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Jaquemart VII - Shells

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JAQUEMART
by
Alan Harnum

Utena and its characters belongs to Be-PaPas, Chiho Saito,
Shogakukan, Shokaku Iinkai and TV Tokyo.

This copy of the story is from my Archive of Our Own page at http://archiveofourown.org/users/alanharnum/pseuds/alanharnum.

 

VII. Shells

* * *

TSUWABUKI MITSURU'S DIARY

I have burned my old diaries. There were many childish
things in them that I am now ashamed to have written. I
cannot help but remember them, of course, my memory is too
good to forget. If I tried, if I dredged the silt of my
mind, I suspect I might be able to rewrite their entirety
from scratch. I won't do so, of course. But I could. I
don't need to keep diaries to remember things. Maybe I used
to, when I was young, but my memory has only gotten better
these days. I think I remember things now that I didn't
remember when I was a boy: the way my mother's voice sounded
(sweet and always frightened), peeling white paint on the
slats of my crib, the sticky dampness of my infant's diaper,
the shouting of my father.

I do not think it is normal to remember so far back. I
do not think it is normal to remember so well. Perhaps I am
only deluded. Perhaps I don't remember so well as I think I
do. I live in constant fear of this. There is a recurring
nightmare I have, where I am trying to write down something
very important, but I cannot remember what. It wakes me
screaming.

I'm not going to bother with dates. My memory is good
enough to remember when things take place. I'll hide this
in a good spot, so no one can find it. I won't carry it
around like my old diary; that was such a stupid, childish
thing to do.

Next year's Council had its preparatory meeting today,
to get ready for next semester, when we'll actually be
running things. I only found out yesterday that I had been
elected to it. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I only
ran because of Miki-sempai. I mentioned in one of our e-
mail exchanges that the elections were coming up, and he
said I should run. I remember that he used to say he was
training me to take over his position, back when he was
still at Ohtori; I always thought he was joking. I was too
young when he started saying that to run for the Council,
and I guess I never stopped thinking he was joking.

I think it's a bit weird to only tell people they won
the election the day before the first meeting, but that's
the way it's done at Ohtori.

Mari got elected too. That wasn't a surprise; her
campaign posters were everywhere during election time, and
all her speeches were good. It wasn't a surprise that
Hasuichi and his sister won, either, even though last year
was their first year at Ohtori. They both became popular
really fast, and they had a good campaign hook: sister and
brother, President and Vice-President.

I talked to Hasuichi's sister for the first time today.
I'd seen her around him before, at kendo meets, and I'd
been introduced to her, but we'd never really talked. After
the meeting was over, Hasuichi and Mari left together (I
think Mari likes him), and I stayed behind to organize the
minutes. Akami stayed for a little while longer to talk to me.

"When are you going home for summer vacation?" she
asked.

"I'm not," I replied. I didn't look up from my
minutes.

"Oh. You board at the school during the summer?"

I nodded.

"No parents?"

Hasuichi's always so charming; I was a little
surprised his sister could be so rude. I didn't say
anything, I just kept on looking at the minutes.

"My parents are dead too. Hasuichi and I live with
my aunt."

"My father isn't dead," I said shortly. "He's in
prison."

"Oh," she said, as though she wasn't very surprised.

She's very pretty, but I don't think I'm going to like
her very much.

* * *

Nanami envisioned poor Tsuwabuki locked in a dirty cell with
rusting iron bars, with barely enough room to turn around. The
the extremely courteous (aside from failing to be subtle about
scoping out her behind as she walked in front of him down the
hall) policeman showed her down the hall to a heavy steel door
with a sliding panel in it.

The policeman opened the panel and looked in. "Keep back
from the door, Mitsuru," he said, not unkindly. "You've got a
visitor." He swung the door wide. "Fifteen minutes."

Nanami took in the entire room first: the little barred
window that cast zebra stripes of sunlight and shadow across the
smooth tiled floor; the plain bed and dresser; the closed door
leading off, presumably, to a bathroom. Tsuwabuki Mitsuru sat in
a plain chair under the window, in a faded white shirt and dark
pants. He looked up as she entered, blue eyes half-hidden behind
unkempt bangs. A small, fragile smile appeared. "Nanami-san."

"Tsuwabuki-kun." She smiled back at him and clasped her
hands before her, clutching air. They'd made her leave her purse
at the front desk. "You grew up a lot over the last two years."

He stood up slowly. His dark blond hair was well past his
shoulders, tied in a loose ponytail that swayed as he rose.
"Thanks for coming to visit me." The smile grew a little. "I'm
really glad to see you."

Last time would have been at her graduation ceremony. He'd
been in the most awkward stage of his adolescence, all arms and
legs. Now he was slenderly muscled and very handsome. A late
bloomer.

"I'm glad to see you too, Mitsuru." He killed someone, she
thought--even if just by accident. She looked into his blue
eyes and saw, perhaps, some small acknowledgement of that fact
lying between them like a wall.

She thought, understandably, of her first duel with Utena.
An angry, stupid, jealous little girl--that was all she'd been.
It made her ashamed, to think of it in hindsight... going after
Utena even though the duel was finished, trying to... She didn't
want to think about it any more.

Mitsuru sat back down in the chair. After a moment, she
joined him, on the edge of the bed. "Did you come to Houou just
to see me, Nanami-san?"

She nodded, slowly. A white lie, and it would make him feel
good.

His smile disappeared suddenly. "Since you're here, you
know why I'm here."

"I know," Nanami said quietly. "Mitsuru..."

"I didn't mean for it to happen, Nanami-san," he said, as
though he were apologizing to her. "I really... I just wanted to
teach him a lesson. I was angry. So angry. And then, when the
shinai snapped, I didn't realize it at first, and it all
happened so fast." His hands were tight fists in his lap and
shook as he spoke, but his voice was oddly calm, as though he'd
only been an observer. "The next thing I knew, he was on the
floor, and it was in his neck... there was so much blood... and
I went for help, but he died anyway, that night in the hospital."

He took a deep breath. Nanami watched him sadly, trying not
to show anything on her face that might hurt him. "Sometimes, I
think I'm glad that he's dead--you can't hurt someone ever again
if you're dead. And sometimes, I wish that it had been me who
died, instead. And sometimes, I wish I hadn't found out." He
looked up at her expectantly, as though he believed that she
knew exactly what he was referring to. "Isn't that an awful
thing to wish, Nanami-san?"

"What did you find out, Mitsuru?" she asked softly.

He started; it seemed that he'd only just realized that she
wouldn't know what he was referring to. "Mari. About Hasuichi
and Mari. You remember my friend Mari, right? Well, Hasuichi
was her boyfriend, and he hurt her. There were marks, not in
places anyone would normally see, so..." He suddenly trailed
off, blushing and looking mortified. "Nanami-san," he said after
a moment. "It... it wasn't what it sounds like. I didn't--"

"He hurt her, so you challenged him to a fight?" Nanami
watched his face carefully, wincing inside. He seemed far too
old in this moment.

Tsuwabuki nodded slowly. "There were lots of marks," he
whispered, so low she could barely hear him. "Lots of them.
Some were new, and some were old. Like it had been going on for
a long time." A fierce note suddenly entered his voice.
"Anyone... anyone who'd hurt a girl like that... they deserve
whatever they get..."

Deep inside Nanami, something twisted, and her mouth
suddenly filled with a bitter taste, as though she'd swallowed
vinegar.

"Don't they?"

He was looking up at her so desperately, as if whatever
answer she gave him would be the right one. Don't say it, she
thought. Just spare him. It's already bad enough for him.

"I saw your friend Mari, Mitsuru."

"Oh?" More an exhalation of breath than a word.

"She... she asked me to tell you something." Nanami licked
her lips and studied him. What was going to happen to him, when
she said this?

"Yes? What is it, Nanami-san?" So calm, frighteningly so,
as though he already knew what she was going to say.

"She wanted me to tell you that it wasn't him," Nanami said
quickly, because she wasn't sure she could get it all out any
other way. "That you'd understand." From his sudden look of
despairing horror, she knew he did. "And that she doesn't blame
you, and that she knows it was an accident." Mari hadn't told
her to tell him those last, but she'd more-or-less said them, and
Nanami hoped it would soften the blow a little. It didn't.

Mitsuru put his face into his hands. His shoulders
trembled, but he made no sound--she couldn't tell if he was
weeping or not. It almost looked as if he could be laughing,
but, of course, that wasn't possible.

Then he spoke, and his voice _was_ something between a sob
and a laugh. "I'm such a fool. I just wanted... I just wanted
to be able to protect someone, for once. That's what men are
supposed to do, right? They're supposed to protect the things
that are important to them. And Mari... Mari's my friend, even
though she's always teasing me and making fun of me, and
_laughing_ at me, she's still my friend, just like you were my
friend, Nanami-san... wait. What am I thinking? What _was_ I
thinking? Letting you take advantage of me all those years, just
to be around you, and for what? Not like you ever took me
seriously... not like I could have protected you anyway... what
the hell would you have needed some stupid kid to protect you for
anyway, especially when you already had an older brother like
Touga-san? I was just a joke to you, wasn't I? It must have
been so funny... I can just see you laughing at me behind my
back, I know I would have. 'Well, look here, here comes the
little boy who thinks he's a big man--'"

"Tsuwabuki!" Nanami snapped, far sharper than she meant to.
He looked up. "I never laughed at you," she said, softening her
voice and swallowing the lump in her throat. "Why would I laugh
at you? You were so brave, even though you were only a little
boy..."

There were no tears in his eyes. "Exactly," he said. "I
was just a little boy. I'm still just a little boy... just a
stupid little boy. I wanted to make things right, but all I
did... all I can do is wreck everything. I wrecked everything."
He suddenly grabbed his forehead tightly with one hand, squeezing
hard enough that his knuckles began to turn white. "Why can't
I remember? What am I forgetting... there's something
important. Really important..."

Nanami moved over on the bed until she could reach out and
touch him, moving her hand in slow circles between his
shoulderblades. "Mitsuru..."

"Wreck everything..." He turned to look at her. "I wish
I'd been born in the same year as you, Nanami-san."

She started; for a moment, her hand withdrew from his back,
but then she firmly replaced it.

"If I'd been born in the same year, I could have been on the
Council then... with you, like Miki-sempai was."

Again, she started, but quickly recovered. Don't be
ridiculous, she told herself. Miki would never have--

"Nanami-san... did you ever have to do strange things when
you were on the Council? Things that you wouldn't have had to do
at another school?"

"Sometimes," she whispered quietly. "Why do you ask,
Mitsuru?"

"Did you ever see the Black Rose?"

This time, she managed not to start at all. "A black
rose... well..."

"No." He shook his head. "Not a flower... a woman... the
most beautiful woman in the world... and she lives--" The slot
in the door grated softly and began to slide open, and Tsuwabuki
closed his lips tight as barred gates.

"Your time's up," a voice said. Not the same policeman
who'd escorted her in here. She could see eyes on the other side
of the slot, watching them, and almost unconsciously removed her
hand from Mitsuru's back.

Nanami frowned and looked at her watch. "Really, it hasn't
even nearly been fifteen minutes."

"Your time's up. Come out of there." The tone promised no
debate.

"Well, give me a moment to say goodbye to him, at least."

The eyes watched, and nothing was spoken.

"A little privacy, please?"

Slowly, the slot closed.

Nanami stood up and bent over to embrace Mitsuru tightly.
"Goodbye," she whispered, trying not to cry. She refused to let
whoever was on the other side of that door see her crying. "I'll
come back soon."

"They won't let you," Tsuwabuki whispered back. His hands
brushed her shoulders like skittish birds, barely touching at
all. "You won't get to visit me again. Listen, Nanami-san.
You should go away from here. You and your brother both..."

"I can't do that, Mitsuru." She leaned further down and
rested her cheek against his. His skin was hot and flushed. "I
have to stay here... there are things I have to do."

"Listen, Nanami-san--"

"You don't have to call me Nanami-san anymore." She
playfully tugged on his ponytail. "You're grown up now. As much
as I am."

"My room's at the end of the eastern hallway, second floor,
the northern high school dorm. On top of the lip above the door,
there's a spare key." He was whispering quickly; she heard the
slot rattling, about to slide open again. "Look inside the
mattress." He put his hands on her shoulders and pushed her
gently away from him. "Goodbye."

"Goodbye." She turned away from him, taking a deep breath
to compose herself, just as the door opened.

The scowling little man on the other side wasn't dressed in
a police uniform, but he had a badge pinned to his shirtfront.
"Out," he said.

Nanami put her nose high in the air and walked by him
without even deigning to acknowledge his presence.

* * *

TSUWABUKI MITSURU'S DIARY

The inaugural ball for the new Student Council was held
yesterday evening. I couldn't write about it yesterday,
because Hasuichi and I got back to our room really late, and
I can't write in this diary when anyone else is around
anyway.

Miki-sempai tells me that a similar ball used to be
held at the Kiryuu mansion, but after Touga-san sold it, the
location was moved into the Student Council chambers. When
Nanami-san was on the Council, hardly anyone was ever
allowed in the Council chambers, but Miki-sensei says that
was changed a few years ago because people complained the
Council was too elitist. Now they're supposed to be more
accessible, and I guess the ball is one part of that.

Mari and Hasuichi danced nearly every dance together.
They've been going out ever since the new semester started.
Mari seems really happy. Hasuichi, too. It's nice to see
my friends together like that. They're both good dancers.

I sat down most of the time and talked with Miki-
sempai. Touga-san was there too, and I asked after Nanami-
san. He told me she's doing fine. Girls asked me to dance
a few times, but I told them I wasn't a very good dancer. I
didn't like disappointing them, but I really _am_ not very
good. I've never learned how to dance.

Akami asked me to dance near the end. She was in a
black dress that looked really nice on her. She has the
darkest hair I've ever seen. It was loose yesterday
evening, instead of being in a braid like it usually is, and
she had a white flower in it, a lily.

"I'm not a very good dancer," I said.

"Hell, I'm not very good either. C'mon."

I didn't really know how to say no to that. She
grabbed my hand and let me out onto the balcony, where the
dance floor was, as the music changed to a waltz.

"Now, just put your hand on my waist..." I followed
her directions. It was kind of embarassing, but fun, too.
Up close, I could smell her perfume very strongly. It was
something like roses and cinnamon and pepper, rather
masculine, maybe almost a little too strong.

There were a lot of stars overhead, out on the balcony,
more than I've ever seen at Ohtori, as though we were higher
above the ground than we actually were.

I don't think we looked too bad out there. I didn't
step on her feet once. When we passed by Mari and Hasuichi,
Mari stuck her tongue out at me; I don't think Akami or
Hasuichi saw it. She's weird. I don't know how she can do
things like that sometimes, and think she's so much older
and smarter than me at other times.

Akami and Hasuichi danced the second-to-last dance
together. They matched really well, he in his black suit,
she in her black dress. His hair is almost as dark as hers,
and he's so tall and strong. I wish I looked like him; I
even think Akami might be a bit taller than me, I'm so
short.

Mari walked over while I was getting something to drink
by the punch bowl. I thought she was going to ask me to
dance, but she just poured herself a cup of punch and said,
"So, are you going to ask her out?"

I almost spilled my punch. "What?"

Mari sighed. "You're so childish sometimes."

"You think I'm going to ask Akami out?"

She rolled her eyes. "No, I think you're too scared,
even though you like her."

"I don't. I hardly even know her."

Mari shrugged. "She'd go out with you. You're not
actually that bad-looking, albeit a little on the short
side."

"And you've still got some growing to do if you're
going to fill out that dress to full effect," I shot back.
It wasn't even true; the white dress fit her perfectly, and
she looked really nice. I just said it because I knew it
would bother her.

I think she would have thrown her punch at me if there
weren't so many people around to see her do it. Instead she
just scowled and stalked off. I really don't understand
her.

Maybe Akami's not so bad after all.

* * *

"Inside the mattress..."

Nanami tore the sheets off, dragged it onto the floor, and
began to hurriedly look for a seam or a hole that would let her
get into the stuffing. It amazed her that she'd even made it
into the northern high school dorm without someone questioning
her presence there. Then again, these were school hours, which
helped to explain why she hadn't seen anyone else in the halls.

She frowned as she ran her eyes up and down the mattress,
unable to spot an opening. Perhaps it wasn't Mitsuru's mattress?
But she'd been certain his side of the opulent double room would
have been the cleaner one... what she'd presumed to be his
roommate's side was a mess, with books and papers piled atop the
desk, and dirty clothes tossed haphazardly onto the bed. Things
had changed if they were making the Council members have
roommates now; she remembered how nice Juri's single had been,
the one time she'd seen it. Or maybe he was Mitsuru's friend,
and they'd wanted to share a room together.

"I really shouldn't," she murmured. But she got up anyway
and went over to the messy desk. A framed photo, fallen face-
down near one edge of the desk, caught her eye. She picked it
up.

Four people were in it; she recognized Hozumi Mari in her
Council uniform, Mitsuru in a white Council jacket with gold
trim, and two others in Council uniforms who she didn't know: a
lovely dark-haired girl in a black-trimmed jacket, and a tall,
handsome, broad-shouldered boy with a silver-trimmed jacket who
looked a lot like her. Akino Akami and Akino Hasuichi... yes,
the girl had her hair tied in a long braid, just like the masked
fencer from yesterday...

They stood in a row, Mari and Mitsuru on the left and right
edges, Hasuichi and Akami in the middle left and middle right
respectively. All were smiling.

Nanami put down the photo with a taste in her stomach like
she'd swallowed a sour stone. Not hard to guess who Mitsuru's
roommate had been. She went back to the mattress, flipped it
over so that she could look at the bottom, and gave it a careful
once-over. Again, nothing...

No, wait; there it was. A line of white stitches, half a
foot long, exactly the same colour as the bottom of the mattress.
Nearly invisble. She hooked a nail beneath the stitches and
tugged gently; they were very tightly sewn, though, and she
didn't dare pull too hard for fear of breaking her nail.

She went over to Tsuwabuki's clean-topped desk and began to
search through the drawers. Above the desk, a calendar showing a
photo of a black vase full of red poppies hung forlornly against
an otherwise bare white wall.

She found scissors in the upper left-hand drawer and used
them to carefully cut away the stitches. The seam split as soon
as she did that, exposing an expanse of mottled black leather
beneath. Nanami reached in and grasped the edge of what was
obviously a small book; with a few tugs and some wiggling, she
managed to extract it.

Cracking it open, she looked at the first page:

TSUWABUKI MITSURU'S DIARY

His handwriting was cramped and familiar, and, as she
flipped quickly through, she saw that it covered nearly half the
pages. She frowned... it really wasn't right...

But he'd told her about it. He'd wanted her to read it.
There were answers inside.

She dragged the mattress back up onto the bed and replaced
the sheets more or less the way she'd found them. Then she tried
to fit the diary into her purse, but, small though it was, it was
still too big for that. Settling for tucking it under her arm,
she headed to the door and opened it.

Akino Akami stood on the other side, with the three near-
identical boys from yesterday--Shinichi, Shoichi and Shuichi, she
thought--behind her. None of them looked very friendly.

"Pardon me," Nanami said in her most imperious voice. "I
was just about to leave."

Akami, quite calmly, as though it were an everyday thing to
do, reached out, put her left hand firmly against Nanami's
chest, and shoved as hard as she could. It all happened so
quickly that Nanami had no time to prepare. She stumbled back,
tripped over her own feet, and fell hard. Mitsuru's diary
slipped from beneath her arm as her elbow cracked painfully
against the floor, and slid a short distance away.

The President stepped into the room, a peaceful and vaguely
hostile expression on her face. The three boys followed, closing
the door quietly behind them.

* * *

TSUWABUKI MITSURU'S DIARY

Last night was the strangest occurrence of my life that
I can remember, making me almost certain that it was the
strangest of my entire life.

Hasuichi and I got back from kendo practice just before
the dinner hour, and found envelopes on our beds, sealed with
black waxen seals in the shape of Ohtori's rose crest. We
opened them to find a short letter, handwritten, identical
except for the addressees. Mine read as follows:

Tsuwabuki Mitsuru,

You have been chosen.

Come to the forest a half-hour before midnight.
The gates will be open to you.

And you shall see my wonders.

--The Black Rose

Hasuichi and I compared them, and wondered about just
why we'd been sent them. Some sort of joke or prank? After
we had discussed them briefly, I began to detect something
odd in the air, a feeling not entirely like the smell right
before the coming of a storm. From the expression on
Hasuichi's face, I believe he noticed it at about the same
time that I did.

I was in my desk chair and he was standing behind me,
and both letters and their envelopes were on the desktop
before me. We turned our gazes to the envelopes (we had
torn them open from the side, leaving the seals intact), and
saw a strange sight: the black rose seals were glistening
now, as though they were of wet ink rather than dry wax. As
we watched in silence, they burst into white flames that
burned without any heat, consuming themselves and the
envelopes almost instantaneously without leaving a mark upon
the desk.

"Well," Hasuichi said, "that's something I've never
seen before." And he laughed, even though I didn't see
anything particularly funny. "So, what say you, Mitsuru?"

I shrugged. "Probably just some some kind of chemical
in the wax that made it do that."

"Even so, it's intriguing. Hell, I'd go to just for
the chance to see what's inside that forest."

"Students have always been forbidden to go into that
forest."

"Yeah, I know; I've been thinking of trying to get in
for a while now. Guess I won't have to now." He grinned.
"I've been chosen."

"Chosen... but for what?"

He shrugged. "Hell, I guess we'll find out. Anyway,
I've got to go meet Mari--taking her out for dinner and a
movie tonight. See you, Mitsuru; I'll be back in time so
that we can go together."

Hasuichi's been like that as long as I've known him;
he just expects everyone to go along with what he wants to
do, although he somehow does it in such a way that no one
thinks he's arrogant. Probably because he's so nice all the
time, always friendly with everyone; most of the girls on
campus have a crush on him, but I've never seen him do
anything more than flirt playfully. He's really commited to
Mari. She's lucky to have someone like that.

I had a lot of homework, so I did that until Hasuichi
got back a little before eleven. Technically, we weren't
supposed to leave our dorm after ten-thirty, but we're on
the Council, so we can get away with things like that. But
Hasuichi wanted to sneak out anyway; we've done it before.
Our room's on the second floor, and there's a rose trellis
right outside that we can climb down.

On the way down, I tore my palm on a thorn, which I've
never done before. Hasuichi saw that I was bleeding (it was
a full moon night, so bright that it was easy to see) and
frowned. I just looked at it; it was a pretty bad cut, for
a thorn.

"Don't just stand there," Hasuichi said. "You've got
to get that bandaged up."

I didn't say anything; I don't know why I was so
fascinated by the sight of my blood dribbling down my palm
and wrist, but I was.

Hasuichi suddenly took my hand and brought it to his
mouth. There was something strange in his eyes, a look I'd
never seen before, as he sucked the blood away.

I snatched my hand away and stepped back. "What are
you doing?" I snapped. He was still looking at me funny.

"If you cut yourself on a thorn, you have to do that,"
he said after a moment. "You'll get an infection
otherwise." He took out a silver handkerchief from his
pocket and tied it around my wounded palm. "Don't get
upset. It's not like I kissed you."

I walked off without saying anything, and he followed
me without saying anything either. I was very conscious of
my own heartbeat.

I don't think I'm going to write any more about this.

As promised, the gate to the forest was open. As
Hasuichi and I climbed the steps, I felt as though we passed
through some thin, invisible curtain, but I could not say
why. At the top of the stairs was an archway surmounted by
a great rose of black marble; beyond lay the forest, thick
and tangled.

We passed beneath the rose, and walked beneath the
ancient boughs of the pine trees. Side by side, I cannot
say who followed whom, or if we both followed something we
could not see. Our walking brought as at last to a place
where the trees had been cleared away in a circle, but the
boughs of the trees on the edge grew so long and thick that
they formed an arching green canopy overhead, like a
cathedral ceiling.

I looked about, and I knew that one hundred trees lay
upon the border of the clearing, but I could not say why I
knew that--merely that I did.

To our surprise, Akami and Mari were already there.
They too had received invitations like ours. The moonlight
seemed almost as bright as the sun, and fell in silver
shafts through holes in the ceiling of interlaced branches
overhead. Dew glistened on the bark of the trees.

"What do you think we're all doing here?" Mari asked.
"It obviously has something to do with the Student Council,
but..."

Akami shrugged. "I suppose we'll see," she said, not
sounding especially interested.

Someone called my name then, and I looked up to see
Akira, from my class. Someone else called Hasuichi's name,
and then there were people coming out of the woods into the
clearing from every direction, singly or in groups, all
talking and brandishing invitations.

And I knew that there were one hundred of them, as
surely as I knew that one hundred trees ringed the clearing,
but, again, I knew not how I knew. I recognized many of
them, from my class, or from seeing them around the school.
They were of both genders, predominantly from the junior
high and the high school, but I saw a few older elementary
students.

As we were the Council and had been there first, they
turned to us for answers, but we had no more than they did.
Still their voices assailed us from all sides, growing in
volume with each passing second, until Akami shouted,
"Quiet!"

And they fell quiet.

"We don't know why we've been called here any more than
the rest of you do," Hasuichi said, now that there was
silence. "But I expect we'll know soon enough."

Then she came, and her light was such that it became as
midday in the clearing. As one being we, the Council and
the hundred chosen, craned our heads back to look.

There are only so many synonyms for beauty, and I am
not a poet, but I will try to describe her. Words can only
inadequately render, of course, but I must attempt it all
the same:

She was like the dawn, and like the sunset, and like
the moon, and like the stars. Her hair was like a wave of
the sea, and her body was soft curves and graceful lines and
pale, beautiful skin. And her eyes were every colour of
green in existence, all at once: the greens of the forest, of
an emerald, of sun upon the waves. And her dress was dark
as the bottom of the sea. I knew that she was the Black
Rose, and her beauty was dark and wondrous to behold.

She stood upside down upon the roof of boughs overhead,
as though her gravity were the reverse of ours. Three times
she walked counter-clockwise around the curve of the green
dome, and sable rose petals fell with each footstep and
rained down upon us, their scent like the beginning of
spring. As they fell, they became butterflies of all the
shades of the rainbow, until the air was filled with the
beat of their wings and the swirl of their colours.

Suddenly, I found Akami's hand in mine. I stared into
her eyes, which shone with a dark inner light.

"Isn't it beautiful?" she said.

I nodded, for my tongue was mute.

Nearby, I saw that Mari and Hasuichi were in each
other's arms, both staring up at the woman walking overhead.
Many other students were embracing one another, as though
the one embraced were a long-lost sibling now found. I
felt filled with beauty and peace and love, such that I
cannot describe it. All was right.

Then she vanished, like mist burned away by the sun,
and I felt as though someone had cut my arm off. Without
her presence, the world was a dull, grey thing. Akami
slipped her hand from mine without a word.

I heard many metallic sounds then, as of small bells
ringing. Swords had begun to sprout from the trees around
the clearing, handles emerging from within the trunks
without leaving any scars. The hundred walked in silence
to them and pulled them forth; there were long katanas and
slender rapiers and heavy broadswords and curved scimitars
and rippled flamberges and blades whose names I do not know.

Then I found myself standing with the other Council
members, as though each of us were the four points of a
compass, and I cannot say how or why I came to stand like
that. Mari stood before me, Akami to my left, Hasuichi to
my right. And, as one, we raised our hands, and placed them
upon one another's breasts: Akami's hand on mine, my hand on
Hasuichi's, Hasuichi's hand on Mari's, Mari's hand on
Akami's.

I felt as though there were another soul burning within
me, guiding my actions--not forcing them, serving more as an
advisor than anything else. A ball of light swelled beneath
my palm, glowing on Hasuichi's breast like a tiny star, and
I could see the same shone upon mine beneath Akami's hand.
I felt no heat or pain from it.

We arched backwards in unison, like the four petals of
a flower opening, and swords rose painlessly from our
breasts, hilt-first. They turned in mid-air, hanging as
though held by invisible hands, and their four points
touched. We grasped their hilts. My blade was a curved one,
vaguely Arabic, with a golden handle; Hasuichi's, a katana
that shone silver as the moon; Akami's, a sabre whose broad
black cup guard seemed to carry no light within it; Mari's,
a slender rapier with a purple jewel set in the pommel.

We spoke together: "FOR THE REVOLUTION OF THE WORLD!"

We turned outwards (I saw now that we stood at the
centre of the clearing, and all around us, standing before
the trees that had birthed their swords, stood those
students chosen also by the Black Rose), and raised our
blades. And the hundred chosen raised theirs.

"We are those chosen by the Black Rose," Akami called,
like a challenge thrown to the heavens. "We are those who
shall bring the Revolution."

And the hundred shouted back to us: "FOR THE
REVOLUTION OF THE WORLD!"

I think Hasuichi will be home soon, so I'm going to
stop writing now.

* * *

Nanami scrambled back as Akami advanced towards her, wincing at
her painfully-smarting elbow and tailbone. She grabbed Mitsuru's
diary and quickly stood up.

"I was just about to go," she said. "Now get out of my
way." She tried to sound intimidating. Since Akami was several
inches taller than her, more powerfully built, and had the three
boys behind her, she didn't do a very good job of it.

"What are you doing here?" Akami asked coldly.

Nanami glared at her. "That's not any of your business."

"I'm the Student Council President," Akami said.
"Everything that goes on in this school is my business. And
you're in my dead brother's room, I assume without permission."

"This is Mitsuru's room too. Let me by." She stepped
forward. Akami gave not even a hint of moving, and she stopped.
Now, she was beginning to be scared.

"I stand corrected. The room of my dead brother and his
murderer. What's that you've got under your arm, Kiryuu Nanami?"

"None of your--how do you know my name?"

"I'm the President. What do you have there?"

"Get out of my way," Nanami said, confidently as she could.
"I can scream really, really loud, believe me... my brother is a
very important employee of Ohtori... you can't even imagine the
trouble you'll be in--"

Akami hit her, a low blow to the stomach with knuckles
leading. Nanami's eyes bulged.

"You _hit_ me," she said.

Then the pain struck, and she dropped to her knees, gasping
and trying not to throw up.

"Hold her up," Akami said quietly. Two of the boys (she
couldn't remember their names: the one with the ponytail and the
one with the loose hair) grabbed her arms and hauled her upright.
"Take that away from her." The third, with his hair in a braid,
snatched Mitsuru's diary from her.

Nanami screamed. For less than a second, and then one of
the boys clamped his hand over her mouth, cutting her off.

"Now, it's simple," Akami explained calmly. "You can tell
me why you were snooping around in here, or I can hit you some
more. Shoichi's going to take his hand away, and you're not
going to scream again, or he'll put it back. Then you won't be
able to talk, so I'll have no reason not to hit you. Got that?"

Nanami nodded. She still wasn't sure she wasn't going to
throw up. The hand was removed.

"You'll pay for this," she said. "My brother--"

Akami slapped her across the face, hard enough that she
would have fallen over if the boys hadn't been holding her arms.

"Your brother isn't here," the President said. "And I am.
So shut up and answer me. Why were you snooping around here?"

"I wasn't. I went to visit Mitsuru, and he asked me to get
something for him. He told me where the spare key was..."

"So, you went to see him." Akami's lip curled into a sneer.
"And how is he?"

Nanami said nothing. The left side of her face throbbed
painfully.

Akami pulled her hand back again.

"He's okay," Nanami blurted.

The hand dropped.

"How nice for him," Akami said softly. "To be alive like
that."

"What happened, Mitsuru didn't mean it to... he just made a
mistake, a terrible mistake, and it was an accident... he's so
sorry... I'm sorry too. I know how you must feel, I have a
brother too... but, please, don't--"

Akami reached out and seized her under the jaw, shoving her
mouth closed mid-sentence; Nanami barely avoided biting off the
tip of her tongue as her teeth banged together.

"You shut up," the President snarled. "You couldn't ever
know how I feel. No one can ever know how anyone else actually
feels, and I hate people who pretend they can." She released her
grip and stepped back. "Shuichi, let me see that."

"Yes, Akami-sama." The boy with the braid handed Mitsuru's
diary over to the President, who began to flip through it.

"You shouldn't read that," Nanami murmured. "That's
Mitsuru's... his private thoughts..."

Akami smirked at her. "Oh? And _you_ weren't going to read
it, I'm sure?"

Nanami fell silent. Struggling would be futile; both boys'
grips were steel bands. She had passed into another level of
fear now, one that was almost a calm.

"Akami-sama," asked one of the boys holding her. "What are
you going to do with her?"

Akami looked up from paging through the diary. "I really
don't know. Do you three have any suggestions?"

The door opened then, and Hozumi Mari stood framed in it.

"Let her go, Akami."

There was a fresh bruise over her right eye.

* * *

TSUWABUKI MITSURU'S DIARY

I'm not even sure I want to write this entry, but I
suppose since I am writing it that means that I do want to.
It's hard to know what I want sometimes.

Tonight Akami and I were summoned to supervise the
duelling. We arrived in the clearing in the Duelling
Forest to find, as usual, those of the chosen assigned to
our command waiting for us, with swords in hand and roses at
their breasts (black for hers, gold for mine). Their eyes
were rapt with the beauty of the Black Rose. From talking
to them, we of the Council have learned that they witness
her appearance each Duelling Night, for they are summoned
earlier than us by her letters each time they are called to
duel.

None of us on the Council have seen her since that
first wondrous night, except within our dreams. I am unsure
whether this is a curse or a blessing, for she draws me, but
only as the candle-flame draws the moth.

I've looked at the records of the hundred chosen (it
frightens me to just what the Council has access to, it
doesn't seem proper, but Miki-sempai tells me it's always
been this way). Ever since that night, their marks in all
subjects except art and music have gone down; in art and
music, however, they're all getting close to perfect grades,
even those who were utterly inept before.

Something has happened to them, and it's undoubtedly to
avoid it happening to us that the Black Rose has not shown
herself to we of the Council again. Why, I can't say.

I am reminded of the story of Narcissus, who fell in
love with his own reflection and never looked away from it
until the day he died. If the Black Rose had not departed
on that first night, would I, too, have stared at her until
I died?

I think I might have. But another part of me believes
that something so beautiful cannot be terrible.

This wasn't what I wanted to write about. I was going
to write about the other thing. My side won the majority of
duels last night, fourteen victories to eleven; the first
time my side has ever won against Akami's. She seemed
distracted last night, and, perhaps sympathetically, so did
her duellists.

We walked back to the dorm together, and I expected
we'd part at the intersection of the eastern and western
hallways on the second floor, like we always do. Akami
lives with Mari in a room at the end of the western hallway.
Hasuichi and I stay in a room at the end of the eastern
hallway, about as far away from their room as you can get.

"What are you doing?" I asked, stopping.

"I want to say goodnight to my brother," she replied.

I shrugged. She'd never done that before, but who was
I to argue? When we got closer to the door, though, I saw
that the "Welcome!" mat had been put out, and I stopped.

Akami raised her hand to knock on the door, and I
touched her shoulder to stop her. She looked back at me,
and said quietly, "What?"

I had no idea what to say. I was already blushing, and
all I could do was just point at the "Welcome!" mat.

Comprehension dawned on her quickly, though, and she
smiled. Not very nicely, in my opinion. "So... that's the
signal that they're in there together? Clever." She leaned
over and whispered into my ear. "Want to listen at the door
and see what we can hear?"

I backed away from her, blushing horribly, just like a
stupid child. "Don't be filthy," I muttered. "I'm going
for a walk."

She caught up with me at the stairs. "Hell, Mitsuru,
I was just kidding. You shouldn't get so mad. I didn't
mean to embarrass you."

"I'm not embarrassed," I said. "You just shouldn't
talk that way. It's not right."

"Why?"

"It just isn't!"

"Shh... keep it down. Don't want to wake the floor
supervisor, do you?"

I laughed softly, for suddenly I felt very bitter and
proud. "So what if we do? Once she sees it's us, she'll
apologize for disturbing us and go back to bed."

"True," Akami murmured. "There are privileges that
come with being on the Council." She paused, and looked
down the western hallway. "Come on, Mitsuru. You can wait
in my room until they're done."

I shook my head. "No. I don't want to do that..."

"You don't want to see her when she comes back, do
you?"

"It's not that--"

But it was, and she realized that.

Akami sighed and leaned back against the bannister
railing. "You shouldn't get so embarrassed about it. It's
not anything dirty or wrong. It's the kind of thing that
goes on between men and women."

I started walking down the stairs. She followed me,
and looped her arm through mine as I was about to go out the
front door. "Come on, let's go sit in the courtyard."

"Why can't you just leave me alone?" I muttered.

"If you want to be alone, just say so," she said
quietly. "I know what that's like. Wanting to be alone.
I'm not like my brother; he's only happy if he feels other
people need him. Just say 'I want to be alone,' and I'll go
away."

I said nothing. I didn't even know what I wanted. I
don't know now. She led me to the back of the northern
dorms and out into the courtyard behind, framed by trees and
a high rose-wreathed wall.

We sat down on a bench near the fountain in the centre,
she on the left, me on the right. It was a full moon night,
like it had been on the first night we'd seen the black
rose. But colder. Akami shivered, and held my arm a little
tighter. The motion pressed my elbow lightly against her
right breast, which didn't help my embarrassment any.
Mari's right; I'm completely childish.

"Autumn's almost over," she said. "Winter's coming."

I didn't know what to say, so I didn't say anything.
These days, I think I understand Akami even less than Mari.

"Why'd you come to Ohtori, Mitsuru?" she asked.

"I've gone to Ohtori since kindergarten," I said. "My
grandmother enrolled me."

"Oh? Why don't you go and stay with her during the
summer, then?"

"Because she died about nine years ago."

"I see."

"I don't really know what to think of you, Akami-san."
I had suddenly become bold, although I don't know why;
perhaps it was because she still hadn't let go of my arm, or
because the moonlight made her features softer. "You can be
so nice in one moment, and then you can say something so
cruel in the next."

"I came because I knew there was power to be had here,"
Akami said, as though she hadn't heard me at all. "And I
was right."

"Power?"

"Power. It's the only thing really worth having in
this world."

"I don't think so," I said. "There's other things,
too... like, friends, and... love, maybe, and..." I trailed
away, because I was blushing again.

"Power is all about change. The more power you have,
the more things you can change. Your life. Other people's
lives. The world." Her face didn't look soft at all
anymore; cold and pale and hard, like an ice statue's.
"Have you ever read Nietzsche, Mitsuru?"

"No."

"Well, Nietzsche had it right. Most civilizations
edify the weak at the expense of the strong. That's
because most people are weak, so they come together, using
the strength of their numbers to create civilizations that
cripple the strong; through laws and punishments to restrict
their actions, and through slave moralities that restrict
their thoughts. Nietzsche thought the only thing weak
people were good for was edifying the strong."

"I don't know about that." I looked up at the moon as
though it could answer me; I didn't like serious discussions
like these. "You know, being strong is good, but...
sometimes people can't help being weak. Maybe they're born
sickly, or with a disability, or... children. Children
can't help being weak, because they're not grown up yet." I
was babbling, I know it, and I sounded stupid.

"Pitying someone for being born weak is like pitying a
dog for not being born a human being," Akami said harshly.
"And... children. You're right. Children can't help but be
weak for a long time, and that's why there's nothing worse
in the entire world than being a child. People pity
children; 'Oh, don't talk like that to them, they're only
kids.' 'Don't be cruel to the children.' Things like that.
And there's nothing worse than being pitied, and that's why
there's nothing worse than being a child."

I nodded, slowly. She was saying things I'd always
felt, if not in quite the same way.

"The people who duel beneath us, the ones who wear the
Rose Signet... do you know what that ring is, Mitsuru?"

"What?"

"It's a shackle. It means that they're slaves.
They're all people who are almost strong, but not quite.
Outside here, people might think of them as special. But
here, they're not. Not next to people like you and me and my
brother and Mari. So, their only use is to be the ladder by
which we, the Council, will achieve Revolution.

"I don't care about them at all."

"You're a very cold person sometimes, Akami," I said,
then wished I hadn't.

"I suppose I am," she agreed evenly. She didn't seem
angry at all. Then she smiled, slowly. "But not all the
time, right, Mitsuru?"

"No. Not all the time."

"I feel better when I'm around you, Mitsuru. It's like
you're the only one I can show my true self to."

I wasn't sure how to answer. "Oh," I managed finally.
"I'm glad."

She seemed to hesitate, then said, "Let me show you
something, Mitsuru."

I could barely even whisper, "What?"

She unhooked her arm from mine. I put my hands in my
lap. Then she reached down, took my wrist, and guided my
right hand to her left breast.

I sucked in a breath and nearly choked in shock. I
should have wrenched my hand away. But I didn't; she was a
cool, sweet swell under my palm, beneath the white council
jacket.

She placed her fingers over mine and applied gentle
pressure. Sighed. "See," she whispered. "As long as
you're gentle, it feels good. For you, and for me." I felt
like a statue, incapable of movement. "But if you were
rougher, it would hurt me, but it wouldn't hurt you--maybe,
depending on what kind of person you are, it would feel even
better for you."

Suddenly, I could move, and I wrenched my hand away and
stood up from the bench. "I'm not that kind of person," I
hissed.

I could still feel the shape of her in my palm. She
was smiling at me, sadly, perhaps condescendingly. "No,"
she said, "I guess you're not. But that's what every
relationship is like, Mitsuru. One person is the stronger,
and the other is the weaker. There's never a perfect
balance. And the important thing is to always, always be
the strong one."

"I'm going inside now," I muttered, and began to move
away.

She leaned back on the bench, hands gripping the edge,
and smirked. "Want to give me a goodnight kiss first?"

"No." Even though a part of me did, because she was
lovely in the moonlight. Just a part of me, though.

I don't want to write about this any more.

* * *

Akami closed Mitsuru's diary with a snap. "I told you to stay in
the room," she said quietly to Mari. "I told you I was going to
handle this."

Mari folded her arms. Aside from the ugly bruise over her
eye, Nanami thought she radiated confidence.

"I'm not going to let you do something this stupid, Akami,"
Mari snapped. "Nanami's an old friend of mine, and of Mitsuru's.
And you're having your goons hold her while you slap her around?
Don't you know who her brother is? He's a personal friend of the
Chairman. A friend of Miki-sensei's, too, and so is she. Do you
think you own this school? Do you think you can do whatever you
want? Get a grip. Get control of yourself."

For a moment, it looked as though Akami was going to hit the
other girl, so cold was the rage in her eyes as she looked back
and forth from Nanami to Mari like an animal caught in a trap.
Then she relaxed, and nodded.

"Let her go," she said sharply. The boys released Nanami's
arms, gently shoving her towards the door. Mari stepped aside
and took her hand, leading her out into the hallway and closing
the door to Mitsuru and Hasuichi's room.

Nanami felt dazed, as if she'd just woken up or drunk too
much wine. Mari steered her gently towards the stairs. She
didn't speak as she was lead down them, and out the front door.
Outside on the steps, she stood staring out at the wintry city.
Mari, who wasn't wearing a jacket, shivered and puffed white fog
into the crisp air.

"Mitsuru's diary," Nanami murmured. "I forgot it. He
wanted me to take it to him."

"Don't push your luck, Kiryuu," Mari said softly. "Just go
home. Get out of here. You don't have to be involved."

Nanami turned her head, looked into Mari's eyes, and said,
"You don't understand anything at all."

"No," Mari replied firmly, "you're the one who doesn't
understand anything. You think you can just come running back
here, like you're still on the Council? Things have changed
since your day--they've changed a lot."

"Didn't you ask for my help yesterday?"

Mari's lips curved in a humourless smile. "Maybe I did.
But that was yesterday. Yesterday was a bad day."

"Who gave you that bruise?"

"Fell down."

"Who pushed you, then?"

"Go home, Kiryuu."

"Was it her? Is she the one? Mitsuru told me, you know, so
I know. If it wasn't him, it was her, right?" She took a step
back towards Mari. "Right?"

Mari's eyes flashed. "And," she said with cruel slowness
and sudden anger, "did he tell you how he found out?"

"N-no. But--"

"Why don't you ask him that, next time you see him?"

"I won't see him again." She knew that, almost for certain.
This entire day had just been an exercise in futility. She knew
nothing, except that the people Akio now used as his pawns were
just as full of pain as the ones he'd used in her day.

"Mitsuru just didn't understand," Mari whispered, the same
thing she'd said yesterday. "He just went running off, without
even giving me a chance to explain... trying to play the hero.
Like a stupid little boy."

Nanami nearly slapped her. "Don't say that," she snapped.
"He cared for you... he just wanted... whatever it was... to
stop. For you to be safe." She swallowed her anger down, and
tried to sound kind and worried. "Please, won't you let me help
you?"

"I don't need your help." Mari looked away from her. "Like
I said, yesterday was a really bad day. I'm sorry I talked to
you, because now you're sticking your nose in where it doesn't
belong, and I'm worried you're going to get hurt."

"I'm not afraid of getting hurt, if that's what it takes to
help you." That's the kind of thing Utena would say, she
thought. Foolhardy and naive and beautiful and brave.

"Goodbye, Kiryuu." Mari stepped back inside and closed the
door, hard.

Except for Utena, it would have worked. There would have
been some great catharsis, or a painful confession; there would
have been something, a thread to grab, a spar on which to cling.

She trudged away, head hanging low. Useless and futile.
Maybe Utena was wrong. Maybe everyone didn't want to be helped.

But... maybe it was all right to believe that everyone did,
so that you could help the ones who did want help. So that you
didn't end up unable to help anyone at all.

"Maybe you're just turning into a damn fool, Kiryuu Nanami,"
she muttered as she hailed a cab. "Just like her."

For some reason, the thought was not entirely unappealing.

* * *

TSUWABUKI MITSURU'S DIARY

I'm not that kind of person. I'm not. I'll prove it.

I'm sorry, Mari. I want to tell you that face to face,
but I've no idea how. No apology will ever do. All I can
do now is try to balance the scales.

Akami was right, I think. It's all about strength and
weakness. But it's not so easy as that. It's not just
about one person being strong and the other person being
weak. It's like a spider's web, and we're all trapped in
it; we hurt each other just to feel strong, and we let
ourselves be hurt because it makes us feel needed. It might
be better if we could all live like the chick for eternity,
inside a shell, safe and warm and alone.

It's terrible, but that's the way it is. I don't care
about the Revolution or power or the Black Rose any more. I
shouldn't have ever cared about those things. What's the
good of ideals that require you to hurt other people to
reach them?

If I show him I'm stronger, then he won't dare to--

Into the flames, and close the incinerator door. Turn.

"Come here, Mari."

Embrace.

"Interesting reading?"

"Don't look so angry with me. You know I had to look at it.
I had to see what he knew. What he might have told Kiryuu."

"And?"

"He knew nothing. He was a fool."

"Yes. A fool."

"It should have been me who died. Not Hasuichi. He was
better than me."

"Shh. Don't cry. It wasn't your fault. It was mine. I
didn't try to explain... I didn't try to..."

"He wouldn't have understood. He couldn't have understood,
that these marks are the marks of your grace. Your devotion to
me, despite the monster that I am."

"No--don't say that. You're not a monster. You're no more
a monster than I am."

"I am a monster--I am! I lose control around you, and I
hurt you, and when I'm in control again, I feel that I'd be
better off dead than living."

"Don't say that; please, it scares me so much when you say
that."

"You're the only person I can let see me cry... you're the
only one I can be weak around. You're the only one I can show
my true self to."

"Come on; let's go back inside. It's cold out here."

Kiss.

And, fall back, from the secluded courtyard, from the
incinerator out of which smoke curls in thin streams into the
crisp air, from the two girls locked in their embrace with lips
pressed together, to the prince at the roof of his world.

"Have you always been this much of a voyeur?"

The metal sheets that block all light roll back, and the
image on the dome fades. In winter, there are thick panes of
glass that block the cold yet admit the sun. Not that he would
feel the cold, but appearances must be maintained.

"I find it amusing to watch; the ballet of the chicks in
their shells."

The Black Rose sits down on the couch across from him and
smiles. To others, she may be beauty incarnate; to the prince,
she is a sad and pitiful thing, a sick rose. But useful.

"And what do you think of these particular dancers?"

The prince shrugs. "An interesting pas de deux. One can
only be happy if she feels loved by someone stronger than her.
Inside, she believes herself to be plain and cowardly and
stupid. So, she'll endure almost anything, if she feels she's
loved by someone better than her."

"And the other?"

Now he smiles. "She... she is more interesting. In a way,
she was telling the truth. She is a kind of monster. Her heart
is not as other hearts."

"Why?"

He shrugs again. "Who can say? I'm not that good. She had
an unhappy childhood, but so did others I have known, and they
did not become what she did. Human beings are complex, and even
I don't know all the depths and heights of their hearts; perhaps
some monsters are merely born."

"You don't need to know them all. Just enough to make them
do what you want."

"You're a cruel flower, my dear, no matter how pretty your
petals."

"I'm getting impatient."

"Don't be. Everything's proceeding more or less according
to plan. And haven't I given you what you wanted? Not only have
you been shown the power you wanted to see, but I've given him to
you as well."

"Power, I have. Him, not entirely." And her eyes burn like
jade fires, and, for a moment, her form wavers like a desert
mirage. "I don't have what I want yet." Bitterness and jealousy
intertwine in her words.

"So be patient." There is warning in his voice. "Have you
any idea how long _I_ have waited? How many times I have come
close to achieving what I want, and failed? Don't talk to _me_
of impatience and unfulfilled desire." You child, he almost
adds--but that would have been going too far. There is no need
to needlessly antagonize her.

From there, fall away, to the shadows in the corner...

the dress rehearsal is now in session! everybody work hard,
because soon it will be opening night!

t*h*e m*a*g*i*c*i*a*n

act 1

i am the great and powerful magician, cosmic abrax!

watch*in*wonder
as*I*pull*this
lovely*wh
ite*rabbi
t*from*th
is*stylis
h*tophat!

watch!
i*can*put
a*girl*in*a
coffin,*saw*h
er*in*half,*t
hen*put*her*b
ack*together
again,*goo
d*as*new
!**bet
ter!

but my greatest trick is...

plate-spinning!

watch me spin a dozen at once!

two dozen!

three dozen!

there's no limit to the number I
can spin!

uh-oh!

whoah!

*crash* *smash*

well, so much for those two!

you see, the trick is, when the plates fly
off, they hit each other, and then you don't
have to worry about picking up the pieces!

why?

because that's the rule of my magic!

Now, from the shadows, to the forest of ropes...

Seize two in one hand, and one in the other, and _pull_.

And the bells sing a lament for the chicks in their shells.

End of Jaquemart - Part VII