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Seinen Kakumei Utena

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Seinen Kakumei Utena:  It's a mature revolution this time around.
Left Column, from up to down: Saionji, Touga (yes, he got a "W" branded to his face now)
Middle Column: Anthy, Utena (post "process"; and yes, that's one of those swords right there)
Right Column, from up to down, left to right: Juri, Miki, Tsuwabuki

Fanart courtesy of V. Martin Writes 

WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynistic magic attack leading to forced masculinization

Seinen Kakumei Utena (it's Seinen, NOT Josei), crossing with Penguindrum starting Part 2
Rating: T for mature and sensitive subject matters.
Timeline: 10 years post Revolution, few weeks post Fate Train Transfer
Notable "Mysteries" Covered: Nemuro Hall, Child Broiler, Million Swords, Fate Train, Shadow Girls, Invisible People
Summary (or rather, Excerpt): “The revolution succeeded; it crumbled afterwards only because those whose lives got revolutionized did not follow up on the revolutionary success,” said the Bride, her words setting their closed hearts aflame. “This time, will you help us help you?”

After what seems like an eternity of non-fic writing, I have again written something in tribute of this timeless shoujo anime classic.  This work also has a thread over at In the Rose Garden (fic thread here). 

The fanfiction.net link is http://www.fanfiction.net/s/8086621/1/Seinen_Kakumei_Utena

Please C&C if you like this~
      

Seinen Kakumei Utena

Utena and Penguindrum characters belong to their various owners.

 

 

 

WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynistic magic attack leading to forced masculinization

 

Part One: Flowers Adrift

“I don’t suppose you can count how many flowers are floating in there?” asked the petite stylist, her lushly manicured fingertips working non-stop as they undid the rollers from the model’s hair; thick, springy curls were sent flouncing vibrantly about. 

Without lifting her indulgent gaze – currently focused upon the slim thighs revealed underneath the stylist’s frill-adorned black skorts – the seated but still obviously glamazonian model pursed her red-painted lips. “Forty-nine thousand.” 

“ . . . that exact?”

“I don’t have to count; the director’s assistant showed me the receipt when the bouquets arrived.”

They were steps above a rooftop patio, one that was rapidly turning into a shallow pool from a spraying hose.  Orange roses, cut from right underneath the sepal, drifted atop the water’s glassy surface, glowing under the glaring spotlights as they glided nimbly by the half-submerged furnishings.  The otherworldly setting was contrasted against the worldly downtown night view to eerie effects, and it was amidst such eeriness that the model-in-grooming was set to work her magic for the camera.

“While wooing you, of course.”  Having finished hairspray-ing the model’s now artfully-pinned curly updo – every orange curl contorted to resembled the roses in the pool – the stylist let out a mock-pained moan as she pulled the salon cape off of the model, revealing the crystal-studded couture gown draping over the latter’s curves like a sheen of glittering scales.   “Either way, you could’ve at least pretended to count with me.  Even after all these years, you still suck at being playfully romantic, Juri.”

“Not playful, no . . .” reaching back to pull her stylist’s maroon-haired head to herself in one suave, almost gallant motion, Arisugawa Juri purred huskily into the other woman’s shell-like ear, “but still plenty romantic enough to keep my little Shiori with me, I hope.”

“It’s unprofessional to flirt with the stylist right in front of the crew,” chided Takatsuki Shiori, even as she leaned into the bigger woman’s embrace with much familiarity.

 

They had been close since childhood, since back when closeness knew no deeper name other than friendship, and beauty held little meaning cause love, love was an icky notion to the children they were, something to giggle over for fun.  With adolescence came the hormonal boys, came their growing interests in the girls, and the cruel distinction between the attractive girls and the less attractive ones.  Cracks grew between stunning Juri and plain Shiori, resulting in much mind-games, much coldness, much hurting via faceless, irrelevant boys that perverted two close-knitted girls into bitter enemies.  And such enmity may well have followed the two into adulthood, if not for the series of  (in hindsight, highly fantastical) events in high school that led to both Juri’s secret love for Shiori and Shirori’s repressed obsession over Juri getting simultaneously exposed.  Then came the denial, the violent conflicts and wild heartbreaks; and when those had left them all burned out, the two were left mutually resigned to the fact that they were both way too into each other for them not to be together.  Thus together they stayed, through high school and college, up to where they were now here at this flowery scene: a model and a stylist, both currently working under the same modeling agency – the internationally renowned Aranjia.

“And speaking of being professional . . .” even as her delicate hand wandered about Juri’s supple form, Shiori’s flowing murmur started slowing into a more hesitant pace, “I’m feeling something that’s a little too bulging on a supermodel of your caliber.  I think it’s time you start on this protein-fibre diet that Yuuko -” The hissing snort from Juri cut her off like the sound of a whipping foil – a sound she has since associated with their volatile youth on their fencing team back at Ohtori, the one she mustered up the courage to join after that highly fantastical event, the one Juri said was a -

“You and your obsession with being thin,” muttered her Juri of here and now, in a voice showing tints of the defensiveness that Shiori remembered so well from their old days.  “I think you’ve been hanging about Yuuko and Aiko a little too much around the pantry, trading your outrageous dieting tips and getting your views further and further warped-”   

“You know this is not about my views or how I want you to look,” hissed Shiori from underneath her breath (they were surrounded by the crew after all), her hands since retracted from Juri’s now rigid body. “I don’t know what the clients are saying behind our backs, but the office boy has let slip that the bitches ruling the women’s department have been bitching about your figure during their meeting, said how you’ve upped two sizes since they first signed you on ten years ago, back when - ”

“Upping two sizes in ten year is bad?”

“Juri!” It took the young stylist all her control to keep her agitated voice whispery.  “You’re not doing dishwasher commercials: you model for couture brands and walk for major fashion weeks every season!   You’re not just competing against other models your age – though a good many of them are slimmer than you’ve ever been – you’re competing against girls as young as fourteen but all hitting six feet!  I mean, look at those!”  She gestured subtly towards the models’ dressing tent, illuminated from inside like some giant lantern, within which a trio of girlish, stick-thin silhouettes were seen undressing via stretchy, sinuous movements that made them appear even more elongated than they already were.   Juri arched a fine brow at their showy display.

“I see they’ve got some very nice stick insects to go with the flowers.”

Growing impatient with Juri’s counterproductive defensiveness, Shiori darkened her voice. “You studied fashion design, Juri - you know how clothes hang on bulges.”

Appearing pensive (it had been a long time since Shiori had cut her with words), Juri stood up and away from Shiori.  Stepping languidly up towards the edge of the patio turned pool, she kicked nimbly at its cluttered surface, sending floating roses adrift to reveal mirror-smooth water, and her own image as reflected upon it. 

She still was beautiful, of course: beautiful enough to turn heads on any street she walked, and get hit on by men at every function she attended.  But the hourglass figure of her teens – sculpted by the vigorous fencing sessions she had time/energy/money for back then – had since broadened in the middle; her face, once small and chiseled, had since gone rounded (although makeup by Shiori was already keeping it defined).  Decked in couture, she looked more award-show actress than high fashion model – the latter being her job.

Shiori had by now stepped up from behind, the reflection of her trim build seemingly breakable upon the rose-framed pool.  Juri closed her eyes.

“Maybe it’s about time for me to quit and start on that label we’ve been talking about for so long,” she finally said.  “God knows we have enough sketches between the two of us to fill at least two seasons.”

“But not the funds,” Shiori pointed out, prompting Juri to open her eyes again.  “I’ve done the calculations: even if we’d successfully pulled strings to have the models, the directors, and the marketing in place at rock-bottom rates, we still ain’t got enough to cover production, retails and other base costs.  You don’t want us to borrow excessively from banks and end up in debt, so that option’s out.”  There was a noticeable pause, before she spoke on at a more cautious pace.  “Now, if you could reconcile with your parents . . .” her words trailed off at Juri’s now frosty expression.

“We’re not asking for money from people who screwed us over and that’s final.”

Knowing Juri, and knowing the reason behind her stubborn grudge against the wealthy Arisugawas (who could’ve effortlessly funded their label beyond its first year), Shiori hung her head.  “Then it will take us at least another three years earning and saving at the current pace for us to even jumpstart our label, without considering how to keep it running beyond the quarter should stocks stall.”

Back straightening (and actually looking leaner for a moment), Juri’s expression regained some that pristine determination of her youth – the brilliance of which having once drove a younger, duller Shiori into the pits of self-pity. “We will just have to spend less in the coming months.  Try to save up enough to get our label launched within two seasons before our designs get too outdated -”

“We’ve already forced down spending to the bare min,” interjected Shiori, hating herself for having to dull Juri’s bright thunder with such tarnishing reality.  “All our social-wear are from your shows and shoots – some modified to fit me – and we’re still staying at that same unit we’ve been renting since college.  We don’t even have coffee outside unless while chatting with people in the industry.  And I know you’re making do on just fast food when working away from town, even though I told you to stick to the non-processed stuff regardless of price.” Price.  A word that had meant nothing to the Juri from ten years ago, back before her rift with her rich parents; a word that now had power enough over her as to be taboo. “Still, modeling in high-fashion, you earn much more than a second-rate stylist like me.”  What a difference money could make: that a glorious angel could be reduced to this weary showgirl without the conveniences, the pride provided by wealth. “I know how much you hate the idea of dieting, Juri, just like how you hate doing all these things other people had to do that you deem to be beneath you.”  How cruel it was of her to have launched those vicious attacks against Juri back in high school, to tarnish that golden, transient youth with such ugly memories – all because of her own unsightly pettiness.  “But we’ve both grown up now.”  Away from Ohtori, from the infuriating machinations but comforting dorms, their days were now filled with worries over trite matters, like rent and bills and taxes and future prospects. “We have no choice but to make compromises.”  Away from magical Ohtori, the machinations still were there – powered by worldly hands this time – keeping them bound as powerless cogs in their world. “Cause life isn’t going to miraculously get easier for us just because we believe it will – we’re in the real world now.”   A world that a born heiress like Juri should never have had to face, if not for getting dragged down by a commonplace bitch such as herself.

A hand clasped onto her stooped shoulder; Juri’s hand, big and strong for a woman but still so fine-boned, turning her around such that they faced each other again (when had she turned away?).  The much taller woman had that familiar indulgent look in her green eyes, the look that Shiori had (blind-sighted-ly) mistaken for pity in her twisted youth, the look that now warmed (yet also pained) her more than anything else in this world.

“Shiroi, I-”

“FIVE MINUTES TO TEST SHOOT!”

The blasting voice from the microphone cut off whatever Juri was about to say, as the submerged patio’s floor lights snapped on along with the overhead Fresnels aimed at the water, such that the many roses floating about now resembled clusters of vibrant flames engulfing the elegant patio furniture. The trio of skinny models had since exited their dressing tent, and had already stepped into the water.  Yet they remained shadow-cloaked from where they strutted right in front of a glaring light source.   By their sleek silhouettes, Shiroi could only guessed that they might be wearing lingerie, along with large artificial wings crafted to resemble those of a butterfly, a cicada, and a hummingbird, respectively.  Already they were practicing their poses, contorting their thin, elongated bodies to dramatic, almost agonizing effects.  

Mind back in the present, Shiori quickly checked Juri’s hair and makeup for any potential flaws, before guiding Juri down the steps leading into the glamorized wetness. 

“Watch your steps: you’d be walking on water on high heels,” cautioned Shiori, who herself wore water boots.

“And how much more difficult is this compared to everything else we’ve been through this past decade?” muttered Juri, stance assured as she stepped into the shallow pool via platform shoes so high, she actually looked like she was walking atop the shallow water in ripples of rose-coated waves.  Even though her steps appeared effortlessly graceful (thanks to her athletic coordination), Shiori (holding Juri’s hand like the makeshift servant girl she now was) could sense that tenseness in Juri invisible to the eye.   No doubt she was again dwelling on how damned difficult everything has been for them since leaving school and entering this too-real world, where the adult life that they once hoped would grant them the power of choice had turned into little more than animalistic survival. “To think I was the one who got you into all this . . .”

“Wasn’t it the other way around?” asked Shiori, voice low and somewhat timid.  “One of the reason I followed you into the fencing team was so I could have a chance at your locket while you were changing after practice.  I was the one who got hysterical after seeing my picture in it, shouting those awful things at you in the locker room that got those gossips going.  And then, having gotten dumped by some jock I was seeing then, I was the one who got drunk and went into your dorm room that very night.   After all the shouting and fighting that turned into . . . something else, everyone in the building knew by morning what we’ve done and what we’ve  . . . become.”  She was blushing furiously by then, from the shame and the remembered arousal: how Juri had conquered her senses with that strong, beautiful body; how that sheer passion had forced her to admit the base attraction she harbored beneath her jealous front.   “When words got to your parents, it was no wonder that they called up my mother, and-”

“They stopped being my parents the day they got you disowned by your mother,” stated Juri in that cold, resolute voice that allowed no argument.  “Mrs. Takatsuki loved you more than anything in this world.  If it wasn’t for those hypocrites calling her up and making those vulgar accusations, she’d never-”

“Mama’s choice of reaction was her own,” said Shiori, her voice dead even as she willed more life into it for Juri’s sake. “Her getting into that accident afterwards was also just . . . that.  There’s no need to blame other people for what happened,” no need to make her Juri feel even worse than she already did, “cause it won’t bring her back anyway.”

Juri held onto her anger (and Shiori knew it was for her sake). “They got us kicked out of Ohtori with their babbling.  We were sixteen, Shiori, and they left us with no relatives, no savings, and no permanent address.  We almost ended up on the streets!”

“But we didn’t,” soothed Shiori, her voice wistful with memories, “for you then signed the deal with Aranjia and started modeling professionally to keep us afloat.  I couldn’t have afforded college if not for you working then to support us both.”  A genuine, albeit bittersweet, smile curled her small lips.  “You had to drag out your studies because of your erratic work schedule, while I actually had the gall to switch majors at a time like that-”

“You had to switch because you got burned out from waiting tables at that damned pub!” Juri cut her off, sounding sorry and pained and so full of self-directed guilt.  “That was what messed up your studies.  I should’ve taken on more jobs back then.  You shouldn’t have had to work surrounded by those-”

“TWO MINUTES TO TEST SHOOT!” blasted the microphone, and Shiori found herself actually relieved by its grating sound. 

“Just focus on the shoot for now.  Juri, remember what the director wanted: that you channel this ‘mermaid of material excess’, and glide by the pool with intense, yet inhuman wanting in your eyes of green-”

“Shiori,” persisted Juri, “I got you into this.”  This being the path of no return, a path away from the stable family, stable life that Shiori otherwise should have attained.  “I’ll do anything, even ridiculous things, to get you everything you want.”

“I followed you into this,” replied Shiori, large eyes reflecting the glittering lights from all around. “Because following you, I know everything I want, I’ll have.”  Knowing that Juri would want to kiss her now (and thus ruining her painstakingly applied makeup along with the shoot), she made light of the situation on purpose.  “Fitting that we’d be having this conversation in a pool of roses.”

Juri, who knew and understood what she was doing, went along with her and laughed lightly.  “You don’t see roses with quite this shade of orange every day.”  Thus the inane smalltalk began. 

“Orange like your hair.  And aren’t their petals still pretty firm considering how long they’ve been soaking in water?”

“It’s some rare, hardy species they ordered through that new flower boutique down at the Phoenix Court Plaza.  The director insisted on something that can last even being cut and drowned.  I think he got what he wanted.” 

“I know which one you’re talking about.  It’s the expensive-looking one that sells mostly roses, right?   We’ve passed by it a few times since it opened last month, and every time there were some suited gents inside buying something. I think the potted plants around the agency’s office are all from that place.  I remember it’s got some rather tacky French name . . . Château . . . Princière?”

“Château Princesse,” Juri squinted her eyes at the sign on a vehicle parked right beside the fantastical set.  “Their flower van is right there at the . . . corner . . .”  

Not yet noticing the strange manner by which Juri’s voice had died down, Shiori studied the glittery pink flower van, its design looking compact yet sturdy. “Oh, I didn’t notice that.  Château Princesse . . . wait.” Abruptly, she discovered a glaring peculiarity in what she saw. “Why is a van up here?  It’s the rooftop.”

Juri did not speak, but had clasped her hand in a tight, cool grip.  Shiori spoke on, her own voice starting to cool as well.

“It’s parked under a ray of . . . spotlight?  But where is the equipment?  There’s nothing above it but . . . the . . . sky . . .”  She felt Juri’s hand sweating – or was it her own hand sweat slicking Juri’s palm?  “And where had those skinny models gone?  I thought they were in the pool with us-”

“The plate,” Juri’s spoke up as though she did not hear a word of her fear-fueled babbling.  “Read the van’s plate.”  Shiori did.

And she saw.

“THIRTY SECONDS TO TEST SHOOT!”

Normally, Shiori the stylist would have stepped away from the set by now so Juri the model can start posing.  Not this time.  Shiori could not have let go of Juri even if she had wanted to: her entire body had since gone rigid.

The pink van bore a plate with the letters “MIKAGE”, headed by a black rose motif.

“Mikage, Mikage Souji; I must’ve forgotten this name for a lifetime,” said Juri, her voice uncharacteristically hollow, almost airy.  “I thought if I held onto my memories, they’d last beyond that time, beyond the ends of that world.  But this . . . this I’ve forgotten since way before-”

“Black rose,” Shiori’s own voice was as a whistle of the night wind, “your sword, my duel.  I went to his seminar, and he gave me the idea.”  Tears threatened to escape her wide eyes, as she realized how even in shock from dark memories returning, she still was blaming others for her own faults and inadequacies.  “I stole the sword in your heart so I could fight like you did, so I could have what I wanted.”   She still was excusing herself, even now, for hurting Juri, for being jealous.   “I fought against that handsome girl I always saw you with, the one with hair pink like Mikage’s, the one you told me had triggered the Revo-”

“Revolution.”  The word growled its way out from between Juri’s clenched teen like a bound beast breaking free.  Suddenly, she laughed, and Shiori could see Juri’s self-assuredness fast returning.   “I see now.”  Stance panther-fierce now, Juri manoeuvred herself between the ominous car and shell-shocked Shiori.  “Just like the old days.” 

“J-Juri?” whimpered Shiori from behind her taut back.

“I heard and I forgot.  My sources at the time had told me rumors about Miki’s father, about who he was about to marry . . . to think that the enchantment could touch even grownups, even those outside the Academy.” As Juri spoke, Shiori gradually came to realize how she wasn’t speaking to her.   “So this is why life hasn’t been easy even away from Ohtori, because even though the views had changed, the one showing us the views had not.  Father and Mother . . . what miraculous treasures did that monster show them, that they would even go so far to crush their own daughter?  What was really behind that so-called accident that took Mrs. Takatsuki’s life?”

“Juri?”

“The crew of this shoot, the thin models, the people at the agency . . . by what strings did he puppeteer them into this elaborate set up?  Where had they gone?   Are they even real?  Or are they merely images, just like those baseball players showing up playing a game right in the middle of a Council meeting, or those shadows on the wall gossiping about Ruka’s death?”

“Juri?”  Shiori’s cold fingers were digging hard enough into the other woman’s bare shoulders to leave prints behind.  “Juri?”

“Shiori,” at last Juri addressed her, in a dramatic, resonating tone obviously meant for a third party yet unseen to hear, “I know now that life can never be easy for us in this world.  Nothing we do, no miracles we make, could ever change that, because this real world, just like Ohtori, is also his world.”  Eyes on the illuminated van, parked forty-five degrees against their point of view such that its plate and sign both were visible to them, “Isn’t that right, Himemiya?”

“TEST SHOOT BEGINS!” blasted the microphone (behind which no one was present present), as the van started rotating as if on a moving stage, thus revealing the one Juri had been speaking to (no, more like against) all along.  

Out in the world away from Ohtori, Himemiya Anthy bore little resemblance to that dull, almost nerdy girl from Shiroi’s memory.  With her glasses gone and her startlingly rich tresses unbound, the dark-featured young woman looked the epitome of East Indian beauty; a beauty in full flower, Shiori suddenly realized, as the one in front of them had further blossomed as per the passing of years.  Without makeup, and dressed only in a loose scarlet tunic that would have made lesser women look inappropriately under-dressed, Himemiya instead appeared primitively exquisite – like an exotic wild flower, looking all the lovelier without the banal constrains of pots and fences and hothouses and gardens.  Out of a corner of her eye, Shiori saw Juri subconsciously raising a hand as if to touch her own foundation-coated face, before quickly forcing the hand back down.  Standing demurely upon crossed feet (like a model posing in this fashion shoot gone supernatural), Himemiya Anthy smiled at them, her expression benignly serene, and Shiori found herself and Juri both tensing up, for every expression they had seen on the malevolent Rose Bride of old looked just as benignly serene.  Undeterred by their rigid guardedness, the (divine? demonic?) apparition stepped up to the flooded patio on sandaled feet, and started walking towards them atop the floating flowers.

“Juri-sempai, Shiori-sempai, I meant neither of you harm,” said Anthy, even as Shiori cowered further behind Juri.  “You see, I came seeking your help.”

“You’re deranged if you think we’re going back to help that monster you call your brother,” Juri stood her ground.  “No matter what powers the Rose Bride might have, I know you cannot make people do anything they don’t want to, or you wouldn’t need resorting to manipulation every time back in Ohtori.”  Still moving steadily towards them, Anthy’s smile further sweetened with something akin to indulgence (or could it be veiled condescendence?).

“Making people do things they don’t want to goes quite against my nature.  It’s unlikely I’ll ever do anything of the sort nowadays, especially not for my brother; not with Utena being so disapproving of-”

“Utena is with you?” Juri almost barked out the question, right as Anthy stopped in front of her, smilingly unfazed.  “Since when?”

“Since the day I found her, of course,” answered Anthy, in the tone an educator reserved for educating the mentally handicapped.  Face twisted in rage, Juri raised a hand as if about to slap Anthy, before stopping herself as she probably remembered who she was up against.  Juri looked like she was about to speak, but Anthy beat her to it.  “I did not ‘hide’ Utena after Revolution, as you’ve so obviously been thinking, nor did my brother; nor did we make you or anyone else forget anything about the Victor who revolutionized your lives for the better – it’s something you’ve all been doing very well on your own.  Out of sight, out of mind, such is human nature.”

Juri’s cheek reddened as if struck.  “I didn’t . . .”

“You didn’t forget, Juri-sempai,” Anthy cut her off, her once-soft voice now showing steely sharpness.  “I was the one who had to forget against my will.  One of the aftereffects of the duel called Revolution was an enchantment meant to hinder my brother’s effort to search out the Victor and possibly enact retribution.  Every time he was to think about details that might lead him to Utena: her family name, her age, her background, even something as insipid as her hair color, pain akin to ones from hateful swords stabbing shall assail his head.  And should he even mention her to another, by word by writing or by any other means, his heart shall scorch as if burned by charcoal.   I, being linked to my brother by blood, was likewise affected, and the enchantment on me could not be undone until I was to meet with her in this outside world.” 

“Then how did you manage to meet her?”  Shiori, who had been listening timidly all along, could not help but ask.   Anthy kept her increasingly cold eyes on an increasingly uncomfortable Juri.

“He, being loveless, dismissed Utena as a dropout from his world to avoid the enchantment’s wrath; I, being in love, persisted on searching.”  She paused to take a deep breath, as if even her now was emotional.  “It would be years later before I was to discover how Utena had merely been rushed to the neighboring town’s hospital right after Revolution; registered under her own name, even.  Had people on the Council – had anyone at all – bothered to look for her then, she would certainly be found; and I, with my senses attuned to each and every one of the Duelists, would have found her accordingly.  Why did you not look for her, Juri-sempai?”  That last question punctured Juri’s defenses like a sword thrust, and the taller woman actually doubled over slightly as if from pain.  “That game of squash right before the end, the joke about having her picture in your locket . . . had all that been but a mindless farce?  Had Tenjou Utena truly meant so little to you, to all of you?”

“Don’t blame Juri,” Shiori managed, sounding much weaker than she wanted to.  “She got caught up in a lot of things soon after the Revolution.”  Like their rocky relationship coming into fruition, then into light, then into the public scrutiny that robbed them of everything they had once took for granted . . . some good the Victor’s Revolution was to them.  But then she finally had Juri, for good; loving, loyal Juri, who was more valuable to her than any private school education any dream job in this world . . .

Anthy made no indication of having even heard her, focused as she was upon guilt-ridden Juri. “Unaware of my searching for her, Utena moved about out of . . . necessities.  It took me seven years before I finally did manage to meet her face to face.  And by that time, the damage had already been done.”

“The . . . damage?” asked Juri, voice brittle.

“No one exits my brother’s games unchanged,” stated Anthy, as she closed her eyes in apparent pain for one merciful moment.  Behind her, the pink surface of the Mikagemobile (as Shiori had come to label it/him) glinted darkly under the spotlight. “Utena now suffers from the kind of damage most in this world would consider irreversible.  It would take more than my power to have it completely undone.  Thus why I’ve come seeking your help.”  When those eyes opened anew, Shiori’s heart throbbed at realizing that she now had been included in her merciless gaze.  “Both of your help.”

“Hold!” protested Juri, regaining some of her fierce protectiveness.  “Shiori had nothing to do with this!  She barely even knew-” 

“Shiori-sempai had been both duelist and bride in the games,” countered Anthy, and Juri was silenced like a radio turned off. “She has as much to do with this as you and the rest of the Student Council – all of whom had readily agreed to give aid to Utena.”  Shiori saw Juri visibly wilting at those words, and something inside her – something that drew strength from her petty, shady nature – bubbled through her fear and to the surface.

“Maybe you should get your brother to help Utena too, Anthy-san” she heard herself saying, darkly, even. “He was the one responsible for using you to hurt everyone of us, her included.  And he has power, if that’s what you’re after.”

Instead of being offended, Anthy actually appeared impressed by Shiori daring to make a pointed jab, as her lips now curled in a semi-approving smirk. “I haven’t yet clarify my request – I am seeking everyone’s help in seizing my brother’s vast power and have it redirected towards reversing the damage on Utena.”

Shiori and Juri both were stunned by her words.  “And what will become of the Chairman after we’ve taken his power away?” 

“By logic he would cease being,” answered Anthy as if in reply to a common math problem.  They could detect neither hesitation nor lingering attachment from her nonchalant voice.

“You’re asking us to kill your brother to help Utena,” stated Juri.  Anthy, who by now had retreated back to beside the Mikagemobile without either of them noticing when (maybe she never had come forward to begin with), deepened her smile.

“The power we take from him will help more than just Utena, but others as well,” she ran a delicate dark hand caressingly against the van’s pink, glossy surface, “including you two.”

As if on cue, LED billboards shot up to flank all sides of the rooftop, their bright screens displaying a multitude of images: a slimmed-down Juri posing as a top brand’s exclusive model, Shiori’s lushly painted face advertising her own makeup line, the label Juri & Shiori looking resplendent with its haute couture license, Juri and Shiori at a fashion award gala, being clamored by the media, Juri and Shiori at their wedding, being accepted and blessed by all . . .  

“You’re offering as prize the miracles we want,” murmured Shiori, scared yet also somewhat wistful.  “Again.”

“What damage is Utena suffering from, that you need to bait us Ohtori-style here in this world?” asked Juri, cautious even in face of the vast temptations on display.  Anthy pursed her peach-colored lips pensively.

“I can take you both to her so you may see for yourself,” she offered, her voice kind and reasonable.  “But once you see her, there will be no backing out – you will be duty-bound to help her.”

“Can your trap be any more obvious?”  muttered Juri, but her stance now clearly lacked in resistance.  Shiori hesitated but for a moment, before raising her manicured hand like a schoolgirl in class.

“Count us in.”

Juri turned to her baffled. “Shiori!”

“We can’t refuse, Juri, not when she’s offering us the future we’ve been working towards for all these years,” stated Shiori, calmly resigned now.  “And I know you want to see and help Tenjou Utena, while I have no qualms about killing the Chairman for what he did to us.”

“Shiori . . .”

“Your old, special friends have all agreed to help, so we might as well too.  I should consider myself honored to be included.” 

“You won’t regret coming along.”  Beaming, Anthy produced an electric car key (one with a black rose motif visible even at a distance), opened Mikagemobile’s door, got in, and started its now purring engine.  “Utena is so looking forward to seeing you both, and Chida-san makes the best rose tea for her guests.”

Juri arched a fine brow.  Shiori blinked.   

“Chida-san?”

A flash of metallic, pink movement their eyes cannot follow, and the two women abruptly found themselves already seated at what must be the surprisingly, sterilely neat back area of the Mikagemobile flower van, from where Anthy could be seen at the driver’s seat driving.  The van’s clear-glass windows showed flashes of light-dotted darkness moving too quick for the eyes to follow, much like how the view had been like in Akio’s red convertible, back when he was speeding them towards the ends of their worlds.

“She’s our landlady,” replied Anthy, “the one who lent him to me.  Though I still drive him around now and then, she’s really the one to keep him from rusting – his rightful driver.”  By now, Shiori could see her almost playfully enigmatic smile from the rear-view mirror.  “Much like how Juri is yours.”

Before either Shiori or Juri could ask her to elaborate on that worryingly puzzling statement, the car accelerated impossibly past what should’ve been the top speed for any land vehicle.  Light, bright as what the core of the Sun must be like, speared through the windows, engulfing their senses and burning off what tenuous hold they still had on reality.   Amidst all that, Shiori thought she could hear Anthy’s voice, sounding impossibly steady against the suffocating high speed, against this overwhelmingly fantastical circumstance.

“We’re riding towards eternity, towards shining things, towards the power of miracles that which you both sought, and now is seeking again.  Do not look away; open your eyes to the power of revolution – to the Light of the World.” 

Shiori looked, then cried along with Juri for one agonizingly joyful moment, before neither seeing nor hearing anything anymore as her many limited senses shut down on her all at once.

 

End Part One

Chapter Text

 

Seinen Kakumei Utena

Utena and penguindrum characters belong to their various owners.

WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization

Part Two: The Fruits That Could Have Been

There was nothing beyond her sleep.  She was sleeping the sleep of the drained, the voided.  Asleep without dreams, she slumbered in the darkness after too much light, the light said to be-

“. . . I’ve told her, again and again!  I’ve told her not to involve everyone like this!  How is this any different from what he was doing? But she-”

“We’ve all come willingly to help you; we’re the only ones who can.”

Two voices, one high without being feminine, the other low and decidedly masculine, cut through the blankness of her mind, and revived in her thought possesses and memories that had lied dormant till now.  Mind working anew, she began waking amidst the loudening sounds of talking.

“I don’t need help!  I’m fine the way I’ve become, and nobody in my new life knows!  I-”

“Are you running away?”

“ . . . just don’t worry about me anymore!”

There were sounds of china breaking, of bodies slamming against wooden floor, of struggling, before a near-silence – broken but by strained breaths – ensued.  The lower-pitched voice was the first she heard speaking again.

“Are you running away?”

“ . . . I don’t want them to think they need to feel sorry for me.  Can’t you understand? I don’t want them to be dis-”

“They’ll never be disgusted with you; not you.  They’ll only be disgusted with me.”

“ . . . don’t say that.”

“Whatever you want to hear, keep you head high.  Did you not promise her that the two of you are to shine together in this time and place, ten years after Revolution?”

Eyes snapping open, she jolted up standing in a defensive stance – one that had been ingrained into her through the many years of fencing training from her childhood and youth – and quickly accessed her surroundings.

She was alone in a modern Victorian-style bedroom suite, one that remained decidedly feminine in spite of its sparse furnishings.  Cut roses, petals pristine as the pristine walls, could be seen scattered about the desk, the window stool, and parts of what she could see through the opened bathroom door in artful disarray; it took her still-hazy vision a moment to realize how they were all subtly lacquered.  Curiously, she poked at a rose with her soul sword, and found its supple petals to be crisp as eggshells . . .

“… what the hell?” exclaimed Arisugawa Juri, voice ending in a shout.  It was indeed the blade of her spirit held in her hand, the very one Shiori had once pulled from her chest while possessed by the black rose signet, the very one Ruka had -

“Shiori?” she called out while looking frantically around the rose scattered room. “Shiori!”

A flash of light from a corner of her vision sent her whirling towards the source.  It was the full-length mirror on the bedroom door, reflecting the morning sun beyond the window, along with that of her own image: curls loosened, face bare, body clad in a housedress one could sleep comfortably in.  Juri was certain she could not have looked any more ridiculous wielding her renaissance-style soul sword while in this getup.

  

“Juri!” 

With that blessed sweet sound, the mirror-door flew open as her Shiori – cleaned up and in house wear just like she was – rushed in and practically dived into her arms like a frantic bird.  “You’re okay!  You’re okay!”

“Shiori,” Juri had to control her own breath to hopefully maintain her assured bearing (if she was to display even hints of uncertainty at this moment, fragile Shiori will break). “We’re both okay.”  

Nodding frantically at her words, Shiori wiped the sweat and teas off her eyes.  “When I woke up, I was already in some bedroom wearing these clothes.  I heard you calling me, and I-”.  She suddenly noticed the sword in her hand.  “Juri, is that-”

“My soul sword.”  Juri’s studied the physical manifestation of her character strength with pensive eyes.  “I don’t even know how it came out.”

Looking somewhat wistful, Shiori clasped her small hand over hers, fingertips touching the sword’s handle.  “It must have something to do with our very unusual ride on Himemiya-san’s van.”  A crease appeared between her brows.  “Did she know that strange light would knock us out?  Why did she show it to us in the first place?  She called that van ‘him’ . . . and Mikage’s name was on the plate, along with a black rose motif.  She then said this Chida-san is ‘his’ rightful driver, and that you’re mine.”

Juri snorted.  “That last past has to be awkward phrasing on her-”

A startled gasp from Shiori cut off her unfinished statement.  Glancing down, Juri did a double take as she saw her soul sword shrinking rapidly within her grasp.  In no time at all, it had become something small enough to fit on her upturned palm – an electric car key reminiscent of the one Anthy had used on the Mikage flower van, except the rose motif is maroon-colored instead of black.   They studied the transformed item in awe.

“This is . . .”

“Chu!”

Both turned towards the still open door to see the agelessly small Chu-Chu waving cutely at them from where he perched upon Himemiya Anthy’s shoulder.  Anthy, now looking very domesticated with her hair pinned up (albeit in a less rigid style than that of her Ohtori days) while wearing a large apron over her nondescript housedress, offered the two a sagely smile.

“A sword, a hat, an apple – a soul by any other expression still is the same soul,” she said.  “It’s now a car key because that’s what will be needed for upcoming events.”

What kind of upcoming events?” asked Juri, again standing guardedly in front of Shiori to face the dark woman, whose eyes narrowed as her smile deepen.  “There were also a whole bunch of question you’ve left unanswered even now.  If you do want our help, you should-”

“We’ll be talking about this over our breakfast meeting,” she said.  “The other Duelists have gathered and are already down at the dinning room.”  Shiori looked like she wanted to say something, but Anthy spoke first.  “The clothes and accessories you wore yesterday are clean and in the laundry room.  If you deem your current wear to not be sufficient for seeing old acquaintances, Chida-san has prepared new clothing for you both here in these closets.  I’ll let you two get decent.”  She then left closing the door behind her.

It was only afterwards that Juri realized how neither they nor Himemiya had greeted each other good morning.

“I was going to ask her who changed and cleaned us, or if she used some magical witch power to transform us, or something.”  Looking disconcerted, Shiori walked up to the closet and started sliding its door open.  “Himemiya sounded so certain we’re going to change into what Chida-san has bought for . . . oh . . .”

Juri took a look in the closet’s contents herself, and had to forcibly suppress the whistle that she was about to sound. Whatever kind of person this Chida person was, whatever Anthy was plotting, she was not going to refuse Euro high-end casual wear just there for their taking.

A few minutes later, the two were elegantly dressed and already making their way down the ivory-toned spiral staircase, where each downward step brought them closer to the noises coming from the dinning room.   Already she could pick out Nanami’s voice, shrill and impatient just like all those years ago; Saionji’s voice had turned even craggier than before, albeit the tone was more controlled and civil; there was some young man’s voice whom she though she should recognize, but could not; then Miki’s voice, now sounding huskily sultry . . . wait, that was Kozue . . .

“ . . . appreciate everyone’s patience.  Yes, this meeting is taking place here at my house, but Himemiya-san is the one with the full plans.  It really is better to wait for her to come down before we commence . . .”

They were walking up to the high arc doorway (one framed by delicate tendrils of thorny, lacquered rose vines) leading into the dinning room, towards the speaker with the cultured, lady-like voice.  From her angle, Juri saw a woman who could best be described as “gamine personified”: small face, long neck, and a body delicate enough to carry a vintage-chic slim-fit suit dress.  Yet, in spite of her elegant beauty (so luminous under the natural daylight), there was something sinister about her presence.   Maybe it was an overtly antiquated quality, like she was an old Hollywood screen siren on film, or a post-war pin-up girl in print – the glamour and charm remained with the image captured, but not . . . the musing got cut short as the woman had since turned towards them, smiling a gracious hostess’ smile.  

“Arisugawa-san, Takatsuki-san,” she walked up to meet them at the doorway, extending a delicate hand towards them both.   “Chida Tokiko, a friend of Himemiya Anthy and Tenjou Utena.  Pleased to make your acquaintance.”  They exchanged handshakes, during which Juri quickly glanced past Chida Tokiko and at the occupants of the dinning room.  

Indeed most of the old gang was present.  On impulse, Juri studied the girls first, comparing their physicality to Shiori’s and even her own.   There was Kiryuu Nanami, tackily groomed like a generic blonde on daytime TV; Kaoru Kozue, enticing albeit a little too goth in the eye-liner; even Shinohara Wakaba was here, fresh-faced even as a young woman . . . with her old acquaintances in the background, and Tokiko right in front, Juri abruptly came to realize what was off about the woman: her entire person lacked vitality.  While her features were indeed more beautiful than that of all three girls combined, and her manner more refined, Chida Tokiko simply lacked the vibrant freshness of a living young woman.  She was just like any of those lacquered roses around the house: eternally stunning when uncontested by live plants, but ashen in comparison to even a fresh-picked leaf.

As if reading her thoughts, Tokiko’s smile gained a playfully self-depreciating edge.  “I see you’re every bit as sharp as your friends say you are, Arisugawa-san,””

Not quite friends, thought Juri, but her focus remained on the peculiar entity she currently faced.  “Chida-san . . .”

“When I was young, I labored to keep flowers in eternal bloom.” Eyes downcast, Tokiko gestured at the vases full of preserved flora decorating every corner of the place.  “Now that I’m old, I mourn forever the fruits that could have been, but never were.” 

Strangely, Juri felt no fear towards Tokiko.  Rather, something about what she said roused deep empathy in Juri’s chest; and she knew she was not alone, with Shiori holding back a choking sob from beside them.  Still, there were questions that needed to be asked (for this woman might pose danger to them still).  “So are you like Himemiya?  Is that why you two are friends?”

“Arisugawa-san,” Tokiko’s melancholy lifted, so apparently amused as she was by the questions asked. “Himemiya Anthy is more than what human words can adequately convey, while I’m merely a preserved woman of my own making.”  A tender expression came upon her face, one that almost managed to liven up her person.  “As for why I call her a friend now, it’s because she gave me something I thought was lost to me forever.”  

“M-Mikage . . .”

Following Shiori’s shakily raised finger, Juri inhaled sharply at seeing an enlarged black and white photo hanging above the wall of the dinning room.   It showed a shorthaired Tokiko seated beside a freckled boy waif in what appeared to be the inside of a greenhouse.  Behind them stood a fine-featured, bespectacled man with shoulder-length hair – Mikage Souji, looking a few years older than how she remembered him back in Ohtori.  The texture and resolution of the image, along with the date scribbled at its corner, indicated that the photo was over three decades old.

“I knew him as Professor Nemuro,” Tokiko spoke on, wistfully.  “To many, he was a robotic scientist who turned into a monster.   To me, he was simply-”

A car’s horn, sharp and urgent, sounded from the general direction of what should have been the garage.  At the sound, Tokiko’s eyes widened like that of a mother hearing her child crying in the other room; all the still-life woodenness was lifted from her features in that unexpected moment, and she looked vibrantly human then.

“Please excuse me,” the woman quickly bowed even as she was hurrying off towards the source of the sound, leaving Juri and Shiori behind with their old schoolmates, all of whom tight-lipped as uncomfortable silence ensued.

Under their collective gazes, Juri too found herself at a loss of words.  Since leaving Ohtori with Shiori, she had had no contact with any of the Duelists, nor had she heard much about any of them since.  For there was, amidst the vigorous struggles that became daily routines, an unspoken consensus between them not to dwell on the past or its people – the future they want, and only that, was important enough to occupy their hectic thoughts.  Those assembled here were obviously not strangers to her, but they might as well have been considering how none of them had anything to do with her life for the past decade.  They were friends that could have been, but never were – the hardest group for anyone to break ice with, more so in her case.  

“Sempai,” Kaoru Miki, the closest to her in the old days, was the first to open his mouth, “Nemuro was the name of the Memorial Hall.  It’s the place holding the seminars that became a ruin overnight, the one that we all forgot about!”  An androgynous slip of a young man now, he spoke to her as though time never had passed, and they still were as familiar with each other as was at Ohtori. 

“The place where Mikage-sempai – or maybe his real name is Nemuro – stabbed those black roses in our hearts and drove us to try and hurt Utena-sempai and kill the Rose Bride,” Tsuwabuki Mitsuru, now matured into a copper-haired preppy, followed Miki’s lead, setting the tone for a less awkward reunion.

“Whatever his real name, he has to be generations older than us,” stated Saionji Kyouichi, a solidly handsome man now wearing his long locks in a tight braid.  “And, he was already an adult in that vintage pic.  There was no way he should’ve been able to pass himself as a schoolboy when we were at Ohtori, but he did.”   

“Chida-san herself looks to be about our age even today,” Wakaba frowned lightly as she pinched her lower-lip.  “Could the Chairman have turned them into undying zombies with his demonic powers, like in those horror flicks?” 

“Why, I’ve yet to see a flick where zombies can turn into cars,” chuckled Kozue, somewhat too wildly, “I mean, have you seen that pink van he became?  Every bit as square as he ever was.”  Steadying herself, she then faced Juri and Shiori more properly.  “But where are our manners?  It’s the distinguished Juri-sempai, whom we haven’t seen for ten years!  Let’s show our ladies’ lady some looooove!”  And she was already out of her seat and leaping straight at the bigger woman amidst Shiori’s startled scream.

“KOZUE!” 

The roar impacted Kozue like a gunshot, freezing her less than a feet away from the stunned Juri before she was to slump to the floor, slacked.  It took Juri a moment before she realized that Miki was the one to have generated that harsh sound.

“Miki-kun . . .”

“I’m sorry, Juri-sempai,” muttered the agitated young man as he rushed forward to try dragging his twin up and off the floor.  “I thought I had cleared her of all recreational substances before we came here last night.  She must’ve managed to slip something past me to get high with after all.”  He then whispered to his sister, now clawing at the floor as if under demonic possession.  “Kozue, get up on your own feet please!  You’re embarrassing yourself-” A vicious claw swipe to his face cut his sentence short.

“Fuck you!”  Kozue snarled up at her brother like a wild animal cornered.  “You never fucking cared about what kinda shit I got into on my own!  It’s only when your elite friends are watching that I become an embarrassment to you!   You fucking hypocrite closet case fag!  You think I don’t know what you’ve been up to with that chicken-hawk family lawyer?  Telling the court I’m unfit to manage my share of the inheritance . . . you money gulping cocksuck!  You would’ve kicked me out already, but daddy had my name and only my name on the property, so there!”

Face twisted from savage rage as Juri had never seen on him, Miki pulled back his hand as if to strike the now hysterical Kozue.  To her continued shock, it was Saionji who stepped up and sleekly grabbed onto Miki’s slim wrist.

“Miki, if beating your sister up will get her to kick the habit, I’d beat her for you,” said the much bigger man, as Miki started to tremble at what he almost did in front of everyone.  “But it won’t.  I know addicts: beatings will only drive her even further down the addicted path.  And I know you; you’d only end up hurting yourself even worse than you’d ever hurt her.”  Letting go of Miki, Saionji picked up his now subdued twin like she weighted nothing to him, and sat her back down on her chair.  Kozue remained glassy-eyed throughout her being moved about.

Juri, for her part, moved hesitantly up to the young man she once knew.  “Miki . . . ”

Teary face scrunched up, Miki cried with the despair of a boy at the end of his world.   “She won’t quit, sempai, not after having been hooked on the stuff for ten years.  Father actually knew about this back when he was alive, but he bribed the school to turn a blind eye to Kozue’s habit.  Since then, she’s been spending money like water just to keep shooting up.  And now that our parents had both passed away, I’m the only one who takes care of her, and I don’t even how to go on-” Juri had since drew her old friend into her embrace, hushing him and patting his heaving back in a manner so familiar, she startled herself.

“Shhh, Miki, it’s alright now . . . let’s get back to the table.  We’re about to have a breakfast meeting, right?  Let’s all eat first, then worry about stuff later.” She ushered Miki towards the long dinning table, with Shiori following from right beside her.

“Words of wisdom from the plus-size model,” muttered Nanami, idly toying with her chopsticks.  While not herself offended, Juri noticed the pointed glare Shiori was directing at the blonde, and kicked her lover’s heel lightly as they got themselves seated.   Shiori composed herself, and turned pensive.

“Ten years ago . . . that was around the time when we got kicked out of Ohtori, Juri.”

Juri nodded grimly, still gently patting a shaky Miki on his back.  “The period immediately following Revolution, when we had to quickly put the whole thing behind us, because our lives abruptly got swarmed by problems.”  Her voice went heavy with regret.  “We did not go after Utena, because she took a backseat to our own survival.”  She glanced all around at the rest of the group.   “Was it like this for everyone else?  I’m asking because if we all got saddled with problems that kept us from finding Utena at the same time, then we can be certain that Ohtori Akio was the one who disrupted our lives, again, to prevent us from finding the Victor.”

Wakaba was the first to answer her.  “I wasn’t having any special problems at the time; just that my Dad got transferred overseas, and our whole family moved with him out of the country.  I did wrote back to Tatsuya asking him if he heard anything about Utena’s whereabouts, but after a few month even we stopped writing each other and drifted apart.  I would have completely put my Ohtori days behind me by now, if not for Anthy approaching me asking me to come help Utena.  She’s offering to give me whatever I name as prize, but I’d come regardless since this is Utena-sama!”  She ended her words with a cutesy beam – one that Juri felt was a little too exuberant even for her.   

“But for Akio-san to have caused something like that, he needed to have at least partial control of an international company’s overseas branch.” Tsuwabuki scratched his chin, obviously trying to look older and wiser but failing (albeit cutely).  “Is it even possible for a high school Acting Chairman to have this kind of far-reaching influence?”

“Is it still too early for your brain in the morning?”  Nanami snapped at her former errand boy, who cowered like the child he once was.  “The thing that calls himself the Ends of the World is not even human!  His influence might reach every corner of the globe for all we know!”

Tsuwabuki rubbed the back of his head self-consciously.  “Umm . . . anyway, I forgot about Utena-sempai pretty soon after she was gone.  I mean, nobody even told me much about the Revolution, and I guessed I just stop thinking about it on my own.  I was just some brat then.”  He shrugged helplessly.  “Oh, and I came here with Miki-sempai and Kozue-sempai, cause Himemiya-sempai said she’d help . . . us get through our problems if we help her.”  Beside him, the Kaoru twins remained unmoving as woodcrafts as they stared down into their empty plates in silence.  Watching them from across the table, Saionji let out a heavy, punctuated sighed.

“I suppose it’s our turn to provide convenient exposition.”  He glanced sideways at Nanami – the one seated beside him.  “What’d you say?  Can I tell them?”  Nanami, who had been defensively antagonistic for all this time, bit down on her lower lip and nodded grudgingly.  Saionji turned back towards the rest of them.  “I don’t know if you guys remember, but Touga always did have the tendency to breakdown emotionally when things get rough.”  He received blank looks from everyone (except Nanami).  “Oh C’mon, since we all remember Mikage now, some of you should remember how Touga was skipping school and hiding in his room for like the entire time we got hounded by the Black Rose Duelists – all just because he got defeated dueling Tenjou.” 

Juri frowned.  Now that Saionji mentioned it, she did recall something like that: Touga going catatonic after using all the dirty tricks up his sleeve and still getting defeated by Utena, Nanami’s subsequent role as Proxy-President of the Student Council in support of her Onii-sama, and the entire deal forgotten along with all memories related to the Black Rose Duelists – until now.  In hindsight, it was cold of her and Miki to just let the elder Kiryuu rot in his room without caring; while not friends, they were acquaintances after all, and cunning as he was, Touga was really only a seventeen year old boy who could be (and was in fact) badly hurt.  Apathetic; that was how all the Student Council members really were, be they coolly rational as herself, or sweet mannered as Miki.  Was that why none of them could defeat a swordplay novice like Utena during the duels?  Because what mattered upon the arena in the sky was neither skill nor power, but the character and the heart?  Utena, the Victor to the very end, was the only one among them with the capacity to care about other people . . .  

Was apathy the reason why none of them had gone after Utena immediately after the Revolution?  There were days, weeks even, between Utena’s disappearance and her own expulsion from Ohtori; had she gone after the Victor using the intelligence network she still had before her own downfall, could she have changed history for the better?  Could she have then saved Utena, saved Shiori and herself, saved everyone?

“Anyway,” Saionji went on, “the Kiryuus and myself did indeed find our lives in turmoil soon after Revolution – about a week or so after you girls got kicked out.  I won’t go into details of what had happened, but believe me it was bad.  Touga . . . he got damaged the worst, and hasn’t really been the same since.”  Something about the way Saionji use the word “damaged” reminded Juri of how Anthy had described Utena's current situation.  But before she could prompt Saionji to elaborate further on Touga’s plight, Tsuwabuki had eagerly cut in.

“Touga-sempai was skipping school a lot that year.  Nanami-sama was unhappy all the time, but she wouldn’t tell me what was wrong no matter how I asked her.”  He gulped at seeing Nanami’s baleful glare.  “T-that’s about the time when we drifted apart, and Miki-sempai had been my closest older friend since.”

“All three of us left Ohtori right after the school year ended,” Saionji’s lids were closed as if weary.  “Like with Arisugawa and Takatsuki, everyone from Ohtori took a backseat to our problems as we struggled to stay afloat.”

“Stay afloat?” blinked Wakaba, confused. “But you were all special kids coming from old money-”       

“We were kids,” Nanami spat out the last word with much agitation.  “It took a long, uphill battle before we got the money that should’ve been ours in the first place.  And by that time, Onii-sama was already-”

“Kyu!”

Turning at the sound, everyone did a double take at seeing what appeared to be two apron-wearing blue penguins carrying a long sashimi boat through the high arc doorway.  Setting it clumsily down the long dinning table (with Shiori and Tsuwabuki quickly helping to avoid a spill-over), the penguins then bowed servant-like at them, before turning to leave upon webbed feet.   Juri noticed the numbers “2” and “3” being written on the two creatures’ respective backs as they exited the doorway.

Kozue broke out into giggles.  “Raw fish served by penguins for breakfast, now that’s living in style.”

Tsuwabuki tentatively picked up a slice of tuna toro via the “public” chopsticks, tried it on his own plate, and “ooh-ed”.  “Wow, this is really fresh and sweet!”

“Don’t touch the fugu,” warned Nanami, poking suspiciously at the colorful, lushly arranged sashimi pieces.  “The penguins might’ve been the ones to cut the fishes for all we know.”

“Well, if those penguins are good enough chefs to make these intricate floral formations with the puffer fish, I gather they’re good enough to avoid cutting the liver.”  Mouth full, Saionji picked up a label off the boat-platter, and swallowed before he read off it.  “Licensed Usuki non-toxic fugu: safe to consume.”  At his words, multiple pairs of chopsticks shot forward to pick off the pieces like ravenous bird beaks. 

“The animal accomplices just prove it,” flitted Shiori, nervously picking up a slice of farmed salmon herself.  “Chida-san really is like Himemiya-san, whatever that is.”

Bride.  Witch.  Flower blossoming at the Ends of the World.  Back in the day, there had been scattered pieces of rumors floating around Ohtori regarding Himemiya Anthy, and Juri herself had utilized her eyes and eyes trying to dig deeper into the girl’s background; but none of the information she got could really define what the Rose Bride really was, at least not by rational understanding.  

“And that . . . car, is that really Mikage?” 

Shiori seemed to be worrying endlessly over the human/car issue, and Juri (who got handed salmon roe seaweed salad by her weight-conscious lover) could not say she blamed her, not after the overwhelming car ride into the Light of the World, not after seeing the soul sword turning into a car key . . .

“Those women said it is,” the word “women” came out of Nanami’s still chewing mouth laced with distaste.  “Uttered some gibberish about how he could only function as a mechanical being after getting ‘graduated’ by Akio.”

“Anthy basically said it was some guilt/shame combo that made Mikage unable to function in the real world as a human being.” Saionji clucked his teeth.  “Akio apparently screwed the poor guy over real bad.”

“Chida-san said Mikage can still appear as an aphasic human, and had asked us not to get scared should we see him around this house,” supplied Miki while helping his shaky-fingered, high-strung twin fill her dish.  “I haven’t seen it . . . him yet, though, so I don’t really know the extend of the damage.”

There was the word again.  Damage.  This time, Juri decided to speak up before the direction of the conversation was to stray off again.

“Has anyone seen Utena?” she asked. “From what Himemiya told us, she too is suffering from some kind of damage.”

“Anthy said Utena will be joining us this morning,” said Wakaba between mouthfuls of onion-wrapped urchins.  “We’re still waiting for them.”

“Truth be told I was also looking forward to seeing what became of Tenjou,” said Saionji between sips of his rose green tea.  “She really was the best among us, in spite of her sheer stupidity.  No wonder she can draw people towards her like fire draws moths.”  Juri could taste very diluted levels of bitterness in his tone directed at Utena, even in this here and now.

“Pardon me, but where is Kiryuu-sempai?” asked Shiori.  “It sounds to me like he should be here.”

“They told us Onii-sama is here, that’s how they got us to come,” snarled Nanami while struggling to pry the meat off an oyster she picked.

“Oh?”

“Touga went  missing a while ago,” explained Saionji.  “Himemiya approached us saying she had found him, and that he had chosen to stay with Tenjou and help.”

“But help with what?” Nanami tore the oyster’s flesh apart with much violence.  “We’ve been here since the middle of the night and I still haven’t been allowed to see my Onii-sama, let alone Utena. Those women are acting all secretive; why can’t they just give us some straight answers?  I mean they obviously need our help-”

“We do need and appreciate your help, Nanami-san; pardon us if we made you feel otherwise.”

All turned towards Anthy’s voice.  The apron wearing (former?) Rose Bride was standing beyond the high arch doorway with a food service cart carrying miso soup, desserts, and more green tea.  While her left hand was on the cart’s handle, her right hand was pulled to the side – it was clasped onto a slightly bigger, much paler hand belonging to someone off view from the dinning room’s occupants.   As if only now noticing how her companion was hiding off to the side, Anthy tugged at the hand. 

“Come on out,” she said to that person; gently, pleadingly.  “There is no need to feel awkward around them.  These are all old friends who know and understand you; they are here to help, Utena.”

Everyone waited with bated breath as Utena was slowly but surely dragged out by the latter’s deceptively delicate-looking hand and into plain sight.

What followed was a moment of utter, eternal-seeming silence, before it was shattered by Nanami’s and Wakaba’s high-pitched screaming.  Juri thought she heard Kozue’s strained moaning, but was not entirely sure as her focus stayed mainly upon Miki and his fleeing the room with a hand to his mouth (with Tsuwabuki quickly following him).  Shiori and Saionji both managed to remain silent, but the stunned looks on their faces might prove even more hurtful than any sound they could have made; Juri dreaded to know what kind of expression she herself was currently betrayed by.

Tenjou Utena, the Victor of the Duels, the one who liberated their troubled youth, whom they had not seen since, now stood before them looking big-shouldered, thick-necked, flat-chested, broad-waisted, and hipless in unisex casual wear; the long pink hair was now cropped into a pageboy cut, framing a handsome face that sported a small goatee.

The girl who wanted to be a prince had now become a man.

End Part Two

Chapter Text

Seinen Kakumei Utena

Utena and its characters belong to its various owners.

WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization

Part Three: Prince, Interrupted - Prelude

The kitchen’s fridge was cold, the kitchen’s fridge was stocked; the kitchen’s fridge was Antarctica-condensed and at its very best – so much so, that the two apron-wearing blue penguins currently lazing within its confines wanted to never leave it, wanting instead to snack on forever within this ultra-cool sanctuary.

“Chu!”

A crack appeared as the fridge door got pulled opened by the shivering Chu-Chu, currently decked in a miniature Eskimo’s fur coat.  In his tiny paw was a pentagon-star-shaped paper note, which the monkey mouse then passed into Number Two’s blue flipper before scurrying away out of sight.

“Kyu!”  Reading the note, Number 2 then pulled Number 3 out of the fridge with it.  Together, they hopped onto the countertop, grabbed the broad box of donuts, and exited the kitchen.  As the creatures made their way down the hallway, they passed by the dinning room and its loudly agitated occupants, passed the dark-skinned woman and the pink-haired man pushing a food service cart towards said dinning room, up the spiral staircase, past the white-painted, red-rose-lined washroom door displaying a scarlet “OCCUPIED” sign, and towards a bedroom with a shiny, stylized pentagon star bearing the letter “H” hanging upon its wooden door.

The screams from the dinning room came right as Number 3 opened the star-adorned door for Number 2 to carry the donut box inside.  Unfazed, the creatures stepped right into the dark, glittery interior, and up towards a girlishly ornamented bed veiled under red canopy curtains; two young-boyish silhouettes could be seen curled up face-to-face on the bed, each hugging a penguin to his chest (one black, one blue, beaks meeting in a kiss) . . . words, spoken in precocious, pre-pubescent tone, drifted upon the tranquil space (strangely unaffected by the noises outside) as tendrils of smoke:

“If there exists a god who listens, I want to ask him this:

“Can people do nothing but to embrace their own fates?

“And, suppose someone is to go against fate,

“Ignoring their predetermined gender and role to become someone they weren’t born to be,

“Will others still accept them as being human?

“I can’t stop thinking about the word fate . . .”

Even as the words flowed, the bedroom door closed seemingly on its own, blocking off the view and sound from within its dreamy confines.  Outside, the screams from the dinning room continued to climb both in the way of pitch and hysteria.

***

It started out with them looking at him, and him looking back; thus how they had stayed for one mercifully wordless moment.  Then came the screaming, the rushing off to throw up in revulsion, the muted looks of horror, and the tenuous orderly calm of their ten year reunion got shattered like glass.  

“Utena!”  Nanami, prone to hysterics even as a grown woman, pointed a shaky finger at him like he was covered in live roaches.  “You . . . you’ve . . . what the fuck?!”

“Don’t you swear at my Utena-sama!” Wakaba, his best friend from another lifetime, snapped at the blonde with startling violence, before turning towards him with a force smile that looked uglier than even her worst crying face  “Oh Utena-sama, just . . . just . . . what the FUCK?!”

Prior to seeing them again, Tenjou Utena had already dreaded his old friends’ possible reactions to his current maleness more than anything.  And now that he had already seen and heard for himself their revulsion against him, he felt a metallic coolness slowly but surely stabbing through his person, going in the back and coming out upfront, keeping him upright like an insect pinned upon invisible cardboard, helplessly awaiting eternal damnation.  With his entire body now stiffened from the neck down, he could turn only his accusing glare towards the one responsible – Himemiya Anthy; whose hand had tightened around his, whose wisps of stray hair stood at the back of her dark neck as if from static, whose lush tresses would have been rippling upon the still-air by now, if not for the pins holding them down; ever-mysterious Anthy, whose head was lowered like a woman either about to be struck – or about to strike out.  An inaudible sigh escaped his lips – what kind of reaction did she expect from these people, anyway?  Eternal Anthy, having already coexisted so very long alongside this world, should have known better than to think the old gang would readily accept his current self just because they had been school chums for that one (apparently very forgettable) year.  Did she not know that these people were all cogs of the world?  Be they shrewd or playful or idealistic or obsessed, they all were puppets with strings pulled by their world – a world that had always been adversarial towards him, even since before the Revolution, back when he was just some little girl in a boy’s uniform whom all the teachers hated, whom all the boys (with few exceptions) thought of as non-sexual, whom all the girls . . .

“Your . . . face!  Y-You’ve got facial hair

How-”

“Oh Utena-sama,

what did that

evil man

do to you?”

. . . words, human words, spoken in voices girly and shrill, spoken in noises metallic and sharp; already Utena could see them – those gleaming, metallic lengths rearing their ugly heads at him in multitudes of hundreds and thousands, appearing so very real to him that Nanami and Wakaba might just as well be faded shadows fluttering across some distant walls in some other place and time as these hateful, hate-filled  swords came thrusting closer and closer and . . .

“Utena! 

What

 did

you

do

to

yourself?”

“U

te

na

-sa

ma

!”

“QUIET!”

Juri’s voice – stronger and even more authoritative-sounding than in her teens – blasted out like gunshot, silencing the hysterical girls and shattering his sword-filled vision like hammer against mirror.  Utena saw that she was even more beautiful in person than on Anthy’s glossy magazines, where some of the shots did made her look bulky.   While still powerfully-assured, the frosty aloofness marking her youth had apparently been warmed by the years, as the fencer-turned-model came up towards him in broad, easy strides, stopping such that her smiling face faced his.  “It’s good to see you again, Utena.” 

“Juri-sempai,” he made himself smile back in reply to her earnest voice and expression.  Had he still been that foolish fairytale-obsessed girl he once was, Utena would never have questioned Juri’s apparent easy acceptance of his person.  Now that he was older and wiser, he knew to carefully analyze the “whys” behind how people act towards him; knew, and understood how he should (must) react in return.  “I see you have Shiori-sempai with you.”

From behind Juri, Shiori quickly stood up to bow at him from behind the dinning table she shared with the rest of the stunned group.  “Utena-san, good to see you again.  It’s been so long . . . ” she gestures (somewhat awkwardly) at the empty seats left, “won’t you join us for breakfast?” 

“Y-Yes, Utena-sama!” Wakaba spoke as well, forcing herself to sound normal and failing.  “We got so much to catch up on, to plan . . . ”  

“Ah, please pardon me,” Miki shakily returned from where he rushed off to (with Tsuwabuki tiptoeing thief-like back towards his own seat in his background), and stepped up towards Utena as well.  “Fish went down the wrong way, and I had to get cleaned up.”  The young man offered his pale hand in a blatantly brave gesture.  “So great to see you again, Utena-sempai!”  Utena saw, from behind him, Kozue rolling her slightly bloodshot eyes.

Eyes on the young man he used to think of as a cute little brother, Utena gave him a firm, lasting handshake, and observed the goosebumps now rising on his thin neck with a sort of detached coldness. 

“Utena,” Anthy had by now moved to beside the dinning table, setting the food and drinks down for their rigid guests with the languid, emotionally-void grace of a restrained lady.   “The breakfast meeting is about to start.”

Letting go of Miki (who sagged in relief), Utena walked up towards the group, all the while internally steeling himself to take on the cutting questions that were sure to come.

Surprisingly, there were no questions asked – no words at all – as everyone simply continued their breakfast in silence; the dubious glances, on the other hand, could be seen getting passed around at a much higher frequency than the teapot and the dessert tray combined. Brusquely stuffing face with Unakyu (thus not-so subtly deterring conversation directed his way), Utena saw Anthy sipping her tea while glancing across each and every uncomfortable face around the table at a measured, purposeful pace, before lowering her cup and cutting straight to the point.

“I would like to begin by thanking everyone for coming together and pledging to help the Victor,” smiling thinly, she spoke in a voice as demure as her words were shrewd.  “It’s most rare these days for people to remember favors owed, and be willing to enact repayment.  One gets pleasantly surprised when it still happens.”

Utena saw the ex-Duelists all further stiffening at the ex-Bride’s words; none of them could deny that the Victor had changed their lives for the better (albeit but for a while), yet all of them had gathered here only after being approached with the promise of miracles – solutions to their worldly problems.  They knew they were not helping him for free even after everything he did for them, and there lied the problem that ate at their own comfort zone.

Nanami, offensive spitfire that she was, was the first to strike back.   “And what does Utena need help with?”  Does he now want to turn back into a girl or something?  How did the tomboy get changed into a man in the first place, I wonder?  Was that the Power of Revolution?  Thank god I lost the duels!  Or did Utena just get man-genes from the spirit of Dios?”  She concluded her tirade by letting out the trademark spiteful laughter of her adolescent days . . . one that gradually died down under Anthy’s steady gaze.   “W-What?  You got a problem with what I said?  Talking down on us in that backhanded alien way of yours . . . I mean, sure, Utena did breeze through our lives in that foolishly open way of hers that got us to be more open ourselves, and we all became nicer to each other for a while, closer for a while . . . but her Revolution failed!  The so-called Victor just disappeared off the face of our world, and most of our lives just took bungee jumps like right afterwards!  So what the FUCK-” she punctuated the swear-word with a fist to the table that sent the plates rattling, “-kinda favor did we owe you, either of you?”  The blonde glared viciously back at the dark-featured woman, whose gaze remained steady; whose smile now gained a pitying edge.

“The revolution succeeded; it crumbled afterwards only because those whose lives got revolutionized did not follow up on the revolutionary success.”

Her listeners all jolted at Anthy’s words as if struck; Nanami, in particular, looked like she had just swallowed a frog.  “F-Follow up?”

“My brother was both exhausted and enchantment-bound in the days immediately following the Revolution.  Had even one of you summoned the resolve to seek out Utena then, he would’ve no way of stopping you, and she will be found.  I could’ve then followed your trail towards Utena, used what power I had to restore her body and soul, and together we would returned immediately to Ohtori to claim the awakened Power of Dios and stop my brother’s mad games once and for all.”  Anthy’s voice darkened as thickening clouds.  “Instead, you and the other Duelists simply went blissfully on with your days while giving the Ends of the World ample time to recover, to grow strong.  Do you now blame his present control over your world on us?”

“ . . . present control over our world?” squeaked Tsuwabuki like a trapped mouse.  Utena saw how most of the others had gone wide-eyed at this piece of info as well; not Juri, who just seemed pained and resigned.  Anthy took a dainty sip of tea prior to speaking on.

“I believe Juri-sempai was the first among you to have figured it out: that the world outside of Ohtori Academy – what used to be the real world – now too have come under the End of the World’s control.  Even this place,” she gestured with her pretty dark hand all around the elegant interior of the Victorian style mansion, “an ‘anti-Ohtori’ designed by Chida-san – and later fine-tuned by myself – as a sanctuary against external influences; even its barriers are not completely impenetrable, not against the kind of power my brother has accumulated in the past decade.”

Juri spoke up at this point.  “Some colleagues of Shiori and mine were revealed to be but stage props that could be made disappear at Himemiya’s will.  This reminded me of how, back in our day, even adults from the outside world were also similarly bewitched by the Ends of the World like us boarding students.”  She glanced ever so briefly past the Kaoru twins, before looking Anthy right in the eye. “I have no idea how this sort of thing can be accomplished outside of Ohtori, though . . .” Utena, who had since learned about Anthy’s manipulation of Mr. Kaoru (among many others) after their reunion, easily caught the subtext.

“People are deception-prone by nature,” Anthy faced Juri naturally and without apparent guilt.  “You show them crude illusions, and their eager minds will naturally perfect the images for their hungry eyes.  Remember the ‘miracles’ you saw in Ohtori?  The arena in the sky, the inverted castle, the materializing swords . . . these were all artificial projections running upon power – both his and mine; also used were the humans my brother had sacrificed for use as fuel, but those used to came in insufficient quantities . . . until now.”  Utena calmly noted how the whole group was now looking at Anthy like she had just admitted to being a mass-murder, and how the dark woman still was speaking in casual tones.  “In that period after I just walked out on him, my brother must have been devastated to find himself lacking power enough to control even a little private school.  Having already experimented with spell-bounding outsiders before, he must have somehow discovered his current method of mass-ensnaring humans from the world outside – to make them willingly surrender themselves to him for the things he could offer, and become the fuel to empower his fairytale kingdom unto eternity.”

“Turning humans into fuel . . .”  a wide-eyed Wakaba wondered out loud, tremblingly.  “Something like this-”

“This should not be news to you, Wakaba,” Anthy’s voice now was darkly husky, “ you, Shiori-sempai, Kozue, and Tsuwabuki-kun; you all rode the elevator down the morgue underneath Nemuro Memorial Hall, where the Hundred Boys of the Black Rose-” She got cut off by Shiori’s scream of sheer terror – coming so high in pitch, Utena thought for a moment that the glass windows might shatter.  Juri held onto her girl at once, protecting her like a coat of green around a young hatchling. 

“T-this . . this VOICE!” Shiori now was shaking uncontrollably as she pointed an accusing finger at Anthy.  “You!  You were that dark-skinned boy together with Mikage, the one who stabbed the black rose into my heart and make me . . . make me . . .”

“. . . express your true self?” asked Anthy, and Shiori crumbled like a crushed origami piece within Juri’s strong embrace. “Like I told you before, making people do things they don’t want to goes quite against my nature – though I cannot say the same for my brother.” Anthy now locked gazes with Juri, who eyed her like one would at a black widow right upon their skin.  “Do you know? Nemuro Memorial Hall was the prototype Human Broiler – my brother’s first attempt at mass-producing human fuel; its initial success paved the way for other such broilers to be built beyond the grounds of Ohtori throughout the past decade.  There are at least three such external broilers that I know of here in Japan alone: the Aranjia Agency that you both worked for, with its avocation of unrealistic beauty standards and draining work schedules, is really a front for the Beauty Broiler designed to process vain women and men into pure, mindless fuel.  Had I not interfered when I did, I wonder how much longer it will be before strong, perfect Juri-sempai finally gets grinded down into human petroleum to power my brother’s fancy cars?” She then tittered daintily to her own words amidst their growing horror, its sound as cruel as it was provoking.

“Witch!”  Breaking under the strain, Tsuwabuki shot up from his seat.  “You’re that monster’s sister, you-” He was quickly dragged back down by Miki, who then quickly covered his mouth – in the same fearful way that a parent will cover a child’s mouth when they were held hostages by some gun-wielding criminal.

“You know,” slim elbows perched on the table, Anthy rested her small chin upon the backs of her delicately crossed fingers, “since finding Utena and settling down, I’ve had ample time to again check on the notable Duelists of her generation.  Imagine my un-surprise at seeing how all of you are still living under my brother’s control.  There’s Wakaba,” the pale-faced girl opened her mouth, but Anthy beat her to speaking, “working as an office assistant at the recreation and lifestyle section of a magazine that’s really a subsidiary of a much larger corporation ran by the Ohtori family.  Saionji-sempai works for the same magazine now and then, as a freelance photographer for the entertainment section; both him and the currently jobless Kiryuus-” she paused briefly as if only to observe the redness now inflaming Nanami’s face, “-have financial advisers watching over their accounts – guess which high school alumni they all belong to?  Kozue, the music agent your father set you up with to get you on TV – the one who introduced you to hard drug before overdosing and ‘died’ – now is a music teacher working at Ohtori.”  Kozue looked like this was all old news to her, but her twin had paled at the information.   “Miki, your family lawyer provides legal consultation to Ohtori’s Board of Trustees; he visits the Planetarium at least once a month, though he can only see my brother in his pre-adolescent Dios guise.  Tsuwabuki-kun, you are currently enrolled in the University Division of Ohtori Academy, although you do reside off campus.”  Leaning back on her chair, she now included the entire overwhelmed lot of them within her piercing, scorching gaze. “Last time, your unified apathy had wasted the Victor’s sacrifice while greatly empowering the Ends of All Your Worlds.  This time, will you all finally take action to win back your own lives – even at the cost of helping me, whom you all distrust – so I may help Utena win back hers?”  Back straightening, she faced them more solemnly.  “This time, will you help us help you?”

A heavy stillness hung over the air, as everyone appeared resolutely tight-lipped, but Utena knew this silence would not last.  Just watching them, he could see how their closed hearts had since gone aflame from Anthy’s swaying words – they knew they had no choice but to side with the Victor and the Witch if they were to escape from Akio’s choking grip on their lives.  No longer able to trust Anthy after what she had revealed herself to be, they would have to turn to him, to have him make valid their decision for them. 

“Utena,” Juri, having the strongest personality from among the group, now spoke on its behalf.  “I think I can speak for everyone here that we all respect you for the things you did, and that we’re all willing to help you now, if you’ll let us.  But we will need to know what kind of help you need, and what do we have to do to give you that help.” She cast the full might of her sincere yet piercing gaze upon him.  “You’ve been quiet throughout this entire meeting Himemiya has held for you, won’t you speak up now, Utena?” A still traumatized Shiori – still huddled against the bigger woman’s embrace – nodded along with her words.

Having since put down his chopsticks, Utena wiped at his lips with a paper napkin (in a manner that he hope could rival Juri in assuredness).  “First off, there’s no reason for any of you to distrust . . . well, at least try not to fear Anthy, since she’s now with me.” He still ended up having to gulp down excess saliva prior to continuing, thus breaking the cool.  “Basically, she wants me to have my old body back, but I’m really fine with what I have now-”

“Hey, it’s fake!”

Before he could react, a bright-eyed Kozue had already reached over to pick off the paste-on goatee that he had accidentally wiped sideways.   Wakaba perked up as if having found gold.

“Then Utena-sama is still a . . .” she studied his lean but muscular built, and the excitement drained off her face,  “er . . . not.”

“Tenjou,” Saionji, silent until now, at last spoke up,  “I see that you’ve become a lot more muscular than before, but your bone structure still is small like that of a woman.  And your face . . . it looks like you’ve been cutting fat then applying shadows to make it look so angular.  You’re also wearing sport shoes indoor – are those heel lifts you got inside?”  Feeling the heat, Utena looked away from his intense gaze; the man pressed on.  “This is not some magical transformation that occurred in Ohtori, but something done here in the outside world, isn’t it?”  Lead on by Saionji’s sharp observation, everyone was looking at him now, and Utena could again spot those hateful metallic glints, currently reflected within their wide, baffled eyes.

“Utena-sempai . . . ” Miki, the smartest one among them, finally gathered his wits and started asking the on-point question.  “Have you been going through HRT?”

Lips drawn tight, Utena noticed now Nanami, Wakaba, and Shiori all inhaling sharply at hearing the term; only naïve little Tsuwabuki appeared at a loss.  “What’s HRT?” 

“Why, that’s hormonal replacement therapy, Tsuwabuki-chan,” drawled Kozue, still studying the fake goatie with much interest, “trannies have it to better camouflage themselves as the opposite sex-” Miki’s slap did manage to land this time, sending his high-strung twin backwards and off her chair.  The unexpectedness of the young man’s action set of that reflexive anger in Utena that he quickly had to quench; not quickly enough, it turned out, he could now see the stacks of swords literally framing all corners of his vision, sharp tips pointing towards the oblivious blue-haired man, now towering over his sister in righteous rage.

“If you’re going to be shooting off at the mouth then stay out of our meeting!”

“Your meeting?”  Glaring up at Miki from where she fell, Kozue struggled to get back on her feet.  “You fucking want me out of your life!”  Saionji reached out a hand offering to help her up, and she slapped it away without looking.  “Why do you even bother dragging me here acting like you’re doing this to help me?  What?  Just so you can play the dutiful onii-sama to the old gang, huh?”  From beside Saionji, Nanami could be seen paling at that word, but she did not notice.  “Well, fuck you to hell, you complete TOOL!”  Finally up on her own feet, she stormed off and out of the dinning room.

Rage having since dissipated, Miki’s limbs grew rigid with awkwardness as he turned back towards Utena.  “Oh, Utena-sempai, I’m so sorry, I . . . Kozue, she was-” He was then gently pulled back down onto his seat by Juri.  

“Utena,” she gestured at him to continue. “If you could.”

“Just . . . start from the very beginning, tomboy.”  A now resigned-seeming Nanami too urged him to speak..  “What were those duels the Ends of the World made us fight back in Ohtori?  Just what exactly was the Revolution?  And if you won the final duel, how did you came to be this . . . whatever you’ve become right now?”

Utena saw, from behind the entire gang, Anthy looking encouragingly at him.  Gritting his teeth, he slapped a hand over his forehead hoping to clear the images of rattling metal from his vision, straightened his back, and started saying his piece.   “At the beginning  . . . it is.  There was once a prince living among many princesses all enamored of him, and he had a sister who loved him more than all these princesses combined . . .”

***

‘To hell with the punk; I’m so gonna leave, I . . .’ 

Angrily stomping up the stairs and onto the second floor of the mansion, Kaoru Kozue was about to go straight to her room and start packing, when she noticed the sound of running water.  Turning her head, she saw a closed, red-rose-lined washroom door displaying a scarlet sign that reads  “READY TO SERVE”.  Drawn by these words (so potentially vulgar for a washroom in such an elegant-seeming mansion), as well as needing to fix her makeup (she definitely needs to conceal the handprint now marring her face), she started walking up towards the washroom . . .

Chu!!!

Before she could even react, Chu-Chu had literally flown past her while carrying a big “OUT OF SERVICE” sign, which he then slapped onto the bathroom door.  Somersaulting back down onto the floor, he nodded approvingly at his work, prior to scurrying rapidly down the hall and out of sight.  

“ . . . what the . . .?”

That was when she heard the piano music faintly audible in the air.

It was coming from the bedroom right next to the bathroom, its star-adorned door forced open a crack by a small, crumbled up paper note stuck at its corner.  From her angle, she saw only a narrow line of glittery darkness revealed.  Intrigued, Kozue walked up to the door, and pushed.

What she then discovered made even someone like her – who had gone through all the wonders and horrors of Ohtori and beyond – cry out in surprise.

What lied beyond the door was not a bedroom – not any room at all – but what appeared to be a vast galactic space of seemingly infinite size.   The sight immediately conjured in her memories of the Ohtori Planetarium, where she and that beautiful dark monster had . . .but this seemed so much more vibrant than the projector’s already stunning illusions; so much so, she could not help but step right through the door and into this surreal space.

She did not suffocate like she would have in actual outer space, of course, but nor did she felt any need to breath once inside; nor did she waver walking without ground.  A small creaking sound from behind notified her of the fact that the door was closing on its own; turning around, she saw no trace of any door at all, only that same, infinite-seeming starry space – one that’s enriched by the pristine sound of the piano piece she heard from the outside.  So, this was what Himemiya meant by an “anti-Ohtori” . . .

“Nice to have you joining us, Kozue-chan.”

Turning at the voice, Kozue saw Chida Tokiko playing at the piano – one that was colored in pink (accompanied by a matching pink bench), with a black-rose motif printed at the side.  Beside the piano was a red-veiled bed so little-girl-ish, so mind-bendingly juvenile, she would have torched it had she a lighter in her hand.  Walking up closer, her disgust at this abnormality faded slightly as she saw the two blue penguins – the same ones she had seen before bringing sashimi into the dinning room – huddled together in an insufferably cute pile, fat bellies heaving as they snored in their sleep.

She and Miki used to sleep huddled together like this too, once upon a time.  

On the bed beside the blissful birds was an opened donut box, its contents ruffled as if from the eager hands of young children.  Sitting down on the edge of the bed, Kozue did something that surprised even herself: she picked up a piece of the messy junk food and started eating.

“There’s rose tea on the coffee table beside the bed if you would like some,” supplied Tokiko in her sweet, warm voice.  Somewhat obediently, Kozue poured herself some tea, and sipped; she had since found herself slowly but losing hold on the wild rage she had prior to entering this place, which was beginning to feel to her like a huge pool of serenity easily cooling her fire.

“It’s a nice piece you’re playing, Chida-san,” said Kozue, although she judged the woman’s skill to be inferior to that of her brilliant twin.  “Is that piano . . .?”

“Appearances are merely outward expressions of the moment,” smiled Tokiko, slim fingers tapping across glossy keys.  “A man by any other form still is the same man.”

“Must be handy having a man who can be everything around.”  Eyes downcast, Kozue’s lips quirked in a bitter smirk. “Miki can only ever be Miki, and he still sucks at everything that cannot be put into technical term-”  Suddenly realized that she had revealed way too much to this near-stranger – another “ageless” witch who happened to be the Rose Bride’s friend, even – the young woman quickly tried guiding the conversation towards another direction.  “So what’s this?  Like, a lullaby for your penguins?”

“Oh, these penguins are not mine, Kozue-chan; this is a song I’m playing for their owners, to help them remember.”  Tokiko then gestured into the distance., where two young boys were seen wandering across an impossible-seeming dark horizon fading off at its edges, with two other penguins following closely behind them.  Shadow-cloaked as the group was, Kozue still could see that one of the boys – the one with the longer, wavier hair reflecting blue-streaks – was holding a donut with both hands as he nibbled upon it squirrel-like.  They were walking with their heads high, and their steps were light to the point of being almost dance-like . . . but somehow, watching them made her feel lonely.

“Remember what?” asked Kozue, concerned without understanding why: she was never big on kids . . . although these two were around the age she and her twin were back in their Sunlit Garden days, but for a self-centred cynic like her to feel this sort of affinity towards some totally irrelevant strangers . . .

“Their way back home,” replied Tokiko, her voice and expression strangely faraway.  “All the princes I’ve known tend to forget that.”

A light, whining yawn came from the penguin marked by the number “3” as it turned in its sleep – a movement that revealed to Kozue the small piece of photo it was previously sleeping upon.  Picking it up, she saw that it was a picture taken of three children – two boys franking one little girl – standing in front of a huge aquarium tank filled with swimming penguins.  The blue light from the tank had cast everything into monochrome tableau, but Kozue still could make out the two boys to be the same ones as those currently walking under the stars.  Flipping the photo around, she saw the childish handwriting scribbled on its back:

I’ll never forget; never ever.

I love you, nii-chans.

. . . onii-chan . . . onii-chan . . .!!

Unexplainably, as if a stopper had loosened from somewhere within her construct, Kozue found herself crying for maybe the first time since that ruined concert from her childhood – the one where the brother she thought she could always rely on failed her; the hateful memory she had been struggling to forget via sex, via drugs, via the passing of years and youth, yet never could; never ever.

Just why was this making her feel so . . . moved?   

“Nee-chan, do you have brothers?”

Sometime during her crying, the boys once wandering in the distance had since moved up to the bed, and were now facing her.  Even through tear-blurred vision, Kozue now could see how these children were not really shadow-cloaked due to lighting; rather, the entire expanse of their flesh was pitch blank as if absent from existence; only their hair, colored in reddish-brown and dark-blue, could be made out from their “silhouette-lite” features, upon which hung the identical elementary school soccer uniforms they currently wore.  The penguins following them – one black, one blue – now were flanking them on either sides, their bead-like eyes unreadable as they watched her.

“You look like a sister, Nee-chan,” said the “boy” with reddish-brown hair, his narrow arm placed around the thin shoulder of the dark-blue-haired one, who was still eating the donut.  “Can you be our sister too?”

***

Extra! Extra!

Ah!  That modeling gig we did last night was soooo fly!

So very fly, that we’ve come flying right back to our old theatre roots!

Well, a profession that pays by clothes alone could send any sane person flying back to their old roots.

Anyway!           

Do you know, do you know, do you wonder what we know?

What do frogs and princes both have in common?

Is it the princess’s kiss? 

The muddied feet? 

Or is it . . . ?

Oooh!

Shall we go? 

Shall we go? 

Shall we tell them what we know?

. . . but!

What of the barriers standing in our way?

Barriers?  What of the witches standing in our way?

No matter!

Where there’s a will . . .

. . . there’s a way!

And . . .

. . . so . . .

. . . we . . .

. . . go-oo-oo-oo-oo!!!

End Part Three

Chapter Text

WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization

(Utena and its characters belong to its various owners.)

 

“There was once a prince living among many princesses all enamored of him, and he had a sister who loved him more than all these princesses combined.  Dios, the Rose Prince, was hailed as the hope of his world and was loved by all; he lived relied upon by all these princessess to battle the troubles in their lives for them – troubles that ranged from threats as fearsome as dragons to insipid matters like being lonely in the flower of youth; Dios’ sister, on the other hand, was just an ordinary girl: you see, for a girl could only become a princess if the Rose Prince took her as his princess, and the prince would never take his own sister to be his princess-”

“But why not?” asked Tsuwabuki, naively; he was promptly silenced by Nanami’s glare and Miki’s moody expression.  Pinching between his brows to will down his uneasy agitation (that with him telling a tale that was to get increasingly personal amidst metallic hisses droning in his head), Tenjou Utena struggled to continue on.

“Anyway, Dios eventually collapsed from over exerting himself – he had taken on so many princessess under his cape that he himself got overwhelmed by their many troubles.  He fell ill, bedridden, and was tended to on his bed by his sister.  Reliant by nature, the many princesses and their brothers and fathers all gathered at the Rose Prince’s door, all wielding swords,” he stumbled slightly at this part, “demanding that he come out to help them with their problems.”  Dry-throated somehow, he took a quick gulp of tea, during which Wakaba timidly made her comment.

“Wielding their swords and . . . sounds like they’re not asking nicely at all.”

Swallowing, Utena closed his stressed eyes, opened them anew, and spoke on.  “To protect her brother, Dios’ sister went out to face the masses, telling them that she had hidden the Rose Prince somewhere only she knew, somewhere they could never reach by their power.” He now saw the scene vividly in his mind’s eye: the hordes and hordes of hateful women and men with their weapons drawn, advancing upon Anthy, only a flimsy child then.  “The masses were livid with rage; they cursed the sister as a witch who took their Rose Prince from them, and they . . . they . . .” The image of the child Anthy in his mind was now overlapping with the adult Anthy presently facing him from behind the group, and he found himself rendered speechless by their identical expressions of dark, deathly resignation.

“And they . . .?”  Shiori timidly prompted Utena to continue after the silence had dragged on too long.

“They pierced her with their swords,” Utena’s voice sounded almost inaudible to own her own ear, so loud were the buzzing, metallic curses now flooding his head, “all one million of them, skewering the Rose Prince’s sister until there was nothing left of the girl that once was, until only her pain and their hatred remained.  When her brother, struggling out of his bed and up to the door, saw what the people had done, he . . .”

“He . . .?” Miki whispered the question, almost like he was talking to himself; Utena heard it nonetheless.

“He killed them,” he answered his engrossed listener, “summoned what strength he had left in his weakened body and slaughtered his sister’s murderers – all those girls he once cherished as his princesses, all their brothers he once valued as his friends, all their fathers he once respected as his elders – in cold blood.  The moment Dios finished killing the people, he found himself no longer having the nobility that was key to his accessing his vast sum of princely power.  Depleted, with a sword-ravaged sister who was a hair’s breadth away from death, the fallen prince did the only thing his no longer noble mind could think of at the moment . . .” Through the hate-filled metallic haze, Utena saw Saionji opening his mouth, and hurried on before being interrupted once more.  “He devoured the murdered lives – all one million of them – to empower his own; just like that, the prior illness left him, and he still was immortal; he still was far more powerful than the regular people, although he now was only a pale shadow of his former brilliant self.  He then used what power he now could spare to restore his still-immortal sister – not back to the free-willed girl she once was, but to have her remade into a living doll.”  Utena’s own voice started gaining a hate-filled edge.  “The fallen prince needed his sister to be a living doll with no will of her own, because only then could he made her took those swords that were all really aiming at him-” His sentence ended in a shrill wheeze, as a sharp pain akin to his getting stabbed through the back assailed his nerves.  Jolting under the group’s widened eyes, he would have fallen off his chair, if not for the lily-like arms embracing him from behind, as a familiar dark hand gently covered his heated forehead, relieving the pain somewhat.

“Himemiya,” spoke Juri, her voice as concerned as it was cautious, “is Utena not well?”

“Utena has not been well for a very long time,” replied Anthy, resting the back of Utena’s head against her chest.  “Not since she took the swords for me during the duel called Revolution.  I thought that getting her to finally talk about this would help her release some of the bottled-up pain, but . . .”

“She took  . . . the swords . . . for you?”

“It’s because of the prince,” Utena pushed the words out, breathily; his body still slacked against Anthy’s embrace. “In his desperation, he consumed the souls of the murdered mob without properly processing them, which was like eating uncooked, worm-infested meat – that’s the closest analogy I can think of.”  Through heavy-lidded eyes, he saw a pallid-faced Nanami looking like she was about to throw up, and thought he could taste his own bile as well. “The man-eating prince did get nourished by the people’s energies, but he also got infected by their hate-filled thoughts that in turn ate at his heart, drilling away till there was nothing left in his chest but unending darkness.  The people’s hate-filled thoughts – their hatred - gained life from having consumed the prince’s essence, and manifested into a million swords shining with hate; these hate-filled swords, parasitic and undying, swarmed the prince like thick swarms of flies, slicing and dicing at his tender flesh such that he could take no more, and had to quickly transfer them towards another host . . . ” he hissed from renewed pain wrecking him from the inside, “. . . his own sister, who got turned into the Rose Bride locked in eternal servitude to the Rose Prince, who himself became the Ends of the World – a monster on an eternal quest to regain the lost Power of Dios, sealed behind the Rose Gate that will only open to a noble enough heart.  Ohtori Academy and its Rose Code are meant for seeking out someone with nobility enough to open the Rose Gate for the Ends of the World, that’s why we got put through all those things like we did.” Grabbing onto the table with both hands, he leaned forward to face the ex-Duelists, and started glaring at them from one to the next.  “All through the duels and the mind games, the Rose Bride had those . . . hateful swords inside her.”  Without thinking, he picked Saionji as the first.  “When she was getting beat up by you.”  The man’s stony expression turned brooding and heavy.  “When you bullied her by making her wear a dissolving dress at your party.”  Nanami looked away sullenly.  “When she played the piano for you.”  Miki’s eyes clouded over with old shadows.  “When you slapped her for mimicking Shiori-sempai.” Juri’s expression gained a regretful edge.  “When you tried killing her to surpass Juri-sempai.”  Shiori’s eyes were downcast.  “When you tried killing her to become an adult.” Tsuwabuki shook his head shakily in weak denial. “When you tried killing her for wearing the hairclip Saionji made for you.”  A single tear escaped Wakaba’s widen, trauma-filled eyes; wearied, Utena closed his own.  “And when I played the make-believe prince for myself and said I was doing it for her; all the while, Anthy was getting sliced and diced by the Million Swords of Hate, and we all overlooked her sufferings, thinking only of ourselves while chasing single-mindedly after those phony projections the Ends of the World was baiting us with!”   Eyes snapping open, he slammed a fist down upon the table, sending all the plates and cups rattling in front of the petrified group; Anthy’s embrace tightened around him, and he found himself struggling against it in his growing agitation and rage.  Anthy’s voice in his ear sounded alarmed

“Utena-” 

“Shut up!”  He snarled, recalling everything with mind-bending clarity now: his (her) being purposely blind to Ohtori Akio being The Ends of the World despite multiples of his trademark convertible being present during those last duels, his (her) underage virginity being taken by the virile (and engaged) seducer in that motel room, his (her) finding out about the animal raping his sister, his (her) subsequent use of feminine wiles to antagonize the raped sister while competing with her for the monster’s affection, his (her) hesitation to fight the devil even unto the final duel, where he (she) then got stuffed into the pink variation of the degrading Rose Bride dress . . . he grinded his bared teeth at the remembered humiliations.

“Utena!”

During the Duel called Revolution,” said Utena, cutting Anthy off and spitefully continuing on with his cruel recollections, “when Himemiya stabbed me through the back so her brother and prince can have my soul sword to materialize the Rose Gate, when the Million Swords of Hate swarmed out to skewer her right in front of my eyes while I was wounded on the ground, when Dios showed up telling me that I have no power and cannot save Himemiya, when Akio broke my soul sword trying to break open the Rose Gate and said I wasn’t good enough, when I stumbled over and opened the Rose Gate with bare hands and see Himemiya coffined inside, when she finally took my hand but fell out of my grasp when our world broke apart, when the Million Swords rushed me . . . I finally realized that everything turned out like this because I.  WAS.  JUST.  A.  GIRL!”  Standing up with such violence that the table tumbled to plate-flying, cries-inducing effects, Utena then flung Anthy off him like the latter was a rag doll – a rough motion that send her hair pins flying off, her curvaceous frame slamming onto the floor in a splatter of dark, serpentine waves.   Everyone else was now standing up, in fear in alarm and in absolute shock.  Wakaba, his best friend from that accursed time, was the first who tried to reach him with words.

“U-Utena-sama . . .” Her shaky words trailed off as she, along with the rest of the ex-Duelists, stared at their Victor’s lower front with bulged eyes like crude puppets.  Lower his head, Utena too saw the source of their acute horror.

It was a sword’s long, sharp blade, thrusting out point first from his groin like some grotesque symbolization of a virile manhood; this one out of a million had poked out from within the depths of his inner darkness, and was now was giving him its yet deepest cut by dehumanizing him with this obscene display.

None of those so-called old friends laughed at him, of course; not with the sword’s impossible presence upon his body stunning them into imbecility; not with the expression of utter despair he knew he was currently betrayed by.  

“This, is the outcome of the Duel called Revolution,” he muttered, gesturing at himself while concluding the macabre tale he was made to tell. “This is what becomes of the stupid girl who thought she could become a prince.”

None of them had anything to say to that, as the silence that marked the beginning of their reunion now returned like a recurring plague.  All the people in the dinning room now were still as mannequins; only the shadows remained in motion, gliding by the pristine walls in perhaps a hint too lively a manner, considering the steadiness of the natural lights from the outside . . .

***

“ . . . so this is what becomes of people who chose to die for love, huh?” murmured Kozue, her hand absently stroking the blue pelt of Number 3, seated on her lap and currently experimenting with the eye-pencil it had picked out of her vest pocket.

“That’s right!” The featureless boy with reddish brown hair nodded vigorously through his mouthful of donut.  “These people get the apple as their reward from God!”    Some distance beside him, a smug-looking Number 1 was waving a heart-shaped cookie around, with the black penguin – one with a heart-shaped face – skipping excitedly around him.

“Kenji-san was very specific about this,” the one with dark blue hair held up his paperback copy of “Night on the Galactic Railroad” with childlike authority. “It says right here that the apple is the universe itself, a universe that connects the previous world and this one!”  From beside him, a bloom-yielding Number 2 was sweeping away the snack crumbs off the white bed sheets and into the “space” beyond.

“That’s why good kids like us get to travel this glorious galaxy forever,” said the brown haired one as he reached over to hi-five him, “yay us!”

“Wicked . . .” Kozue, who had been playing along with these peculiar boys (thus had to stay on their god-awful girly bed all the while), guided the inane conversation back towards her questions.   “And you said you don’t really remember much of anything before getting dropped off into this galaxy by this . . . train?”

“Blue Hair” drooped at the question. “ . . . na uh, Nee-chan, not what we were doing, not where we came from.”  He gestured at the penguin in her lap.  “If it weren’t for Number 3 and that photo she carried, we wouldn’t even remember that we had a sister.”

“But we remember that we loved her,” said “Brown Hair”,  “and somehow, we know that us being here means that she’s fine where she is.  So it’s all good!”

“Heh . . .” A sharp pain pricked at Kozue’s heart – she knew it to be the very spot once marked by the black rose – at the words of these loving brothers; Miki, who was her twin, had never shown her such consideration; not even from before she stopped playing the piano for him.  “You know, I still don’t know what your names are.”

Even featureless, the brothers’ body languages betrayed their confusion. “Names . . .”

“You boys even forgot your own names too?”

“Brown Hair” puffed up his chest in childish defiance. “Anyway . . . !  You can call me K-taro!”  From beside him, “Blue Hair” did likewise.

“I’m S-taro!”

“ . . . very good,”  Kozue pressed on, feeling strangely insistent at finding out everything about these strange children, “and what’s you family name?  You can just give me the initial . . .”

“Errr . . .”

BEEP!

With that sound, a pink, long-armed robot marked by a black rose motif wheeled its way past “K-taro” and “S-taro”, leading them to chase after the amusing toy and away.  They ran past Tokiko, who was carrying a tray of fresh-brewed tea up towards the coffee table beside the red canopy-draped bed.

“Mikage sure is lively around little boys . . .” muttered Kozue as she took the refilled cup offered by the woman, who remained graciously un-offended as she seated herself beside the younger girl. 

“They are most certainly Cursed Children of the Fate Train Transfer.”

Kozue blinked at these terms.  “Fate Train . . . Transfer?”

“Yet another cosmic force that has apparently been harnessed by the Ends of the World,”  said Tokiko, taking a long sip from her cup before continuing.  “The materialization of the Fate Train, along with the Castle in the Sky and the Dueling Arena, were all sub-topics under Ohtori Academy’s research to grasp Eternity from over thirty years ago.”

“Around the time of that picture you had in the dinning room?” guessed Kozue.

“I was working for the Board of Directors at the time, foolishly hoping that Ohtori’s research of Eternity will help buy time for my terminally ill brother.” Tokiko’s gaze was distant, faraway.  “Of the one hundred academically strong youths selected into Professor Nerumo’s research team, there was one who got exchanged out of the program with a backup right before the . . . fire.”  Kozue now could see a tenseness harshening up the woman’s delicate features.  “That boy was known to have the top intellect from among the brilliant group, and there was word that his Fate Train Theorem – supposing that people’s fate are as “trains” upon which they are passengers, and that by ‘transferring trains’ people could supposedly take on another fate while leaving their original destiny behind – was near completion; but because the hundred had pledged their loyalty towards Himemiya Akio –Ohtori Akio now – they kept the actual progress of their work secret from even Nerumo and myself;  in retrospect, the Fate Train Tranfer sounded like a too convenient trap with which Akio could ensnare desperate lives too eager to defy fate into serving his purposes.   After the research building burned down and rendered all of those young men human fuel to power Ohtori’s mechanisms, that lucky, genius boy went on to marry the young heiress of the Ohtori Clan; he became Ohtori Tsukiichi, the real Chairman of Ohtori Academy unto this very day.”

“The real Chairman,” murmured Kozue, “said to be ill throughout my time at Ohtori . . . I always thought he was the heir, that with his foxy wife staying with him even though they all say he was a bedridden vegetable,” an heiress’ husband, whose own heiress of a daughter was engaged to that monster, now running things in his stead . . . the girl suddenly remembered something. “What happened to your brother in the end?  He was the boy in that picture together with you and Mikage, right?” 

Putting down her cup, Tokiko closed her eyes as if in dull pain.  “Mamiya was dead to our world; but what actually did happen to him, was perhaps very similar to what’s happened to these Cursed Children here.”

Kozue felt like disagreeing with her here.   “Hey, you call them Cursed Children . . . but even knowing they’ve lost their memories, these little brats still can move forward with their heads high . . .”    . . . if only Miki could be even half as tough . . .

“Kozue-chan, have you ever cared for cut flowers?”

“Er?  Well, usually Miki’s the one to handle these kinda things around the house.”

“When freshly cut and immediately put in sugared water, cut flowers will go through a period where they’d blossom even more vibrantly than prior the cut, but they will always wither ahead of the rooted flora in the end.”  Tokiko’s eyes opened anew, a sharp glint scorching within their piercing depths as she observed the boys and their penguins all chasing after Mikage-bot.  “Back when Mikage and I first picked them up about two weeks ago, these boys were not quite as featureless as they are now; they still can remember what city they’re from, that they had a sister whom they had transferred onto another train prior to coming here . . . not anymore, it seems.”   At hearing that, a feeling of cold dread seeped into Kozue’s heart.

“Then, these brothers . . .”

“Without foundations, buildings collapse; without precious memories, people collapse.”  Right then, Mikage-bot did an acrobatic spin that sent the boys and their penguins clapping.  “At the rate they’re deteriorating, it won’t be long before these children are to become Invisible Souls.”

Kozue’s sucked in air at coming across yet another worryingly ominous term.  “And what are Invisible Souls?”

“The next step below the Invisible People – now already a country-wide phenomenon that still remains largely unnoticed by mainstream society, Invisible Souls are mindless shadows akin to the ones that’s been haunting Ohtori.”  Tokiko turned her gaze towards Kozue.  “Being so integral to Akio’s games at the time, you must have seen something like that at the Academy.”  Kozue’s eyes went wide at the woman’s words . . .

. . . she had already donned the grab of the bride, and was idly watching the shadows on the wall acting out their demented play; Miki was taking awfully long in the shower, as if he still was uncertain about facing the upcoming duel . . . 

“ . . . oh.”

“The only way to keep these children from fading further away is to make them remember,” stated Tokiko.  “Already I have hired people to look into possible clues of who they originally were, but there had been no progress so far – unsurprising, considering how these kids may not even be from our current reality .” She tapped a manicured fingertip against the sheet music she had been playing from earlier on, now laid upon the red bed.   “This was brought to me by their familiars – you’d see them as penguins – on the night they all settled down here; it must have to do with their past.  I play this for them everyday hoping it will slow down their deterioration, but . . .”

Picking up the sheet music, ironically titled “Children of Fate”, Kozue studied the melody for a while, and then . . .

“I know

I’ll never let you go . . .”

“Kozue-chan?”  Tokiko appeared startled by the girl’s suddenly breaking into song; Kozue too did not understand how these lyrics were coming so naturally to her just from her reading the notes.  While she had studied writing lyrics in Ohtori at Miki’s insistence (so she might put words to his Sunlit Garden), it had been years since she had worded any song at all; and her singing voice, which should be brittle from drug use, now came out in a well-rounded mezzo . . . the boys and the penguins had ceased playing, as they all now listened to her, rapt; she had to continue. 

“Ah

And I miss

Your reckless frantic soul . . . ”

Tokiko had since gone back to the “piano” (when did Mikage change back?), playing the tune from memory, modifying it somewhat to suit Kozue’s singing; the four penguins, producing a flute, a cello, a violin, and a small trumpet respectively from seemingly out of nowhere, started playing together with the woman as they quickly formed a mini-orchestra of sorts, accompanying her now startling strong vocals.

“When the night is long I will be looking up at the skies and I’ll see

My beloved ones walking by on that starlit galaxy

And I’ll see the light you have shown to me”

Right as her voice sailed into the whistle register, a hail of what appeared to be large, stylistic pieces of blood drops exploded from in front of K-taro’s and S-taro’s small chests, startling Kozue into almost going off-key during her ad-libbing; a closer look revealed those to be stylized red penguin faces, all opening their beaks and singing choral backup as the song reached its power-demanding chorus.

“And I know

I’ll never let you go

I’ll never let you go”

As the song went on, more and more of K-taro’s and S-taro’s previously blanked-out features started “coming to light”, revealing the brothers to be adorable lads; the complexities apparent in their harrowing expressions, however, belied their having world-scorched souls far beyond their apparent years. 

“And I’ll keep

You where you’ll never fade

In my heart

I believe that we are never late

That we can conquer fate

That we can conquer fate”

The multiple red penguin faces dissipated as the song climaxed, leaving only the four “familiar” penguins behind with their owners, both wide-eyed as if having just been pulled back from a cliff they were about to fall into.  

“We did it, didn’t we?” Wide eyes wild, K-taro turned shakily towards S-taro, seizing the latter by his slim shoulders.  “The Penguindrum . . .”  

Almost teary-eyed, S-taro held onto K-taro with the desperation of a drowning man holding onto a float.  “Our apple . . . she got it . . . didn’t she?”

“Are you guys remembering?” asked Kozue, feeling eager at what she had achieved.  “Then . . . should I sing more?  If you guys can remember who you are . . . we can even bring you home to your sister-”

“No!” 

The boys’ unanimous, vehement reply caught her off guard.  “No . . . ?”

“Nee-chan, we got transferred here just so our sister can stay alive and well on her end,” said S-taro, with K-taro nodding from beside him with crossed arms.  

“We are nonexistent in this new world we transferred her into; if we’re to meet again, if she is to remember, if the world changed back . . . the curse upon her could get reactivated.”

“She will be dying again, and the punishments that everybody went through will be for nothing!  No, we’re fine where we are.”

“Punishments?  What . . . .” Agitated now, Kozue raised her voice. “If this goes on, you two will fade!”

“We knew we’d fade away when we chose to die for her, Nee-chan,” said K-taro, expression-resolved as his features again started dimming around the edges.  “We’ve attained true light from saving her, that’s enough for us.”

“There’s no need to feel sad for the likes of us, Nee-chan,” said S-taro, his sad- eyed smile soon eclipsed by the blankness eating into his just regained flesh, “ours are but lows lives destined to become nothing.  As long as our sister doesn’t get hurt again . . .” 

“What hurts every sister the most are brothers who don’t look after themselves,” stated Tokiko, in voice that was perhaps too stern to match her delicate features.  K-taro and S-taro, now “shaded-in” once more, faced the woman blankly, prior to latching onto Mikage-piano and urging “it” to become a robot again (with their penguins watching them motionlessly instead of joining in the fray).  Letting out a heavy sigh, Tokiko stepped away and towards Kozue.

“I suppose this is how it’s going to be, for now.”  Gently,she took the sheet music from the sullen-looking young woman.  “Thank you, Kozue-chan, you did very well in trying to help them.”

“What’s the use of trying?”  Kozue’s voice regained its usual bitter harshness.  “This is just like how it was with those hatchlings from that endangered nest I tried saving.  Miki and I spent days setting up a next box and caring for the young birds; but the parent birds never did came back for their young, and the little ones all got sick and died in the end.”   She remembered how she then just left the deadened mess there, and how her twin was the one to clean it up afterwards; that incident, which brought them closer to each other for a little while, ended up driving them even further apart than before.  “Say, it’s because of some magical magnetic field here that I can sing like that again, isn’t it?  It shouldn’t be possible, not with my vocal cords all fried . . .”

“We can do many things we think are impossible,” said Tokiko, her firm, mature-seeming conviction infectious enough to alarm the cynical girl, “so long as we’re still willing to try.”

“Oh, C’mon-”

RING!!!!!

What sounded like a household security alarm was now blasting through the once tranquil atmosphere of the starry “galaxy”; Kozue thought, for a moment, that she spotted the walls and edges of the actual room, currently submerged underneath this eerie outer space.

“W-What?”

“They’ve come,” eyes narrowing, Tokiko’s once delicate-seeming figure now was taut with sharp angles and straight lines, “just like Himemiya-san said they would, once we’ve gathered everyone into this sanctuary.”

“Who came?” asked the girl, noticing how K-taro and S-taro – along with their four penguins – were now standing in alert stances.

“Invisible Souls born of the unholy research to harness fate,” the woman’s agelss face now was frosting over as winter snow.  “Ohtori’s undying shadows.”

***

“So . . . this is it?”

Refocusing his vision, since gone hazy from overwhelming pain and humiliation, Utena saw that it was Nanami who spoke. 

“This is what you’ve learned from battling the Ends of the World?” asked the wide-eyed young blonde, her voice trembling from what could be either fear or outrage.  “That to be a girl is to be weak?  That being a man is equivalent to being strong?  This, ” she pointed a shaky finger at his sword-represented manhood, currently pulsing as per his heartbeat, “is your Revolution?”

Right then, two rounded sword handles popped out from between Utena’s legs under the pulsing blade, juggling as if loosened; pushed past the limit of his self-control (and his sanity), Utena stumbled backwards while letting out a trail of broken, desperate noises that sounded at once like wheezing laughter and choked screaming.    Anthy, her hair and house dress both disheveled from earlier violence, looked like she wanted to go up to him, but was held back by wariness.

“Nanami!” Juri hissed warningly at the blonde – who was wordless once more – then visibly steeled herself as she cautiously stepped up towards him.  “Utena, it’s oka-” 

“It’s NOT okay!” Utena roared like a wild man from where she was backed against the wall, and even the assured ex-fencer went rigid at his despairing rage.  “What more do you want me to say?  I was bedridden in a nearby hospital for months and none of you came to see me!  The Million Swords . . . they were plowing me inside out, night and day, calling me a girl a slut a witch a whore and ramming at my cunt my ass my mouth my breasts and none of the freaking doctors and specialists can see them!”  His fingers started clawing at the wall, clamping down upon a small, random picture frame.   “All this . . .  all just because I WAS A GIRL!!!”  He threw the item at Juri – who dodged – and it smashed a window screen that happened to be right above Wabaka’s head. 

In a rather dramatic display of athleticism, Saionji had pushed Nanami aside while sweeping Wakaba off her feet and away, thus keeping both away from the showering glass shards.  Putting the young woman (trembling as she curled up in a fetal position) down, the towering hulk of a man stomped right up towards Utena, and slapped him soundly the face amidst everyone’s shocked gasps.  The bigger man would have landed another hit, if not for Juri quickly diving forward to restrain him.

“What the hell are you doing?” snapped the woman, voice and expression stern enough to cut glass. “You . . . ” Her voice trailed off at seeing the somber expression on Saionji’s face, as he looked down upon the dumbfounded, wide-eyed Utena.

“You would never let any man, or anyone, slap you around back when you were just a stupid girl trying to be a prince.” Saionji spoke in the voice of one in looking at a ruin that he knew was once spectacular and grand.   “What happened to you, Tenjou?” 

“Saionji . . .” Slowly, Utena drew the name out from between his clenched, bared teeth; he was filled to the blink with hate by now.  “You . . . !”

“You used to be a prince among women,” eyes narrowed, Saionji slowly shook his head as if in painful denial. “Now, you’re just some sad, dickless punk who fakes it as a man, who feels sorry for himself and throws hissy fits like the lowliest of bitches.” Grabbing Utena by the front of his tee, he lifted up the rage-filled trans man like the latter weighted nothing.  “This is your Revolution?  You took the chance that should’ve been Touga’s, and you just let it go WASTED!”   He punctuated the last word by slamming Utena soundly against the wall amidst Juri’s alarmed exclaim.

“Get back!”  Anthy’s cry from behind them came not a moment too late, as numerous swords burst out point-first from all over Utena’s body, from every single inch; their many tips would have skewered both Saionji and Juri, had those two not leapt backwards in time.  Moving closer (more like huddled together) with the rest of the group, they all watched the giant metal sea urchin that used to be Utena in horrified awe; Utena, now totally eclipsed by the Swords and their hatred, could only glare balefully at them from where his body and mind got fenced in behind the walls of sharp metal.

“Are these . . .?”  asked Juri, trembling in spite of her upright stance.  Anthy, now standing in front of the group facing the pulsing, thrusting mass of outward pointing swords, nodded grimly.

“The Million Swords – the parasitic hatred that used to torment me back when I was the Bride; they’ve been infesting Utena for these past ten years.”

“And you just let them?” asked a hysterical Wakaba in fear and outrage.  Anthy closed her eyes as if the Swords’ very sight hurt her.

“If I could’ve found her earlier, before she tried escaping the Swords’ ongoing assailment by physically erasing her own female gender, I still might have a chance of saving her myself.  As it is now . . .”

“So these . . . they are the reason that Tenjou had to forsake her womanhood; had to butcher her body into becoming the mess that it is today;” muttered Saionji, eyeing the grotesque metals as if truly seeing them for the first time. “These, these are the maggots infesting this faux masculine form that is now her new coffin!”

“The swords cut into the weakest part of the individual’s psyche,” Anthy’s voice was distant as if from another time and place, “it’s from there that they zap strength from the mind to keep themselves nourished.  Their host will all gradually lose their character, starting from the parts that were the most vulnerable to begin with.”  Her dark, delicate fists now were clenched into balls.  “I believe you all know what I lacked back when I was Bride of the Rose; Utena now had lost something precious, something that she once had pre-Revolution.”

“Her femininity,” Miki’s light tenor now sounded low and dark.  “Or rather, her confidence in her femininity, in her being a woman.”  Blinking back tears, he turned away from the sword-ravaged spectacle that the Victor became.  “She was such a charismatic, princely girl back then . . . and now . . . !”

“Well, is there anyway to get rid of them?” Nanami’s voice came out in a squeak from where she now hid behind a trembling Tsuwabuki.  “Like, maybe give these back to your monster brother?  He was the one who killed those people in the first place!”

“That is indeed my intention,” replied Anthy; back straight, fists still clenched, she lowered her head such that thick fringes now obscured her eyes. “It’s for making that happen that I’ve gathered everyone here today.”

“. . . what do you mean?” asked Shiori, her fear visibly directed at not just the swords, but the former Rose Bride as well.  Sensing this, and likely feeling much the same, all the others too started backing away from Anthy, whose voluminous long hair now was rippling in the still air as if tossed by wild winds; they were all watching her instead of Utena now, their eyes reflecting both fear and suspicion . . .

“Anthy . . .” Saionji started, but was hushed by Anthy raising a finger to her lips.

“Listen,” she whispered under her breath, “they’ve come.”

“ . . .who?” asked Juri; warily, guardedly.

While the rest of the old gang still were as baffled as the ex-fencer, Utena already could sense their presences from where he was buried beneath the raging, hateful swords.

They were surfacing upon a wall to the side, upon which the lights were all the brighter, the shadows all the darker; already impressions of long limbs and narrow torsos could be seen on the newly formed “shadow stage”.  As their peals of girlish giggles got louder and louder, even the gathering of shell-shocked ex-duelists now were beginning to take notice of these eerie creatures intruding into the already too fantastical scene.  There appeared to be about three of them: two of them - one curly-haired, the other pigtailed – were carrying shadowy forms that resembled a carousel horse and a toilet seat-cover, respectively; the high-tailed one hogging the middle spot (one could tell by their body languages that she was indeed aggressively “hogging the spot) had both hands on her tall, phallic-shaped mic stand, and was yelling enthusiastically (while struggling not to get pushed off stage by the other two):

Extra!  Extra!

Do you wonder what we know?

 

End Part Four

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization

(Utena and its characters belong to its various owners.)


The water, crisp cold against his skin, was running so soundly by now that he was slowly but surely drifting out of his slumber.

Opening his eyes anew, he saw, to his great unsurprise, that same white, sterile ceiling – a sight that was starting to look awfully familiar to him after the past couple of days . . . or had it been weeks already?  He could not say, being so out of it at the time when they picked him up and took him in; he had been in a constant daze since.

For, in return for their hospitality, they had taken the core of his being from him, leaving his already brittle mind in fragmented pieces.

No, that was not a statement he should make, not even if only in his thoughts unvoiced; he surrendered himself to them willingly; because that somebody he once loved (and still would’ve loved, had things turned out differently) had helped him, and now needed his help; and the only way he could help his love, as he was now, was to give them his strength such that it became their strength, so they might better face the hurdles ahead.

The very first of such hurdles – perhaps the highest one yet in the series to come – would be for the one he loved to face them.

He himself knew, first hand, how old acquaintances were the toughest to face during a downhill moment in life; plenty were those who once would give up arms and legs to be termed as his friends, who then showed neither interest nor mercy towards him when they crossed paths in recent years. Liar and hypocrite that he was, he pushed his love into the lion’s den that he himself feared to tread, telling her that the old gang will accept what she became – all so she can “get help” (in spite of the pains he knew she would suffer under such “helpers” – all for a straw’s chance at her salvation). 

“ . . . only a fool believes . . .”

“Chu!”

Murmur cut off by the soft, mousy chirp, he turned his head to see an urgent-looking Chu-Chu pushing at his bared shoulder with a warm paw, as if willing him to get up.  He sighed.

“Your owner now carry my might, so there’s no need for me to go out there to help; you need not fret.”

“Chu!”  The intelligent creature shook his head frantically, and gestured at the rushing water rising steadily around him up the porcelain dent.  “Chu!  Chu!”

“Troubled as it is, this water is only a metaphor – it can’t hurt me,” he explained to the creature, knowing that it would understand, “after all, one cannot drown twice in the same sorrows.”  No, one could only rot and dissolve underneath that which he could not escape; losing form, sinking downwards . . .  

“Chu . . .” Chu-Chu sat at the edge of the porcelain and looked at him with his beady eyes, refusing to move.

“Just won’t leave me alone, will you?”  Somewhat touched by the creature’s persistent concern (how much more simple and sincere were animals compared to people), he raised a wet hand, and petted the animal’s head like he would a naïve child.  He remembered now: he once was a boy who loved animals.  Even as an older teen masked underneath a sophisticated front, he had gushed over receiving something as simple as a pet cat; it was only after that happened, after everything that followed, that he forgot about pets, forgot about animals, forgot about everything but the bottomless abyss he had been falling endlessly down for the past ten years.  “Well then, how to pass time, kid?”  A languid, bittersweet smirk came upon his sultrily curved lips.  “I know, how about a story?  Let me tell you . . . there once were two little victims who thought they would always help each other to go on living, and they came upon another little victim grieving alone in the night.

“ ‘Being alive is so sickening,’ said this lone little victim – a little girl whose parents died from a terrible event, who now hid herself in a strangely present coffin placed beside those of her dead parents. ‘How can people go on living when they know they will one day die?  Eternity doesn’t exist, so it’s all right now.  I'll just stay here in this coffin, never to come out into the sun again.’ 

“A disagreement broke out between the original two victims – boys suffering different abuses – regarding what they should do with this other victim – the orphaned girl: the more impulsive boy wanted to save the little girl by draggng her out of the coffin, while the worldlier boy knew to leave her be in her mad despair.  The little boys ended up arguing and leaving the little girl still in her coffin, with their own green friendship now sorely tested by one’s annoyance with the other, and the other’s sense of inadequacy. 

“The next morning, the little boys saw the little girl out and about attending her parents’ funeral, and took it as the girl having left her coffin.  Seizing the opportunity, the worldlier, craftier of the boys put on an act of having shown her something eternal; the other boy, impulsive and innocent, abruptly realized that they were no longer kindred spirits, that he was being left behind in victimhood . . . and the cracks in their once unmarred relationship started broadening into wide gaps. 

“Much later, the boys would, on the verge of manhood, discover that the girl they once thought was saved was in fact still inside her coffin; not only that, but the boys themselves too had remained trapped inside their own coffins of victimhood, through childhood and youth, for all those years.

“The boy victims, wanting to help break the girl out of her coffin, and wanting break out of their own coffins themselves, joined forces as they tried saving the girl their way; the girl, trapped but still very spirited, fought their help insisting that she did not need saving; she claimed that she was no longer a victim entrapped, but had instead become a coffin-breaker who could break open the accursed coffins keeping living victims dead and trapped.  The worldlier boy, seeing her coffin –and her attachment to the ones who kept her in it – clearly, called the girl a fool; the girl, unfazed, proudly admitted to being one, as she moved gloriously ahead with her coffin-breaking quest.  So impressed were the boys by the girl’s conviction and her power, that they were content to step back and let the girl take care of things; they believed, at the time, that this special, spectacular person could save herself; save them, save everyone all by herself.  

“ . . . but was that really such a good idea?”   

***

Being “special”, as Shinohara Wakaba had come to realize, was not all it was cracked up to be.

Up until yesterday afternoon, she had been leading a murkily mundane existence as one of the countless bottom dwellers at a sales-numbers-driven magazine.  It was not like she was living in despair or anything: her superiors were not especially harsh, nor her colleagues especially antagonistic; these people, like those from most other cooperate settings, were simply habitual takers – people who routinely take credit for all the extra work they make other people do, in ways at once thoughtless and mechanical.  Working with them, she felt like a cog in a vast construct – just a handy tool there for the more “special” people in the company (the so-and-so’s sons, and daughters, and nephews, and nieces . . .) to make use of – with the keeping of a dead-end, low-wage job her only reward reaped.

Then came her boss, walking up to her desk with a gazed-over look in his tiny eyes, telling her that a “Himemiya-san from Château Princesse” is waiting for her down at the lobby’s information desk, and that she can take as long as was needed entertaining this guest, even calling the rest of the day off.  Seeing all those life-deadened eyes around the open office now sparkling with envy as they glared heatedly upon her, the young woman almost thought it had just been announced that she was getting to entertain the U.S. First Lady.

“Haven’t you been reading our own magazine at all, Shinohara?” snapped a (particularly gossipy) colleague at her question as to what the fuss was about.  “The woman had been spotted at almost all the major high society balls for the past month!  Rumor has it that she is a top courtesan who has all the power players of the financial district eating out of her hand; remember that apocalyptic stock market plunge from two weeks ago? They say she’s the one behind it, raking in the big bucks while countless seasoned investment firms go bankrupt!  I swear, Shinohara, if you keep on drifting through life like this, you’ll remain always a leaf and never a flower . . .”

Riding the elevator down to the lobby (all the while checking her own reflection on the mirror walls as she quickly wiped the sweat-grease off her nose), Wakaba found herself feeling more than a little fretful over the upcoming meeting.  Of course she remembered Himemiya Anthy: that subdued, dowdy girl at Ohtori whom all the boys – including the Kendo Club Captain she liked at the time – were strangely attracted to; whom all the girls hated . . . except for her tomboy best friend at the time, who actually got into a fight with her over her accidentally splashing the dark girl.  Just what kind of stunning flower had that bespectacled yet bewitching kid blossomed into?

The elevator doors parted, giving her an unobstructed view of the information desk, and the one currently waiting for her there.

Hourglass figure delicately wrapped under an elegant dress that Wakaba knew would cost more than her annual income (that was excluding the tasteful, matching designer’s handbag and shoes), the grown up Himemiya Anthy positively glittered despite a stark absence of jewelry.  Naturally heavily lashed green eyes (revealed to be exquisite now that they were no longer masked under plain-Jane glasses) narrowed in a serene smile, the dark beauty bowed lightly at her; Wakaba, awed by her old school mate’s stunning presence, quickly bowed back and hurried up to the woman.

Leading her to settle down at an elegant café down the block (all the while smilingly nodding at her nervous, cutesy babbling about how gorgeous the woman now was, how sexy her hair looked half up half down, how expensive her handbag must be, and all that pointless crap), Himemiya cut straight to the point right after the waiter had taken their orders:

“Shinohara-san, Utena needs your help.”

Wakaba’s eyes widened at her words.  “Utena . . . sama?”  So, Tenjou Utena, her best friend from childhood and youth who left Ohtori without telling her, still had kept in touch with Himemiya after all.  Had Utena really thought of her as a best friend, Wakaba wondered, or was she to Ohtori’s star athlete but one insignificant fan girl out of the dozens, no one special at all?

“It’s not like that, Shinohara-san,” said Himemiya, startling the young woman who just got read like an open book.   “She got expelled from Ohtori under circumstances beyond her own control, and was left badly hurt; she could not have contacted you even if she had wanted to.”

“Utena-sama got hurt?” asked Wakaba, in surprise and genuine worry.  “What happened at the time?  There were so many rumors floating around school about her leaving, but nobody really knew for sure: I didn’t even know where to start looking for her, since she had no parents.  I thought about asking you, since you’ve somehow gotten so close to her at the time, but then you left too; and then . . .”

“. . . and then your father got transferred overseas, and your whole family moved with him out of the country.”  Himemiya continued her sentence for her, smoothly.  “After leaving, you wrote a few letters back to your friend Kazami Tatsuya, asking him if he heard anything about Utena’s whereabouts, but you never got any of his letters back; you’ve not contacted anyone from Ohtori since.”

Like stealth fingers, the woman’s words send chills creeping down Wakaba’s spine.  “How’d you know all that?”

Himemiya’s eyes – trained upon her – were soft with empathy.  “Kazami-san never got your letters, Shinohara-san: Ohtori had an invasive mail-scanning system in place; no letter can get past its walls without my brother’s approval.”

“The Acting Chairman . . .” Wakaba remembered the man to be strikingly handsome and charming; to the point that she envied Utena for getting to stay with him courtesy of her friendship with Himemiya.   “But why would he do something like checking through students’ letters?  What is he . . .” and just like that, she suddenly remembered her instinctive distrust of the peculiar Himemiya from all those years ago, “. . . what’re you?”

“My brother is someone who needs to be stopped, and I plan to stop him,” replied Himemiya, not exactly answering her question.  “Utena getting hurt ten years ago, Kazami-san being exploited since . . . he is the one behind it, reaping the benefits born of their pains.  Shinohara-san, will you help Utena and I destroy him once and for all?” 

Wakaba found her head swimming from the onslaught of jarring info.  “Tatsuya’s being exploited . . . how?  And Utena . . .wait.”  Only now did her brain started processing the woman’s actual request.  “Destroy your brother?  Like how . . . kill him?  And for what, invasion of student privacy?  Shouldn’t you people go to the police if he’s doing something nifty?  Or did he . . .” Her babble trailed off at seeing Himemiya produce a black velvet box from her handbag.

“Perhaps this can help you better understand.” Himemiya pushed the box across the table and at her.  “Here, Shinohara-san.”

“What’s this?” Taking the box, Wakaba opened it to find a torn, wrinkled envelope.  Reaching into it, she pulled out a small, water-stained note written in Tatsuya’s boyish, slightly rigid handwriting:

[I’m almost transparent to you; you can hardly see me.

I don’t want to become invisible; I won’t just become nothing.

I will be seen; if not by you, then by everyone else around you.]

“This is a letter that Kazami-san sent you a month after you left,” supplied Himemiya, her voice sounded miles away to Wakaba’s ear, so focused was the young woman on the note. “It got intercepted by one of my brother’s ex-helpers, one whom I’ve come across only years afterwards.  By that time, what’s done to him had been done.”

“What is Tatsuya talking about here?” Wakaba was feeling hopelessly lost now.  “I don’t understand-” A slight, shuffling sound caught her attention.  Glancing down, she noticed, for the first time, that the inside of the velvet box had a cushioning of small, dark rose buds.  Impossibly, those rose buds now were rapidly blossoming in animated vortexes of ink-black petals; a lighter-colored rose, budding in the middle, spread its green petals to reveal not a flower’s heart, but rather, a leaf-shaped hair clip handcrafted from wood . . .

. . . standing under an inverted castle, upon an arena in the sky, pointing the sword she robbed from Saionji-sempai at her “Utena-sama”, who was never even her friend to begin with.  See?  There she was in her non-regular, mock-Student-Council uniform, defending that witch/bitch/cunt who took away her everything without even having to try . . . 

Screaming, Wakaba scrambled backwards and away from the table, backing until her back hit the glass window wall, against which she now was trapped.  “Y-You  . . you!  Saionji-sempai . . . Utena-sama . . . I . . .” Still seated, Himemiya pinned the traumatized young woman to her spot with her steady gaze.

“I apologize for having to make you remember that, Shinohara-san, but you need to understand: my brother is a monster above the laws of your world.  Only a chosen few have what it takes to bring him down, and you’re one of them.”

Even amidst the current eerie circumstance, being termed as “chosen” made Wakaba tingle inside.  “But  . . . Himemiya-san, I mean . . .you were . . .”

“Indeed I was the one behind your pains at the time, manipulating you against Utena on my brother’s orders,” admitted the woman, readily.  “But I am his slave no longer – Utena had freed me from that.  Since I’ve finally managed to find her three years ago, Utena and I have been helping each other to go on living.”

“Then it took you seven years to find her,” murmured Wakaba.  So, even Himemiya got separated from Utena for many years prior to their reunion – it wasn’t like the other woman was any closer to her best friend as she herself was, thought a still very juvenile part of her with much pleasure.

“But there is no living for Utena as she is right now,” Himemiya spoke on, giving no hint of having detected Wakaba’s childish gleefulness, “not unless I can defeat my brother, and take from him the power to reverse the hurt that Utena now is suffering under.  And there is Kazami-san too, who succumbed to the same darkness as you once did, and has remained enslaved by my brother since.  Lately, I’ve been doing a number of things to weaken the Ohtori Clan’s – my brother’s main backers – influence over Japan's financial and political worlds, just to lower the number of his goons here in this outside world; but as to his actual powers . . .”

Tenjou Utena, her school idol best friend from ten years ago, in trouble and now waiting for her help; Kazami Tatsuya, her white bread guy childhood friend, also in trouble, also needing her help; Himemiya Anthy, a wealthy and powerful . . . whatever she was, came to her asking for help . . .

“Shinohara-san,” Himemiya leaned forward, her stance all business-like in its formality.  “You are one of those few special people who can withstand the Light of the World; this means that you have the potential to be a Duelist – a fighter capable of delivering damage to even one like my brother.  I’ve since recruited most of the former Student Council, plus some others, towards the cause; if you’re willing to join us . . .” The woman went on to talk about how she had already taken measures to maximize the Duelists’ safety in the upcoming battle, and how they shall all be sumptuously rewarded for their efforts . . . Wakaba could only make out a few disjointed words here and there, so heady was she by the revolutionizing revelation revealed.

Even flowers need their leaves to stay in bloom – Shinohara Wakaba was every bit as special as those rich, blooming elites whom she had envied for her entire life.

“ . . . already agreed to hire you as junior editor; as for that romance serial novel you’ve been pitching for years, there’ll be a literary agent coming in contact with you within the month-”

“I’ll do it,” proclaimed Wakaba, feeling so empowered at the moment that she would have agreed to slay dragons on the spot.  “Let me be the one to help Utena-sama!”

 

Which brought her to here and now, huddled fearfully against more notable former schoolmates as they all gawked stupidly at the large, pulsing cluster of outward-pointing swords – buried underneath which was her no longer female adolescent best friend – and the conveniently blank dinning room wall upon which shadowy, humanoid forms acted out as if on stage:

Long time no see, our dear old fans!

Do you know?

                        Do you know?

                                    Do you wonder what we know?

            The ugly frogs!

                        The handsome princes!    

                                    They actually have something very much in common!

That’s right!

            Frogs and Princes alike . . .

They’ll both undergo metamorphosis under the right circumstances!

            Take the White Horse Prince! (waved cardboard carousel horse)

                        Don’t you mean Prince on a White Horse?

            Anyway . . . !  He thought he’d stay noble to the very end, fighting dragons, dating princesses . . . BUT! (produced cardboard girl with multiple swords sticking into her like pins)

            Meh sister, no!

            Seeing his own sister destroyed by the people he once protected with his life was just too much for him, the poor thing; and so, he became . . . the Devil Prince! (waved cardboard horned devil wearing prince’s crown and garb)

Meh Prince, no!

                                    And the Girl Prince! (waved cardboard girl in crown and prince garb)

                        Don’t you mean the Tomboy Prince?

Anyway . . . ! She was the lone girl on the boys’ team, attracting girls, attracting men . . . BUT! (produced cardboard “devil prince” plus carboard bloom-wielding witch, who both proceeded to plummet the girl prince)

                                    My Prince, no!  My Witch, double no!

Getting bitch-slapped by her man, then back-stabbed by her woman was apparently too much for the poor girl; and so, she became . . . the Trans Prince! (cardboard girl was now placed such that it rode the phallic mic between her legs)

Meh Prince, no!

                        And . . . (lifting a toilet seat amidst sounds of drum roll) . . . last but not least-

The crisp sound of clapping cut off the hypnotic shadow play’s momentum, irreparably, thus allowing for the Ohtori group to recover their wits as they turned towards Himemiya, now applauding the shadows with a scorching glint within her smiling eyes.

“I had an inking that you three would come for us in spite of the barriers guarding this place,” she said, “and you did.   Bra-vo.” 

Watching those Shadow Girls (as she had come to call them), Wakaba abruptly remembered that she had seen these ghostly entities from long ago, back in Ohtori, back when she had easily accepted them as part of the school’s semi-surreal reality.  How did she ever manage to forget about them, she wondered; something this surreal, this strikingly . . . then she remembered the ease with which she had “forgotten” her best friend Utena but months after leaving Ohtori herself, and realized that it really was all to easy to forget anything not present in the here and now.    

“. . . you know we couldn’t resist coming,” said a Shadow Girl to Himemiya, all the while self-consciously twirling her own high tail, “that with like most of the main cast together again after our very looooong wait.”  

“You guys left the story hanging just when it was getting good!”  The pigtailed one hugged herself while spinning with a ballerina’s grace.  “There was battle, there was romance, there was revolution; and then . . . what, nothing?”

“Basically, we just can’t stand that so-called open ending,” drawled the remaining one adjusting the ribbon atop her curly-haired head. “What’s with the girl prince losing her grip on the witch princess just when things were starting to look so hopeful to us audiences?  And the way the sidekick characters were all so eager to forget the heroine, thus undermining a good chuck of her princely presence; our Utena-sama, who helped everyone throughout her heroic journey, had to metamorphose on her own at those unlicensed, underground clinics that left her body wrecked by aftereffects . . . and talking about wrecked, there’re the swords too.  For Utena-sama to have to go through all that, that’s just . . . wrong!”

“Wrong, indeed,” agreed Himemiya, her voice cool as an autumn stream running in the night, “is that why you’re again showing up to rub salt in our wounds by giving your lively takes on our misfortunes?”

The shadow girls actually looked somewhat embarrassed now. “Err . . .”

“The three of you have always thrived on the stories of others, even since back before you all got put through the Research; following Hoshimi-chan around as her personal entourage, mocking where you can, jabbing where it hurts . . .” Abruptly, Himemiya’s voice and expression both brightened up, such that she appeared cheerful as a cardboard sun.  “So, would you three like to listen to another story, one that’s even more riveting than our tale of old?”

“Another story?” The shadows were taken aback.  “But we already have our hands full making fun of yours-”

“We’ve got star-studded storytellers here ready to say their piece,” said Himemiya.  “Isn’t that right, Chida-san?”

“Indeed.”

Before Wakaba even had time to wonder where Chida-san’s voice was coming from, the edges of the wall the shadow girls were on suddenly darkened into what appeared to be a brilliant night sky, which quickly eclipsed inward such that the bright “shadow-play area” now was a surrounded “island” upon that dark, glittery space. Numerous figures now were coming out from within the starry zone: elegant Chida Tokiko, with a hesitant-looking Kozue by her side, and the penguins (there were four of them now) bumbling after two shadow-covered little boys (but somehow their hair and clothes remained clearly visible) now running up towards the Shadow Girls, who appeared to recoil in shock.

“W-Whoa . . . what?!”

“Nee-chans!” The boys (revealed to be eerie creatures with pitch-blank faces and flesh) ran right up to the edge of the “shadow-play area” in childlike exuberance.   “Do you know, do you know, do you wonder what we know?  That’s right, the apple is a gift for those who chose to die for love!”

“Apple?  What kinda metaphor is that?”

“Just hear us out: the apple is a universe in itself . . .”

“That should keep them occupied for a while yet,” eyes bright and feline-like, Chida-san walked up to beside Himemiya.  Adopting a gallant stance, the taller woman then hovered a delicate palm over the darker woman’s supple chest, with her other hand placed at the small of the latter’s back “Ready, Himemiya-san?” 

Nodding, Himemiya then arched backwards in an almost mechanical motion, and started glowing at the chest.  Amidst the bright rays and phantom winds suddenly engulfing the two, Chida-san drew back her palm, and two objects – a sword hilt and a sword blade – got pulled out of the light as if by invisible strings, the sight of which induced a gasp from Tsuwabuki-kun.

“I-Is that . . .”

“Utena’s soul sword,” Juri-sempai eyed the objects grimly, “snapped in half.”

Indeed, those were two halves of a broken sword, radiating a signature-like aura that Wakaba immediately recognized as that of her old friend; there was a melancholic sense of loss radiating off the damaged item, one that forced involuntary tears out of the young woman’s eyes.

“Utena-sempai told us earlier about Akio-san breaking her soul sword . . . no wonder; how tough she was to have survived even something like this,” murmured Miki-kun out loud; standing beside him, a now more sober-seeming Kozue narrowed her eyes at what was still emerging from within the light.  

“I see another sword coming out . . .”

Saionji-sempai and Kiryuu Nanami both widened their eyes at the new sword in spite of the light. 

“Onii-sama!” 

Kiryuu Touga’s soul sword, while whole unlike Utena’s, radiated sheer pain instead of melancholy.  Lower lip quivering, Nanami tried going up to the sword (now hovering in midair underneath Utena’s snapped blades), but Saionji-sempai held onto her.

“Wait . . .”

In front of everybody’s stunned eyes, Touga’s sword “melted” into a boiling liquid mass, one that quickly splashed upwards to engulf Utena’s broken weapon; in no time at all, a new, singular sword materialized out of the fluid metals, and Wakaba knew this new blade represented a strong bond – a togetherness beyond friendship, beyond love – between these stunningly special people.

Before the group had time to further dwell upon the implication of the merged soul sword, the shrill scrapping of metal against metal drew their attention towards the countless swords walling in Utena; whereas they were only pulsing sluggishly before, the swords now were sharpening their edges against each other in what appeared to be boiling bloodlust, as more and more of them started grinding their gleaming lengths out from what gaps there were between the blades.  Ghostly sounds, uttering coarse curses in innumerable overlapping voices, started to fill the air like the drones of a vast locust swarm:

. . . witch, butch, whore, catamite, sissy, girl-boy, boy-girl, freak  . . .

“The Million Swords shining with human hatred,” Chida-san, now grabbing the soul sword by its hilt and pointing it at the ever-growing mass of hate-filled blades, spoke in awe and contempt, “again they stir at the sight of a worthy prince’s sword.”  Still arched backwards against Chida-san’s hold, Himemiya reached a glowing hand up to the woman’s chest, and pulled from there another sword; judging by the vibes it gave, Wakaba judged it to also be two soul swords merged into one: Tokiko’s and Mikage’s.  Sleekly straightening up, Himemiya swished her sword down such that it’s point touched that of the Utena/Touga soul sword, with both soul swords now pointed towards the Million Swords; the hate-filled weapons all were soundly vibrating now, as they pointed back at the soul swords like loosened metal studs drawn by a strong magnet.  Despite her growing fear, Wakaba felt something hot budding within her chest, seemingly eager to burst out; she realized that she was not alone in feeling this way, as the others gathered too were displaying a peculiar expression that she knew to mirror hers.

“Duelists,” Himemiya called out to them, her hardened eyes never leaving the increasingly animated pile of hate-filled swords, “draw your swords, and touch their tips to ours.”

“W-What?” Wakaba could not believe her ears; the others looked equally shocked by the woman’s request as well.

“All Duelists O’ Black Rose or otherwise, draw. Your. Swords!”

“But-”

In a deafening roar of metallic droning, the many Swords of Hate rushed forward in one colossal, dragon-like mass towards Himemiya and Chida-san; Wakaba thought for a heart-stopping moment that the women will be grinded to nothing right in front of her eyes, but the swords somehow all managed to only impact the pointy joined tips of the touching soul-swords, before getting repelled away and towards the Shadow Girls, who all somehow remained oblivious as blade after blade disappeared into the void of their forms that she once mistook as shadow; they still were listening to the Shadow Boys’ strange story, engrossed.

“I get it now!” Miki slammed a fist against his palm. “They’re using the soul swords of princely people to bait the parasite swords away from Utena and into the shadows!”

“Hurry and come help us!”  Visibly strained as she kept her sword up against the swarm of sharp blades, Chida-san snapped at them in an uncharacteristically harsh voice.  “Four souls alone cannot withstand the Million’s onslaught for much longer!”

Shiori’s trembling voice was almost inaudible against the thunderous sounds of clashing metals.  “But . . . the swords . . .”

“Did you not all gather here with resolve to help Utena?” asked Himemiya from between gritted teeth; sweat could now be seen glistering upon her dark, flushed skin.

Wakaba looked around, and saw that everyone – ex-Student-Council members or otherwise – all looking like they were poised to draw their swords, but were all held by hesitancy in face of the infinite-seeming swarm of blades originating off Utena – still completely buried even after so many swords had since come off.

Everyone was actually willing to help, but none dared being the first to so; not when the possibility that others may not follow suit means certain death/damnation for the lone ones helping.                       

And, without the first to step up and help, there could be no second, nor third . . .

Only one question remained for the young woman faced with this situation: was she, always a leaf and never a flower, special enough to break the shackles of hesitancy holding back even the most noble of roses, so that the best friend of her youth can have a chance at salvation?

. . . so that Tatsuya, trapped by the enemy according to Himemiya, might also be saved?

Closing her eyes against the intimidating swarm of hate-filled swords, Wakaba placed a trembling palm over her boiling, hurting chest, and pulled.

***

“. . . Tenjou-kun,”

Waking up against his naked, beautifully-proportioned body, with strains of his long red hair brushing against her skin, Utena opened her eyes to see Kiryuu Touga’s flawless face smiling down upon her.

“Touga . . . how often have we done this before?”

“Many times . . . in my dreams.”

Running her fingertips across his smooth, unmarred cheek, Utena abruptly drew back as if noticing something off.  “Your face . . .” Glancing down, she inspected her own unclothed, feminine body with wide, surprised eyes. “I’m a girl again!”  She turned back toward Touga, feeling at a loss.  “How . . .”

Blue eyes warm with indulgence, Touga pointed a long finger off to the side, where she saw what appeared to be a shadow play upon a vast monochrome tableau: the only substantial thing in this vague space aside from their own presences.

The shadows depicted the scene of what appeared to be a mob lynching: a vast swarm of sword-wielding villagers (as their silhouettes suggested that they wore medieval country-side garments) were rushing a much smaller group all wearing something reminiscent of Ohtori’s dueling uniforms.  Wielding their own swords against the villagers, the group could be seen straining to push what they could of the ferocious mob off a cliff to the side, below which perched a three-headed dragon whose sharp back spines impaled the fallen as spears.  The round-headed girl at the front of the group – standing ahead of even the goddess-like silhouette with the rippling long mane – had both hands on her sword as she slashed desperately at the villagers, and Utena gasped out loud as she recognized who that was.

“Wakaba!  What’s she . . .”  No, not just Wakaba, each and everyone of the Duelists recruited by Anthy was there, Black Roses or else; they all were there, wholeheartedly battling the hate-filled villagers using every last ounce of their respective strengths and skills, determined to push every last one of their assailants off the cliff and out of the picture.

Voices, sounding afar as if seeping through another medium, still could be heard:

“ . .. tena-sama!  I’m not scared!  I’m plenty special enough to fight for you, just like you’ve always fought for me before!”

“Get a grip, you damned tomboy!  Can’t you see you’re dragging my Onii-sama down with you?”

“Tenjou!  This time, I’ll smash your goddamned coffin and drag you back out if it’s the last thing I do!”

“Utena-sempai!  Hang in there!  I think we’re almost at the five hundred thousand mark by now!”

“Utena!  If you can believe in anything at all, please believe this: we’ll definitely fight by your side until the very end; this time, let us all help you to go on living!  We . . .” 

“They surprised me, actually,” mused Touga, idly running a hand through his hair. “Whatever ulterior motives they may have for coming here, these people are now putting their lives on the line to help you.”  He paused for a moment, during which the sounds of violent battle raged on in the background.  “There was a time whey you needed them, and they weren’t there for you; but now, they’re all here risking themselves fighting for you.  Of course this cannot undo the years of hurt you’ve suffered through alone . . . but this moment of passion in this here and now . . . isn’t this worth something too?”

Vision blurring from tears, Utena nodded her head firmly, all the while willing herself back to reality, to where everyone awaited her return.

Whatever gender or body she now had, whatever hardships she faced, Tenjou Utena always fought her own battles.

 

End Part Five 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization

(Utena and its characters belong to its various owners.)

 

 

The moment his soul sword touched the joined blades, against which the swarm of flying, adversarial swords were hammering violently against, Saionji Kyouichi immediately understood the reason behind Anthy and Chida-san’s strained expression – one that Tenjou’s friend Wakaba (a spectacularly brave woman whom he shall forever in his mind associate with Joan of Arc) now also displayed.

It was agony.

Agony, like the ones from getting blow-beaten by his father’s merciless kendo bokken, exploded across his hand despite none of the Swords of Hate even touching him.

“It’s like . . . fire’s burning where I’m holding the hilt,” wheezed Wakaba, who nonetheless kept a firm grip on her soul sword with both hands, its sharp tip now repeated impacted by the hate-filled sword points.

“The Swords of Hate inflict phantom pain,” explained Chida-san, her once orderly short-fringe now ruffled from the wild winds swept up by the crashing blades, “vivid impressions of hurt even when the body is actually unharmed.  Even with these soul swords largely buffering its effects, remnants of the faux discomfort still can impact our psyche.”

“If this is what the Swords feels like ‘buffered’, then Utena-sempai really is incredible for staying coherent even after a decade under their effects,” said Miki, wincing in apparent ache as he kept his sword up with the rest of those raised. 

“How it must have been like for Utena, especially in those seven years before Himemiya found her,” murmured Juri, looking strained and regretful but still upholding her perfect fencer’s stance. “Back then, If only I had -”

“Juri,” drenched in sweat, Shiori-san held the taller woman’s gaze and shook her head (all the while still holding up her own soul sword); the latter’s moodiness lightened, as she affectionately ruffled the smaller-woman’s maroon-haired head.

“Different people will sense different kinds of agony – usually the kind they fear the most – from the Swords,” said Anthy, rich serpentine long locks flaring as she now emitted an ethereal glow that Saionji knew was already largely soothing everyone’s senses, “but it’s all in the mind.  And, the more people there are to shoulder the pain together, the less painful it will be for everyone.”  

“Just where is my Oni-sama?” demanded a red-faced Nanami, who strained to uphold both soul sword and dagger against the brutal metallic onslaught.  “Why isn’t he here with us when his soul sword is right in your hand?”  Beside her, Tsuwabuki was panting like a beaten puppy as he had a hand holding up one of Nanami’s (the one carrying the heavier sword), while struggling to hold onto his own blade with the other.

“Kiryuu-sempai entrusted his soul sword to aiding Utena,” replied Anthy, eyes focused on a red thread of light tied around the soul sword’s hilt now slowly coming undone.  “he will show up when he chose to.”

“What are those Shadow Girls?” asked Tswabuki, wincing as he observed the endless stream of swords sailing into the Shadow Girls’ shadowy depths (still oblivious to the swords, they remained engrossed in an animated discussion with the featureless Shadow Boys over their story, all the while being entertained by the apple-juggling acts currently performed by the penguins - two blue ones numbered “1” and”2” plus an unnumbered black one - hanging around).  “I see them around Ohtori, sometimes even around the University Division . . . they don’t seem to know that the swords are stabbing them, and they don’t seem to care about what’s going on even . . .”

“The swords can only hurt those who feel,” murmured Tokiko, not quite answering all of the boy’s questions.  “Without memories, without hearts, those three are beyond feelings, beyond sadness  . . . beyond joy; they crave stories only out of a base instinct to fill the void inside; with the enchantment over this sanctuary working to dull their perceptions, there is little way for them to know . . . or care. ”

Juri turned towards Anthy then. “So these swords – immortal vengeful ghosts that had been tormenting first you, then Utena, for all this time, are just going to disappear off into some void, and never to return?”

“The swords are going into the shadows’ darkness,” Anthy’s voice sounded distant, faraway, “with the trio attuned to my brother, theirs is a darkness that leads to the Ends of the World.”

Even apparently pained by the swords, Nanami’s lips quirked in a vicious smirk.  “. . . I like what I think she’s saying.”

“So do I,” replied Juri, strained expression pensive still.  “But when it comes to beating the likes of Ohtori Akio, there’s just no way it could’ve been this easy.”

Anthy remained silent through the girls’ exchange; Saionji had to agree with Juri’s assessment of the situation: if it was this easy, Anthy would have saved Tenjou and defeated her brother years ago.  There would definitely be even tougher trials ahead, before Tenjou and everyone gathered could truly break free from the coffins the Ends of the World had locked them into.

“How long is this sword-baiting act gonna take anyway?” asked Nanami, impatient after a moment of silence.  “We can’t keep this up forever.”

“For as long as it needs taking,” replied Anthy, facing the large-as-ever swarm of swords with creased brows, “this really is the only answer I can give you at this moment.”

Nanami opened her mouth as if wanting to say something more, then decided against it as she quietly continued on enduring the “buffered” pain along with the rest of the grim-faced, wordless group.

Noticing that Wakaba’s upheld soul sword was now wavering from her depleting strength, Saionji unthinkingly reached out a hand to support the petite woman’s shaky wrists.  It was only when the young woman turned toward him wide-eyed and blushing that the brash man realized he might have acted inappropriately.

“Ah, Wakaba-kun . . . pardon me if this seems-”

“O-Oh no . . .” Wakaba quickly turned her face away, her ears red to the lobes, “thank you, Saionji-sempai.”  Despite the pain she had to be under, there was something bashful about her bearing – something that alarmed Saionji greatly.

“Wakaba-kun,”

“Yes?”

“I’m sorry,” he said, and the girl’s wrists stiffened in his grasp.

“For what?”

“For what happened in Ohtori . . . for knowing that you liked me at the time, and still allowed you to, even knowing I could only hurt you in the end.”

“Why hurt me?” she finally asked after a significant moment of silence; her face still was turned away. “Is it because someone special like you will always refuse a nobody like me?”

Saionji inhaled deeply at the young woman’s misconception.  “I’m no one special, Wakaba-kun; I never was.  You see those scums showing up on the news getting arrested for beating up their wives and kids, for harassing their girlfriends even after they split?  That’s me.”  The others present were noticeably paying attention to his talking, but he had to speak on.  “Touga and I . . . we’re not capable of being good boyfriends or husbands, not when-”

“Shut up!” Wakaba whirled her head around to glare at him, showing a wild, uncharacteristic hatred reminiscent of the time when she forcibly dragged out his soul sword after suffering his cruelty.  “You’re just saying these things to push me away!  You’re not attracted to me cause you think I’m not good enough for you!  You . . .” Her words ceased as he tightened his grip on her narrow, vulnerable wrists.

“Do you know how I treated Anthy back when she was the world to me?” he asked, his expression somber to the point of being ominous.  “Were there no rumors at all about the things I did to her – in front of other people, behind closed doors?” Out of a corner of his eye, he saw Anthy lowering her head amidst some of the others’ curious glances; in front of him, the hatred had drained off of Wakaba’s expression, replaced by numb shock.  “Wakaba-kun, you were the free rabbit that risked the hunter’s wrath to take his stray hunting dog into your own den; the dog, even while grateful, still ended up biting you in the end, because biting others, even those he thought he loved, was his lowly nature.” 

“But you’re not that kind of person now . . . are you?” asked Wakaba, her voice almost childlike in its current vulnerability.

“I don’t know,” replied Saionji, his voice a dull murmur.  “I haven’t really been with any woman – not even for casual flings – since Ohtori.”

“What’d you mean ‘really been’?”

Knowing that Wakaba still was badly hurt by his past actions till this very day, Saionji decided that he owed her an honest answer even on something this personal.  “After leaving Ohtori, there’ve been times when I screw people so I can get things from them in return.”   From his angle, he saw Nanami clucking her tongue, obviously exasperated by his stupidity in revealing this in front of a roomful of (now shocked) people.  “I won’t call those ‘real’.”  At Wakaba’s wide-eyed expression, he smirked in self-depreciation.   “See?  Karma exists after all.” 

Wakaba did not laugh, of course; she simply turned away to again face the many swords’ hateful onslaught, with the singular tear trailing down her profile the only hint of her inner turmoil.  Turning away himself (and calmly noting how a number of his peers were quickly glancing away), he noticed Miki’s downcast eyes, and realized that of everyone here taking on the swords, the boy was the only one to have remained truly “alone” – Kozue, still with them up till moments ago, was noticeably absent from her twin’s side . . .

It was then that the sound of a delicate, rather familiar piece of piano music started pealing through the Swords of Hate’s monotonous droning; startled, everyone turned towards the opposite corner of the now largely damaged dinning room to see Kozue seated at a pink piano (occupying a corner that Saionji was facing from where he sat during the breakfast meet, thus knew to be empty back then), with the ribbon-wearing blue penguin “Number 3” seated beside her on the matching pink bench; together, they played a duet on the instrument, with the girl riffing and scatting along the flowing melody, prior to singing the lyrics:

“Won’t you play for me

Our special melody

And let your fingers dance

On piano keys

“All the birds and bees

Are chasing butterflies

They’re dancing endlessly

In that endless dream we used to hold”

“Kozue . . .” Miki’s expression was one between bafflement and wonder.  Saionji saw that the boy’s soul sword now had visibly transformed into one that surpassed its former glory in both design and aura, and knew Kozue was supporting her twin even as she sang (a song that he now recognized to be The Sunlit Garden with lyrics).

“The melody you wrote for me

With the wind so cold on our cardboard scene

Won’t you stay with me my one and only”

Even as she sang, Saionji realized how his hand was hurting a lot less than before.  Glancing around, he saw that he was not alone; the Duelists have all gotten more relaxed, enough that their attentions were no longer solely on the hate-filled swords (their once overwhelming onslaught now seemed faraway somehow), but rather, on Kozue’s startlingly mesmerizing vocals (even though her piano playing remained amateurish compared to Miki’s).

“Let me sing for you

Our special melody

I’ll be there when you need

Another soul to help you stay afloat

“Maybe we can carry the weight of two

Two hapless fools”

Even with the swords rushing the points of their blades, everyone was looking at the Kaoru twins now; at Kozue, who remained seated at the piano with her back to everyone (her heaving shoulders betrayed how it must had strained her to perform while enduring the hate-filled swords’ hammering) even after the song was done; at Miki, glaring at her from behind.

“Why . . .?” asked Miki, in shivery, teary outrage.  “Why here . . . why now, when I no longer expect anything from you?”  In reply, Kozue slammed both hands down upon the piano’s keys in a blast of dour notes (it was only then that Saionji noticed the black rose motif marking the instrument’s side).   

“This is not about you,” hissed the girl, her voice sounding so rasped that Saionji wondered how she ever sang like she just did.  “Can you still not understand that I can do things for myself, or just for people other than you?”  Penguin Number 3 nuzzled itself against her like a vulnerable child, and Kozue, even while enraged, hugged the cushion-like creature to her side.

“Kozue!”

“Your Utena-sempai is back; go help already.”

Everyone whirled their heads around to see a visibly ruffled up – but radiantly aglow – Tenjou Utena standing ahead of them all holding his (his and Touga’s, actually) soul sword against the still-enormous swarm of hate-filled blades.  Relieved from the Million’s onslaught, Saioniji immediately felt his own strength returning, along which much of his pain-dulled wits.

“Tenjou . . . you fool!” He tried going up to Utena, but found an invisible, impenetrable barrier of sorts having materialized between them, keeping he and the other Duelists back and away from the action up front.  “You’re not trying to fight these many swords all on your own, are you?”

“That’s my Onii-sama’s sword you’re using, tomboy!” yelled Nanami, likewise struggling against the barrier.  “You’re really putting all the strain onto him by ditching our help!”

“Utena!”  Anthy knocked against the barrier like it was a physical wall.  “This is too much for you alone to handle, let us-” Her voice got cut off by Utena’s almost majestic roar, as the latter abruptly brightened to the point that the entire space was now engulfed in burning light – one that had a damaging effects on the Swords of Hate, apparently, as the hateful blades now all were visibly crinkling up like paper under fire.  “Utena . . .”

“Everyone!” cried Utena, as he slashed and dashed against the now much weakened Swords of Hate, many of which shattered before they could even bounce off into the shadows, “thanks for helping me come this far; I can take care of the rest now!  Anthy . . . now that there’s less of these things messing around my mind, I can finally remember now . . . back then, when the swords were coming for us, and I asked for your hand, you gave me so much more. . . you gave me-” 

Sounds of metallic hollering – desperate and hate-filled like the sound of a mob under fire – filled the air, as what remained of the swords thickened alarmingly all around Utena and her soul sword – to the point that they were about to cocoon him like they did before; Saionji figured that the weakened monstrosities were now trying to use their sheer numbers to bring down the powered-up Duelist before he could destroy them.

No way in hell he was gonna let that happen – not after the pains everyone already went through trying to save the wench’s pink-haired rear end.

“Anthy!” He called out to the dark-featured woman (former obsession, current coffin-breaking instrument). “Can you make Utena drop the barrier thing?”  Anthy did not seem to have heard him, so focused was she in trying to manually pry through the barrier with her bare, glowing hands.

“Utena!”  Juri, who had since stepped forward, was already slamming her sword against the barrier to resounding effects.  Miki, right beside the tall woman, did likewise.  “Stop blocking us out!  Let us in so we can help you!”   When their powerful blades combined still did null damage against the barrier, even Saionji had to resign himself to the fact that there really was no way for them to reach the sword-occupied Duelist.

“Utena-sama!” Wakaba cried with tears of agitation streaking her face; behind her, Shiori and Tsuwabuki both looked as worried as they were helpless. “Open up please!”

A rumbling sound, not unlike that of a plane’s engine, rose in volume against the sounds of clanging swords and metallic curses, as Utena’s power-shout then blasted over all other lesser noises:

“ . . . you gave me LIGHT!”

A brilliant aura erupted against the wall of hate swords amidst the sound of a grand explosion, crushing a good number of them while repelling the rest backwards and away.  In the middle of the sacred-seeming radiance stood Utena with his sword raised skywards; hair flying, shirt opened, muscled chest alit with splendor, the self-proclaimed “stupid girl who thought she could become a prince” now looked the quintessence of princehood.

“Eternity, Shining Things, the Power of Miracles, the Power to Revolutionize the World, the Light of the World that used to slumber within you, that everyone fought for, up till we finally met at the ends of our world . . . is now MINE!”  Thus proclaimed the triumphant being of light, who now was agilely going after all the hate-filled swords darting all around, smashing their brittle lengths with savage grace in front of the stunned group.   “I have it NOW!”

“ . . . awesome!” Tsuwabuki exclaimed in boyish admiration.  “Sempai is a machine!”

“So this is the Light of the World we were shown on our way here . . . ” Shiori pondered out loud from where she was perched flushed-faced behind Juri, who manoeuvred her soul sword forward experimentally.

“The barrier is down.”

“Utena-sempai is probably too into chasing after the swords to keep it up still,” commented Miki, sounding not exactly relieved.

 

“Then powerful as Utena has become, he still do leave openings,” Juri’s exquisite face now was shadowy with grimness.  “I don’t like this at all.”

“Well, long as the tomboy can keep this up,” gestured a heaving Nanami at Utena’s dramatic sword-smashing act, “then the parasite swords should all be exterminated fairly soon . . . ” eyes widening as if abruptly realizing something, she whirled towards Anthy.  “He can keep this up, right?”

“I do not know.”  Eyes wide with genuine, almost childlike awe as she watched the glorious entity that Utena had now become, Anthy looked even younger than what Saionji remembered her to be like at Ohtori.  “The Light of the World had slumbered within me for as long as history, but as the sword-pinned Rose Bride, I could access only but small scraps of its power – and that was already more than enough to keep up the projections you all saw at Ohtori.  What Utena is showing us here . . . this is far beyond even what I’ve seen from the Rose Prince back when he was in full flower!  I know neither the vastness nor scope of the Light’s full might; I don’t know . . .”    

“ . . . why didn’t I realize it before?” Utena spoke on even as he went about chasing the Swords of Hate as an agile dolphin after a frantic fish shoal.  “Getting sent to the hospital with my I.D.s and my parents’ savings right after I got skewered, having the fees all miraculously paid for on their records when they discharged me, easily going from one job to another even though I don’t even got a high school diploma, getting infected and sick from treatments at those cheap clinics but always recovering enough to go on . . .” 

It was at hearing those words that Saionji abruptly realized how he was no longer repulsed by the masculine traits the ex-female now displayed; nobody was anymore – not even Miki and Tsuwabuki, who threw up at seeing the trans man only earlier this morning – as gender distinctions had no meaning for someone so absolutely, brilliantly, glorious: their undisputed, princely, Victor

Whoring ways notwithstanding, Touga did turn out to have excellent taste after all.

“. . . never attracting attention moving from one place to the next despite looking and acting weird . . . Anthy, how could I’ve pulled off any of that, if not for your Light protecting me all along?”

“Utena . . .” Anthy seemed to be at a loss for words; everyone else was too, seeing how the Victor had performed the impossible-seeming feat of cornering all the hate-filled swords into one cluttered, shivering mass, which he now was pushing towards the void of the Shadow Girls (blissfully unaware of the dramatic battle wrecking havoc in the now largely ruined dinning room, they now shared donuts and tea with the Shadow Boys, served by the high-intelligence penguins moving freely in and out of the wall) with his duo-strength soul sword, powered by the Light.

“Anthy,” Utena strained to get the words out (the beaten swords, while much weakened, still possessed the mighty strength of numbers),  “I finally understand now . . . life is a fairytale, with dragons and ogres all waiting to come battle us at every turn of the page; the symbols and metaphors we’ve come across so far are all representations of what’s really out here in the world.”  Even while engaged in a supernatural battle against vengeful deceased, his rasped voice now was soft and gentle.  “So it’s alright now, you can be a witch when the needy needs magic, I can be a princess when the weary needs tenderness, and we can both go from being one thing to the next – princes who help the poor, knights who slay the evil – and there’s no need to get pigeonholed by just one role or another - we can be anything that we want to be at any moment, so long as this allows us to help each other to go on living!”   The swords, now being pushed to close proximity of the oblivious Shadow Girls, started getting sucked into their dark void in large droves; Tsuwabuki and Wakaba, teary-faced both, let out joyous cheers while hugging each other like excited fans at a major game (Saionji noted how the two had completely forgotten the fact that they were adults of opposite genders pressing against each other chest to chest).

“Almost there now . . . ” Chida-san, having cautiously stepped up with soul sword in hand, looked poised to help should things went wrong at the last possible minute.  “You can do this, Tenjou-san!”  Seeing how a determined-looking Juri had since followed the older woman’s lead, Saionji quickly stepped up himself, while gesturing for Miki and Nanami to follow suit.

“Everyone . . .” Utena trailed off briefly as he took a deep breath, before looking directly at Saionji as he continued pushing their enemies into the shadow’s dark void, “Saionji-sempai, especially, this is the day . . . I get out of the coffin called Role!”

Meeting the piercing eyes of the one who went from being the fellow victim from his childhood, the rival from his teens, to the awesome godling that he now became, Saionji found his own heart overflowing with passion as he watched Utena push the remaining swords away into the darkness.  At long last, the girl trapped in her coffin now had struggled out of its deathly confines (albeit ending up a girl no more); with the revolutionary precedence set, maybe, just maybe everyone here would have a chance of getting out of their coffins too –even a wretched deadbeat like himself, even a complete mess like what Touga had become since; maybe they could all-  

“Is it really going to be that easy?”

The sardonic, hyper-masculine drawl – one that Saionji recognized even after all these years – startled Utena into almost dropping his soul sword, against which there were no longer anything for him to push nor battle against.  The Shadow Girls –having since absorbed all the Swords of Hate – now were motionless like artfully shaped holes upon the dinning room wall (with the Shadow Boys looking upon them with much uncertainty); within the still confines of their dark “void”, one could vaguely made out what appeared to be a very wide interior space cradling a modest-sized office desk like a too-large shell around a too-tiny yolk; behind the desk sat a familiar-looking man, facing the entire lot of them with his back straight, his dark hands clasped, and his sensuously curved lips curled in condescending mirth.

“Brother,” Anthy hissed the word from underneath her breath, like it was the most malicious of curses; Saionji, for his part, swore out loud.

Even after the battle against the hateful million, after the triumphant return of their born again Victor and Prince, everyone still found themselves facing their ultimate Adversary – who, on top of looking agelessly handsome, appeared disturbingly unscathedeven after all the swords they had sent his way

Juri was (unfortunately) right: when it came to beating the likes of Ohtori Akio, there was just no way it could have been this easy.


End Part Six

 

Chapter Text

WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization

Utena and its characters belong to its various owners.

 

 

Flanked by his friends and loved ones he stood, gawking stupidly at the nightmare behind the shadows on the wall, appalled.

“Even if the coffin could be cleared of its maggots, that doesn’t mean its lock would accordingly open,” from beyond the space warping “windows” left behind by the inanimate Shadow Girls, Ohtori Akio sat languidly behind his office desk as he eyed Anthy with a pity akin to indulgence. “You should’ve known better than these mayflies, Sister.”

“Mayflies . . .” bright aura dimming amidst rapidly darkening thoughts (how faraway did that previous moment of personal triumph seem, now that he again wallowed in hatred), Tenjou Utena had to consciously control his breath just to continue looking at the one who robbed away his (her) innocence and youth; the monster who, even now, was again mocking him –mocking them all – from afar.  “You . . . !”

“Brother,” Anthy, for her part, eyed her brother like one would an overturned bug that still refused to die.   “I see you’re looking even smaller now than when I left you.” 

 Akio’s smirk turned sharp-edged; nonetheless, the Shadow-Girls-shaped holes started moving anew – this time merging together into one single, wide oval “space gape” that gave a better view of the Planetarium-office and the man. “Perspective is certainly an interesting thing, little sister; it can make the mighty look weak in the eyes of a beholder; or, in Utena-kun’s case, the wicked looking meek.”

“I never once saw the conniving likes of you as being meek,” snapped Utena, roughly twisting the verbal jab directed at Anthy back where it came from.  “Don’t talk like you know how I think!”

“I know everything there is to know about you, Utena-kun, I’m the prince from your girlhood.” He stressed the word “girlhood” in that knowing, cutting way the enraged Victor remembered well from their duel.  “I’m willing to be your prince now, if you’d just let me-”

“You’re NOT a prince!” snapped Utena, hating himself for having once allowed himself (herself) to idolize and love someone so obviously despicable.  “Don’t tarnish the word by pretending that you’re anything similar to it!  You . . . y-you . . .” Too many words, too many curses came to his frantic mind all at once: pedophile (but that would again conjuncture up unpleasant memories of his (her) cruelly stolen virginity), pervert (but that would tangle Anthy into the unpleasant equation), cheater (but that would connect him (her) to the sin committed) . . . in the end, only the lamest accusation managed to come out of his feeble mouth. “. . . sister user!” 

“Poor Utena-kun,” Akio’s chiseled face softened with what appeared to be genuine pity.  “even after stealing away both the Light of the World and the Rose Bride, you still remain in denial as to what a prince really is.”

Stealing . . .? Utena almost barked out a reflexive (thus unpolished) retort, but Nanami spoke before he could.

“Whatever a prince is, he not a grown man who go around screwing under-aged boys and girls, including his own sister.”  Utena would’ve openly approved of the feisty blonde’s jab, had it not also affected Anthy as well; Anthy who now was still as ancient statue.  Akio, for his part, displayed a twinkle within his deep-set green eyes.

“Such foul things coming out of your mouth, Nanami-kun; you might require oral cleaning . . . maybe some grass chewing again courtesy of my sister’s witchcraft will do the trick?”  Eye-wide, Nanami and Tsuwabuki turned sharply towards Anthy, whose stony gaze remained fixed upon her brother.

“Utena-kun,” Akio returned his attention towards the seething Victor, and spoke on in educating, condescending tones, “light cannot shine without darkness; a prince cannot shine without his witches.  You disapprove of me allowing my sister, the witch, to do the evil that I, by my nature as a prince, cannot do myself; yet now I see you having my sister lure all your friends into the lion’s den fighting your fight for you . . . how is that 'better' than what I did with the Rose Bride in my time?”

“Brother,” Anthy’s voice was as a faint wheeze of a slashing whip, “you ordered me around as your slave to suffer and sin on your behalf; Utena does her best to keep me and her friends from harm.  You’re as different from her as muck is to clouds.”  Akio's gaze upon his sister sharpened as a sword's point.

“And through it all, you’ve remained the same like always.”

Utena could only watch on in horrified outrage as the man’s words impacted Anthy like a knife to the heart – one that turned even her rich dark complexion pallid, as blood visibly drained off of it; her eyes, once so piercing, now were wide and glassy.

“Utena-kun,” their enemy pressed on with his hurtful, damnable words, “it may be that you can be a girl and a boy and all things in between, but my sister has a far more limited range than you do, I’m afraid; she can only ever play the witch.”  Like a malfunctioning puppet, Anthy’s head now dropped to hang limply while her entire stance slackened; Utena gritted his teeth in ever boiling rage.

“Enough already!  You’re a scumbag who’ve used Anthy like you’ve used me and everyone else!  She’s-” 

“What makes the witch, a witch,” Akio cut her off effortlessly, “is that she cares only for her prince and nothing about other people – not even herself.”  His smooth voice began to grow heavy with what sounded like real pain.  “Knowing that we’re linked by blood – that I feel her wounds, her suffering, with my own body – she still strives to destroy me for your sake, knowing that-” 

“You shut up!” Utena raised her soul sword even while knowing how useless a gesture it is, that with her intended target so far away.  “You’ve made us hurt each other, a-and now, you’ve reached beyond Ohtori’s boundaries trying to hurt the people outside too!  There’s no way in hell I’m gonna let you do this to our world!  We’re gonna stop you, and . . . ” He found himself trailing off feebly at Akio’s deep sigh.

“Me and my sister’s influences have gone beyond Ohtori into your world since years ago, Utena-kun.  How else could we have met that first time?”  

Utena felt the wind knocked out of his chest by his tormentor’s hideous question; God, for him to bring this up now . . .  “. . . I was a kid who just lost my parents, and you took advantage of my despair, you-”

“Yes, my sister and I both played our parts to entertain your young, impressionistic mind,” Akio flicked a stray lock of white hair out of his eye in a rather flippant gesture, “but how did you think you lost your parents in the first place, Utena-kun?”

“M-My-” so angry was he now, that Utena found himself stuttering, “my parents passed away from the Kiga Subway Attack and you will not talk about them!  YOU-” It was then that realization hit him like a ton of bricks (and hitting others too, judging by their now stunned looks; even the Shadow Boys that Chida-san took in appeared to be standing in poses of shock). “No . . . it can’t be, no way you could have . . .”  He was shaking so badly under Akio’s steady gaze by now that his knees were wobbling. “It was Tokyo, nowhere near Ohtori at all; there were real bombs used and real life terrorists arrested for the crimes committed!  There’s no way the likes of you-”

“Terrorists are people, and people can be bought and swayed.  ” explained Akio with cruel patience, as Utena helplessly crumbled to his knees from the debilitating trauma – to think that this was the truth behind the meeting that he (she) had treasured in his (her) heart for years and on; to think that he (she) had let the event shape him (her) unto adolescence; to think that the prince from his (her) childhood was in reality his (her) parents’ murderer; to think that the murderer’s sister . . . “You’ve gotten so close and friendly to my talented sister in recent years, surely you must have seen how good she’s at buying and swaying people?”

“You . . .”

“Uh-uh, don’t just direct your hatred at me, save some of it for my sister too – she was the one to have corresponded with the Kiga Terrorists on behalf of the Ohtori Clan, which funded the group-”

LIAR!”  Slamming a fist to the floor, Utena used the rush of pain to push himself back up to his feet again.  “What good will it do you to kill a train full of people with gas bombs?  Huh?  It doesn’t fit with what you’ve been doing at Ohtori, with the duels and the castle and-” He choked on his words at seeing the black rose that Akio had produced with a magician’s deft grace.  From behind him, he heard a faint moaning sound that he recognized to be Anthy’s.

“Ancient creatures died and left naught but fossil fuels, without which the present energy civilization cannot exist.”  Eyes on Utena (who could not help but breath through his inelegantly gaping mouth least he thought he would suffocate), the man twirled the rose’s thorny stem between long, agile fingers, prior to stabbing it sleekly into the empty vase atop his desk.  “This world demands that every accomplishment be paid for by even greater sacrifice, and that every pleasure taken be followed by even greater suffering.   Once, the witch understood that to live is to be punished, that the only thing keeping her life bearable was knowledge that her true prince was sharing her punishments with her; once, the witch would do anything to ease her prince’s suffering: be it destroying innocents, or baiting the guilty.”  Out of a corner of his eye, he saw Anthy’s stance sagging a notch further, such that she now resembled a withered straw doll.  “Had it not been for your parents’ death, would you have grasped at the ring I offered, and have it shackle you unto the Revolution?  Had it not been for my sister’s material promises, would your so-called friends – who all forgot about you within a month’s time – be here today?”   Utena thought he glimpsed guilty expressions from all around those gathered; he could not be sure, so overwhelmed was he by the crushing revelation now getting crammed down his throat.  “Did my sister ever tell you about her intimate involvement with the terrorist leader and the group’s senior members?  How about the way she planned out the routes to be affected during the subway attack, one of which your parents happened to be traveling upon at the time?  Did she get to see their final moments, I wonder?  I recall how she was personally going from train to train supervising the ongoings during the operation; surely, she must-”

A thin line of red light flashed by the side of Utena’s face, spearing through the space gape on the wall and towards Akio, hitting him squarely upon the red dot on his forehead.  Stumbling to the side upon numb joints, Utena saw how Chida-san was aiming what appeared to be a spy-movie laser weapon at their enemy, with the unnumbered black penguin (Esmeralda; Anthy called it Esmeralda) quickly setting up a blindingly bright light screen from behind her.  From the side, surrounded by their blue penguins – plus Kozue, who was somehow standing with them and not the Duelists – the Shadow Boys gawked open-mouthed at what they saw. 

“Ah!”  Exclaimed the brown-haired one (K-taro, if Utena remembered correctly).  “That looks like . . . like . . .” The sentence was then left trailing off in uncertainty.

“What’d you guys remember?” asked Kozue, leaning down anxiously towards the kids; the boys gave no reply.

From beyond the hole in the wall, Akio narrowed his eyes at his current opponent.  “Tokiko-kun.”

“Ohtori Akio-san,” donning a pair of shades she just got handed by Esmeralda, Chida-san kept a steady aim upon her target,  “while it’s indeed entertaining to listen to you give a skewered version of the Fate Train Project to hammer the Victor’s conviction, there are matters between us that needs settling.  Shall we pick up where we left off ten years ago?” 

Despite the light glaring from behind the woman, Akio kept his piercing gaze upon her. “Ten years ago . . .  you mean the time right before Nemuro-kun’s graduation, when you tried attacking me at my office under the guise of a visit?”  Behind him, the shutters clamped down as teeth of a vast beast, casting the man under ominous darkness.  “Is this that same laser gun you threatened me with back then?  Wait, that was a sling shot with ball projectiles.  Ah, I remember now . . . you looked so cute wielding the toy while wearing your middle-age disguise – that’s how you fool the regular people into thinking you’re aging along with them, right?  I must say you look much lovelier as your true, witch self – is this the face your kind, generous husband comes home to?  Or has Nemuro-kun since taken his place?”  Chida-san took a step forward; Akio’s back now was straight to the point of rigidity.  “So I suppose this is some newer, deadlier item than its predecessor?  What does this one do, Tokiko-kun?  Affecting memories? Affecting the soul? I must say you’re one inventive witch for constantly coming up with such gadgets.” 

“I wonder who was the one who so enjoy making witches of women?” asked the coolly enigmatic woman.  “And you know I’ll do anything to come up with the means to threaten the likes of you, Akio-san.”

“Indeed . . .” drawled Akio, obviously just buying time, prior to speaking on.  “just like how you stole the Fate Diary from Tsukiichi-kun back during the Black Rose Research, thus almost derailing the entire Fate Train Research.”  Even with the shades obscuring her eyes, Utena could tell by Chida-san’s parted lips that the man’s words had hit a nerve.

“Fate . . . Diary?”  the blue-haired S-taro murmured in a voice like one hypnotized; Utena thought she could now vaguely make out facial features on his darkness cloaked face.  Kozue was squatting down now, urgently asking the boy something, with the latter slowly shaking his head as if in a daze.

“Were you actually thinking of using that as leverage against me after you’ve signed my contract, to make sure I uphold my end of the bargain?” asked Akio of the now stiff-postured Chida-san.  “Such a distrustful woman . . . did you think you could harness the Diary being the novice witch you were?  Did you think it could help you save Mamiya-kun?  How’d it feel when your own niece eventually stole the Diary from you thinking it’s child’s toy, and ended up getting split into two halves as a result-” A slew of daggers threw past Akio’s face, one of which drawing a shallow cut on his chiseled cheek; it took Utena a moment to realize that the black penguin Esmeralda - now looking startlingly vicious – was the one to have thrown the projectiles through the space gape, and had actually managed to hurt the Ends of the World.

“Now . . . Tokiko-kun,” producing a napkin, Akio dabbed delicately at his cut cheek, “if this is still about Mamiya-kun’s whereabouts, my sister should’ve already told you that she was the one in possession of him up to right before his disappearance.”

“If the Rose Bride was to tilt her head a certain way, it was because you commanded her to do so,” stated Chida-san with a finality that allowed no argument.  “My brother’s spirit disappeared within your garden after you’ve used up his usefulness; do you think I will not come after you, especially now that you’re no longer protected by your little sister?”  At the jab, Akio’s smile broadened to reveal rows of even, pearly whites.

“Tokiko-kun, sister or no sister . . . a prince shall always have his bride.”

Then came a flash of movement in front of Akio’s desk too quick for Utena’s eyes to follow – red fabrics, platinum green hair, pale skin, metallic glitter – prior to a slew of swords flying point first their way.  Even as Tokiko fired her shot, the Shadow Boys already were at the wall “pushing” the space gape shut around the cluttering of sharp sword points, but not before Utena caught a glimpse of the expressionless, mannequin-like woman falling backwards and into Akio’s arms.

“Kanae . . . san?”

A sharp gasp prompted Utena to turn his head around, where Tokiko – whose shades had since fallen off – was wide-eyed from where she was shielded behind an again human Mikage, who got impaled by two swords stabbing into his heart and head, respectively; Esmeralda and the other penguins were standing around watching them worriedly.

“Utena-kun,” Akio’s caustic voice came through the sword-cluttered gape,  “even though I pity your endless denial, I must applaud you for having harnessed such powerful brides to defend your reign as the upstart prince. These remaining Swords of Hate, baptized by the blood of my current bride, had since passed the passage and will come through to your side . . . if your brides for whatever reason cannot take them on your behalf, perhaps your groom could do the honors?  He really is very good at enduring impalement for those he loves; yes, mine is the voice of experience.”  Pause, followed by a more somber tone of voice.  “Sister, are you to share in another’s punishments on top of mine?”

And the cluttered swords shot seamlessly out from the wall like a hail of arrows.   

***

As a man coming from a kendo background (one who had lived though dangerous times in the past decade thanks to the Kiryuus) Saionji Kyouichi always prided himself on having quick reflexes.

Thus, the moment he saw Utena’s sword hand remaining limp even as the hate swords were extricating themselves further out the wall, the man was already charging full speed forward to block what he knew would be a quick and ferocious onslaught.

“Utena-sempai!”  A flash of blue and pink was all Saionji saw as Miki dived by knocking the now seemingly dazed Utena off to the side and away from the swords now rushing them. 

Lunging airborne via his momentum, Saionji executed a kendo blade swish that ended up smashing most of the oncoming swords, yet still was unable to stop one from heading straight for his unprotected flank; a flash, a clang, and even that stray sword got knocked off course by Juri’s (when had she gotten there?) agilely maneuvered blade; the hate sword, still intact, shot straight at a stunned Tsuwabuki, who got pushed to the side by Nanami – who, in doing so, left herself open to the oncoming sword point . . .

“Nanami!”  Saionji dashed forward after the hate sword, wincing as he knew he could not stop it in time-

A splash of liquid metal knocked the hate sword into the wall, violently breaking its blade; moving along the wall in mecury-like ball droplets, the liquid metal condensed slug-like back into one boiling mass, prior to rapidly “flowing” out of the room’s high arc doorway and away.   Regaining his footing and gathering his wits, Saionji turned back towards Utena (still seemingly not quite back on earth yet), and saw him holding but the hilt-half of his broken soul sword . . .

Tsuwabuki, who’ve gotten back up and was beside the wide-eyed blonde, likely came to the same conclusion as he did.  “T-That was . . .”

“Onii-sama . . .”  Nanami breathed out the word, prior to exclaiming it out loud.    “Onii-sama!”  She then sprinted out of the largely ruined room and (presumably) after Touga’s highly malleable soul sword, bumping against an old-fashioned tv set in her hasty exit (which somehow got turned on from the impact, and was tuned to what seemed like some heavily 3D-graphics-infused music video).

“Nemuro-kun!  Hang in there!”  Chida-san was now moving a human-again Mikage (who looked older than the last Saionji saw him, and appeared around the age he was in the framed black and white pic that still hung upon the wall undamaged) up onto a stretcher with help of the penguins (they might well be the ones to have produced it); Kozue and the Shadow Boys (the corners of their features now vaguely “illuminated”) quickly got over to help, and the whole group of them were off and away from the room going who knew where within the mansion’s enchantment-laced confines.  The rest of the Duelists now were left with their Victor and his Bride: the former having slumped brokenly onto his knees upon the debris-covered floor, the latter watching him from behind with wary eyes.

“Utena, you’re the one with the power now.” She took a light step up towards Utena, who visibly flinched at her sound.  “Don’t mind what he said; pull yourself together, please?”  Tremblingly, Utena got back onto his feet, and spoke without turning around.

“He lied.” It was clear to all what he was referring to. “Himemiya, tell me he lied.”  At again being on family-name basis with Utena (how the Rose Bride had conditioned him to be sensitive to such things, thought Saionji numbly), Anthy’s expression was one of tightly controlled anguish and agony.

“Utena-sa . . . Utena, I was the Rose Bride for a very long time, I’ve done many things that-” The sight and sound of Utena’s fist slamming against the wall cut her right off, as her new prince in despair then briskly stormed off and away from the room, refusing to hear anything more.  Green eyes clouding over with thicker despair than Saionji could ever remembered seeing in them, Anthy raised a glowing hand in a brief, subtle gesture, and made her listless exit from the dinning room that now had magically reverted back to its former, damage-free state.   Saionji glanced down upon his now empty hand, looked around, and realized that everyone’s soul swords had since disappeared.

Standing dazed in this again immaculate room (pristine and tidy as if the battle just moments ago – or even sword-plagued Utena’s rampage - never did happen), it took a while longer before most in the group could regain their full wits; and by that time, the questions they had flowed like water from a broken valve.

“ . . . why would Akio-san make the Ohtori Clan fund a terrorist group?” pondered Miki from where they now gathered at a corner.  “What had the Kiga Subway Attack got to do with regaining the Power of Revolution, which had been his objective all along?” His blue eyes narrowed in distrust.  “And those penguins hanging around Chida-san and Kozue . . . could those have a connection to the Kiga Group, which might have magic users as they’re all Akio-san’s pawns?” 

“The Chairman had driven us all towards the ends of our worlds,” Juri tapped her restless fingertips against the wall, “and Himemiya said he had made people into fuel with Nemuro Hall as this human broiler . . . was that the truth behind the rumor of the building getting burned down with students inside?  The subway attack was likely for the same thing too.”  Her voice lowered a notch.   “The fact that Utena’s parents got killed in the attack was probably pure random, but it somehow led him to Utena; that poseur must’ve looked mighty princely to the eyes of an orphaned child, who at the time would be desperate for-”

“Something eternal to build hopes upon,” murmured Saionji, whose mind now was clouding over with the old memories that had been pricking at his heart for a lifetime.  “It was the night before the funeral.”  Juri turned towards him questioningly, but he felt like getting out the story first, prior to doing further explaining.  “Inside the darkened church, there was an extra coffin beside those holding the newly dead couple; the lone surviving victim – the young daughter the couple left behind – was hiding in it, from where she cursed life for not being eternal, and vowed of never coming out into the sun again . . .”

“Saionji-sempai,” Miki cut in at this point, “you talk like you were there-”

Clang!

They all turned towards Tsuwabuki, who almost ended up tipping the old TV off the table it was on.

“Oh, I’m just trying to turn this thing off,” explained the boy, blushing slightly.  “I don’t want this Saionji-sempai wannabe singing pop in the background while we’ve got important things to discuss.”

The TV, turned on since Nanami’s bumping into it, now showed a music video featuring a model-chic male idol undulating to the music while singing some syrupy love song.  Saionji glanced briefly over . . . and found his sight fixed upon the one onscreen.

 

“Oh, that’s Seen,” exclaimed Wakaba as she got up to the small TV for a better look, “voted the Most Princely Idol of the year by our magazine’s polls.”  Despite everything that just happened, the girl still could not help chuckling in light amusement.  “I guess he does resemble Saionji-sempai a little, with the hair and all, though he’s even more slender and pretty-” The words ceased abruptly (she probably recalled what had transpired while they faced the Swords of Hate) as she then made a show of trying to help Tsuwabuki turn off the device.  “Where’s the remote anyway?”

“I think this needs to get manually turned off,” Miki got over to inspect the old model electronic device, and ended up paying attention to the idol on screen.  “Wow . . . that’s a lot of work done there.”  Tsuwabuki made a face.

“No kidding . . . that nose’s so thin he can cut paper with it.”

“Not just the nose . . . look; there’s this jaw-shaving going on here . . . and his cheeks don’t really move even when he sings . . .”

“Oh, oh! And that has to be collagen puffing up his upper lip!”

“ . . . don’t you guys recognize him?”  asked Saionji, who had since moved up towards them with Juri.  “That’s Kazami Tatsuya, he used to hang around Tenjou and-”

WHAT?” Wakaba literally jumped in surprise.  “No way!  Tatsuya’s-”

“Wakaba-kun, I’ve worked alongside a journalist from the entertainment section doing a background-dig article on the guy, believe me when I say that he is Kazami Tatsuya.”  Guessing what the open-mouthed Wakaba was about to ask, Saionji gave his reply one step ahead. “The article somehow got banned by the higher ups, and never saw the light of day; the journalist also got fired from the magazine soon afterwards.  I suppose Kazami-san’s backer must be some kind of powerful.”

“Tatsuya is Seen?”  Wakaba watched the one onscreen – now shown idly sticking fork after fork into a blood red apple – in disbelief.  “But Seen looks nothing like Tatsuya!  Tatsuya was stoop-shouldered-”

“Well . . . stretching procedures can do wonders for the shape,” supplied Miki, who then pointed at his bared shoulder,  “and look - deltoid implants.”

“Tatsuya had this tubular torso where his three sizes are like the same!  Seen is famous for his model-like wasp waist-”

“Rib removal – see how high-waisted he is compared to the regular guy?”

“And he was no where this leggy, no matter what kind of growth spurt he’d had afterwards-”

“The risky leg-stretching surgery can do wonders - note how his lower-legs are even longer than his uppers?”

“That rich, wavy mane from such a flat-haired onion guy . . .”

“Volumizing extensions.”

“ . . . catch me, I faint . . .”  breathed Wakaba, as she collapsed backward and right into a waiting Shiori, who gently helped her get seated down. 

“I think we really need to focus on what we should do from now on,” she said, understated eyebrows creased in unease.  “Whatever power Utena-san just showed us . . . he seems to be losing it again.  And there’s the issue with Himemiya-san at least partially responsible for his parents’ death . . . will this rift between them just break our entire operation apart?” Hands clasped in front, her slim fingers now were crossed nervously against each other.  “What’s going to happen to us, now that he knows we’re up against him?”

“Well, there ‘s no turning back now,” said Saionji.  “We’ve already thrown our first collective punch.   If we disband, the monster would be coming for us individually.   Remember how he’s been screwing up our lives all along?  That’s only going to get worse unless we stick together to defeat him for good.  It’s possible that Tenjou and Anthy may never again be close after the bomb that bastard dropped, but with Ohtori Akio as their common enemy, and ours, I’m sure our operation will continue.”

Shiori nodded, slight frame vulnerable with uncertainty; Juri came up from behind her, encasing the smaller woman in a familiar hug.

“We all want to believe that every wrong in the past is forgivable,” ruminated the woman, not seeing the strained expression of the one in her arms, “. . . but is it really possible to forgive a past wrong when its effects are irreversible and will last forever?”

Nobody could reply to that, as gloom thickened over the room like falling snow.

“About Tatsuya . . .” a dazed-seeming Wakaba’s airy voice put an end to the wordless moment.  “Himemiya said something like he’s now under her brother’s control . . . but why would the Chairman have him be an idol?”

On TV, the music video ended, and the now unrecognizably handsome Kazami Tatsuya was shown to be at some kind of press conference, with countless mic heads pointing his way (Saionji thought their (unintentional?) placement to resemble an array of incoming swords), smilingly answering one inane question after the next.  The view then started panning out . . . which soon got everyone in the room exclaiming in shock.

“What in the world . . . ?”  Tsuwabuki gawked at the screen, at the many reporters and conference crew surrounding Tatsuya, whom all looked like stylistic toilet gender symbols milling about in this “crowded” scene.

“Juri,” Shiori’s voice came out shaky, “do you think those are . . .?”

“Stage props,” Juri nodded grimly as she tightened her arms protectively around the other woman.   “This must be how our colleagues at the agency really look like too; I’d bet anything that either the Chairman or Himemiya can control them like they’re nothing.”

“But . . . no way!”  Wakaba was now pointing her trembling finger all over the TV screen.  “Look at the many fans gathered, and the people passing by out on the streets!  And there!  And there!  All the people except for Tatsuya are just gender symbols!”

“It’s the Light of the World,” stated Saionji, as he knew what he said to be the truth.  “It opened our eyes to the truth of the world that we couldn’t see before.”  Like the stagnated agelessness that is eternity, the horrifying might of mass hatred, the glory of princely nobility . . .

“So what does that mean?”  Miki was now crawling at his blue hair in growing hysteria. “That everyone in Japan, maybe even the world, are really just gender symbols? That Akio-san has control over us all?”

“Not us,” Juri spoke with much certainty, “since we all still see each other as people; but ours is likely a microscopic minority in this current world largely controlled by-” A gut-wrenching scream coming from upstairs cut her right off.  Alarmed, everyone raced up the spiral staircase, and to the white-painted, red-rose-lined washroom door (one with a big “OUT OF SERVICE” sign pasted on it) now parted slightly, from beyond which came the sounds of running water, and wrenching, heaving sobs that Saionji immediately recognized.

“Nanami!” His hand was already on the doorknob.  “What’s-”

“Don’t open it!” screeched the hysterical girl.  “Don’t let the others come in!  Keep them away!  Kyouichi, don’t let them see . . .”

Looking behind him, Saionji saw that Juri was already ushering the rest of the worried group backwards and away.  Giving the woman a grateful look, Saionji slowly opened the door a bit wider.

“It’s only me,” he assured the girl, sliding in already.  “I’m coming in-” And his words ceased the moment he saw what was inside.

Beyond the deceptively elegant door was a crude public men’s room – one with an elongated urinal trough on one side, and a series of partitions on the other – that looked like it belonged more to an unkempt park than to a Victorian mansion; what left Saionji stunned (to the point that the washroom door now slipped from his numb fingers, left unclosed), however, was the fact that he recognized this place.

“The cabbage field . . . toilet?”

Indeed it was that cabbage field, slyly revealed through the small, half-opened window below the running exhaust fan.  Fresh greenery basking under the bright skies, with the white swarms adrift betraying its severe butterfly infestation, the field looked exactly the way it did on that fateful day from his childhood – the day that ended up changing the entire course of his life thereafter (for better or worse); this really was that same toilet block built close to the field for people around the area, despite its run down interior now being impossibly connected to a luxurious mansion’s second floor . . .

“. . . Onii-sama . . .”

Nanami’s choked voice was coming from the partition at the very end, right next to the window.  Moving upon legs that he could no longer feel, Saionji then put a numb hand on the partition’s door, and pulled.

The inside of the partition was covered in the exact same graffiti-scribbles as he remembered from around that time: the cartoon-ish drawings of private parts, the phone numbers left by sexual solicitors, the torrid descriptions of obscene acts . . . everything was identical to what he remembered seeing as a boy having to use the filthy facility.  Hands covering her mouth from where she huddled-up against a cramped corner, Nanami was glancing tearily down upon the large porcelain squat toilet . . . or rather, what appeared to be her brother impossibly superimposed upon the toilet.

Unlike Saionji, who gained bulk throughout the past decade thanks to his physically demanding job as a freelance photographer/cameraman, Kiryuu Touga had lost much of his – to the point that the now willowy, even longer-haired man appeared downright androgynous; naked torso having molded into the porcelain, but with his lower-arms and legs sticking out from the mirror-smooth water, he looked like an exquisite component of an otherwise grotesque art piece.  Yet, even with his small, chiseled face completely submerged, the redhead remained clearly undying, as he stared up at them with a hazy, harrowing look in his violet eyes; it was a look that the other man well-remembered from when they first met years ago, as little victims chancing upon each other under unfortunate circumstances.

Time stood rigid still, freezing them all as amber over insects; the water flowed on, spiraling downwards into depths unseen. 

***

“It's been a long time since we’re together like this.”

They were inside a greenhouse basked under the pallid lights of winter, with flowers of every imaginable color blooming vibrantly within.  Seated at the garden table and chair set situated amidst the flowery interior were two petite, elegantly garbed adolescents obviously coming from money: a brown-haired, freckle-faced boy looking to be on the verge of hitting his growth spurt, currently pouring tea for a blue-haired, doll-faced girl looking delicate as a fresh vine sprout.

“It’s been a very long time indeed,” the girl held both cup and saucer up as she sipped her tea like a seasoned lady; downcast eyes, lowered in fans of lush lashes, betrayed her displeasure.  “Any longer, and even the snow outside the greenhouse would melt.”

Shrugging, the boy then took his own tea with gentlemanly grace.  “The snow never melts around these parts anyway.”  A long, pointed silence ensued, during which the boy eyed the girl steadily over the cup, before lowering it, and speaking on.  “Well . . . do you have something to discuss with me today?  Is it something that cannot be discussed over the phone?”

“You,” the girl put down her tea as she looked the boy in the eye with the intensity of a much older woman – one likely used to being in a position of power. “Why have you stopped gracing my dreams lately?”  The boy gave her a benignly serene smile – one that apparently fueled her growing spark. “Your staying here is based on your having a place in my heart; and don't forget that a woman’s heart can change at a whim.”

Smile deepening, the boy got up and moved towards the girl with the sinuous grace of a much older man – one likely used to intimate liaisons with women. “I'm being good to you, so much that I'm growing a new blue rose that’s exactly the shade of your hair.”  Leaning over her chair, he waved a pocket-sized copy of “The Little Prince” in front of her dew-clear eyes, and spoke such that his breath brushed against her fair cheek.  “And look, your favorite book; I prepared this knowing we’d get to spend time together-”

Ring!

Frowning, the girl produced her cell phone (one marked by a pink rose motif); seeing the caller id to be “Kanae”, she pressed a button that turned the device right off, prior to taking the book from the boy to better study its artfully illustrated cover.

The boy watched all this wearing his faint, unreadable smile.  “Say . . . how’re you getting along with the Acting Chairman these days?”

At that, the girl turned her face away, somewhat defensively.  “Who cares about that man.”

“Never mind him then,” eyes soft with empathy, the boy leaned even closer toward the girl, practically purring in her shell-like ear. “Ohtori-chan, do you know? If you love a flower that lives on a star, it is sweet to look at the sky at night.  All the stars are a-bloom with flowers-”

With an abrupt, startling violence, the girl called Ohtori-chan pulled the boy to herself; the garden chair they were on tipped over, sending the two sprawling onto a bed of poppies.  Still clumsily entangled, the youngsters started shedding their previous polished manners along with their well-ironed clothes, leaving crushed red petals sticking all over their flushed skin and tousled hair.

“. . . you, Chida-kun; you're my one and only prince . . . !”

 

End Part Seven

Chapter Text

WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization

Utena and Penguindrum characters belong to their various owners.

 

Time: 10 years post-revolution

Place: Chida Mansion

“Nemuro-kun . . . please endure,”

They had since reentered the room of stars, and have since laid Nemuro down over the red canopy draped bed – now attached to a cluttering of EU operating room equipments.  Donning surgery gloves and masks just like the EU nurses, all four penguins now were crowded around the pink-haired man, as they started “operating” on him under Chida Tokiko’s pained, worried gaze; Nemuro himself was expressionless to the point of appearing almost mannequin-like, like he really was the computer-like man people from their other lifetime had labeled him as, back when-

“Chida-san,”

Turning around, Tokikio saw that the Shadow Boys, both standing beside Kozue, now were “semi-illuminated” as they watched her with visible eyes clouded with questions.

“The graying Indian man said you had this Fate Diary,” said S-taro, his voice airy and brittle around the edges, “was it pink, with two dragons on the front cover, and a sea turtle on the back?”  He raised his voice, its sound urgent and demanding.  “Are you related to the Oginome family?” 

“The Indian was involved in the Kiga Subway attack, wasn’t he?”  K-taro’s voice and expression were tension filled, edgy.  “Was he working for Sanetoshi?  You guys were talking about this Fate Train Research . . . is that what you people call the attack?” The boy now was as fearful as he was angry.  “You . . . you had a laser-thingy that looks just like Masako’s . . . were you part of Kiga?”  

Brown eyes glinting with more than reflected lights, Tokiko observed the boys for a brief, quiet moment, prior to speaking.

“I see you’re both remembering a lot of things,” she said.  “Would you mind telling me your real names?  I’d rather call you boys something a little more formal than K-taro and S-taro.”  S-taro opened his mouth as if to reply, but stopped as K-taro tugged on his hand.

“Boys!”  Kozue chided them for their distrust against their main helper.

“It’s okay,” soothed Tokiko, before again facing the Shadow Boys somberly.  “I think I’m now closer to finding out your true identities than I ever was before  . . . small world, indeed.” Her voice and expression grew even more somber.  “I did eventually find out about Watase Sanetoshi, and what the boy was to become.  There is one thing about the late Kiga Leader I’m certain of: he had to be the one working for the Graying Indian Man, and not the other way around.”  She glanced off and away into the distance.  “With the Ends of the World, it’s never the other way around.”  Behind her, the penguins continued their work on Nemuro, who bore the cutting and prying in motionless silence.  “The day I fell into his trap must’ve been over thirty years ago.”

***

Time: 20 + years pre-revolution

Place: Ohtori Academy, Japan Branch

“So how’d you find the place, Tokiko-kun?” asked the Acting Chairman, a towering, exotic man now smiling down upon her with even teeth that seemed all the whiter against the rich tone of his dark complexion.

“Well . . .” Chida Tokiko, Project Inspector sent forth by the Board of Directors, made a show of studying the fine, almost cathedral-like architecture of the prestigious private academy, all the while cursing the heat on her face that she knew would betray an unbecoming flush, “this certainly looks more than equipped for peaceful studying.”  She had not taken on this job to court handsome men; this was all for the sake of . . . a slip on an inconspicuously stone-resembling patch of ice sent her sliding sideways . . . and right into the Acting Chairman’s solid embrace.

“Careful,” he spoke, his breath a little too ticklish against her ear.

“Thank you,” she quickly straightened up and away from him; handsome as the Acting Chairman might be, he really was acting too familiar with her.  “The fault is mine for venturing out without winter boots, thinking the snow should’ve melted with spring so close.”

“The snow doesn’t melt easily around these parts,” said the man, hands in his coat pockets, smothering eyes on her, “which, considering the topic of the Research, seems appropriate.”  Tokiko, studying the snow stains marring her velvet high heels, felt a pang in her heart.

“Yes . . .”

“ . . . don’t think we’ve been introduced formally before, Professor.”

At the voice and the footsteps, Tokiko looked to the distance (how sound could travel in crisp winter air) to see a male student hot on the heels of a pink-haired man who somehow managed to appear understated despite his violet jacket and shades.  The student (nondescript by comparison) extended his hand to the man.  “Inoue, Inoue-”

“Inoue Tsukiichi,” the pink-haired man – whom Tokiko now recognized as the renowned genius Professor Nemuro, Project Coordinator of the revolutionary research which drew her here working as its inspector – walked on without stopping.   “I’ve come across your name on the file listing.”

Even at the bluntly dismissive reply, Inoue Tsukiichi picked up his steps as he kept on chasing after the professor, following him up a flight of snow-coated steps; there was a flash of magenta glint as he moved, drawing Tokiko’s attention to the rather flamboyant ring on his left hand-

“Tokiko-kun?” Akio called back to her from where he now stood a little further ahead. 

“Ah,” Tokiko hurriedly caught up to the man. “Sorry to keep you-” Her perfunctory apology got cut short by his hand clasping down upon her waist. 

“Your waist is so small,” his purr reminded her of a languid lion,  “I can wrap both hands completely around it.”

There was a flash of red-colored . . . something fluttering briefly across a corner of her vision (looking like a flag? a dress?), disappearing almost immediately upon the split second that she saw it.  Either way, the distraction was enough for to break whatever charming spell the sensuous man was weaving around her, as Tokiko quickly armored herself up with the glacial poise she often used against overtly eager men in the workplace.  

“Rumor has it that your hands are big enough to keep even Chairman Ohtori right in your palm, Acting Chairman-san.”

Giving no hint of having been stung, the Acting Chairman tilted his head back and laughed.  “Purely rumors, of course.”  His deep-set green eyes glanced sideways down upon her.  “Who’s been spreading them, I wonder?”

Tokiko smiled saccharinely back up at him.  “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

His hand retracted, and she spoke no more for the rest of their walk to the faculty office.

***

Back home, she found four pairs of little girl shoes at the door  - with one pair smaller and significantly more expensive than the others – and knew that her brother had again been inviting his new friends over.  

“Chida Nee-san,” a blue-haired little girl, exquisite as a well-crafted doll given life in her luxuriant frilly dress, came into view giving the woman a dainty bow, “welcome back.  I’ve come by to bring Mamiya-kun some of my class notes, and is just about to leave.” 

“Thank you, Hoshimi-chan.”  Tokiko beamed indulgently at the young lady, and at the taller, older trio in less fancy dresses having since come up from behind.  “Ayako-chan, Byako-chan, Cyako-chan; good to see you girls here.”

“Hi, Chida Nee-chan~” replied the three via their a synchoized, theatrical-sounding chorus, before they skipped foreward to swarm her from all sides in fluttery, colorful blurs not unlike that of flapping moth wings.

“Well, how’d you find the Acting Chairman?”

“Isn’t he every bit the fox we say he is?”

“And every bit as dangerous!” 

“We knew he weaseled his way to power somehow!”

“Why would the Academy need an Acting Chairman when the real Chairman is alive and well-”

“Girls.” Ohtori Hoshimi called out in a quietly warning voice rather precocious for her years – one that signified her status as said real Chairman’s only child – and the trio of older students all backed off from a mildly overwhelmed Tokiko to regroup by the younger girl’s side entourage-like.  “Pardon their exuberance, for they’re members of the Drama Club.”

“Oh no,” Tokiko quickly reoriented herself as she smiled graciously at these children.   “Thank you all for coming by to see Mamiya.”  “Did he . . . ?”

“We made sure Chida-kun took his medicine right after eating, and that he got back to bed an hour afterwards,” assured Hoshimi; Tokiko relaxed. 

“Mamiya is lucky to have a bright young lady as yourself as his pen pal and friend, Hoshimi-chan; you even helped him make so many lovely friends so soon after our coming here.” She made sure to include the other girls into the conversation so they would not feel left out – ill feelings festered easily between such children. 

To Tokiko’s surprise, Byako giggled as if having heard a biting joke.  “Oh, Chida-kun made more than just friends here, Nee-chan.”

Ayako was already eagerly leaning forward.  “Do you know?  Do you know?  Do you wonder what we know?”

Cyako clasped her hands together while kicking a foot backwards.   “The little prince falls for the sweet rose blossoming in the vipers’ pit; drama ensues-”

“Girls!” Ohtori Hoshimi raised her voice at them – rather harshly, this time – prior to speaking softly to Tokiko.  “Pardon their crude manners, for they’re of common origins.”  The trio traded ironic hurt looks from behind the stern-faced girl’s back.

Tokiko could do little but to smile warmly at them all.

As the girls were leaving, the trio took turns whispering furtively in the woman’s ears while their young mistress was busy with donning her jacket and shoes.

“Watch out for a guy called Inoue Tsukiichi from among the hundred working under Professor Nemuro.”

“The man is keen on marrying into the Ohtori fortune, and will stop at nothing to achieve this goal.”

“Girls . . . !” Hoshimi, already beyond the opened door, called back to her “friends” in the tone of one calling after straying dogs they were walking.  

“Then . . . au revoir!” said one of the trio – Tokiko could not discern who was who amidst their rapid, theatrical dancing around – before they all flitted out of the door hurrying after the Ohtori heiress, who was already getting onto her chauffered family sedan.  Locking the door behind the girls prior to letting out the sigh she had been holding in all along, the woman finally got to check on the one to have invited the girls over – the very reason why she had gotten the job at Ohtori’s Board of Directors – her terminally ill younger brother, whom all the doctors had long since given up on.

Said brother was clearly awake in his bed, his doe-like brown eyes narrowing in a (Languid? Weary?) smile at seeing her.

“Nee-san.”

“You should be asleep by now,” she chided while sitting down on the stool cushion beside the bed.  “Did you behave yourself in front of the ladies, Mamiya?”

Mamiya rolled a thin shoulder. “What could I possibly do to them that can count as misbehaving?”

Tokiko knocked her brother lightly on the forehead. “Don't say such stupid things, you brat.” 

Mamiya let out a light chuckle . . . one that betrayed his shortness of breath; Tokiko felt her heart sank: the many medications were having very little effects on his ever-weakening state, after all.

“Hey, Mamiya?”

“Hmm?”

 “Have you been going to the Academy by yourself?”

All at once, all the jocular mannerism vanished off of her brother, to be replaced by the hardened, guarded look the boy had been displaying with increasing frequency as per the decay of his health: no, Nee-san, the roses would not be happy having been made to last so long; no, Nee-san, the flowers would not be happy with keeping their petals only to never bear fruit; no, Nee-san, I’m fine with dying like any other terminally ill human being – I do not wish for eternity, especially not one that will keep me being twelve forever and ever . . .

“You’re taking all your courses here by correspondence,” biting back developing tears, Tokiko’s pressed on with her words, which came out a notch harsh sounding.  “There’s really no need for you to-”

“Did the skinny trio say something to you?” asked her brother, boyish tenor blunt and stinging.

“Mamiya,” Tokiko willed her voice and expression to soften, so as not to agitate the frail boy.  “I know you like Hoshimi-chan, and that she likes you . . . but Hoshimi-chan is not an ordinary girl,” and certainly not without her flaws, thought the woman.  “As Chairman’s Ohtori’s only child, her husband will inherit from her leadership over the entire the Ohtori clan.  Even though Hoshimi-chan is still so young, there are already a number of people out there who are keen on possessing her.  For you to join in the fray-”

“It’s shameless,” Mamiya gritted out the words with as much hatred as his young mind could muster up, “all those men acting like they’re courting Ohtori-chan when they’re all just after the money and power; rabid old goats.”

Tokiko, who did not know whether she should laugh or cry at her twelve-year old brother’s condemnation of the late teens in the Research as being “old goats”, settled for hanging her head. 

“I see Ohtori-chan,” her innocent, ailing brother went on.  “I’m the only one who do; I will be her prince even if it cost me my everything!”

Exhaling in exasperation, Tokiko wordlessly began the mechanical process of setting up the gadgets for Mamiya’s sleep-aiding injection, all the while hoping that Ohtori’s Reseach could shed more hope upon her brother’s increasingly hopeless-seeming health situation. 

A few days later, having finally acquired all the proper paper work, Tokiko went straight for Professor Nemuro, intent on making him speed up the revolutionary Research on Eternity – not for the Academy, of course, but for her brother; for slowing or perhaps maybe even stopping the ever-worsening decay of his failing body.

Student assistants, their stances assured and worldly despite the ill-looking design of the Ohtori boy’s uniform they had to wear, could be seen milling about at every nook and corner of the research building; Tokiko could not help but again notice how they all were donning rings identical to the one she saw on Inoue Tsukiichi – the very one Ohtori Hoshimi’s entourage had warned her about.  A number of them were carrying uprooted young trees around – were those relevant to the Research?  With the plants looking so leafless and dry, the woman wondered what was the point of protecting their likely deadened roots by keeping them under wraps . . .

That was then that she saw.

Redness – the same crimson shade as what she saw just days ago while the Acting Chairman was putting the moves on her – could be seen fluttering out from beyond a dim, shadowy corner to the side.  This time, the woman could see that it was actually a piece of puffed, creased fabric likely belonging to a full length-ed, full bottom dress, and it now flowed adrift upon the air in spite of how it was winter indoor.  Curiosity piqued, Tokiko stepped up towards the ill-lit corner . . .

“So that's Professor Nemuro, the genius? And he really doesn't know about our current research subject?”

“Looks that way. But, the Professor's intellect is warranted by you-know-who.”

Startled by the conversation’s topic – and the fact that she recognized one of the nasally teen boy voices to be Inoue Tsukiichi’s – Tokiko lightened her steps as she moved soundlessly up to the corner, and peeked around -

“His thesis is interesting, but the man himself is quite dry,” Inoue Tsukiichi, cigarette between his lips, leaned towards another paler, also cigarette suckling boy, igniting the latter’s tip in a rather intimate manner; ironically, the two happened to be standing right underneath a “NO SMOKING” sign. 

“Let him act how he wants, Inoue-san,” smoky gaze upon bright-eyed Inoue, the paler boy inhaled deeply, prior to taking the cigarette between two fingers to speak better – the rose motif ring glinting under the dim lights as per his hand movement.  “People who act like him can make enemies without realizing it, and that will be his downfall.”

“Ha, I don’t care enough about the Professor to want his downfall – he is just like a computer.”  Exhaling clouds of smoke, Inuoe took out his cigarette as he leaned towards the other boy such that the tips of their noses now are touching.  “We’ll use him for all he's worth . . . Kaoru-san.”

Instead of backing away, the boy Kaoru spoke with his pouty lips brushing against Inuoe’s thinner ones. “How are things proceeding with Ohtori-chan?”

“Proceeding as planned.” 

“Then it’s all good.  With you being a secured item with Ohtori-chan, and me having a hold on the Acting Chairman’s sister, the world is ours.  And when we’re alone like this . . .” With that, the boys went through the door marked “REAR EXIT”, their lusty chuckles audible until the door shut itself behind them.

Neither noticed the key left on the floor: one that had slipped out of Inuoe Tsukiichi’s pocket during the more than friends’ sizzling conspiring earlier on.   Deftly picking up the item, she slipped it into her own pocket and went on her way to the meeting with Professor Nemuro.

Homosexual liaisons among the Research’s assistants were not her concern . . . if not for the fact that the boys involved were both romantically linked with girls of power and prestige in the Academy – with one of the boys being her ailing brother’s love rival, even.  Did Mamiya know about this?  Was that why he was so hostile towards the Research and its assistants?

And there was also another matter that concerned her as the Inspector overseeing the Research – that the student assistants harbor ill feelings towards Professor Nemuro, Research Coordinator.   Unsurprising, considering how the man was both brilliant and cold – an awe-inducing yet alienating combination.  However she looked at it, this could only be detrimental to the already difficulty-plagued Research; just one more thing she needed to go over with the Professor.

Vaguely, she wondered about just where had that red-dressed person that had lead her to eavesdropping on the boys disappeared off into; having no clues to follow up on, the woman had no choice but to redirect her focus upon what was coming up ahead.

***

“You're the Research Coordinator, Professor Nemuro, right?

“I was sent by the Board of Directors.

“I'm here as their current inspector, Chida Tokiko. Pleased to meet you.”

***

Tokiko’s first impression of Professor Nemuro was that he was every bit the socially-inept, computer-like genius she thought he would be.

“You’ve called me all the way out to your house, so what do you want?” asked the man – the very first man to have reacted so coldly to being invited to her home.  She tried to lighten the atmosphere into one more conductive for conversation with inane small talk (although she was indeed mystified by the hourglass running so peculiarly slow during the tea making), but the Professor would have none of that.

“This job I was given is running its course as planned,” stated the man, apparently seeing right through her intent to make him hurry his Research.  “I can't guarantee completion, however.”

“I know that you’re not one for taking orders from others . . .” Tokiko then tried to butter up the Professor by praising his genius-quality; said genius, however, dismissed her attempt, as he then had the gall to lecture her on the sheer arrogance of mere humans trying to grasp eternity (this from the Research Coordinator advancing the work) . . .

Just when the conversation was about to degenerate into an argument, Mamiya’s sneaking out of bed into the greenhouse broke the tension.  Even as she harshly scolded her brother for again endangering his fragile health, she noticed Professor Nemuro’s wide-eyed expression (one that made him looked more like a wonder-filled youth than a haughty genius), and realized that she had been crying.

While running off after uttering quick apologies (no way could she reveal runny makeup in front of a near-stranger), Tokiko noticed her usually unsociable little brother being exceptionally amiable towards the Professor, who appeared awkward yet sincere as he conversed with the ailing boy.  Having speedily cleaned up as she hurried back to the greenhouse, she found to her surprise the boy and man still getting along well in spite of their equally incompetent social skills. 

That was the moment she started letting down her guard against the Professor: any man willing to know and be kind to her brother was good in her book.

After putting her brother in bed and having made him take his injection, Tokiko continued on the conversation with Nemuro, this time in a more sincere manner:

“It's for his sake, that I'm involved in this.

“The doctors have told me that there's nothing left but to give up hope.

“But if the research succeeds . . .”

Even with his stance softened by empathy, Nemuro’s words remained blunt as ever.  “ The research has nothing to do with medicine; even if it succeeds, it may not help your brother's illness.”

“But, maybe I could grasp eternity for him,” insisted Tokiko, studying the mirror against which she placed her picture with Mamiya in a vain attempt to cool the budding desperation in her heart.  From the mirror’s reflection, she saw something glimmering within Nemuro’s now much warmer eyes – something definitely more than mere pity – and Tokiko found herself actually becoming a little bashful. “I'm sorry for crying like this.”

“It's all right,” Nemuro assured her, the understated tenderness of his current expression brought out the true beauty of his exquisitely androgynous features, revealing the “computer-like genius” to also be a humanly attractive man.

“Is there someone important in your life?” she could not help but ask, even knowing that for once, it was her being too-familiar with the opposite sex.  “Or is it that geniuses never fall in love with other people?”

“So it would seem,” murmured Nemuro, his faint blush showing evidence to the contrary.

A light, impish titter could faintly be heard in the air – one that they knew to be from Mamiya’s room – giving away the fact that her sharp-eared little brother had been eavesdropping on them all along, and had managed to read between their lines with his precocious mind.

“Oh, the brat . . .” Tokiko raised a hand to her own face, and found it red hot to her great mortification.  Surprisingly, it was Nemuro who started chuckling first, with her too joining in soon afterwards.

This was, perhaps, a rather insignificant moment in her frantic day-to-day; but Tokiko could not help but think that should she have eternity in her grasp, she would want for times like this to last more than a while longer.

***

Under Tokiko’s supervision, Nemuro started devoting a lot more effort into the Research, with his peculiar experiments now producing more definite results than ever.

“All the other trees have since withered away within a month after getting uprooted, un-watered, and placed out of the sun,” he said to her, gesturing at the dried, leafless trees in the ill-lit underground lab, none taller than a young prepubescent lad, prior to pointing at one that had not only remained full-leafed, but were sprouting small buds.  “This one, however, flourishes on as if still rooted upon fertile soil under the sun; at this rate, its buds may even blossom into full bloom.”

“Incredible,” Tokiko gently caressed the tree’s fresh, supple leaves, her manicured fingertips brushing against the small, green buds.  “Could this be . . . an apple tree?”

“Malus domestica,” replied Nemuro – fitting that he would term the plant by its binominal name, “under Rosaceae.”  His voice, however, was warm at the edges.  “I thought you’d find this less than impressive after having seen the Arena and the Castle.” 

Yes . . . there were those too: the arena hidden behind a forest, up in the sky, over which hovered an upside down castle said to contain eternity.   She would never have had believed in the existences of such logic-defying things, if not for that mind boggling tour Nemuro gave her showcasing his research’s progress thus far.  Even with the definite, complicated equations involved in their eventual harnessing – those were not man-made creations, as the genius professor had told her, but rather, pre-existing cosmic entities partially accessed by human means – it all still seemed surreally magical to her.

“Those were indeed . . . impressive, but what you have here is so much more relevant to what we’re . . .” something occurred to the Project Inspector then.  “But onward growth goes rather against the concept of eternity, doesn’t it?”

She saw Nemuro’s lips quirking in a conspiratory smirk.  “I want to steer the Research in a direction that can best help even a terminally ill child recover and grow.”

Tokiko’s heart skipped at beat at the man’s frankness.  “Nemuro-san . . .” even while heady with exuberance – a emotion she had not felt since her parents’ death, since taking on the crippling burden of being her sickly brother’s sole caretaker – the Project Inspector still kept herself clear-headed enough to ask the important questions.  “But what about the students working at the neighboring section?  Surely they will not approve of the Research going off course.”

“My contract with the Academy allows for me to keep secret the details of my work to even my assistants – who are contracted to carry out the tasks I give them without question.” Nemuro’s violet eyes narrowed behind his shades.  “Besides, the boys in the neighboring section haven’t exactly been frank with me regarding what they’ve been doing on their end either.” 

Tokiko arched a brow at his words.  So Nemuro had noticed the blatant cover up regarding the student assistants’ work right in this same research building – work that even she, the Project Inspector, had been denied full access due to the intricacies in their contracts – noticed, but cared not. 

“Not like I care what they’ve been up to anyway,” Nemuro’s words confirmed her belief.  “So long as they stay out of my way, it’s fine.” 

Tokiko wanted to tell the Professor that he should care; that it was always what people overlooked that proved their downfall.  He had to realize how he was up against young vipers wearing the skins of youths – most of whom more malevolent than the science-focused genius could ever hope to be.  Already, they’re keeping research progress from even him, their Research Coordinator. Should he continue on underestimating them-

Flump . . .

The sound of fluttering fabrics startled the preoccupied woman into turning sharply towards the glass-screen lab door, through which she again saw that enigmatic fluttering red dress – this time in much greater detail than before.

It was a medieval princess costume, one tailored in a full bottom style so theatrical as to be almost cartoon-ish by modern standards.  At first glance, it looked like the windswept (despite their being indoor) dress was hovering phantom-like in the ill-lit hallway; a closer look revealed its wearer to be a petite female (one probably still in her teens, judging by her figure) whose hair was done up in a rigid, chucky updo, whose features were completely shrouded under shadows; glasses, glinting as ice patches, gave away the coldly watchful gaze Tokiko knew was pointing at her like an icy blade.

“Who are you?” she asked, already rushing towards the lab door.  The cluttered “failed” trees were scraping at the fine material of her garments . . . which soon got tangled up against various leafless branches.  By the time she finally managed to get up to that door, the red-dressed girl was already nowhere to be found; only an apple, bearing that exact same shade of crimson as the dress, remained upon the floor.  Picking it up, she studied the sticker bearing the text “KIGA APPLE”, with a penguin motif printed underneath the words.  Feeling indentions under her fingertips, she turned the fruit around to discover the letters carved onto the crimson skin:

FATE

What in the world . . . ?

Nemuro had by now came up to beside her.  “Tokiko-san?” 

“Nemuro-san, that girl in the red dress had been watching us through the lab door,” she said, feeling her heart racing,  “did you see where she go?”

“I did not see anyone,” he got a better look at the apple in her hand.  “This is . . .”

Under their incredulous gazes, the carved letters started fading quickly off the apple’s surface, disappearing completely off the fruit’s surface.

Tokiko squinted her eyes at the apple’s now unblemished skin.  “Is this . . . regeneration? But . . . there should at least have been scar tissues left behind . . .”  She handed the apple to Nemuro, who studied it with his cool, analytical gaze.

“Reversal of state,” stated the genius Professor, “like the ‘time’ of this apple has been made to reverse, even while our time flows on; like the snow accumulation outside remaining frozen despite the rising temperatures, or that hourglass running slow the first time you invited me over for tea.” His frown deepened. “I’ve long since suspected that something is affecting the flow of time around the Academy and its surrounding areas; is this phenomenon related to the Research?”  Tokiko studied the man’s expression for a brief, wordless moment.

“Nemuro-san, how much info have you got on the neighboring section’s Fate Train Theorm?” She saw, to her non-surprise, the startled reaction in him that she expected – the Research Coordinator knew, but thought that she, the Project Inspector, did not.  “I’ve since gone through all the profiles of the student assistants.  Amongst them, Inoue Tsukiichi had entered the Research with the top academic achievements.  Even though the student researchers are using their contracts as shield to keep even I from accessing details of their work, there are those who will talk.”  Her voice darkened huskily.  “Apparently, Inoue Tsukiichi has been developing the Fate Train Theorem away from the Board of Directors’ supervision - supposing that people’s fate are as ‘trains’ upon which they are passengers, and that by ‘transferring trains’ people could supposedly take on another fate while leaving their original destiny behind.  Despite its outlandish nature, they say the Theorem’s development is nearing completion.”

Composing his expression, Nemuro placed the apple into a glass case, where a narrow spotlight illuminated it as specimen on display.

“Fate,” he mulled the word over while fiddling with the contents of a folder, “the peculiar subtopic the Academy has placed under our research – which, by logic, should include only topics relevant to eternity.  Even though the young men had told me nothing but clumsy lies about what they do, there are those close to them eager to ally themselves with me for their own gains, and they’ve been acting as my eyes and ears all along.  If their words are to be believed, then somewhere within this building is a factory operated by the neighboring division in secret.”

“A factory . . . here?”  Tokiko had not heard about this one before.  “Producing what?”

Having found what he was looking for, Nemuro produced a photo from the folder, and handed it to Tokiko.  The Project Inspector could not help but be visibly baffled by what she saw.

“This is . . .?”

“They may not look it, but the data I got suggest that these are indeed perpetual motion robots – ones infused with advanced AI, holographic camouflages, among many other high tech components.  One of their many functions is to channel their users’ brain waves, thus serving as extensions of their persons accordingly . . . almost like medieval familiar spirits being resurrected by cutting edge technology.”

The photo showed an opened card box on an angled conveyor belt, where three blue, rotund objects looking suspiciously like children’s penguin stuff toys were cluttered in its confines.  The card box had the same penguin motif as could be seen on the time-reversed apple, underneath which the words "Pingroup Inc" remained faintly visible upon the startlingly-high resolution image.

Turning her gaze towards the apple in the showcase – unmarred except for the penguin motif sticker – Tokiko resolved to pry deeper into the neighboring section’s research, to make sure that it will not jeopardize the miracle Nemuro was trying to create via this Research.

She would allow nothing to stand in the way of her brother’s survival.

***

//“Professor Nemuro is awfully excited about the project recently, isn't he?”//

//“Didn't the Board of Directors send an inspector?”//

//“She really seems to be just right for the job.”//

//“Can no one beat a genius at his game?”//

//“Then, does the Professor still not know what all this is about?”//

Playing one of the many tapes she recorded from the various spy bugs she had since planted all around the research building, and listening via one single earphone (she kept her other ear free to listen for potential intruders), Tokiko’s strained attention perked as she finally came upon something relevant to what she wanted to find out.

//“He can have his Upside Down Castle, we shall have our Hole in the Sky,”// said a voice she recognized to be Inoue Tsukiichi’s.  //“With all the mysteries of the world clearly documented within the library’s infinite confines, there’s no way we’d lose in this fixed race between Eternity versus Fate.”//

//“That Watase boy’s ‘familiar’ invention is like the icing on our cake.”// said another voice – Kaoru Yuki, Inoue’s “friend”.  //“You know, he keeps asking me about when would he be formally allowed into the Research.”//

//“Like they would take a grade schooler onboard . . . kid should be grateful that we’re realizing so many of his outlandish ideas with the Research’s funding to begin with!  I can’t believe we’ve let him wrest us into designing the revolutionary perpetual motion robot to look like a penguin toy.”//

//“Geniuses can be stubborn when they got fixated on something, and that one-track-mindedness is what makes them easy to exploit.  We shall win against Nemuro, and have that which is promised to us by you-know-who.”//

“You-know-who . . . ” she tapped her manicured nail tips against her desk, murmuring aloud in her puzzlment.  “Just what are the little vipers going to have?”

“A taste of the Fruit of Fate.”

The deep, masculine drawl coming from behind shocked Tokiko into almost dropping her earphone.  Turning around, she saw, to her disbelief, the tall, imposing figure of Acting Chairman Himemiya Akio being impossibly present in her locked office room; and she could not even cry for help, not with the evidences of her illegal eavesdropping all over her own office desk.

“Have you not come to this academy seeking eternity for your brother?” asked the man, his dark, broad hand holding out an apple – one with the penguin motif sticker – in front of her widened eyes.  “Here is eternity, right in front of your eyes . . . but whether you can grasp it or not depends upon what you might, or might not, be willing to do.”

“You’re related to the girl in the red dress,” stated Tokiko, taking in the contrast of dark skin against crimson shirt, all the while willing her shaky voice to again be steady.  “You’re also the one in control of the hundred student assistants in place of Professor Nemuro, and the one who apparently controls the powerful Ohtori Clan.  Are you the reason behind the illogical, mystical elements of the Research, as well as the unusual time flow around the area? Just what are you, really?”

“So many questions, ” Silver-haired head shaking with mirth, Himemiya Akio put down the apple, prior to producing a ring identical to those worn by the student assistants, which he then dangled in front of her pallid face.  “I can give you answer to that which you ask, but it will require you being contracted to me via this ring.” Tokiko make no move to take the ring.  “I see you hesitate still.  By now, only one question should remain for you: who do you think could save your brother in time – me, or him?”

“Show me proof,” insisted the woman, refusing to back down even amidst her growing uncertainties.  “If you say you can save Mamiya ahead of Nemuro-san, then show me how you do it!”

Akio’s devilish smirk broadened into a canines showing grin.  “All that and more, I shall reveal to you.  I’ll show you the Ends of the World; yes, even you.”

End Part Eight

Chapter Text

WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization

Utena and Penguindrum characters belong to their various owners.

 

Time: 10 years post-revolution

Place: Undisclosed

 

“So, the Acting Chairman made his move on Nee-san that early on, huh?” pondered Chida Mamiya, idly picking pieces of torn poppy petals off the tousled blue locks of the exquisite young girl in his arms – whose bare skin was hot against his, whose unbuttoned full-length dress now cloaked their nakedness in fine, luxuriant ripples.

 

“That was when he offered her the means to change your fate and give you eternity,” murmured Ohtori Hoshimi, preserved in childhood here in this sanctuary.   “With you being her only weakness, Childa Nee-san never stood a chance against him.” Stretching catlike, the “girl” then turned away from him in one sinuous, womanly movement.  “Neither did I, when my turn came.”

 

Glancing out of the glass window of the greenhouse, over the pale stretches of piled snow, Mamiya’s vision went hazy from clouded memories of that first person he ever respected, except for his sister; that self-proclaimed computer-like man who came alive for he and his sister to disastrous results.  Before he knew it, a chuckle – raspy as the rustling of dried leaves – had since escaped his dried throat.

 

“What's so funny?” asked Hoshimi, in a tone suggesting that she already knew the answer.

 

“Hey, look,” Uncaring of whether Hoshimi was looking or not, Mamiya dabbed a fingertip at a corner of his eye, then lifted a glistering drop under the pallid light. “It's a tear.”

 

***


Time: 20 + years pre-revolution
Place: Former Chida Residence
            `
“Shouldn't you be asleep right now?”

“It's okay, I'm feeling a bit better today.”

“I see.”  Adjusting his coat – the one he’d taken off inside the warmth of the greenhouse – somewhat unnecessarily over the garden table it now draped over, Professor Nemuro sat back and watched him with a focused-ness to his eyes that made his gaze almost analytical-seeming.  While such a nakedly direct gaze would put off most people, Chida Mamiya was not one of them – being terminally ill, the boy much preferred direct honesty to affected sympathy while on borrowed time.

Having been cut off from school life by his unfortunate condition, the boy’s craving for companionship naturally exceeded those of other “normal” children of his age.  He figured the distinguished Professor to be the most interesting adult a kid like him could ever meet, and wanted to make the most of their every meeting before his limited time was to run out.

“The snow in this garden doesn't disappear so easily, does it?” commented Mamiya, hoping to incite a telling comment or two from the very genius behind the research on eternity; seeing none, the boy then switched over to another topic he knew would be of interest to them both.   “My sister was called out by the Board of Directors, so she probably won't be back until evening.”

“No, that's fine, I only came here today to see your face,” said the Professor, with a tenderness atop his frankness that somehow made the boy blush with feelings he could not yet explain, no matter how precocious he thought himself to be.”

“So, do you like it?” the boy hurried onto the next round of stuff to say.  “It's a rose sugar-jam. My sister makes them . . .” As he went over the preserved dessert, the lacquered flowers, the things his sister do to keep what was hers preserved against time . . . including himself, the weary exasperation that had been a constant presence since his illness worsened started spewing forth before he could stop it.  “ . . . being forced to last so long.  Eternity doesn't exist in this world, does it?  It's just an impossibility held up for people to romanticize.” 

“You don't think that what your sister and I are doing is going to succeed?” asked the Professor, his gently crestfallen expression reminding him of how his sister had looked back when she combed through an entire shopping district to buy a limited edition robot for his past birthday, only to find out that he had already outgrown toys; Mamiya gulped audibly.

“I respect the two of you, and I'm grateful as well-”

“Chida-kun!”

“Ohtori-chan,” Standing up at the sweetly girlish voice, Mamiya saw a frantic Hoshimi hurrying into the greenhouse in flutters of lacy frills – some of which brushing against the cluttered flora to petal scattering effects. 

“It changed again!”  Carrying the specimen case that once hanged upon the living room wall, the girl thrust it at him urgently.  “And this time . . .”

Taking the case from Hoshimi’s hands, Mamiya did a double take at what he saw.  “What the . . . ? Even if a preserved butterfly can somehow regress back into an egg, just where does that leaf come from?”

“Ah, Professor Nemuro!”  The girl, who probably only now noticed the presence of the quiet man, quickly perfected her posture as she then gave a formal bow.  “Good Afternoon.”

Professor Nemuro nodded at the young Ohtori heiress like he would an ordinary little girl.  “Good afternoon, Hoshimi-chan.”

“This just proves it, Professor, time is moving strangely on various objects all around this area.” Porcelain-fair complexion flushed with eagerness, she took a step up towards the Professor.   “Allow me to be frank – is this phenomenon a sign of the Research gaining progress?” 

“Sa . . .” noncommittal, Professor Nemuro grabbed his coat off the table.  “I still got unfinished work that I must tend to.”  He turned to address Mamiya while donning his coat.  “Thank you for having me. I'll be back again sometime.”  Finally, he gave the baffled Hoshimi a light nod while already walking away.  “Good day, Hoshimi-chan.” 

Mamiya called after him.  “Professor Nemuro. . .”

“Yes?”

“I'll be sure to tell my sister that you're worried about me. 

The boy thought he saw a somewhat fragile smile curling on the man’s lips, prior to his exiting the greenhouse and away.

“Am I the only one who thinks the Professor is obviously hiding something?” muttered Hoshimi. 

Mamiya let out a heavy sigh.  “Sa . . .”

“On the topic of the Research . . . ” grabbing him by the hands, Hoshimi looked him in the eye solemnly.  “ I come today to tell you something that you should notify Chida Nee-san about . . .”

***

That evening, his sister returned much earlier than usual, in a state that he had not seen her in for some time: hair unruly, skin pallid, and bloodshot eyes glassy, she reminded him of the day she returned home bearing news of the meaningless accident that took their parents’ lives.   Even the feline-sharp alert that she always armored herself with was down, as she was actually stumbling past him by unseeingly.

“ . . . Nee-san?”  he called out to her, warily.  The woman jolted as if getting snapped out of a trance.

“Ah, Mamiya!”  She fumbled for something to say to him.  “Why aren’t you in bed?”

Mamiya blinked.  “I’m just about to have dinner:  I can’t take the medication on empty stomach, remember?”

“Oh . . . is it still so early?”  His sister checked her watch (while the clock was right on the wall beside her).   “Leave the dinner box in the fridge, I’ll be cooking tonight.”

“Are you sure?” asked the boy, his worry going unnoticed by his clearly preoccupied sister.

“Mamiya, I’m thinking . . . maybe you can try stopping the medications starting tonight and through tomorrow.”  Seeing her ailing brother’s stunned expression, she hurried to explain her peculiar (not to mention risky) suggestion.  “It’s just . . . medications are toxins too, and I’m thinking maybe you need to take a break from those once in a while.”

“Okay,” Mamiya supposed that made sense.  “To be honest I don’t feel like I need it as of now . . . I’ve been feeling very good today for some reason.” 

“That’s . . . good.” There’s obvious relief to his sister’s expression, but also something else . . . something strangely resigned, and blue . . . the boy then remembered something he needed to tell her.

“Nee-san, do you know?  Hoshimi-chan and the Professor both dropped by today.  The specimen case in the living room changed again!  Whereas it was simply the butterfly regressing through its various stages, it now becomes a leaf with butterfly eggs . . .” his words trailed off at his sister listless retreat into her own room.  “Nee-san?”

“Go wash your hands while I change, Mamiya; I’ll fix you something good for dinner.”

Thankfully, his sister was not so out of it that it hampered her cooking.  The steak was evenly medium rare, the fried salmon skin crispy and flavored, the greens and fruit slices beautifully arranged . . . appetite roused, Mamiya let go of his earlier trepidations and dug heartily into the spectacular dinner under his sister’s strangely wistful gaze.

“Your appetite is back, Mamiya.  You haven’t been able to eat this much for a very long time.”  Again, there was that gloomy something in her expression.  Feeling self-conscious now, the boy rolled a thin shoulder.

“Perhaps I really am getting better all on my own.  Maybe there’s no need for you to pursue that eternity nonsense for me anymore, Nee-san.”

“You’ve been against Ohtori’s Research on Eternity since the very beginning,” murmured his sister, whom the boy now noticed to have been eating very little thus far.  “Yet, you get along so well with Nemuro-san.”

“Professor Nemuro is a good, reliable man,” said the boy between his full mouthfuls, stressing the word “reliable” in a not-so-subtle manner, “unlike those he has to collaborate with on the Research.  I so want you to start seeing him outside of work; you’re not getting any younger, Nee-san.”

Instead of being miffed, his beautiful sister let out a worryingly sad chuckle.  “So you like the Professor this much, huh.”  Seemingly eating only for appearance’s sake, Nee-san nibbled on a slice of tomato that stained her lips red.  “And still you hold a grudge against the student research assistants.”

“They’re a shameless lot.”  Said the boy, even more talkative than usual now that he feels more energized.  “Oh top of their courting Ohtori-chan insincerely, it’s been found that these ‘brilliant’ guys are really relying on someone outside of the research team for-” 

 “You know about Himemiya Akio?” asked his now wild-eyed sister in an unrecognizably shrill voice, as she reached across the table to clamp frantic hands upon his shoulders to painful effects.

“ . . . I was just about to tell you that the student assistants had the gall to trick a fourth grader into doing their work for them,” said Mamiya, and his sister released her grip immediately, prior to slumping back down onto her seat, ash-faced.  “Himemiya Akio . . . Ohtori’s Acting Chairman; what about him?” 

“Nothing,” muttered his sister prior to taking a deep, calming sip of her tea.

“You know . . . you’re not even surprised when I tell you about the vipers stealing work off a fourth grader to use on the Research.”

“I am; just that . . .”

“Nee-san, are you keeping things from me?” The boy’s frown deepened as he watched the shakiness of his sister’s hand on her teacup.  “It’s okay of you do . . . cause I’m still a brat and may not be much help with you troubles.  But . . . if this is really troubling you, can’t you talk it over with the Professor?  He is a good man who cares about us, and he-”

“Mamiya.” Putting down her teacup a little too loudly, his sister made a visible effort to compose her expression, prior to looking him in the eye.  “In the days to come, you might see me acting in ways that you will think is . . . strange.”  She reached across the table to grab onto his hands in a firm, insistent grip.  “Promise me that whatever you see me do, you’ll know I’m doing it for you.  Okay?” 

That was when Mamiya abruptly noticed the reddened mark around her ring finger.

“Mamiya,”

Prompted by his sister’s pleading voice, the boy glanced back up into her cloudy eyes, and nodded.

***

Things were relatively peaceful around the house for the next couple of days, with his sister returning late as usual, and he having to again contend with pre-made dinner boxes every evening.  The almost daily injections, however, had ceased, that with his health condition having miraculously stabilized despite his staying completely off medication.

“Aside from some very mild dizzy spells and some joint aches, I don’t really have much problems at all,” said Mamiya to the visiting Hoshimi, as they have tea together in the greenhouse. 

Hoshimi’s gaze upon him – usually warm with cherishment - now bordered on being scrutinizing.  “Then . . . it’s kind of like how it was for you six months ago, back then you wrote me about how you were in the beginning stages of this illness, isn’t it?”

A smart boy, Mamiya made the connection immediately.  “You don’t mean . . .”

Hoshimi tapped her slim fingertips pensively against the teacup. “I’m happy that you’re getting better, but . . . for this to happen right when the butterfly reverted back into an egg really seem like too much of a coincidence.  Chida-kun . . . you’re a little bit smaller than when we first met . . .”

Mamiya’s gaze turned inwards at the implication.  “Then my time has also reversed . . . just like the butterfly specimen.”

“More like the ‘time’ of your body has reversed, but not that of your mind,” murmured the girl.  “I want to think that this is a controlled result of the Research, but according to my sources, there are other forces at work beside Professor Nemuro-”

“There is no way Inuoe and his gang can rival the Professor in terms of ability,” Mamiya cut her off, feeling the need to defend Nemuro somehow.   “I’ve read the man’s thesis, I know what he’s capable of.”

Hoshimi was visibly taken aback by the boy’s fierce defense of the Professor’s ability; nonetheless, she spoke on.  “We mustn’t forget that the student assistants have child prodigy Watase Sanetoshi-kun as their wildcard.  Genius is a godly thing – it isn’t proportional to things like age or background.”  Pause.  “So, how did Chida Nee-san react to the news?”

Mamiya clucked his tongue.  “She barely heard what I said, so out of it as she seemed.   She’s been keeping things from me; having me off medication, and acting all strange and secretive even around the house.  She spends her nights in the basement now, you know, and she locks it when she’s inside . . . but whenever I went down there to check while she’s away, I can’t find anything out of the ordinary.” He trailed off at the look he got from Hoshimi.  “Yes, I sneaked out of bed to check, Ohtor-chan . . . you don’t think I’d just sleep through something strange happening right underneath this roof, do you?”

“Hn,” eyes hooded, Hoshimi refilled Mamiya’s cup for him.  “Sources tell me that Inoue had lost the key to an important lab earlier on, which could’ve led to the recent theft in the assistants’ division.”

“A theft?”

“An item crucial to the Fate Train Theorem has been stolen  . . . a ‘Fate Diary’ said to have the power to change fate.”

“ . . . I suppose such a thing would be more ‘user friendly’ than the Castle and the Arena combined,” muttered the boy after a sip of his tea.

“I’m not so sure about that,” said his sharp-minded little girl friend.  “All these surreal things brought on by the Research are cosmic forces but partially harnessed by human means . . . just because something looks like a book doesn’t mean it would be just as easy to handle.  I heard that the first attempt by Inoue to experiment on it almost ended up burning down the lab – the Diary is apparently prone to spontaneous combustion.”  She paused briefly to finish her own cup.  “I don’t suppose you got a working smoke detector in your basement, Chida-kun?”

Mamiya’s eyes widened at Hoshimi’s question.


***
 
That night, his sister again returned late in the night, way past his sleep time.

And, as with the past couple of days, her light footsteps gave away the fact that she was again going into the basement, locking the door behind her.

Sneaking out of bed after a few minutes, Mamiya donned his sleeping robe and slippers, slipped out into the unlit hallway, and proceeded to soundlessly make his way to the basement door.  Producing the lock pick that Hoshimi had left him, Mamiya carefully opened the door with it, as he then tiptoed down the flight of stairs.

Even as he was nearing the last step, he already could see the fluttery red shades rippling across the wall in front like bloodied waves, and knew to his apprehension that a sizable fire had to be brewing down below.

But even then, the boy still was completely unprepared for what he saw at the turn of the stairs.

There was his sister, standing with her arms outstretched, her feet crossed, completely engulfed in flames so strong, the entire space was basked under their saffron lights.

Mamiya would have screamed, if not for the fact that he immediately saw the pink, glowing book hovering in midair in front of his sister, its pages rapidly turning as if tossed by phantom winds.  His sister, while aflame, did not wither under the fiery blaze; rather, she appeared resplendently unharmed, as she chanted in a voice largely defused by the fire’s hiss, with none of her words audible to his ear.

“ . . . what’s that on your finger?”

Even covered in fire, the familiar-looking rose motif ring was clearly visible upon his sister’s left hand, glowing like the heated metal it was against her luminous, unharmed skin.

“Nee-san . . . ?”

The boy suddenly realized that his sister could neither see nor hear him, so engrossed was she was in whatever magic she was currently working with her now witch-like -

Flump . . .

Somewhat impossibly, the boy heard the sound of fluttering fabrics coming from behind him in spite of the flames’ sound.   Turning around, he saw a slim, shadow-cloaked figure in a lab coat, watching him behind coldly glinting glasses, prior to slipping up and beyond the turn of the basement stairs.

Mamiya did not – nor did he had time to – think twice about going after the eerie intruder.

By the time he got up to the living room, the intruder was already slipping out of the front door; Mamiya quickly followed as he gave chase into the night.

The sky was cloudlessly clear – the way it had been since that snowfall from weeks ago, with that same accumulated built up from then still covering the roads in spite of the approaching spring – and the stars were vivid to the point of resembling those from a planetarium’s projections.  The winds were the chilliest on nights like this, and he had the foolishness to come running out without winter coat, let alone snow boots . . .

Surprisingly, the frail boy did not so much as shiver in this winter night - he felt the night wind against his flimsy robe and exposed skin, but none of its chilliness; and there was no slush to hamper his running, as his indoor slippers were tapping smoothly, easily upon the dry wooden ties of an extremely narrow gauge railroad – one that he did not recall having ever seen around the area.   The houses were gone, as were the road pavements . . . as was the entire residential neighborhood; all around, there was nothing but the starry, galactic space, with the railroad existing impossibly upon nothing.  Up ahead, the figure in the lab coat appeared to be pushing some kind of loaded flatback trolley along the tracks; though it (as Mamiya had since realized that whatever it is not have been human) moved in seemingly languid steps, Mamiya found that he could not catch up to it no matter how fast he thought he was running.

“Who are you?” cried the boy as he ran after the thing, brittle heart speeding hazardously within his thin chest.  “What were you doing at our house?  What’s happening to my sister?  What-”

The entity in the lab coat tossed something backwards over a shoulder in an arc of glittery light . . . and it found its way into his opened throat, giving him no choice but to swallow.  It was sweet, crisp, and cool . . . tasting just like a slice of . . .

. . . apple?

And, along with that realization, Mamiya found his surroundings changing with such abruptness, that the boy almost tripped over his own feet.

It still was night, and the stars still were glittering brightly above; but he now found himself in the courtyard outside Ohtori Academy’s research building – a spot he had since familiarize himself with from the times he sneaked out of the house to meet with Hoshimi at school.  There was a white-draped long table illuminated by a singular candelabra, upon which a feast of apples, grapes, and pears had been laid out, accompanied by champagne glasses and stacks of empty plates; upon closer look, all the apples had penguin motif stickers upon their crimson surfaces. 

The setting was that of an elegant evening party – one with no attendee in sight. Nasally male voices, eerily diffused yet still very much audible, hovered adrift over the cool night air:

“The road to the Dueling arena is now open.”

“At last, that is about to begin.”

“And now, Professor Nemuro's duty is finished.”

“From now on, carrying on without him is probably what you-know-who plans on.”

“Surely even he'll lose to someone.”

“We can just leave him by the wayside.”

“Well then, let's open the champagne.”

 Pop!

“Ah, Chida-kun,” his nemesis’ voice, sounding very real from behind him, startled the boy into jolting.  Turning around, what he saw made him did a double take.

Inoue Tsukiichi, looking drunk on liquor, was wobbling past with his arm around the slim shoulder of Kaoru Yuki – a shameless goat perversely supportive of his mate going after Hoshimi.  A trio of dresses – not girls, the feminine attires hovering in midair as if worn by invisible females – could be seen flanking the boys in dramatically coquettish poses. 

“Shouldn’t terminally ill little boys be in bed by now?” asked Inoue, snide and completely oblivious to the strangeness surrounding them.

“Are high school students allowed to drink now?” Mamiya asked him back, the dream-like surreal-ness of the moment having lessened his inhibition against petty verbal sparring.  The older boy’s derisive laughter came accompanied by peals of girlish giggles – ones the younger boy recognized to belong to the drama club trio who used to hang around Hoshimi all the time.

What did this mean?  Were the girls invisible now?

“A correspondence student like you probably don’t know,” Kaoru piped up then, “but we who wear this ring can do anything in this Academy.”  The pale-skinned youth flashed his rose motif ring at the boy in a gesture not unlike that of a society debutante flaunting her jewelry. 

The reminder that the same ring now was on his witchcraft-working sister’s finger hit Mamiya like a blow to the chest.

Even in his frantic state, the boy noticed the dog collar visible around Kaoru’s neck, one with a red leash so long, it trailed out of view into the surrounding darkness . . . who or what was holding the other end?

“So tell us more, Inoue-kun,” spoke the suspended red dress in Ayako’s voice.  “How was your dinner at the Ohtori Mansion?” 

“See?  We told you the way to courting Hoshimi-chan is through Mr. Ohtori!” squealed Byako, invisible but for her green dress and shoes; the remaining one’s dancing about sent the folds of her blue dress fluttering out like insect wings. 

“The girl might act spirited, but she is really little more than a flower in her father’s palm.  Soon enough, Inoue-kun, you’d become the next Mr. Ohtori, with Kaoru-kun as the Acting Chairman acting under ya!”

“Don’t forget the ones who made this happen for you, okay?” chorused the invisible trio, as the whole eerie lot of them disappeared off into the ominously unlit distance. 

What in the world was going on here?

Looking around, Mamiya saw that the bowls of fruit and the tableware have all vanished off the draped-covered long table; the winds picked up, blowing the drapery up and off, thus revealing the “table” to be a series of boxes . . .

. . . no, not boxes, COFFINS loaded upon flatback trolleys parked together, their wheels set upon the tracks of the very gauge railroad that his feet had remained upon even now. 

With baited breath, Mamiya clasped his hands upon a coffin’s heavy lid, and started pulling it to the side-

“It won’t open any further, you know.”

The quiet voice, coupled with the cool hand now reaching out from the coffin to clasp onto his, startled a scream from out of Mamiya . . . one that quickly died down, as the boy got a better look at the young child curled up on one side inside the coffin.

“ . . . Watase?” asked Mamiya, recognizing the child genius whom Hoshimi had pointed out to him on his prior visit to the academy.  “Watase Sanetoshi-kun?  What are you doing in there?”

“I’ve always been in here,” replied Watase Sanetoshi, his longish pink locks obscuring his eyes and much of his expression. “This is the box the world has crammed me into, a device to make me forget.”

“Make you . . . forget?”

“Forget how I’m a chosen one.  There are only two types of people in this world, you know?  The ones who are chosen and the ones who aren't chosen.  To not be chosen is to become nothing."

“Watase-kun . . . if this is about Inoue and his goons-”

Sanetoshi’s startlingly worldly chuckle – one completely devoid of the lightness of childhood – cut Mamiya off like whip’s lash.  “They’re nothing that I need to concern myself with.  They think they’re stealing my designs, but truth is I’m the one using them to construct my designs; they think they’re the chosen ones, but they’re nothing.   The Ends of the World have since chosen me as the one to get out of the box and break the world’s shell, leaving everyone else in the Fate Research to be nothing but living fuel to power the Project’s mechanism.” Releasing his hold on Mamiya’s hand, the child genius swept aside his lengthy fringe to meet the older boy’s wide eyes with his own smile-narrowed ones.  “Isn’t it electrifying?”   

“The Ends of the World?”

“The one behind the Research, behind the Academy, behind the country, behind the World.  You saw it too, didn’t you?  The un-chosen ones are all becoming increasingly transparent; soon, they’d get erased completely off the scenery of the world.  People can be chosen, and they can make choices . . . it looks like the genius Professor from the other division too, had since made his choice.”  

“What about Professor Nemuro?” asked Mamiya, voice cold with dread.

“There is a race between the two research divisions,” explained Sanetoshi, appearing deeply amused, “and only the winning side gets to become something.  By choosing not to duel upon the Arena for the sake of reaching Eternity, the Professor is hindering his own research progress.  Already, the Project Inspector has lost faith in the Professor’s ability to give her ailing brother timely access to Eternity, and has chosen the power of the Ends of the World over the man to have her wish fulfilled.”

“The power . . . of the Ends of the World . . . ?”

“The power to surpass human limitations and harness cosmic entities – the Castle, the Arena, the Hole in the Sky, the Fate Diary, all these fall under the control of human hands because of this power.” 

Sanetoshi paused then, as if solely to study Mamiya’s expression, and the older boy knew whatever his face betrayed would be a sight to behold – his sister, a rational woman with a rational job, now is practicing witchcraft in their basement all because of the Academy’s Research, all of because of this Ends of the World . . . 

. . . was she now to abandon the Professor, who had been laboring towards them siblings’ salvation against all odds; all along . . . all alone?

. . . all so her ailing brother could be kept unnaturally alive?  

“It’s a power to grasp Eternity, to control Fate . . . a power to Revolutionize the World.”  The pink haired child’s pre-adolescent voice turned heavy with darkness that no child should possess.  “Left un-chosen after having already surrendered his heart, even a brilliant man like Nemuro too shall become nothing-”

A hand, dark and slender from where it stuck out of a white lab coat sleeve, pushed the coffin lid shut, cutting off whatever Sanetoshi was about to say. 

Even without glancing up, Mamiya knew that this was the entity to have led him onto the eerie railroad and all the way here; there was a red length tied around its dark small finger, and the boy realized with a start that it was the other end of the dog leash he saw on Kaoru just moments ago.

Lifting his gaze, he saw that the entity bore the form of a petite girl looking maybe a few years older than he was.    With her long dark tresses pulled up in a chunky updo, and her face masked under spectacles, she would have looked like just any nondescript girl nerd around the academy, if not for her dark, exotic complexion.  Her smile benignly serene, she reached inside her lab coat (which appeared to be the only thing she was wearing, in addition to her glasses and red shoes), produced an apple from which a slice had since been carved out, and showed to him the word since carved onto the fruit’s crimson skin:

CHOOSE

“Mamiya!”

The urgent, familiar voice shattered the trance the boy had been in for all this time, and he found himself freezing in the windy, slush-covered courtyard where neither rail tracks nor coffins nor any lab-coat-wearing girl were in sight.  A soft heaviness slammed onto his chilled bones, quickly enveloping him in much needed warmth – it took him a moment to realize it was Professor Nemuro’s coat.

“Why are you out here alone at this hour?   You don’t even have winter clothes on . . . ”  Already, the man had lifted the boy up into his surprisingly strong arms.  “I’ll get you inside at once!”

Mamiya was shivering so badly by now voice his voice sounded inaudible to even his own cold-numbed ears.  “Inoue . . . the race . . .  research . . .”  

“Did the student assistants do this to you?” asked the outraged Professor, jumping into conclusions as he hurriedly moved the boy back indoor.  “I can’t believe them . . . the bastards!”

“ . . . selfish . . .” murmured the hypothermia-wrecked boy, feeling completely disoriented as the startlingly athletic Professor raced past the unlit corridors carrying him, “ . . . owe it to you that the castle . . . the arena . . . opened . . .”

“Shhh,” the red-faced Professor now looked to be almost in tears as he practically kicked open his office door (all those people who thought the man “computer-like” should have seen him now).  Putting the coat-bundled boy down upon the chair, the Professor quickly turned up the heat as he then fumbled with the phone.  “Don’t worry, I’ll call your sister-” 

“Eternity means . . . forever,” gasped Mamiya in his brittle voice, his small, cold hand clasping onto the Professor’s, stopping him from dialing, “right?  For years, decades, centuries, millennia, eons . . . on and on . . .” Watching the Professor’s face in this frantic moment, Mamiya looked into the man’s wide, unguarded eyes, taking in that pure, unmarred something shining within – that which the man often kept hidden beneath his stoic, stone-cold mannerism.  “My life may be just a moment, but...” This shining, brilliant something, which his foolish sister had since left to dim in her desperation to defy fate . . .  he will keep it burning if that was the last and only thing his failing flesh could possibly do.  “ . . . eternity means that this moment lasts billions of billions of years . . . without end . . .” 

“Mamiya-kun . . . ” The Professor looked like he was seeing the boy for the very first time; the boy, for his part, squared his jaws as he made a choice that he hoped would keep this special, brilliant man chosen and unfading; a choice that he knew, even then, could cost him his everything.

“I . . . I want eternity!”

End Part Nine

Chapter Text

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Utena and Penguindrum characters belong to their various owners.
 
WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization
 
Part Ten: Missing Link III

 

 

 

Time: 10 years post-revolution

Place: Chida Mansion

 

The group – what remained of it – was gathered together at a corner of the pristine hallway in one visibly furtive flock, clearly on edge.

 

“Erm . . . just what are we doing right now?” asked Shinohara Wakaba, likely feeling the urge to end the prolonged, nerve-pricking moment of wordlessness.

 

“We’re waiting for Saionji and Nanami to come back out of that washroom, so we’d know what’s going on at their end,” replied Arisugawa Juri, who stood with crossed arms while studying the many vases of lacquered flora lining the hallway.  Beside her, Takatsuki Shiori had her anxious gaze fixed upon the washroom’s half-opened door. 

 

“Saionji-sempai didn’t even bother to close the door . . . I think it’s okay if we go up and-” Juri merely glanced over at her, and already Shiori was crumbling like paper under fire.  “Sorry.”

 

“No, don’t be,” Juri hurriedly (and deliberately) softened her expression.   “We’re stuck in a magic zone in the midst of a war against the Ends of the World, where the leaders of our operation have both gone off presumably having breakdowns.  We have every right to be suspicious and prying . . . but doing so will only make the situation worse.”  Shiori nodded, pallid-faced.

 

“Nanami-sama is inside crying . . .” fidgeted Tsuwabuki Mitsuru, clearly wanting to go in and check, but is wary of being stopped by the others.

 

“I got a quick glimpse of the inside from before,” Kaoru Miki spoke up then.  “The washroom looks all gross just like some run-down park toilet.  That definitely does not look like it belong here.”

 

Juri chuckled dryly as she leaned softly against the wall.  “Considering everything we’ve already seen, a second floor park toilet actually sound fairly normal . . .”

 

. . . creak . . .

 

Turning at the sound, they saw the star-adorned bedroom door – located right beside where Juri was leaning against– opening a crack, revealing to their bewilderment a seamless expanse of starry outer space existing impossibly beyond the doorway.  Hovering upon this impossible space was a lushly ornamented bed, one adorned with red canopy curtains now rippling outwards as tongues of a violent flame, with the shadowy silhouettes of a small, gathered group faintly visible from between the gaps of the vast sheets of fluttering fabrics; Chida Tokiko’s voice, sounding from afar, seeped out into the hallway as tendrils of thin smoke:

 

“. . . of the World was behind the incident; knew, but could do nothing . . . because I was only human back then.”

 

***

 

Time: 20 + years pre-revolution

Place: Former Chida Residence

 

To even his own surprise, Chida Mamiya survived that infinitely surreal, eerie winter night.

 

Thinking back, he remembered having passed out in Nemuro’s office, in the man’s arms, right after his (in hindsight, overblown) proclamation of wanting eternity.  By the time he was again conscious, he was already in his own bedroom back home; the sleeping robe was on its hanger, his slippers were dry and clean.  For one sleep-blurred moment, he thought all that he saw and heard and said and felt were all just parts of a nonsensical nightmare.

 

Then he felt the cool, rotund object bumping against his side under the sheets, and pulled out, to his dread, an apple he knew to be the same one as that the dark girl gave him the night before – even though it now was completely unblemished, but for a penguin sticker marking its crimson skin.

 

Voices – his sister’s and the Professor’s – could be heard coming from the outside:

 

“Thank you for bringing him back safe.”

 

“It’s the least I could do.  Are you sure it’s a good idea not to admit him to the hospital?”

 

“He’ll be fine.  Our family doctor is a specialist who has his complete health file: I will call him over later in the afternoon to give my brother a thorough checkup.”

 

“You sound awfully sure that Mamiya-kun’s condition is going to be stable even after his bout with hypothermia, Tokiko-san.”

 

“Nemuro-”

 

“Tokiko-san, I’m here to help.”

 

A tense, prolonged moment of silence, and then . . .

 

“ . . . you cannot help us, Nemuro-san.”

 

“Tokikio-san-”

 

“The Castle, the Arena, the surreal items brought on by the neighboring section’s secret research . . . you with your godly genius, surely you must’ve realized that such mystical things have come under the Academy’s control not because of research, nor any human efforts?”

 

“Tokiko . . .”

 

“You are maybe the most highly-esteemed physicist on this side of Japan. But you cannot become our savior, because you’re only human.” 

 

“I-”

 

“The way before me has since been prepared.  Where I’m treading, you cannot, must not follow.  A man of your qualifications can work anywhere.  So, terminate your contract with Ohtori, leave the Academy and forget everything.”  His sister’s voice then softened deliberately, pleadingly.  “Please . . . Chirikazu.”  That was the first time Mamiya was to hear his sister calling the Professor by his given name.

 

“How . . . how the hell can I just do that?!” snapped Professor Nemuro Chirikazu, clearly baffled.  Then came the sound of something the boy could never have expected to hear underneath this roof - something akin to a physical scuffle,   “Tok-Tokiko-san!”

 

“Please leave!” shouted his sister in her now startlingly harsh voice.  

 

There were the sounds of objects knocking against hard surfaces, of porcelain vases breaking, and of Nemuro’s shouting-

 

“I-I will grasp eternity for Mamiya-kun no matter what!  Please believe me!  Tokiko!  Toki-”

 

The man’s voice got cut off by the sound of the heavy front door slamming shut; a moment of silence ensued, before his sister’s sobbing – ragged and largely suppressed, sounding much like how the boy remembered she had cried on the night before their parents’ funeral – hung faintly audible in the thick, suddenly-suffocating air of their home.

 

Brittle heart thumping, Mamiya waited tensely in bed for his sister, who, mercifully, never did go into his room that morning.

 

***

 

Time: 10 years post-revolution

Place: Undisclosed

 

“ . . . and that was only days before ‘you-know-who’ was to make his move on the Professor, to make him start that fateful fire.”  Exhaling, Childa Mamiya pressed the back of a hand against his weary eyes. “The Professor’s memories of me were not completely off the mark – I was indeed a sinful child.”

 

Even while making a pillow of his thin, bare arm, Ohtori Hoshimi remained facing away from the boy.  “That, you were,” murmured the woman-child while idly playing with his numb, eternally smallish fingers, “as was I.”

 

***

 

Time: 20 + years pre-revolution

Place: Former Chida Residence

 

“Does Watase-kun decide to continue on his unrecognized collaboration with the student assistants even now?”

 

“Genius though he might be, he’s still only a fourth grader.  Having his work realized by the Research’s funding is more than rewarding enough for him, however exploited he really is.”

 

Mamiya appeared pensive as he sat up from his bed.  Handing her friend his tea, Hoshimi took in the frailty of the boy’s bony wrists with a light frown.  Something had happened in the past couple of days, something that had the boy’s health again taking a downward plunge . . . something he would not tell her about; the girl was brooding as she daintily sipped on her tea.

 

“Father has been strangely favorable of Inoue lately.”  Even as she probed deeper and deeper into the shadows of the Research for his sake, her Chida-kun now was keeping more and more things from her.  “He’s been hinting that I should go out with him.”  But why?  “Father always deterred me from getting close to boys or men of common birth before.”  Had they not always shared intimate secrets in the past, ever since back when they were only pen pals communicating long distance? “The Inoues are hardly of high society caliber.”  So what was keeping them even further apart now that they were right beside each other?   “I don’t understand why . . .” 

 

“That Inoue is-” Mamiya, who was on the verge of blurting out something more, jolted as he accidentally spilled hot tea upon his fingers.  Hurriedly taking the cup from him, Hoshimi handed him her handkerchief, watching as the boy cleaned up.

 

“Inoue is . . . ?”

 

“. . . Nevermind.”

 

By now, Hoshimi could no longer keep her suspicion under veil.  “Is there something you’re not telling me, Chida-kun?”

 

Avoiding her gaze, Mamiya fidgeted with the now tea-stained handkerchief.  “It will be okay, Ohtori-chan.  As long as Inoue remains un-chosen, there’s no way he can lay his filthy hands on you.”

 

“ ‘Un-chosen’?”

 

“Nevermind.  As long as Professor Nemuro is to triumph over the other division, everything will be all right. ”  Wincing, the boy studied his scalded fingertips.  “I trust in him: the Professor will help each and every one of us; he’ll make everything all right.”  There was a reverent glint in his doe-like eyes – a special, shining glint that the young girl once naively thought she alone could incite.  “You’ll see, Ohtori-chan.”

 

“Chida-kun . . .” Like ink upon white paper, a pricking coldness started seeping into the folds of Hoshimi’s once unblemished young heart, marring it irreparably.

 

***

 

Treading the sterilely clean interior of the research building (and enduring the wolfish gazes of the student assistants passing by carrying boxes marked by penguin motifs), Hoshimi found Mamiya’s usually lady-like older sister smoking at an ill-lit, box-cluttered corner (while standing under a “NO SMOKING” sign, even) with much agitation to her body language.

 

“Chida Nee-san?”

 

“Hoshimi-chan!”  Startled, Chida Tokiko then quickly stabbed out her cigarette upon one of the many penguin motif boxes piled around the corner.  “I thought it’s still class time.”

 

“I skipped the final period,” admitted Hoshimi, readily.   “Is that an engagement ring you got, Nee-san?”  The woman tensed at her question; she smirked.  “Kidding.  I’ve found out what this is; all the student assistants have one - it’s the proof of a contract with the Acting Chairman.”  Hoshimi’s voice was hushed and secretive by now.  “Just what is he?  That everyone, even Father, readily submits to him?”

 

Chida-san’s cast her speculative gaze upon the little girl for one unnervingly long moment; the girl, for her part, could only guess that the woman, like so many other adults, was taken aback by her precocious-ness.

 

“. . .  it’s best that you don’t know,” she finally said, before turning away and was about to walk off. 

 

“Chida Nee-san,” Hoshimi called after her. “I’m worried for Chida-kun.”  The woman stopped in her tracks.

 

“Hoshimi-chan . . . you like Mamiya, right?”

 

Chida-san’s (hypothetical) question have Hoshimi hot in the face; nonetheless, she nodded.

 

“Um.”

 

“If there exist a way to help Mamiya-kun live on, but that it involves hurting other people . . . would you do it?”  

 

“Of course!”  Exclaimed Hoshimi without hesitation.  Appearing somewhat awed by the frank reply, Chida-san turned to face the young girl properly.

 

“Hoshimi-chan . . .”

 

“Chida-kun sees me,” stated the girl, “he’s the the only one who does.  He knows I’m more than the hothouse flower blooming upon my father’s palm, ready to be handed to whomever he choose as heir.  I will keep him as my prince even if it cost me my everything . . . no,” her child’s voice turned husky with dark tones disproportional to her age,  “even if it cost other people their everything!”

 

Watching her, Chida-san’s doe-like eyes started visibly clouding over.  “Hey, now . . .”

 

A set of  steady, evenly paced footsteps – one unexplainably distinct from those of the regular staff milling about the pace – could be heard fast approaching.  Pale face frosting over, Chida-san quickly pushed the startled girl behind a high stack of boxes while signaling for her to be quiet, before stepping out of the corner to meet the approaching person.

 

“Akio-san,” the woman’s voice now was a notch higher than usual.  “I thought it would be you.”

 

“Ah, Tokiko-kun,” the deep, masculine drawl of the Acting Chairman came filled with mirth.  “I’m just looking for you.  On what we were talking about before . . .” the rest of his sentence was no longer audible to Hoshimi, being that the two had since moved further away, while this mechanical, droning sound was starting to fill the air with its steadily increasing volume (like there was some kind of factory machinery within the research building).

 

Stepping out from behind the stacked boxes, the willful young girl peeked out into the hallway just in time to see the adults going into the waiting hall.  She hurried after them.

 

“ . . . are you talking about?”  Chida-san’s voice, again audible through that strange, mechanical droning sound, came taut with tension.

 

“This is your first step towards your goal,” replied the Acting Chairman, sounding darkly impish somehow, “without this, the eternity you seek will not be yours.”

 

“I don’t-” And, just like that, Chida-san’s sentence got cut off, presumably by whatever that had happened inside the hall.

 

Heart thumping in her chest as she got up to the hall entrance, Hoshimi carefully pressed her eye against the narrow gap between the closed doors . . .

 

And then she saw.

 

They were seated together upon one of those cushioned seats arrayed in the waiting hall; or rather, the Acting Chairman was seated upon the seat, while Chida-san was sitting on his lap. 

 

Their lips were locked against each other’s.

 

The shrill sound of what appeared to be an air horn, coming atop the now unmistakable sound of a passing train, blasted deafeningly within this indoor space; winds, strong enough to undo the ribbons tying up her hair, almost blew the petite young girl off her feet as it tore at her winter coat and dress; but Hoshimi simply could not look away from what was currently revealed to her from within the amber-still atmosphere of the waiting hall, not with the strikingly handsome Chairman now pinning her still with his penetrating gaze (he still was kissing Chida-san, even then) . . .

 

An eye-stinging glint of light at a corner of her vision broke the girl out of the trance she had since fallen into; it drew her gaze towards the hall exit to the side, where Professor Nemuro could be seen standing outside the half-closed doors watching the kissing duo with his glassing glinting and his posture cardboard-stiff.  Something alerted the man into turning his head, before he was to quickly slip off view; there was a flash of a short, stubby something dashing past, before the half-opened exit was to again reveal nothing; sharp-eyed as ever, Hoshimi easily recognized the “stubby something” to be Mamiya bundled-up under the heavy winter coat she bought him for Christmas.   

 

Her pen pal turned intimate friend Chida Mamiya, now sick to the point of being bedridden, had ventured out into this harsh winter chasing after Professor Nemuro of all people.

 

Young heart hurting as if stabbed, Hoshimi stumbled backwards and away from the closed doors she had been peeking through  . . . and fell hard after tripping upon something bumpy.    Vision blurring with tears, the girl found herself sprawled gracelessly across an extremely narrow gauge railroad – one that had seemingly appeared from out of nowhere; eyes following its tracks, she found herself glancing down the ill-lit hallway into an ominously dark area upfront, where a slight, bespectacled figure could be seen holding the handle of a flatback trolley, upon which rested a dark coffin revealing a black rose motif from underneath its white curtain coating . . .

 

***

 

It was only after Mamiya fell (while tripping upon a railroad that had spontaneously appeared upon the hallway’s smooth floorboards) that Nemuro was to stop fleeing, as he then ran back up towards the boy, helping him up.

 

“Professor . . . ” gasped the sickly boy in pain and exertion, his small hands clenching at the man’s violet jacket.

 

“ . . . shouldn’t you be asleep right now?” asked the man, his face a stoic mask looking about to crack.

 

“I-I wanted to come see you, Professor.”  Mamiya struggled to get his words out without stuttering.  “About-”

 

“There’s no need to call me professor – I’m not worthy of the title.”

 

“What . . . ?”

 

“Mamiya-kun, I’ve already handed in my resignation letter to the Academy, and will be leaving for my next contract soon.”  Nemuro’s husky tenor lowered a notch.  “I suppose you’ve come right in time for us to say goodbye.”

 

“But . . .”  Mamiya felt the air knocked out of his chest,  “ . . . what about Nee-san?” 

 

Nemuro’s fingertips – so delicate for those of a man - felt warm against his forehead, as the man swept the long bangs away from his eyes in an almost cherishing gesture. “Your sister has . . . hurt and surprised me.”  His eyes, watching Mamiya through rose-colored lens, were possibly bloodshot and definitely teary.  “I . . . I need to leave, get away from this.”  Pulling back, the man crawled at his  tousled hair with an intuitive hand that betrayed the inner turmoil underneath his wooden-seeming façade.  “Meeting you and your sister has been the best thing that had ever happened to me.  I don’t want this to turn bitter, I don’t . . .” Even as the man struggle for words to express what he meant, Mamiya could see how his features were starting to “erode” off around the edges, turning him increasingly transparent right underneath the boy’s horrified gaze.

 

“Then, what about me?” The frantic question (or rather, demand) tore itself out of Mamiya’s dry throat before the boy could force it down.  “So what if Nee-san made her stupid choice to turn away? I choose YOU!”  The boy knew, even then, that he was sounding desperate, unbecoming, selfish, and ugly; knew, but could not stop the hideous words from spewing forth, so strong was his despair, his desire, his fresh-revealed want.  “I told you, didn’t I?  I want eternity!  You’re the only one who can give it to me, Nemuro-san!  Don’t I matter?!  Am I not important enough to you to make you stay?”  Hands grabbing onto Nemuro’s shoulders, the boy shouted right into Nemuro’s now crystalline-seeming face.    “If it’s for me, won’t you stand on that Arena and duel for Eternity?  If it’s for me, won’t you -” His sentence got cut off as Nemuro abruptly engulfed him in a crushing embrace that pained him to the bone. 

 

“Ah,” gasped the man, sounding much like a suffocating man who had just been pulled out from under water.  “With this . . . I can go on living.” 

 

“Professor . . . ?” whimpered the boy, smothered under this painful, fiery human contact.

 

“I’ve always been alone before; I never needed anyone before I met you.  Since when did that change?  How did you, a child, manage to change even me?  Why did you have to change me?”

 

“Prof . . .”

 

“It’s fine now.” Glasses since having slipped down his nose, Nemuro glanced down upon Mamiya with reverence akin to madness.  “Even if we are to part, we’ll still be together; I’ll keep you here,” taking the boy’s cold hand in his, he placed it over his own chest, where his heart was, “where there is no space or time; I’ll keep you where the world cannot tarnish my image of you, where you can live on forever in me.   Never again shall I be alone, even though alone I shall be forevermore.

 

“Farewell, Mamiya-kun . . . my eternity.”

 

Thinking back, Mamiya realized he must have gone into shock during Nemuro’s (in hindsight, scandalously revealing) confession.  Between the naked words, the blurring of his vision from tears, the pressure of the man’s fingers digging into his shoulders, the chaste kiss on his forehead that felt more intimate than anything the boy had ever experienced before . . . there was no coherent recollection of when and how they were to part.   By the time his mind was again coherent, the boy was already left standing cold and alone in the railway-occupied hallway, with the wooden tracks rigid beneath his feet.

 

“Nemuro-san . . .”

 

“Ruined.”

 

Jolting at the voice, the boy turned to see Hoshimi standing to the side; with her hair disheveled, her clothing rumpled, and her pallid complexion uneven, the little lady now looked a far cry from her usually immaculate self.

 

“Ohtori-chan . . . what happened?” he asked.

 

“The coat I gave you for Christmas.”  Eyes on his, Hoshimi pointed at the side of his coat, which the boy only now noticed to have been ripped open, likely from back when he fell on the railway and his coat impacted some nail or the sort.  “It ripped.”

 

“Er . . .”

 

“Remember what you said back then?”

 

At the girl’s quietly spoken question, Mamiya opened his mouth, shut it, and opted for silence; at the boy’s reaction, what little sparkle of girlish hopefulness faded completely off the girl’s blue eyes, where only glassy frostiness now remained. 

 

“I thought so.”

 

And, just like that, Ohtori Hoshimi turned to walk away and – as the boy knew even then – out of Childa Mamiya’s life; the sight of the girl’s forcedly straight back and clenched fists disappearing into the shadows of the unlit hallway stung the youngster’s eyes like pins, bringing him to tears and forcing him to look away.  For him to mar the very youth of his one and only friend - the very rose he had once thought he would cherish with his entirety - all because of his deceitful, revolting change of heart and nature-

 

Two sets of footsteps – one leisured-ly paced, the other frantic – could be heard fast approaching, along with the familiar voice of his nemesis Inoue; without thinking, Mamiya moved behind a high stack of penguin motif boxes conveniently located at a nearby corner.

 

“Wait!  Please wait!” cried Inoue, coming into view chasing after a tall, dark-featured man whom Mamiya recognized as Acting Chairman Himemiya Akio, who was said to be deeply involved in the Research.

 

“You wear my ring, you’ve read the contract,” said the man, stance powerfully assured as he stepped languidly up along the wooden rail tracks “you know the price you and your young friends are to pay should your division lose the race.”

 

“W-We haven’t lost!” Inoue yelped as he almost stumbled upon the tracks. “The Fate Train Theorem was progressing on schedule and yielding definite results up until the theft!  Once we are to recover the Diary-”

 

“The Diary has changed ownership,” said the Acting Chairman, cutting him off dismissively as he walked onwards.  “I sense that another had since attuned it to their will; it is now forever lost to us because of your carelessness.   Your work now lies at a dead end – no longer are you able to materialize the Fate Train as per your contract to me.  As it is, I have every right to enact what’s in the fine print.”   

 

“NO!”  Snarled the Student Assistant as he reached up to grab onto the Acting Chairman’s big shoulder.  Stopping, Akio turned his head to glance coolly down upon the youth, who quickly pulled back his hand as if scalded.  “No . . . there is still a way to advance the Research.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“Long as we have a hundred desperate souls eager to change fate, even without using the Diary, the Train still can be summoned.”

 

At that, the Acting Chairman’s lips quirked in an ironic smirk.  “How certain you sound.  Is that why both you and Kaoru-kun have since handed in the forms to exchange yourselves out of the Research?”  Inuoe’s expression now was one of bug-eyed, tongue-tied-ness.  “But, whether you’re officially on the Research Team is irrelevant.”  Grabbing the teen by his wrist, the powerfully built man pulled it up to emphasize the ring on the latter’s finger.  “You and your friend’s contract with me stands regardless of what documents you’ve signed with the Academy.”  Inuoe’s lower-lip quivered pitifully as the Acting Chairman finally was to release his grip.   “That being said, there still was the unfortunate event of the ‘couple’ getting expelled from school once their relationship became known – even including you and your mate, the group still remains two short of a hundred.”

 

“I-I’ve since secured Ohtori Hoshimi’s gossipy henchwomen as research subjects – the guys are prepping them down at the lab as we speak; there is no reason that Kaoru or I need to get sacrificed too – we’re useful!”

 

“You and Kaoru are no more ‘useful’ to me than the rest of the hundred if not for your bringing the brilliant Watase Sanetoshi-kun into the Research.”

 

“But I . . . I’m going to marry Ohtori Hoshimi and become the next Chairman!”  Proclaimed the self-important, self-preserving teenager.  “And Kaoru-kun . . . he’s dating your sister!  We’re not one of those disposable ‘nothings’ who’re only meant to be fuel - we can help you for the long run!”

 

“Interesting.”  Eyes hooded, the Acting Chairman produced a compact hand calculator, which he then toyed with in a mocking, showy manner. “So there now remains only one vacant slot that needs filling.”  “Will it be you?  Or will it be Kaoru?”

 

“You . . . ” Voice cracking in cold dread, Inoue then quickly rambled on with the desperation of one gasping at straws. “Ah, anyone who has a direct contract with you can be used as sacrifice to advance the Research, right?  Then . . . you’ve still got so many other people you can use, including that Inspector woman-”

 

“And why would you know about Tokiko-kun’s dealings with me?” asked the Acting Chairman as he arched a pale brow.  “Do you now finally admit that some of those bugs around the place are actually yours?”

 

“N-No-”

 

Thromp!!!

 

A careless bump against the stack he was hiding behind sent it tumbling down, leaving Mamiya now exposed to the two.

 

“Chida . . .” Foaming at mouth like a rabid dog, Inoue hurried up towards the boy, and dragged him painfully up towards the Acting Chairman.  “Him!  Here is someone who’d NEED to exchange fate!  Use him!”  He saw how the dark, towering man now was glancing down upon him with speculative eyes.

 

“Exchange . . . fate . . . ?”  asked Mamiya, his own voice trembling.  “What kind of ‘dealings’ do you have with my sister?”

 

Sensuous lips parting in a tooth-baring grin, the Acting Chairman clasped a broad hand upon Mamiya’s thin shoulder, and started glided him down another turn of the railway-lined hallway.  “Come.”  A trail of footsteps could be heard from behind them.  Turning his head, the youngster saw Inuoe fleeing frantically away in the opposite direction.

 

“ . . . where are you taking me?” asked the boy, moving upon feet that he could not feel.

 

“To catch a train,” replied the man, as though that explained everything.

 

They stopped in front of a lab door, underneath the gap of which the irrationally present railway could be seen passing right through.  Producing a key, the man stabbed it into the keyhole, and turned . . .

 

“I’ll ask again,” Mamiya spoke up again, forcing himself to sound strong despite the tremor to his voice, “what kind of dealings do you have with my sister?”

 

“For the sake of giving you eternity, your sister had made a contract with me,” replied the Acting Chairman, still opening the door, “the results of which you’ve already witnessed in your home basement.”

 

“How do you-” gasped the boy in shock, before his frantic mind was to put things together.  “The dark girl who drew me into the night . . . she’s with you, isn’t she?  What are you people . . . are you even people?”

 

Instead of answering the boy’s question, the Acting Chairman went on a different tangent as he started pulling the lab door open. “Those contracted to me gets to use my power; and I, in turn, gets to use their lives.”  Smiling down upon him, the man then gestured inside the lab in a grand, almost theatrical gesture.  “Like this.”

 

Looking into the lab – at the vast hall it turned out to be – the first thing the boy could make out was a dramatic impression of a familiar silhouette against a blazing white background; long limbs hanging, narrow waist arched back, twin pigtails flaring . . .

 

“ . . . and all the world shall become my stage . . .” murmured what appeared to be Byako, now suspended aerial in a pose suggesting either rapture or agony, as a crimson globe started pushing itself out of her chest like an egg being laid; once detached, the globe remained afloat upon air, while the girl then plummeted downwards like an abandoned puppet onto a moving conveyor belt  . . .

 

. . . a puppet that morphed, as the stick-figured girl then rapidly broadened out into what looked like a female gender symbol – looking just like the ones commonly used in public washrooms – before the belt was to send “her” into a dump tray where a large number of similarly-shaped figures could be seen piled atop one another (the boy spotted a very familiar-looking hair ribbon on one of their head).  The red globe started drifting over towards what looked like a large, uprooted tree with apples hanging on its branches, along with three red colored numbers similarly positioned upon the plant; drifting over towards the number “98”, Byako’s red globe merged itself over the number, where it then transformed into an apple identical-looking to those others already on the tree. 

 

“Apple . . . ” Mamiya now was lost, baffled, and chilled to the core, as memories of his recent enigmatic encounters with this particular fruit assailed his mind.

 

“The ‘apple’ is a ‘penguindrum’,” came a familiar child’s voice – one that spoke in worldly, condescending tones, “a person’s universe in its entirety.”

 

Turning his head (and feeling a creak in his stiff neck), Mamiya saw that the speaker was indeed Watase Sanetoshi, now seated high up atop some sizable high-tech machinery – one equipped with multiple robotic arms waving about; wielding a remote, the child prodigy operated the arms such that they started stamping penguin stickers onto the fruit’s crimson surfaces. 

 

“These penguindrums are the tickets to boarding those Fate Trains running along the routes between this world and the Destination of Fate,” Sanetoshi spoke on.   “The Fate Train will not stop by without at least a hundred tickets gathered.”  Sweeping aside his longish pink fringe, he then glanced down upon the older, weaker boy with hooded eyes.  “I suppose you’ve come just in time to witness its arrival.” 

 

Up front, a blank-faced, high-tailed girl now was slowly rising up into the air as if suspended upon invisible threads.

 

“Cyako!”  Mamiya cried out to the older girl, who remained oblivious to his presence.  “Hey, snap out of it!”

 

“ . . . and all people shall watch me dance~” squealed Cyako in her high, tripped-out voice.

 

“And I was so hoping you’d have brought in either Inuoe or Kaoru instead,” Sanetoshi whined mock-childishly at the Acting Chairman, who merely smirked darkly back at the devilish child; the boy pouted.  “I know, I knoooow . . . no questioning the Ends of the World’s decisions, right?”

 

“The Ends . . . of the World?” comprehension dawned upon Mamiya, as he now eyed the Acting Chairman in growing horror and outrage.  “You, you are the one behind everything!”   In reply, the Ends of the World offered the boy a rakish smile – one that any human being would have found dazzling, so long as they were to remain blind to the ugly truth behind the glamour.

 

“Are you scared?” Sanetoshi leered down upon Mamiya from where he sat above.  “Don’t worry, the extraction of a valuable penguindrum do require a degree of willingness on the part of the donor.”  Leaping agilely down, the child prodigy skipped up to the huge dump tray filled with “gender symbols”, and pulled up a random “hand” to reveal a rose-motif ring merged into where the ring finger was supposed to be.  “You see? All those we’ve sacrificed thus far have willingly entered contracts with the Ends of the World.” A boyish chuckle escaped his throat.  “I suppose when I put it like this, this all sounds like it has very little to do with you . . . but look,” pressing the remote, he turned on the multiple screens on a wall to the side, “the last designated passenger of the Fate Train now has arrived.”  The screens now showed surveillance videos of the research building, with a number of which now showing a shorthaired, slender gamine carrying a stack of folders in a hand.

 

“Nee-san!”  Mamiya cried out.

 

“Chida Tokiko, Project Inspector of the Research, bearer of the last of the hundred rose signets.”  Obviously enjoying Mamiya’s alarm, Sanetoshi had one of the screens zoomed in on the ring on the latter’s sister’s left hand.  “Putting her life on the line for the sake of changing her ailing brother’s tragic fate, how very noble; but her decision to violate her contract’s terms and steal away the Fate Diary shall cost her dearly.  Does the woman really think she can stand up to the Ends of the World’s might wielding only that?”

 

“What are you planning to do to Nee-san?” asked Mamiya from between his clenched, trembling teeth.  Sanetoshi merely tilted his head at Cyako, who dropped down in a stack of limp limbs as her penguindrum drifted over toward the number “99” hanging on the uprooted tree; the red globe then it too became apple-shaped like its many predecessors, prior to getting stickered right as its host got dropped into the dump tray of inhuman gender symbols.

 

Eyes on the traumatic visuals, Mamiya could not keep from jolting at the Ends of the World’s large, dark hand clamping down upon his thin shoulder.

 

“A contract with me, while unbreakable, is transferable,” said the striking, monstrous entity in a voice like velvet.  “So, suppose someone is to willingly board that train in place of your sister . . .”

 

“. . . I understand,” Mamiya managed in a voice that did not quiver; and he did understand.  He was but an ailing boy powerless to brave a winter night, powerless to live beyond the season, powerless to make him stay through these short, remaining days . . . he was nothing in face of a force powerful enough to distort time and reality.

 

Yet, there remained one thing that even a nothing like him could, must do.

 

“I, I’ve made my choice,” proclaimed the boy, as a rose motif ring materialized on his finger.  On the surveillance screens, his sister was seen studying her now ring-free left hand in puzzlement.

 

Jaws set in determination, Mamiya started walking up along the laid tracks, towards the elevated platform before the conveyor belt.  Vaguely, he noticed some flippant whistling coming from Sanetoshi; he paid it no heed, so immersed was the boy within one particularly precious, particularly painful memory:

 

“With this, you can come outside into the winter, and I can show you around the Academy, Chida-kun.”

 

“Then, isn’t this just like a magic cape you’re giving me . . . to make me your prince?”

 

“Chida-kun . . . !”

 

“Cape accepted, Ohtori-chan.”

 

“Even that, could pass,” muttered Mamiya, feeling his senses numbing away as gravity started losing hold upon his form, which now floated slowly, steadily upwards.  “Nee-san, Nemuro-san, there’s no need to look anymore,” he closed his eyes in weariness, “eternity doesn’t exist in this world.”

 

“Then, could you not look beyond this here and now?”

 

A woman’s voice, nectar-sweet and richly hypnotic, prompted the boy into opening his eyes anew.  He found, to his awe, what appeared to be an earth goddess – completely naked but for the surreally lush long locks rippling about her sleekly curvy figure – hovering in space right in front of him, stunning him with her ethereal aura.

 

“If the heart has not given up, even you should be able to see it,” said the entity, now extending a palm over his chest, “the wish in your heart igniting the ends of your world.”

 

“You . . .” Mamiya’s eyes widened in recognition at that dark, delicately shaped hand – the very one that handed him the apple.  “You are-”

 

MAMIYA!

 

The gut-wrenching cry shocked the boy into turning his head.  To the side, standing behind a set of railway crossing and gate blocking off the railroad (which now looked significantly broader than it did just moments ago) was Nemuro, watching the scene with wide eyes and open mouth.  The Ends of the World – now carrying a burning candelabra – could be seen looming behind the petite, frantic man in all his ominous, towering presence.  A rising, droning sound – not unlike that of a distant but speedily approaching train – started filling the air, as winds started picking up within the large lab hall.

 

“Nemuro-san . . . Nemuro-san!” Mamiya cried out at Nemuro, who appeared blind to his presence despite his having cried out the boy’s name.

 

“Why. . . ?”  The man’s eyes were bloodshot with rage and trauma as he glared at the contents of the dump tray.  “He’s just a kid . . . he’s not part of our competition!”

 

“Nemuro-san!  I’m right here!”  Mamiya shouted with all his rapidly depleting strength . . . all to no effect; Nemuro’s gaze remained upon the “gender symbols” piled lifelessly about, as he spoke on as if they still are live humans capable of interacting with him. 

 

“Just because the boy is fragile . . . what makes you people think you can just break him like this?”  Long white locks now flowing unbound, with his shirt opened to reveal his dark, sharply defined torso, the Ends of the World moved the candelabra closer towards the wild-eyed man, who took the item without a second thought or look.   “You . . . I’ll enact all your contracts right here and now!”  The railway gate blocking him went up then, and the man stepped up and towards the filled dump tray.

 

“Nemuro-san, what’re you saying?” asked the boy, prior to gasping in shock as he saw the Professor started moving the burning item towards the eerie, dead-seeming gender symbols amidst the sound of a shrill train air horn.  “Stop!  Don’t do this!  I’m here!  I’m fine-”

 

“Are you?”

 

The dark female entity’s question drew Mamiya’s attention up front, where he saw his own red globe since detached from his person, and now was firmly held in her upturned palm.

 

“Have no fear,” she soothed, “for your fate differs from those down below.  From now on, you will make a sanctuary of my heart; and I, in turn, shall become you.”

 

“Become . . . me?” asked Mamiya.  Smiling her benignly serene smile, the dark female kept her penetrating green eyes on his, and shoved his glowing penguindrum right into her chest.

 

Immediately, reality started to crumble from the boy’s perspective, as he found himself falling down and flying up and shattering into pieces and coming together all at once; even his very vision – his very point of view – had changed.   No longer was he looking at the dark female; rather, he now saw himself facing the other side of the lab wall, now basking under fiery lights as a pool of flames boiled from down below.  There hovered in front of him a pale-haired boy with dark, exotic complexion . . . it took him a moment before he was to realize that it was his own image as reflected upon a high glass window.

 

“What . . .”

 

‘You are now me, and I am now you,’ the female entity’s voice sounded from within his own head.  ‘Just follow my lead now; together, we shall help him go on living.’

 

“Him . . . living . . .” managed the boy, and that was all he could voice.  He now found his entire body attuned to the will of another, and his many senses compounding into vast multitudes of what he could originally perceive as an ailing child dying by the day.  He saw a train now running ablaze, its air horn sounding a combined cry of a million desperate mouths screeching with need; he saw, within the train’s confines, ninety-six ambitious passengers who all possessed the single-minded-ness of youth; he saw an earthbound god now reaching for that train, trying to seize it, only to have it slipping right past his mighty dark fingers; he saw a trio of girlish shapes giggling over said god’s failure from where they gathered as shadows upon a wall, in front of which laid a closed coffin imprisoning a dark-hearted child.  Somewhere far away, he thought he heard the sound of a young princess’s heart cracking, with the venom within flowing out to degenerate her into a malevolent siren . . . 

 

There was a madman standing outside the burning building; wielding fire in his hand, he cruelly explained his reason for committing mass murder to a woman he once loved – a woman who failed in loving him enough to stop him from going mad.  Beauty dimmed by guilt and despair, the woman slapped the madman (it was a slap hard enough to sent his glasses flying off), prior to running off into a starless night that enveloped her as a witch’s cloak.  The madman spoke on, as though the woman had never left; repeating a wordy speech about the need to sacrifice others for one’s own gains with an impersonal, mechanical precision, he now appeared more clockwork machine than man:

 

“. . .  sort of sacrifice is what is always demanded.  This is the first step in the job you are advancing.  Soon, the road leading to eternity from this Academy will be opened . . .”

 

Walking up towards the madman from behind, the boy (he still was a boy, wasn’t he?) clasped a hand over his, and smoothly took the candelabra from him.  Speech interrupted, the madman turned towards him, and his now unmasked blue eyes widen with something between wonder and bafflement.

 

“You . . . ”

 

“Shall we, ‘Sempai’?” asked Mamiya, only half-understanding his own current actions and words (while fully aware that he was in control of neither), as he turned and started walking towards the shadows existing impossibly at the heart of the fire-engulfed building.

 

Looking years younger in his current wide-eyed state, he who was known as genius Professor Nemuro Chirikazu now followed Mamiya with the meekness of a schoolboy, and the loyalty of a fierce guard; together, the two journeyed into the darkness at the ends of their world, within which they stayed together for what could had been, yet never was, an eternity . . .

 

***

 

Time: 10 years post-revolution

Place: Undisclosed

 

“Thinking back, you never once came by the rebuilt building through all that time I was there, Ohtori-chan,” said Mamiya, doe like eyes hazy as he stared off in to space.

 

“What good would it do either of us if we were to play out some showy reunion under the eyes and ears of the Ends of the World?” muttered Hoshimi distractedly as she fiddled with her cell phone.  “It was with stealthiness that I managed to recover your soul, and it shall be with this same stealthiness that I am to secure your new vessel for you.”  Closing the phone, she got up and started quicklygetting dressed.  “This is all for you.”

 

“Leaving already?” he asked.

 

“You-know-who texted me saying that Kanae got shot down and is currently in repair, so I’ll have to stand-in for her in the coming days.  It won’t be at least another week before I can drop by again; so, until then . . .” sweeping back the blue curls from her exquisite face, Hoshimi leaned down towards Mamiya, such that the tips of their noses touched,  “ . . . do grace my dreams once in a while, Chida-kun.”  Pulling back before the boy could land a kiss on her full lips, she turned on her heel and started walking off.

 

“Ohtori Hoshimi,” Mamiya called after her.  “When will you finally stop hiding behind this old image I had of you, and show to me your true, current self?”

 

Without turning around to face him, Hoshimi opened the door to the greenhouse, such that the winter air outside rushed in to chilly effects. “I don’t want you seeing me as some ugly grown-up.” 

 

With that, she stepped outside and away, disappearing off Mamiya’s view as the door closed itself behind her; the greenhouse’s glassy exterior had since fogged over to encase the boy in the blinding whiteness of obliviation - one that he knew would last until she was to come for him again.

 

***

 

Time: 10 years post-revolution

Place: Chida Mansion

 

Underneath the starry skies existing impossibly indoor, the words flowed on . . .

 

“What awaited me at home was, of course, Mamiya’s dead body,” Tokiko’s voice, weighty with pain throughout much of her recollection of the Nemuro Research, now was lead-heavy.  “To me, who had since dabbled in the power of the Ends of the World, the body I saw was one that’s . . . abstract.”

 

“Like a gender symbol,” S-taro spoke up with a quiver, “that’s how people without their penguindrums really look like.”

 

Tokiko lowered her lushly-lashed eyes in remembered pain.  “Just like that, the brother I wanted to save, to cherish, to preserve against time . . . killed, by people to whom he meant nothing.”  Behind her, the bed upon which Nemuro was getting operated upon now had become a set of car repair cage and tools , with those same overflowing red canopy curtains obscuring much of the repair process now taking place inside.  “I was promptly fired off Ohtori’s Board of Directors; they even went so far as to deny me entry into the Acadamy.  It would be a long time before I was to be strong enough to again face off against the Ends of the World – still posing as the Acting Chairman there.”

 

“Strong . . . enough?” asked Kozue, puzzled.

 

“Among the files I had access to from the neighboring divisions of the Research are the ‘scientific’ methods for human beings to bypass the known laws of math and physics; one could say these are the spells to enact what people call magic.”

 

“Then . . .”

 

“Even with the methods involved clearly laid out, it took me over two decades to strengthen my spirit enough such that I could wield the heavier spells in a stable manner.  Also, certain spells require artifacts for proper projections, and those also took years for the novice I was to successfully create.”

 

“You made Masako’s laser slingshot,” stated K-taro, with his voice now too grown up to match the childlike features revealed.  “And Sanetoshi was the one who made those . . .” he glanced at the repair cage, where the four penguins now were busily rebuilding the damaged parts on Mikagemobile.  “ . . . Kiga.  Of course.”

 

Tokiko continued on. “It wasn’t until ten years ago when I was finally ready to again venture into Ohtori, hoping to settle the score with the Acting Chairman.   The Adversary had not aged a day even after more than twenty years had gone by in the outside world, nor his sister . . . nor did Nemuro-kun, caught in the illusion through all that time.  Nor did I; me, with my static physical state preventing me from having children . . . just one of my many failings that eventually ended my marriage.”  She took a deep breath.  “The meeting with Akio Ohtori did not result in my defeating him, but it clued me in on many things I was previously unaware of, allowing for me to get a more complete version of the story I’ve just revealed.”  Back straightening, she met the many gazes of each and every rapt listener she had – including the five who slipped in during her talking.

 

“I don’t understand,” Tsuwabuki, the youngest of the Ohtori Duelists, voiced his confusion.  “From what you said,  Himemiya-sempai is every bit as responsible as her brother in killing your brother, as well as having bewitched Mikage-sempai for all this time.  How can you ally yourself with her now?”

 

Biting down upon her lower-lip, Tokiko turned to glance back at the Mikagemobile still in repair. 

 

“Ten years ago, Himemiya-san reunited me with someone of utmost importance to me,” she said, her voice barely above a murmur.  “I’m now counting on a repeat performance from her.”

 

 

End Part Ten

 

Chapter Text

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Utena and Penguindrum characters belong to their various owners.

WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization.  This particular chapter also contains non-graphic depiction of canon child sexual abuse, so be warned.

Part Eleven: Victims of Fate I


Time: 10 years post-revolution
Place: Chida Mansion

“What . . . am I?”

Curling up at a corner of the room (just a room, not his room – he was but a guest there) like a wounded larva, the pink-haired young man clutched in his trembling hands a small, framed, black and white picture, which he was glaring down into with bloodshot eyes. 

“A girl who tried being a prince, a pawn who tried being a hero, a fool who tried believing in friendship . . . I’ve tried hiding behind so many different facades for so many years, that I’ve managed to forget even my real self – now just a corpse that laid forgotten in its coffin.” His pale fingers clawed at the frame’s glass covering as insect legs.  “The death sentence I gave myself, I’ve served in full  . . . so why am I still not allowed to forget my crime from sixteen years ago?”

The picture in the frame showed a young couple, with the father holding up a pretty little girl wearing a frilly dress fit for a stage princess.

“When you get people killed, they call you a murderer.  When you befriend and help someone who got your parents killed, they call you a retard.   So what do they call someone who not only falls whole-heartedly in love with their parents’ murderer, but is, in fact, a partner in crime of the murder?  Papa, Mama . . . please tell me . . .”  Tenjou Utena’s vision blurred with tears that fell upon the picture in crystalline, marring drops,  “just what am I now?”

***

“I’m human; and so is he.”

S-taro’s reveal (coming under the stars, under the sword-sharp stares) had the gathered Duelists listening rapt.

“And we’re not really little kids either - it’s just that we got broiled by the Fate Transfer, and have again regressed into being unchosen children, that's why we’re almost transparent-”

“Why’re you telling them?!” K-taro (how strange it was that only his hair and clothes had remained shade-free) cut him right off in acute outrage.  “These people are connected to Kiga-”

“If they are, then they’re victims of those behind Kiga,” S-taro tried explaining things to the fierce, distrustful brother, “just like that pink-haired prince fighting the swords . . . just like us!  The people here all got some sort of power lighting them up from the inside, I think we can trust them to help--”

“They’re not like us!” His brother pointed an accusing finger at those assembled.  “Look at them - all classy and groomed and so obviously chosen to prosper in the scenery of the world!  I bet these people just take the good life for granted!”

“Good . . .life?” asked the maroon-haired lady present in her quiet, chagrined voice; beside her, with the round-headed young woman and the doe-eyed blond preppy both appeared equally miffed.  Ignoring them, his brother went on with his tirade. 

“We, who lived being punished in the shadows all along, just because-” there was a brief pause, before the boy could go on,  “ . . . not only will they not understand, these chosen ones from their blind world will all turn against us if they know of our background!”

“What kinda kiddie weed are you on?!”  snapped Kozue Nee-san – this feisty, edgy woman so strangely eager to help them – at his distrustful brother.  “If everyone here can even accept the shadow critters you are and still wanna give help, what makes you think we can’t accept whatever scandalous background you’re hiding from us?”  Chida Nee-san put a pacifying hand upon the young woman’s shoulder, and the latter made a visible effort to reign in her explosive anger.  “We’re asking questions because without information, we cannot help get you two reunited with your sister!”

“And we told you already – we don’t need to be reunited with her!” His brother snapped back.  “So long as she’s safe on her end as a chosen one, then whatever is to happen to us don’t matter!  Why can’t you people just-”

“Hold on.”  An orange-haired model – she had to be a model with her perfect beauty and posture – raised a question then.  “You boys keep saying ‘chosen’ . . . what do you mean by that?”

“Chosen for what?” asked the blue-haired young man – who had to be Kozue Nee-san’s twin judging by their uncanny resemblance – standing beside the model.  “By whom?”

“Chosen to live on,” answered S-taro, before his defensive brother could again open his offending mouth,  “by the world.”

“The . . . world?” repeated the blond preppy of the group with a haunted look in his blue eyes  - an haunted look now shared by the entire assembly of people (even though Chida Nee-san appeared unsurprised).  Taking in a deep breath, S-taro then began to reveal his story.

***

Caught together they were, the three of them; a man, a woman, her human toilet brother, locked together inside the narrow confines of the graffiti-marred partition that kept them in and reality out.

“You,” voiced Saionji, upon having summoned the entirety of his shaky willpower to end the suffocating silence.  “Coming back to this place, after all this time . . . ” Through his talking, Touga’s expression never once changed, as the man (Was he still a man?) continued to stare eeriely into his friend’s eyes from where he remained submerged under water in the sinister squat toilet.  “. . . no.  You’ve never left in the first place.”

While his voice had seemingly little impact on Touga, it jolted Nanami out of the teary stupor she was in.  Under Saionji’s cloudy gaze, the prissy lass –who had never even handled household trash in all the years he had known her - now was down on her stocking-clad knees upon the rough, stain-covered floorboards, as she reached her well-manicured hands into the flooded toilet bowl to lift her brother’s head out of the water; she did not so much as back away as he started coughing water, but had instead leaned in closer patting her sibling’s back to sooth his breathing. 

“Onii-sama, it’s okay now,” assured the now disheveled blonde, in a tone suggesting that she was really trying to reassure herself.  “You’ve helped us fought down the hate swords, so the worst is already-”

“The worst is yet to come.”

Saionji’s flat, deadened voice cut Nanami’s sentence off with the bluntness of a bokken’s strike. Ignoring the girl’s seething, hate-filled glare, the man squatted down to beside her, and reached out to sweep the wet red tresses off Touga’s profile to reveal the letter “w” now branded onto his left cheek. 

“The worm becomes the pupa, the pupa becomes the butterfly; the butterfly flies high, falls low, and remains that very same insect though it all.   Then and now, you’re still the same . . . no, not just you.”  Looking straight into the other man’s harrowing eyes, he continued on in his rasped voice.  “We’re all still those same coffin-trapped victims we’ve always been.”

***

“The world separates its people into two groups: the ones who are chosen and the ones who aren’t chosen.

“To not be chosen is to be punished as victims of the world.

“Ours is the story of those victims who gave their all trying to help each other live through their punishments.”

***

Time: 10 years pre-revolution
Place: Kiryuu Estate, Cabbage Field

“Like these insects breaking out of their shells, so too shall you be beautifully reborn.”

Not every man could remember his moment of “birth” – the life-defining moment that made him the being he would subsequently become, voiding all that came before it.

For the little victim born amidst ashen greens and fluttering whites, that moment was forever branded into the core of his being.

“Be happy, boy - this is the day you become a Kiryuu.”

The whimpering (Was that his own voice?  The pitiful sound was alien to his ear . . .), the discomfort (Was that his own body?  It felt so alien to his senses . . .), the lessons he learned then (Was that . . . ?), the cabbage butterflies swarming his bared skin, bared from beneath his torn clothing . . . those were things that he could never forget, even if he tried.

“Shhh . . . ” cooed his “father” (Was that his father?  Years later, thinking back, he could remember no father other than this man who “adopted” him . . .), now leering down upon him.  “Don’t cry.  You’re a boy, aren’t you?   You don’t want people to see you crying like some sissy now, do you?”  The ugly adult’s smooth voice darkened a notch.  “These fields, along with the surrounding areas, are all part of my estate: everyone here works for me.  Do you understand what I’m saying?”

The man’s calculated words compounded the painful shame that was already there eating at the boy (who was already uncomfortable enough being ordered to wear his red tresses in its girly long style).  Yet, overwhelmed by the violation upon his immature body, and the pricking of insect legs upon his goose-bumps-marred skin, seven-year-old Touga could not quiet down no matter how hard he tried.

“Is this really too much for you?  Then . . . perhaps I should go to your sister instead?”

At that, young Touga went dead quiet.  What was he doing, fighting this man?  Hadn’t he since resigned himself to this fate the moment those people (their parents; well, they have nothing to do with them no) sent his little sister – barely above a toddler still – to “Father”, to make sure that he’ll have to submit?   

The defilement had since begun, his innocence had since been tarnished . . . was he now to make things worse by angering this man and jeopardizing his sister’s safety?

“Nanami-chan is such a lovely girl, and with such heavenly blonde tresses too.  I’m sure she’d be more . . . appreciative of my loving-”  and the man abruptly stopped his venomous spewing of threats. 

Quashing sounds, frantic and wet, approached from afar and were getting closer.  Turning his head, Touga saw through his tear-blurred, hair-veiled vision a blur of greenish colors charging towards them: wild-eyed, open mouthed and sounding what appeared to be a child’s version of a battle cry.   There was a much bigger man advancing rapidly from behind the small, green-colored boy charging them; in no time, that man caught up to the youngster via a vicious bokken strike against a thin shoulder.  Crumbling under the blow, the boy went down in a swirl of  outgrown green tresses.  He was then repeatedly struck by the bokken-wielding man with such aggressive, merciless violence, that the swarming butterflies around them fluttered off in fright.

Even in the midst of his own painful, psyche-cracking abuse, Touga found himself unable to look away from the bone-chilling brutality he was currently witnessing.

“You little shit!”  The man – obviously drunk upon closer look – continued beating the struggling child in a way that reminded Touga of a seal-clubbing video he once saw on the news.   “I told you to stop running!  I told you-” 

“Saionji-san,” having zipped up, the man got up and off Touga, and smiled thinly at the child-beating drunk, who paled at seeing him, “what a . . . pleasant intrusion.”

“A-Ah!”  The drunk called Saionji took a step back tremblingly.  “Kiryuu-sama!”

The men then carried on with their civilly tense interaction, leaving the boys – one bared, one bruised, with both down on the ground – watching each other, wide-eyed.

***

Having slipped away from the grownups, the children now were at the ill-lit block toilet beside the field.

“You’re really a boy, huh?” asked the green-haired kid, who stared in apparent bafflement as the two do their thing at the trough while standing; Touga rolled his eyes at the other’s sheer idiocy. 

“Look who’s talking.”

“Wha-What?!”  Blushing, the green-haired kid then puffed up his thin chest in boyish defensiveness.  “It’s been a while since I could cut my hair, and lots of guys got wavy hair in these parts!”  When Touga simply zipped up and walked off away to wash his hands, the other boy’s high-pitched voice too lowered a notch.  “There were all those butterflies, and I couldn’t see you very well . . .”

“. . . you have to cut your own hair?” asked Touga, not even bothering to look over at the other boy.  Even when in a situation where they felt like they have to sell off their children for survival, those he was with had made sure he kept his hair appointments; then again, the boy supposed his appearance was key to his fletching a high enough price to pay off their debts.

“Father’s . . . too busy with work to take me to the barber,” muttered the green haired boy, now washing his own hands at the sink beside him.

“Saionji-san is Kiryuu’s right hand man,” said Touga, recalling what info he had gathered from the men’s previous exchange. “That would take up much of his time.” 

A brief moment of wordlessness came up as the boys dried their hands with paper towels, and then . . .

“Did it . . . hurt?” asked the ever inquisitive green-haired boy, who just would not stop asking all the wrong questions.

“Look, you . . .” glaring sideways at the boy, now basked under the stale white light of the bulb above the mirrors, Touga soon found himself taken aback at finally getting a good look the state the other boy was in.  “Those are some really bad wounds your father gave you.” 

His words had the effect of quadrupling the green-haired boy’s previous defensiveness, who then pointed an accusing finger at him.

“I . . . I know what Kiyruu-sama was doing to you back then!”

Stung, Touga’s entire stance tensed up.

“You . . . do?”

“I’ve seen my father do it to the women he brought . . . home . . .”  The green-haired, defensive boy actually started looking remorseful halfway through his hurtful statement, but still had failed in stopping the words in time; thus the damage had since been done.

“So, you were peeping, huh?” Small fists clenched, redheaded child moved up and towards the other boy with wide, accusing blue eyes.  “Thinking I’m a woman . . . were you waiting your turn, you-” He was then caught unprepared by the other boy’s startling violent slap across his face – one that almost knocked him headfirst into the sink’s mirror.

“I . . .!  I was hiding from Father, and still came out trying to help you!” snapped the green-haired boy; though his pain, Touga noted how it was this kid who was tearing up, despite how it was he who just got hit.

“Why . . . was your father beating you up?” he asked, even while knowing it will pain the other boy; it did.

“Well, why was your father doing . . . what he did?”

“Cause he likes doing it.”

Touga’s casually given answer washed the reflexive spite off the other boy’s expression, replacing it with harrowing bleakness.

“Kiryuu-sama adopted me just so he can do that to me whenever he wants,” the redhead continued on, “and he adopted my sister too just so he can have a hostage to better control.  I think the old man’s playing things too safe – if he can fuck me out in the open in broad daylight – what chance does a kid like me have of defying him here?”  Pause.  “Why was your father beating you up?”

“. . . cause he likes doing it,” muttered the green-haired boy, now hanging his head.   

“That . . . was your real father, right?”

“Yep.”

Nodding, if only to himself, Touga stepped up with his watered paper towel, and pressed it against a bleeding cut on the boy’s now tear-streaked cheek.  The boy flinched, and Touga held him by the chin.

“Hold still,” he commanded, precociously, prior to deliberately softening his voice.  “The cut will fester if you don’t keep it clean.” 

Dodging his gaze at first, it took a while before the green-haired boy could meet his eye; and when he did, Touga found himself studying the subtle range of shades within those lushly-lashed emerald greens, intrigued.

“It feels like it’s only now that I could really see you,” murmured the kid, the blush on his cheek making Touga conscious of the heat that now must be coloring his own face.  “I’m Saionji Kyouichi.” 

Resigned, the redhead thought he might as well introduce himself too.  “Touga; Kiryuu Touga now.”

“I think . . . we’ll be seeing each other around now,” said Kyouichi, a hesitant grin broadening his lips; resisting a sudden urge to pinch the other boy on his bruised but still comely cheek, Touga glanced awkwardly off and away.

“Ah.”

***

Time: 10 years post-revolution
Place: Chida Mansion

“We were children who got broiled down into nothing . . . but most children in this world are just like us – ignored by some, exploited by many . . . forever punished for the crimes of others.

“And, it’s children like us, who have nothing, who bond fast – because companionship is the only thing that can make life’s punishments worth living. 

“That’s how this guy becomes my brother, and how we got our sister; it’s how the three of us became family.”

“Became . . . family?” repeated Kozue, visibly perplexed by what was revealed. “Then . . . you guys ain’t really--”

“I’m Shouma,” the blue-haired entity – now largely visible as an elementary school boy in a nondescript gym uniform - took a step up towards his audience. “Takakura Shouma.” 

Letting out a deep sigh, the reddish-brown haired one then followed suit. “Born Natsume Kanba, now Takakura Kanba; we’re children of Takakura Kenzan and Chiemi.” 

Jolting, the now alarmed-looking Shouma tugged urgently on the other boy’s sleeve.  He was promptly shrugged off. 

“What?  You said we can trust them to help us, right?  So what’s wrong with telling them who we really are?”

“Kanba . . . !”

“Kenzan . . . Takakura?” Miki’s eyes widened in alarm as his voice got higher.  “You don’t mean that famous Ohtori alumnus, who . . . ” 

“That’s him.” Standing beside shame-faced, hand-hanging Shouma,  Kanba kept his chin lifted high in defiance.  “We, are children of the terrorists involved in the Kiga Subway Attack.”



End Part Eleven

Chapter Text

Utena and Penguindrum characters belong to their various owners.

WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization. This particular chapter also contains non-graphic depiction of child sexual abuse, so be warned.

Time: 10 years post-revolution
Place: Chida Mansion

“Takakura Kenzan; right hand man of Kiga Leader Watase Sanetoshi, and a key figure in the Kiga Subway Attack from sixteen years ago.  After Watase perished in the event, Takakura had continued to run the Kiga Group as replacement leader, up till when the police raided the group, and he and his wife Chiemi went into hiding.

“None of the sources ever mentioned that the Takakuras have any children in the first place.  The search for ‘Takaura Himari’ came up with nothing, either.

“And, while there was indeed a late member of the influential Natsume Family being involved in Kiga, he apparently only had two children, the elder of whom, Natsume Masako, is now the young heiress of Natsume Corporation. 

“There is no mention of her having any twin brother to begin with,” concluded Tsuwabuki, looking up from where he was net surfing via his smartphone, and at the self-proclaimed Takakura brothers – both of whom now shade-free and visible even under the starry night sky.

“There is no way you’d find any info on us in this world,” muttered Shouma, crestfallen, “because this isn’t really our world, but rather . . .”

“An alternate reality you Children of Fate created by offering up the penguindrum – your lives – to enact the Fate Transfer,” stated Tokiko, apparently well-versed with the workings of such magic. “The more one changes the existing fate – riding the Fate Train, powered by the Diary’s spell – the worse the backslash will be.  Rejection by the new world – getting burned, becoming non-existent – is punishment incurred for having destroyed the old one, your ages being halved is also an extension of--.”

“Hold it,” Wakaba cut in with a raised hand, “this massive info block needs to get broken down before we can understand any of it!  You,” she pointed at the Takakura siblings, “you two are really adoptive brothers: Takakura Shouma, son of Takakura Kenzan, and Takakura Kanba, brother of rich heiress Natsume Masako.” Both boys glanced away and to the sides.  “Back in this ‘original world’, the two of you, along with your sister Takakura Himari, had all inherited the bad karma accumulated from your parents’ terrorist acts – especially the Kiga Subway Attack.  Himari, like Kanba, is adopted; unlike Kanba, her biological parents had no ties to the Kiga Group; yet, out of you three, innocent Himari was the one who got ‘punished’ by a terminal illness; not only that, but she also got possessed by the ghost of Oginome Momoka, a victim of the Subway Attack and Chida-san’s cousin’s daughter . . .” she turned towards Tokiko,  “. . . who apparently has magical powers both before and after she died?”

“What we call magic is basically people manipulating the various elements of the world through willpower alone,” explained the veteran witch, “with a sufficiently strong will, even a complete novice can enact at least partial magic.  What we call artifacts are objects that magnify the human willpower.  Ohtori Academy is equipped with such artifacts at various spots, and the Fate Train itself is the physical manifestation of nature’s artifact; the Ends of the World picked both the Duelists and the Children of Fate on the basis of their having exceptionally strong wills,” her voice turned brittle with old grief, “though none present - not even myself – can compare with Momoka-chan when it comes to sheer willpower . . .”

“It says here that Oginome Momoka died at the age of ten, sixteen years ago; so when you say she could use magic . . .” 

“Momoka-chan was only eight when she basically seized ownership of the Fate Diary from me. Even at that age, the girl had willpower enough to get burned for what she believed in . . .”

“Okay, back on track,” worried that the conversation would go off course, Wakaba hurriedly continued on with summarizing the fantastical story since revealed.  “Momoka’s ghost told the boys the only way to save Himari was to get the ‘penguindrum’ – without telling what the thing really was.  It is while hunting around for the mystery item that the Takakuras met and befriended Momoko’s sister Oginome Ringo, who inherited the Fate Diary from her late sister.  At the same time, the ghost of Kiga Leader Watase Sanetoshi – involved with Ohtori, and had retained his magical powers even in death – approached you siblings under the guise of Himari’s doctor.  Sanetoshi then coerced Kanba,” she pointed at the baleful child, “who needed money to pay Himari’s medical bills, into helping a remnant fraction of the Kiga group with acts of terrorism, which lead up to Subway Attack Take Two.  Prompted by Momoka’s ghost, Shouma boarded the train under Kiga’s attack - which Kanba and Sanetoshi’s ghost were also on – trying to stop everything.  With both Momoka’s and Sanetoshi’s ghosts present, the normal train got superimposed by the ‘Fate Trains’ – a fate altering ‘cosmic force’ that Ohtori has been trying to harness since over thirty years ago - and its nature as an artifact magnified the Takakura brothers’ willpowers, to the point that they could actually extract the essences of their own lives - the ‘penguindrum’ – as per Momoka’s request.  Offering up their penguindrum, the boys used it to enact a “Fate Transfer”, which basically means “destroying” the original world and putting a new one in place; our world, where Subway Attack Take Two never happened a few weeks ago, where Himari is healthy and has family, where all your previously tormented friends are now in happier situations.  Yet, neither of you exist in this new world you’ve given up your lives to create, and even your current insubstantial ‘transparent selves’ are at risk of fading completely away.”  Out of breath, the flush-faced young woman paused to gulp for air.  “Okay, I think I kinda get the gist of it now.”

“You skipped over the part where Ringo and Himari were also there on that Fate Train, offering up their own lives trying to save us and everyone,” Shouma’s voice was husky with memories.  “Other than that . . . yeah.”  From beside him, Kanba exhaled raggedly, but said nothing.  The Duelists all regarded the miserable Children of Fate – whose folly closely paralleled that of their youth – with heavy-hearted empathy.

“The chicks who smashed their world’s shell . . . huh?” murmured Kozue, blue eyes clouding over with old ghosts; watching her, Miki’s mouth had tightened into a flat, horizontal line.

***

Time: 8 years pre-revolution
Place: Outskirts of Kiryuu Estate

“They’re breaking out!  They’re breaking out!”

“Geez, you get so excited . . .”

Eyes wide, the boys watched as the many new-formed butterflies infesting the plants started unfurling their wings with the languidness of coral polyps.  Cheering aloud, the flush-faced Kyouichi then grabbed Touga into a bear hug – one that the latter only struggled half-heartedly against, as he kept his impassive eyes upon the emerging insects. 

It can be said that the butterfly never existed before the chrysalis broke.

Much later, as the two were treading home together under the sunset . . .

“Man, it’s so cool that the kendo dojo right next town is giving classes to beginners,” said Kyouichi, merrily pushing their tandem bike – loaded with both their backpacks – along the unpaved, shrub-flanked path connecting the towns.  “Now we both have an excuse to stay away from home more!”   

“Ba-ka,” Touga, empty-handed yet also less cheerful, kicked at the pebbles on the ground, “what good is it if we still got to go back every night?”

“I wish moments like this can last forever.”  Smiling still, Kyouichi’s face nonetheless showed growing wistfulness.  “We don’t ever have to see our fathers again.”  From beside him, Touga calmly observed how the boy’s knuckles had whitened against the bike’s handles – his friend has always been most adamant about walking the bike instead of riding it on their way back.

“I’ve stopped wishing for anything since.”   

“Since . . . ?”

“Kyouchi, do you think the butterfly can remember how it was like as a caterpillar?”

“Huh?”

“I can’t remember how it was like before I got here,” admitted the precocious redhead, “not my old life, not my old home . . . not even that couple’s face.”  Even now, he could not think of them as his “real” parents, in spite of worldly conventions.  “I can’t remember anything before that day at the cabbage field . . . before you.”  There was a glimmer of something in Kyouichi’s eyes that had him quickly looking away.  “When things change completely, when even the scenery changes, it’s almost like . . . a revolution.”

“Yeah . . .” agreed his young friend, sounding more pensive than usual.  “It’s been almost two years since you and you sister got . . .adopted.  Is Nanami-chan doing okay at the Kiryuu household?”

“She’s okay,” muttered Touga. “She thinks they’re our real parents.”

“Then at least Kiryuu is still leaving her untouched.”

“At least there’s tha--”

Peals of girlish laughter alerted the boys into quieting down.  A visibly happy couple was coming onto the path from a side road, with their lushly-groomed young daughter – piggybacking upon her father’s broad shoulders – currently generating the jubilant sound.

“. . . and everyone in class agree I’m the best choice to play the princess in the school play, cause I’m the prettiest!”

“Pumpkin, just because you’re pretty,  it’s not nice to brag -.”

“I’m not bragging – I’m proud! I’m pretty because I got papa’s blue eyes and mama’s pink hair!  And when I get older, I’ll become a beautiful model just like Mama for sure!  Now, Mama; for my princess costume, I need this Sebastian Dior Baby Tiara – it has real crystal, not the cheap-looking plastic you see on little girl toys . . .”

“Oh, this daughter of yours . . .”

It was only after the merry family had passed them, when he found himself still glaring after their departing silhouettes, that Touga could truly comprehend just how much he hated that irrelevant little girl; no, not because of her foolish childishness, but rather, her being cherished, protected, and loved.  Why did the world choose kids like her to give loving parents to, while leaving him and his friend and god knows how many others as defenseless preys to predatory adults--

“Kinda reminds you of Nanami-chan, doesn’t she?”

Kyouichi’s question hit Touga like a bucket of ice, cooling the boy’s rage and leaving him with a gut-wrenching feeling that some years later, he would recognize as despair; his poor sister, a mere hostage whose well-being was reliant upon his staying in their pedophile “father’s” favor . . . how could she possibly compare with that blessed pink-haired brat?

“So bubbly and energetic, and determined . . . I bet she’s also a type-B too.”  Insensitive as always, his simpleton friend – sounding down somehow – continued on in this undesired tangent.  “Just now, I saw you watching her . . .”

“. . . with this scary look in your eyes.”

Turning at the voice, the boys saw the pink-haired girl from before walking up towards them . . . no, it was not her.  This one is older, less flashily dressed, and definitely more mature of character.  Her left arm was entirely covered in bandages, and her right hand held a large pink book: one with two stylized dragons, along with the word “Diary” on the front cover.

“Are you hurt?  In Pain? Unloved?” asked this new girl, her amber eyes – neither blue nor foolish like those of the other one – glinting enigmatically under the late afternoon sun.   “I can help you if you want to.”  Her gazed then trailed off Touga and towards the bruises (barely) revealed under Saionji’s rolled up short sleeve.  “The both of you.”

Pretty face paling, Kyouichi quickly rolled his sleeves back down. “You . . . You don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“Don’t I?” asked . . . or rather, countered the strangely knowing girl.  Getting over his bafflement, Touga stepped up to beside his now trembling friend.

“You’re just a kid.  What makes you think you can help us?”  He made a point of eyeing her bandaged arm.  “You look like you need help yourself.”

“Uh uh.”  Unfazed, the girl held up her bandaged arm like she was showing off a badge.  “These burns are the price I willingly pay to claim ownership to this magical artifact.”

“Magical . . . artifact?” asked Touga, not quite prepared for the peculiar turn the conversation was headed.

“I have, under my ownership, the magical Fate Diary,” explained the girl, whose mature voice and manner contrasted her childish words to eerie effects.  “Written in this diary are the magic spells that can change the scenery of the world, and with it, the fates of the people inhabiting the scenery.”

“What’re you, a witch?” snipped Kyouichi, obviously still displeased over the girl pointing out his being abused.

“I wonder,” mused the strange girl, taking no offence.   “Women, men, children . . . even animals, I can change all their fates just by reciting the Diary’s magic spells.  And when it’s done, no one else but me will know anything has been changed,” she took a further step up towards the perplexed boys, “you’d both escape your bad fates without anyone knowing--”

“Momoka-chan!”

A delicately slender woman – looking elegant still despite how her left arm was also similarly bandaged like the girl called Momoka – came hurrying up towards them.  The girl widened her eyes.

“Auntie . . .”

“You can’t just run off from the clinic!” The aunt (who would look much younger if not for her conservative hat and stiffly styled waves) appeared to have a hard time running while wounded and on high heels (the unpaved, grass-matted path probably made it worse), and was breathing raggedly by the time she reached the girl.  “Your burns are serious. . .”  Her eyes widened in fright at seeing the pink diary in the girl’s hand.     “The Diary . . . ”

“Sorry, Auntie,” the Momoka girl hung her head.  “I wasn’t able to bring back Uncle Mamiya after all.  The backslash--”

“Stupid!”  This aunt berated the girl with a harshness that distorted her otherwise sweet voice.  “Nobody asked you to do that for me!  You’re just a child!  A child!  You’re not supposed to have to burn--” She forcibly stopped her tirade, having noticed the wide-eyed boys present.   “Momoka-chan,” deliberately softening her expression, the woman reached for the pink diary, “you have to give that back . . .”  The girl deftly moved it out of her reach. 

“No.”

“No . . . ?”

“The Diary has since changed ownership – it is not your burning stake any more; it’s mine now.”

“Momoka . . . !”

“It’s okay now.”  Smiling up at her aunt, the girl’s small face now appeared aglow with something divine.   “You can’t withstand the Diary’s flames without the Devil’s Ring, can you?  But I, I’m not afraid of getting burned to change the world for the better.  From now on, I’ll take the world’s punishment in your place for the sake of its people.”

As an onlooker, Touga found this Momoka girl’s current expression to mirror that of a portrait of Joan of Arc he once saw on TV; years later, he could recognize the expression as one of strength and nobility.

“Don’t say such stupid things . . .” whimpered the now defeated-seeming aunt, a tear tracking past the beauty mark beside her attractively curved lips.  “Either way, you’re not using the Diary while still wounded.”

“But these boys--”

“You can’t help everyone,” stated the aunt, already ushering the little girl off and away.  “No one can.  We’re going back to the clinic, where they’d transfer you to a hospital closer to your home . . .”     

“Crazies,” muttered Kyouichi once those two were out of sight, before turning back to his friend.  “Say, Touga, your birthday party is coming right up.  I wanted to come, but Father said we’re not going . . .”

Mind back upon his own issues, Touga’s expression darkened along with the dimming skies above.  “Unless you want to join in the after party, there’s really no point in coming.”

“After party . . .” Kyouichi appeared blank, before comprehension dawned upon his reddening face.  “They . . .”

“Even the top dogs need to network with other top dogs,” the redhead was now as sullen as he was self-conscious.  “I suppose Kiryuu thinks I’m adequate entertainment for their fine gathering.”

“What’re you gonna do?”

“I don’t know; maybe wait for some magical witch to come change my fate?”   

Green eyes clouding over, Kyouichi reached out to grab a handful of Touga’s  red tresses; the latter remained impassive to the touch. 

“The grownups all like that hair of yours,” murmured the young boy, his pained, husky tone making him sound a lot older in that instant.  “What if you cut it off?”

Downcast, Touga’s voice dropped to a brittle whisper.  “If the Kiryuus think I’m disobedient, they’d turn on Nanami.”

“Then . . . what if you have to get it cut because of some accident?” asked Kyouichi, gesturing up ahead at the wild shrubs, with their outgrown branches eating into the path. 

Happy to see evidence of functional brain cells still thriving underneath his (oftentimes gullible) friend’s thick skull, Touga’s mood lightened as he practically leaped onto their bike’s front seat;  Kyouichi was already at the back, lithe arms latching  onto his waist with as much eagerness as he himself currently felt.

“Ready . . . set . . . GO!

***

“It’s regretful that such beautiful hair has to get cut.”

“Yes.”

“For this to happen right before the party . . . ”

“Can’t be helped.”

“I suppose not.”  Sighed Kiryuu, his crow-lined eyes scanning over the crowded, ornamented party hall, in a purposeful way that alarmed his “son” (currently made to sit upon a throne-grand chair that served to better display his lithe built to the attendees).  “Thorny bushes on the shortcut connecting the towns . . . wasn’t Saionji’s son with you back then?”

“It was an accide--” Touga blurted out . . . prior to quickly quieting down.    But it was too late: he gave himself away.

“Was it?” asked, or rather, pressed the cunning adult.  The tainted child, still very green, struggled to act innocent.

“Papa,” he stressed the word (despite the nausea it brought him), hoping to pacify the man.  “The bike went under the branches, and my hair got tangled in it--”

“Happy Birthday, Touga-sama,” said a leering man – one of Kiryuu Papa’s innumerable business partners - leaning down to purr in his ear;  Up front, some woman – likely his mistress judging by their age difference – was down on one smiling up at him, catlike.

“Happy Birthday.”

Cornered, Touga could do little but hide behind his impassive façade while groaning inwardly: the haircut was fast turning out to be just as useless as the one who suggested it; stupid, stupid Kyouichi . . . he could only pray that Kiryuu Papa won’t do something too bad to the dumb kid, now that he knew.  Kyouichi’s father Saionji was Kiryuu’s right hand man, so maybe he would get spared--

“Onii-sama.” 

Blinking, he now saw an alarmingly disheveled Nanami standing in front of him.  On reflex, Touga sent a suspicious glare cutting at Kiryuu Papa, but found – to his surprise and relief – the often assured man now recoiling in shock and fear.

“Happy Birthday,” said his little sister, holding out in her hands a dirty white box. 
Before the boy could ask her what was going on, Kiryuu Papa’s wife-of-convenience (whom they had to call Mama) had since cut in with her imperious voice.

“Nanami, why do you look like that?”

“This is for Onii-sama,” replied Nanami, as a wild kitten popped its head out from the box. 

A strangled-noise could be heard coming from Kiryuu Papa’s tight throat, piquing Touga’s interest.  Could the man be afraid – or better yet, allergic – of cats?

Kiryuu Mama probably knew more than he did about Kiryuu’s cat phobia. “Feh, what a dirty looking thing.  Get it out of here!”

Nanami pouted.  “But, Mama . . .”

Steering himself, Kiryuu-san put up a shaky brave front as he advanced upon the little girl, who started backing away. 

“Give it to me.”

“No!”

Face reddening, Kiryuu now was trying to brutishly pull the box away from Nanami.  Alerted, Touga got up to interfere.  “Wait a minute.” 

The man looked like he would have likely struck the boy, so angry did he seem then, but the fact that they were surrounded by “classy” guests hindered his violence.

“Now, Touga--”

“It’s been a while, Kiryuu-san.”

The womanly alto – coming languidly from some distance away, yet still was effective in cutting smoothly through the droning whispers of the gathered guests – stilled Kiryuu Papa.   

“Hoshimi-chan . . . I mean, Mrs. Ohtori.” 

Cutting a tall, shapely figure from where she stood at the door to the hall, this Mrs. Ohtori Hoshimi was fair-complexioned to the point that all other women present were rendered dowdy shadows against her luminous glamour; the slinky black gown - one matched by a semi-lucent shawl covered in red rose petals – was also of classier style than the puffed dresses of those others.    There was this white-suited, pale pink-haired young man smiling rakishly by her side: even then, Touga knew that could not possibly have been Mr. Ohtori.

“I have something to discuss with you,” she said, making no effort to take even one further step into the hall.  Tensely nervous somehow, the usually haughty Kiryuus now humbly made their way over to greet her, forgetting the kids.

“Onii-sama . . .” Nanami called out to Touga, again offering up the messy boxed kitten with glints of uncertainty within her teary eyes.  Chest warmed by relief, the immaculately-groomed boy put his hands upon his dust-covered sibling.

“Thank you, Nanami,” he said, kissing away his sister’s tears.  “This is the best present I ever got.”  The girl – who must have been through quite the scuffle trying to get him that kitten – trembled joyfully in his arms.  “Now, go get yourself cleaned up and call it a night.”  He gestured for a waiting maid to come over and take the now dreamy-eyed child away.

Relaxed – as he was no longer under pressure to “pull train” from Kiryuu Papa – the boy was just about to call it quits too, when the “ladies’ ” gossiping caught his attention:

“That’s Ohtori Hoshimi, the clan heiress, right?  I see she’s again out partying with these club host types.”

“With her husband the current Ohtori Chairman getting continuously spotted around both pink salons and saunas, who can blame her?”

“ ‘To each their prowl’, huh?”

“But she is decked to the nines . . .who knew that a boarding school could make for such lucrative business?”

“Don’t you know?  The Ohtoris have been making waves at the financial district with their heavy-handed investing.  On the academy side of things, I heard even the Prime Minister had paid a fortune to get his mistress’ bastard son into the Academy . . .”

“Happy birthday, Touga-kun.”

Jolting out of a trance that he had somehow fallen into, Touga turned to see Mrs. Ohtori standing right beside him, smiling down.

“In case you’re wondering, you’re no longer expected  to attend the after party,” the “matron” – looking startlingly young up close despite her heavy-handed makeup and hairstyle – tilted the champagne glass in her hand at the pink-haired man she brought, who now was socializing with the lustful crowd gathered at the side hall (with the Kiryuus amongst the gathering).  “Sanetoshi-kun has since replaced you as the ‘entertainment’.”

“Who are you?” the boy could not help but ask.

“Someone with power enough to bring change.”

“Power . . . to bring change?”

“With enough power, anything becomes possible” explained the woman, as an impossible change started coming over her, making her less glamorous, yet also more exquisite; less tall, yet also more lithe.  “With enough power, you can free yourself and your sister from this fate; you can even help your friend change his.”  In no time at all, the transformation was complete, and in place of the sultry siren stood a dew-fresh young girl – her near-nakedness ethereal against the shawl that now adorned her as a nymph’s wings - beaming at the awed boy.  “It would be like a revolution.”

“How’d you . . . know?  How-”

“The Devil who reigns in the absence of God knows the whole of this world.  The witches who works for him know what he knows.”

“You’re . . . a witch?”  Touga thought back to the strange girl and aunt he and Kyouichi had previously encountered.  Could this “witch” – one who had just proven her power – be the salvation he had stopped hoping for since long ago?

The now barely dressed, barely adolescent Mrs. Ohtori observed the boy with impish, knowing eyes. “Like I thought, you’re not scared; instead, you want my power, and want to be like me – a witch who wields the Devil’s power.”

“I’m a boy,” said Touga, actually sounding dejected.

“Boy.” Tittered the “young” witch, as she gestured at the young man (Sanetoshi) she brought with a small hand.  “Observe that boy over there: even though he calls himself a magician, he’s really the Devil’s witch . . . down to the naughty details.” Her girlishly sweet voice darkened with un-childlike cynicism.  “So long as they surrender their bodies to the Devil and his cause, even boys can become witches,” her eyes upon him were as wells to drown in, “yes, even you.” 

“Surrender the body . . .” pondered Touga, anxious yet uncertain.  Naturally red lips curling, the “little” Ohtori Hoshimi stepped up closer to the boy, and pressed her slight frame against his.

“You, who’re already early marred, might as well also be early made; it was like this for me too.”

“You . . . too?”

The shadows upon the wall facing them started to sharpen and swirl, before quickly reshaping into that of humanoid silhouettes: two men - one bulkier than the other – together held down a violently struggling young girl, whom they were obviously assaulting.

The young girl’s silhouette was distinctively recognizable as that of young Hoshimi.

“It was my father who allowed for that to happen,” the witch’s voice gradually deepened from against his ear, “to force me to forget a past love and marry the one he chose.  Unfortunate?  Yes . . . but it got me into the Devil’s embrace, within which I’ve thrived until this very day.”

There was a brief shifting of the lights, after which the shadow play rape was gone – along with “young Hoshimi”, who now was again the tall, champagne sipping Mrs. Ohtori.   Putting down her glass, she then held out a white, rose-motif-marked folder envelope to the dazed boy.

“This envelop is you birthday present from the Devil himself.  Should you ever want to defy fate, then open it.

“With your friend and sister’s well being to consider along with your own, I suppose you have no choice but to go with this change.

“The way before you has been prepared.”

Giving the folder to the pale-faced boy, the society matron then stepped off and away into the side hall, where she then joined the amoral, lustful gathering of powerful adults – some of whom already openly groping the pretty young man called Sanetoshi, whose shirt has since been unbuttoned past his navel . . .

Left alone, the boy quietly left the debauched party and went back into the privacy of his room, where he then began checking out the contents of the witch-given folder.

***

The next morning, at the front gates of Saionji Mansion . . .

“You say he’s at the town clinic?!” gasped Touga, almost falling off his tandem bike at the news.

“Oh, it was terrible, Touga-sama!” Sighed the servant greeting him.   “Kyouichi-kun got accosted by some strange men out in the bike trail last evening, and it seemed like they just mugged the poor boy for no reason . . . ” 

Of course there was a reason for the mugging – to him, it was clear as day.

Having then hurried over to the clinic, Touga found, to his initial relief, his friend appearing not significantly more bruised than usual – in fact, Kyouichi could apparently sit upright upon his bed by himself.  His heart soon sank, however, upon noticing the boy’s badly chopped green hair.

“Kyouichi,” the usually assured boy now had to gulp before going on, “I heard you got . . . mugged,”

“Mugged,” muttered his friend, blearily, “I guess that’s what Father wants everyone to think, huh?”

“. . . Kyouichi!”

“Kiryuu’s hired hands could’ve just done the dirty with me and be over with it, but instead they had to cut my hair too . . . just so I’d know who was behind this, and why this happened.”

“They . . . you . . .”  Touga could hear his heart pounding in his rapidly numbing head; to think that this happened just because Kyouichi had tried helping him . . .

“It’s okay; if you can take it, then so can I,” said Kyouichi, actually smiling a bit.  “Better this, than to keep falling behind you in everything-”  The rest of his sentence got cut off, as Touga then enveloped him in a tight, desperate hug.  “Hey . . .”

Is this to be their life?  To get continuously trampled upon by those monstrous adults just for their being powerless children?

“Touga . . . are you crying?”

“No.”  Small face drawing tight, Touga pulled back away from his friend to stand with his back rigidly straight.  “Something like this will not happen again.”

And he turned to leave, before the startled Kyouichi could even ask him what was going on; then again, he had something much more important to do than to commiserate with his friend and fellow victim.

He had decided to give the Devil’s witch his reply.

***

Mrs. Ohtori (whose glamour remained flawless even under daylight) was, of course, right outside the clinic; Touga thought it likely that a witch of her caliber could channel his thoughts directly, and thus spontaneously appear to wherever he was to finalize his decision.

“So you accept the Devil’s present . . . or rather, invitation.”

“Yes.”

“Then you, your friend, and your sister will all be attending Ohtori Academy in two years’ time.  The Devil takes care of his own, so Kiryuu and Saionji will both receive warnings to keep their hands off the three of you starting this moment.  As the Chairman’s wife and the Devil’s witch, I look forward to seeing you roam our unholy playground . . . witch.”  Adjusting the shoulder strap of her understatedly classy handbag, the enigmatic woman – who could apparently turn back to a young girl at will – turned and started walking off.

“Mrs. Ohtori,”

“Yes?”

“Thank you,” said the jaded boy, with perhaps one of his last few scraps of sincerity, “for changing our fates.”

“Save your thanks for the Devil, and your curses too,” replied the woman. “You’d be sure to curse this day at the point when you got shown the ends of your world.”

“I won’t,” insisted the boy.  “Any change from now will be a revolutionary thing for all three of us.”

“Revolution . . .” murmured the woman, stopping in her tracks.  “Say, there is maybe this one thing you can do for me.”

That surprised Touga.  “What is it?”

“At Ohtori, you’ll meet a pair of twins around your sister’s age: one boy, one girl.   You will see that they have hair the same shade as mine.  There will be times when . . . when you’ll think you have to hurt them to get what you want.” Her husky voice dropped to a whisper.  “Don’t hurt them too much, that’s all I ask.”  With that, she stepped briskly into a waiting cab, and was driven off and away.

“Twins . . . huh?” mused the boy who just became a witch; whose way – along with those of his friend and sister – had just been set and prepared.

***

Time: 10 years post-revolution
Place: Chida Mansion

“There, I’ve found what should be our Oginome Ringo’s online diary,” said Miki, now with all the other Duelists huddled against him and his tablet.   “It’s friends-only.”

“Hack it,” prompted Kozue.  “I know you can.”

“Kozue--” Miki frowned, and was cut at by his twin’s glare.

“I’ve seen you done worse things for way more selfish reasons.  Do it now.”

“I’ll do it!”  Tsuwabuki quickly seized the tablet in an obvious attempt to defuse the Kaorus’ tension.  It took him but a few minutes to get successfully logged in.  “Done . . . okay, it really is this Ringo girl’s diary.”  The blond squinted his eyes at the small, pale font used.  “She mentions here about befriending a girl called Himari during a minor accident at the Tokyo Subway.  But this Himari’s family name is Ikebe-”

“That’s her,” said Kanba, eagerness showing through his coolly impassive front. “She’s using our uncle’s family name in this reality.”

“We made it so that Himari and Ringo will still have each other as friends,” explained Shouma, fidgeting uncomfortably beside his brother, “even though neither would remember anything about what happened in our original world.”

Tsuwabuki cleared his throat, before reading off the entries.  “Entry 320: ‘It’s been a few days since Himari-chan and I discovered that paper note sticking out of the teddy’s tummy – the one written by someone claiming to be her brother.  Even knowing that she is an only child, something about that note – that terrible yet familiar-looking handwriting – had made this strange impact on not just her heart, but also mine.  This is just as strange as our lack of memory about the accident on the subway train – it’s the fateful event that brought about our meeting, after all; we should remember . . . we should.

“Entry 321: If the same dream repeats, night after night, identical and endless . . . does that make it more real?  Every night, I dream about being burned alive inside a subway train.  I should’ve burned into ashes, into nothing, but this boy shielded me with his body, and took the punishing flames for me; he told me he loved me before I heard a sound like train cars unhooking, and he was gone, along with the flames, the dream, everything.  Was that me subconsciously thinking back to the subway accident?  I know that Himari-chan was there, but there was no boy involved . . . was there?  I can never remember his face after waking up.  To think there were no witnesses coming forth after an accident in such a crowded place, it’s kinda scary.”

A tear escaped Shouma’s eye; it was gently dried off by Tokiko’s silk handkerchief. 

“Entry 322: It’ worrying how Himari-chan has become prone to sudden crying fits – she keeps saying she can’t understand why she can’t remember who her “brother” is.”

Both Takakuras appeared alarmed at hearing that.  No longer able to remain standoffish, the boys got up over towards Tsuwabuki, who lowered the tablet so the diminutive duo could read the diary too.

“ This cannot come at a worse time, that with Himari-chan miraculously getting offered a talent audition by – god this sounds unreal even now – Double H’s agency!  It turns out that Hibari Isada and Hikari Utada were actually friends of Himari in elementary school, but that they’d somehow lost touch.  When their agency suggested the Duo becomes a Trio for marketing purpose, Hibari-san and Hikari-san actually nominated Himari–chan – whom they apparently remember fondly – as a potential candidate!  But with Himari-chan now . . .” the cracking sound of Kanba’s knuckles briefly interrupted Tsuwabuki’s reading, before the preppy was to continue, “with Himari-chan now being so gloomy and on edge, I’m not sure if the coming audition can go well.  I am now doing everything I can to cheer and relax her, hoping she’d be up to at her best then; this is such a big opportunity for her.  I think finding this brother that Himari-chan and her family can’t remember having is important to stabilizing her emotions.  I’ve been trying to talk Mom into hiring a detective, but she’s skeptical on prying so deeply into another family’s business . . . ” 

“Well?” Kozue glared down at the Takakuras.  “Have you boys now finally made up your minds to go back home?”

“They’ll see us as our ‘invisible’ selves . . .” muttered Shouma with his head down, “if they can see us at all.”

“Ah, shadows . . . ” The young woman then turned towards Tokiko.   “Childa-san, now that we know who they are, how do we get them home?  As their old selves, I mean.”

The experienced witch frowned lightly.  “The Fate Diary has since been destroyed, and by the Takakura’s account Ringo-chan had used up its remnant power by activating the spell.  A more . . . realistic approach would be to get the girls to see and accept the brothers’ changes, and--”

“And what?” asked Kanba, brutishly.  “Have us haunt them like the ghosts that we’ve now become?  They can’t let other people know about us, we’d be like some freak secret they’d have to hide from the world!    This kinda ‘reunion’ can’t be good for them, and it’s not what we want either.”

“Your concern is valid,” said Juri, offering her piece after having since observed the brothers for a while.  “Still, reunion or not, I do believe those girls deserve to know what has happened to you boys, and that this is all because of your self sacrifices; I believe you both owe each other that much.”  Kanba rolled his eyes.
 
“Listen, lady-”

“Listen to this,”  Shiori spoke up from where she took over reading off the tablet.  “Entry 323: Today, while I was at Himari-chan’s place helping her practice for the audition, a letter has arrived for her.  ‘To the one forgetting: come to the penguin tank at Sunshine City Aquarium at the time and date specified below.   You shall find the forgotten truth that you seek.’  Himari-chan wants to go, of course – the fact that whoever wrote this somehow knows about her apparent amnesia makes for an irresistible draw.  Yet . . . this seem too ominous to be safe.  I told her if she insists on going, then she must let me go with her.  And just now, right before inputting this entry, I’ve found in my mailbox that exact same letter!  But . . . I haven’t even told anyone about my dreams of the burning boy (except for in this blog, but this is password protected so it must be safe) . . .”  She and the Duelists all turned to stare at the Children of Fate, who glared back; Shiori then read on.   “Just what’s going on here?  I guess there’s no avoiding it – we both have to go and meet this ominous person, and face whatever fate has in store for us.” 

“What’s going on?”  Shouma could not help but ask.  “Nobody should know about the Fate Transfer in this reality . . .”
   
Tsuwabuki squinted his eyes at the tablet screen.  “It says here the meeting is . . . it’s today; around this time, even.”  The brothers jumped.

“WHAT?”

“You mean Himari and that ditz are meeting some ominous freak at the Aquarium like right now?!”  Kanba turned to bark at his brother.    “Shouma!  We’re going!”

“Oginome is not a ditz!” protested Shouma.  “But . . . yeah, we have to--” He stilled at a hand gesture from Juri, who was eyeing the since emptied car repair cage with narrowed green eyes.

“Childa-san . . . I don’t suppose Mikage and Himemiya are still on the premises?”

***

“You’re . . . kidding, right?

“After you just ran off without saying anything . . . is this how you’ve been since?”

Wet, brand-marked face lifted up by Saionji’s broad hand, Touga continued to stare vapidly through him as though the other man was never there to begin with; green eyes bloodshot, his lifelong friend let out a dry, wheezing chuckle – one that sent trembles through (helplessly on-looking)  Nanami’s petite frame.

“What?  Is this something you want to show us?  Some statement you’re trying to make?”

“Kyouichi . . .” whimpered the now fearful Nanami, reaching forth to try and unclasp the man’s large hand off of Touga.

“You . . . fucking HOLE!”  Slamming Touga back down into the filled squat bowl amidst Nanami’s shrill, torn scream, Saionji then proceeded to deal blow after blow down upon the redhead’s naked torso to water-splashing effects.  “You got any idea how worried your sister was for you?!” 

Said sister had since pounced the enraged man like a frantic cat, and was clawing at him trying to get him off of her brother, to little effects. 

“Don’t hurt Onii-sama!  Don’t--”

“Touga!  You think you can just ditch us after all that hell you’ve dragged us through with you?!   You think you can just scare us away with this freak act, and, and--”

It was the partition door getting torn open that finally stopped Saionji’s violence; all three of them looked up and at the backpack-wearing Utena, now staring down upon the dazed, bruised redhead with hard, cloudy eyes.

“Touga, we’re leaving.”

End Part Twelve

Chapter Text

Seinen Kakumei Utena

Utena and Penguindrum characters belong to their various owners.

WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization.  Chapter contains mention of rape.

Part Thirteen: Victims of Fate III (BETA-ed by TheOnlyFlorence)

Time: 10 years post-revolution
Place: Ohtori Academy (Japan), Underground Garage

“So the invited have all gathered at the meeting spot?  Keep them monitored; await further instructions before proceeding to stage 2.”  There was a brief  pause.  “Of course I’ve had you all covered.  Your group has been a long-time investment of the Ohtori Clan, after all.”

Putting down the now-vintage car phone earpiece back into its crank (how quickly do man-made items go out of style, he thought), the entity leaned back against his car’s seat with the sinuousness of a self-sunning reptile.  Green eyes hooded, he cast his impassive gaze upon a slot to the opposing side of the garage, where numerous mechanics labored over a red convertible – one identical in appearance to his – grotesquely skewered by numerous charred, gnarled swords.

The car phone rang.  Picking it up, he heard, to his un-surprise, the jocular, boyish voice of his current top-performing pawn:

//“Feeling good about yourself, Prince? Again you’ve had some woman suffer on your behalf.”//

The sword-skewered red convertible’s lopsided plate – one that read “OHTORI” - fell off with a brittle clang, revealing the name “KANAE” on its flip side; the Prince exhaled into the phone with measured slowness.

“Can you still not comprehend what a ‘prince’ is, even after all this time playing one?” he asked back.

//“Oh, give me time, sempai – I’m still pretty green when compared to you.”//

“You’ve certainly turned out to be just as layered as your nick-namesake would suggest,” mused the Prince, his voice textured with dark mirth.  “Had Nemuro-kun bothered to go deep enough into your core during his turn in the game, history could’ve been rewritten.”   

This bratty piece, of course, talked back like he always did.  //“History still could be rewritten yet – it’s for this that you’ve been using me up through the past ten years.”//
A sinister moaning sound, girlish as it was desperate, came faintly audible through the tension-thick atmosphere; the Prince paid it no heed.

“You’ve gained much through this past decade.”

//“The bad along with the good, you mean.”//

“I’ve helped you become what you’ve always wanted to be: something to be seen.”

The faint moaning shrilled into an airy, agonizing scream echoing against the garage’s shadowy space.  Then came a snapping sound, before a murky red light lit up the slot to the left of where the Prince currently occupied, revealing yet another red convertible identical in appearance to his; its plate, unlike that of the Prince’s vehicle, read “INOUE”.

//“My lord and savior, when you say things like this, I can’t help but wish for you to feel my wounds, my sufferings, with your own body – I think only then can you truly comprehend just what you’ve done to me.”//

A flapping sound started to drone in the dimness, its beats frantic as the wings of a moth under fire.  As if drawn by the sound, the red haze “spilled over” to illuminate the Prince’s slot, revealing his car’s plate to be rapidly flipping as if upon a rotating axis. 

“Is that why you’re taking the time to call, Onion-kun?” asked the Prince, purposely reminding the ungrateful tool of his humble beginnings.   

The car’s plate paused, revealing the word “OHTORI”.

“Onion-kun’s” voice audibly tensed up with defensiveness.  //“I’m calling to tell you I’m taking time off starting now and through the weekend.  Get your goons at the Agency to rearrange my schedule around me.”// 

The glow had by now covered the slot to the right of the Prince’s convertible, revealing a dark-colored racecar of insectile design – one with a plate reading “KAORU.”   

“Reason for time off?”

//“Re-repairs,”// spat the now openly agitated “Onion-kun”, before briskly terminating the call. 

Lips curled in a somewhat enigmatic smirk, the Prince again leaned his weight against the cushioned car seat. 

On the light reddened floor, sharp shades had gathered in a lively shadow play – one voiced by a trio of girly voices:

I wonder?

I wonder? 

Do you know what I wonder?

“I’m da über mucho macho Top Dawg!”

“And I’m the top dawg’s down low sub biatch - Bottom Dawg ~”

“And we’re chilling chilling cool, in our thugged-out doggy doggy do, n’ doggy doggy style!”

(A heartbroken young lass glided by the two, her delicate stance brittle with grief.)

“Daamn!  Dat lil’ biatch sure looks classy, Bottom Dawg!”

“Me wanna be classy too, Top Dawg ~”

“I know!  Why dun we go double team dat classy lil’ biatch?  I bet we’d get some of dat classy chill too, Bottom Dawg.”

“Damn right, Top Dawg ~”

(The two jumped the lass, right as the shadows abruptly scattered in a fluttery, moth-like swarm amidst sharp cries that could either be laughter or screaming.)   

Do you know?

Do you know? 

Do you wonder what we know?


“You,” uncaring of the Shadows and their demented sounds, the Prince purred with his lips brushing intimately against the velvety, flesh-toned seat covering, “what do you think a prince is . . . Mother?”

At his question, the car radio spontaneously snapped on to sound a smoky, womanly alto: 

//“Somehow, you only ever call me ‘Mother’ when my daughter is nearby, Akio-san.”//

Baring his even teeth in a broad grin, the Prince looked like he was actually about to answer that, when the car phone rang again.

“Yes?  So, she’s arrived . . . then it’s time.  Proceed to Stage Two as planned.  Be sure to keep the witch and her accomplices engaged until I give signal to begin Stage Three.”  Putting down the receiver, he turned the key on his sultrily constructed red convertible.  “Time to go, Hoshimi: the game begins.”   

Engine roaring, the driven “car” shot arrow-like out of her slot, carrying the Prince past the innumerable identical-seeming red convertibles parked inside the garage’s many slots, and into the darkness of the Ends of the World.

***

“Holy . . . this is almost like that Magic Mirror from Snow White,” commented Wakaba, as she and the rest of the group (Duelists plus Children of Fate) gawked in awe at the vast multitudes of holographic projections raised against the starry backdrop, all of which showing what appeared to be live videos of the various parts of the crowded Sunshine City Aquarium.

“This may disappoint, but not much witch power is involved in my doing this,” replied Tokiko, busily typing on her keyboard as the projections shift from one area to the other.  “I’ve simply hacked into the video surveillance systems of the Aquarium and its surrounding areas, that’s all.”

“Wow, Chida-san . . . for someone from your era, you’re really tech savvy . . .” immediately realizing the landmine he had just stepped on, Tsuwabuki quickly backtracked. “Oh! I’m not trying to say you’re old, Chida-san, cause you’re totally beautiful, but . . . um . . .”

“It’s okay,” assured the ageless witch, busy with checking through the surveillance videos, “I am an old woman from a bygone era.  Still, one picks up a few tricks after spending ten years together with a computer genius.”

“Chida-san,” Juri cut in, suspicious gaze trained upon the woman, “did you know beforehand about Himemiya meeting with the girls today?”

Preoccupied, Tokiko shook her head without looking up.  “Himemiya-san keeps her own counsel.”  Apparently knowing of the truth in her words, Juri did not pursue the matter.

Kozue appeared perturbed by the “crowded” scenes shown.  “It’s such a freaky way to look at the world, with everyone looking like empty symbols . . .” Beside her, Miki widened his eyes as he spotted something at a corner of a projection screen.

“That family coming out of the souvenir shop with toys for the kids still look normal, though . . .” The words incited a harsh snort out of Kanba, to the slender man’s mild mortification. 

“Miki-san, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who’re loved and those who’re not,” supplied Shouma quickly and respectfully (he was likely worried that his brother’s reaction had come off being rude).  “Only those who’re unloved risk getting broiled by the world into becoming . . .” his eyes widened at glimpsing something on screen, “Oginome-san . . . !”

Tokiko was already zooming in on a plain-looking girl made noticeable by the crowd of symbols surrounding her; upon closer inspection, she had a younger, more petite friend beside her: one almost completely hidden by the surrounding figures. 

“Himari.”  Kanba’s eyes softened with an almost uncharacteristic tenderness at seeing the smaller girl, before his child’s face abruptly drew up in wolfish alert.  “That guy . . .”

“That man behind the girls in black hat and coat also looks normal,” pointed out Shiori, before her eyes started to narrow, “. . . or does he?”

Tokiko zoomed in on that man (some sort of science-defying magic must still be at work atop the “hacking”, as there was no distortion in video quality despite this being security cam footage), and all the Duelists gasped in shock at what now became apparent.

“He’s got like . . . no eyes!”  Wakaba recoiled from the projection in fear.   “That’s why he’s wearing his black hat so low: to hide his nonexistent upper profile!”

“Is that . . . also someone who becomes an invisible nothing?  Like the symbols?”  asked Kozue; Shouma trembled in fright even as Kanba grinded his teeth ferally.

“There’s a kind of ‘nothing’ who will even go as far as to destroy the world and its people, just so they can feel like ‘something’,” hissed the brown-haired boy in barely contained rage, “and when they show, they show up in droves.”

“The Kiga Group,” stated Tokiko, pulling up a projection where innumerable men in black could be seen evenly spread out from amongst the vast crowds.  “Backed by the Ohtori Clan, their remnant members roam the world even after the government crackdown--”

Suddenly, all the projections started frizzling, before being superimposed by an ominous-looking “yin-yang” penguin face motif.  With a stab of a key, Tokiko closed down all the projections, returning the “Room of Stars” back into its former appearance.

“A spiritual barrier over the area, followed by a retaliatory breach-attempt,” explained the witch/hacker to the riled-up group.  “Further monitoring of the Aquarium from our end has now become impossible.”

The Children of Fate tensed at her words.  “Then . . . Himari and Oginome-san . . .”

“Himemiya-san and Nemuro-kun should’ve arrived there already,” said Tokiko, while tapping restless fingertips against the edge of her keyboard.  “While they’re more than a match for Kiga, I’m concerned that Kiga itself might’ve been just mere decoy sent to distract them from mightier adversaries.”  She cast her glinting eyes upon the slightly parted door leading back into the mansion.  “Time to involve the New Prince.”

***

The Sunshine City Aquarium was filled with nature’s wonders, displayed behind glass for the eyes of beholders.

The vast majority of its predominantly female visitors, however, currently trained their lusty gazes upon something else – something that wasn’t even present. 

//“And now, ladies and gentleman, it’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the unveiling of our Aquarium’s A-list endorser – Seen’s - newest HD 3D MV: Heavenly Pink!”//

The biseinen idol’s pristine image appeared upon the tall LED screen to thunderous applause from the eager crowd, whose cheering never ceased even after he had started singing:

//“Who was that girl with the crying face,
Looking at funeral signs?
She thought her life was an ended race.
Into her coffin there she lied . . .”//

The pop ballad, while well-sung, largely fell upon deaf ears, as the clamoring women all were eagerly chatting about something else entirely:

“ Those lush romantic curls . . . how can any man be so . . . princely?!”

“Look at that clothes-hanger build . . . he could be on the runway in Milan and Paris!”

“I so wanna be one of those two dancers who got to be with him ~ ”

“. . . wait, aren’t those girls Double H?”

“You’re right . . . they are Double H!  Since when do they dance backup for other artists?”

“Well, Seen does rank much higher than them on like all the popularity polls.”

“He’s so leggy, the girls look like penguins wobbling beside him.”

“They’re really kinda plain for idols; no wonder their agency need to generate press with that mystery Triple H new member thing.”

“That new H will have to be someone un-leggy enough to match the existing two, though . . .”

Unnoticed by the tittering, judging bunch, two tensely somber girls were passing by from behind them, with the older of the two – one spotting a girly bob cut – now shooting them a heated glare. 

“Geez, if Double H could be called short penguins, then I suppose the place is swarming with ovulating turtles by their own definition,” grumbled the feisty girl, before turning back to her younger companion with a reassuring smile.   “Himari-chan, don’t you mind what they say;  Hibari-san and Hikari-san are--”

“I don’t think they had to endure this kind of judgment before becoming idols,” murmured Ikebe Himari, her expression one of disconcerted pensiveness.  “Isn’t it strange?  The three of us were supposed to be friends in elementary school, but I can’t remember anything about them from that time: what they looked like, any of the things we should’ve done together . . . nothing.  If it wasn’t for Hibari-san and Hikari-san coming to me, I wouldn’t have remembered that we had even known each other.”  Reaching the penguin pool, the wisp of a girl climbed a step of wooden lining up the glass fence as if out of habit.  “And these penguins--” the girl’s foot slipped, and the older girl hurried up to steady her from falling.

“Himari-chan!”

“ . . . I-I’m okay; thanks, Ringo-chan.”

Oginome Ringo frowned chidingly at Himari.  “You mustn’t be so careless right before your talent audition, Himari-chan.”  Himari hung her head in sheens of long, fine hair.

“I’m sorry,” the girl apologized in her airy, brittle voice.  “Just now, I suddenly remembered that I’ve actually been here – I mean since way before we came here together after our hospital stay.  I remember how someone had always helped me up this wooden step so I could look over the fence, but I can never remember who that someone was.  My adoptive parents never once took me here, and . . .” A tear escaped her eye then, and Ringo quietly helped her clean up with a Kleenex.  “Oh, Ringo-chan . . . I don’t know what I’d do without you.  There are all these holes in my memory, it’s like there is really no concrete past to uphold this pleasant . . . present.”  Sniffing, she glanced up at the older girl in fright and helplessness.  “It’s like we’re both trapped inside some elaborate illusion, where nothing is real, Ringo-chan!” 

“Himari-chan . . . ” uncertainty welled up from within Ringo’s amber eyes, before the girl made a visible effort to don a brave, cheery front.  “Don’t worry. We’re going to get all the answers today!  Now that we’ve come here like the letter instructed, we’re finally gonna meet up with that omniscient person who knows about the amnesia, and  . . .” Her words trailed off at seeing the peculiar widening of Himari’s eyes.  “ . . . Himari-chan?”

“You . . . you’re . . .” uttered Himari in what looked like rapidly dawning recognition, as she reached down to clasp her small hands around something seemingly short and rotund . . . something that looked like thin air to Ringo,  “ . . . Number . . . 3?”  Worried, Ringo clasped a hand upon Himari’s slim shoulder.

“H-Himari-chan--” and she got tongue-tied, as immediately upon contact, she suddenly found herself seeing a fake-looking blue penguin – one with the number “3” written on its back – now cuddling up against the other girl’s embrace in an extremely lifelike manner.   “T-That . . . that’s . . .?!”

“ . . . Esmeralda?”

Turning at the quivering voice, Ringo saw to their side a stylish young woman gawking down at an also artificial-seeming black penguin now snuggling up against her long, stocking-clad lower leg.  Apparently geared with sharp senses, the young woman noticed Ringo’s staring almost immediately; her eyes widened with disbelief at seeing her and Himari.

“You and that girl,” the young woman’s body tensed in defensiveness, “you’re both . . . real?!”

“Natsume Masako-san . . .” whimpered Himari, who apparently recognized the young woman . . . with fear; the blue and black penguins by their respective sides now were glaring cartoon-ish-ly at each other. 

Unnoticed by the flabbergasted girls, shady men had since appeared from all around the crowded place in significant numbers, their stark black hats and trench coats contrasting the lighter attires of the regular visitors to ominous effects . . .

//“Heavenly Pink won't you comb your hair?
You can be beautiful too.
Heavenly Pink, remember you're only a princess.
Heavenly Pink, remember you're only a child.
Ah . . .”//


***

“We’re leaving.”

Utena’s sentence impacted those inside the toilet partition like an unexpected slap; and they reacted to it as such.

“Leave . . .?” asked Saionji, the desperate, explosive anger twisting his expression mirroring those often seen in his high school days.

“Y-You can’t!” Sharp-tongued Nanami actually stuttered, so outraged was she now.  “Not after having dragged everyone of us into your fight against him . . . are you fucking insane?!

Ignoring the two like they were never there to begin with, Utena stepped into the already crowded partition, and proceeded to pull Touga up and out of the water.

“Hey!  Keep your hands off my--” Nanami’s sentence died out, as she realized how Touga was responding to Utena’s draw, as he now stood steadily up on his own feet.  Producing a large towel, Utena then proceeded to dry the wet, naked man matter-of-factly as the others looked on in shock.

“Tenjou-kun,”

“Touga,” 

“I can’t become a prince after all.”

“Me neither.”

“But, at least I finally get to meet you, as myself, ” said Touga, displaying his smooth, willowy body with neither modesty nor shame. “Tenjou-kun,” he looked his past crush in the eye,  “are you yourself now?” 

Only then did Utena – no longer innocent, no longer even female – finally looked away, as he then shoved a pile of clothes up and in Touga’s stoic face. 

“Tenjou-kun,” persisted Touga, whose piercing, merciless gaze remained trained upon Utena; head down, Utena clenched his fist till his knuckles turned white.

“You . . . why is it that every time we meet, you’re always trying to hurt me?”

***

Time: 6 years pre-revolution
Place: Outskirts of Kiryuu Estate, Water Canal

“. . . we meet again,” whispered Touga to himself from where he was again peeking at her, this time behind the obscuring shrubs beside the small canal park.

It had been two years since he first saw her; two years during which the boy had repeatedly chanced upon the pink-haired girl – the one spoiled rotten by parents – at various spots around the area, watching on unnoticed as she grew more and more beautiful living her charmed life . . . two years since he himself had become a witch.

Ever since he became a witch, the abuses had indeed stopped; since the abuses had stopped, so too did those contrived family interactions the Kiryuus once had with the siblings.  Touga himself of course relished in the absence of the pervs from their immediate vicinity, but Nanami – believing them to be the parents – grew up feeling unloved; she had grown, as per the years, increasingly dependant upon him.

“Mama and Papa don’t need me, so I don’t need them either!  I need only you, Onii-sama; I have only you . . .”

Even without the abuses, even “protected”, he and Nanami still were unloved children – existing opposed to those chosen by fate to live engulfed in love.

“ . . . and after a bit more practice, you’d be able to do even this.” Looking resplendent in her brand name leotard, the pink-haired lass then proceeded to execute a showy skipping rope trick in front of a small gathering of admiring girls.  “Nothing sculpts the lines like exercise!” 

Such a radiantly foolish girl, looking like she had never even known of the darker things roaming the world – like pedophiles who pose as parents, like parents who hurt their children . . . like him.

He had grown fixated upon her out of envy; and fascination . . . and something deeper; something he could not yet define at his young age.

He knew that they were from different worlds, that their only interaction would be nothing more than someone like him watching someone like her from afar – while obscured underneath dark shades, invisible and seething. 

Unless . . .

“Wait!  But wouldn’t all this jumping about make the legs go chunky?” 

“What if this gives us cankles?”

“Oh no: jumping exercises actually help the legs grow longer while reducing waist-size, and can make us look so much better in whatever we wear . . . ”

“Onii-sa--”

Startled by Nanami’s abrupt sneak up from behind him, Touga quickly pressed a hand over his little sister’s mouth, keeping her quiet. 

“ . . . now that I’ve scored perfect on the math test, Mama and Papa has finally agreed to take me with them to Tokyo on their work trip,” claimed the pink-haired girl, beaming with excitement.  “I’d get to check out the designer boutiques there myself!  So, if there’s anything you girls want me to get for ya . . .” The offer was met with jubilant “oooh-s” and  “aaah-s”, as the group of privileged little girls moved off and away.  Relaxed, Touga released Nanami, who sagged like an unsupported doll.

“ . . . why’re you looking at those girls?” she asked with that hurt look in her dark eyes . . . it was the look she had two years ago, on that day.
 
Nanami thought he was oblivious, but he knew.

He knew what she did, two years ago.

Like most other kids, Touga had naturally liked animals to begin with.  However, in those days just after his birthday – around the very beginning stages of his “protection period” – the boy had been inseparable from the kitten largely because he knew Kiryuu Papa feared it.  To better control the kitten, he had spent a lot of time bonding with it – and that quickly made his clingy sister jealous.

On that wet, cloudy day, while looking for his pet, Touga found Nanami sneaking furtively out of the side gates with a card box in hand.   Normally, he would not pay much attention to that, if not for how that card box looked very similar to the one the girl had used as a gift box for the kitten.

The soft meow faintly audible from within the box confirmed his suspicion.

Tailing his little sister from behind, he followed her out to the canal, and watched on stunned as she then slipped the boxed kitten into the wild torrents of the flooded waterway.  There was this macabre crow’s screech, before the girl fled into the cold rain, crying in guilt and in despair.

Up till that moment, Touga had thought he had managed to protect his sister’s innocence from the Kiryuus; how wrong he was.

The monsters had twisted Nanami’s soul just by pretending to be her parents while doing no parenting.

Presently – at this exact same spot she once drowned that kitten – his volatile, vulnerable sister was brawling against his embrace as if out of breath.

“I can’t bear it if you’re to fall for some girl!  Onii-sama, look only at me!  Care only for me!  Love me!”

Still mentally scrambling for the right words to pacify the hysterical child, the boy did what he had always done in similar situations: he kissed her gently on the forehead.

And it worked like magic; just like it did every single time before.

“Nanami, I’m not ‘falling’ for any of them.”

“ . . . huh?”

“Girls like those are just like troublesome insects,” Touga flicked his hair – grown long again after the cut from two years ago – in a disdainful gesture. “I looked only so I could watch out for them.  You’re my only sister; you’re the only one who’s important to me.”

“Onii-sama . . .” Nanami hugged him with fierce, teary gratitude. “Onii-sama!

Patting his unhealthily clingy sister on the back of her blond haired head, the boy cast a furtive gaze at where that dazzling girl and her friends had disappeared off into the distance.

Being from different worlds, someone like him could only ever watch someone like her from afar – while obscured underneath dark shades, invisible and seething. 

Unless . . . unless he could get his own filthy hands on her, and drag her down to his level, so they might at last be on that same common ground. 

So they might finally get to meet.

***

Time: 10 years post-revolution
Place: Chida Mansion

“If you’re really yourself, then you’d goddamn remember how I no longer have a self, and why!” 

Utena’s statement was punctuated by his throwing the clothes brutishly in Touga’s stoic face: an act that somehow caused the “W” branding on the latter’s left cheek to start letting blood. Shocked out of her stupor, Nanami tried advancing on the Victor, but was held back but Saionji’s hand on her shoulder.   

“What, don’t you remember?” Livid with rage now, Utena pointed a finger at Touga like he would a raised sword.  “You’ve met my true self while I lied dying; and instead of trying to save me, you--”

“I gave that fatal cut, from which sprouted you and your trail of coffins,” said the redheaded man, who seemed unaware (or uncaring) of the blood marring his snow-pale face. “Yes, it's all my fault: I was the witch who brought low what could have been a princely princess.  Do you hate me, even now?  Do you regret meeting me?  And, if you do . . .”  blue eyes glinting, he stepped up and towards the trembling young man, “. . . can this regret give you motivation enough to get back on your feet, or will you still hide yourself inside some coffin just like before?”

“You--”

And their surroundings changed with a disorienting abruptness, such that the four suddenly found themselves in a pristine, elegantly renovated bathing area, where the squat toilet Touga came out of now had become a Jacuzzi tub, filled and running.

Red rose petals – glossy from being lacquered – could be seen scattered about the corners of the bath in artful disarray.

“W-Wha . . . ?!”  Nanami looked around in disbelief.  “That was . . . ?”

“A projection,” muttered Saionji, his hardened gaze trained upon Touga, who stood wet and naked but without the bleeding, “and it’s clear just who the ‘projector’ is here.”

Then came a short, brisk series of raps at the door, before it got pushed open as Tokiko strode right in. 

“Pardon me for interrupting.” The elegant woman kept her eyes on Utena alone as she, with a wave of her hand, somehow materialized a bathrobe around Touga’s nakedness.  “Tenjou-san, Himemiya-san is presently in battle against Akio’s subordinates, including Kiga; she could be needing your--”

“No.”

“ . . . no?”

“I won’t see Himemiya right now,” stated the New Prince, downcast and sullen, “not her, not Kiga.”

Tokiko frowned.  “Tenjou-san . . .”

“No.  What she did--”

“Ho, this is rich!”  Nanami cut Utena off with a derisive snort. “You, who’ve been trying to make us all accept Himemiya - even knowing about the many people she’d destroyed and killed all along - you’re now breaking it off with the all-powerful-witch right when we all need her the most?  After having lumped us in on your side against her brother?  All this, just because she might – might - be involved with your parents’ death?!  What makes your parents bigger than the rest of their many victims – bigger than us?”   The petite blonde stomped up and at the tense Victor with spite in her steps. “You hypocritical, self-centered--”

“Enough, Nanami.”

Touga’s quiet but firm voice impacted his sister like an abrupt slap, stunning her into wide-eyed stillness.  He then turned to face Tokiko.

“Tenjou is in no condition to be of help at the moment.  There are things that needs settling – that I should’ve settled earlier on, since meeting her again – and it will have to be done now.”  The man’s gaze upon the witch was steady and hard.  “Please understand, Chida-san.” 

By now, the gathered ones were all looking in from the opened door, their tensed faces betraying their current anxiousness.

“Chida-san,” Kanba spoke up aloud for all to hear, “Shouma and I are going with or without Pink Hair.”

“If the boys are going, then I am too,” stated Kozue; Miki looked uncertain from where he stood beside his twin.

“But . . . without Tenjou-sempai . . .”

“Himemiya brought all of us here, because we – for what we’re worth to the normal world – somehow have the power to go against the Chairman.”  She clasped her hands upon the brothers' small shoulders.    “These two had sacrificed their all to save a girl they call their sister.” She cut at her twin with her sharp gaze, watching as he awkwardly turned away. “I want to help the boys protect their sacrifice, in whatever way I can.  And,” her lips curled in a feral smirk, “if my helping them involves thwarting that monster’s despicable plans in some way, then more power to me.”  The Takakuras appeared stunned by her passion.

“Kozue Nee-san . . . !”

“Kozue has a point,” Juri took a step up to beside the Kaorus.  “We’re here because we’re not completely powerless against the Chairman.  Isn’t that right, Chida-san?”

“Yes . . . and no,” said Tokiko, after taking a moment.  “With the exception of the potentially powerful Tenjou-san, all the other Duelists can only face up against Ohtori Akio by forming driver/vehicle partnerships.”  She cast her worried gaze across the group.  “Most of you are not ready for that just yet.”

“Driver . . . vehicle partnerships?”  asked a visibly disconcerted Shiori, now clasping her hand upon Juri’s forearms.  “Does this mean . . . we’re meant to . . . I . . .?”  Appearing nervous herself, Juri hugged the smaller woman to her side under the other Duelists’ quizzical gazes. 

“There are two kinds of people in this world,” explained Tokiko, “those who drive others onwards, and those who get driven onwards by others.”  The Duelists looked amongst themselves uncertainly.  “As far as I know, Himemiya-san had planned it so that the Duelists she gathered this time around are pairs with potential to make for a powerful ‘race team’, for lack of a better term.”

“So it’s gonna be a car race this time around?” exclaimed Wakaba in genuine bafflement.  “Against whom?  Towards what?”

Tokiko’s delicate face hardened in determination.  “Against worldly obstacles since prepared by the Ends of the World; towards the truth beyond the world’s shell.”

“I don’t get it.”

“You will; you all will in good time.  For now, I ask all Duelists to stay here with Tenjou-san.  I’ll go with the Takakura brothers to protect their loved ones and help Himemiya-san against Kiga and whatever else the Devil has up his sleeve.”

“Why only the kids?” asked Kozue. Stepping up, Tokiko gently pulled the child-shaped Takakuras away from the girl and towards herself.

“Because they are immune from violence in their present insubstantial state – even though they cannot enact violence either.” 

Her statement appeared to worry Miki.  “But . . . with only you having any offensive power--”

“Nemuro-kun and Himemiya-san should be there already; we can manage,” assured the elegant, delicate witch.  “Kanba-kun, Shouma-kun, we’re going.”  Even before Tokiko’s sentence was completely finished, the boys were already losing shape, color, and form, before exploding outward in a vortex of sharp, glassy pieces that completely obscured her slender figure; the glittery, lucent storm dissipated almost as quickly as it formed, leaving behind no trace of the vanished trio.

“ . . . they can manage,” mumbled Miki to himself, obviously awed by the impressive unreality he just witnessed; the other Duelists also appeared similarly stunned.  The group soon gathered their wits about them and refocused upon the now trembling Utena, standing in front of Touga with his head hung low.

“Well, I ain’t staying behind just to have to look at that,”  snorted Kozue at their Victor in a purposefully loud voice. “I’ll be downstairs.”  With that, she turned on sharply her heel and left.

“Kaoru-san,” Shiori flitted after the feisty girl like a delicate bird. “Let’s all stick together; we can monitor news alert about Sunshine City Aquarium, and maybe come up with some ways to keep this operation going . . .” Apparently worried how the eager suggestion was going to go down with the thorny listener, both Juri and Miki quickly followed from behind. 

“Nanami-sama,” Tsuwabuki got up to the older young woman – one who had remained wordless since being silenced by her brother – with the carefulness of one walking on eggshells.  “Come with us?” 

Downcast, like a hollowed-out husk, the once catty blonde passively allowed the young man – already taller than her by a head – to gently guide her out the door; they briefly brushed past Wakaba during their exit.

“Utena-sa . . . Utena,”  Wakaba called to her once best friend from where she stood worriedly at the door.   “Umm, now that you . . . and Himemiya . . . what’re you going to do now?”   

“Wakaba . . .” croaked Utena though his constricted throat; his head still was hung low: as if he was not yet strong enough to look up at the world yet. “I’m sorry.”

“For . . . what?”

“For dragging everyone into a fight against that monster, when I’m not even ready to face him myself.  It must’ve been so scary for all of you, having to face the Swords with no idea what to expect.  Because I’m so weak, Chida-san now has to fight Kiga and Akio by herself--”

“Utena.” Wakaba cut him off in a surprising firm voice.  “Yeah, like, there are a lot of things going on that I don't understand . . .” the young woman paused to take a deep breath, “but, this I know for sure: you were the one who saved each and every one of us, back when we needed saving.”  Her voice and expression both softened with warm empathy.  “So don’t be sorry - it’s now our turn to save you, that’s all.”  The young woman’s brown eyes misted at seeing the tear tracks now trailing down Utena’s pale cheek.  “I’ll be with the others.”  With that, she too backed out of the bath area, leaving the broken new prince alone with his emotions . . .

. . . alone with those two, who were as much  fellow duelists to him as they were his kindred spirits in despair.

Touga and Saionji . . . Saionji and Touga; their watchful gazes upon him now felt every bit as invasive as they did on that night at the church, back when they all still were kids, back when they all still were young victims at the ends of their world.

The lights were beginning to dim, and the setting was beginning to change.  There now were impressions of stained-glass windows letting light in from the outside - colored lights that revealed three coffins all bearing stylized rose motifs.  Stepping up – bumping past Saionji’s shoulder as he did so – Touga moved to one of the coffins, and started pushing its lid aside . . .

“Don’t,” whimpered Utena, his voice eeriely girlish and child-like against the dull thunders now droning in the distance,  “please don’t . . . ”

***

Time: 6 years pre-revolution
Place: Tokyo, Shinjuku Subway Station

Theirs was a family of three smartly dressed in high-end casual wear, and they were hurrying towards the bustling subway station entrance with hurried haste.

“Pumpkin, we don’t have to go quite that early!  The store won’t be open till--”

“We have to, Papa!”  Blue eyes determined, the little girl was literally dragging her father by the hand, as they prowled their way through the thick morning crowd.  “Sorya Rich is debuting its limited edition designer choker today: there must be a long lineup outside the store—oof!”  It was then that she accidentally bumped against a man, the force almost sending the sizable box he was carrying tumbling down upon her.

“Utena!”  Exclaimed her father in alarm, as he turned quickly towards the impacted man.  “I’m so sorry: my daughter is too unruly.  Are you okay?”

The man - nondescript in appearance but for the penguin motif on his back and on his box – paid Utena and her father no heed as he briskly went on his way.

“See how you’ve embarrassed yourself with this behavior!  Pumpkin, you really should . . .” Mr. Tenjou trailed off at realizing that his words were falling on deaf ears, with his daughter remaining utterly focused on her forward momentum towards what she wanted.

“Rush hour on a day off; what joy . . .” grumbled Mrs. Tenjou, whose ruffle-filled sundress proved impractical when amongst the crowding, squishing mass.   

“What can we do?” bemoaned the khakis-clad husband, looking out of place from amidst the suited “salary men” from all around. “We got ourselves a little type-B: self-centered and fixation-prone.” Complains aside, fatherly pride still was evident in his expression.  “At least our girl’s princess-ly craving is motivating her to do well at school . . .”

“At least there’s that . . .” conceded the dainty wife, smiling in spite of herself.

“Hurry! Hurry!  We’re gonna miss the train!”  The pink-haired princess – willfully ignoring the heartwarming exchange, so possessed was she by the single-mindedness of childhood – impatiently urged her parents along towards the subway gates, towards the life-changing event that was to leave this one forever altered.


End Part Thirteen

Chapter Text

Seinen Kakumei Utena

Utena and Penguindrum characters belong to their various owners.

WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization. This particular chapter also contains non-graphic depiction of child abuse and UST, so be warned.

Part Fourteen: Victims of Fate IV (BETA-ed by TheOnlyFlorence: whatever mistakes still present are results of my own stubbornness)

Time: 10 years post-revolution
Place: Sunshine City Aquarium

Even before taking up the peculiar invitation together with her friend, the girl had known that this meeting – one brought on by some mysterious person promising to fill in certain inexplicable gaps in their memories – would be one totally out-there experience.

It was the magnitude of the “out-there” that left her unprepared.

//“Who was that girl dueling in the sky,
Watching the Castle come down?
Heavenly, life isn't just a game.
It's just like a merry-go-round . . .”//

Forcefully ignoring the four strange penguins now waltzing to the pop ballad playing in the background, Oginome Ringo instead focused her attention on the baffling confrontation now unfolding in front of her.

“Takakura Himari . . .”

“Natsume Masako . . .”

“Are you the one who sent that letter telling me to come?” asked this ferocious Masako girl, now stepping towards trembling Himari.  “You’re real . . . that means . . . that means my twin brother is  . . . Kanba!  Oh my god . . . I remember now: Kanba boarded the Fate Train for you!”  Appearing stunned, Himari remained glued to her spot as the other girl continued to advance. “What happened to him? You must know!  He’s sacrificing his life and future all to save you!  You’re alive and well, so what happened to my brother?  Why is he gone from this world with no one remembering he ever existed?” The girl then forcefully grabbed her friend by her slim shoulders.  “You, what did you make him do--” 

“My friend didn’t send no letter,” snarled Ringo, now standing protectively in front of Himari after having shoved Masako off her friend and backwards.  “We came because we got a letter telling us to come and find some ‘forgotten truth’!”  Something occurred to her then.  “Hey . . . did you also receive a letter telling you to come?  Natsume Masako . . . san, are you also here trying to . . . remember something forgotten?”

“ ‘Forgotten?’ ” Masako’s wild, manic gaze intimidated the other girl into taking a step back.  “Oginome, the Magic Diary . . . do you still have it?  With the spell in it, you can . . .”

“Magic . . . diary?” Ringo’s conscious mind drew a blank; yet the feeling of déjà vu was strong, to the point that goose bumps now rose on the back of her neck.

“Quit acting oblivious!”  Masako now was right in her face, frantic hands grabbing her by the shoulders.  “The memories may be repressed by magic, but they still show up in dreams!  There hasn’t been a single sleeping moment since where I don’t dream about Kanba, so I know you couldn’t have forgotten everything completely!”

Impressions, vague like indigo hues amidst a flame’s saffron mass, started surfacing in Ringo’s mind:  a redheaded youth tall and aloof, his wolfish eyes watching as fire engulfed her person, engulfed the pink book upon which she had placed her every hope . . .

“ . . . I had a diary,” murmured the girl, her unsteady voice weak against the thumping of her racing heart, “my sister’s diary that’s been passed down to me, after s-she . . . my sister died the day I was born . . . but how did she die?  The diary . . . it . . . burned because someone tricked me.   But I found out what the spell is anyway, and I used it . . . used it to--” She had to stop, as none of what she now suddenly recalled could cohere with her existing memory; none of it even made any logical sense . . . the hysterical young woman’s painful grip was not helping her think; she needed to break free.  “I-I don’t know what you’re talking about!  I--”

“At the very least, you must remember something about his so-called brother,” insisted Masako as she held tightly onto the struggling Ringo.  “That blue-haired boy who was in it along with you and that girl!  Remember?  He was this clumsy, sweet-faced--” 

“Shou-chan.”

Himari’s airy whimper, coming from behind, hit Ringo like a train.  Just like that, her memories started reshuffling themselves – with such violent abruptness, that the traumatized young woman found herself screaming . . .

“Let

us share

THE FRUIT OF FATE!” 

Having voiced the Diary’s spell – a phrase of utmost significance to Himari-chan, as revealed by Double H – she collapsed to her knees as the infernal backslash overtook her.  Yes, the evil entity who bombed her with the teddy had said that this would happen – that she would get burned down to nothing should she use her sister’s volatile magic to change fate.  But this was for the best: with this, the curse upon her friends would be lifted, with Himari-chan healed of her illness, Kanba-san cleansed of his crime, and Shouma-kun . . .   

. . . Shouma-kun--

“Oginome-san!”

Even while aflame, she could feel his body soft against hers, not quite blocking the heat but making everything bearable enough.

“This is our punishment,” stated Takakura Shouma – son of her sister’s murderer, yet also her own personal liberator – all the while drawing the scorching flames away from her singed flesh and towards his own.  “Thank you.

“I love you.”

There were maybe a million things she wanted to say to him at that very moment, but the heartache got in the way.  In no time at all, the moment was over.  The world they shared started remolding itself to the sound of train cars detaching, and he was torn out of her embrace by forces unseen.  Desperate, she held onto him by his burning hand, helplessly watching on as he was scorched down to nothing right in her grasp, leaving behind

not even a speck of ash

upon her

empty

palm . . .


“ . . . Shouma-kun,” gasped the overwhelmed young woman who only just now remembered everything (in highly painful details). “You moron!” 

“Ringo-chan--” started Himari – now grabbing onto her by the hand – before getting promptly cut off.

“NO!”  Hysterical now, Ringo could not rein in the sharpness of her voice even if she tried.  “He didn’t deserve that so-called ‘punishment’!  None of you did!  I could’ve saved everyone on my own with Momoka Nee-chan’s magic!  Shouma-kun shouldn’t have to get burned!  Kanba-san shouldn’t have to disappear!   They have their lives ahead of them - neither of them should’ve gotten erased by this stupid, unfeeling world!”  Emotionally spent, the girl collapsed backwards in a brittle, trembling wreck; Himari hurriedly steadied her upright; vaguely, she noticed the Masako girl’s now somber gaze upon her, but was too weary to care.

“Ringo-chan . . .”  Teary-eyed, Himari looked to be struggling for words . . . but really, what could she say, now that they finally realized just what – whom – they‘ve  lost to cruel fate?  “It’s all because of me . . .”

“Don’t go there,” muttered Ringo, brokenly. “I was responsible too; it was my sister’s ghost pushing the boys to--” There was a blur of movement her tear-blurred visage could not quite follow.  Before she knew it, both her and Himari were getting forcibly ushered out of the Penguin Tank area and down a corridor, with the four rotund penguins following them upon flapper-ed feet.

“M-Masako-san? What’re you doing?”

“Quiet,” hissed the girl, thick curls flouncing as she pushed the other two along, “we’re being targeted.  Act normal, we’re moving to the open area where it’s more crowded!”

“Targeted . . . ?”  Pulling herself together, Ringo glanced about to see a number of suspicious-looking characters now tailing them from behind.   “The men in black . . . who are they?”  She noticed how her fragile friend seemed alarmingly frightened at seeing those people.  “Himari-chan?”

“Quit yapping and hurry the hell up!”  At Masako’s harsh snap, the group’s bumbling sped up to flat-out running, as they all raced towards the line of glittery glass doors leading to the open area . . .

***

“Does it still bother you to see them upset?”

Lanky built appearing insubstantial under the video screens’ azure blue haze, the youth’s husky voice echoed eerily against the dark confines of Sunshine City Aquarium’s surveillance room.  Seemingly alone – but for the identical penguin hats held in his two hands – he still spoke on:

“Ever since you were a child, yours has always been a will to be reckoned with.

“It is this willpower that allowed for you to work your fate-altering miracles in life, and survive the [1]Magician’s curse in death.

“Will is might.  If you can remain focused on what is important – discarding all lesser worries – nothing can stop you from reaching your goal.

“Since our meeting at the Destination of Fate, I’ve allied my will to yours.  Together, we’ve spent the past ten years battling our common enemy from beyond the World’s Shell.  It is our combined, continued effort that thwarted Kiga’s second attempt at a Subway Attack, and again kept the Fate Train out of their keeper’s reach

“With my will backing yours, our team can defeat not just Kiga, but also their keeper the Ends of the World, and obtain the Miraculous Power to change the World’s Cruel Fate.

“Is this not what you’ve died for?”

Throughout his speech, there occurred a shifting of shadows and light; a change had come upon the scene, such that the youth now held in his hands not two hats; but rather, the hands of two girls – girls who would have looked identical, but for their different ages and attires.

“My sister blames me for sacrificing her loved ones,” murmured the one to his right: a pre-pubescent child in a modest girl’s dress marked by a peach motif on the chest.

“Sacrifices must be made for miracles to occur,” replied the youth to her. “You know this better than even I do.”

“Knowing doesn’t equate liking,” snarled the one to his left: a teenage dominatrix in a risqué costume marked by a peach motif on the crotch.  “Goddamned Ends of the World is sending out these worthless lowlifes after my sister!”  With a flick of her hand, she materialized a glowing pink book in her hand; or rather, a torn half of it.  “See if I don’t erase HIM into nonexistence right here and--”  She got cut off by the sudden kiss planted upon her lips.

“We will erase him at that exact, fateful moment soon to come,” said the youth, azure blue eyes narrowed as he murmured against the young dominatrix’s pouty lips, “which will be soon.  Waiting is such sweet longing, no?”  The dominatrix had a palm against the front of the youth’s regally embroidered white uniform, but only clawed spider-like at the gold buttons along the blue lining instead of outright pushing him away. Turning to his right, the youth’s dark expression turned tender, as he petted the downcast young child on her pink-haired head.  “The Rebel Witch is on the scene – she will have your sister and her friends covered.”  His voice softened a notch. “Stop worrying, Princess-sama – it’s all part of the Survival Strategy we’ve since designed for these Fateful Children.”

Amber eyes alit as if from fire within, the [2] Princess of the Crystal – both split halves of her – answered the youth as one.  “As you say . . . [3]Captain-kun.”

***

Time: 6 years pre-revolution
Place: Tokyo, Ikebukuro-bound Marunouchi Line Train

Amidst the confined masses, there existed an individual; amidst the droning chatters, there existed one singular voice softly voicing grim revelations:

“One morning, I woke up and realized that I hated the world.

“This world is made up of innumerable boxes, within which are these countless people confined within.

“That’s how they live--”

Monologue ceasing, Sanetoshi glanced down upon the older, agitated man now fidgeting noisily from his seat.

“What’s the matter?”

“Kaoru-san isn’t picking up the phone.  I thought . . . for a day like the harnessing of the Fate Train . . .”

“Have you tried your wife’s number yet, Ohtori Chairman-san?”  asked Sanetoshi, keeping his tone casual and his undertone darkly mocking, inciting a baleful glare from Chairman Ohtori Tsukiichi.  “You know how attached your pup is to that practice doll you’ve lent him.  Surely, those twins she conceived while you were away in Amsterdam are proof enough that--”   His sentence got cut off by the Chairman getting up and brutishly bumping past his slight figure, before the latter was to plow rudely through the surrounding passengers and away.  Chuckling out loud, he followed the disgruntled gent from behind in smooth, languid steps.  “Electrifying.”

The vacated seat did not stay unoccupied for long, as a well-dressed couple standing nearby quickly moved over, ushering their dolled-up young daughter towards the emptied spot, getting her seated while they themselves remained standing.

None of them had yet noticed the black teddy stashed beneath the seat.

***

Time: 10 years post-revolution
Place: Chida Mansion

“What’re you doing hiding in your coffin?” asked the witch who once was a boy.

“What’re you doing prying open my coffin?” retorted the prince who once was a girl.

Silence followed the exchange, with the two remaining cloaked under the obscuring shades and fragmented lights, facing each other at the merged edges of their two worlds.

***

Time: 6 years pre-revolution
Place: Tokyo, Ikebukuro-bound Marunouchi Line Train

//“I'm on the top of this world, I'm looking down on creation, and the only explanation I can find . . .”//

Idly listening to the song faintly leaking out from the CD player of the passenger beside her, 8-year-old Tenjou Utena endured the crowded train ride (so much more crowded than what she was used to from the countryside) in ill-contained anxiety and exhilaration.

Very soon, she would arrive at the upscale shopping district of her dreams, where limited edition brand-name accessories were made available to all at various prices, where every beloved little girl can become a princess.

And young Utena was nothing if not beloved.

Already, the little girl’s dreamy vision was brightening with imaginary glitter, as she fantasized about the transformation she was about to undergo: the Sebastian Dior tiara would bring out the small-ness of her face, the Sonya Rich choker the slenderness of her neck, the Valentina party dress the length of her legs . . . she would become charismatic, a muse whose charm could inspire lasting, eternal works of art –like how her mother had inspired her father to take those stunning pictures, pictures that propelled him into becoming one of the top high-fashion photographers in Japan.

“Pumpkin, do you know?  Charisma is a thing of power; and power, is something that can save lives.  There was a time when Papa was suffering inside his shell, and was not able to take any good pictures or do anything productive.  It was your Mama, with her princess-like beauty and charm, who smashed Papa’s shell and helped Papa create real art that can last on for eternity.  You are your Mama’s daughter; if you can retain your charisma unto adulthood, someday, someday you will surely find your special someone to save, and when that happens . . .” 

*Gonk!*

Startled by that rigid something bumping against the back of her heel, Utena reached down to pull up what appeared to be a peculiar black teddy bear designed to resemble a toy mecha . . . or was it the other way around?  Blinking, the little girl suddenly found herself noticing a number of these teddy mechas scattered about the train car.   Despite it being so crowded, none of the people walking by appeared to have problem walking/sitting around the many teddies carelessly laid about.  As far as she could tell, nobody appeared to have noticed the teddies, even though men with penguin motifs on their backs (one of whom she vaguely remembered having bumped against earlier on) were dumping the toys about from out of penguin motif boxes--

“It is best if you slowly put that down.”

The calmly mature child’s voice startled Utena into looking up and at the plainly dressed little girl standing in front of her.  She had pink hair vaguely resembling her own, albeit the eyes were amber instead of blue.  The girl held in her hands was a large pink book – one clearly labeled as being a diary. 

“Eh?  You can see them too?”  Social by nature and upbringing, Utena put down the teddy as she chatted it up with the other kid.  “Wow, these teddies are everywhere.  Is this some kinda promotion?” 

“You don’t know what’s happening, do you?”

“ . . . huh?”

The slightly older girl looked down upon her in apparent disapproval.  “You, being special from birth, should be able to see right through the Kiga Group’s charade had you paid attention.  Instead, you’ve let yourself be blind-sighted by fanciful delusions, and have brought yourself and your parents into harm’s way.  Seeing you here, I almost thought you’d be able to help me against them . . . but now I see I was wrong.”

“What’re you talking about?” asked Utena, now baffled and miffed. 

“It’s okay now,” the older girl dismissed her question.  “You keep on playing princess in your rosy little coffin, but I must go.”  Her small chest was puffed up with conviction, drawing Utena’s attention to the stylized peach motif upon her turtleneck top.  “I have power, and will save everyone all by myself.”

“Power?  Kiga . . . penguin?  Do you mean those guys with the penguin faces on their . . . hey!”  Even as she pointed at one of the “penguin” guys present, the other girl was already walking away.  “Papa,” she reached up to tug on her father’s arm, “what’d you think that girl is talking about . . .”  Once.  Twice.  It took the child three misses before she actually turned to face her parents, and what she saw stunned her into crying out aloud.

Her parents, along with those many other passengers, all were rapidly fading away into nothing right in front of her eyes.

***

Time: 10 years post-revolution
Place: Sunshine City Aquarium

“We’ve been expecting you, girls.”

Once out in the Aquarium’s open area, Ringo and the other penguin-followed girls found themselves now face-to-face with an army of men in black, headed by a similarly dressed woman now smirking imperiously down upon them.  What truly dumbfounded her, however, were the “crowds” present in the background – all of whom now revealed to be insubstantial “gender symbols” but faintly visible under the now darkly indigo, motif-cluttered “outdoor skies”.

“We’ve been surrounded,” she heard Masako’s flat, dead muttering,“there’s no place to run.”

“What do you want with us?” asked Himari, donning a brave (albeit shaky) front as she faced the ominous – obviously magical- group now essentially holding them captive.  “Are you . . . the one who sent us that letter?”

“Takakura Himari, Natsume Masako, and Oginome Ringo, right?” the woman – thin, semi-attractive, likely in her mid-twenties – asked them back, as she flicked at the thin wisps of her curled bangs with a well-manicured hand.  “We’ve been dispatched by the one who can give you back your memories – all of it.”  She then gestured at a van marked by an ominous black-white penguin face motif, its side door since opened.  “Now, get in--” 

“Where are you trying to take my guests?”

At that even, ladylike voice cutting in, what appeared to be many identically colored Easter eggs – red markings against dull purple shells – rolled across the floor as if from a random spill, before each and every one them then stopping smoothly at the feet of a black clad man with the precision of a remote-controlled device.  One of the men made as if to draw his gun, and the egg at his feet immediately exploded upward in a fiery pillar – one that burned him down to nothing with a surreal, cartoon-like quickness. 

“I would suggest that nobody else moves, unless they want the same happen to them,” 
said the stunningly beautiful dark lady (Were those roses adorning her background?) now making her grand entrance, with what appeared to be a self-driving pink van following her from behind.  “You of Kiga should all know how his power cannot protect you from mine.”

With her growing fear that they’re again targeted by the dangerous Terrorist Group – the one behind her sister’s death / her parents’ divorce / her life being ruined – confirmed, Ringo could do little but breathe open-mouthed as she and the other girls watched the surreal confrontation unfold.

Numbly, the girl noted how there was this mouse-sized, monkey-like creature (its pelt shaded in dull purple identical to that of the egg bombs) perched upon the lady’s delicate shoulder, and that it was playing with a remote console with such glee, it came very close to knocking against its owner’s elaborate up-do (how rich and long her hair must be when unbound).  She also noticed the change coming over that woman who apparently called the shots amongst the gathered terrorists – while coolly arrogant before, she now was shaking like some unsteady stick-insect as she glared at the lady in acute hatred and fear . . .

“Hi-me-mi-ya . . . !”

“As the one who’ve sent the ladies their invitations, I do believe their meeting is with me,” said the lady called Himemiya, voluminous red gown flaring adrift as she stepped up towards the girls with her flowery smile.  “Children of Fate, we finally meet.” 

***

Time: 6 years pre-revolution
Place: Tokyo, Ikebukuro-bound Marunouchi Line Train

As the people around her were changed, so too did her surroundings.

The interior of the train, once pallid and ordinary, now was covered with striking red wheel motifs rotating against a dark indigo backdrop.  The windows no longer displayed any scenery, but rather, a thick darkness tinted with murky crimson.  Only the teddies remained unchanged, though they now appeared unnervingly ominous against the transformed, emptied space.

“Umm . . . hello?  Is anyone here?”

Scared and uncertain, Utena was stumbling awkwardly past the teddy-littered train cars in search of her disappeared parents, when she heard this languid, husky voice coming from up ahead. 

“ . . . boxes make the people confined forget: their real selves, the things they love . . . the people they love. And so, I left my box . . .”

Someone was seated up ahead . . . someone whose visage was semi-obscured under the sharp contrasts of indigo shades and red lights.  Squinting her eyes, she could make out impressions of long hair and limbs, arrayed in a casual pose suggesting haughty indolence.

“I’ve been chosen by the Ends of the World,” purred the man, staring down upon some small child standing in front of him, “that’s why I’ll be the one to end this world.”  The child spoken to was apparently that strange, diary-carrying girl who talked down on her just moments ago. 

“I’m Momoka,” said the girl.

“I’m Sanetoshi,” replied the (strikingly pretty up close) man.

"I am going to banish you from this world."

"Electrifying. How will you do it?"

Amber eyes glacial, the startlingly mature Momoka girl raised up her diary. "There's a spell to transfer fate written in here. I'll recite it to save everyone, and cast a threat like you into eternal darkness."

“I see; so the Fate Diary fell into a child’s hand.”  Back straightening, the pretty man called Sanetoshi hardened his rabbit-red eyes.  "If you're going to interrupt my fun, then I'll trap you within my curse."

“Watase,” a plain older man – one not immediately noticeable when beside the stunning biseinen – put down his cell phone before leaning over to speak urgently in Sanetoshi’s ear.  “You-know-who just gave the order that this one is of great value to our cause, and must be captured unharmed along with the Fate Train!”

“Did he now?” Sanetoshi’s hardened gaze remained locked against Momoka’s; at his response, the older man hissed in outrage and fright.

“Watase . . .!”

*Flap . . .*

Flipping open the now aglow pink diary, Momoka started reciting what must be her spell – one with powerful syllables seemingly hammering against the very scenery, leaving visible cracks against space itself.  The eerie wheel motifs flickered on and off against the indigo dimness, and Utena realized she could again see the many passengers semi-lucent against the train’s again “normalizing” interior.

“ . . . te-na . . . !”

A hand, warm and familiar, clasped onto her shoulder.  Turning, the girl saw a couple with much of their facial features eeriely “blanked out” standing from behind, with their agitated postures suggesting acute urgency: it took seeing their clothes for the girl to tell who these eerie entities really were.

“Papa . . . Mama?!”

From behind them, the numerous black teddies littered around flickered their red eyes in perfect union, right before a brilliant white aura engulfed the train’s interior.  Cries – one girlish and shrill, the other manly and savage – cut at her nerves like a swarm of glass shards.  Impressions, vague and insubstantial against the searing light, fluttered past her vision: half a girl, half a man; a hat, a rabbit; two hats, two rabbits.  Together they fell into the darkness and out of the light, out of the world and into nowhere . . . and then . . .

( . . . giggles, girlish and shrill, echoed as if from afar . . .)

. . . and then . . .

( . . . shadows sharpened into humanoid silhouettes: long of limbs, narrow of torsos, theatrical of gestures . . .)

. . . it’s a three, a two, a one and go!

Do you know?  Do you know?

There’s this ultra-dramatic story unfolding as we speak!

The interrupted childhood!  The shattered life!

Currently performed LIVE: Fate Coffin Transfer!

There once was a little girl happily playing princess in her comfortable little coffin by the name of Beauty . . .

(Little Girl (singing in coffin): I am pretty, oh so pretty . . .)

. . . until just now, when this anvil called Orphanhood fell out of the blue, smashing her coffin and leaving her exposed!

(Little Girl (crying as she stumbled blindly about):  Papa! Mama!)   

So where does the girl go from here?  Into what new coffin shall she hide behind this time?  What new role is she to play?!

Yesterday’s princess!

Today’s orphan!

Tomorrow’s . . . what?  What?!

(Utena: Hey, how come you guys don’t have faces?)

. . . we don’t?

Well, it’s not that we don’t have faces.

It’s just that most people can neither face death nor the dead, that’s all.

(Utena: Eh?) 

Pssst . . . too much exposition at this point in the story!

Oops . . .

Anyway!  The Transfer is about to commence - it’s best we don’t get in the way.  So,

until

next

time . . . !


. . . she came to underneath this warm, heavy weight piled atop her, pressing her down and blocking off her view.  There was the scent of smoke, the sounds of sirens and frantic footsteps, and a feeling of scorching heat coming from the floor . . .

“ . . . to think the terrorists would target the morning commute . . .”

“. . . these two don’t look like they’re dressed for the office.  Why’re they even on this early train?”

“ . . . see a child under them!”

Hands, calloused and large, moved the weight (Bodies?) off of her.  It was a nondescript policeman, one of many now swarming all over the wreckage the train car was now reduced to.   

“She’s alive!”  He called out to the others around him.  “Get the medics over here quick!”

“Papa . . . Mama . . .” gasped the little girl, startled by the hoarseness of her now brittle voice; the policeman’s expression was one of pained empathy.

“Shhh . . . it’s alright, kiddo.  We’ll get you to the hospital, contact your relatives, and--”

“ . . . ama . . .?  Papa . . .?!”

“Oh . . .”

Alarmed, the child turned her head to look frantically around . . . before freezing up upon seeing just what she had been squashed under from before.

They were human bodies charred by heat and smoke; with their faces darkened, these looked every bit as featureless as those many other burned corpses from all around the wrecked train car.

She saw that they were garbed in the tattered remains of her parents’ clothes.

Just like that, the little princess was rendered an orphan.  The happy, pampered existence she had thought would last forever had shattered like glass.  Her Mama was no longer pretty, her Papa could no longer take pictures . . . what good was their work being eternally renowned, when they were no longer even alive?  What good were the pretty clothes and accessories she had been so eager to don, now that she no longer had anyone to aspire to become?  What good was . . . anything?

She was the fool who just got her parents killed, by making them take her shopping.

If eternity did not exist, if beauty meant nothing . . . then why should anything even matter?

“ . . . alive . . . so sickening . . .” muttered the traumatized young child, her vision darkening as if from a heavy lid falling over her world.

Life, as 8-year-old Tenjou Utena once knew it, was over.

***

Time: 10 years post-revolution
Place: Chida Mansion

Having re-grouped in the antiquated yet comfy living room, the Duelists now were trying their best to keep up with the latest development.

“So far, there still hasn’t been any notable news about the Sunshine City Aquarium,” muttered Miki, diligently flipping though the many news pages on his tablet, which he currently shared with a crease-browed Juri. 

“Seeing the anchors literally being empty-headed make them more tolerable somehow,” mused Kozue, huddled school-girl-like against Shiori and Wakaba on the adjacent couch, from where they all shared the same laptop. 

“No news, even though the battle must’ve begun already,” Shiori bit down upon her lower lip.  “That ‘spiritual barrier’ the Kiga Group has over the area must’ve been quite something.”  Beside her, Wakaba slapped a palm over her bleary eyes.

“Who’d have thought that magical terrorists could even exist in this world?”

At that, Juri let out a dry, humorless chuckle.  “Magical terrorists backed by a magical old-money clan owning a magical private boarding school . . . talk about taking us all back in time.”  She blinked at noticing something.  “Low battery . . .”

“We packed the charger coming over,” assured Miki, already looking around for his trusty apprentice.  “Tsuwabuki-kun, can you get us the . . .”

“Touga-sempai didn’t really mean to snap at you – you’re his only sister,” cooed Tsuwabuki, serving Nanami coffee with boyish attentiveness.  “He was probably still in a daze, not used to being in this strange place and all . . .”

Downcast, Nanami merely let the younger man fuss on over her as she sipped her coffee in silence; members of the on-looking old gang let out variations of the same soft sigh.

“Talk about taking us back,” muttered Wakaba, before her large brown eyes widened at what she suddenly noticed on the page they had been browsing.  “This is . . . ?”

***

Time: 6 years pre-revolution
Place: Outskirts of Kiryuu Estate

“Told you it was gonna rain.” 

They were two boys on a tandem bike, braving the cold evening drizzle as they rode under stormy skies; the path they were on, shrouded under murky darkness, appeared infinite from their point of view.

“That's why I told you to stop at the 10th match: you got me really worn out.”

Kyouichi’s persisting murmur, coming from behind, drilled into Touga’s ears like an old song, warming him with its familiarity. 

“Oh, well,” shrugged the redhead, all the while acutely conscious of the other’s grip around his waist. “There isn't anyone good enough to practice with besides you.”

He could practically feel Kyouchi’s blushing from the heat of the boy’s face, now pressed against his back.

“Well . . . I guess . . . ”

Touga rolled his eyes, but could not keep from blushing himself.  Kyouichi can be such a girl sometimes.

Although, not all the time.

Just earlier that day, back at the kendo dojo where they have been taking lessons, Touga had to act very fast to stop his friend from splitting open another kid’s head with his bokken.

It was all over something trivial: the junior kendo students gathered together taking meaningless verbal jabs against each other, all just part of the standard children’s banter . . . before one of the lads unknowingly made the mistake of saying the following:

“ . . . bet your dad gave you the whooping of your life for it, eh?”

It took Touga hastily pouncing Kyouichi to stop a berserk moment that had almost exploded in public; he even had to put on a show of them being in some kind of playful scuffle, such that the other kids ended up laughing along, with no idea that they had only narrowly missed a violent scene.   

After class, after the other kids had since left, the precocious redhead purposely kept his (now awkward seeming) friend behind via a prolonged practice session – one designed to help the other boy let off what tension and rage still bottled-up inside.

Touga knew his friend - and comrade, and fellow victim - like he knew himself.

Indeed, the abuses the corrupt grownups used to inflict upon them had stopped, as per his deal with Mrs. Ohtori from two years past.  Nanami was no longer held hostage, Kyouichi was no longer physically abused, and he himself was no longer under sexual slavery; all this was because he had agreed to become one of the Devil’s many witches – a role he would have to take up full time soon, when all three of them are to start attending Ohtori starting the coming Fall.

The abuses they suffered had stopped; but the fear, shame, and uncertainly imprinted upon their minds had never really gone away.  Even now, they still were victims suffering under shadows; suffering on their own in the blind spots of the world’s scenery.

*. . . dong . . .dong . . . dong . . .* 

The peals of heavy bells, coming against the dull thunders in the backdrop, startled the boy out of his trance and into stopping.

Stopping, because he saw.

“What is it, Touga?” asked Kyouichi; Touga barely heard what his friend just said.

There, up ahead on their path, stood a towering, imposing man veiled under the night rain.  It could be that he had a very dark complexion, as Touga could see nothing of the man’s features, but only his white hair and uniform, contrasted against the red lining of his vast cape to dramatic effects. 

The scent of roses hung moist and cloying in the air. 

“Touga, why’d you stop?” asked Kyouichi again, seemingly oblivious to the strange man standing in their way.

'Witch.'

The word, spoken right into Touga’s mind as if via telepathy, sent the boy jolting.  So . . . this was the Devil to whom he had signed away his life and future.

Raising a broad hand in a poised, commanding gesture, the Devil pointed to the side, where a church building stood as imposing backdrop behind a small graveyard; a scattering of black-suited men could be seen checking around the tallish grave marks doing a search.

“Touga . . . ?”  Kyouichi was starting to sound wary now.  Heart pounding, Touga had to gulp quietly before he could speak up in what he hoped was a nonchalant voice.

“ It's a funeral.”

End Part Fourteen

[1] The Magician is the name Sanetoshi calls himself in Penguindrum.

[2] Princess of the Crystal is Oginome Momoka’s ghost form.

[3] Having dropped various visual / behavioral hints throughout the scene, I am certain that most SKU fans would’ve realized who this “Captain” is by now.

Chapter Text

Seinen Kakumei Utena

Utena and Penguindrum characters belong to their various owners.

WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization. This particular chapter also contains non-graphic depiction of child on child molestation, so be warned.

Part Fifteen: Victims of Fate V (BETA-ed by TheOnlyFlorence)


Time: 10 years post-revolution
Place: Chida Mansion

“Why are you even here?”

Even though he knew that question was coming, the young man still hesitated to answer; preferring instead to act gullible.  “Nanami-sama . . . ?”  As he expected, sharp, shrewd-minded Nanami-sama did not buy it one bit. 

“Everyone of us followed Himemiya into this because we got baited by what she offered,” stated the blonde, long nail tips scratching tensely against the cup of coffee he offered her just earlier on.  “You may have some loyalty to the Kaorus, but that alone can’t get you running back to this nightmare.”  Her piercing gaze drilled into him; he knew he had been effectively cornered.  “How did she get you to come help, Tsuwabuki?” 

Glancing away, the now tense, red-faced Tsuwabuki Mitsuru bit down on his lower lip; hard.  The tone of the woman’s voice was every bit as scolding as he remembered it from a decade before; like he still was some mindless child that she, the elder, needed to keep in place by brute force. 

“She told me you’d also be here.”   

The bottom of Nanami-sama’s cup hit the coffee table in a sharp, daunting clang that sent an involuntary, childish jolt out of him.

“You stupid, immature brat!” She snarled on the last word, harshly punctuating it in preparation of the tirade to come.  “You remember? Don’t you?  The things they did to you at Ohtori . . . remember the Black Rose?  Remember how they made you . . . Tsuwabuki, you got parents!   Last I remember, you were also making friends from your own classes back before I had to flee Houou with Kyouichi and Onii . . . san.”  Actually out of breath, she had to inhale deeply before going on.  “You’re what now . . . a university student?  Don’t you have finals coming up around this time?  How can you just throw your life away to come back into the monster siblings’ sick games?  And don’t act like you’re doing this for me – had I been that important to you back then, we’d never have drifted apart--”

“We drifted apart cause I was nine and couldn’t stop you from pushing me away!” snapped Tsuwabuki, slamming both hands against the coffee table, spilling the cup’s dark contents dark across its pale surface.  Nanami-sama’s lips, full and girlish even as an adult, parted in genuine surprise at his reaction.  The others in the room were glancing their way; he lowered his voice. “After you were gone, I tried carrying on like nothing had changed: helping Miki-sempai with his Student Council work, trying out some clubs I might’ve liked . . . but everything was . . . off.  At first, I thought it was because I got spoiled, by those colorful days we’ve had back then: fighting a kangaroo with you one day, seeing you turn into a cow the next . . . but it was much more than that.  Everything’s become so . . . colorless since you were away! Do you know how all the clubs I’ve tried made me feel displaced?  The contrived, affected hypes that those kids my age all got themselves involved with to fit in with other kids . . . I’m not interested in any of that!  Do you know . . .” his voice dropped a further notch, “ . . . do you know that I haven’t ever dated, not even once?”

“Tsuwabuki . . .” For some reason, Nanami-sama’s fair complexion now was flushing up.  “Oh, you . . . you were just idolizing Onii-sam . . .san and trying to copy him!  That wasn’t--”

“I kissed you.”

Stiff-necked, his voice was firm and unyielding to the point of surprising even himself.  Small face now beet red, Nanami-sama was actually stammering immaturely in front of him.

“You . . . but you were--”

“The black rose magnified what was already there in the first place.”  His voice was now barely above a whisper.  “Did you think I could’ve pulled out your blades – both of them – if I didn’t feel something, if you didn’t also feel--”

The swift slap, while stinging, was far from unexpected.  What truly surprised him, however, was the near-bashfulness he saw in the woman’s dark eyes.

“Enough already,” she said, her usual tough front since replaced by girlish awkwardness.  Vaguely, he noticed Miki-sempai shooting a furtive gaze at Kozue-sempai, who missed it from where she was reading off the laptop together with Shinohara-san and Takatsuki-san, rapt.  “Tsuwabuki, you . . .”

“For the longest time, I didn’t know what was wrong with me.”  On a roll now, Tsuwabuki could only hurry on speaking, before he was to choke from losing steam. “There was a time when I was even stealing drugs off Kozue-sempai; Miki-sempai stopped me before I got myself addicted  . . . but even that can’t fill my world back up.  It’s like nothing can fill that strange void inside eating me alive!  Ten years, all through junior high, senior high, and there’s been no growth, no life, no going forward for me; not since that time from when we were kids . . . not since you’ve been gone.”

“Tsuwabuki . . . ”

“Maybe you can only ever see me as a henchman, but I’m okay with that; I’d do anything just to be beside you again.  Ten years, and I still haven’t found anyone else - you’re still the only one who can make me feel . . . alive.”   There, he said it; the big reveal.  On edge, Nanami-sama ran a hand through her blonde waves somewhat unnecessarily, obviously searching for things to say.
   
“That’s . . .”

“Egg.”

Interrupted by Shinohara-san’s quietly uttered word coming from behind, Nanami-sama quickly tried again.

“That’s . . .”

“Big Egg.” 

This time, it was Kozue-sempai; reddened face growing crimson, Nanami clucked her tongue.

“That’s . . .”

“Tokyo Big Egg--” 

Thus Takatsuki-san’s soft murmur got violently cut off by Nanami-sama striding over to the ladies and grabbing onto their tabletop.  Knowing that a colossal (and no doubt operation-derailing) catfight could ensue, Tsuwabuki quickly followed to intervene.

That’s ‘Tokyo Big Egg Undergoes Extensive Restructuring for Idol Concert’!”  Nanami-sama roared with the volume of an agitated lioness.  “You people are reading entertainment headlines at a time like this?!  Don’t you hav--”  Just like that, the roaring stopped, as she appeared to be getting a better look at what was on the page.  “That’s . . .” 

Looking over her slim shoulder – only now did he realize how petite this woman with her large presence really was – Tsuwabuki saw on the screen an artful publicity still, one that featured an impossibly beautiful man breaking out of a large egg in a dramatic pose suggesting both rapture and agony. 

The poster’s slogan read as follows:

Revolution SEEN Live – Smash Your World’s Shell

***

In front of her stood the penguin-flanked maidens, studying her even as she studied them.

“Himemiya . . . san?” asked ‘Ikebe’ Himari, tentatively.  “Are you the one who invited us to come?”

“Can you please tell us what’s going on?” asked Oginome Ringo, desperately  “We don’t understand any of this!”

“Tell us, why are there Kiga members here?” demanded Natsume Masako, viciously.  “We ain’t going anywhere with you till you can explain that!”

“I’m here to help,” assured Himemiya Anthy, in the cultured voice she often used to placate the young and innocent. “I’ll give you all thorough explanations on everything that had happened to have caused your current disorientation.  But first, we need to go somewhere more . . . sheltered.”  She gestured at the opened side door of her pink van.  “This is so we don’t get further interrupted by such troublesome . . . interruptions.”

A snort – sharp with hysteria – came from behind her.

“Troublesome . . . you were going to call me an insect,” snarled this one particular pawn of her brother’s,  “you, the likes of you.  I’ll have you know that I’m not one of those nobodies that you can just brush aside without effort!”  Then came the wet, sticky sound of an egg getting squashed, revealing the occurrence of a non-explosion; from her shoulder, Chu-Chu let out a puzzled squeak as he checked his remote.  “Hey, you!  Oginome Ringo, is it?  Is it really okay for you to go with this woman?  She is, after all, the one who got your sister killed sixteen years ago!”  The girls all were understandably stunned at hearing that, with their penguins now all having shifted into various theatrical poses of shock.

“Wha . . .” 

Noting the youngsters’ reactions, the surprisingly daring pawn quickly rambled on.  “If the late Kiga Leader Watase Sanetoshi could be called a magician, then Himemiya Anthy here was definitely Kiga’s witch!  A witch who empowers herself by stealing the World’s Light, she’s only turned against Kiga now so she could rob its might to destroy the world her way!  And . . .” 

Anthy’s soft sighing – one she had purposely drawn out and lengthened – disrupted the pawn’s rambling irreparably; Chu-Chu sneezed loudly from where he perched on her shoulder. 

“W-What?” stammered the pawn, prior to raising her voice defensively.  “WHAT?!”  Well-versed with the art of unnerving opponents, Anthy mentally counted past two, prior to speaking up.

“For someone you love, your feelings for other people become insignificant; you can deceive yourself as much as you need.

“For whom have you strayed off the normal life, and allied yourself with failed, curse-bound terrorists? 

“Sonoda Keiko-san?”

Only now did she slowly turn around to cut at the Ohtori Alumna with her scrutinizing gaze.  The random bully who once offered herself as henchwoman to Kiryuu Nanami for social status (and more) had grown into a stiff-featured woman thin of hair and figure. The woman might have been semi-attractive wearing a more relaxed expression; but in her current rage-seized state, she made for a repelling sight. 

No matter, thought Anthy, ready to move on towards her next course of action.  Then and now, this one is still nothing more than a low-level pawn in the scheme of things.  Far more important things awaited her; she will not waste too much time on the insect.

“Sonoda Keiko . . .” Ringo’s voice came tremor-marred.  “I remember her now!  This woman is Seen’s manager!  I’ve seen her name on entertainment news!” 

Masako sounded equally surprised.  “Why would an Idol’s manager be involved in something like this?”

For her part, Anthy merely kept her eyes on Keiko, watching as she grew less composed by the second.

“Akio-sama told me already.” There now was spittle smearing a corner of the woman’s thin lips.  “You were there supervising when they bombed the train sixteen years ago!  You were supposed to have taken Oginome Momoka alive, to seize her power for your cause.”   Vaguely, Anthy noticed Ringo and Himari’s audible exhaling at what was revealed.  “Instead, you got sidetracked at discovering Tenjou Utena, who possessed even greater potential than Oginome.  And so, you simply let Watase Sanetoshi curse Oginome, all the while sinking your hooks into Tenjou, your new golden goose!”

“You must be important for him to tell you all that,” commented Anthy, keeping her benignly serene smile in place.  “However, you seem to have forgotten to mention that I had also intervened during the confrontation: I was the one to have diluted Sanetoshi-kun’s attack against Momoka-chan, allowing for her to survive in spirit.”

“Survive . . . in spirit?” asked Himari, wonderingly. Eyes ahead, Anthy nodded without glancing over.

“Up to this very day.”

Letting the girls mull over the cryptic statement, the Witch took a step up and towards Keiko, who trembled in apparent fear even as she seethed in rage.

“I-I’m not going to back down from someone like you!” The woman then moved a palm over her chest, where the heart is.  “Not you . . .”

“Sonoda!”  One nondescript Kiga member cried out with fright – one would think he might attempt movement had there not been an ‘egg bomb’ in front of him.  “Akio-sama had given implicit orders that the swords are not to be used until Stage Three.  To use it now--”

“Are you scared?” asked the woman, her own voice shaky.  “Do you think you’d be spared after already having gone this far?” Her hand now started to glow.  “No use fretting now: you all know what’s in your contract.”  Fearful gasps could now be heard coming from all around her.

“Sonoda . . . you--”

“Discontented swords shining with human hatred . . .  UNTO ME!

In one sleek, dramatic gesture that made her narrow limbs resemble outstretched insect claws, the now light-engulfed Keiko pulled out a sword – one that Anthy immediately recognized not to be the woman’s soul sword.  At its appearance, the entire group of Kiga Terrorists howled a combined scream, as their soul swords all shot out of their chests flying point first at the woman . . . before merging into her drawn blade with physics-defying smoothness.  Soul-less, the terrorists’ emptied vessels all now crumbled amidst a vast expanse of bursting flames engulfing much of the rooftop, as the ‘egg bombs’ trapping them activated from their involuntary movements.

“Chu . . .” Letting out a forlorn whine, Chu-chu’s head drooped as he discarded the ‘egg bomb remote’ like the useless thing it had now become.  The girls, for their part, appeared stunned into imbecility, with their penguins bouncing about trying to dodge the fiery sparks flying their way.

Anthy - fully understanding the workings behind the magic – merely watched and observed: she was trying to figure out the ‘why’ behind her brother’s peculiar decision in maneuvering this particular piece against her at this point in the game.  No way would he – who knew her like she knew him – truly deem this to be powerful enough to defeat her and seize the Maidens of Fate. 

Unless . . .   

“This is all you’re good for anyway,” gasped Keiko.  Darkened by smoke from the dying flames, the now sweat-drenched woman visibly struggled to hold onto the ‘combined’ sword, now shaking against her grip with the organic motion of a living thing. “Just vanish already.  You!”  She again addressed Anthy.  “Can you beat this sword, Witch?  It’s Akio-sama’s sword – the strongest, noblest sword in the world!”

“My brother has no sword to give you,” replied the Witch, even knowing her words will go unheeded by the now hate-filled, controlled puppet in front of her.  “Sonoda-san, what you’ve just drawn from your vessel is one out of the Million, re-forged to be semi-controllable by the welder; and still its hatred remains.  This explains your  . . . emotional state at seeing me.  I do wonder . . . just how well can a human maneuver a Hate Sword – especially one that now bears the combined might of a hundred newly slain?” She advanced one more step, noting as Keiko took one back.  “Why don’t we find out?  But first . . .” Catching her subtle signal, Mikage – now in vehicle form – had already self-driven forward to rapidly ‘swallow up’ the girls (plus penguins) into his confines.   Speeding past the aquarium’s many ‘invisible’ visitors and employees – all oblivious to the fiery carnage in their spell-blinded, insubstantial states – he shot straight for the edge of the aquarium’s roof, ready to flee this magical barrier of her brother’s making--
   
*SKIDDDDD . . . CLANG!!!*

A number of her brother’s pawns – all in car-form – spouted seamlessly out from the charred floor; two of such vehicles – a red convertible with plate reading ‘INOUE’, and a dark racecar with plate reading ‘KAROU’ – were already slamming into Mikagemobile from either side, forcibly slowing him down as the rest of the many cars gave chase from behind.

Now that alarmed Anthy.  This level of contortion over the area’s physics so far away from their . . . from his base at Ohtori, while not entirely impossible, was difficult.  Back in ‘their day’, the siblings had contacted their share of young, impressionistic minds from all across the land (. . . haunting a church here, adding a coffin there; setting a stage here, telling a tale there . . . ), accomplishing it all via faulty power-transferring techniques that stressed their limited reserves every single time.   However, the way her brother could now hide such a vast number of magic-fueled minions right here without her sensing anything . . . though whatever underhanded means, he had indeed grown strong in her absence; strong, like he had not been since Dios’ apocalyptic fall in ancient times.

Her plan of crushing him and seizing his power to help Utena – using the Ohtori Duelists as her champions - might be even harder than she thought it would be.

Utena . . .

“Don’t fucking ignore me, whore!” Keiko, powered up and crazed with hatred, now came charging at her wielding the Hate Sword – with multiple sharp blades poking out point first from all over her scarecrow-thin figure.  “FACE ME!!”

Lips tensed into a flat line, Anthy straightened her back as she stood her ground in anticipation of the incoming attack. 
 
***

“So . . . Sonoda Keiko really did use the sword to initiate Stage Three on her own . . . just as we thought she would.  Oh, and she struck down some of Kiga’s members too, you say . . . I understand; keep me informed.”  Putting down the car phone, Ohtori Akio then spoke directly to his current vehicle – one that had remained his favorite for years.  “Just as we thought, my sister really did try to have Nemuro-kun transport the witchlings away.  Your husband and Kaoru-san are leading the others in battle him as we speak, Hoshimi-chan.” 

Mrs. Ohtori Hoshimi – currently in her red convertible form – ran smoothly onwards along what appeared to be a serpentine stretch of road situated against a vast, dark backdrop with no ends in sight. 

//“Those old rust buckets won’t last against the Professor for very long,”// she said.  //“And, with Chida Nee-san no doubt already on her way . . .”//

“It’s okay even if the scraps should fail,” assured Akio, eyes fixed on the dark road ahead, “the objective of this entire operation has nothing to do with capturing the Fateful Maidens to begin with.” 

//“Oh?  This is the first I’ve heard about this, Akio-san.  Do tell me more--”//

“Twists coming up, Hoshimi-chan; slow down or crash.”

***

Time: 6 years pre-revolution
Place: Outskirts of Kiryuu Estate

“You there . . .

“You two haven't seen a girl about your age around here, have you?

“There was a girl who lost her parents in an incident today.

“She disappeared when we weren't looking.

“You haven't seen her? I see.   Thanks.

“She couldn't have been spirited away now . . . could she?”

***

“Touga . . . hey!  Are we allowed to go in here? Hey . . . wait!” 

Ignoring Kyouichi’s incessant babbling, Touga followed the ethereal, ominous Devil through the church’s gates and into its unlit interior; outside, from behind the closing gates, the drenched, black-suited adults searched on for the missing child.

In vain.

His getup a stretch of white and red against the surroundings’ darkness,  the Devil – likely the one who spirited away the orphaned girl – now drew the boy (and his friend) right into the vast nave.  Lifting a dark, powerful hand with three fingers raised, this entity then gestured up ahead, at the coffins now arrayed in front of the altar.

“It was three coffins, all right,” muttered Touga, voice flat with dread.

“What do you mean?” asked Kyouichi, understandably surprised. 

“Oh,” the sharper boy quickly thought up an excuse to use (it won’t do to reveal the Devil’s presence).  “I could see them through a crack in the doors back there . . .”  And he quieted down at what he just noticed.

A lock of hair - or rather, it’s tapered tailend - could be seen caught between a coffin’s closed lid, it’s texture revealed to be a lustrous pink under the flashs of lightning briefly illuminating the nave.   

Pink. 

Hair.

Before he knew it, Touga had already gotten up to the coffin, much the other boy’s alarm.

“Wha . . . ?  What are you doing?  Touga!”  Kyouichi’s voice turned shrill with fear at seeing him push open the coffin’s heavy lid.  “H-Hey, stop it! Don't do that. Stop it . . . STOP!!!

*Creek . . . !*

Lid pushed aside, the opened coffin revealed to him who he thought would be in it.

“Don't open it.” The radiant, winsome girl – the very one he had been stalking for two years straight – now lay dim and broken within the narrow confines.  Her usual extravagant wardrobe now was replaced by some drab black dress draping stiffly upon the cut roses filling the box.    “Please, don't open it.”

This girl from her better world, whom he could only ever watch from afar in the past, now had plummeted right down and into his world.

‘We finally meet.’

Vaguely, he heard some irrelevant pondering from Kyouichi, something about how the girl was ‘hiding in a place like this’; licking his lips, Touga attempted to make conversation with the girl himself:

“Everyone's been looking for you.”

Curled up into a ball of misery, the girl did not even bother looking up at him. “Are you going to tell someone I'm in here?”

“No, I won't tell anyone.”  From behind him, Kyouichi made some protesting sound, which he ignored.  “I'm always on the girl's side . . . because I am a gentleman.”  To that, his friend let out a pointed cough.

“Still, why have you been hiding in a place like this?”

“Because this is where I belong,” replied the girl, who then rambled on about how her parents had died, how there was one coffin left over, and how being alive now sickened her . . . Touga, for his part, used her detached, catatonic state as opportunity to toy with her well-layered mane, savoring its silken texture. “It's sickening . . . Why does everyone go on living knowing they'll end up dying anyway? I wonder why I never realized that until today. Eternity couldn't possibly exist, could it.”

“Eternity?” murmured Kyouichi, sounding strangely entranced.

“And so, it's all right now,” glassy-eyed, the girl went on in her flat, deadened voice.  “I will never leave this coffin.”

“But someone will find you, eventually.”

“Then I'll just go hide in another coffin.  I'll never see anyone, or come out into the sun again . . .”  Her sentence trailed off right as Touga’s fingertips found their way to the back of her neck.  “What are you doing?”

“Nothing that should alarm you,” replied Touga, his boyish voice having since darkened with husky tones; the Devil’s presence remained prominent in the background, though his increasingly lithe form now appeared more boy than man (so much less threatening than before).  “Not with your heart safe in your coffin--” His hand then got forcibly yanked away by Kyouichi, whose presence he had mostly overlooked for the last little while.

“Touga!  What are you doing?!”  The boy winced from accidentally using his injured, bandaged hand; Touga blinked.  Seeing the look of shocked disgust upon his friend’s face was almost enough to break the young redhead out of his eager, lust-induced trance; almost, but not quite.  The misfortune-wrecked boy had been waiting for years just to have a chance to get his hands on this once fortunate girl; he would not chicken out now.

He had the Devil on his side - what he wanted would be his.

“Kyouichi . . . can’t you see?  This isn’t really a girl . . . it’s a toy.”

“A . . . toy?”

“The husk might be here, but the heart has since been gone.” Even as he spoke, the young boy could not help realize how he was sounding more and more like someone else . . . someone used to twisting words about . . . someone used to victimizing others. “She’s like an egg without the chick, a chrysalis without the butterfly . . . just an object, you know?  We can do whatever we want to her, and she wouldn’t even care.”  He was sounding like that someone . . . that someone who used to victimize him night after night, not very long ago, up until he offered up his life to this Devil now watching him from the side with smiling green eyes . . . that man; he was now sounding completely like that man who made him and his sister call him Papa.

Kyouichi, if anything, appeared downright horrified now.  “What are you saying?!  Touga!  You’re--” His words ceased as the young redhead grabbed him by the crotch.

“Don’t pretend you don’t want to give it a try, Kyouichi,” purred Touga, shifting to the tone he so often used in his private interactions with his foster father; his hand, still small with age, fondled the other boy’s privates with his painfully learned, painfully taboo skills.  Just what was with him tonight, that he would reveal this side of himself to stupid, innocent Kyouichi? “You and I, we both are dirty kids existing in this dirty world.  This girl has now fallen from her heaven and into our hell.”  The scent of roses was now amber-thick around the base, insect-like thing the boy could feel himself fast becoming.  “Do you think a girl like her – so much cleaner and weaker than us – could survive this, if we don’t help her dirty up first?”

“You just said she wasn’t a girl, just a toy,” mumbled the red-faced ‘friend’ whom he was currently arousing by hand; Touga laughed.

“Haven’t you realized yet, Kyouichi?   Kids like us are all toys – we exist to be used and played with by others.”

“Touga . . .”

“Let’s change her; remake her into one of us.  It will be a change that lasts forever, unto eternity--”

*Creek . . . !*

At the sound, the boys turned to see the surprisingly strong girl now smoothly closing the coffin’s heavy lid over herself.

“Hey . . .” Even knowing how stupid his voice now sounded, Touga still could not help but exclaim out loud.  “Hey!  You--”

“Don’t lump me in with the likes of you,” said the girl, heartless (if also heatless) in her current despair.  “Leave me alone already.”

“I’m not done with you yet!”

“Goodnight.”

And the lid closed completely, boxing her in and keeping them out.

Not once did she even bother looking at him.

“You . . . bitch!” High on a rage fueled by self-directed shame, Touga started kicking the coffin brutishly to resounding effects.  “Stay inside till you rot for all I care!”

“S-Stop it,” begged Kyouichi, desperately trying to pull him back. “TOUGA!  What’s with you tonight?!”  Throwing a fit – like he had never once allowed himself to since being sold to the dangerous Kiryuu Households  – the boy refused to be calmed.

“Didn’t her loving parents just died on her?!  Isn’t she about to get sent off to some uncaring relatives or foster home?!  What makes her think she’s better than us, that she can just shut me out, a-and--”

‘Good job.’

Without him noticing, the Devil has since moved closer; slim elbows perched upon the coffin’s lid, the entity currently had the form of a dark-skinned, white-haired teenage boy – one whose ethereal beauty and regal bearing made Touga feel ugly and crass in comparison.

‘You’ve done beautifully driving the little princess further into her coffin, little witch,’ said the Devil, smiling at him darkly, knowingly.  ’I, her prince, will be taking over now.’

“You . . .”  Whatever else Touga was about to say got silenced by the light, shooing wave from a dark, fine-boned hand.

‘Goodnight.’ 

He watched on, wide-eyed, as the Devil then leaned his slender built over the rose-filled coffin with the lightness of a willow adrift, and brushed his lips against the lid’s rose motif in a darkly intimate whisper:

‘Little golden goose bearing up alone under grief, allow me to show you a reason to lay for me my golden egg . . .’

***

It was only after he had already exited the nave (on unsteady, wavering steps) that Touga could finally start reflecting upon what had just happened back there.

It was the Devil; it had to be him.  His mind had gotten strange the moment he first laid eyes upon the ominous entity, to the point that he could no longer clearly distinguish between fantasy and reality.  Yes, that had to be why all his inhibitions would just vanish, rendering him a tactless, restraint-lacking fool in front of the very girl he had so wanted to . . . wanted to . . .

. . . possess.

To make this once brilliant girl his, to the point of marking her with his essence, sullying her with his filth – all to drag her down to his base level and make her his to own. 

The Devil had simply mined out what was already there inside his dark heart, exploiting it to serve his own purpose; he was the one who truly did see the girl as a mere thing, which was why he could do what it took to seize her everything.

Impressive.

Had he this kind of cunning – this kind of power – then surely, even a boy toy like himself could take charge of his own life, maybe turn it around into a better direction.  The Kiryuus would have no power over he and his sister . . . no, he could maybe even go after them for payback, and make the sinful adults reimburse them for all the hurt and pain they’ve caused--

“Wait!”  Kyouichi’s tremor-marred voice came from behind.  “Don't you think she might do something stupid if we leave her like that?” 

Right, kid could not see the Devil there after all.

“Touga . . .”

“Then, why don't you show her something eternal?” asked Touga – impatient with the other boy’s pestering – before stepping past the church gates and out.  Vaguely, he noticed a sound akin to a length of fabric (a handkerchief? a bandage?) snapping lose; preoccupied with what he then deemed to be more important thoughts, he paid it no heed.

Nor did he care that Kyouichi had not followed him from behind like usual.

Soon, they would all be boarding at an Academy that was really the Devil’s playground; surely, the Devil would await him there.   Now, how should he best offer himself up to the cunning, charismatic demi-god (something this powerful deserved to be called god) so as to make a better impression?  Should he play it smart, hoping the Devil would find him a worthy apprentice?  Or, should he play it cute, hoping the Devil would find him a comely bedmate?  Or, maybe he should . . .   

Leaving the tandem bike behind (was he leaving it to the other boy?  or did he simply tired of it?), the young, budding witch walked on in the cold drizzle, alone under a starless night that enveloped his slight frame as a dark,  infinitely vast cloak.

***

Time: 10 years post-revolution
Place: Chida Mansion

“So that’s what really happened back then, huh?” 

Within the darkness they remained, the three of them - all victims, all broken.

“Using you as tool to drive me further into my shell, then showing up himself to play the prince . . . how like him.”  Facing away from the other two, Utena’s voice came flat and dead.  “And of course she’s in on all of this too . . .”

“Enough.” Head down, long hair unbound, Saionji growled at Touga from between gritted teeth.  “I don’t know why you’re using this place’s magic to set up all these projections, but why are you making us see all this?  What’s past is past: we don’t need to look back on any of it . . . why would anyone even want to?”

“Past.”  Glassy-eyed, Touga stared out into space, into nothing. “A past wound, left untreated, will only fester with time.”  Slowly raising a hand, he then touched it to the ‘W’ branding over his pale face.  “If the rot underneath isn’t completely cut out, the wound will never heal.”

End Part Fifteen

Chapter Text

Utena and Penguindrum characters belong to their various owners.

WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization. This particular chapter also contains non-graphic depiction of child on child sexuality, so be warned.

Part Sixteen: Victims of Fate VI (BETA-ed by the wonderful TheOnlyFlorence, who insisted on helping with this part even while recovering from illness)

 

Time: 10 years post-revolution
Place: Sunshine City Aquarium

Under eerie skies, surrounded by invisible people and phantom cars, the fight had since gone underway.

“Vanish!

“Fade away!

“Melt away!

“Just die already!”

Slipping nimbly past the wide, wild arcs of Keiko’s multiple swords in vast, vibrant flutters of crimson fabrics, Anthy moved as a red flag around a raging bull, dodging the opponent’s attacks while clouding the latter’s senses and blinding her eyes   

“Lucky are those who can die,” said the Witch, effortlessly keeping her delicate figure hovering but mere inches away from the rapidly slicing swords; her monkey mouse familiar, on the other hand, visibly struggled to hang on to her shoulder.   “But I’m not one of them, nor is my brother.” A flipping motion sent the edges of her voluminous dress belting across Keiko’s face, sending the woman stumbling gracelessly backwards.  “Sonoda-san, you, who’ve gone so far as to bear these hate-filled swords for him, surely you must know that I am beyond--”

“I know!”  Regaining her footing, Keiko again charged at Anthy with renewed vigor. “You’re just like her, monopolizing your brother’s love even though you’re only the sister!  Warding off all other women like they are insignificant pests . . . a freak like you . . . a freak like yoooou--” This time, the Witch’s deftly extended foot – one concealed from view under the rippling dress – tripped her up, sending the sword-bearing pawn sprawling face first onto the floor.  Refusing to stay down, she struggled to push herself back up on wobbling limbs.  “You can’t keep me from Akio-sama: I’ve gotten close to him since you’ve strayed away!”  Her wide-eyed gaze upon Himemiya – poised and ladylike even in battle – burned with both desperation and malice.  “Akio-sama was the one to change my life; yes . . . ever since that time . . .”

***

Time: 6 years pre-revolution
Place: Outskirts of Kiryuu Estate

Under the clear skies they stood, watching on as the mourners paid their respects to the deceased couple.

The surviving daughter could be seen standing strong and radiant under the sun.  There was a piercing, determined spark burning within her eyes . . . a spark that made her seem completely different from the despairing orphan he remembered from last night.

Unable to stand the suspense any longer, he suppressed the feelings of awkwardness and turned towards the one beside him – someone he once thought he knew, but apparently did not.  “Did you do something to her, Touga?”

“No,” Kiryuu Touga –  more pokerfaced than any eleven year old should be – kept his eyes on the orphaned girl.  “Nothing.”  Kyouichi’s fists started clenching.

“ . . . you went back, didn’t you?”

“I did not.”

“You did!”  Now enraged, the green-haired boy pointed an accusing finger at the redhead. “You  . . . did you show her that something eternal?  Or did you . . .” Hesitating briefly, he still ended up voicing his main concern out loud.  “Did you actually went on ahead with what you were trying to do to her?!”

“And if I did . . . what’s it to you?”

Touga’s counter-question impacted him like a slap, such that Kyouichi actually stumbled backwards.  At last the redhead glanced over, sneering down upon him from where he perched high upon his new, one-person bike

“Or, are you just mad that you didn’t get any?”

Stunned by a sharp, alien pain piecing right through his young heart, Kyouichi could only watch on dumbly as his once best friend rode off into the distance, leaving him behind with that same thoughtlessness he well-remembered from last night.

“ . . . what’s it . . . to me?”

Walking upon feet that no longer felt like his, the boy slowly followed the other along the bright, sunny path – one now ablaze with infernal flames that only his eyes could see.

***

Time: 10 years post-revolution
Place: Sunshine City Aquarium

Riding Himemiya’s magical pink van – one that seized them while driving itself - the girls hung on to their seats for dear life as the vehicle performed a series of sharp skids and turns around the cluttered area, expertly dodging the many cars speeding hazardously towards it from all sides; a number of those had since aligned themselves all along the roof’s edge, effectively blocking the van from escape.  Amazingly, the penguins still were casually going about their usual antics, with Number 1 watching a ‘bikini girls’ video on the car video player, Number 2 stuffing face with the snacks found in the compartment, Number 3 fiddling with a lipstick, and Esmeralda snuggling up on Number 1 from behind.

“Are these all, like remote-controlled?” wondered Ringo out loud, holding petite Himari steady amidst the violent rocking of the van’s interior.  “I don’t see no drivers . . .”

“Somehow, they all seem . . . alive,” noted Himari, managing to be observant even amidst the current havoc.  “Aside from that one red convertible chasing us from behind, the rest are all black racecars with insect-like segments . . .”  She squinted at the plate of one such vehicles .  “ ‘STDNT-D13’ . . . ?”  Beside them, Masako’s mouth gaped in alarm.

“Whatever they are, they are trying to run us doooo-wn!”  The girls all screamed as the van got rammed from both sides by four black cars, forcing it to slow as the vehicles from behind started gaining on them.

“The driver-less convertible is about to reach us!” exclaimed Himari, pointing at the red convertible - plate reading ‘INOUE’ - coming up flanked by pack of black cars.

“Must . . . crush . . . them . . .” rubbing her freshly-bumped nose, Masako slowly sat up from where she slammed face-first against the back of the front seat, seething.  “That’s it!  Esmeralda!”  Barely detaching itself from Number 1, the black penguin produced a hail of daggers, which she then threw out of the opened window and at the red convertible . . . to null effect, as they all bounced uselessly off its tough exterior.  The other girls winced, as the heiress herself clenched her fist in agitation.  “Damn . . . if only I still got my slingshot . . . huh?”

A red laser beam could now be seen visibly trained upon the advancing red convertible’s front wheel, before a shot took it right out., sending the vehicle spiraling out of control and slamming against the surrounding black racecars into an explosive pile up . . . before the smoke cleared and charred humans were revealed where the crashed cars should be.

“Wha . . . ?”

Dumbfounded, the girls turned their heads to see a slender, sunglasses-wearing woman standing some distance away wielding a laser-aim projectilegun, with which she was shooting down a number of the vehicles – including those once cornering their van – with startling accuracy.  Seemingly enraged, a number of the cars sped towards the woman as if to run her down; she, in turn, off-ed their tires with her shots, standing her ground as the damaged vehicles (some of which were visibly ‘humanizing’) skidded past her side and off the roof’s edge.

Ringo found herself unable to look away from the dramatic display.  “That woman . . .”

Himari noticed her peculiar expression. “What’s the matter, Ringo-chan?”

Ringo’s brows creased in puzzlement.  “I think I’ve . . . seen her before; but when?  Am I still missing some memories?”

“I recognize her,” Masako cut in, pensively.  “Chida Tokiko, ex-wife of Akino Corps’ Founder Akino Toshishiro. I’ve seen her at one of my grandfather’s parties some years ago; but she hadn’t looked quite this young then . . .” The heiress’ sentence trailed off as she started to notice something.  “She has Himemiya’s monkey mouse now perching on her shoulder, these witch-like women are likely allies.”

“Witch-like women . . .”  murmured Ringo, before expressing increasing concern. “Umm . . . are we like speeding right at her?”

“W-Well,” Himari’s voice wavered nervously.  “She’s standing right there calmly waiting for us, so I don’t think she’d be afraid of getting run over.  There’re also those shadowy little boys lurking behind her who also looked . . . looked . . .”

“I don’t think they are shadowy so much as they’re pitch black . . .” Ringo trailed off at noticing Himari’s now widened, tear-brimmed eyes, trained upon the shadow-cloaked kids.  “Himari-chan?”

“Nii-san . . . ?” 

Masako’s choked whimper, also directed at the boys beside the woman, went completely over Ringo’s head at first, before she too started noticing something about them.     

Surrounded by small, glittery fragments hovering eerily upon air, the little boys were not really shadow-cloaked due to lighting; rather, the entire expanse of their flesh was pitch blank as if absent from existence; only their hair, colored in reddish-brown and dark-blue, could be made out from their ‘silhouette-like’ features, upon which hung the identical elementary school soccer uniforms they currently wore. 

While the reddish-brown-haired one looked only vaguely familiar to her, the blue-haired child appeared almost identical to him – only much younger, and without skin texture . . .

“Nii-chans . . .” In tears, Himari now had opened the van window, leaning out of it and crying out. “Nii-chans!” 

Masako, too, was already bellowing out of from the other window on her side.  “KANBA!!” 

Clearly hearing them, the ‘shadowy’ little boys stepped hesitantly out from behind the gun-wielding woman still busily shooting down the remaining ‘cars’; the blue-haired one had that meekness to his stance that Ringo recognized to be distinctively ‘his’.

“Shou . . .” The exclamation tore its way out of the girl’s trembling mouth seemingly on its own, before she too scrambled towards the open window, and let out her ecstatic scream.   “SHOUMA-KUN!!!

Even faceless, Takakura Shouma and Kanba did appear visibly moved; flanking Chida Tokiko on either side, they reached their hands out towards the van, sending forth a swarm of glittery stuff – now visible as glass shards – darting their way. 

Engulfed under sharp, fragmented shadows and lights, Ringo found the physical constraints of her surroundings rapidly losing definition.  Her vision came to be filled by surreal pentagonal stars hovering adrift, and her hearing the sounds of whipping winds, roaring engine, and girls screaming; overwhelmed, she could only continue crying out that name of utmost importance to her, crying until her limited human senses inevitably got fried, leaving her out cold.

***

“So it begins.”  Eyes on the surveillance video screens - currently showing Mikagemobile’s dramatic exit via a dark, glittery ‘storm cloud’ rapidly dissipating off screen – the ‘child’ half of the Princess of the Crystal exhaled in relief; beside her, her teenage dominatrix counterpart relaxed her taut stance, then turned expectantly towards the youth standing by them.  “Captain-kun . . .”

“It’s time, Hime-sama,” Azure blue eyes glinting, Captain-kun took a step up towards the screens, and tapped his fingertips against the buttons lining the console top.  “Time for the main event to begin.”

***

“Sonoda-san, you should stop this now.”

Himemiya’s evenly voiced warning – coming right as the ‘van’ effectively fled with the Children of Fate – chilled Keiko’s heart with dread.  Nonetheless, with her heated head currently swimming with the swords’ raging hate, she could not back down even if she tried.

“Like hell I will!” Straining, she drew forth more malevolent swords sheathed within her flesh, ready to slash out anew. 

Her opponent – not a hair out of place even after so long into their deadly dance – eyed her with a mix of pity and disdain.

“A measly hundred is of no impact to me, but they will overwhelm you,” she said.  “The longer you let the swords infest you, the harder it would be to retain your own individual will.  Very soon, you will completely lose control of your own body; you won’t be able to stop fighting me – target of the swords’ primal hatred – even if you try.”

Keiko bared her teeth in rage and desperation.  “I won’t stop--”

“I'm not one of my brother’s many pawns – I’m his equal,”  stated her immensely powerful opponent.   “No matter what he has been telling you, fighting me is far more dangerous than you think.”

“I goddamned know how dangerous you are!” snarled Keiko, raising her sword while multiple blades poked out all over her sparse figure, making her all the more insect-like in appearance.  “But for Akio-sama, I--”

“No.” Himemiya cut her off in a now steely voice.  “You’re thinking that you are capable of taking me on, being so special as to be ‘chosen’ by the Ends of the World.”  Green eyes hardening, the dark-featured witch sleekly shifted into a dangerous-looking one-legged stance that vaguely resembled a depiction of the Kali goddess the woman once saw in a book.  “But if you don't put up your swords now, you will find out just how terrifying fighting me can be.”

“I-I won't back down from a freak like you!” Forcing down her fearful uncertainties, Keiko again charged Himemiya, sword first. “Akio-sama gave me the honor of using this most powerful sword, so I definitely won’t lose--” 

‘Sonoda-san, you're going to lose now.’

“. . . Akio-sama?” She almost lost her footing upon hearing the unexpected voice now sounding within her own troubled head; upfront, Himemiya had began executing a startlingly dynamic kata that sent red fabrics flaring flame-like about her sleek, shapely figure.

‘You are going to get yourself killed by her.’

“What did you say?!”  In disbelief, Keiko looked wildly about. “Where are you, Akio-sama? Akio-sama!!” 

‘You can't defeat her.

‘The likes of you can never defeat this sister of mine, so just let her defeat you.’


“I see,” Himemiya’s voice was cold as ice water, as she crouched backwards with the tautness of a bowstring. “It’s already too late to disentangle the Swords from your vessel.  Then . . . I suppose I have no choice!”   

Letting out what sounded like a lioness’ roar – her first less than ladylike action since their battle began – the Witch shot towards Keiko in a blur of rapid palm strikes that sent the latter’s many sword blades snapping.  Fraught, the sword-bearing woman kept on drawing out more swords, but they all broke as brittle plastic under the Witch’s precise, brutal hand chops; she was quickly reduced to backing frantically from the Witch’s viciously effective bare-handed attack.

There was no way she could win against this, no matter what kind of sword she was wielding.

‘You’re weak; just let her kill you already.’

“A-Akio-sama?”  The man’s cruel words – coupled with the painful strikes now raining down upon her body – drove her into hysteria; striking out blindly, uselessly, the woman screeched as if being showered under fiery sparks. “Akio-sama!!

“I’ve surrendered my everything to you!

“I'll defeat the Witch and grasp for you the Power of Dios!

“Why don't you understand me--

Getting struck right across the mouth by Himemiya’s palm strike, Keiko ended up crumbling painfully backwards.  Scrambling back on her feet, the bruised woman yelled on with blood streaking from the corners of her split lips.   

“I-I’ve given you my everything!

“Even after knowing of your perverted relationship with your sister, I still offered you my innocence!  How could you--”

‘Sonoda-san, think carefully.

‘Think back to that time, that place; that moment when you became mine.’


His words brought forth memories of that time and place: the end of term party at Ohtori, where she – out of the need to regain social prominence at school after her falling out with that Kiryuu bitch – joined some of the ‘cooler’ upperclassmen in trying out some illegal drug they had smuggled into the campus; she remembered throwing up, losing coherency, doing some embarrassing things amidst the laughter of others, before . . .

. . . before she found herself in the Acting Chairman’s Office, or rather, the bedroom in the office’s suite portion.  Sprawled upon the rumpled sheets, leaning against the man’s bared, supple shoulder, she woke up to Ohtori Akio’s gentle smile, his soothing words; just like that, she was no longer just another nobody at school; she had become the Acting Chairman’s special little ‘flower’ – one whom the students and teachers at the academy all readily deferred to, who was thus given --

‘Before that; at the party from the night before, in the men’s room they led you into . . . at that time, at that place, who was actually there and who was not?’

The men’s . . . room?

Vivid images started cutting into her mind with an abrupt violence that traumatized her into near-madness: the upperclassmen – left powerful after the Student Council’s earlier collapse - were laughing as she threw up after trying the substance they gave her, laughing as they dragged her into the men’s room and hosed her down, such that her white dress turned indecently lucent with wetness, such that they now were groping her like she was just a mindless piece of meat, such that those three – Nanami’s pathetic henchmen who once stupidly offered her and Aiko and Yuuko love letters –also present, gawked lecherously at her body revealed . . .

‘To whom did you actually offer your innocence?’

“Suzuki . . . Yamada . . . Tanaka . . .” Keiko croaked out the words from between her bruised, bloodied split lips.  “It's been . . . a long time.”  Up front, a dark heart-ed flower was spreading out its vast red petals flauntingly, tauntingly at her . . . or was that just the fast approaching Himemiya as viewed through her tear-blurred vision?  “Akio-sama, how many years has it been since I’ve willfully forgotten those sick, bottom-feeding insects, instead insisting that you were the one?  Akio-sama . . .” she watched on as the Witch’s dark  palm shot straight for her heart,  “ . . . am I too just an insect to you?”

***

*Ring!*

Expecting the call, the Prince who drove in the dark picked up the car phone with a languid hand, and spoke coolly into it:

“Ah, Sonoda-san. I was thinking it was about time for you to call me.

“Yes. The one who took your virginity on that night was definitely not me.

“I exploited your willful delusion, and helped you to go on living through all these years: I even used your taste for playing with multiple blades to condition you into becoming a host for the Swords of Hate.

“The period where you hid the truth from you mind, not facing reality, was useful.

“However, that's all over now.”

Green eyes reptilian cold, he studied the one revealed on the car video screen – a bloodied, beaten woman ineffectually trying to ward off a hail of rapid, violent strikes coming from a dark-skinned, red-dressed person off screen.
 
The woman’s harrowing, tear-rimmed eyes were staring out of the video screen and at him; he gave her a civil, perfunctory smile.

“Sonoda-san, your final purpose in life is to stain my sister’s hands with your lifeblood.

“Your violent death is to be taped then sent to the various medias – the Swords will not show, of course; I already have the right people in place all ready to stir up the public’s outrage.

“Having killed you, my sister will again be labeled a witch by the ravenous, judging world – this should hamper her further attempts to continue undermining the human-side of Ohtori’s might, through monetary means or otherwise. 

“Most importantly, with you being an old schoolmate of Tenjou Utena, your timely demise will shatter what’s left of their already shaken relationship, making them all the weaker before our the fateful battle soon to come.

“It’s time to show my sister your true troublesome nature, little insect.

“You, just die already.” 

He terminated the call, watching as a deceptively delicate-seeming dark palm rammed its way through the woman’s scrawny chest, crumbling her with chilling brutality.  Cold green eyes softening with something indefinite, the Prince turned off the car video, and refocused on the dark path ahead.

//“What an evil prince,”// commented the witch/carriage currently carrying him forward; his eyes hardened anew.

“I’m not the one who’s evil – it’s this World, and the way it works.”

//“You’re the one who chose this path, knowing the whole of the world.”//

“Knowing the whole of me, you have chosen to remain by my side, up to this very day.” 

//“So I have.”//

“I do wonder the reason behind this decision of yours.”

//“So you do.”//

“For far too long, I’ve held back my full ruthlessness for the Witch who used to be my sister: appeasing her with half-hearted nobility, going after the power with half-hearted effort; no more.  This time, I’m giving my all to take back what’s rightfully mine; I’ll right the World’s wrongs, even if it means destroying all those in it . . . and her with them.”

//“Akio-san . . .”//

“Sharp turns ahead, Hoshimi-chan; speed up or fall.”

Heeding his command, the Prince’s vehicle sped up to spiral through a looping set of inversions, parts of which now suddenly illuminated by spotlights spearing up from the dark depths below.  On and on they rode, diving past what appeared to be stages, lighting equipments, and sectioned seating areas, going

upside down

in and out

around in circles.

***

“ ‘Roses, Ramparts, And Raging Roads – Seen’s Extravagant Concert To Transform Tokyo Big Egg Into Symbolism-Laced Fairytal Setting’

“ ‘We are the chick, and the world our egg.’  Revolutionarily Intelligent Idol Comes Up With Literature-Inspired Concept For Album Promotion Concert.

“Album Review: ‘Song of the Fallen Kingdom’ –  Cries from the Ends of the World’ 

“What on Earth?”  Looking up from the news search page showing a long listing of Seen-related entertainment headlines, Nanami’s brows creased in puzzlement.  “Why is Seen’s promotion team using Ohtori’s motifs to promote his upcoming concert?”  Gathered around the same laptop in an array of tense, elongated frames, those others from the group all appeared to be mulling this over their heads themselves.

“This Seen guy is really Kazami Tatsuya-san,” commented Tsuwabuki, scratching his chin.  “That, plus what Shinohara-san had mentioned before . . .” The blonde woman blinked at what he said.

“Who’s Kazami Tats--”  and she jolted at remembering this obscure name from her youth.   “You mean that guy?” She carefully re-examined Seen’s many photos –none of which showed much resemblance to the plain boy from her memories.  “No way . . .” The prep looked just as baffled as her.

“Miki-sempai thinks that person’s current appearance is the result of cosmetic surgeries.  Earlier on, Shinohara-san said Kazami-san is somehow connected to the Chairman.”

“Himemiya basically told me that her brother now controls Tatsuya, or something,” murmured Wakaba, downcast and disconcerted.  “I don’t understand any of it . . . Saionji-sempai probably knows more than I do.”

“Saionji won’t be much help from where he’s caught up in that angsty threesome upstairs,” commented Kozue. Miki coughed; she glared.  “But yeah, that’s Kazami Tatsuya alright, looking so fine after the many medically unsafe procedures the agency had put him through.  Talk about someone literally breaking a leg – make that two – to make it in the biz.”  She seemed amused by the looks she got from those others gathered.  “What?  The guy and I were once managed by that same agent.”  She then gave her twin – already paling in the face - a knowing, provoking look.  “The one Father introduced us to, I mean.  You remember him, don’t you, Miki?  Himemiya certainly seems aware of at least my . . . connection toward the guy--”   

Enough from you!”  Miki’s snarl came punctuated by his slamming a fist against the tabletop to resounding effects.  “It’s been one jab after another from you since we got here!  Why do you persist on embarrassing the both of us in front of everyone?!”  Standing up with such violence that his chair toppled over, the livid young man glared across the table and at his twin.  “Yes!  So Father was really a secondhand fame seeker forever pushing us into the Industry’s spotlight!  Yes, he pushed us to debut as a music duo even when you weren’t emotionally ready!  Even when I wanted to focus on academics!  Even when anyone with eyes can see that so-called agent is a sick, pedophilic crack addict!  And yes, of course I goddamned know that he was screwing you and getting you hooked on drugs!  You can’t blame me for not being able to protect you – I was thirteen!  Thirteen!  He would’ve done the same to me too, had I not backed off to protect myself!  And you, you were already sleeping around anyway . . .” His voice wavered amidst the sharp gasps of his peers; his twin, appearing unsurprised by his hurtful words, merely stared straight back at him.  Apparently already too far gone to stop, the paling man continued uttering out the rest of his innermost thoughts.  “Were the games not a complete sham, had I gotten that power . . .” his wide, harrowing eyes clouded over with murky shades, “ . . .had I that power . . .”

“Only then would you finally allow yourself to try and save me,” summarized his twin in her flat, cool voice, “when it’s safe, effortless . . . risk-free.  Isn’t that right, Miki?”

“Kozue . . .”

Somberly resigned - completely unlike the high-energy shrew she was moments ago - Kozue let out a soft, broken laugh.  “I’ve been goading you on for all these years, just to hear that come out of your mouth.  Now, I finally can stop deluding myself into thinking you could be any better than the phony, cowardly wimp you really are.”  Miki got red in the face.

“You--” he choked at being stared in the eye by his sister’s cool gaze.

“Back then, had I been the one sick, with you being the one too scared to play alone, I would’ve fought my way out of bed and onto that stage.  For you, I pushed your pervy music teacher down a flight of stairs to warn him off you – I was also only thirteen back then.  Juri-sempai, you still remember that, don’t you?”  Obviously unwilling to cast stones at her old friend, yet also unable to find anything with which to support him, the beautiful model opted to face away; Kozue balled her fists.  “Even for those parentless bird chicks that reminded us of ourselves, I’d climb outside the window, knowing I’d fall.  You . . . when have you ever risked yourself for my sake?”  Her voice started to crack at the edges.  “For both our sake?”

“That’s . . . not fair!”  protested Miki, almost hysterical by now.  “I’ve taken care of you for these may years!  Mother was never around to begin with, and Father completely retreated after our failed debut except to pay for stuff!  If it wasn’t for me--”

“If it wasn’t for you stringing me on, I could’ve left you a long time ago.”

“Kozue . . . !”

“You were indeed brilliant as a kid, Miki,” Kozue’s rasped, weary voice now was tinted with dark mirth.  “You knew even at twelve that I was sleeping around only to get at you; that I was hoping you’d either push me away for good, or maybe finally get the resolve to . . . admit to . . .” her voice dropped as to be almost inaudible, “. . . loving me.” 

At her blunt reveal, Miki’s red face paled amidst the silence of their peers; Nanami might have made a small sound, but everyone’s attention remained focused upon the siblings.

“You . . .” the blue-haired man’s lips moved as that of a fish out of water, “you FOOL--”

“You knew,” Kozue cut him right off, “and you did neither.  I waited and waited, and you gave me no answer.   Of course I know it wasn’t gonna be easy for you to admit it, even though we’re twins,”  she chuckled then, as if at a remembered joke, “or, in your way of thinking, because we’re twins.  But you won’t just let me leave you either: tying me down with childish things like milkshakes, goodnight kisses, and that damned song; making me feel like I’ve got reason to stay.  Yet . . . no, you also flat-out refused to go any further beyond the teasing bits.  After all, the good son won’t let himself do nothing that others disapprove of, especially if it means bringing shame to our so-called parents – not even after they both left us to rot.”  Walking around the table, she started advancing upon her wide-eyed brother, who started backing away. “That night, when you kissed me goodnight like usual, pretending you didn’t just barge in on me getting drug-raped by the pervy agent earlier in the day, I told myself I had to leave you, or I’d go insane.”  Having driven him into a corner, she reached forth her hands towards the trembling man, still looking like her spitting image even as an adult.  “But you . . . you then grabbed onto me, saying nothing and just . . . trembled; and I . . . I let myself stay in your arms.”  She watched, with cloudy blue eyes, her brother jolting away from her touch.  “And it went on just like that, with me getting high, getting screwed, and you saying nothing through it all.  Weeks passed, months, years, I stayed, and this is what we’ve become.”  At her brother’s visibly growing revulsion, an ironic smirk quirked the broken girl’s red lips.  “Don’t you worry, I’ll stop bothering you . . . I’ll just plain stop bothering with you starting now.  You stay on and help your Himemiya-sempai for the Power or her ass – you’re probably after both – I’m done.” Turning on her heel, she then started walking away under everyone’s wide-eyed gazes.

“Leave?” asked Miki, appearing more bewildered than spiteful – though he likely was feeling both.  “Where would you go?  Once you leave this place and its magic, you’d again be reliant on your drugs.  What can you do on your own like that?”

“Animals in the wild will either live or die,” replied Kozue, raspy voice listless as she stepped up and towards the living room’s exit.  “I’m the same.”   

“Kozue . . .” Urgent of expression, Juri looked liked she wanted to stop the girl on Miki’s behalf, but was lacking for words; Shiori, noting her lover’s tongue-tied-ness, spoke up.   

“Don’t go, Kaoru-san,” pleaded the raven-haired woman, her voice soft as the delicate steps she took flitting up towards Kozue. “We’ve all fought the Ohtori Chairman earlier on – none of us would be safe on our own out there.” Stopping beside the younger woman – who now had her head lowered – the older woman continued on with her gentle persuasion.  “The Takakura boys haven’t returned yet . . . you want to support them till the end, don’t you?”  Kozue, eyes hidden under thick fringe, remained tight-lipped and expressionless.

A moment of tense, uncomfortable silence ensued, during which the gathered Duelists all appeared submerged under heavy thoughts; finally, Nanami let out a deep, agitated sigh.   

“Just how long are they gonna stay up there?” wondered the fidgety blonde.  “We can’t do nothing until Tenjou is able get out of her . . . his angst trap!”

Just then, a beep from the laptop drew everyone’s attention back towards what they had been doing before.  Tsuwabuki quickly went over for a look.

“It’s news alert for Sunshine City Aquarium!” he said, before pausing as his blue eyes came to widen in shock.  “Wha . . .?”  The others, now gathered around the boy and seeing what he saw, showed similar reactions.

“No way . . .”

***

Time: 6 years pre-revolution
Place: Outskirts of Kiryuu Estate, Cabbage Field Toilet

Bokken raised, he waited for him to come out of the toilet partition with baited breath. This was certainly in conflict with every rule he had ever been taught by his kendo sensei; but, currently ruled by that heated rage boiling inside his head, the boy was beyond stopping.

A click, before the partition door got pushed open by his target’s fine-boned hand--

“What’s it to me?”

Even as the words left Kyouichi’s mouth, his bokken was already slamming down against the side of the other boy’s head, crumbling the latter in a flutter of long scarlet locks; seeing red, he pressed on with his savage attack.

“What’s it to me?!” Face flushed, the maddened boy kept on hammering repeated, merciless blows upon this once special someone whom he once gave his all to protect.  “After I’ve spent years trying to save you from the Kiryuus?  After I got screwed by their goons because of that?  And now you ask me what’s it to me? Are you even human, Touga?!”  A kick to the fallen boy’s frank sent the latter curling up on the floor in a trembling ball – not unlike that of an insect pupa when disturbed.  A sound – shrill, airy, and short – could be heard coming from the beaten, fallen boy . . . it took Kyouichi a moment to recognize the sound to be that of hysterical giggles. “The hell’re you laughing at?!”

Lanky frame shaking as he chuckled, Touga tilted up his face to reveal an indolent, taunting grin. 

“You still don’t see . . . you’re so stupid that you don’t even . . . !” Wheezing, the redheaded boy slowly got back up on his feet in a movement as unsteady as it was sinuous.   “You really know how to hit where it hurts . . . though I suppose it’s more from upbringing than training.” 

“Touga . . . !” Reeling from the unexpected jab, Kyouichi was left unprepared as Touga –rivaling him in physical prowesss in spite of his girlish appearance – darted forward to knock the bokken off his hand, pinning him against the partition’s wall.  “YOU--”  Whatever he was about to say got cut off by the other boy leaning forward and claiming his lips.

In a kiss.

The sensation was unlike anything the young boy had experienced before, to the point that his anger quickly drained off as he found himself indulging in its alien pleasantness.   It took him a full minute to find the resolve to disengage himself from the other boy’s smothering lips; only then did he notice the hazy, malevolent glimmer from within the redhead’s hooded, smile-narrowed eyes. 

Kyouichi now was at a loss.  “Touga . . .”

“Your father . . . and mine; we hate them so much, but we’ve both still ended up becoming like them,” purred the redhead, slim arms still draped around his torso like vine tendrils.  “Aren’t you happy with yourself for turning out just like your old man?  I know I am.” 

“Toug--” he tried to protest, but was stopped by a finger to his lips; the boy’s eyes widened at seeing the redhead deftly unbuttoning his shirt to reveal his thin, pale chest, yet to broaden with puberty. 

“So serious . . . don’t be upset; here,” grabbing the green-haired boy’s trembling hand, the early-marred man-child moved it towards his own rose-pink nipple.   “As your one and only best friend, let me give you what you’ve always wanted from me . . . Saionji.

Somehow, dropping out of first name basis with Touga had hurt him more than anything he had ever been subjected to up till that moment –including his father’s abuse.  Obviously enjoying his pain, the redhead’s smile sweetened as they tumbled together into the filthy, obscenity-covered toilet stall, with the door closing behind them with a rusty-sounding creak.

“Let’s get dirty together.”

***

Time: 10 years post-revolution
Place: Chida Mansion

“If the rot underneath isn’t completely cut out, the wound will never heal.”

The space they occupied had since reverted into becoming a “normal” bath area – one that now matched the rest of the Victorian mansion in its immaculate furnishings.  With only a bathrobe over his drenched nakedness, Touga glanced down upon Saionji – crouching at a corner with his head down – with hazy, lash-veiled eyes.

“That’s why, we have to--”

“You have to make us hurt like you do, just to therapy yourself into feeling better,” stated Utena, adjusting his backpack’s straps while stepping briskly past them.  “Go to hell.”  Depression since turned into anger at having to again face his(her) tragic childhood, the new Prince slammed open the bathroom door and walked right out.

“Where’re you going?” asked Touga, following him from behind with the ominous deftness of a second shadow.  Determined to ignore the man, Utena remained tight-lipped as he stomped down the spiral staircase to boisterous-sounding effects.  “Tenjou-kun . . . are you running away?” asked the man, persisting against his silence.  “I too, once thought I could outrun the things that hurt me, but those things always caught up with me in the end.”  The man’s airy voice came to thicken with darkness, his damnably undisputable words hammering at Utena’s raging, uncertain heart.  “Where do you think you can run to this time?  The enchantment blinding those siblings has since been broken.  Unhindered, the Ends of the World will no doubt sense it the moment you’re to step out of this sanctuary; he now owns the whole of this world – there’ll be no seedy crack for you to hide in this time.”  Teeth clenched, Utena had by now broken into a half-run towards the front door, all too aware of Touga still hot on his heels.  “Out there, on your own, where do you think you can--”

“Utena-sama!” 

It was Wakaba, exuding urgency as she hurried out of the living room and up towards him, with the others following from close behind.

“Utena-sama, there’s important news you need to know.  You might want to sit down fir--”   His childhood best friend yelped, startled as he pushed past her in his frantic haste to flee Touga’s pestering.  Smoothly steadying the smaller female, the statuesque Juri now had a hand on his shoulder.

“Utena, stop for a moment--” The woman got cut off as he shrugged off her hand in one jerky, almost childish motion.  “Utena!”  The front doors were right in front of him now; heady with adrenaline, he fumbled brutishly with the lock in agitated desperation.

“Tenjou-sempai!”  Miki’s frantic voice called out to him from behind; undeterred, Utena continued on with fumbling soundly with the doors.  “Please just stop for a while and listen!  Himemiya-sempai, she--” 

“Tadaima.”

The familiar voice, coupled with the abrupt unlocking and opening of the heavy front doors, sent the wound up Utena jolting backwards and right into the gathered gang; he was certain that his heel was crushing down on someone’s toes (Touga’s most likely), though nobody could made a sound even had they tried.

What greeted them from beyond the doorframe was none other than Anthy, her shapely figure enveloped under what the Duelists easily recognized to be a vast, flowy variation of the Rose Bride dress. In her hand was another hand held, and that other hand belonged to a bloodied, comatose woman she was currently dragging up the front steps. The woman’s head, while hanging limply, revealed a bruised face that was distinctively recognizable as that of an older Sonoda Keiko – the last remaining living Duelist from their round of the game, though how alive she currently was appeared highly debatable, that with a huge, grotesque wound now gaping open her chest, right over where her heart should be. . .

Even while swarmed by the onslaught of traumatic visual details, Utena found himself helplessly focusing upon Anthy’s emerald green eyes: seemingly deadened with resignation at first glance, a closer look would reveal the darkly provoking things lurking beneath the vapid surface. 

These were the same eyes he once saw on on thatnight, back when Anthy and her brother – to whom Utena had surrendered his (her) virginity despite the man being engaged – purposely revealed their incestuous relationship aiming to hurt him (her); they tainted his (her) adolescence with shadows, they smashed his (her) known world apart, all so they could get what they want out of him (her): their foolish, unwitting golden goose PAWN.

And now, after ten years, after the innumerable apologies she had given him since their reunion (which turned out to be no less painful than their parting), after the reveal of her being involved in his parent’s murder, Anthy was again using that same damnably confrontational gaze on him, raising it like a deadly sword with which to run him through; again.

Then and now, the message the Bride gave her Victor remained one and the same: 

‘Aren’t you scared?  Having to finally face this real me you’ve willfully ignored all along, aren’t you scared?’

Last time, being a young girl-child still green to the true horrors of the world, Utena could only flee back into the false safety of his (her) room like the overwhelmed child he (she) was.  This time; this time . . .

This time, he was no longer a child who could excuse his weakness with youth. This time, Anthy was (purposely) blocking the doorway - his only way out.  This time, there would be no avoiding the confrontation against the very one who destroyed and remolded him both.

Letting out a dry, edgy chuckle (one that left the rest of the gang clearly unnerved), Utena then inhaled deeply, straightened his back, and stood his ground anticipating what was to come.


End Part Sixteen

Chapter Text

Please go here for this part of the story :) NOTE: ON HIATUS.

Chapter Text

Please go here for this part of the story :)

Chapter Text

(BETA-ed by the wonderful TheOnlyFlorence)

Utena and Penguindrum characters belong to their various owners.

WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization.


Time: 10 years post-revolution
Place:  Sunshine City Aquarium

Standing at the edge of the yellow-taped area, where crime scene investigators in white lab coats milled about like restless doves, the heavily groomed newswoman faced the camera with theatrical righteousness:

“Breaking news!  Breaking news! There has been a murder right here at Sunshine City Aquarium!  Over a hundred visitors were present at this open area, when a woman was allegedly beaten to death, then had her body dragged away, all without anyone noticing!  The cause of the crowd’s stupor is still unknown, but investigators are analyzing all of the evidence they’ve acquired…”

***

“ . . . dummies,”

That soft-spoken word -- breaking the tense silence these passengers now found themselves in -- sent the ones it was directed at jolting. 

“Kan-chan and Shou-chan are such dummies . . .” muttered Himari, her frail build vaguely resembling a slack straw figure.  The girl’s fine hair had gone stringy from where it veiled her lowered, tear-streaked face.  “Do you think I would be happy living on without the two of you in my life, without the memories of us as a family, as the Takakuras?”  Her hand, white at the knuckles, was clasped against Ringo’s; Ringo, now slumped against the smaller girl after passing out from the physically and emotionally taxing experience.   Also unconscious was Masako, who laid with the side of her face pillowed against Esmeralda's round belly.  “Why do you dummies have to . . .?”  Her ‘brothers’-- now literally but shadows of their former selves –- visibly shrank from where they stood awkwardly in front of her. 

“Himari--”

“Even if you can keep me alive, for now, how long do think I can survive being cut off from our most precious past?” 

The Takakura brothers apparently had no reply to that, as they opted to remain silent.  Basking under the rapidly shifting lights spearing in through the van’s windows, Numbers 1,2, and 3 appeared forlorn from where they huddled together near the children’s feet studying a cut rose lying on the vehicle’s floor; downcast, Himari had her bloodshot eyes fixated on the flower’s half-wilted petals.

“I told you both that I didn’t want to forget,” the girl continued on in an increasingly sullen voice.  “I said . . . it’s fine even if I was to die from my illness.  Even the best people get sick, even they have to die . . . what’s so bad about me dying?  I’ve lived a happy life with the two of you by my side, that’s more than enough for me.  Had I died . . . I would’ve died happy, knowing that the two of you would’ve moved on afterwards: growing up, getting jobs, being married . . . but now, now that you two, you t-two--” Choking up, she suddenly started heaving uncontrollably –- in a manner reminiscent of those panic attacks she once had in her past, sickly incarnation -- much to her brothers’ alarm.

“Himari!” Hurrying forward, Kanba tried holding her upright, but found his now strangely insubstantial hands simply passing through her flesh; beside him, the likewise ‘shadowed’ Shouma was having much the same problem.  In the end, it was Himari herself who forcibly got herself together.   

“. . . don’t know how to help you two through this!” Slamming a small fist soundly against the van sofa, the usually demure girl now glared at the boys’ regressed, ‘invisible’ state with maddened despair.  “Tell me . . . what are we going to do, Ni-tachi?” 

The only replies she got from them were the glittery tears now visibly tracking down the dark void of their blanked-out faces.  Meanwhile, the Mikagemobile –- now driven by a stoic Tokiko -- sped on along the winding road (or was that merely the visual manifestation of some cosmic symbol?), carrying them all towards their fateful destination.

***

“ . . . all been for nothing, huh?”

Speaking aloud to himself, like a madman who no longer cared, Saionji chuckled raggedly from where he remained crouched at a corner at Chida Mansion’s grand bathing room.

“Ten years . . . ten years I’ve spent contorting my life around yours, sharing in your suffering and shouldering your load.  Still, I’ll never be anything more to you than just some . . .”

‘ . . . just some rapist who fucked you in a park toilet . . . ’

Was that when it happened?  When he ceased being a friend –- or even a person -- to Touga?  They were both only eleven back then, and his was a crime of confused, pre-adolescent passion.  While he himself was indeed the one to resort to violence, it was Touga –- early marred by Kiryuu’s perversions –- who initiated the sex . . . .

“As your one and only best friend, let me give you what you’ve always wanted from me . . . Saionji.”

. . . Saionji; right.  No longer was he Kyouichi to Touga after that singular, damning moment; only impersonal, first name basis, Saionji –- a fool he could mind-screw to hell without feeling any guilt over.

Or, perhaps he had simply ceased being important to Touga from the moment when they first encountered Tenjou as kids. Tenjou, then a privileged little girl showered under the love of her still living parents, had caught the redhead’s envious eye, and became to him the subject of his lifelong fixation . . .

“It is now clear that she is someone important to me.  I will duel her once again!  And I must prevail.  After all, there's no other way to save her from the Ends of the World . . .”

Perhaps it was simply because he was not Tenjou that Touga could not care less for him..

“ . . . what does it even matter now?” murmured the beaten man, feeling utterly stupid and drained as he curled his massive build up like a worm willing to shrivel up.  “It’s all over--”

“Sempai.”

Startled by the vapid, airy voice, Saionji slowly glanced up . . . and froze.

In front of him stood not one, but three blood-drenched, dead-eyed women looking like cameos from some bad horror flick.  It took him a moment to recognize the one in the middle to be Wakaba, with the ones by her side to be Shiori and Kozue.     

“We kinda need to clean up, so . . .” Wakaba gestured lethargically at the large basins Saionji was crouching against.  “If you could move over?”

***

“And why couldn’t our resident witch have cleaned this up with her magic again?”  grumbled an obviously grossed-out Nanami, wiping the red splotches off the laundry room’s white walls by pushing a wet sponge attached to a lengthy extender.

“Himemiya-sempai had likely overexerted herself from what she did to keep the body alive,” muttered Tsuwabuki, trembling slightly from where he was mopping up the red-stained flooring.   “She was practically slumping afterwards when she walked off.” 

“And why hasn’t Chida returned yet?” grumbled Nanami while laboring on.  “We’re being left in this supposed magical sanctuary with no operational witch to guard it in case the Ends of the World come attacking!  Himemiya said the woman left while she was still fighting Keiko, right?  So where the hell is she?”  She turned exasperated at seeing Tsuwabuki hesitantly opening his mouth.  “That was a rhetorical question.”

“I know that . . .”  Scratching the back of his head, somewhat guiltily, the prep then shot a furtive look over at Juri and Touga, currently conversing quietly as they cleaned the heavily splattered ‘problem area’ near the large washbasin. “I’ve always known how fearless Kozue-sempai is, but I never expected Shinohara and Takatsuki to be able to deal so calmly with blood . . . and organs . . .”  He turned visibly sick from the recollection of the macabre scene.  “God . . . Sonoda-sempai was literally bursting apart when we helped Himemiya-sempai carry her down here.”

“Himemiya goddamned shocked everyone when she dragged Keiko’s ‘almost carcass’ into the room,” muttered the equally disgusted young woman, wincing as she squeezed out the reddened sponge in a bucket.  “That Tenjou had, of course, wasted time demanding answers from Himemiya like a damn cop.  And then the body fell apart and we all had to scramble to get her down here.  I don’t think it even registered with any of us what we were doing then . . . .”  She then bit down on her lower lip in a girlishly self-conscious manner.  “And it was Sonoda Keiko –- a bitch, but still someone we knew as kids . . . which probably explained why the heroic trio could’ve withstood getting sprayed in the face and not just faint.” 

Tsuwabuki’s blue eyes now were clouded with uncertainty.  “Will Himemiya-sempai’s magic really work, though?  I know she opened up Sonoda-sempai chest to manually clean out the parasitic Swords, but . . . can even someone without a heart be brought back to life?”  Nanami shrugged.

“You’re asking me.  Where is the tomboy?”

“Tenjou-sempai probably followed Himemiya-sempai out while we were all still distracted by the . . . mess.”

“Hn . . .” Dark eyes glancing over at the laundry room exit, the blonde took in Miki’s desolate figure with something akin to empathy.  The frail man was on his knees quietly picking up the glass shards from the door screen –- smashed when the gang hurried into the room with the dying Keiko.  “Tsuwabuki, finish up the sidewall for me.”  Handing the boy her gadgets, she then went over to check on her emotionally distraught ex-friend. 

***

“Himemiya.”

“Utena . . . san.”

They were at their own quarters, in their own washroom, where Anthy was currently at the basin washing the blood off her hands, with Utena watching her from behind.   

“So, you actually saved Keiko from the Swords, in spite of what she became . . . and how she used to treat you at Ohtori.”

“I did.”

“Why?” asked -- or rather, demanded -- Utena, unable to force down the hurtful question any longer. 

Anthy, for her part, took her good time turning off the facet and drying her hands, before turning around to properly face Utena.  “You’re wondering why I just saved someone like Sonoda, yet chose to let your parents die back when my brother and I orchestrated the Kiga Subway Attack.”

Not quite expecting her blunt words (despite how he was itching to provoke such a response), Utena found himself recoiling slightly. “Himemiya . . .”

“Like I said earlier on, I was the Rose Bride for a very long time,” said Anthy, keeping him nailed to the spot with her coolly even gaze.  “I’ve done many things that people of this era would deem as selfish and evil.  Your parents are but two out of the thousands who died directly or indirectly because of me and my brother’s actions.”

“How . . . how can you even say something like this out loud?!”  Utena could hear his teeth clanging together from sheer outraged.  “Like it’s  . . .”   

“Trivial?” asked Anthy, prior to offering him a vapid smile reminiscent of her old self.  “I'm sorry, I've been unfair to you, Utena-sama.”  Utena jolted at the honorific –- one Anthy had used in the past to blatantly mess with his (then a ‘her’) mind.

“You--”

“Remember what I told you before? My suffering is my rightful punishment as the Rose Bride.”

Just like that, Utena’s seething anger got snuffed like fire under a downpour. Did he remember . . . how could he not?  That night before the end game, on the suicide rooftop, they had broken down opening their hearts –- their truest feelings -- to each other, withholding nothing. That was the night that gave him, then an adolescent girl, the conviction to be the fool and head on into the obvious trap that was the Final Duel.  All.  For.  Anthy’s.  Sake.

For Anthy, who saw for herself just how much he had suffered for her sake after the Duel called Revolution; Anthy, who had apologized profusely by his side for three years, watching on helplessly as he suffered under the Hate Swords’ effects day after day . . . Anthy . . . .

. . . why did she have to mention this now? 

“Back then, when you made the decision to ‘help’ me against all odds, you were a child with no idea of the true terrible nature of what my brother and I really were.”  Anthy took a step up towards Utena, who found himself stumbling backwards and out of the washroom.  “You could not have known that we both have your parents’ blood on our hands: we’ve withheld the information from you, after all.” She had her dark hands clasped together in a seemingly dainty gesture –- one he now knew was designed to mask the shaking of nervous hands.  “Knowing nothing of the truth, you threw yourself whole hearted into the Duel called Revolution -- to the point of sacrificing your very person -- and saving someone like me from my punishment.” 

“Himemya . . .” In no time at all, Utena had been backed against the door, beyond which was the long hallway leading to the large bathing area.  Already, he could hear the sounds of splashing water and murmuring voices . . . meaning that those outside might also hear this conversation they now were having.  “Himemiya, let’s just drop this for now--”

“You made me believe that I could break free from even my horrendous past.”  Having cut Utena off, Anthy now leaned forward and into his personal space.  “You made me believe that I could be forgiven by even you, an orphan of my making.”  Even at the lowered volume, her each and every word managed to slither into Utena’s head like stealth vine tendrils.  “If you could forgive me, then surely no one else would have any right to blame me for anything.  This means that I could actually be absolved of the vast sum of guilt I’ve accumulated throughout the long falling of years.  And so, I allowed myself to be freed from the Rose Code, freed from him, all because you made me believe that even I could be guilt free.”  Green eyes glassy, the Bride spoke with her lips now brushing against those of her Victor.  “Delusional, aren’t I?”

“Himemiya--” Utena struggled to talk back . . . before stopping at seeing and feeling Anthy’s tears streaked down her own cheeks.  “Himemiya . . .”

“So, as you can see, you’re really no match for me, Utena-sama” said Anthy, her voice at last starting to choke up.  “Not in the way of foolishness, anyway.  It’s just like what they say: ‘there ain’t no fool like an old fool.’” 

***

“ . . . is it really possible to forgive a past wrong, when its effects are irreversible and will last forever?”

Drenched to the waist from where she was washing up beside the wistfully contemplative Shiori, Kozue’s blue eyes narrowed in a wince as she washed her short curls.

“Well, are you talking about what’s brewing between Tenjou and Himemiya . . .  or perhaps something more personal?”

“It’s just something Juri had said, earlier on,” Downcast, Shiori trembled as if from more than the sting of water upon her tender skin.   “I just thought . . .”

“Hey . . .”  Wringing out her flat brown locks, Wakaba glanced over with some concern.  “Why’re we talking about something like this now?”

Behind the women, the door slowly closed itself behind Saionji, who exited the scene in muted silence.

***

“Do you know?  After the Revolution, after finding you again, I convinced myself that I could actually repay my debt to you; yes, even a debt of such magnitude.  For what are people, if not creatures fueled upon their desires?  What human desire is there that cannot be fulfilled by my kind’s power?

“With enough power, I could transform your mutilated flesh back to what it was before.  More than that, I could even redesign this, down to your preferred gender; yes, that I can do for you, should I still have the power. 

“And so, I brought in my last round of Duelists, and started this war against my Brother –- so I may rob from him what power he has to help you get better . . .

“ . . . all so I may absolve myself.

“I’m a dirty woman; and a willfully stupid one, at that.

“Even if I should succeed in mending your body, the damage to your spirit from your long suffering is not something I can undo.  And, no matter how much power my brother currently has at his disposal, there is no way for either of us to bring back your parents; not in a way you would find acceptable, anyway.

“In the end, I’m still the Witch, with you, the meddlesome hero who got manipulated into helping me, having mistaken me for a damsel.

“Glorious though it might be, yours was a revolution brought about by lies, upon lies, upon lies.”

“Because you cannot -- will not -- ever forgive the one you’ve revolutionized: this real, dirty me.”

“I’ve had no hope of being forgiven since the very beginning.”

“No peace for the wicked, as they say.”


“Ah . . . ”

Stopping (only then did he realize he had been walking down the hallway all along), Utena detached his face from the broad chest he just bumped into, and glanced up to see a strain-faced Saionji glancing down at him with bloodshot eyes widened in bafflement . . . and dawning concern.

“Tenjou . . . you look like--”  Whatever else he was about to say got cut short by this shrill, deafening wail, as his lifelong rival then proceeded to scream-cry against his chest in acute, uncontrollable hysteria.  “Ten-Tenjou--”

Saionji might have said something more.  Utena would not, could not know; not when he was overwhelmed by the bottled up feelings now bursting out in tears and howls.  A scorching pain now encased his entire person, beyond which he could perceive but very faint impressions of what lied outside:  girlish exclamations, hurried footsteps, supple pecs tensing under a tear-drenched shirt . . . and a hand –- broad and calloused -- slowly clasping down upon his shoulder . . .

***   

“Isn’t the ride taking awfully long?”

Masako’s voice, the first sign that she had been awake for some time, startled the tense Takakuras.  Sitting up, the heiress swiped the disheveled curls back from her face, glanced very briefly past Himari, prior to directing her expectant glare at the van’s driver.

“It is,” replied Tokiko, her quiet voice came taut with tension.  “It shouldn’t, though.”

“ . . . something wrong?” asked an apparently still very groggy Ringo, now struggling to sit upright.

Tokiko had her hardened eyes fixed upon the murky darkness obscuring the way up ahead.  “Somehow, we’re still between worlds despite seemingly moving forward.”  The boys got understandably worried at hearing that 

“Are we trapped in some kinda magic?”

“Is Kiga pulling one over us?”

“No.  I would’ve sensed something if it’s . . .” The witch’s sentence then trailed off as behind her, the kids all gasped in shock.

There, in the midst of the darkness upfront, a figure could be seen slowly walking up towards them; a seemingly impossible feat, considering how their vehicle was currently speeding ahead.

That figure, apparently hovering just slightly above the moving pavement, was wearing a black penguin hat –- one that looked highly familiar to the Children of Fate . . .


End Part Nineteen

Chapter Text


Seinen Kakumei Utena

Utena and Penguindrum characters belong to their various owners.

WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization.   

Part Twenty: Empty Movement II (BETA-ed by the wonderful TheOnlyFlorence)



Nonsensical as it sounded, their vehicle now appeared to be running while stopping.

Or, maybe they really were moving along this indefinite stretch of road beneath the running wheels, and this person now standing slightly in front of the van was steadily backing at its van’s speed . . .

Whichever the case, Ringo’s question –- one directed at the penguin-hat-wearing male-masked fencer now standing/hovering in front of the van –- only added to the surreal-ness of this highly fantastical scene:

“Nee-san . . . is that you?”

“No, Hime-sama have not possessed me,” the fencer’s husky voice came through the roaring winds and the closed windows with uncanny clarity.  “Rather, we’ve simply become an item, that’s all.”

“ ‘Hime-sama’?”  muttered Masako under her breath in apparent distaste.   Upfront, Tokiko’s hard violet eyes slowly softened in dawning recognition.

“Tsuchiya-kun? Is that you?”

Nodding, this Tsuchiya character raised a gloved hand in greeting.  “It’s been a long time, Chida-san.”  A rose motif ring could be seen glinting upon on that hand. 

“Yes, it’s been a long time indeed.” A warm (almost maternal-seeming) smile came upon the woman’s agelessly pretty face.  “The last we met, you were still negotiating your re-entry into Ohtori using one of Momoka-chan’s Twin Penguin Hats as your trump card.   I never got the chance to thank you for your involvement in Nemuro-kun’s graduation:  I knew from Himemiya that you’ve worked with her to ensure Nemuro-kun got spared from vanishing together with the rebuilt building.”

“The Fate Change was supposed to have saved both Nemuro-san and Mamiya-kun.”  Even masked, Tsuchiya’s lowered voice still managed to convey a sense of regret.  “But the trauma from the revealed truth still rendered the Professor aphasic.  And your brother remains missing.” 

“What you’ve done is already more than worthy of my gratitude,” insisted Tokiko, though her smile now was tinted with sadness.  “Then, even with Momoka-chan’s artifact suppressing your illness, in the end, you still . . . ?”

“After fulfilling my purpose at Ohtori, I’ve chosen to accept my natural fate: to die as per my illness.”

The strange fencer’s final line had the effect of making all three Takakuras tense up.  Tokiko, for her part, nodded in apparent understanding. 

“You made your choice to conserve the artifact’s power, so it can be used against Ohtori’s undying forces when the time comes.  Your sacrifice from ten years ago had made it possible for Momoka-chan to guide the Children of Fate towards erasing Subway Attack Take Two.”

“More like ‘manipulated’ . . .”  muttered Kanba under his breath in apparent disgruntlement.

“Excuse me, but . . . ‘Momoka-chan’?”  Ringo, puzzled by the familiarity with which this strange woman kept referring to her sister, spoke up aloud.  “Umm . . . Chida-san, do you know my sister?”  To the girl’s further surprise, Tokiko’s face dimmed at her question.  The Tsuchiya character ended up as the one to supply the answer.

“Chida-san is Eriko-san’s cousin, Ringo-chan.”

“ ‘Ringo-chan’?” muttered Shouma under his breath, sounding rather off-putted.   Beside him, Ringo appeared further perplexed.

“Mom’s cousin?  She never told me I had an aunt . . .”

“Then, to what do we owe the pleasure of this meeting, Tsuchiya-kun?” voiced Tokiko, dodging her niece’s question. 

Violet eyes on his penguin hat glowing up, the enigmatic masked fencer – now suddenly enveloped under a black tailcoat with a vast ripple train flaring wing-like against the winds –- began to say his piece.

***

“Back then, right after the Revolution, I was really thinking only of myself.

“Reasoning how I've got my hands full with my own problems, I willfully ignored other people’s problems.  Even though I sensed that there were still shadows hanging over you all, I told myself that it was not my place to pry into other people’s businesses. 

“It was phony of me to think this way: I simply did not care enough about the other Duelists to risk coming across as a busybody, and that was all.

“Yes, in the end, we were only Duelists: friends that could have been, but never were.  Even though we all were schoolmates, even though our shared experience should’ve bonded us . . .”

Wringing out the sponge, Juri then passed it back towards Touga.  She had her gaze upon the ‘W’ marking his right cheek -- a branding that remained visible even under the laundry’s dim lights.

Wordlessly taking the sponge, the bathrobe-clad man lowered his head as he quietly attached it to his extender, allowing for his red tresses to veil his marred profile.

Throwing back her head in ripples of orange waves, the woman let out a soft, wistful sigh.

“Why was it?” She asked herself, out loud.  “Why couldn’t I have taken the initiative to reach out to others in need?

“I could’ve helped someone . . . and then maybe I could’ve received help, back when I so desperately needed it.  Things could’ve been a lot easier, if only I . . .

“Yet, in the end . . .”

“In the end, you’re maybe the only one of us who managed to get out of your coffin,” said Touga, at last engaging her in conversation.  “A spectacular feat, that.”

“ ‘Coffin’?” His old acquaintance –- so obviously trying to reach out to him in this awkward moment –- appeared startled by the term.

“The chick’s shell, the butterfly’s chrysalis; that which hinders a life from growing by offering a false sense of safety, is a coffin,” explained the man, his gaze lowered upon the bloodstains he was currently removing with his tools.  “By admitting your being in love to yourself –- accepting your beloved’s flaws and braving the social risks involved -- you’ve gone from being a girl in denial of the possibility of miracles, to becoming a woman who managed to realize your own miracle; you’ve long since gotten out of your coffin.  As for the others . . . not even the Victor could get out of hers.”

“I . . .” Appearing hesitant at first, Juri nonetheless spoke on.  “I’m not going to deny it now; I only managed to get out because I had his help on top of Utena’s . . . even though I never wanted for him to help me quite the way he did”

“Tsuchiya Ruka,” murmured Touga, grudging admiration evident in his deep voice, “he who died breaking coffins.” 

Juri watched him intently.  “And what about yourself?”

“Me?” A self-depreciating chuckle escaped the man’s throat.  “I haven’t even managed to stop being a coffin myself.”

“You were the one who discovered Tenjou for Himemiya, weren’t you?  And, following you, Himemiya then found her way towards Utena . . . that’s why you’re here ahead of us all, isn’t it?”

“It was just a chance encounter from three years ago --”

And the conversation got cut short by the commotion breaking out from the other side of the room.

***

The pieces were glittering under the dim lights; glittering, like dewdrops, or maybe the tears of a vulnerable child crumbling under disillusionment, or that of a drugged out girl bemoaning an assault.  Hands moving on their own accord, he reached out for these glittery bits, reaching out like he never could for her wild, anguished tears--

“Geez, at least wear some gloves . . .”

Startled out of the trance he had since fallen into, Miki blinked at finding an old friend now crouched beside him, helping him pick up the glass shards with gloved hands. 

“Nanami . . .” 

“Go have a good talk with your sister.  What’s happening between the two of you isn’t something you can afford to leave alone and let fester, Miki.”

“What’s happening between us . . .” Eyes on this busybody, Miki realized it was now or never if he wanted this question –- one that had been bothering him since their reunion -- voiced. “Before that, I think I need to ask you something first.”

“What?”

“Why are you again giving Touga-sempai the worship treatment?” 

He saw Nanami recoiling from his question, like he had suddenly struck her and she could not comprehend why.  Nonetheless, he chose to press on, rather cruelly.  “Last I remember –- not that you’ve stayed that long at Ohtori after the Revolution -- you seemed to have outgrown your feelings for him--”  And he got cut off by the young woman slapping him . . . or rather, tried to, as he had caught her wrist in time.

“Goddamn you . . .” rasped the blonde, tears glinting within her dark, ferocious eyes.  “I’m trying to help you here, and you--”

“I’m not trying to be mean,” stated Miki; calmly, stubbornly.  “I just really need to know the reasoning behind a sister obsessing over her brother, before I can take up this issue with--”

“Don’t lump me in with the likes of you!” shrieked Nanami, the sheer disgust in her voice shocking Miki into letting go of her.  Struggling back up on trembling feet, she glared down upon the man like one would a revolting insect.  “What’s between Onii-sama and I is none of your business, though I can assure you that it’s nothing like what you and Kozue--” 

“Nanami.”

Touga’s voice, coming from behind, prevented the rest of Nanami’s hurtful sentence from coming out.  Choking up, the trembling blonde awkwardly turned away (to hide her tears?) as her brother stepped forward.  Without paying his sister further heed, the stoic redhead then crouched down beside wide-eyed Miki and began helping the younger man with cleanup. 

“Nanami,” Juri, who came up with Touga, smoothly placed an arm across the smaller woman’s shoulder while ushering her away.  “I need some help over in that area . . .”

“Miki.”  Touga’s voice, seemingly possessing more gravity than that he remembered it as a teen, grabbed his attention.  “I’ve missed out on many things that happened earlier in the day.  Then . . . is there some problem coming up between you and Kozue?”

“Touga-sempai . . .”

“Every case is different, Miki.  My sister’s current feelings for me is simply one of misguided hero worship; it may not be at all applicable to your situation.” 

“Misguided?”.

“She chose to believe that I was sacrificing myself purely for her sake, when I was also doing what I did out of self preservation.”

“Sacrificing yourself . . .”

“Nanami and I were both sold into the Kiryuu Household back when she still was a toddler.  She discovered the truth about our humble origins in an utmost unpleasant manner very soon after the Revolution.” 

“That’s . . .” It took Miki a moment to digest Touga’s words, before he came to an abrupt understanding of just what had been revealed to him.  “Oh . . .

To his credit, Touga actually managed to smile indulgently at the younger man’s reaction. “Just like before, that intellect of yours can always figure out just what I’m saying.”  Miki, for his part, could only gape at the older man, speechless.

Even back when he was thirteen and on the Student Council, he had always found this fellow member to be peculiarly . . . sexual, and not in the way Kozue’s horn dog boyfriends were sexual either.  Where most teenage male sexuality manifest itself in physical aggression, seventeen year old Touga was this seasoned incubus.  Offering up his beautiful body as bait, the precocious seducer had successfully manipulated a good number of people into doing just what he wanted them to . . . .

. . . even Miki himself was no exception; thus why his first Duel against Utena came to be. 

“If something is really important to you, seize it and protect it with your own hands,”  purred the semi-disrobed redhead from where he had his head thrown back on the bed, offering an obscene view of his open, salivating throat.  “. . . lest someone should steal it from you . . . ‘Micky’.”  And he laughed his husky laugh, laughing until the aroused younger boy he had been addressing all along stepped forward to ‘choke out’ that laughter for him. . .

Looking back on it from an adult perspective, he realized that was definitely not something that could be initiated by any teenage boy with an ordinary upbringing –- whatever their orientation might be.  That kind of ‘skill’ had to have come from a life where sex –- the offering of the act -- was crucial to one’s survival; there was simply no shortcut to acquiring that kind of ability at that age.

So, Touga and Nanami were really children sold into sexual slavery, with only Touga taking the blunt of the deal . . . and, Nanami had found out the truth; that would certainly explain a lot of the Kiryuu siblings’ puzzling behavior since their reunion.

Indeed, every case is different; the Kiryuus’ situation did differ significantly from that of the Kaorus’.  Then again, had their situation reversed, could Kaoru Miki have sheltered his sister the way Kiryuu Touga did? Or, would he have ended up letting his sister fall on her own, and focused on only on saving himself?

. . . just like he had done throughout his own cowardly childhood and youth?

It took a broad hand patting him affectionately on his shoulder to break him out of his gloomy revere.

“Then, a bit of advice from someone who once lost everything because of his stubborn pride,” offered the older, still worldlier ex-Duelist, appearing brother-like in his current moment of sincerity.  “If someone is really important to you, hold her and cherish her with your own life, lest she lose heart and drift away from you, Miki.”

Eyes on his sempai –- who bore little resemblance to the malevolent youth he once was – Miki allowed himself to open up.  “You don’t think . . .it a little too late for me to fix things now?”

“It can be,” replied Touga.  “It doesn’t have to be.”  The man then looked him in the eye prior to speaking on.  “Listen, Miki, on the topic of origins, there’s something I want to tell you  . . .”

***

“. . . there’s something I want to tell you, that I’m telling you because I trust you, so . . . you absolutely mustn’t tell anyone else what I’m about to tell you; do you understand that?

“Then . . . I’ll begin.

“My brother and I are not real Kiryuus –- our real parents sold us to the Kiryuu Household back when I was too little to remember.

“The Kiryuu couple, who pretended to be our parents thereafter, were really pedophiles who buy children for use as sex slaves.

“I only managed to discover the truth after the Revolution, sometime after you left.   

“The reason I could’ve remained oblivious to my situation, for so long, was because our ‘parents’ had left me alone though all those years before.  Despite the unfortunate situation surrounding me, I was kept innocent, virginal . . . untouched.

“Now, do you think I would be so lucky without my brother protecting me all along?

“You remember how my brother had been working for the Ends of the World throughout the year?  How we’ve all distrusted him, disdained him back then.   Well, turned out that he literally had a deal with the Devil – that he was serving the Chairman in exchange for having Ohtori protect me and Kyouichi  from the Kiryuus and and Saionji-san . . . yes, I know you’d want to ask ‘what about Kyouichi?’; well that’s Kyouichi’s story to tell, not mine.

“Almost right after the Revolution, after you’ve left Ohtori, the man posing as our father started aggressively abusing us for real. 

“I won’t . . . go into details, ‘cause those are awful things to have to say out loud, I’ll just tell you that the branding on my brother’s face was from that time, and that he was never the same afterwards. 

“We – my brother, myself, Kyouichi - managed to flee Houou around the time when the school year ended, and we’ve been surviving like -- god, I sound like Kozue -- wild animals since.

“You remember what Kyouichi said earlier on?  About screwing people to get things from them?  Well, what happened was he followed my brother into hustling, just so the three of us can survive that tough period before we could get the Kiryuu bastard’s money.  Can you believe it?  I was the girl, much younger than them and certainly more pricey, but the guys were adamant in keeping me clean.  They would both rather get sullied themselves than to see the same happen to me.  Kyouichi eventually got out of it after his photographer gig got serious, but my brother . . . he never managed to crawl back out.  In fact, the reason he went missing before ending up here was because . . . no, I’m not ready to talk about that, yet . . .

“Kyouichi hustled because he was –- I think he still is –- in love with my brother; and my brother . . . he loves me, to the point of sacrificing his own life and future for me . . . while dragging down Kyouichi with him.

“Then, do you get it now, Juri-sempai?  The reason I behave the way I do towards Onii-sama . . . it is not something dirty and perverse like some people are obviously assuming; it’s because he is my brother, and he protected me when I needed it!  Why can’t anyone goddamned understand?!

“I can understand.” Together with crying, near-hysterical Nanami from where they’ve taken privacy within the closed storage room, Juri now held the girl to herself in what she hoped was a reassuring manner.  “Nanami, remember what I said on the evening of the Revolution?   I too had a sibling, an older sister whom I’ve always thought to be rather cold.”  Heavier thoughts came to her then, of when said sister casually followed their parents’ lead in disowning her for being a lesbian.  “Even though we’re not close, and are unlikely to ever be in the future, I do wonder at times how nice it’d be if we were.”  There, she had admitted it to herself, after all these years of telling herself how she did not need that monstrously cold person in her life.  “It must be so comforting, to have someone who grew up with you, whom you can call family.”

“. . . you’ve changed, Sempai,” said Nanami, watching her former schoolmate with a look of wonder on her flushed face.  “You never used to be quite this indulgent before, nor so . . . warm.”

“I wasn’t,” admitted Juri.  “It isn’t until seeing you all again, and fighting by your sides earlier on, that I realized how much I’ve missed everyone of you.  I know it sounds insane, but I think . . . I even miss that time we’ve had at Ohtori.” She saw the younger woman’s still tear-rimmed eyes widen in apparent startlement, and chuckled helplessly in spite of herself.  “Yes, all of us Duelists were getting royally screwed over by the Ends of the World.  We were pitted against each other like pawns and cutting at each other with swords.  I’ve told myself again and again that we weren’t really friends; and yet, when confronted with the reality of any of you, even Sonoda, being hurt, I . . .”

“You miss adolescence,” stated Nanami, with slowly dawning comprehension, “that time when you could hurt others and yourself without a care in the world, because you still were too young to care about consequences.”  She pointed a finger, almost accusingly, at Juri’s nose.  “I bet you haven’t gotten any chance to be this wild, this free out in the adult world, where you have to keep your feelings – your true self – locked inside to survive in society.”  And she lowered her head, shrouding her small face.  “There is no Dueling Arena allowing for you to duel people with your soul on your sword tip anymore.  If you have a conflict with someone, you’ll either have to endure their abuse, or fight back by banding together with people you hate just as much as that someone.  Adult life is all compromising and being underhanded, and it sickens you; but you’ll still do it, because such sickening methods are the only ones that work in this world.  And before you ask, yes; I know because I too have been through it all.”  Her voice, too, lowered as to be almost inaudible.  “Crazy as it sounds, I think I miss that time too.” 

“Nanami . . .”  Seeing this younger woman –- whom she had always thought of as immature –- in a completely different light, Juri now felt herself ready to further open up.  “I think . ..  it’s also because when we went through that punishing pain at Ohtori, we went through it together.  And that pain bonded us, even though we didn’t think of ourselves as friends.  I suppose it’s like what the Takakuras had said earlier on, something about sharing the Fruit of Fate--”

“Wait.”  Nanami, who had suddenly gone from wistful to alert, briskly cut her off.
“I think I’ve heard something like this before, but didn’t have time to ask.  What . . . Takakuras?”

“Remember those little boys you met in the wash area, the ones who turned into glass shards before disappearing with Chida-san?” supplied Juri, watching the girl’s abrupt change with some concern.  “They are the Takakura brothers.  Apparently they got cursed because their parents were involved in the Kiga Subway Attack that killed Utena’s parents--”

“Wait!”  Gasping through her mouth, Nanami now appeared to be struggling with the mere act of speaking. “The boys’ father wouldn’t . . . wouldn’t happen to be . . . Takakura Kenzan?”

“Nanami . . .”  Alarmed by Nanami’s current state (and uncertain as to the possible meanings behind her correctly naming the Takakura father), Juri tried to somehow dodge the question.  “They’ve only told us their parents were involved--”

“TELL ME!” demanded the blonde, now grabbing onto the front of the woman’s shirt while practically snarling in her face.

Cornered, Juri was nonetheless spared from having to answer by this timely, bloodcurdling cry now blasting through the whole mansion.

***

For one crushingly agonizing moment (lasting minutes? hours? an eternity?), he was all screaming and zero coherency.  Then came the sounds of splattering footsteps, of frenzied exclamations, of young women crying out . . . there was this broad, powerful hand now clasping down on his shoulder, and arms, slender and wet and trembling, encircling him from behind . . .

“ . . . tena-sama!  Utena-sama!  Snap out of it!”

Out of breath, Utena slowly turned his head to see the drenched, frantic young woman now hugging him desperately.

“Utena . . .”

“Waka . . . ba . . .”  Rasping out his old friend’s name in his detached, disoriented state, Utena willed his hand to reach up and wipe off a stray tear falling past her wet cheek.  “Why’re you’re all wet . . . and in tears . . .”

“ . . . you idiot!” snapped Wakaba, all the while crying with undisguised relief.  “You had everyone worried just now!”

“Everyone . . .?”  Turning his head, Utena saw the whole gang of Duelists now watching him, wide-eyed.  “Oh.”   Feeling the hand on his shoulder tightening, he looked up and at the big, disheveled man whose chest he had been crying into just now.   “Saionji . . .”  The man’s face, handsome in the way of hard, dramatic angles, now was ominously shaded from Utena’s point of view.

“Look at you, Tenjou.  Still crying like a little brat at your age.”

“I . . .”

“You,” continued the man in his rasped, lethargic voice. “You’ve probably been so busy suffering through the past decade, that you hardly even had the chance to grow up.”  His hand, once rested upon Utena’s shoulder, now had reached up to cup the Victor’s small face.  “How like you. ”

“Sai--” started Utena, before stopping at feeling something wet now falling upon his upturned face. It took him a moment to realize that was a drop of the taller man’s tears.  “Saionji . . .”

Face tear-streaked, Saionji’s voice now came cracked at the edges. “Just like . . . me.”

Through hazy eyes and mind, Utena received burred impressions of the following sequence of events happening outside his person: Wakaba bawling her eyes out while hugging him from behind, Saionji encasing them both within his embrace, Juri and Miki looking on misty-eyed, Nanami pulling Touga to the side whispering urgently in his ear, Tsuwabuki watching them furtively, Shiori and Kozue trading glances before walking away together . . .

***

“Hime-sama had sent me, her Captain, over for the following purposes:

“To ask the question that might lead to a project’s beginning, and to obtain the accomplice that shall lead to a mission’s success.

“Then, I’ll start by asking the question first.

“Himari, Takakura Himari, will you burn at the stake for the sake of the world?”


End Part Twenty

Chapter Text

Seinen Kakumei Utena

Utena and Penguindrum characters belong to their various owners.

WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization.   

Part Twenty-One: Empty Movement III


“ . . . and then, I batted my eyes and told her it was my first time, but she just laughed.”

“Saying it's your first time while batting your eyes is pretty shameless.”

“Heh, what’d you know? Older women love that stuff.  Anyway, had you really managed to make me look sixteen with the last procedure, that CEO cougar would’ve never even suspected I was lying.  Damn, the old whore better continue to back me on winning the big one at the Music Awards . . .”

“Are you sure that your having been in the spotlight for almost a decade does not also play a factor in giving away your adult age, Seen-sama?”

“Whatever.” Leggy, androgynous flame stretched out indolently upon the clinic bed, the top male idol singer of Japan has his eyes trained upon the injection needle held in the doctor’s hand.  “The upcoming concert at the Big Egg will be televised live: you make sure I got no bad angles left after this, Dr. Sanetoshi.”

“How electrifying,” commented Sanetoshi, smilingly observing the undisguised hunger showing though the idol’s already flawless face as he readied the needle . . .

*. . . dong . . .dong . . . dong . . .*

The ring tone –- sounding like the peals of heavy bells –- interrupted the ‘doctor’.   Signaling for Sanetoshi to stop, Seen produced his smart phone –- the wallpaper of which showed a tail-less baby red alligator with an umbilical cord still attached -- and clucked his tongue at the caller ID.

“Would it kill you to leave me alone on my downtime . . .”  His sentence then trailed off as his eyes widened in surprise.  “What?  Sonoda has been . . . ?”

***

“ . . . so yes, you’ll have to show up for the press conference.  There will be people from the police station there, but they’ll know to go along with your act . . . yes, check your script at the inbox.  Did I plan it beforehand?  What do you think?  Then, the van will be ready to pick you up in twenty minutes.  Yes, yes, the stylists are ready at the studio . . . You say you’re on holiday? You know what they say: no rest for the wicked. Now go break a leg . . .Onion-kun.”

Terminating the call amidst the obscenities hurling at him from the other end of the line (to think even someone this banal can be a prince in this era), Akio leaned backwards against the car seat, and glanced up at the vast darkness blanketing the heights above.

No stars, real or fake, shone for him.

Exhaling softly, he then lowered his gaze downwards and upon the pile of crashed cars –- some convertibles, others sport cars -- his vehicle was currently perched precariously upon.

Reaching into the compartment, he produced a glossy pamphlet, where the words ‘Song of the Fallen Kingdom LIVE’ could be seen printed in stylized letters.  Turning the page, he skimmed over the colorful publicity stills all featuring ‘Seen’ in various objectifying states of undress, before focusing on the first line of text under ‘Contents’:

Opening:  That which could not be told until now – the (true) Tale of the Rose.

“Say, Hoshimi-chan . . .” murmured the Fallen Prince, his seemingly devilish tone betrayed by more than a hint of melancholy . . . and loneliness.  “Would you care for a bedtime story?” As if in reply, the car system flashed the words ‘SLEEP MODE’, the sight of which did not deter him from speaking on.  “There once was a boy who wanted to change his world, and his sister wanted to change him . . .”

***

“ . . . she then said to me: ‘From now on, you will make a sanctuary of my heart; and I, in turn, shall become you.’

“But what does ‘making a sanctuary of a heart’ truly entails?

“The Witch took my physical form, yes; and my mortality too.  Bound under her spell, which held me tighter than any earthly vessel could, I became something like a ghost in a memory, or a file in a disk: ever accessible . . . ever contained.

“My situation had not changed much since; not even after you’ve supposedly rescued me from the Witch during the Fate Change that graduated the Professor from Ohtori.” 

Eyes on Hoshimi, currently watering the roses in the hothouse with her back to him, Chida Mamiya took a measured sip from his teacup before speaking on.

“Ne, Ohtori-chan . . .”

“Yes?” asked his ‘little girlfriend’ -- still looking twelve within the sanctuary of her own heart –- without turning around.

“Just how old are we right now, really?”

“Do you still care about what’s real, even now?” 

Mamiya’s silence met her non-reply.  Putting down her watering pot, Hoshimi slowly straightened up, prior to turning around to properly face her watchful captive –- her prince.     

“Don’t worry,” she said, her indulgent, motherly smile contrasting her child’s guise to eerie effects.  “Very soon, you and I shall meet again in the real world, for real.  And, when that happens . . . ”

***

“. . . we’ll shine together.”

Eyes on the framed black and white picture from atop cupboard top, Anthy slowly, painstakingly went over the visual details associated with the ten-year-old item: the innocence shining through fourteen year old Utena’s wide blue eyes, the veiled shadows lurking within her own, the projector looming large in the background, and him –- whose towering figure she failed to completely cut out from the already heavily chopped photo . . .

It was not like she could just throw it away because her brother’s headless body still was in it: that was the only photo taken of her and Utena together, after all.

“And through it all, you’ve remained the same like always.”

Her brother’s words from earlier on, skewered towards the perspective that served him best, nonetheless managed to nail the truth.

Indeed, she had transferred her affections from her manipulative brother over to easily-manipulated Utena.  But how much had she, herself, really changed throughout the past decade, a visibly aged appearance –- one that she could reverse again at will –- not withstanding?

She was no longer the Rose Bride, because Utena did not want her to be so . . . just how different was that from being the Bride because her brother wanted her to be?

Utena was, of course, infinitely better as a person than Akio could ever hope to be; not even Dios could rival her when it came to courage and nobility.  And yet . . .

“. . . that I feel her wounds, her suffering, with my own body . . .”

That part of her brother’s statement, at least, was --

The sounds of sharp, brisk knocking from the door knocked off her disconcerting train of thought.   Composing her expression, Anthy got up and open the suite’s door to reveal a fierce-eyed Kozue, with Shiori standing behind her in a (mock?) demure stance.

“You, care to come with us?”

***

“ . . . will you burn at the stake for the sake of the world?”

Tsuchiya’s question for the girl, so calmly raised, sent the Takakura brothers into fits of rage.

“Bastard . . . !  What the hell are you talking about?!”

“Himari had already been through more than enough--”   

“What do you mean by ‘the world’, Tsuchiya-san?” asked Himari, the raptness in her quiet voice chilling her loved ones into silence.  In spite of his masked state, a subtle shift in the fencer’s posture (how on earth did he stand/hover just over the moving pavement?) signaled his being impressed by the courage shown.

“Whatever you see with those eyes of yours . . . that’s your world.”

“Whatever I see . . . is my world . . .?”

“Your world is but a stretch of scenery enveloping you, seamless as an egg’s shell.” Tsuchiya ’s tailcoat train, vast and fluttery to begin with, started further enlarging as it flowed over the van.  “Within this scenery exists the things that you like, and those that you don’t.  To protect the things that you like, and erase what you don’t . . . such is your wish.”  Like curtains, the vast ripples of red lining rapidly blocked off all views outside the car windows, engulfing everything under crimson-shaded darkness.    “Your brothers harbored the same wish, and it gave them the conviction to remold the elements of their world into as they saw fit. The price they paid for this colossal task is as you can see.”  The regressed boys, whose child-shaped silhouettes remained sharply visible in spite of the lack of illumination, were visibly downcast.  “And, as your can also see, the world remained imperfect even after they paid the price.  This is because the sacrifice your brothers had made is only enough to change bits of the scenery –- they had not managed to fix the true brokenness cracking through the core of this world.   Only a revolution can fix the whole of the world, and liberate all those within it from their many sufferings.”  The murky space was then pierced through by a spotlight spearing down upon Himari –- one that gave her focus while further obscuring the others.  The glow from the beam revealed how the van and the highway no longer existed, and they all were inside this “cocoon” made up of red fabrics streaming out from around the fencer’s lanky figure.  “Out of all the Children of Fate, you’re the only one capable of giving adequate sacrifice to bring about World Revolution.” 

“World Revolution . . .”  whispered Shouma, hovering just beyond the spotlight on his sister. 

Beside him, Kanba’s child-shaped frame grew taut with tension.  “Just like those people we’ve met at Chida-san’s place; the Duelists . . .”

“If I sacrifice myself, would this change my brothers back to normal?” asked Himari, large eyes glimmering with wetness from where she basked under the light.  “Would Ringo-chan’s parents get back together?  Would Kan-chan’s sister and little brother be free of their curse?”  Even shaded, Masako could be seen arching a brow in surprise at having herself and he brother included in her perceived rival’s well-wishing.

“Himari-chan!  Stop!” exclaimed Ringo from beside her -- right outside the spotlight -- alarmed.  “You don’t know what you’re saying--”

“I know!” Himari turned towards her friend in teary anguish.  “Ringo-chan, I remember everything now, including how you got burned by magic trying to even save us, even though our parents caused your sister’s death!”

“Himari-chan . . . !”

“I . . . I’m someone who should have died already!  If anyone should get sacrificed here, then it should’ve been me!” 

Before the others could have stopped her, Himari had already rushed forward to prostrate herself in front of Tsuchiya. 

“Please, Tsuchiya-san; please tell me how to make things right for everyone!   For this, I’m willing to do anything!  I’m willing to accept my natural fate: I’m willing to die from my illness!  So please . . . ”  And the frantically pleading girl trailed off at hearing the fencer’s amused chuckles.

“Girl, do you really think all it takes is something so simple as dying to revolutionize the world?”

“. . . what?”

“True sacrifice involves the enduring of a punishment for the sake of a greater good.  You should know just as well as I do that there is no punishment greater than life itself.”

“What the . . . ?” Masako spoke up, baffled by the statement.  “Are you saying that this girl only has to live on to save Kanba and everyone?”  Tsuchiya tilted his chin in her direction.

“Masako-chan, you’ve lived your childhood both in fear of your grandfather and in craving of your own father and brother . . . was that not a punishing enough life for the child that you were?  And, when you offered yourself up to devour the venomous fish in your little brother’s stead, were you not doing so in part because life was unbearable for you?”

“I . . . !  I was . . .”

“Masako . . .” murmured Kanba, who watched with heavy eyes the shift of his twin’s expression from enraged defensiveness to one of shocked realization.

“Ringo-chan,” continued Tsuchiya, now addressing the other girl,  “when you triggered the Diary’s spell to change fate knowing you will get burned, were you not also hoping to flee from the hurt you felt over your Father’s remarriage?”  Eyes wide, Ringo slowly touched her face as if to sooth the sting of an abrupt slap.

“Oginome-san . . .”  Fists clenched, Shouma turned to snarl at Tsuchiya. “That’s enough!  Why are you antagonizing us like this?”

“I understand,” said Himari, whose prior hysteria appeared to have cooled down.  “I’ve known since the beginning that living is a kind of punishment.  Burning a corpse at the stake accomplishes nothing: only a living person can suffer from the scorching flames.”  She now faced the fencer with calm determination.  “Tsuchiya-san, I’m willing to burn.”  Her loved ones all looked poised to protest, but were silenced by a determined wave of her hand.

“Not all fires are equal,” cautioned Tsuchiya, taking in the exchange.  “Some burn at the flesh, others burn at the spirit.  Some burn for a moment, and leave you with scars to last a lifetime; others keep burning at you throughout your lifetime.  I ask you one final time: are you truly willing to sacrifice yourself in this manner for the revolution of the world?” 

“I am,” insisted Himari. 

“Incredible . . .” exhaled Tsuchiya, rather audibly. “Such single-minded determination I am seeing from you all, that makes even self-sacrifice seem a mere task undeserving of second thoughts, of hesitation . . . is this a quality of adolescence, of youth?” A note of genuine wonder had seeped into his otherwise haughty voice.  “Was I too, like this?  No . . . back then, there were always numerous conflicting thoughts and intentions plaguing my mind when I had to act, and the same was true for most of those others seeking Revolution.  I suppose kids have really become a lot more transparently simple than in my day . . . although that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Now then . . .” Pulling on a section of his impossibly large coat’s train, he sent forth a tsunami of red lining rippling at the Children of Fate, engulfing them before they could have reacted.  By the time the fabrics receded out of view, neither the fencer nor Himari were anywhere in sight.  Even as the girls were struggling to regain their bearing, the Takakura brothers were already scampering wildly about in search of their sister –- looking like a pair of child’s shadows flashing around to the human eye.

“Himari?!”

“Where’d that guy take her?!”

“Tsuchiya-kun took Himemiya’s familiar, along with the penguin robots,”  murmured Tokiko to this pink-haired, stoic-faced man suddenly present amongst their company.  “That must be the ‘accomplice’ he spoke of earlier on . . . just what could the boy be planning?”

“So where are we now?”  asked Masako, glaring at their surroundings warily.  “Looks like some homely apartment here . . .” 

Ringo, on the other hand, blinked in bafflement at where she found herself.  “This is . . . “

*Click . . .*

“Ringo, you’re back early!”  The front door opened from the outside to reveal a harried Oginome Eriko struggling with some sizable bags of groceries.  “Come, help me get these ins--”  And the bags fell off her limp fingers to splat down upon the floor, as she got a good look at the peculiar group –- specifically, the gamine with the beauty mark.

“Cousin . . . Tokiko?” asked the middle aged woman, her voice trembling with disbelief.

Her cousin –- looking younger than her by at least two decades –- faced her with something akin to guilt and regret. “It’s been a long time, Eriko-chan.” 


End Part Twenty-One

Chapter Text

Seinen Kakumei Utena

Utena and Penguindrum characters belong to their various owners.

WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization.   


Beneath the elegantly furnished Victorian mansion was a dark, stark dungeon.  At the center of the dungeon was a coffin marked by dark rose motifs.  The word printed on the coffin read “dépendance”.

And, standing in front of the coffin, a trio currently engaged in a game of two-against-one:

“We’re all here because you’ve gathered us to bring down the Ends of the World.

“You told us, that the power we take from him would help more than just Tenjou-san, but all of us as well.  You showed us how we will have all the worldly miracles we want should we win this battle.”

Glancing slowly from one woman to the other, the cornered female faced them with her benignly serene smile. “And?”

“You’re gonna tell us what you’ve planned,” demanded Kozue, “all of it.”

Anthy’s eyes widened with mock clueless-ness.  “What I’ve planned?”

“Quit jerking us around!” snarled the abrasive young woman, uncaring that she was facing an entity far more powerful than herself.  “Why the fuck are you agitating Utena like this?  He’s the one with the power now, right?  We need him to fight Akio, right?  So why dull his thunder?  And don’t tell us your little lovers’ spat is feels-driven only!”  She then pointed down upon the coffin. “You said it yourself:  your brother’s power is the only thing that can bring Sonoda’s body back to life   In other words, not only are we all screwed should you give up the fight –- after pitting us your unwitting pawns against him -- but this woman will die!

“Himemiya-san.” Shiori’s soft voice and expression, while less harsh than Kozue’s, was maybe even more pointed.  “You may have some powers and years over us, but please don’t think you can fool us on this . . . not when the three of us are so much alike.

“Make that the four of us.”

Startled, the women turned to see Touga – at last back in decent clothing – stepping down the stairs and into the dungeon.

“Ah, Touga-sempai,” greeted Anthy, smilingly.  “I was wondering when you are to make your presence known.”   

“All of us here are ‘witches’,” said the redhead, ignoring the implication of his having been spying on them. “People who got someone to fixate upon in our lives -- our ‘princes’ –- to the point of tying them down.

“Never thought he’d admit to being a bitch,” whispered Kozue to a visibly inquisitive Shiori.  “I mean . . . Bitch. Witch.  Whatever. I’ve always known he is one, that with the thing he had going on with the Chairman.”  The older female widened her eyes at the info.

“The Chairman on top of the entanglement with Tenjou-san?  But wouldn’t that make Kiryuu-sempai Himemiya-san’s biggest rival ever?”

“Didn’t you catch the jab Himemiya threw him just now?”

At the same time,” Touga persisted on amidst the gossipy exchange.  “We are also the ones who made the necessary sacrifices to push our princes down their paths of glory.  The princes are as vehicles upon which we, the witches, exert the driving forcing.”  Stepping up to the vapidly smiling Anthy, he focused his attention on her and her alone.  “We know the workings of each other’s minds, because we are essentially the same.”

“Then . . . do you know this?” asked THE Witch, her voice conversational to the point of being ironic.  “Once the prince starts seeing the witch as a witch, and not the princess he thought she was, he will hate her with the same fervor as he had once loved her.”

“Giving up already?” asked the self-admitted male witch, looking down upon her from his taller height.  “How unlike you.  Back in the day, you would stop at nothing to keep your ex-prince yours, be it sabotaging my duel against Tenjou-kun, or hurting and poisoning Kanae-san.” His gaze sharpened even he spoke on.  “If you give up on Tenjou-kun now, you’re saying that he turns out less worthy than the Ends of the World.  This, all of us Duelists will take issue with.”  Getting his drift from where they watched on the side, Kozue and Shiori stepped up to frank either sides of Touga, with all three of them now staring hard at Anthy, whose smiling visage had turned statue-like in its stillness . . .

*Ring*

“Oh my,” exclaimed the Witch with perhaps exaggerated startlement as she produced her cell phone (an old-seeming model that was nonetheless good enough to work underground).  Eyes widening at the caller id, she quickly took the call.  “Chida-san?”  She spoke aloud as if for the benefit of the mortal witches, whose focus now had been duly redirected.   “I was wondering why I got disconnected from Chu-Chu  . . . I see, so it was his doing.   And he took the Maiden of Fate with him as well . . . Oh, I do trust him with the girl, if only because his princess is a long-time foe of my brother’s.  I’m really more concerned about what he is planning to do with my familiar . . .  Is your cousin’s place safe . . . what am I saying? With you over there, of course it is.  Then, please keep the Children of Fate under watch for the next while.  It would be best to have all their important relations gathered together: my brother is not above abducting people for use as hostages.  Yes, you and me both.”  Ending the call, she spoke up before the other witches could.  “You must all think I am directing this whole affair, with everyone being passive players acting out as per my whims.  But the truth is I too am simply a player upon the World’s Stage.  An old friend of ours has at last entered the scene, and the outcome becomes all the less predictable because of it.” 

“An old ‘friend’?” asked Touga, arching a red blow. 

Anthy faced his suspicion evenly.  “The last remaining Duelist from your round of the Game, yes.”

“Isn’t Sonoda Keiko already the last one?”  asked Kozue.  “I mean, all the Black Roses minus Ohtori Kanae -– who’s with the Chairman –- have already shown up.  Plus we got Tenjou and the entire Student Council . . .”

“There’s still one more.”

Shiori’s quiet whisper, trembling at the edges, caught her fellow humans’ attention.   

“Takatsuki?” asked Kozue.  “You looked like you’d seen a ghost . . .”

Eyes on the suddenly distraught woman, whose dark violet eyes clouded as if with old pains, a look of comprehension gradually dawned upon Touga’s face

“I think . . . we’ll all be seeing one very soon down the road,” he said, slowly turning towards Anthy.  “Isn’t that right, Himemiya?” 

Anthy, for her part, smiled vapidly on.

***

“Do you know? There once were those who were called Duelists, and they dueled each other wielding their very souls as swords.

“Hearts aflame, these Duelists fought heatedly over the Dueling Game’s prize: the power to revolutionize the world. 

“In the end, the Duelist who emerged victorious was neither the strongest nor the smartest of the crop, but rather, this single-minded fool hell bend on accomplishing one single goal: to save her friend from what she saw as a bad situation.”

“ . . . The winner was a girl?” asked Himari, doing her best to follow Tsuchiya’s outlandish story as she hurried along this surreal pathway –- filled with innumerable symbols floating in the dark backdrop -- he was currently leading her through.

“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned; heaven hath no power like a woman determined,” replied the tall fencer from where he walked on ahead of her in broad, even stride.  “This girl was both.  Although her goal had never been to enact World Revolution -- which was why she never did revolutionize the world beyond her small social circle -- fact remains that nobody could beat her during the Duels.  And, she did manage to save her friend like she wanted to –- at the cost of having her very identity shattered.”

“But then . . . why’d you chose me to enact this World Revolution?” asked the smallish girl, winded from half-running after the incredibly leggy man.   “Like this girl, I also don’t have much reason to revolutionize the world.  I only want to save Kan-chan and Shou-chan--” His amused chuckle cut her right off.

“Oh, believe me, you do have reason to want revolution . . . along with having the perfect background to make this work.”

“My background?  But I’m a . . .”

“You are a child of the crime-tainted Takakura family, ‘sister’ to two boys destined to become nothing in a world that punishes not just criminals, but also their family and associates,” said the strange man, casually voicing out the depressing fact that the young Takakura had always known, yet never wanted to dwell upon.  “ Just helping the boys return to their old selves is not enough.  Their schooling and future prospects will still be hindered whenever their being children of terrorists comes to light.”  His voice came to darken, almost sadistically, as per his broad stride forward.  “No reputable school will admit them, no upright business will hire them; they still will remain invisible to this world, only in a different way.”

“But . . .” Feeling hot in the face, the girl nonetheless struggled to speak on.   “I thought . . . you said I could--”

“Only by changing your world –- your society -- into one where criminals’ relatives are no longer assigned collective guilt can you truly save your brothers,” explained the fencer.   “This is the kind of revolution you must bring about: your Survival Strategy.  In your case, it is not mere individuals you’re going against – it is the very World itself.  You’ll have to sacrifice a lot more than even the Victor of the Duels if you are to enact your World Revolution.”

“I . . . understand,” replied the girl, even though she did not.  But what else was she supposed to say in this situation?

She was the lamb willing being led to the slaughter: she would just have to take things as they came.

They finally stopped in front of  a nondescript door – looking so ordinary that it was completely out of place in this eerie space.

“Beyond this door was the Stake, upon which you shall burn brighter than all stars before you, and revolutionize your dark world into one of glorious light.  You’ll have to go in by yourself.  Ready?”

Taking in a stealth breath, the girl stepped forward, past the fencer’s imposing figure, and started pulling the door open . . .

“Takakura Himari-san.”

At being so formally addressed, Himari turned to see Tsuchiya taking off his hat and mask, revealing himself to be a strikingly beautiful youth spotting a head of wavy azure blue hair; his icily chiseled face was currently warmed by a genuinely indulgent smile.

“Good luck,” he said, right before disappearing along with the entire symbol-laden space the girl once was immersed within, leaving her in what now appeared to be some regular office corridor, stunned. 

“ . . . Himari-chan?”

Recognizing the voice, Himari turned slowly around to see Hibari Isada and Hikari Utada –- currently decked in their “Double H” costumes –- anxiously watching her from where they stood beyond the door.

“We weren’t sure you got our message, but . . .”

“Thank you for coming, Himari-chan!”

“Hibari-chan, Hikari-chan.”  In spite of the numerous unanswered questions currently plaguing her thoughts, the Maiden of Fate hesitated but briefly, before straightening her back and stepped forward.  “It’s been a long time.”

***

“ . . . downstairs.”

The word, which came muffled against his chest, had Saionji taken aback.

“Wha . . .?”

“Downstairs,” repeated Utena, who had since straightened up, and was backing out from his arms. 

“Utena-sama?” asked Wakaba -- still latched onto her old friend from behind -- in confusion.  The rest of the gathered Duelists appeared equally puzzled.

“Let’s . . . all go downstairs,” insisted the Victor, petting his old friend on the shoulder as he got the both of them walking.     “All of us, to the living room.”  Already, he was stepping past the hallway and towards the stairs, drawing the whole uncertain gang along with him.  “I’ve got things I need to say to everyone, so please . . . just come with me.” 


End Part Twenty-Two

Chapter Text

Utena and Penguindrum characters belong to their various owners.

WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization.   


“Yeah, I’ve got the video on my smart phone . . . I'll give a stellar performance like I always do, so ease your nagging traps.  Sheesh, the two of you are just as bad as your ‘late’ friend Sonoda . . . oh right, the three of you weren’t ever really friends to begin with, just bitches fighting over that piece of dark meat.  Whatever, be there by Six for our act.”

Ending the call, the beautiful man –- who had been checking his immaculately groomed reflection at  the mirror the whole time –- put down his smart phone and picked up a large envelope from the vanity table.  Opening the envelope, he poured out a few street shots featuring this plainly pretty office lady, the last of which showed her walking into a café with this expensively dressed dark-featured woman.

“ . . . and you said you lost track of them right after they went inside?”

“Yes.”

“How?”

“It’s . . . all very strange and hard to explain, really.”

Taking in a deep breath, the seated man glared imperiously into the mirror, and at the lanky teenager standing behind his chair.

“Come over here.”

Not appearing the least intimidated, the youth got up and to beside him matter-of-factly.  The man motioned for him to lean downwards.  He did.

. . . and the man grabbed the youth by his hair and dragged him down, such that the two now were face to face.

“Listen up, what’s-your-name,” threatened the man, fingers tightening sadistically around the youth’s hair.  “I’m aware you’re just some kiddie part-time assistant and no professional detective. But I’ve specially ordered you to keep tabs on Shinohara Wakaba.  So, when you’re to fail me in such a spectacular manner, I suppose I really got no choice but to axe you.”
 
“Oh, please don’t fire me, Seen-sama,” “pleaded” the young assistant, demure to the point of being thick-skinned.  “They say you’re a good person, you won’t drive a poor boy like me to unemployment in this tough economy now, would you?”

“Wouldn’t I?”  Seen’s exquisite face now had roughened from anger.   “You know what the poet say, it’s better to be beautiful than to be good.”

“It’s time to head out to the press con,” purred the younger man against his sensuously curved lips. “Most beautiful Seen-sa-ma.”

“ . . . faggot.”  Miffed by how he was unable to ruffle up the infuriating young assistant, Seen gave the youth a rough shove that set the latter tumbling down, before storming angrily away from his makeup room.  “Grab all my stuff and move your ass along already!”

“Hai, Seen-sama,” sing-songed the assistant after his boss’s departing figure, before smoothly getting back up on his feet.  “Heh.”

Sauntering up to the vanity, the youth picked up the smart phone the celeb left behind. At the password prompt, he typed in “Kazami Tatsuya”, thus successfully unlocking the device.

“So blind sighted by the glam life that you can’t even recognize your old sempai, huh?” mused the azure-haired assistant with a bittersweet smirk on his ghost-pallid face.  “The little onion brat.”

***

“You’re telling me that Tsuchiya Ruka is back?!” asked Kozue, pursuing Anthy from behind as the group got back up from the mansion’s dungeon.  “But didn’t he die already?”

“Surely you all must know by now that the dead don’t necessarily stay dead in our world,” replied Anthy, walking on ahead of the other witches without turning around.

“Still . . .”

“Thank you all for coming here, for listening to what I’m about to say.”

Utena’s voice, rasped but steady, stopped the Witch in her tracks (and causing Shiori –- reasonably distraught -- to stumble awkwardly into Kozue from behind).  Walking soundlessly up, she saw the Victor standing against the wall of the living room, facing an audience of wary Duelists. 

“Then . . . ” Seemingly tough gaze still marred by uncertainty at the edges, her current prince (looking wet and disheveled somehow) took a nervous lick of his lips, prior to continuing on.   “I will begin--”

“Please wait!”  Exclaimed Tsuwabuki, checking his smartphone under the others’ mildly disapproving gazes (Utena hung his head), before hurrying over to fumble with the old style TV. 

“Tsuwabuki!”  Somehow mortified on the man-boy’s behalf (Anthy thought it likely to be a sign of perceived closeness), Nanami hurried over trying to stop him.  “What’re you doing?!” 

“The news!  Himemiya-sempai is being named in the news!”

“What--”

//“-- is News at Six!”// Snapped on, the TV showed a newswoman (looking like a gender symbol) standing against what appeared to be a very “crowded” scene.   //“We’re bringing you the latest update on this ever-developing story of the murder case at Sunshine City Aquarium.  It’s been confirmed that the victim is indeed Sonoda Keiko, the manager of the biseinen Nova Idol Seen.  Facultas, the talent agency Sonoda worked for, has arranged this press conference in conjunction with the TMPD to address the rumors surfacing online –- including the one about how the murderer has already been identified as the famed socialite Himemiya Anthy--”// And the sound got muted by Juri walking over and muting the volume.  The two younger Duelists were understandably taken aback.

“Juri-sempai . . .”

“It’s nothing we don’t already know,” explained the woman, her delivery brisk but not harsh.  “Why else would the Chairman use someone like Sonoda as a weapon against Himemiya, if not to set his sister up for murder?  It looks like he’s got the police working for him too, so my bet is that Himemiya’s bank accounts are likely all frozen by now.  Still, with this place being what it is, we shouldn’t have to worry about the cops knocking at the door just yet.”  She then turned smoothly towards Utena with an encouragingly warm smile.  “Please, continue.”  Watching on from outside  -- with three human witches breathing down her neck –- the Witch had to resist the urge to applaud the woman for her competence in keeping things on track.

Like the assembled Duelists, she too was utmost eager to hear what the Victor had to say.

Straightening up, Utena took a deep breath, and began to say his piece.

***

“ . . . okay, you’ve already got Mario with you; that’s very good.  Now take him with you to this location ASAP.   Renjaku, I know you’re tough, but dangerous forces are now targeting you both, so stay alert all the way . . .” 

With the Natsume Clan heiress continuing on with her phone call in the living room, and the Oginome daughter having since disappeared into her own room with the two shadow-cloaked boys, Tokiko found herself left with Eriko doing what was necessary at this time: setting up dinner for an apartment full of people at the open kitchen.

“Your Professor Nemuro-san seems to be a even less talkative gentleman than you said he was.”

Her cousin’s quietly voiced, conversationally delivered comment had Tokiko further composing her composure. “A lot has happened to him since that time.” 

Back in the living room, Nemuro was currently seated at a distant corner –- one he managed to find even in so small an apartment -- in mannequin-like stillness.   

“So, Cousin, you’ve finally gotten this man you’ve been fixated upon for all these years right where you want him.  Sure, it’s taken you some decades and a divorce, but you’re both plenty young still thanks to magic.  Glad to see this witch business is working out well for you.’

“Eriko-chan . . .” 

“ ‘Eriko-chan’ . . . huh?”  The middle-aged single mom chuckled at if at an old, bittersweet joke, revealing faint laugh lines.  “Oh, to have you call me that now, especially when without your real age-appropriate disguise . . . the effect is beyond humorous.” 

To that, the ageless witch opted to remain silent as she awaited her cousin’s next move. 

Picking up a peeler, Eriko started working on her carrot. 

“Eighteen years ago, my first daughter acquired from you an artifact you stole from the Devil himself -- the Diary that gave her witch powers at the age of eight.” Ribbons of carrot peels were crisply produced and then discarded.  “She died at ten from using those powers to battle the Devil’s minions.”  Placing the stripped carrot on the chopping block, she then reached for the knife.  “Sixteen years ago, you came into the maternity ward to deliver me news of Momoka’s death, along with her Diary. .”  She started chopping up the carrot to soundly effects.  “You said, that Momoka had willed the Diary’s ownership to be transferred to her newborn baby sister.”  Done with the carrot, she reached for the apple, and started peeling up the fruit.  “You told me that Ringo –- whom you told me was a “natural witch” like Momoka -- was the only one capable of safekeeping these dangerous powers from damaging the World’s balance.  My listening to you and letting Ringo keep the Diary cost me my marriage, and it cost my daughter her father--”  The apple slipped from the woman’s increasingly agitated hands, bouncing away in a trail of ribbon-lite red peel.  Catching it effortlessly, her cousin wordlessly handed the skinned fruit back to her, which she took with trembling fingers. “Just three weeks ago, Ringo almost followed in her elder sister’s footsteps and died using the Diary’s powers.”  Agitated, she fumbled unsuccessfully with the apple and the knife.  “And today, you show up here telling me that the Devil is now targeting my daughter and her friends.”  Finally giving up, the woman slammed down the knife against the counter with an audible clang, and glared hard into her cousin’s cloudy eyes.  “Tell me, how am I supposed to react to this now?”

“Gosh, low battery!” exclaimed Masako from behind the women with theatrical loudness.  “I must go borrow a charger from Ringo-san.  Oh, Ringo-saaaan?”  With that, the rich girl fled hastily into the bedroom and away from the increasingly awkward scene; Nemuro, meanwhile, watched their confrontation from where he remained statue-still in the background.

“ . . . do you even know what I’m saying?”

Eriko’s question, coming choked with tears, was met by Tokiko’s brisk, startlingly firm embrace.

“. . . I know . . .”

***

“I know . . . that nothing I do now could undo the hurt I’ve already caused everyone. 

“No, I don’t mean just the fight with the Swords and Akio.  I’m talking about this whole thing with involving everyone to mend my . . . damage.”

Acutely conscious of everyone’s gazes upon him –- their expressions ranging from perplexed to anxious –- Utena gritted his teeth and bowed deeply at those assembled here for him.

“I'm sorry.

“I'm so sorry.

“I am responsible for putting myself in my current predicament –- the very one you all are now risking yourselves to help me resolve.”

Straightening up –- in a manner more hesitant than he would have liked -- he forced himself to again meet his old friends in their eye.  This was getting hard for him, much harder than his doing that speech earlier on, when the pain from the Swords were numbing his senses.  Now that his mind had regained full clarity, the act of self exposition just made him feel brutally exposed, and all the uglier because of it.

Still, he had to let these people know the whole truth.  He owed them at much, at least.

“Everyone here probably remembers how I’ve moved into the Chairman’s Tower back then,” said he, in a voice wavering somewhat beyond his own control.  “But . . . most of you probably don’t know that I . . . that I was . . .”

“That you were having an affair with the Acting Chairman?  Lots of people knew about that already.”

The shrewd female voice drew the Victor’s attention towards the doorway, where he saw Kozue standing amongst the ones late to this gathering: the Duelists grouped under Witches.

The Bride was of course right there with them, watching him with her piercing, scorching green eyes.

“Did he . . . tell somehow?” asked Utena, heart sinking as he noticed how none present appeared thrown off by Kozue’s rhetorical question.  “Perhaps gloated about it when he lead you all to fight those last Duels against me?” Developing wetness threatened to blur his vision, obscuring from his view their watchful eyes.  “Or maybe . . . when he . . . ” 

“He didn’t have to tell us,” said Touga with something a little too dark tainting his otherwise gentle voice.  There was probably also a little something to the man’s expression that Utena did not catch, busy as he is with blinking back his tears.   “We knew.”

“The two of you were not exactly discreet back in the day,” commented Saionji, sounding perhaps a little too neutrally.  “I mean, with you living with the man despite his being engaged, and going on those car rides with him around the area . . . ”

“Even the kids in the elementary division were talking about it,” supplied Tsuwabuki, rather timidly.  “There was even a rumor of Ohtori Kanae having gone to the Tower with Mrs. Ohtori to confront the Acting Chairman and his . . . fling.”

“Oh . . .”  So, everybody knew already.  Stealthily wiping off his tears via a gesture that approximated his swiping his longish fringe, Utena then found himself facing worried, empathy-filled Wakaba.  “I see.”

“Utena-sama, it wasn’t like people were thinking badly of you,” said his oldest friend, who had since stepped up to right in front of him, and now was clasping onto his hand with both of hers.  “That Kanae was just some privileged princess who was never really a part of the crowd.  Everyone liked you better than her . . .”  Her words trailed off as he gently pulled out of her grip.

“Kanae-san was his fiancée.”  He stated, firmly.  “And I, the other woman.  If anything, people should’ve sided with her back then, and not with me”

“But . . .”  Wakaba appeared hurt . . . or rather, hurt on his behalf.   “Oh, you . . . !” 

A short, heavy snort drew Utena’s attention to behind Wakaba and towards Nanami, now glaring at him with her heated dark eyes.

“Enough with your mission-hampering internalized guilty feely trip already!”  She pointed a manicured finger right at his nose   “Listen up, Tomboy, you may be responsible for a lot of harm done, but even you can’t think you could be held responsible for this one.  For God’s sake, the guy is like a thousand years old.  You were only like what?  Fourteen?”

“Any fourteen year old girl knows what it means when to have relationship with another girl’s boyfriend,” replied Utena, thwarting Nanami’s attempt to alleviate her guilt.  “I one-upped it by being involved with someone else’s fiancée, knowing I was about to destroy a marriage.”  He watched, with indulgent eyes, the flaring of the impassioned blonde's nostrils (which made her look rather cow-like at the moment).

“You--”

“Remember how I was always going on about becoming a prince back then?”

The others all quieted down at that, allowing him to go on ahead with driving the point home.

“And I really thought I could be one too, that with my nobility, my high ideals, and all that moral high ground I had going on the surface.”  Snippets from those distant schoolgirl days, filled with dreams of roses and princes, came back to him with sword-sharp clarity . . . along with the other stuff; those darker, messier things he wanted to yet never could forget.  “I was . . . the worst: pretending to have principles, when I have no qualms about throwing them all away when it suited me.”  Even now, he could feel the callous from those dark hands as the shoe got removed from his (then her) foot, and the chills coursing  he had felt as Akio leaned over to kiss him (her) in that red convertible –- parked out in the open on school grounds, where any student or staff could chance upon.  “I knew, that an engaged man who comes onto another girl could only ever be a bad person.  I even recognized his car to have looked exactly like those on the Dueling Arena. 

“And Kanae-san . . . she was never anything but polite to me; even when she and her mother both came to the tower to confront Akio, and I was present, she never said anything mean to me.  And yet I . . . I still continued on with the affair, letting that man drive me past the point of no return, all because of those rosy, worldly things he had to offer: superficial things that no real prince should be associated with, let alone crave.” 

His gaze then fell upon Anthy, who faced him with her often-used vapid face.  “Even with Himemiya, it was the same.  I was merely making a project of trying to protect her, to change her ‘for the better’, all so I can forget about my own troubles, my own guilt over having been the one who . . .  who got my own parents killed.”

“What are you talking about, Utena-sempai?”  asked Miki, eyes wide with something between wariness and outright horror.  While fully anticipating similar reactions from the group, Utena nonetheless found himself letting out a nervous dry chortle before he could have carried on.

“Back before my parents died from the Kiga Subway Attack, I was a very different person.  I was a very girly kid back then, and I wanted to grow up and become a model like my mother.  You see, my mother was this semi-famous print model, and my father a fashion photographer.”  The almost cartoonish looks of skepticism now showing upon the Duelists’ faces would have made him laugh (what? did they expect his parents to have been dumb jocks like “she” was?), had the context surrounding this subject been any less dreary.  “That’s right.  I’ve been looking up to people who impressed me, and aspiring to become like them even since that early on.  They say that kids naturally need role models, but I really took that to the extreme.  So . . . naturally, I was quite the chibi fashionista back then; the trendiest little girl dresses, accessories, shoes . . . you name it, I had it.  Nanami, you ain’t got nothing on me.” 

The blonde might have tossed him a “whatever”, but he could not be sure, so focused was he on telling them what he felt was his deepest, darkest secret.  “The morning of the Attack, my parents were not supposed to be on the train quite so early.  But, because I wanted to get ahead in the long lineups for some debuting accessory –- a necklace? a hat? I don’t even remember what it was anymore –- I made them get up early and take that fateful subway ride with me.”  He saw jaws dropping at the revelation, and felt, along with shame, the lightening of a load that had been weighting him down for sixteen long years.  “And that, was why my parents got killed when I was eight, and also why Kanae-san’s happiness got crumbled when I was fourteen.  The real me was a selfish person who destroyed others to get what I wanted.  Maybe that was why I was always trying to become someone else . . . because the one person I didn’t like being was myself.” 
   
“He’s using ‘was’,” muttered Nanami, flatly.   

“Let’s just take that as a good sign,” muttered Kozue from where she now stood beside the blonde.

“During that Final Duel, Akio attacked me for being with him while knowing he was engaged.”  Deeply immersed within his painful recollection, Utena paid their exchange little heed.  “ ‘You’re a good woman,’ he said, ‘you should go on being a girl.’  And then, when I pressed on fighting him thinking of nothing beyond saving Himemiya, she . . . stabbed me from behind.”  The lack of surprise on the Duelists’ faces at this revelation was a telling sign of what they thought of Anthy all along.  “ ‘You can’t become my prince,’ she said, ‘because you’re a girl.’”   Multiple gazes cut at Anthy at the quote; she remained impassive.  “A girl . . . I was a girl who steal men off other woman while pretending to be good, who got her own parents killed; this real me is what I hated being more than anything in this world.  And so, when the Swords of Hate infested me at the end of the duel, and I thought Himemiya was forever doomed to remain the Rose Bride,  I again tried becoming something else; anything else. 

“And so, I turned to HRT.” 

A sharp, pained sound of inhalation escaped Touga’s parted lips, and Utena found himself shaking his head in near-hysteria while letting out a rasped, ear-grating chuckle that resounded harshly against the still, chilly atmosphere.

“Now, obviously someone as fucked up as me –- especially with the Swords inside me –- have no chance of passing the mental health assessment for HRT.”  An understatement, that.  “I couldn’t get the doctor’s referral I need for treatment at any legit hospital.”  He (she), in fact, had to flee to avoid getting locked up in some mental asylum by those shrinks who saw the effects but not the causes of his (her) seeming psychosis.  “And so, being stubborn, I went ahead with the change at what cheap, unlicensed clinics I could find, and ended up as I am today.”  He clasped a hand to his flattened chest, further drawing attention to how much his flesh had changed.  “My current body is the result of a long string of botched surgeries and unsafe procedures.  It might look stout on the outside, but inside, things are really falling apart.  That’s why Himemiya is so determined to fix my condition; not because she prefers me as a male or a female or whatnot, but because I’m crumbling physically as we speak.” 

That said, He finally walked up and towards Anthy, who, for the first time during his speech, started to show some glimmers of emotion from behind her glinting eyes.  “And Himemiya . . . even now, I’m being unfair to her.”

You’re being unfair?”  Wakaba now appeared as incredulous as she was outraged, as she actually dared to point a finger at Anthy while raising her voice at him.  “After everything you’ve already suffered through because of that--” 

“Even if Himemiya did have a hand in the Kiga Subway Attack, my parents wouldn’t have died if not for my pestering them to get on that train,” stated Utena, stopping his well-meaning old friend from doing damage.  “Yes, a lot of people had their lives ruined by that event.  Yes, Himemiya is guilty of her many sins . . . but that doesn’t change the fact that so am I.”  In front of everyone, he clasped his hand around Anthy’s smaller, colder one, gripping it tightly.  “It’s not my place to judge her on this matter.”

“Then . . . you forgive her?” asked pallid-faced Shiori, who then continued on without waiting for his answer.  “Even still suffering from a irreversible wrong, you’ve still chosen forgiveness; because of her, because you love her.  Good.”  She eyed the two of them with undisguised envy within her dark violet eyes.  “Good.”

From beside Utena, Anthy’s lashes fluttered as if trying to blink back tears.  He himself inhaled deeply trying to keep his own from further developing.

The sound of crisp clapping drew everyone’s attention towards Juri, currently applauding the Victor and his Bride. 

“Bravo,” said the woman, a broad, approving grin now lighting up her features.  “Then, Utena, am I to assume that you’ve also chosen to resume your leadership over our mission, as we continue our battle against the Ends of the World?”

“That’s . . . what I’m going to talk about now.”  Back straight, Utena faced Juri and the rest of the imploring gang with hard, determined eyes.  “Everyone, words fail to convey how grateful I am to you all for coming, for helping me with ridding the Swords of Hate.  But, from this point on, Himemiya and I are going to continue on with fighting Akio on our own.” 

Everyone –- Anthy included -- appeared understandably taken aback by his statement, so he hurried on before he could be interrupted.  “I’m not as I was before.  Without the Swords pinning me down, I am now free to exercise the Power -- the Light of the World.  And, with Anthy by my side, we have a good chance against Akio, however powerful he had become throughout the past decade.  The rest of you will stay behind in this sanctuary and wait for us to return.” 

To his gratitude –- and worry – none of the Duelists –- not even the Black Roses who were but briefly acquainted with him (her) so long ago  -- appeared relieved by the statement; if anything, they now looked pissed.

“You want us to . . . stay behind?”  asked Juri, making a visible effort to school her since darkened expression.

“You mean for us to stay behind and let you fight Akio with the Bride by your side, just like ten years ago?” asked Miki, baffled.

“Well, that just worked out so well for you and us both, didn’t it?” snarled Nanami, actually appearing more agitated than spiteful. 

Turning away from them, Utena inhaled deeply; shakily.  “Guys, I appreciate you all wanting to help even after seeing the true horrors of the Ends of the World, I really do. But at the end of the day, this is our fight only.  Himemiya and I are the only ones who--”  He was then cut off by Touga gripping his chin and forcing him to look up and into his eyes.

“This is not ‘your fight only’,” said this manipulative yet passionate man whose life had been entwined with hers all the way through childhood and youth.  “Tenjou-kun, you know you’re not the only one suffering within the coffin as prepared for us by the Ends of the World.  Open your eyes, and really look at us: look at what has become of all our lives ten years after that wasted Revolution.  We all of us are still trapped within our coffins even now!  Look!”  The redhead then dragged him over to the TV set (tearing him away from Anthy in the process), such that he now faced the innumerable gender symbols milling about on screen. 

“Child Broiler, Adolescent Broiler, Beauty Broiler; the vast majority of the population have all had their strength and individuality zapped off by those broilers the Ohtori Clan has set up all over the country!” The “W” branding now looked all the redder upon the man’s anger-flushed face. “How can you possibly think this is only about you and Himemiya?  This battle against the Ends of the World concerns everyone!

“Touga . . . !”  Even while fully understanding the logic behind his reasoning, Utena still wanted to stand firm upon his conviction to keep the Duelists out of the battle.  “Having already been through it all, surely you’d know the hellish consequences of mere humans going up against something like Akio--”  He was then cut off by the resounding sound of a fist slamming against the wall.

“What everyone here knows is the hellish consequences of not going against that freak while we still got a fighting chance,”  grumbled Saionji, slowly retracting his hand –- red at the knuckles -- while glaring Utena in the eye.  “I’m not saying we Duelists are superhuman or in anyway immune to Ohtori’s might.  But obviously we –- who’ve been chosen -- can pack some punch against that freak, or we won’t be here in the first place, would we?”

“Saionji . . .”

“If I lose against the Ends of the World in the upcoming battle, I’ll gladly accept some fate worse than death.  I can’t remain at the sidelines and just watch -- not when another chance at true World Revolution is at stake here!” 

“I don’t think any of us want to live on only to become gender symbols that are living fuels for some monster,” muttered Tsuwabuki.  “No matter how scared we are of the Chairman’s powers, none of us here can really afford to not help with bringing him down when we can.”  The other Duelists all nodded approvingly at his words; Utena noted how Nanami, in particular, regarded the young man with something like dawning admiration within her dark eyes.

“Himemiya-san.”  Juri strode up and towards Anthy with hard, determined green eyes.  “Earlier on, Chida-san told us that we Duelists can only face up against the Ends of the World Akio by forming driver/vehicle partnerships.  Now would be a very good time for you to tell us how that’s going to work.” 

Anthy, who had remained tight-lipped thus far, finally let out a long, drawn out exhalation, prior to speaking up.  “Indeed, Sempai; now is a good time for me to reveal--”

“Hold on!” 

Scampering forward and past the startled group –- all awaiting Anthy’s revelation with bated breath -- Wakaba hurried over to un-mute the TV. 

Utena blinked at the untimely franticness as displayed by his friend.  “Wakaba . . .” 

“Everyone, come look!” The young woman pointed desperately at the screen.   “Over here!”

Leaning over, the Victor and the Duelists all did a double take at what they now saw.

The camera was currently zoomed in on a limo’s opened side door, from which Kazami Tatsuya emerged –- exaggeratedly long legs first -- to shrill screams of “Seen-sama!” from those many “female symbols” present.  Prince-perfect in his current appearance, he greeted his rabid fans with the showy suaveness characteristic of a seasoned biseinen idol.

What truly got the group’s attention was not their surgically altered old acquaintance, but rather, the assistant-type currently holding the limo door open for him.

It was none other than Tsuchiya Ruka.  Dead for ten years, the former Ohtori Fencing Team Captain still looked identical to how Utena remembered him from before, except for his now having a semi-translucent penguin hat sitting atop his azure-haired head . . .


End Part Twenty-Three

Chapter Text

Utena and Penguindrum characters belong to their various owners.

WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization.   

 

“ . . . and all this happened after you sacrificed yourself in my stead, and changed the world into what it is now?” asked Ringo, after finally finding out the whole complex truth from the boy who could have been, but never were –- at least not in this current reality.

“Umm . . .” Shouma, now literally a shadow of his former self, remained as meek as ever.  “That’s . . .”

“Don’t think I’m not angry at you for sacrificing yourself AND our past altogether,” stated the girl.  “I am.”  She then cast her glare upon the other “shadow” present in her bedroom.   “And Kanba-san, I’m not gonna just forget about how you’ve pulled that stint with that terrorist ghost to burn me along with my sister’s Diary.”  The child’s silhouette that Shouma’s adoptive brother had regressed into turned away in a sullen manner faintly reminiscent of his old self.  The girl exhaled while slackening in resignation.  “But . . . I do know that there are far more important things we need to take care of first, that with Himari-chan getting abducted by that strange guy.  So, we need to work together to rescue her, and--”

And the door slammed open as Masako came rushing into the room, brutishly interrupting their conversation.

“ . . . yes, that’s exactly where I am,” spoke the curly-haired girl into her phone, as she hurried over to the window, opened it up, and called outside.  “Great!  I can already see you both from up here!  Renjaku, get yourself and Mario up here A.S.A . . .” 

In a blur of motion, a bespectacled woman with her hair done up in a severe bun has since perched herself birdlike at the window frame, with a young blond boy tugged securely under her arm.

“Nin . . .ninja?”  Ringo and Shouma watched the strange woman and child entering the room with mouths agape. 

“Pardon our rudeness in entering your household with our shoes on, Oginome-san” said this Renjaku person, offering a crisp bow to the girl before quickly smoothing what wrinkles there were on her maid’s uniform, “but Masako Ojou-sama’s tone has lead me to believe that my bringing Mario Waka-sama here is an utmost urgent matter.”

“Err . . .” Ringo watched the woman –- currently putting down the precocious-seeming child as she herself settled daintily into the room –- warily.   “Don’t worry about it now.”

“Oginome-san.”  The boy called Mario likewise greeted Ringo with a formal bow, prior to turning towards Masako.  “Oneesan, what’s going on?”

“Listen, Mario.” This high-strung, haughty Natsume heiress now fidgeted uncertainly in front of her little brother.  “I know this is a very unbelievable story, but please bear with me--”

“Ah!  Kanba-sama!  Whatever happened to you?!”

The Renjaku maid’s exclamation greatly startled the Children of Fate. 

“Onii-san!”  Mario had by now rushed over to Kanba, who appeared stunned that his baby brother could recognize him in this changed reality, even with his trapped under his current “shadowy child” form.   “You look even younger than me now!”

“Mario, you. . . remember?” asked Masako, approaching her brother with the carefulness of one trying to gently lift one bubble from out of a foam.    “About the old reality?”

“Well, I forgot for a while,” admitted the lad.  “But then I found this hat in my room one day, and everything just came back to me all at once.”  He then produced from his backpack the unmistakable Penguin Hat, the sight of which put all the Children of Fate on Edge.  “But Onee-san seems to remember everything only as a dream, and it’s really such an unbelievable story, so . . .”

Renjaku cut in then. “Waka-sama and I have been working in secret trying to find out what has happened to Kanba-sama since, but it was like he never existed in this world to begin with.  However, while digging up the Takakuras’ history while searching, we’ve managed to unearth something rather . . . unexpected.”  She turned towards Shouma, who grew wary under her bespectacled gaze.

“H-Huh?’

“What I’m talking about, is the fak . . . I mean, most current Takakura family of children, the one that only we can remember in this reality.  On the surface, this family may appear to be formed by random fate and children’s whimsies on the surface, but . . . in reality, it really is a contrived attempt by Takakura Kenzan and Chiemi to recreate the real Takakura Family they’ve since lost.”

“The . . . real Takakura Family?”  asked Ringo, feeling baffled as she looked back and forth between wide-eyed Shouma and the stoic maid.

“What do you mean, Renjaku?” asked Masako, who, along with Kanba, also appeared to be at a complete loss for what was going on.

“Renjaku.” Mario spoke up quietly.  “Show Shouma-san and the others what we’ve found out thus far.”

At her your master’s words, Renjaku produced her smartphone, fiddled with some buttons, and moved the device’s screen towards the Children.  Their jaws dropped at the info revealed.

“This  . . .  this is ?!”

“Twenty years ago, a family of four got into huge trouble after a sizable loan -- for which the husband was the guarantor -- defaulted.  Driven to the ends of their world, the desperate couple had no choice but to sell their young children –- a boy and a girl -- off to a wealthy family.  Soon after that event, the couple joined Kiga, rose through the ranks, and eventually became the main culprits behind that famous Subway Attack.”

“But . . . t-then . . .” Shouma now appeared to have trouble keeping from stuttering.  “T-This means . . .”

“Takakura Shouma-san, you’re not an only child,” said young Mario, cutting to the point. “My Onii-san, along with that girl named Himari, were adopted by your birth parents to fill the vacated roles of your real siblings, whom they’ve since sold off.”

“Then . . .”  Kanba, now appearing less shaded and more substantial than before, swallowed audibly before speaking on, “. . .then who are Shouma’s real brother and sister?”

“The one who purchased the original Takakura siblings twenty years ago has been confirmed as the late founder of Kiryuu Corp., a man known for being one of the most famously ruthless Japanese business tycoons of the last century.”

“Kiryuu . . .”  Kanba mulled the word over, “the name sounds kind of familiar . . .”   Jolting alongside Shouma, the two “shadow boys” then leapt at least a meter off the floor.  “KIRYUU?!?!?!

“Wha-What?”  asked Ringo, certain she had been left out from some rather important info.  Neither of the boys heard her, shocked as they were now.

“Kiryuu Touga, twenty-seven years old,” recited Masako off the info written in Renjaku’s phone, “and Kiryuu Nanami, twenthy-three.”  She then turned slowly towards the agitated Shouma.  “So, these are your real siblings. Shouma-san, Kanba might’ve grown up by your side after our father died, but he’s really a Natsume, and not your--”

Just then, the Penguin Hat held in Mario’s hand suddenly came aglow as it flew off Mario’s hand and away.  Under everyone’s incredulous eyes, the hat drifted jellyfish-like upon thin air, before “swimming” its way out of the spontaneously opening bedroom door.  Hurrying after it, the group went out into the living room, just in time to see Eriko hugging the Chida-san desperately in the open kitchen.

“I don’t want to hate you, Cousin,” sobbed the crying matron through her despairing tears.   “I want to forgive you, but I can’t.  If I forgive you now, I’ll be betraying my poor Momoka, who died because I brought her to visit you even knowing you were dabbling into such dangerous forces!  I can’t . . .” She trailed off at seeing the glowing, flying Penguin Hat now sailing past her vision.  “ . . . what?”

All watched as the Hat dropped itself neatly upon Chida-san’s male associate’s pink-haired head (the same shade of pink as the disappearedvan from earlier on, noted Ringo detachedly), prior to materializing a dramatic black tailcoat around the androgynous man’s slim frame.

“You . . . ” gasped Chida-san at this resplendent, revitalized person, whose eyes now came alit with an otherworldly violet hue.  Flanked by a symbol-filled background that had suddenly replaced the apartment’s mundane setting, the man opened his mouth to speak up in a full, resounding voice:

“Sur-vi-val . . . Strategy!!!

***

The Duelists watched on, rapt, as the “news story” further unfolded on TV:

//“Back to News at Six!   As you can see, Seen –- the star of this press conference -- has arrived at the main entrance!  With the thick crowds slamming at him like waves at the shore, it would take a while before we could get to speak to him.  Right now, I have with me two stylists from the Aranjia  Modeling Agency, who happen to be long time friends of Sonoda Keiko.”//

The camera panned out from around the newswoman to reveal two women -- one with short hair curling to the inside, another with shoulder-length hair curling to the outside –- standing beside her.

“Yuuko and Aiko,” muttered Shiori, recognizing her colleagues and ex-schoolmates at first glance.   “Decked in funeral black, even.”

On screen, the sparse-figured duo launched into their sorrowful, theatrical act with the flamboyance of seasoned stage actors:

//“Oh, it’s just so terrible!”//

//“Our long time friend, dying from a brutal beating!”//

//“A violent murder!”//

//“A travesty of justice that demands our outcry!’//

“Figures these losers would end up working for the bastard too,” grumbled Nanami, who eyed her ex-henchwomen with both disdain and pity. 

“Did they get dance training afterwards or some such?” wondered Tsuwabuki with narrowed eyes.  “Those two might’ve been attention whores, but they never were quite this . . . animated back in the day.”

On screen, Yuuko and Aiko continued to “flutter” busily about as they continued on selling their story:

//“We were wondering where she was.”//

//“And it turns out she had been killed in cold blood.”//

//“So now we wonder how she died.”//

//“The crime scene was covered in her blood, after all.”//

//“Then, who's the one who did such a horrible thing?”//

//“It’s someone from Sonoda-san’s high school days!”// 

Following the new, male voice cutting into the conversation, the view then cut to a shot of the event’s “star”, Tatsuya a.k.a. Seen.  Cutting a tall, sleek frame from amidst the numerous police officers currently barricading the swarming crowds from his person, the biseinen idol strode confidently up and towards the camera with mic in hand.

//“Back then, the culprit was a loner who never got along with anyone at school,” said the man, his voice holding manfully up against the near-orgasmic squeals of “Seen-sama!” in the background.  “A sinister outcast of a girl, she had been known to have gotten in some very public fights with Sonoda-san during that time . . .”//

//“Ooh . . . I know who you’re talking about, Seen-sama!”//  Aiko literally leapt back into view as she pranced up to beside Seen. //“Those two never got along back then!”//   

Yuuko, likewise, followed suit.  //“And now that they crossed paths again as adults, old grudges boiled over and resulted in murder –- just like in those mystery Jdrama!”//

//“The culprit--”//

//“--is none other than--”//

//“The owner of Château Princesse,”// concluded Tatsuya, offering the camera his most piercing gaze (and best facial angle).  //“Himemiya Anthy.”//  A unified gasp -– apocalyptic in its collective volume -- thus broke out from amidst the massive, largely feminine crowd clamoring about.

“Even after ten years and a new face, he still got this same hard sell expression whenever he lies,” muttered Wakaba out loud, appearing agonized yet also wistful as she stared hard at what her childhood friend had now become.  “The idiot . . .”

“I would’ve found this ‘press conning’ act quite funny, if there aren’t so many real cops playing cameos for their act,” muttered Kozue, eyeing the policemen currently playing bodyguard for the accusation-spewing idol warily. 

“By saying this in front of the cops while on camera, Kazami is sending out the signal that what he is saying has the law’s approval and is fact based,” commented Miki with crossed arms. “Smart, that . . .”  Abruptly realizing how close they were standing to each other, the warring twins darted apart like mutually repelling neutrons.

“Is it just me, or is the ghost of Ruka like staring out from the screen and at us?” asked a narrow-eyed Saionji . . . before recoiling as the penguin-hat wearing Ruka on screen winked secretively at him.  “. . . forget I asked.”

“Ruka . . .” Juri, knowing that her deceased old friend (?) could somehow interact with them, spoke up and directly at him.  “You . . . just what are you up to this time?” Ruka, for his part, turned away from the camera as he then fussed over Tatsuya’s artfully tied scarf like he was really just some humble assistant of the smug idol.  “Ruka!”  She looked like she would have slammed her fist against the TV screen, had Shiori not held her back.

“Juri, I think . . . we can trust Tsuchiya-sempai.”

To say the woman’s statement startled everyone in the room was an understatement.

“But . . . Shiori,” Shocked, Juri looked at her girlfriend almost uncomprehendingly.  “This man used to--”

“He lied to me, just like I’ve lied to him.  He led me to hurt myself, badly; but I knew . . . that was more because he saw me as someone harmful to you, and less because he was jealous.”  Making a visible effort to prevent her own stance from crumbling, the petite woman straightened up as she looked the taller woman in the eye.  “Juri, it’s already been ten years.  I’m now mature enough to look beyond my petty feelings and at the truth: that he saved you back when you needed saving.” A tear escaped a corner of her violet eye.  “ . . . and in doing so, saved even me along with you.”

“Shio-”

“He used the Dueling Game to open your eyes to the real, flawed me . . . and in doing so, forced me to see the real you –- the one who loved me in spite of my flaws.  Without his intervention, the girls we were would’ve remained blind to the possibility; without him, we’d never have ended up together, like we had for the past ten years.”

Juri regarded her long time lover with the awe of one who unexpectedly found diamond in her own backyard. “Shiori . . .” 

Shiori, for her part, blushed while lowering her gaze.  “The boy –- he was only a boy back then -- loved you, unto his moment of death.  He has no reason to do anything to harm you, nor our mission . . .”

//“ . . . Sonoda san is as much my manager as she is my long time friend,”// declared Tatsuya from onscreen, with a definite note of showbiz grandeur to his supposed solemnity.   //“I won’t forgive this Himemiya person, nor will my fans!”//  Ruka, meanwhile, busied himself with continuously tousling the man’s artfully unruly long locks, keeping his apparent boss photogenic for the camera.

To their side, Yuuko and Aiko could both be seen nodding vigorously at the idol’s words.  Surrounding them all, the sea of fans’ droning voices had gradually shifted in tone, going from lusty to bloodthirsty . . .

//“ . . . this woman . . ./ . . . dare she upset our Seen-sama . . ./ . . . who is this Himemiya . . ./ . . . killing Seen-sama’s manager and making him sad . . . / . . . this kind of woman makes me mad . . . / . . . let’s bash her online . . ./ . . . let’s burn down her shop . . ./ . . . let’s just kill the bitch . . .”//

“. . . just like . . . the Swords,” murmured Utena, his lean built wavering as if from growing fatigue.  “ . . . these people . . .”  He then collapsed backwards . . . and into Touga’s waiting arms.  The others present noted how their weary Victor did not resist the man’s gentle embrace.

//“Ah, but Seen-sama—I mean, Seen-san.”//  The newswoman quickly corrected herself in an attempt to appear “professional”.  //“These are very serious accusations you’re making against a named person.  Do you have proof to back your words up?”//

//“If you need proof that I must show . . .”// Pausing, as if purely for dramatics, Tatsuya then whipped out his glossy smart phone, and flashed it at the camera.  //“Watch this video and you’ll know!”//  The fans in the background gasped tool-like at their idol’s flashy display.

“Then . . . they really do have footage of Himemiya-sempai’s fight against Sonoda,” pondered Miki, “even though it was supposed to be all magical . . .”

“Remember who we’re up against.” Touga’s voice was a dark, low hiss.  “This so called ‘proof video’ could be a product of magic itself.”  Utena, still held by his arms, blanched visibly at hearing that.

“Himemiya . . .”  The Victor looked frantically around for his Bride.  “Himemiya . . . ?” 

Anthy was nowhere in sight.

“This is ridiculous,” muttered Nanami.  “How can they just say Keiko has been murdered? We have her right here with us!”

“But it’s not like we can display Sonoda’s coffin to the police and say her body is really magically preserved . . .” grumbled Saionji, glaring balefully at the “symbol-crowded” scene shown on TV.  “The Ends of the World now has all of Japan held firmly in his grasp; he  really is pulling no punches against his sister . . . against us.”

//“ . . . the video file has since been completely  uploaded!”// announced the newswoman, an unprofessional-seeming jubilant note evident in her voice and expression.  //“So . . . we’ll now be bringing you the unedited footage of Sonoda Keiko’s murder video.  There will be graphic violence –- if no sex -- so viewer’s discretion is definitely advised!”// 

And all in the room waited with bated breath as the “murder video” started to play . . .


End Part Twenty-Four

Chapter Text

Utena and Penguindrum characters belong to their various owners.

WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization.   


“Greetings, lowlifes who somehow managed to dodge Fate in the last around.”

Standing against a fantastically luxuriant pink backdrop -- one adorned with innumerable red wheel motifs -- the Penguin-Hat-wearing one faced the Children of Fate with violet eyes aglow. 

“Though, I must say you’ve now both become borderline transparent, about to vanish off of the World’s Scenery,” said the Penguin Hat –- clearly in control of its current wearer.  “I’m assuming the likes of you still want to survive on, even now.”  With a flick of a hand, the Hat materialized a television set, angling its flat screen to better face the audience.   “I come bearing news of utmost importance to all you invisible nobodies marginalized by society.  So listen up--”

“ . . . Momoka-chan?”

The question from Eriko, now having come up to beside the Chidren of Fate, struck the hat-possessed one like a spell, turning it statue-still.  Even the fanciful pink backdrop had dimmed into an dark indigo shade, with the number “95” now igniting within each and every red wheel motif.

“Is that . . . you?  Momoka-chan?” asked the stunned mom.  “I remember this hat . . . it’s the one that I saw you looking at while I took you to Sunshine City Aquarium’s souvenir shop.  I wanted to buy it for your coming birthday, but then that happened . . . !”  She would have walked up towards what she recognized to be her deceased daughter’s ghost, if not for her surviving younger daughter and her cousin both holding her back.  “It’s really is you!”

“Stay back from that . . . that--” gasped Ringo, her eyes welling with tears of anguish.  “Mom, that’s not the Onee-san you remember.  She’s now become something . . . dangerous.”  The last, accusing word was growled out from between gritted teeth, as the girl cast a meaningful glance towards the literal shadow of the boy she loved. 

“Momoka”, for her part, remained unresponsive.

The TV, since turned on to a news program, played smoothly, mechanically onwards . . .

***

“What the . . . hell?!” uttered Wakaba; the sentiment was shared by all those other Duelists currently hawk-eyeing the TV.

The video –- said to contain evidence of Anthy having murdered Keiko -- showed not any area within the Sunshine City Aquarium, but rather, a swampland of sorts encased within a thick forest.   The camera zoomed in on a patch of moist grass beside the water, where a sizable caterpillar could be seen curling its spiky length around an exquisite purple rose.

“This is their trump card?” asked Nanami, thin brows twitching.   “The ‘murder video’?  Looks more like some freaking clip from Discovery Channel . . .” Miki, now beside her, appeared equally baffled.

“I had no idea real caterpillars can look like that.” The academically sound young man narrowed his blue eyes at the featured creature.  “I mean, those spikes around its scrawny length look so metallic, almost like protruding sword blades cutting out . . .”  And he trailed off blanching, before soon gasping aloud along with everyone else watching.

“Wait . . . hold . . .”  Too shocked now to keep up her grudge against her twin,  Kozue risked getting physically closer to Miki while pointing at the insect on screen.  “Look at those small antennas on top of its forehead looking like curled bangs, and those feather things at its temples that hang like twin tails . . .”

“But . . . if this is Sonoda-san . . . she . . .?” rambled Shiori, the bloody rescue effort from earlier on likely still vivid in her mind.  “How?” 

Lips pressed into a determined flat line, Juri hugged the trembling woman tightly against herself.

“Where has Himemiya gone off to?” asked Touga, a displeased twist evident upon his lips.  “She’s left us mortals at a loss without anyone to give explanation on these eerie happenings.”  Utena, who once leaned comfortably against the man’s embrace, visibly stiffened at those words. 

I can give you explanation if you’re indeed so eager for one,” grumbled Saionji, glaring at the redhead for his untimely display of pettiness.

Quickly realizing his fault, Touga schooled his stance into a neutral one; too late though, as Utena had since pried off the man’s arms to stand on his own feet again.

“I think . . . it’s something similar to Nanami’s cowbell incident from long ago,” said the Victor, his quietly voice statement sending the mentioned blonde flushing red. “Even I still don’t know how these things actually work.  But . . . if Mikage can become a flower van –- among other things -- then it isn’t all that far-fetched for Sonoda Keiko to show up as an insec--”

//“Chu!”//

Jaws dropped around the room, as Chu-Chu now appeared in the video by way of playfully “walking” atop an Easter egg with similar coloring as himself.  At his startling appearance, the Keiko-ish caterpillar uncoiled from the purple rose before pouncing snaked-like at the familiar. The two peculiar creatures then proceeded to battle it out amidst a cartoon-ish dust cloud, with the Easter egg now getting knocked aside and off view.

“You know, if we take Chu-Chu as some representation of Himemiya-sempai’s powers . . .”  Tsuwabuki then trailed off, turning his expectant gaze towards Nanami.

“ . . . this video might actually make for a semi-accurate symbolic representation of what had possibly happened,”  finished the blonde, eyeing the younger man with an approving smirk.  “You just might’ve nailed it there, Tsuwabuki-kun.”  Her younger admirer grinned back at her while blushing.

“Whatever this video is, I doubt it is the one Kazami planned on using to incriminate Himemiya.”  Juri, still hugging Shiori, narrowed her eyes at the video.  “Someone must’ve somehow replaced the original video with what we see now, and uploading it for the broadcast.”

“It’s Tsuchiya-sempai,” stated Shiori with much certainty.  Miki, who overheard her, agreed.

“That’s why we saw him beside Kazami earlier on,” reasoned the sharp-minded man.  “He’s likely playing undercover agent, waiting for his chance to strike!”

“But, the Bride also said something about him making the battle’s outcome all the less predictable.” Caught up in the moment, Kozue too offered her piece . . . prior to narrowing her eyes at the suspicion she saw in her twin’s eyes.  “What?  Your Himemiya-sempai told a few of us about Ruka having returned from the dead just before this meeting.”  To that, Miki glanced awkwardly away. 

“Listen, Kozue . . .” He spoke up in a low murmur.  “There’s something I found out earlier on, that I need to tell you--”

“Hey, look at that thing!” exclaimed Kozue, cutting him off while pointing at the TV with perhaps exaggerated surprise.  “A big-mouthed reptile thing!”

Yet another strange creature had appeared in this video: a red, tailless baby alligator with umbilical cord still attached.   Coming up to beside the dust cloud from Chu-Chu and Keiko Caterpillar’s epic battle, the alligator’s snout started to lengthen like a budding sprout . . . before abruptly snapping up both dueling creatures with startling violence. 

“Whoa . . . that’s--”  No sooner did Tsuwabuki started commenting that another outlandish occurrence on screen rendered him and all others silent once more.

The “big-mouthed” baby alligator, about to swallow up both clamped creatures, suddenly found its throat clogged up by something large enough to further widen its stretched jaws.  It was the Easter egg Chu-Chu had been rolling just earlier on, currently getting shoved down the reptile’s throat by a rotund blue penguin’s flipper.  Not only that, but a equally fat black penguin now is stepping down upon the baby reptile’s umbilical cord with its flapper . . .

***

“Number 1--”

“--and Esmeralda?!”

Perched in front of the TV –- and temporarily overlooking the confrontation between the Oginomes –-  Kanba and Masako watched agape as their respective penguin familiars proceeded to “rescue” the monkey-mouse and the caterpillar while cramming the Easter egg further down the baby alligator’s throat.  Letting out a pitiful wheez, the unfortunate reptile then combusted in a fiery explosion that engulfed the entire view in smoke and flames.  Video having ended, the TV again showed the press conference, where Seen –- now appearing somewhat harried -- was currently beseeched by reporters.

//“Seen-san, what’s the meaning of this?”//

//“Is this the “murder” video? The evidence against Himemiya Anthy that you spoke of ?”//

//“Seen-san, please explain!”//

“Seen-san isn’t getting out of this one that easily, methinks,” commented Renjaku, glasses glinting.  The maid’s young charge nodded precociously from beside her.

“The Hat –- likely manifestations of Oginome Momoka-san’s spirit –- has powers beyond human comprehension.” Mario cast his blue eyes upon the Hat-controlled man currently at the center of the motif-filled scenery they now found themselves in.  “I doubt this pretty man making the accusations could be a match for that.”

//“That’s . . . I--”// Struggling to keep his long locks from getting tangled up in the multitudes of mic heads thrusting sword-like at him, the idol looked frantically around.  //“I gave the smart phone to what’s-his . . . my assistant to upload the file.  Did anyone see where he went?”//

//“ . . . assistant?”// asked the newswoman, baffled.  //“But . . .the only ones beside you all along are Oose Yuuko-san and Wakiya Aiko-san . . .”// 

//“B-But he was here just now!”// Surgically enhanced eyes widening in what seemed to be genuine shock, Seen looked to the mentioned women, who faced him blankly.   //”Surely you all saw--”//  And he got cut as the scene abruptly changed.

It was another video, this one featuring what appeared to be a hidden cam video of a dressing room.  An adolescent girl could be seen seated in front of the vanity, getting her hair and makeup done by two other girls no older than her.

Those girls were easily recognizable as Hibari Isada and Hikari Utada: members of Double H, currently decked in their stage costumes.

//“ . . . to think I can still get to become an idol alongside the two of you,”// murmured the girl getting groomed at the vanity.  //“It’s just like a dream . . .  Hibari-chan, Hikari-chan.”//

“Himari-chan!” exclaimed Shouma, glancing over from where he hovered beside the Oginomes. 

“The strange guy took Himari-chan to where Double H is?” Ringo, too, watched the screen from where she and her aunt held onto her mother (who still remained frantic when faced with Momoka’s ghost).  “But . . . why did he say all that nonsense about having to burn her?”

//“Even after all these years, we’ve never ever forgotten our childhood dream of becoming Triple H . . .”// whimpered Hibari, sobbing like the child she still was.  //“Please believe us, Himari-chan!”// Beside her Hikari likewise appeared choke up from where she helped with glooming up Himari.

//“Himari-chan, you don’t know how happy we were back then . . . just being with you!”// 

“Weird . . .”  Masako scratched her chin, baffled. “It looks like Double H are actually desperate for this girl to join their idol group.”

“They were elementary school friends with Himari back in the old reality,” said Shouma, who had by now gotten over up to beside the Natsumes.   “Perhaps they simply want to rekindle their old friendship?” 

“Oh?”  The Natsume heiress arced a dubious brow at that.  “To the point of begging her to share in their spotlight?”  Beside her, her “shadow-ed” twin-brother straightened his back in growing alert.

On screen, Double H continued on with their sorrowful, heartstring-tugging speaking.

//“ . . . after you got diagnosed with the illness, and we got picked at the audition, we’ve begged the agency to wait for you to recover.  We really wanted for you to have your audition too!  We wanted for us to debut together . . . but the people in charge of us back then won’t hear of it. ”//

//“ . . . afterwards, after we were made to debut as Double H, we’ve wanted to come visit you so many times.  But every time we try, the agency’s people would block us.  They told us that if the paparazzi found out about us being friends, then the Takakura family background would also come under media scrutiny.   And so, we . . .”//

//“We listened, and let the agency maneuver us about like wired dolls, cutting us off from our old friend, our old life . . . our childhood.  The two of us had sacrificed everything we once held dear to become the top idols we are now.  We spend our days showing up on TV appropriating the perfect adolescent maidens . . . and our nights entertaining the power players in the biz as per our manager’s orders.”//

//“Obviously, neither of us are even ‘maidens’ anymore . . . not like you are, Himari-chan.”//

Onscreen, Himari’s seated figure visibly stiffened at the revelation.  Double H, for their part, hung their heads.

//“No secret can stay secret for long.  Already, tabloids have caught onto hints of our . . . off screen dealings; it won’t be very long now before they’re to find hard evidences.  Double H’s image is risk of collapsing any moment now.”// 

“Oh . . . my . . . god . . . ”  Ringo had by now left Eriko to Tokiko’s care to come over to the TV.  “Those gossipy entertainment magazines are actually right about those two . . .”

Beside her, Shouma appeared increasingly perturbed. “Then, the reason they need Himari would be . . . could it be . . . ?”

//“Some time ago, the agency suddenly changed ownership.”//

//“Even the staff had all changed.  Suddenly, we’re no longer pressured to do the extra-stuff.  Not only that, but we’re now allowed a lot more freedom than before . . . including access to fan gifts and letters, which we never even got to see for ourselves before.”//

//“So, when we got to receive those scarves you made for us, we wore it on TV, hoping you’d see it.  Hoping; hoping Himari-chan would see this, and know that you’re still our best friend.”//

//“We were so happy, Himari-chan . . .”//

//“ . . . so happy . . .”//

//“Just a few weeks ago, we even went to your place looking for you.  But this older girl told us that you were away, and we could only leave behind our new album, and--”//

//“Did your new agency send the two of you to recruit me into the group that early on?”//

Somehow, Himari’s softly voiced question sent a jolt through her old friends, who backed off from her hesitantly. 

//“Himari-chan . . .”//

Himari stood up in front of the vanity, revealing her slight frame to be donned under a matching costume with Double H.

//“Hibari-chan, Hikari-chan . . .”  Slowly, she turned around to face the other girls, calmly looking them in the eye.  “Your current agency is planned on debuting me as the final member of Triple H . . . and the known daughter of Kiga member  Kenzan Takakura.”//

“WHAT?!”  The revelation shocked both Kanba and Shouma into blanching, to the point that they now appeared more like pallid children than shadowy boys.  “Himari . . . why would you agree to something like this?!”

//“The agency call this ‘Project M’, right?”//  mused Himari, rather wistfully.  //“ ‘M’ for the ‘Miracle’ of having  a terrorist’s daughter successfully generate hype for an idol group . . . such a daring business move.”//

“Project M . . .”  murmured Ringo and Masako in unintentional unison, remembering the time when they each worked on a “project” by the same name . . . each to disastrous results. 

//“ The media will focus its spotlight on my background, and the heat of its glare will burn me to the core . . . but I will let this happen.”// Her delicate frame now was hardened by a toughness that neither of her doting brothers had ever seen before.   //“Like a martyr at the stake, I will let this scrutiny burn me, all so I may work to erase this country’s prejudice against criminals’ relatives!”  Even though the poor video resolution, the unshed tears in her anguished eyes now were clearly visible.  “I’m not doing this to share in your fame, or even to rekindle our faded friendship.”  Double H’s heads, if possible, hung even lower.  //“I’m using this opportunity to become a successful idol in spite of my background, so my poor brothers can finally be free of the collective guilt we’ve all been suffering under, and get to become something!  This is my Project M,  my miracle!”// Watchful of Double H’s reaction, the girl’s hands slapped firmly down upon the other two’s shoulders.  //“Hibari-chan, Hikari-chan, I’ll be there for when Triple H debut as the guest act for Seen’s upcoming concert!”// At that point, the video cut out into a static screen.

“Himari!  You . . . hopeless fool!”  Kanba had grabbed onto the flat screen TV, shaking it in agitated savagery.  “You don’t know the true horrors of this world!  People will label you and tear you to pieces for the reveal!” 

“And we’ll all still get persecuted!” screamed Shouma at the device in mad despair.  “Just like that time when the police went after our parents, and everyone but Uncle Ikebe turned their backs on us!  Himari-chan . . . the deep-rooted concept of collective guilt in our country isn’t something that can be easily erased!  At this rate, you’ll end up becoming nothing along with us--”  A hand clasping down soundly on top of the device stopped the boys in their tirade.

“Shut.  Up.”  It was Masako, staring into space with something like grudging respect evident in her narrowed eyes.  “Can’t you so-called brothers see?  This is your little sister’s survival strategy.

“Exactly.”

The ethereal voice cutting into the conversation had the Children turning around.  The glowing Penguin Hat, having since released its host (currently on the ground in a pile of lanky limbs), now sat steadily upon midair, positioned as though perched upon the head of an invisible child.

“As you all can see, the new Project M –- the revolutionary strategy to save your dead end world from the darkness of collective guilt –-- has since gone underway,” said Oginome Momoka, the “Princess” in command of this magical realm.   “Then, guarantee its success with your lives, if you all still wish to amount to something.”   Gradually, the aerial hat came to sparkle with starry lights, as the ghost’s form started becoming increasingly visible from underneath.

The ever-present Penguin Familiars –- all four of them –- had also reappeared, and were now flanking the starry phantom like loyal subjects.

“Momoka-chan!” Eriko struggled to go up to her daughter’s apparition.  “Momoka--” 

“Stop, Eriko!”  Tokiko persisted in holding her cousin back. “You mustn’t approach her like this!  Momoka-chan is no longer alive; you can’t risk getting her attached to you or this world again--”  Both frantic women went still at a brisk gesture from Momoka’s apparition.

“I, who’ve chosen this path knowing the whole of the world, have no attachment to my past mortality,” stated this powerful ghost of a child, her tone and wording both eerie in their maturity.  “My only regret is having my entire family wounded by my choice.” 

Impacted by those words, Eriko again tried calling out to her deceased daughter.  “Momoka--”

“Mama,” Momoka cut her mother off firmly, “stop blaming other people for your daughter’s own choices, and move onwards.”  She then turned towards Ringo, looking uncertain from where she stood beside the “broiled” Takakura boys.  “Sister, stop deluding yourself that Dad won’t leave the family for another woman if I hadn’t died.”  Holding her head high, the star-adorned little girl stared down upon everyone held within this fantastical illusion of her making.  “The Survival Strategy meant to free the Takakuras and others from the world’s hatred has since been initiated.  Everyone, do what you must.”  With that, she vanished along with her fantastical Kekkai, leaving everyone back at the Oginomes’ apartment unit.

It was Masako who broke the ensuing silence.

“It’s always the media who decide what the sheeple get to believe in,” stated the Natsume Heiress, putting an arm around Kanba’s now child-slim shoulders.   “If it means helping Kanba, Natsume Corporation can always exert its influence on the media outlets to paint positive pictures of Triple H’s debut.”  Seemingly passionate, Esmeralda waddled up to her mistress and approximated a military salute, while Number 1 applauded by her side.

“We can even start a fan club for Himari-san, ” offered Mario, coming up to beside his older siblings along with their maid.  “It can be made up of relatives of known criminals who have suffered under collective guilt, along with relatives of the Kiga Subway Attack Victims sympathetic to our situation.  Such a group can be crucial to changing the public’s opinion.”

“Please count us in.”  Eriko, at last more or less in control of her emotions, came up and steered her daughter towards the Natsumes.  “Our family had suffered greatly from the Attack.  I’m sure it will help the cause if people are to know that I fully support my daughters’ relationship with the sweet Takakura Shouma-kun.”

“Re-re-relationship?!” gasped Ringo and Shouma, both beet red in their faces.  Numbers 2 and 3 could be seen at their feet striking mock-bashful poses.

Unnoticed by the increasingly exuberant group working on their survival strategy, Tokiko helped an unsteady Nemuro over to the sofa.

“Incredible how easy the engine can run once it gets kick started . . .” murmured the woman, speaking against the curve connecting the man’s neck and shoulder in a seemingly intimate manner.  “Isn’t that right . . . Chu-Chu?”

At that, the monkey mouse peeked tentatively out from where he was hiding under Nemuro’s outgrown hair. 

There was a recording bug held in its hand.

“How stealth of you, to have slipped into Momoka-chan’s Kekkai unnoticed . . .”  Tokiko cupped the tiny creature in her delicate hands, slowly pressing her palms together. “Back to Himemiya you go.” 

When she opened her palms again, the creature was since gone.

***

//“. . . Strategy meant to free the Takakuras and others from the world’s hatred has since been initiated.  Everyone, do what you must.”//

“I see.”  Taking off the earphone, Anthy petted the proudly grinning Chu-Chu from where she had been listening to the playback at the dinning room table  “So that’s what Oginome Momoka is planning to do . . .”   

Multitudes of hurried footsteps could be heard  fast approaching, before Utena –- with the others hot on her tail -- could be seen rushing into the dinning room.

“Himemiya, there you are!  Did you just see--”

“Utena.”  The Witch  -- smiling her first true smile of this very long day -- cut her Victor off with that languid ease of old.  “I’ve finally gotten a handle on the new players’ upcoming move.”  She then beckoned all Duelists over.  “Everyone, take a seat.  I’m ready to lay out our revolutionary strategy.” 


End Part Twenty-Five

Chapter Text

Utena and Penguindrum characters belong to their various owners.

WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization.   


“As some of you might have already guessed, the battle against my brother will indeed take place at Tokyo Big Egg, during that concert coming up next week.”

“You mean Tatsuya’s concert?”

He saw Anthy nodding while pouring Wakaba her tea. “Revolution Seen Live 2011 . . . a rather sophomoric title, if I may say so.”

His old friend -- visibly perturbed -- sipped her tea in silence.

“Himemiya . . . you’re saying we’ll be battling Akio in the middle of an idol concert?” Utena finally asked, unable to hold back his bafflement any longer.

“Utena.” Anthy’s pronounced his name perhaps a little too hard (an attempt to lull him back into first name basis with her, perhaps?).  “This ‘idol concert’ is most certainly a summoning ceremony orchestrated by my brother to reclaim Dio’s Steed.  He would there with his goons, and they would all be at their utmost hectic; that is the best time for us to strike.”

“Hold on.”  Juri – like many others present – became notably wary at hearing this ominous-seeming new term.   “Dio’s . . . ‘Steed’?”

“It’s just that same rose by another name,” cooed Anthy, reassuringly.  “I gather that earlier on, Chida-san had already mentioned the term ‘Fate Train’ to a number of you?”

Sipping his tea, Utena observed the many pairs of widening eyes from above the rim of his raised teacup.  Only Saionji and Nanami appeared at a loss still; it was possible that these two got left out from some exposition given earlier on.  Touga, who knew about this, gave him a subtle nudge from under the table. The message was clear as day: speak up, and assume your rightful leadership over our group.

Anthy, too, eyed him expectantly from across the table.

Utena, for his part, mulled unhappily over just how similar Touga and Anthy could be when it came to their having ambition for him. 

“Umm, guys . . . there was this little something I forgot to mention when I was telling Dios’ story before . . .”

***

Do you know?

Do you know?

Do you wonder what we know?


( . . . the greenhouse was growing stark, the shadows were turning sharp . . . )

That’s right!

The Rose Prince

Who was God

Had his own

Shiny steed to ride!


( . . . his freckled face got blurred against the blaze of the brightening lights . . .)

It was

A white horse

A noble beast

A carriage’s heart and engine


( . . . the silhouette of what looked like a prince on a horse could be seen galloping against the white backdrop . . .)

Do you know? the reason that the Prince got to rule over all those ancient fairytales

Was because of his having this glorious steed!

The Prince’s Steed had donned multiple names throughout the many stories it got featured in.  And, the name it’s most popularly known by is--

Fate

F. A. T. E.   Fate


( . . . the prince could now be seen dangling an apple in front of the steed, luring it forward . . .)

That’s right!  The Rose Prince once was riding high over Fate itself!

The destinies of countries, cities, women, men

The outcomes of people’s adventures, battles, romances

All this and more, the Prince had kept his tight reins on!

However . . .


( . . . he accidentally dropped the apple . . .)

Somewhere down the path of princehood, the Rose Prince had lost his noble heart

And, in losing heart, so too did he lose control over Fate: that which would no longer recognize him as master 

Throwing the Prince off of its back –- and thus making him the Fallen Prince -- the mighty force of a creature fled its former master, running amok

Master-less, the wayward steed gravitated towards noble people with noble hearts out of its base instinct.  Unguided, it ran brutishly over all whom it crossed, crushing their lives and leaving their world in darkness
 

( . . . the steed is shown chasing after a number of fleeing, apple-carrying figures, as the scene came to gradually darken . . .)

Unguided, it ran brutishly over all whom it crossed, crushing their lives and leaving their world in darkness

This wayward Fate –- now also the Nightmare -- had roamed this world of darkness since

Donning different guises as befitting the different eras in which it appearances

A lone stead, a grand carriage, a boat

A ship, a car

A TRAIN


(. . . noises rose in the background, threatening to drown out the singsong voices rattling on in the dark . . .)

Ever a means of transportation and transfer

Ever a bringer of doom and destruction

Ever elusive to

That Fallen

Prince

Still eager

To reclaim its great power--


“--gall to have me made a fool of myself in front of the entire WORLD!

And her eyes snapped open to glance upon the familiar bedroom ceiling; not her bedroom, of course, but that of the Ohtori Acting Chairman’s quarters atop the Tower.

“Now, Prince.”  Said Acting Chairman’s sardonic drawl came faintly audible through the closed door leading to the living room.  “Methinks you’re really over-reacting--”

“DON’T PRINCE ME!”  snarled this familiar-sounding younger speaker.  “I got saddled with having to act out your lie on TV!  The lie crumbled, and you did NOTHING to support me from your end--”  A thud, dull yet sickeningly violent in its sound (likely the slamming of a body against a solid brick wall), ended the tirade.

“The ‘lie’ crumbled because you hired this ‘assistant’ without notifying the agency first,” stated the Chairman, his smooth tone betraying little of what he just did outside.  “He was the one who swapped the video, as I gather?”

“O-Ohtori . . . !”  Winced the other man -- whom she now recognized to be the ex-student/current idol Seen -– in apparent pain.  “You dare to . . . !”

“Now, I really can’t stop you from being hurt by your own mistake now, can I?”

Sighing in mild exasperation from under her breath (men, always getting riled up over such petty trivialities), the woman pushed herself up into a seated position upon the satin-sheets, and checked her reflection in the vanity mirror facing the bed.

She looked as she expected herself to look: still beautiful even when disheveled, still impressively young for her real age . . . still so much older than the one and only prince she cherished in her heart.

“I, I don’t need to take this shit from you!  I’ll skip out on the coming concert, and see what you’re gonna do then!”

“I see you still have that tendency to let one bad mistake lead you to the next, Onion-kun.”

“We’ll see just who made the bad mistake, when your long time plan to have me capture the Fate Train for you is to come crashing down!

“She will be there, you know.”

“ . . . wha--”  All that explosive temper seemed to have drained off Seen’s voice by now, replaced by something calmer . . . colder.  “What did you say?”

The Acting Chairman’s voice deepened with mirth, “Your Onion Princess, the one for whom you have hired numerous people behind my back throughout the years to keep taps on.  Yes, you will definitely see her there fighting by my sister’s side at the upcoming battle.”

A moment of silence ensued, a moment she spent quietly pinning her blue locks back up in an artfully unruly version of her usual updo.  The male confrontation drama outside was down at its last legs; she would have to ready herself for him.

“Go get Sanetoshi-kun to look at your cheek: you want to put your best face forward for such a special reunion now, don’t you, ‘Seen’?”

Seen did not reply, though his departing footsteps (distinct from the Acting Chairman’s always immaculate stride in their unevenness) into the elevator car (doors closing with a mechanical “cling”) signaled his departure from the suite.

“Hoshimi-chan,” the Acting Chairman called to her almost immediately afterwards, his voice wine sweet from where it seeped through the closed bedroom door.  “You decent?”

Crimson lips pursed, Mrs. Ohtori Hoshimi sauntered up to the door naked, before opening it with teasing slowness . . .

***

“ . . . and I think that’s why Akio wants to reclaim his power over Fate, because it used to belong to him . . . back when he was good.”  The last bit came out a little more wistful than Utena would like.  “That’s about all I know.”

Most of the Duelists did not appear to have taken note of his peculiar tone, so engrossed were they with digesting the new info.   

“Back when we were on Ohtori’s Student Council, there would often be these . . . peculiar happenings at the meetings,” said Miki, ever the analytical-minded one of their group. “Sometimes, there would be faceless baseball players starting a game in the background. Other times, there would be colored balloons spontaneously appearing from out of nowhere”  His frown deepened as he went on with his recollection.    “Sure, these occurrences mostly seemed undeserving of notice at the time, that with us having already been exposed to the Castle and the Arena.  Still, thinking back, we all must have been tripping from magic to have been able to just accept those things as being normal.”  He then turned towards Anthy. “Himemiya-sempai, I think I now remember there being this invisible train passing through in the background during one of those meetings. Was that . . .?”

Listening on, Utena found his own fingers crossing nervously.  Whenever he tried to think back to that night of his parent’s funeral, he could never be sure of just what exactly had happened and what had not.  Dios’ Steed . . . did the prince actually came to him (her) riding a white horse, or did he simply walk up to his (her) coffin to draw him (her) out?  Surely, there should have been no horse on a beaten path (though the girl he was would oftentimes recall seeing then) inside an immaculate church’s nave  . . .

“You can think of that as a distant echo of the actual entity,” said Anthy, replying to Miki’s question with this distant look in her green eyes.   “Dio’s Steed of Fate –- having donned the form of the Fate Train for the last few decades -- cannot be baited by less than a certain magnitude of strength and nobility.  That, and the Fate Diary –- once Fate’s Bridle – is crucial to keeping Fate controlled once it is to appear.” She clasped both hands around her teacup, with one delicate dark thumb rubbing against another.  “That Diary remains under the late Oginome Momoka’s ownership even now.”

Momoka.  Oginome Momoka.  During one of those Kiga Attack victim memorial things her aunt had took him (her) to, he (she) had come across the girl’s named black and white picture hanging amongst those many others deceased.  That was the first time he(she) was to found out the full name of the precocious child he (she) crossed paths with on that fateful, world-shattering train ride . . .

“The girl was Chida-san’s niece, right?”  asked Kozue, in a tone more sentimental than Utena was used to hearing from the abrasive-seeming young woman.

“Was, and still is,” clarified Anthy. “Remember that penguin hat we see Tsuchiya-sempai wearing earlier on TV?  That is an artifact born of Momoka-san’s strong spirit.  In fact, it was likely a fusion between their souls that allowed for Tsuchiya-sempai to manifest so vividly even in death.”

“A fusion between their souls . . .” pondered Shiori out loud, glancing furtively over at Juri from underneath her lashes.

That bit of info came as a huge surprise to everyone listening, including himself.  So, the girl who berated him (her) for being childishly blind (which she was), who died fighting nobly at the tender age of ten, sixteen years ago,  still was out there fighting the good fight . . .

He himself, who lost ten years to his sense of failure -- that which allowed the Swords to rule him -- was plain pathetic in comparison.

A hand clasped itself gently over his own from under the table, altering him to how he had been clawing at his kneecap without realizing he was.  Looking over beside him, he saw Touga giving him a subtly reassuring look.

Touga.  His (her) long time girlhood stalker; and later, her adolescent adversary . . . and maybe boyfriend that could had been, yet never were.

And, just three years prior, the one whose chance encounter with the “new him” had inadvertently lead to his being found by Anthy . . .

. . . he was twenty one years old, and broke, and thus working as a bouncer/janitor at this seedy club.  He was minding his business moping up the men’s room, when the sounds of “activity” behind a closed partition caught his attention.

Usually, the streetwise freeter would have ignored whatever was going on there and just get his job done and leave.  Not that day though.  The Swords were acting up from his physical and mental pains, and he got coerced into drinking by some female patrons who saw him as host material.  Already nauseous to begin with, the thought of skeevy people doing skeevy things at a public spot –- one that he had to clean up as per his job –- simply rubbed him the wrong way then.

And so, he kicked the partition door open, shouting:

“GO GET A FUCKING ROOM YO--”

. . . and choked upon getting a good look at what he found inside.

It was, in a sense, what Utena have expected to find all along: some oily old dude doing the dirty with what looked like some drugged-out rent boy, except that rent boy had stark straight red hair spilling down his smooth back, marred by a long, faded cut . . .

“ . . . Touga?” asked Utena, voicing the name before he could stop himself.  No, this could not possibly be him; the rich, athletic playboy of Ohtori would never have ended up here, looking junkie-thin and trashy from where he was pressed against the graffiti-covered toilet wall--

“. . . Tenjou-kun?”

Oh.  God.

“You . . .” Slowly straightening up, Kiryuu Touga turned to glance over at him with wide blue eyes made all the larger by his current gauntness.   “You . . . it’s you.”  His now raspy voice (once so rich and smooth) trembled with this peculiar combination of dread and joy.   “It really is . . . but how?”

Utena, currently a twenty-one year old man, had no words in reply.  For a moment, all he could do was to stare.

His staring, of course, quickly got misinterpreted by the redhead. 

“No . . . Tenjou-kun . . .” Pushing the old guy off of him, Touga scampered to pull his skimpy cut-off jeans back up around his now bony hips.  “this isn’t what it looks like.  I’m not . . .”

“Was that twink your friend, Touga-kun?” asked the old guy, glancing back and forth between the two younger men in undignified lechery.  “Perhaps, we could--”

Vaguely, Utena noticed how Touga might have elbowed the gross old guy in the mouth; he could not be sure though, so frantic was he in his haste to flee this filthy, horrific scene.

“Tenjou . . . wait, Tenjou-kun! Don’t run away--” 

Touga’s pleas from behind (was he crying?)soon got drowned out by the loud sounds saturating this suffocating-ly crowded dance floor.  Half-fighting his way through the sweaty masses (all mere silhouettes under the atrocious lighting) and towards the exit, Utena did not dare to turn around to check if the redhead still was tailing him.   He cannot, will not face him like this . . . not today, not under such unthinkably grotesque circumstances . . .

“. . . tena . . .!”

Another voice, distant and barely audible from somewhere upfront, sent his beating heart racing even faster.  But Utena knew how that was the exit from this (now unbearable) place; he had to keep charging forward--     

“UTENA!!”

That voice –- unforgettable to him even after all these long years -– broke some trance he realized he had since fallen into.  Suddenly, he now could see clearly ahead in spite of the dimness. 

She was there right at the opened doors.  With her hair down, her glasses gone, and her wardrobe a lukewarm-ish pink, the slender-ly-curvaceous dark woman looked a far cry from how he remembered her.  Then she opened her lily-like arms at him –- right as the night wind was blowing up her voluminous long skirt -- and those fantastical dueling moments of his yesteryears all came slamming back into his mind all at once.

“Himemiya!”   The cry –- agonized, maddened, pleading –- tore itself out of his throat seemingly completely on its own.  “HIMEMIYA--”


The mild sting of something indefinite yet scorching brought Utena out of his revere.  Blinking, he saw Nanami now eyeing Anthy in what appeared to be deepening suspicion.  From beside the blonde, a taut-faced Saionji was trying (and failing) to subtly get her to ease up.

“Then . . . the reason that Ruka has resurfaced, is because he has allied himself with this Oginome Momoka?”  asked Juri, having seemingly having the others’ peculiar exchanging of looks in her current anxious state.

“They must be close, for Momoka-san to be able to fuse with him like that,” commented Shiori, somehow smiling a bit.  “Come to think of it, Momoka-san should be around our age, no?”  Juri, getting her long time-girlfriend’s drift, opted to stay quiet.

“Takatsuki-sempai is correct about Momoka-san’s age,” supplied Anthy, somewhat darkly.  “Momoka-san and Tsuchiya-sempai were elementary schoolmates.  In fact, it was after finding out that he has some connection to her, that we made arrangements to have him transferred to Ohtori.”

“ ‘We”  as in you and your brother?”

Nanami’s question, coming whippy in tone, drew everyone’s attention towards her.  Anthy, in particular, schooled her expression back into the vapid mask Utena knew she wore when being guarded.

“So, the two of you starts controlling the lives of your picked pawns since they were young kids, huh?”  The blonde now was literally glaring daggers at the dark woman, much to some of their puzzlement (Saionji, for his part, exhaled heavily). “Could it be that we all were already under your surveillance since our ‘free’ days on the outside?”

“Nanami . . .” Touga, who appeared to know what his sister was on about, spoke up warningly.

“Himemiya-san,” Nanami persisted on with her questioning.   “Just what was it about my brother and I, that you made arrangements to ensnare us into Ohtori sixteen years ago?”

“You’re wondering if your being children of Takakura Kenzan by birth has anything to do with your becoming Duelists.”

Anthy’s evenly-voiced statement had Nanami blanching amidst a roomful of shocked looks and sounds.  Touga (and Saionji) were still to the point of appearing fossil-fied.
“The . . . FUCK?!”  Kozue looked back and forth between Anthy and the Kiryuus in disbelief.   “Touga-sempai and Nanami are really Shouma-kun’s real siblings?!

“Nanami,”  Juri spoke up slowly, carefully.   “Earlier on, when you mentioned--”

Nanami’s palm slamming soundly upon the table cut the older woman off.

“The answer is yes,” Anthy continued on, smoothly, as though she had never been interrupted.    “And yes, Nanami, my brother and I did indeed have each and every one of you here under surveillance since you all still were children living on the outside.  How, you may ask?  It is because my brother and I have been roaming the world seeking the young and the passionate to use as fuel to our powers ever since ancient times.  Your round is but one out of the thousands of iterations the Game had since played out across the expanse of Human History.”

“Anthy!”  exclaimed Utena, standing up and hoping to keep the situation under control.  “Don’t say it like this.  You’re agitating Nanami, and everyone else . . .”  He trailed off at the woman turning slowly towards him with wide, hopeful eyes.

“ . . . you’re calling me Anthy again.”

“You . . .”  he started, before trailing off at a loss of words.  It was really only a slip of the tougue, brought on by the urgency of the moment.  To think such an insignificant reaction of his would still mean so much to Anthy, even at this moment . . .

“Then it really was because of your and brother.” hissed Nanami, so angry now that her teeth were clanging together as she spoke.   “You were the ones who drove our birth parents into debt, so they had to sell us off.”  She pointed a shaky, accusing finger at Anthy (who still was facing Utena).  “You picked the Kiryuus as their debtors knowing what they were -- knowing it will drive my parents towards terrorism as revenge on society, knowing it will drive my brother down this--” She barely managed to stop before revealing too much. 

“N-Nanami-sama . . .” Worried for his mistress –- now red in the face and clearly struggling for breath -- Tsuwabuki tentatively patted her on her back.  “Easy now, easy--”  His hand was promptly slapped off by the agitated woman.

“You and your brother ruined the lives of my entire family just to get what you want out of us,” snared Nanami, keeping her finger pointing at Anthy, “you MONSTERS!!!

“Nanami.”  Back straight, Anthy turned back to look Nanami calmly in the eye, first, before expanding her now piercing gaze over those others present in this gathering.  “Everyone.  You don’t know the half of it yet.”


End Part Twenty-Six

Chapter Text

Utena and Penguindrum characters belong to their various owners.

WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization.   


Time: 10 years post-revolution
Place: Ohtori Academy, Chairman’s Tower, Planetarium

“They don’t know the half of it yet.

“The true horror of my sister, myself, the World.

“These children know not the obstacles they face in trying to defeat a thing like me.

“Which is why they will lose.”

A spotlight speared down from the artificial starlight skies above, illuminating the couple –- a muscular dark man and a curvaceous pale woman -- currently entangled in what appeared to be the throes of passion. 

They laid atop a coffin marked by black rose motifs.

The word on the coffin read “alienation”.

***

Time: Moments after Revolution
Place: Ohtori Academy, Student Council Balcony

The Student Council were members standing around a hibachi set hazardously aflame, watching the assorted skewed meat turn charcoal black underneath their hooded eyes.

“At last, all is decided,” muttered Kiryuu Touga; Saionji Kyouichi exhaled deeply from beside him.

“Then it’s time.”

With that, the Student Council all slid off their rings (except for Kiryuu Nanami, who already was ringless), before throwing them over their shoulders and out of sight in one perfectly synchronized motion.

“Bye, sweet delusions,” mock-called Nanami after the sailing rings glinting star-like in the distance, “you won’t be missed.”

“I can forget this. I can forget this.  I can forget this . . .” repeated a closed-eyed Kaoru Miki with his palms pressed together as if in prayer.

Arisugawa Juri’s downcast eyes remained trained upon the burning grill and its slowly dying flame.  “Not that I’d enjoy recalling the hell we’ve all been put through – plus the added humiliations.   But, I don’t want to forget her too . . .”

***

Time: 10 years post-revolution
Place: Chida Mansion

//. . . I don’t want to forget her too . . .”//

//“Tenjou-sempai is no longer here, is she?”//

//“Now that the game is over, who knows to where had the Victor gotten cast off?”//

//“W-What’re you guys suggesting? That we leave school to go after the tomboy?”//

“And this,” said Anthy, ending the audio extract with a click of the button, “is the recording I’ve sent my brother right before I left.”

For a moment, all Utena could do was stare. 

He saw how, in contrast to Anthy’s glacially cool demeanor, the ones featured in the recording all now appeared . . . heated, to say the least.

“What is this . . .”  asked a wide-eyed Miki, touching his face with a trembling hand.

Juri’s once flawless features now had frosted over with budding rage.  “. . . what the hell?”

“Basically, you’re saying that the Chairman went about ruining our lives only because you lead him to believe we’d be going after Utena,” stated Touga, impassive-seeming front betrayed by the visible tightness of his crossed fingers.   

Nanami, for her part, looked ready to pounce across the table to tear at Anthy with her long manicured nails  “All that we suffered right after the Revolution was . . . was because of YOU?!”

“Anthy.”  Eyes on the woman he once loved (or had he ever truly loved her to begin with?), Saionji’s voice came low from within his throat.  “Did you do this out of your loyalty to Tenjou?  Or was that your own bottled-up hatred against us finally boiling over?”  Anthy merely faced him with her infuriatingly unreadable expression.

“Tenjou-kun.”  Touga had by now looked towards Utena, who found himself jolting under the scarred man’s penetrating gaze. “Back when you suffered alone after the Revolution, and none of us came after you offering aid, did you ever wish for us to suffer along with you?”

“No . . . I . . .”  Utena found himself at a loss for words.  It was true that he had never consciously wanted ill things to happen to his former schoolmates.  But, in those first few agonizing years after the Final Duel, there really were times when he had wished for them to taste at least some of his pain, to have them know how cruel it was of them to have left him (her) alone in her time of dire need--

“That’s irrelevant!”  snapped Nanami, slamming a fist down the dinning table to teacup clanging effects.  “ ‘Oh, these puny humans wouldn’t do what I want them to, so I’m gonna sic my monster brother on them?’  What the FUCK?!” 

“The Ends of the World’s resulting actions had ruined not just the lives of the Student Council members, but also the many innocent people connected to them,” stated Juri, staring hard into Anthy’s eyes.  “Shiori’s mother died without getting to reconcile with her daughter –- and there’s no telling if her death really was just an accident, is there?” 

“Juri . . .”  Pallid, a shakened Shiori tugged at her sleeve as if pleading for the other woman to just stop – though her own anguish on the matter was plain to see.  From beside them, Kozue, let out a harsh snort.

“Well, ten years ago, Himemiya-sempai here showed me herself that she was really the woman whom Father had wanted to remarry.”  She cut at her twin with a meaningful glare, one that the latter bore in red-faced silence.  “It opened my eyes to just how freaking powerful she and her brother really were, and was my reason for pushing Miki to Duel.  Almost immediately after our witch disappeared, Father brought the both of us to see this skeevy music biz agent . . . and the rest is well-known history.” 

“God . . .” Tsuwabuki appeared to be getting increasingly outraged himself.   “Takatsuki-sempai, her mother, Kozue-sempai . . . far as I know, none of them even knew Tenjou-sempai all that well at Ohtori, if at all!  Did I only got spared because I was a kid?  Or did bad things already happened around me, but I was too oblivious to--”  Suddenly, his eyes widened in shock.  “Mari . . . my old classmate Hozumi Mari; she suddenly transferred away sometime after Nanami-sama and the others all left.   Himemiya, did he . . . did your brother--”   

“I would not know,” replied Anthy, eyeing the boy with something like genuine empathy.  “I left my brother after giving him the prompt.  I have no idea how far his actions--”   

SLAP!!!

All watched, shocked, as Anthy’s updo came spectacularly undone from Nanami reaching across the table and striking her soundly across the face.  Lengthy dark locks flounced outwards and about like lively serpents, with a few tail ends reaching well beyond the table and brushing against Utena’s face . . .

Vaguely, he noted how Nanami now was on with this tirade:

“ . . . everyone got hurt or killed, just because you did this evil thing out of sheer pettiness! You WITCH!!!  You--”  The blonde had to stop as she found her wrist  -- pulled back as she was about to deal Anthy another blow -- now was held firmly within Utena’s grasp. 

“Nanami.”  The voice that came out of the Victor’s mouth was almost pristine with calmness.  “It was only earlier today that you called me hypocritical and self-centered for going off on Anthy, who killed my parents.” 

Nanami looked at him like he had magically transformed into some total stranger.  “You . . .”

“Like you said, this is the moment when we all need her the most.  Did you forget? Had everyone forgotten?”  He swept his gaze over each and everyone present.  “We’re in the middle of a war against Akio.”

Everyone appeared shocked by what he was saying; even Anthy, even himself.  Pushing himself off the table (brushing incidentally past Touga while doing so), he strode up and towards the disheveled dark woman, placing a hand firmly over her shoulder.

“You’re revealing everything now, because you don’t want to risk Akio using this info against us later on, maybe right in the midst of the confrontation.   Isn’t that right, Anthy?”

“Utena . . .”  Anthy’s expression now was one that reminded him of that night at the Ball all those years ago, back when he(then she) saved her from public humiliation, before they were to have their first (and in hindsight, only) dance . . .

Then and now, he (she) was her sole supporter against the hostile masses, the Prince to save her from darkness.

Her hand now was clasped upon his.

“So, everyone; what’s it gonna be?” He asked the wary group, secretly hating himself for having to force down their (rightful) anger in such a manipulative manner.  Still, he could not let them continue persecuting Anthy for what had already happened in the unchangeable past.  “Are we gonna go forward with only Anthy and I fighting Akio like I’ve originally suggested?  Or, are you all still in on this?”

A sort of standoff ensued, during which Utena quietly braved the Duelists’ sword-sharp gazes.  Finally, Juri broke the silence.

“Well.”  Exhaling with pointed loudness, she glanced away while running a hand through her luxuriant orange mane in visible agitation.  “This battle at Tokyo Big Egg will be one that demands utmost focus from everyone of us.”    Observing the change in her lover’s stance with saddened eyes, Shiori then embraced her from behind with brittle-seeming arms, saying nothing.

“For us to go into battle with our hearts sidetracked by old grudges will mean instant failure,” stated Saionji, rather stoically. 

Miki lowered his gaze to the tabletop.  “And, I don’t think any of us can rest easy with only Tenjou-sempai fighting the Chairman . . .”

Hooded eyes cynical, Kozue clucked her tongue loudly.

“It’s not fair,” muttered Nanami, with her lowered face veiled under blonde hair.  Tsuwabuki looked like he wanted to reach out and maybe hold his mistress, but was held back by (well-founded) hesitation.

“Life never is,” murmured Touga, fringe-veiled blue eyes taking in Utena and Anthy’s united front with weary resignation.

A moment of tense, heavy silence followed.   And then . . .

“So what’s for dinner?” 

Wakaba’s outlandish question (considering the circumstances), delivered matter-of-factly, caught everyone unaware.  Tsuwabuki was the first to let out an involuntary chuckle -- one that he immediately tried suppressing, before realizing that too Nanami was giggling behind her hair.  Kozue was the first one to laugh out loud, followed by (surprisingly) Juri, then everyone else.  It was like some magical hammer had shattered all that thick tension previously encasing everyone in the room (coffin-like, perhaps?).

That hammer was wielded by one deceptively plain-seeming young woman, exuding this too-calm innocence from amidst the high-strung individuals currently letting their bottled up feelings all out.

Utena, who knew Wabaka well, knew that this was a planned move on her part to defuse the boiling tension.

All for him.

Heart warmed by gratitude (and old memories), Utena mouthed a “thank you” at his old friend, to which she replied with a twinkle of the eye.  Anthy -– silent throughout –- also bowed subtly at the woman . . . to which the latter made a show of pointedly (if playfully) ignoring.

Meanwhile, the other Duelists were gathering their breaths and wits about.

“Well, it is that time already.”

“It’s really been a very long day.”

“Felt like we’ve been here for weeks already, at least, if not months.”

“Time seems to flow strangely around this place.”

“Doesn’t it?”

“Juri . . . did you somehow got slimmer?”

Shiori’s question broke the inane mode of their conversation, as everyone started gawking at the mildly self-conscious model, now looking almost as sleek-figured as she was back in her days as a top fencer . . .

***

Surrounded by eerie motifs, a murmur in the dark:

“A miracle is something that can only happen through sacrifice.

“Be it your own sacrifice, or the sacrifice of others.”

Numerous screens, flanking the speaker’s rail lean silhouette like mere holographs, showed scenes of the innumerable people of the country going on about their mundane lives.

“Look at those fools acting all entitled, without ever realizing that their miracle is standing atop someone else's sacrifice.” In spite of the shrewdness of his words, the speaker’s voice remained softly wistful; like he was immersed within bittersweet memories of old.  “But those are the sort of people who receives miracles.”  Sweeping longish azure fringe out of his blue eyes, he turned to glance down upon the pink-haired little girl currently holding onto his hand.  “Unfair, isn't it, Hime-sama?”

The little girl held his tender gaze with her piercing amber eyes, currently alit with an otherworldly violet glow . . .

***

“Come to think of it . . . I've completely forgotten about the girl he told me about.”

“A girl?” Miki, currently slicing up a parsnip with practiced ease, raised a brow at Juri’s words. 

The two of them were preparing dinner together alongside a few of the others.  Turned out they really did have to cook to eat, now that the Penguins were absent, and neither Anthy nor Utena were culinary-literate.

“It was this girl Ruka had told me about very early on,” mused Juri, heating up the oiled wok in preparation for stir-frying, “some time after we met through the Fencing Team . . .”

Miki made the connection immediately.  “Tsuchiya-sempai told you about Momoka-san this early on, huh?”

“He said that long ago, back when he was still in elementary school, he knew this girl who wanted to save the world.

“I asked him then:  what did this girl want to save the world from? 

“He told me the girl wanted to save the world from all the sadness it suffers under.

“I remember laughing then.  I told him that the girl was a fool; what she wanted to accomplish would take a miracle, and . . . I told him there were no such things as miracles in this world.

“He gave me this . . . look that suddenly made me feel awkward about what I just said, even though I felt certain I was right back.  So, I changed the topic, and asked him if he kept in touch with that girl.”

Then came a moment of wordlessness, where the heated oil started hissing upon the wok’s dark surface.  Lips tensed into a flat line, Juri then parted them to conclude her story:

“He told me she had already died trying to save the world.”

The flames from the stove turned blue with melancholy.

***

“I was the one who led you down this path, having seen the whole of the world’s scenery,” said Oginome Momoka, appearing as the child she was ba k when she passed away from the Subway Attack.

“Having seen the whole of you, I love you,” replied Tsuchiya Ruka, appearing as the youth he was back when he passed away from the illness.

“But, not enough for you to push Arisugawa Juri to win the Power of Miracles back when the opportunity was there.”

Momoka’s statement had Ruka turning statue-like in stillness.   

“It’s okay; feelings do not stop as per the heartbeat.”  Eyes softening, the little girl reached up to gently clasp a hand upon the youth’s cheek. “It’s the same for you and for me.” 

Posture relaxing, Ruka clasped Momoka’s small hand within his.  “Yes, Hime-sama.”

“Captain-kun, you understand . . . don’t you?”

“Yes?”

The hand in his grasp became bigger and longer of manicured nails, as Momoka “grew” seamlessly into her smothering, threatening teen dominatrix form.

“Revolution notwithstanding, the Witch is not necessarily on our side.”

***

“Noble intentions notwithstanding, the Princess of the Crystal is not necessarily on our side.”

Thus how Anthy’s statement dropped ominously over the hungry, dining group, effectively diminishing much of their appetite.
   
“Himemiya-sempai . . . you’re talking about Momoka-san’s ghost, right?” asked Miki, cautiously. 

Anthy nodded. “Does everybody understand what the Swords of Hate really are?”

“I thought they were the ghosts of the mob who tried killing you a long time ago?” offered Tsuwabuki, visibly guarded.

“Or, are they simply the hateful emotions that these people carried with them unto their graves?” asked Juri, her expression nonchalant to the point of coolness.

“When humans die while fixated on something, be it a emotion, or an ideal, that fixation could easily get magnified in death -- to the point of overriding the rest of their original personality.”   Anthy’s eyes were as deep, bottomless pools, such that the group listening to her felt chilled by their depths.  “Which is why people who died angry would often return as vengeful ghosts capable of far greater cruelty than they did in life.  In the more severe cases, the vengeful ghosts would lose even their memories to their fixation, and will do harm to friends and foes alike.  The Swords of Hate –- while greatly empowered by my brother’s magical might –- were essentially vengeful ghosts who lost their very individualities to their fixation on hatred.” 

Juri blanched at her words.  “Himemiya-san, you’re not saying that . . . ?”

“I was there on the train when Momoka-san battled Sanetoshi with the Fate Diary,” explained the Witch; beside her, Utena visibly tensed up at the Subway Attack that took his parent’s lives being mentioned.  “Her magic was all will-power and no technique, which was why she would sustain physical damage from the backlash.  She was most certainly in a highly focused state of mind when her body perished from the clash.”

All were listening rapt by now, to the point that most had ceased eating.

“Kiga Leader Watase Sanetoshi was really one of Ohtori’s pawns, right?” asked –- or rather, stated –- Touga.  “What happened to him after he died from the event?”

Anthy clasped her delicate hands together in fans of dark fingers. “Sanetoshi is now something of a ‘metaphor’; or, for lack of better wording, a Hate Sword made distinct by both its superior power and agency.”  She then cast her gaze back towards Juri.  “Juri-sempai, did you not notice a change in Tsuchiya-sempai’s behavior back when he returned for his part in the Game?”

“I never could get a handle on Ruka,” admitted Juri, appearing uncharacteristically vulnerable in her current haunted, uncertain state.  “He was . . . maybe colder and more aggressive than before?  I always thought it was because he knew he was dying . . .” 

“Back then, Tsuchiya-sempai only managed to function as a seemingly healthy person only because he was sustained upon Momoka-san’s power.  One could say that he was partially possessed by Momoka-san’s spirit at the time.” 

Kozue, listening on with a deep frown all along, spoke up then.  “Then . . . back when Tsuchiya was dating Takatsuki, it was really Momoka who--” She then got silenced by a red-faced Shiori covering her mouth by hand.

“I should have known something was wrong with him.”  Juri continued on, seemingly having missed the exchange completely in her current emotional turmoil.  “Should have talked to him more when he came back.  We were such close friends back when he was the Fencing Team Captain.”  Her crossed fingers now were digging into the backs of her clasped, shaky hands.   “How’d I ever miss something like--”   She stopped at Shiori’s hand clasping over hers, steadying them.   

Anthy continued onwards.  “There is also the matter of Tsuchiya-sempai going into the afterlife while under Momoka-san’s direct influence.”

“You’re saying that the Ruka we saw on TV was also a vengeful ghost?” asked Saionji, cutting to the point.

“At the very least, he is probably caught in a perpetually fixated state of mind,” replied Anthy, glancing down sideways from underneath her naturally lush lashes. “One aligned with that of his mistress.”

Nanami glared at her with pointed suspicion.  “And you’re telling us all of this now because . . . ?”   

“Because the upcoming battle is one borne of the needs of the parties involved,” said Anthy, facing the blonde with a narrow-eyed smile, before including everyone else under her gaze. 

“I need to seize the Power of Reversal from my brother to regain for Utena her pre-surgery body. 

“My brother needs to seize the Fate Diary from Oginome Momoka to harness the Fate Train once he is to summon it with the concert.

“Oginome Momoka is planned on banishing my brother from the World – to “save” it, in a manner of speaking.  For her to accomplish this, however, she would need Dios’ Light from Utena  to strengthen her control over the Fate Train.  It’s really the only way for her to match powers with my brother.”

Utena spoke up (rather hurriedly) then.  “Then, we’ve got what it takes to join--”  He ceased at Anthy’s hand clasping firmly upon her.

“Needless to say, I cannot let Momoka take Dios’ Light from Utena,” continued Anthy with her eyes on the other Duelists, smoothly.  “I do need that power to make good on my promise: to grant all you Duelists your respective wishes for helping me help Utena.” 

To that, Utena’s eyes went wide, along with those of the others present.

They could be heard murmuring on amongst themselves.

“ . . . after the battle is done with, and the Chaiman is gone-ed, we’d still need to go on living . . .”

“ . . . I don’t know about you guys, but what Himemiya had promised is crucial to my continued survival . . .”

“ . . . so . . . instead of being our allies, Ruka and Momoka and the Takakura kids are all gonna be our rivals?”

“Obviously we do not need to fight them,” assured Anthy, smilingly.  “They are also going to be battling the Ends of the World after all.   While both sides will be highly focused on battling my brother and his minions during the concert, it would be a good idea for us to stay alert to possible unexpected moves from our not-quite-allies.”  Her face then hardened from business-like seriousness.  “Then, onto our actual battle strategy.”

“Chida-san told us how it involves a car race this time around,” said Wakaba, perturbed. “Earlier on, we saw some ads about Seen’s new concert having this elaborate set, and I think I see something about ‘raging roads’ being built right into the concert dome.  Does this mean . . .”

“Yes, Shinohara-san; there is going to be what looks like a car race involved this time around.”  The words “what looks like” hung over the air like alien mystic symbols.  “With the exception of Utena, all the other Duelists can only face up against Ohtori Akio by forming driver/vehicle partnerships.”  Her eyes, scanning over each and every one of her Duelists, glinted with something so bright, that she became eerie in appearance.  “I do believe that all of you should be ready for that by now.  Recent events had done wonders in strengthening the bonds between the Duelist pairs.”

“Duelists pairs,” murmured Shiori, her arm tightening around Juri’s.

“So some of us will have to become cars,” purred Kozue, stretching her slender limbs indolently.  “How, though?”

“Some of us don’t even know how to drive,” Tsuwabuki piped up, somewhat awkwardly.

Anthy gave her youngest Duelist this rather indulgent look.  “Some of you, including Utena, don’t even know to really wield a sword to this day.  But that hasn’t stopped you all from becoming competent Duelists.”

“Some of us would be much reassured if we’re given scientific explanation on how these things actually work,” voiced Touga with his eyes on Utena, who appeared lost in troubled thoughts.

“It’s called magic, Touga-sempai. It’s beyond human comprehension, because no human words -- let alone their primitive ‘science’ -- can adequately convey its actual mechanism,” said the Witch, as though it explained everything.  “And . . . Tsuwabuki-kun?  What you will be riding is not going to be a car.”  She made a little show of turning her suddenly impish gaze over towards Nanami, whose expression gradually went from pointed bafflement to gradual realization to plain outrage.

“Fuck.  No.”

“Nanami, it is not like you haven’t already experienced being one before . . .”

“And whose fault do you think that was?!”

Throughout the bickering -- one that quickly sucked the rest of the group into –- Utena remained quietly contemplative.

His cloudy gaze remained trained upon Anthy.

***

“These are . . .?”

“Artifacts of my making.”

The group at the Oginome residence were all eyeing the items displayed upon Tokiko’s tablet in awe.

“This one looks exactly like my old laser slingshot, the very one I’ve acquired from Kiga,” said Masako, expression dark.

“The artifacts are designed via the knowledge I’ve stolen from Ohtori Academy’s Fate Research,” explained Tokiko.  “The Ohtori clan is Kiga’s backer.”  Her gaze turned hazy with old memories.  “These are, in effect, duplicates of the Devil’s own swords.”

“So we’re, in effect, driving out Satan with Satan, huh?” commented Shouma, rather uncertainly. 

“We’ll all be heading over to the storage now,” said the woman, already opening the door of the pink van irrationally present within the apartment unit.  “Everyone would do well to familiarize yourselves with these before the upcoming conflict.”

***

Under the stars the Prince walked, his pristine white shoes stepping elegantly over the roses in his path, leaving them beautifully scattered; crushed.

White cape flaring upon sultry breeze, he was treading slowly but surely towards the white horse idling in the distance.

“Ah, my steed,” he said quietly.  “Await me, I come.”


End Part Twenty-Seven


Chapter Text

 

Utena and Penguindrum characters belong to their various owners.

WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization.   


At the heart of the decadent city was the Big Egg.  Within this Big Egg’s enveloping shell, the restless masses were droning insect-like with ill-contained anxiety and rage:

“Did they really restructured the place like the news said . . . ?”

“Can’t see anything in here, they keep it so dark . . .”

“To think this is gonna be televised nationally . . .”

“To think the media puppets are actually siding with that girl . . .”

“Anytime now . . .”

“Just wait till the show starts . . .”

“Once Seen-sama comes out . . .”

“Once that Kiga bitch and her fellow sluts comes out . . .”

***

“DIE”.

The word, sprayed upon the bone-white dressing room wall in blood red paint, greeted Triple H in all its grotesque malevolence.

Dainty footsteps, accompanied by girlish chattering, could be heard from behind them:

“Do you know?  Do you know?  Do you wonder who’d do a thing like this?”

“Must be someone personally affected by that awful Subway Attack, ne?”

“The people must be thirsty for vengeance even now, no?”

Trembling fists clenched, Himari whirled sharply around . . . only to see no one in sight outside the opened dressing room door.  There was maybe a hint of moving, rapidly disappearing shadows . . . or maybe that too was but a trick of the light?

“Himari-chan . . .?”

Hibari’s concerned voice drew the debuting idol’s attention back on her teammates.

“Oh, I thought I heard someone . . . talking.”

“Ne, is it really okay for you to go on stage like this?” asked Hikari, hooded eyes on her smartphone.  “The comments online are really hateful . . .”     

“I’ve resigned myself to being hated the moment I agreed to be the publicity stint for the group,” replied Himari.   “I have my reason for enduring this punishment.  Hibari-chan, Hikari-chan, is it really okay for the two of you to go on stage with me like this?  If your agency’s strategy is to backfire, even your current level of popularity could be at risk.”

The other two girls –- her former friends and current colleagues –- traded a look between themselves, before turning to nod at her in the affirmative.

“We’re stars,” they said.  “Either we shine bright or we disappear completely into the darkness. It’s all or nothing for us.”

Indeed; already at the ends of their world, there was simply no turning back for any of them anymore.

With that, the trio quietly went about putting the finishing touches on their getup, readying themselves for what was to come.   

***

‘Now that you’ve found me, I shall have you behold my current glory . . . Wakaba!’

***

First came the sounds of engines and skidding tires, as the air came to be fragranced with the scent of smoke . . . and roses.

Then came the single spotlight speared through the oppressive darkness cloaking the stadium’s massive interior, revealing a statue of a classical caped prince perched upon an aerial globe (hanging by wires?). 

//“The bird fights its way out of the egg.”//

The familiar nasal voice coming through the sound system sent the massive, anticipatory audience into cheering, screaming fits. 

“At last!”

“It begins!”

//“The egg is the world.”//

The lights further brightened to reveal a colossal upside down castle hovering impossibly from up above.  Equally fantastical-seeming were the car racetracks loosely encircling the statue in ribbon-like coils, with numerous vehicle currently speeding down their serpentine lengths.

“Holy physics defying architecture . . .”

“I knew they restructured the Big Egg for the concert, but how’s this even possible?!”

“And how’d they make the interior look this . . . big?

Amidst the surreal visuals, the statue was visibly, audibly cracking.

//“Who would be born must first destroy a world.”//

The “statue” shattered, revealing itself to be a man in a cast all along -- a man who happened to be the star of the show.

“SEEN-SAMA!!!”

//“The bird flies to God,”// proclaimed Seen -- not the least ruffled up despite having just freshly broken out of a cast -- with the fervor of a martyr. //“That God's name is Abraxas!”//

The globe he perched upon then exploded in a dramatic blast of crimson rose petals.

Descending (on wires?) gracefully down amidst the crimson storm, the sharply dressed biseinen idol landed right in front of a full orchestra and choir ensemble labeled “Ohtori Academy Music Department”.  Going sleekly into an exotic dance-kata, the sharply dressed biseinen idol then launched straight into a rousing rock opera number that instantly ignited the venue:

//“Mine’s an artificial living body,
//“Artificially cool--”//

***

“To think I have at last reclaimed even this long-lost sanctuary . . . the strength in numbers is a powerful thing indeed.”

High up above, at the pristine upside down castle that the audience thought of as mere prop within this elaborate concert setting, the Prince’s gallant figure could be spotted through an opened window. 

“When humans are fixated on something, be it love, or hate, that fixation could easily get magnified by certain triggers -- to the point that it overrides the rest of their original personality,” said he, watching the on goings below from his seemingly inverted, seemingly gravity-defying position.  “And that, is when the energies they exude can be mined for usage, and their very souls -- their Penguindrums -- are ripe for the picking.”   

Looking away from the many screens erected around the stadium’s interior -- showcasing his puppet’s captivating dance via multiple intimate angles, along with scenes of hysteria from the crazed fans present -- he then turned towards his current ally with green eyes like still, bottomless pools. 

“I’ll be counting on you to help with harnessing Fate once and for all, Sanetoshi-kun.”

The vengeful spirit offered his current master a ghost of a smile.

***

“More!  More!  More!”

Basking under the audience’s adoration with the languid grace of a seasoned celebrity, Seen smiled inwardly, as if at some secret joke he harbored within.

“ . . . then, I’ll hand over the stage to tonight’s guest act, the much anticipated Triple H!”  He then disappeared via a lowering platform amidst the almost despairing cries from his crazed  fans.

Almost right afterwards, a long length of train rail slashed out whip-like from a massive gape on the stage floor, before rapidly intertwining itself around the existing coils of car race tracks in a loose, double-helix-ish formation.  It was immediately followed by an elevating platform coming up at the center of the coiling rail, one that propelled the guest act into the spotlight. 

//“Ohayoooo everybody!”//  Hibari waved at the audience in such a way that she “incidentally” tousled her extension-thickened red mane with girlish glee.

Hikari, for her part, approximated a tomboyish grin, as she threw an arm around their third member’s slim shoulders.   //“Allow us to introduce to ya all our uber newest member, Himari-cha--”//  She was then brutally cut off by the loud booing from the hostile audience.

“Get off the stage!”

“We don’t need some she dog with terrorist background as our idol!”

“And we certainly don’t need to see you affected hoes acting like freaking princesses on our TV!”

//“Wait!”//  Himari, eager to succeed for the sake of reverting her brothers back to their former selves, spoke up despite her involuntary trembling.   //“Please give us a chance--”//

“Shut up!”  A swarm of angry people were now attempting to rush the stage, held back only by the barely effectual security personnel.  “Don’t matter what kinda promotional tactics you or your backers use, we ain’t buying it!” 

Objects were being thrown now, some of which only narrowing missing the rigid, blanching girls.

“We want Seen!  Out of our sight already!  ”

“Away with you bitches!”

“Bitch!  Bitch!  Disgusting bitch!”

With everyone caught up in Triple H’s debut turned denouncement session, most remained oblivious to the distant sound of of heavy wheels against metal rail -- a sound that was slowly but surely getting closer, and closer . . .

That sound was not lost on the inverted Prince in his inverted Castle.

“It’s coming,” he said, deep voice anxious as he glared up (down?) and at the concert’s ongoing.  “The cosmic entity called Fate that once existed under Dios’ control; again it stirred at the sheer quantity of fiery souls gathered.”  Then came a pause, during which the Prince’s expression was to darken a further notch.  “And I see that they have also arrived.”  He turned sharply towards his ghostly aide.  “Sanetoshi!”

Smiling back at the Prince, Sanetoshi then split into two as if cleanly, bloodlessly bisected by an invisible sword.  Both halves of him then proceeded to fall off the inverted Castle as if suddenly seized by gravity.  Down he went, past the multiple loops of racetrack, where a steamlined pink racecar could be seen speeding along with the many darker-colored vehicles sharing the same road . . .

***

//“Anthy, were those things falling off the Castle just now . . .?”//

“They were.  Brace yourself, Utena: it’s about to begin.”

***

*BANG!!!*

The sound of gunshot deterred the crowd from their frenzied attempt to rush the stage.  They now found themselves facing a curly-haired teen girl now standing on stage in front of the petrified Triple H.  The girl was wielding an exotic-looking firearm likely responsible for the blast.

“What the--”

They got effectively silenced by the girl pointing her weapon at them.

“Everyone, stop it!”  Another girl –- one wearing her hair in a perky bob cut –- now is hurrying up to beside the weapon wielding girl.  “Himari-chan wasn’t even born back when Kiga was prominent!  I . . . I have family who died during during the Kiga Attack from sixteen years ago.”  Her proclamation incited shocks gasps from the audience members.  “My own sister was only ten years old back when she died on that fateful train ride . . . but I understand!”  Behind her, a sizable pink float –- one adorned with black rose motifs –- drove up to beside Triple H’s stage, before extending a mechanical lift that moved the trio onto its luxuriant, shoujo-chic platform.  “It is senseless to blame innocent people for being so and so’s children, because they have nothing to do with the crime--”  She then got interrupted by an explosion of booing from the massive audience.

“Shut your trap, you phoney bitch!”

“W-What . . . but I . . .” Unused to such outrageous rudeness, the girl’s mouth opened and closed like a fish out of water.  Beside her, the curly-haired one signed as if exasperated by her thin-skinned-ness.

The crowd continued to verbally hammer at her.

“You trying to say victims ain’t got the right to speak out now?”

“Fuck you for trying to trivialize the Attack when your own sister died from it!”

“You’ve probably been bribed by Triple H’s label--”

*Snap!*

An eye-paining expanse of red light assailed the raging crowd at the front of the lynch-lines, such that they involuntary recoiled to clumsy, toe-stepping effects. 

It was the glare from the singular headlight of a dark-colored racecar, one that had came up to in front of the girls (who looked as startled by its appearance as the audience).  The vehicle looked highly similar to those others currently running on the racetracks in its segmented, insectile design.

Its plate read “KOZUE”.

A mildly raspy female voice, coming though some mic/radio, confronted the self-righteous crowd with the following question:

//“Just how many of you noisy people here are even remotely connected to victims of the Kiga Terrorists?”//

The crowd reacted as if having received a collective slap.  “Wha--”

//“Or, are you all just looking for some convenient targets to dump your hate on?”//  The voice from the car continued on with a sort of animalistic savagery.  //“All members of Triple H are thirteen year old –- certainly a lot younger that a good many of you Christmas cakes here.  These girls are young.  They’re talented.   Most importantly, they’re certainly better people than hateful social bullies the likes of you LOSERS!”//

“You BITCH!”  Truly enraged now, the crowd pushed past the weak security lines and rushed at the stage . . . only to backpedal as another similar-looking racecar skidded right past them in a thick cloud of exhaust, narrowly missing the people upfront by mere centimeters.

//“Do you think you’re the only ones who can threaten people?”//  sounded this other vehicle –- plate reading “SHIORI” –- while parking itself daintily beside the “KOZUE” car.   //“Think again!”//

Thus how it became: the hostile audience seething with impotent hate as they now faced off against the dangerous-seeming racecars guarding the stage –- and Triple H -- like guardian beasts.

***

//“The Witch is right.  We are a whole lot more powerful in this form!”//

//“That, and our partners are now more intimately connected to us than ever.”//

//”I gather sempai’s having much fun riding you like this?”//

//“Why, I wonder if your brother’s also enjoying his side of the action?”//

Standing upon the organic pink float with Hibari and Hikari, listening to the girlish chatter between the two strangely lifelike racecars (somehow, she felt certain it were the cars and not their drivers talking), and watching Ringo and Masako risking themselves to defend her from the violent crowd, Himari found herself overwhelmed by uncertainty.

Just what was going on here?

‘Himari . . . Himari . . .’

The voice, spoken soundlessly into her mind as if via telepathy, had the girl jolting.

‘Kan-chan?!’  She looked wildly about, much to her distressed teammates’ startlement.  ‘Where are you?’

‘We’re right here, Kanba and I both,’ said what she recognized to be Shouma’s voice.  ‘We may be too invisible for you to see us now, but we’re really right here at this Big Egg watching your debut, Himari-chan!

‘Shou-chan . . .’

‘Himari, you see those cars blocking the rabid crowds off the stage?  They are really people –- the very ones we’ve met at that magical place we told you about.  Like Masako and Oginome Ringo, they are here to protect you from the world’s hatred.’ 

‘So don’t worry, Himari-chan; don’t be afraid of this chance to realize your dreams.  Sing, and become this great idol you’re meant to be all along!’

//“Ni-chans . . .”// The girl’s soft voice came faintly audible through the mic fixed to her costume.  //“I . . .”//   She then trailed off at noticing this peculiar change she saw now coming over the hostile audience members.

They were all slowly but surely transforming into basic, semi-transparent gender symbols, with red apple-like thingies visibly pulsing at where their hearts should be.

‘What . . . ?’

The wild winds now picking up within the stadium, coupled with the unmistakable sound of an incoming train, added to the sheer eeriness of this increasingly fantastical scene.

“H-Himari-chan . . .” Hibari and Hikari now were clinging onto her like the helpless children they still were even after becoming idols .  “Just what on earth is happening?”  Himari, who did not know where to start explaining, opted for silence.

“Gosh . . . ” Masako eyed the transformed crowd grimly through her dark shades (or was it really a sci-fic visor?).  “These nobodies’ penguindrums all look like they’re about to burst . . .”

Ringo, for her part, looked downright nervous.  “This sound in the air, could it be--”

Whatever else she was saying got drowned out by this train -- the very model used by the Tokyo Subway System -- thundering into view with the bestial ferociousness of a mythic dragon.  At its dramatic appearance, the “apples” flew out from invisible-ized crowd’s chests and at the Train as though they were metals to its magnet, before getting absorbed through its exterior with magical smoothness.   

Letting out what sounded like in impossible cross between a horse’s galloping and a train’s horn, the apple-devouring train ran mightily along the serpentine train rail.  The rail could be seen leading towards an artfully entangled formation against the looping car racetracks, along which the pink racecar (plate reading “UTENA”) and a practical green jeep (plate reading “WAKABA”) could be seen speeding towards where the rail and track were at their closest . . .


End Part Twenty-Eight

Chapter Text

Utena and Penguindrum characters belong to their various owners.

WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization.   

Note: Another hurried effort.  Thanks to The_Lame_Goat for the continued support of this looooong project!


Time: 10 years post-revolution, hours before Revolution Seen Live 2011
Place: Chida Mansion

“You’re telling us to do what?!”

“Derail Fate.   It is mainly for this purpose that I’ve gathered you all once more at this time.”

They were gathered at the mansion’s garage –- looking bigger than some indoor parking lots, and certainly a whole lot more elegantly designed.  As expected, the Duelists reacted to the Witch’s suggestion in bafflement and outrage.

Utena, feeling no less uncertain despite his relationship with Anthy, could not honestly say he blamed them.

“Look,”  Nanami stomped her foot down, hard.  “When people talk about changing fate and what not, it should not involve magically turning people into cars, then have them try to physically slam a running train off its tracks!”

“What you are to become is not a car, Nanami,” replied Anthy, so matter-of-factly as to be condescending.  Seething, the blonde made a visible effort to keep from slapping her.

“Let’s back track a little bit first, before we’d all again become hopelessly lost here,” voiced Wakaba in this deliberately calming, reasonable-seeming manner.  “So, Tatsuya’s sold out concert at Tokyo Big Egg is actually this summoning ceremony for the Chairman to regain control this thing called Fate –- once the prince’s white horse, now a subway train.  The way it works is that Tatsuya’s performance will supposedly titillate the fifty thousand audience members into a frenzied emotional state, such that the passion they exude will lure out the Fate Train.  This is kinda like how the scent of fruits will likely attract a horse.  Now, there’s gonna be a train at this concert where we’re going to fight the Chairman . . . .” Gradually, even she came to show increasing agitation.   “ . . .so, how’d we go from that to physically slamming that train off track with our vehicle forms?!

“Once summoned, the Fate Train will get strapped onto the path prepared for it by the Ends of the World,” replied Anthy, rather patiently. “Human eyes will see this path as a rail.  Either way, this rail is really a pre-laid trap meant to push Fate towards my brother’s grasp.”  Straightening her back, she cast her now piercing gaze over the group.  “My proposal is that we work together to derail Fate when it shows; because, supposing we don’t, the Ends of the World will gain power over Fate.  This means that my brother will, for the first time since he fell from princely glory, again be able to modify the world’s reality as per his will.”

Utena quietly noted the jolt affecting the group spoken to: Anthy was, as always, an expert at getting people to react the way she wanted them to.

But that was not to say that her manipulative nature was not blatantly obvious to him.

The persuasive words continued to flow:

“Without our intervention, the Ends of the World will have control over Power of Miracles, which many of you had wanted in your youth –- and want even now. 

“I do not have to tell you all what this means for us, and for the World.”

Indeed, the World could not afford an Akio with the power to change reality.  But . . . 

While the Duelists reeled from the impact of the Bride’s blunt words, a large sectional door marked “CAR WASH” slowly opened up in front of them to reveal a dark, ill lit tunnel. It looked downright ominous within the current context.

“Are you scared?” asked Anthy, un-ironic to the point of harsh bluntness.   “Standing on the edge of dangers unknown, are you scared?”  None answered her.  “Then . . .”  Raising a hand in a mysterious gesture reminiscent of her Rose Bride moments back in the past, she sent what appeared to be a hail of crimson glitter sprinkling down upon the group.

“What is this?” asked Tsuwabuki, watching the glitter disappearing through his goosebump-filled skin warily.

“I’ve just baptized you all with my lifeblood.”   

While the others still appeared at a loss, Touga appeared to know exactly what she was talking about.

“As in you attuning your body of power to ours, such that we now can directly access your power?”

“I see Touga-sempai still remembers how Dios’ Rose Bride was once made to cast her body aside for her Victor’s usage,” smiled the Witch, exchanging a loaded look with the man  (Utena of course knew they were referring to the phenomenon that occurred during her second duel against the redheaded Duelist). “Yes, this is a similar process, but with one difference: this time, I’ve raised the limit on how much power each of you can draw from me.  No matter what damage you’re to sustain during the upcoming battle, you will recover by drawing on my power.  So, none of you fighting will fall in this battle, not unless I too am to fall.”

The Duelists gathered traded looks between themselves.  Finally . . .

“The path before us have since been prepared,” stated Juri, already moving forward in broad, determined stride.  “I suppose we all have no choice but to crash Fate.” 

With that, the Duelist stepped right into the car wash’s dark tunnel, followed first by Shiori (who hurried after her), then the rest of the solemn gang.

Including Utena, who still was haunted by the following question:

With the stakes so high, why was there this stubborn insistence on Anthy’s behalf to refuse collaboration with Oginome Momoka and the Children of Fate?

Could it be that she wanted him to keep Dios’ Power that much?  If so . . .

***

‘ . . . could it be that she wants me only as a prince, even now?’

***

Time: 10 years post-revolution, moment of Triple H’s Debut during Revolution Seen Live 2011
Place: Tokyo Big Egg

//“The rail has appeared. Teams, start your engines.”//

On the Witch’s command –- coming smoothly through the intercom -- the driver/vehicle teams drove onto various parts of the racetracks coiling about the now impossibly massive-seeming stadium interior. 

A projecter of sorts must had been at work, as the galactic night sky engulfing this fantastical setting of upside down castle, train rail and winding roads should not exist anywhere near smog-heavy Tokyo.

He could already see the others speeding down the serpentile roads ahead.  There was Wakabamobile, an open-hooded jeep driven by Saionji while also carrying Nanami and Tsuwabuki (both obscured under the tent covering its back area).  Kozuemobile and Shiorimobile, driven by Miki and Juri respectively, were racecars of highly similar designs to those many insectile racecars with whom they were currently sharing the roads . . .

Right, they all were driving alongside these menacing-seeming vehicles that Himemiya had told them were really Akio’s pawns.

And, it was under such excruciating circumstances that he and the one he wanted were finally, undeniably, moving as one.

//“Ne . . . you drive often?”// 

The voice coming faintly distorted through the car radio was almost feminine in its metallic androgyny; he grinned in spite of himself.

“Why’d you ask, Tenjou-kun?”

//“You’re gripping my wheels really tight.”//

“My apologies,” replied the man without ever easing up his grip on said (smothering hot) wheels.  “I’ve never gotten a driver’s license.”

//“Oh.”//

There was this empathetic undertone to Utena’s voice (to think he could read her –- this person will always a be a “her” to him regardless of appearance -- like an open book even now), one that dimmed his rakish smirk.

She knew, of course; maybe not all the macabre details involved, but she definitely knew about his life having long since crumbled.  She did, after all, caught him getting fucked in a public toilet only three years prior.

What Utena did not know was that the old guy he was with was not just some irrelevant john.  That man was a senior editor at the magazine where Saionji was freelancing as a photographer.  When Saionji reacted to the aging predator’s sexual harassment in hostility, Touga -- already a seasoned hustler – attempted to smooth things over for his friend turned sexual-partner turned provider.   It all fell spectacularly apart at Utena chancing upon them, which led to him injuring the creep in reflex . . .

“You know, I’m quite surprised that Himemiya is assigning me as your driver, Tenjou-kun.”

Utena’s voice came quick to the point of near-defensiveness.  //“Anthy’s the commander in charge of this entire operation.  She can’t be driving too . . .”//

“But,” he spoke on as though his vehicle partner never replied.  “I’m even more surprised that you hadn’t ask me about the branding on my face for all this time, even though you obviously want to.”

//“Touga. . .”//

“ . . .bitch!  Bitch!  Disgusting bitch . . .”

Even amidst the roaring of winds and engines, the outcry of the hateful, hate-filled masses acting out from down below still remained audible enough to disrupt their conversation.   Suddenly, Utenamobile’s once smooth run was marred by a definite tremor; Touga could only guess at how this could be affecting someone formerly infested by the Swords of Hate.   

//“It moves?!”//

Miki’s startled voice, coming through the intercom, brought the distracted driver’s attention back onto the roads.  Immediately, he noticed the subtle, elastic movement currently rocking the roller coaster-ish train rail.

//“Look at where the rail leads into the Castle,”// said Juri.  //“A force originating from there is swishing the whole thing about like it’s a whip.”//

//“The Ends of the World is keeping the rail from sticking to the racetracks!”// exclaimed Saionji, having noticed how the rail was kept it from touching the car racetracks for more than seconds at a time

//“How’re we supposed to derail the train like this?!”// Tsuwabuki’s voice came audible in the background of Wakabamobile’s link.

//“Calm.”//  Anthy’s even voice came through the intercom, right as the car video snapped on to display an animated floor-plan of sorts of the modified stadium.  //“The rail cannot stay completely away from the roads, because they’re powered by the same circuit.  Note the lettered areas on the plan where the rail and the racetrack are always at their closest proximity.  Maintain speed, stay inconspicuous from amongst my brother’s underlings the Locust Cars, and be ready to reach those points upon short notice.”//

//“Kozue!”// Miki’s panicky voice came as Kozuemobile could be seen venturing away from the target areas and away  //“Where’d you think you going?”//

//“I’m getting down there to help defend the boys’ sister and friends from the bloodthirsty mob, that’s where!”//

//“Idiot!  You can’t just run off in the middle of a mission--”//

Just then, two objects could be seen falling off the Castle, objects that started out looking like two halves of a bisected man -- one who looked just like notorious terrorist Watase Sanetoshi -- before morphing into what looked like two black rabbits that quickly disappeared into the shadowy crowds below.

//“Anthy,”// Utenamobile’s voice sounded as vexed as Touga himself currently felt.  //“Were those things falling off the Castle just now . . .?”//

//“They were.”//  Himemiya’s reply came uncharacteristically straightforward.  //“Brace yourself, Utena: it’s about to begin.”//

//“Watase Sanetoshi . . . I don’t like this.”//  The tightness in Juri’s voice betrayed her perturbed state.  //“There are only two areas where the train on the rail could first reach the racetrack; and, Utena and Shinohara-san are already pretty close to those spots.”//  Shiorimobile could now be seen venturing off coarse as well.  //“I’d better go with Kozue for now, then meet up with you guys later.”//

“I’ve got a very bad feeling about this . . .” muttered Wakabamobile in her now slightly warped voice.

//“Anthy,”//  Utena spoke up again.  //“I still say we should join forces with Oginome Momoka-san and the Children of Fate.”// 

The prolonged silence from Himemiya’s nonreply sent the racecar’s engines thumping audibly.  Down below, Kozuemobile and Shiorimobile could be heard clashing with the angry masses to soundly effects. 

//“Anthy.”// Utena tried again, more firmly this time.  //“Even if Momoka-san ends up taking The Power of Dios from me like you said she would, at least we can be certain that Akio will be stopped once and for all--”//

//“Fate Train incoming!”// The Witch’s exclamation cut her off with the bluntness of a hammer blow.  //“Miki!  Juri-sempai!   Mark that tunnel on the stage!”// 

Kozuemobile was already going up and towards the now vibrating train rail.   

“I’ve got--”

Miki’s intercom link died as Fate itself –- looking like a Tokyo Subway Train in its current incarnation –- made its ferocious entrance by brutally knocking Kozuemobile aside in a soundly, spark-flying collision.

//“MIKI-KUN!”// cried Utena, as she and Touga watched with helpless eyes the impacted car disappearing in one messy, reddish torrent of smoke.   

//“They’ll recover with my power!”// Anthy sounded more brisk and on edge than he had ever heard from her.  //“Focus on the mission!”//

Unstopped, the Fate Train continued its powerful advance, all the while absorbing what looked like innumerable red globes (apples?) getting drawn out from the vast audience’s transparent bodies.

//“I’m already tailing it!”// assured Juri.  Shiorimobile could now be seen running hazardously upon the rail going after the Train, which Touga saw was about to near the section further up ahead.

//“Estimate time of Fate reaching Area A: 30 seconds!  Touga-sempai, more speed!”//

“Alright!” The redhead floored the gas . . . and found himself having to hastily dodge around a Locust Car falling right into his path.  “ . . . what . . .?”  Looking up, he saw that a number of similar insectile vehicles now were dropping off the strip of coiling road above where Utena was running.   “What on earth?!”

//“Stay focused!”//  Utena appeared to be straining to control her own wheel so he would not accidentally steer her off the racetrack.  //“We can’t slow down, or we won’t reach the Train in time to help --DAMN!”//  Even amidst the raining of suicidal cars dropping all around their immediate vicinity, they could both see that Wakabamobile would now reach the incoming train before they could.  //“WAKABA!”//

//“O-Okay!”//  Wakabamobile’s voice sounded more panicky than he himself currently felt.  //“I’ll just . . . just . . . WHATDOWEDONOW?!”//

//“Wakaba-kun!”//  Her driver, Saionji, sounded no calmer than her (Touga knew that the man was no champion car-racer despite his getting his license after three tries).  //“Remember the plan: we ram the first train car from the side right when it passes!  It’s the only sure way to derail the whole thing!”//

//“T-Then . . . !”//  Wakabamobile picked up speed as the Fate Train neared their area.  //“I’ll--AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!”//

Still struggling against the seemingly endless hail of dropping cars, it took Touga a moment to notice just what had incited the scream from Utena’s friend. 

There was a sizable black robot -- one with rabbit-red eyes upon otherwise teddybear-ish features – perched firmly upon the side of the Fate Train’s first car.  It was currently raising a menacing paw at Wakabamobile, whose forward momentum appeared to be making it difficult for her to dodge the mechanical monstrosity in time.

Vaguely, he noticed how a plate on the robot read “SANETOSHI”, before feeling his heart stop as the thing's paw came swiping down on the open-hooded jeep; or, to be more precise, on her driver-partner’s exposed, vulnerably human form . . .


End Part Twenty-Nine

Chapter Text

Utena and Penguindrum characters belong to their various owners.

WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization.   


//“KYOUICHI!!!”//

Listening to Touga’s unrecognizably shrill scream blasting through the intercom, Saionji himself was frozen stiff, as he face what appeared to be certain death at the hand (okay, paw) of this giant teddy bear robot (plate reading “SANETOSHI”).

The next, the threat vanished, as said robot got reared-ended away by the startlingly vicious Shiorimobile, which was actually running on the side of the Fate Train. 

“J-Juri!”

“Derail the damn train while it’s here!” barked the panther-fierce female Duelist through the intercom, as her vehicle -- along with the robot now stuck on its harp-like antennas – skidded off and away in a trail of fiery sparks.

“Hai!”  He tried to floor the gas, but found the petal stuck.  “Wakabak-kun . . .”

//“B-But it’s not the first car anymore . . .”// mumbled the vehicular duelist now idling hesitantly in front of the passing train.

“Moo . . . you people are frigging useless--” came this husked voice from behind him, accompanied by what sounded like the rustling of tent cloth.  Before Saionji could’ve reacted, this massive, warm-seeming mass was already flying right over his head, casting him under shadow while doing so.

“ . . . Nanami!  Wait--”

“Watch me derail Fate mooOOOOOO!!!” snarled Nanami-cow, currently leaping off Wakabamobile and at Fate.

“Nanami-saMAAAAAAA!” cried Tsuwabuki, currently hanging onto her with dear life.

The cow and boy rammed full-speed at the train car . . . and, instead of knocking it off the rail, smashed through a grass window, and was promptly carried away by the speeding transport under Saionji’s wide, disbelieving eyes.

“Oh . . . . bloody . . .”

***

“. . . hell . . . . !

Eyes tearing up (she told herself it was from the smoke and not that sharp pain currently wrecking her person), Kozue forced herself to sit upright.  Glancing upwards, she saw that the Fate Train still was running along the rail; not only that, but the others also appeared to be having trouble against the adversarial vehicles loyal to the Ends of the World . . .

“Miki!” She pushed at her twin - charred and disheveled and still seemingly unconscious.  “Get the fuck up! We’ve got to catch up to the--”

“Kaoru Kozue . . . san?”

It was the fancifully-garbed members of Triple H, currently flocking around her like curious birds.   Suddenly self-conscious of her own vulgarity, the woman quickly stood up -- rolling her burned skirt back down -- to properly face the youngsters.

Eyes lighting up, they squealed in excitement.

“It is you!” 

“Your hit single, Time Machine, had remained popular for so long!”

“In fact, it was your dancers’ genki-girl costumes in the music video that gave us the idea to use matching hair ribbons for our audition!” 

“Where’ve you been for all these years, Kaoru-san?”

“That’s . . .”  Kozue, whose short-lived idol career got killed by addiction, bad press and more embarrassing fanfare, fumbled for something to say to these children.   “You girls are Triple H, right?  Isada Hibari, Utada Hikari and . . .” she  focused her gaze upon their controversial new member;  “Takakura Himari?”

“Hai!”  The girls –- who all appeared to be genuine fans of her –- bowed respectfully at her.  “Very honored to meet you, Kaoru-sempai!

“Sempai . . .” repeated Kozue, silently moved by how these kids with their limitless future ahead of them still would give a has-been like her such respect.  “Say, aren’t you girls the guest act for tonight’s concert?  Why aren’t you singing?”

The girls’ youthful exuberance dimmed at her question. 

“But . . . the audience . . . ” Hibari gestured at the fifty-thousand member audience, all of whom now reduced to mere straw dolls littered about the stadium’s vast interior.   Was that the side-effect of their losing their souls/apples/penguindrums to the Fate Train?

“Even so.”  Straightening her back, Kozue did something she never thought she would: teaching the young.  “One thing I’ve learned from my bout as a one hit wonder is that the audience is only as responsive as you want them to be.  If you are genuine, even straw dolls will be moved.  So sing; sing like you want to be their idol.”  The sounds of cars clashing from up above brought her attention back to the present crisis; beside her, Miki had since gotten back on unsteady legs.  “Anyway, girls, you have your obligations and I have mine.”  She was already dragging her still-disoriented twin by the arm and away.   “So, then--” 

“Kaoru-sempai.”  One of the girls – Takakura Himari, the boys’ beloved “sister” – grabbed onto her by the wrist.  “I know this is too sudden, but . . . may we ask you to sing with us?” 

Kozue was floored by the request.  “ . . . huh?”

“Yes, please sing with us!”  The other two quickly joined in.   “It’s too scary if it’s only us performing in this unusual situation!”

“But I’ve got to . . .”

“Please!  Please help us!”

“But--” And, before Kozue could come up with any more excuses to leave, the pink float vehicle/stage/machine that she knew to be Mikage (the black rose motifs gave him away) picked her and her brother up with robotic arms, and moved them towards what appeared to be curtained dressing rooms.   “Geez, you people . . . . !

***

“Himemiya, what’s the meaning of this?  You told us we can physically push the Fate Train off tracks.  So why did my sister got . . . hello?  Hello?! (pause, during which ominous silence ensued) She hung up on me.”

//“Touga, I understand that you’re upset--”//

“You don’t understand anything!” snapped Touga, having completely lost his (signature) cool as he visibly resisted slamming a fist down on the seat lining (he knew what –- and who –- he was currently riding within). “Here we are, risking our lives fighting the Ends of the World.”  The car shook from where they ran hazardously along this quaking path wrecked by falling vehicles.  “My sister had gotten swallowed up by the Fate Train, we’re about to get crushed under this endless hail of raining cars, and the Witch hung up on me!”

//“Touga!”//  Utena’s voice rose along with his.  //“ We’re right in the middle of a battle –-- not some play duel like what we did at Ohtori, but a real battle to determine the World’s Fate!  Anthy has just as much to lose as us, if not more; she wouldn’t have terminated the intercom link unless it’s an absolute must!  Touga . . .”// she deliberately softened her voice then; //“remember how you once asked me if you can be my prince?”//

The question, voiced in this gentle, almost feminine tone that he had always wanted to hear from her, now brought a sharp sting to his eyes.

//“This time, can I ask you to be your own prince?  Can I ask you to hang in there, stay focused, and not get intimidated by all the uncertainties I know is eating at you?” A falling car came down clipping off part of her rear wings; she bore it prince-fully.  “ I’m here; I’ll do my very best to fight along your side –- I absolutely won’t drag you down!  So, this time, can I ask you to stay as a prince?  Can I ask you to be your own prince, Touga?”//

Blinking back tears, the redhead had to struggle to keep his choked voice even.  “Tenjou-kun, I--”

//“GUYS!”// Saionji’s warning –- coming through the intercom –- cut their soulful conversation short. //“ABOVE YOU!”//

Too late, as a shadow had since fallen over them, right before the source’s massive metallic bulk slammed down and upon the Utenamobile with such violece, it sent the race car’s bottom grinding against the moving pavement below to spark-flying effects.

“Tenjou-kun!”  Glancing up and through the fiberglass hood, Touga saw that it was another giant black teddy robot – one identical in appearance to the one from before, except that this one was plated  “WATASE”.

Its red eyes were glaring down and upon him in naked malevolence.

And, as if this moment was not already maddening enough, the man now heard this upbeat, lushly orchestrated pop/rock number sounding in the background, its hyper lyrics as followed:

//“Though the u-turns and the dark cranks on the highway of life,
//“(backup: Takes a long, long time!)
//“With the beaten paths we’ve past now all falling apart;
//“Let’s go away
//“Take my revolution . . . !”//

***

‘. . . it’s like something from a dream . . .’ thought Miki, taking in the crossover performance with misty eyes.

//“Back in that stuffy garage, you and I together,
//“Dreaming of maybe one day we can outrun all those obstacles in life,
//“And find what we’ve been looking for.
//“(backup: Many times!)”//

Glammed up via the help of Mikage-float, Kozue -- looking resplendent under a high-fashion rocker-chic ensemble -- was currently belting one out with Triple H -- the “it group” of the moment, now singing her backup – at the prestigious Tokyo Big Egg.

At the “old-for-idol age” of twenty-three, his twin sister was finally shining again - like she had not been since that disastrous piano concert from their ruined childhood.

The audience members were now alternating between their straw men / human states at an almost rhythmic pace.  The performance’s effect in “bring them back” was apparent.
   
But Miki -- currently supporting the singers on keyboard -- had got far more pressing concerns than the well-being of the shallow, bullying masses at this moment.

With Kozue having lost her vehicle form, they had no means of even contacting the others -- let alone give aid to them.   Looking up, he saw the Shiorimobile and Utenamobile both currently being attacked by what looked like giant black teddies, with Wakabamobile speeding desperately towards some point ahead where the Fate Train was to near the roads again.

Rose petals, red as blood, were raining ominously down from somewhere high up above.

//“Our love today, blooms like a summer rose;
//“We’re the envy of all whom we know.
//“But will it fade, or will it stay?
//“That’s something we’ve got to work on.
//“(backup: Can it bloom forever?)”//

***

“Even against such tremendous odds, these children still persist in pushing forward, all for the sake of reaching their goal,” mused the Prince, seemingly wistful as he took in the ongoing events below from his inverted position. 

A change had since come over his person.  Where his right hand had been now was a cluttering of lush vines steaming out from his sleeve.  They were long, thorny tendrils that extended downwards (upwards relative to his position) to tangle up the end of the train rail -- a spot where the raging Fate Train was steadily nearing.     

“Such single-minded sincerity . . . I, too, used to be like this.”  Even as he spoke, an aura of sorts could be seen draining off of his person and into the train-bound rail. Crimson roses could be seen rapidly blooming and self-deflowering along the barbed vines, such that their petals now were falling down and upon the stage in a steady drizzle.   “You remember, don’t you . . . Anthy?”

Anthy, currently standing behind her brother, hardened her face as she kept her sword's tip leveled at his shoulder blade.


End Part Thirty

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

Utena and Penguindrum characters belong to their various owners.

WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization.   


“To all things, an end.”

At the edge of the flowery sanctuary they stood, watching the massive vehicle – apparently still running – aligning its doors to their static footing like something from another dimension.

“It’s time,” said his captor, at last opening up the glassy exit and ushering the boy through.  “Get on the train.”

Finally let out of the cage-like “hothouse” he been confined within for so long, Mamiya’s steps were uncertain, almost wavering as he boarded the tremor-wrecked subway train amidst wild phantom winds.  Slowly, he turned around to face the one left behind in the sanctuary of her heart.

“Ohtori-chan . . . ” he started, but was silenced by the look in Hoshimi’s eyes.

“Whatever is to come of this, never forget one thing,” said this woman/girl/witch -- who once was simply a maiden he loved -- with a tear streaking down her smiling face.  “You’re my one and only prince, always.”

And the train doors closed separating them for the first time in ten years.

***

It took her a while to regain her bearings.

“Moo . . . where am I?”

“Looks like we’ve gotten inside the Fate Train somehow, Nanami-sama.”

Immensely reassured by Tsuwabuki’s presence beside her, Nanami let the young man –- god, he’s even grown muscles now –- help her up, and got a better look around their surroundings.

The interior of this “Fate Train” was of similar design to that of the average Tokyo Subway train, except it was dark indigo in tone.  There were rotating red wheel motifs -- ones circling a double digit number that rapidly alternated between “95” and “11” –- covering every surface but the windows.  The windows displayed no scenery, but rather, this thick darkness tinted with murky crimson.

She saw, upon the glass’ reflection, that while having regained much of her human features, she still got horns atop her blonde-haired head, the cowbell around her neck, and cow-hoof-ish shoes-things where her footwear should be . . .

“The hell, moooo?  What’s the point of giving me this ridiculous form when it’s useless against derailing Fate . . .”

And, just when she thought things could not possibly get more awkward for her, it did.

“Nanami . . . Neesan . . . ?”

Stiffening, Nanami turned to see Takakura Shouma – still in the form of a shaded eight year old child – staring at her with (vaguely visible) uncertain eyes.  Like how she had Tsuwabuki by her side, Shouma also had his “brother” Kanba beside him, along with a small entourage of strange-seeming young people all wielding tacky-looking sci-fi weapons. 

Thus how the sister and brother finally had their grand reunion: as a cow woman and a shadow boy, meeting amidst the company of watchful strangers -- all of whom clearly baffled by her current appearance.

“S-Shouma-kun . . .” This plain girl wearing a bob cut spoke up uncertainly from beside the blue-haired boy.  “This is your . . . sister?”

“See, Kanba?”  A curly-haired rich brat was likewise leaning down to beside the halve-aged redhead standing beside Shouma.  “There’s really no way you can be a part of his family!”

“Tsuwabuki,” she hissed under her breath.  “If we ever get out of this alive, remind me to shave that Witch bald.

***

Up Above, atop a tower at the upside down Castle . . . .

“You always know to find me at my weakest,” mused the Prince, appearing completely at ease in spite of how his sister was currently pointing a sword at his back, and he only got one remaining hand left (the other one had since turned into rose vines tangling the Fate Train’s rail).  “Yes, just like that time.”

Anthy’s stance, while assured at first glance, was marred by a notable rigidity.

***

//“You . . . you’re the man who bombed the train sixteen years ago . . . .”//

Utena’s voice, coming low and ominous through the speaker, brought Touga out of the stupor he had fallen into from facing Watase Sanetoshi’s monstrous teddy-robot incarnation.   

“Tenjou-kun . . .”

His voice appeared lost to Utena, who spoke on as the “vehicle” slowly but surely lifted itself off the moving pavement it was made to grind against.

//“It’s because of you that my parents died . . . that Momoka-san . . . !”//

//“Electrifying event, that,”// the “Watasebot” actually sassed back via its speaker.  //“What’re you going to do abou--”// 

The monster never got to finish its sentence, as a blazing light suddenly exploded to engulf everything in view.  Largely blinded by this light, Touga vaguely felt himself pushed upwards and about . . .

‘Touga,’  The Victor’s voice resounded within his senses as if coming via telepathy. 

“Tenjou-kun . . .”  Touga reopened his eyes a slit, and saw, to his shock, this apparition of a glowing, naked Utena, whose lanky, mannequin-like body was completely, impossibly devoid of visible sexual characteristics.   “This is . . . ?”

‘Touga.’  Blue eyes imploring, ‘Utena’ reached out a fine-boned hand towards him. ‘Will you?’

Somehow understanding exactly what Utena was asking of him -- even though the words to describe what it was eluded him -- Touga reached out to take the offered hand within his, cherishingly.

And the blazing light surrounding him softened into this glowing aura.  He found himself now seated within some sort of high-tech cockpit, with his gloved hands were clutching at a pair of controls, and his body wrapped under this latex-tight red suilt.  Gradually, he came to realize that he now was submerged under a liquid medium –- one that he somehow had little trouble breathing in.  This medium had a peculiar, cloying scent that reminded him of both flesh and roses, simultaneously.

“Tenjou-kun--” Whatever question he was about to raise got cut off by the acute pains that he now felt around various parts of his body.   Looking at the seamless set of screens giving him what appeared to be a 360 degree view of his surroundings, he saw that the Watasebot –- “roller-skating” upon wheeled feet --  was grinding this sizable robot that Utena had apparently become against the moving pavement.

It appeared that he now was feeling Utena’s pain with his own body, as though the two of them had synchronized and become one.

Combat artist’s reflexes –- an asset of his he thought had since gone rusty -- kicking in, Touga rolled the Utenabot over, such that it now was slamming the Watasebot against the moving road’s divider.

//“I absolutely won’t forgive you!”//, Utena –- still retaining agency even in this form -- could be heard snarling.  Her pink “hands” –- maneuvered by Touga -- now were clasped around the Watasebot’s paws. 

//“I see the Duel’s Victor is armored with Dios’ Light . . .”// mused the Watasebot – having visibly sustained damage from impacting the concrete - with something like strain in its voice.  //“Then . . . ”//  A dark, hazy shadow came to briefly hover over the black teddy, before the sinister robot re-emerged undamaged and whole.  “Let’s see how this light stacks up against the darkness from the Ends of the World!” 

Moving forth upon wheeled feet, the two mechanical giants continued to grapple against each other while skidding and tumbling down the wild, hazardous arcs of the racetrack.

***

Even in her currently “vehicular” form, Wakaba could feel her heart/engine/whatnot thumping as per her raging anxiety.

Before today, never in her wildest imagination did she ever though she would be chasing Fate as a vehicle on a mission to slam it off tracks.

The fact how two of her comrades had since fallen to the sheer physical might of the Fate Train did not help either.

Could she, currently speeding towards the next “intersection point” between road and track, managed to derail Fate before it was too late? 

“Wakaba-kun . . .” Hands sweating against her wheels, Saionji’s voice came married by the sounds of the roaring winds (why was she the open-hooded one?).  “You know I never wanted to put you at risk.  But . . .”

//“What’re you saying?!”//  Wakaba, as always, tried to sound stronger than she really felt.    //“I’m here as a Duelist fighting the good fight, so of course I know there are risks!  Nanami-chan is your best friend’s sister and my old schoolmate.  Plus, Utena-sama also needs our help . . .”//  She trailed off as the road she ran upon tilted and arced, such that she now had a good view of the stage below.   //“Wha . . . ?”//

***

To say Kozue was exhilarated would be a gross understatement.

//“It’s a game rigged by the big shots so they never can lose
//“as they drive the helpless ones to the edge!”//

Somehow again gifted with a the full voice, one that she thought had been irreparably damaged by drug use, the ex-idol now was radiating raw energy singing her heart out.

//“With you and me side by side fighting right back,
//“I’d dare say, we’d still got our chance!”//

Maybe, if she keep on singing like this together with Triple H, she really might bring the entire fifty thousand people in this stadium back to their senses, back to being human.  Surely, they would return remembering how she and her performance had brought them back.  Maybe, just maybe, they would again want to see her on their TV, and listen to her music.  Then, maybe . . .

*‘Is it really going to be that easy?’*

Jolting, both at the question spoken directly into her mind (via this feminine voice she vague recognized), and at the numbing sensation now cooling her heart, Kozue slowly glanced down and at her own chest, where a black rose could be seen stabbed into her flesh . . .

***

//“In the mean time all the b.s. they’ve been throwing our way,
//“Can’t change how our conviction’s here to--”//

Immersed within the passionate performance, it took a moment for the Triple H girls to notice that the dynamic Kozue-san had since gone silent and still.  Sharp-eyed from having been exposed to the Light of the World, Miki spotted the cut black rose the moment it came shooting stem first at his sister, and watched helpless as it got where the heart was.   

Kozue’s face was a mask of wide-eyed disbelief, as she glanced down upon her own pierced chest.

“ . . . Kozue-sempai?”  voiced Himari, who, along with the other girls,  had at last noticed their idol’s alarming current state.

And then their jaws dropped at the wetness seeping out of the black rose’s reddened heart.

Before anyone could react further, numerous thick, animated lengths of rose vines abruptly appeared to completely envelope the singer.  Hibari was the first to scream out in shock, which got the other girls screaming together with her too.  Miki watched the tentacle-like vines pulling the cluttered “ball” towards their source: a lush rose bush serving as backdrop to another sizable float now steadily approaching.  Much like the Mikagefloat, this other mobile platform – celadon in color - was also covered in black rose motifs.

The plate on the float read “KANAE”.

An enigmatic score –- orchestrated by the “Ohtori Academy Music Department” carried upon this rather massive float, the entire ensemble appearing as eerie silhouette-people resembling the Shadow Girls and the Boys of Fate –- filled the air with tension, before the balled-up rose vines unraveled to reveal an upright coffin worded “attaché”. 

Seen -- spotting yet another “princely” jpop costume -- could be seen perched indolently atop the coffin.

//“Let’s give it up for the lovely Triple H!”// drawled the idol, his appearance inciting loud cheers from the massive audience – most of whom had largely reverted into straw dolls by now.  //“And now . . .”//  Slipping smoothly off the coffin, he sauntered up to the front of the Ohtori musicians.   //“And now . . .”// He bowed deeply and at the audience. //“An interlude.”//

Behind them, a large sign slowly rose from out of the rose bush:

The Tale of the Rose’s Untold Spin-off -- Tale of the Phantom Princess

***

“Remarkable how you could have entered my sanctuary undetected,” commented the Prince, conversationally.  “I must say I’m even more impressed by how you could subdue the Witch even in your current state.” Eyes on the steadily approaching Fate Train, he continued on without turning around.  “Then, are you here for a reckoning?  Or, perhaps, you would like to take this chance to right wrongs according to your own perspective, Princess of the Crystal?

“Are you implying that I can’t do both?” sassed the Princess of the Crystal with dark irony.  With her black-gloved hand, she kept a sci-fi-ish firearm pressed against Anthy’s back -- thus revealing herself to be the source of the Witch’s tension all along.  “It’s been a while . . . False Prince and Witch.”


End Part Thirty-One


Chapter Text

Utena and Penguindrum characters belong to their various owners.

WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization.   Has mention of rape in this chapter.


Within the cramped darkness she laid confined.  Stabbed through the heart, pinned to the board, she was as a specimen on display, a--     

‘Welcome back to the coffin.’

This time, Kozue could clearly recognize just who it was now speaking into her mind.

‘You’re Ohtori Kanae, the Real Chairman’s daughter,’ she stated without being able to part her lips to voice anything. ‘We all saw you taking the hate swords through the space gape.’  Her stance grew increasingly guarded, though her body remained locked in deathly stillness.  ‘So you’re like working for the Ends of the World now?’

‘Call me Neesan.  That’s what I am to you after all, Kozue-chan.’

Vulnerable in her immobilize state, Kozue felt herself increasingly irked-out by this increasingly sinister situation.  ‘What the heck are you yapping on about?’

‘My, you still don’ know what happened back then, do you?’  Cooed this ghostly, mind-invading entity that Ohtori Kanae now had become.    ‘It’s okay now, little sister.  I will show you why I accepted the path prepared for me by another.  I will show you why I became Akio-san’s Bride.

***

//“Do you know?  Long ago, in an ancient era excluded by documented history, all the women of the world were princesses.

//“This was because the godly entity known as Dios was there to offer himself up to every one of them as their Rose Prince.

//“Of those many princesses whose lives revolved around the Prince, there was one tasked with caring for the Prince’s Steed –- that fine white horse famously connected to the Prince’s identity in those sophomoric fairytales re-imagining his glorious past. 

//“What those fairytales had all skimmed over, however, was how the Prince’s Steed was actually Fate –- that cosmic force with the incredible power to change people’s lives.

//“It was mostly with the power of Fate that the Rose Prince had managed to save all people from the threat of despair.

//“Although her work resembled the hard, gritty labor of a lowly stable girl, and her mannerism crude like those other manual laborers in her work environment, this one princess who willingly sacrificed the pampered life she could have to care for Fate was actually highly esteemed by the Rose Prince.  In fact, he arranged for numerous grand dances and galas at his pristine castle all held in her honor.  However, so diligent was this princess with her work, that she missed all the events.  This of course, only made her all the more notable and talked-about among the people.  They started calling her the ‘Phantom Princess’ –- the ever missing belle of the ball.

//“Finally, one day, the Rose Prince decided to approach this most outstanding of princesses right at her workplace: the stables.

//“ ‘Most selfless and noble of princesses, what shall I give you in return for taking care of my most precious steed?  What is it that your heart desire?”

//“ ‘I have always wanted to be the people’s savior, just like how you are, Prince.’

//“ ‘Then, to you I shall bestow this rose-colored crystal, which is in essence a piece of my noble heart.   Bearing my heart, you too shall be recognized by my Fate Steed as its owner, and can lend its power to save people from the world’s darkness.’

//“ ‘I understand, Prince; from now on, you and I will help each other in saving everyone in need.’

//“Unbeknownst to the two, they were secretly watched by the Rose Prince’s sister -- the only girl in the world who cannot be the Prince’s princess, for obvious reasons.

//“Since then, the crystal-bearing Phantom Princess would occasionally venture out into the world upon Fate, where she fought heroically for the people in need, just like how the Rose Prince had always done it.”

//“One day, fresh after another mission, the Princess headed to the smithy trying to mend the horse’s bridal damaged during the prior battle.  As the blacksmith was not present, the handy Princess went ahead with the preparations.

//“While leaning over the large forge, the Princess suddenly felt a stealth presence slipping up to behind her.   

//“ ‘Aren’t you scared?  Standing at the edge of the heat, aren’t you scared?’

//“Even as the Princess recognized the speaker to be the Rose Prince’s sister, she was already falling into the burning forge.”

//“ ‘This fire burns me!’ screamed the Princess aflame, reaching out desperately towards the Prince’s sister.  ‘Help me!’  The girl, however, offered her only a seemingly serene smile.

//“  ‘Take it easy . . . stable girl.’

//“  ‘. . . witch . . .’ gasped the burning princess in pain and anguish.  ‘Accursed witch!’

//“Thus how the Phantom Princess perished in flames, and became an actual phantom lost to the River of Time.   

//“The Princess’ murderer -- the Prince’s sister -- committed the murder in secret hoping to again keep her glorious brother all to herself.  As the girl acted upon her jealousy and thus degenerated into a witch, so too did she plant the seeds of doom for the sibling she loved.  For the Phantom Princess’s fiery death destroyed also the crystal that was a piece of the Rose Prince’s heart, along with that bridle crucial to controlling the Fate Steed.  The Rose Prince, now missing both a part of his noble heart, along with the means to properly control his powerful steed, soon fell into illness.  It was not long before the Prince’s Kingdom fell apart, his Fate Steed ran off amok, and the World he once protected came to be engulfed by never-ending darkness.”

//“Time flew, eras changed, yet a song born of this rosy, bitter past had remained to bearing eternal testament to what once was, what could have been.

//“Even now, you should be able to hear it.”//

//“If your soul has not truly gone cold, even you should be able to hear . . .

//“. . .the Song of the Fallen Kingdom . . .
/
/“. . . resounding across the Ends of the World.”//

Princely figure basking under one singular, spearing spotlight separating him from the darkness engulfing the Big Egg’s vast interior, “Seen” kept his straw-doll audience spellbound with his lulling, hypnotic gaze.

//“If you listen, you can hear it call . . . ‘revolutionnaire’.”//

The delicate piano score, playing in the background throughout his monologue, expanded into a lushly orchestrated concerto as the idol burst into song.  Somewhere veiled under the velvety music were distant sounds of heavy machinery slamming violently against each other; soothed by the music -- and by the spell-blinded, insubstantial states they currently had been reduced to -- the audience noticed neither the sound nor the brutal battle between the pink and black robots barely visible from the unlit sidelines . . .     

***

//“There was a kingdom
//“Called the Kingdom of no Return
//“Back then it’s peaceful
//“Though things got wild and free . . .”//

Half-listening to this ironic number currently performed below, Touga – now fully synchronized with Utena – piloted the pink robot such that it now was trading blows against the Watasebot in with the savage, organic grace he himself had once combated his opponents . . . so very long ago . . .

It had been way too long since he –- who once practiced both kendo and kickboxing –- had physically fought anyone or anything; so very long, that the near-alien sensations coursing though his person now seemed almost . . . revitalizing, somehow.

The fact that he knew Utena was sharing in his physical sensations during such a crucial, brutal fight somehow excited him to no end. 

//“What an impressive pair you are,”// purred the Watasebot, dodging and blocking Utenabot’s attacks with infuriating agility.  //“A woman -- who was a home wrecker at fourteen --  now faking it as a man, supported by a man who gets used like a woman--”//  Pausing only briefly to narrowly leap over Utenabot’s roundhouse kick, the Watasebot blinked its red eyes as while continuing to spew its verbal venom.  //“Who, if sources are correct, had been unable to so much as wield a kendo bokken since getting sodomized by one at ‘Papa’s’ hands a decade ago.  That would be the same night he and his goons branded your face too.  Am I right, Touga-chan--”//

//“Stay still while I bash your head in!”// snarled Utena, whose pink fist narrowly missed the monster’s teddy-ish face.  In her rage, she overextended her robot self while punching forward, leaving an opening at the side that the Watasebot almost managed to take advantage of, had Touga not reacted quick enough to block the attack for them.

“No personal feelings when you're in battle, Tenjou-kun!” he reminded while giving the Watasebot a swift kick to the head – one that sent the latter sprawling backwards.  Synchronized with Utena (and no doubt channeling much of her strength and nobility), the Duelist now was a fighter reborn –- a fighter possessing of the cool-headedness and objectivity he had not yet acquired back in his arrogant youth. 

In short, Kiryuu Touga now had become stronger than he ever was.  No way could half-a-ghost of a failed terrorist stand any chance against his united front with Tenjou Light of the World Utena.

Apparently realizing this too, the Watasebot, already at the edge of the racetrack, flipped itself over the guardrail and onto the Fate Train passing from below, letting the speedy vehicle carry it away. 

Utenabot gave chase immediately.

//“Touga . . . how many times have we fought side by side already?”// 

“This is the second.”

//“How strange, it feels like we've fought together so often . . .”//

Feeling Utena – both physically and emotionally – Touga focused his energy on helping her chase after their adversary, and after that hazardous Fate they now had to derail.

//“ . . . Fate is a wild mare
//“From the Kingdom of no Return
//“Wandering forever
//“To be lost in the river of time . . .”//

***

//“ . . . Tenjou-san is so brilliant; look, she is totally defeating her black teddy opponent . . .

//“Tenjou-san; you; everyone on the Student Council have always been so exceptional . . . then and now . . .

//“ . . . I haven’t been feeling any power from Himemiya’s end since a while back . . . ”//

Slumped against her seat as she suffocated within the heat of Shiorimobile’s now smoke-filled interior, Juri – orange mane disheveled - watched the one-sided battle between Utenabot and Watasebot through the cracked windshield with hazy, heavy-lidded eyes.

“Hey . . .”  She struggled to so croak out her words, so close to losing consciousness as she now was.  “Why’re we talking about this now--”

And the car’s hood (would that be her precious Shiori’s chest? or maybe her back?) caved inwards to reveal Sanetoshibot’s mechanical paw, right before Juri – bound by human limitations – was to finally, involuntarily faint away.

***

“Why are you guys are here inside the Fate Train?” asked Tsuwabuki, trying take the kids’ attention off the increasingly uncomfortable Nanami while also to make sense of the situation.

“We’d ask you two the same,”  Kanba – whose current mature mannerism contrasted his eight-year-old appearance to off-putting effects – replied for the wary gathering of Children of Fate.

“Well, Nanami-sa . . . san and I kind of slammed physically into the Train.”

“We simply got ran over when the Train shot out of the hole on the stage.”

“Then . . .”

“The Fate Train is still running, moo; this is bad, moo.”

Nanami’s awkwardly spoken statement – thanks to her current state – earned her blank looks from the Children.

Tsuwabuki attempted to take over the explaining. “Umm, you see, this Train is really a--”

“Just let me goddamned do the explanation, moo,” grumbled Nanami, impatient even as a cow-hybrid.  “Alright, starting from the beginning, moo . . .”

***

“You; you were there watching your sister kill me, weren’t you?

“I saw your silhouette while I was burning up!” 

Knuckle white from where she kept her finger on the firearm’s trigger, the Princess of the Crystal glared at both siblings with violet flames within her amber eyes. 

“Letting your sister off the hook, and leaving my murder un-avenged . . . you, the ruler of the kingdom, tried to go on like nothing had happened, like I never happened!  What an ignoble prince.  I do wonder . . . were you trying to protect your sister, or your own family name?”

Nailed to the spot by the Princess’s weapon, Anthy’s slim back now was rigid to the point of seeming brittle.  The Prince, for his part, remained gracefully assured under the heat of her vengeful wrath.

“Back then, much was lost to the flames of my sister’s jealousy -- Fate’s Bridle, my Heart’s Crystal . . . and you,” he said, not quite answering the Princess’ question.  “For ones like my sister and I, dreams are such stuff as we are made on.  Having lost access to the Light of the World – that which fueled our many powers – the only way for us to continue enacting magic was by fueling the act with the passions – the life energies – of mankind.  The more passionate the individuals, the more power we can reap off of them.  Thus why we mainly target the young, for their vibrant spirits had yet to be dulled by their world’s dreary reality.  For adults, we bother only with those holding direct power over children in whom we saw potential.

“Thus how we reaped and tolled through the ages –- sacrificing humans souls, along with those of our own –- all for the sake of regaining that which we’ve lost to our tragic past.     

“It was not until a few decades ago – fresh after I have acquired my current base at Ohtori Academy – that my sister and I had finally managed to resurrect Fate’s Bridle into its latest incarnation: the Fate Diary.”  His impassive gaze brushed across the Stadium’s many LED screens, before stopping upon the one video focused upon Kaoru Miki, now shown stealthily slipping away from the petrified Triple H and off the Mikagefloat. 

“With the Diary, we were planned on regaining control over Fate, and again make perfect this since broken world.” 

The Duelist, now wielding his heart sword, could be seen advancing steadily towards the Kanaefloat, towards the coffin now confining his sister; The Prince closed his eyes as if from weariness.

“We were so close to realizing this dream . . . before the plan got crumbled by the Diary’s theft at the hands of Chida Tokiko.  Though . . . .”  Finally, he turned to look over his shoulder and at the Princess now holding his sister hostage.   “I’m sure you already knew about all this since way before you were to birth yourself specifically as Chida-kun’s relative, ‘Oginome Momoka-chan’.”

The Princesss, now looking like a teenage version of the deceased little girl, bared her teeth in budding rage.

***

“ . . . which is apparently why we must stop this Fate Train from reaching the Castle at all cost, moo!”  Straining from the effort of giving the long-winded explanation,  Nanami – still partially cow-ish – then took a moment huffing as she tried to regain her breath.  “So, do you all understand now, moo?” 

A moment of silence ensued, during which the Children of Fate let the info sink in.  And then . . .

“Supposing Fate really does have the form of a train now . . . wouldn’t the cab up front be where its controls are?”

The supposition from the curly-haired girl (Masako?) had the whole gang of them running up towards the first train car, where entire the front section was blocked by what looked like a large, holographic-seeming red wheel motif.

And, before anyone could decide on what to do next, a beam of red laser light suddenly appeared striking the motif.  Then came what sounded like a gunshot, before the motif fizzled out of view like something from a video.

“Chida-san?!” chorused the group.

Indeed, it was Chida Tokiko, cutting a sleek figure in her black suit skirt as she strode up from behind them with laser-aim gun in hand.

“This here is the Train’s cab.”  She walked right up to the revealed cab’s door.  “Behind this door are the controls controlling this massive cosmic force called Fate.”  Her eyes could be seen narrowing from behind her shades.  “If we can open this door . . .”

“Kinda scary when you actually think about it,” murmured Tsuwabuki.  “Us mere humans, trying to control something like this . . .”

“Too late to be having second thoughts now, Moo.” Nanami had by now clasped her (thankfully still human) hand around the cab door’s handle.   “Let’s just get this over with--”

“Don’t open it.”

The voice, coming unexpected, childlike and inexplicably ghostly, had the cow-woman pulling back her hand as though scalded.  Everyone else appeared just as startled by how there appeared to be someone inside the cab.

“There’s someone in there all along?!” exclaimed Kanba, all tensed up. 

“Or is that the Fate Train itself talking?” wondered Shouma, seemingly at a loss.

“. . . please don’t open it,” repeated that boyish and ghostly voice, pleadingly, hauntingly.

“H-Hello?”  Tsuwabuki, having since moved protectively in front of the shivering Nanami, tried putting up a brave front as he greeted whatever it was behind the door.  “Who is . . . ”  He trailed off at Chida-san stepping slowly past them and up to the cab door. 

“ . . . Mamiya?” she asked, her voice an airy, disbelieving whisper.

***

“Back then, Chida-kun stole the Fate Diary thinking she could use it to save her ailing brother.  She really thought she could control Fate despite only being human, the silly thing.

“And so, my sister took her brother from her in return, and merged with him such that the child became an extension of herself.  Wearing his form, she bewitched Chida-kun’s lover – the brilliant Professor Nemuro – into staying on at Ohtori and working towards our ends.

“It was his genius that brought us the Child Broiler – the first of those many human-fueled power plants currently powering up my forces.

“But let us go back to sixteen years ago, back when my sister and I again made a try to capture Fate, this time via the strategic execution of the Tokyo Subway Attack. 

“With the vibrant hearts of many triggered by great calamity, surely Fate – ever hungry for passionate emotions – will be drawn to the scene.

“Thus how Fate superimposed itself upon all the affected subway trains to feast upon the people’s energies, as my sister and I ventured upon the train cars as we worked on again harnessing this powerful force.”

“The moment you showed up to confront Watase Sanetoshi -- wielding the Fate Diary with ease despite a startlingly young age -- I knew that had to be you, having re-entered the human world through reincarnation.

“Just as before, you, who wanted to save others, lacked the power to save even yourself.

“It was regretful that you had to die again so soon after being reborn.”

***

“Just as before, you, who crave miracle, lack the luck to avoid even certain disaster.”

Jolting (as much as a racecar was capable of doing so) at hearing that voice, Shiorimobile –- currently getting brutally hammered by Sanetoshibot -- turned her sensors towards the side, where a familiar figure could be seen observing her suffering with impassive blue eyes.   

//“Tsuchiya-sempai . . .”//

“It is regretful that you have to die again so soon after being reborn,” stated the ghost of the boy from her troubled past with this eerie, matter-of-fact calmness.  “Takatsuki.”

***

“Ten years ago, the gravely ill Tsuchiya Ruka – your childhood friend in your last life – returned to Ohtori Academy while physically supported by your artifact the Penguin Hat

“He made a demand to be admitted into the final round of the Duels.

“His appearance coincided with two events: the end of Professor Nemuro’s highly experimental Black Rose Duels, and the return of the since powered-up Chida-kun trying to settle the score with me.     

“In an impressive display of power, Tsuchiya-kun graduated Professor Nemuro from Ohtori by modifying reality, and made it so that he never existed in the school to begin with.”

“Tsuchiya-kun was the one to have reunited the Professor with Chida-kun.

“He would have returned Chida’s brother too, had my sister not claimed to have somehow lost him to a theft during that chaotic period of reality’s remolding.

“I wonder who would have done such a thing?”

***

It took a while before the woman could have recomposed herself enough to speak normally.

“Mamiya . . . why are you in a place like this?”

“I’m here as per Ohtori-chan’s direction.”

Her brother’s reply had Tokiko’s delicate jaws squaring.

“I see . . . Ohtori Hoshimi really was the one to have stolen you away from Himemiya.”

“Ohtori Hoshimi . . . Ohtori Kanae’s mother?” inquired Tsuwabuki’s voice from behind her.  She did not acknowledge the question.

“Neesan,” her brother spoke on. “You know I no longer have a human body, right?”

“Mamiya . . .”  Tokiko felt the sting of developing tears in her eyes at being forced to face this damning fact.  How could she not know this already, when she was the one to have arranged that funeral for his dead, “invisible” body?

“By merging with me and taking on my identity, Himemiya Anthy had already killed me in a manner of speaking.  I was since rendered a disembodied spirit -- one that she held captive within her heart’s sanctuary.  Had I returned to you as I was, ten years ago, I would have come back to you as a low-level ghost.  You would neither see nor hear me, and would need some artifact to establish but the barest all forms of communication with me.  A reunion like that will only be one of gloom and despair for the both of us.”

“But . . . Mamiya, you know I’d rather some contact to you than nothing--”

“Ohtori-chan, whom I’ve been with throughout the past decade, has come up with this strategy to help me come back with an actual living body.”

Mamiya’s statement impacted Tokiko like a blow to the chest.  “. . . What did you just say?”

“It’s what she call my ‘survival strategy’,” mused her brother, a rueful note evident in his voice.  The term incited some faint whispering from amongst the Children of Fate gathered about.

“Then . . . ”

“Ohtori-chan had kept its details hidden from everyone -- even me -- for fear of it possibly getting thwarted by conflicting interests.  I do know, however, that for the strategy to work, I must ride this Fate Train, and have it take me towards the Ends of the World.”

Unsurprisingly, Mamiya’s words drew rather heated responses from the Duelists present.

“What’re you saying, moo!?   Having this Train reach the Chairman would again give that monster the power to change reality for his evil purpose, moo!”

“Mamiya-kun . . . I understand that you want to come back to your sister, but . . . we cannot allow Ohtori Akio to have this great, damaging power!  Just no!”

“Neesan . . .” pleaded Mamiya, focusing on his sister alone while ignoring the others’ protests.  “I’ve resigned myself to eternal damnation the moment I transferred your contract with the Devil to me, and  allowed Himemiya to seize my Penguindrum.   But . . . Ohtori-chan . . . she had never given up on trying to save me!  She had made huge sacrifices to make this happen for me . . . I . . . I want to come back to life for her!  And for you too, Neesan!  So,  please--”

“Enough.” Tokiko cut off her brother crisply, coolly . . . before abruptly whirling around to aim her firearm at the shocked Duelists and Children of Fate.  “I suppose I have no choice but to endanger the world.”

***

“Either way, the message was clear: you, the Princess of the Crystal, had retained your ability to control Fate even in death, and have sent Tsuichiya-kun to us as your avatar. 

“Should we let Tsuchiya-kun get to the Final Duel, to the Rose Gates, even as he stand the chance to seize the Power of Revolution, we too would have a chance to take from him the Power over Fate.”

“Both your plan and ours fell through with Juri-kun throwing the fight and refusing the Victor’s role.

“Afterwards, having refused to sustain his life by further-draining your artifact’s power, Tsuchiya-kun died as per his illness.

“We understand that he did it so that you, his princess, could again access and affect the human world via the power left in the artifact.”


***

//“Tsuchiya-sempai . . .”//

“You can’t even defend yourself anymore, can you, Takatsuki?”

Ruka’s rhetorical question came right as Sanetoshibot tore a wheel off of Shiorimobile (was that really a hand? or a foot?), wrecking the car-woman with crippling, silencing pain.

“Such a delicate Duelist.”   The ghost – standing languidly upon thin air -- continued on with taunting the brutalized car-woman.  “Is that oil leaking out of your hood, or are you crying?”  He tilted his penguin hat – childish-seeming, but for those ominous violet eyes – at her.   “Do you see this artifact I now am geared with?  This is a manifestation of the Princess of the Crystal’s power.”  He came to don a sadistic smirk as his low voice further darkened.  “That which enact miracles, and can change even Fate and Reality – a power that even Watase Sanetoshi is fearful towards.  Yes, I have since earned the authority to use this power.  But . . . surely you don’t think I’m going to use it to help the likes of you?”

//“Tsuch--”//

“Don’t bother; even if it means saving Juri, I won’t help the insect that lied her way into my pants while turning the woman I loved against me.”

Ruka’s statement – perfectly nailing Shiorimobile’s fears – had her feeling so numb with coldness, Sanetoshibot’s persisting destruction of her vehicle form barely even registered any more.

Like Himemiya had said, Ruka really had become this “vengeful ghost” due to how he had died.  He was no longer as noble as he once was; this vengeful, hate-driven Ruka . . . he really would let Juri die along with her, all to spite the rival he had likely hated unto death.

“I won’t let you use Juri to make me save you.  You, whom Juri had chosen over me, will perish here, now. Even though you had her, in the end, a weak, petty thing like you have no hope of protecting her from the monsters of the world.  Had I been the one in your stead--” 

And Ruka’s words came to a cease, as Shiorimobile summoned what remained of her strength, and ejected the unconscious Juri from her seat and right in his direction.  Sadistic front abruptly vanishing, the ghost quickly held onto the woman he loved in his life, before turning back towards his old rival with what appeared to be genuine surprise.

“Takatsuki . . .”

//“Hurry . . . take Juri somewhere away safe!  Don’t mind me, just save Ju--”//

Whatever else Shiorimobile tired to sound went dead, as her engine exploded to fiery effects under the spirit’s wide eyes

***

“Since Tsuchiya-kun’s death, I’ve known how the day would come when the both of you are to return from the dead to again make a grab for my power.

“Ironically, it was this troubling knowledge that forced me to pull myself together during those dark days after the disastrous Final Duel. 

“Back then, Utena-kun’s reckless action had destroyed the Rose Gates leading to the Power, and Anthy had chosen just then to turn her back on me in pursuit of her new prince.  I would’ve been at my wits’ end, had I not make proper preparations beforehand.”

***

‘Since before that sister of his had left, Akio-san had been preparing me –- then his fiancée -- to take on this crucial role as his Bride.

‘First, he had his sister antagonize me to darken my heart.  Next, his sister had my dark heart be as vase to her black rose, such that my body and soul got duly exposed to magic as per my bout in the Duels.

‘Finally, the both of them exposed the whole truth to me.  That they are what people call monsters, or gods . . . or aliens species yet to be determined.  Either way, the man I loved was not human, nor was his sister.

‘The fact that they have a sexual relationship seem almost insignificant in light of this fact.

‘Having been presented with the truth, I was then offered a choice, to stay on as Akio-san’s Bride –- who share in his power while shouldering his pain – or to walk away.   

‘I chose to stay, not because I crave Akio-san’s otherworldly powers, but because I could tell that his sister – his accomplice in all things - totally wanted keep him all to herself

‘I sure showed her just which one of us was truly important to Akio-san, didn’t I?

‘The sister left very soon afterwards – my heightened closeness with her brother had her fleeing in tears, no doubt.

‘The one who emerged victorious was me--’


‘If you’re done spewing your delusional save-face crap, can you please release me from whatever this box is?’ snapped Kozue (as much as she was capable of snapping while completely silent and immobile).  ‘In case you haven’t noticed, I’m in the middle of a fight plus a possible comeback act!  Let me the fuck out of here right now!’

‘But this is your coffin, Kozue-chan,’ replied Kanae, a condescending sing-song quality to her telepathic voice.  ‘You’re the one responsible for your being in it.  You can try opening the coffin yourself, or you can get your prince to do it for you.  Oh, look, your prince.’ 

A scene appeared within Kozue’s field of vision, within which she saw Miki, heart sword in hand, currently moving past those many shadow-cloaked orchestra members currently playing their instruments, and up towards an upright coffin worded “attaché” (which she deducted to be where she was currently imprisoned within). 

She saw a man – also wielding a sword – stepping out from where he was playing among the other musicians to intercept Miki, who went rigid at seeing him. 

It was her drug-taking, teenager-raping manager –- looking very much alive in spite being dead for ten years.

‘I wonder what’s to be the outcome of this imminent duel,’ purred Kanae, her “voice” seemingly faint against the current thundering of Kozue’s own heartbeat.  ‘Care to guess?’

Kozue’s hands, once listlessly limp, slowly clenched into fists.

***

“Of course, Kanae was no match for Anthy when it comes to ensnaring noble youths – no one is.  Needing vast quantities of human life force to survive the tumultuous times I knew would come, I decide to take a risk and change up the game.

“Instead of rebuilding the Rose Code, and relying on the Bride’s wiles to procure for me my passionate children within a limited school setting, I decided instead to raise up an idol of the world, and make him someone to whom all people would eagerly surrender not just their passionate emotions, but their penguindrums -- their very souls –- as well.

“The once ordinary Kazami Tatsuya –- having since been beautified through extensive re-crafting –- proves surprisingly adept at filling this role.

“Though I despise his cheap pettiness, I will admit that it was his uncanny popularity that earned me my tsunamis of incoming penguindrums – the vast quantities -- if not quality -- of which actually allowed me to surpass even Dios in terms of sheer power.  The money he brought in as a top entertainer also helped in building those new boilers all over this country, thus empowering my forces into as you can see now.     

***

//“Re-vo-lu . . . I can hear the kingdom call
//“(chorus: no return, no return )
//“I can hear my princess call
//“Come to me . . . ”//

Riffing along the orchestra’s music, “Seen” continued with his pitch-perfect delivery in spite of the violent swordfight currently taking place right behind him.

The battle was one between Kaoru Miki and the man who once used to be both their old music agent.

“You bastard!” snarled Miki, uncharacteristically ferocious as he rained cut and stabbed at the man who destroyed both his and his sister’s lives.  “I’ll kill you!   I’ll kill you a thousand times over for what you did!  Freak!  MONSTER!!

The man -- a dead pawn of the Ends of the World currently existing in the living realm upon supernatural powers alone -- merely giggled like some demented crown, all the while countering Miki’s rapid strikes with moves that outright defied known physics.

Smirking derisively at the blue-haired Duelist attempt to use skill against actual magic, the idol continued on with serenading the very spirits out of the adoring masses.

//“I lost my heart to this kingdom and forever my heart will mourn
//“Gone, gone for ever down the Kingdom of no Return
//“Re-vo-lu-tion-na-ire--”//

//“STOP ALREADY!!”//

The familiar girlish voice –- coming mildly distorted from a sound system of sorts –- came not a moment too late, as this jeep then came falling off the racetrack from above.   Unfazed, he kept his even gaze upon the vehicle now plummeting down and at him, and saw –- without surprise –- the rose vines sprouting off the Kanae-float snatching it up tentacle-like.

Undeterred, the leaf-green jeep –- plated reading “WAKABA” –- continued with berating him:

//“Can’t you see that Miki-kun is fighting right on this stage?   How can you keep on singing like this, Tatsuya?!”//

“Wakaba . . .”  hissed Kazami Tatsuya, having since turned off the mic.  “How nice of you  to show up at my concert with that man."

His exotically beautifully shaped eyes now were glaring through her windshield and at Saionji Kyouichi, currently having his hands on her wheels . . .

***

“Back on my feet, and stronger than ever, I have been eagerly anticipating your re-appearance ever since.

“Why else do you think I would have staged Subway Attack Take Two just weeks prior to tonight’s summoning ceremony, if not to make sure I can draw you out when I need to?”

“How . . . ?” hissed the Princess, red-faced, as her firearm fell uselessly apart from the leafy sprouts now bursting out of its various joints and cracks. Her own body now was tied up under numerous rose vines, with their thorns visibly pricking into her skin to bloody effects.  “How’d you manage to . . . ?”

“As you are now, you are living while dead –- a ghost of a memory that is more metaphoric than real,” the Prince -- the source of those innumerable vines now spilling over to marr much of the Castle’s pristine surface -- analyzed her predicament with something like true empathy in his softened voice.  “But a lack of physical self won’t protect you against my clutches, magnified as my power is by the audience’s passion for Kazami.  You are aware that this concert is being televised Live?” He calmly observed the Princess jolting at what he just alluded to.  “Right.  To challenge me, at this moment, is to challenge the collective will of over a hundred million people currently tuned into this show from all across Japan.”

“You monster . . .” she gasped, glaring at one sibling then another with frustrated, tear-rimmed eyes.  “You goddamned monsters!”

Anthy, disarmed and struggling frantically against the animated vines, appeared to be getting shoved into a coffin -- one situated at the heart of a gigantic red rose -- against her will.

“Don't be so bitter, Princess” cooed the vine-sprouting Prince, stepping languidly up and towards the entrapped phantom.  “You've tried for so long be the World’s Savior, you needn't blame yourself any longer.  Thank you for having treasured that missing piece of my heart until now.”  He placed his one remaining hand over the Princess’s heaving chest, and watched the area start to come aglow. “I shall now take back what is rightfully mine.”


End Part Thirty-Two

Chapter Text

Utena and Penguindrum characters belong to their various owners.

WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization.   


It really was just one thing after another on this impossibly impossible night of her debut.

First, the raging audience condemning her for having terrorist adoptive parents all got rendered into straw dolls after having their penguindrums zapped away by the Fate Train.

Then, the elusive ex-idol Kaoru Kozue-san showed up supporting their performance -- jamming with them, even –- before suddenly getting ensnared away by animated rose vines sprouting off Seen’s float-stage.   Kozue-san’s brother went off after her and onto Seen’s float, where he then got into some frenzied swordfight against some creepy looking man.

Afterwards, this green jeep suddenly dropped itself down from the racetracks above, such that it plunged directly at Seen, before getting snatched up by vines from his float just like Kozue-san.

Finally, the pink float they currently were on extended its robotic arms and cut the jeep loose, thus starting this “fight” against Seen’s surprisingly monstrous float, forcing their group to scamper away from the ensuing robo-battle.  Seen, for his part, appeared to be having some sort of confrontation against the lively jeep, though it was mostly drowned out by the dramatic sights and sounds from all around . . . .

No matter.

Neither chaos nor violence was going to stop her from becoming an established idol and changing her discriminatory society, not when that was the only way to get her ostracized, invisible-ized brothers out under the sun again. 

‘This time . . . this time I’ll be the one to save the two of you, Shou-chan . . . Kan-chan!’

“Hibari-chan, Hikari-chan!” she called to her group mates.  “Seen-san has stopped singing.  It’s our turn again!”  Those two appeared flabbergasted by her suggestion.

“But . . . our instruments and sound system are all on the pink float--”

“Our mics are still working, and there’s a piano set on the side stage. The two of you can sing a cappella, and I think we’d still be visible under that lighting.  Let’s go!”

Without waiting for their reply, Takakura Himari was already running towards the side stage.  Given no other option, the other two-thirds of Triple H could only follow her meekly from behind.

***

“. . . it will be alright,” he assured her, before stepping back and away, disappearing behind sheens of falling rain.

At his departure, the skies above came to darken; her world was growing dim.  In the background, voices -- girlish, ghostly and cynical all at once -- rang out in a psychedelic chorus:

‘ . . . died yesterday . . .’

‘ . . . seems he knew how sick he was, but forced his way out of the hospital anyway and went back to school . . .’

‘ . . . always saying: ‘I want to give the Power of Miracles to the one I love. I want to free her . . .’

‘ . . . supposed to mean, I wonder . . . wonder . . . wonder . . .?’


“ . . . be alright . . . huh?” murmured the girl, left drenched and shivering in the cold. 

Indeed; freed from the chains of obsession with which she had tied herself down, she would be alright from now on.  But . . . but he . . . he had gone and . . .

“You . . . what hopes had you entrusted to the Power of Miracles?”  Tears, hot and scalding from where they streak down her face, further blurred her vision.  “Who were they for--”

A blast –- an explosion of sorts –- suddenly overtook her sight and hearing.  Knocked off her feet, and blinded, she flailed her arms wildly about . . . and found them steadied by firm, gripping hands . . .


“. . . Juri.”

“ . . . Ruka,” murmured Juri, recognizing the distinctive voice of this boy from her past even in her half-awake state.  “You . . . but you’re--”

“Juri . . . it will be alright.”

Heart sinking at again hearing that ominous line from him, Juri struggled to open her eyes . . . only to see in front of her this massive ball of fire, one currently flaring up around what looked like a random Locust Car.

Its charred plate, since fallen off, read “SHIORI”.

***

“It is because . . . of love.”

The Prince’s words, so gently voiced, sounded downright eerie against the shrill, agonized wailing in the distant background.

“Damn you . . . !” snarled the Princess, apparently straining to keep what was harbored within her vessel from getting pulled out by the force originating from the Prince’s glowing palm.  “What’d you--”  Whatever else she was about to say came out in an agonized wheeze.

“You want to know why the Prince obscured justice in the case of your murder, didn’t you, Princess?” purred the Princess’ assailant, currently stabbing something into the side of her slim neck. “Well, you got your answer.”

“Hoshimi-chan,” greeted the Prince, watching as Ohtori Hoshimi injected something glittery and pink into the surprisingly physical-seeming phantom via a syringe needle.  “Is that the ‘Chairman’s Special’ you’ve lovingly applied to your husband for the past sixteen years?”

“You’d know all about the ‘Chairman’s Special’,” replied Hoshimi, as the Princess’ ethereal, ghostly frame convulsed backwards; a purple crystal – shaped like a stylized peach – burst out of her chest and into the Prince’s grasp.   Task done, the glamorous society matron stepped back and away, letting her “son-in-law” do the rest.

“Ah, my heart’s missing piece,” mused the Prince, ignoring the Princess’s wide-eyed glare as he focused his gaze upon the recovered item. “This here is the missing link to my noble past; I was a completely different person back then, wasn’t I?”  His green eyes, reflecting the crystal’s brilliant aura, turned blue with melancholy.  “Indeed.  The once noble Prince, bearing high ideals, still ended up obscuring justice in the case of the Princess’ Murder, all for the sake of his sister, whom he believed he loved . . . had loved.  Say, have you ever loved, Princess?  ”  Balling his fist around the crystal, only now did he look the weakened Princess –- slackened from where she currently hung listlessly from the web of rose vine tendrils –- in her eye.  “If so, then surely you must know.  For someone you love, your feelings for any other people become insignificant; you can deceive yourself as much as you need to.” 

The Princess, apparently depleted of strength, merely lowered her head in apparent resignation. 

Behind them, the vine-bound Witch had ceased her struggles as though stunned by a physical blow. 

Her eyes, glassy and wide, slowly began to well with tears; her brother, without looking over, spoke on.

“Is that not right . . . Sister?

***

Outside the Tokyo Big Egg, below the massive billboard screen currently broadcasting the concert within, a small group of activists could be seen gathered about wielding signs that read “Stop the World’s Hatred: Families of Victims and Criminals Unite”.   

Visibly harried, as though having been through some kind of physical scuffle, these activists were tensely facing off against a sea of night-cloaked people exuding vibes between icy skepticism and outright hostility.

//“The clock strikes twelve, a window opens
//“A voice beckons to take you away . . .”//

“Triple H is on again, Mario Waka-sama,” reported Renjaku the Natsume family ninja maid, currently standing poised between her young boss and the dangerous masses, guarded.

“No one is throwing a violent fit this time around, so that’s a good sign,” exhaled Oginome Eriko soundly as she studied a torn corner of her blouse’s batou-neck, wincing.  “Here’s to hoping that people are finally starting to come around for our clause.”

//“The curtains close.
//“You can't help but to put on a smile . . .”//

“ I wonder why,” pondered Natsume Mario, watching Triple H’s performance with a perturbed frown.  “For some reason, Himari-san looks like an adult to me now.”  Eriko glanced down upon the precocious child in warm empathy. 

“Oh, Mario-kun . . . Himari-chan’s been through a lot since her adoptive parents’ terrorist background came to light.” 

“I know that.  But . . .”

“Actually, Takakura Himari is starting to look a little too adult for me too,” commented Renjaku.

“Really . . .?”  The comment from the keen-eyed ninja-maid got the single mom studying the girl’s appearance on the billboard more carefully.  The girl, standing a step ahead of her two group mates, was belting out a high note with fire in her eyes.  “I suppose Himari-chan does seem more mature than the original Double H girls, that with her appearing more determined and driven . . . but, isn’t maturity something wonderful?”

Mario appeared worried still.  “Somehow, it feels like something's about to change.”  His frown deepened. “No - not just ‘something’ . . .”

“It’s everything, Mario Waka-sama,” said Renjaku, before proceeding to voice what her young master could not yet find adequate words to express.  “Everything in this world will change should Takakura Himari really manage to revolutionize our society into one accepting even criminal’s children like Kanba-sama and Shouma-kun.”

“And Mario-kun is petrified by this change, ne?” said Eriko, finally understanding what the Natsume boy was getting at.  “Indeed.  Logic dictates that a positive change of such magnitude cannot to happen in our world without incurring significant backslash.”  Her own expression came to darken.  “Back then, Momoka-chan sacrificed her very life, yet still did not manage to stop the Kiga Attack from sixteen years ago.  Even if it is to help Kanba-kun and Shouma-kun to again be visible, for us all to try and tackle something so much bigger than one singular terrorist incident . . . just what are we getting ourselves into--”

“Auntie Eriko?”

At the hesitant voice, they turned to see this young couple: a modest-seeming man and a conventionally beautiful woman standing under the night, watching them.  It took Eriko -- the one addressed -- a while to recognize those two.

“Tabuki Keiju-kun?  And . . . TokikagoYuri-chan?!” she exclaimed aloud, her heart filled with nostalgia at seeing her late daughter’s childhood friends again – now a teacher and an actress, respectively.  “I haven’t seen the two of you in person since . . .  since . . .”

“Since Momoka’s memorial service,” replied Tabuki, his voice heavy with old pain; from beside him, the solemn-faced Yuri gave his hand a firm grip.  “Then, Auntie . . . you’re really fine with supporting the children of those very people who killed Momoka?”  He ended his question with a meaningful glance over at the young Natsume heir, prompting his ninja maid to shift protectively in front of the boy.

Eriko, of course, got his drift.  “Tabuki-kun . . .” She looked the young man in the eye while keeping her voice gentle and sincere.  “We know that the only ones guilty are those who commit the crime.”

“On a rational level, perhaps,” muttered the man, tilting his glasses in this semi-awkward manner.  “Having overheard the prior conversation, I’m guessing that Yuri and I are not the only ones who remember the existence of the Takakura brothers?”   

Eriko -- along with the Natsumes -- widened her eyes at his words.  “Then . . . the two of you also . . .?”

“Yes, Auntie, we remember about the old reality, which the current one appears to be gradually reverting back into as we speak.  And, when the boys are to inevitably reappear, I hope my confession will be if help to their situation.”

“Your . . . confession?”

***

“For someone you love, your feelings for any other people become insignificant.”

For a moment, all the Child of Fate could do was stare.

“Even knowing you’re doing something atrocious, for whom you love, you can deceive yourself as much as you need to,” said Chida Tokiko, currently blocking them from the Train Cab with firearm drawn. 

“Chida-san . . . !”  Blinking back tears at the betrayal from this adult he had looked up to –- his and Kanba’s savior back when they were hopelessly lost in amnesia --  Shouma actually had to force his words out through his tight throat.  “Please reconsider!  According to Neesan--”  A small, sharp sound of inhalation from his biological sister –- currently a cow-woman for some reason –- almost but not quite derailed his word flow.  “If the Fate Train reaches this Ends of the World, everyone will . . .”  A tug on his thin, shadow-tainted arm by his likewise shaded adoptive brother, stopped him from going on.  “Kanba . . .”   

“It’s no use begging her,” said his brother, child’s face aged by his current somberness.   “Shouma, can’t you see?  Even though she had been our comrade fighting Kiga and the monster behind it, Chida-san’s main and only objective has always been to save her brother.”  Even though Shouma knew this to be true, he still could not help but shake his head, uselessly. 

“Shouma-kun. Kanba-kun.”  Chida-san’s narrowed, hardened eyes now were cloudy with regret.  “You boys certainly had reminded me of the little brother I once had.   But, I cannot put your interest above his, because you’re not him.” 

“Indeed.”  Briskly cutting in, Natsume Masako, having since come up ahead of the other youngsters gathered on the Train, stepped up and towards Chida-san.  “For one’s beloved brother, a sister can indeed do anything.”  Without pausing, the girl aimed her laser slingshot at the older woman now threatening to derail their operation. “Which is why I must crush you now--”  Her surprise move died as quickly as it started, as she appeared unable to pull the trigger on her weapon.  “Wha . . .?”

“These artifacts I gave out are all my creations, and are thus attuned to my person,” stated Chida-san, appearing almost empathetic as Kanba’s feisty twin gradually turn pallid with realization of her current powerlessness.  “None can use them against me--” And she stumbled upon her high heels, as the train suddenly shook as though violently hammered at by massive forces.   

A blur of . . . something flashed by Shouma’s vision, and before he knew it, Nanami –- now displaying even more cow-features than before –- had already pounced Chida-kun to the floor, with her preppy friend also up there frantically trying to disarm the surprisingly strong woman.

“You brats hurry and come help subdue her MOOOOOO!!!!” 

None of the Children of Fate –- not even Shouma –- needed to be told twice.

***

//“I got you now!”//

Perched atop the front of the Fate Train’s first car, Utena –- currently a giant robot synchronized with Touga –- slammed the Watasebot’s head soundly against the moving rail, and watched with sadistic triumph as it exploded in sparks and flames.   At being decapitated, the teddy robo’s bear-like paws, clawing ferociously at hir all along, slackened accordingly to drop as per gravity.

//“Touga . . . I think we’ve finally done him in--”//

“Careful!”

Touga’s warning –- and his re-seizing control –- came not a moment too late, as the headless Watasebot abruptly reached up to grapple at Utena, and would have slammed hir into the rail had hir pilot not reacted in time. 

//“Bastard. . .!”//  Anger re-ignited, Utena drew back hir fist.  //“Just stay dead already!”//  With that, s/he punched it right through the teddy’s tubular, metal-armored torso. 

S/he had expected something like an instant explosion, or, if not that, the feeling of metal parts crushed underneath hir fist.   

Instead, s/he found, to hir stunned horror, what looked and felt like a fluid-drenched little boy wearing a red ribbon atop his curly-haired head.

“I’m . . . not invisible. . .” rasped the red-eyed, visibly injured boy through his bloodied lips.  “ . . . World doesn’t need me . . . I dun need . . . World . . . either . . .” 

//“Wha . . .  oh my GOD . . . !!”//  Seething rage since frozen by knowledge of how s/he had just seriously hurt a young child, Utena carefully cradled his diminutive form in her palms.       //“Kid, I-I’m so sorry; I--”//

“TENJOU!!!”

Even as she heard Touga’s exclamation, the boy within her grasp had suddenly been replaced by this improbably large, fang-baring black rabbit looking poised to jump hir.   It would likely have succeeded, had Touga not immediately closed hir robotic fingers around the beast, crushing its body into a bloodied pulp.     

The rabbit’s ugly head – wearing a ribbon identical to that of the boy – fell off to the dark depths below, as the massive Watasebot then fell weightlessly apart in the wind, as though its sheets of metals were really light as cardboards.

//“Wha . . . what was that?!”//  asked Utena, baffeled as s/he watched the reddish gore smearing hir hands rapidly morphing into innumerable pieces resembling paper-cut penguin faces – ones that rapidly drifted off as per the breeze.   

“His inner child,” replied Touga with much certainty.  “It’s the self-image that Watase Sanetoshi probably sees himself as: a brat angry at the world for not being found valuable by it.”  His quiet voice lowered as to be near inaudible.  “Yes, even the worst of us have childlike sides . . . because we all have our own lost childhoods, our pasts.”

Utena almost commented on how he sounded like he really knew what he was talking about, but held hir tougue as not even a fool as s/he was quite so tactless.       

“Then, Tenjou-kun, let’s focus on the task at hand: stopping the Fate Train.”

//“. . . let’s.”//

***

//“. . . know one day he'll return
//“To your side
//“Please, boy, come back to me
//“Boy, come back to me . . .”//

Shrouded under shadows, the real star of the show could be seen watching his guest act’s performance with undisguised disdain.

“Look at those girls again stealing the spotlight,” he said.   “And look at the audience, eating it all up.  It wasn’t so long ago that these same people were calling for Takakura Himari’s blood, but now . . .” The biseinen chuckled then, its sound a little too shrill and alien for his listener’s comfort.  “People are just so fickle, aren’t they, Wakaba?”

//“Tatsuya . . .”//  Wakaba – currently a jeep – could do little but to cast this stranger her old friend had since become under her glaring headlights.  //“What happened to you?  You were such a carefree kinda guy . . . what drove you into working for the Ends of the World?”//

“You.”  Tatsuya’s surgically-altered face grew taut with what looked like growing anger, as he stalked steadily up and towards her.  “Do you really think the things you did to me could be excused just because we were kids?”

//“Things I did to you . . .”// Intimidated by the sinister demeanor displayed by this now unrecognizable figure from her past, Wakaba found herself backing upon wheels; Saionji-san, her driver, still was unconscious from when they slammed down onto the stage when Mikage cut the vines loose.  //“I don’t understand--”//  Whatever else she was about to say ceased, as Tatsuya had abruptly sprung forward to pounce her, and now was trying to brutishly pry open her door.  //“Tat-Tatsuya?!”//

“What’s there to not understand?!” snarled the man, skin-deep beauty now twisted by his current mad rage.  “You’ve been playing me for a fool since the very moment we’d met!  Dragging me down to your pathetic level as your ‘onion prince’ to escape the other kids’ taunting, only to shove me aside for some of the more popular guys whenever you felt I’m no longer needed!  In high school, even after getting humiliated time and time again by this no good dumb jock, you’d still go crawling back to him every damn time!   And now . . . you dare . . . DARE bring HIM with you to MY concert!”  So agitated was he now, that his spittle was smearing against the door’s rolled up glass window.   “You . . . you’ve trampled upon my trust, you’ve trampled upon my feelings!  You . . . you tramp!  You absolute TRAMP!

//“Tatsuya!  Just stop it!”// cried Wakaba, frantically keeping herself closed up -- car hood raised and alarms sounding -- against her old friend’s vicious physical and verbal onslaught.  //“Stop prying me open--”// 

SLAM!

“Enough already,” grumbled the still groggy-seeming Saionji-san, who apparently woke at the commotion to open the jeep door in Tatsuya’s face.   “You’re an old friend of Wakaba-kun, right?  Ease up on the brute force and act civil!”

“. . . Saionji Kyouichi!”  Stumbling backwards while awkwardly clutching at his lower profile, Tatsuya glared daggers at his old schoolmate.  “You bastard . . . faking unconsciousness while eavesdropping on other people’s conversation . . .” He jolted as if suddenly realizing something, before quickly pulling out a compact mirror to check on his face . . . which was currently reddened at the narrow nose tip.   “Face . . . my FACE!!”     
 
The idol’s subsequent apocalyptic screaming triggered something within his massive (and mostly still “invisible”) audience, who all started rushing forward in their vast multitudes.   And, before Wakaba could even react, Saionji had already floored the gas, as they fled from what looked like a tsunami of gender symbols now literally flooding the stage . . .

***

“I have always thought very lowly of that girl. 

“Selfish, greedy, and entitled, and a liar on top of that . . . that was the impression I had of her from ten years ago.

“Ten years –- a decade full of continuous new experiences, day by day, moment by moment -– can certainly change a living person a lot.

“I’ve never realized that till now--”

Ruka’s monologue, delivered stoically as he watched the burning wreckage of Shiorimobile -- currently trampled under the Sanetoshibot’s bear-ish paw  -- then got promptly cut off by Juri belting him across his surprisingly physical phantom face.

“Why hadn’t you helped her?” asked -- or rather, demanded – the woman, who felt herself exploding with rage.  “Shiori forgave you!  All the rotten things you’ve done to her back in the day, she’d accept it all as us being kids!”  Maddened, she grabbed onto the dead boy by the front of his dramatic tailcoat, and started shaking him with despairing, grace-lacking brutality.  “She’s everything to me, and you just watched her DIE without HELPING!!  YOU--

‘. . . Juri . . .’

Interrupted by the ethereal yet inexplicably familiar voice, along with something soft and indefinite brushing against her skin, Juri let go of the ghost to regard what she now found perched on the back on of hand.

It was a cabbage butterfly, its dainty white wings florescent against the dim surroundings.

A shrill, bestial screech had her turning around, where she saw the Sanetoshibot convulsing in apparent agony. 

“ . . . think . . . you’d beat me . . . so easily . . . ?”

That same voice, now coming rasped and strained through the cracks currently breaking out upon the teddy robot’s surface – between which white butterflies could be seen coming out in large droves – had Juri’s heart skipping a beat.

“. . . Shiori . . .?” asked the woman, almost timidly, as her mind swung rapidly between dread and hope.  From behind, she felt Ruka’s cool presence pressing up and against her.

“Say, Juri.” From behind, she felt Ruka’s cool presence pressing up and against her.
“Even you should know by now: sacrifice is always needed to realize a miracle.”  Juri, who could not look away from the large, sail-like white surfaces currently ramifying their way out of the butterfly infested robot in a grotesquely biotic manner, did not turn around.

“The only one . . .”  Her lover’s unmistakable voice, coming raw and gritty and real from inside the stunningly macabre mess, rose gradually in volume.  “ . . .who’s strong . . . and beautiful enough . . . to match Juri . . . is ME!!

With that, the Sanetoshibot shattered with an eggshell’s brittleness, revealing Shiori’s resplendent figure, empowered by vast white wings and beautified by numerous strategically-positioned butterflies making up her current wardrobe of sorts.  Flushed to begin with, the butterfly woman’s complexion reddened at noticing Juri and the latter’s gaze upon her.

“Juri, I . . .”  Apparently self-conscious, she glanced down upon her transformed self in both wonder and bafflement.    “You see, I don’t . . . really know how any of this is happening--”  Her sentence then got cut off by the taller woman rushing forward and enveloping her in a desperate hug –- a hug that was just as fiercely returned.  “Juri . . . !”

“That Ruka . . . ” grumbled Juri from where she had her tear-streaked face buried against the curve where her lover’s neck joined the shoulder.  “He made it seem like you’d been . . . I thought I’d lost you!”  Even as she heaved from emotional exertion, she could feel the many cabbage butterflies – that which ravaged a evil robot just moments ago – now gently soothing her nerves with pats of their feather-soft wings.

“Juri . . .”  Pushing her back with an exquisite gentleness matching the butterflies’ delicacy, Shiori  looked her steadily in the eye.  “Just then, when my car form was on the verge of combustion, I felt this power fueling me up and revitalizing me.”

“A power?”

“It wasn’t the same kind of power we’d felt from Himemiya earlier on; it’s what’s allowing me to do this butterfly thing now.” 

“Then . . . you’re saying that Ruka was helping you back then?”  Only now, certain that Shiori was safe and sound, did Juri turn around to again confront the powerful phantom.   “Ruka, you . . . ”

Ruka was no where in sight.

Shiori’s arms tightened around her.

“I think . . . Tsuchiya-sempai was kind of testing me, to see if I’ve changed from before . . . whether I’ve become worthy of you after all this time.” 

Testing you?  He had no right to--”

“Even now, Sempai was trying to protect you, because you’re no doubt still very important to him . . . though I’d imagine supporting his Princess is now his top priority.”

The butterfly-swarmed pair glanced up and at the grand upside down castle hovering above, looking identical to what they both remembered from Ohtori’s Dueling Arena, except with the train rail now protruding out from its construct.

Even at a distance, they could see that innumerable tendril-ish lengths now were lowering themselves from the Castle’s top and down towards the Fate Train running below.

There was no more time to waste upon whimsical musings.

“Shiori, let’s go.”

***

“Once, I believed that my sister -- not my princess, but my only family -- had loved me.

“It was no secret that she was jealous of those princesses I’ve rescued back when I still was Dios.

“Even seeing the cruelty with which she murdered the Princess of the Crystal with my own eyes, I told myself that it was excusable, that she did what she did because she loved me.

“It was that moment of willful self-delusion, instead of the mob attack that came soon afterwards, that truly started my long fall towards becoming the Ends of the World.

“Though, of course, it was her un-princ-ing me on my sickbed that had truly done me in.

“ ‘Dios and I has since become intimate,’ said my sister to the horrified people. ‘Neither you nor your daughters can have him now. He's now mine and mine alone, forever.’ 

“Even though we were siblings . . . no, it was because we were sibling that she did this.  So you see, it was by tarnishing me with the stigma of incest that my sister had repelled the crowds off of me while inciting their hateful violence . . .”

Idly listening in on the Prince’s monologue -- one that she had already heard numerous times before -- Hoshimi kept her icy gaze upon the stadium below, where, amidst the invisible masses rushing the stage, and the robotic platforms tearing each other apart, a young man with blue hair like hers could be seen locked in battle against a corpse of a pawn . . .   

***

The way he remembered it, back then, there would always be some ironically-relevant musical number accompanying each and every one of the Duels he had fought at Ohtori.

This one, taking place right at Japan’s biggest venue, proved no exception.

//“(backup: kiss, kiss me)
//“(hold, hold me)
//“(kiss me, hold me, kiss me, hold me...)”//

The backup singers and the musicians -– all members of Ohtori Music Department, all appearing as mere silhouettes -– had by now formed a circle of sorts, outlining the combatants’ allowed move-space while performing a song that rang cruel to the Duelist’s ears considering his current opponent.

“ . . . say you miss . . . miss me . . .” warbled his should-be-dead ex-agent while coming at him with strength and speed that had nothing to do with fencing skill and everything to do with supernatural might.  “ . . . miss me . . .”

Narrowing parrying a speedy sword thrust, the young man forced down his revulsion to dart forward into the disgusting perv’s personal space, before dealing him something against every rule in the fencing book: a savage kick right to the groin.

Amazingly, the physical attack appeared to work against the apparently dead (or is it undead?) freak, who went wide-mouthed and still from apparent pain.  Seizing the opportunity, he drew back his soul sword preparing to ram it into the monster’s salivations maw

“This one’s for Kozue--”

‘You’re going to lose . . . Miki-kun.’

The telepathic message impacted Miki’s mind like a needle into the skull, startling the raging Duelist into stumbling backwards and away from the pain wrenched zombie.  Steadying himself, the sweat-drenched fighter looked wildly about.

“Kozue . . . ?” he asked . . . before shaking his head as though willing it to clear up.  “No . . . you’re not her.  You’re . . .”

‘The witch had no more power to spare you.  You’re going to get yourself defeated by my husband’s pawn.’

“. . . Ohtori Kanae!”  He turned to glare at the vine-sprouting, coffin-carrying platform currently battling the Mikagefloat.  “What’ve you done to Kozue--”

CLANG!

Having recovered during his moment of distraction, his opponent now had sprung forward to knock off his soul sword flying while pinning him down against the floor hard.

“With power, anything is possible.. . .” drawled the ex-agent, currently leaning down such that they newwere face to face.  “You can even save your sister from her coffin. . . but you can’t do it.  You’re only human after all, Miki-chan.”

“B-Bastard!” Miki found himself stuttering in his heightened rage and fear.  “You . . . !” 

The dead man’s wide eyes now showed whites on all sides. “You've tried so hard, you needn't blame yourself.”  He leaned further down towards him with moustache-framed lips obscenely pursed.  “Now, let’s start with a kiss . . .”

Sword-less and pinned -- by the very monster of his nightmares, no less -- Miki did the only thing he could: he screamed.

In the background, the Kanaefloat could be seen getting its last remaining lengths of animated vines snipped off by Mikagefloat’s agile robotic scissor-hands, and appeared set to lose the fight.   

***

‘Then, even these rose vines fail me?

‘Someone tell me, how am I to deal with that pesky mad genius?

‘Well, no matter. Akio-san’s power is good as mine.

‘I can always---’


“Mi . . . ki . . .”

Kozue ‘s rasped voice, coming through her strained, trembling lips, appeared to startle whatever Kanae now had become.

‘I'm amazed you managed to speak up, Kozue-chan.’

Ignoring the voice, the young woman -– focusing only on the vision of her brother getting pinned by their nasty ex-agent -- slowly forced her numb hand to raise slowly up through sheer willpower.   

‘Impressive.  But, don't tell me you seriously intend to break out of this coffin?’

Grimacing with effort, Kozue continued in bringing her hand up.

‘Don't bother.  Your prince had since been defeated in battle.  The lid will not--’

THUMP!!

“. . .Mi . . . ki . . . ” Having slammed a palm against her coffin’s lid, Kozue gradually moved her other hand up as well, before clasping it over the rose impaling her heart, with her pallid fingers clawing at the dark petals.  “. . . for the . . .”

‘The coffin can't be opened; it's impossible for you!’ snapped Kanae, sounding either very annoyed . . . or outright threatened.  ‘Listen to Neesan, Kozue-chan; I’ve already bewitched you, and--’

“ . . . revolution of the WORLD!!!

And the black rose crumpled under her balled fist, as the coffin’s dark interior came to be ignited by this blazing light now radiating off her chest . . .

***

One moment, he was screaming helplessly against an inevitable assault.

The next, his assailant’s grotesque head abruptly vanished off view.

“So it’s me protecting you this time as well.”

“Kozue . . .” mumbled the stunned young man, who only now realized that the gross perv pinning him down had since been decapitated by his soul-sword wielding sister.  “Then . . . the coffin . . . you---”

“I managed to get out myself obviously,” huffed said sister, looking ruffled-up and fierce from where she glared disdainfully down at him . . . before suddenly letting out this darkly hysterical chuckle. “ . . . was what I wanted to say, but . . . no.  Wasn’t quite that simple.”  Turning away, she rubbed at a corner of her eye, as though using the gesture as an excuse to hide spilled tears.  “I saw what you were doing out here.”

Pushing the bloodless, straw-dry corpse -- likely dead for good this time -- off of him, Miki hurried to get back up on his feet.  “Kozue--” 

“Why couldn’t you have fought for me like this ten years ago, Miki?” asked – or rather, demanded – Kozue, at point blank.  “We’d never have wasted ten years on our stupid infighting then.”

Miki, who had already been regretting his cowardice for just as long, was saved from having to answer by the massive explosion rocking the background.   Turning around, they saw what remained of the Kanaefloat engulfed in red flames.  Beside it, the heavily damaged Mikagefloat remained standing still.

The shadowy Ohtori Musicians had all vanished from sight by now.

“Freaky bitch,” muttered Kozue.  “Kept on referring to herself as Neesan and stuff--”  A piece of something came fluttering out from the fiery haze and at them then.  Blinking, Kozue reached out to snatch up the item before it could hit her in the face.  “What the . . .”  She then went quiet at what she saw.

It was an old photo, one taken of a celadon-haired little girl posing with her little arms around a pair of blue-haired toddlers.  The little girl appeared to be a young Ohtori Kanae, and the toddlers distinctly recognizable as the Kaoru Twins. 

“Wha . . . ?”  She turned towards her brother, appearing lost.  “Miki . . . we knew her?”

“Kozue.”  Miki gulped audibly at her question.  “I’ve wanted to tell you since a while back.  You see . . . .”  Feeling the increasing weight of her suspicious gaze-turned-glare, he had to inhale deeply prior to continuing. “It looks like . . . Mrs. Ohtori Hoshimi could be our birth mother.”

“WHAT?!”  As expected, Kozue exploded in rage at receiving this news from him. “Why didn’t you--”

The young man threw up his hands.  “I only found out from Touga-sempai just a while ago!  Like, back at the mansion!”  He spoke on hurriedly.   “Listen . . . Sempai apparently knew Mrs Ohtori personally back in the day, when they both worked for the Chairman.  He told me how he got curious when that person asked him specifically not to hurt us back when we all were rival Duelists. And so, he dug into her background, and found that she might’ve had an affair with Father.”

“But . . . then the Mother we got . . . who . . . WHAT?”  Digesting the news with visible difficulty, it took Kozue a while to again find the words to speak with.  “We-ll . . .!”  Snorting harshly, she ran a hand roughly though her blue waves.   “Now I know where we’d get this damned hair color from.”  Her agitated expression gradually grew somber.  “Then . . . that woman . . .”

“She was carrying this photo with her, even in her mechanical-form.”

The Kaorus glanced over to see that Mikage –- speaking for the very first time since their seeing him –- was again in human form.  Stepping forward against a background of fiery wreckage, the man carried in his arms the disheveled, comatose Ohtori heiress.

Mikage glanced down upon his beaten opponent with something akin to empathy.  “She’d hated you both since the very beginning, and yet . . . she had probably loved you both since the very beginning as well. That’s why . . .”

“I see psychoanalyzing people is till your thing,” muttered Kozue, albeit her tone was heat-lacking.  She looked around and at the chaos and carnage surrounding them.    “So . . . what’d we do nex---?”

“GET IN!!!”

All turned at Saionji’s urgent cry to see Wakabamobile currently charging them, with what appeared to be an ominous sea of gender symbols following from behind.  Without the group having to do anything, the jeep simply “swallowed” them all up with magical ease, and took everyone speeding away from the raging mob.

***

For a while, the shaking and rumbling persisted, until finally, the vehicle came to be completely still. 

“At last,” gasped Tsuwabuki, still winded from having wrestled Tokiko’s firearm away from her grasp. “The Duelists outside have probably managed to stop the Train for good.”

“Moo,” grumbled Nanami, having almost completely transformed into a cow, and was now using her heavy bulk to keep the ageless witch pinned down.  “Ay kno dey culd hef dun it, Moo.” 

Surrounding them, the harried Children of Fate –- all having helped with subduing Tokiko -- now hesitantly got back on their feet.

All except one: Shouma, who remained kneeling beside their defeated adversary, looking as pained as he was concerned.

“It’s over . . . Chida Neesan.”

Tokiko, for her part, remained curled up on the ground, with her face turned away from view; only a faint tremor betrayed how she might have been quietly crying.

***

“We did it . . . Tenjou-kun.”

Having physically stopped Fate in its tracks, Utenabot now carefully ran hir fingers along the train car’s closed doors.

//“Now, let’s see how we’re getting Nanami and Tsuwabuki out . . .”//

A tingling sensation startled Utenabot into glancing down at hir right foot, where a number of barbed tendrils could be seen rapidly snaking up pst hir ankle.

//“What’re these--”//  S/he then gasped in shock as the Fate Train started rearing up and off the rail like a massive serpent.  It took hir a moment to notice the large number of thorny plant vines currently attached to the Train, all of which originating from the Castle above . . .   

“These rose vines are extensions of HIM!” cried Touga from within hir, pulling frantically on the controls as he tried freeing hir from the vines’ clutches.  “He’s now trying to wrestle the Fate Train towards him!”

//“These things are strong!”//  Utenabot now find hirself struggling against the surprisingly strong and animated vines.  //“Dammit!  How’d we not see them coming---”// 

“Utena!” 

“Juri-sempai!”   Turning at the familiar voice, Utenabot turned . . . only to be greeted by an outlandish sight that had her taken aback (in spite of all that s/he had already been through in this long night).   “Shiori . . . san?”

“Hang in there, Tenjou-san!” cried this winged-fairy that Shiori now had become; the flying creature had her arms around Juri, keeping the latter airborne.  “I’ll have them chew their way through these vines in no time!”

“Them” turned out to be the many butterflies fluttering around the pair, now moving forth to swarm the thorny vines like vicious locusts . . . before a number of them started dropping off as though poisoned by pesticide.

“No good, Takatsuki!” exclaimed Touga. “These vines are toxic, you can’t use your butterflies on them!”

“Wha . . .”  Shiroi’s fair skin blanched to the point of being chalk-white at realizing how even in her current form, her strength still remained insignificant in face of the Ends of the World’s colossal might.  Hanging on to her, Juri, too, visibly paled at being confronted with their current powerlessness.

//“Don’t mind us now!”// Hopelessly entangled, Utenabot called to the stunned Duelist-turned-fairy.  //“Just take Sempai away somewhere safe--”// 

SWISH!!

A section of the intertwined vines suddenly rolled up to envelope the pair in a web of thorns, dragging them screaming up and towards the Castle above.   

//“Damn . . .!”// rasped Utenabot as s/he struggled futilely on to untangle hirself . . . until s/he felt Touga taking over and ceasing hir agitated prying.

“Tenjou-kun, no need to waste energy trying to pry them off,” said the man. “Instead, let’s use these vines to climb up and towards the Castle, where we can get to fighting him directly before he could get his hands on the Fate Train!” 

//“ . . . you’re right!”//  Ever impressed by her partner’s level-headedness under fire, Utenabot ignored the vines encircling hir torso as s/he now focused upon reaching upwards.   //“Juri-sempai!  I’m coming up right after you two!”//   

With that, s/he started making hir frantic ascend towards the Ends of the World; behind hir, the Fate Train --  now having been pulled completely off the rail -- sounded its shrill, galloping horn from where it struggled in mid air like a giant hooked fish.

***

“At the very beginning of our struggle to survive that bleak world together, I still had clung on to the delusion that my sister was a noble goddess who sacrificed herself for me, for her beloved brother.

“It took me a while to realize that things had since changed drastically between the two of us.

“It might’ve started with her molesting me on my sickbed . . . or perhaps as early as when she saw how I did nothing after catching her murdering the Princess of the Crystal . . .

“Fact was that even as I lost my princely glory, so too had I lost my sister’s love -- the only love I’ve ever known -- along with her basic respect.

“ ‘It’s fine now.  Please stay on at home while I go out to labor and toll.  And yes, do please turn a blind eye to those seedy mortal men you see clamoring around me.’

“It was around that time when I, too, started prostituting myself to humans to make ends meet.

“And that, was how Dios came to perish completely, irreversibly, forever.

“Yet, even then, my sister still would not let me go free.  No . . . no when the fallen man I was still existed to her as reminder of the Prince who once was; I had become, to her, the corpse of her love -- a precious memento.

“Millenniums later, even that flimsy role I got left in your heart shall be taken from me.”

“U . . . ten . . . na . . .”

Turning towards the Witch his sister had become, the Prince’s chiseled face drew even tighter in resentment.

“I see it is now her name you call to in your time of need.”

Stepping up towards her rose-framed coffin -- trailing yards of vibrant rose vines behind him while doing so --  he watched, through the narrowing gap left by the closing lid, her ashen lips straining in her attempt to cry out. 

“For a while, I had believed that y