buried deep in the forests of this cursed island, most likely overrun by the wild chalking which roam here. If, however, you do come. I ask that you do not hate these men. They are guilty of the same sins as I, and if you were to hate them, it’d be the same as hating me. I would regret that.
Just as I regret that I will leave you alone. That I will not see our daughter grow up. That I will not die in your arms, but to the threads of a noose. That I will not be able to hold you and tell you “I love you” when you look like you need to be told so. I regret that I will plague your memories when you should be looking towards the future with hope.
Though I regret these things, I do not regret leaving Japan for the American Isles, to fight in this war with hope to alleviate the suffering of this nation. I do not regret learning to be a Rithmatist, to create life with white dust scratched onto the earth. I do not regret meeting you, to fall in love with a girl who kept everyone at arm's length.
And so, I ask you not to regret them either.
Your wife, Adachi Shimamura Sakura