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Jaquemart XIII - The Other Side of the Night

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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.

 

XIII. The Other Side of the Night

* * *

Spring was. Spring was rain: heavy rain, like buckets poured
from the sky; soft rain, drifting as much as falling, bedewing
skin and hair. Spring was mist, rising on the harbour like a
mountain sailing in from the sea, piled on the green hills in
the early morning when you stuck your sleepy head out of the
tent, and there was Anthy already cooking breakfast, and you
said, "Anthy, it was my turn to cook this morning", trying to
sound annoyed, but knowing that this was just the way things
were, because she was an early riser and you weren't. Spring
was rain, spring was standing on the tiny balcony of the
apartment in a tank-top and letting the rain run down you,
feeling yourself become clean, almost unspeakably clean, as
though you'd stood naked in the pouring rain for your entire
life. Spring was coloured flowers in concrete basins lining
grey streets. Spring was sleeping with the bedroom window open
so the two of you could hide under the covers from the cool night
air.

Spring was lying in the shade of a tree with Wakaba, hands
clasped behind your head and ankles crossed, staring up at the
leaves as they budded and returned, and thinking: though I cannot
perceive it, though my eyes are not such that they may perceive
it, I am witnessing regrowth, rebirth. Spring was Wakaba's
lunches in their neat little boxes with their neat little
compartments: rice balls wrapped in chewy nori seaweed, Vienna
sausages cut into cute little octopi, tamago-yaki omelette rolls;
chopped vegetables and sprigs of parsley to add colour. Spring
was the scent of new grass that stained cleats and soccer shorts,
whose stains would not disappear entirely no matter how many
times the clothes were washed.

Spring was flowers whose names you didn't always know,
bursting into bloom, and you pointed, naming the ones you could:
rose, lily, lotus, daisy, forget-me-not, geranium, petunia,
pansy, poppy...

Big scarlet poppies. Pink stamens, bloody petals. The
thick spicy scent of them filling the air, nearly overpowering.
A smell so vivid you could nearly see it, shimmering before your
eyes in rolling red waves; so red it was a caress, stroking her
body. Crimson fingers, moving up from her feet: this little
piggy went to market... ankles, calves, thighs, hips, ribs,
breasts, arms, tracing a silhouette.

Overhead, white clouds hung in long lazy lines,
crosshatching a painfully blue sky. They drifted slowly,
evenly, precisely; an ivory net, floating on an azure sea. Soft
flowers were her bed. Red poppies, all around. A blushing
blossom. She sat up slowly, shaking her head, feeling woozy and
ill-balanced. Go to sleep, the voice had commanded, becoming
more real with each statement, even as her own voice blurred, a
dissolving dream. And she had, like a good child at a parent's
behest. But not here; not in a field of poppies, soporific,
arrayed in a labyrinth upon a field of green grass. A maze for
ants or mice.

She put her hands flat on the ground, heedlessly crushing
poppies beneath her palms. It helped to steady her. Where was
she? Ohtori. She oriented herself by the tall central spire,
and frowned. She was, if she judged correctly, where Kanae
Memorial Hall should have been. Where Nemuro Memorial Hall had
stood. Still shaky, she stood up on legs that believed remaining
on the ground was a better plan; her mind and will won the vote,
however. One step, then another, each one making her feel
stronger and more substantial.

The sky, the sky, the spring sky, the terrible hungry spring
sky. Why wasn't it winter? There should have been cold and snow
and naked trees. And night. Not green grass, red poppies, blue
sky, fat yellow sun; not the scent of flowers and freshly-turned
earth.

Okay, yes, and on top of that, there should have been a
Memorial Hall (of some sort, she was sure of that) where she was
standing. No--sitting. Damn legs. She stared at them sourly.
They'd always been good legs before this. Excellent legs, in
fact. Long, smooth, shapely. Nice red socks. Cute little
shoes. Tight red shorts.

"The hell?" she said. She raised an arm and peered at her
sleeve. It was black. She groaned faintly; she was in a
misplaced poppy field in the wrong season wearing her old
uniform. And all her friends were missing. Everybody, in fact,
was missing.

She flopped back down amidst the poppies and stared at the
sky. The languid drift of clouds. There was one that looked
like a rabbit and there was one that looked like castle, and
there, there was one like a cat...

In the winter, sometimes, she liked to lie under the covers
long after she woke up, even though she hated the
irresponsibility of it. Get up, she would urge herself--but the
simple pleasure of the warmth was too much a temptation. Anthy
would usually be the one to poke her awake. Breakfast is ready,
Utena.

"...breakfast is ready, Utena..."

What the hell was she doing? She threw herself up, ran a
few steps; stumbled, as her legs gave out, and fell face-first
into the poppies. Eyelids heavy and vision blurring, she came to
her knees spitting petals, with the taste of the red flowers in
her mouth. Anthy's voice--she'd heard Anthy's voice. Nearby.

"Anthy..."

Tired, so tired, you're so very tired, just go to sleep, go
to sleep amidst all the pretty flowers, the pretty flowers love
you, the pretty flowers will keep you safe, pretty, pretty
flowers, they will cover you over, they will feed you nectar such
as the gods drink, they will garb you in sweet, shining raiment
as kings and queens wear, you shall eat of their petals as though
they were ambrosia, as though they were manna, you shall know
neither hunger nor thirst.

"Help me..."

But there wasn't any help to come. No prince on a white
horse. No hand she could grasp that would pull her up. Only
herself. And wasn't that how it always went, in the end?

But this was not the end, she thought, and she forced
herself to stand. Her shoes smashed poppies into paste; each
tread of her feet sent the smell of their pollen up into the air
in an almost visible cloud. Overpowering sweetness, like the
concession stands at the fairground. Cotton candy and frying
dough. One, two, three; clenched fists, clenched teeth, eyes
squeezed closed and filled with tears. Each step seven leagues
in lead boots.

Eventually, her legs gave out again, and she toppled forward
onto sweet green spring grass. Clover in it. A beautiful smell.
Pure. She breathed it in, sighed; invigorated. Behind her lay a
bed of crushed and mangled poppies, with the shapings of her body
impressed upon it. Poppy angels, she thought, and laughed. Sit
up, stand up, and look around. Ohtori in springtime, empty of
people, with a poppy garden where a memorial hall should have
been. Or maybe, just maybe, the memorial hall had stood where the
poppy garden should have been.

The wind blew past her, towards the forest, and she turned
her head, following it; by that she saw that the forest was no
more. She'd seen pictures of clearcutting; what had been done to
the forest made clearcutting look Zen gardening. As though a god
had reached down with a scythe and laid reaping strokes across
the forest, the hillside was furrowed and torn, littered with
splintered trunks and jagged stumps. No hidden things--duel
arenas or bell-towers--lay revealed by the devastation. Only
raped earth and shattered pines. Disturbed and slightly
sickened--not liking to feel that way at the sight, but feeling
that way all the same--she turned her face away and began to
walk towards the Chairman's Tower. This was very obviously more
illusion, for winter did not so abruptly become spring, and
memorial halls didn't transform into poppies. But illusions
could be broken, just like lies could be seen through, and the
light of truth let in.

Spring was abundant, and everywhere. Wildflowers, fragrant
grass bedewed. There were swallows building nests in the trees,
squirrels scampering across the lawn. And the scent of the sea,
blown in from the coast on the soft wind. But nothing human,
excepting her. She considered calling out the names of her
friends, but decided that listening to her own voice echo back
would simply be too cliched, and walked on. The uniform was a
perfect fit, even though she wasn't fourteen years old any more.
Of course, since this was all illusion...

Or a dream. Maybe she was dreaming, lying asleep on the
floor of Kozue's gallery in Kanae's hall. They were all asleep,
dreaming separate dreams: Miki dreaming of his shining thing,
Juri dreaming of miracles, Nanami dreaming... whatever it was
Nanami would dream of...

And why was she dreaming a dead unpeopled land? Some
solipsistic wish on the part of her unconscious? A desire to be
the Most Important Person In the World? She had enjoyed being
the centre of attention in school, after all.

She laughed softly, as the tower loomed up ahead in the
distance. Whatever this was, it was surely no dream. No dream
could be so vivid. Some trap, surely, crafted in the star-filled
heart of the planetarium projector, cast upon the screen of her
mind. The pleasant spring to make her lazy. Anthy's voice to
tempt her.

Anthy...

"Anthy?" she called. It echoed in the stillness. I knew it,
she thought; how cliched. She turned, followed the path of the
sun with her footsteps, passed through archway shadows, by a row
of pillars white as the belly of the moon, and found herself
before the campanula-birdcage shape of the greenhouse.

"And you are the beautiful little bird which lives here."

She remembered Touga saying that about this place, long long
ago, and how it had chilled her to the bone to overhear. Perhaps
he'd meant her to overhear it, had only spoken to Anthy in such a
way because he knew she was listening. Perhaps not. It was too
hard to tell with him, what was truth, what was lies; what the
real meaning behind any act was.

What, she thought, is a greenhouse? A greenhouse is the
ideal place to grow roses. A greenhouse is open to the light but
shielded from the elements. There is a door by which to enter,
but you must have the key. You must enter by the door. If you
try and force you way in, you will cut yourself upon the glass;
you will make a hole in the greenhouse, and snow and wind will
enter to ruin the roses.

There were roses inside, of course, thick bushes full of
them; rose upon roses, roses of all the world. Roses in colours
Nature never sought for them. Roses in full bloom, roses whose
petals remained clasped around their secret hearts.

She took the key from her pocket. It was carved of ivory
and of horn, and fit the lock perfectly. But once she had turned
it and unlocked the door, she could not turn it back the other
way and remove it. Could this key open only one door at a time?
That seemed neither fair nor efficient. After a moment, though,
she shrugged; if that was the way it was, then that was the way
it was. She stepped inside and reached back to pull the door
closed behind her, then thought better of it--let the spring air
come in a little. The scent of the surrounding roses was subtle,
never cloying; the greenhouse looked much the same as it did when
Anthy had been its caretaker. She wondered who cared for it
these days. Or if it was cared for at all. This was not the
real world, after all, vital and fresh as spring rain though it
might seem to be. Perhaps the greenhouse in the real world was a
cracked thing, broken glass and wilted bushes and dusty panes.
But, no, she thought--that would not fit in with Ohtori's decor;
it would be a hole in the mask through which one might see the
white-gleaming skull. The garden remained undoubtedly beautiful,
because that was how Akio would wish it to be.

There was a steel-coloured rose in her hands. She stared at
it, and tried to remember when and why she had broken its stem
and plucked it from the bush.

Someone coughed lightly behind her, accompanied by a
jingling of small bells. She turned quickly, dropping the rose
to the floor as she did.

"Please don't," the boy asked quietly, holding his watering-
can before him like a shield.

"Don't what?" Utena asked, wary but unworried. The boy was
small and pale; beneath lank dark hair, his face was open and
friendly, with a smattering of freckles. He wore a white-and-
grey jester's motley. Tiny silver bells had been sewn in long
swathes along the surface of fabric, and even a minute movement
was accompanied by their ringing.

"The roses," he said. "Don't pick them." He gestured with
his watering-can at the one she'd dropped. "Once a rose is
plucked, it never grows any more, and it begins to die."

"Roses all die anyway, in the end," Utena murmured, stooping
to retrieve the grey rose.

"Even if that's so," the boy said, suddenly sounding a
little annoyed, "that doesn't mean you've got the right to pluck
them before their time, now does it?"

"No," Utena admitted, shamed. "I'm sorry."

He nodded, the annoyance vanishing instantly; he was all
smiles again. "It's all right. It's only one rose, after all.
Perhaps I'll dry it and put it in a vase. Dried roses are quite
lovely, in their own way; they give off a wonderful fragrance,
and, with care, they'll last as long as you do."

"Only that long?"

The boy moved past her to water one of the smaller bushes.
"Would you like to hear a story about roses?"

"I already know stories about roses." Utena stared at the
rose in her hands; then, for want of anything better to do, she
began to strip the thorns from it. "Too many damn stories about
roses."

"I bet you don't know this one," the boy said. "It's pretty
short. Once upon a time there was a gardener, who worked for the
richest family in the land. He grew roses more beautiful than
anyone had ever seen. They were all the colours of the rainbow,
and they twined up the white walls of the family's mansion like
ivy. Even in the winter, they didn't die, so the house was
always festooned with colour. The daughter of the family fell in
love with the gardener because of the beauty of his roses, and
they became lovers. They would meet by the light of the full
moon behind his small shack. But one day the girl's brother saw
them kissing, and ran to tell his father. Since it was entirely
inappropriate that the daughter of a rich family should love a
mere gardener, the father and his son called the gardener before
them in secret, struck off his head with a sword, and buried him
in the garden he had so loved. That night, as the family slept,
the roses began to tighten around the house, until they had
clenched it as a fist clenches around the hilt of a sword. Then,
with a great crash, they pulled it to the ground, and all within
were killed."

"Even the daughter?" Utena asked after a moment.

The boy thought about it for a moment, absently staring up
at the glass ceiling of the greenhouse as he moved the watering-
can around over the bush. "Yes," he said finally. "Even her."

"Doesn't seem fair." She finished stripping the thorns, and
tucked the rose into her breast pocket. "I mean, she did love
the gardener."

"I suppose the roses didn't care, or didn't know," the boy
said, somewhat defensively. "And, really, haven't you learned by
now that the endings of stories are very seldom fair?"

Utena had nothing to say to that. "What's your name?"
she asked after the silence had become too uncomfortable to bear.

"What's yours?"

"I asked you first."

The boy shrugged. "I suppose we'll have to go without
knowing each other's names, then."

She laughed. "Bit of a brat, aren't you?"

He shrugged again. The bells tinkled almost mockingly, and
then he moved on to another bush with his watering-can. "It's
not the first time I've been called one," he said distantly.

"You ought to respect your elders," she said, a teasing note
in it. The boy was a brat, obviously, but there was something
likeable about him. Even if he were just an illusion in a dream.

Laughter answered her, but it wasn't hers or the boy's, but
a deep, cold, resonant sound, as though heard underwater, devoid
of humour or any true kind of merriment. It was familiar but
unplaceable, irritatingly so; like a name caught on the tip of
her tongue.

She turned in the direction of it. The Knight of Pentacles
was standing just beyond the open doorway, a tall cloaked shape
in monochrome with a hidden face and an unsheathed katana. "He
is your elder," the Knight said as his laughter trailed away.
"Your elder by far. What you see is not what you see."

Utena's eyes narrowed, and she moved so that she stood in
the path the Knight would have to take to the boy. "You're
supposed to stay down when you get thrown out a window," she
said coldly. This was one she could hate with ease; he'd tried
to kill Wakaba. She wondered if she would kill him, if she
could; she decided that she did not mind finding out, if she had
to. Her body felt tense as a violin string, ready to sing out in
a beautiful grace of violence if plucked. Step through the
doorway, she thought viciously; step over the threshold and I
shall show you that of which I am made. "But since this is just
a dream, I suppose it's perfectly understandable that you're
showing up."

The Knight laughed again. "A dream!" he crowed. "Tenjou,
Tenjou, just as before, you're still the a fool, prodded by the
stick, led by the carrot, pulled one way and then the other; the
blind woman at the eye of the hurricane. Everyone has their
strings in you, and you don't even see them." His voice dropped
low and cold, suddenly, full of something she could not call hate
only because it lacked entirely in any kind of fire. "I would
have pitied you, once, but I am not as I was; I have been down
into the sunless country, to the land where the stars are
strange. Shall I name you the constellations of those lands?
They are called the Skull, the Femur, the Rib... I have wandered
in the caves along the shore of the dark sea, and heard the
mermaids chanting their threnodies; their hair is long and black
and silky, but underneath their skins they are bone, all white
bone... I have seen wonders such as the eyes of men were not
meant to see, have walked at the sides of angels and devils--"

"That's great," Utena interrupted. "But who are you?"

There was suddenly a sense of disjunction in him, of a
ripple like the movement of a stage curtain passing through his
body. His form flickered--white to black, black to white, like
a photo and its negative--then steadied. And he laughed again,
brusquely. "Don't you know by now?" he snarled, sounding almost
insulted. "Process of elimination alone--"

Then he shook his head and said, almost sadly, "Of course
not, of course, you can't see, you can't see the whole thing like
I can, all of it, from every beginning to every ending, so..."

"Who are you?" she asked again, and stood silently waiting
for him to reply.

"Pay him no mind," the boy said quietly, but it cut through
the heavy silence and made her jump with surprise; she'd almost
forgotten he was there. "He can't come into this garden. It's
forbidden. Forbidden to a _thing_ such as him."

She whirled on the boy. "A thing?" she asked, confused and
somehow angered at the contemptuous hatred in the boy's voice.
"He--"

"Is not as he once was," the boy said bleakly. "You aren't
supposed to come back like that."

"I wasn't given a choice in the matter," the Knight said
coldly, and Utena turned back to him. He had sheathed his blade
at his side, and looked almost relaxed. "And yet all the same, I
have come back, and I am now what I am. And I know that it is
not as I was, but do not care."

"What is it you want this time?" she asked.

"Want is not a thing I am much possessed of," he answered
stonily. "It requires hope." Suddenly he laughed again,
terrible to hear. "Should you see my lady before I do, tell her,
let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she shall come."

He turned and began to stride away, cloak flowing behind
him. Utena moved to pursue him; she took one step, heard the
clatter of a watering-can falling to the ground, and then small
hands seized her from behind by the wrists. Their strength was
irresistible, shockingly incongruous to such a small, pale,
sickly-looking boy.

"He will kill you if you leave this garden," the boy said
softly, his breath cool against the side of her face. "And do
not doubt that you can die in this place."

"Let me go, damn it!" She jerked forward, but the boy did
not move an inch with her--he seemed rooted like a tree to the
floor of the greenhouse--and she succeeded only in painfully
jolting her arms. "Your lady?" she called, though the Knight had
already moved out of sight. "Who? Who do you mean?"

"To escape time by hiding in precious memories is one
thing," the boy said. His voice was gentle, and almost kind, but
he would not release her. "To come back from death is quite
another. The waters are dark and hungry, and at their bottoms
one sees things that should not be brought back."

"Death..." she murmured, and ceased struggling. The boy let
her go, and she hunched over, back to him, rubbing her sore
wrists. "Who is he?"

"He is the Knight of Pentacles now. That is all."

Utena thought about it briefly. Process of elimination?
There were other worlds, other versions of herself and everyone
she knew and loved and hated in this world. Who could possibly
be eliminated, if she were only to accept that the other worlds
might not only be seen, but left and entered?

"The dead pass out of memory quickly, for it is their way."
The boy's voice seemed deeper, sadder, and she somehow got the
impression that he was taller. He moved, and bells sang with
his movement. A hand fell softly onto her shoulder, broad and
powerful. "Even now, you don't often think of your parents, do
you?"

"No," she admitted after a moment, closing her eyes. "Not
very often. They--" She stopped herself, and pulled away from
him.

He was the same small, pallid boy he had been before,
holding his watering-can. "They what?"

"Their graves are here," she said after some hesitation.
"In this city, I mean. I've been here for a few days, but I
haven't gone to visit them."

His smile was suddenly sad, and it made him look much older.
"Have you ever thought about why people visit graves?"

She shook her head. "Not really. It's just sort of a
traditional thing to do, isn't it?"

"I think it's all about memory," the boy declared.
"Although sometimes I think that it might be that the dead are
hungry, and every time you visit a grave, you're shortening your
own life."

Utena shuddered. "That's horrible," she muttered.

"Yes," the boy stated. He moved a few steps away from her
and began to pay attention with his watering-can to yet another
rose bush. "Speaking of parents, do you know what the duty of
children is?"

"No," she said, somewhat apologetically. "It's another
thing I've never really thought about much."

"It's to bear the burdens of their parents, whatever those
may be," the boy said distantly. The watering-can chose to run
out of water at that point; he frowned, and shook it to get the
last few drops out, causing the bells sewn along his sleeve to
jangle discordantly. "However heavy."

"Sounds rough," Utena said sympathetically. "My parents
died when I was very young, so..." She trailed off with a sigh.
"Where are your parents?"

"My watering-can's empty. Could you go fill it for me at
the tap outside?" the boy asked, turning, taking a step forward,
and presenting the slender-necked copper watering-can to her.

"Sure," she said absently, taking it from his hands and
heading out of the greenhouse. The spring grass was withered and
blackened with the marks of footprints wherever the Knight had
walked, as though his very movements were a contagion.

But first she had to fill the watering-can. At the sink,
she opened the hinged lid, then turned the tap, having to put a
little muscle behind it to get it to move. Water began to
gurgle from the spout, splashing against the bottom of the stone
basin. She filled the can nearly brim-full, closed the lid, and
headed back to the greenhouse, resolving to question the boy
further about the Knight. He seemed to know many things; there
was an old sadness in his eyes that made her think the Knight had
spoken some part of the truth: he was her elder by far.

One moves, she thought absently, through a dream accepting
things as givens that one would not accept when waking. Thus do
I focus so resolutely upon the filling of a watering-can when the
lives of my friends may be in danger. Thus does the watering-can
become the world.

"Hello?" she called, stepping back into the greenhouse.
"Hey, I brought the watering can back." She frowned. "Hey,
kid?"

There was no answer. He was gone, as a quick comb through
the greenhouse confirmed. She put the watering-can down near a
bush, her frown deepening, and called once again, "Hey, kid!"

Maybe he was never really here at all, she thought. Then
she heard a distant shudder of silver bells, overcome a second
later by the deep voices of greater ones. And then, in between
each peal, in the echo as the booming clangour died away:

utena-sama

utena-sama

utena-sama

utena-sama

Swiftly, she left the greenhouse, left behind earth and
watering-can and long-thorned grey rose, and strode towards the
tower and the emanations of the bells.

* * *

The car ran driverless through the winter night, a horse without
a rider. Rimes of frost rimmed the frame. High beams cut at the
darkness like swords. Rivers rose before it, and bridges
appeared that it might cross. Walls of fire appeared, and were
doused by flurries of snow.

The radio came tinnily to life.

o/` Stars fading but I linger on dear
o/` Still craving your kiss
o/` I'm longing to linger till dawn dear
o/` Just saying this

Walls of fire appeared, and were doused by flurries of snow.
Rivers rose before it, and bridges appeared that it might cross.
High beams cut at the darkness like swords. Rimes of frost
rimmed the frame. A horse without a rider, the car ran
driverless through the winter night.

o/` Sweet dreams till sunbeams find you
o/` Sweet dreams that leave all worries far behind you
o/` But in your dreams whatever they be
o/` Dream a little dream of me

And, just as quickly, died.

The car ran circles in the night, radio snapping on and off
in a pattern as predictable as the signal from a lighthouse.

* * *

The white doors stood before her; blue and yellow swathes and
thin black lines defined the rose upon it. The special elevator,
leading from the base of the spire to the chairman's quarters.
There was a small numerical pad beside it. You needed a pass
code. She remembered Anthy telling it to her, slowly and
carefully. Having her repeat it. It wouldn't do to have you
locked out in the night, Utena-sama.

It would, of course, be the same. Even after seven years.
Even in a phantom land. She keyed it in, and the doors chimed,
then gaped open, revealing red walls. They closed again as soon
as she had stepped inside. The chime again, and the elevator
began to rise, riding the spine of the spire as smoothly as a
water droplet sliding down glass. Perhaps foolishly, she felt no
apprehension of any kind, even though it was perfectly possible
that the elevator could suddenly jerk to a halt and go plunging
down the shaft, carrying her down to her doom. But this was just
a dream, wasn't it? Or an illusion, a phantasm--something
unreal. Something outside reality. It couldn't hurt her.

She chuckled bitterly as her scar throbbed. That had been
real, at least. Anthy had gotten that sword from somewhere. And
if that sword had been real, why not all those other swords? All
one million of them. Should not there be scars from them, as
well? If they had been real. If any of it had been real. Some
of it had to have been; she remembered Anthy plunging down in her
coffin, into those crimson clouds. Had that merely been Anthy
riding down the tower in the elevator, with mask upon mask woven
over it? No--no, the heart cried out against it. It had to have
been something more than that, something deeper; to have it all
as mere illusion was far too unfair.

The petulant thought made her think of a scrap of poetry
she'd read once. A man says to the universe: "Sir, I exist!"
And the universe shoots back: "However, the fact has not created
in me a sense of obligation."

Fairness. A sweet, silly concept. Like nobility, truth.
Love. Oh, she thought suddenly, shamefully, oh, I do not want to
think these things. The elevator continued its ascent in
silence, and she realized that she hadn't even pushed the button
for the chairman's office. Up, up, and up. Such a very long
time this journey took.

She reached down to check the sword at her side. Her
fingers settled comfortably around the reassuring weight of the
cool metal hilt. A good blade; she was thankful she'd brought it
with her. There was no way of knowing what awaited her at the
top. At her breast was a grey rose, heavy as lead; in her hand
was a sword, light as a feather.

The elevator kept on going up, and Utena kept on waiting.
Soon enough, she thought; soon enough. Soon enough for what?
That didn't matter. There was her hand, on the hilt of a blade,
and there was whatever lurked above.

"Please begin, Tenjou-san."

She nodded, and sat down in the stool, thoughtfully provided
for guests in the elevator. It was, after all, a very long ride.
The mirrored doors cast her image back at her, like the sea
returning driftwood to the shore: smoothed, polished, more
beautiful. Burnished gold, shining silver, glossy black.

"Where do I start?" She drew her sword from her sheath and
held it across her knees; her double in the mirror did the same.

"Wherever you'd like to begin is just fine."

Faintly, she smiled. "I guess it starts with Himemiya. I
didn't realize it until right near the end, but it wasn't a
prince who really inspired me to try and have a noble heart; it
was Himemiya. When I saw her suffering like that, I wanted to
save her. Because no matter what she'd done, it wasn't right
that she should have to suffer like that. It isn't right that
anyone should have to suffer like that, whatever it is they've
done."

"Then you don't believe that people should be punished for
their crimes."

"I didn't say that," she replied softly, trying not to sound
defensive. "But it's wrong that people should ever have to pay
forever, for anything."

"Then you believe that everything can be forgiven."

"Stop telling me what I believe!" she snapped. The elevator
shivered at her voice, and the mirror darkened briefly, casting
her doppelganger into shadow. "Are you saying I was wrong, to
want to save Himemiya? Are you saying that what she did was so
terrible that she deserved to suffer like that?"

"Tell me more about Himemiya."

The faint smile came again. Just thinking of Himemiya made
her feel calm. Peaceful. "The next time I saw Himemiya, I
didn't remember that we'd met before. My first impression... I
didn't think much of her. Any girl who'd just sit there and let
her boyfriend yell at her like that. But then, when Saionji hit
her... it made me mad. Not just because nobody should treat a
girl like that, but because she just took it as though it was
proper. I wanted to yell at her for being weak, and I wanted to
protect her from him at the same time. If Touga hadn't shown up
when he did... I don't know. Maybe I would have run down there.
Maybe not."

The distant, metallic sound of gears ratcheting together
reached her ears. Some mechanism of the elevator, briefly loud
enough to hear, quickly fading. She went on talking.

"Later, as I got to know her better, and as I found out all
the strange things at this school... about her being the Rose
Bride... I wanted to change her. Show her that the way she was
living her life wasn't right. Maybe that was wrong of me. But
it seemed to work, at first. Then Touga showed me the truth;
Himemiya had only been changing her personality to fit the wish
in my heart. So, I was really just being selfish, forcing her
to become another person because I didn't like the one she was.
It wasn't just being the Rose Bride--I really thought in those
days that if someone was quiet and didn't have a lot of friends,
it probably meant that something was wrong with them. I couldn't
understand that some people might be happy being alone with their
own thoughts, because I always loved being the centre of
attention so much."

The elevator began to climb faster; the sudden jump of speed
made her stomach roll, and she briefly tightened her grip on the
sword hilt until the hilt dug painfully into her palm.

"As it turned out, of course, there were a lot of things
wrong for Himemiya. But after I realized that she would change
herself according to my wishes... I gave up trying to change her,
at least consciously. I just tried to be there for her, to be
her friend. To accept her." She paused in thought, then sighed
deeply. "I'm not sure if that was such a good idea, now."

"There's something you're not telling me."

"Am I required to tell you everything?"

"You claim it's all about her, then."

"No." She took a deep breath. "It was around that time
that I met Himemiya's brother. Akio-san. At first, it was sort
of what I imagined having an older brother might be like. We'd
talk about things that troubled me, and he always seemed to have
such good advice. He was much older than me, and he had a
fiancee. It would have... it would have been silly to hope for
anything, I thought."

"Interesting. 'To hope for anything'. Please continue."

Something ground loudly beneath the red-carpeted floor of
the elevator. Steel moving on steel. Another stomach-flipping
speed increase.

"Later on, when he suggested Himemiya and I move in with
him, I fooled myself into thinking it was proper. I was good at
that, back then--at seeing what I wanted to see and hearing what
I wanted to hear. But I wasn't really surprised the first time
he kissed me, and I wasn't unhappy, either. I began, like a
fool, to believe that he had real feelings for me. I should have
felt terrible, because he was engaged to Kanae-san, but I
didn't."

"Tell me about her."

"Kanae-san seemed like a nice person. But I think I hated
her a little, just because it seemed as though everything was so
easy for her. She was rich and had both her parents and had such
a handsome fiancee. It was terrible of me, but one of the things
I thought when Akio-san first kissed me was, 'Wouldn't it hurt
Kanae-san to see this?' But that didn't make me feel as bad as I
thought it would. A part of me was happy."

"You believe yourself to be a wicked person, at heart."

She nodded. "That's one of the things I'm afraid of," she
whispered. "When we played badminton together, Juri-sempai
talked about how she'd only been thinking of herself all along.
She seemed to imply that I was the only one who hadn't been doing
that, but I don't know. Wasn't I just in it for myself, wanting
to play make-believe prince and not really caring as much about
Himemiya as I should have?"

In the mirror, her reflection was weeping, silently.

"Go back a little. I think there's more you want to say
about Ohtori Kanae."

"I think she knew what kind of man Akio was. But she didn't
let herself see. Or she did see, but kept up the engagement
anyway. Maybe she didn't have a choice. I think she was just an
innocent person, caught up in something she didn't understand.
Touga said Akio-san might have poisoned her, but I don't see why
he would do that."

"You think you could have avoided falling in love with
Ohtori Akio."

She unconsciously smoothed the white fabric of her dress.
It was awkward, to sit on a hard wooden stool in such a long,
wide skirt. "I don't know. Love isn't something you can just
turn on and off, is it? Look at Nanami. She's having all kinds
of problems because she's telling herself she shouldn't love
Touga any more because he isn't really her brother by blood and
because he's done some terrible things, but you can't just make
yourself stop loving someone like that. So she's all confused
inside, and Touga doesn't know what to do either; I think they're
both going to get hurt, in the end."

"You keep on mentioning Touga's name, but only in passing.
Tell me about him. How you feel about him."

"I don't know." She reached down and tugged up one red sock
which had bunched itself at her ankle. "I really don't know how
I feel about him at all. I guess I'm all confused too; I guess
I'm really not much better than Nanami."

"Tell me about her."

Her mirror image smiled, even as the tears ran down her
face. "It's funny. We didn't get along in school at all, and
even now we have lots of arguments. And she can be really weird
sometimes. But in a way, I feel closer to her than I do to Juri-
sempai or Shiori-san. Maybe it's because part of her reminds me
of Himemiya, because of her older brother, and part of her
reminds me of me, because she had this guy she believed in so
faithfully, and he turned out not to be worth believing in. I
wish I'd listened to her more carefully, near the end. Maybe
things would have turned out differently if I had."

"Let's go back to Himemiya Anthy. You love her."

"Yeah," Utena said after a moment. "Yeah, I do. I think I
love her more than anyone else. But I'm not sure what kind of a
love it is. I remember sempai asking me about it, and I couldn't
get my answer straight. I don't think that it's the same kind of
love that sempai has for Shiori-san, but at the same time, it's
something different from the love between very good friends. I
guess in the end, I really don't know."

"And you love Ohtori Akio."

"No!" She took a deep, shuddering breath. "No, I don't.
Not any more. He wasn't any of the things he pretended to be.
He lied to me and used me, and he wouldn't do a thing to save
Himemiya. I hate him. I hate him more than anyone else."

"But you yourself said that love isn't something you can
just turn on and off."

"I don't love him!" she yelled, and the left side of the
mirror cracked. The elevator quivered, halted; then, with a lurch,
it began to drop.

"Then kill him."

"I--"

"You want him dead, but you don't want to do it yourself."

"No. I--"

The elevator shook, and she was pitched off the stool and
into the back wall, hard. The wind of their descent was
screaming in her ears. The cables had snapped; death came. Such
a long, long fall.

"What is it you really want?"

"I don't want him to die," she sobbed, burying her face in
her hands, crumpled against the padded red wall. "Why couldn't
he have been good?" she whispered in a tiny, broken voice. "Why
couldn't he have been what I wanted? I hate him; I hate him so
much. But I don't want him to die. I want--"

The elevator jerked to a halt, so quickly she was hurled to
the floor by the inertia, avoiding hitting her head only by
catching herself painfully on her forearms.

"You want?"

"I want to help him," she whispered, ashamed. "I mean...
even if I couldn't become a prince, in the end, didn't I do
enough? Didn't I help Anthy find herself, and leave him?"

"You think you didn't become a prince?"

"I didn't. If I did... why did things turn out that way?
With me unhappy and all these terrible things... I know what
Akio-san and Akino Akami said, but they were just trying to trick
me."

"You know what they say. The prince people hold inside
their hearts is like a snowflake. Everyone has one. Everyone
has a different one."

"What's that supposed to mean?" she murmured, getting
painfully to her feet. Her shoelace had come untied, and she
knelt to fix it.

Her reflection smiled enigmatically, then tore into two and
vanished as the elevator doors opened. Utena walked out, sword
in hand, into the nave of the bell-tower.

All the windows were broken. Some from without, so that
slivers and fragments of stained glass littered the wooden floor,
and some from within. The windows were broken, every one of
them, and the light was flooding in, trapping dust motes in its
beams and being trapped in the colourful, shattered remains of
the windows.

Though the light came in, it was still not enough. The
ropes hung and swayed in the wind blowing in through the broken
windows, and went up, up, up, fading first into shadow, then into
impenetrable darkness, impossibly high.

A floorboard squeaked beneath her, and she started, then
shook her head and took a deep breath. She felt oddly at peace.
The long, strange ride in the elevator had been cathartic. Some
gift, perhaps, offered freely. A lens through which to see
herself.

Or a trap, to draw her in, make her lower her guard, make
her vulnerable. She tightened her grip on the sword, not caring
where it had come from, caring merely that she had a weapon with
which to fight.

"Come out, come out," she whispered. A shuffle of feet
behind her made her spin, sword held out to thrust or slash.

A figure in white emerged from a thick cluster of hanging
ropes, pushing them aside with long-fingered pale-gloved hands.
His cape was tattered, his gentle dark face smudged with soot.
There were holes in his boots, and his eyes were wild and dark-
circled. Prince Dios, but lacking severely in princely elegance.
Dried blood stained his left side, and he walked with a limp.

She leveled the sword at him. "Hold it."

Dios paused, then, sighing, slumped down to the wooden floor
in a loose sprawling sit. "Please put your sword away, little
one," he said, in a soft voice that made her want to hurl the
horrible hurtful sword away and rush to him, cradle his wounded
body in her arms, lay his weary head in her lap and stroke his
hair and tell him, "Don't worry. Rest now."

She gritted her teeth and held on to the sword. "How many
times do you think you can fool me with this, Akio?" she asked
softly. Sadly, even.

Dios laughed, softly, a tinkling of silver bells. "Come sit
beside me," he enticed. "Bring the sword if you wish. I won't
hurt you, child."

"I'm not a child any more," she replied bleakly, not moving.

"To me you are," Dios murmured. "It's all relative. You
don't need to sit down beside me. We can talk just as we are."
He sighed gently and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his
half-crossed legs. "Do you understand what this place is?"

She took a moment to reply, guardedly. "No," she admitted.
"Last time I was here, I looked out a window and saw another
world. But all the windows are broken now."

"Have you looked out of one yet?"

"I'm not turning my back on you." But, all the same, she
moved over to the nearest broken window, keeping a watch on him
out of the corner of her eye. A quick glance showed her a
rolling, blazing, red chaotic sea (or sky) beyond the confines of
the bell-tower. Very faintly, she heard what sounded like a low,
droning voice, as the crimson expanse surged and eddied,
sometimes like the ocean, sometimes like a bank of drifting
clouds.

She looked back at Dios. "So what?" she said, a little
snidely. "Illusion or dream, you see weird things."

"You don't understand," the prince said unhappily. He
stared at his hands. "Look at me, child. I'm very nearly dead.
Only here, in this interstice of intersections, can I speak to
you."

"You are dead," she murmured, looking away from him, not
wanting him to witness the spasm of grief that passed across her
face. "You've been dead for a long time. Centuries, at least.
Maybe thousands of years. Maybe forever. Maybe you were never
really real at all, except in the dreams of foolish children."

"Dead." Again, he laughed softly, and there was something
of Akio in it, cynical and amused, amidst the childish tones.
"That was what he said, wasn't it? But who are you going to
believe, him or me? I certainly know whether or not I'm dead
better than he does."

Despite herself, she chuckled softly. It turned into a sob
after a moment, which she failed to stifle.

"Don't be afraid to cry in front of me," he said gently. "I
won't mock you for it. I won't ever do a thing like that."

She dabbed her eyes on her sleeve and shook her head. "I
want to believe in you," she said. "But I can't. I can't take
that kind of risk again."

"It's all right," Dios said soothingly. He didn't sound
angry, or even disappointed. "I understand. You're not the same
innocent person you once were. You can't become her again.
Once lost, innocence cannot be regained. But don't you want to
save your friends? Don't you want to save those you love?"

She nodded, mute, tight-throated, with eyes closed against
tears.

"Love, forgiveness, reconciliation, truth, eternity,
miracles... these are all things that are easy to speak of with
contempt. Being cynical about everything is easy, just as easy
as believing things blindly. What's hard is to find a middle
ground. Even most adults can't manage to do that."

"What are you?" she whispered, not expecting a truthful
answer, or even one she could make sense of.

"A shadow of a shadow, in the dream of a dream." His voice
was already growing distant, the last sweet strains of a perfect
music. "I'm not worried, you know. I've seen your heart. You
have strength enough to save both of them. To save everyone.
Right now, though, you're hanging in the balance. Alas, for two
souls burn within your breast. There's a power in both of them,
but you have to realize it, first."

"Realize what?"

"Look at the sword."

She opened her eyes and looked at the sword. A straight
blade. A black handle. Straight golden quillons. Suddenly, she
cried out in disgust and fear, and flung it away from her as
though it were a burning serpent. Its hilt bounced once on the
wooden floor, and then it slid away into the shadows and
vanished. She recognized it. Did not know how she had not,
before. It had been one in a million, that blade. One of a
million.

Shivering with terror at her own self, at the meaning behind
this to what she had become, to what she had been and to what she
might be, she knelt on the floor and hugged herself tightly, for
she had no one else to embrace and no one else to embrace her.

I want to help him, she thought. And it hurt to think that,
because she still hated him so much, and remembered with perverse
happiness the feel of his neck within her hands. Wasn't there a
point you could go past where you no longer could--no longer
deserved--to be saved? How many times should you offer a hand
only to have it slapped away? Wasn't there a point where, like a
rabid dog or a tiger with a taste for flesh, a man, even if he
were once a good man (even if he were once the best of men) had
to be destroyed for the greater good? A trembling in her breast;
the ferrous scrapery of swords; the raptor with iron wings. She
could feel the pulse of Akio's throat against her fingers.

And she realized then what seemed in that moment a deeper
truth than any she had ever known. She thought: what we call
evil is actually that which we hate and fear. We call a thing
evil because we wish to destroy it and think ourselves righteous
for doing so. What we seek to destroy, we seek to destroy not
because it must be destroyed, but because we wish to destroy
something that is within ourselves. The terror of a fallen
angel is not because he is a monster, but because he is our
brother.

She remembered Nanami's voice in the darkness, so quiet and
so sad: "Perhaps the dragons of our lives are princesses who are
only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps
everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless
that wants help from us."

A calm came upon her then, not like the calm of a child in
the womb, but like the calm of a ship that has weathered a
terrible storm at sea, and, battered and with ragged sails, limps
finally into safe harbour. She smiled, and, slowly but steadily,
rose to her feet.

"Well", she said resignedly, "I suppose they had to
go somewhere, didn't they?" But they had been sleeping; did
they stir at the sight of the Prince? Of he who was once the
prince?

To draw the swords from the Prince to herself had been the
destiny of the Rose Bride. So Akio had said. But why had the
swords wanted him in the first place? If they were one side of
a balance in her, as Dios (false or true) had implied, then what
was the other side? She certainly did have some power. There
was power in hate, just as there was in love.

I, she thought suddenly, am the pivot upon which these
balanced forces turn. Light and dark, sun and shadow, love and
hate, these all are a part of me. In their opposition there is
union; the war within myself creates my self. I am Tenjou Utena;
I am prince, princess, woman, girl, bearer and wielder and victim
of swords. I will save my friends; I will save those that I
love. If I can, if I possibly can, I will save everyone.

She turned and stepped back into the waiting elevator, to
descend again to earth.

* * *

I will plant the seeds of roses in your marrow, when they crack
their shells your bones will split. The vines shall bind your
body to the earth and I shall water you in order that you will
never die. I will sow salt within your skin.

I shall dig at you as the spade digs at the earth, I shall
furrow you as the plow cuts the field, I shall rake you as a
gardener at the autumn leaves, I will flay you as though you are
corn to thresh.

I will make a garden of your face. I will put out your eyes
and grow lilies in the sockets, I will slit your nose and raise
poppies in the hollow, I will cut out your tongue and daisies
will grow between your teeth.

All this and more I will do, and I will do it to you
forever.

The red eyes are like wheels of fire in her mind, and each
threat carries behind it the severe weight of power; they are not
idle. The red eyes fill the world. The red eyes are the world.

Why, she asks, why? And she is unused to questioning such
punishments, unused to thinking them not to be her deserving lot.

Hatehatehatehatehatehatehatehatehatehatehatehatehatehatehate
hatehatehatehatehatehatehatehatehatehatehatehatehatehatehate
hatehatehatehatehatehatehatehatehatehatehatehatehatehatehate
hatehatehatehatehatehatehatehatehatehatehatehatehatehateYOU!

* * *

Utena stepped calmly into the small, closet-like elevator, and
sat down on the stool before the mirror with the shelf
below it. The face in the mirror was entirely her own. To her
left, about the level of her head if she'd been standing, was a
black-winged butterfly with yellow spots, framed and frozen
beneath glass. To her right was the grillwork of a speaker.

The elevator began a slow, palsied descent. Walls were
high, light was dim, reflection was shadowed. She shifted on the
uncomfortable stool, frowning. It ought, at least, to be padded.

"Is anyone there?" a male voice asked softly. It was
familiar, but she couldn't place it.

"I am," she replied quietly. "Go ahead."

"I'm Mikage Souji, from Grade 12. Due to a special
arrangement, I have no assigned classroom. Most of my time is
spent in independent research and projects. They say I'm a
genius."

Utena sat quietly. A deep calm had fallen over her like a
bride's veil. Mikage's voice was placid, but she could sense the
tension, the pain, in it.

"There was a girl--no, a woman. A woman now. It was a very
long time ago. I think I was in love with her. But I don't even
really know what love is. Do you love someone if you want to
take her tears away forever? If seeing her sad makes you sad?
As though every time she smiles, it's as though it's the first
smile you've ever seen?"

"That's a kind of love," she said softly.

Over the intercom, she heard, faintly, the sound of a deep,
quavering breath being drawn. "She had a brother. A younger
brother. A beautiful boy. He had eternity shining in his eyes,
like stars mirrored in the sea. But he was very ill, and had not
long to live. I think I loved him too. I'm not sure if it was
the same love I had for her or not. I don't know much of love.
I'm not good at that sort of thing."

"There's something you're not saying." Where were these
words coming from? She had no idea. Deep as instinct, deep as
bone. "Go deeper."

The mirror turned translucent, like crystal. Mikage Souji
sat on the other side, in an elevator identical to hers, in a
mirror of her pose. Hands in his lap. Head bowed. Eyes closed.
Still looking eighteen years old.

"I think that although she cared for me and appreciated the
happiness I brought her brother, she didn't really love me. She
loved someone else. A powerful man. I think she thought he
could give eternity to her and let her save her brother."

He put his head in his hands and let out a quiet sigh, which
filtered through the intercom to reach her ears. The elevator
rumbled like the belly of a beast.

"I thought that if I could give her eternity, she would love
me... that eternity was the sort of thing that it was just to
obtain at any price. But now I'm starting to doubt that. She
obviously didn't believe it." He shuddered. "I did a thing that
some might call terrible. But it was implicit in their contract.
And it wasn't as though they truly died..."

For a moment, she thought she could smell smoke, but then it
was gone.

"But I did it all for her," he whispered. "For the two of
them. I wanted to save them both. They were both so beautiful.
I wanted to preserve them forever, against time and death. Like
roses under glass. Was that so wrong?"

He let out something that might have been a sob, but his
face was hidden from her, and she could not see if there were
tears. "Why did she run away from me?" he moaned. "Couldn't she
understand that even if I did wrong, I did it all for her? That
even if I did a wrong against her, it was only because I loved
her?"

A mingling of pity and disgust arose within her. She said
nothing. The mirror turned clear as a window. Mikage trembled,
than gasped out more words. "Why did she run into the flames?
Didn't she know I'd follow? Did she think she could save them?
And we were lost by that, both of us... they came for me as was
just, but she stood in their way--"

Suddenly, he raised his hands up and slammed them down so
hard on the shelf before his mirror that even Utena felt a shiver
from the impact. His face was terribly twisted but somehow
blank, as though he could not manage to express outwardly all
that he was feeling within; as though he were a volcano sheathed
in ice, boiling inside, but only just beginning to crack on the
surface.

"Why couldn't she have loved me back?" he howled, and then
he began to weep, brokenly, like a child abandoned in some dark,
cold, loveless place.

The elevator slowed to a stop with a low, whining drone that
faded finally to a shrill whistle, then died altogether. On the
other side of the mirror, Mikage sobbed into his hands.

Utena stood calmly, opened the door, and stepped into the
next room. There were three chairs, arranged in a triangular
formation so that each seated person might look at the other two.
But only one was occupied, by Mikage, who sat there weeping and
rocking back and forth, with the two empty chairs standing there
as though in accusation. Behind his head, light from the dank
grey afternoon outside spilled through the high arched window and
illumined him. Raindrops hit the panes like suicides.

"Tokiko... Mamiya..."

He spoke those two names, over and over again, as though all
other vocabulary had been excised, as though those two names were
the only language he had left to him. Compassion came upon her
like a descending pillar of fire. Poor broken thing, she
thought, trapped in memories, lost to hope, eternally young,
eternally confused; the wound that will not heal, like that of
Anfortas or Philoctetes. How could I ever have hated you?

The floor was black tile, and the walls were draped in white
silk. She crossed it with quiet echoes of her shoes and a
stately drifting sweep of skirts. Mikage did not even seem to
notice her, not even when she placed her hand gently on the back
of his neck--pushing aside his pale hair to do so--and simply
left it there, not saying a thing, having nothing to say.

She thought of the battles in the sky. Of the black rose
petals falling like dark snow, settling so softly upon red
silhouettes. Mikage on his knees, sobbing into his hands.
"Mamiya," over and over again. And she had just left. "I'm not
like you," she had said then, coldly--she thought back to the
sound of her voice with a bit of fear--and she'd taken Anthy by
the hand and led her down the stairs. Calling back, sharply:
"Keep the hell away from my friends, and from anyone else." And
the next day... the next day he had been gone. From the school,
from memory, from existence.

What if she had stayed? What if she had offered her hand to
him, after beating him to his knees? Could he have helped her to
understand? Could she have stopped him from fading away?

She stood with her hand on his neck for a while, saying
nothing. After a while, he took hold of her skirts, and began to
sob into them, and she let him. He did that for a long time, and
eventually he took a long breath as though swallowing his tears,
looked up at her and asked, softly, disbelieving, "Tokiko?"

"No," she replied, equally soft. She touched his face, as
though he were soft clay for her to mold. "I'm not her."

"I have to find her, you see," he said calmly. "She's in
danger. Terrible danger. She's very wise and very clever, and
strong, but she doesn't see."

Utena nodded, as though she knew, as though she'd always
known. "What is it that you really want?" she asked softly. She
looked down at him with gentle eyes; she hadn't realized before
what a small man he was.

He thought upon it for a moment. "Not to hurt any more," he
said finally.

She smiled, sadly. "I'm afraid that isn't possible."

"Forgiveness," he said after silence. He paused. "Love."

"Forgiveness is a kind of love." She took his hands in both
of hers and drew him to his feet. "If you want to save the one
you love, you'll have to seek her in the world outside this
place. Are you brave enough to do that?"

He nodded, though he looked frightened. She led him to a
door and opened it. A long set of stairs dusted with snow
stretched beyond it, leading down to the winter-choked campus of
Ohtori Academy. Bare trees and icy walkways.

"Snow takes a long time to disappear in this place," Mikage
said softly.

She squeezed his shoulder once, watched him go through the
door, then closed it gently behind him. She walked back to the
chair in the centre of the room and sat down in it. She sat like
that for a few minutes, then shook her head. What was she doing
here? Himemiya was out there somewhere--she'd heard her voice,
and she had to go to her. That was much more important than
sitting on the lone chair of a dark room by herself, lost in a
haze of shadowed thoughts.

She got up so fast that she nearly tripped on her untied
shoelace. After cursing, she tied it back up, then hurried to
the door, opened it up, and ran down the marble stairs towards
the green spring grass and the budding trees.

* * *

The Ohtori family library took up two floors on the western wing
of the manse, the upper connected to the lower by a winding
spiral staircase of wrought iron, over a century old.
Everything--floor, bookshelves, furnishings, and otherwise--was
oak, heavy and dark and gleamingly polished. Throw rugs of dark
blue and light grey dotted the floor, arranged in a seemingly
chaotic pattern whose precise order would only have been visible
to someone who could somehow observe them from the air. As that
would have required that the top of the house be torn off, it was
unlikely to happen any time soon.

Ohtori Hoshimi stood before the blaze in the great stone
fireplace, sipped her mint tea, and tried to will herself warm
with little success. Even with the fire, she could not escape
the grip of the cold.

Two great arched windows flanked the fireplace. If things
had been proper, they would have overlooked the winter-choked
sight of the western gardens: the greenhouse, the beds where the
roses would bloom in the summer, the desolation of the waterless
marble fountain where the boy and the girl rode their dolphins
beneath cloaks of snow. Things were not proper, however, and
beyond the windows roiled a thick turgid sea-sky of red, the
sight of which reminded her somewhat unpleasantly but entirely
unsurprisingly of menstrual blood.

The marble mantelpiece was crowded with framed portraits.
She picked up one taken a little over two years after Kanae's
birth. Kanae was on her lap, a chubby little thing in a white
dress with a happy smile; her husband stood behind her, tall and
healthy, with his hand possessively placed upon her shoulder as
he looked down at her and her daughter with a nearly insufferable
expression of patriarchal pride.

This, she thought with a faint, bitter smile, ought to be
the scene where the wicked queen, in the face of what has been
unleashed, drops a single gleaming tear upon the portrait of her
once-happy family, regrets all that she has done, and thinks back
to happier times.

Suddenly, but quite calmly, she threw the portrait into the
fire and turned away, dry-eyed, while the wooden frame burned and
the glass cracked in the heat, and the arranged photograph inside
curled and charred.

"Damn you, you fool," she said quietly, draining the last of
her tea. From the left, the hum and squeak of her husband's
electric wheelchair announced his approach--he had been on the
other side of the library, at one of the long tables, consulting
books.

"Will it abate soon?" he asked, a faintly whining tone to
it. He was wearing his reading glasses, which magnified the
flinty bleakness of his eyes.

"How am I supposed to know?" she asked sharply, turning away
from him and staring back into the fire, where the portrait had
been almost entirely consumed; if he'd observed her burning it,
he did not deign to give it any notice. "You speak as though I
planned for this to happen."

"For all I know, you did," he said. The whining wasn't even
faint now. "I warned you that something like this might occur,
you know. We shouldn't have--"

"Yes," she snapped, casting an angry glare back at him.
"Yes, I am now quite aware of that. I knew he was unstable, but
not like this. He's..." She took a deep breath. "He's insane,
I think. I should have seen it coming. Dioscuri, Gemini, Libra;
two sides of one. Take one away, and the balance is gone."

"That's all very good," he said with a sneer, "delightfully
mystic and obtuse, but what can we do to _fix_ things?"

She sighed, and lost what little remained of her patience.
"Oh, do shut up."

His eyes narrowed. "Don't speak to me like that, woman."

Ohtori Hoshimi drew her bandaged hand up to her chest, and
rubbed the wrist. "Do you even realize how much I have always
hated you, toothless old man?" she asked softly.

He opened his mouth, then closed it as she waved her injured
hand at him dismissively. "Go to sleep," she told him. "Have
dreams that frighten you. When you wake up, forget that we spoke
like this."

His eyes closed and his head drooped; he slumped down in his
wheelchair and began to drool on himself. She delicately removed
his reading glasses and tucked them into the pocket of his robe,
then wheeled him over into a corner and left him there before
returning to stare out the window at the chaos, as though by
doing so she could somehow bring order to it.

"Soon enough," she said out loud, as though the words would
make it true, "you will grow bored with this. You will go back
to sleep. Things will return to normal."

Three heavy thuds, as though with a sledgehammer, shook the
double doors at the other end of the library. Perhaps it was
merely coincidental that they followed her words; perhaps not.

"I am protected in here!" she called, despising how high and
frightened and uncertain her voice sounded. "This place was long
ago prepared--"

The doors began to splinter, and with them the entirety of
the library; splintering, melting, dissolving, cracking, it was
hard to say which. All and none, none and all.

Hoshimi shouted three words at the top of her lungs. Two of
them she had made vows never to utter, and left her weeping with
pain on the floor, with her bandaged hand soaked in blood and
dripping onto the carpet. But the pain was good--the pain was an
acknowledgement of her existence, the reality of her being. And
nothing hammered at the doors any longer. Eventually, the pain
went away enough that she could walk again, and she staggered to
a heavy-limbed but well-padded chair and slumped into it with a
groan. There were gauze and bandages on the nearby side table,
and she carefully rebandaged her hand once the bleeding had
stopped. In his wicker basket on the other side of the chair,
Trivia meowed weakly and opened his blue eyes to gaze up at her.
Idly, she drifted her uninjured hand down to stroke the Siamese
between his ears.

"They hurt you, didn't they, my beauty?" she whispered
wearily. "The nasty, nasty things, they hurt my darling, and
hurt me too, for you and I are one." The cat began to purr, and
she smiled. "What's to become of us, pet? Our poor mad prince
has wrecked the world, my sweet, turned everything upside down:
'fair is foul and foul is fair'. But we're safe in our little
shelter for now, aren't we?" Careful of his bandage-swathed
front right paw, she lifted the cat into her lap. He lifted his
head, and she dragged a finger down his chin to the vibrating
muscles of his throat. "With luck, the red king and the white
queen shall come together this time." Her smile tightened. "But
if not, there are other ways. You tasted her blood, did you
not?" Taking him under the shoulders, she raised his face up to
hers and cooed at him as though he were an infant. "Wasn't she
sweet, my precious? Wasn't she lovely beyond compare? Such a
shame, that he kept her in a birdcage for so very long, with her
wings clipped and her feathers plucked. Beautiful birds are
meant to fly--" She paused, narrowing her eyes; simultaneously,
Trivia hissed and bared his fangs.

"Don't do that," she said coldly. "You've been warned
before."

The Knight walked out slowly from the shadows of a high
shelf and knelt before her. "I apologize, my lady. I did not
want to interrupt the conversation."

"Take your mask off," she commanded, laying Trivia back in
his basket. The Knight did as he was told, and she regarded
the pale, icy-eyed face with the same aesthetic pleasure as a
sculptress might. "Tell me what sights you have seen," she said
softly, casually laying her right foot up on his left shoulder,
"tell me what places you have been..."

She was still wearing the new heels she'd purchased for the
gallery opening, glossy black. The Knight pulled it off, laid it
gently on the floor, and softly pressed his lips to her instep
through the thin covering of her hose. She sighed softly, mildly
regretting that the need to speak necessitated the removal of his
lips.

"I have wandered," he began, "through the stirrings of the
mind's night, the writhings of the night's mind..."

* * *

Once again, drawn as though by some gentle hook, she found
herself back at the greenhouse. The door was still opening; the
watering-can was where she'd left it. There was still no sign
whatsoever of the boy.

She paused for a moment to gather her thoughts, and, for
want of something to do, picked up the watering-can and began
giving her attentions to the bushes that looked as though they
needed them.

Once again, she wondered who cared for this garden in the
real world. Did Akio do it himself, perhaps? She could not
imagine that, but somehow...

Akio... the time in the elevator and the bell-tower were
already like dreams, half-remembered, vague gatherings of imagery
like scooped handfuls of jewels. One elevator ride, or two? Up
or down? And who had she spoken to? Herself in mirror, a mirror
in herself, a mirror of herself?

She started as the faintest of screams reached her ears, so
indistinct that she thought at first she'd imagined it. But then
it came again, and she recognized it. Anthy; Anthy was
screaming, somewhere far away. All other concerns were entirely
forgotten. The watering-can clattered and spilled its contents
on thirstless stones as she dropped it and ran to the other side
of the greenhouse, the direction in which the screams were coming
from.

Anthy screamed again, much closer, impossibly closer for the
distance she'd travelled from how faint the screams had been
before. Or perhaps Anthy was simply screaming louder. But where
was she? Utena cast her head around, desperate to hear Anthy
again so that she had some idea of how to locate her, and at the
same time hoping not to hear another cry of pain. Everywhere
were the rose bushes, long-thorned and blood-red. They had
conquered the confines of their basins and beds, and spilled out
long leafy tangles of thorny limbs that drifted like seaweed
across the greenhouse floor. Clothes, she saw with fearful
nausea, were caught upon the thorns, clothes that she recognized:
Ohtori's short-skirted uniform, the red gown of the Rose Bride, a
crimson dress that she'd seen both hanging loose on a small girl
and stretched tight over the long-limbed voluptuous body of a
grown woman. And there was a blue sweater that Anthy had
particularly liked, bought for her birthday a few years ago, torn
like all the rest upon the cruel hooked claws of the roses,
stained with sap and blood.

A soft, horrified "What is this?" escaped her lips, and then
the what of it ceased to matter, because Anthy screamed again, so
loud that the sound seemed to be coming from right below her
feet, under the soil of the rose bed. Because, she realized, it
was; the muffled quality, no matter how loud, made that crystal
clear. Anthy was somewhere below her, trapped and suffering.
She seized the closest shovel and dealt a few smashing blows to
the flimsy fence ringing the rose bed, then ripped it out in two
pieces and hurled it aside. Rose vines were clustered so thickly
in the bed that she could hardly see the earth at all; grimly,
she raised the shovel high, and brought it down in a series of
repetitive chops, as though it were an axe. Severed vines were
roughly kicked aside to give her room, and the blade of the
shovel was soon sticky with the juice of vine and petal. Sweet
cloying scents filled the air.

Gritting her teeth, Utena began to hurl great shovelfuls of
rich dark earth behind her. Anthy wasn't screaming any longer,
and she didn't know if that was good or bad. The digging
perversely seemed to become easier as she went, and soon enough
she was six feet under, with barely enough room to use the
shovel, filthy from head to toe with dirt and sweat. Earth and
small pebbles rained down on her with each scoop, as some hurled
dirt always failed to quite clear the lip of the deepening pit.

As she paused for a moment to wipe her brow and rest her
aching arms, someone called her name. "Utena-sama!"

Too tired from digging to be startled, she looked up. There
were two young girls--thirteen or fourteen--looking down into the
pit, from a good twenty feet above her. She hadn't realized she
had dug herself so deep. Through the distant glass ceiling of
the greenhouse, she could see that already it was dusk, and the
stars were coming out.

"What are you doing, Utena-sama?" called the first one,
pigtails dangling over her shoulders as she peered down.

"I'm digging," Utena explained.

"You'd better stop, Utena-sama," the second advised.

"Can't," Utena said apologetically, and went back to
digging. "Anthy's down here, and she needs me."

"Utena-sama!"

She didn't look up. "What?"

"Do you know what an angler fish is, Utena-sama?"

"Nope." Her shovel blade scraped wood. She knelt and began
with her hands to clear the dirt away from the coffin lid.

The second girl sounded worried. "Really? You don't?"

"Should I?" The work went surprisingly quickly; soon, she
had exposed the lid in its entirety, well-varnished oak with the
crest of the rose upon it, slippery beneath her scrabbling
fingers.

"Well, yes," the first girl said, and sighed.

A shower of loose earth hit Utena in the back of her head.
She cried out, and looked up in time to see the silvery glint of the
two girls' shovels, rising and falling, before another shower
forced her to close her eyes as it smacked into her forehead.

"Stop that!" she yelled, or tried to, cut off halfway
through by the rich musty earth hurled from above entering her
mouth. She fell to her knees, choking and spitting to clear it,
as shoveled dirt rained down upon her.

"We're really very sorry about this," said the first one,
not sounding sorry at all.

"We quite liked you. You made a wonderful heroine. The
combination of strength and weakness, power and vulnerability,
confidence and doubt, femininity and masculinity..."

"But there's been more than enough trouble already, and the
way things are going, you might wake him up all the way."

"And we really can't have that. It will be difficult to
work things without you. The heartless knight was quite right
about you being the central figure. You're a bit like the axis
of a wheel."

"Ooh, a simile! How do you think things will go after
this?"

"Well, someone else will just have to step into the role."

"But who? Who... who can possibly fill the shoes of Utena-
sama?"

"Don't swoon. Her shoes aren't that big."

"Her _metaphorical_ shoes."

"Ooh, a metaphor! What about... what's her name... you know
who I mean, right?"

"Her? No, that wouldn't work out at all."

"Why not? Don't you know what they say, that everyone has a
prince inside them?"

"Yes, but although all princes are created equal, some are
created more equal than others."

"The hole's filled now."

"Pat the earth down."

"You've got the seeds?"

"Of course. Would you like to plant them?"

"Can I?"

"Sure, go right ahead."

"Will they grow quickly?"

"No, very slowly. But they'll be terribly beautiful when
they do blossom. This is the best kind of soil for growing
lovely flowers in."

* * *

Oh, darkness, oh great soft envelopment of darkness, oh wondrous
gentle overspreading of sable wings, oh grand, glorious,
flowering canopy of night, enfold and cradle and rock us into
this, the endless sleep in this our wooden womb. As we are born
of dust in the belly of woman, in the darkness and safety, so
shall we go down into the belly of Mother Earth in shadowy and
floral-scented dust...

And the hymn to darkness faded, and, faintly, as through
thin walls, came music, horn and cello and organ and voice.
"Den tod niemand zwingen kunnt bei allen menschenkinden, das
macht alles unsre s�nd, kein unschuld war zu finden. Davon kam
der tod so bald und nahm �ber uns gewalt, hielt uns in seinem
reich gefangen."

Oh, Utena thought, lovely music, lovely music singing the
kingdom of death in foreign tongue, please, let me be no nearer
in dream's death-kingdom, let me wear such deliberate disguises,
boy's coat, princeskin, crossed swords; oh, if only I might be a
winged bird, and fly from this place.

If only we might all be birds!

(for birds, you see, can fly away from everything)

"No one can overcome death, of all humans; it caused our
sins, there was no innocence to be found. From there death came
so soon and gained power over us, kept us prisoner in its
kingdom."

"Don't open it," she whispered, curling up as much as she
could in her confinement, raising rose-petals to her mouth and
nose in the trembling hollow of her hands. "Please, don't open
it." Breathe in the fragrance though she might, she could not be
rid of the taste and smell of soil, of dirt full of worms and rot
and shit, of all the fragile, terrible, temporal things of the
earth returning to the earth.

The lid of the coffin slid aside and dim light cut into her
eyes. She squinched them shut with a whimper and buried her face
in the rose petals.

"That's quite enough of that," someone said, firmly but not
unkindly. "You're going to need to come out of there, because
they're waiting for you."

"I'm dead," she informed the voice calmly. "They bury you
when you're dead, in a coffin. Put the dirt on top of you. Pat
it down and plant flowers." She paused. "So go away."

The man--it was a man, a deep-voiced man who she guessed
from the rather gravelly tones to be a heavy smoker--sighed
quietly. "Haven't you realized yet that you can't die in this
place? It's all just a dream. None of it's real. Except
possibly you." He seemed to think about it for a moment. "Oh,
definitely you. So come out of there."

"All right," she said, somewhat suspiciously. "As long as
I'm not dead."

"You're not."

She clambered somewhat awkwardly out of the coffin,
receiving his offered hand with mild gratitude, and placing her
feet carefully on the wooden floor. The man was tall and
powerfully built, gray-haired, and wore a black priest's jacket.
The white collar gleamed in the dimly-lit interior of the church
like a wound opening on bone.

"You're..." She cocked her head to the side and frowned,
trying to think of the name--they'd been introduced some days
earlier.

"Ohtori Taiyoji," he said. "Father Ohtori. This is my
church." He paused, and stared up at the high ceiling. The
candelabra placed on the closed lid of the next coffin over
flickered, and light capered in the gold chalice on the altar
against the far wall. "I mean, this is where I came for
services when I was a young man. Before I left the city." His
voice was suddenly dreamy; a smile was creeping onto his bluff
face. "But I keep coming back; I always keep on coming back."

"You're the real chairman's brother, right?" Utena asked,
looking around warily. Rain was softly hitting the tall stained-
glass windows on the flanking walls. To the left was a young man
pierced by arrows--the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian. The right,
a white dove over a blue sea--the spirit of God upon the face of
the waters.

"I am," Ohtori Taiyoji answered. "Would you like to hear a
story?"

"Sure," she said with a sigh, leaning back against the
coffin she'd been lying in. "First, though, tell me something."

He looked at her expectantly, but said nothing.

"This is all a dream, right?" she asked slowly. He nodded,
and she continued. "I'm the only real thing in it?" Again, he
nodded. "So, you're not real?"

"No, I'm not real," he said, not seeming at all bothered by
the fact. "Anyway, the story goes like this. Once upon a time
a phoenix was flying over one of the southern islands, when she
heard the most pitiful weeping that any ears had ever heard.
Descending on her flaming wings, she found a young prince crying
over the body of his sister beside a small pool in a grove of
bamboo. Her body bore the mark of many blades. Questioned by
the phoenix, the prince related the sad tale of how he had
returned to their small cottage in the grove--some distance from
the pool--and discovered his sister slain. Long ago, before they
had passed away, his mother and father had told him that the
waters of the pool had healing powers. And even though this was
simply the kind of story that parents tell to their children when
they are very young, the prince had grown up believing it, and
come almost to manhood with the assurance in mind that should
anything terrible ever befall him or his sister, all that one
would have to do was wash the other in the healing pool, and all
would be well again. So, for many hours now, he had been bathing
the body of his sister in the pool, and though it had washed all
the blood away, as water will do even if it has no magic healing
powers, she was still cold and dead, and was in fact beginning to
stiffen and smell a little bad."

"I don't think those kind of details are really necessary in
a story," Utena said softly, with some distaste.

"It's not my story," Father Ohtori said, sounding slightly
offended. "I'm just telling it." He paused reflectively, taking
a few seconds to slip back into the storytelling voice. "The
phoenix took pity on the poor prince, who was so innocent and
trusting that he couldn't understand why the pool wasn't bringing
his sister back to life. She explained to him that water could
only bring the dead to life once, and that had already happened
once before, for you are dead until you are born, and we are
all born in the waters of our mother's wombs. The magic fire
from the heart of the sun was needed if she was to be brought
back to life for a second time. Upon being told that, the prince
began to weep, lamenting that, unlike the phoenix, he did not
have wings with which to fly to the heart of the sun, and even if
he did, he could not leave the body of his sister alone. The
phoenix stroked away the tears on his face with her beak, and
told him three secrets: the first was how he might fly to the
heart of the sun, the second was how he might do so while still
protecting the body of his sister, and the third secret, the
prince never told to anyone. First of all, as per the second
secret, he cut off his shadow, and instructed it to remain
behind and guard his sister. Secondly, as per the first secret,
he went back to the cottage in the company of the phoenix, struck
off her head with an axe, plucked out her feathers and made a
cloak of them, then roasted her body on a spit and ate her.
After that, full of power from the eating of the flesh of the
phoenix, he put on the cloak he had made from her feathers, and
flew off towards the sun to retrieve the magic fire that brings
the second life, while his shadow remained behind to guard the
body of his sister.

"But was that really such a good idea?"

Utena started as though waking from a deep sleep when the
story was finished. "I don't know if it was a good idea or not,"
she said finally. "I mean, is that the end of the story?
Nothing really got resolved. Did the prince find the magic fire,
or not?" She frowned deeply. "And why did the phoenix let him
kill her like that?"

Father Ohtori thought about for a moment. "Are you
familiar with the story of the scorpion and the frog?"

"Oh. I see," she said dully. "It was in her nature."

"Exactly." He picked up the candelabra and began to walk
towards a heavy wooden door at a far corner of the church.
"Come with me, please."

Utena followed him, passing by the two unopened coffins with
only a single backward glance.

"Who's in those other two coffins?" she asked, as he grasped
the iron ring and pulled the door wide.

"Stones," he explained. "They're full of stones."

"Why?"

"To weight them down, of course," he explained slowly, as
one might to a beloved but slightly obtuse child. He held out
the long-armed candelabra to her. Beyond the open doorway, a
long flagstone passageway stretched away to the terminus of the
light cast by the slender, flickering white-wax candles. "I
can't go with you past this point, so you'll need to take this to
see your way."

Utena reached out for it, then hesitated. "What about you?
Aren't you going to need a light?"

Outside, lightning struck nearby, and the searing flash
briefly hurled jagged knives of colour through the church's
interior as it passed through the panes of the stained-glass.
"I'll have enough here," he said, holding it out to her again.
"Go on, take it."

She grasped the candelabra beneath its three branching arms,
nodded politely to Father Ohtori, and stepped into the corridor.
After a few steps, he called her name, gently, and she paused and
looked back at him.

"Tenjou-san," he repeated. "The most important thing to
understand is this. Stories, in the end, are only words, and
words have the power to change nothing. Because of this, they
have the power to change everything."

"You don't--and I don't mean this in a negative way, because
you seem like a nice guy--seem much like a priest to me."

He nodded. "It comes of not being real, or so I
understand." Calmly, he unfurled his large shabby umbrella
overhead, and began to close the door. "Take care, Tenjou-san.
And hurry--they're waiting."

"Who's waiting?" she asked. But the door had already banged
closed, and latched. "Hey! Hey, answer me!" She had begun to
stride back towards the door when she heard Anthy scream again,
from down the other end of the corridor; she spun on her heel
immediately and dashed towards the sound, so fast that the flames
of the candelabra, caught by the wind of her passage, trailed
past her face like gorgon's hair. She ran by picture-frames of
carved wood and polished brass which held watercolours she had no
time to look at. "Anthy!" she called desperately, as her
footsteps pounded like hammers on the flagstones. "Anthy, hold
on, I'm coming!"

The corridor, she realized as she ran, sloped downward, so
gradually as to be almost unnoticeable. But each step, each
movement of her legs to send her hurtling towards Anthy's distant
cries, carried her deeper into... what?

Up ahead, she heard a faint ding, and the shush of elevator
doors opening. She tried to pull up short, but her momentum was
such as to make that impossible; in the end, she only managed to
stop herself by throwing out her free hand against the elevator
wall as she rushed into it. Even as she turned back, the doors
slammed shut, and the elevator groaned and began to descend.
There was no control panel and no floor indicator, just two doors
of gleaming steel sealed so tight the seam was barely visible,
and three plush red walls. The candles in the candelabra had
gone out, so she set it down on the floor, folded her arms,
leaned back against the wall opposite the doors, and sighed
gently.

"Okay," she said to herself slowly. "Let's try and look at
this rationally. Akio woke something up and used it to destroy
one of those shadows. But because of that, something happened to
me. Maybe not just to me... maybe to the world. But what?" She
paused. "Go back to the beginning. There has to be some way to
make sense of all this. You woke up thinking of spring. So--"

The elevator stopped, the doors opened, and Kaoru Kozue
stepped on, thirteen years old and wearing Ohtori's school
uniform.

"Kozue-chan..." Utena said quietly. The doors closed, and
the elevator started moving down again.

Kozue fixed her with a vaguely imperious glare. "I always
wondered why you called me that. You never called anyone else
that." She smirked. "No one else had called me Kozue-chan for
years, not even Miki. What gave you the right to be so familiar
with me?"

Utena blinked. "Well, I mean, you're Miki's little sister,
and..."

"Miki's older than me by about eight minutes," Kozue said
with affectionate contempt. She shook her head. "I think I
could almost feel sorry for you, you know. You remind me of
Miki, so fixed on something shining in the distance that you've
no sight of the ground beneath your feet." Suddenly, she
coughed. "Excuse me for a moment." She turned away, partially
hiding her face, and reached up to cover her mouth. She coughed
again, into her hand, and then tossed a small, flopping, silver-
scaled fish onto the floor.

"You know why they fill coffins with stones?" Kozue asked,
straightening up and combing her hair back into place with her
fingers.

"No. Why?"

"To weigh them down for burial, so the pallbearers actually
have to make an effort when there's no body."

"Why would you bury coffins without a body in them?"

Kozue gave her a look that declared her to be a total idiot.
"For those who've lost their bodies in the sea, of course."

Utena bowed her head, unable to bear the sight any longer.
The only sound for a while was the dying fish's convulsions on
the elevator's tile floor, a weakening series of wet slaps.

"I'm sorry, Kozue-chan," she said eventually. Her eyes
itched, and suddenly tears were spilling down her cheeks;
finally, it was simply too much, even if this was all a dream and
she was the only real thing in it. If you could cry for
people in books, who had never been real at all, then surely it
was all right to cry for those in dreams who had once been real.
"I'm so sorry."

"Why?" Kozue asked softly, sounding genuinely curious.

"Because you're dead. Because Kanae-san is dead. Because I
wasn't strong enough, then or now, and everyone seems to be
relying on me, but I'm not strong, I'm very weak, and I'm so
scared, I don't know what to do..."

Kozue, with almost infinite delicacy, reached out and
touched her left temple. Her fingers were long and light and
agile, as befitted a pianist, even one who would no longer play.
"Don't be stupid," she said. "Why try to bear anyone else's
weight? The only one you have a responsibility to is yourself."

The elevator stopped moving, and she drew away. "I've got
business on this floor," she said, brisk and dismissive, the
almost-kindness gone. The doors opened on a garden in autumn,
where the trees were all afire with their dying. Wind ripped a
few leaves free from the nearest tree, a maple, and sent them
spinning into the elevator, where they fell upon and covered the
now-dead fish.

Utena stepped forward. "Can I--"

Kozue's eyes narrowed suddenly, and Utena remembered in a
flash two things she'd said long ago: that she was nothing like
Miki, and that she was a wild animal. Her arm shot out like a
spear-thrust, and her open palm hit Utena in the chest so hard
that she was slammed back against the elevator wall like a rag
doll.

"No," she said severely, as Utena gasped and tried to draw
breath, half-crumpled on the floor, "you can't." She walked out
into the garden, and the doors shut solidly behind her. Once
again, the elevator went down. Utena lay against the wall, her
earlier tears mingling with those brought on by the pain of
Kozue's blow.

"Hits hard for a dead girl," she gasped, and then, somewhat
to her shock, she began laughing through her tears. "I hate this
dream. I hate being the only real thing. I want to wake up."

(you're not the only real thing)

The elevator halted, and the doors dinged. Utena clambered
painfully to her feet. It hurt to breathe. She staggered out
into the oak-panelled corridor, passed beneath the hanging
chandelier that gave off swaying light, heading for the door at
the other end, which was ash-wood bound in iron.

(it took you a long time, but you found the way to me)

She seized the cold handle with both hands, twisted, and
pulled the door open.

(it's time for us to meet)

* * *

Order loves order, and craves to perpetuate itself. Thus the
turn of the seasons, the ebb and flow of the tides, the wax and
wane of the moon, the symmetry of man and woman, of five fingers
on one hand and two eyes in one head, of mosaic and mathematics
and pentameter. Sunlight through glass fragments at Ravenna is
sunlight on the gardens of Ispahan. The compass measures the
angles of a bridge and the curves of a lover's thighs. The spear
stirring the primal waters is the sword dividing earth from sky
is the pestle of the heavens pounding the mortar of the land is
the hand is the shadow of God is the light where no light has
ever before been is the flint-toothed sickle wielded.

Smart cooks add salt to boiling water, in order that it boil
faster. The concept is one of condensation nuclei. Gathering
points.

One lives by memories. To protect them. To overcome them.
To surpass them. To regain them. Memory, where the self hides
from the mindless malign entropy of the universe, which gropes
blindly like an old man in darkness in its attempts to make all
into one again.

A man came walking down a dark street in the summer, and his
head was full up with memories. The first way to go on living
when the world is torn apart is love. The second is hate. Love,
like water, spreads out and transforms the world; hate, like a
prison, draws the world into itself and also transforms it.

A man came walking, and the air was full of summer, of
youth. The faint twinges of guitar strings. The echoing passage
of the white-plastered walls. Balconies overhead casting their
shadows in succession upon narrow streets.

A man came walking, and up ahead was a building being born,
rough white stucco walls and wooden window-slats and overlooking
balconies and a portico and a patio, and a sign, a wooden sign
swaying in the breeze that blows off from the salt-sea, a
weathered wooden sign creaking back and forth, with a red rose,
new-bloomed upon it.

LA ROSA ROJA

He swung the door wide, and, inside was the long wooden bar
and the heavy round tables, the dance floor with the phantom
imprint of thousands of feet, the stage for the singers and the
musicians, the long racks behind the bar for the rainbow of glass
bottles, the pictures on the walls, the stairs that wind up to
the second floor, the door that leads out to the long, long walk
down the alleyway into the darkness beyond where the swords rise
and fall, where the rose-petals clatter to the tessellated floor.

He took a seat at a corner table. He found a drink in his
hand. A ring on his finger. A tear rolled down his withered
cheek like the water of life. He heard footsteps from beyond,
from outside. They were coming. The Red Rose. A point of
convergence. La Rosa Roja. Prison and palace, sanctuary and
cell. They were coming. He could hear their footsteps. Calmly,
patiently, he took a sip of his drink.

* * *

The room beyond was small but pleasant, well-lit--not by natural
light, but by soft fluorescents. Bookcases lined the walls
like a ring of guardians, and Utena's eyes flicked over the
titles: the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen and
and Charles Perrault, and there was the same translated edition
of Steinbeck's Arthurian retellings that she'd had as a child;
there, cheek-to-cheek like affectionate brothers, were Oz and
Wonderland, complete boxed sets in English (she remembered,
suddenly, vivid as the taste of gourmet food, running one small
child's hand down the spines of those exact same editions in a
bookshop, and the other hand was in the hand of her father), and
there was Eliot's poetry side-by-side with Japanese translations
of the three great Greek tragedians--Aeschylus, Sophocles,
Euripides--who held company with their opposite and complement,
Aristophanes, with his frogs and clouds. And there were other
books, so many books, an impossibility of books for such a small
room, with pride of place given to a complete Shakespeare edition
that ran one entire shelf in the bookcase facing the door, each
individual play in a separate red binding with its title
lettered in gold.

The woman seated at the easel in the centre of the room had
her back to Utena, and was humming softly to herself as she
painted, something gentle that sounded like a lullaby. Her hair,
pale to begin with, had turned almost pure white, and fell down
past her hips, pulled back into a loose tail by a ribbon cinched
round it at the base of her neck.

"Just leave the tea on the table by the door, Kumozo," she
said distantly. She sounded distracted; the brush in her hands
moved in long, bold, steady strokes across the canvas. "I'll
have it when I finish this."

Utena just stared. The woman seemed to expect the lack of
response, did not turn, and went on with her brush-strokes, even
and steady as the pounding of the surf.

"Kanae-san," she managed finally.

Ohtori Kanae did not start or appear surprised by the
unexpected voice, but simply finished the brush-stroke she'd been
in the middle of, then slowly turned on her stool and greeted
Utena with a pleasant, slightly vacant smile. It was, Utena
though, remarkable how a woman so far into her pregnancy could
perch so easily on a little artist's stool like that.

"Oh," she said, absently dipping her brush into water and
cleaning it on a rag before laying it aside on the easel shelf,
"you're... Tenjou Utena-san, right?"

"Kanae-san," Utena repeated, feeling not so much astonished
as simply profoundly numb.

"Yes, that's me," Kanae said slowly, still smiling. She
dropped the hand that had held the brush down to the rounded
swell of her pregnant belly beneath her loose-fitting red dress,
an unconscious protective gesture. "Would you like to have some
tea?" She looked about doubtfully. "I do believe there was
supposed to be tea."

Utena looked to the side. On a little table next to her,
there was a fresh pot of herbal tea, steam rising from the blue
china spout, and two cups. "Umm, yes. I'd like some tea."

Kanae beamed. "It's so nice to see a new face. We can take
it in the solarium." She got off the stool, slowly but surely,
and, still holding her hand over her belly, headed towards a door
in one wall that Utena hadn't noticed. "Bring the tea, if you
could, please."

"Sure," Utena said, picking up the tray and moving after
her.

Kanae put her free hand on the doorknob, then paused,
seeming to realize something, and looked back. "By the way," she
asked slowly, and a little hesitantly, "you're not here to hurt
the baby, are you?" The light in the room seemed to dim at her
words, and Utena felt a sudden sense of impending pressure, as
though suddenly she was aboard an airplane dropping like a
wounded bird towards the waves.

"I'd never hurt your baby, Kanae-san," she said gently, "I'd
never hurt anyone's baby."

Kanae beamed. "Oh, that's good. I just have to make sure,
you see." She opened the door and stepped through, closing it
almost all the way behind her. "Please join me when you're
ready."

Tea-tray in hand, quite certain she could remain sane if she
simply focused on the present, and none of its implications,
Utena paused to look at the incomplete canvas Kanae had been
working. At first, it looked entirely abstract, full of precise
but meaningless slashes of colour; but then, as the eye adjusted
to it, just as the eye adjusts to night, a shape emerged, a tall
black-clad shape with a white face pale as the moon, lifting a
gold-quilloned sword in its left hand, the blade like a tongue
of fire turned into steel, and in the right hand it dangled a
naked, dark-skinned, pale-haired child by the ankles. The image,
once revealed, was vivid and clear as a photograph; Utena could
not bear to look at it for long, and, turning away, she edged the
door to the solarium open with her foot and stepped inside after
Kanae.

The solarium was a high-ceilinged pentagonal room whose
walls were constructed entirely of glass, except for the one
with the door through which they'd entered. Beyond them were
grasslands, rolling hills with rivers cleaving through them, and
mountains in the distance. The sun was overhead, with fat white
clouds drifting about it. Within, the air of the solarium was
warm and natural and soothing.

"Come sit down," Kanae offered. She had seated herself on
the far edge of a long padded bench on the opposite side of the
room, her back pillowed against several piled cushions. There
was a small round table near the bench, and Utena put the tea
down on it and sat down, close to Kanae, but not too close.

"How...?" she began, looking around.

"How what?" Kanae asked with a smile.

"This room... aren't we... underground?"

"Of course we're underground," Kanae said, as though it were
the most obvious thing in the world. "It's the safest place to
be. Why do you think bomb shelters are built underground?"

"But--" Utena gestured around at the world beyond the
glass, at the dust-motes moving in the sunlight. "All this--"

Kanae laughed, a pleasant, somewhat childish sound, and
suddenly leaned in almost disturbingly close. "Close your
eyes," she advised, and her smile was that of a little girl
delighting in doing something slightly naughty, sharing a secret
she wasn't supposed to. "Listen carefully."

After a moment, Utena did. At first, she heard nothing,
but, as the still silence continued (Kanae, she realized, was
holding her breath, and so was she), the faint sound of humming,
of some vast mechanic engine moving distantly, became audible.

"Do you hear that?" Kanae asked after perhaps a minute.

Utena nodded, and opened her eyes. "A projector, right?"

Kanae nodded. "It shows me the sun," she said slowly.
"Whenever I want, it shows me the sun, and it's just as real as
real, so as long as I'm never going to go outside into it
anyway--it's dangerous, you see, to go outside, because there are
so many people who want to hurt my baby--what does it matter?
It's just as good as though it were real." She paused for a
moment. "Akio-san built it for me, because I told him once that
one of the only things I missed down here was the sun."

"How long have you been down here, Kanae-san?"

Kanae answered instantly. "Oh, since after the wedding
night. We knew, you see, knew right away that I was going to
have a baby, but we also knew that if anyone found out--
especially _her_--they'd try and hurt the baby, so it was
important that I stay in a safe place until everything was
all right."

"So you and Akio-san are married now?"

Kanae nodded. "It was a secret ceremony. Once everything's
safe for me in the world outside, he says we'll have a big public
celebration." She beamed. "And I shall have the most beautiful
dress in all the world, with seed pearls and gold embroidery."

Staring into Kanae's happy face and slightly absent eyes,
Utena realized with pity and terror that the woman was quite
assuredly the most insane person she had ever met.

"I'm not, you know," Kanae said. She poured them tea and
handed Utena a cup in an almost motherly gesture. "That's what
they're all thinking. Particularly Mother. But I'm saner than
almost anyone else."

Utena just slowly nodded. All right, she thought vaguely;
Kanae-san can read my thoughts. "Kanae-san, when you said that
people would try to hurt the baby, did you mean--"

"That _sister_ of his," Kanae snarled, lovely face twisting
into a vicious parody of itself. Somehow, she managed to load
"sister" with so much invective that it became the most terrible
insult in all the world. "That freak."

"Anthy isn't--"

Kanae's gaze hit her like an almost physical blow, so full
of hate that it almost overflowed from her eyes. "She's a witch
or an alien or a demon," she said, very calmly and coldly, each
title pronounced precisely, "or possibly all three. But..." She
paused, and her rage faded away into a beatific smile. "Somehow,
I know I don't have to worry about her any more."

"Kanae-san--" Utena began gently.

"You should drink your tea," Kanae said, drinking hers. "It
will get cold, otherwise."

Utena drank. "Kanae-san--"

The air was suddenly full of beeping. Kanae looked at the
digital watch on her wrist and frowned. "Where has the time
gone? Already?"

"Kanae-san..."

Kanae smiled at her, and it was somehow a smile like
Anthy's, one that made Utena want to protect her from every hurt
the world might give her and help her over every impediment in
her path. "Utena-san, could you go and get a book for me from
the other room? It's time to read to the baby."

"Sure," Utena said quickly, getting up and putting her tea
down on the table. "Any book in particular?"

Kanae thought about it for a moment. "Today, I think, we'd
like to read 'The Tempest', by Shakespeare."

"Okay," Utena said, pulling open the door.

"Yesterday, we read Euripides' 'The Bacchae', but we didn't
like it very much," Kanae called after her.

Out in the room beyond, Utena found "The Tempest" on the
Shakespeare shelf, slipped it into her hands, and hurried back to
the solarium. Back inside, Kanae was sitting up straighter,
hands pressed flat against the glass, staring out at the long,
leaping movements of a rabbit--an illusionary rabbit, Utena
reminded herself vaguely--in the hills beyond.

"Kanae-san," she said, holding out the play like a peace
offering, "about Anthy. I think you should--"

"Anthy, Anthy, Anthy," Kanae said, sounding vaguely annoyed,
"that's always what you're thinking about. Like a metronome,
back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, underneath
everything else, even when you don't realize it..." She started,
turned around and dropped her hands from the window, and Utena
saw that something had changed subtly in her face, realizing
along with it that there was something different in her voice, an
adoption of slightly deeper tones combined with slightly harsher
and faster speech.

"Kanae-san, are you feeling all right?"

Kanae shook her head. "She went to sleep."

"Excuse me?" Utena asked, blinking and still holding out
"The Tempest".

"Mother went to sleep," Kanae said, slowly and carefully as
though in the hope that Utena would understand. "Which is
probably best, since she's easily upset these days, and some of
what we have to talk about might hurt her."

Utena dropped "The Tempest". It hit the floor with a heavy
slap. "You're not Kanae-san," she said, almost unconsciously
tensing to fight or run.

Kanae's body sighed gently. "Of course I'm not. Don't be
silly. If I were, I'd be my own mother, which is, of course,
impossible. It is possible to be your own grandfather, because
I heard that in a song once, but not your own mother."

"Who are you?" Utena demanded. Puzzle pieces were snapping
together in her mind. "It's you, isn't it? You're what Akio
talked about--you're the revolution that's already happened. Yes,
you did all this, wrecking the world, taking my friends away,
even Anthy--"

"NO!" the child shouted from the mother's mouth, and the
force of it nearly knocked Utena to her knees. "No," it said
again, more gently, as she swayed and struggled to stand. "It
wasn't me. It's not me. It's Setebos."

"Who are you?" Utena demanded again, this time firmly but
trying to keep anger out of her voice. "Tell me your name."

"Cali," the child said. Utena tried to guess the gender,
and settled on male because of the adoption of the deeper voice.

"Is that your whole name, or is it short for something?" she
asked, forcing herself to be calm, and gentle, to remember that
whatever else he was, he was still a child along with all of
that.

"Short for several things," Cali said guardedly. "Why
didn't you come?" he asked after a moment, and Kanae's body
suddenly started to cry. "You were supposed to come. You're a
prince. You were supposed to come save us, but you didn't, and
so I had to try to do everything myself, but I didn't know how,
and Setebos is here too, now, and Father..."

"I'm sorry," Utena said after a moment, sitting down beside
Kanae and embracing her. Embracing, she realized, both of them
at the same time. "I didn't understand. That was you, wasn't
it? Calling out to me. In the bathroom, that it was dark and
you were hungry, and you wanted me to help you. But I--"

"Mother's so scared," Cali whispered into Utena's shoulder
in Kanae's voice. "It's like there's two parts of her, and the
big part is happy and it loves me and it loves Father and it
reads me stories and it paints, but there's this other part,
there's this other part that's always _screaming_ and is scared
all the time, and it's in every story and every painting, and I
don't know what to do to help her, and I don't think Father knows
about that other part of Mother, because he'd help her if he
knew, wouldn't he?"

"Cali, can you tell me who Setebos is?" Utena asked softly.

"Setebos lives in the cold places," Cali whispered after a
moment, and his voice was full of terror. "Setebos lives on the
dark side of the moon. Setebos lives in the north, where there
is ice. Setebos lives on the farthest shores, on the other end
of the sea. Setebos lives in the west, where the Witch-Queen
rules. Setebos made everything, but then he forgot about it, and
everyone was safe because of that, but I made him remember, and
Father--" Kanae's body suddenly pulled away from her and drew
its arms about itself, one over her belly and one over her
breasts. "Don't think about me like that," Cali snarled, glaring
at Utena. "You're pitying me! Don't you dare pity me, I won't
allow it--I'm not weak! I'm strong, and I'm going to help
Mother, and Father too, and they'll both say what a good boy I
am, what a smart boy I am--"

"Cali," Utena said, gently, but with steel in it, "I want to
help them too. I want to help everyone. But I can't do it
unless I understand, and I need you to help me understand. About
Setebos, and about what happened to all my friends. Like Anthy."

"Mother hates her," Cali said quietly, almost viciously.
"Both parts of Mother."

"But you don't, do you?" Utena smiled, and reached out to
push some of Kanae's hair away from her tearful face. It was
soft and very fine between her fingers. "How could you? You've
never met her."

"I hate what Mother hates," Cali said after a moment.

"Yeah, but..." Utena struggled for the right words. "Cali.
Your mother isn't well, right? You know that; that's why you
wanted me to help you."

Kanae's head nodded, and Utena realized that the subtle
change in the face was all in the eyes. They were like the eyes
of the Duellists of the Black Rose. The _otherness_.

"So, maybe your mother is wrong to hate Anthy," Utena
suggested. Something flashed in Kanae--in Cali's eyes, and Utena
remembered suddenly that you could always, always start a fight
on a playground by saying bad things about another kid's mother.
"But we can talk about that later, if you want," she said
quickly. "Why don't you tell me about Setebos?"

Kanae--Cali, Utena reminded herself again, the body is only
a vessel--took a deep breath. "Okay," he said slowly. "But can
we have some more tea first?"

"Sure," Utena said. "We can have more tea." The false sun
warmed her bones as she poured for them. In a way, she could see
Kanae's point; this was just like a real solarium, so long as you
didn't wish to go outside it. But how could Kanae be happy with
it, when she knew it all wasn't true? Did it make a difference,
if you couldn't tell the difference, but only knew that one
existed in an abstract, intellectual way?

Yes, she decided--it did. She just couldn't quite think of
the right way to express how it did.

Cali carefully picked up the teacup in both of his mother's
hands, raised it to his mother's lips, and slurped. Utena held
back a shiver; atop everything else, somehow, seeing a grown
woman drinking tea like a little child was profoundly disturbing.
How much could he feel like this, Utena wondered, seeing through
Kanae's eyes and moving her body as though it were his? Was it
like a mask, or a marionnete? Could he taste the sharp herbal
tea upon Kanae's palate? What did such a taste mean, to an
unborn child? Where did Kanae go? Did she remember any of this,
when her body wasn't her own?

He put the teacup down and wiped Kanae's lips on Kanae's
sleeve. "In the beginning," he began, "there was the Quiet..."

END OF PART XIII