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Seinen Kakumei Utena

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Utena and Penguindrum characters belong to their various owners.

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



Time: 6 years pre-revolution
Place: Tokyo, To’oh General Hospital

“Aren’t you scared?”

At his question, the doll-pretty young girl glanced over from where she sat bandaged upon the hospital bed; he seethed, frustrated.

“Do you seriously intend to keep doing the Fate Transfer knowing you’d get burned every time?” asked Tsuchiya Ruka, waving the girl’s magic diary about in boyish anguish. “Aren’t you even scared for your own well-being? Just now, Auntie Eriko was crying so badly out in the hallway . . .” He stopped himself then, not wanting to drive the knife in too deep. “I know you like helping people, but to get hurt like this--”

“I don’t like helping people,” replied Oginome Momoka, even gaze falling upon the rose signet adorning his ring finger. “I need to help those in need when I see them. There’s a difference there.”

“So you ‘need’ to burn on a stake for the sake of the world?” snapped Ruka, agitation apparent. “Out of what? Heroics? Nobility? What kind shitty ideal is making you do this to yourself and your parents?” He punctuated the sentence by slapping her Diary soundly against the cabinet’s top.

Momoka gave him this humoring gaze, like he was just some ordinary ten year old throwing some meaningless tantrum over something he could not possibly understand.

“Hey, if there is something troubling you, tell me about it,” Ruka finally said, his tone pleading. “I want to be . . .” The boy, still too green behind the ear, trailed off blushing.

“Do you want to become my prince?”

Jolting at Momoka’s question, Ruka dropped the Fate Diary. Once freed, the Fate Diary flew forth like an escaped moth, before landing softly upon Momoka’s lap in a lively flutter of shimmering pages. The boy was certain his eyes were wide as saucers as the girl giggled at his flustered state.

“Shall I tell you a story?” Patting at the fluttery Diary upon her lap as she would a trained dove, Momoka reigned in her laughter to face him more solemnly.

“I’ll show you the secret of the Princess of the Crystal; yes, even you.”

***
Time: 10 years post-revolution, during Revolution Seen Live 2011
Place: Tokyo Big Egg, Castle

All had gathered at the edge of the torn cage (riding high upon borrowed steeds, existing upon borrowed time . . .). Slender figures taut with tension, they tried in vain to see through the brilliant glow streaming out from between the croaked bars, to no avail.

“Within this blinding light lies the revolutionary power to control Fate,” breathed Miki, eyeing what lied ahead.

“It’s kinda scary,” muttered Kozue. “Like facing a deadly fire without feeling the heat.” Kanae, sidesaddle-ing behind her, merely tightened her arms around her younger sis.

“To think Oginome-san would persist with the Fate Transfer even against the wishes of her surviving family . . .” murmured the lady, shaking her head. “You don’t go against family without hurtful consequences.”

Beside the somber siblings loomed the Mikage-excavator, currently carrying an extra passenger.

“Ringo-chan,” Shiori turned to the Child of Fate, currently seated beside her. “You can still turn back if you want to.”

Head down from where she was loading up her firearm, Ringo then lifted her face to reveal hard amber eyes -- ones alit from perhaps more than the reflected light.

“I’m ready when you guys are.”

***

“Oginome Momoka-san was so cool back then; a little girl not much older than myself, and already she was single-handedly facing off against this magic-capable terrorist group about to kill everyone on that train.

“Afterwards . . . I suppose I’ve spent some time afterwards idolizing her . . . thought not as much as I’d idolized ‘him.’

“And now, the two of them are to be our final adversaries on this night.

“I’d idolize the worst people as a kid.” concluded Utena, chuckling in spite of the gravity of their current situation. “I suppose I really was a fool like Touga said, back then.” Her steed -- this white horse that came to life from a mere carousel ride -- galloped in apparent agreement.

“You were young then,” murmured Anthy, voice soft with nostalgia. “Just a young girl who wanted to fill the hole left behind by her parents’ demise.” Even armored, her figure -- eclipsed by the light spearing through the cage and at them -- remain elegant and ethereal in Utena’s sight.

“I wanted so badly to be noble, high . . . of value.” Utena blinked from the stinging sensation in her eyes. “Hey, you know something? Back then, I actually had no interest whatsoever in basketball.”

“Oh?”

“Playing ball –- purposely playing against the boys, and not the girls –- was just my way to stand out, to be special around school. That, and the exercise helps me grow strong enough to slap down those ever-present bullies. Sport was to me a means to an end; I was no real athlete. That was why, back when you asked me what I aspired to become as an adult, I couldn’t give a straight answer.”

“Oh.” Anthy’s non-committal tone belied her understanding and acceptance of the confessor’s troubles.

Just like Anthy, Utena smiled in spite of her heavy mood. “I was only playing at being ‘prince’ . . . and I ended up being some reckless, meddlesome fool instead.”

“Utena, without the meddlesome foolish prince you were, the Rose Bride I was would never have been saved.”

“Even now, I wonder . . . had I been good enough, could I have won that Final Duel for real, and kept us from being torn apart? I could have already revolutionized the World back then, and maybe none would have to suffer afterwards.”

“Some sufferings are unavoidable,” whispered Anthy, prior to speaking up. “Utena. What torn us apart back then was no failing of yours; rather, it was my shame over having backstabbed you that made me hesitate from taking your hand. So, to all those who suffered after the collapsed Revolution –- us two included –- the fault was mine and mine completely.”

Utena chuckled then; over what even she could not say.

Anthy reached over to Utena then, and took the latter’s gloved hand in hers. “Once, I thought only a flawless, invincible prince has value.” Her voice turned raspy with warm fervor. “It was you who taught me how it does not take a perfect hero to save people -- all it takes is an earnest soul striving to be heroic. That is what is truly valuable.”

Blinking back the moist sting in her eyes, Utena gripped Anthy’s hand tight. “An earnest soul . . . like Momoka-san’s?”

Just like that, Anthy’s wistful sentimentality vanished, to be replaced by a steely front. “We cannot let her change our reality,” she stated, glancing ahead into that intimidating stretch of harsh light burning ahead. “I also have my reservations about her true motive for wanting the Fate Transfer.”

That surprised Utena. “Momoka-san’s true motive?”

“Utena.” Stance softening, the Bride again turned towards her Victor Duelist. “Believe in me. Whatever happens, I will help you to go on living.”

“Anthy . . .” Something in the way her soulmate spoke worried Utena, though over what she could not yet pinpoint. “What are you saying?” Vaguely, she noticed Anthy’s black steed now nuzzling against her own in an intimate manner; her own steed, of course, reciprocated the tender gesture.

“Everything I am about to do -- no matter how foolish or cruel-seeming -- is for your sake.” Anthy’s tone was gentle yet firm. “Believe in me, Utena.”

“. . . I believe in you,” Utena finally said after a brief pause, because she did. Back then, when she was but a child, they had jested and tested each other with jokes about poisoned cookies and tea. Today, standing at the very ends of their world, Utena was certain that she would remain trusting of Anthy through poison and backstabbing and much worse -- she now knew for a fact that Anthy felt the same way about her too.

Anthy’s green eyes -- holding her gaze all along -- softened in what must be a gallant smile. Strange, how their roles had ended up reversed, with Anthy now being the more assured of them two. Anthy, now protecting her with something akin to princely valor . . .

It was the heat on her cheeks that made Utena realize how, for maybe the first time since they met, Anthy was actually making her blush.
Somewhere along the way, she had grown to love and appreciate Anthy in all kinds of way; yes, even that way.

Given enough time, perhaps someday, the two of them really could--

“You ladies done with the yuri yet?” asked Kozue, pointed if playful. “We’re all set to go fight!”

“Do pardon us, Kozue-chan. Utena and I are just giving you and Miki-kun ample time to stretch out the twincest pre-battle,” Anthy sassed back –- the sheer fact of which had the Duelists all boggling in shock . . . prior to having a much need laugh along with the now laughing Bride.

“Let us go.” Charged up on camaraderie, Utena maneuvered her steed forward and ahead of their group. “The World awaits!”

The others followed her leadership without hesitation. “Hai!”

“Let’s go -- The World awaits!”

With that, the whole group of them ventured through the torn opening, and into the inferno-ish aura saturating their final battleground.

***

Atop the Steed they sat, brother and sister, dead and still living. The brother was aflame with darkness. The sister -- holding onto him -- was tensed up in agony.

“Does it burn, Nee-san?” asked the brother, his voice distant as though coming from some vague dream. “It’s not me who’s burning you up.” He patted the Steed –- the source of this black, punishing heat. “It’s Fate.”

To that, the sister took her brother’s hand, the sister placed it upon her heaving, heated chest. “Say, even you should know by now . . . this heart has never ceased hurting, not since the night of the fire . . . the night when Fate took you from me.”

“Nee-san . . .”

“You were so bright, and brave . . . you were the one who sacrificed yourself in my stead, just so I’d get to live on. From now on, you and I will help each other to go on living, through troubled waters and scorching flames . . . Mamiya!”

***

The closer he got up to the scene, the more certain Saionji was that it was identical to that church nave from his godforsaken childhood, the place where he and Touga came upon--

“Behold,” said Chu-Chu, sweeping a paw forward. “The maiden in slumber.”

. . . only this time, it wasn’t a coffin, but rather, a sickbed. Sheens of whimsical, red canopy drapes cascaded over pure white bed sheets, enveloped within was a comatose girl hooked to a life support monitor; a girl whom he recognized at first sight.

“ . . . Takakura Himari!” exclaimed Saionji. “What’s the girl doing here?” A chilling possibility occurred to him then. “Earlier on . . . did that Kazami--”

“It’s not him,” assured Chu-Chu, his voice nonetheless grim. “A former princess has since taken over her unpolluted flesh, putting her soul in slumber.”

“A ‘former princess?’ ‘Taken over?’ ”

“Formerly Princess of the Crystal, now Oginome Momoka. She has possessed Himari-chan’s body for use as tool to change the World.”

“Oginome Momoka.” Saionji recognized the name so often mentioned during the Duelists’ meetings over at Chida Mansion. “The ‘vengeful ghost’ from the Subway Attack.” His own thoughts turned grim accordingly. “Change the World. You mean . .. like that ‘Revolution’ thing Akio has been trying to start all along?”

“Having controlled Dios’ Fate Steed, Momoka is planning to use Fate Transfer to change the World’s Past, and in doing so, reality as you know it today.’ ” Chu-Chu’s voice now came so low and dark, it reminded Saionji faintly of Ohtori Akio’s. “In this rosy ever after reality to come, your fateful meeting with one Kiryuu Touga would not have happen – at least not the way as you remember it. ‘Kiryuu’ Touga will remain as Takakura Touga -- without the terrorist taint. You mother would have survived childbirth, your father would have been able to love you. Yet . . .”

“Yet . . . ?”

“Even should the two of you still get to meet in the new reality, it would be as boys from happy families who got to play kendo together. This special bond you two have forged through your shared hardships will be no more.”

“Our bond . . .” Head swimming with an onslaught of bitter (yet precious) memories, Saionji glanced up and at the dark heights above. “Of course. In a perfect world without pain, the two of us . . . could only ever be ‘just friends.’ ” Heart in turmoil, he blinked back the wetness clouding his vision. “Just regular teammates; acquaintances . . . nothing more.”

“You are a sword forged by your bitter, precious past, is it not up to you to stop Momoka from erasing it all?” Chu-Chu patted Saionji on his stiffened shoulder. “As Himari-chan’s in-law, is it not up to you to help this girl in her time of need?”

“ ‘In-law’ . . .” As implication of that term sank in, so too was the anguish-bound man reduced to a blushing, flustered mess. “W-What the hell are you talking about--” He was promptly shoved forward, and towards that utmost important task at hand.

“Go. Wake her up. Be the one to save the damsel in distress this time . . . Duelist.

Chu-Chu’s urging served only to remind the man just why he disliked the critter back in his teenage years. Nonetheless, as a adult, even the impulsive likes of Saionji Kyouichi knew to do what needed be done.
( “Weren't we going to save the girl from the coffin, and in doing so, get out of our own coffins too?”/“Isn’t that what we’ve aspired to do on that night sixteen years ago?”)
Pushing aside an overhang of drapery, he leaned down and towards Himari’s pale, sleeping face, and began:

“Umm . . . Himari-chan . . . so . . .”

***

“We finally meet.”

And, it was as she said. After all, the last they interacted was in another lifetime. This truly was the very first meeting between the ghost child and the formidable cosmic force. Even inhabiting Takakura Himari’s growing, adolescent body, the massive creature in front of her still was a towering presence in front of her still diminutive form.

“Dios’ Fate Steed. The Princess’ ride; the very creature in control of what humans nowadays call ‘reality.’ ” Signet aglow, Momoka reached a hand up to the creature’s side, noting the ever shifting black markings now fanning fire-like across its white pelt. “What darkness have since tainted your purity of old throughout the cruel falling of years?”

The question was meant for the Steed as it was for herself. Indeed, how was it that Oginome Momoka, dead at ten years old, would come to be a vengeful ghost hell-bent on changing reality at the cost of hurting everyone she once held dear?

The Fate Steed let out a sad, shrill whine; she faced it with tender empathy. “Fret not, little one. From now on you and I will help each other to save this World in peril.”

Indeed, she had a very good reason to ‘save this World in peril’ via this specific method. Nobility aside, this Fate Transfer just so happened to be the only way for her to . . .

The only way . . . for her . . .

The only way--

“Momoka!”

Turning around, she saw that Captain-kun –- now fused to the Arisugawa woman –- has since broken into the cage, followed by the whole assemble of Duelists, plus Bride. Convenient how sizes and dimensions were all moot where magical spaces were concerned. The group barely looked cluttered within this grand, massive hall that looked like a small sparse cage from outside.

“I knew you people would be catching up to us.” Violet eyes hooded, she glanced down upon the whole lot of them with imperious disdain. “But none of you can stop me now.”

Captain-kun still wanted to persist with his silliness: “Momoka . . . please--”

“Dios’ Fate Steed has since been attuned to me,” revealed Momoka, merciless. “It’s now forever beyond your reach.”

“Nee-san!” Ringo raised her firearm from where she rode what looked like a pink construction vehicle alongside an older woman. “If you don’t surrender now, we really will--”

“The power over Fate is now mine and mine alone,” stated Momoka, unmoved. “How to use that power . . . is now my decision.”

“Then I guess we have no choice but to fight you!” said Tenjou Utena, raising her weapon. The Duelists flanking her did likewise.

Dios, quiet all along, now took a step up to beside Momoka –- a gesture that had the whole lot of them backing in alarm. All except the Victor and the Bride, who stood their ground.

“I won't let you beat us,” stated Utena, defiant, her Bride remained by her side in apparent solidarity. “I won’t let you change--” Whatever else she was about to say turned into a surprised yelp, as her ride -– along with that of the Bride and the Kaorus -- started toppling over.

Momoka watched, with her impassive gaze, the stolen rides reverting back into the mere woodcraft they originally were, much to the Duelists’ dismay. Even the huge vehicle Ringo was on had folded up to reveal that pink-haired male Duelist involved with her Auntie Tokiko. She glanced up and at the Fate Steed’s saddle.

Auntie Tokiko. Uncle Mamiya’s ghost. The siblings’ stubborn, ill-obscured presences had persisted to remain upon the noble beast in spite of the dark flames currently burning up the creature. These two had to be removed before she and Dios could truly make the Fate Steed their own to use . . . .

“I wonder . . .”

Turning, Momoka saw how Captain-kun was looking at her through Arisugawa Juri’s piercing emerald greens.

“Just who is the one pushing for this Fate Transfer?” he asked. “Oginome Momoka? Or the Princess of the Crystal?”

“ . . . huh?”

“Why would Oginome Momoka, an elementary school girl who lived but for ten years in the nineties, be so keen on rewriting the World’s reality since ancient times? You certainly never mentioned such a peculiar goal back when we both lived.”

The way Captain-kun question her motive –- his words now reflecting a shrewd analytical skill that felt more like Arisugawa’s than his own -- had Momoka turning shifty. “ . . . what’re you saying?”

“Has the Princess’ memories –- memories of a goddess who lived and died in an utmost spectacular manner –- so influenced the contemporary child that you were, that you now feel compelled to revive her at the cost of erasing your current self?” continued Captain-kun, not letting go. “Or, maybe it really is Oginome Momoka who want the Fate Transfer . . . and she only started wanting this after she got killed during the Kiga Subway Attack.”

Momoka felt her heart skip a beat at how close this hit home. “Captain-kun--”

“Of course . . . !” Captain-kun now was regarding her with wide, shocked eyes. “How could I’ve overlooked this? Having lost your life, leaving behind-- I get it now! Momoka, you’re actually hoping this Fate Transfer will--”

“QUIET!!” The sharpness of Momoka’s voice sounded far too defensive even to her own ear. She now scampered internally for something -- anything -- to derail the exposition. “You . . . you will not insult my ideals as per another woman’s assumptions.” Yes, even playing at being jealous is better than letting Captain-kun/Arisugawa/whomever reveal that secret hope she had entrusted to the Fate Transfer -- that which she refused to dwell upon herself . . .

“What Momoka-chan is doing is proper,” intoned Dios, noticing her wavering resolve and so was facing off against the Duelists on her behalf. “There's no call for any of you to interfere.”

“ ‘Proper?’ ” Utena’s voice came outraged. “Momoka-san is obviously having doubts!”

“That’s right!” Ringo joined in. “No way Nee-san would want something so stupid without undue influence!” She glared hard at the Rose Prince, uncaring of his mind-blowing beauty in her current suspicion.

“Enough.” Composing herself, Momoka glared down upon the Victor Duelist and the rest with an imperious glare that was the Princess’ own. “Lowlifes like you people -- who seek refuge in memories, in the past -- can't appreciate this revolutionary change we are to bring about.” This was the proper thing to do, no way should her resolve waver now. “Just stay put already. I’ll change the World for the better now.” She turned briskly towards Dios, signaling for him to help her get on the Fate Steed’s saddle.

“Is it really fine for you to just turn your eyes from the truth and then criticize others?”

That question had Momoka stopping, prior to turning around.

“What’re talking about, Witch?”

“Your shoes, Momoka-san.” Expression hidden under armory, the Witch/Bride –- currently Himemiya Anthy –- pointed a hand down. “Do you still not recognize them for what they are?”

Momoka, expecting something else, got baffled. “What about my shoe--” And she trailed off at seeing just what she had on her feet at this very moment.

Instead of her magenta shoes – what she wore on the day of that fateful train ride – she now got these tacky black furry things clad around her feet. “Ohtori Hoshimi’s shoes? How’d they . . .”

On each of those black shoes were two thin, crimson ribbons that looked highly familiar to Momoka. There also happened to be two peculiarly positioned red beads upon each of the shoes’ tips; they looked downright hateful in her sight.

Before the ghost could ponder further just how her yorishiro’s tacky couture came to sully her feet without her knowing, something she deemed to be of greater urgency came to her attention.

Somehow, her eyelids had begun to flutter ever so slightly, with her fingertips trembling as though on their own accord.

The peach motif upon her chest was now fizzling at the edges.

Something had came over this host body of hers; someone was trying to override her control over Takakura Himari’s body and mind.
And there was only one entity out there with the means -- and the motive -- to attempt such a feat.

‘Rose King . . . even you refuse to understand me?’

***

“ . . . hungry . . .

“. . . so hungry . . . can’t think straight . . .”

That just about summed up Himari’s current state -- delirious with hunger, bedridden, unmoving.

“ . . . want curry . . . somehow?” Her murmur came a muted sound audible only to her own hearing. “ . . . didn’t I . . . used to share . . . with someone?”

She then heard a voice, sounding distant as though coming through another medium:

“ . . . mari . . . Himari . . .”

“Who . . .” Straining to open up her heavy eyelids, Himari saw, through blurred vision, somebody who looked vaguely familiar to her clouded mind. “ . . . are you?”

“ . . . aionji Kyouichi . . .” his voice remained defused, his expression veiled under some kinda haze clouding her eyes. “ . . . met . . . earlier on . . . fighting Kazami Tats. . .”

“Kazami who?” she asked, puzzled.

“ . . . Seen’s real name . . .”

“Seen . . .” Himari’s brows creased as she tried to remember the familiar name. “The idol . . . ? What has he got to do with--”

Idol.

Double H.

Triple H now.

“Hibari-chan . . . Hikari-chan . . . the concert!” Reeling from the sudden onslaught of recalled memories, Himari struggled to take a good look at this green-haired man through hazy sight, and found her own eyes widening in shock. “You’re . . . Kaoru-san’s friend –- the samurai who fought Seen to defend us! You . . .” Vision somehow clearing up at the realization, she now saw this red piece of yarn (red thread?) visible around not his pinky, but his ring finger.

This yarn was trailing off towards the side and seemingly into a projection screen showing the following:

[Time: 10 years post-revolution, during Revolution Seen Live 2011
[Place: Tokyo Big Egg, Main Stage

[//“No parents would wish to prolong their own existences at their children’s expense,”// said Kenzan, looking a faded ghost that was and fading still.]

“. . . what?” With great difficulty, Himari pushed her weak, aching body up into a sitting position. “What’s going on?” Saionji-san hurried to steady her with his strong, calloused hands.

[//“It’s okay now,”// said this ghost she recognized to be Kanba’s late birth father. //“We will fade into nothing as is our rightful punishment.”//

[Chiemi, likewise a phantom, continued fading away. //“Becoming nothing is our rightful punishment . . .”//

[//“Mom! Dad!”//]

Shouma’s voice came just as the camera panned out showing the Children of Fate being present, plus some adults Himari did not recognize.

[//“Don’t do this to us,” pleaded Shouma, as he tried to reach his insubstantial parents with his shaded-in child’s body, all to no avail. “You can’t . . . you can’t just show up only to disappear again completely!”//

[ //“You can’t disappear!”// Kanba, also in child form, was throwing an outright tantrum at the ghosts. //“Not without at least seeing Himari first!”//] Beside him, his blood-related sister Masako was likewise screaming something at Mr. Natsume, who appeared unmoved.

“What is this?” asked Himari, chilled to the core. “Mom and Dad . . . are already dead?” She reached up to wipe at her tears with shaky hands. “They’re now ghosts . . . and they’re about to disappear completely?”

“Himari-chan . . .” Likely a man of few words to begin with, this Saionji-san looked like he had a hard time finding the right words to say to her –- a kid –- under this situation. “Listen . . . you’ve got to--”

[//“Enough.”//]

One of the adults -- a long-redhaired man with a branding marking his beautiful profile -- took a step up and towards the fading ghosts.

[//“We get that the past has a tendency to devour the present,”// he said, one hand on Shouma’s shoulder, the other on that of a teary blonde woman clutching at what looked like her preppy friend. //“But without the past, there is no present.”//

[//“Touga-kun . . .”// started Kenzan, who got silenced by the redhead’s decisive hand gesture -– one that revealed just where the other end of Saionji-san’s red yarn was at.]

“Saionji-san . . . that man . . .”

“That’s Touga,” muttered Saionji with his light complexion flushed. “He’s my . . . well, he’s mine.” Flipping back his long locks, this handsome giant of a man made a visible effort to compose himself. “More importantly for you, Himari-chan, Touga is really--”

[//“For better or worse, you, our parents, are our roots –- our very origins,”// said Touga, a hand placed over his broad, lean chest. //“I cannot risk losing what’s left of you both when I know there’s something that could be done about it.”//]

“What?!” By now, Himari had scampered to the edge of the bed as she watched the screen, transfixed.

“Meet Kiryuu Touga, born Takakura Touga.” said Saionji, who then gestured at the crying blonde. “The woman beside him is Kiryuu Nanami, born Takakura Nanami.” His voice darkened as though from old pain. “Even though they got sold to the Kiryuu Household before you were even born, they still are your siblings, Himari-chan.”

[Touga’s hand – tied to Saionji’s no doubt fateful yarn/thread – then reached into his now glowing chest, from which he produced what looked like a sword . . . prior to pointing it at the Takakura ghosts under the others’ wide-eyed gazes.]

“What . . . is he doing?” asked Himari, numb with awe. Beside him, Saionji went rigid with apparent nerves.

[//“Do you even know what you’re doing?”// asked Kenzan, eyeing Touga with apparent trepidation.]

“The bastard . . .” hissed Saionji from between his teeth. “He can’t be trying to--”

[//“I do.”// Leveling his sword, Touga then sprung for the ghosts in one desperate, savage lunge. //“I’ll shorten my life if it means I’d keep you with us longer!”//]

“NO!” cried Saionji as he dived for the screen, which blocked him like a solid wall while somehow allowing only his red yarn to slip through its surface. “Touga!”

On screen, this Touga person had since slammed into the Kiga ghosts, and was shoving the penguindrum his sword had since became into their vaporous forms by force. Triggered by his action, Masako, Nanami and even her preppy friend –- too started forcing their penguindrums onto the phantoms, resulting in explosions of lights and sounds that rendered the video un-watchable.

“Everyone--” exclaimed Himari, uselessly.

“No! At this rate, Touga will . . . !” Frantic, Saionji hurried back towards Himari. “Himari-chan, you need to wake up now!”

“Wake up?” Himari studied her surroundings, the endless expanse of darkness surrounding a fanciful bed from her old reality. Indeed. None of this even looked real to begin with. “But I--”

“You’ve fallen into slumber under Oginome Momoka’s magical spell, and had surrendered your body to her control.”

That new voice –- regal and rich –- cutting in alerted Himari to another presence: a man-sized monkey mouse every bit as cute as the Takakura penguins. She supposed it fit right into this eerie dreamscape . . .

“Y-Yes,” replied Himari, somewhat taken aback by just how articulate the creature was. “But . . . Ringo’s sister had told me that she wanted to save the world, so that people like the Takakura relations can live free from the world’s hatred . . .”

To that, the monkey mouse furrowed its thick brows in what looked like a solemn expression. “Momoka-san is now using your body as tool to try and change the World’s fate as we speak.”

“Change . . . the World’s fate?”

“It is, in a way, the destruction of all that you knew, and cherish.”

Another projection screen appeared, this one split into a trio of scenes: the
Takakura couple celebrating Touga’s birthday, with Shouma, Nanami and her preppy friend all present and joyful; Mr. Natsume taking Masako, Kanba and a small child on what looked like a family day out; Himari, herself, having curry with --.

“ . . . no,” Himari shook her head, appalled. “Not her. That kind of woman, who’d abandon her own daughter . . . no way is she ever my mother again!”

But of course, in a “perfect” world, Himari would never have been abandoned to begin with. She would never have ended up with the cursed Takakura family, or shared curry with family-starved Ringo. In this new, darkness-free reality Oginome Momoka wanted to bring about, Himari would have to live with her “real” mother -– she would not get to be an Ikebe.

“You can stop this,” stated the monkey mouse, a paw on the edge of her bed. “Momoka is using you to connect herself to the Fate Signet -- key to controlling Fate itself. By waking up, and reclaiming control of your body, you just might be able to deter Momoka from enacting the Fate Transfer.”

“Indeed!” said Saionji, leaning over in acute, desperate eagerness. “A special girl like you just might be able to stop the Kiga ghosts from fading, without anyone having to get hurt!” He extended a broad hand towards her. “So hurry and get up already!”

Determined to protect her world -- her fateful bonds with those she cared about -- Himari reached out to take the offered hand--

CLANG!!!

. . . and found, to her shock, a set of steel poles chomping down fang-like from the bed’s ceiling, barring her from Saionji. The sheets and pillows likewise drained off like water, transforming what once was her sickbed into a stark, metal prison.

“ . . . what?” blinked Saionji, looking as dumbfounded as Himari herself currently felt. “It’s a caged box . . . with a peach motif?”

“As expected, Momoka’s spell over Himari-chan came with its remarkable metaphorical security measures,” mused the monkey mouse, scratching at its rounded chin. “Then, let’s--”

Just then, the dreamscape shook as though from earthquake. The turbulence threw both Himari and Saionji off their feet, and had them falling back away from each other. By the time they could have regained their footing, a massive crack had since appeared dividing the two.

“What’s going on?!” Saionji snapped at the omnipotent monkey mouse beside him.

“Momoka has sensed us, and is now driving us out of her mind,” replied the monkey mouse, its paws clenched into what must be the critter version of fists. “I won’t be able to maintain contact with Himari-chan’s consciousness for much longer. However!”

Himari gasped as the sizable creature then performed what looked like a judo move on Saionji, and tossed him right at her cage.

“Wha--” Perching onto the bars with a martial artist’s reflex, this green-haired samurai turned to glare back at the monkey mouse. “What gives?!”

“Just listen up!” barked the monkey mouse. “Saionji Kyouichi! Takakura Himari! You both are strong-willed people sharing a common urgent interest in stopping the madness out in the real world.” The crack in the dreamscape continued to widen, bringing the oversized critter further and further apart from the two. “Use this common wish as key to fuse your penguindrums together, and create from it a sword capable of opening this cage--”

And the space around the monkey mouse caved in, swallowing him up and out of their view.

“Chu-Chu!” cried Saionji after the disappeared creature, before slowly turning to face her. “So . . . we really are left on our own now.”

“Yes . . .” replied Himari, crawling up and towards Saionji.

Lips tensed with apparent trepidation, the man reached hand through the bars and at her. “Do you . . . trust me?”

Eyes on the red thread still trailing off his ring finger, Himari took his big, calloused hand in both of hers, and moved it over her now glowing chest.

“Please save me.”

***

“Is something the matter?”

The Witch’s words came conversational and condescending (just as expected!).

“Nothing that would concern you,” replied Momaka, upholding her calm façade. Internally, she was really stressing to maintain control over Himari’s psyche, as there appeared to be more than the Rose King helping the girl break out. “Once I start the Fate Transfer--”

“Oh? Are you going to start your Fate Transfer wearing those?” Again the Witch pointed down and at her now unfortunate shoes.

Head pounding (literally, as some soul sword now appeared to be hacking away at the mental cage holding Takakura Himar’s consciousness in place),Momoka nearly stomped in agitation. “Will you just shut it about Ohtori’s tacky--”

Hiss . . .

That sound, followed by that warm, undulating movement against her feet, had Momoka again looking down.

Her current footwear now were unfurling into two long, living masses curled at her feet. Giant caterpillars, thought Momoka, before long ears and teeth appeared, revealing just what these “shoes” really were.

“These are . . . the Black Rabbits?!”

Already, Dios was down on one knee trying to get those pests off her. Even the powerful Rose Prince had little success with the task, as both critters now had their fangs and claws lodged deep into her ankles; he had no way of pulling them off without causing her serious bodily injuries. Had it not been for the outside interference from the Rose King and whomever he had recruited hammering at her mind, she might have a chance at ridding them herself. But as it was . . . . From beside the Witch, the Duelists all were watching her unexpected predicament agape. She knew it would only be a matter of time before they were to recover enough to exploit her moment of weakness, and--

“The malevolent Black Rabbits fixated upon destroying the world . . . again they bare their fangs at their sworn enemy.”

She whirled to face the newcomer. “Ohtori Hoshimi!”

Indeed, it was none other than the treacherous yorishiro, currently making a belated entrance through the torn opening upon Momoka’s magenta shoes.

“How does it feel to have the past catch up on you, Momoka-chan?” asked the child-woman, running a hand through her blue curls (thus drawing attention to her current lack of a penguinhat).

“Ohtori . . . you dare . . . you dare to align yourself with the Black Rabbits to try and undo me tonight?”

“ ‘Everyone is always too trusting of a convenient accomplice’ –- those were your own words . . . Princess.”

“ . . . what the heck is going on?” asked Utena, understandably at a loss.

“While empowering to both parties, the mechanism of yorishiro-ism allows the human yorishiro undue access to the spirit’s many powers and possessions,” replied Anthy in explanation to her Victor and their fellow Duelists (Momoka of course knew from the volume of her voice that this was meant for her too). “For a seasoned witch like Mrs. Ohtori playing the yorishiro, even slipping malevolent entities through the spirit’s well-guarded barriers is not beyond her means.”

“Nee-san . . .” breathed Ringo, her mouth opening and closing fish-like.

“Hoshimi.” Dios looked to their insolent accomplice with what seemed like genuine hurt. “For what have you turned against me twice over tonight?”

The Ohtori woman –- hidden underneath her child form –- faced the Rose Prince’s sadness with a sardonic grin. “It may be your body is beautiful, and your ends noble. But you cannot become my prince . . . because you’re not him.

“For Uncle Mamiya?” Wincing from where she struggled to pull the ferocious critters off by force, Momoka glared hard at the traitor. “Ignorant woman . . . do you really think you have a chance of controlling the Fate Train without our help?” She shook a fist at Ohtori, showing off the glittery ring she still wore. “A treacherous yorishiro you may be, but you’ve yet to take the Fate Signet from me !”

Ohtori –- to Momoka’s chargin -- remained smiling in face of her statement.

“As the yorishiro connected to Momoka, her wounds and sufferings are very much your own,” added Dios, drawing attention to the bleeding wounds now showing up stigmata-like around Ohtori’s ankles. “Hoshimi . . . is this really worth it?”

“Mother!” Ohtori Kanae could be heard crying out from the sideline.

“Momoka-chan.” Ignoring others, along with her own pains, Ohtori held Momoka’s gaze with her own. “You still haven’t answered Anthy’s question: ‘Is it really fine for you to just turn your eyes from the truth and then criticize others?’ ” She jabbed a finger at the ghost. “You . . . who bear the Princess’ memories . . . I doubt you’ve truly forgotten just how an albino like Sanetoshi-kun came to manifest as the two Black Rabbits.”

That last sentence impacted Momoka like a punch to the gut.

Behind Ohtori’s girlish figure, shadows rippled about the bright backdrop in dark tendrils, soon to draw out the following scene:

Do you know? Do you know?

Do you wonder what I know?

Back when the Rose Prince was in full flower, all the girls in the world were cherished as princesses.

Yet, even amongst cherished princesses, there were those less cherished by reason of class difference.

Like that little peasant girl who worked alone in the royal stable, with the white rabbit she kept her sole companion.

So, it was like a miracle when the stable’s owner, the Rose Prince, suddenly showed up proclaiming his love for her.

Yet . . . in the way of their sweet loving was the prince’s possessive little sister, who made no secret of being jealous of the princess’ relationship with her brother.

Even knowing she was being hated, the princess still tried to win over the prince’s sister for her prince’s sake.

“Hey, if there is anything I can do for you, please tell me.

“I want to be your friend.”

The prince’s sister paid the princess no heed. The princess persisted on with her proclamation of friendship. Eventually, the princess was to discover the sister’s private passion: a menagerie of exotic creatures deep within the royal courts.

“I see you really do love animals.”

“Look, this giant white rabbit is my most cherished pet and companion!”

“I am sure he would make a lovely addition to your lovely menagerie.”

The sister’s smile when she accepted the rabbit was anything but nice. But the princess, so eager for the sister’s approval, chose to ignore that. So willfully blind was the princess that she was even overjoyed when the sister told suggested there be an exchange of gifts.

Sometime later, the sister approached the princess offering a large gift box.

The princess opened the box to find two black stuffed rabbit laid upon a bed of rose petals.

“How lovely!” exclaimed the princess. “Dear sister of the Prince, however did you find such lush black fur to use for these handcrafts?”

“The pelt used to be white,” replied the sister, serene smile in place. “I had to darken it with a strong dye.”


Do you know? Do you know?

Do you wonder--

“ . . . not the Princess’ fault,” muttered Momoka, straining from pain and from the effort she exerted to cut off the shadow play. The penguin hat atop her host body now was glowing at the eyes. “It was the Witch . . . all because of the Prince’s witch sister . . .”

“The Black Rabbits seem to feel otherwise,” quipped Ohtori.

And it was as the yorishiro said. The Black Rabbits – once pure white and whole – still had their fangs hooked deep into her flesh, with their red eyes glaring up and at her penguin hat –- the manifestation of the Princess’ remnant powers, currently connected to Momoka’s soul.

“A witch is a witch,” spoke Anthy, voice heavy. “Back then, the Witch could be as cruel as she needed be, so long as such cruelty helped her keep the prince all for herself. She could skin the gift rabbit alive without qualms, because the rabbit was nothing to her.” Her voice gained a soft, broken edge. “But for the Princess . . . her rabbit was her only friend.

“For the Princess to knowingly put her friend through danger, just for getting what she wanted . . . that’s real cruelty.

“ . . . just as cruel as what I did to Utena during the Final Duel.”

That last line, coming low with regret, had Utena grabbing onto Anthy’s armored hand. “Anthy . . . !” she urged, as though pleading for the Witch to speak no further on the matter.

The Witch nonetheless spoke on. “Between the Princess -- who is the rabbit’s friend -- and the unfeeling Witch . . . just which one of them hurt the rabbit more?” She took a step up and towards Momoka. “Which one of them is more deserving of the rabbit’s hatred?”

“I . . .” Momoka found her host body recoiling, and realized to her mortification that she was now frightened. No, not by whatever might the Witch carried , but by this awful, derailing truth coming at the worst possible time. “I . . . !”

“Let go of the Princess’ power,” said the Witch, pointing at her penguin hat. “That is the only way for you to be free of their bitter hatred.” She gestured at Momoka’s feet, at those enraged beasts hooked to her ankles. “There is no need for you to shoulder what should have been the late Princess’ punishment.”

“I . . . !” repeated Momoka, who now sounded and felt stupid. “I can’t . . .”

“Enough!” snapped Captain-kun. “Drop the hat already! Even if you use the Princess’ power to enact the Fate Transfer, what you truly hope for will not come true!”

“I--”

“Do you really think you can better your mother’s situation just by changing Fate?”

Her innermost wish, vocalized by that one person she wanted to keep it secret from the most, forced a tear out of Momoka’s physical eyes (Himari’s, to be exact). Through blurred vision, she saw the Duelists –- all adults –- looking to her in varying degrees of confusion and uncertainty; her own little sister –- a child still –- appeared totally lost.

“. . . our Mom?” asked Ringo, sounding almost fearful. “What has this got to do with her? What’re you talking about, Tsuchiya-san?”

“This is my oversight.” Captain-kun barely heard her sister, so engrossed he seemed with his realization. “Somehow, I’ve forgotten about that time when we first met . . . the talk we had right afterwards . . . !”

***

Time: 6 years pre-revolution
Place: Tokyo, To’oh General Hospital

“This is the tragic tale of a princess who tried to change herself for the better, only to end up changing everything for the worse.

“Long ago, in ancient times, there was a little princess who lost her mother to an unkind twist of fate.

“Before this grieving princess appeared a strong, noble prince –- one famous for saving girls in need.

“ ‘Precious one bearing up alone under grief, allow me to help you to go on living.’

“The prince was handsome as his strength was reassuring; yet, it was the prince’s tall white horse that truly held princess’ attention.

“It was a shiny, miraculous steed that was the manifestation of ‘Fate’ itself,. Riding this magical ‘Fate Steed,’ the prince got to change ‘the World’s Scenery’ -- that which we now call ‘reality’ -- at will. Thus how the prince managed to have turned so many unfortunate lives around.

“The Fate Steed with power over Fate . . . should the princess have that power, then surely she could have used it to bring back her deceased mother!

“Eyes on the prince’s white horse, the princess found her reason to go on living.

“Refusing the prince’s kind offer to take room at his pristine castle, the princess instead offered to work at the royal stables -– where the Fate Steed was stationed. Surprisingly, there were no guards on site watching over such a precious commodity. Asking around, she was told how none would dare to steal the Fate Steed in spite of its great value. Turned out it took a noble heart –- just like the prince’s -- to safely control the Fate Steed and its power. When the ignoble attempt to use the Steed to change Fate as per their selfish desires, the Steed –- deeming them unworthy -- would punish them by way of a magical fire. Many were those who had since perished under the Steed’s inferno wrath, with their painful deaths serving as cautionary tales against potential thieves.

“Believing the worst case scenario was but her own demise, the princess braved the Fate Steed’s judgment, and made the ‘smartest’ wish her young, desperate mind could come up with:

“ ‘O most noble Fate Steed with power to change my world’s scenery, I ask that you make noble my imperfect heart, such that I be worthy of your service.’

“Instead of the fiery wrath she expected, the Fate Steed actually opened its mouth and spoke, thus revealing itself to be a wise, sentient entity:

“ ‘Little one bearing up alone under such desperation, what sacrifices are you willing to offer up to make real your wish?’

“ ‘Sacrifice?’ asked the princess, bewildered.

“ ‘A sacrifice is always needed to change the World’s Scenery,’ explained the Fate Steed. ‘That is how the World works.’

“ ‘But . . . the prince--’

“ ‘A sacrifice has since been made for him to access my service.’

“The princes considered the Steed’s words. She then decided to offer up herself: ‘I would offer up my own life if it means you will lend me your power to change Fate, Noble Steed.’

“ The Fate Steed remained unmoved. ‘Your life alone is an insufficient sacrifice for the Fate Change you proposed.

“ ‘Then . . . ?’

“ ‘Do you not have a rabbit you keep?’

“ ‘But . . .’ Now the princess hesitated. While a beast, the family rabbit had been with her throughout her young life. He was more than mere possession or pet: he was her long-time companion.

“ ‘Farm stock die becoming food on the table, without which farmers cannot survive. This kind of sacrifice is always needed for one to accomplish something, anything.’

“The Fate Steed’s persuasive words, coupled with the princess’ own eagerness to save her mother, crumbled her hesitation. ‘ . . . I understand. I will offer up my own life, along with that of my rabbit, if it means you will lend me your power to change Fate, Noble Steed.’

“The moment she made her choice, the princess felt her heart –- her very self –- changing. Under the Steed’s watchful dark eyes, the princess went from an ordinary girl into becoming someone strong and noble. She was now what the world called a heroine -- a female savior figure capable of overcoming massive odds to help to everyone who needed help.

“Her change did not go unnoticed by the prince, who approached her with a love proclamation. The princess, now a different person, found herself falling for this good, noble prince as well. ‘From now on, you and I will help each other in saving everyone in need,’ they promised each other. The prince even went so far as to give her a piece of his noble heart with which to better control the Fate Steed. At that point, the princess had everything in place to realize her original goal: to enact the Fate Change to bring back her mother.

“And yet . . .

“Along with her change, the desperate wish she had for bringing back her mother likewise faded, to be overshadowed by an even more desperate urge to save those troubled strangers in need. So altered was her personality by the Fate Change, that the princess really did come to prioritize the well being of others over that of her mother’s. She went as far as to gift her rabbit the prince’s hostile sister -- knowing she was putting him at risk -- all to secure her continued access to the royal Fate Steed.

“It was only after her rabbit perished from the prince’s sister’s cruelty that the princess remembered the ‘sacrifice’ element in her deal with the Fate Steed. Was this how this was supposed to work? That a painful death –- by fire or else –- is price for the ‘noble heart’ she currently doth possess?

“With the rabbit since downed, just how much time did the princess have before the Fate Steed was to claim her life too?

“Around that time, the Fate Steed’s bridle -- one of the key components to stable control of its power – wearing out. At last remembering her original goal, the princess hastened to mend the bridle, hoping to resurrect her mother with the Fate Change in time.

“And that, was when she got pushed into the burning forge by the prince’s sister, who murdered the princess to keep her brother all to herself.

“Centuries later, in modern times, a girl was born bearing memories of this ancient princess.

“Amazingly, this girl was born to the reincarnation of the princess’s mother.

“In this manner, the princess and her mother at last reunite after all these centuries of being apart.

“That part was good.

“But, because this girl has the princess’ memory, so too has she inherited the princess’ ‘noble heart’ -- which is really a iron will strong enough to enact magic, coupled with a serious case of a savior complex. Thus, when the girl was to regain the Fate Steed’s bridle -– likewise resurfacing as a pink diary -- she immediately went back to enacting Fate Changes and saving people, acting just like the princess she once was.

“Except this time, without the prince’s power helping her shoulder the backlash, the girl could no longer enact the Fate Change without getting burned.

“And still she persists on being the savior of the world.

“Even though she is getting punished for every good deed done.

“Even though she is really hurting the mother for whom she made that fateful deal, whom she still loves--”

And Momoka ceased, as Ruka leaned over to kiss away that singular tear now betraying the girl’s inner turmoil.

“Boy . . . you know nothing about me, nor of this ring that now shackles you,” she murmured, voice low. “The fiery backlash from the Fate Diary is but a small taste of the horrors you can expect getting involved with someone like me.”

Ruka –- overwhelmed by her story, by her sadness –- merely enveloped her under his earnest child’s embrace, saying nothing.

“And still you want to become my prince . . .”

His boyish arms tightened around her wisp of a bandaged frame.

“I understand.” Momoka’s voice came low, vulnerable . . . open. “From now on I will let you help shoulder my burden as we help each other to just go on . . . Captain-kun.”

***

Time: 10 years post-revolution, during Revolution Seen Live 2011
Place: Tokyo Big Egg, Castle

“So you understand.”

Sullen, Momoka remained facing away from Captain-kun and all concerned faces present she wanted to make disappear.

“As long as I exist as Oginome Momoka, as the reincarnation of the fate-cursed Princess, I will only continue on being that same entrapped, mechanical savior that she was . . . a mere clog in the cosmos’ turning wheel.

“Entrapped by the ‘noble heart,’ I can only keep on prioritizing the World over those whom I’ve met, cared for . . . love.

“Me, as I am now, is but a mere burden to everyone who loves me . . . to Mom.

“Better that I, as I am now, have never been born at all.

“Better that the Princess had never made that damnable deal with the Fate Steed, and had merely lived and died as the peasant girl she was meant to be.

“This way, she might still get to unite with her mother in their next life as ordinary people, free from the curse of ‘nobility.’ ”

“Momo--” protested Captain-kun, who was promptly cut off by a sharp wave of her hand.

“Captain . . . Tsuchiya-kun, I have chosen this path knowing how much this will hurt you . . . the me as a daughter has overpowered the me as a girl.” She blinked hard at the wet sting in her eyes. “So just let me make things right again with this Fate Transfer. Don’t worry about me anymore.”

“Are you running away?”

Utena’s question, coming like a blunt blow, forced Momoka to again look outwards and at the Duelists.

“The real problem, Momoka-san, is that you’re unwilling to let go of the Princess’ magical power,” stated the Victor Duelist, merciless in her current passionate state. “That’s what binds you, a modern girl, to some ancient woman’s accused obsession, isn’t it? Don’t dodge the topic just because you’re used to being powerful, that you’re too scared to try and become just some ordinary girl . . . ghost . . . whatever! You know what I mean!”

“What is not meant to be will never be,” murmured the Witch, directed at Momoka. “That holds true for you as it does for me.”

“Witch . . .” gasped Momoka, before crying aloud as the Black Rabbits deepened their bites, such that blood now gushed out from around their stretched maws.

“Nee-san, drop the stupid hat already!” screamed Ringo, in tears now. “You’ll be destroyed . . . !”

“Listen to your sister, Oginome Momoka-san,” implored the Witch, sounding raw with sincerity. “Letting go of the Princess’ power is the only way for you to be free of her curse, of both the Noble Heart and the Rabbit’s Hatred.”

“ . . . Prince. ” Vision blurred from tears, Momoka turned towards Dios, pleading for him to save her from this rapidly decaying situation. “Hey, Prince . . .what do I do now?”

Dios had since risen from where he was helping to free Takakura Himari’s flesh from the dark critters. Overgrown forelocks fall over to obscure much of his eyes, but what she could see of them confirmed her suspicion.

“Prince . . .”

The almighty Prince -- her sole defender –- remained unresponsive to her voice, having gone into shock over what was revealed. This, just when she needed him the most to protect her, against Ohtori, against the Witch, against the Black Rabbits against Captain-kun against Ringo against the TRUTH--

‘That day, I found myself being skinned alive and torn into halves.’

That ghostly telepathic message -- sounding like twin voices in unison -- drilled into her frantic mind like a worm into a peach:

‘It woke me up to the truth of the World . . .’

“Sanetoshi . . .” whispered Momoka, who began to see the terrorist’s pale features superimposed upon the rabbits’ blackness.

‘This World is made up of innumerable gift boxes, within which are these countless presents confined within.’ Sanetoshi now held onto her feet in (mock) cherishment. ‘Within these fateful gift boxes as prepared for us by cruel gods above, nobility corrodes and friendships get voided.’

“. . . go away . . .”

‘Here, nothing is sacred. Only power . . . power is the only thing that allow you to hurt others before others can hurt you. Power -- a scorching flame that blinds the eyes and pains the nerves . . .’

“ . . . GO AWAY!!!” she barked, voice hoarse from her prior screaming.

Seemingly oblivious to Sanetoshi’s presence, Dios continued looking at her -– through her -- with wide, somewhat harrowing eyes. Sanetoshi, who persisted to remain in her presence, smiled a sharp-edged smile as the Black Rabbits came to smother with a dark, eerie haze. The Duelists were shouting something, her sister was screaming murder, but all that sounded faint in comparison to Sanethosi’s smothering, devastating thoughts now hammering at her mind:

‘This hateful world –- the World that the Princess I used to love sacrificed me to attain . . .

‘No matter how many years it takes, how many incarnations . . .

‘I will set this World on fire!’

Flames of Fate –- dark as the night –- burst forth from the twin beasts to engulf her under a scorching veil of blackness. Momoka would have screamed, had it not been for the fact that the human vessel chose right that moment to expel her.

“ . . . ower to revolutionize the world!!!” cried Takakura Himari, now back in her fanciful Triple H costume. Wielding what looked like a combination of two soul swords, the Maiden of Fate slashed desperately at the black, burning beasts latched onto her feet. Having broken the spell caging up her consciousness, the girl had awakened just in time to face the Rabbits’ wrath on Momoka’s behalf . . .

“Don’t worry.”

Captain-kun’s spirit –- having left Arisugawa Juri -- had since enveloped Momoka’s, soothing her frantic soul with his broad encompassing warmth.

“But . . . Himari-chan--”

“Takakura Himari is a far stronger person than you think. She also knows to allow help from others when she needs it.”

Indeed, the whole gang of Duelists had since swarmed the frantic girl, with a number of them helping to swat down the dark fire tongues flaring upon her wardrobe. Also in the group was her spirited sister Ringo; unaware of her own strong, magic-capable willpower, the Maiden of Fate actually managed to snatch the power-charged hat off her friend’s head. The burning Black Rabbits, stubbornly hanging amidst the raining of (soul) sword blows, at last released Himari to pounce the artifact. A swish of Arisugawa Juri’s sword, and the whole burning, tangled mess was flung off to the side, where it then sailed right through this conveniently-located arching window . . .

“The Penguin Hat . . .” Momoka’s gaze tailed after where the item of power had vanished from view. “Without it . . . the two of us . . .”

“. . . are to become ordinary ghosts just like any other, and just as limited in our influences over the physical realm.”

“Captain . . .”

“Before you were the Princess, before I was your Captain . . . you and I were Oginome Momoka and Tsuchiya Ruka, just two ordinary kids out of many whose lives got cut short by Fate.” Ruka -– now appearing as the child he was back when they first met - gave the girl ghost a rueful smile. “If it takes losing our miraculous powers to set you free, I’m happy to let it be so.

“Won’t you be happy too . . . Momoka?”

“ . . . sorry . . .” The word that escaped her mouth -– the admission -- startled even herself. Indeed, when had Oginome Momoka -- dead at ten, a vengeful ghost for sixteen years -- ever apologized for anything? Certainly not when she chose to live in such a way that she knew would stress her parents’ marriage and even sanity. Nor had she expressed any remorse over having led a noble boy down an ill-fated path of illness and early demise. How ruthless and selfish, just like that ‘noble’ princess who sacrificed her companion’s life and her own humanity all to further her own agenda . . .

With the Penguin Hat gone, The Princess was no more. There was only Oginome Momoka now. Young, late, powerless Momoka, who in death was at last given the freedom to admit her feeling sorry.

“ . . . so sorry. I’m so sorry . . .” Ghostly tears, cold as raindrops to her ethereal senses, belied her desperate, anguished sorrow. “For what I did to Mom, to you, to everyone . . . I’m so sorry, Ruka!”

“Don’t worry, Momoka,” cooed Ruka, fusing his weakening spirit to hers as the both of them began to vanish and fade away. “Don’t worry . . .”

No longer ‘vengeful,’ the ghosts disappeared off the chaotic scene, leaving the living to deal with what was to come.

***

“. . . was certain Saionji-san was there in my dreaming helping me regain consciousness . . .”

“. . . last we knew, he was lost to the invisible masses storming the stage. . .”

Only half-listening to Takakura Himari -– enveloped under Oginome Ringo’s desperate embrace -- and their group filling each other in on recent events, Utena moved cautiously up towards Dios. He had remained still far too long for her comfort; she needed to check out what he was playing at now.

Nothing like the direct approach, she decided, before slapping a metal-gloved hand soundly upon the Prince’s rigid-seeming shoulder: “Hey, you--”

With Dios’s lowered head lifted by her motion, Utena got treated to the eerie sight of green eyes rolling up puppet-like. Even as her jaw dropped, his willowy frame was already collapsing like a snapped flower, prior to disappearing off into thin air prior to touching ground.

The others, having also witnessed this eerie occurrence, stopped their chatter and came up to beside their leader.

“He vanished?”

“What’s going on?!”

“Utena?”

“Just like that time . . .” murmured Utena aloud, remembering how Anthy did something similar during the Final Duel . . . and immediately felt sorry for even making the comparison. “. . . where the devil could he be?” she wondered aloud.

“There.”

Heart sinking at Anthy’s flat, ominous tone, Utena blinked, and found her eyes opened to a sight that chilled her to the core.

Dios –- back straight, eyes hard, vast cape flaring upon phantom winds -- was now seen riding atop the Fate Steed.

“The time has come to smash the World’s Shell,” proclaimed their final opponent of the night, currently brandishing the Fate Signet (since disappeared off Himari-chan’s finger) that now burned like a new star upon his vein-clutching hand. “The time has come to birth a new world.”

“So, instead of defending Momoka-san and Himari-chan against the monster rabbits, you were only concerned with seizing the Power,” accused Utena, baffled by her childhood crush’s uncanny ability to continuously come up with new and unexpected ways to disappoint her.

“The Princess -- the real one, uncorrupted by the botched Fate Change -- must be brought back,” said Dios. “She will not have it otherwise . . . nor will I.” Clearly, he believed how that justified everything he did tonight.

“You’re MAD!!” Hating Dios, and hating her own past self for having wasted do many years and tears spent loving him, Utena aimed her spear at him. “Like hell we’ll let you do the Fate Transfer!” From beside her, the gathered Duelists likewise readied their swords, poised to charge.

“You cannot stop me.” Dios swept his gaze over her and her comrades. “Magical abilities non-withstanding, you are all still human, are you not?” He cast his gaze down and upon Anthy. “And Sister, crippled though I am by the Witches’ Broom, you and I both know which one of us remains the stronger.”

“Brother.” Armored stance rigid, Anthy’s voice came soft and low, like that of a mournful eulogy. “You’re the one who chose this path, believing you know how the World works.”

Dios stiffened. “Knowing how the World works, I chose this path.” Again he brandished the Fate Signet. “With power, anything is possible. Without power, one merely . . . ”

It was seconds after Dios left his words hanging that Utena noticed something being off. By then, that something had since become so noticeable, that the other Duelists – even the Maidens of Fate – were all observing agape.

“What the . . . ?”

Eyes wide with apparent shock (so this wasn’t his own doing?), Dios’ exotic dark complexion was somehow visibly blanching out, to the point of revealing a patch of spotty freckles above his fine nose ridge . . .

A sound –- girlish, melodic –- fell over the stunned, silent ensemble with the stealth lightness of a bride’s vein. By the time Utena –- ever so slow on the uptake -- recognized that to be Mrs. Ohtori’s elegant whistling, all hell had since broken loose.


End Finale Arc Part VII