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introduction and rondo capriccioso

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               I. pride      

 

 

 

People spun around in majestic ball gowns, laughing softly behind white gloved hands. It was one of the greatest balls the town had known for the past years, the Daiba family celebrating their daughter’s 18th birthday. Powerful and dripping in money, the family had outdone themselves, every lord and lady with a title and influence behind their name invited to the ball.

 

Daiba Nana went around, smiling politely as she met each and every person that she was invited to the ball. Girls she used to be friends with, boys that her mother would laugh at when they’d hint at marriage- Nana was enjoying the time to her heart’s content.

 

Yet… 

 

The glass ceiling above them sparkled from the chandelier hanging there, giving Nana the chance to gaze upon the moon. She felt the longing to be somewhere else, out of this ballroom filled with too many people who rarely cared for her as much as they did for her last name.

 

Somehow, after dancing enough to make her feet hurt, she manages to escape, walking through the halls of her mansion. 

 

The red carpet felt soft against her bare feet, shoes dangling on her hand as she climbed the stairs that lead her away from the ballroom.

 

Paintings hung in the walls, illuminated softly by the chandeliers stuck in the walls beside them. Each had a member of the Daiba family. Soon, Nana thinks, standing before an empty spot, will be the time she’ll have to be drawn, the time for her to take the title as head of the family.

 

Nana knew it was her destiny, her parents had already taught her so. They were too busy traveling around, helping with their wealth as much as they could. Someone had to be the head and keep everything safe in town. She often wondered if she’d have another dream if she hadn’t been raised this way.

 

Would she want something else had she been given the choice to not follow the path laid ready for her?

 

“Beautiful paintings, aren’t they?”

 

Nana barely holds herself from jumping at the calm voice. She turns around, eyes wide when she sees the person standing before her.

 

She wore a white suit, underneath it a blue vest that hugged her figure in such a way Nana had never seen before. Her brown hair was thrown in a low ponytail, purple eyes staring at her with a burning fire, not unlike the ones hanging on the walls.

 

“I don’t recall seeing you at the ball,” says Nana. 

 

She bows and the mystery stranger does the same, a gentle smirk on her lips as she leaned down, grasping and kissing Nana’s hand with soft lips that burned her skin. The girl before her was beautiful in a way that made Nana’s heart beat faster than it had ever before.

 

“I’m Tendou Maya. You might not know me, but I assure you, you’ll want to after tonight.”

 

Nana is easily swept away by Maya’s way of talking. Soon their conversations have them moving towards the balcony, staring at the moon side by side. It was quiet, save for the occasional laughter heard from inside. Maya spoke of art and of so many things that Nana had never had the chance to speak of. Purple eyes dragged her into a moment more magical than her birthday could ever be, glinting as they pulled Nana in for a dance.

 

They dance in complete harmony, her heart jumping out of her chest at each step they took together.

 

“Are you enjoying the ball, Miss Daiba?”

 

“There’s something far more enjoyable happening here,” she replies, smiling as Maya spins her around. She falls willingly on Maya’s arms, one warm arm wrapped around Nana's waist and the other holding her hand. “But you are the guest, so do tell me, Miss Tendo, are you enjoying yourself?”

 

“With a host as gracious as you are, this ball is perhaps the greatest I’ve ever experienced.”

 

Nana has to fight off a blush. Dancing with Maya feels different than any other dance she’s had that night or the nights before it. Maya moves almost as if she floated, each step second nature to her. Nana enjoyed it, how natural it felt to move with her.

 

“Ah, please. It’s always nice to invite everyone and share the night together!” Maya nods in agreement, pulling her closer as they spun around the balcony. 

 

“Mostly because of you. It is your birthday, after all, Miss Daiba. You must accept the title of the star of the night.”

 

Nana giggles, shy from the praise. Maya was right, even if words similar to hers had been heard by Nana’s ears almost the whole night. Yet Maya’s words felt sincere, said from the heart instead for ulterior motives.

 

“Should I? I quite enjoy shining alongside others.”

 

Maya shines just as the star she speaks of does, dipping Nana with a secure grip on her waist. Their legs tangle together, brown hair brushing her cheek and pink lips breathing warm air against hers. She’d never felt a closeness like this- intimacy at its purest form.

 

A small smile appears on her lips. “But you must respect your shine, not yours alongside others. I am here for it was your shine that captivated me.”

 

Nana can barely breathe, meeting Maya’s eyes. How was this girl even real, speaking such words with a silver tongue and shining eyes?

 

“May I?” whispers Maya.

 

There is no need for a reply, Nana’s gloved hand sliding from a strong shoulder to a warm and soft neck, pulling it down enough for a pair of lips to meet hers. Maya kisses as she dances, not wavering her hold and never breaking contact until they need air. Even then she doesn’t leave it at that, kissing her again and again-

 

She’s sure she hasn’t felt something this strong with anyone else, her lips burning until Maya decides to end the kiss with a smile, letting Nana lean against the stone railing. It would be cold if Maya’s presence wasn’t so warm, lighting her heart in a fire it’d never felt before.

 

“Under the light of this moon-” Maya’s voice is sweet as honey as it drips from her lips in a whisper against Nana’s lips. “-eight fates meet one, dancing a dance of destiny and existence under the stars.”

 

“Eh?” 

 

Maya smiles, laying one last kiss before taking a step back. She shines even under the lack of light, a dashing prince promising things Nana has yet to understand.

 

“This will be a beautiful night, Miss Daiba. Simply focus on enjoying it.”

 

And just as she appeared, with a smile and helping her heart relearn how it feels to be alive, Maya turns around and leaves standing there alone.

 

 


 

 

               II. envy

 

Another hallway, this time lacking the paintings but not the grandiose feeling of the other. Nana walks silently, lips burning and mind reeling.

 

Was she a fool for believing Maya’s words? Was there truly a- no, eight things awaiting her?

 

She walks, looking at the walls decorated by mirrors with golden details, her parents always finding a way to showcase their wealth. Nana cared little for the gold that surrounded her, her heart always yearning for the happiness she saw in the faces of the local people. She was thankful for the chances and life her wealth gave her, yet sometimes she wondered if she'd been happier born in a family where wealth and using it held less value.

 

Had she ever felt that happiness before? Possibly not, only scarcely when she’d read the books in their library. The hours she spent reading and writing were her favorite hours of the day, alone but less lonely from the characters of the plays. But now…

 

Maya promised her something that she’d wanted her entire life. A night with eight surprises…

 

Nana stares at her reflection in the mirror. Have her eyes always been this bright, glinting with curiosity of what the night had to offer?

 

She hears an angelic voice slip through the hall, making her turn around. Where could that voice come from…? Nana sees no one, but the voice still continues-

 

“For the princess who looks like the sun-” Nana gasps as she stares at her reflection. 

 

The girl behind her embraces her with a gentle had on her hip and the other holding Nana’s hand in the air. She looked as beautiful as one could be, blue eyes shining like the sea in the morning and her blue hair fluttering as if a slow wind was blowing them. “-would she enjoy a morning star by her side as any other sun?”

 

First Maya and now her… what even was going on?

 

The girl spins her around easily, smiling all the while. She holds a strength Nana easily sees when her hands fall on her shoulders. Her suit was a dark blue, her white collar popping from the light blue vest that she wore. 

 

“I’m happy to finally meet you, Miss Daiba. I’m Tsuyuzaki Mahiru!”

 

Nana cannot reply, swept away by Mahiru’s smile. They run, hands held together until they arrive at the mirrors room. A room surrounded by mirrors on all sides, Nana remembers how she’d spend time there when she was a child. She’d fool around with her reflections, laughing and enjoying the only fun she could have alone.

 

There were too many Mahiru’s surrounding her, reflections playing tricks on Nana. But there was one warmth, one Mahiru who unties the sash around her arm and wraps it around Nana's eyes. 

 

She feels as if she should be scared, but she doesn’t. It is a weird feeling.

 

“Why does Miss Daiba keep living this way?” Mahiru pulls her by the waist, dancing slowly. Even with her eyes closed Nana easily keeps up. “You always gaze longingly outside, a life you wish to have. Why do you live a life that gives you anything but happiness?”

 

“Why…? Why do you ask me this?” she whispers. Maya’s words echo in her mind, Mahiru’s warm breath against her lips shaking her thoughts away. Too many steps, too many dances she’s taken tonight.

 

But there is a gentleness in Mahiru that she's never experienced before. As if sensing her confusion, Nana feels herself slowly coming to a stop. Two gentle hands brush her cheeks, thumbs caressing her reddening skin. Has she ever been touched this gently before?

 

“Miss Daiba, envy helps you realize what you truly want and what to do to achieve it.” Gentle fingers slip to the back of her neck, pulling her down slowly. “Let me be your morning star towards a new day where you accept to envy those who have what you desire.”

 

This time, she’s kissed gently. Mahiru lacks Maya’s strong passion, but Nana’s lips burn the same way. Mahiru is warm, soft beneath her hands and she holds Nana with delicacy. Her closed eyes help her other senses work harder: she picks up her flowery scent, can almost hear their fast heartbeats in the silence of the ballroom. All she could feel was Mahiru, all she knew was that she’d been living for 18 years yet never felt as alive as now.

 

She wanted more of this. She took pride in her caring nature; perhaps it wouldn’t be as bad as to feel envy for more and chase after her happiness.

 

Mahiru breaks the kiss but lays another quick one before the sash around her eyes falls. For the moments it takes her eyes to get used to the light, Mahiru is already gone, her warmth still surrounding Nana.

 

If Mahiru was her second surprise… Nana felt a smile appear on her lips. She could barely wait for the rest of the night.




 

 

               III. desire

 

 

Mirrors leave their place to a door decorated with gold, each engraved detail painted in the precious metal that made Nana often wonder if her parents had an obsession with it. It was a door that she knew could hardly be opened by two strong men, but as soon as her hand made contact with the golden eagle knob that could open it-

 

Nana stands in place, shocked at how the doors slide open as if they were nothing but fluttering paper. This night was already out of anything she could have imagined- what was one more door opening by itself in her list?

 

She steps inside, not even surprised when the door falls shut by itself. It was alright, she thought, looking around the golden and marble statues. The room held precious statues that anyone would want in their mansions, statues that not all could afford. 

 

“Many may want these…” She looks around, alarmed when she sees no one. “...But do you?”

 

A smooth voice coming from behind her makes Nana turn around again. And there stands the third stranger she meets, brown eyes looking at her with mischief. She already knows how this encounter will continue, falling in step with this beautiful girl as her hand is taken and hip is held, her body ready to dance.

 

“The third beautiful stranger I meet.” Nana smiles when she notices the slight blush in her cheeks. “What will you teach me, miss…?”

 

“Hanayagi Kaoruko,” she replies, spinning Nana with a practiced movement, pulling her in again with a smirk. “And you won't forget that!”

 

Of course she wouldn’t, Nana wants to say. Kaoruko dances with bold movements, elegance dripping in each step she takes that Nana follows. There is confidence in her steps, in the way she stands as they spin around the empty room.

 

There is no need for music, their own hearts connected by something far better that only they could hear, the tune of an intimacy born between two strangers. 

 

She’d rarely had a dance like this, Kaoruko letting her take the lead anytime she wanted. It felt weird, to lead and be lead, to dance and feel equal to her partner. Maya had easily taken the lead, Mahiru had lead her slowly yet Kaoruko felt as if she wanted to make Nana take the lead.

 

“I wonder if you know what is important to you.”

 

Nana blinks in surprise. “Seeing people happy and well… become head of my family.”

 

“Is that all?” Kaoruko pulls them to a stop slowly, the statue of Venus gazing upon them with her stoney gaze. Nana would love to stare at it, if she wasn’t busy staring in Kaoruko’s eyes. “Ah, Miss Daiba, you forget the most important thing.”

 

“Which is…?”

 

“Your own dream, of course!” Kaoruko rolls her eyes with a smile, pulling Nana’s arm through her own as she starts walking. Her dark purple suit clashes perfectly with her yellow dress, making Kaoruko look an equally amount of dashing and elegant.

 

Why did she have to meet all these beautiful people in the same night?

 

“My… dream? Isn’t that to become head…?”

 

Kaoruko leads them towards a golden mirror, something that Nana rarely understood the purpose of. Weren’t mirrors supposed to be made of glass? But now, staring at it, she raises a hand to touch her reflection, almost entranced with how it made her seem af if she were… shining.

 

She stares at her reflection, even as Kaoruko slips between her and the mirror. Her brown eyes are warm, burning with such desire that they pull Nana in. If she got burned, she wouldn’t mind in the slightest.

 

“You cannot wish for something without knowing what that thing even is.” Soft hands grab her face, pulling her in slowly. “Let me teach you what it means to listen to your desires.”

 

The kiss isn’t unexpected, her lips already parted and ready for Kaoruko’s. But her eyes remain open, staring at her reflection in wonder. Kaoruko is shorter than her, both of her hands in Nana’s face and neck, blue hair flowing against her suit. She seems to glow behind Kaoruko, head down and eyes shining. 

 

Was this how it felt to desire something? To go for what you wanted?

 

Had desire always been this addicting to look at?

 

Her hands grip Kaoruko’s hips, hold her close as she keeps kissing her. Looking at her reflection, Nana felt a strange satisfaction in how beautiful it looked- kissing a beautiful girl in a beautiful room wearing beautiful clothes.

 

Her eyes remain open even as they break the kiss, both of them smiling in satisfaction. Kaoruko smirks, tips her head and motions towards the door.

 

“Nana, time for you to continue. Don’t forget this, won’t you?”

 

“Of course not, Kaoruko.” The girl blinks in surprise, still in shock as Nana giggles. “You were the one to refer to me without a title, and to make me realize why I am feeling this way.”

 

A gentle smirk appears on Kaoruko’s lips. “Ah, you finally show some humor. We will meet again, just you wait!”

 

Nana bows with a smile, Kaoruko's laugh echoing as she opens the door and lets it fall shut behind her.

 


 

               IV. fury

 

 

Her steps take her towards the empty hallways above the ballroom. Nana hears the orchestra as she steps on the small balcony. Even if it was dark and she could barely be seen from where everyone was dancing, Nana keeps a little away from the edge.

 

She looks at the many people who dance, at those who stand by the corners and talk behind their hand fans and to those who look far too busy mendeling with other equally important people. Her ball was more than just a celebration- it was a chance to form connections that anyone would want.

 

“All that glitters is not gold,” says a voice by her side. Nana would jump in surprise if she hadn’t been already used to being sneaked up on. “William Shakespeare. For such a beautiful ball, it surely seems to lack value.”

 

Nana turns to her side. She's left speechless staring at the profile of the girl beside her. Wearing a black suit decorated in imperial blue flowers, her dark blue button down clashed perfectly with her pale skin. Green eyes shone behind a pair of small round glasses, holding far more knowledge than any intellectual Nana had met until now.

 

“I’d disagree, seeing as it is my ball. Every person here is of importance-”

 

“I don’t see you there, though.” Nana blinks in surprise. The girl smiles. “If it is your ball, why do I find you here alone, Miss Daiba?”

 

The girl has a point. Nana is surprised she hasn’t been already taken in a dance, instead she's pulled closer to the railing by a warm hand in the small of her back. Both of them look down, at the people smiling and laughing and dancing.

 

Had anyone even noticed she was gone? She was the reason this ball was happening, so why-

 

“No one seems to notice you aren’t there,” says the girl. Nana sucks in a sharp breath, not expecting her thoughts to be said out loud. “It’s such a shame, not to notice the true gold between a sack of charcoal.”

 

Nana faces the girl with a small frown. This girl was honest and far sharper than others could have been. But… Nana felt that she could trust her, especially when the girl raises Nana’s hand to her lips, kissing it gently while still maintaining eye contact.

 

“I’m Hoshimi Junna. May I have your hand for this dance?”

 

Nana doesn’t hesitate, letting Junna take the lead. There is not much space in the balcony but Nana doesn’t mind, their steps small and slow. Junna leads with confidence, the perfect height to be her partner. Neither tall or short enough to be a problem, she holds Nana with a secure yet soft grip by her hip and hand.

 

“Why are you here, Miss Daiba?”

 

“For a chance to breathe. I wanted to take a break from the hectic energy of the ball, Miss Hoshimi.”

 

Junna smiles, moves them to the edge again. Nana notices her parents, laughing with the mayor of the nearby town. They don’t seem to worry of her not being there, even if Nana knows how much they struggled to make this ball as perfect as it could be.

 

“Don’t you feel anything looking at them?” asks Junna. Nana is spun again, letting her body fall down when Junna pushes her to sit at the couch by the railing. There she can see everyone, friends and family, people she barely knows and people she doesn’t know at all.

 

Junna’s breath is warm on her bare shoulder, leaning down from behind to look towards the ball. Nana can feel her knees leaning against her back.“It’s the furthest thing from fair that no one has noticed your absence. How much have you done for them- for this ball, and yet you receive nothing?”

 

“They are busy! It happens, and I’m sure no one is worried for I do tend to take some time alone at parties.”

 

“But is that how you want to keep going? Attending balls you dislike, forgetting what you truly want just to keep everyone around you happy?”

 

Nana bites her lip. Junna isn’t wrong. Ever since she left the ball, her mind had been calmer, so had she been. No one had come to try and find her, not even to wish her for her birthday in private. But she hadn’t been bothered by it until now, frowning as she tried to not let her negative thoughts overwhelm her.

 

From behind, Junna’s hand sneaks from her right shoulder to her right cheek, raising her chin up. Her left hand laces with Nana’s other hand, twirling their fingers together. There is little she can do other than lean back against Junna’s chest.

 

Junna seemed to glow in the darkness of the balcony, almost like an angel tempting her with sin that would open her way to heaven.

 

“Aren’t you furious with not having had the chance to chase after your own dream? Use that fury to push yourself forward. Only then can you go down the path meant for you. ”

 

She meets Junna halfway, her other hand moving to Junna’s face. Her neck will possibly hurt with the strain of holding it up and leaning it behind, but nothing matters before this.

 

Junna takes it slow, kisses her fully. Maya was passionate, Mahiru was gentle and Kaoruko kissed with desire yet Junna felt different. She kissed Nana as if she knew her, awakening something in her that burned bright. 

 

She could feel hurt, could feel pain at how she’d remained in this castle all her life just to be the good girl of her family. Her fingers dig on her suit they slip to Junna’s shoulder, making the girl sit on the hand rest to kiss Nana better. 

 

Junna let her burn, let her feel the years of hate at her fate flow and grow into something good.

 

What that something more is, she has yet to know, too focused on her breathing when Junna breaks the kiss.

 

“Keep chasing after your star, Nana.” Junna smiles, caressing Nana’s lips with her gloved thumb. It felt warm. “When this night is over, accept us and you will be ready for it.”

 

Nana nods her head, lacking words. She decides upon kissing her thumb, smiling widely when Junna blushes and jumps off the chair. She fixes her tie, staring at Nana warmly before bowing.

 

She remains seated even as Junna disappears behind her towards the corridor, staring at the people dancing. They kept on laughing and enjoying themselves yet she was sure their hearts didn’t beat as loud as hers, didn’t feel as alive as hers did.

 

For the first time in a while, Nana lacked the desire to join them as soon as she could.




 

         

               V. greed

 

 

Nana’s steps are slow as she descends upon the stairs that leads to the ballroom. Everything seemed brighter somehow, making her gaze at them with the utmost curiosity. 

 

The orchestra is loud even right outside the closed doors, doors she glances at silently. Had the mansion always been this big? How many things had she missed- living in the world with no light burning inside of her?

 

She looks around. The hallway is empty. Nana whistles once. It echoes from the tall ceilings and the wide hallway, echos into nothingness. The silence would be deafening in any other day, but not now.

 

Now Nana smiles when she feels another presence behind her. It was to be expected, after all, but she’s giddy at the prospect of meeting another of her mystery surprises.

 

“Finally I get to meet you!”

 

This time the mystery stranger doesn’t appear as if out of thin air, a body hugging her from behind with full force. Nana gasps in surprise, even more when the person slides before her with a huge smile and shining eyes.

 

Nana hadn’t expected someone so… full of energies. But she wasn’t going to complain, feeling happiness bloom in her chest just from how much happiness the girl before her radiated.

 

“Aijou Karen at your service! Let me show you the real dazzling light!”

 

Nana can barely say a word before Karen pulls her inside the ball, the doors opening magically once again. Others look at them but she can only look at Karen, grinning and who shines too bright in this bright room. 

 

She spins Nana around, and Nana would fall on the ground were it not for a warm body that catches her, black gloves holding her hands from behind. Karen seems to lighten up even more when she looks at this stranger, and Nana feels her breath catch.

 

Blue eyes focus on her, calm and lacking Karen’s explosive energy yet sharing the same glimmer, the same… greed. Perhaps she could drown on how blue they were, could swim in the peace they reflected forever.

 

“Kagura Hikari, forgive Karen for her… excitement. Let us enjoy this dance together.”

 

Hikari sweeps her away with grandiose steps, the black tails of her suit’s jacket fluttering behind her as she does so. She’s quiet as they dance, even if Nana knows everyone is looking at them. She’d feel shy or embarrassed if Hikari’s gaze wasn’t so addicting.

 

“Miss Daiba, have you enjoyed tonight?”

 

Nana is surprised by the question. While all had asked her something, Hikari was the first to be so calm at it, as if they were two strangers making small talk. She enjoyed it, how simple Hikari felt to be with.

 

“I am, yes. Especially with the people I’m meeting… Are you all friends?”

 

But Hikari isn’t the one to reply to her questions. She gets spun and Karen is the one to grasp her hand, pulling her in. “You can say so! But we are all here to have a chance and dance with you.”

 

“Why me specifically?”

 

“Because we want to!” Karen moves them around faster, dancing at a fast pace that makes Nana want to smile. And smile she does, Karen’s energy infectious. “Don’t you want things too, Miss Daiba? As glittering as this night is?”

 

“I…” Nana nods her head. She remembers Maya’s proud smile, Mahiru’s gentleness, Kaoruko’s smirk and Junna’s intensity. Then she feels Hikari’s calmness behind her, a hand on her waist and the other holding hers and Karen’s. “I do.”

 

Hikari’s voice is the calmest of murmurs, her breath hot against her ear. “Greediness is what makes us reach for the stars. Be greedy here to keep feeling this way forever.”

 

Karen’s lips are warm as Nana leans down, capturing them easily. Karen hums happily against her, kisses her fully and with an excitement that makes Nana smile. She tastes idly like something sweet, something that Nana wants more of.

 

She wants more. More of Karen’s gasp when she leans closer, of how they kiss right in the middle of the dance floor with no care in the world. Karen soon breaks the kiss and Nana doesn’t hesitate to turn her head to the side.

 

Hikari is ready, lips meeting Nana’s with no hesitation. Her lips are cool, remind Nana of the times she’s walked by the sea at night. She kisses Nana with a calmer gentleness than Karen, hand at hip tightening just a little and other hand spinning her around, keeping her close.

 

Nana smiles against the kiss, even more so when she feels Hikari smiling too. She wants for the kiss to last a little longer, for this dance to last a little more but it’s Hikari who breaks the kiss and puts a stop to it.

 

“Let’s go!” calls out Karen, intertwining their fingers and pulling both of them towards the-

 

“The garden?” Hikari takes pity in her confusion, giving her the smallest of smiles to comfort her.

 

And then there they stood, Hikari holding her right hand, Karen her left, all three of them facing the gardens washed by the moonlight. Both of them raised their hands that held Nana’s towards the stairs that lead down there, smiling all the while.

 

“Keep wishing for more, Miss Daiba.”

 

“The more the merrier!” Karen is still grinning even as she lets go of their hands to go down the stairs. “We’ll be waiting for another dance with you, Banana!”

 

Nana laughs at the silly nickname, Hikari’s complaint loud enough for her to hear. But she keeps going on until she reaches the end of the stairs and when she turns around, there is no one standing at the top of the stairs.

 

It was okay. She would go and take more of this glittering happiness they showed her.

 


 

 

               VI. passion

 

 

The gardens are quiet as Nana walks around, grazing the white roses painted silver by the moonlight with a light touch. She’d rarely been here during the night, always preferring to stay inside and write under the candlelight. Nana feels the slightest of regret at the times she has chosen to not experience this beauty, but perhaps she’d never enjoy those moments the same way she was now.

 

She felt different, in each step she took, each breath she took. Had she been alive before this? How could she have been a human if she hadn’t let herself feel these emotions she’d experienced in a single night.

 

Pride, envy, desire, fury, greed... All things society taught her would outcast her, make her unlikable. Nana wanted to be loved, to be cared for. But was that all there was to life? She could make her dreams true- write, help people be happy, try to have a dream of her own without being someone that would be unlovable because she didn’t fit the mold that society made for her. 

 

Or could she…?

 

“A flower among many, yet you look the most beautiful under the moonlight.” 

 

Nana doesn’t turn around, a white gloved hand followed by a red sleeve reaching to hers, holding her hand that touched the rose. The person’s touch was warm, just as their words were.

 

“Are you the mystery surprise too?” A laugh is the reply she receives, her heart skipping a beat when she meets shining red eyes as she spins around.

 

Dressed in a red suit enhanced by golden details, her mystery stranger looks dashing, blonde hair reminding Nana of a lion’s mane. She was beautiful, smiled with an elegance that held power behind it.

 

“Saijou Claudine, but yes, I’m the surprise too. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Daiba.”

 

Nana is the one to give out her hand, grasping Claudine’s in hers and pulling her close. Claudine goes along, her hand resting in Nana’s bare shoulder. Nana leads and she follows, both of their steps quiet even on the gravel path.

 

“Miss Saijou…” Claudine hums, letting herself spin easily in Nana’s arms. “What makes one be as glittering as everyone has been tonight?”

 

“Glittering, you say…” The moonlight shines upon them, colors Nana’s gaze in its warm haze, makes her eyes shine like emerald orbs. “Why do you think I have been wanting to enjoy our dance tonight?”

 

“Because we are together? Dancing is quite the intimate feat for two strangers, a way for us to both enjoy ourselves.”

 

Claudine smiles, slows her dancing until they pause by the fountain. They both look at how it glitters, some droplets falling upon them. There is a calm silence between them. She doesn’t possess Hikari’s quietness but her comfort is just as calm. Nana blames it on how beautiful and passionate Claudine’s existence is.

 

“Dancing is about the feelings you want to convey, Miss Daiba. Feelings of passion, of wanting to dance while giving your all. I enjoy dancing because it’s where I can express all of my shine, all of myself.”

 

Nana steps closer, hands falling to Claudine’s hips. Her red suit is soft under her hands, thumbs rubbing at her waist absentmindedly. Claudine stares at her, red eyes burning and Nana knows what will soon happen.

 

“What is the thing you want to burn for? Are you ready to be passionate about something, chase it and love it forever?”

 

Nana doesn’t reply with words, her fingers digging in Claudine’s hips as she lowers herself to kiss her. Claudine for all it’s worth, just as in dancing, follows the lead perfectly, lips warm and moving against Nana’s as if this wasn’t the first kiss they’d shared.

 

Just as she said, Nana feels her heart burn. How many things had she left behind, given up and not even gone after just to be who her family and society wanted her to be? She was burning after this night, after Claudine’s words. There was something in her that wanted her to seek for more, more of this fire that finally had her feeling alive.

 

As the kiss progresses, Claudine pushes Nana gently against a tree. She breaks the kiss for a moment, red eyes shining when they open before Nana’s hands meet her cheeks and pull her in again. 

 

If Claudine was passion, Nana wanted to feel more.

 

The kiss is broken slowly, small pecks are exchanged until Nana giggles. “Thank you, Claudine.”

 

There is confusion in her red orbs, even more so when Nana gently pushes her away. Hands slide down to grasp Claudine’s, fingers intertwining gently. This felt right, this fire in her that Claudine had finally ignited.

 

“It’s close to the end, isn’t it?”

 

“It is, Nana. Are you ready?”

 

Nana smiles. She steps away, Claudine still standing under the shade of the tree, the moonlight barely reaching her feet. She looked beautiful, a view Nana wanted to look at forever.

 

“As I’ll ever be. Thank you for helping me realize what I needed.”

 

“It’s my pleasure. I’ll be waiting for you, Nana.”

 

Nana turns to leave, doesn’t look back. A strong wind passes and she knows that if she’d turn around, no one would be standing underneath the tree.

 


 

 

                VII. strength

 



The path she walks on is dark, surrounded on both sides by trees. Nana had never taken this way before, always preferring a short walk in the gardens and going back inside. This path was mostly used to go around the mansion, from the gardens to the surrounding area and then back to the main entrance where the ball was being held.

 

Nana walks slowly, enjoys the chirping of the rare birds and the crickets. It was late at night, around the early morning if she wasn’t wrong. The clock had fallen once when she left Kaoruko, yet she still felt full of energy.

 

Oil street lamps stood on each side of the path, each burning a small fire, enough for Nana to be able to see the path she was taking. At least she wouldn’t lose her way, even if she knew that no matter what happened, she was safe.

 

But someone had yet to come, which surprises Nana. If she was right, this dark path would lead her towards that person-

 

“Hold up there!”

 

Nana stops. Some walks towards her, coming closer and closer until Nana can fully see them. Shorter than her… perhaps than anyone she’d danced tonight, pink hair slicked back and black suit clashing with her pink tie, the girl before her was perhaps the most dashing out of all the others, handsome in a way that made Nana stare at her for longer than necessary.

 

“Finally,” the girl says, sighing in relief when she stood merely feet away from Nana. “I was wondering if Kuro had pulled my leg when she said you’d be here.”

 

So they did talk with each other, realized Nana. She bows, meeting the girl’s eyes with a smile. The girl does the same, holding a hand out when both of them stand up again.

 

“Isurugi Futaba. I’ll be your companion now!”

 

Futaba moves to stand by her side, pulling Nana’s arm through hers. Nana blushes pink, smiling with her head down as they continue walking. The lights around seem to shine brighter somehow, Futaba warm and calm by her side.

 

It felt like the strolls she’d read on the books about, filled with unsaid words that could be understood through the intimacy shared through the walk. It was nice to share a path with someone, moonlight shining from between the trees.

 

“Why did you take this path, Miss Daiba?”

 

Nana thinks for a moment. “It felt right. It was darker than the other one, and kind of long, but I think I’d enjoy reaching the castle again if I took it.”

 

Futaba chuckles, looks up with a gentle gaze. “Does it remind you of your own life too? Things may be hard, looking not as bright as you want them to be as you walk, but the reward keeps you pushing forward.”

 

“Miss Isurugi seems like she speaks from experience.” Nana stops them, unlinks their arms.

 

Futaba doesn’t seem surprised when Nana’s arms fall on her shoulders. Her own move to Nana’s hips, both of them swaying to a tune only they could hear. It was fun, to dance and be with Futaba in the calmness of the path they were taking. She could see the mansion from there, shining brightly, but the girl before her shone brighter. 

 

Futaba held a strength the others didn’t possess, strength that could only come from someone who had worked hard for something. Nana saw it in the way each step she took was well thought, more than one normally would think of, in the way her muscles were tense yet her hold on Nana was gentle.

 

“I do. It’s something I want to share with you too. This night is only the start of that path.”

 

Nana nods her head. She knew this night was different than other nights, that the girls before her weren’t just girls who wanted to kiss Nana and ask her questions. 

 

They were something more, something that perhaps wasn’t even of this world.

 

She had yet to realize what she had to do by the end of this night, but Nana wasn’t particularly worried. She knew that she would reach the right end as the night went on.

 

“It is. Not an easy path, from what I can see.”

 

Futaba agrees with a small hum, eyes searching for something in Nana’s. Their steps slow down until they simply are holding each other. “Are you ready for such a path? You think you can do it?”

 

Nana smiles. She doesn’t need to reply, already knows how she can convey her answer. 

 

Her neck may ache later, but nothing will beat the warmth in her heart as she leans down to kiss Futaba. The girl gasps under her, but she’s quick to kiss back. She kisses just as she dances, careful and yet with strength behind it. Nana enjoys herself, how Futaba raises her hands to her cheeks and holds her face close, thumbs caressing her warm skin.

 

Kissing Futaba under the lamps feels too intimate, a kiss she doesn’t want to end until the need for oxygen overtakes them. Futaba is red on the face, yet the smile on her lips is pleased.

 

“You got it, from what I see.” A thumb brushes cheekbone, softly and slowly. “You have one more stop left. Keep this up, alright?”

 

Nana nods. Her hand falls against Futaba’s, walking backwards until it’s just their hands that hold them together. Futaba seems calm, a stray lock of pink hair falling in her forehead and eyes shining. Nana wants to remember her this way forever.

 

“I’ll be at the end. So come there, okay?”

 

Their hands fall by their sides and Nana turns around, the lights dimming and the wind brushing stray leaves on the empty path that she left behind.

 


 

                                                                                  I.              REBIRTH

 



Nana knows this is a path that is should not exist. 

 

There are no more lights, just the pale moonlight seeping through the trees. But she continues, knows that she should- that she must . Something holds her heart, lets her know she is on the right path.

 

Eight girls… Nana touches her lips with a smile. Each had made her feel more than she’d felt her entire life, her heart burning in life. Perhaps the fire in her chest came from them, from each thing each girl had made her realize.

 

To feel pride in herself, in the heart she’d protected all these years.

 

Yet, accepting her good heart meant she’d have to feel envy at those who had more happiness yet didn’t possess it, something that could simply help Nana reach for more, want more of what made her heart sing.

 

What was envy if she didn’t put herself first? Could a person reach for happiness without possessing a desire to find what made you happy?

 

So she did place herself first, tried to reach for happiness. But why hadn’t she done it before? She was allowed to feel fury at those who had blocked her from reaching this path before. She’d lost so many precious years, so many beautiful memories…

 

And she wanted more. More of the happiness she felt tonight, greedy to experience this type of euphoria forever.

 

If she felt so alive in one night, imagine a whole life?

 

But why? Why was she this greedy? 

 

Nana hums a light tune. She had finally learned to grasp a love for life, passion for what made her happy burning her from the inside out. Nana wanted to find more things that made her feel this way, things that kept her passionate side burning and alive.

 

It would be hard. Maybe she’d have times where nothing would look good, when she’d want this old comfort she’d had all her life. She’d have to have strength, be strong before each dark time, and live for the times the sun would shine again.

 

She could do this. Nana could do this.

 

“Of course we can do this!”

 

Nana freezes. That voice was familiar… But it hadn’t come out of her mouth. She turns around, body unmoving at who she sees.

 

Before Nana stands... Nana.

 

The same face, the same hair, the same body but her green eyes shone in such a way that she was sure wasn’t natural. She wasn’t wearing the same clothes, one of the biggest differences between them.

 

The girl before her wore black pants, a tight yellow sash tied around her waist. A white button-down was left half open, stuck inside her pants. This Nana seemed too carefree, sleeves rolled up and hands bare of the thin lace gloves Nana wore.

 

Nana walks towards Nana, her lips showing a gentle smile. “You have done well, my own self. I am happy to see you managed to get here.”

 

“Who are you?”

 

Nana blinks. “I’m… you? Or rather who you must become. Does that count as you still?”

 

Nana feels a headache incoming. Was this whole night a dream? A hallucination? What was going on at that moment?

 

Nana isn’t her, but it also is. A part of herself, herself, who she must become. Was this the end of this path? 

 

“I… see. Are you me or… just taking the form of how I look?”

 

The girl laughs, a loud laugh that Nana has heard every time she herself laughs. It was… strange to look at herself as if she were another person, a reflection that moved in its own will. 

 

Boots hit the ground, one step, two steps, three steps.

 

Nana’s hands meet hers, lacing their fingers together. She thinks she should be afraid, should ask more questions yet-

 

“I am you. You will be me. That’s all there is to it, Daiba Nana.”

 

She cannot speak, eyes falling shut when Nana leans their foreheads together. Birds have fallen silent around them, so have the crickets. 

 

A silence not of this world surrounds them- perhaps they weren’t part of this world anymore. 

 

She felt warm, solid as she held Nana’s hands. Was this the end then? A part of her, without even realizing, without even Nana understanding, knew what she had to do.

 

Ah, were they thinking the same thing if they were the same person? Was that why she knew?

 

“Is this the last step?”

 

Nana hums. “Yes, and I think we are ready.”

 

Nana doesn’t have to speak more. Nana somehow knows, what she must do, how she must do it.

 

She steps back, smiling when she meets her own eyes. She can see herself in them, her own eyes shining just as bright. Nana waits patiently, standing frozen in place as Nana turns around and sits on her knees, hands on her lap and looking towards the dark path that lead nowhere.

 

Nana knew that it would lead somewhere. But she couldn’t find its end without accepting it .

 

A warm hand, just as soft as hers, meets her shoulder. It trails up slowly, fingers a breeze until they rest on the side of her neck. Nana isn’t scared when they slip to the front of her neck, thumb resting underneath her chin.

 

“This is what we have been waiting for.”

 

Nana nods her head, feels her head tilted up. An apple is held before her eyes, shining red underneath the moonlight. Nana’s thumb wipes it, pulling it close as her fingers hold Nana’s chin in place.

 

“Do it.”

 

The apple meets her lips, Nana letting her bite it slowly. But Nana wants more, grabs her wrist with both of her hands and doesn’t let go, biting and not caring of how its juice drips past her lips and rolls down her chin. She looks straight ahead, towards the dark bath, her own green eyes shining a bright green as she bit down the apple.

 

There is something gripping her heart, something that weighs her down until it becomes part of her. The apple is soon pulled away, the grasp on her chin loosening slowly.

 

Nana feels her eyes heavy.

 

“We are reborn,” whispers a voice, or two. She cannot tell, even more so when another hand moves to her eyes and rests above them.

 

A warm breath, she can feel that. A warm body, sitting on her knees behind her. Two warm hands, one blocking her vision and the other slipping to rest above her heart.

 

“We are one, one and reborn.”

 

Nana lets her eyes fall closed and fears nothing. 

 


 

                                                           I (?).                           begining 



A girl walks alone, walks up a pair of empty stairs. She holds no fear, nothing in her heart that held her back, shackles of the past broken.

 

She walks. There is no music, there is nothing but a beautiful view and a sky that was slowly turning blue. Her steps are slow, music to her ears as she reaches the top of the stairs.

 

One knock. 

 

The doors slide open, she steps inside.

 

The ballroom is empty, no music echoing and lacking the hundreds of people it held before. The girl has to smile, her shoulders relaxing at the view. She dared not to ask as to where everyone had gone, choosing to enjoy the silence and calmness that their lack of presence gave her.

 

She looks up.

 

Eight people stand before her, all smiling and waiting. She knew them, they knew her. The intimacy shared between strangers who knew each other held them tied together in a knot that would take a lot to untie.

 

“Pride.”

 

She steps forward. Pride bows, eyes glinting as they meet hers. She lets her kiss her hand, taking another step to the right.

 

“Envy.”

 

The girl smiles at Envy, raising her hand to block her vision before leaning to kiss her cheek. Envy blushes pink but gives back a sincere smile.

 

“Desire.”

 

Brown eyes stare with interest, shining when she steps closer and trails her finger from her hand to her shoulder. She grips Desire’s shoulder and leans close, stopping a breath away from her lips before pulling away, smirking at how her eyes burn with her namesake.

 

“Fury.”

 

She raises Fury’s glasses with her finger, stepping closer as she does so. She smiles, both sharing a glance filled with more words than they could ever say. Fury says nothing, mirroring her and raising a hand to caress her cheek before dropping it.

 

“Greed.”

 

Both of her hands are taken. She has to hold back her grin, letting only a smile escape as two pair of lips kiss each hand. Greed close their eyes as their lips meet her skin, resting there for longer than needed before they let go.

 

“Passion.”

 

She gasps as she’s spun around, Passion holding her hand in the air with a challenging glint in her eyes. She can only lower their hands before stepping closer, letting their arms block their bodies from touching as she kissed her gently in the lips, pulling away at the last possible moment.

 

“Strength.”

 

A strong grip grasps her hand, raising it to her lips. Strength holds her stare as her other hand pulls her closer, muscles noticeable underneath the jacket’s sleeves. She has to fight off a blush, yet she smiles when she is given the chance to pull away.

 

All eight stand in a half circle, she standing in the middle before them.

 

Something rolls on the ground, and then eight others do.

 

She looks down, smiles at the red apple resting by her feet. They all grasp their own red apple, wiping it with a thumb before exchanging a glance.

 

Na na smiles, looks at each of them. “All of us, here to be reborn, here to experience my rebirth.”

 

“To live, not to live.”

 

The apple shines in her hand. Na na wonders if they will all find themselves as she did, if they too will face themselves and become one.

 

“I want to be reborn. I want to live.”

 

Nine apples are raised upon nine pair of lips.

 

Outside, the sun rises on the horizon. Its rays reflect upon the colorful glasses of the ballroom, upon nine pairs of lips who bite unto nine red apples. Juices coat their lips, none letting it go until they swallow the bite.

 

Na na lowers her apple first, rolls up her sleeves and holds out her hand, staring in strange satisfaction as the apple drops on the ground. 

 

Just as they appeared, nine apples fall on the ground and all nine roll away again. She smiles, beckons the girls by her side.

 

“Let this stage begin!”

 

Nine smiles are exchanged and the music starts again, this time heard only by nine beings.

 

Everything was beginning again.