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Jaquemart XV - The Moonlit Garden

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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.

 

XV. The Moonlit Garden

You could drown in just a few inches of water. He recalled being
told that once, but he could not recall who by. Perhaps his
mother. Their adoptive parents had been distant, busy people,
generous in everything except attention and affection. He had
often wondered why they had bothered to adopt children at all.

But then, it did not matter. They had both passed on. He
was himself, Nanami was Nanami, and that was that. Only a few
inches of water, that was all it took. Swim for the light, that
was what you were supposed to do. In what direction lay the
light?

Water slipped through his hand's like a girl's tresses. He
remembered swimming off the edge of a long dock during a family
vacation, in the twilight; miscalculating, he had tried to
surface beneath it, and stunned himself briefly against an aging
wooden strut. The water had taken him under for the few brief
seconds of his unconsciousness, and he awoke with it burning
hungrily in his lungs.

They hadn't let him go swimming for a whole day after that.
He remembered how angry he had been, and how Nanami, a fussy,
chubby toddler, had insisted on holding the ice pack to the
bruise on his forehead.

Fire in his breath... a girl's tresses, slipping like water
through his hands... swim for the light... a sword rising from a
red-clad breast, an execution in reverse... the body of a man,
outlined by cacti...

He touched bottom. It was black as obsidian, and polished
as a mirror. He saw his reflection, shadowed in the dark depths.
It shook its finger at him and smiled, as though to say: not yet,
not here.

_Air!_

On the pebbled bank, he took grateful heaving breaths.
Behind him, the mouth of the shallow pool roiled beneath the
impact of a tiny waterfall.

"A few inches of water," he murmured, then rolled over onto
his back and stared up at the sunset-sky. His tuxedo was
completely ruined. He stripped it off, wrung out the pants, put
them back on, and hung the rest on a low-hanging tree branch to
dry.

He tried to recall what had happened. The last thing he
remembered clearly was dancing with Juri. What a moment that had
been he; he smiled to think of it. How strange, the things that
came about. After that was panic and darkness; Akio's eyes
burning into his as they danced, Utena running through the crowd,
and then a brightness, a twisting, an unravelling, as though
someone had pulled a thread in the middle of the gallery and
unspun the world.

Perhaps it had not been quite that bad. His setting was,
after all, familiar. This was where he and Saionji had come to
spar when they were younger. Before things changed, before the
girl in the coffin.

On the other hand, it appeared to be autumn, not winter, and
a warm autumn at that. Though even that was fortunate, as it
meant he would not die of hypothermia from his unexpected swim.

The acceptance of the abnormal came easily enough to him by
now. There was little difference between this situation and that
of the castle floating in the sky, the impossible architecture of
the arena. If it was an illusion, then it was an illusion he
could not distinguish from reality by any means at his disposal;
thus, for his purposes, it might as well be reality. Goals were
what were important, not the particular details of the path to
them. He had to find Utena, find his sister, find everyone else,
and decide what to do after that once that was done.

As he tried to orient himself and decide which direction to
go, he heard hoofbeats in the distance. His priorities
rearranged themselves instantly, and he concealed himself in a
close-grown stand of trees.

Only as the rider entered the clearing near the pool did he
recall his clothing, hung upon the branch of a tree. The world,
he reflected, occasionally seemed to enjoy reminding him that was
not quite as clever as he thought.

"Is someone there?" the rider called; a soft voice, but a
voice that carried, weaving between branch and leaf like a dog on
the hunt to reach him. He knew it instantly; yet he hesitated to
reveal himself, uncertain whether or not it was wise to do so.
He hated (feared) when he could not predict the outcome of an
act; preferred, unless it were urgent, to avoid the act entirely.
But this was urgent, he reminded himself; it might well be the
most urgent situation he had ever been in, for all the apparent
outward calm.

"Himemiya-san," he called, stepping out into the open and
raising a hand to hail her.

Himemiya hailed him in turn with her own raised hand.
"Kiryuu-sempai."

They stared at each other for a few moments, very awkwardly,
like two former lovers meeting, unexpectedly, at a party. Touga
studied her unbound hair and the white riding suit she wore
(something both like Utena's uniform, and like the uniform of her
brother); she, in her turn, examined him, and he wondered if he
reminded her of her brother, stripped to the waist, hair hanging
loose and damp.

"Do you know what's happened?" he asked finally.

She nodded, and slid from her mount, plucking her pet from
the horn of the saddle as she did. The white horse regarded the
two of them for a moment, then began to crop the grass.

"I think I have some understanding by now," she said,
somewhat hesitantly. "I think he is far behind me now, for I
travel faster. Is there a place to sit?"

He brought her in silence to an old and fallen log, where he
and Saionji had sat when they were boys and eaten the lunches
they had packed, or drunk chilled tea from a plastic thermos on a
hot summer day. They sat down beside one another; not too close,
not to far. He thought suddenly of the one night he had
possessed her as his bride, and wondered if she was thinking of
the same.

"The one who dreams the world is waking. Only precious
memories keep it from vanishing entirely," Anthy said quietly.
She paused for a moment, and stroked the head of her sleeping
pet where he rested in her lap. "At least, this is what the
shadows say to me; I do not know that they can be trusted."

"Bang," he murmured. "Out, just like a candle."

She nodded. "I have," she said slowly, "my own alternate
theories as to what has happened. Problematically, all could
explain what I have seen so far. For example: the inside world
and the outside world have become confused; the division between
mental landscape and physical landscape, once so thick that only
those with great will could erase it, and then only briefly, has
become like gossamer. And now we wander in a landscape of broken
dreams, broken hopes, broken fears; a jigsaw world, formed from
the psychic detritus of many different minds."

"Are you looking for her?"

He feared how she might respond.

She nodded. "I am."

He rested his forearms on his knees and let his hands
dangle; back and forth, back and forth, swaying. Watching the
motion of them relaxed him. "I understand the two of you lived
together for seven years," he said finally.

She nodded again.

"You were lovers?"

She turned her head, and he saw only the side of her sad
smile. "I was willing to be to her whatever she wanted me to
be," she said quietly, "at least, so I told myself. In the end,
though, I could only love her on my own terms. That we never
think of Ohtori. That we pretend we were two normal girls. That
we pretend I was someone I was not. In the end, I loved her for
myself, and not for her; she was the mirror into which I cast my
flame, to throw back a reflected light. And I drove her from me
because of that."

"She was terribly afraid for you," he said. "Terribly
afraid. We met the hunter of witches. He said that he had
captured you, but that you escaped, and killed his men."

She shook her head. "They were already dead."

He nodded. "He is a very dangerous man, isn't he?"

"In some ways, he is even more dangerous than my brother.
The world he has lived in since he fled us has been a brutal one;
the torture chamber, the gunshot to the temple, the knife in the
dark. And yet once you have been a part of our world, you are
never fully without some part of it in you. This gives him
power." She shivered. "I fear him," she admitted. "And I do
not fear many things."

"I think Utena convinced him to leave you alone. To focus
his efforts on your brother."

She said nothing, but shivered again. Her horse whinnied
nearby. Looking up at the sky, he saw the moon-edge, beginning
to emerge as the sun continued its plunge.

"Are you cold?" he asked her.

"Perhaps a little."

He smiled, ruefully. "I'd offer you my jacket, but it's
rather damp."

She laughed, a pleasant sound.

Hesitantly, he moved a few inches over on the log and put
his arm round her. She did not shrink away or stiffen, but
leaned against him with a sigh.

"He said that you left with Saionji."

She nodded. The silken stroke of her hair against his bare
chest and shoulders had the unfortunate effect of making him feel
somewhat aroused, far too conscious of her presence as a woman,
of all the ways she reminded him of Utena. And of her brother;
he could not let himself forget that, that she had been the dark
side of Akio's moon, and whatever she might have become now...
He realized, in a way that almost made him laugh out loud, that
she was undoubtedly thinking something similar of him.

"I know," she murmured.

He blinked. "Know what?"

"About the two of you. Even without my friend to tell me, I
could smell her on you." For a moment, he felt the edge of her
lips touch his pectoral; perhaps merely another strand of her
hair. Perhaps to taste Utena on his skin.

"I need not have told you anything at all, then?" he asked,
feeling somewhat annoyed, both at her and at the monkey. He
remembered what Leo Cano had called it: the basest of demons,
bound into the form of an animal, a spy and companion.

"It is not as though I see through his eyes," she said. "It
doesn't work that way. His mind is not as our minds are. There
are impressions, emotions, sensations, such as we have never
felt, and ones that I know deeply that he cannot feel; his ways of
seeing must be translated into mine, and much is lost. Hearing
your own point of view is important. It helps me to understand
better."

He took his arm off her. She drew a few inches away from
him. "Where is Saionji now?" he asked.

"I do not know," she replied. "We were separated. We lost
two items. A dagger of silver, a mirror of gold. If you come
upon them, retain them; they have power."

He frowned. "And you looked for him, and could not find
him?"

"I looked for Utena."

His frown deepened.

"I know what you are thinking," she said, softly. "You are
thinking, how wicked of her; how unfair. To bring him all this
way as her defender, only to abandon him to whatever fate awaits
him once he has ceased to be of use." She paused. "I will not
deny that from some points of view, it may look that way. But I
am who I am; when I love something, I can love it so much that
all else becomes peripheral. It grants me part of my power, you
see, because when you are like that, you can do almost anything."

"Is he in danger?"

She looked thoughtful. "Not so much as some," she said
after a time. "I would guess that among those of us who were
attendant at Ohtori, he is among the safest in this place."

"What about my sister?"

For a moment, he almost thought she was going to smile.
"Your sister was always something of an enigma to me. We were
really too much alike for me to regard her as I regarded the rest
of you. I am not sure whether or not she is safe in this place.
She could be in terrible danger. Or she could be the safest of
us all."

He stared at the floor of the forest for a moment, then
picked up a stick and began to draw meaningless patterns in the
dirt. "I need to find her," he said eventually. "There are
matters between us that I wish to see settled."

She nodded. "You're not like me," she said, sounding
pleased. "You wanted to say to me, 'I want to come with you'.
But then you thought of her, and you thought of your friend; and
you realized that your heart was divided. Mine is not, you see."

"You say that your brother pursues you?"

"He does. He is attended by phantoms. Do not cross his
path. Do not try and delay him, in some misplaced act of
nobility. I believe he has become twisted. I believe he is mad,
more dangerous now than he ever was before."

He chuckled softly. "I used to think that if I could seize
the power, I could finally be stronger than him," he murmured.
"How foolish of me."

"Shall I tell you a story?" she said quietly; to his
surprise, she reached out and touched his cheek, as though to
gather unshed tears. "That once upon a time there was a little
prince, his head full of dreams of knights and glory and white
horses, until he discovered what it is that princes become in
this world, and all his dreams turned to nightmares?"

He found himself, indeed, wanting to cry, but could not
remember how. "How old was I when I met him?" he asked her,
quietly. "Surely, you must know. I can't remember. I just
can't remember. The first time I heard his voice. The first
time I met him face to face. The first time we--"

He covered his mouth with one hand to suffocate the words
that threatened. There were places that must not be gone to,
must not even be thought of, where the depths (what lived in the
depths) were too great.

Like a blind woman she stroked his face . "You were just a
little boy," she said, "and you wanted to be a prince so very
badly."

"Was that what happened?"

No reply.

"Aren't there other ways it could have been?"

"Of course there are," she said soothingly. Her fingers
touched his brow, his nose, his cheeks, his jaw, the ridges round
his eyes, the lobes of his ears, the edge of his lips. "There
are many ways it could have been. But that was the way it was."

He felt, for the first time since he had remembered
everything, a kind of absolution. She took her hands away from
his face and stood up, her pet clasped in her hands. He stood as
well; his legs shook for a moment, and then he steadied himself.

"Listen," she said; she held out her hands, offering him the
animal like a gift. "Let him guide you. He can help you to find
your sister. After that, you'll be on your own. But at least
the two of you will be together."

"Such as that together is," he said, with some regret. But
he took Chu-Chu into his own hands.

She looked away from him. "I still love my brother," she
whispered eventually, as though that explained everything. "For
better or for worse. It's not as though it's just the kind of
thing you can stop doing."

Her horse raised his head from the grass and trotted over.
Touga raised a hand to the animal's muzzle, and felt the heavy
breath's heat against his palm. "A beautiful animal."

"Yes, he is," she said. He almost offered to help her into
the saddle, but then she pulled herself up in one smooth motion
and picked up the reins.

"He reminds me of your brother's."

She looked down at him; for a moment, there was coldness in
her gaze, and he wished that he had not said the words, true
though they were. Then she laughed softly and said, "He ought
to."

"Goodbye, Himemiya."

"Goodbye, Kiryuu."

She flicked the reins, and began to canter away.

"Thank you!" he called after her.

She looked back over her shoulder and nodded tightly. The
sun had fallen while they talked, and overhead, the stars were
out in strange constellations. He remembered a night when Akio's
mood had been strange, and they had watched the stars together in
the planetarium room. Akio, naming the constellations and
tracing them out with one slim finger as they turned above; some
names he had never heard of, and others were familiar: the Shell,
the Chick, the Tree, the Serpent, the Hunter, the Wheel, the
Twins, the Warrior, the Cup, the Furnace...

He shook his head and looked down at Chu-Chu, cradled
against his bare chest. "So, you can lead me to Nanami?"

The creature yawned, then sneezed explosively, dampening his
chest.

"Thank you," he muttered, scowling and heading over to see
if his shirt was dry enough to wear, "thank you, that's terribly
helpful."

* * *

Her name was Nanami and she was six thirteen twenty years old,
and she had a Touga whose name was brother, and she was afraid to
walk home in the dark by herself, but there wasn't anyone to walk
beside her. So alone through the nightstreets she went, stars
overhead to give no comfort. Her mama mother and papa father
were dead, but she had been adopted, and supposed this made her
an orphan twice over, unless it had been that her real parents
simply hadn't wanted her, which was, of course, perfectly
possible, since she found it quite plausible that they had looked
at her when she was born and seen how she was going to grow up,
and said, "no, we don't want this one, we'll try again." Nature,
nurture; nurture, nature. Fate, choice, choice, fate; one day
you're a baby with a spike in your foot, next day you're an
eyeless king. "Me too." "B" is for Beautiful, Brave, Beloved;
also for Bitch, Blamed, Bizarre. Once upon a time were two
little princesses; one grew one way, one grew the other. Wailing
baby, father-slayer, blinded king; I see myself (she thought, or
believed she thought) lay a basket on a river to the sea, but I
have never done such a thing. I hear the bells that break the
stained-glass mirror and leave only the frame in place.

My name is Nanami.

I am twenty years old.

I have a...

There ought to be a word for someone who pretends to be your
brother for so long that even after you find out the truth you
can't stop thinking of him by any other word but that, no matter
how hard you try. There probably is such a word; maybe in Latin,
maybe in some other language I don't know. I can't just keep on
thinking about him, referring to him, as Touga. It doesn't work
like that. What if we found ourselves at some kind of social
event together, and I was required to introduce him to important
people? "This is Touga." Touga who? What is his relationship
to me? If I had to introduce Utena, that would be easy: "This is
my friend, Utena." I can admit that to myself; we argue, we
fight, she drives me crazy with her naivety, but there's no way
she's anything other than a friend to me. Maybe it's because
we're both Bs. "Me too." I wish I could have played with the
three of them, but I had too much pride. If my life were in a
story, that would have been a wonderful symbolic moment: the
three of them in their uniforms, all unique, laughing
together; me, on the sidelines, back in the same uniform that all
the girls wore, making snide comments. I couldn't be one of
them, but I couldn't go back to the faceless crowd, and I
couldn't be standing with my brother and Kyouichi either. All I
could be was me, and that wasn't really enough for anything, was
it? I tried to warn her, I really did, but the words wouldn't
come out right. If only she'd listened to me. I knew. I'd
seen things. Horrible things. I remember the feel of his hands
on my shoulders. When we were little, he used to embrace me so
gently, but there was nothing gentle in his hands. I remember
his tongue against the clenched wall of my teeth. He was so much
bigger and so much stronger, but I got my foot up into his
stomach and pushed, and he hit the opposite door like a flung
doll. Like a puppet with his strings cut. Maybe that's what it
was, now that I think about it; maybe he didn't want to do it,
any more than his sister wanted to lie there in the darkness,
under those hateful stars, and spread her legs for him. She
didn't want that, did she? How could she possibly want that?
Utena was right, he raped her. For centuries. For thousands of
years. Maybe since the beginning of the world. How old are they?
How can they possibly be so old? "We are such stuff as dreams
are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep."
Perhaps that's where they come from, out of our dreams and
nightmares; the animus with his sword, the anima with her poison.
Between them a poisoned sword, sunk into her breast like a
wounding thorn. But if she took the poisoned sword, what was
left for him? It couldn't be that way, of course, because if it
were that way, then she would be the one with all the power, and
if she had all the power, she wouldn't let him do those things to
her. I know I'd never let anyone do those kinds of things to me,
if I had that kind of power. Unless... oh, how awful, she
_liked_ it? How could she possibly like it? Impossible.
Ridiculous. Unimaginable. Utena said he raped her and he raped
her. I can't remember the last time I had to walk home in the
dark like this, by myself. Usually, if I had to stay late at
school, Touga would always be there to walk me home. Did anyone
walk me home after he graduated, when it was dark and I had to
stay late? Did Miki? Perhaps I just didn't stay after dark
after that. Or perhaps I just walked on my own. I remember I
was nearly hit by a car once, walking home in the dark on my
own... why was that? Because I ran. And I ran because I
thought someone was following me. And someone was, of course;
Mitsuru. But how strange, I recall now that I distinctly saw
someone in the shadows... but they were too big to be Mitsuru...

"Excuse me."

In the shadows of an unlit streetlamp stood a pallid,
freckled boy. She stopped and turned to look at him. "Yes?"

"I'm looking for someone. Do you know where she is?"

"Who are you looking for?"

He said a word that meant, at the same time, my mother, my
sister, my daughter, my bride. She replied in the negative. He
stepped back into the shadows, and was gone, and she heard a
creaking of ropes, a tinkling of small bells.

My name is Nanami, I am twenty years old, I have a friend
named Utena. I have a sempai named Juri. She has a girlfriend
named Shiori. I love a boy named Miki. He had a sister. Her
name was Kozue. She's dead now.

She crossed a bridge that spanned a slow, dark river; passed
inside the cast shadow of a tree, and a leaf fell as she walked
through it, settling small and crimson on her shoulder. Snuck a
shortcut, feeling daring as she did, through a narrow alley, then
heard padding steps behind her; turned, terrified, hearing low
growls. They were lean-bodied, hollow-ribbed, long-muzzled, red-
eyed; starvation in canine form, dream-dogs, ghost-furred and
grey like old ash.

She fled.

They followed.

Remembering, as she fled, the trumpeting of elephants,
lowing of cattle, egg's shell cracking; the world's shell, cage
and chamber of freedom. Surely such things were but dreams? But
what if she were such a thing as dreams were made on, and the
dreaming was more real than her?

All about her, slinking in the shadows, great rats as much
as they were dogs: a flash of bone-coloured teeth, a winking
crimson gaze. Pacing her, stalking her; a muted growl, a
whispered snarl. The autumn moon overhead: gibbous, yellow,
an overlooking eye.

It reminded her of a cat playing with a mouse. Not that she
had ever seen that. Only a kitten, batting at a twig. A little
black kitten with a white-masked face. Perhaps that was it.
Your sins will find you out. Poetic justice. But there wasn't
anything poetic about what paced her; no one would ever write a
sonnet, a ballad, a tanka, about them.

A haiku?

Grey hounds in moonlight
Long teeth, lean bodies--and snap!
There goes my skirt's edge!

The dog retreated back into the shadows with the scrap of
fabric clutched in its teeth, and its snarl sounded like
snickering human laughter.

Piece by piece, she thought, piece by piece, that's how
they'll do it; tear off my clothing first, and then, fingers,
toes... skin, muscles, organs... right down to the naked bone...

Somewhere in the distance, a piano began to play, and, in
return, the pack threw back their heads and hurled their baying
at the moon--as though it were a hunting horn, telling them that
the time for toying with the prey was over.

The architecture of the city loomed above her like the
curving ridge of some titanic spine, the remnants of a long-dead
monster risen from the earth. The hunting howls of the pack
bounced from building to building, cavernous echoes. Overhead,
the sky hung, curved, a black dome. She ran, without conscious
sense of where she was going, or why. Far away, someone ran
their fingers over white keys, black keys, and the music cut the
night, languid and sad; something beautiful, dying slowly, though
without pain.

Somehow, she stayed ahead of them. She could not count
their numbers, could not even guess at them. Behind her the city
seemed consumed by their mass, buildings and cars and sidewalks
flowing away into the lean racing legs and the cruel, cruel
teeth. She began to cry, with terror and despair. A tree loomed
before her, crooked, shadowy; she passed it by, passed by a bed
of night-blooming flowers drinking moonlight. A door ahead. The
piano stopping. The door opening.

"Miki!"

His eyes were wide behind his glasses; then, the moonlight,
caught in the thin lenses, turned his gaze blank. She rushed
inside, sobbing, begging for him to close the door. When he did
not move, she turned and slammed it shut herself. There was a
heavy impact; something large and solid and fleshy hitting the
door, just once. Then nothing.

Bewildered, he held her and stroked her hair until she
calmed. Then he led her to the kitchen by the hand, still not
speaking, and filled her a glass of water at the sink. She drank
eagerly, desperately, as though she had crossed a desert to come
to him.

"What's wrong?" he asked finally, leaning back with his
hands behind him on the sink counter.

She lowered the empty glass. "What's wrong?" she asked, too
sharply. "Didn't you see them? They were everywhere."

He shook his head. "I didn't see anything. Just you."

"You did!" She paused, took a deep breath, calmed herself.
"One of them hit the door, Miki."

He shook his head again. "I don't know what you're talking
about."

She stared into the empty glass, at the few drops of water
still clinging defiantly to the bottom. "What is this place?"

He looked at her, puzzled. "My house, of course."

"No," she murmured.

"Yes," he said after a moment. "I stopped thinking about it
as my parents' house a few years ago, I mean. I was always
expecting them to come home, you know. But they never did. Not
even for her funeral. They sent letters. Terribly apologetic.
But I knew how business was."

"No," she said again, "not your house. I mean, this place.
This city. This season. It's supposed to be winter." She
hesitated. "Isn't it?"

Moonlight was coming through the kitchen windows, making
paths across the floor. Miki followed one to the chair across
from her and sat down. "I think so," he said uncertainly. "I
feel like I've been here, playing my piano, for the longest time.
Maybe for forever. And I only stopped when I heard you call my
name."

She did not remember calling his name, but perhaps she had.
She might have called out many things while running.

"We were dancing," she said slowly.

"Yes. And then..."

Darkness and shadows and voices, and the world coming apart.

"Oh, Akio-san," Miki whispered, so soft she barely heard him
(perhaps he had not intended her to), "Akio-san, what you have
you done?"

"Miki?" she asked quietly.

He started, as though he had not been aware she was still
present until she'd spoken. "Yes, Nanami?"

"What do you remember about Ohtori?"

There was water dropping from the faucet. Miki hadn't quite
turned the tap all the way shut. Drip, drip, every few seconds,
hitting the metal basin of the sink. The sound filled the
silence as Miki clasped his hands and thought.

"I remember," he said eventually, and he smiled at her,
"playing piano at one of your parties. Everyone clapped for me.
I was embarrassed, and I wanted to get out of the room, but you
made me stay up there and bow. I sort of resented that, but I
was kind of glad, too." He paused briefly, then continued. "I
remember fencing with Juri-sempai one afternoon, and losing
track of time, not realizing the sun had set until we realized
we were fencing by the starlight. I remember tutoring Himemiya-
sempai and Tenjou-sempai; and you were there, too. A little
study group."

"I don't mean those things," she said. "Those are normal
things. I mean, do you remember the important things?"

"Those were important things for me. They're happy
memories."

She looked away from him, down at the table. "I'm not
saying any of this right," she said with frustation. "But..."

Miki stood up. "Nanami... do you mind coming upstairs?"

With effort, she managed not to tremble. "N-no."

He led her up the stairs, down the hallway, and through the
open door, into his bedroom. Inside, she looked at the single
bed in the centre, and felt almost guilty. She remembered him
telling her once that he and Kozue had shared this bedroom up to
the day she died. And then he'd looked so sad, so terribly sad,
and she had kissed him; and they sat down on the edge of the one
bed in the room, and kissed some more, almost desperately. Hands
moving; buttons and straps fumbled out of the way, lips so
hungry for one another.

It had been her first time. He said it had been his, and
she'd believed him. Such mixture of sweetness and pain. It
hadn't been a mistake; whatever he'd said the morning after, when
she woken to find him watching her with so much guilt on his
face, it had not been a mistake.

"Nanami?"

She let the present retake her. He was standing at his
desk, under the window, trapped in another road of moonlight as
he pulled a black-bound album from one drawer and opened it near
the beginning.

"As near as I can tell, everything is the same except this
one thing," he said softly as she approached. "Just that one
detail. Do you see what I mean?" He indicated two photos, each
placed on a page by itself.

Nanami looked at the left-hand one, not understanding. They
were both about six, Miki and Kozue, or perhaps seven; someone
had gone round to the other side of the piano, and taken their
photo as though catching them in the midst of playing. There was
an artificial element, though; too glossy, too controlled.

"A promotional shot," Miki said by way of explanation. He
sounded bitter. "The two prodigies, playing piano in their
sunlit garden. I remember they had to bring movers in to get the
piano into the garden in the first place. Because you can't keep
a piano in the garden all the time, of course. It's an expensive
instrument. You can't let it get rained on, or even exposed to
too much sun."

"You were a cute little boy," she said quietly, putting her
hand on his shoulder and leaning forward in order to get a closer
look. Her breasts brushed his back; she felt him tremble
slightly, or flinch.

"Look at the other one."

"Isn't it just the same shot?"

He shook his head. She frowned and examined them both more
carefully. The same background, the same poses... even the play
of light and shadow from the trees on the surface of the piano
seemed identical...

"Her hair," she said finally, and once she said, it was so
obvious that she felt foolish for missing it before. "Your
sister's hair is different."

He nodded tightly, but said nothing. In the left-hand
photo, the child Kozue wore a ribbon, pulling back her hair from
her face; at the back, the long hair had been tightly curled.
In the left-hand photo, it was short, far too short to have
possibly been done up in the other style; just like how Kozue had
worn it in junior high, just like how she'd been wearing it the
last time Nanami had seen her alive.

"I can't remember which one is right." He stabbed his
finger at the left-hand photo, the right-hand photo. "It's not
possible for it to be both. I remember them setting up the shot.
The lights, the cameras, everything just so. Kozue didn't want
to sit still, sit like they told her to; Mother and Father, they
asked me to get her to pose like they wanted, and I did. God
help me, I did, because in those days, Kozue would have done
anything for me, and I would have done anything for Mother and
Father..."

She stared at the left-hand photo. The Rose Bride, she
thought, she wore her hair like that. But that photo on the
right, that's not how parents make their little girls wear their
hair.

"A wig, maybe?" she said weakly.

"A wig." He laughed softly; for a moment, she thought she'd
made him feel better, but then she realized there was no humour
in it. "No, no, no wig. I've looked. I've looked at these two
photos with a magnifying glass. Every detail is the same. The
shadow of the leaves on the top of the piano; the speckles of sun
in the grain of the wood. Everything except her hair. And--"

"Maybe both of them are true?"

"Exactly," he said after a moment. And he turned around,
and, to her surprise, embraced her, both arms around her waist.
"Exactly, Nanami."

She froze for a moment, then embraced him back. He wasn't
much taller than she was, which felt a little awkward.
Traditionally, the man was supposed to be able to practically
engulf the woman in his arms. This was more of a mutal holding.
The two of them supporting one another. She wanted to be able
to rest her head against his chest, but had to settle for his
shoulder. Utena was taller than him. If Utena were a man,
she would be able to rest her head against--where had that
thought come from? She wasn't like that. Juri and Shiori were
like that, and good for them, they seemed very happy that way.
But she wasn't. Better not to think about it.

He led her over to the bed in his arms. They sat down
together. His lips moved to hers, briefly; she fell back,
letting the taut white sheets and soft mattress catch her,
spreading out her arms at her sides as though floating on water.
He remained sitting, looking down at her with a smile, the back
of one of his hands lightly touching her hip.

"Listen," he said softly. She realized suddenly that the
only light in the room was moonlight, that they had not even
turned on his desk lamp to look at the photos, and for some
reason, that sent a shiver of fear through her. "In answer to
your question, Nanami... I remember. I remember everything."

In her mind's eyes, she sat bolt upright, with questioning
accusations flying from her lips, bewildered, confused,
mistrustful. In reality, she lay there on the bed, listening, as
he bent down out of her sight and slipped off her shoes. "High
heels. These must have been uncomfortable to run in. I'll bet
you get a blister or two." He stroked her ankle briefly; such
agile fingers.

"I hope not," she murmured, staring at the ceiling, at a
crack in the plaster like a tree with spreading branches. "So
you remember it all, do you? Then tell me why, Miki..."

"The problem is that so far, you've only heard one side of
the story," Miki said, rising back up into her view. He took his
glasses off and put them on the bedside table. "Tenjou-sempai's
side. Her story. But..."

"Nothing can change the things he did to us," she said
quietly. "The things he made us do. The things he did to
Utena."

"You don't understand," Miki said unhappily. "That's
exactly it, Nanami. It's like those two photos. It's impossible
for both of them to be true, isn't it? That's what the mind
logically says. And yet both photos exist. Why?"

He leaned down and kissed her on the lips, just as she began
to rise. "Just listen to me," he whispered pleadingly against
her mouth. "Even if you don't believe me, just listen to me.
Give me that. Please?"

She nodded. His eyes were beautiful in the moonlight,
staring into hers, water-deep.

He lay down beside her and took her hand in his. "Do you
know what's always seemed like the most difficult ethical
question for me, Nanami?"

"No."

"This one: is it all right to make an innocent person suffer
if it helps other people? To be unjust, I mean, out of
compassion for others? You imprison one innocent person, for
example, and because of that, a hundred other innocent people are
never imprisoned when they would be otherwise."

"Punishing innocents is always wrong," she said quietly.
"But, then again, that requires the existence of innocents.
Everyone has things they would be punished for, if people only
knew about them. I don't really believe in innocence any more."

"And let's say that someone chooses to allow themselves to
be punished to save other people. They choose that path, knowing
the whole of the world. They have the right to do that, don't
they? And along comes another person who sees them suffering,
but doesn't understand why they're suffering, couldn't possibly
understand, wouldn't believe it even if it were explained to
them? This other person tries to set them free; not because
they're a bad person. They're a good person, a compassionate
person; they hate to see someone else suffering. But they just
don't understand the consequences of what they're doing. Who's
in the wrong, that person, or the person who tries to stop them
from doing it?"

"Are these a bunch of deaf mutes, Miki?" she asked quietly.
"Because, if not, then why didn't they just _explain_ what was
going on? So that everyone could understand. If it were so
wonderful, so great, wouldn't eveyone want to help, if it only
they understood?"

He squeezed her hand, and turned his head to look at her.
"That's just what I said, you know," he whispered, smiling sadly.
"But look at it like this: parents don't always explain to their
children why some things are all right, and some things aren't.
This isn't because they don't want their children to understand,
but because their children can't understand. Not yet."

"But she didn't choose that path." She pulled her hand away
from his and sat up. "He chose it for her. He raped his own
sister, Miki. He tried to make Touga do the same to me." A
sudden terrible thought occured to her, and she clapped a hand
over her mouth. "You and Kozue," she murmured, tasting the salt-
sweat of her palm against her tongue. "He made Kozue be your
Bride, when you duelled. Oh, my God..."

He remained lying on the bed, looking up at her, and asked:
"Does it disgust you so even, to think of it? Why is that? If
it was what she wanted, and what I wanted, would it have been all
right? What was so terrible, Nanami, what Touga did to you, or
how he did it? What if he had been gentle? What if--"

She almost slapped him, was raising her hand to do so, but
stopped herself. "How can you say such things?" she snarled.

"Because they need to be said," he said. "Even though it
hurts you to hear them; I'm sorry for that. But I want you to
understand. You've got to understand the nature of the
situation. You say that Akio-san raped her. But that's only
because it's what Utena wants you to think."

"I _saw_ them," she hissed.

"What did you see?" Miki asked quietly. "Isn't what you see
a completely different thing from how you see it? What if it was
what she wanted? What if it was what she liked?"

She did slap him, then, hard enough to turn his head to the
side. "You loved her," she said, almost inaudibly, feeling so
broken, so _betrayed_. "You loved her, and yet... you can say
these things about her. What kind of a person are you now,
Miki?"

"I loved her," he said, raising a hand to touch the red mark
on his cheek as he sat up. "I still love her. And so does Akio-
san. You've got to understand what Utena did, you see. The
power we were fighting for was supposed to give you the power to
revolutionize the world. Did you ever really think about what
that means?"

She shook her head. "No," she said. "I don't care. I'm
done with this, Miki. I'm done with you. We're going to stop
him. If you're on his side..." She rose from the bed and
stalked to the door, swallowing down her tears and piling rage
atop them.

At the door, she turned and looked back at him. "I thought
I loved you," she said tightly, "but the boy I might have loved
died a long time ago, didn't he?"

He bowed his head, and she saw then that he was crying. The
tears fell, silver in the moonlight, and stained his hands as
they clenched tightly round his knees. "Yes," he said. "He
died. We all die, constantly. Every day. Like the sun, we die
and we return, changed and yet ourselves. _To revolutionize the
world_. Think about that, Nanami. 'To see a World in a Grain of
Sand'. Your world. And to make it what you want. Not
consciously, but with your whole being. That's the Power of
Dios, Nanami; the power to remake the world, rewrite the story.
Utena seized it, and that's what she did. Because she wanted
Anthy not to be responsible for any of it, Anthy wasn't; Utena
saw them too, you know. And because she wanted Anthy to be raped
by her brother, Anthy was raped by her brother. Because she
wanted it all to be a lie, the things that Akio-san was striving
for, dreaming of, spending all this time working towards... they
were."

"Why are you crying, Miki?"

"Because I'm full of doubt," he said miserably, burying his
face in his hands. "And he said I would be. Ever since you all
came. Even since Utena came back. I've spent years working with
Akio-san, believing in Akio-san, believing in what he's told me,
in the point of view he's made me see my memories with... and now
I can feel it being eaten away. Her very presence changes the
world to make it be how she wants. She doesn't do it on purpose,
but she can't help it. She's the Prince. She stole the light of
the world that should have been Akio-san's, because he knows how
to use it, like he did in the old days, when the world was young.
She's the Prince, and she makes people love her, makes people
believe in her..."

"If she has so much power, than why is Akio still fighting?"

Miki said nothing for a long time, only sobbing quietly into
his hands. She fought the urge to move back to the bed and take
him in her arms. This all could be--must be--a trick. Crocodile
tears.

"Because he was once the Prince," Miki said finally. "And
once you've been the Prince, a part of you doesn't ever stop
being that. Utena is stronger, but she doesn't know how to use
her power. He knows how to use his. He's been preparing all
this time to fight her. To make the story, the world, the way it
ought to be."

"And what way is that?" she inquired acidly.

"A world where no one's little sister ever has to die. A
world where all the stories have happy endings. You know how the
world is, Nanami. People are cold and selfish and uncaring
towards each other. They do terrible things, monstrous things.
What if you could stop it? Stop all the Hiroshimas, the
Buchenwalds, the Rwandas? Inside of every human being is a mix
of light and darkness, good and evil... what if you could take
the evil out of the world? That's what Akio-san wants to do.
What price is too high to pay for that? What act is too awful to
do?"

"How can you hope to take evil out of the world by putting
evil into it, Miki?"

"But he doesn't do evil. His ends are always good."

"So were Utena's," she said quietly, smiling, realizing that
she had him, that it wasn't hopeless; he was full of doubt, as he
said. "But because she didn't understand, she did something
terrible. Isn't that what you said?"

"Yes."

"And how do you know Akio understands any better than Utena
does?"

"I don't understand. I believe."

"Why?"

In answer, he began to shake and sob again. Something broke
in her, and she hurried over to him to wrap her arms around him,
kiss his forehead, stroke his hair, tell him that everything was
going to be all right. He clutched her and sobbed against her
chest like a little boy.

"I have to choose," he mumbled eventually. "Have to choose
one of them. And I choose him. I choose to believe in him."

"But why?"

"Because he gave Kozue back to me, after she gave up her
life to him; because she understood. Because she believed."

And she felt two warm feminine hands lasciviously stroke the
sides of her breasts, even as she held Miki. She shrieked and
thrust Miki from her, leapt up from the bed, ran for the door.
It was closed; the handle would not turn.

Look at me.

Against her will, her body swivelled round to face the bed
again. Miki lay upon it, trembling, hiding his face from her, or
perhaps from the spectral form that stood at the foot of the bed,
smiling in a manner both beatific and wanton.

You love me.

And she did. She loved the flowing sea-coloured hair, the
limpid forest-green eyes, the limbs so pale as to be translucent,
the long black dress that flowed like a living thing... despite
herself, despite all the screaming she was doing inside, the
utter terror, she loved Kozue, or whatever Kozue had become.

Die for me, beloved.

Yes, oh, yes, how glorious, how blessed she was, to be
allowed to serve, to be allowed to die for her... was there an
instrument of death nearby? A knife, a noose, a window from
which to hurl herself? Or perhaps her heart might simply burst,
her breath vanish, at the joyous, overwhelming love she felt.

You came to this place, MY place, MY PLACE, and did this to
_him_, to my _brother_, you worm, you maggot, you filth, you
excrement, you insect, you dog, you whore, you slut, _you tried
to take what is mine_, and here, _here_, there is _nothing_ to
save you, _nowhere_ to flee, _no one_ to rescue you, I do not
need winter to kill you here, here, in the heart of my being,
heart of my power, you will--

"Kozue..."

Miki's voice was faint, but enough. The glamour broke for a
moment; she tore her eyes away from that merciless beauty, and,
nearly pulling the door from its hinges as she did, fled down the
stairs, through the kitchen, and out the front door. If the dogs
were waiting, so be it; better them than what was here.

She refused to cry. Refused to weep, to be a fool and turn
Miki into some kind of innocent, caught up in this by his sister
(his dead sister) and Akio. No one could say the things he did
if they were just a slave. And she'd almost believed him... so
much of what he'd said... and now she realized that she, too, was
having doubts. Utena did have some kind of power, didn't she?
The way she moved, the way she talked, the way she...

Far from the house, she slumped down on the curb and bowed
her head. It was true, wasn't it? She made people love her,
made people believe in her. Because the first thing she'd
thought when Kozue touched her had been: would Utena's hands feel
like that?

And she still didn't know where the hell she was, or why it
was autumn rather than winter. And she'd left her shoes behind,
and hadn't even realized she had done so until now, when she'd
sat down and realized how badly they hurt from running on the
sidewalk. She was lucky she hadn't cut herself. Maybe it would
have been better if she'd been eaten by the dogs. She was likely
going to die here anyway. Alone. And cold.

"You're shivering, Nanami."

He had approached so silently that she hadn't even heard
him. When he draped his jacket around her shoulders, she made no
move to stop him from doing so. He sat down beside her on the
curb, not too close; but not too far, either.

"I'm glad I found you," Touga said after a time.

She said nothing in response, but hugged her knees to
herself and stared up at the moon.

"Do you want to talk about whatever happened?"

"No," she said quietly.

"Not at all, or not to me?"

"A while ago," she said quietly, "you said that you were my
brother by blood. That when I was only a baby, we were both
adopted into the Kiryuu family. But back at Ohtori, you said
that we weren't siblings by blood; that I was adopted, and that
you'd only treated me as your sister because Mother and Father
told you to do so."

He nodded quietly. She noticed for the first time that he
was holding Chu-Chu in his lap; the animal appeared to be asleep.

"Both stories can't be true," she continued. "Which one is
true, Touga?"

"You're my sister," he said. "That's the real story,
Nanami. All those things about you being adopted, about my not
being your brother by blood... none of them were true. We were
simply manipulating you into duelling again."

She nodded. "I believe you." He looked relieved, and she
continued, in a dull voice. "Because it doesn't matter. It
really doesn't matter which of the stories is true. Whether
you're my brother by blood, or my brother my adoption, the
memories I have of what you did to me are still the same."

"I know," he said, and sighed. "I know. It doesn't really
change anything, does it?"

She shook her head.

"I'm sorry. I'm truly sorry, Nanami."

"That's the first time you've said that to me, you know."

"It is, isn't it?" But he did not sound surprised.

"Do you mean it?"

"How can I make you believe I mean it?"

"You can't." She was shocked by the tremble in her voice,
by the sheer pain she felt. "You can't. I loved you. I trusted
you completely. I would have done anything for you. And you..."

"I used you. And anyone else whom you give that kind of
love and trust to can use you as well. Anyone you give trust to
can use you."

"So what's the answer? Never love anything? Is that what
I'm supposed to learn?"

"I don't know," he admitted. "I'm not sure you have to
trust someone in order to love them, though. Do you understand
what I mean?"

She nodded tightly. "Love isn't something you can just turn
on and off," she said wearily. "If it was, life would be a lot
easier."

He stood up. "Are you ready to move on now?"

"To where?"

"To find the others, of course."

Slowly, she stood to join him. "I found Miki already," she
said. "But..."

"Tell me about it," he said gently, "while we walk. All
right?"

"I don't have any shoes."

He smiled faintly. "Is that said with the expectation of my
offering to carry you?"

"Hardly. The pavement isn't that rough."

He led her on into the cool autumn night, or perhaps it was
the other way round, her leading him; she decided that, in the
end, it did not matter.

* * *

The yellow chalk squeaked as Ohtori Hoshimi drew a long swoop of
a line with it; she feared it would snap, that in her state of
disquiet she was exerting too much pressure, going too fast. It
did not snap. She drew another swoop, then a series of
characters in old dead or imagined tongues. From the first floor
of the library, the clatter of the iron arms of her husband's
antiquated drafting compass drifted up the old wrought iron
spiral stairs as he consulted old charts, star maps,
cartographies of space, land, time, the heavens. He whispered to
himself dryly. She hated everything about him, hated the
necessity of their marriage, their alliance, hated the memories
of their couplings when he was still strong and healthy enough to
require them of her. But he was Ohtori by birth, and she merely
by marriage; what must be, must be. The thought, mantra that it
was, calmed her and gave her focus; that beyond the library red
chaos ruled did not concern her, could not be allowed to concern
her except as she could use it to finish what she must do here.
She completed the magic circle; Trivia paced round the ring of
it, hobbling on his wounded paw, sniffling at the chalk and
occasionally meowing communicatively.

"Yes, my dear one," she said softly, absently kneading
between the Siamese's flicking ears with the knuckles of her
unbandaged hand. "I understand that you might go out safely
within that, with nought to preserve you but yourself, but I
require you here, not there."

His tongue touched the back of her hand. A flick of
hot sandpaper. Then he turned and vanished into the corridors
formed by the oaken shelves, tail crooked proudly; the shadowed
edges round the towering shelves took him, and he disappeared
from her sight.

She had changed from the outfit she'd worn to the gallery,
into robes of white and black, with gold at her wrists, silver
on her fingers, and an iron circlet upon her brow. She had drunk
the juice of rare herbs mixed with strong wines, consumed the
flesh of fungi that grew in dark places, and carefully tucked her
cell phone into the red sash at her waist to keep it close at
hand. She answered instantly when it rang.

"It's me. Yes. Yes. No? Unfortunate, but if he was the
one responsible for giving sanctuary, I do not see how she can
complain. Well, of course she can complain, but without much
justification. I shall be the one to deal with her, yes; you
will not enter into it. Remain as you are until contacted again.
Has he returned? He has--what news? Yes, I knew that--no, that
is interesting. It will be taken into consideration. I assure
you, I will deal with her; it grows cold. She makes her
presence known in the most cliched ways, of course; goodbye."

She folded the phone and put it away, and turned, smiling.
"Black Rose."

"She was supposed to die." The Black Rose's voice was the
crackle of an autumn bonfire, with a note of childish petulance
in it that Hoshimi allowed herself private amusement at.

"She was, yes, and would have, but your own brother gave her
sanctuary, and thus I wash my hands of the matter."

The eyes of the Rose flashed, green fire off driftwood. "I
did what was asked of me. Do what was asked of you."

"Your brother is a charming young man." Hoshimi smiled,
lightly; she wished the library had a wet bar, that she might
offer the Black Rose a drink, casually, so politely that it would
be insulting. "You presented the matter to me falsely. If he
offered sanctuary to her, consciously or unconsciously, then he
cares for her; I will have nothing more to do with this."

"Miki doesn't know what he wants. I have to look after him.
I have to keep him safe from them."

"Come now." She laughed quietly. "Be honest with me, and
honest with yourself. Let us not mince words. You are jealous.
She had him first. She might have him again. I've not seen you
making such efforts against any of the others. How sad and human
and childish you are."

The Rose stared for a moment, green eyes dark like a
shadowed forest, and then she moved her lips, showing teeth.
"Poor old woman, you hold back time with unguent and potion and
spell, but you cannot hold it back all the way. Each day, you
become less beautiful, more wrinkled, and one day you will be a
withered hag, for all your power. And I will be only more
beautiful, so beautiful that men and women alike will die for my
beauty--"

"Indeed." Hoshimi cut her off, quietly. "You are, after
all, a thing without flesh, you are become an incarnation, an
Idea of beauty, an eternal phantom existence. And I grow old,
despite my power, and my skin withers and wrinkles, and my
tits sag, but I may go beyond boundaries within which you
are confined, and when I couple with a man, I do it as myself,
and not as the memory of another woman's body."

The face of the Rose twisted, and she hissed her next words.
"Fulfill the bargain." She drew herself up, becoming taller,
more magnificent, so beautiful it would break the hearts of men;
Hoshimi watched calmly, unaffected, long beyond beauty. "We had
an agreement. I have delivered."

Before Hoshimi could respond, she was gone, swirled away, an
autumn breeze, a burning pile of leaves, a discordant swirl of
piano notes under a gibbous moon. Hoshimi drew a hand across her
mouth, frowning; there was a bad taste in it.

"The agreement was sworn neither by blood or fire," she
murmured, troubled all the same. Pointless, she reasoned, to
make an enemy over one life, so long as her hand could not be
detected in the taking of it. She had agreed so the Rose would
give her what she desired; she had what she desired now, the Rose
was of no further use. And yet still...

Down on the first floor, her husband was shaking, staring at
his hands. His drafting compass had fallen aside, the pencil
held within one arm leaving a jagged line across white paper
filled with circles and equations. "So beautiful," he murmured.
"So beautiful..."

"Do be quiet," she called to him, heading into the shelves
to find Trivia. "I'm trying to work up here."

* * *

Utena looked from one woman to the other: Shiori, who appeared
to have forced her way through a hedge of thorns to arrive here,
and Kanae, regarding the new intruder with a hostess's smile and
a feral animal's eyes. Beyond the transparent walls of the
solarium, the sun slowly sank behind the peak of a hill, and the
sky turned crimson in preparation for the night.

"Excuse me?" Shiori asked quizzically, staring back at Kanae
as though expecting her to vanish into thin air (she was, after
all, supposed to be dead) at any moment.

"I asked you," Kanae said slowly, "if you're here to hurt
the baby." Utena started slightly, seeing that Kanae's hands
were clenched at her sides into tight fists. "Are you?"

Before Shiori could say anything, Utena turned to Kanae and
smilingly, hastily, spoke. "This is my friend Takatsuki Shiori,
Kanae-san. She's not here to hurt the baby."

Shiori pursed her lips and seemed about to say something,
then shook her head and wiped at her tear-damp eyes and cheeks
with the back of one hand. Utena hurriedly dug into her breast
pocket and found (as she had hoped) the old monogrammed
handkerchief she'd always carried at Ohtori.

"Here."

"Thank you."

Shiori took it, and hid her face within the folds, dabbing
away as best she could the signs of her recent crying. Kanae,
meanwhile, relaxed somewhat.

"I want to hear her say it," she said finally, as Utena took
back her handkerchief, folded it, and tucked it away.

"Huh?"

"I want," Kanae repeated, "to hear her say it. Hear her say
she's not here to hurt the baby."

"I'm not here to hurt the baby," Shiori mumbled. "I--"

"Wonderful!" Kanae exclaimed. "Would you like some tea?"

Shiori nodded wearily, looking somewhat overwhelmed by it
all. Utena touched her arm. "You should sit down," she said
gently. Shiori nodded again, and slumped down on the padded
bench that sat flush with the walls. The sunset turned her hair
ruddy. She crossed her arms and bent forward, staring at the
ground.

"I couldn't find Juri-san," she said softly. "I looked and
looked, but it was just so big. And I got lost, and then I found
this door..." She looked up for a moment and threw her head
around, staring at the false world beyond the solarium. "It's
not possible," she whispered. "Not possible. It was just a door
in a wall... not a high wall... but..." Helplessly, she made a
weak, fluttering gesture with one hand at the vanishing sun. "It
was _night_, Utena-san. I was walking under the stars."

Utena poured a cup of tea for her, then sat down beside her
as she handed it over. "Illusion," she murmured gently. "If you
listen very carefully, you can hear the motor."

Kanae remained standing, her back to the two of them,
humming a lullaby with her hand on her swollen belly. She seemed
almost unaware of their continued presence. Occasionally, she
moved her hand in a tight circle on the red cloth of her dress.

"And she's supposed to be dead," Shiori half-whimpered,
hand trembling so much as she brought the teacup to her mouth
that Utena feared she would spill it.

"Well..." Utena sighed. "She isn't." The first sip of
tea, to her relief, seemed to help calm Shiori a little. "So
tell me, what happened?"

"Juri and I were waiting." She lowered the teacup to her
lap, keeping her hands clasped round the ceramic sides as though
the warmth comforted her. "We were both so eager to see him.
Looking back, I don't understand why. All those things he
did... does it make it somehow better that he died? And I know
what Juri says, but I'm not sure I believe it like she does..."

"Who?"

"Excuse me?"

"Who were you waiting for?" Shiori did not answer and
Utena continued, somewhat apologetically. "I don't understand."

"Ruka." Shiori pronounced the name very quietly, as though
afraid to draw undue attention to it. "We were waiting for Ruka.
And we were so happy to wait for him. We probably would have
waited forever, if Mikage hadn't--"

"Mikage was there?" Utena asked. Too sharply; Shiori
cringed, and she softened her tones. "I mean, how?"

"He came and then left. He hardly even looked at me. I
don't know how, but I think what he said... it was what made her
kill her brother. Again." Her voice was slipping into a blank,
almost mechanical recitation of facts that made sense only to
her. "But if he was already dead, I guess she couldn't have
killed him. Maybe what she did was right, even though it was
horrible. Because after that, I was able to leave... but I left
Juri behind, and I couldn't find her afterwards. I didn't mean
for that to happen."

She raised her head and stared into Utena's eyes,
pleadingly, as though it were the most important thing to her in
the world that Utena understand her, believe her. "I didn't mean
for that to happen. I'm not a terrible person. I love her."

"I know," Utena said. She squeezed Shiori's shoulder. "And
she loves you. You've obviously been through something pretty
awful. But you've got to pull yourself together and be strong.
Okay?"

Shiori nodded and drew her face into a tight, determined
expression. Utena smiled at her. "That's the spirit."

"You've got to be brave for the people you love," Kanae
pronounced, standing with her back to them. She cradled the
elbow of her dangling right arm in her tensed left hand. "You've
got to be willing to do anything for them."

Utena raised a hand, fingers spread, and stretched it out,
as though to close with that motion all distance between them.
"Kanae-san..."

"Akio-san is calling to me," Kanae said quietly. "He called
me on the telephone. He said that he was going to be delayed.
He needs me." She stepped towards the door, right arm swinging,
left hand releasing right elbow and raising towards the knob.

"Kanae-san, I thought you said we'd go into the outside
world together--"

Almost kindly, contemptuously, Kanae's words cut her off.
"I don't need you to go into the outside world, Utena-san. And
neither does my baby. My husband is waiting. Please
understand--I was only humouring you."

She opened the door. Sunlight, real sunlight, flooded the
solarium, so bright it was blinding; Utena threw up an arm to
cover her eyes, heard the door slam, heard Shiori whimper, and
then silence. They sat in darkness.

"She's gone into the maze," Shiori whispered.

Utena said nothing, sat and listened. Out of the silence,
in the quiet that came when the last of Shiori's whisper died
away, she heard no engine running, no sun-machine (star-machine's
twin).

"Into the maze," repeated Shiori.

"What do you mean?" asked Utena.

"There's a hedge maze beyond that door. It's where I ended
up after I lost Juri."

Sensible, of course, Utena thought, perfectly sensible, for
there to be a hedge maze beyond, for there to be the outside
world, when before it had led to Kanae's room, her books and her
paintings, had led also to the infinite bathroom of marble sinks
and chandeliers, Versailles in modern plumbing, the most opulent
toilets the world had ever seen. Perfectly sensible, one door
leading, looking, into many places, many places drifting by
beyond that one door, turning in sequence, into alignment, like
the zodiac's wheel.

She found Shiori's hand in the darkness. It struck her how
small it was compared to hers, how delicate; what a small,
crystalline, birdlike creature Shiori was, how magnificently
fragile.

"We need to go after her," she said quietly. Shiori
squeezed her hand to acknowledgement the truth of it; Utena
suspected she nodded as well, an automatic motion, though in the
darkness none could be aware but Shiori of the act.

They stood; Utena guided the two of them around the spot
where she assumed the table, with tea, with tea biscuits, still
stood. Her foot caught and kicked what must have been _The
Tempest_ across the floor; it hit once in the darkness, must have
fallen open--pages slapped together as it toppled, fell shut.

Their free hands clashed once in the darkness, both seeking
the knob, and then Shiori pulled hers back so Utena might find
it. Against her palm the rounded knob felt brazen, hot to the
touch; she turned it, broke the once-solarium's darkness with a
vertical line of light, opened the doorway into the garden-maze,
where bees moved fatly from one rosebush to the next, bushes of
long thorns, towering, trimmed into labyrinth walls, wild-growing
green grass the flooring, sky of painful blue the ceiling.

Utena let Shiori's hand go. "This maze?"

Shiori shook her head. "Another." She turned a plaintive
gaze to Utena. "What's happened to us? What's happened to the
world?"

"Half the story," Utena murmured.

Shiori looked at her blanky. "What?"

"I only heard half the story."

"Half the story from who?"

"Kanae-san's son."

"She's already had another child?"

Utena shook her head. "No. He talked out of her mouth."

"Kanae-san's unborn child talked to you out of her mouth?"

"Yeah."

Shiori laughed half-hysterically. "All right. That's not
so strange. So what story did he tell you, or half a story?"

"He told me how the world was made, how Setebos came from
the Quiet and made the world, how he made people, killed the
people he had made except for a brother and a sister, who hid in
a garden guarded by the oldest snake in the world... but that was
all." She paced slightly, scuffing grass that had never known
the touch of human feet. "If that was supposed to be Akio and
Anthy, then what? Where did everyone else come from? Is that
why they're different from us? Because they were born from the
body of a god, and we were born from dust, or mud? Who breathed
life into us?"

"Maybe it's just a story," Shiori suggested. "Maybe it
doesn't mean anything."

"He said that Setebos was the one who was doing all of
this," Utena said urgently. "But..." She took a deep breath.
"Perhaps he was just saying something different using the words
he knew. He says his name is Cali. Caliban. Does that make his
mother Sycorax?"

"The last time I read _The Tempest_ was in high school,"
Shiori said apologetically. "I honestly don't remember much."

"Augh!" Utena threw her hands up in the air, frustrated.
"Forget it. I don't even know where I'm going with this myself.
Let's just see if we can find Kanae-san. Or Juri." She sighed.
"Or anyone."

Shiori nodded. They advanced into the labyrinth of thorns.
Once in a while, a bird would pass by, high overhead. Insects
were everywhere: suckling bees, hovering clouds of gnats,
buoyant, dreamlike butterflies; one landed on the back of
Shiori's hand as they paused at an intersection of paths, and
she laughed; childish, and close to beautiful.

They walked for hours. The thorn bushes grew higher,
wilder, more tangled; the roses grew more sparse, until each one
was only a pinprick wound on a great green corpse. Utena began
to imagine, for some reason, that observed from above, the
garden-maze would resemble a body, like the Nazca lines, like the
Cardiff Giant; the conviction that she walked within a human form
began to press upon her. She wondered if Shiori felt the same
oppression, almost mentioned it to her--and then did not, knowing
that it was a mad conviction, born of a world given over to
madness.

"I feel safe now that I'm with you," Shiori said
unexpectedly, at one point (for the most part, they had walked in
silence, chosen paths without speaking).

Utena looked at her curiously. "Hrm?"

"Like when I'm with Juri," Shiori said, as though that
explained everything. "When I'm with Juri, I'm not afraid."

"Oh. Okay." And Utena walked on, almost frowning, trying
to decipher the meaning.

Eventually, they came to a circular clearing with a ring-
shaped marble bench in the centre. The hedges rose impossibly
high all around them. Since they had begun to walk, the sun in
the sky had not moved.

"Where do you think she went?" Shiori asked.

Utena blinked. "Who?"

"Kanae-san. She said she was going to find Akio."

Utena sighed. "I'd guess she went to find him, then."

"Isn't that a bad thing?"

Utena sighed again. "I don't know. Maybe. But--"

"But what?" Shiori sounded almost resentful. "Didn't you
draw us all here, pull us from the lives we had, in order to help
you defeat him?"

"Yeah," Utena said quietly. "Yeah, I did. But I've been
thinking, maybe that wasn't the right thing to do."

Shiori's eyes grew hard. "What do you mean?"

"I told you that Akio used to be Dios. The prince, the
world's light. And then something happened, and he stopped being
Dios... and he became Akio. But what if..."

"You want to save him," Shiori said accusingly.

Utena nodded. Remembered Dios, in the bell-tower; hoped she
could make Shiori, make everyone understand.

"Nothing dies completely," she said slowly, looking into
Shiori's eyes. "I hated him for a long time. I didn't even
realize how much." She paused. "But I loved him, too. I--"

"Was he your first?"

Utena started; it was not a question she had expected. It
was as if Shiori had cut her; she had not believed it could hurt
so much. Then she nodded, closing her eyes.

Shiori touched her hand. "Ruka was my first," she said
gently. "You were younger than me, then; so I suppose we both
lost the same thing at around the same time."

"Innocence," Utena murmured.

"No. I lost my innocence a long time before that. You
don't really understand that. Neither does Juri."

Utena opened her eyes. Shiori's smile was sad; there was
nothing angry in it or in her eyes.

"I don't understand what you mean."

Shiori laughed softly. "I know myself pretty well," she
said gently. "What I look like on the outside, the impression
that I give to people; it doesn't match what's inside, Utena."
She glanced at the bench. "I'm tired from all this walking.
Could we rest?"

Utena nodded. "I'm a little tired too."

They sat down, their backs to one another, Shiori on the
north-facing side of the ring-shaped bench, Utena on the
south. "No, you're not."

"Hrm?"

"You're not tired," Shiori said, speaking away from Utena,
voice drifting over her shoulder as she addressed, apparently,
the hedges before her. "You really don't need to pretend you are
to make me feel better."

Utena glanced back and really noticed for the first time how
weary Shiori looked, how the sweat stood out on her face, how her
blouse was damp with perspiration, how her every breath came
heavy, how her hair was tousled from having sweat raked back
through it to keep it from stinging her eyes. And it was true
what Shiori said; she herself wasn't tired at all.

"You're one of the strong people," Shiori continued quietly,
when Utena did not speak. "Like Juri is. Like Nanami is too,
I suppose. And Touga, of course. But I'm not; I've sort of
learned to live with that by now. It doesn't make me happy, but
what can I do?" For a moment her voice was bitter, cold;
resentful, as Utena imagined it might have been in Mikage's
elevator, dropping down into the dark below Nemuro Hall. "I
can't just fade back into the crowd; I've been singled out. By
Juri, I mean. Because she loves me. She makes me--"

"Now that's enough," Utena said, somewhat (to her surprise)
tartly. "Of course you're not strong, if you don't believe you
are. But I can't stand listening to people pity themselves
rather than doing something to change things."

There was silence. Utena heard the buzz of insects, the
startled beating of wings (as though a flock of small birds,
brown sparrows perhaps, had been driven from their hiding
place), imagined for a moment as she sat within some secret space
of that great green body's lines (the grassy heart, the thorny
breast) that she could hear even the movements of the
butterflies, which would be quieter than whispers, softer than the
feet of mice. The sunlight was warm on her face, and she
wondered whether or not it was real, wondered whether or not it
mattered--thought, perhaps, that the definition of the real was
so personal, so intimate, that everyone's reality could be
different.

"You're right, of course," Shiori said eventually, sounding
defeated. "These are the same things Juri says, and she's right
as well." Utena heard the shuffling of Shiori's feet, the tap of
her shoes as their low heels briefly touched the smooth surface
of the bench; she was turning inward, to face south, putting her
legs within the ring, her eyes upon Utena's back. "It's just...
difficult. I don't want to live in someone else's shadow all the
time, and yet I always feel like that's where I really belong, as
though without Juri, I wouldn't be anything special at all. And
I'm not asking for your sympathy, I mean, I just..."

"Then what are you asking for?" Utena did not turn, spoke
as though to the roses and thorns of the labyrinth's walls, to
the drunken flittings of the red butterfly that moved exactly six
feet away from the end of her noses.

Shiori's hands touched her shoulders, butterfly-light.
"You're beautiful," she said. There was an aching kind of
longing in her voice, painful, almost palpable, that pressed down
on the middle of Utena's back like a sudden burden. "You make me
feel..." Her hands moved down; towards the breasts, towards the
throat. A movement that might be the initiation of a caress or
a throttling. "You make me feel..."

Utena reached up and caught Shiori by the wrists. "What are
you doing?" The calm began to leave her; the conviction of of
the labyrinth's green body plunged out of sight. She stood up
quickly from the bench, pushing Shiori's arms away as she did,
turning on her, confused; it struck her how much taller she was
than Shiori, how the other woman was like porcelain. She could
shatter her with a touch, a word.

"What are you doing, Shiori?"

Shiori's arms fell at her sides. Her hands dangled as
though controlled from a distance by puppet strings rather than
by her. "Utena," she said quietly, despairingly. "Utena,
Utena..."

Utena simply stared. This was too strange, too unexpected.
She did not know what to make of it. What was Shiori thinking,
feeling?

"You couldn't possibly love someone like me, could you?"

Utena blinked, then coloured. "I'm not like that," she
mumbled.

"Not like what?" Shiori asked, almost cruelly; like someone
prodding a scar, inquiring where it came from, although it was
none of their business.

"Like you and Juri. I don't--"

"I see." Something went out of Shiori; she sagged, almost
sat back down on the bench. "I'm sorry. Let's just forget about
it. Let's just pretend none of this happened, and go find Juri."

Utena knew perfectly well that was a bad idea, was almost
certain that Shiori knew it too. Trying to forget wouldn't work;
what happened couldn't be undone just by pretending it hadn't
happened. But she found herself (to her shame) nodding slowly.
For now, she told herself; later, when there is more time, when
the world's woken up, when we're woken up, this is the kind of
thing we'll talk about, lay bare, get cleared up, bring into the
light. There will be time, time for you and time for me, before
(or after) the taking of tea and cantarella...

"She can't be far," she said gently, needing to say
something. "Juri, I mean."

Shiori, who had turned away, looked back for a moment over
her shoulder. "She could be a hundred miles away, Utena, in
this place."

Utena shrugged. "Then we'll walk a hundred miles."

The edge of Shiori's smile vanished completely as she turned
her head away. "I suppose." She walked away, hands dangling at
her sides. "Perhaps we'll find Kanae-san first."

After a moment, Utena shook her head. "No," she said
quietly. "I think..." She shrugged again, gesturing vaguely
with one hand as she moved to keep pace with Shiori. Could she
have done something different, something better? Some word, some
action, that would have stopped Kanae from walking off at the
call, at some communication no one could hear but her? Kanae
loves Akio, Utena thought (perhaps merely to justify matters to
herself), and when you love someone...

"I think she knows where she's going. Someone's called her;
perhaps, they're coming to meet her..."

"And Juri?"

"What about Juri?"

"Who called her?"

Utena scratched the back one palm thoughtfully. "I'm not
sure anyone did, but it could explain why you two got separated."

"Ruka."

"What about Ruka?"

"If he called, Juri would answer. She... feels she owes him
for things. There were things between them she's never talked to
anyone about."

"Not even you?"

"No. Juri and I, even before we remembered the truth, we
didn't talk much about how things used to be. Ruka taught her a
lot, and now that she's remembered..."

"But he died."

"So did Kanae, yes?"

Utena paused and shuddered. "Yes." So, she thought
quietly, did Kozue. Yet in the elevator, that hand throwing her
back against the wall had felt solid, more solid than solid,
stronger than a human hand had any right to be...

"What is it, Utena?"

"What?"

"The look on your face..."

They reached a crossroads. Utena thought: within a green
body, what we seek must lie in the chamber of the heart. She
went north, Shiori beside her. "I met Kozue," she said
guardedly, as they threaded their way (she thought of Theseus,
unspooling thread behind him as he sought the Minotaur) through
the maze. "In the elevator, right before I found Kanae. So if
Kozue, in this place, can be alive, then..."

Shiori nodded, saying nothing.

"Ruka wouldn't hurt her, would he?"

"Juri told me he was in love with her."

That does not, Utena thought, with a dull ache of pain,
preclude his hurting her. "He was very cruel to you."

"I set myself up for it." Shiori's tone made it clear she
didn't want to talk about it; Utena considered pressing it, but
decided against it. Too much else had recently passed between
them. She continued to walk in silence; Shiori clearly had no
desire for further conversation either.

Turning a corner, they came upon a place where the hedges
widened into a high marble gateway. Their thorns and roses
clutched rapaciously at the sleek pillars as though to tear them
down. Beyond, in a clearing, a flagstone pathway bordered by
planters full of roses led to a small, slender tower surrounded
by a ring of hedges. They were short, but far thicker with
thorns than the hedges of the maze's walls. The roof of the
tower narrowed sharply into a needle, pointed threateningly at
the sky; there were no windows, but there was a small wooden door
at the end of the flagstone path.

"Juri's there," Shiori whispered.

Utena nodded, agreeing, knowing that it was true before she
realized why she knew it was true; a moment later, she saw (must
have noted, before, without realizing consciously) that the roses
in the planters were the colour of a certain kind of sunset. The
colour of Juri's hair. By the doorway, on the flagstones,
something glinted. Red. Sunsets turned everything red.

* * *

"So," Touga said when Nanami finished. "She's still alive, is
she?"

"She's a ghost," Nanami said firmly. "Whatever she is now,
'alive' doesn't cover it." Testily, she strode along the
sidewalk in her bare feet, occasionally kicking a leaf-pile.
"She isn't human. Not any more."

Touga walked a step behind his sister, head tilted back to
gaze at the roofs of each building they passed, lost in thought.
"And Miki is in thrall to her?"

Nanami stopped walking and said, coldly, "Miki chose."

Touga, not so convinced, but deciding not to dispute it,
leaned back against a streetlight's curving neck and thrust his
hands into his pockets. Overhead, white moths battered
themselves to death in a futile attempt to reach the wan light
behind the glass shield. As he watched, one fell and snagged
upon his cuff; he studied the pale, twitching wings with their
black spots, and the furry antennae, then brushed it to the
ground. It twitched once more, then lay still. "And who do you
think sent those dogs after you?"

"Kozue," Nanami said firmly. "She wanted to kill me." Her
back and shoulders trembled as she shuddered. "She wanted me
dead, because..."

"Because a part of Miki's heart belongs to you." He smiled
slightly. "Just like I remember her."

Nanami looked back at him almost hatefully. "Don't start
acting superior," she said quietly. "If you start acting all
superior, we can just split up and go our own separate ways,
understand?"

"Understood." He nodded; another moth fell, this time upon
the head of the sleeping monkey (Chu-Chu, he thought, the silly
thing's name is Chu-Chu) in the crook of his arm, and he flicked
it away. "I apologize," he offered after a moment. Nanami began
to walk again, and he shoved himself off from the streetlight and
fell into step behind her. "So, what do you think of what he
said?"

"What do you mean?"

"Utena or Akio? Who's in the right?"

"Utena." Nanami said it without hesitation.

"Why?"

"Because..." She abruptly threw a suspicious glance back
over her shoulder. "I'll kill you if you go back to him, Touga."

"You really would, wouldn't you?" His smile turned rueful.
He remembered her holding a knife on him not so long ago, so
close a sharp turn of the van could have meant his end. "I'll
never go back to him, Nanami; I turned away from him as soon as
I realized I loved Utena."

"Bullshit you did!" Her voice suddenly furious, she spun on
her heel and faced him with fists clenched at her side. "You say
you loved her? Then why didn't you do more? Why didn't you warn
her?"

He faced her fury, unmoved, though there was a dull ache
within the cage of his heart. "Why didn't any of us do more?" he
asked softly. "What do you want from me? Regret? Then take my
regrets. There are many things I wish I'd done differently in
those days. An apology? I gave you that. Take it again--I'm
sorry, Nanami."

What you want, he thought silently (he heard the turnings of
a key within his heart), is for me to love you again. But I
won't just offer it, and you won't just ask for it.

"All right," Nanami said tightly. "This doesn't get us
anywhere. It's stupid to fight with each other. Let's just..."
She looked around, then sighed. "Do you have any ideas what we
should do?"

"We're close to where Saionji's dorm was. Perhaps he's
there." He looked down at Chu-Chu and moved as though to prod
the creature with his finger, though he did not complete the
motion. "Or perhaps this beast can lead us to him."

"Even if he could, why would you want to see Kyouichi
again?" Her eyes narrowed. "There's something you're not
telling me, isn't there? Something big."

Touga shrugged. "Perhaps this entire enterprise has
consisted of unwanted and unasked for reunions that,
nevertheless, must take place." He paused; Nanami's eyes
continued to narrow, and he chuckled, resigned. "All right, all
right; you told your story, I'll tell mine. Himemiya Anthy is
here."

Fear was briefly betrayed by Nanami's expression, and then
she hid it. "Here, in this place?"

He nodded. "Looking for Utena. She brought Saionji with
her, but they were separated when... things changed." He
shrugged again.

"Do you know what happened?"

A third time, he shrugged; he resolved not to do it again,
as he saw the repetition of the gesture was beginning to annoy
her. "The world has changed. Perhaps it will change back at
some point, perhaps it will not; either way, we seem for the
moment creatures of it, changed though it may be. So, let us
proceed..." He raised Chu-Chu to his eye level and regarded him
rather severely. "Excuse me," he said politely. He gave the
animal a small shake, and then a sharper one. "I said, excuse
me." Nanami rolled her eyes.

Chu-Chu yawned, blinked, then squealed in mortal terror and
tried to struggle free of Touga's hands. Baffled, Touga tried to
keep a grip on the writhing creature; he had not the slightest
idea of what could be wrong--the animal had led him placidly and
contentedly to within sight of Nanami, scampering along
sidewalks, perching atop mailboxes and streetlamps like a sailor
in a crow's nest, and then falling asleep in the shadowed awning
of an empty cafe as Nanami came into view on the edge of a
distant curb.

"Nanami, do you have any idea what's wrong with him?"

"Do you hear that?" Nanami asked softly.

Chu-Chu's cries tore at the stillness of the night. A wind
blew across them, cold; Touga smelt something acrid but
unplaceable, shivered.

"I hear hooves."

Thunderous, steel-shod, on pavement, ashphalt, bridge-over-
water, city park, moonlit garden--Chu-Chu paused and craned back
his head as though to scent the air--a legion riding the night,
and Touga seized Nanami's hand--no words--and ran, pulling her
along behind him as fast as she could go, not daring to let go of
her hand because if he did he might run as fast as he could and
leave her behind. The gibbous moon sailed overhead through a
grey-silk sea of clouds. Touga's breaths came hard--sharp,
short, too fast--the acrid scent on the wind (salt mingled with
smoke) scraped against his tongue and palate, he ran clutching
Nanami's hand so tightly that he feared--vaguely, distantly--that
he might do her some injury. Chu-Chu had ceased making any
sounds at all, simply clung tight as a limpet to his shirt. The
hoofbeats pursued them, invisible riders. Up a rising of the
streets (Houou, built upon the sea, a city of hills, trough and
crest overlaid with brick and stone and wood and metal, the works
of human hands...) and down the other side, direction and
location utterly without meaning, flight the entirety of the
world... he knew their pursuer, the only one in existence who
might ride through a moonlight in a crash of hooves (it would, he
thought, perhaps suit Akio's aesthetics, his sense of how things
must be within the story, to ride the night in the company of
phantoms), and though he might have foiled him briefly--the waltz
before the shadows, Juri in his arms, Shiori in Juri's arms--in
the end he was only (curse it, damn it, despise it) a mortal man,
and though fallen from where he once sat (if what Utena was to
be believed) Akio was something else entirely... and he had to
keep Nanami safe, because even if he did not care for her much
(and he did, he did, or remembered a time when once he did, and
wished he could recapture that feeling as something more than a
memory, a lost thing to be studied under glass), the part always
reflects the whole, and how he treated his sister was a
reflection of how he would treat everyone... I am a part of all
that I have done--how would you judge me now, if you could see
me, Utena?--and all that I have done is a part of me... there had
to be an end to this descent, a levelling of the streets--

He stumbled over some imperfection of the pavement, and
nearly pulled Nanami down with him before he could recover his
footing. Behind them, the riders reached the apex and came
pouring down the slope. A wave of the sea, a tangled whiteness
moving as one; horses whose legs galloped out of time--too fast
or too slow--who flickered, the colour of the moon, the colour
of their pallid riders--one hundred, somehow he knew there were
exactly one hundred of them--as they came surging in pursuit, and
Akio was in the lead of them, barely keeping ahead, for all
appearances pursued by them as well. His hair flowed loose,
longer than Touga remembered it; his jacket flapped open, showing a
dark bare chest slick with moon-gleaming sweat; white-knuckled
hands clutched the reins of his white horse, and unlike all the
other riders of the company he carried no naked sword nor bore
one at his side.

Too fast, too fast, they afoot and their hunters horsed--
"This way!"--down one alley, down another, past a doorway lit
by a flickering naked bulb in which a trick of his eye betrayed
for a moment a shadowed figure (rope-creak, bell-jangle), through
an immaculate garden of snap-dragons placed incongruously at a
traffic intersection, speed could not hope to save them, perhaps
cunning could... but who knew better these alleys, boulevards,
cul-de-sacs, than Akio? The school was his, why not the city
that housed it? What came first: the phoenix or the phoenix?
(Later on, he might laugh at that.) Was it not sensible that he
would know the lines, the body of the city, as well as he might
know the lines upon his hands? Perhaps the city merely lay atop
the roads that Akio travelled in the night, in the slick red car
that gleamed like fire (called also by the title of phoenix--what
meaning there, if any?), a mirage, a shared delusion... Who
could know better the archways, the pillars, the imperious facade
of the banks, the patterns of the yellow lights, the curvature of
the bridges? Was not all fleeing futile in this place? As well
they might flee along a Moebius.

Nanami was sobbing.

He found another darkened doorway, shielded by an overhang,
and pulled her within. The confines were narrow--he had to hold
her too close for either of their comfort. She continued crying;
after a moment, hesitantly, he touched her hair, smoothed it,
something he'd often done when they were children, whenever she'd
skinned a knee or stubbed a toe or bent a finger.

"What's wrong?" he asked gently. He could not hear the
hooves.

"My feet," she gasped.

He fliched in sympathetic agony; had not even considered,
had not even thought, all that running in bare feet over
concrete, pavement, ashphalt... "Did you step on anything?
Glass?"

She shook her head and took a deep breath. "No... just all
that running... I think they're bleeding. Scraped up... I had to
run so fast..."

Chu-Chu mewled softly and snuggled tight between them.
Touga sighed and leaned back against the door. "It was more
important that we get away."

She nodded and leaned against him, her hands flat against
his chest to preserve some little distance. "Akio's own little
wild hunt," she murmured savagely. "And perhaps those were his
hounds, before, getting the scent..." She closed her eyes. "I
hate him so much."

Touga said nothing. He touched her hair again, stroked
sweaty strands of it away from her forehead.

"He took you away," she continued, sighing quietly.

It would be pleasant, he thought, for that to be the case--
so once upon a time there was a very little prince, young, led
astray by something old and terrible and beautiful, introduced
to things he shouldn't have known at such an age, until the only
way to escape the prison was to become the master of it... if
only it could have been that his path could only have led,
inexorably, to that one point, that no action of his was his own
responsibility, or even if they were his own responsibility, it
was only because he knew no other way...

"Anywhere he took me, I went of my own free will," he said
eventually. "Let's not pretend it was otherwise."

She lowered her eyes from his face and moved out of the
doorway, face shadowed. The twist of her mouth and tightening of
her jaw revealed her pain--she had never been very good at hiding
her feelings. Yet he could not deny the fact that something had
changed, that some step--whether in the right or wrong direction,
he did not know--had been taken by the both of them (his fingers
recalled the texture of her hair, could not help but remember it
in contrast to the hair--Utena's, Shiori's, a dozen (or a dozen
dozen) nameless faces--of other women they had touched). The
moon sent pale shafts of light down into the narrow confines of
the alley, staggered in their passage by balconies, overhangs,
corbels, the squat silent bulk of an air conditioner protruding
out a window...

He stepped out after her, absently securing Chu-Chu in the
crook of his arm--asleep again, now that danger was passed--and
laid his hand upon her shoulder. "It seems for the moment we
have escaped," he said softly. He paused and--for effect,
perhaps--looked heavenward; he saw the Furnace, the Wheel, the
Twins, the Cauldron... "As I see it now, we have two choices: to
seek the others, or simply to do our best to evade further
pursuit; to hide in alleys, parks, gardens, lonely places..."

"You said Himemiya is here?"

He nodded.

Nanami licked her lips, likely unconscious that she had done
so, and tangled a wavy lock of hair around her little finger.
"I suppose she thinks we should leave Utena up to her," she said
slowly.

"That was the impression I received." He thought back to
his conversation with the one who had once been Bride of the
Rose, and could not decide whether or not she had subtly
threatened him.

"Do you agree?"

"I believe that she believes the matter was best left to
her," he said guardedly, and he realized: yes, despite all the
gentleness of the moment, despite the vulnerability we both
revealed, she threatened me; by her very existence and essence,
she threatens me, just as her brother does.

Nanami actually smiled. "You're frightened of her."

"It would be foolish not to be, given all I've seen, all I
know, all I've heard." He waited for a moment; when Nanami said
nothing more, he smiled back (carefully, matching the expression,
amused and just a little cruel, to her own). "And are you
frightened of her?"

"What do you think?" Nanami asked, acidly. "I'm terrified
of her. I'm probably as afraid of her, of what she may do, as I
am of her brother."

"Then if we are agreed that we fear both her and her
brother, for reasons greatly similar, wherein lies the
difference?"

"Utena."

He nodded. "Utena."

Their two smiles lost some of their edge. Nanami looked
down at the floor of the alley. "Listen to us," she said
softly, sounding amused against her own inclinations. "What we
sound like..."

Hooves, the jangle of tack--he knew the sound, knew what it
meant--that signified the dismounting of a rider, at the closer
mouth of the alley.

"So it has occured, then." The silk-smooth voice sounded
somewhat weary, though whether it was an affected weariness or
not Touga could not say. "Another reunion, unasked for,
unwanted, undesired; the burgeoning reconciliation, unexpected,
undeserved."

Touga turned, placed himself more squarely between the
fallen prince and Nanami. "Good evening, Chairman," he said
politely. Too late now for running.

Akio had changed his clothes; he wore the outfit
appropriate to the public facade: red shirt with tie, dark
slacks, expensive leather shoes. A coat of black wool, too
heavy for the warm autumn night (appropriate for winter), and
gloves of pale calfskin. His hair was bound back. There was no
wildness in him, no sense of a hunter on the chase who led his
band in order that he not be pursued by them.

"Good evening, President," Akio replied, equally politely.
"And good evening, Nanami-kun. How hatefully you regard me, from
behind what you suppose--perhaps--to be the safety of your
brother's back. Like clockwork dolls upon an automaton of time,
we are, inevitably, brought back together; by the movements of
the gears we cannot see."

"You seem to have lost your hunting party." Touga found
himself, despite all he knew, sizing the Chairman up, as he might
any other foe. He knew--oh, he knew very well--that whatever
Akio was, he presented the appearance of physicality (he
remembered, in a sudden flash of images that rattled the cage of
his heart with their intensity, white sheets and dark hands and
pale hair); perhaps he could be fought, overcome for a little
while, even in this place... he was alone...

"They are not mine, but another's," Akio said quietly. "He
is given to such displays. It has, as you can see--" He
gestured round, widely, with one hand, as though compassing the
entire city, the whole of the world. "It has been something of a
problem."

Touga narrowed his eyes, and silently counted the distance
between them, calculated how many long steps he would need to
close it. "Did you ever tell you, Chairman, that I hated your
cryptic statements? I was always certain you did them to present
an appearance of great wisdom, to make me feel ignorant and
foolish, despite not knowing much better of what you spoke. I
remember your great speech about the wanderings of the moon and
the labours of the sun, but I got the impression that you did not
understand your own meaning, that all you were able to do,
perhaps all you were ever able to do, was echo words that you had
heard in the past, transform the eloquence of others to your own
uses; a twister of words, but not a maker."

Behind him, Nanami flexed her hands, oddly calm; perhaps she
knew his calculations, was making them herself. He was aware she
had a surprising strength in her, for someone built along such
slight and slender lines.

Akio did not seem fazed. His eyes gathered the moon's
light; he angled his head slightly to the side, and for a
moment, they glowed like a cat's. "To speak plainly is not my
nature," he said eventually. "But I shall try: another me has
come into being, a result of my inconvenient death at the hands
of Tenjou Utena."

Touga stared for a moment; Nanami gave a small gasp.

"Do not be so surprised," Akio continued. "I, you see, am
the fallen prince: darkly elegant, elegantly dark, calm and
collected, layer of plots, spinner of webs. I have stood at the
centre of the world, the axis mundi, the omphalos, seen my
shadows cast through coloured glass; known too, perhaps, that I
am only a shadow, a sliver of a broken mirror. I have spoken
with the guardian and prisoner of that place, and understood how
in a time passed for him--endlessly passing--but yet to come for
me I shall promise him a rose, a reunion for which he longs...
and, of late, I had the misfortune to be throttled to death by
Tenjou Utena."

"You look healthy enough for a man recently throttled,"
Touga said dryly.

"Of course, of course, for though the body decays, the
essence endures; I am a creature of essence as much or more as I
am a creature of flesh and blood; I was, after all, Essence
before I was Form. It was, however, an inconvenience. A story
must have an adversary. A child must have a father. A wife must
have a husband. Truly a clumsy editing job; no experienced
author would compass it. Oh, at first it was perhaps
unnoticeable--he had a certain style; the manner in which he
danced, for example, was a perfect imitation. Yet when it came
down to it, he revealed himself as unable to play the role
properly--frustrated, rather than amused, by their shadowy
antics--unable to dismiss them any longer as sophomoric, as mere
meddlers, he perpetuated the authorial mistake with his own
clumsy wieldings of the pen by proxy." Akio winked and tapped
the side of his nose. "Thus, you see the results all round you.
Clumsy seasonal symbolism. An inability to properly balance the
sense of reality and unreality; to plot a path between
waking and dreaming. A certain lack of clarity of vision.
A lack of apparent necessary connection. Dreams are as tight and
ordered in their workings as pocketwatches; it is merely that the
gears are considerably harder to gain access to. One who does
not understand this, who mistakes the appearance of chaos for the
actuality..."

Touga listened in silence, occasionally nodding. Three
steps; perhaps two, though they would be more leaps than steps.

"I speak, of course, in metaphors highly displaced from the
truth." Akio smiled; his teeth were a fence of woven pearls.
"And, of course, I lie, deceive, obscure, conceal, for such is
also my nature."

"In other words, some or all of what you have said may be
untrue." Touga smiled a hard smile. "But we learned that long
ago, didn't we?"

"Listen," Akio said, as though Touga had not spoken at all.
"Can't you hear it?" Hooves. "I can't, you see. But I know the
approach; I hear the silence. The approach of the me whose soul
has not given up entirely. Who stills dreams that what is lost
forever might be found again. You can hear the sound, can't you?
Both of you. Coming from the ends of a world."

Touga moved. He could not, in the end, say whether or not
Akio did as well, or whether he merely vanished like a ghost, a
phantom, a mirage. Whatever the case, Akio was not there for his
fist to meet; he stumbled and fell, and Chu-Chu slipped from his
arms, hit the alley floor, bounced three times on his belly with
a distinctly humourous sound, then rolled onto his back and
kicked at the air while making cries of distress. A deformed
child having a tantrum.

Hooves; a gentle trot. He raised his eyes and saw a cage of
white equine legs before him. His right hand was painfully
skinned from catching himself, and his left knee, which had
cracked against the ground, hurt terribly. The three riders who
blocked the alley mouth before him were monochrome figures in the
boy's uniform of Ohtori, stark black lines filled in with ghostly
white; loose long hair; a ponytail; a braid; but he could not
say which rider stood left, which stood centre, and which stood
right.

Nanami's hand touched his shoulder. "It's all right," she
said wearily. "Touga, it's all right; they've caught us.
There's nothing more to do."

Chu-Chu turned onto his side and began to sob gently. At
the farther end of the alley, the curtain of riders parted; a
tall, powerful figure in a uniform of white stepped through, long
tails fluttering behind him. At his throat a green gem blazed
with an eerie witch-light.

"There's always something more to do," Touga murmured. Not
because he believed it, really, but because he imagined it to be
the kind of thing Utena might say.

"I found you," the other Akio said. He smiled.

* * *

"How?" asked Shiori.

Utena curled her left hand into a fist. "A tower," she
murmured. "The tower of a castle. Where you take the princess,
to live happily ever after, to wear dresses and high heels, and
walk about quietly, and speak demurely..." She stalked up the
flagstone path towards the door, Shiori flitting nervously behind
her.

"It must be a trap."

Utena glanced at her. "Then I'll spring it and get Juri
out."

By the door they found Juri's sword, broken near the hilt,
with only a few inches of jagged blade left on it. Utena stooped
and picked it up carefully; she offered it to Shiori, but Shiori
shook her head. "It's better that you have it," she said
quietly; Utena could not detect any bitterness. She curled her
fingers round the handle, ready to strike or stab with it at the
sight of any threat.

"Stay close," she said to Shiori. She pulled at the handle
of the door, which opened without resistance. Within lay a short
flight of spiral stairs, wrought iron, the handrail and
balustrades adorned with trumpeting cherubs and trefoil leaves.
Up the stairs, Shiori at her heels, hand tight round the broken
sword (even a broken blade can cut, pierce, kill...), eyes
roving... near the top, from the second floor, a rhythmic sound,
the chant of a spinning wheel... she smelled, for some reason,
apples, had the impression that the apples were of the green
body, that some connection as vital as that between the heart and
the blood existed between the chant of the wheel and the scent of
apples...

White, white, white the room above: white draperies, white
tablecloth (upon the table sat a wooden bowl of sweet apples),
white stool before a white spinning-wheel, a white bed and in it
milk-pale Juri with her hair uncurled, prostrate, nude beneath
white sheets stretched tight over the definitions of her body,
showing rounded shoulders and slim bare feet. Dead for all
appearances, and pale, so pale--Shiori flung herself down beside
the bed with a wail, pulling the sheets away and scrabbling to
clutch Juri's hand, to seek warmth, a pulse in her wrist,
screaming (because, Utena thought dully, she's found none) and
shrinking back, until Utena grabbed her by the shoulders and
steadied her.

"She's sleeping," she said forcefully. "Only sleeping."

"She's dead! She doesn't have a pulse!"

She moved Shiori aside, gently, and drew the covers up over
Juri's breasts, exposed when Shiori had pulled them away. She
took her wrist carefully--it was true, she could not feel a
pulse. But she would not be able to, of course, for the sleep of
the sleeping beauty was a sleep akin to death, ended only by the
proper kiss... anger choked her, the stupidity, the unfairness,
the inappropriateness: Juri wasn't supposed to be Sleeping Beauty
or Snow White, smiling beatifically in her death-sleep while she
waited for a prince to come along... if she was to sleep, it
should be like King Arthur, like Barbarossa, a warrior's sleep,
waiting to ride forth with sword in hand, on a horse with hooves
of iron, casting back evil...

"Is that your end?" she asked softly. "To make us all into
princesses again, like that play said we used to be?" Shiori
looked at her fearfully, confused, but she went on speaking, not
caring. "Come on. I know you can hear me. I know you can hear
me, damn it! Come out. Stop hiding, behind all these illusions,
these dream-walls..." Her voice dropped to a whisper; she
remembered Dios in the bell-tower. "I want to talk to you,
Akio."

She placed Juri's broken sword between her pale, slender
hands, folded them across the hilt at her breast, upon the white
sheets. She looked less like a sleeping princess with her sword
(shattered though the blade might be) beneath her hands.

"Won't you let me talk to you again?"

Silence. The spinning-wheel creaked. The skin of the red
apples glistened over their white flesh. Overhead the
chandelier that lit the room spun, white candles in wrought iron
filigree. She remembered her hands around Akio's throat. Had
she killed him? She could not have killed him, for he was there
again after he vanished. Had he even been there? Leo Cano had
not seen him. What of it all had been real, even before the
world fell apart? An identical crack in an identical ceiling, a
broken child in a bell-tower, the windows opening into all the
other worlds... the windows were all broken now, and what had
happened to all those other worlds? Did they disappear, had they
been but theoretical, mere possibilities, permutations of a
familiar story with no existence, or did they struggle now,
strive to become real in this place, against the story that she
knew and accepted (or did not accept, in parts)? Was that why
the world had become what it had? "An interstice of
intersections." What did that mean? The tower where the stories
met? The crevice between the worlds? How could things be put
back together again? Was the world once disassembled like a
shattered mirror or like a disordered jigsaw puzzle?

"She's not cold," Shiori said quietly. She had slipped by
Utena and laid her hand against Juri's cheek. "If she were dead,
she'd be cold. Right?"

"Right." Utena rubbed her hands together to warm them, to
help herself think. "So kiss her and wake her up."

"You need to do it."

Utena started. "What?"

Shiori's voice was carefully controlled, with only a hint of
shrillness. "You're the one who wanted to be a prince. Someone
like me can't wake her."

"Of course you can," Utena said--not because she was
convinced, but because it was what had to be said. "You're the
one she loves. Only your kiss can wake her." She turned her
back, trying not to blush. "Wake her, and let's get out of
here."

Soft movement; the sound of a kiss, nearly too quiet to be
heard. No more. She did not turn back. Shiori said, dully, "I
told you it wouldn't work. I'm not the one she's waiting for."

Utena waited, hoping without hope that Juri would yawn,
stir, wake up and throw off the sheet, ready to fight, to help
her. It was not to be. She turned round. Shiori was crouched
by the bed, one hand on Juri's pillow, the other against the side
of Juri's neck. Her expression was unreadable. Utena wondered
if Akio had set it up this way, and, if so, why? To make her
hurt Shiori, hurt Juri as well, hurt herself? The prince's kiss
end's beauty's death-sleep not just because he's a prince,
but because he's destined for beauty; the same thought had to be
going through Shiori's head, making those same fears burn again,
the fear that Juri would be taken away from her. To awaken Juri
with a kiss, to even attempt it, would be to play right into his
hands--to play his game, by the rules he defined, the rules that
would always let him win. But what other option was there? To
not awaken Juri, to let her continue sleeping the sleep akin to
death? That's how it works, she thought, almost nauseated; how
it had worked from the beginning. You play the game because the
consequences of not playing seem worse, and then, slowly, the
game ceases to be a game, and becomes the world, drawing you
deeper within, until you cease trying to question or understand,
until to question the rules or events becomes like trying to
question your own reality... until your being, your self, your
identity, lies within the game, in the world within a world...
until your identity is that of a piece within the game, a player,
a puppet...

"No," she said calmly.

Shiori looked up at her. "No, what?"

"I won't play any more."

"Then, will you just leave her here?" Shiori sounded
almost hateful; her mouth twisted, her eyes narrowed--for a
moment, she was ugly.

"Of course I'm not going to leave her here." She leaned
over and unclasped Juri's unresisting fingers from round the hilt
of the broken sword. "Can you carry this? I'm going to need
both hands free." Shiori nodded and took what remained of the
blade, holding it tight against her chest; Utena carefully wound
the bedsheets round Juri (do not consider them, she thought, as
cerements, cloth-of-the-grave, she is not dead, merely sleeping;
she has bitten (someone has made her bite) the poisoned apple,
she has pricked her finger upon the spinning wheel (what hand
held the needle?), she sleeps...) for a semblance of modesty,
then put one arm under the knees and the other behind her
shoulders. Juri was as tall as she was, and more solidly built;
it would take a bit of effort, to lift her. She took a deep
breath. Once they had her out of here, out of the tower, some
other way, some way beyond the game, could be found to wake
her...

"I don't understand why they would just leave her here,"
Shiori said faintly.

Juri opened her lips, groaned, said something to faint to be
heard. Startled, Utena lowered her back to the bed. "She's
waking up."

Juri spoke again, a motion of the mouth, words lost in the
squeak of the spinning-wheel; the chandelier twirled slowly on
its chain, throwing mandalas of shadow across the walls and
floor. Utena frowned and leaned down to hear. Shiori, nervous
and skittish, crept close and stood behind her.

"In the dark," Juri murmured. Her breath against Utena's
face smelt of attar. "In the dark, it didn't matter, at the ends
of the world, the terminus, it didn't matter, because my body did
not exist there, because I could feel myself dissolve away,
because I closed my eyes and pretended it wasn't happening, and I
felt myself melting, it didn't matter, I felt myself flow as the
river flows, I felt my flesh become water and join the sea,
become one with the great dark sea. In the dark, in the dark, it
didn't matter, I wasn't there, all I thought of was Shiori and me
on the beach, and my body wasn't there, at the terminus, at the
division, at the borderlands, my mouth and breasts and thighs
were not there..."

"What's she saying?" Shiori asked fearfully.

"Juri," Utena said forcefully. "Juri, wake up."

Juri opened her eyes. They were blank. The pupils were the
size of pinheads. She smiled. "Utena," she whispered. A
painted doll's gaze.

Utena, sensing danger, tried to pull back; Juri seized her
shoulders. Then she kissed her, quite forcefully, on the mouth.
Her lips tasted of apples and attar. Shiori screamed as though
rent in two. Utena's vision wavered; she felt as though her body
were dissolving. Clever, she thought, as she fell, oh, clever,
the grand reversal, the poisoned lips of the sleeping princess,
and roses burst blackly before her eyes; the veil was drawn away,
the curtains were raised, she saw oak shelves and iron stairs,
melting, all melting... fight! she thought desperately, fight,
wake up, you have power, Dios said you have power...

"It will not avail you here," a voice said. A woman,
familiar but not known; she struggled to place it, but everything
was amorphous, formless, the sounds came as though through turgid
waters... "Not here, for this, dear prince, white prince, white
queen, is my hut on fowl's legs, my gingerbread castle, my garden
where there are no rose-trees, and here I have my mortar and my
pestle, my oven; I prepared this long ago, in readiness, and now
self-styled Setebos casts his shadow long across the gardens of
the world, he has broken the glass that encased the flowers,
taken up vessels in each hand, child with a god's power, and
mixed together all essences. But the red king comes; his fallen
bride draws him, and you, prince, draw his fallen bride. Thus
all shall come full circle again, as a serpent chews upon its
tail; the mistake of seven years ago shall be undone. Red and
white will be united within the vessel I have crafted; the end of
one world, and the birth of another. Whoever wants to be born
must destroy a world."

Utena stretched out a futile, questing hand--she could no
longer see, nothing but darkness stood before her vision--and
fastened upon what felt like an ankle. "I don't understand."
She grunted with the effort of speaking, of holding on; the
possessor of the ankle did not attempt to free herself, and Utena
knew that was all that kept her grip from breaking. "Tell me...
what's happened? What's going on?"

"Of course you don't understand," the voice said gently.
"Your purpose, like my daughter's purpose, has never been to
understand. You are an instinct, a reflex; you respond to the
world; the world does not respond to you."

Somewhere beneath her heart, Utena felt a muted ache of
anger. You stupid old woman, she thought (she heard the iron
mouths crying: witch, witch, accursed witch!), standing on the
fringes of my tale, upon the rim of the turning wheel, waiting to
move towards the axis, as a jackal waits to feed on carrion that
true hunters have killed... I am no reflex, I am no instinct... I
am the pivot, I have stood in the centre of the worlds... you are
_nothing_, you know _nothing_...

The rage sank away, the iron mouths shut tight... she
thought: can that have been my voice my thoughts? If not, then
whose?

There was a buzzing flapping sound within her head; a swarm
of bees, a cloud of butterflies, a flock of sparrows... "Why..."
Attar, thick and cloying; she knew the voice now, did not
understand at all the new dimension that had opened up, this
other hand, but terrible, oh, how terrible... her own daughter...
"Ohtori-san, why?"

"Is this the scene where the wicked queen unveils her plans,
speaks plainly, provides convenient exposition?" The ankle was
pulled away; she heard the creak of hinges. "Please understand,
Tenjou-san, that I have no intention of being ruled by the story
in such a manner." A thud like the last pounding of a nail.
"Rather, I intend to rule it. Sleep now. Soon enough, it will
be time for the denouement."

Fingernails on a glass lid. Attar everywhere. No air.
Can't breathe. Can't breathe! Can't--

* * *

a-las

a-lack

a-gain

(Movement of shadows)

once more, the captured prince

once more, the sealed light

once more, the scheming witch

(A flutter as of curtains)

have we forgotten anything?

have we left anyone out?

have we missed something ?

(The processional)

must it end like this?

can it end like this?

will it end like this?

(Silence)

Upon her white horse she heard the silence and raised her face
towards the lonely sky. Snow began to fall. Her child wept
because of the cold and she wished she knew how to comfort him.
A snowflake landed on the tip of her nose and made her laugh, and
she thought of all the things there were that she hated.

"Ah, no," she said quietly. "Ah, love, await me, I come."

END OF PART XV