Nana stares on, neon blinding her peripheral and the entire rest of her being, like it's trying to crawl inside her and burn her insides like her ideals. “An eternal stage… that no one can foresee.” That’s how it starts, anyway. Or continues on, perhaps. It could have always been leading to this, and Nana never would have been the wiser.
Above both human and giraffe, the bright magenta lights shine and swirl down to Nana, as something akin to radio static hums in the back of her mind. The sheer brightness of it washes everything in white, the stage, the giraffe, and almost her body and being, too. Everything, save for her script of ‘Starlight’ that comes fluttering down from above.
Amidst the colorless world, Daiba Nana reaches for her star....
It’s almost like waking up when the cycle begins anew and that is, oddly enough, what she does. Confusedly, Nana kicks the covers down at the foot of her bed, before standing to make it. Her white sleepshirt dusts at her belly button as she halfheartedly tugs at her beige jacket. The empty bed to her right catches her eye, made perfectly up.
Nana sighs in relief when the desk next to hers has evidence of use: numerous scripts with a rainbow of sticky note tabs peeking out from the page's edges, a couple odd textbooks, and even a hand-sized hourglass.
She pulls her uniform out from the closet door, seizing at the minute but frightening change. The ribbon, the large one around her neck that goes underneath her short-sleeved white button up, is yellow rather than red. She feels the corner of her lips curve downward, but dresses herself without complaint. Not that she'd complain, anyway.
She's in her repeat.
There's absolutely nothing to fear.
When she enters the classroom, not much else is different. People are still huddled up in little groups, chatting about something and anything before the first bell rings. Except for the fact that Kaoruko's eyes are a bright, wild grassy green, almost like someone (who would have likely been Futaba, if she was honest) had carved off the side of a hill and sealed it away, behind her haughty and mischievous gaze.
She watches the conversation between Mahiru, Karen, Futaba, and Kaoruko from afar, rather than up close. They're discussing a play, something that will most definitely circle back to 'Starlight' if Karen has any say about it, but Nana can't take her eyes off of Kaoruko's changed look.
The giraffe has to be playing with her.
"Is something the matter, Daiba-san?" Junna questions, turned half to her. She's watching them, too, but not in the way Nana is. Junna is mentally marking down their reactions and hand motions and expressions, all to use for the next performance. Nana likes the one in front of her better.
Nana doesn't look at her. She knows that if she does, she'd feel obliged to tell her the truth, something that isn't all too intriguing of an idea. "No," she intones, the lie rolling off of her tongue as swift and easy as acting. That is what lying is, in a way.
Nana pays attention to the lesson, really she does. But after hearing the same content for decades on end, even if you completely have it memorized, it can still become tiresome and boring and completely easy to ignore.
She can't catch ahold of the reason behind Kaoruko's odd eye color change. No one had asked her about it or made a big deal of it, which was bizarre. Karen would have been brimming with questions, typically, as chatty as she is. Exhausted, she sneaks off for a few minutes during lunch break to rest her eyes to think and get all of her frogs in a row.
Nana blinks and untenses her shoulders. Did she fall asleep standing up? She had been standing when she wandered off, but she hadn't been hunched over a marble pedestal, digging her frighteningly sharp nails into the perfectly polished stone.
Wait a second....
Nana uprights herself, straightening her posture, and looks at her hands.
Why are there tan, razor sharp inch-long nails at the ends of her fingertips rather than her normal-sized, typically well-manicured nails that Kaoruko always likes painting with her?
Her nails seem like the least of her problems when the flower encased underneath a glass dome in front of her, in the center of the marble pedestal and the room altogether, glows in an urgent manner. It looks like it wants to shout at Nana, as though that's something that a pink-glowing rose that is hovering in mid air can do.
Nana stops short, looking between her freakishly pointed nails and the levitating rose.
Tentatively, Nana reaches a midnight-gloved hand to her head, stopping when she reaches a horn on the left side of her head. From the glow, in her reflection in the glass, she can see a mesh bow is strapped to her right horn and a string of pearls flow from her left horn, behind her ear. Nana typically leaves the swearing to Claudine and sometimes Futaba, but this is a moment that really calls for a good shout of 'what the fuck is going on here'.
Not that she does it aloud, anyway. That would be extremely tactless of her.
Nana steps back from the pedestal to examine her dress, to gauge herself - no, the Beast - she is.
The extravagant article of clothing draped over her is mostly black and something Claudine would likely call 'solid pink', the former fading to the latter down her dress. There's a short amount of ruffled fringe that accentuates a... certain area of her chest and the dress dips to show off cleavage, something Nana in her right mind would almost never wear. Around her neck is an annoying amount of black fluffy material, making her breaths warmer than she wants them to be. The choker around her neck, decorated with a rose - she finds out after tracing it with her fingers - definitely makes her acutely aware of the fact that she certainly does exist.
She hears Claudine saying in her head 'honestly, with a body like that, you could have anyone, Nana' and her face goes scarlet.
Nana shakes the thought away in an attempt to cool her face. She reroutes her thoughts, focused. If she's the Beast, then someone has to be Belle, right?
The answer comes as a knock on the door not a second later and Nana finds herself silently sputtering.
A hesitant call of "hello?" resounds from the other side of the door across the grandiose room, in the slightly muffled voice of Junna. "Are you in there?"
If there was going to be anyone Nana would have picked to play her romantic counterpart, it almost always would have been Junna. But like this? In this fever dream? Perhaps it's her brain trying to tell her what she wants, that she wants to be Junna's romantic opposite.
Simultaneously, all of the saliva in her mouth completely disappears and leaves her parched while Junna - no, Belle - is doing her best to shove open the door that is multiple Junnas tall and most certainly a couple Junnas heavy.
They both stare at each other - oh, Junna's still wearing glasses, at least there's that relief - before Nana blinks her eyes and raises her sharply pointed finger as she all but jumps in front of the persistently shining rose.
"Leave," she clips, sliding into the character with startling ease.
Junna's eyebrows knit together and she opens her mouth. "But I just -."
Nana is quick to cut her off, voice sharp as the tip of Junna's arrows or of her own dual-wielded blades, "I said get out," she howls, expression screwed into rage. Junna huffs, almost disgusted rather than frightened, and stomps away. The door slams loudly behind her.
Her gut churns in response to shouting at Junna. She's horrible, horrible for treating Junna in that manner.
She wants to go after her and apologize, but this Beast - the cowardly version of the famous character that she plays - would stew in self-loathing and diffidence. So that's exactly what she attempts to do as she slides down the side of the base of the podium, sighing lightly.
She doesn't recall being sick when she left the cafeteria, but she did feel the confused stare of Junna's verdant eyes locked onto her back. Surely, this is just a dream.
But she can't be sure, can she? She had thought that her repeats were a fake, at first. They were, and still are, very much real. So how can she rule out the possibility of this being false, as well?
If this is real and this is Nana, she has to do her best to keep everything in line and going by the script. She's certain that this is what this potential fever dream Nana would want. It's what she wants, as well.
After waiting the appropriate amount of time that can be excused for commiserating about herself alone in a darkened room, Nana uses newfound strength to open the door, ripping the intricately carved structure open faster than she thought that she would have been able to, given that her education at Seisho doesn't exactly include bodybuilding as one of their courses.
What a world, huh.
Nana looks left and then right, utterly lost in the face of this grand castle. She wonders to herself if Junna's lost, too.
Does Belle need a map?
Nana feels a pull to the left and she follows that pull, trailing along the wall lined with classical paintings of people who look important.
She wanders around for what must be at least a few hours, following the twists and turns of the expansive estate. Of all things, she finds Junna in the front garden, curled up under a tree with a mauve blanket pooled around her waist, tuning out the world in favor of whatever she's reading.
Nana's high heeled shoes are something she has to get used to, almost stumbling as they click on the uneven cobblestone pavement that leads to the garden. "Belle?"
Junna does not look up, but she does flip a page which is telling to the fact that she's alive.
She hesitantly paces forward, crouching her knees slightly as to seem less imposing, something she's sure Junna doesn't see her as "I..." Nana breaths deeply, "I'm sorry."
She flips a page. "For?" Belle probes uninterestedly, not looking up from her book. So she was listening.
Nana kneels on the ground a few feet in front of Belle, close enough to be heard and understood, but not uncomfortably so. "I shouldn't have yelled. I apologize."
Junna jerks her book shut with a sharp snap and looks at the woman in front of her, eyebrow raised. "So what are you going to do?"
Nana blinks. "What do you mean?"
"Words are just words," Junna crosses her arms as though she's schooling a child on right and wrong. Nana likes this Junna, she's so pleasantly familiar. "How are you going to prove that you mean what you say?"
"I," Nana's mouth is dry as a desert under Junna's scorching, expectant stare, "I didn't really think that far," comes the Beast's sheepish admission. "But," Nana leans forward and clasps Belle's hands in between her own, glossing over the way Junna's stare switches to their intertwined hands, "Belle likes books, right? I have lots of books, Belle can have whatever she likes!"
"Okay," Junna pulls her hands away, rigidly glancing at the closed book that had fallen from her hands, in the dip of her dress in her lap, "okay, that's enough." She doesn't sound mad, if anything she's just barely amused. "I accept your apology. Just," she breathes and she thinks Belle is thinking back to her town, where everyone shunned her reading habit and the stark difference between her town and the castle, "don't do it again. Understand?"
Nana nods and decides to change the topic. "Did something happen to your book?" Belle is still staring at is as though she wishes for it to catch fire.
"No," she says, irritation directed to the thick-covered publication that's bound to start a fire on her dress, with the look Belle's giving it, "I lost my page." Belle picks the book up and mindlessly fingers through it, muttering a curse under her breath as she pulls her blanket back up to her hips.
Nana understands this quite well, Junna had struggled with this similar situation when she stayed up until odd hours of the night and began to reread every sentence until she began to forget what is real. Nana understands this quite well, Junna had struggled with this similar situation when she stayed up until odd hours of the night and began to reread every sentence until she began to forget what is real. Nana understands this quite well, Junna had struggled with this similar situation when she stayed up until odd hours of the night and began to reread every sentence until she began to forget what is real.
"Belle could start again," Nana offers. Belle raises her eyebrows at her, almost asking for her to continue with the dim-witted train of thought, "well," she sputters, "she could read... to me... if she wants?"
Junna's lips part, she's unimpressed. "You don't know how to read," she punctuates each word like it's the end of her sentence. The apparent confusion likely has something to do with the massive library of books the Beast had offered not even two minutes ago, but Nana just smiles. Junna picks up the book and messes with the ruffles of her dress's skirt, pulling them closer to her body rather than fanning it out like the spreading of a dying flower's petals. "Fine," she agrees, somewhat begrudgingly. She pats the spot next to her underneath the tree. The view is stunning.
The garden that spans out in front of her must house thousands of different types of flowers, though gardening isn't exactly her forte, she thinks she could take it on for these beautiful plants. Large trees litter the front lawn, casting welcome shade with their expansive branches and vibrant green leaves. Nana's so focused on how she'd stage this setup in Seisho she almost missed Belle's pointed gaze fixated right on the tip of her nose.
Junna sighs in a long-suffering manner and turns to the Beast. "Can I begin now?" Oh, she must have been visibly marveling. Oopsies.
"Ah," Nana moves a hair closer to at least try to read the small font on the page and Belle doesn't shift away. "Sorry, yes."
"'In a far away planet, in the distant past, in the far future, there is a small village in a small country. In that village, there is a Star Festival that celebrates the meteor shower that occurs every year'," the text Belle reads turns her blood to stone instantaneously in her veins, but her gentle, sound voice somehow combats that with an equal ferocity. Nana reaches her hand up and holds the other side of the cover open, peering over Belle's shoulder to follow along to the only story she knows by heart.
She wakes up on the abandoned revue stage, of all things. The giraffe watches her closely from the audience seats with its usual impassive expression, but makes no motion to acknowledge her. Nana's eyebrows draw in close as she sits up, looking around for her script. Her fingertips brush it as her legs dangle aimlessly over the rim of the gargantuan circle. It's as though she's been reunited with an old friend.
She opens her mouth to speak for a second, but closes it. Knowing that, ultimately, the giraffe will certainly not give her a straight answer, as it almost never has.
Nana pulls her legs back over the edge and rises to her feet. She has to get back to her friends. That is, of course, when the lights flick off. For a second she holds her breath inside her chest and she waits in baited silence, sure of what's to come.
She quickly shoves the script into the waistband of her uniform's skirt, after dusting the cover off of the debris it had endured from previous battles. She doesn't have time to think on what that could mean.
The spotlights hiss bitterly with raw, unshakable energy as they power on, having seen better years and use. She doesn't look up as one shines on her, dressed in her thankfully correct uniform and the other on...
The girl holds out her baton like one would brandish a bat to a home intruder, expression grit and jaw set. Mahiru is not wearing her revue costume, save for the explosively red cape across her shoulder that doesn't exactly fit her personality, Nana notes to herself. They're both in their school uniform.... This is shaping up to be an odd repeat. But then again, aren't they all?
"Karen-chan and I," Mahiru's voice is scratchy, she doesn't raise her voice or shout often. She whines to Karen a lot, something Nana finds endearing, but being loud is not in her purview. Brute strength on the other hand, is. "We'll become stars... together!" Mahiru spins the baton with a slight flourish, inclining her head at Nana from across the way. "We'll become the fated lovers, together!"
Nana tightens her grip on her twin blades - huh, when did they get there - and steams forward to clash with the shorter girl.
Their spotlights collide in the middle of the stage, as do their weapons, something that has happened for Nana hundreds upon thousands of times.
A swing jazz number plays in the background and they do an odd mash-up of dancing, singing, and battling to it. They test each other, scrutinizing the other's movement for the right time to strike. Nana knows she's more well-versed in this department. Though Mahiru's strength has always lied in her hard strikes that Nana has always countered, they tend to leave her wide open for attacks since she uses all of her strength in one hit rather than preserving it and using a little at a time. But that may be why Nana's precise and calculated swipes of her swords might clean the stage of Mahiru so quickly. The way that the other girl uses her all in one attack is the same way that Nana conserves and uses what she needs at a time rather than going all out at once. For all that Mahiru's defense-cracking attacks are worth, she can't avoid it when Nana swipes at Mahiru with her wakizashi, a feint that the smaller girl buys completely into. Mahiru jumps to the side, out of the range of Nana's short blade and directly into the path of her katana. Nana wastes no time in swiping the button off of Mahiru's cape, watching with a pang of remorse as the cape drifts off from Mahiru's shoulder to the worn, dusty stage floor.
Nana turns from the saucer-wide eyes, slicing into the downward stroke of the T of Position Zero. She claims it as her own in a hushed voice, quiet enough to keep it from Mahiru as the blood red grand drape consumes the shorter girl and the rest of the stage behind her. The guilt eats at her as a malignant bacteria would.
Back in the dorms, Mahiru clings to Karen and shares a blanket between the two of them as the rest of the girls watch a horror movie. Nana's bet - which is more than likely right - is that Maya and Claudine started watching it, silently shivering with pale, slackened faces and the others - Junna, Karen, and Mahiru, probably in that order - joined them. From what she remembers from earlier, Futaba is trying to teach Kaoruko basic multiplication and that's why they're not present for the shriek fest in the living room.
Nana plops down next to Claudine on the end and pretends not to smile when the shorter girl shrieks at a jump scare along with the others not a minute later and fiercely latches onto her arm, sharp nails indenting crescent moon shapes in her bicep.
Junna and Nana talk in hushed voices as they ready themselves for bed, debating if they should have actually awoken Karen and taken her back to her and Mahiru's room or not.
Nana stays up late, waiting for the sounds of Junna's pencil scribbling and furious page turning to die off, turning into sounds of soft breathing that are evident of her Junna's slumber.
She can't help but think of the girl who greeted her as Belle, clad in blue and yellow, with a slightly snippy expression to match.
Nana swings herself up from her bed and silently pads the few steps over to Junna's bed before she pulls the comforter back and fluffs the pillow.
She after what feels like half an hour of slow, deliberate motions and maneuvering, Nana holds Junna's sleeping form in her delicate embrace, careful not to jostle her as she slides Junna into bed and pulls the cover up to her chin. She folds Junna's glasses on the edge of her desk.
Nana stands for a second longer than she should, taking in Junna's lax expression, just in case this isn't a fever dream after all. The script in her grip is heavier than a barbell.
She stares at the ceiling for some time, thoughts racing around in circles, before sleep's dark embrace pulls her under.
Waking up surrounded by finely polished wood and various white and orange decorations and trinkets aren't exactly subtle in telling her what world she's woken up in. She's quite well-versed with the script of 'A Wartime of Farewells'. Still being the ace who hides it... sometimes Nana wonders about why they typecast her so spot on without the intent of doing so.
But she doesn't have time to dwell on the matter, swinging her legs down from her bed which is barely risen from the floor. Nana grunts softly when she hits her foot on the wooden flooring in a way that sends a tingling shiver racing up her right leg. And then she sighs.
How much more of this is she going to have to go through before going back to her beloved loops? How much more does she have to prove before she can return? How may more changes will take place before she can't discern the difference between her repeats and the reality in front of her?
No! No, Nana won't let it come to that. She'll get home, back to them.
"I swear it," she whispers to herself, feeling smaller than she ever did as a lonesome child, "I'll find my way back to you, my friends. I'll continue protecting you." Nana stands, straightens her shoulders and begins changing into what she had once called a costume, but is now her uniform for the day, "I'll be back soon," she promises.
Light streams through the floor to ceiling window to her right, soft orange curtains tied back by thick golden ribbons to maximize the natural sunlight as the sun rises. As she stands in front of the mirror adjacent from the door, Nana pokes lightly at the lump of fabric on her left shoulder that descends into a cape down her back. It's beautiful, with the ruffles and tasseled epaulets and the gleaming orange brooch that connects the fabric of her shoulder to her cropped, pressed ivory jacket. It's beautiful, but it's not her style. The Seisho uniform is what suits her the best, or it would if it had pants.
Two swords hang down from a hook on her door, her katana to the left and her wakizashi to the right. At least they're still the same and she's not expected to fight with Futaba's axe or another unfamiliar weapon. Not that she'd mind all that much. She'd still do fine and she'd still hide her ability to do so.
Nana slots the swords into their scabbards that make up her belt.
She's so very drained. Every change in her loop was one that was set in motion or done deliberately by her. It's terrifying to go from having all the control and ability to protect those of which she loves to having no control and not even knowing if they're alive.
Nana frowns at the way the white doorknob sticks out like a sore thumb against the medium brown of the door. There's also far too much wood in the room, something that doesn't change when she opens the door and leads herself into a hallway.
She's halfway through the hallway that she doesn't know where it leads when she remembers that both Maya and Kaoruko are going to die, not necessarily both by their own hands but certainly by their own decision. Nana stumbles and almost trips over the top rug that runs along most of the thin hallway, hit by a wave of disorienting and dizzying nausea.
She leans and sags against the wall, narrowly missing clipping the side of a Sun Nation flag, the red color feeling more and more representative of the shedding of blood to come with each second that ticks by.
The story of farewells spun by fate, so the ending line is. It's horrid, so horrid. It's exactly the kind of thing she's always deterring. And now it's catching up to her.
Nana presses a hand against her eyes to distract herself from the thoughts and the sensation of the entire world swaying like a tree in a monsoon.
"Luisa?" Oh god. Oh... come on. Really? Seriously? There's that high-pitched, chipper voice of Karen, just when she really doesn't feel up to listening to anyone talking.
Nana pulls her hand from her face and gives her digits a gentle, timid wave. "Hi, Ka...." Nana swallows and fakes a cough, "Ayla."
The short redhead thinks nothing of the events that just transpired in front of her, instead focusing on Nana's perfectly masked expression of pain and agony. "Are you okay?" She is not, but will most definitely not own up to that fact.
"I'm okay," Nana nods, inwardly chastising herself for allowing even a moment of visible weakness.
"Did you not sleep well enough last night?" Karen creeps dangerously close to invading her personal space, but it's better to focus on that than the thought of two of her closest friends inevitable, untimely, and likely very soon death.
Sleep? She hasn't really in a few days, so it's something she can latch onto with ease. It's not exactly a lie. "Not really," Nana has Luisa admit, dusting the back of her head with her fingertips. "I'm just worried about the General."
Ayla leans against the wall beside her as though this is a normal thing to be doing at whatever time in the morning it is. "Mariavera?" Her question is light and holds an air of confusion, because this is Karen and she can be a little... Karen sometimes, even in another universe.
"Mariavera has been overworking herself as of late, the dealings with the Black Lion Nation seem to be reaching a standstill." Both women pause to reflect on this and Nana takes the beat of silence to heft herself from the side of the wall.
"Ah! Wait," Karen grapples with and latches onto her in just the way that makes Nana's fond heart yearn and expression go lax for the first time that day, "don't you want to sit down? You looked like you weren't feeling well earlier."
So she did notice. Interesting. Nana notes this down, mentally, and saves it for later when she'd be better at things like methodical contemplation.
"No," Nana shakes her head, expression tightening a twitch at the misguided action as nausea surged, "I'm okay, but thank you. Ayla." The other knight meets her gaze, eyes dancing with a dazzling brilliance Nana has never seen any of her Karens hold before, "make sure to stick around Teresa for a little longer today, okay?" She wants Mahiru to be happy having a surprise of more time with Karen, whether or not General Mariavera would approve of it. She just wants her friends to be happy. To protect them and satisfy them by any means, that is the purpose of the stage girl Nana Daiba. There is nothing else but that.
Ayla, after a little more of protesting, leaves Nana to this foreign maze of corridors with its softly-toned wood and chiseled columns.
Nana grapples her hold onto a nearby column, fingers curling in the slots and grooves of the stone, fingernails scraping the material underneath them as it digs into her skin.
There's nothing she can do to stop this, she can't let the script change course no matter what. Just as her friends - however unwittingly - have adhered to her script, Nana will adhere to this one.
Nana meanders about the halls for what feels like days, but she has a far better grasp of this light-filled layout than that of the Beast's castle. After all that walking and scuffling along, a prisoner of her own mind's invention, Nana's feet slow to a stop, finally, at the scene in front of her.
A large garden, blooming with flowers of every color under the sun, expands as far as she can see. Vines climb up trellises to both left and right of her, even forming a network of interlocking and interworking flowering stems above her head. Lightly colored stone decorates a patio space and reflects the dazzling sunlight that streams in through the confined shade overhead. And in the middle of it all stands Futaba, frowning at a plate on the table in the middle of this beautiful landscape.
Nana opens and closes her mouth, but chooses to remain silent when Futaba turns the plate and then turns it again the other way. "Hey, Luisa," she finally just picks up the plate and looks up to her, as though she had been expecting Nana's presence this entire time, "should this be a different plate?"
Nana's mouth opens again, dry at the newness of being expected when she's the one who knows, "ah," slips from her lips before she composes herself. "It's for the General, right?"
Royce Klein, her Futaba, gently lays the plate back on the table, taking a quick second to smooth out the tablecloth. "The General and the Black Lion Nation Knights General, Catalina Leopardo. She and her right hand are visiting today to discuss the joint military training exercise next week."
Next week? She still has time. But she can't, not even though she wants to.
Nana's eyes flutter closed.
Next week, she'll have an arrow lodged into her shoulder that requires intense surgery to not die from; next week, she and Junna will try to kill each other while their comrades drop like flies left and right; next week, Futaba will barely miss dying at the hands of Claudine; next week, Mahiru will almost be trampled to death by raging and unruly citizens; next week, Maya will rig her own sword and kill herself to avoid having Kaoruko kill her, but it doesn't matter much in the end since Kaoruko pushes her own blade through her own torso and chooses that Mariavera and Catalina can never truly be apart in life or in death.
"Uh," Futaba waves a hand in front of her face, blinking lightly, "Luisa, if you're lightheaded, you should sit down." She even has a chair pulled out, how thoughtful.
"I," Nana chokes on her own saliva at the thought of her best friends' corpses holding hands while they die and their warmth leaves them with their blood, "I'm fine."
Royce guides her to sit regardless and pulls up a chair beside her, sitting backward on it as she nudges a glass of lemon water into her hand. "Is this what happened between you and Richter a couple months ago at that dinner?"
What? Actually, sure. That works, she can go along with this for now.
Nana knits her hands together in her lap, tracing curling swirls in the spotless tablecloth before her with her eyes, frown adorning her lips. "I'm just wondering if she's still angry with me." That seems safe enough.
"With you?" Futaba cackles, leaning forward in her chair. "After that stunt she pulled, it's her who should be begging for your forgiveness like a sinner to God when she shows up. The gall of her even appearing again, really," Futaba tsks, swaying her head from side to side.
Okay, odd, but still not enough to go off of, fully.
Nana fingers twirl around each other, dread climbing up her spine. "I really don't think that we should be cracking down on Richter like this. The punishment or lack thereof is up to the General and the King."
Futaba sighs. "Either way, it's like what is that freak going to pull out next? Poison-tipped arrows at the joint training session?" Well, yes, actually, but Nana can't say that.
Nana swallows past the knot in her throat, brows knit tightly together. "Whatever may or may not come to fruition at the joint training will be dealt with then and there. It's not something we should be worrying about right now, Royce."
Futaba jovially rolls her eyes at Nana, "whatever you say, Luisa."
Nana pushes herself to stand, locking her knees immediately to prevent herself from trembling and showing any sign of anything other than being everyone else's dependable, reliable, right hand Banana. "They'll be arriving soon, right? That is something we should be worrying about now."
"Yeah, noon is in an hour, but I really wanted to finish everything early to not worry about it then," Royce raises to her feet, folding her arms across her chest, "but I'm still worrying now, so I guess it doesn't matter that much."
Nana pushes on her Banabest Smile, "we can finish this up together, alright?"
"Oh!" Futaba grins like the thought hadn't even occurred to her. "Then let's finish up quick. Teresa said the kitchen staff will be rolling out pastries for the lunch meeting for you guys and I want one warm."
Ah? Nana's bangs swish as she flicks her head to the side, "I'm going to be there?"
Futaba stares blankly for a second before snorting gently, smirking as though she knows something that Nana doesn't. "Even after all this time, you can't accept that the General trusts you as her right hand. That happened long ago, Luisa," Royce pats her on the arm, something that feels like it's supposed to be comforting but instead feels odd to have someone attempt to comfort her in the first place. "There's nothing to forgive anymore, it was for General Mariavera's sake, anyway. She trusts you the most out of everyone she knows."
"That"? What could Royce possibly be referring to? And no, that's wrong. Someone else holds that title, but she's honored to be considered 'Mariavera's' most trusted confidant.
They chatter lightly while shuffling silverware and china about the table, swapping the one of a kind tableware around gently and with much thought.
Of course when they decide on a possibly different centerpiece, the same vase but with a different arrangement of flowers, Teresa pops out from under the trellises with a wicker basket of warm sweets fresh from the kitchen and passes along the information that General Catalina may not have actually showed up and sent Richter in her stead.
Royce looks from Teresa to her. After finishing her pastry, she asks, "will you be okay?"
Nana swiftly swipes her lemon water from the table. "Of course! I'm always alright," Nana passes the glass to her other hand to itch at her cheek. "Are they coming back now? I'd like to talk to Mariavera."
Mahiru bats at Futaba trying to sneak another without breaking her eye contact with Nana. "They're in the front garden right now, but they'll be back shortly."
Shortly, as it turns out, is only a mere minute later that they chat slightly about the pastries during. Teresa pulls Royce along with her, both of them waving at Nana as they disappear into the labyrinth of a maze of hallways to find the kitchen.
The gold adornments and tassels on Maya's orange uniform catch the sunlight as she steps out of the shade with Junna, the beams glinting off in a way that makes Nana's heart warm for the shortest second, almost as though this is just acting on stage with them. "General," Nana bows to Maya. "Richter," she turns her feet and bows to Junna as well, who folds her arms across her chest.
"We are of the same rank, Bachmann, there is no need to bow," Junna sighs, head tipped away from the brightly dressed Sun Nation officials, "however, it is appreciated," she turns to Maya, face stone, "General Catalina sends her regards that she cannot attend today, as she is feeling under the weather. I would like to apologize for my indisputable inadequacy, as well. I may not be the General, but I know most of what she does and will do my best to keep up."
Maya presses a hand to her own chest, expression thoughtful yet restrained. "All is well, Richter. I pray Catalina feels well in time for the joint training. It will cement the pleasant relations between our two nations."
Junna's jaw tightens in a way that no one else would have noticed, save for Nana. "She will, rest assured, General."
"Shall we begin?" Both turn to Nana at her prompt, "we have warm pastries from the kitchen, Richter, feel free to take one if you want."
The three of them seat themselves at the table, all sparing a glance at the empty spot for half a second until Hanna breaks the tension. "Are these suzu castella?" Her entire body is rigid with tension, quite understandably so, but she forces her appearance to be even slightly relaxed. She just looks pained.
"They are," Maya pipes up, practically sparkling with excitement about the confectionary. "One of our chefs is from the Black Lion Nation and has worked here with a visa for years, however no one understands what makes them so sweet because the keep it a secret. Do you know?"
Junna's shoulders ease. "Of course I do," Hanna nods, smiling just barely, "but I would be committing a heinous act of treason to tell. Some secrets must remain in the Black Lion Nation, after all."
Nana's mouth dries, but forces herself to chuckle along with the duo at the joke, not missing the sorrowful glance Hanna Richter risks her.
Thick pamphlets are passed about the table for the three of them, one left on Catalina's plate out of a sign of respect. They talk of military equipment and how much or little may be needed and what specifically is needed in terms of battle equipment. They discuss the weapons allowed - all of those used in their stage production are, coincidentally, allowed - and those considered contraband - this included things like bombs, maces, and certain 'projectile' weapons such as aerosols and catapult. They deliberate about the number of persons permitted to be included in this joint exercise. Nana eventually half tunes them out, having never asked for her opinion too much. She listens to what she knows she would need to know, especially about the "fake" bow unit Hanna reviews with a far more tense disposition than she had been carrying herself with the entire rest of the meeting previously.
Slowly, they're closing their notes and nodding their heads at each other. Even from across the table, Nana can see the evidence of diligent and rigorous note-taking on Junna's reddened hands, but she doesn't seem to notice or care.
Mariavera quickly bids them farewell for the time being, having a previous arrangement with the King to immediately discuss the meeting between the two nations and report everything that of which they had discussed and agreed upon. At least, that's what she told Richter when she dismissed herself, leaving the two alone in the garden.
This girl is like the Junna she knows, strict and hard-working, but far too impassive and stone-faced.
"Thank you for meeting with us today, Richter," Nana smiles, beginning to collect the used plates and stack them together to take to the kitchen. She'd find her way, given a few hours that of which she doesn't have now, seeing as how at least two to three hours - if not more - had passed during this meeting.
Junna opens her mouth, then purses her lips. "There's nothing to thank me for, Bachmann. I'm just doing my duty assigned to me. However, your gratitude is noted and appreciated."
"You don't have to, you know," the words tumble out of her mouth before she stops them, something she had to learn very quickly to control, all those years ago. But it seems that everything has gone odd these past few days, "I," Nana gulps under Richter's unwavering stare, "I apologize, that was out of line."
"I don't understand what you meant. I don't have to... what exactly?" Richter crosses her arms across her chest, nestling the heels of her hands into the crooks of her elbows. She must be boiling hot, with the black uniform and the fur around her neck underneath this blazing sun.
So, Nana tries to subconsciously lead her toward the shaded part of the garden, at the very least. "I mean... you don't have to follow every order you're given. Just try to enjoy the training session, okay, Richter?"
Junna recoils, curling into herself like a misguided Slinky. "My duty is to follow out orders," is how every army in the world justifies their slaughter and genocide and she can't stand hearing it out of Richter's mouth in Junna's voice, "I will do as I'm told."
Nana smiles politely, burying the grimness inside her chest, right next to her heart. "I understand. But sometimes, it is necessary to take a step back and think about the big picture, right?"
"I've thought about the big picture, yes," Richter shuffles, dark boots scuffing at the light stone beneath her feet. "I have no qualms with how this joint exercise will go." She scoops up her papers from the table and follows Nana. Junna clears her throat. "Do you?"
Cold sweat pools at the back of her neck. A tad too chipper for the previous tone, she replies, "none whatsoever!"
Richter nods, a brief gesture, still taut and tense, but a little more sure of herself. "I will see you then." The shade overhead darkens her already dark back as she walks away. Nana frowns when she stops in the doorway. "Bachmann?" She doesn't turn around fully, but rather calls over her shoulder.
"You can call me Hanna, if you'd like."
Before Luisa can respond either way, she blinks and Hanna has left, gone down the maze of corridors she doesn't care to lose herself in again.
Nana wanders back to the table, slightly shaded now that the sun has progressed through the sky, and helps herself to a pastry. And another one and maybe one more after that. They're not warm anymore, but it's still a little too warm outside to enjoy warm pastries. For a moment, folds her arms on the table as a makeshift pillow or nest for her head that she lies down on them. For a moment, she forgets everything, all of the despair to come in these coming days for Luisa Bachmann and her friends, and simply takes a few breaths while she enjoys the warmth of the sun and the contentedness of completing tasks.
"Daiba Nana-san," is the first thing she hears upon opening her eyes, not finding herself all too surprised at the change of scenery or the fact that she's standing on the revue stage. It doesn't mean that she hates it any less.
Nana whirls around, looking for the source of the voice. She knows the giraffe can't hide because he's a giraffe rather than a gerbil. She finds him crammed into the control booth behind her, long neck bent down like a fish hook as it presses one hoof into a button to amplify his voice. "You have five minutes before your performance," he informs her indifferently and she can't help but feel like that phrase is something that isn't new to this version of her.
Nana opens her mouth, closes her mouth, then narrows her eyebrows at him before she pads away from the bright white and blue lights. She has to get changed.
The reflection of the light's sheen on the floor is the only thing she looks at as she exchanges her school uniform for her revue outfit, clothed in the still darkness and loneliness of the audience seats. Her script fits perfectly into her revue outfit's belt, as though it's supposed to be there. She compartmentalizes that to think about later.
She nods at the giraffe when she stands on the stage again. "I understand," booms from the speakers and shaking her bones. When she blinks, her twin blades are stabbed in an X into the ground in front of her. A small whisper at the back of her mind tells her to wait. She does.
After a few beats of silence and stillness, his voice resounds: "is something wrong, Daiba Nana-san?" He is not asking out of curiosity or even obligation. They've known each other long enough for her to know that the undertone to his voice is one of impatience.
"No," she intones, the lie rolling off of her tongue as swift and easy as acting. That is what lying is, in a way.
"Very well then," he proceeds on. The spotlights sting the exposed parts of the backs of her legs, burning brightly. They reveal Futaba standing a way's away from her and she is absolutely mortified. "Sing, dance, and take life from one another."
The last bit freezes Nana up like a banana in the freezer. 'Take life from one another'...?
She glances at Futaba across the stage, unnervingly pale and grip on her axe visibly white-knuckled, even from where Nana is standing.
"Take life," she's talking to the giraffe, but her eyes are scrutinizing Futaba, "as in...?"
"To kill?" The giraffe probes, voice closer than it had been a mere minute ago - likely in the audience seats if she is to wager a guess. "Yes, you Stage Girls have it in you, if the being the Top Star is truly your desire."
Nana's jaw tightens, as does her grip on her swords.
She's going to be sick.
It doesn't matter who; it's never been like this.
Kill? Her friends? She can't. She cannot. There's no way.
Nana's gaze flicks from Futaba to her own wakizashi. Slowly, with dread filling her veins, she turns to the giraffe in the audience seats.
"I'll show it to you," she promises him, taking the hilt in her clammy, sweating hands, "the bonds of the stars."
Pain rips through her, worse than any of her fears. Red pours from her abdomen and she can only hear Futaba's shouts from farther away than she actually is as she dashes across the stage.
Nana bends down to her knees, dropping onto the floor with the grace of Mahiru's Spuds.
Nana only hopes the next iteration is somehow better.
Nana comes to with a gasp for air, trembling. It's warm - like the sea in the summer months and tastes a tad like fresh-cut grass - unwelcome in that sense, but she gulps it in anyway. She doesn't want to open her eyes, but forces her lids to peel back regardless. The thin fabric that tickles her leg is really what inclines her to do so.
There's stone beneath her, she feels it cutting into the palms of her hand. This world's version of her must have fallen asleep here, for some reason. She didn't dwell on it and instead sat up, shaking the nausea away with a misguided sway of her head. She forces the bile down in her throat and coughs past it, heaving, as her locks brush the side of her neck. Her throat burns in protest and perhaps it would have been the better idea to let the bile come out.
She heaves again, but this time it's nothing but air that loges in her throat.
The sudden sound of footsteps approaching cause her to seize, body freezing up like when Kaoruko had been caught with her hand in the cookie jar, an almost literal situation. She eases at the memory, but quickly stores it away. The noise she made must have attracted someone's attention, someone Nana hopes is a friend rather than a foe. She's sick of foes
Her blood turns to solid ice in her veins, heart stopping for a split second that she half wished was eternal.
The footsteps stop for a second and she can almost hear the other looking around - as though Nana is right behind her playing a foolish game - before they start up again. "Is that you?" Maya's deep voice is laced with concern, outright and poignant, something Nana has rarely heard spill from the brunette's mouth when it wasn't about something other than a script or baumkuchen. But this, she reminds herself as she clutches loosely at her arm to ensure that it's still there, isn't Maya.
She remembers Maya's twisted grin, of pride and arrogance and sheer intensity, and her eyes aglow with madness, such power that not even Nana herself was able to bring herself to beat, during the Aldebaran Revue as the fire puffed around them and the blood red lights danced in a frenzy. It's something she'd never be able to forget, as long as she wants to. She's almost sick again and feebly curls over herself, in baseless hope that this Zeus will be a kind soul.
The footsteps speed up, approaching her and Nana's mind reels. Why hadn't she been looking for a place to hide? A place to sleep, that's what she needs. But in a small, stone colosseum, there aren't many places to hide. Or any, she notes, as the ceiling is, well, not anything she thinks she'll be able to reach in her state. It's half gone, from the middle, it reaches out as though someone shot a large circular object through the stone. It's perilous, but she'd take this perilous gazebo-sized colosseum rather than what - who - she knows is coming.
She sees Maya first, long brunette hair that reaches the end of her back swaying every which way behind her. Nana has never seen Maya so frightful in her life. Not even after the Baumkuchen Incident.
Maya turns, seemingly having sensed something behind her, but the half second it takes for her to notice Nana is time enough for Nana to scrutinize her. Even from the distance away from the woman she that is, she can see small outlines of tear tracks.
Did they have makeup in Ancient Greece?
Perhaps her world's Junna was right, she should have payed attention more in world history. She likes it when Junna tutored her, everything made sense when she did. Being flung into different worlds by a magical, talking giraffe, however, didn't make much sense. She's well aware that Junna would tell her as much, with a raised eyebrow and flat expression to match.
Nana notices that the aquamarine color of Maya's asymmetrical, tasseled skirt that had been decorated with tan accents and details not only matched the accessories that Maya wore - like her brass colored armband that sported a hexagonal blue jewel and her large, intricate brass choker with a noticeably smaller blue, diamond jewel seated at her jugular - but it also matched the color of Nana's dress, down to her very own tassels and armband on her opposite arm that snugly bit into her skin with its shining circle gemstone on full display.
Maya breathes a visible sigh of relief at the sight of her and ran over, tan flats slapping the ground beneath her. "Europa!" Her apparent lover cried out, racing to her. Nana forces her best revue-winning smile, blinking back the tears forming in her eyes.
Nana replaces the agony in her eyes with joy and warmth. Just for today, she reminds herself, pleading with the forces - and giraffes - that be that the next day isn't something worse than whatever this is.
"Zeus, my love," she hadn't had the opportunity to study the script of 'Betrayal in Crete' more in-depth than she had last time, seeing as how involuntarily dimension hopping has kind of made her schedule freakishly busy. She hopes that she's not overacting. She's not even sure that she's in Japan and doesn't think she wants to know if this is actually Ancient Greece. She doesn't have the time nor the energy to dwell. "What had delayed you so long?" Words that aren't entirely hers come out of her mouth and Nana does her best to roll with the... stones? "I had waited for you, here, all of last night. Had you been messing around with that Hera again?" A switch flicks in her mind, she can see the minimal notes she had been able to make on the script in almost crystal clear clarity: that she's kind and naïve, but can anger quickly when not the sole focus. A little bit like Kaoruko in that final regard, which is something a little soothing and honestly helpful.
"'Messing around'?" Defensively, Maya steps forward, caution laden in her breaths. She, too, knows the price of crossing the mortal woman after which an entire continent is named. "I am in no way messing around," Maya broaches the mouth of the crumbling colosseum with a sort of clarity, charm and passion alight in her eyes. Nana is drawn forward by that light. "Of this I swear," Maya cups Nana's face in her hands with her calloused hands, causing the other to lose all ability to have cognitive thought, "in this moment there are no mistruths in my feelings of love for you."
The line makes Nana blush, even with the knowledge that this is likely not Maya, but Zeus who took the guise of her. Or a version of Maya playing Zeus. Neither thought gifts her the comfort she wants or needs.
After the momentary lapse of character, Nana surges as Europa, pulling her hands from Zeus's embrace of them. "'In this moment'?" Her voice comes out of her mouth as a sneer, wrought with disgust. "Just how naïve do you think I am?!" She doesn't give the taken aback Zeus a moment to answer, instead plowing on forward, "I know you have other lovers, everyone does! You frivolously call upon all sorts of women, not caring of sombering their hearts at your departure. You care about none, save for yourself!"
"Europa," Maya approaches once again, on this potential stage that of which Nana knows nothing of, "my love for you is deep as the most treacherous ocean and back again, as innocent as a newborn lamb. I do not lie when I tell you how I feel for you."
It was oddly pacifying, both as Europa and as Nana herself, to be told that. Her Maya - the actual, non-Zeus Maya - loves them all, too, beneath the stoicism and slight airheadedness. All eight of their ragtag friends.
While it's heartening, for Nana. It's the opposite for Europa, fueling her fury and mistrust instead. The battle inside the woman's mind between jealousy and love wages, the sour feeling the victor regardless of what love wishes.
Her hair - a mixture between her usual hair color and Maya's medium brown right in front of her - swishes around her face as she sharply shakes her head, dismissing 'Zeus's claims. She takes a step towards Maya, for once shorter than her, "seeing as how I gain no pleasure from remaining here, I wish to venture home. Surely, bull," she snarls, taking another step forward, forcing Maya to take a step backward, as a stone thuds sharply behind her, "you recall where that is."
The shining sun would have normally been something to marvel at, on such a cloudless day, but everything continues on. "Well, that simply cannot be!" Maya all but gawks at her, something neither she nor her godly counterpart would do, but in a state powered by adrenaline and an underlying layer of confusion, she can't think of another word that better encapsulates the action. "Beloved Europa, be together with me, for I love you."
"Yet, you still love others the way you claim to desire me." Nana presses her weight onto the balls of her feet as she surges forward a few more steps, cramming her face mere inches from Maya's own which results in the brunette stumbling backward as not to be plowed over. "There is no use in keeping me here unless you love me, solely."
Maya's expression caves in on itself, much like the stone structure behind her sounds as though it's doing, but Nana doesn't bother to turn to look. Europa is too focused on giving Zeus a piece of her mind. "I apologize," she shakes her head, guilt and remorse etching themselves into her features, "for that is not something that of which I am capable. My love for others is vast and far-reaching, yet genuine still, as I truly feel for you, my beloved."
"Your eyes are wrought with sin, dearly beloved," Nana's fists leap from where they had been balled at her sides, clutching onto Maya's airy, thin half cape with one hand, the other hand digging her palm into Maya's bronze-colored armband and its gleaming gemstone.
Maya does not writhe in her vice, unyielding grip, but rather slackens in it. Nana might be getting a tad too invested, both into the role as well as the lovers' quarrel, but it's hardwired into her nature. "If that is what you wish," Maya turns her head, as not to sigh directly into Nana's face, a curtesy Nana is glad to have, "it can be arranged. Tomorrow, at dawn."
But that's too far away! She'll be gone by then, having possessed some other poor Nana's body for the day. "No." She disagrees sternly, hard-pressed to believe that Maya will not oblige her, out of the sheer amount of love that Zeus claims to hold for her, "whatever occurs shall happen today. I will not have my freedom denied from me for another day simply because it inconveniences you." The pain of being betrayed by someone who you thought loved you in the way you wanted and needed is something Nana is very, very familiar with. She can't help but sympathize with her role.
Maya's face shifts through a myriad of expressions before finally settling on defeat. "Very well," she sighs, softer this time, quite aware that there is no room to negotiate, "my only request is that you meet me back here at dusk, my beloved Europa."
With a terse nod that disguises her confusion at what to do for the next number of hours, she turns from Maya, coming face to face with the dilapidated, ruined colosseum. This, too, she knows, is a tragedy in some way. It's something she wants to be over with, as fast as she can.
A wad of what she thinks is paper (something far too advances for this time period, at least) catches her attention. The edges of pages peek out from the ruble.
She waits until Maya's heavy footfalls recede from the clearing to investigate.
Nana's hair swishes around her head as she speedily surveys the land around her for the odd person, a traveler, a giraffe, a god, another bull, anyone. Relief floods over her when she finds no one.
It takes more than a few tries to tug the bound parchment from the rubble and Nana's certain she just barely missed losing a finger to a stone's weight, but the triumph she feels after spending all that time planning and agonizing is worth it, upon holding the script in her hands.
It's the script for 'Starlight', which she drops as though someone had handed her fire.
She's shocked, to say the least. It's not in the condition it was when her loop reset. There aren't any sticky notes peeking out from in-between the pages nor does it look tattered, save for the fact that it had been crushed underneath a few thousand pounds of rocks. Her frog sticker isn't even there.
Sweat begins to pool at the nape of her neck. For not the first time today, she's clueless about what to do. That, in and of itself, is an exhausting and frightening endeavor. Her loops are supposed to be predictable and safe, for her friends and herself. So that they won't have to worry about the pain and hardships of change and rejection, of agony and remorse. Nana's supposed to shoulder that herself. She's still not sure what she did to make all of this weird time travel stuff happen, other than win the revues. It's what the giraffe gave to her, but this isn't what she wanted. She can't say that she's the biggest fan of Ancient Greece right about now.
With another glance around, she begins to attempt her best at unravelling the dress she's in. It's a bit like a kimono, in a way. It's comforting in that respect, but also damningly difficult to undo.
It takes her a minute, far less time than the script. Nana presses the script to her stomach, bristling at the dust and small particles that dust against her skin. She fashions the dress correctly, regardless of her personal feelings. Her relationship with 'Starlight' sure is a complicated one, but it's what she's technically fighting for. She can't forget that, not here.
In the hours that come, she finds ways to busy herself around the fallen gazebo. Nana picks the tallest flowers she can find and braids their stems, she plucks fruit from trees that serves as an odd meal, she recites a little (the entirety) of 'Starlight' to the grasses that house mice and other odd creatures. They seem entertained enough, but do not stick around for an encore. Something scares them away. Something deep and heavy, a presence that's beginning to fill her with dread.
Maya clears her throat and Nana can hear the smile in her voice when she says, "what you recited was utterly magnificent." Oh great, now she's actively breaking the space-time continuum. Fantastic. "May I inquire as to what it is from?"
Nana stands and dusts at her skirt, frowning at her sudden lack of audience, and replies, "no, you may not." Her jaw is set. For the slightest second, both she and her role waver. Maya truly is beautiful, especially with the way that the golden light hits and frames her face, her eyes, her expression. But that's rather moot right now.
The brunette's smile is worn and defeated, but possesses a certain understanding. Nana figures that this would all be easier if she had some semblance of knowledge of Ancient Greek deities. She's probably doing this all wrong. "I understand," that phrase shoots lightning through Nana's body, but her expression remains tame, "nevertheless, my dear, dusk is now upon us." Nana must have had fun, according to the English idiom Junna tells Karen, the one about the passage of time.
"Though I love you," the words clog themselves in Nana's throat. She's never confessed to anyone before, as a part of a role or not. It's weird, to allow herself to confess something like feelings even if they're not her own since she's slotted herself into the 'mom friend' peg for the longest time now and hasn't allowed herself to consider different realities in which she did more for her friends than simply be their confidant. "I wish for my own agency. I cannot remain while you love others. It pains my heart, Zeus."
Upon hearing her hushed words, Maya's face softens. The edges of her eyes crinkle, but she still maintains the aura of regality and importance, a farce thicker than the one her Maya wears. "Though I do not comprehend the meaning behind the mortal words you speak, I respect your decision. My love for you shall always remain, as long as this island still stands."
Nana nods, distantly, as Maya passes her a sword. This is not where she had thought this would be going. It wasn't even in the top five. But she does know how Maya likes to excel at things she's great at. "As an evaluation of your desire you claim, you must use that determination to best me in combat," There's something else in Maya's voice other than an unwavering command. This sword is heavier than what her muscle memory has memorized working with. It's a disadvantage, but she doesn't let it pass her face.
"If I win," Nana holds the blade close to her chest, trepidation ringing hollow within her, "I leave. But what about if you win?"
She can see it, the undercurrent in Maya's gaze that makes her shudder, for the first time that day. Nana's throat closes. Maya steps forward and Zeus brushes a hand along her cheek, drawing it under and lightly cupping her chin. It's ice cold. "Then you remain here in Crete with me, as long as this island stands." Maya flashes her teeth in a way that should have been a smile.
Nana takes a long breath, slow and deep.
Those red lights that have damned her before, symbolic of betrayal and death, sparkle in her peripheral. Nana deftly grasps the sword in both hands, turning her gaze to the beautiful mirage of rainbow colors provided by the rays of the dying sun. She's not going to lose this time.
Nana blearily peels her eyelids back to a white ceiling above her head. She takes a second to blink them again, drinking in the fact that there isn't anyone actively trying to murder her, seduce her, kill her in a different manner, or anything of the sort.
A breath releases from her chest, as though she had been holding it in her chest while this world's supposed Nana slept.
A hand that is draped over her chest twitches. Nana almost has a coronary. "Nana-chan?" It's the voice she heard before, but not as deep, not pretending to be something it's not.
Her brain is exhausted from being in a constant state of fear, but she tenses up anyway and chews on the inside of her cheek, the most she can bear for the moment.
"Are you alright?" The question is hesitant and the girl beside her sits up, pulling her arm back. She's not surprised to see Maya again, though she is surprised that the events are in such quick succession.
Her Maya doesn't call her 'Nana-chan'. Not anything close to it, even after many time loops and subtle nudges to tell her that it's more than okay, Maya had never - not even once - called her by her first name.
Nana bunches up the cold-feeling, oddly smooth-ish comforter in her hands and pulls it to her chin, unsuccessfully attempting to will herself back to sleep. She hasn't felt rested in days, weeks. Being called 'Nana-chan' is certainly not the worst or even the oddest thing she has endured in the past week or so of time. "I'm okay," she murmurs, mostly out of instinct.
Maya leans ever farther forward, peering over her with a sharp frown, far more expressive than her Maya. "You don't look it," the long locks that she's accustomed to aren't as long as she knows they're supposed to be, as they end rather suddenly at a short distance past Maya's shoulders. But the brown hair she loves drips down from over her bare shoulder like a waterfall nevertheless. "I can make you some breakfast to help," is what she wagers with ease, propping her chin on the heel of her palm.
Nana hates forcing herself to the adjustments, to the changes of the Maya-that-isn't-her-Maya in front of her. She decides to go with, "I can make breakfast for myself," which is something that of which she is certain, a fact that she knows about herself. She is still not ready to will herself out of the bed. She wants to rest.
Apparently this response is not the right thing for this world's Nana to say, because it elicits an eyebrow raise out of Maya and a quick guffaw, with lips upturned.
Maya doesn't guffaw, not the one she knows.
Her Maya isn't a lot of things that this world's Maya is. She isn't this world's Nana either. She doesn't feel like pretending to be so for the moment.
"Really," she argues pathetically, can hear it in her own voice, "I can do it."
Maya pushes back a smile, smothering it behind her hand before she informs Nana of this Nana's shortcomings: "You say that, but the last time you tried, Shion-chan and I had to clean up charred veggie bits from the ceiling using Yakumo-san's stepladder." Nana drudges up Seisho's Class B roster in her brain, recalling that Shion is Amemia's first name. Pretty. Yakumo, she's pretty sure, is a teacher from Seiran. She's not sure how to feel about having that woman as her neighbor for today, given the things she has heard about her in the past.
Maya is smiling plainly now, resting her cheek up against her hand. With her free hand, she reaches out to stroke Nana's face.
The blonde's eyes widen to the size of saucers and she must have flinched, judging by Maya's wide-eyed and startled expression, hand frozen mid-reach.
She's not in a place to vocally apologize, but Nana hopes it comes across through her expression.
"Accept solitude," she hears ring in her ears, like something that happens to people in the heart of an explosion for a little while afterward, "and stand in the center of heaven." The phantom pain of being stabbed in both of her rotator cuffs burns through her oversized shirt that this Nana had likely borrowed from this Maya, a pain worse than fire, worse than any other wound she thinks she can possibly ever sustain. All she can do is blink her teary eyes shut as tight as she can as she curls into herself while she groans in agony. Maya - not Zeus, not her Maya, but a stranger to both those concepts as well as to Nana herself - shrinks back, staring worriedly at her instead.
"Are you sure you've been taking your pills?" Maya questions cautiously after some time stretches by, sitting up straighter to have a better look at the person beside her.
The pain begins to ebb away to something more manageable. "Pills," Nana manages confusedly, voice low.
"Your anxiety pills?" At the face Nana makes, Maya elaborates, "prescription medication?"
She blinks, once, then twice, before she starts to sob.
Through her tears, she watches Maya stare back at her, brokenly desperate for a way to help.
Forcefully, Nana's breath hitches and, amidst seven different layers of anguish, she makes the tears stop. In a unified protest, her throat burns, vision blurs, and nose runs. "I'm not your Nana," she's sure that isn't the right thing to say to help Maya, but she needs to say it to someone or she's going to burst.
Silence marches on for about thirty seconds before Maya hums, "what?" In her semi-catatonic state, she still has the decency to hand Nana a wad of unused tissues and she thinks this person is not actually human, simply too good for that.
Nana doesn't blame her and her obvious confusion, instead deciding to explain. She all but skips the section with... Zeus. Maya nods along the entire time, occasionally asking the odd question here and there out of curiosity. Nana could tell that she was most intrigued by the Wartime of Farewells bit, having asked the most questions about life there. It's odd how she openly believes it all with no question, but it's not really Nana's issue at the moment.
Nana gives her a few moments to process it all, staring outside the window, "Will I get my Nana-chan back?" The question is slow, her choice of words deliberate as she hopes to not incite more fright into the blonde.
"I think so," Nana had begun to give thought to the other versions of herself early on in the... process? Situation? Calamity, perhaps, is the best word. She never considered where the versions of the Nanas that she possesses go for the day. It's worrisome, too. "I haven't repeated worlds, so I'm not certain."
Maya offers her hand, tentatively, with a bright smile on her face. "Would you like to help me make breakfast?"
On the nightstand to her left, she catches the familiar script, neatly piled underneath a tall stack of financial magazines that feature taut-faced men in tailored suits on their covers. Nana moves quickly, ripping the book out like a magician were to with a tablecloth. She clutches it in her hand, grip white-knuckled.
There's no reason to not trust this Maya, Nana assures herself before she takes the other's hand as she returns a wobbly smile.
With this Nana's smaller hand enveloped in Maya's, the brunette leads the way to the kitchen, conveniently only past the bedroom door.
Maya sits her down at a small, circular table that would seat three on its best days and begins pulling things out of the refrigerator. Apparently 'helping to make breakfast' actually translated to 'sit and watch Maya make breakfast'. This fact is one of the oddest things she's come across, which somehow speaks volumes to Nana about her own mental state and her processing of the past few... days?
"You're still a lot like her, you know," Maya pipes up as she cracks an egg with one hand, the yolk jumping into the bowl in a perfect dive. "But you're still you."
Nana opens her mouth, just to close it again.
"She cries and gets scared easily, too," Maya continues, back turned to her as she begins to whisk the eggs with a fork. The part of Maya's expression that she can see is wistful. "But she hides it beneath those impassive expressions of hers," she chuckles warmly, a smile seeping onto her face, "it took her forever and a day to open up to me."
It sounds exactly like her, yet nothing at all. Nana wasn't really sure where she stood with all of the parallel universes, but it just feels wrong to not be exactly herself, to have changed in some way. She nods, well aware of the fact that Maya can't see her do so.
"We go to school together, grew up here in Toyama together, and yet," Maya turns and retrieves a pan from the cabinet directly behind her in this small, boxy kitchen, "but I wouldn't have it any other way."
"Do we still go to school for theater?" The words fall out of her mouth, a quiet plea, a request that says 'please tell me you haven't changed too much, too'. The look Maya gives her is answer enough.
"We both went to school for culinary arts, you to the business side of things, me for the, well," she lifts the bowl as a continuation of her sentence, with a little flourish.
The story of these two is just too enticing, like the blinding revues in a peculiarly similar way. "Did we all go?"
Maya doesn't turn around from the hot stove, but her short ponytail jerks when she turns her head and she replies, "all?"
The breath that presses out from between Nana's lips is warm, she ignores the phantom feeling of blood beading over them. "All of us, Karen-chan, Junna-chan, Mahiru-chan, Clau-chan, and Futaba-chan and Kaoruko-chan. All eight of us."
"I only know a couple of those names and I don't think I even know them personally." Nana's heart splinters, but she patches it up with a smile instead. She'll see them all soon enough, she has to. "I'm sorry," she can feel the genuine sympathy ebbing from the woman's words.
"No, no, Maya-chan," she feels a sort of... comfort at saying Maya's name. She hasn't said the names of any of her friends aloud in far too long, "you don't have anything to apologize for," she tries to wedge a smile into her voice, but it's all for naught. She's so exhausted.
"Yachi-chan and Mi-chan went to middle school with us, together," Maya clears her throat, voice thick. Tsuruhime Yachiyo more than likely is Yachi-chan, but Nana has to guess that Mi-chan is Kano Misora. Nana doesn't ask about why Maya's voice had thickened when she mentioned then, she simply let her continue. "Do you know them?" The question is innocuous by itself, but a certain weight rests in Nana's chest, one that tells her that all is not what it seems.
"I do," she stores the unease away in her mind, for future use. She feels like Junna, maybe this whole thing is an insane method acting training course Junna devised specifically for her. "They're happy, where I'm from." She doesn't want to bring the revues into the conversation.
The tension visibly eases in Maya's shoulders. "That's good."
They eat the eggs in a comfortable silence, Maya having quieted since speaking about Yachiyo and Misora. She doesn't think that she wants to know.
"You said we live in Toyama?" Nana pushes the last bite of egg around her plate, not wanting to end this time with Maya quite yet.
Maya warms like the sunshine after a heavy rain. "We do," she recalls fondly, "we've lived here for our entire lives. I met Nana-chan when we were both really young, around maybe 3 years old?" A childhood friend, like Karen and the dark haired girl in the picture on the redhead's nightstand.
Nana smiles genuinely, still not ready to work up the nerve of taking the last bite. It's bound to be getting cold, but she's not too sure she cares that much. "How did you meet?"
Maya hums in the back of her throat, sitting back in her chair with a thoughtful expression on her face. "I always remember meeting her the first day of kindergarten, but she always corrects me and tells me that we met the day before. Our parents had done one of those meet and greets so we would have friends the first day of class. We clicked instantly." Maya sits forward, eyes crinkling at the fond memory. "What about you?" She picks up a bite of egg, appearing more or less genuinely interested.
"I've lived in Toyama before, but," her brow furrows at her brain dredging up Hisame's insults that the girl had flung at her, right before she had applied to Seisho, "I live in Tokyo now. I go to Seisho Music Academy."
Nana blinks cluelessly. "And what?"
"Don't you have a girlfriend there?"
Stunned by Maya's forwardness, Nana gapes. "Ah," she closes her eyes, momentarily reconsidering this day's placement on the weird meter, "no, I don't. I love all my friends, but...."
"But," nods Maya as she eggs her on, intrigued.
Nana fidgets slightly, shoving the egg across her plate in a battle the yellow mush is destined to lose. "Keeping them safe from the pains that plague us Stage Girls, that's what matters the most," Nana nods to herself, memory flicking to the first revue she ever won against Seisho's resident Top Star and Maya's utter shock at the fact. "Even taking Position Zero as the Top Star...."
Maya pauses, chopsticks frozen halfway between her plate and mouth. "What's a 'Top Star' or, to boot, a 'Position Zero'?" She's certain that if Maya hadn't been so focused on her egg not falling onto her plaid pajama pants, she would have air quoted both Top Star and Position Zero.
It certainly is odd. Nana's expression softens from embarrassment to something else - something more docile, being in the presence of a Maya who's clueless about the stage as well as being an open book. "'Position Zero'," she hears her Maya's boastful claim of it in her ears and Junna's surprised, adrenaline filled outcry along with all the other's claims.
Position Zero is far more than two pieces of pink-purple tape on the rehearsal room floor. It's the moot point and simultaneously the most important thing to them, that of which they battle over and over and over again for. It's a useless dream. For that matter, so is the Top Star. The Top Star is a curse. In order to achieve your greatest desire, you must steal the brilliance, the passion, the love, the drive, of someone else. How heinous the tragedy is.
So that's what she tells Maya. There's no use in denying it when she's just going to be gone in a dozen hours.
"So that's what this is all about, huh?" She folds her hands neatly in her lap before miming a smirk that Kaoruko would make before teasing Mahiru about her crush on Karen. "So you're all gay theater kids."
Nana's face rushes with heat as she opens and closes her mouth, in search for an answer she ends up not finding. "There's... a little bit more to it than that. But, yes."
Maya's hands slam on the table at light speed. She doesn't take note of Nana's subconscious jolt because she barrels onward. "So you are gay!"
Nana bites at her lips, unsure as to whether she should be amused or just plain offended by Maya's forwardness. "Ah, that's not really...." Nana frowns. Oh, what the hell. "I mean, I guess."
"So?" Maya leans forward, eyes aglow. "Who is it? The 'Futaba-chan' you mentioned? Or was it the 'Karen-chan'?" This Maya is appearing more and more like a well-intentioned Kaoruko, which feels more unnerving than if her intentions were mischievous.
"What about you and your Nana-chan?" Nana swiftly deflects the topic. Sure, she's in love, but it's not the sole focus of her life, it can't be. "Are things between you... like that?" Being uninterested in love and being uninterested in romance are two related, but completely separate entities.
"They have been for years," Maya beams, bearing her teeth in a way that would have been a tad unsettling if it had been her Maya. "Our anniversary is on Valentine's Day. I've been planning to propose to her for a while now, but I don't know what to say! I can't find the right words or the right time. Our schedules always clash or I chicken out." Hearing Maya say the phrase 'chicken out' makes Nana long for her phone, to record and save odd moments like these to show her friends. "I got it!" Maya darts forward, faster than her Junna's arrows, and clasps Nana's hands in her own.
"You do?" Nana asks hesitantly, not super sure if she wants the answer.
"Yes!" Maya gives her hands a squeeze. They're beginning to perspire. "You can help me, with what I'm going to say to Nana-chan."
"Aha," Nana smiles exhaustedly, "of course." It's not as though she has any other options.
Time marches on, slow as can be. This Maya's idea of romance is the direct and polar opposite of what her Maya would openly think of and tell people about when asked. Cheesy tropes and cliché romance novels and movies are quite apparent in her inspiration, as most of the big names are noted down on her yellow papered legal pad. She's even cut out a piece of paper in the shape of a heart to be a card of some sort, like a paper doll chain. It's like something Karen would make, Nana can't help but think. The thought warms her heart.
They glue sequins on Maya's legal pad just because and use sparkly glitter pens to decorate hearts like they're little kids at the crafts table again. Nana hasn't felt so oddly free and unburdened in decades. Of course, Nana's realized that she's not allowed to have nice things for too long right now.
"Nana-chan," Maya's scissors stop their snipping and come to a rest at the pinnacle of a freshly cut paper star. Nana can't help but stare at the bright, banana yellow of the shape. She's not exactly sure what this is all for, anyway, "do you know where that book came from?"
With a hum of confusion in the back of her throat, Nana switches her gaze to Maya's, amethyst gaze gentle and soft rather than sharp and piercing.
"The one on your lap," she gestures to the 'Starlight' script that is, in fact, resting on Nana's thighs in her lap. "Nana-chan's had it for some time, but not even she's sure where it came from. I was just wondering if you knew."
Nana glances from the ornate, curling thorny vines and thickly petaled flowers to the curious gaze of this Maya, who has something of a smile from the intrigue. She can't stop halfway, she has to complete the rondo as she always does. "It's mine," comes out of her mouth before she wants it to. Nana pulls it to her chest, hugging it in a tight cradle. "It's all of ours', actually. Our 'Starlight'." Brilliance from that time bubbles up in her mind, rising and rising, higher and higher.
"A play?" Maya places the scissors down on the table, lips parted as her mind races. She rests her chin on the heel of her hand. "Is it important to you?"
A terse smile pulls at Nana's lips, fingers curling into the script in her grasp. "It's my most important thing. I have to get back to them."
Maya taps at her chin and tilts her head. "This isn't the first time the weird thingy has happened to you, right?" At Nana's slow nod, she proceeds onward. "If you know how to do it, can you try it?"
Protest zaps Nana from her nostalgia, sour on her tongue, "but I have to finish helping you here."
"But you already have, Nana-chan," Maya's slender hands clasp together and draw into her chest, curled into each other like soulmates, "another Nana-chan made me think about my Nana-chan and how much I love her. As great as you are, I don't want anyone else. My Nana-chan is who I love and she should know that, even if I do say it twenty times a day. I have to stop holding back, isn't that it? I can't live on in this fear of rejection," Maya sighs, pulling a hand around the back of her neck to scratch at it, chuckling lightly, "if Nana-chan were to hear me now, she'd just laugh at how dumb I sound. You helped me realize that," her gaze levels with Nana's, "thank you."
"Ah," it's a lot to take in all at once, if she's honest, "you're welcome." Being able to live on without fear of the future, oh what she'd give for a world like that.
Maya begins to herd the markers into her hands and fold the colored sheets of construction paper together. Nana watches, blearily, as she gathers the colored pencils and closes the scissors.
Upon likely noticing her slouched posture, Maya asks, "are you tired?"
"It's been a long week," Nana remarks, blinking hard.
"Then you take a nap there, alrighty?" Nana starts forward to protest, but Maya puts her hand up in silent protest. She'll have none of it, clearly. "Alrighty?"
A sigh of utter defeat passes through Nana's lips. "Alrighty."
The light of the shining moon calls her awake, but the light of the lanterns that shine and sway in the distance lead her to sit up and stare in enchantment.
And Nana finds herself looking down at her clothes, at least to repeat what she has come to know as helpful, to find something out about this version of who she is.
She pales, aghast.
Clad in a white dress with a thin golden rope tied around her waist and an ungainly golden band the width of her closed fist wrapped around her right wrist, a red undershirt and cape bound to her dress, she knows very well who she is - who she is supposed to be now. She knows - even more so - this is not who she wants to be, not ever: her worst nightmare.
Nana - no, Flora - rises, eyes brimming with sorrow. As much as 'Starlight' is a story about Flora and Claire, it's a story of sins and tragedy, of failure and loss, of grief and regret. It's the perfect metaphor for what she wants to protect her friends from, from all of the atrocities the world has to shove at you, 'Starlight' represents it in all of its misery.
She wants to cry - really, she does. Junna would call her childish and wipe at her tears with a gentle crook up of her lips; Claudine would do her best to ease her mind of the topic; Karen would tell funny stories and jokes to cheer her up; Maya would distract her with practice, tell her to compartmentalize it; Mahiru would suggest cooking or baking something together; Kaoruko would use herself as a distraction, perhaps offering a piece of candy if the situation were to suffice, in a selfishly selfless way; Futaba would suggest talking it out, whatever it is.
But none of them are with her. The fact that she would never confide in them about her despair is rather moot at the moment.
She's crying all alone on a grassy hillside, staring out at the distant Star that she's destined to grasp and gain only suffering from. She's Flora and she's destined for pain, be it suffering at her own hands, in order to keep those negative experiences from her friends or at the hands of others, dejected and alone.
Nana closes her eyes and lays back down against the grass. She doesn't want to do this. She wants to go home, to continue protecting her friends from the anguish the world wants to offer them. It's her destined Stage of Fate and she doesn't want it any other way.
"Excuse me?" Someone stands above her, their shadow blocking the light from both the moon and the lanterns. "Are you alright?" She knows very well who this is and she's quite very glad to have ran into Claudine.
"I'm alright," Nana sniffles, sitting up. She wastes no time using the situation to Flora's advantage, even if it's sudden. "I made a promise last year, to meet with my friend, you. Claire, I thought you had forgotten me."
Claudine's expression shifts to one of profound torment, in the throes of distress. "You," she says, awed. "I... apologize." Nana expresses the right look on her face and Claudine continues, "I don't understand, not your voice or your warmth, but I remember one thing: the promise I made with you was the most important thing to me, but I - but I don't remember you!" She's afflicted by her loss, hands locked in her tousled hair, magenta eyes gleaming with woe.
Nana approaches her as one would approach a scared doe, and she places both hands on Claudine's shoulders. "Maybe we can get it back," through the lump in her throat, she presses for optimism, to stick to the role no matter what her personal feelings on it. Her smile wavers. "Tonight," she elaborates, "at the Star Festival that happens once every year, at the top of the Tower to the Star, if I can take ahold of that Star, maybe we can get your memories back."
Claudine raises her hands and wraps them around Flora's wrists. She's dancing between satisfaction and apprehension. Nana forces a bigger smile as a tear drops from her duct. Claire smiles back, mind made up.
The walk doesn't take as long as Nana had suspected it would have. They stumble across a miniature hourglass that contains all of the colors of the Milky Way that glimmer and shine off of it in the moonlight. All of the sand is three-quarters of the way to the bottom, which strikes Nana as odd, but they traipse on. Through the grassy hills and valleys, she fills the air with talks of friendship and love that she hopes aren't foreign concepts to Flora and Claire's relationship. Claudine nods along, her hand in Flora's tightening every so often.
They stop at the base of the Tower, silver steps shimmering and reflecting the bright glow of the Star, playing into its allure to the wistful sinners. Nana takes the first step forward, wanting to end this quickly and move on. Claire lingers back.
"What if it hurts you?" Even in the short hours since they had been re-introduced, Claire had been nothing but hesitantly trusting, more emphasis on the trusting part.
Nana turns back around, giving Claire's hand a short squeeze. "If your memories come back, I'm okay with anything happening to me." Claudine turns from her, expression guilty. Nana squeezes her hand once again and Claire looks up. "Are you ready?" Claire nods, slowly.
Nana untangles their fingers and raises her right hand to the Star, saying, "let's go, together...."
Claudine finishes, lifting her hand to the Star, as well, "we will grasp that Star!" Her voice rings with Claudine's brand of determination so familiar that the same warmth from her previous repeats floods her chest.
"Grasping the Star means forgiveness for your sins," Flora informs Claire, moving forward with the latter in tow. Oh, how Nana has sinned.
"Grasping the Star is a miracle of the Night!" Claire's eyes are bright for the first time in this night, shining with an energy that says that they can do this. She's encouraged by recalling the miracle's guidelines. Flora returns Claire's beam.
"Who are you?!" At the voice that is certainly Junna, Nana takes initiative to step forward in front of Claire before they both blink. When they open their eyes, the sinful goddesses who had been imprisoned in the tower for hundreds of countless decades stare them down, pinning their feet to the ground they stand on.
"I beg of you!" Flora's voice rings with urgency and desperation, something that Nana, too, feels festering inside her chest, "Let me claim the Star! For Claire's sake!"
"We have no star to give to you," they chorus, glaring down on the troubled, yet eager youth before them.
The light of the Star blinks out for a second, long enough for the goddesses to arm themselves with their various weapons, prepared to defend the Star with their diminishing lives.
Claudine exchanges a glance with Flora, who nods in reassurance. "We will claim the Star," Flora murmurs, softly enough to be heard by only Claire as the goddesses prepare themselves for war, "you will regain your memories. I promise you."
The Goddess of Fury - the one who wears Junna's face, one scrunched up in irate determination - sends an arrow flying that whizzes past Nana's ear. It whispers something to her, about sins and anger, but she's unable to catch the entirety of it before the arrow vanishes behind both Flora and Claire. "Though I release my arrow over and over again, it still won't reach that Star. You two who naively aim for the Star," she pulls back another arrow, but instead aims it up, for a metaphor as the arrow loosely waits on the string between the goddess's grasp, "how could you begin to understand this fury?!" She rips the arrow from between her bow, instead holding it tenderly between her fingers, pointing the tip sharply at the duo.
The Goddess of Arrogance charges at them next, sharp blade slicing the air in front of them, but over-confident and clumsily enough that the two both can jump back and evade the blow. "I, too, thought I could claim the Star, but that was just my arrogance! Even as clouded as my judgement was, I was sure I could claim it for myself. But no one can!"
The two spin around, only to meet face to face with the Goddesses of Evasion and Curse who try to get the better of them, but hesitate at the last second. "If you don't have the strength to face something," the Goddess of Evasion begins, voice tremoring, "you should just run away! Yes," she brings her hand to her chest, furling the fabric in her hand before cutting Claire with her gaze, "running away, it was all I could do!"
"And yet," the Goddess of Curse continues, standing tall with something that seems like pride, glaring down Flora, "in the midst of such lamination and regret, I remained spellbound!"
The two back away from the intertwined goddesses and bump into the Goddess of Jealousy, who smiles weakly at them. "This is envy," she references herself with disgust apparent in her voice that wavers, "such terrible envy. If that's what you think," she raises her baton, eyes shivering in their sockets, "then tell me! What must I give up to have that person for myself?!" Flora and Claire glance between themselves, then look to the Star. Nana's gut churns.
Cut with slowly bleeding minor lacerations, the two nimbly work their way farther up the tower, dodging powerful blows and quick attacks.
Just before the summit of the tower, the Goddess of Despair turns, holding her twin swords. She bears Nana's own face - her real face, not Europa or the Sun Nation Knight or even the Beast, not anyone else but her true self - and recognizes this, too. She, however, does not speak on it. "You will not find what you are searching for," she warns, rather than cutting the stunned Claire and Flora with her blades, "you will never be able to surmount the misery that the Star gifts to you. Heed my warning and turn back now or perish in despair." Regardless of what it seems to her like they might choose, she steps aside and waves her blades with one pointing up to their transport to the Star and the other down to the Tower's base.
Flora and Claire are not deterred, Nana knows this. They progress the final few steps to the birdcage elevator warily, the Goddess of Despair sighing lightly behind them as they close the latch and gaze down upon the weary goddesses. "Ah, it begins again," she raises her hands, up to the Star as though trying to cup it. Even from far away as they ascend towards the Star, Nana can hear the bleakness in her voice that sends shivers down her spine, "the cycle of despair at the Starlight's source."
The elevator opens automatically with a sentience that hadn't been in the original play, almost as though with that sentience, it knows the severity of the dire situation Flora and Claire face.
Claudine takes her hand and gently tugs her forward. "Regardless of what dark emotions they attempt to cut us with, Flora, we will still take the Star." As courageous and bold as ever, her Clau-chan. Nana can't say she'll be courageous after this.
"Yes," Nana replies lowly. It's not as though she has any other options.
As they come upon the summit, torn and rendered weary by the Goddess' cutting words, they grasp their hands together, but not before the Goddesses call out, "And it shall be bestowed upon you, the Star which you have longed for!" The dread that seeps down Nana's spine doesn't stop Flora from raising her hand.
"Your Star is right here, Claire," Flora reassures her as she releases her friend's hand, Flora's own hands drawing up to cup the Star much like the Goddess of Despair had, eyes shimmering in the bright light, "everything you want," the Star emits a ray of light, thousands of them, but Flora persists, pressing on farther, "is right here!"
There's no way to stop the tragedy as the Star scorches her eyes, scarring the soft flesh of her face and blinding her, thrusting Flora and Nana alike into a world of fright, pain, and so terrifying night.
"My eyes!" She didn't think that the Star was actually going to blind her when she had first awoken in this world, she had initially thought it would take more than a day to travel, but she couldn't say she was all too surprised by this turn of events, even as frightening as they are, "I can't see! Where are you, Claire?!" Nana shouts, tearing at her eyes wildly with one hand, the other desperately reaching out for her friend, but Claire's hand just barely misses her grasp as she reaches out and stumbles backwards to her doom rather than forward to her friend.
The bed Nana comes to in is familiar, the pillow under her head is something she's felt many times. As she sits up, it takes her a minute to realize that this bed is her own bed, in her own dorm room.
Hesitantly, Nana kicks the covers from her body and swirls up and around to make her bed per her instinct all these years. Her white sleepshirt dusts at her belly button as she halfheartedly tugs off her beige jacket. The empty bed to her right catches her eye, made perfectly up.
Nana sighs in relief when the desk next to hers has evidence of use: numerous scripts with a rainbow of sticky note tabs peeking out from the page's edges, a couple odd textbooks, and even a hand-sized hourglass.
But, she can't help but wondering as her continues to travel right and pass a glance at her 'Starlight' script on the desk, is this her world? Is this the world that she loves and cherishes and wants to protect more than life and passion itself?
There's only one way for her to find out, she knows as she slips her slippers on her feet to avoid the coldness of the wood so early in the day.
The halls are... quiet. It's odd for a bunch of theater kids and teenagers, but the split second of stillness is as unbearably soul-crushing as it is nice.
Nana takes her time while her feet instinctually lead her to the living room. She peers into ajar doors, into rooms that show credible evidence of use and enjoyment. It all feels like her world to start, but the bar isn't so high for the moment. So many different things could be wrong and she doesn't even know the extent of what they could be. Junna could have gone to university early; Maya and/or her parents could have chosen Siegfeld Institute of Music rather than Seisho Music Academy for her place of study and have taken away Claudine's dear friend and dear rivalry; Mahiru could have never come to Seisho and instead remained closeted in her small town in Hokkaido and continued on from Kitachian Junior High to a road not lit with her own brilliance; Futaba and Kaoruko could have stayed in Kyoto at Keian Girls Private School and simply moved on to their high school equivalent of their junior high together; Karen could have never seen 'Starlight' with her childhood friend and never felt the road of fate pave itself for her and drive herself to Seisho and instead remained in Meika Private School, but none of those things have happened... yet.
In the middle of the cream-walled hallway, Nana pauses to take a breath, drawing in the air of Seisho, even if she ends up leaving tomorrow. Even if she ends up leaving tomorrow, she still needs to appreciate this moment with her friends. She'll try to do it, for their sake.
In the living room sits Claudine, glancing back and forth between a magazine and the television, remote in hand. Of course, Nana gravitates over.
"Need any help?"
Claudine chews on the inside of her cheek. "Ah, non. But merci for the offer, Nana." Claudine presses a quick peck to her lips and continues to go on with her challenge as though that wasn't at all odd and is rather a completely normal occurrence.
Nana's fingertips dust her lips, but she shoves whatever emotion she might be feeling down. She can't ruin this, at least not for this world's Nana.
"You've been a little odd these past few days," Claudine remarks, unprompted. "If you want to talk," she closes the magazine on her lap, cover flashing a smiling brunette woman, and sets the remote on the woman's face, "I'm always here to listen."
It's heartwarming, hearing a promise like that from Claudine. She can't afford to make anymore promises at this moment. "I'm okay, but, ah, m-merci?" Maybe she should have practiced her French in the loops more.
"Bien, Nana!" She gets another kiss for her efforts and feels her face redden from it, but Claudine doesn't so much as notice. "You'll be fluent in no time at this rate, just keep practicing."
As far as Nana has always known, there haven't ever been romantic exchanged between Claudine and someone else, especially not her. Though the fact that this is Claudine rather than Claire gives her a dose of much-needed momentary peace of mind.
Nana needs something to think about other than Claudine kissing her not once, but twice, and the shorter blonde girl thinking absolutely nothing of the occurrence. "Your mom taught you French, didn't she?"
"Mhm," Claudine leans into the cushions of the couch behind her, inclining her head upwards at the ceiling and staring into the unlit recessed light above her head. "She helped me so much when I was little, with the commercials and the advertisements and the roles. I'm going to surpass her and become the Top Star on my own accord. My mother has helped me grasp that."
"You and your parents are sure close, huh," Nana muses quietly, underneath her breath, expression soft.
Claudine returns the smile. "We've always been a family, despite everything," she takes and breath and knits her fingers with Nana's, "just like how Seisho is."
Something tugs at Nana, in the back of her throat. "R-Right."
"Oh!" Claudine sits up, eyes wide, "I didn't mean that I only see you and everyone else platonically. I just meant that we're all close here. Like how a family should be."
Who is "everyone else"?
"I know," Nana brushes her thumb across the back of Claudine's hand. "Have you seen everyone else yet today?"
Claudine raises an eyebrow at Nana, "I thought you made everyone breakfast earlier before you went back to your room to continue writing, even after that all-nighter to finish writing that script."
Script-writing? That is something she's done in the past before, but she can't remember if everyone at Seisho knows it or not. "Yeah," she recovers from her stumble quickly, not even flinching, "I meant while I was busy." There was an open notebook on her desk that she had noticed while looking around her room earlier. She must have been tired, pulling an all-nighter and continuing to write after that. "Is everyone okay?"
"Well, Mahiru's taken Hikari and Karen out to the aquarium for the day; Tendo Maya and Junna are at the theater for a play; and Futaba and Kaoruko are," Claudine ponders for a second, "somewhere still on the school grounds."
There's a transfer student?
Or is this a girl from another school? No, it can't be a girl from another school, Claudine implied she lives here with everyone else.
Hikari.... Isn't that the name of Karen's childhood best friend? The one she made a promise with, to stand on stage as stars of 'Starlight' with...?
Suppressing her initial shock and nausea over the evident change, Nana pushes forward. "We're all going to have a big dinner tonight, right, Clau-chan?" She's hoping that it's alright to call her that, seeing as how she's referred to everyone else by their first names, including that 'Hikari'.
"You were talking about earlier, so I'm hoping." Claudine's expression changes into something of a glower. "Unless that happens again."
'That'? Could she be referencing the revues? And this early on in the loop, too?
Claudine shakes her head, but Nana hears what she mutters to herself as she stands up. "So much has already happened, only in our second year."
Wait. They're in their second year? She's missed a lot, but not that much.
"Hikari-chan," Nana forces her throat to not to close around the unfamiliar name and it's as though pieces of sandpaper rubs up against each other in protest to that action, "will be there, too, right?"
Claudine scoffs lightly. "Karen and Mahiru will make sure of that, don't worry. All you," she pokes Nana on the nose with a grin, "need to worry about is making sure Kaoruko doesn't try to interfere again. She got past Futaba and Maya last time."
"You say that as though cooking and looking after Kaoruko-chan is a chore," Nana replies, teasing tone to her voice.
Claudine's hand that had briefly held hers combs through her hair as she takes a deep breath in. "It can be, looking after Kaoruko. But we all love her."
"I wasn't aware 'but' comes with my name now, Clau-han," both turn to the sound of the beloved Kyoto-accented girl's voice. Kaoruko leans against the entrance wall to the living room, lips quirked downwards in a faux frown.
Futaba rolls her eyes, strolling out from behind her. "It always has." Kaoruko gasps in fake shock and surprise, loud and sharp at this, as though they typically fired back retorts like this every day. Nana wasn't aware their occasional bickering had become more often now. "We brought groceries with us," Futaba refers to her hands, weighed down by numerous bags that she places on the counter and begins to unpack while Kaoruko and Nana trade places.
"Did you get anything for yourself," asks Nana, lifting a hand of bananas from a plastic baggie.
Futaba shrugs. "I got some kinako sticks for Kaoruko and I to split, but that's not going to happen," Futaba pulls them out of the bag and places them on the counter, followed by something that Nana is pretty sure are suzu castellas, "these are for Hoshimi," then comes a container of what is very clearly baumkuchen, "this is Tendo's," Nana continues to unpack one of the bags she's chosen and lifts out a jar of umeboshi with care.
"This is Karen-chan's, isn't it?" When Futaba nods, she smiles and places it with the other assorted gifts for their friends.
"This chocolate," she pulls out a container, red and in the shape of a heart, "is for Hikari. Even though it's been months, she still can't get enough of it."
No matter how much she stares blankly at it, it's still in the shape of a heart. She blinks and it is still in the shape of a heart. It's a little.... "Even though Mahiru had asked, maybe a star would have been better. They come in blue, at least."
"I think it's fine," Nana assures her with a smile only she knows is terse. "Hikari-chan will love it, either way."
"Because it's from me," Futaba prompts, eyebrows raised just a hair.
Nana pulls out a carton of milk, setting it beside her on the counter. "I think everyone appreciates something from Futaba-chan," she answers carefully, trying not to read too much into it all.
Futaba pushes away her final plastic bag to recycle later and clasps Nana's hand in hers. "You're probably right, Banana. Thank you." She gives Nana's hand a squeeze and smile in tandem.
Footsteps catch Nana's attention and her gaze diverts from Futaba's hand in hers to the entryway. She recognizes Junna's walk by heart. Nana can only hear the tail end of the argument, but understands when she passes through the entryway pinching her nose, eyebrows drawn in in irritation. "If Tsuyuzaki-san hadn't been there, something could have happened to you, Karen!" But that can't have been her Junna, calling her Karen by her first name like that...?
"But Junjun," 'Junjun'?! Karen's hands frenzied wave in the air, in an attempt to placate the horror known as an Angry Hoshimi Junna. "Everything was fine! Mahiru-chan keeps everyone safe!"
"That's right," agrees the girl Nana can assume is Hikari since she's only seen her as a small child, in photographs. Her eyes are distant, but certain, with her head tilted to the side in thought. "Mahiru keeps us safe." Even with an expression of stone, her voice is muted and she... at least cares for Mahiru. That's something.
"You guys," chimes in a flustered Mahiru, "you're giving me too much credit, really."
Junna sighs, shaking her head. "No, they're right for once. You don't give yourself nearly enough credit, Tsuyuzaki-san."
"Hoshimi-san is correct, Tsuyuzaki-san." She didn't even hear or see Maya approach, but Maya is Maya and Maya is still sneaky, it seems. "You should give yourself more credit sometime, dear."
Time slows and Nana watches as Junna pats Mahiru on the bicep, kind and caring and apparently romantic. Maya brushes past the duo with a rare smile before sliding on the other side of Claudine and pressing a kiss to the back of her hand, much to the blonde's chagrin.
Nana, by this point, is incredibly confused, but remains silent. She can't afford stirring this pot. After all, they're all so happy together. And maybe she can be for this moment, too.
Instead of fending off Kaoruko, Nana lets her sit at the countertop with her and observe while she works. Junna helps her with the meat even though she isn't exactly sure what she's making. Futaba slices the bananas into semi-circles for Nana, occasionally passing one to Kaoruko.
And occasionally, Nana's gaze wanders to Hikari. She's a little on the short side than what she was expecting, quiet too, but she doesn't seem like much of a threat. She'll talk to the giraffe about it later, about Hikari, after she makes dinner. Maybe she'll sneak off, but part of her doesn't want to. She wants to know more, everything.
When Kaoruko presses a quick kiss to her cheek instead of taking the semi-circle banana slice, it feels like everything slots into place. Of course that's it.
The gestures and the stares she was noticing weren't those of odd malice, but rather pure love. Not the oddest thing she's come across this week, nor anywhere near worst.
They eat dinner inside because of the storm that began as soon as they started to cook. Bowls and plates of food are passed around, containers are offered, sauces and various other things are reached for, and people are loved, including Nana, as odd as it feels.
They all help to clean up, too, in their own way. They all bring their plates to the sink, even Kaoruko, despite her whining. Maya and Claudine wash them together and Mahiru dries the plates and bowls while Karen dries all of the cutlery, save for the knives.
They all huddle around the couch with each other, limbs entangled around one another's.
And in this moment, as she curls her fingers tighter into Maya's and allows her head to rest on Mahiru's shoulder while the shorter girl nestles into her, she thinks that she can enjoy this moment for what it is. Nana can enjoy this moment with her favorite people, with the ones she loves most, not as another day in her loop, but as just an another ordinary day.