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Countermelody! (たいせんりつ!)

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I do not have a nickname. The way she holds me in her hands is different from the way most guitars are held. That is what I believe. For a high quality instrument such as myself to be used in a garage band is a strange experience, but I have come to find it comforting, in a way. This is my home, these are my performances. The sound would not be the same without me. Every night, from my stand, I look at her sleeping, and wonder what she’s thinking. My master, Yorozu Hyakkoku.

This Yumeno person had been kind enough to provide us with one rather large room in a hotel close to the Budokan. We were going to have to share some beds. Sleeping was not on Yorozu’s mind at the moment. She was holding me in her arms, playing the opening notes of “Zoku Zoku Road”. She saw herself in the large mirror inside the closet, and memories of that New Years’ returned. She had seen someone in the mirror. A brown haired girl with a perpetual smile and a face similar to hers.

“Who was that girl?” she asked to herself.

“Hyakkoku, we’re thinking about going out into the city for dinner. Do you want to come with?” asked Ran.

“Yumeno isn’t paying for this, so don’t go overboard,” said Michi.

“Can you wait a few minutes? There’s something I want to ask you about,” said Yorozu.

Asada, in the corner, unpacked her dog ears from her suitcase and placed them on her head. She walked over to the couch where my master was and sat down beside her. Tsugumi was carrying Ran’s drum kit and her own Triton in. No one else was strong enough to handle their weight by themselves.

“What is it, Yorozu?” asked Asada.

“It’s about dreams,” Yorozu said. “My first dream of the New Year.”

“It’s April,” said Ran.

“I know, but I didn’t think anything of that dream until now,” said Yorozu, “I was walking through this black room. All of a sudden I found myself in this outfit. It was bright and tacky and unlike anything Kitaku Free Time has ever worn. There was this storm of paper, and I found myself in front of some broken mirrors, then they became one bigger mirror. When I looked in that mirror, I saw... myself. Only she had brown hair and a smile. It was like I’d been turned into a chipmunk. She tried to ask me a question, but the dream ended before I could hear what it was.”

“Are you feeling okay?” asked Michi.

“That sounds really cool,” said Asada.

“Can you start over? I missed the first part,” said Tsugumi, putting down the instruments and taking a seat by Yorozu.

“I wouldn’t put any stock into it. Dreams are just your brain firing at random. If you try to find meaning in something like that, you’ll become too distracted from what’s really going on. We should get going before the restaurants get crowded,” said Ran.

“What if it’s more than that?” asked Yorozu, “Haven’t you ever dreamed about your band mates? We spend so much time together that it seems like something that would happen.”

It would appear Yorozu had hit a sensitive spot in Ran and Michi. Ran removed her glasses, wiping them off with the corner of her shirt. “You can say something like that had happened,” Ran said nervously.

Early in our third year of high school, the rest of the band convinced Ran to try out some of the other instruments. She was certain the drums were the only thing for her, keeping to her tidiness and reputation as The Human Metronome. She could play Tsugumi’s keyboard with great precision, but it didn’t sound anything like its owner. The majestic electronic piano had been reduced to a beeping science fiction computer with Ran at the helm. Michi offered to give her a hand at the bass.

Michi sat behind Ran on the desk in Yorozu’s garage, placing her hands over her friend’s. The sharp strings scraped across Ran’s fingers. A few drops of blood came out. Michi did not react, going to get some bandages from inside the house, but Ran was momentarily frozen. This sharp pain in her finger would distract her, cutting down on the amount of paperwork she’d be able to get done, never mind the drums. Michi applied the bandage. Ran declined from trying to play Yorozu’s guitar, and returned to her seat.

That night, she had a dream in her room. Michi approached her, dressed as a nurse. She hugged Ran, the fabric from her dress stopping the blood from flowing. Michi had always been there for her, doing things she couldn’t. Ran brushed off the dream as she had Yorozu’s, a random product of an unconscious mind, though she did act a little kinder towards Michi the next day.

“It’s not that I don’t dream,” Michi said, “It’s that they’re not very interesting. I end up forgetting most of them anyway. I can see why you’d remember yours, Hyakkoku. I don’t think Miss Koike knew what she was doing when she recruited you.”

After Kitaku Free Time’s first rooftop concert, news of our performance was starting to spread through Matsugaoka. None of it had been sanctioned by the school, but with Koike working from within, she made sure to schedule it during times when nothing was happening anyway. Michi had gone out of the way to give herself a flashy outfit that would draw attention to her like a peacock. Yet students all over the school were talking about Yorozu. Unlike Michi, Yorozu was barely aware of the audience, allowing her to blend into her performance. Michi had simply come on too strong.

This led to another dream. Michi found herself inside a glass case, with the words of the students flying around her. “Distracting”, “I don’t know if she’s in it for the music”, “Shouldn’t she be in the fashion club instead?”, “Her bass line needs more work”. Fragments of this dream remained with her, but she did not act on it. Doing so would only decrease her rating with the students further.

Tsugumi, ever the quiet observer, had noticed that both of them wanted spectacle, but in different ways. Michi’s spectacle was focused on the performers, while Yorozu’s was focused on the stage. Koike’s days in Bubble Angel had aspects of both, but each of them had taken something different from her stories. Michi’s dreams would change when she came upon an idea that would change Kitaku Free Time’s goal for when they got to college, for better or worse.

The night before their last rooftop concert, she designed similar outfits for all five members of the band that bore the KFT logo. They were simple compared to some of her past fashion work. Michi figured if everyone looked the same, she could pretend the applause was for her, or better yet, it might really be for her. The impression they left on the school was great, but it put another idea into Michi’s head. That logo was marketable. At that point, it became all about fashion and the logo, and she tried to raise sales to get the band to the Budokan. This might be what got us noticed by Miss Yumeno.

“I don’t think this is my brain firing at random,” said Yorozu, “If everything in there is something I have to sort through, then where did the other girl come from? What’s with the mirrors? I haven’t had anything like that happening. Especially not with how the weather’s been up in Hokkaido.”

“It’s symbolic of something,” Ran said.

“I think Ran and I are going to head down to the shops. You can meet us a little later,” said Michi.

Ran and Michi left the hotel room, whispering to each other all the while. Yorozu tried to play the opening bars of “Zoku Zoku Road” on my body again. Tsugumi, now shaking less, took a seat on the couch beside her. It was dark outside, and even at night, the streets of Tokyo were busy with people and light shows coming from every building. Compared to the suburbs back home, getting rest before the concert would be a difficult task.

“Do you know anything about the other band we’re playing with?” asked Asada, moving up onto the couch herself, “Houkago Tea Time. I think they started off as a school club in Toyosato, but beyond that, it’s hard to find any information. I know that Yamanaka worked with them, but Miss Yumeno hasn’t been giving us a lot to work with. I’m excited to meet them, wan.”

“If they’re playing with us, they’ve got be the most hardcore band around,” said Yorozu. “It’s not like anyone would schedule two completely opposite bands against each other.”

Tsugumi imagined a band covered in makeup and rubber costumes. They looked like monsters from another world. She was scared, but then she realized with the outfits Michi had created for them to wear, it made the entire thing seem like a hero show. Whether that was better or worse than the alternative, she didn’t think to speak up on. Ran would hear about it one way or another.

“About your dream...” said Tsugumi timidly, “Maybe it’s a vision of things to come.”

“That’s only in TV and comics,” said Yozoru.

“Not that kind of omen. A good one. I think it’s saying that we’re going to be successful,” she said.

“We have to be. The kinds of things I want to accomplish can’t be done on these small stages. I need to reach the widest audience possible,” she said.

“If you keep moving that fast, you might miss out on picking up some things,” said Asada, turning around so her legs were on top of the couch and her head was back near the floor, “Even the stuff Miss Koike’s taught you has come from a mix of other places. We could go to the country, to the city, maybe spend a little time abroad. We can do it together.”

The moment Asada decided upon her dog ears also had its genesis in a dream. At the same time the summer festival was taking place, Masako Koike arranged for a bus to bring her trainees to the ground where Bubble Angel’s musical style had been created. A land where the bright and bold dictated every style, and loyal fanbases flocked like birds. Akihabara, the land of the nerds.

Shortly before this, Masako had realized that Yorozu was the one with a drive that matched hers when she was young, and took her by the hand, leading her to a costume shop. Michi tailed behind them, keeping herself just out of range. Tsugumi, in her shyness, had hoped to avoid attention in a place where so many people were, but it was that same shyness that attracted her more attention. Ran saw a table with people selling doujinshi, and, when they said they could use some help, she accepted, after informing Michi of the plan.

This left Asada all alone in the middle of the street. The stimuli around her attacked her senses from every direction, leaving her overwhelmed as to which way she should go. She wandered into one store, only to be pushed out by the crowds. In another, she was the only one there, and the coldness and emptiness of being in a store surrounded by plastic figures left her feeling just as uneasy.

She was feeling hungry, and found herself going into a cafe to pass the time. She was unaware that it was a maid cafe, and today, the staff were dressed in dog ears. The customers were enjoying themselves, eating and talking in a happier mood than she had ever seen back at Matsugaoka. Asada ordered a meal to stay in this place longer. When one of the waitresses came by, she asked her where the dog ears had come from.

“It’s an anime tie-in. The manager got these from the Cospa shop down the street. Would you like to try them on, maybe get a picture?” Asada paid for the picture with her own money. She put the dog ears on, and, for a brief moment, felt like a brand new person. As soon as the picture was taken, Asada left the store, running as fast as her legs could carry her, running after Yorozu.

She had a dream that night about standing in the middle of a giant street, looking up at a TV on the side of the building. She saw Yorozu on that screen. Asada called out, asking “Are you having fun?” The television replied, and its light shone down upon Asada, inviting her in. She never told the others where she had found out about dog ears. It became a part of her that they accepted. Yorozu was the one who invited her in, after all.

“I suppose we would need to do it together,” said Yorozu on the couch, “None of the songs I’ve written are a solo.”

“Why is reaching the stage so quickly so important to you?” asked Tsugumi.

“There’s someone who I want to hear my music,” said Yorozu.

“Is it someone I know?” asked Asada.

“You’re a great junior, Asada, but there are some things that every person has to keep to themselves. This isn’t going to hurt me if I don’t tell you,” said Yorozu.

“It might hurt the person you’re doing it for, especially if they find out too late,” said Asada.

“We’ve made it this far, everything’s going to be fine,” said Yorozu.

Asada was touched. Usually Yorozu was ordering everyone around, trying to make things bigger and better than before, and pushing the band to their limits. For the first time in years, there was something she was willing to show restraint on.

“I’m going to the restaurant,” said Tsugumi, grabbing her jacket and heading out the door, “It would look bad if I was late.”

The door shut as Tsugumi slowly walked through the hallway. Asada and Yorozu were left alone in the room. Neither of them had been in this situation before. With almost everyone gone, the apartment was dark except for two table lamps. Yorozu’s tense expression calmed a bit. Asada remembered what Yoroko had told her a long time ago. It was when Asada entered her third year of high school, after the other members of Kitaku Free Time had graduated.

“There’s no one who knows Yorozu better than me. My sister is a space case, she doesn’t think of anyone but herself, and she’s probably going to do something stupid when she’s by herself. Without me keeping her in check, she wouldn’t have made it into this school. I want you to watch her for me. Maybe if you get to know the kind of person she is in the dark, you’ll get yourself out of this band before something bad happens. It’s your choice.”

Asada moved closer to Yorozu. “You know, I think that dream of yours might not be a dream at all. That girl you saw in there, I think she’s a real person. Simultaneous dreams are uncommon, but they’ve happened before.”

“A doppelganger? Even if she was real, who knows where she is now?” said Yorozu, “That someone like that could exist and still be happy about the world, and be an artist, is amazing. That person seemed too good to be real.”

“They’re probably thinking the same thing about you. Did you hear what they were trying to say?” asked Asada.

“It was something like ‘It’s not over. It’s only beginning.’ There’s nothing I can do with that!” said Yorozu. “You seem pretty interested in these dreams. Any reason?”

“Something like that,” said Asada.

Asada did not spend all of her time with Kitaku Free Time. She wished she could, but Kokoro and Yoroko were just as important to her. One day during winter break, when the leaves had been stripped from the trees and flakes of snow fell on the windowsill, Yoroko’s gang was going to walk around the town and look for spots to leave graffiti. Asada kept falling into daydreams during the course of events, seeing Ran and Michi on top of a snowbank, Tsugumi out in the middle of a field, and Yorozu hiding behind an alleyway. When she opened her eyes, they were no longer there.

“What would you do if I was no longer here?” Yorozu asked, “If I became a different person or pursued my own path. Yokokawa and Fujii seem alright as long as they have each other, and Miura’s father finally has a job again, but I’ve never seen you do that much outside of this band. You’re a strange little puppy.”

“I’ve never really thought about that. It’s not something I want to happen,” said Asada, “but I’d probably head back to Akiba. There’s a lot of opportunities there for me. A lot of artists draw inspiration from the people around them, you know. I’d draw inspiration from you and keep the memory of you going. I guess you’d stop calling me ‘Asa-wan’ and start calling me Hachi, wouldn’t you?”

“Am I really a person worth glorifying like that? I’ve been trying for that person for all these years, and if Miss Yumeno hadn’t stepped in, I’d still be trying every venue back at home until something worked. I’ve failed more than I’ve succeeded. I just don’t let it stop me, even if it means this band has to be worked until it bleeds,” said Yorozu diligently.

“You don’t show it, but I think you understand that this band should be fun. You do things flashy and impractically, but you always try to do them. You want to give the audience their best. Some people would resign themselves to whatever they can get, but you try to have it all. That’s kind of admirable,” said Asada, resting her head on Yorozu’s shoulders.

Yorozu looked at Asada beside her, and remembered back to the day of the rooftop concert. The day that the band went from four to five. Miss Koike, embracing her history in a passionate way, had the members of Kitaku Free Time dress up in the old outfits (or replicas thereof, after challenging Michi to do so) of Bubble Angel. They were white and gold, with fake wings and bared midriffs. On the right set of girls, they would look cute, but they clashed so fiercely with Kitaku Free Time’s image that the students were more confused than eager to come to the concert.

Except for Yorozu. Her wings, stitched with blue fabric, left her feeling extremely confident in herself. She went to the rooftop early in the morning while the rest of the band was covertly pasting fliers over the school. She looked out at the sunrise, cloaking her figure in silhouette. That was when she heard someone knocking. Thinking quickly, Yorozu hid behind the water tower. Yoroko’s gang had come to the rooftop to chat in private.

She overheard Kokoro talking about joining the jazz club. Yoroko was examining a list of clubs herself, trying to see which one fit her best. Asada, meanwhile, thought she heard someone else out here, and, her hand placed to her forehead, was looking around to try and find this other person.

“I can’t let Yoroko see me like this,” said Yorozu to herself.

“Hello? Who’s there?” asked Asada.

Yorozu peeked out from behind the water tower. One of her wings spread itself out from her back. Asada quickly turned her head, and saw the winged figure. Yorozu quickly returned to hiding. She heard the trio of girls leave, and set about finding the others once more. Asada, believing that there was something supernatural on the rooftop, returned when the concert was taking place, and became engrossed by the music, forgetting about her mission, and the reason Yoroko had sent her. There was something in the back of her mind, but Asada knew she had seen Yorozu from a distance before.

“I’m glad we left Hokkaido,” said Yorozu. “If we can make it here, we won’t ever have to return.”

“You’re willing to give up on your past that easily?” said Asada.

“My whole life has been struggling for something. Once we become successful here, things will be easy. I don’t see any reason to worry,” said Yorozu.

“I guess,” said Asada.

“Let’s get going. We can tune up tomorrow morning. The day we’ve been waiting for is almost here,” said Yorozu.

Yorozu and Asada left the couch. Yorozu set me back in my stand, placing me beside the rest of the band’s instruments. The lights clicked off, and the hotel fell into darkness.

The streets of Tokyo at night were bright and colorful, filled with advertisements that took up entire buildings and people of all stripes walking the streets. The members of Kitaku Free Time stood out, their hair colors looking even brighter under the heavy lights of the city. They saw the Tokyo Dome off in the distance, and came upon the Budokan. It seemed much bigger in person.

“We’ve never played to an audience this size before. This is going to be great,” said Michi.

“How much did Miss Yumeno spend on this, exactly?” asked Tsugumi timidly.

Ran took her notepad out of her pocket and wrote something down. She turned it around and showed Tsugumi.

“I’ve... never seen that many zeroes before,” said Tsugumi.

“Many parties have a stake in this. There’s a lot we have to do right,” said Ran.

Yorozu saw a pair of Japanese Robins fly overhead, landing on the highest part of the arena. “Good job, little birdies,” she said under her breath.

“Yorozu, you’re still a kid,” said Asada, smiling, “Our future looks bright.”

At a coffee shop not far from the Budokan, Kokoro and Yoroko were getting something to drink. Their backstage passes were sticking out of their pockets. Kokoro was stirring her coffee, as she had been for the past few minutes. Yoroko took a seat at the table, and looked out at the cold streets.

“You can’t keep secrets from family, sis,” said Yoroko.

“Shouldn’t we be seeing the sights?” asked Kokoro.

“We have a goal. This isn’t a vacation,” said Yoroko, “It’s weird seeing them without Koike.”

“Maybe they finally broke free?” asked Kokoro.

“There’s no way that’s possible. Koike doesn’t let go,” said Yoroko. “Why did I have to end up with such a gullible sister?”

“You know, for someone you don’t like, you went to a lot of trouble to follow her,” said Kokoro.

“Look who’s talking,” said Yoroko.

At that moment, a black-haired girl with twintails, along with a brown-haired girl with a ponytail and a brown-haired girl with a fluffy looking hairstyle walked down the street between the Budokan and the coffee shop. Asada turned her head, and momentarily locked eyes with the black-haired girl. Kokoro and Yoroko did the same with the ponytailed girl and the fluffy one. That second felt like a dream, a moment where the universe had found a turning point. In the blink of an eye, that trio had vanished into the darkness and the crowds once more.

Mai Ueda was walking down the street. A glossy picture was in her hand, and the wind was at her back. She’d finished the job she’d been assigned in this part of Tokyo, and had a long walk ahead of her before she reached her next destination. A flier for the concert two nights from now blew past her. She bent down to pick it up, and looked at the black and white photographs of the two bands. She flipped open her cell phone, considering sending a text to Yorozu, then stopped. This wasn’t her place.

She said, “The future looks bright.”