“It’s happening again,” Maya mused as they waited at the wings of the infamous underground stage. There was no giraffe around but Maya could spot the tinge of blue in the empty stands, this new Elle was watching them. And since that was the case, she would have to give her best performance for the audience.
To think they would fight again for their Starlight, no— this should’ve been expected. Because they did it before it was inevitable that they would do it again, there is no such thing as a play only performed once, even if there was there would always be someone begging for an encore, begging for more.
“Tch, it’s already happening now , Tendou Maya.” Claudine crossed her arms, giving a slight glare when Maya caught her eyes, one angrier than usual. Not that Maya could be surprised, she wasn’t the one fighting her family. A reaction like that was expected.
At the thought of Yumeoji Fumi, Claudine’s younger sister, Maya began to think of Claudine’s youngest. Yumeoji Shiori. The girl that has confused her heart, her mind and the girl that Maya has been talking to secretly behind Claudine’s back at Shiori’s request in an act of teenage rebellion. The thought of which made the corners of Maya’s lips curl upwards subtly. Teenage rebellion indeed.
“So it is,” Maya said as her smile sobered, remembering her conversation with Shiori late at night a few days earlier. Her promise to hold Claudine back if things become too personal in the revue between her and Fumi. The way Shiori sounded so scared, almost holding back her tears in the phone call.
“Tell me Saijou Claudine,” Maya said as the curtains rose and the signal for all them to walk onto the stage came. “Are you prepared to give this your all?”
Claudine gave Maya a confused look. “Of course, are you?”
Maya nodded, “I will, but if you plan to hold us back for anything that isn’t Starlight, I will intervene.”
Claudine’s eyes widened at the declaration, and the others around them gave Maya a look and then Claudine. Yet before anyone could say anything, Maya walked out of the wing and onto the stage.
“Oh boy there’s Maya chan,” Ichie laughed nervously as she played around with her fan. Rinmeikan were already on the stage, their introductions already given to the empty audience. It was weird being in this fighting costume, it was even weirder holding a fan as a weapon. She would’ve thought that Yuyuko with her rakugo would hold a fan but the more Ichie played around with her fan the more she became comfortable wielding it. Somehow it was a perfect fit for her.
“Hey, you’re not going to go easy on her cause you two are friends are you?” Fumi asked as she glanced at Claudine before looking away the second she met her fierce glare. She had been on that receiving end too many times, Claudine was looking for a fight.
Ichie gasped and put her fan to her chest. “I would never,” Ichie looked back at Maya, pausing in awe at the terrifying aura she emitted from standing there. Maya was right in their texts, on the stage she was something else. Ichie shook her head to snap out of it, no time to get scared now, Tamao and everyone else depended on her.
“We talked about it before anyways,” Ichie continued, talking low to Fumi as Seisho did their introductions. “If I was holding myself back cause we were friends Maya chan would never forgive me.” Fumi made a noise of approval and Ichie took that time to glance at Fumi, Ichie wasn’t the only facing someone familiar.
Ignoring Tamao who was all but determined to fight her old childhood friend Hanayagi Kaoruko, Fumi was the one facing her oldest sister. From what Ichie got from annoying Fumi, they were close, all three of them were including Shiori. Given that Fumi just came back from the stage, Ichie wouldn’t be surprised if Fumi was secretly scared to face Claudine in a real fight with actual weapons.
Ichie glanced at Fumi’s hand. As she expected, her free hand that didn’t hold her sword breaker was shaking.
Instinctually, Ichie grasped Fumi’s hand. Before Fumi could yank it away, Ichie gave it a solid squeeze as she looked at Fumi in the eyes with a rare look of seriousness. “Hey, I promised that I’ll cover you if you need it Fumi.” Ichie wasn’t going to abandon her friends, even in the face of danger, she’ll run first to protect them if she must.
Fumi pursed her lips, looking away as she squeezed back, grateful for the concern. Ichie let go. “You don’t need to do that,” Fumi whispered, though everyone else was trying to focus on the introductions, Rui and Yuyuko couldn’t help but glance at what their senpai was talking about.
Then, Fumi’s eyes hardened and her jaw clenched as Claudine finished her introduction, ending it with one final look towards Fumi. It was a silent message, one that only Fumi could read since Shiori wasn’t here. Claudine was going to go after her, Claudine wanted to fight against her and her alone. And if that was the case, there was no point in letting her newest friends get pummeled in the crossfire.
“Actually,” Fumi hissed as her grip on her sword breaker tightened. “I don’t want you to do that.”
“Save and focus your energy on protecting everyone else,” Fumi commanded, her eyes not leaving Claudine’s. “Claudine is going to come for me and me alone.”
“That’s even more reason to protect you Fumi!”
“I don’t need protection,” Fumi snapped, before wincing at the hurt expression on Ichie’s face. “Sorry, I just— this is personal Ichie, I don’t want you to get hurt because of it.”
She doesn’t want anyone to get hurt for her actions, Fumi already hurt enough friends in the past for her selfish actions. That’s why she’s in Rinmeikan, that’s why she’s putting her life on the line alone against her sister. She wanted to change, she wanted to be a better friend, a better stage girl.
Thankfully, Ichie was perceptive enough to understand that. “Awww,” Ichie cooed as she suddenly wrapped Fumi into a hug, “You do care about us Fumi chan~”
“Ichie!” Fumi’s face flushed red at the declaration and sudden contact as she started to push Ichie off her. Stupid gremlin.
Much to Fumi’s horror, Ichie snuggled closer. “Tamao look! Me and Fumi are becoming closer friends.”
Tamao turned back at her name and her tense face relaxed at the familiar shenanigans. “Ichie…” she warned with that kind smile. Next to them, Yuyuko held back a snicker and Rui began to scold her for that.
“I will kill you Ichie,” Fumi hissed as she successfully shoved Ichie off.
“Then you better win Fumi,” Ichie grinned with a wink. “That way I can have a head start when you chase after me.”
“When we win I’m going to make sure you have no more strength to move.”
“Oh how confident Fumi sama~” Ichie grinned mischievously, Fumi was about to yell again at the honorific but was stopped when Ichie pulled Rui and Yuyuko into a side hug whilst Tamao shared some words with Kaoruko at the front. “See everyone, Fumi thinks we can win this fight so don’t hold back okay.”
“She looks like she’s going to kill you Ichie san,” Yuyuko commented, a small smile on her face.
“I’m getting her all prepared for her fight against her onee chan,” Ichie grinned as she let go of her kouhai and faced Fumi once more. “So don’t worry about us Fumi, Ichie chan will cover all of them.”
Fumi sighed, somehow already tired from dealing with Ichie. Though if she could handle Ichie, a far worse version of Claudine, she could handle her sister even if she had a break from the stage. A thought that never would occur to her without Ichie’s help.
Fumi nodded, her confidence resurging with the rest of Rinmeikan after Ichie’s pep talk. “Thanks Ichie.” Then as an afterthought, Fumi began to smirk as she glanced at the lavender haired idiot, “You better have energy to run after we win this.” Ichie smirked back, taking the words as a challenge as the Revue finally began.
Though all that confidence faltered with one violent war cry.
“Tu es morte, Fumi!”
(“You’re dead Fumi.”)
Fumi was dead, or at least she would be when Claudine had her hands on her. Claudine loved Fumi, she loved her sister so much but that wasn’t going to stop her being dead— or wish she was dead. Claudine was going to run her so ragged that it would make her regret every stupid thing she did in the past.
It wasn’t like Claudine planned to focus on Fumi and it’s not like she’s ignoring the goal of Starlight like Maya suggested in the wings. She focused on Fumi, give her the sibling tussle she always wanted to give and save Starlight. Though Fumi may have taken a break from the stage she was a former edel, even if Claudine wasn’t her sister, that fact alone meant she was strong.
Besides, this fight was something that Fumi wanted too. Why else would she run up and meet her in the middle?
“Swordbreaker?” Claudine scoffed in french as their blades clashed, the sound of metal against metal rang in the space between them. Claudine pushed forward into a thrust against Fumi’s bare shoulder but Fumi parried against it, wrapping her knife between her arm to a near grapple. However, Claudine caught on and stepped away, using her off hand to catch Fumi’s, smirking when Fumi narrowed her eyes in frustration. Yet despite the small victory in testing each other’s capabilities, Claudine’s eyes narrowed in the small frame she had. Fumi borrowed her old grapple techniques when they were play-fighting/wrestling as kids.
How much more would this thief steal?
Claudine threw Fumi away, not anticipating the way Fumi went back at her, almost throwing herself to her blade in with a confidence that startingly reminded Claudine of her own. Claudine gritted her teeth as she threw up her guard, stepping back from her distance and her observing eyes. She didn’t expect this drive, this inner strength. It seemed that her little sister was getting too confident again.
As always, this stage was too small for them to fully perform together.
“I shouldn’t be surprised you’re efficient with a dagger,” Claudine growled as she aimed for the legs, Fumi caught it but didn’t expect Claudine to push forward, catching her elbow in a grapple that forced Fumi to trap against herself. This wasn’t an effective technique but something within Claudine hungered for Fumi’s reaction and so Claudine allowed herself a front-row seat. “You were always a backstabber.”
“EXCUSE ME!?” The raw anger was a delicious sight and Claudine didn’t care when Fumi found the strength to push back and create distance again. Victory may taste sweet but it would taste better when it was marinated. “WHAT THE HELL DOES THAT MEAN CLAUDINE?”
Pathetic. How blind was this girl?
Claudine scoffed, “I know it’s considered a type cast for you Fumi, but acting dumb everytime we talk can be boring for the stage.”
Instead of answering verbally, Fumi answered her with another attack, one more sloppy in the raw emotion and strength it had instead. Claudine parried it with ease, her plan was working. Though it was low to use verbal taunts, she wasn’t the only one who used it. Claudine was certain that Kaoruko would do the same to their leader, so why should she hold back?
Fumi was always holding her back.
“You’re a backstabber,” Claudine sneered as she pushed forward again, “You always have been, I lost count of the amount of holes you left on my back.”
Fumi glowered back, her anger quickly rising to the bait as she answered back in french. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Claudine laughed as she thrust, Fumi moved back as she parried and attempted to counter-attack before creating distance once more. “Shall I list out the receipt then Fumi?” Their blades crossed and Claudine half handed her longsword, gripping the sword in the blunt middle to use as leverage against Fumi’s blade. “Or shall I say miss Annie?”
Fumi’s eyes widened as she used her strength to push Claudine off her and backed away once more “That was ages ago!”
“Was it?” Claudine sneered not letting go of the memory of Fumi stealing the spotlight of Annie in a school production. “Let’s go with something more recent—” With a powerful overswing, Claudine arched her sword to Fumi’s left shoulder, missing the target but leaving a cracked mark on the concrete in her place. “Guam.”
“You forgave me that already!”
“Alright then let's go for something fresh in your head,” Claudine snarled as she flicked the rubble away from her blade, dust and smoke following the sharp whisk in the air. She charged forward, eyes going feral.
Fumi’s eyes widened, her face paled at the instant recognition of her crime. It wasn’t her abandoning her friends, her edels. It was about Shiori, it was abandoning their sister. Of all the crimes, this was the one she deserved the most. So when Claudine aimed for her death, Fumi couldn’t do anything but shut her eyes and accept it.
But it never came.
A loud crash of metal like it was a throb of a giant’s heart came instead. When Fumi opened her eyes she immediately squinted and stepped back at the sudden wave of dust and smoke. Her dagger still in a guarding stance in case Claudine used this as a method to attack her with. But when the dust settled it was clear Claudine had no motive to chase her, not when her blade was against Tendou Maya.
“You,” Claudine snarled as she attempted to free her blade. Maya didn’t let her, using her strength and body leverage to force Claudine’s blade down once more in an attempt to stop her. “How dare you interfere, Tendou Maya, you vexing woman!”
“I warned you, did I not Saijou Claudine?” Maya explained curtly her cold, serious eyes glancing at Fumi before narrowing on Claudine. “Should you hold Seisho back in something that wasn’t Starlight I will intervene.”
“Hold Seisho back,” Claudine gasped, the sheer audacity in her voice. “YOU’RE THE ONLY ONE HOLDING ME BACK.”
With that strength, Claudine pushed Maya’s blade off hers and attempted to go at Fumi again, who was busy standing still and staring like an idiot. Too shocked that Maya of all people was going against her own team, and continued to do so when Maya blocked Claudine’s attack, her back against Fumi as if she was her own teammate instead.
“TENDOU MAYA!” Claudine roared in frustration.
“Saijou Claudine,” Maya replied curtly as she moved her blade to the side, blocking a sudden kunai thrown at her almost instinctively, her eyes still on Claudine. Fumi glanced at Yuyuko who grimaced before her eyes widened when Ichie pulled her aside, lifting her fan up to block Hikari’s attack.
The sight brought Fumi back to a reality check, there was still a fight going on. Their school was still on the line. And yet— Fumi couldn’t do anything but stand there and stare, she was drawn to this set piece even if logically she should’ve used this interschool fighting to her advantage. Something in her heart told her to stay, to enjoy Claudine getting beaten down and getting what she deserved.
“This is a mistake,” Maya warned as Claudine took her block of the kunai as an opening to get past her defences and to Fumi behind her. Maya parried the rage-fuelled attack, displacing the point as she leaned in and grappled her sword in the blunt middle, effectively halting the attack. “I should’ve never allowed you to fight your sister first, not without backup.”
“Which sister, the backstabber or me,” Claudine spat as she tried to tear her sword away but failed too. In fact, when Claudine moved so did Maya countering Claudine in a better way and forced her into a grapple where it was her own sword against her throat as she held her from behind.
“The backstabber can be either or none if you continue with this illegal vigilantism on the stage,” Maya grunted near Claudine’s ear as she wrestled against Claudine’s strength. “You will regret this and as your partner it’s my job to stop you before it’s too late.”
Claudine stilled, heavy breathing hissed from her grit teeth. But still, Maya held firm, she would not let go until Claudine returned to her normal self. She knew better than anyone how intoxicating the stage was, how easy it was to dance to its whim unaware of the consequences she will face the second she’s off the stage. She lost too many people to this, let alone herself.
She wasn’t going to lose Claudine. Not when she promised Shiori she would look after her sisters in her absence.
“You know what I regret,” Claudine hissed, her voice calmer but still has that hint of hotheaded rage. Claudine’s eyes met Maya’s. Maya prepared herself for any insult that came her way. “Being your partner.”
But Maya didn’t prepare herself for that statement, or for her actions to relax in the shock, or for the way Claudine didn’t use her sword as a method of attack but her elbow.
Maya can prepare herself for anything for the stage, her fallible weaknesses only appeared off the stage. Maya was not prepared for the hurt, the lie, the hate in Claudine’s eyes when she said those lines. It was not part of the stage, it did not belong. Maya knew this.
For why else, despite fighting with weapons infused by the willpower of stage girls, despite never feeling the ache and during the battle of last year’s Seisho Revues. Why despite everything, Maya’s head throbbed and her vision was blurred and when she touched her face, her fingers were marked with red.
Why would Maya, one who already devoted everything to the stage since birth, bleed on a stage unless the actions caused it didn’t belong there? Shiori was right, this fight wasn’t something worthy of a stage, it was more worthy of a brawl in the streets. That’s why she could bleed from her nose, that’s why she can’t open one eye and how in the distance, Fumi and Claudine continued to fight, disrupting everyone else on the stage.
“Shiori,” Maya mumbled under her breath as fingers struggled to grip on the hilt of the blade, let alone lift it at the sight of someone running at her. From the blurring silhouette, Maya could tell it was Ichie. Despite being enemies right now, Maya couldn’t help but smile almost bitterly with defeat. Unlike herself, Ichie kept her promise to never hold back against her. The irony of this defeat was poetic enough for Maya to accept it.
“Sorry Maya chan,” Ichie whispered as soon as she came close. She didn’t want to do this, she wanted to stop Fumi but Fumi wasn’t listening to her. Something was consuming her. It ached Ichie knowing that she broke her promise to cover Fumi and protect her but that would not stop her from breaking another promise. She would not hold back against Maya, even if that meant taking advantage of her injuries.
Maya closed her eye that wasn’t bruised and blackened from Claudine’s elbow. “Forgive me for my failure of a promise, Shiori.”
“Non Non Dayo!”
Maya forced her uninjured eye to open at the clash of weaponry, not missing Ichie’s blatant relief of the protection before retreating as an arrow missed her ahoge to regroup with Rinmiekan. Before she could blink, Mahiru and Hikari took up her guard defending her in the front as Karen tugged her back.
“Aijou san?” Maya asked as Nana took over, holding her face gently as she examined the wounds. “What’s going on?”
“Isn’t it obvious,” Hikari commented from the front as Karen went to Maya’s left side. “We’re protecting you.”
Maya blinked. Then got told off by Nana for moving when she should stay still. There was an odd warm feeling in her chest. “Why?”
“Because you’re injured,” Junna sighed as she took up Maya’s other side, pulling back her bow already. “And we all faced Kuro enough in last year’s revues to know her elbows could do serious damage.”
“Kuro Han is so selfish,” Kaoruko sighed as she glared at Tamao. “Though it’s not her fault, I blame that blonde snake.”
“I don’t think Kuro would you like it if you call her sister a snake,” Futaba said as she stood next to Kaoruko before she nudged to remind her to behave. “Don’t say another word Kaoruko.”
Mahiru smiled, chuckling as she glanced back at Kaoruko and Futaba before meeting Maya’s gaze. “We’ll get Kuro chan back Tendou san, just rest for now.”
“Next time you’re going get her to behave, bring us along okay?” Nana mused as she wiped away the blood on her cheek before pausing to smile at Maya. “You’re not alone anymore Maya chan.”
“I—” Maya said, closing her mouth at the taste of her own blood. “Isn’t starlight important?”
“Oui!” Karen grinned as she raised her sword. “But didn’t you know Maya chan? We will ALL do Starlight!”
Up above and away from the stage, the final sister mused about her sisters. Shiori was walking with the edels, following the stage directions as they walked through the empty corridors. Her revue against Frontier was over in a victory towards Seigfeld. Though it wasn’t a perfect victory considering the weight of her cloak tucked and folded on her arm.
Though Shiori knew she had to at least listen to her senpai talk about the revue she couldn’t help but think of Claudine and Fumi. Was their revue done now? Are they treating each other nicely on the stage? It was always a common source of their bickering in the past, not enough to ruin their relationship but enough for them to separate when they went to high school.
Shiori looked up, eyes widening in surprise before her cheeks flushed red with embarrassment. Michiru and other Edels were looking at her, even stopping to gauge her reaction. They must have caught her zoning out.
"Sorry," Shiori said bashfully looking down to her arm, "I was busy thinking about…" Unknown to Shiori, her shy face darkened guttering
to a bitter frown. "The revues."
"Oh no Shiori" Shiori looked up again pulling her face back as Mei Fan grabbed her hand and gave a reaffirming squeeze. "Please don't be so hard on yourself because you lost your cloak in the revue."
"Mei Fan's right, you know?" Yachiyo said as she stood next to Mei fan and stroked Shiori's head. "Don't beat yourself up that you had to fight against the one person in the theatre that was allowed a gun."
“Yes, Thank you Mei Fan for the observation,” Akira sighed as she looked at Shiori. “They are right so I won’t repeat what they said but due keep in mind this was your first fight, mistakes were bound to happen. Any mistake now can save your life for the fight that matters when you find time to fix it.”
“Which will be whenever since you have us to rely on,” Michiru beamed as she glanced at Akira. “Right Akira?” Akira simply nodded.
Shiori bowed her head, “Thank you senpai!”
“It’s nothing Shiori, as edels we should work hard together for the stage.”
Shiori smiled, before it faltered at the faint ringing in her ear, almost hauntingly familiar. She looked to the side, eyeing a door that said staff only. The ringing in her head became clearer the second she focused on it as the audio sharpened into swordplay. Shiori's eyes widened, recognising what it was despite the muffle caused by the door. How could she not recognise it? She grew up with all her life, even if in the past they never used swords before.
Her sisters were fighting again.
Her body moved before she could stop herself, pushing past Akira before striding into the doors and shoving it open with a strength she didn't know she had. In front of her, much to her surprise was a row of seats, almost as if she was in the audience. Shiori didn't have time to contemplate what this meant, her eyes were immediately drawn to the centre stage way down below. A stage that held her sisters and the schools they represented.
Her hands automatically clutched the railing as she leaned forward, eyes going wide as she watched Claudine and Fumi go at each other. Despite being so far away, despite only seeing the flashes of metals clash against metal, Shiori could see it all. She could hear it all. Every word, every action, every fiery look of malice, hate and jealousy.
It angered her.
It frightened her.
To think that her sisters, her older top star sisters, proclaimed they would be better in Japan. That they wouldn't be more of this hissy fit about stage and roles and all imperfect things that siblings would argue about. Only to break their promise to act like children. To pull this stunt in front of everyone, to ignore everyone and everything that they stood for and that they had to fight for. Just so that they could prove which sister was better, just to claim what they thought was rightfully there.
It was infuriatingly stupid.
What made her even angrier was how they failed to mention her— again. They never fully consider her when they do stuff like this. They never cared about how she felt when they fought until they used her as negotiation for a peace offering. They never cared about her thoughts and opinions before they did stupid stuff like this, only after. Just like when they decided to destroy that pinata on her birthday, just like when they decided to go to Japan without telling her that they would leave her behind, just like when—
“Shiori,” Akira said calmly, a hand on her shoulder. Shiori didn’t flinch or look up at the gesture, her eyes focused on what was in front of her. “It’s best you don’t watch this any further.”
“Why not?” Shiori growled through gritted teeth, she swears she could hear the metal creak underneath her fingertips. “This is a personal affair, Yukishiro san.”
“Because it’s corrupting you like it’s corrupting them.”
At the logic, Shiori forced herself to exhale and let go of the railing, stepping back as clarity filled her head. She was right, the stage was getting to them. It was so easy to get swept away by their passion, even when it was used for selfish things like this.
“You’re right Yukishiro senpai,” Shiori sighed. “This is their fight, I shouldn’t get—”
“OH MY GOD!” Mei Fan gasped, leaning too far forward where Yachiyo had to hold her shoulder to pull her back. “IS THAT TENDOU SAN?”
Instantly, Shiori snapped back to the stage, her eyes scanning the battlefield for Maya. Her heart pounded in her chest, her eyes more frantic compared to how she looked at her sisters. Though that fast beat stilled and then slowed despite the rapid boiling in her blood. It was marination of strong emotions, a resurfacing of a side to Shiori she hasn’t used since she left France.
She found Maya. She found her bleeding with a black eye. Shiori wasn’t an idiot, she knew exactly who caused this. What’s worse was that she even knew how and why this happened.
“The best…The best I can do is calm Claudine down if she does anything irrational on the day of the Revue against Rinmeikan.”
Shiori caused this. It was one thing for her sisters to get into a fight, it was something else entirely for someone to get hurt, especially if the person who got hurt did it for Shiori’s sake. How dare Claudine hurt her best friend like this. How dare they do this to Maya. How dare they hurt her like this, turn her into a bleeding fool in the place she was strongest.
“Shiori,” Akira said calmly, glancing at Michiru for silent assistance.
“Yukishiro san,” Shiori nodded, an idea forming in her head. One that was just as crazy as her idea to wait in front of Seisho for Claudine on the day Fumi left. Yet this was an idea that was just as deserved and needed. If Maya couldn’t stop her sisters, she must stop them. She doesn’t want Maya’s effort to go ignored. “Forgive me.”
Shiori didn’t bother to waste a single breath nor a single step. With a swift action, she snapped the latch that held Akira’s cloak and snatched the clothing away from Akira before sprinting down the audience row, pushing Mei Fan and Yachiyo as she did.
“Shiori!” Mei Fan yelled, chasing after her at a pace that would catch up to Shiori within seconds. Shiori couldn’t have that, she couldn’t have anyone stop her. Not when she needed to clean up her own mistakes and her sisters. So Shiori dropped her own cloak, balling up Akira’s revue cloak to her chest so she won’t stumble on the ends.
“I’m sorry Mei Fan senpai!” Shiori called back, not turning around when she heard Mei Fan trip on her cloak.
“Yumeoji Shiori!” Michiru yelled far behind her. For this Shiori had to turn around, she never heard Michiru senpai sound that angry at her before. Not that she’s surprised, this was something very unedel-like but it was something that needed to be done. To her surprise, Michiru was closer to her than Mei Fan was before she tripped, running on the audience row above.
Instinct went faster than her mouth, unfortunately. And in her fast thinking, Shiori threw her sabre at Michiru’s direction, forcing the edel to stop before she got impaled. Even such an act was so outrageous that Shiori winced as willed her legs to run faster.
“Forgive me Michiru senpai!”
“This doesn’t feel right Andrew.” At the same end of the audience row, Elle was watching the stage below with a notebook in her hand, her eyes were curious but concerned, especially when she glanced at Tendou Maya’s bleeding nose. Andrew, a large mole mascot that looked more questionable than cute scoffed and raised one paw up.
“That’s because those two fighting aren’t true stage girls, only parasites. Don’t pay attention to them Elle—EHHH?” Elle looked away from the stage, rising to her feet as she gasped at the sight of someone climbing over Andrew's body. The stage girl in question had at least the audacity to look sheepish.
“Forgive me, Miss Elle,” Shiori smiled before she took a deep breath and used Andrew’s height to jump over the railing, raising Akira’s cloak over her head as a glider to slow her fall to the stage.
“She jumped to the stage!” Elle gasped, leaning over the railing, eyes wide in awe.
“SHIORI!” Akira yelled, Michiru right beside her. Yachiyo and Mei Fan were right next to them, all of them sharing the same panicked and worried look. Everyone but Yachiyo who was busy trying to pull down a Mei Fan who was all but eager to follow Shiori down to the stage to help her.
Maya always had a sixth sense for the stage. She wasn’t born with it, the sense was trained and drilled into her at such a young age. Such training made her understand that the stage was alive, even outside of the underground kind, the stage always had a hint of magic with it. So when something within her urged her to look up, Maya didn’t hesitate.
What Maya did hesitate to do was yell out Shiori’s name. It was relatively easy to keep her lips shut, her mouth was already dry in disbelief. A mess of questions whirled in Maya’s head as she watched Shiori continue to fall before she shook her head and willed her legs to move.
Shiori was falling and the stage wasn’t the most forgiving when someone would stumble or fall. Maya may have failed to keep her promise to stop Claudine from getting consumed but she would never allow Shiori to get hurt, not when she was still on the stage.
“Move,” Maya grunted as she pierced through her own barrier of her friends, ignoring their surprise as she automatically blocked Ichie’s attempt for her badge before grabbing her arm using her off hand to push Ichie away and into Rui’s stance. Maya continued to run forward out into the open before turning around to face the group and to the edel flying above.
“Maya han don’t be so stupid and get back here!” Kaoruko yelled as she countered Tamao’s attack and forced them into a stalemate, metal pushing against metal. Maya ignored her, looking up to the sky as she sheathed her sword, her arms up to the sky as Shiori descent started to quicken.
“Shiori san!” Maya yelled as she stepped back, taking the bold risk to leave herself open. It didn’t matter if she fell here, Shiori was more important. With a grunt, Maya caught Shiori though the amount of force from her descent forced them to stumble to the ground, Shiori resting on top of Maya’s body.
“Eh?” Ichie yelled as she looked up from her fight against Nana, stopping Yuyuko’s arm from throwing a kunai towards Maya. “OH MY GOD SHIORI CHAN!??” Following Ichie’s claim, everyone but Shiori’s own sisters paused their fighting and looked at Maya, gasping out their own surprise. Not that the other two stage girls noticed, too focused on each other to notice the commotion they caused.
“Are you alright?” Maya asked the second Shiori lifted her head from her chest. She sat up, propping herself on her elbows as she watched Shiori’s face carefully, eyeing for any bruises or any bleeding. Shiori nodded, a hand against her head as she slowly blinked away the blurriness in her vision.
“Yes I’m fine—” Shiori said before her face softened, her mouth slightly open in shock as her concerned eyes fell on Maya’s face. This close to her face, Shiori can notice all the blemishes and all the small details of Maya’s injuries. The way her cheeks were dry with blood, the way bottom of her eye was tinged with purple, almost matching the bruise on the corner of her lip.
“Tendou san…” Shiori whispered, delicately touching Maya’s cheek. Her eyes were full of sorrow and an apology that wasn’t hers to say.
“Don’t worry,” Maya reassured, her hands covering Shiori’s outstretched hand to gently squeeze the fingers that held her. “You didn’t do this.”
“But I did…” Shiori said with her eyes starting to water. She bowed her head in shame, unable to look Maya in the face. Maya wouldn’t be here without her, had she not asked for Maya’s comfort that night Maya might not have been injured, caught in a crossfire of two selfish people. “Tendou san… I’m so sorry.”
“Shiori san,” Maya cooed, sitting up more to allow the freedom of her left hand and to use it to tilt Shiori’s head back up. With a gentle smile, one full of compassion and kindness, Maya wiped away the tears shed for her. “You weren’t the one who elbowed me, Shiori san,” Maya whispered, “Don’t apologise for your sisters mistakes.”
“I’m not,” Shiori sniffled, taking the sleeve of her revue outfit to wipe away the rest of the tears before looking back at Maya, “I’m just sorry that I had to put you in the crossfire Tendou san,” Shiori admitted, a sad smile on her face. “I never wanted you to get hurt.”
“I’ll make it up to you, I promise.” Shiori took a deep breath, the tears lingering in her eyes cooled into a stern determined gaze, one that sent shivers up Maya’s spine when Shiori focused on her. “For now I need to stop my sisters from doing any more damage.”
“Very well,” Maya nodded, knowing far better than anyone that when Shiori put her mind into something, the last thing you should do was go against it. Besides, Maya believed in Shiori, if anyone could stop her sisters, it would be her. “You can use my sword should you wish.” It wasn’t like she was going to use it anytime soon.
“Funny,” Shiori giggled, her smile becoming the teasing grin that Maya saw before, “I was about to apologise for stealing it.”
Maya chuckled, tilting her head to give Shiori a lopsided grin. “Nothing of mine would be stolen if it’s already yours.”
Shiori paused standing up, a slight blush to her cheeks before she shook her head with a laugh. “Stupid top star.”
Maya laughed at the insult as Shiori got off her before she stood up as well, taking Shiori’s hand to help her. Maya steadied herself as a sudden that ached the back of her head before she unsheathed her rapier and handed it to Shiori.
“Give them a performance they will forever remember.”
Shiori beamed at the compliment as she took Maya’s weapon, even offering a courtesy as thanks before she looked away. Her face returned to its serious stare as she walked towards her still fighting sisters, slashing the air in front of her with Maya’s rapier to test out the difference between the rapier and her usual sabre. Even now, Shiori was unaware of the way everyone stopped to stare at her, the way their faces morphed in shock at an uncanny resemblance of Shiori’s gaze. They all seen that look before but only on either Fumi or Claudine.
None of them ever expected Shiori to have the ability to make the same, no not the same— A look that was more dangerous and terrifying than both Fumi and Claudine’s angry gaze combined.
The second Shiori was comfortable enough with the rapier in her hand, her walking became a stride, then a run.
Then it became a lunge as Shiori intercepted Fumi’s attack before twirling around and blocking Claudine’s thrust. She took Claudine’s surprise as an opportunity to grab her outstretched wrist, forcing her to stop as Shiori raised her rapier up to block Fumi’s attack once more. The shock of Shiori’s appearance sapped all the energy from her attack.
“Tendou Maya I swear—”
“--Shiori,” Fumi gasped, forcing Claudine to snap up, her mouth going dry at Shiori’s intense glare at her. If looks could kill, Claudine’s cloak would drop on its own.
“What are you doing here?” Claudine asked, regretting her words when Shiori curled her lips, smiling in a sarcastic way that Claudine knew she got from her.
“What am I doing?” Shiori laughed, throwing her head back as she howled in a frightening way, her laughter haunting every crevice of the stage and the audience beyond. The two sisters only had a second to glance at each other in their mutual fear before Shiori snapped.
First, she unsheathed Fumi’s blade, snatching it from Fumi’s grasp and making it tumble to the floor. Immediately, Shiori kicked it away as she took her free arm to throw Fumi to the floor. Then in the same motion, she twisted Claudine’s grip, making her cry out in surprise as the sword fell down too before Shiori kicked it away too.
“BAKA!” Shiori yelled as she threw Claudine down to her sister. “BAKA BAKA BAKA BAKA!” She screamed, unleashing out the tip of her rage down on her sisters as swished the sword to her side with enough strength that flints of sparks ignited every time the sword clashed against the floor.
“YOU’RE IDIOTS!” Shiori screamed, pointing her sword to the small space between them, her tongue changing from Japanese to French.
“BOTH OF YOU. I’M RELATED TO THE WORST TOP STAR DUO IN STAGE GIRL EXISTENCE. HOW DARE BOTH OF YOU TO BE SO STUPID AND HAVE THE AUDACITY TO ASK ME WHAT I’M DOING WHEN I’M DOING THE EXACT SAME THING I’VE ALWAYS DONE WHEN WE WERE KIDS.”
“I’M CLEANING UP YOUR MESS—” Shiori pointed the tip of the sword right between the bridge of Claudine’s eyes before turning it against Fumi. “AND YOUR MESS!” Both girls had the decency to wince under her judging eyes.
“WHY? IT’S BECAUSE BOTH OF YOU ARE THE MOST. SELFISH.” Shiori emphasised, her words making the entire stage tremble. “ARROGANT. TOP STARS I’VE EVER SEEN!”
“Shiori, you— ” Claudine dared, lifting her head up before she ducked it when Shiori once again pointed the sword at her face.
“YOU!” Shiori snarled, baring teeth enough to make a lion cower.
“YOU SAIJOU CLAUDINE. HOW DARE YOU BE SUCH A HYPOCRITE. HOW DARE YOU SAY YOU FORGAVE ONEE CHAN FOR ALL HER STUFF SHE DID AS A KID AND THEN BRING IT UP HERE TO FIGHT FOR EVERYONE ELSE TO SEE? I DON’T CARE THAT IT WAS ALL IN FRENCH HOW DARE YOU HOLD GRUDGES FOR SOMETHING LONG GONE!”
Shiori scoffed, taking a breather with another mocking cackle, “IS YOUR PRIDE THAT HURT KURO NEE? IS YOUR PRIDE THAT NEEDY TO BE RIGHT ALL THE TIME?”
There was a pause as Shiori shook her head, forgoing the sword, stabbing it into the ground as she strode to Claudine’s face and captured the crook of her lapel to bring her down to the level.
“And speaking of being right, how dare you attack Tendou san for stopping you from making a mistake,” Shiori growled, her anger reaching a peak of its boiling point as her voice grew louder and louder once more. “HOW DARE YOU BE SO ARROGANT THAT YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING THE RIGHT THING ALL THE TIME. HOW DARE YOU THINK YOU’RE FREE FROM FUCKING UP!”
“Oh my god,” Tamao blushed, surprised at the sudden and harsh profanity. Everyone else stopped fighting to watch the performance, even those in the audience were enraptured by this devilish side of Shiori.
“To think,” Ichie whispered as she stood next to Maya, “She swore because she’s defending you, Maya chan.”
At a response, hearing the tease in Ichie’s voice, Maya nudged her stomach with her elbow. “Quiet Otonashi san, I’m trying to focus on the translation.” After all, like her sisters, Shiori yelled in french when she was passionate enough and being one of the few who could understand her, Maya gave herself the role of the translator.
“EVEN WHEN FUMI ABANDONED ME IN SEIGFELD SHE KNEW SHE FUCKED UP AND SHE FIXED IT WITH YOUR HELP. SO HOW DARE YOU SPILL BLOOD IN YOUR DELUSIONAL ACT OF PERSONAL JUSTICE AND BELIEVE IT WAS THE RIGHT THING TO DO! HOW DARE YOU IGNORE EVERYTHING YOUR FRIENDS ARE DOING. HOW DARE YOU TELL ME YOU CHERISHED STARLIGHT SO MUCH LAST YEAR ONLY TO THROW IT AWAY AT THE OPPORTUNITY TO FIGHT YOUR OWN SISTER FOR EVERY SMALL MISTAKE YOU MADE AS KIDS. HOW DARE YOU INSULT THEIR WISH, INSULT YOUR OWN STAGE FOR SOMETHING SO SELFISH AND CRUEL.”
“Shiori…” Fumi spoke up, her body was shaking at the way Claudine looked away, her fists shaking at her sides. Claudine was clearly ashamed of herself and her actions especially when she couldn’t refute Shiori. It was clear Claudine was holding back the tears. Fumi may have fought with her minutes ago but she still cared about her enough to speak up when things, though just, we're going too far.
“AND YOU!” Shiori snarled, letting go of Claudine’s lapel as she turned to face Fumi. “YOU’RE IN THE SAME BOAT AS HER YUMEOJI FUMI! YOU’RE JUST AS BAD AS A HYPOCRITE!” Shiori lifted the rapier from the ground like it was King Arthur's sword and pointed it to Fumi like it was an executioner's axe.
“HOW DARE YOU IGNORE EVERYTHING IN SEIGFELD,” Shiori screamed, her free hand on her chest as she clutched it in its pain. “THE PAIN YOU WENT THROUGH, THE PAIN I WENT THROUGH, THE PAIN EVERYONE IN THE EDELS WENT THROUGH. ONLY TO MAKE THE SAME FUCKING MISTAKES.”
“YOU PROMISED ME CHANGE.” Shiori emphasised before she pointed an accusatory finger at Fumi.
“YOU PROMISED YOURSELF GROWTH . YOU TOLD US YOU’RE GOING TO LET PEOPLE IN, THAT YOU’RE GOING TO RELY ON YOUR FRIENDS AND STOP STRUGGLING BY YOURSELF.”
“SO HOW DARE YOU JUST IGNORE YOUR NEW STAGE LIKE THAT WITH YOUR NEW FRIENDS TO FIGHT CLAUDINE ALL YOUR OWN?” Not even looking at the audience, Shiori pointed the sword at them, emphasizing her point further.
“WHERE’S THE GROWTH IN THAT?” Shiori questioned, one that Fumi couldn’t answer as she looked away, her fists clenched together at her sides. She almost felt like crying in bitter shame as well.
“WHERE’S THE RESOLVE TO CHANGE? WHERE’S THE SISTER I KNOW WHO WOULD GRAB AN OPPORTUNITY WITH TWO HANDS AND NOT JUST THE ONE THAT HOLDS A KNIFE?”
“YOU KNOW BETTER THAN ANYONE THAT THE STAGE IS MORE THAN IT’S ENVIRONMENT. THAT IT’S ALSO ABOUT THE PEOPLE YOU TRUST YOURSELF WITH TOO. SO WHY ARE YOU SO ARROGANT TO IGNORE IT WHEN YOUR SCHOOL WAS ON THE LINE?“
Shiori breathed heavily, her free hand clutching her throat as she struggled to control herself. Tears were welling from her eyes, out of angered passion, out of the pain in her throat, out of sorrow and disappointment that her sisters failed her once more. It hurt doing this, it made her embarrassed that her sisters were like this, a feeling that made Shiori cry. She didn’t want to think this about her sisters but something had to be said, someone had to make them stop.
“To think,” Shiori sighed, wiping away her tears. “Our mothers entrusted both of you to look after me in Japan, to be my role models and to guide me to be a better person since they’re not here. Yet when they’re not looking and when you think— I’M NOT LOOKING! YOU BOTH PULL THIS SELFISH STUNT IN FRONT OF EVERYONE TO SEE, ACTING LIKE CHILDREN TO THE POINT WHERE I’M THE MATURE ONE. THE YOUNGEST.”
“AND NOW, I’M FOLLOWING YOUR EXAMPLES AND RUINING THEIR STAGE, THEIR PERFORMANCE.” Shiori emphasised, pointing once more to the schools of Seisho and Rinmeikan. “TO CLEAN UP YOUR MESS!”
Shiori stabbed the sword into the floor, taking a time to clap her hands loudly, the sarcasm echoed from her hands were as obvious as the smile on her face. “I’m so proud to have you two as my sisters, really am. You two would make maman and mama sooo proud.”
“Y’know,” Shiori acknowledged, looking down to her feet as she roughly scrubbed the tears away with the edge of her palm. “If I really wanted to be just like you two, I would tell everyone here how much tired I am of doing this, how angry I used to be when both of you fought over these same stupid problems years ago. How I don’t deserve to be treated like some witness, an argument case, a peace offering or some sort of crossfire accident. If you’re going to fight about sister troubles, I deserve a piece too shouldn’t I?”
She looked up, staring at both Fumi and Claudine in the eye. “I’m your sister too aren’t I?”
That was what hurt Shiori the most, this betrayal, this backstabbing both of them played against her innocence. It’s one thing to leave her out, something she was used to growing up, but it was another thing entirely to leave her out to hurt each other when she wasn’t looking.
Did they think she was stupid? That she was naive? That she wasn’t smart enough to notice? It was frustrating not being taken seriously, where the only time she ever was taken seriously was when she was crying or when she was angry. Was this the only requirement they would take to see her as an equal? To acknowledge her as a stage girl, not just their little precious sister?
Yet despite being in Japan for a second year away from their mothers, despite being alone in a hellish school being acknowledged as one of the best, neither of them noticed all the change and growth she went through. Neither of them saw her as an equal, Neither of them noticed that she’s not the little girl that needed protecting anymore.
“But I’m not going to be selfish,” Shiori sighed, her voice shaking. “I’m not going to be like either of you. I’m not going to cause a fight just because we’re not perfect sisters.” Not now, it wasn’t the time and she wasn’t even looking for their recognition, not fully. The edels and Tendou Maya were observant enough to notice her change and for now, that was enough for Shiori.
“I’m already terrified about what is going to happen, about your starlight, about your stage,” Shiori admitted. She hated how despite the frustration, despite her anger towards her sisters, she still cared about them. She loved them so much.
“But this is enough for me,” Shiori said looking up, ignoring her sisters to look at the edels waiting for her in the audience row still. She owed them an apology for dragging them as well into this mess, “I overstepped enough.”
Picking up the sword, Shiori turned around and walked away, her shoulders sagging from fatigue. “Whether you two fight again or join your school, I don’t care. I’m too tired and disappointed to care.”
The walk back to Maya was loud, empty and hollow. Shiori’s head was so busy, lost in thought, she didn’t even know where she was going. It was until she felt a hand touch her the back of her head she knew she was with Maya once more.
“Shiori san,” Maya said before pausing when Shiori hugged her, pressing her rapier back to Maya’s hands. “How are you feeling?”
“Tired but I’m not finished yet,” Shiori admitted, muffled against Maya’s chest before stepping back and bowing. This idea had been brewing in her head for a while, ever since she stopped shouting and berating her sisters. “Tendou san, on behalf of my sisters for hurting you I cordially invite you to an outing in the near future to make up for everything.”
Shiori snapped her head to her sisters, a deathly gaze in her eyes as she glared them to back down. The stare lasted for a few seconds but slowly, Claudine and Fumi wilted and back down, essentially giving Shiori permission. Near them Kaoruko stifled her laughter into her hands, using both of them to muffle the cackle in her throat.
Shiori returned to smile at Maya, the corners of her lips tilting in a teasing manner. “A call back to your apology for the rain Tendou san, I thought it would be fitting.”
Maya nodded, almost hesitant despite the smile on her face. “It is.”
“Then you agree?”
Maya couldn’t help but glance away at the enthusiasm. Her heart was pounding loud enough and fast enough she couldn’t help but worry that Shiori could hear it. It was enough to make her cheeks feel hot at least. “Would your sisters… agree enough not to lecture me about it like last time?”
Shiori smiled sweetly, her eyes not matching that smile as she looked behind her once more. “If they want to make it up to me, they better not. I think they would learn their lesson to not do things behind my back.”
“Very well then, I accept,” Maya nodded as Shiori turned back to Maya, sending a smile so sweet and infectious it made Maya's heart tighten. She still had no idea what Shiori was doing to her. She doesn’t even want to stop this feeling, not now and not in near future.
Not noticing Maya’s inner turmoil, Shiori looked up once more to the audience. She glanced away from the edels, still shocked and watching and focused on Miss Elle on the further seats.
“Miss Elle, how do I depart from this stage?” Elle didn’t answer her not verbally, she simply pointed in a far direction where an exit of a staff door appeared in the wings. “Thank you, Miss Elle!” Shiori shouted as she bowed in thanks to the mysterious person before she walked towards the wings.
Yet when she was at the door, Shiori turned around and bowed once more at Seisho and Rinmeikan respectively. “Once again, I apologise for interfering with your Revue, Seisho and Rinmeikan and I equally wish you luck in this fight. Thank you everyone for looking after my two idiotic sisters.”
With her apology said, Shiori raised her head again. She smiled one last time towards Maya and exited the stage where would be transported to the same corridor that had the door to the audience rows.
The second she left, Maya cleared her throat loudly. “Elle sama may I humbly ask for a 10 minute intermission for our performance.”
“Oh— Of course Tendou Maya!” Elle called as she clapped her eyes, the lights dying down as the rest of the girls relaxed and absorbed what just happened. Mahiru and Ichie instantly ran towards to support their respective sisters.
Meanwhile, on the mark of Position Zero, Maya clutched her chest and realised one thing.
Yumeoji Shiori was a stage girl beyond her imagination… and she needed to call her tonight when everything was settled. She needed to settle this mysterious feeling in her chest once and for all.