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Jaquemart XII - In A Gallery of Shadows (iv. eclipse)

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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.

 

XII. In a Gallery of Shadows

iv. eclipse

* * *

"I'd begin with once upon a time, but it wasn't actually very
long ago--only seven years--and I've always thought that was a
stupid way to begin a story anyway. Upon _what_ time, exactly?
If at all possible, one should be specific.

"Anyway, my brother and I lived in Kagoshima, with our
parents. Our family, on both sides, had always been wealthy.
My father was a lawyer, a rich and respected man; his brother
(my aunt's husband) was a doctor. We had the happy life that
children free of want, or even aware of the existence of want,
generally have. My mother served as my father's legal secretary;
thus, the two of them would often take business trips together,
leaving us behind. Those were the times we spent in the care of
our uncle and aunt, and I still remember them fondly.

"My aunt is a kind and remarkable woman. I noticed you
speaking with her earlier in the evening. Our parents died
shortly after her husband did, and--but I am getting ahead of
myself.

"The circumstances of their deaths are important for you to
understand. My mother was, among other things, a very heavy
smoker. I have more memories of her with a cigarette in her hand
then I do without. She was also a voracious reader, and would
often stay up long after my father, smoking in bed and reading.
One night, she must have been especially weary, and fallen
asleep without extinguishing it.

"I woke up to the smell of smoke. Running out into the
hallway, I saw that most of the upper floor of our house was
ablaze. My brother, whose room was next to mine, was already out
in the hallway. He was calling for our parents, but the way to
their room was blocked by the flames, as were the stairs.

"Our rooms were on the third floor of the house, but I saw
no other way to escape except out the window. My brother was
hysterical, however, insisting that we had to try and save our
parents. I could see that was futile, but he would not be
convinced.

"We were ten years old. What were we supposed to do to help
them? But I would not leave without my brother. The flames grew
higher around us; it was difficult to breathe, even to see,
because of the smoke.

"Then the prince appeared. I am uncertain of just why I
knew she was a prince. I had never heard of a girl being a
prince before then. She walked out of the smoke and the flame,
and they did not touch her.

"'Take my hand, little one,' she said. And she took my
hand, and I took my brother's hand; he had suddenly become very
calm. 'Follow me through the fire, and it shall burn you not.'

"We ran down the stairs, my hand in hers, his hand in mine.
We passed through the fire, and it did not burn us. I remember
that the prince's hand was gentle and soft, but very strong; she
smelled of roses, and wore white.

"That prince saved our lives.

"And it was you.

"You are my prince.

"I came to this school to meet you."

Utena stood still for a moment, hands in the pockets of her
jacket, absorbing the last of the information, letting each part
of the story moil and mingle with each other part. The smoke and
the fire? Did memories, even the faintest ones, stir at this
story? No; no they did not.

Akami reached out, perhaps to lay a hand on her shoulder.
"Tenjou Utena--"

Her own violence surprised her. She seized Akami by the
shoulders and pinned her back against the trunk of a nearby
tree. "He put you up to this, didn't he?" she snarled; she
tightened her grip, barely hearing the dark-haired girl's soft
cry of pain and surprise. "Didn't he? Well, I'm not fooled!
I'm _not_!"

"Please--" Akami's eyes were wide, almost frightened.
Good, Utena thought viciously; this is for Nanami.

"How dumb do you two think I am?" she snapped. "I'm
smarter now; wiser now. I'm not a fool any more!"

"I'm not..."

"Shut up!" She wrenched Akami forward, then slammed her back
against the tree again, fingers digging hard into her shoulders.
"I'm not your prince! I never was! I never--

"...I was never anyone's prince." Strength fled her, and
she sagged; suddenly, her hold on Akami was the only thing
keeping her upright. It wasn't true. It couldn't be true. If
it was true, then... what? What had happened? No; it was
impossible. She was lying. Akio had given her just the right
story, the one that would hit every nerve and be like a knife-
thrust to her heart. Damn him. He knew her so well.

"Lying..." she murmured, head drooping. "You're lying. I'm
not..."

A hand touched the crown of her bowed head; long fingers
slid smoothly through her hair, traced the ridge of an ear, and
came to rest their tips upon her cheek.

"Look at you," Akami said gently. "You, who were once so
strong..." She sounded disgusted. "Who has done this to you?"

Utena found the grip of her fingers slipping. Now, she was
just leaning on Akami, hands on her shoulders, a fall threatening
if she let go. The President gently caressed her face, and she
shivered--not merely because it was cold.

"You're beautiful. So strong, and yet, at the same time, so
vulnerable." One finger crooked beneath her chin, raising her
head; Akami's dark eyes were bare inches from hers, and the look
in them was almost tender. "Have you truly nothing to offer me,
then?"

This, Utena thought vaguely, is how mice must feel, when the
snake rises above them on piled coils. She knew it was coming
seconds before it happened, but was helpless to move or speak.
Starlight, moonlight, glittered in Akami's night-coloured eyes,
and then their lips touched. Thin, but soft, and so cold. She
was too shocked to resist.

Teeth sank into her lower lip hard enough to draw blood.
The coppery taste of it filled her mouth, bringing recollections
of the dream-taste of dream-oysters. Something slick and moist
and agile (her tongue, oh God, it was her tongue) darted across
her bleeding lip before she found herself and began to struggle.
But Akami had a hand on either side of her face, holding her like
a board in a vice, and there was her tongue again, the sweet,
metallic taste of her blood...

She swept her arms outward, breaking Akami's grip, and
shoved her away, hard. Akami stumbled and almost fell, but
caught herself against the trunk of the tree.

"You're crazy," Utena said dully, raising her hand to her
torn lip in disbelief at the events of the last few moments.
"What's _wrong_ with you?"

"What's right?" Akami said softly, and then she began to
laugh, coldly. "You have no power any more, do you? Your heart
has been taken from you--or did you give it up willingly? How
sad; how terribly sad."

Utena looked away from her, pressing the back of her hand to
her lip in the hopes of stopping the bleeding. "You're crazy,"
she repeated in an awkward mumble.

"I am not, in fact," Akami said conversationally, leaning
back against the tree. "Although if it makes it easier for you,
you may think of me as such. Does it make me more sympathetic,
in your eyes? Someone to pity, rather than fear?" She laughed
again. "I'm not unfamiliar with such a perspective."

Utena glared at her. "I'm not afraid of you." Not entirely
true, but she certainly wasn't so afraid as to not be willing to
stand up to her, fight her if she had to. "I just don't _like_
you. You hurt my friend; hell, you even hurt your own friend.
You're dangerous."

Someone coughed theatrically from behind a distant tree
close to the wall, then walked slowly out, voice rising lightly
as he did. "Yes. She's dangerous. So are you. So am I.
Anything of worth has some danger in it."

Akami looked genuinely startled to see Akio; then again,
Utena thought, she was undoubtedly a superb actor. "You're the
Chairman."

"Come, come," Akio said, smiling and dropping his eyes to
the ground as he approached. He waved his hands dismissively.
"Must you pretend you don't know any more than that, President
Akino?"

Utena looked from one to the other, muscles tensed for fight
or flight. But she did not seem the centre of things, suddenly;
there was the tension of a confrontation in the air, but it was
between Akio and Akami, with her as no more than subsidiary
observer.

"You are quite correct," Akio continued, when it seemed
Akami had no inclination to say anything. "She has no power to
offer you."

Akami said nothing.

"But I do." He held out his left hand, palm upturned and
facing towards the starry sky. Something small and silver
glistened upon the dark skin like the mark of a wound.

"Don't listen to him," Utena said softly.

Ignoring her as though she wasn't even present, Akami took a
few steps towards Akio, then stopped. She licked her lips, then
touched a finger to them and studied him impassively.

"Power, you say?" she said eventually.

Utena began to move to step between them, then hesitated and
stopped as Akio moved to close the distance. They stood before
one another now, Akio holding out the ring, Akami studying it.

Akio nodded. "Power enough to revolutionize the world."

Akami seemed to consider it for a moment, and then she
suddenly struck out and dashed the ring from his hands. It rang
as it bounced off the tightly-fitted paving stones of the path,
then rolled into the adjoining grass.

"No. I don't think I'll wear your shackle."

Akio's face tightened briefly, as Utena allowed herself a
faint smile; then he bent down to retrieve the ring, as Akami
stalked smoothly past him, back towards the light of Kanae
Memorial Hall.

"Didn't go as planned, did it?" she asked softly, as he
straightened.

He shrugged, and said nothing.

"Let me take a guess," she continued. "The two of you
arranged this whole thing. That big story she told me about her
childhood, which you hoped I'd believe because of all that talk I
used to have about wanting to be a prince, because you know that
people are more likely to believe a lie if it fulfills a wish.
I'm not going to guess at the reason behind the lesbian vampire
act--maybe it turned you on. But... now that I've seen her
reject your offer of power, I'm supposed to be thinking, 'Gosh,
maybe she isn't working for him', and then I'm supposed to start
to trust her, huh, or just let my guard down?"

Akio, slowly, blinked.

"You're learning," he said finally, and smiled, appearing
pleasantly surprised. "I offer again, Utena-kun; if you wish,
we can simply make a duel of this, and end it, one way or the
other."

"I'm beginning to think that's what you want," Utena said
softly. "Though I can't imagine why. I don't know what you've
spun here, Akio, but--"

He spread his hands; his smile disarmed her, so sad and
weary that it hurt to see. "Once a man's work is finished, he
goes peacefully to the grave."

She started; a chill ran icy-footed down her spine, then
seated itself cross-legged in her stomach. "What do you mean?"

No reply; he turned and began to walk away from her. She
dashed after him, seized him by the shoulder, and spun him around
to face her. "What have you done?" she hissed. "Akio, what have
you done?"

He regarded her flatly. Then, slowly, terribly, his mouth
crooked into a rictus-grin. There was, she realized, something
_lacking_ in him, as though he were only a hollow man. A
headpiece filled with straw.

"Disappointing, isn't it?" he asked softly. Quiet and
meaningless; rat's feet over broken glass. "To have come all
this way, only to finally realize that you're years too late."

She struck him, then, a hard blow across the face with the
back of her right hand; more than a slap, less than a fist. He
staggered with the force of it, and seemed about to fall. Then
he steadied himself and looked at her intently, the awful smile
still on his face.

"I set things into motion the day you tore her from me," he
whispered.

Utena nervously bit her lip, forgetting for a moment that it
was injured, and nearly brought tears to her eyes as her teeth
shifted the torn flap of skin. "What have you done?" she
repeated. As though he would tell her!

"The greatest revolutions," Akio intoned, "are the ones that
no one realizes have happened until long after they have passed."

Without thinking, she seized him by the lapels. "Answer
me!"

He merely smirked at her. It was so like the smile she'd
once adored that it made her feel sick; just a little cruel curve
to the edges of the lips and a leaden flatness in the green
eyes was all it took to render his expression horribly mocking.

Not entirely to her surprise, she found her hands had closed
around his throat. He was taller than her, but his posture was
slumped, whereas hers was almost painfully rigid. His eyes
widened a little; then she tensed the muscles of her hands and
squeezed, and he gasped aloud.

"What. Have. You. Done?"

His fingers scrabbled at her wrists. She nearly smiled. He
was weak. Weak as a newborn kitten. His eyes were bulging. Was
that a little blue in his dark face, like the ocean spreading
into the night sky? It was hard to tell, in this dim light;
moonlight, starlight, and everything seemed half-real, ethereal.
This all was like a dream.

Akio fell to his knees, arms hanging limp at his sides. She
could feel his adam's apple bulging against her palms as he tried
to draw breath.

I could kill him, she thought, and something in her thrilled
at that. Simply keep up the pressure long enough. Or, just give
a twist, and break his neck. It would be easy. Look at how weak
he is. Just a shell. Feel how he tries to gasp for breath, but
none will come. His life, literally, is in your hands.

Is this not just? Is it not what you came here for? In the
end, all his charm and grace and seduction can do nothing against
this. Raw violence. Power, springing not from lies, illusions
and manipulation; a terribly honest strength, this hate.

and thus

does the new prince

take the place

of the old

With a sudden cry of horror, she flung Akio aside. He
collapsed to the paving stones, limp and unmoving. Utena stared
at her trembling hands in utter disbelief.

"Akio-san... Akio-san, get up... I--"

He did not stir. Still as death (she wanted to take back
the simile as soon as it passed through her mind), Akio lay on
his side, one arm flung out, the other curled against his chest.
His back was to her, and she could not see his face. Somewhere
amidst the crimson haze of her violence, his hair had fallen
loose from its ponytail, and draped across the stones; in the
moonlight and starlight, it was almost silver, like a puddle of
mirrored water.

Numb, possessed by the sense that her body was only a
marionette, responding jerkily to the so-distant pulls of
unknown strings, Utena knelt down by Akio and tremblingly pushed
her fingers through the curtain of his hair to touch his neck.
His skin was smooth and cold as the face of a porcelain doll.

"Akio-san..." She wanted to vomit. She wanted to take all
this back. How had she ever even imagined that she could do this
thing? She had not the strength to bear the consequences of
this, even if no one else ever knew that the blood was on her
hands. It would end her, this death. This murder.

Someone called to her, softly, from some distance away.
"Tenjou-san."

She started and looked up. A dark tall shape stood a dozen
steps away; she squinted through the threat of tears, and it
dimly resolved itself into Leo Cano.

"I--" Her voice broke, fallen away into some chasm in
herself that would never be closed. Cano approached, his hard-
soled shoes sounding resolutely on the stones. She felt an
absence beneath her touch.

Looking down, she saw that no trace of Akio was to be found.
Shocked, frightened, she stumbled to her feet and backed away
from where his body had lain; her heel caught on some errancy in
the fitting of the paving stones, and she fell. Running feet,
and then arms caught and steadied her in a half-embrace; she
smelt old smoke and faded roses in Leo Cano's coat, as her head
fell briefly against his chest.

He held her--perhaps--a moment longer than he had to, then
released her as she found her footing again. His concern seemed
genuine. "Tenjou-san, what were you doing?"

"Where did he go?"

Cano's lined face quirked into a displeased frown. "Who?"

"He was here. I touched him. Where did he go?"

The frown grew. "I have observed you since you left the
gallery. You spoke with the girl, had some altercation with her,
and then she left. You stood for a moment alone, and then fell
to you knees as though smitten, at which point I approached out
of concern for your welfare."

"But--" She blanched slightly and swallowed her words.
"You were spying on me?"

"It could be seen that way. I was hoping you would lead me
to the devil; I have heard his voice tonight, but seen no sight
of him."

"He was right here!" Utena exploded, gesturing at the the
spot where Akio had fallen. "I--"

"You are mistaken," Leo said coolly. "If he had been here,
you see, I would have taken this..." He reached into an inner
pocket of his coat and withdrew a slim, wood-handled dagger in a
smooth leather sheath. "And stabbed him through the heart with
it. So, since I did not do so, rest assured that he was not
here."

"But--what is that, anyway?"

He unsheathed the dagger and turned it a little from side to
side with motions of his wrist. The blade was dark watered
steel, and appeared very sharp. "The blade was forged with iron
taken from Saint Dunstan's tongs, with which he seized the nose
of the Prince of Darkness himself. And I believe the hilt was
carved from a branch of the tree of Saint Sebastian's martyrdom,
though I put marginally less faith in that than in the origins of
the blade."

Utena went very quiet for a moment, then asked, "Where the
heck do you get something like that, anyway?"

Cano hid the dagger away in his coat again. "He wasn't
here, Tenjou-san. Have you been drinking a particularly large
amount of wine tonight, perhaps?"

There was almost a note of condescension in his voice, but
not quite. Utena gritted her teeth and restrained herself from
a retort. Whatever was going on, it was damn funny, whatever it
was. It hadn't felt like herself, with Akio, her hands around
his throat. She couldn't even remember clearly what had been
going through her head. Had she slipped, somehow, into another
world, wandered briefly in the skin of some other-Utena as she
killed some other-Akio?

"You had best go back inside," Cano said, not unkindly,
taking her elbow with one hand. "The night is cold, and you're
not as old and tough as I am."

They walked a few steps towards Kanae Memorial Hall in
silence, and then Utena paused. "Don't spy on me any more."

"That is not a commitment I can make, so I will not swear
myself to it."

They walked on. "You saw everything, huh?"

"You resisted her unclean advances quite admirably, although
I perhaps noted some hesitance at the start."

She glared at him. "Seriously. Don't spy on me any more.
It creeps me out."

"And I would recommend putting some kind of disinfectant on
your lip."

A short distance from the side door through which she and
Akami had exited, she paused again, beneath the cover of the
overhanging balcony. "Cano-san?"

He dropped his hand from her elbow. "Yes?"

"What happened to you, in the end? When you stopped being
the Engaged One? Do you remember?"

A shadow seemed to crawl across his face; his eyes narrowed
nearly to slits. "I remember it all," he said softly. "And I
got away. That's all you need to know, Tenjou-san; I got away
from them both. And I've spent nearly half a century preparing
for this time, praying to God that I should be strong enough for
it when it came."

Utena could almost see the great gulf open up between them,
like a yawning mouth. There was no possibility of bridging it:
the fallen angel and his willing consort, or the fallen prince
and his enslaved sister. The views could not be reconciled.

"I warned you to stay away from Anthy, whatever may come of
this," she said softly. "I meant it, Cano-san. Don't forget
that."

He made no reply. She turned and walked away from him. He
did not follow.

* * *

"You're upset with me, aren't you?"

"Did you expect me not to be?"

Shiori's smile was tiny and almost coquettish; that
particular expression was familiar enough to Juri. It seldom
failed to induce an almost physically painful ache of desire and
love in her. "No. But I didn't think you'd be so upset."

Juri forced herself to cling to the anger. "I'm not upset."

They were beneath the shadow of the second-floor gallery, in
what passed for a secluded corner. The painting behind them was
a pastoral summer landscape, all rich-hued foliage and fat yellow
sun. The only sign of human existence was an abandoned picnic--
blue cloth, wicker basket, stacked plates, no people--in one
corner, added by the artist as a seeming afterthought.

"I know you better than that," Shiori said softly. "If it
means anything, I'm sorry. It's only that--"

"Only what?"

"If I'm not angry at him, what right do you have to be angry
at him for my sake?"

Juri folded her arms and looked to the side, away from
Shiori; focus, intently, on that one specific patch of the wooden
floor. "It isn't only about you."

"It's not as though it doesn't still hurt, of course." She
might as well not have said anything at all, from all the
attention Shiori paid her. "He was an important person to me,
even though we didn't go out for very long. He made me feel
special; so many girls wanted him, and I had him. Just like
before; just like before." Shiori shook her head ruefully;
light caught delicately in the highlights of her hair with the
motion. "But it wasn't as though I didn't know what I was
getting into, Juri. He was the campus playboy. All the same..."
She smiled sadly. "You know, the first thing I ever did to Ruka
was lie to him? And he knew; I'm not surprised he treated me the
way he did. What he must have thought of me, even when--"

"He didn't have any right," Juri snapped. Shiori flinched
as though struck, and she struggled to soften her voice. "No
right at all to involve you as he did."

"He wanted to help you," said Shiori after a moment,
hesitantly and softly. "That was..."

Juri closed her eyes. The pain was nearly a decade old, and
felt fresh as a yesterday. "He didn't have to hurt you like he
did."

"Maybe he thought I deserved it." Shiori laughed quietly,
derisively. "Maybe I did. I... I wasn't a very nice person back
then, Juri."

"I wrote him a letter, you know. After I heard the news. I
liked letter-writing, in those days. It's easier to wear the
face you want when you're not face-to-face. I put it in an
envelope, sealed it, stamped it, and put in the drawer of my desk
and just left it there. I don't know what happened to it. I
don't even remember what I wrote in it. But I wrote to him as
though he could read it, as though he were still alive..."

A hand brushed her face, lightly tracing cheeks, eyebrows,
bridge of nose. "Juri, you're crying."

Her eyes snapped open; she gritted her teeth and stepped
back from Shiori to wipe the few escaped tears from her cheeks.
You are in public, she reminded herself. Have some composure.

"I'm sorry," she said stiffly. "As I was saying, it isn't
just what he did to you that I'm angry about. I still don't
trust him completely. I remember what he was like during the
days of the Revolution. People change, but they don't change
completely."

"They can change enough, can't they?"

Juri sighed. "Yes. Maybe they can. I don't know."

"And he loves Utena. You can see that, can't you? Really
loves her, I mean; he wouldn't do anything to hurt her. You
don't hurt people you love."

Juri found herself smiling, and wishing she wasn't. She
wanted impulsively to reach out and embrace Shiori, kiss her on
her small, full lips, tell her how much she loved her. If they
hadn't been in public... she remembered how she'd told Utena once
that she was just like Shiori. Their cruel innocence. What
neither of them realized was that the people who loved you, who
you loved, could hurt you worse than anyone else ever could.

"No," she heard herself say, as though listening from some
point outside of her body; an angel on her own shoulder. "You're
right. He wouldn't do anything to hurt Utena." She found
herself believing it, realizing with that belief that she could
forgive Kiryuu Touga. It was like a burden lifted from her. She
wondered if he had been right, if much of her anger had only been
projected onto him because Ruka couldn't be here to bear it.

Shiori was nodding. Juri felt as though she was watching
her lover, her beloved, with some medium between them. A
television screen or camera lens. An insurmountable distance
combined with almost voyeuristic intimacy.

"Utena's really a good person, isn't she?"

The affectionate warmth in Shiori's voice was, perhaps,
slightly disconcerting, but Juri simply nodded, lost in the
labyrinth of her own thoughts. "Yes, she is; when I think about
it, then and now, she's probably the best person I've ever
known."

In a way, she did wish Ruka were here. There had been so
many things she wanted to say to him. Some of them were angry,
but hardly all. Her feelings were tangled; there were two
selves, intertwined. One remembered a sad, formal letter from
his mother: "Juri-san, my son mentioned you often during his
illness, and requested in his last days that I..." And the other
remembered the chattering voices of the nurses.

The frightening thought that she had no real way of knowing
which memory was real--both were equally vivid--occurred to her.
Utena had, she believed, restored her true memories; but wasn't
it possible, somehow, that she'd simply put new memories...

"Juri? What are you thinking about? It's like you're a
million miles away from me."

"Silly things," she said, shaking her head slightly and
coming back to herself. "Nothing important." She frowned.
"Speaking of Utena, where is she? I expected she'd be back as
soon as I finished talking to Hozumi Mari, but..."

Shiori frowned as well, almost a mirror of Juri in the set
of her lips. "Mari-san seems like a nice person. All those
things Nanami told us make me worried for her."

Juri nodded. "I didn't talk to her as long as I would have
liked. She said she had to check up on something. I think the
important thing is for her to realize that Nanami isn't on her
own in this; she'll start to think about that, and--" She shut
her mouth, as Shiori cast a subtly pointed glance over the top of
her shoulder towards someone Juri couldn't see.

"Hello again, Juri-sempai, Shiori-sempai."

Juri turned, concealing her frown beneath a hasty smile.
"Hello again, Miki." Shiori gave a nearly identical greeting.
"Everything seems to be going very well."

Miki nodded, then coughed into his fist and looked slightly
embarassed. "Umm..."

"Yes?"

"Would you like to dance, Juri-sempai?" He coughed again.
"With me, I mean. The quartet's finished their break, and..."

Juri almost laughed, managed not to. "I'd love to." She
looked significantly to Shiori. "Shiori, I suppose you'll be
after me. Then he'll want to dance with Utena; perhaps you
should see if you can find her so he doesn't have to look
around." She glanced back at Miki, who was blushing furiously.
"Quite the playboy tonight, aren't you?"

"Juri!" he squeaked. "It's not--"

She took his hand, which silenced him, and began to lead him
towards the dance floor. Shiori, she saw, had moved off already,
looking for Utena. Good. "I get to lead, right?" she teased.

"If you want," Miki demurred, smiling and going along with
the joke, a high colour still in his cheeks. "I understand the
man is usually supposed to lead, but..."

Juri laughed softly. The quartet began to play. She put
her left hand lightly on his right shoulder; somewhat hesitantly,
he put his right hand on her waist, just above the curve of her
hip, and took her right hand in his left. His right side to her
left; they were almost the same height. Maybe he was a little
shorter. She let him lead all the same. They joined the line of
the dance, and began to waltz. The quartet were fine players,
she thought, particularly for their youth; they would go far.

It felt good, to be dancing with her old friend. There
was nothing uneasy or excessively intimate about it, though
their bodies were close enough that every subtle movement he made
in the dance was palpable to her. She had always been more
comfortable around him then anyone else--had always felt that
they were kindred souls, in their way, showing so little but
feeling so much. He'd explained to her once about what the song
he always played meant to him--the inexpressible beauty, so
intangible that words, even music, could not render it. She was
no musician herself, but she understood; the breakdown of
communication, the inadequacy of all languages. Never being able
to say the right thing.

The music swelled. It seemed somehow greater than what
could be produced by a mere quartet. Like a wave, it swept her
along; she felt free and joyous. Worries were ended. Dancing
with Miki, dear Miki, and it might as well have been the end of
the world for all she cared in that moment. Then, out of the
corner of her eye, as they turned and stepped (never once
trampling upon one another's feet, for their grace was not
confined merely to fencing) in time with the music, she saw
Shiori, clasped in Akio's arms. Four dancing couples between
them. Shiori looked like a marionette, a tiny thing, dwarfed and
manipulated by the tall, powerful form of the Chairman. Of the
Ends of the World.

Fool! her brain screamed. What is wrong with you? There
was something in the air, there had to be, some power of
fascination and distraction carried with the music like a
soporific drug. Utena had been gone too long, and what was she
_doing_?, dancing with Miki, when there was Shiori to watch out
for--except she hadn't even managed that, because there she was,
there was her love, separated by the whirling dancers, caught up
in the dark embrace of the fallen prince. How could she have let
that happen? Fools, fools, they have known well enough what he
was, the kind of power he had (she remembered the heat of his
skin beneath the shirt beneath her fingers, the almost physical
pressure of his presence) and yet they had come into this...

"Juri? What's wrong?" Miki asked it in a whisper, barely
audible over the music, which now seemed almost daemonically
loud. Unconsciously, she realized she'd been pulling away from
him. Getting ready to move through the dancers by herself,
towards Shiori and Akio. What was she going to do? Attack him
in public? Pull her out of his arms?

Yes, she realized, suddenly finding herself full of rage,
and delighted to be so. She thought: That's exactly what I'm
going to do. I'll knock his damn head off. How _dare_ he!?

Miki wasn't letting her go. "Juri, are you..."

The violins screamed like tortured animals; the cello was a
droning chant, with the viola as a whining, sarcastic orator upon
the whole mess. The dancers seemed to be everywhere, filling the
gallery, spilling out into the cold night beyond, into the side
hallways, clustered in the gallery above their heads, and none of
them had any faces at all. She couldn't see Shiori any more.
How could anyone bear to play such hideous music? She felt like
a bird in the hand of fear; her heart beat against her ribcage
like a desperate prisoner. Miki's hand was tight around hers,
but he was smiling at her, concerned.

"Pardon--may we cut in?"

There was a whirl of motion, so quick it seemed she couldn't
follow it, and she found herself, somehow, dancing with Touga,
and nearby Miki and Nanami were slipping away into the faceless
crowd, losing their distinctions...

"What's going on?" Her voice, dazed and not her own,
sounded like a child's to her ears.

"I don't know," Touga said. His jaw was tight as he led her
through the dancers. "Nanami found me and said Utena might be in
trouble, but then we spotted this, and..." He gave a tiny shrug,
which didn't seem to interfere at all with his dancing ability.

"Watch your hands," she warned, looking around for Shiori
and trying to recover her bearings.

"Please; have some respect for my intelligence and
discretion." A crowd of dancers swirled apart like birds taking
flight, and she saw them, her Shiori in the grip of Akio; her
teeth ground together loud enough to be heard over the music.

Akio's eyes fixed on her as they approached, and they were
Ruka's eyes on the night by the fountain, when she had stood in
the shadows and watched him press his lips to Shiori's, and his
smile was Ruka's smile; her rage rose up like a drawn sword.

"Akio-san," Touga said smoothly. "An exchange?"

"Delightful," Akio replied; he released Shiori, and Touga
released her.

Akio was reaching out for her; then, beautifully,
near-magnificently, in a move that nearly made her laugh out loud
and forgive him every wrong he had ever done, Touga grabbed Akio
in the leading position of a waltz, and spun him away into the
crowd. Shiori, suddenly, was her dance partner, and she was
crying.

"I couldn't do anything, Juri... he took my hand and looked
at me, and it was like I wasn't even _there_ any more, and I
wanted him so much..."

"Shush. It's all right." She held Shiori close, suddenly
not caring for anyone else's opinion, whatever it might be; held
her close, and kissed her gently on the forehead, so filled up
with love that it almost hurt her, as though she were an
inadequate vessel, too small to contain all she wished to, too
cracked to hold onto what little she could contain.

They danced close together, not a waltz by any means, but
the music had stopped by now. The dancers were slowly coming to
a halt, like clockwork breaking down. She looked to the stage,
and saw the quartet sitting stock-still in their chairs, their
instruments resting on the floor before them; they stared
blankly ahead as though at some invisible wonder. Three figures
stood on the stage before them; one was adjusting the microphone,
braids swaying as she did. They wore the school uniform, quite
out of place amidst the elegant dress of all the other girls
there. Juri did not know them, could make out no features at
this distance (odd, that, as she could see the blank eyes of the
Ohtori Quartet with perfect clarity), yet she feared them.

She cast her head about, seeking for the others amidst the
crowd, but finding them not; then the lights went out, and she
heard, faintly, some strange music, the demented offspring of a
calliope and a Moog synthesizer.

Shiori cried out when the darkness fell, and Juri tightened
her embrace. Voices called in fright and confusion; someone
stumbled against them and threatened to separate them, but she
clung tightly to Shiori and tensed in preparation for whatever
was to come.

A spotlight speared, impossibly, from somewhere high above.
White like the moon, it reduced the stage it struck to a stark
monochrome tableau. The quartet were gone, as were their
chairs--as was everything, but the three figures and the
microphone.

Someone cleared their throat, loudly. The panicked voices
went quiet at that. Shiori trembled in her arms.

good evening!

we hope you've all enjoyed yourselves so far!

but what's past is prologue!

for the best (and the worst) is yet to come!

we'd like to draw your attention to the stage (as though it
isn't drawn there already, but...), because it's time for:

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

a tragical-comical-historical-pastoral morality
play in five acts, a prelude, a postlude, three musical
numbers and one solo mime act by the renowned
c-ko!

(interpretive dance will accompany, time permitting)

A Presentation of the Theatre of Shadows

(the theatre of shadows would like to kindly thank
kashira studios, creators of the "robot battler
akira" series, for their kind sponsorship)

 

(note)

*******************************
*THERE WILL BE NO INTERMISSION*
*******************************

(we mean that)

* * *

Then they woke up in a white car with red leather upholstery on a
stone dais in a room full of gold and silver beneath the Crest of
the Rose. Tangled together in the back seat like lovers, only
their clothes (disheveled though they were) as a barrier between
naked skin against naked skin. Limbs entwined like roots. Her
cheek upon his chest. Translucent flakes of snake-shed skin lay
scattered all around them like ripped rose petals.

...(s)he loves me, (s)he loves me not...

To Anthy's relief, Kyouichi seemed asleep at first; she had
woken before him. There was a chance to avoid piling one more
awkwardness upon a mounting immensity of them. After some quiet
facile wriggling, she got her legs free of his. One arm remained
pinned under his still body. Slowly, carefully, she began to
work it free.

Near the completion of that task, his eyes snapped open,
unfocused and wild. Lips parted in a sneering snarl, showing
clenched teeth. One hand reached up and tightly seized her
shoulder, forcing her to bite back a cry of pain.

"Kyouichi," she gasped.

He came back to himself. A mirror's sudden shattering.
Shamed, he released her, and raised his torso so she could free
her arm. Anthy sat up, opened the door, and stepped out onto the
cold stone floor of the dais. Precious metals winked in the
torchlight, and gems sparkled. They had returned to the treasure
room of her brother's trophy hall. Or perhaps they had never
left it.

"Anthy... did we dream all that?" Kyouichi whispered,
reclining wearily in the back seat and covering his eyes with the
back of one hand. "Did we..."

She looked back at him while brushing bits of snakekin from
her dress, skin and hair. They drifted slowly to her feet and
lay like the first fallings of snow. "I think it was something
more than a dream. But it was something less than waking." She
paused thoughtfully, and craned her head back to fix her eyes
upon the Rose Crest on the ceiling. Black marble upon grey
granite. Had it been black before? Had it been black the last
time she had been here? Had she ever been here before? Had this
place existed before she came to it?

The Rose Crest hung above her. Black on grey. She realized
that the black was veined with white, faintly. She had no idea
what that meant. If it meant anything at all. Like a wheel, she
thought; it was like a wheel. The simile had never occured to
her before. Or, if it had, she had forgotten the occurence.
There was the rim, and there were the spokes, and there they all
were, bound upon them...

"Or perhaps it was something more than waking," she said
finally, opening the driver's door and slipping in behind the
wheel. On the front passenger seat, lying neatly atop a folded
green sweater, lay a mirror of gold, wrapped in cloth-of-gold
that hid the face. She double-checked; the dagger of silver did,
indeed, hang at her waist.

Saionji put the mirror and the sweater into the back seat,
then got in beside her. He put his head in his hands. "The eyes
are what I remember."

Anthy paused with her hand on the ignition key. "The eyes?"

"The snake's eyes. They held eternity. They held...
everything. I think..." He looked up at her, dropping his hands
into his lap and linking their fingers. His eyes were
melancholy, but held no hint of derangement. "It used to be that
I imagined eternity to be the most beautiful thing in the world.
Like a ring of pure light, outside of time, looping back upon
itself, lovely forever, without beginning or end. But..."

"But?"

"What is eternity, really?" he whispered. "Could it not
just as easily be a never-ending darkness? Endless pleasure or
endless pain? A hell, as easily as a heaven?" He shuddered, and
grew pale. "I think eternity might be a terrible thing, Anthy."

There was a silent plea in his speech. She could read it
clearly as though she truly were able to touch his mind: tell me
that it is not. Tell me it is beautiful. Tell me it is what I
have always dreamed it is.

After a moment, with the ignition key still ready for a turn
in her fingers, Anthy replied, softly and a little sadly.
"Eternity's only a way of speaking of a thing you can't ever
really know."

He sighed gently. "It is, isn't it? I suppose I always
knew that. I am a mortal being; a being bound by the chains of
time. How could I ever hope to touch eternity, and know the
least of what I touched?"

"The blind sages and the elephant," Anthy said.

He looked at her oddly. "What?"

She took her hand off the key and waved it vaguely. "You
know the story, don't you? One of them feels the trunk, and he
says 'an elephant is like a rope'. And another feels the leg,
and says 'an elephant is like a marble pillar'. And another..."

"...feels the ear, and says, 'an elephant is like a fan'."
Kyouichi paused for a moment. "Yes. I remember that story now.
From a picture-book Nanami had." He frowned. "So, eternity is
like the elephant?"

"Something like that," Anthy said, finally giving the key a
turn. The car rumbled for a moment like a waking cat, and then
the engine caught. "Orobouros, the serpent who bites his own
tail... he is as a flea on the back of the elephant."

"I think the metaphor is breaking down," Kyouichi said
dubiously.

"They do that, taken far enough." Anthy folded her arms and
waited expectantly. The engine purred smoothly, but the car did
not move.

"What did you mean by 'something more than waking', Anthy?"

She thought on it for a moment, then finally admitted, "I'm
not really sure. It only seemed the appropriate thing to say."

"Can you dream in a dream?" he asked softly, more to himself
than to her. "Can a thing in a dream, dream?"

Anthy's face quirked into an odd frown. "What do you mean?"

"Nanami's picture-books," Kyouichi said distantly. He
glanced at her in seeming apology, and seemed to decide more
explanation was needed. "It was a long time ago. After Touga
learned to read, but before Nanami could. She was always
insisting he read to her, even when I was over at their house.
All the time." He smiled faintly. "I can still remember how it
always used to go. 'Oniisama, read me a story?' 'I'll read you
a story after Kyouichi goes home, Nanami.' 'No! Now,
oniisama!'" He laughed and shook his head. "And I'd say it was
all right. We were very young. I must have been about eight,
which would have made Nanami four." How far away he seems, Anthy
thought. "The truth was, I liked listening to Touga read. You
know how some kids read out loud really haltingly, stumbling over
the words? Not him." Again, he laughed, but it was sad. "Of
course, I couldn't ever tell him that kind of thing. That I
liked to listen to him read stories. Touga was... different, in
those days. He read stories to Nanami like he believed in them.
And I remember one time, when I was around, and he read her a
chapter from 'Through the Looking Glass'. The one with
Tweedledum and Tweedledee. They take Alice..." Once more,
laughter. "Nanami had a dress when she was about that age that
looked just like the one Alice wears in the Tenniel
illustrations." He coughed lightly, and cleared his throat.
"So, Tweedledum and Tweedledee show Alice a man asleep under a
tree in the forest. The Red King. They tell her that he's
dreaming; he's dreaming about her. She's only a sort of thing in
his dream. And if he were to wake--bang!--out just like a
candle."

He clapped his hands upon saying "bang!", then looked
embarassed. His distance receded. "I don't know why I thought
of that. Only what you said about 'something more than waking'
made it come to mind." He scowled and looked at the wheel of the
car. "Is this thing going to go anywhere any time soon?"

"Why did you lose touch with Touga, Kyouichi?" Anthy asked.
"When I left Ohtori, the two of you were close again."

Kyouichi didn't say anything for nearly a minute, and
neither did she. Finally, he said, softly, "He slept with my
wife."

Anthy's eyes widened, and he hastened to clarify, still
speaking soft and low as though worried about eavesdroppers.
"Not after we were married, I mean. It was in her final year of
high school. We weren't even going out at the time, technically.
We'd had a terrible fight--all my fault--and I'd said some awful
things to her. It was a bad time for me, shortly after I dropped
out of college. That made my father very unhappy with me.
There was talk of disowning me." He visibly flinched, and his
head drooped. "But I'm trying to excuse myself. Touga took her
out to dinner; they'd gotten to know each other through me, and
she said he made it seem like just something between two friends.
I don't know if he planned it from the start or not. Wakaba said
they both had a little too much wine, but..." He took a deep
breath. "Wakaba has too good a heart sometimes, and will try and
excuse things that are inexcusable. They ended up back at his
apartment, and..." He shrugged. "Well. I don't need to say any
more, do I?"

"No," Anthy said. She was silent for a long time. Then:
"Thank you. For telling me that." He didn't reply, and she went
on. "It helps me to understand you better."

"I could have killed him when I found out," Kyouichi said.
"When Wakaba told me. She was in tears on the phone. I... we
had a duel. With shinnais. I think he thought it would help to
calm me down. It didn't. I didn't fight by the kendo rules, and
I split his head open. There was a lot of blood. And I meant to
do it, as well; I meant to hurt him. I don't really remember
what I was thinking. After he fell, I didn't call for help. I
just left him there. Thank God Nanami found him so quickly." He
sighed. "I could have been in a lot of trouble. Should have
been in a lot of trouble. But I found out that Touga told
everyone who asked that it was just an accident." He hung his
head. "I still don't know why. Perhaps he actually felt
guilty." A short bark of laughter, bitter and hard to hear.
"And that's how I lost touch with Touga. We've hardly spoken to
each other since then."

Anthy leaned back in the seat and closed her eyes, saying
nothing. The car's engine continued its steady purr. She began
to wonder if the technical crew had simply been putting her on.
If they'd been real at all.

Finally, the silence became too much to bear any longer. Do
you think he really loved Utena at the end? she asked.

I don't know, Kyouichi replied. I'm not sure if he's even
capable of such a thing.

it's a terrible thing when friends fight.

touga used to say that only fools believe in
friendship.

She tried to open her eyes, found she did not have eyes to
open, nor ears to hear the roaring of the engines of the chariots
of the sun. Nor a body, to feel red leather upholstery beneath
her. Nor a tongue, to cry out.

"I hope you don't suppose those are _real_ tears?"

A tone of great contempt, emanating from the red, red eyes
which filled her universe.

anthy, what's happening?

anthy?

anthy?

anthy

anthy?

anthy?

anthy?

anthy?

anthy?

 

* * *

Utena walked down the dimly welcoming and completely empty
hallway towards the gallery, hands thrust into her pockets.
She'd left the winter night behind outside, but couldn't rid
herself of her chill. The phantom shape of Akio's slim throat
clung to her hands like silk gloves, too tight. She wondered
what had happened out there: where had she slipped into, or who
had slipped into her? Whose hands? Whose throat?

And thus does the new prince take the place of the old. The
words woke something in her; she remembered reading a book, years
back. Sacrificial kings; they ruled for a year, they _were_ a
god for a year. And then at the end of the years, they were
hamstrung, and the new king came to kill them and take their
place, knowing that in a year he would be the old king, and the
new king would come to take _his_ place, going all the same...

Something stirred within the cave of the heart. A bird with
iron wings, preening her feathers. Eggs beneath her. Steel
shells, molten yolks. But still the cold. Who am I? Who are
you? What land is this, what people? To Ohtori I came, where a
cauldron of unholy loves bubbled up all around me. These are _my_
arms, swinging at my side; and these are _my_ feet, rising and
falling upon the wooden floors; and these are _my_ eyes, passing
over sculpture and painting and stained-glass window, over the
roses, the damnable roses, whatever did they _mean_, really?
Rose of all roses, rose of all the world; who dreamed that beauty
passes like a dream? Not I; I was the girl who saw eternity's
face. I came here to meet my prince, and found that there was no
such thing to meet. Footsteps echo all around. _My_ footsteps.
But don't there seem to be too many? Can the dead linger on?--of
course they can. The prince is dead; long live what lives on,
if living it can be called. Do you prick your thumb for me,
your highness? By the biting of my thumbs, something wicked this
way comes. O lost! Dark dark dark, we all go into the dark,
after one last dance round the prickly pear and the mulberry
bush; to the sawdust restaurants with their oyster shells where
the walrus and the carpenter sit dining beneath the widening
gyre; my dam held that the Quiet made all things which Setebos
vexed only. Setebos, Setebos, and Setebos! 'Thinketh He
dwelleth i' the cold o' the moon. Will one strange day, the
Quiet catch and conquer Setebos, or likelier he decrepit may
doze, as good as die?

Utena reeled; she staggered like a drunken woman, stumbled
as though over a thousand invisible impediments; fell like a
falling angel, and caught, caught a door handle, and thus came
into a place without light. Then a spotlight, and voices.
Threats without malice. And the audience, stunned into
imbecility.

we're so pleased you all could be here tonight!

you don't often get an audience like this!

it's been years in the making, this
performance!

tonight is...

the night...

that all the secrets come out.

the beginning of it all.

the ending of it all.

the story that could not be told.

the true story.

the story of which all other stories are but shadows, and
shadows of shadows.

the master narrative.

you're all gathered here...

THE PAST

(spotlights fall like spears: Akino Tokiko, Ohtori Hoshimi, Leo
Cano, an empty space where no one stands)

THE PRESENT

(spotlights flicker and fade. They fall again: Tenjou Utena,
Himemiya Anthy, Saionji Kyouichi, Kaoru Miki, Arisugawa Juri,
Kiryuu Nanami, Kiryuu Touga...)

(pst.)

(what?)

(problem.)

(oh, no. why now, of all nights?)

(they've been delayed.)

(huddle.)

the show must go on!

if all goes well, this will be the first of many performances.

they can catch it in repertory.

THE FUTURE

(spotlights on: Akino Akami, Akino Hasuichi, Hozumi Mari,
Tsuwabuki Mitsuru--)

(damn it.)

(not again.)

"Boo!" someone in the audience said. "Amateurs! Get off
the stage!" No one ever found out who.

(just start the prelude.)

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

prelude

the truth of the fall of the prince of the roses

in which we learn at last how the prince became the magician

(the prince stood with his back to the audience)

how wearisome my existence becomes

(h e a d j u s t
edhisfinegold
encrown)

the lips of each princess are sweet as spring cherries, but
I am forbidden to taste?

(he paced, shaking his fist, voice rising in anger)

is this right?

is this just?

Where is my reward?

Where is my rest?

"Where is _my_ happily-ever-after?"

The prince paused and toyed with the golden hilt of his
sword. In the distance, through the night, he saw his castle,
Whiterose, built upon the foothills of the Iron Mountains. Its
pale spires glowed with a pearly luminescence in the soft cold
light of the full moon. In the highest tower, he saw the yellow
light of a single candle burning; he cocked his head and
listened. The night was still and silent enough that, even at
this distance, he could hear the clatter of Her spinning wheel,
and Her voice, carried to him on the dark breezes:

o/` Sing, O my heart, of the gardens you know not;
o/` Gardens as if encased in glass, clear, unattainable,
o/` Water and roses of Ispahan or Schiras.
o/` Bless and praise them, incomparable gardens.

"Oh, my sister, my love," he murmured. "My love, my
sister." He buried his face in his hands. "No. No! It is not
right that--"

Right that--

right that...

"Enough."

The solemn declaration from the audience broke the scene
like a dropped vase; irreparably. Utena stirred and shook her
head, frantically trying to clear it; her mouth tasted of cotton
balls, ether, blood. It reminded her of when she'd had her
wisdom teeth removed. Anthy in the kitchen, hair tucked up
beneath a white kerchief, making thin, hot soups for her, the
only thing she could eat for days.

No. The present; the _present_, stupid.

Akio stood a dozen paces from the stage; the audience had
shrunk back from him like animals from a blazing fire. His hair
was down, his shirt unbuttoned. The only lights were the
spotlights hitting the stage, and he stood at the edge of that
circle of illumination like a wolf in the night who stands in the
darkness beyond the well-lit windows of a cottage. Apt simile,
Utena thought, for he looked lupine enough at the moment: sleek
dark body, thick pale hair, clenched teeth, narrowed eyes. She
did not think she could remember ever having seen him so angry;
he did not look at all like a man recently throttled.

"I have endured enough," he said slowly. "Down through the
long falling of the years, again and again, I have had to put up
with your mockery. With your lies by which fools believe you
tell the truth. With your never-was and your never-were and your
never-will-be. With your stories, and your games, and your
little piping voices. I hear you in my dreams, you know, these
days, even if I dream of the castle; I hear you laughing at me,
deriding me, reducing my life to bathos and burlesque. And now
this... and now this... before everyone... you speak this filth.
This false filth. You seek to humiliate me. You--" For a
moment, he bowed his head, clenched his fists, and could not seem
to speak. Then he raised it again, and his eyes were dark as
dark.

"I am Ohtori Akio, and I will not be mocked any longer."

we really don't mean to make fun of you.

we're just trying to make you understand.

(i thought we did mean to make fun of him.)

(shut up!) (shut up!)

Akio said nothing, but merely raised his left hand, with the
thumb and forefinger held slightly apart as though gripping
something small, slender and invisible.

Utena began to move. She heard Ohtori Hoshimi cry out in
pure terror. "No! No, you fool, _don't_!"

It was as though she ran through waist-deep water. The
mouths of all the guests were opening and closing slowly, as
though masticating tough food. They were screaming, Utena
realized; screaming in almost-frozen terror, as though at
something they could see, but she could not. There was a deep
bass thud, like the beat of a vast side drum; the walls of the
gallery bulged inward, then outward, like the single pump of a
great dark heart. Faces passed her by: Juri, Shiori, Nanami,
Touga, Miki. Their eyes pleaded with her. She graved their
features on her heart, not knowing why; collecting them,
recollecting them, each and every one.

A faint light shone around Akio now; she saw it as though
through a thin veil of mist. Golden and twinkling, and the gold
shot through with threads of black. A pillar with Akio as the
base, stretching from floor to ceiling. Something descending
from above. Faint, insubstantial--a ghost, a phantom, a dream.
A dark-skinned figure, falling, delicate and childlike; twisting
like a leaf, like a sylph, smiling with beatific delight as
though at a sudden freedom. Naked, androgynous, beautiful beyond
telling; dark blue eyes, and golden hair so pale it was almost
white. It slid into Akio as though into a hollow vessel--grew
so that it was large enough to wear him like a skin, or he shrank
so that he would fit it like a glove.

Akio gestured with his raised hand, a swift, dismissive,
erasing motion. On the stage, one of the shadows cried out, a
flowing river of voices that were many and one at the same time:
they rose, they fell, they sang together, they sang apart, each
one crying out in agony for its own existence, for the collective
agonies of all things. Utena heard the death-gasp of a fish, a
carp stranded on the land beside a pond ringed with stones--the
wail of a baby, new-born, pulled from the warmth of the womb into
the cold dread of the vast unfriendly world beyond--heard the
scream of a murder victim, the sucking, grating sounds of the
knife plunging into the body--the passionate cries of lovers,
male and female, as they moved desperately together towards an
unachievable unity--the bellow of a bull, the cry of a heron, the
growl of a tiger--the death-rattle of an old man--the joyful
laughter of small children--the weeping of a widow mourning her
husband dead--lonely whispers in the dark--voices raised in
heated argument--tender words of friendship and love--each voice
becoming, changing, destroying, giving birth to other voices, and
one voice over them all, one voice beneath them all like the
background noise of a record, and it was singing its death-cry,
but it had no mouth with which to sing, and Utena wept in pity
and terror and awe at its death.

you didn't come.

"What?"

you didn't come to save us. i asked you to come, but you
didn't. a prince is supposed to come. he's supposed to save
the maiden in the tower.

i don't understand?

It's not something you need to worry yourself about now.
Now that I'm awake, I'm going to fix things. I'm going to make
everything the way it ought to be.

who are you?

"You don't need to worry about that."

but... himemiya... akio-san...

"You don't need to worry about them, either. You just go to
sleep now."

okay.

* * *

well.

well?

that was an utter disaster of an opening night.

no kidding.

*sigh*

*sigh*

it's funny, how far people will go to make sure
some stories aren't told.

but not funny ha-ha.

nope.

why are people so scared of stories?

stories are just words.

and words, in the end, mean nothing.

and they mean everything.

so...

so?

who gets to be a-ko now that a-ko is gone?

me.

what? i want to be a-ko!

i have seniority.

that's not fair!

you can be b-ko.

i don't _like_ b-ko.

too bad, since you're her now.

and c-ko?

hmm... we'll find somebody.

but...

but?

isn't the story over now?

oh, hardly.

but he...

the story will be over when it damn well feels
like being over.

do you ever worry that maybe we're just
characters in the story too?

don't be ridiculous.

right. that's silly.

terribly silly.

preposterous.

well... good night.

good night.

see you, in the winter.

in the winter, then.

end of eclipse

End of Jaquemart - Part XII