and the loveliness of your laugh, which--ay me!
flutters my heart in my breast.
For when I look upon you for a brief moment,
it's not possible for me to speak a single
but my unwilling tongue breaks, and suddenly
a thin flame has run under my skin,
and I see nothing with my eyes, and hear
a thrumming noise,
and cold sweat takes hold of me, and a tremor
seizes all of me, and I am greener than grass,
and I seem to myself to be barely short
But all must be endured
-- Sappho, translation by Ellen N. Brundige
"What time is it?" Miki asked, craning his neck to see if any of us was wearing a watch. "Isn't it almost time for the duel?"
Saionji and Juri both checked their wrists and looked puzzled. "I never forget my watch," Juri muttered.
"Me neither," Saionji said, searching the pockets of his jeans. Change, pocket lint. He sighed. "Guess I did this morning."
"Miki's right though," Nanami put in. "The sun's setting. It's the right time for a duel. Where's this place you talked about, Juri?"
Juri didn't reply, but turned her face toward the tower. Only Anthy's hand squeezing mine stopped me from objecting. I glanced at her. She smiled.
No one else objected -- though we all looked grim -- and made our way into the now virtually empty main building at the base of the tower.
I gripped Anthy's hand tightly as we stepped into the elevator. This elevator wasn't the one I was familiar with, but all the same I was fairly sure that this wasn't a good idea.
Juri turned and looked at me for a moment before saying, "It's all right, I don't think there'll be a Student Council meeting. They're usually held during school hours. We'll stop on that floor."
Did I look that obviously uncomfortable? Juri went on, "There's a staircase from the Student Council chamber up to the viewing balcony. We can't take the elevator up that far."
"Why not?" demanded Nanami.
"This elevator doesn't go that far. You'd have to take the elevator to the Chairman's rooms for that," said Juri flatly.
No one proposed doing this, to my relief.
There was a brief silence. I looked around the elevator. The others seemed utterly at home, like they'd fallen into place automatically: Juri leaning against one side pensively, Miki against the other, Nanami standing in the middle. Saionji stood to one side of Nanami, clenching and unclenching his fists. A chime sounded, and the old-fashioned metal grillwork doors slid open.
"I still don't see why going up two floors will let us see the Dueling Arena when it's not visible from the Student Council balcony just below," said Miki. "Besides, I don't remember a staircase... oh." The last was said as Juri stepped out of the elevator, turned to the left, and opened a door in the same wall as the elevator. On the other side were white marble steps. "I guess I always thought that was a closet," said Miki uncertainly.
Juri started to climb and the rest of us straggled out behind. "How come the rest of the Student Council never knew about this?" wondered Nanami.
Juri shrugged. "Touga came up here all the time. He regarded it as more of his personal perk than a Student Council thing."
"You don't think he might be..."
"Could be," replied Juri shortly.
Nanami was silent after that. After two flights of stairs (during which my heart raced faster than it should have from the exertion), we pushed through a door and emerged onto a balcony considerably smaller than the Student Council balcony, edged with a low wall and crenellations rather than a railing. I looked straight out and, sure enough, there was the Dueling Arena, rising from the forest below. It leaned toward us precipitously. A movement above it caught my eye.
The castle hung in the sky with a strange, brooding, threatening serenity. Its needle-sharp towers pointed directly to the Arena below. It was spinning slowly and ponderously, like a slow-motion top.
After staring at it for a moment, I tore my eyes away and looked around the balcony. Touga was not there. Behind the balcony was a series of glass archways with French doors, one of which was slightly ajar. I couldn't see anything of the room behind that because it was obscured with several layers of translucent red and white draperies.
There were three little wrought-iron café tables arranged neatly along the side of the balcony nearest to the dueling arena. Each table was accompanied by two chairs, and they were all composed of elaborate iron scrollwork, which stood out in clear black tracery against the white crenellated wall.
On each table, a simple white vase held a single red rose.
Juri walked over to the end table, pulled out the chair, and sat down, leaning one elbow on the wall. Miki sat down opposite her, and Nanami and Saionji took the next table. A pigeon landed by Nanami's feet and started to wander about under the tables, cooing and pecking at the ground hopefully.
I looked aside at Anthy, who was still standing, shading her eyes with one hand and staring towards the Dueling Arena.
"Um," I started. "Am I the only one who thinks it's a little weird that there should just happen to be three tables and six chairs up here--"
"The Challenger just came in," interrupted Saionji. "The duel's about to begin."
Anthy drifted towards the last table and sat down without saying anything. Bells suddenly rang, a clangorous cascade of familiar sound.
The figures looked so tiny on the vast white platform of the Arena. I could see from here that the red lines did form the school's rose crest, as I'd vaguely recalled. The red of the Rose Bride's dress showed out clearly, as did the black-and-white of Fujiwara's uniform. Kozue was harder to see, dressed nearly all in white. It was very strange to be watching the duel from over here, instead of being on the platform itself. A strange panicky feeling rose up, nearly choking me with sudden urgency: I should be there, not here, there in the Arena...
I turned away from the duel in progress, trying to calm myself down. I took a few steps towards the other side of the platform and took a deep breath.
"Like the view?" asked a man's voice, amused, rich, edged with familiarity.
I spun. Ohtori Akio was standing in the open doorway of one of the French windows.
He stood casually, one hand on the door handle, dressed in the same dark pants and red shirt. A lock of his pale hair hung into his face. He smiled slowly at me and ice seemed to crackle on my skin.
"It is strange, is it not," he said, voice dropping to an intimate tone, "that after avoiding me for all these years, you come and perch on the balcony outside my bedroom window." He paused a moment, then added, with an affection that made the ice on my skin freeze deeper, "Like a little bird on my windowsill."
I took a step backwards, my throat tightening. I couldn't think of a reply, and if I did, I doubt I could have said it.
He took a step forward, leaving the shadow of the doorway. "Never mind, you are free to it. I wonder..." His voice trailed off and his eyes flicked to something beyond my left shoulder. He stepped back into the doorway. "Well, you should be watching, you're missing the duel. I look forward to meeting you later." He bowed, then turned and entered the darkness beyond, pulling the door closed behind him with a decisive click.
I stood there for a moment, utterly frozen, until Anthy placed her hand gently on the small of my back. "Did... did you see?" I stuttered to her.
Anthy nodded. "It's all right now," she said cryptically. "Come sit down."
We went and sat down at the third table. The other four, staring intently at the duel, had not even noticed.
The duel was nearing its height. Kozue and Fujiwara were darting in and out, feinting, slashing at one another. I could almost hear the ring of their swords. I looked around at the other old Duelists and thought of the times I fought them, and defeated them. It all seemed so long ago: Saionji's shattered fury, Nanami's desperation, Miki's sadness, and Juri's... actually, I thought, I hadn't ever defeated Juri. I had won the duels, after a fashion, but I hadn't taken her rose, not like the others.
Sitting there, I found no sense of accomplishment connected to those old memories. No pride. No triumph. Only a distant sense of bitter sadness and futility.
I looked back to the arena in time to see Fujiwara stagger back, free hand going to his face. Kozue paused a moment, as though for effect, then lunged and neatly sliced off the rose he wore. Bells rang again, pulling at my memory, an avalanche of confusing sound and emotions.
They stood there, facing one another. Fujiwara still pressed the palm of one hand to his cheek, the other hand holding his sword, pointing down. Kozue tossed her head and I imagined her scornful laugh.
Then she turned to the Rose Bride, offering her arm. Shiori took it, and the two of them turned their backs and walked off towards the stairs. Fujiwara stood and watched them go. I suddenly felt something twist inside me, remembering...
I looked across at Anthy, who set the white teacup down into its saucer and smiled at me, a sweet, intimate smile that crinkled the corners of her eyes with tenderness. I reached across the table and she put her hand in mine.
"They didn't draw the sword," said Saionji. "Both the Victor and the Challenger brought their own." He stood up, abandoning his beer, as I craned my head around to look at him.
Nanami looked up at him. "Well, they can't be using the Sword of Dios, anyway, because..." Her eyes slid meaningfully to Anthy, and she tapped her chin thoughtfully with her fork.
Miki, behind her, said with his mouth full, "But remember, Nanami, that there was that time when other people were drawing our swords..."
"Obviously, they haven't got to that yet," snapped Nanami, setting her fork down with a sharp clink. "Shouldn't we go?" She stood up, pushing away her plate with the remains of the omelette on it.
Miki sighed and set down his ice cream spoon. Anthy and I stood up as well. Juri remained sitting where she was, staring at the empty Duel Arena. Her coffee cup looked untouched.
Anthy went and put a hand on Juri's shoulder. "Juri," she said softly. "We should go."
Juri pushed her chair back, the iron screeching on the marble. She didn't say anything as we walked towards the stairs.
I looked back as we left the balcony. A flock of pigeons settled on the tables, and I thought I saw something -- or someone -- twitch the fabric of the curtains behind the windows. But that was all.
"Hoshiko-sempai, it's like they're following me!" a distraught young voice said. It took me a moment to identify it as Akimoto Toshiro. I hadn't yet heard him so agitated.
"Following you? Now, Toshiro-kun," a silken young woman's voice replied. "I'm sure they're not following you -- it's simply unfortunate coincidence."
"A coincidence, perhaps," he replied uncertainly. "But it was so strange. They knew about the Rose Bride and everything! I thought grownups were supposed to forget!"
"Supposed to forget, yes, but Kozue-san seems to feel these are not just any former Duelists," Hoshiko replied. "Yukio thinks they're here to try to join the Duels again. Tell me, Toshiro-kun, what are they like?"
"What they are like?" he began, then paused. "Well, they're dressed quite shabbily..."
"Shabbily," Hoshiko echoed thoughtfully. "You'd think they would have at least tried to dress appropriately if they wanted to duel."
Saionji managed to get his hand over Nanami's mouth before she exclaimed. As it was, she turned an interesting shade of red. I glanced over her neat, fashionable black slacks and cornflower blue silk blouse, then eyed my own t-shirt and jeans (as well as Juri's and Saionji's) a little sheepishly. The jeans certainly didn't compare to the uniforms. I remembered my old uniform a little wistfully; I always was partial to it. Anthy smiled at me in the dim light and I paused to enjoy the sight of my lover in her ragged skirt, leggings, and one of my ratty old t-shirts.
"If they want to duel," Toshiro went on, "they might do it without permission from Ends of the World. They were tall, and very grim. I was," he added quietly, "a little scared of them."
"Scared? Oh, Toshiro-kun," Hoshiko said kindly, and I could almost imagine her patting his head. "They can't hurt you. You're a Duelist, and they aren't."
"Though they aren't, one of them is Kiryuu-san's younger sister," he said, still quietly.
"Sister?" Hoshiko laughed gently. She had cultivated a lovely laugh. "It will be interesting to see if they're at all alike."
"No," he commented. "Not at all."
They were silent for a few moments.
Then Hoshiko said, "That's forty-love, Toshiro-kun. Will you concede?"
Both their chairs scraped the floor, and two pairs of footsteps crossed the floor toward us. A moment later, we heard the elevator chime, their steps enter it, and the doors close.
We emerged from the stairwell cautiously. The Student Council chambers were empty.
"That was," I ventured, "a very strange conversation."
"Shabby???" Nanami exploded. "That little..."
"I'm sure he doesn't know what he's talking about, Nanami-kun," Miki began, conciliatory.
"Well, aren't those shoes about four years out of date?" Saionji prodded.
"How would you know?" Nanami shoved her face upward pugnaciously. "You into wearing girl's clothes now as well?"
"As well as what?" rumbled Mount Saionji as it approached eruption.
"Perhaps we should get downstairs...?" I suggested at the same time Miki said, "Now both of you are getting too personal...!"
We all stopped and stared at Juri, who wasn't looking at any of us, but stared out toward the balcony, her face frozen with the calmness of anger. "Bickering like children," she said quietly, turning to look at the three other former Council members. "Bickering like the children we once were here. If you don't act like the adults you are now, you'll just be playing into his hands."
Nanami opened her mouth to say something, and Juri turned to look at her. After a moment of silence, Juri turned away and Nanami shut her mouth again. Juri hit the call button on the elevator with the side of her fist, and I winced.
Something moved toward me across the floor in the fading light. I bent down and picked it up. It was a tennis ball.
"Extra! Extra! Extra!"
I must have jumped a meter straight up. "Who's there?"
"Extra! Extra! Extra!"
Juri and Miki were looking around, but the rows of lockers were bare, and no one appeared to be lurking in the shadows. "Sounds like a student," said Miki uncertainly. I wondered why the voice sounded so familiar. I couldn't link it to a name, or even a face.
"Tell me what you want, and I will tell you who you are! Once upon a time, one man's dream became reality. Chairman Kage wanted to taste fresh new food from all over the world, so he created Ohtori Stadium. Welcome, one and all!"
At the end of the hall of lockers, against a stained-glass window depicting roses, the shadows of three girls in regular Ohtori uniforms appeared. One stepped up on a box, while the other two bowed to the sudden sound of thunderous applause.
We stared. "What the..." said Nanami, but she was cut off by the voice.
"Welcome to... Iron Chef! Here at Ohtori Stadium, a whole team of challengers has just arrived to take on our own Iron Chef!"
"How exciting! Look, the Chairman is unveiling the secret ingredient!"
"And the secret ingredient," said the third girl, forcing a man's deeper voice, "is... Passionfruit!" as she whisked a cloth off another box, revealing the outline of a vase of roses.
More applause. "Now, can our own Iron Chef take on six challengers at once? Let the cook-off begin!"
Two tables and two shadows in chef's hats (although still obviously in girl's uniforms) appeared. One shadow in a chef hat began flinging bowls and roses and eggbeaters and knives and spoons and spice jars about in front of a table. The other shadow in a chef hat leaned negligently against the other table, ostentatiously doing nothing.
"Looks like we're out of time! Let's see what the judges think!"
One shadow in a chef's hat began serving the other two, who were now sitting down at a table adorned with a candelabra and the vase of roses. Plates heaped high with food steamed lightly in front of them.
"What has the challenger done with our ingredient? Curried passion, preserved passion, scorched or cajun passion, broken passion over forbidden rice, and a beautiful dessert of frozen passion ice! An impressive line-up! What do the judges think?"
The two seated shadows nodded and whispered to each other.
"Now for the dishes of our own Iron Chef!"
The "chef" served the two judges with empty plates. The judges pressed their hands to their hearts. One swooned out of her chair.
"And the final score is... A perfect score for our own Iron Chef! The Iron Chef is triumphant!"
One girl-shadow earnestly went and shook the hand of the shadowgirl in the chef's hat. The third shadowgirl leaned forward with a microphone. "Tell us, Iron Chef, what is your secret?"
The shadow in the chef's hat leaned forward and gave the interviewing shadow a rose. "Only illusion can match the taste of the heart."
The shadows froze, then faded away, leaving only the rose pattern on the arched window.
"What the hell was that?" asked Miki.
One of the doors in one dark hallway creaked ajar, letting a sliver of light lance out into our path. Curious, Miki and I moved forward to peer in.
The room was full of roiling, undulating fabric, like dozens of settling parachutes. There was a queasy sort of pattern to the motion, but I couldn't pin it down. Then I glimpsed tousled silver silk -- Kozue's hair -- moving with the waves. Suddenly, I knew what was happening.
She was so starved as to be skeletal. I could count her ribs from where I stood, despite her hair hanging down. I wanted to look away. I couldn't. Her smile held me there, the long, feral, white teeth, and I could feel Miki struggling to flee the way I was. I kept hoping that the fabric would settle and praying that it wouldn't, because I had to know, but I knew that I wouldn't be able to look into Akio's face while he was with her...
Kozue fell forward, rolling to one side, and then a man rose up over her. He looked up, looked directly at us, at Miki, and smiled lazily.
Miki uttered a broken little cry. "Robert!"
The brown-haired man stared insolently for a long moment before bending his head down to whisper something. Kozue sat up and twisted around to see Miki's face.
I pulled him away from the door as Kozue's laughter rolled out to us. "Everything, oniisan!" she crowed. "Everything!"
Miki leaned against the wall, staring up at the vaulted ceiling. His eyes were desperately sad.
Nanami watched him for a long moment, then laid a hand on Saionji's arm. "Stop. Leave him be."
"We'd better keep moving," I said, looking behind us. For a moment I half-expected to see billowing white sheets following after us, snapping out to entwine us, smother us... I shook my head sharply. "Come on," I said.
Juri walked over to Miki and placed a hand on his shoulder. He smiled wanly at her, but straightened up. We continued down the hall.
As we turned a corner, we froze. Near the end of the hall stood a boy in a Student Council uniform and a girl in a regular uniform. As we watched, she slapped him hard -- the sound rang down the corridor -- and, voice choked with sobs, cried, "Idiot!" before running away, down another hall.
The boy turned toward us, one hand on his cheek.
"Tsuwa... buki?" Nanami said, dazed.
Tsuwabuki Mitsuru dropped his hand and faced us squarely. A shock of light brown hair didn't quite hang in his eyes in front, while the length in back was apparently caught into a tight braid that reached his waist. His white uniform tunic had a double row of rose-shaped, brass buttons up the front and shining epaulets enhancing his broad shoulders. His left sleeve was half tan to match his slacks, and golden braid looped from his left shoulder to his collar. His left earlobe was pierced twice with silver hoops.
He clicked a stopwatch and looked at the face. "Nanami-san."
"Tsuwabuki, who was that?" Nanami asked, a little more sure of herself.
"Oh, nobody, nobody," he drawled. "So you are here. I wasn't sure whether to believe Toshiro or not." He casually tucked the stopwatch into his hip pocket.
"Yes," Nanami said, and paused, apparently at a loss for words.
"You shouldn't be on campus so late, Nanami-san," Tsuwabuki said, walking toward us, one hand in his pocket. He'd grown quite tall, I noticed. His cheek glowed red from the slap. "Visitors should leave by sundown, you know. Campus policy."
"Since when?" Saionji asked gruffly.
Tsuwabuki didn't spare him a glance. "The Student Council this year made that decision." He stopped in front of Nanami, looking down at her. "Shall I escort you off campus, Nanami-san?"
"I don't require a guide, Tsuwabuki-kun," Nanami said, her eyes narrowing angrily.
"But I'm sure your brother would like me to extend this kindness to you," he replied evenly. Then he lunged, seizing her wrist and pulling her against him. Gripping her around the waist with one arm, he held her left hand up with his free hand. "So, you thought you could just waltz back onto campus and join the duels again, did you, Nanami?" he hissed, eyes blazing. "There're new Duelists now, and one of us will gain Revolution -- one of us. Your Council failed, Nanami. Failed!" He stared down into her startled, upturned face. "Maybe you thought you'd get your brother back, eh? But you left him, and he's with us. Helping us. You can't stop us. You can't have him. And you can never have me again!" He shoved Nanami away hard, very suddenly.
She staggered, but before any of us could get there to steady her, she caught herself and stood, back ramrod straight, fists clenched. "Tsuwabuki!" she snapped, hands on hips, light flashing on her epaulets and the metal pips on her collar. "Don't touch me again! I've come to see my brother, and no matter what you do, you can't stop me. You have no right to even try!" She held up her left hand to show him her ring again. "This is the only ticket I require to be on campus. Remember, Tsuwabuki, I'll always be your elder!"
He stared at her, his eyes wide in horror, and backed up, one step, then two. For the first time, he seemed to notice the rest of us. He glanced over us briefly, then darted down another hallway. Saionji and Miki started forward to catch him, but when we reached the mouth of the hall, he was nowhere to be seen.
Miki paused and said, "My stopwatch! He had my stopwatch!"
Saionji looked at him strangely. "Yeah. You gave it to him. Don't you remember?"
Miki blinked at him and said, very quietly, "No."
Nanami straightened her yellow and black uniform irritably. "Come!" she snapped. "It's time we got to the bottom of this. Back to the elevators. We're going to see the Chairman."
We came to a widening in the passage that none of us remembered. As we cast around for something, anything to give us a clue as to what direction we should take, Saionji froze and looked around. "What was that?" he asked.
I listened intently, but, like the others, shook my head. Then...
"I wonder, I wonder, do you know what I wonder?" said two girls' voices, echoing eerily along the walls until the two voices broke into laughter.
We all jumped and looked around. "Who's there?" barked Saionji. My pulse pounded in my ears from the sudden adrenaline.
"I wonder, I wonder," whispered another voice, a woman's voice.
I was searching -- all of us were -- for the source, but the sound echoed in the high ceiling, making it impossible to track.
"Do you know what I wonder?" whispered the woman's voice.
Saionji seemed especially unnerved. "Who are you? Identify yourself!" he roared, a note of helplessness entering his voice.
A shadow detached from a deeper shadow near the wall and Keiko stepped in front of him. She was holding a doll in her hands, a marionette-type with jointed limbs, although there were no strings. The doll was dressed in a girl's Ohtori uniform, complete with red tie and puffed sleeves and patent leather shoes, but it had no face. Where the face should have been was a plain back oval.
The doll had little brown pigtails.
Keiko wore a white suit trimmed with red borders, tailored closely to her figure and clearly showing the high bulge of her pregnancy. Although she was wearing short, professional skirt, her jacket was cut like a tunic with a high mandarin collar, reminding me of Student Council uniforms. Her hair was cut short and stylishly, and a red purse dangled from one of her elbows.
Saionji stared down at her. "What...? What are you doing here, Keiko-san?"
Keiko ignored him, cradling the doll like a baby. "The grass of summertime grows long and green," she sang to the doll, "but it withers before autumn's cold, harsh wind..."
"Keiko?" asked Saionji. "Keiko!"
She glanced up at him, one flash from her dark eyes, before looking back down at the doll again. "Winter covers all with a blanket of snow," she half-sang, half-whispered, "but lo how they reappear with the spring thaw." Keiko rocked the doll in her arms. The jointed limbs swayed grotesquely.
He gritted his teeth so hard I could hear them grind, and I watched his knuckles go stark white on the hand gripping his katana. "Keiko-san," he repeated in an amazingly quiet and civil voice, "why are you here?"
"All has its seasons, life is a cycle, it goes round and round..." She twirled around, holding the doll up like a small child, so that its arms and legs flapped up and down. "Round and round!"
Saionji struck the doll from her hands. The doll crashed into a nearby door, then clattered to the floor. Keiko looked up at him, wide-eyed.
"Why, husband," she said, mock-innocently. "What are you doing here?"
I grabbed for his arm but missed. Juri jumped forward at the same time and we both watched helplessly as he struck --
-- and slammed sideways into the wall.
Yuuko and Aiko stood on either side of Keiko now. They had exactly the same hairstyle -- long, straight hair cut to frame their faces -- and wore exactly the same suit: grey wool skirt and jacket over a low-cut red blouse. Both wore small, wire rim glasses with red lenses, and appeared to be the same age as Keiko.
It took me a moment to realize that the two of them had thrown Saionji.
"I wanted to bring the baby to his daddy," Keiko said sweetly.
Saionji picked himself up slowly, dusting off his white uniform tunic. Gold lieutenant's bars glittered at his collar. He tucked the hat under his arm and stood with his back very straight, staring down at the trio.
"So I came here," Keiko added. "And guess what? Akio-san said that he can come to Ohtori, as soon as he's old enough!"
He stared down at her wordlessly. She smiled up at him, patting one hand on her curved belly. "I know I'll be so proud of him."
"Keiko?" Nanami asked, with just a hint of uncertainty in her voice. "Is that you?"
Keiko's face lit up. "Nanami-san! How nice to see you! Isn't it wonderful that you'll have a nephew soon?" She laced her hands over her belly proudly. I thought I caught a glint of malice in her eyes, and in the eyes of her cohorts.
"No, she won't," Saionji said in a peculiarly dead voice. I heard steel sing from its scabbard, and all of us -- except Nanami and Anthy -- leaped on him.
When we'd wrestled him to the ground and taken the weapon from him, I looked up. Keiko, Aiko, and Yuuko were gone. Nanami was glaring at the wall, her fists clenched.
Anthy helped us up. Juri held Saionji's katana, Miki held the scabbard, and Saionji remained on the floor, staring at the ceiling.
Juri sheathed the katana and tucked it through her belt. With a cynical twist to her mouth, she said, "I seem to be collecting blades. Miki-kun, if you think you're going to go mad, maybe you ought to hand me your rapier right now."
"I'll try not to, Juri-san," he replied in the same tone.
"I wonder, I wonder," whispered a little girl's voice.
We all looked around, but there was no one else in the hall, except for the broken doll lying limply on the floor.
"I could have sworn that door led to the main hall," Saionji said slowly.
"Yes," I said, scratching my head. "I mean, it did. I remember that door. It did lead back..."
"But it clearly led us outside," Juri put in, testing the door, "and then locked behind us."
"I mean to see the Chairman, dammit," Nanami growled. "We have to find a way in."
Miki sighed, rubbing his temples. "Maybe we should find someplace to sleep and come back in the morning."
"Would we be able to get back on campus in the morning?" Juri wondered. "Or would it just not be here?" She glanced aside at Anthy, who sighed.
"I suspect, at this point, that the trouble would be getting off campus," she said. "But we could look for a place to sleep." Juri gave her a very strange look, but Anthy didn't say any more.
I managed to keep my balance this time, just barely, and staggered upright with the sudden weight clinging to my back. "Hi, Wakaba."
"Still here, Utena? You'll come back tomorrow, won't you, so we can have lunch? I'll make you lunch, if you want!" She looked around at the others and stage whispered, "Just you, though, okay?"
I thought frantically. "Yeah, still here. Um, but we don't really have a place to stay the night."
She leaned over my shoulder to look at my face. "Why don't you go into town and get a motel room?"
I felt the color draining from my face, but I managed to reply, "Well, we really want to... you know... relive our Ohtori experience." Except that I didn't. Juri rolled her eyes at me and I tried to give her a look that said, "If you can do better, please, feel free." She just waved me on.
"Oh," Wakaba said dubiously. "Well, I'd offer my room, but I certainly couldn't fit all of you in there." I saw her look at Saionji quickly and blush. I eyed him suspiciously, but he shrugged. "There's always the old dorm you used to live in, Utena. I don't think anyone lives there now."
"Hey, Wakaba," I said, "why don't you come out to dinner with us? In town? We can talk more there. We've got a lot of catching up to do."
She dropped off my back and stretched with a little laugh. "I'd love to, Utena, but I've got a date." She twirled away from me. "And you remember, Utena. A date is something two people do by themselves!" Then, with a wave, she ran off into the gathering darkness.
Despite the heat, a cold chill ran down my spine. I gave Anthy a worried look, but she was watching after Wakaba, brow furrowed.
"Well, that idea was a bust," Nanami said smugly. "How about we get back to trying to get into the tower? Hey, you --" she turned to Anthy, "-- isn't there a way into the tower that's never locked?"
Anthy eyed her coldly. "It will be locked if he wants it locked."
"Damn, it's hot," I muttered, wiping sweat off my neck.
Juri hissed, "We're being watched!" and took off toward a niche. A figure bolted out of the shadows.
We all ran after Juri, though Saionji and I outstripped the rest in catching up with her. Our quarry was pretty fast. I managed to make out that it was someone in a pale uniform, possibly a Student Council uniform, and that it was probably male by the height and shoulders.
There was one turn, another, another, and then... open space and no sight of anyone. The three of us paused, listening. We could hear the others following us and nothing else.
Robert's mocking voice rang down from above. "'Still with unhurrying chase,/And unperturbed pace,/Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,/Came on the following Feet,/And a Voice above their beat-/"Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me."'"
He leaned over the railing of a level above us, smiling until the others came into sight of him, his white uniform, plainer than those of the Student Council and somehow more martial, glowing in the light of the just-risen moon. He blew a kiss to Miki. By that time, Juri had found the stairs up, and he bolted again.
We lost him again in the labyrinth of white buildings, which all began to look the same. As we stood, swinging our heads back and forth as if trying to catch a scent, his voice echoed along several passages: "'On with the dance! let joy be unconfined;/No sleep till morn, when Youth and Pleasure meet/To chase the glowing Hours with flying feet.'"
Juri and Saionji bolted down one shadowy arcade. I was about to follow when Chu-Chu yanked my hair. I saw him out of the corner of my eye, pointing frantically down another way. I followed his direction, the English of Robert's quotations jarring on my ear in this place that was, for me, ineffably tied to my life in Japan.
"'I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.
We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.'"
I turned a corner, turned again, sprinted up a set of stairs, Chu-Chu steering me like a horse by the reins of my hair. At one point I heard Saionji curse somewhere nearby, but I never saw him.
With some effort, I jumped, caught a railing over my head, and hauled myself up. Robert's voice was very close and hardly echoing at all, so I did my best to land on the balcony quietly. I missed whatever he said next, but as I crept forward, I heard,
"'This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to --'"
I tackled him at the waist, bringing him to the ground and knocking the breath out of him in a whoosh. He turned, quick as a snake to attack me. I grappled with him. A second or so later, Juri and Saionji joined the struggle. Saionji managed to catch Robert on the jaw with his fist, and I worked on twisting the arm I had...
And then Juri did something I didn't see, and all the fight went out of Robert with a pained squeak.
We hauled him to his feet and he managed to say, "'Huntsman, rest! thy chase is done.'" I shoved him face-first against the wall. The others caught up with us at last.
"You know, I could lose my job over this," commented Juri, without heat. She took handcuffs out of her coat pocket and snapped them professionally over Robert's wrists, which she held in an easy one-handed grip behind his back.
Robert looked disdainful and a little amused. I wasn't sure how much of that was an act and how much of it was for Miki's benefit. I glanced over at Miki, who turned his back to this little scene. Anthy put an arm around his shoulders and spoke to him in a low voice. Robert said, "'But popular rage,/Hysterica passio dragged this quarry down./None shared our guilt; nor did we play a part/Upon a painted stage when we devoured his heart.'" Nanami snorted derisively.
We moved off the balcony, down some nearby stairs, Juri shoving Robert along. I looked around. We'd ended up in a disused part of campus, next to the ruins of a burned-out building which, I was quite sure, had spawned rumors of some sort of a haunting. I couldn't remember any details of the stories, but we were not in a mood to be frightened of rumored ghosts, in any case.
We studied one another's faces in the dim light, wondering what to do next. Juri tactfully interposed herself between Robert and Miki, absently -- or perhaps not so absently - twisting Robert's arm a little in her firm grip, so that he had to turn away.
I spun around at the voice, as did Saionji and Nanami. There was a... man leaning against the steps of the ruined building. He hadn't been there a moment before, I was sure. He was wearing a school uniform, although he seemed a little old for it... As I stared at him, convinced that I remembered him from somewhere, he turned his face towards me in the deep blue light of the Ohtori evening.
"Mikage-sem-- san!" I blinked, trying to sort through a cascade of memories. "What are you doing here?" I looked up at the blackened ruin suspiciously, which I was remembering as a tall white building, although I knew perfectly well that it had been burned down long before I had started as a student at Ohtori.
He laughed a short, humorless, laugh. "I'm not," he said enigmatically.
I glanced aside at Nanami, who frowned ferociously, evidently struggling with memory as well. I was relieved that I wasn't the only one.
"But... you graduated, didn't you?" I asked. He'd certainly been older than me, and had left, rather suddenly -- I rocked back on my heels as the memories impacted. The duel. I'd dueled him. The black roses.
Some of this must have registered on my face, because he nodded and started down the steps. "I did. But I'd spent too much time here, you see."
I could see the steps through him, faintly. Involuntarily, I looked down; he had feet.
He noticed this and laughed again, with more amusement this time. "No, I'm not a ghost in the way you think. Yet I am, really, a ghost of a ghost, worn as thin and brittle as a dead petal. Mikage left a long time ago. I am merely... memories."
"What do you mean?" Nanami demanded abruptly.
I blinked. Behind him, the building suddenly reared up tall and white, almost glowing in the dusk, as though it had never been a ruin. He didn't look transparent any more, either.
He shrugged one shoulder at her, leaning casually against the suddenly solid handrail. "Too much time," he said thoughtfully, "Besides, he changed his mind and wanted me back. And I... I didn't have a way of refusing."
Nanami raised her voice. "You mean the Chairman?"
Mikage shrugged. "Who else? And even if I would be a ghost in the world outside, here I am eternal. Like everything else. I suppose he thought he had a use for me."
Robert murmured suddenly, in a dreamy tone, "'But thy eternal summer shall not fade, Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st.'"
"The trouble with eternal summer," said Anthy sadly from behind us, "Is that it really isn't all that different from eternal winter."
Mikage looked at her with an expression of such bitter regret that I couldn't help feeling sorry for him. Anthy looked back at him, her eyes reflecting something only he could see. Mikage dropped his eyes first.
"In any case," he said, "Here I am, still here. No, here I am not a ghost."
"'Nor shall death boast thou wandrest in his shade,'" added Robert.
"Will someone shut him up?" demanded Nanami. "I've had it up to here with his stale quotations."
"Look," I said. "Mikage-san..." He turned to look at me, adjusting the little glasses down his nose. He wore a Rose Signet on that hand. "You're here on his... whim?"
He nodded. "And you aren't?"
"No," I said, although a cold chill passed over me as I said it.
"I see," he said politely. "Well, I dare say we shall not meet again. Farewell, Tenjou-kun."
I nodded to him, bitterly disappointed. I don't know what I had hoped, but surely Mikage would have reason to hate... the Chairman. He seemed so... devastated at the end of our duel. But that was a long time ago.
He said, "And farewell to you all. I hope I will not see you again. He," and we all knew of whom he spoke, "must be desperate indeed to be unwilling to let even me go."
I looked at him, startled, and he smiled. "You really aren't much like Tokiko, are you, Tenjou-kun? Good luck." And he turned and went up the steps and through the double doors of the building.
I stared up at the facade of the building for a moment, trying to make out where the flickering red light was coming from, before it faded and we were standing in the shadow of a dark, solid, ordinary-looking building which hadn't been there a few moments before.
"Well," said Juri thoughtfully into the silence. "That was weird."
She wore a Student Council uniform: a white jacket, tailored to her long, slender waistline, left sleeve adorned with three chevrons of deep, royal blue along the forearm, and slacks of a matching blue. It hung loosely on her ascetic, muscular body. She stood perfectly still with the sort of alert poise that speaks of intense training. After a moment, the sound of footsteps approached, and she thrust herself off from the wall with the controlled power of her hands.
"Where have you been?" she asked the boy coming up the walk in a mellifluous, but also peevish, voice. The heavy braid of her dark hair snapped behind her with irritation as she stepped onto the path to meet him. "I've been waiting here for over an hour. You know, if you hadn't insisted on moving onto campus, it wouldn't be so difficult for me to find you."
Fujiwara brushed his dark hair back from his face irritably. "What do you want, Hoshiko?" he asked in a tired sort of voice.
She stretched, spreading her arms out in a graceful pose and carefully arching each foot, before stepping forward to poke a long finger into the center of his chest. "I want to know how the hell you could let her win the Rose Bride, Yukio! What were you thinking?"
"I wasn't thinking, I was dueling," he said shortly, running a hand through his forelock.
"Oh, always a clever comeback! Isn't that just like my oniisama?" The last word was said with the most overpowering sarcasm I had ever heard. Hoshiko tilted her head back on her almost impossibly graceful neck, as though addressing the moths that still swarmed around the light overhead. "Don't you have anything in you besides clever remarks and sarcastic comments?" She looked back at him, took another step, leaning in close. "That's why you couldn't keep the Rose Bride, Yukio, you just don't care! You have no drive, no passion! Isn't there anything, anything at all you want?"
Her brother stared at her, then took a step back, out of the circle of light. "Hoshiko, must you yell in my face? She cheated. We're not supposed to draw blood, you know." He indicated the thin slash along one cheek.
"Poor, poor Yukio. His beauty is gone forever," said Hoshiko in a softer voice, a parody of maternalism. She raised a hand and patted the slash with exaggerated tenderness, and Yukio froze in surprise. "Whoever shall love him now?" she added, turning away lightly.
Yukio closed his eyes. "Why don't we skip answering that question, Hoshiko? I don't really want to seem more pathetic than necessary."
"Pathetic! That's all you are! You're nothing but a pathetic poser. Why I ever thought you could keep the Rose Bride, I don't know. You don't care about anything! All you do is pose." She turned her back on him, hands on hips. "Are you ever going to move back to the house, or are you going to continue to pose here for all your little groupies?"
He drifted closer, back into the circle of light. "Hoshiko..." he began.
"Well," she said, spinning to face him. "I have better things to do than stand outside your precious dorm. I have to get up for practice at 5 am. Will you be sleeping in as usual?" she finished with saccharine sweetness.
He said nothing.
Infuriated, she stood up on tiptoe to say into his face, "If I had the Rose Bride, I wouldn't have lost her! And do you know why? Because I have something I care about, something I want, something I desire strongly enough to revolutionize the world for! Isn't there any passion like that in you? Isn't there anything you want?" She shook her head with impatience, then, with a graceful leap, she left her pool of light and ran off into the gloom.
Fujiwara stared after her for a moment, then sighed and looked up at the light and the moths circling around it. "Yes," he said, apparently to the lamp-post. "Hoshiko..." He fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a small cell phone. Flipping it open, he stared for a long moment at the Ohtori rose on the mouthpiece, then pressed a button.
"It's me. Yukio. Are you free? Very well. I'll be right over." He closed the phone, stared at it for a moment, then slid it back into his pocket.
As he strode back down the walk, away from the dorm, the streetlight flickered out. As the moths began to disperse in confusion, a bat flashed through them, feeding.
"Are you all right?" she asked softly.
I turned my head, leaving the top of it against the wall, and smiled. "Yeah, I think I just got dehydrated or something. Feeling a little queasy. Running in this heat isn't a good idea."
She brushed my hair out of my face with gentle fingers. "You're looking a little pale. Why don't you come over here and sit down with me?" I nodded and went with her. She kept an arm around me as we sat down.
Juri nodded to us, then turned to Robert. The Englishman leaned back against a pillar, his manacled hands splayed flat against the stone, and his formerly neat auburn hair hung in his face, drenched with sweat. Juri crossed her arms and assumed an extremely patient expression. I could almost see her consciously slipping on her professional mask.
"So," she began, "I think you have a story you want to tell us. Why don't you get started?"
Robert laughed shortly. "You're awfully confident of that, Arisugawa-san."
She leaned close, forcing him to press his head back against the pillar behind him. "I'm a police officer, Denver. I have a great deal of patience with this sort of thing. And I'm also deeply aware of the... liquidity of reality here. It's entirely possible that anything I might do to you here just wouldn't ever have happened once I leave. I'm not sure what would happen. But think of the fun we could have finding out."
"Juri-san," Miki said softly. "I think I ought to handle this."
Juri stepped back and bowed to Miki. Robert smiled. Miki, back straight and head held high, stepped forward.
And decked Robert with a right cross.
Miki rubbed his knuckles and smiled grimly down at Robert, who had fallen to the pavement. "What say, old boy?" Miki said with a perfect imitation of an English accent. "Shall we settle this man to man? Or are you ready to tell me how you came to be here..." he used a broad gesture to indicate the whole of the academy, "and sleeping with my sister?"
Robert looked up at him, and for the first time I saw a little fear and respect mingled there. He laughed ruefully. "'That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend/Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.' Not that you really have that much force, Miki, dear -- usually -- but you know my habit, a quotation for every occasion... I guess you learned more at Oxford than we intended." He struggled to sit up, and none of us helped him. "I met Kozue two years ago, while I was teaching English at another school. She was living in an artists' enclave in Tokyo, and we went to the same nightclubs. One thing led to another." He shot a glance up at Miki. "Your sister is hard to resist when she's got her sights set. You were always delightful, Miki dear, but you just couldn't equal her passion. Her hunger." His gaze drifted off to the darkness and he murmured again, "Her hunger."
Miki's fists clenched, but he restrained himself. "So you got involved. What then?" he asked tightly.
Robert's attention came back from wherever it had wandered. "She was invited back to school here, and she was excited because she'd started teaching herself to write music and thought someone here would help her. I helped her move back onto campus. And I met him."
There was a gentle emphasis to the last word that brought my attention -- which had been focused on my own discomfort -- back to Robert's face.
"He offered me a job. The pay was good, I took it. He and Kozue became very... close. I got the feeling that there was something going on, some kind of planning. They asked me to go back to Oxford, find you, keep tabs on you. I owed him... and her, so I did. Besides, they were willing to pay pretty handsomely for it." Robert tossed his head to get the hair out of his face. "It turned out to be a rather pleasant job, anyway. You really are a dear. I felt a bit bad about it all. But we had some fun, eh?"
Emotions tore across Miki's face, but he finally mastered his expression enough to favor Robert with a glare that would have done Nanami proud. He turned on his heel and walked away. "Hey, Nanami, why don't we go around this way and see if there's any open doors?" He glanced over his shoulder at Juri. "Do whatever you want with him. I'm finished here."
Juri motioned for them to wait a moment. She fished Nanami's dagger out of her belt and handed it over. "Just in case," she said, then handed Saionji his katana. Miki and Nanami moved off into the nearby quad.
"'Yet dearly I love You, and would be lovéd fain,
But am betrothed unto Your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again;
Take me to You, imprison me, for I,
Except You enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except You ravish me.'"
I was following the poetry without too much trouble, my ear having been trained by my years in English-speaking countries. But I wasn't sure whether he was speaking to Miki or not.
Juri turned back to the Englishman. "So, what should I do with you, then? I suspect that we should at least keep track of you." She hauled him up off the ground by his lapels. Saionji stepped behind him. "Anything else you'd like to tell us about whatever the Chairman is planning?"
He shrugged awkwardly. "I don't really know much of anything. I know about the duels, I suppose."
"How did he choose the Rose Bride this time?" Juri asked, her voice amazingly steady.
With perhaps more perception than he ought to have shown, Robert said, "'O Rose, thou art sick!/The invisible worm/That flies in the night,/In the howling storm,/Has found out thy bed/Of crimson joy,/And his dark secret love/Does thy life destroy.'"
Juri's jaw tightened, then she turned to Anthy and me. "Utena, you look like crap. Why don't you take a walk, find some water or something? See if you can find an open door. I agree with Nanami, it's time to take this to the top of the tower."
He sighed and set the water bottle down. With a touch of playfulness, he swung the foil a few times like a broadsword. Then he straightened his glasses and stood to attention.
"So, Yukio-sempai! I have challenged you!" he bellowed (as best he could). He drew the sword up to salute. "Have at you!" He began to dance across the floor, driving his imaginary opponent before him. "Ha! Haha! There! Well struck! Ah, close, very close, sempai, but not close enough! There! Ha! Dodge this! And this! And so!" He lashed out and delicately sliced the air.
He immediately bowed. "Well fought, Yukio-sempai, but I believe the Bride is mine now, by right. Thank you, I enjoyed the bout. Yes, yes, I look forward to a rematch as well." Toshiro stepped back and extended his arm. "Come, Hoshiko-san."
With his imaginary Bride on his arm, he departed the salle.
Anthy was looking up at me, concerned. "Utena?"
I shook my head. "It's all right. Just a little woozy still from the run."
"Did you get hit?" she asked, reaching up to run gentle fingers over the back of my head.
"Not that I remember," I said, smiling sheepishly at the feebleness of my joke. She smiled back and continued to check my skull over with her fingers.
"Nothing," she admitted finally.
"It'd hurt anyway if I had," I pointed out. "And I don't hurt. I just feel kind of... thick. Like this air! God!"
Anthy looked around. "I'm not sure we're going to find a way in until he opens the doors for us. Although, I suppose, he might only open one way to make sure we go through his funhouse by the correct path."
"Didn't we just do the funhouse?" I asked.
Anthy sighed. She paused to test a door. It was locked.
"I'm sorry, I..." he began, then stopped. Kozue stood in front of him, having just emerged from the building. Her jacket was open to her waist, and there wasn't a shirt underneath. The slight swell of her breasts were just barely visible in the shadow of the uniform.
"Well, Miki-chan, I'm glad I ran into you," she said. "We really haven't had a chance to talk, have we? Why don't you come inside?" She took hold of his wrist and drew him, stunned and unresisting, through the doorway. She glanced over her shoulder. "You can go, Shiori."
The Rose Bride, eyes downcast, hurried past the pair, straightening the tie of her uniform and tucking in the blouse. I noticed that she closed the door softly.
"W-why was she here?" Miki finally managed to say as Kozue drew him into the piano room.
Kozue smiled, her eyes narrowing slightly. "I'm the Victor, and she's the Rose Bride." She sat on the chair in front of the piano and pulled him down next to her. Her hands began to float over the keys, eliciting the beginning strains of "The Sunlit Garden" from the instrument. Miki's hands, as if by a will of their own, began to play his part of the duet.
"Why are you here, Kozue?" he asked after a moment.
"Reclaiming my birthright," she said, adding a bit of counterpoint that twirled gently around Miki's melodic line. "What about you?"
He was silent, and he improvised on his line, taking hold of her counterpoint and leading her firmly back to their usual sound. "I want to bring you out of this place," he admitted. "It's not healthy for you." He glanced aside at her, then looked quickly back at the keyboard. Her jacket was hanging more open than before.
Her counterpoint slipped away from his improvisation and sidled up next to it, following it with a flirtatious mocking air. "I'm happier than I've ever been before, Miki-chan," she said gently.
"Kozue-chan," he began, then drew both improvisation and counterpoint back to the normal line. "Kozue, why do you need to be here? You're brilliant. You could get into any music school in the world!" His fingers created an angry riff of chords that left her at the melody while he danced away into the wide world.
Her melody took on an almost martial air. "I need to finish it, Miki," she said. "I can't finish it anywhere else." She interpolated a theme from the music we'd first heard her playing, one that caught his wandering chords in a net and turned them to her own purposes.
"Why do you duel, then?" He struggled to free himself with a long, sliding cascade of notes, but he just ended up against her line of the original song again, pressed there by the weight of her creation.
"Because that's how I'll gain the power to finish it," she whispered as her practiced fingers wrapped steely chords around his dancing improvisation, locking him against her in the surging melody that was now entirely of her own making.
"I..." He struggled in her grip, trying to find his way back, a way to finish the song, to get away from this duel before...
In a crash of notes, she turned suddenly and straddled his hips, ripping his uniform jacket open. He gasped as bare skin touched bare skin.
"I want all my birthright," she whispered against his mouth, "including you."
Saionji dropped onto a stone bench nearby, and Robert lowered himself to the seat with care. Robert watched Saionji's face carefully as he glowered at the locked building, his hands twitching from time to time around his restored katana. After a few minutes of silence, the Englishman ventured:
"' In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.'"
Saionji turned an angry, disbelieving stare upon him.
"'I said, "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter - bitter," he answered;
"But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart."'"
After a moment's silence, Saionji said, "If I hear another word of English out of you, I'll kill you with my bare hands."
There was a pause. Then Robert said, in Japanese, "Your English isn't very good, is it?"
She stopped short, staring ahead, then said, "Wait up a second!"
The girl in the Student Council uniform turned to look at her. "Yes?" she said politely.
Nanami walked up to her and bowed slightly. "You're on the Student Council, yes?"
The dark-haired girl bowed in response. "I have that honor."
The blonde folded her arms so as to display her rose signet prominently. "I am Kiryuu Nanami, and I understood that I had an appointment with the Chairman, but I can't seem to get into the main building. Could I trouble you to help me?" This was Nanami as I most disliked her, very reminiscent of the old days.
"Kiryuu Nanami-san?" the girl asked, her violet eyes lighting up. "Really? I'm so glad to meet you at last!" She bowed. "I am Fujiwara Hoshiko, Student Council Faculty Liaison."
Nanami bowed to Hoshiko after a short pause. "Pleased to meet you."
"Have you seen Touga-san yet?" Hoshiko asked, smiling. "Have you heard?"
"Heard?" echoed Nanami, a note of confusion in her voice.
Dark eyes shone in the dim light. "I'm so pleased to meet you. You're the first person I will have told! Touga and I... well... we're engaged!"
One of the lights along the path behind Hoshiko sizzled briefly and expired. Nanami's eyes flicked to it for a second before her face settled into a wide smile. "Well! Such news!" She stepped forward and offered her hand, Western-style. "Congratulations!"
Hoshiko stared at her hand for a moment, then took it warmly. "For a long time, I wished that I could have been you. To have a brother as wonderful as Touga-san. My brother is so... cold. But now I'll have a husband like Touga-san!" She giggled, covering her mouth with one hand.
Another of the lights, a little closer, went out with a faintly audible pop. Nanami continued to smile, though the expression grew more... fixed. "Well, well," she said carefully. "I hope that you'll come to call me 'big sister' in time, Hoshiko-san."
The girl's face was radiant. "He talks about you all the time, but I never thought I'd get a chance to meet you before the wedding, you living so far away and all."
One after another in rapid succession, the other nearby lights blew out in showers of sparks. Hoshiko looked around in the sudden darkness, startled. "I wonder what happened?"
Nanami, her face invisible in the darkness, said, "A fuse blew, I suppose."
"God, Anthy, I don't remember it being so damned hot here," I said, allowing her to lead me since it had become too much effort to keep my eyes open.
"Utena, it's just not that hot," she said as we shuffled along.
"How can you say that? It's so hot... and humid, Anthy. I can barely breathe." In fact, it was hurting my chest to do so, as if a great weight were pressing down on me and I was helpless to get it off.
"You're burning up," she said, her blissfully cool hand drifting over my face. "Damn." She evidently didn't enjoy the sensation of being puzzled. She was frowning ferociously.
"This door's locked too," I said after feebly twisting the knob.
Anthy tried it to no avail as well. "Damn, damn, damn," she muttered.
"I dunno how much longer I can walk like this, Anthy," I said. The weight was beginning to crush my chest. I coughed and my whole body hurt.
She eyed me for a moment, then said, "Let's find you a seat so you can wait for me to come back with water."
We walked in silence for a few moments, and somehow we came out of our current path into the courtyard that contained the Birdcage. "Look, Anthy!" I said dazedly, pointing. "The Rose Garden. D'you remember all the times we spent in there, just talking? It was always so quiet there. Cool. It'd be a nice cool place to sit. Why don't we, Anthy?"
She looked at me very dubiously, then attempted to lead me away. "Come on, Utena. I don't think that's a very good idea..."
"Aw, no, Anthy, 've gotta siddown." It was so hot and I couldn't breathe and my arms and legs felt like they'd been beaten. "Can't keep walking. It'd be nice in there." I started for the Garden door, towing Anthy with me by her grip on my arm.
"Utena, that would be a really bad idea," she said, trying to stop me by digging in her feet. I kept blundering along.
"Jus' a few minutes, Anthy," I slurred. "Just to sit a few. M'head hurts, m'eyes hurt, I can't keep walkin'..." I had the door to the Garden open now.
Anthy peered inside, then around us, and shook her head. "All right, fine. You sit down here." She helped lower me onto a little bench near the door. "Wait here. Don't go anywhere. I'm going to get you some water, okay?"
"'Kay." I put my head on my knees. I heard her footsteps hurry away.
Robert shifted. "My arms are starting to hurt a bit."
"Tough luck," Saionji muttered. "Arisugawa has the keys."
"So," said Robert brightly. "I hear you know Kiryuu Touga really... well. He's quite a man, isn't he?"
"In what way?" Saionji inquired icily.
"I'm sure you know what I mean."
"I'm sure I don't," said Saionji repressively.
But it obviously took more than Saionji to repress Robert. "He told me himself what good... friends you used to be. Did you really invite Akio to--"
"SHUT UP!" bellowed Saionji, lunging up off the bench. "I don't have to take this from you!"
Robert, startled, retained enough poise to look innocently up at Saionji. "Was it something I said?"
She jerked around. The Rose Bride was suddenly standing in the open courtyard, in front of the fountain. "Shiori!" Juri exclaimed.
"Juri-san," Shiori said, her sweetest smile shining happily upon her oldest friend. "I'm so glad to see you."
"Really?" Juri managed a relatively cool tone. "You didn't even remember me earlier."
Shiori stepped forward and gazed up into Juri's face. "It's just that you've changed so much, Juri-san." She reached up and touched Juri's short hair. "Your poor hair. I thought you'd keep it long forever, in those beautiful curls."
Juri stepped back a few feet, running a self-conscious hand through her cropped hair. "I looked like an idiot in those curls," she muttered uncomfortably. She turned away from Shiori and the fountain and started toward the opposite corner of the courtyard. "So, you... what are you still doing here?"
"What do you mean?" Shiori said, standing at her elbow. Juri startled back, turning to face the Rose Bride, whose eyes were concealed by moonlight reflecting off the lenses of those glasses she now wore. "I'm here because I'm always here. I'm the Rose Bride."
Juri took another step back, this time towards the center of the courtyard. "Now," she said gruffly. "There was a different Bride when I was dueling."
Shiori circled her thoughtfully, then stepped in close. "Are you going to duel again, Juri-san?" She seemed earnest, almost desperate. "Will you duel?"
Juri took another step backward and the heel of her shoe scraped against the fountain's basin. She half-turned to her left, but Shiori closed the distance and pressed against her, leaning her head and hands against Juri's chest.
"You could duel for me, Juri-san. And keep me! I'm so tired of being passed from one person to another." She looked up, tears brightening her eyes. "Kozue's so cruel, Juri-san. Look! She's hurt me." Shiori held up her wrists, displaying livid, finger-sized bruises in the pale skin there. "You wouldn't hurt me, would you?" She laid her head against Juri again. "You would never be cruel."
Juri looked up at the star-studded sky. "I could never be as cruel," she said hoarsely, "as you."
Shiori slid her arms around Juri's waist. "I never meant to be cruel. Not really. Not to you."
"Yes," Juri said, her voice coming clearer now. "Yes, you did. Don't you remember the first boy you 'stole' from me? You did it to hurt, not knowing that I didn't care for him. And then... and then..." She swallowed. "I saw you kiss Ruka, standing here, by this fountain. You did that to hurt me, to try to steal someone else from me, although you got more tangled in it than you bargained for. And now, now you're still doing it, riding the coattails of power and convincing yourself that you're worth something because you can make people hurt."
Shiori raised her head now, startled. "What do you mean?"
With gentle but inexorable pressure, Juri freed herself from Shiori's grip and left her standing in the shadow of the fountain. Shiori shouted after her, "What do you mean? Juri? Juri! You owe me an answer!"
Juri turned to face her. "You've found your power and your identity now, Rose Bride. How do you like it? You don't like being hurt? So stop doing it to yourself! Take off those glasses and tell Kozue to leave you alone! Don't come to me for rescue!" She whirled away, only to come face-to-face with Shiori again.
"It's not that easy. You know that." The Rose Bride reached up to touch Juri's face. "I liked the look in your eyes when you were hurt. I liked it."
Juri drew a ragged breath, but her voice was still firm. "Shiori. Don't."
Shiori took Juri's face in her hands and stretched up so that her breath fell across the older woman's lips. "You pretend to be stronger than anyone, but now you're here, the truth shows..."
Their lips hovered inches apart. "In dreams, I'm still the one you hold and kiss and touch, aren't I, Juri? One of your lovers left you because you called my name once instead of hers. You'll never, ever be rid of me, not so long as I am the face that you want to come home to."
Shiori sprang away, shoving Juri backwards as she did so. Juri staggered and caught herself, staring at the Rose Bride, whose expression was unreadable again, thanks to the reflections on the glasses. "But I am engaged to Kaoru Kozue-sama," she told Juri. "I belong to the Victor of the Duels." She turned and walked away slowly, calling, "Good night, Juri-san," over her shoulder.
Juri ran a hand through her hair, taking long, slow breaths. She mechanically buttoned the uniform jacket back up and straightened the braid. I saw her hand go to the front of the jacket, but she caught herself and yanked it away angrily. Then she walked off, her footsteps ringing crisply on the stone.
Tsuwabuki stepped into the elevator and turned around, holding the doors open with one hand automatically. Fujiwara Yukio stepped into the elevator. Tsuwabuki stared at him, and let the doors close.
"Mitsuru-kun," Yukio said coolly as the elevator began moving up. "And what are you doing here this time of night?"
Tsuwabuki looked away from Yukio. "I-I-I have an... appointment."
Yukio, in a faintly amused tone, said, "What a coincidence. So do I. To discuss Student Council matters."
"Yes," Mitsuru said, a little too quickly. "Yes, that's what mine is about too."
A pause, in which only the hum of the elevator was audible.
"I always find these meetings," Yukio said genially, watching Mitsuru out of the corner of his eye "very... educational."
Tsuwabuki looked away from Yukio, at the blank wall of the elevator. His one visible ear started to turn red.
"Also, of course, Student Council business is so... pressing right now."
Tsuwabuki's ear turned redder.
There was another pause. Then the chime sounded and the elevator doors slid open.
"Enjoy your meeting, Mitsuru-kun," said Yukio, as the younger boy stepped out of the elevator and turned, looking wide-eyed at him. Fujiwara Yukio smiled slightly. "I guess this is your stop. My... appointment's on the next floor up."
"Er, good evening, Yukio-sempai," stammered Tsuwabuki.
"Maybe we should get together afterwards and compare notes," replied the older boy, thoughtfully.
There was a long pause, as Tsuwabuki stared at Yukio, his face flaming crimson.
The doors of the elevator began to close. Just before they touched, Yukio said, "Just kidding."
Chu-Chu stood between him and Robert, kicking Robert's leg again and again.
Robert glowered sullenly down at Chu-Chu, his own sock shoved in his mouth.
The air outside was moving, at least, and I could look up and see the stars, those cool, clear points of light. I took my shoes and socks off when I realized I was walking on grass, and it was nice to feel the cool blades of grass slide between my toes as I wandered, shoes in my hand.
The fever was, I think, starting to recede. I could feel the breeze blowing my hair and cooling the sweat on my scalp and neck. I could take deep breaths and not hurt. Even the pain in my limbs was starting to fade.
I saw the shadow of a tree ahead and recognized it as the tree we'd been gathered around earlier. A motion drew my eye to the side of it, and I saw a familiar, beloved profile in the moonlight.
"Oh, hey, Wakaba!" I called, waving my arm.
She didn't respond, but she stepped toward the tree and stretched up on tiptoe, reaching for something.
I felt good enough to jog a bit, so I did. I called again, "Wakaba!"
As if she didn't hear me -- though she had to have -- she turned and ran off across the lawn toward one of the side gates.
I started to call her name a third time, but gave it up as useless. I continued on my path, wondering what she'd been doing.
Another shadow detached itself from the trunk of the tree.
Ohtori Akio stood, limned in moonlight, his red shirt open, his tie in his hand.
I stopped and stared. He smiled at me and walked closer.
"Wa... ka... ba..." I said slowly, sadly.
"Utena," he said, his voice silky. "That's right, you're an old friend of my fiancee, aren't you?" He stopped in front of me, one hand in a pocket, the other hand trailing the tie over his shoulder. "Would you like to be maid of honor? Or maybe best man would fit you better now?"
My vision clouded. Despite the fact I was feeling better, my head still hurt and my eyes -- something was weird with my eyes. I couldn't make them focus quite right, like I was looking at the world through heat waves. I blinked them clearer and glared at him as best I could. "Leave her the hell alone, you pervert," I snarled.
He feigned surprise. "Can it be you're jealous, Utena? Really, I'm sure she'd be all right with you and I..."
"Stop it!" I snapped. "Stop it, stop it, stop it. I despise you. Leave my friend alone. Let her go!"
His hand caught my chin and drew me close to him. Suddenly, I was fourteen again and terrified and confused. "I never let anyone go," he whispered. "They may leave me, but given a chance, they'll always come back."
I stared at him, appalled, and couldn't make words come out of my mouth.
"You have a choice, you know," he continued, gently releasing me. "Give me Anthy. Give her back to me. I'm the only one who can give her what she needs. And you can have your little friend."
I laughed. Suddenly, right there, in his face.
He drew back, affronted, and covered it by buttoning up his shirt and retying his tie. "I don't know what you think is so funny about the facts. About a deal for your friend's life."
"As if I would give you Anthy," I said scornfully, "even if she was mine to give."
"You won her, Victor," he said, starting to walk off. "I'll win her back if I must. I hope you've brushed up your dueling skills. After all, this is my game."
"You don't understand anything, do you?" I asked. "No one can win Anthy or give Anthy or keep Anthy anymore!"
"Well, that's too bad," his voice drifted back to me. I was losing sight of him, one shadow in a wavering forest of other shadows. "Because once the current Rose Bride has done her job, I'll need another Bride. And it will be either Anthy or your friend."
I stared after him as he strode away. As he disappeared into the main building, Anthy ran up to me from along the fence. "Utena, are you all right?" She was breathing hard, and glanced after Akio once before focusing on me.
I nodded slowly and looked at her. The world was still strangely shimmery, but at least I felt better. She held up a cup of water that miraculously was still half-full. I drained it gratefully, then pulled her against me.
"He's... Wakaba's engaged to him," I murmured in her ear.
"Oh... damn," she replied. "Utena, I'm sorry."
"It's all right. It'll be all right." I looked up at the stars, then back down to her face. "The good guys always win, right?"
The expression in her eyes was awfully sad as she looked back at me, but then she stretched up and kissed me. "Come on," she said after we broke apart, "We need to go round up the others." She didn't answer my question. Then she backed out to arm's length, still holding my hands, and looked me over. "Well," she said finally. "You still look hot in that outfit."
I looked down. I was back in my old uniform -- the black jacket and red shorts. I blinked. "But," I said faintly, "it doesn't fit anymore."
Miki scrambled up moments later, looking back over his shoulder. He looked awfully rumpled. He was holding his uniform tunic together in the front with one hand. When he saw us, he skidded to a halt and fumbled to try to get the fastenings together.
Juri appeared from a dark archway and strode straight toward us. Miki hurried and fell into step with her. It was a little strange, seeing them like that -- I kept expecting Miki to be the shorter one.
They joined our little group. Miki's hair was in disarray. Juri was extremely grim. We all mumbled greetings to each other.
Nanami finally arrived, stomping her feet with an angry emphasis worthy of Saionji. "So, now that we've found each other, what are we going to do now?" she snapped when she reached us.
"Find some place to sleep," Miki said firmly. "I'm not going into that building again tonight."
"What?" Nanami asked. "You got inside?"
Miki just glowered.
Juri leaned against a wall and said nothing. I glanced uneasily at her profile, silhouetted against the building lights behind.
"I suppose we should try my old dorm, then," I suggested. "If things haven't changed, there should be plenty of empty rooms."
"The haunted dorm?" asked Nanami, with a touch of sarcasm in her voice.
"This whole place is haunted," muttered Saionji.
"By the living," Miki added.
I looked askance at Anthy. "Can we get there?"
She nodded without hesitation. "It's part of campus. We should be able to find it without any problems."
I looked around. Everyone milled about in preparation to move along. Just as Saionji reached for Robert's arm, the Englishman spat out his sock. "Look, if you want me to walk," he said reasonably, "I need my sock and boot."
With sharp, angry motions, Miki snatched up his sock and knelt to put it on him. Robert smiled and said, "Thank you, Miki. Even though you're more used to taking my clothes off..."
There was a pause as we all stared at the two of them. Miki was frozen in mid-motion. Then he dropped sock and boot and stood up. "You never did know when to shut up," Miki snarled, and marched away in the direction of the dorm.
Saionji bared his teeth in a grin and gave Robert a shove to get him moving. "I'm beginning to like Kaoru an awful lot."
I drifted ahead of the rest with Juri. "Are you all right, sem-- Juri?" I asked hesitantly.
She shrugged, one hand drifting to the front of her jacket aimlessly. "We all knew we were in for some pain when we came along, Utena." Then she stopped dead.
Her hands tore at the jacket front until it came open. A golden locket tumbled out into the light. She stared down at it as if it were a live cobra. Then she reached for it and popped it open with one hand.
I was close enough to see a small photo of Shiori, face-on, in the Rose Bride dress.
Juri froze. I wasn't even sure if she was breathing. She stared at it for a long time; I stared at her, and was only peripherally aware of the others straggling to a halt behind us.
Then she closed her hand around the locket and pulled. I winced, thinking of the fine chain digging into her neck. It held for a surprisingly long time before it snapped, the tiny sound clearly audible in the sudden and eerie silence. A single golden link flashed in the light and was gone.
Juri tightened her hand around the locket until her knuckles whitened. Then she flung it to the ground and crushed it under her heel. The fragments remained a moment before melting into nothingness.
She tore the uniform jacket off and threw it across the grass, then stood there, breathing hard, staring after it. "Bastard," she hissed. "Bastard."
She strode off after Miki.
I waited until Anthy, Nanami, and Saionji -- with Robert -- caught up with me, and we all followed in her wake.
When we reached the dorm, she and Miki had apparently regained something like humor about the situation. Miki was saying, "I wish I had the option of throwing away my jacket, Juri, but I've got no shirt underneath."
"Pure luck," Juri said, plucking at her tank top. She waved a greeting to the rest of us.
"Arisugawa-san," Robert said politely as he hobbled up the steps to the front door, "my shoulders ache dreadfully. Is there any way I can convince you to let me out of these things?"
"Sorry," she said, holding up her hands to display her clothing. "Keys in the other outfit. No pockets, even."
He sighed quietly and looked very pained. Saionji opened the door and shoved him through. Nanami followed.
"Uh, Juri," Miki said, pointing to her pants. "You do have pockets."
"I know," she said with a vindictive twist to her mouth. She pulled her ring of keys from her pocket and jingled them.
Miki grinned, then laughed out loud. Juri laughed as well, and walked up the steps. "I'll go handcuff Laughing Boy to a radiator or something."
"What if he gets away?" Nanami snapped. Her humor was not restored, evidently.
Juri shrugged. "If he gets away, he'll get away if he's bound hand and foot and guarded all night too. This is Ohtori, Nanami. And that little shit is a game piece that will behave as the player wants him to." She vanished inside.
Trying for a distraction, I said, "So, Nanami, I guess Hoshiko couldn't get you inside after all?"
Nanami froze, then turned a wide-eyed stare upon me. "Utena," she said slowly, "what did you just ask?"
I frowned. "Um, Hoshiko? Building?"
"How did you know I was talking to Fujiwara Hoshiko?" Nanami continued to speak very slowly and carefully.
"I... uh... " I stopped. I thought. "I remember it." I shook my head, trying to clear it. "But I wasn't there... I mean, I was with Anthy..."
Anthy said something softly and vehemently. I didn't need to hear it to know that she was swearing. Nanami and I both turned to look at her expectantly.
"It's hard to explain," she said to both of us, and I knew that there was something she didn't want to say. "Utena... there are other things you remember, right? From this evening?"
I blinked. "I... I don't know."
"What happened to Miki after I lost him?" asked Nanami, suddenly.
"He ran into Kozue," I replied automatically. "Near the music room..." I trailed off and my eyes met Anthy's.
Anthy frowned. "I should have realized what was happening. Utena, I'm sorry." Her voice held enough apology to start me worrying again.
"What was happening?" demanded Nanami. "How can Utena remember things she didn't see?"
Anthy shook her head briefly. "It's too complex to explain. It's just another thing that this place is doing. Let's go inside."
We followed her into the dorm.
"So," I said to fill the silence, "it's an interesting experience to be back in this bathroom again."
We both looked around at the shining white tile on the walls and floor, the showers with brightly polished brass fixtures, the matching sinks, and the occasional tiny rose crest interspersed in dramatic red.
"I had a private bathroom my last three years here," Juri said, rubbing at her hair with one of the white towels Anthy found for us in a linen closet. "It was a bit of a shock to go to college."
I laughed, a little uncomfortably. "I've never actually lived on campus during my time at college, so I guess I'm sheltered." I scrubbed at my scalp furiously, and when I emerged from my towel, I realized that Juri was looking at me. I met her eyes, but she didn't say anything. I felt heat radiating from my face as I started to blush, despite my struggle against it.
After a long moment, she turned to rubbing down her long legs. "Where'd you get that scar?" she inquired offhandedly.
"Scar?" I looked down at myself. Scar, yes, that one. About three inches long, on the right side of my abdomen, just under the ribcage. "Ah. Yes. That scar. Um. A sword."
Juri looked up at my face as I said it, then slung her towel over her shoulder and walked over to me. She looked at my back. "Clean through, I see. This side looks a little ragged. You fell with the sword still in, perhaps?"
I clenched my fists in the towel. "Something like that. Yes."
"During the last duel?" she asked quietly.
But you can't become my Prince. Because you're a girl.
Juri gently placed a warm hand on my back, jolting me out of my memories. I half-turned toward her, startled.
I think I expected her to say something, but she didn't. After a very long moment, I stepped closer, leaning my forehead against her shoulder. I felt her arm tighten around my waist, and drew a careful breath.
The bathroom door popped open and we jumped apart. Nanami stomped in wearing Saionji's uniform jacket as a robe. "Sharing a bathroom," she snarled as she passed us, peering critically into each shower stall before choosing one and stepping in.
Juri and I looked at each other and burst out laughing. We wrapped our towels around ourselves and headed out of the bathroom, Juri saying, "Hey, Utena, look at this one! This is the first scar I got on the police force. I was breaking up this knife fight..."
Anthy laughed, almost silently. "And you never expected to share it with me, either."
I kissed the back of her neck, then spat out a mouthful of her hair. "Well... no."
"At least it's big enough for two," said Anthy. There was a strange note in her voice that wasn't entirely laughter. I levered myself up on one elbow to try to see her face, but she didn't turn toward me.
"Anthy?" I asked, reaching out to touch the line of her jaw.
She turned towards me then, her eyes dark and luminous as a cat's. "I remember," she said softly, and a chill ran down my throat.
I curled my arms around her shoulders and held her tightly. "Remember," I said, and swallowed. "Remember when you made me lunch the same day that Wakaba did? If it hadn't been for Chu-Chu's appetite, it could have been embarassing..."
Anthy's shoulders shook and I held her tightly as I babbled. After a while, she turned her face up to mine, and I stopped. She whispered, "Thank you."
I kissed her.
"Hey, Anthy," I said, much later. "Why am I... remembering things when I wasn't there?" I nuzzled her shoulder, enveloped in the comfortingly familiar scent of her hair.
She sighed deeply and I thought I could feel her reluctance to talk about it through her skin. "It's an effect of being here."
It was my turn to sigh. "Why aren't the others affected, then? No one but me seems to be doing this. We asked."
She stroked my back absently. "It's because of your... unique relationship to this place, I think."
I stiffened a little against her, and then relaxed again, slowly. "You mean... the last duel? The swords?"
"Maybe." She slid a hand up to gently pet the back of my neck. Despite the conversation, I relaxed a little more. "I think it might have more to do with... things that happened before."
I considered this for a moment, confused. "What things?"
Anthy continued to pet me. "It's because you have a tie to him. I think you're seeing what he's seeing."
I froze. "Is he...?"
"I don't know whether it's deliberate. I suspect not, but I don't know."
After a moment, I leaned back to look at her. "But... doesn't that mean... I mean, you... shouldn't it be happening to you, too?"
Anthy reached out and touched my forehead, lightly, then slid her hand gently down the side of my face. "He's locking me out. And I'm locking him out. He's afraid of me, I'm afraid of... of history. Remember New Orleans?"
I nodded, and pressed my cold hands to her waist. "Anthy," I said into her hair.
She held me tightly, and we didn't say anything more.
There was a strangely geometrical garden, all lines and angles, with flowerbeds and bushes sculpted to within an inch of their lives. Along one path, there were rosebushes clipped to look like small trees: a slender stem culminating in a roundish spray of leaves and flowers, about five feet tall. The current Duelists, all five of them, were standing in front of the rose-trees. I couldn't see what they were doing, so I walked closer.
I saw that most of the rose-trees were red or pink, but there were several with white roses along this stretch of path. The roses on all of the trees were very strange, some of them tiny, and others as large as soup plates, even though they bloomed on the same plant. The Duelists stood in front of the white rose-trees, busily at work. Each of them held a slender brush, as if for calligraphy or painting, in one hand, and they used it to paint the roses red.
The scene looked oddly familiar: the sweep of the brush through the palm of the left hand, and then the careful application of the deep, pure red to the white petals of the rose. All the same, it was so strange that I had to ask.
"What are you doing?"
"Painting the roses," said Kozue. "I suppose you wouldn't recognize such an artistic pursuit." She turned around, accenting the sarcasm of her voice with a flip of her left hand, which was filled with red. The scent of the pigment reached me as a few drops sailed past, and I realized that it was blood.
"But why?" I asked. "I think the white ones are pretty."
"You would," snarled Tsuwabuki. "White is the color of death."
"The color of bones," murmured Hoshiko.
"The color of the Prince," said Yukio. He turned to face me, absently putting the tip of the brush in his mouth, and I flinched. I realized that each of them had carefully slit one wrist, to use the blood for painting. Yukio's cupped fingers dripped red as he paused.
Toshiro said, "We have to paint these over. Some traitor must have planted them."
"It's true," said Kozue, turning back to her task. Her long hands went back to painting - quick stroke of the brush against her left palm, then several strokes on the rose - with exaggerated grace. "The King of Towers doesn't like white roses. He says there should only be one white rose." She stopped and turned again to look at me.
They were all staring at me, and I felt terror grip the back of my neck, although none of them moved or said anything more. I backed away, then finally turned and fled, across the path, over a waist-high hedge, and across a lawn. I stopped, panting.
I was on a small hill. It seemed to be near the center of the garden; all the paths converged on it. I could even see the edges of the garden, where the neatly-trimmed roses turned into dark bramble beds ringing the lawns around. As I looked, I could see several places where white roses grew. In the center of a bed of red or pink roses, for example, a single white rose flourished, and the bushes near it seemed to be losing their color, fading, bleaching to white. It occurred to me that the Duelists had a big job to do. Wouldn't they run out of blood?
I felt very cold. Turning around, I saw that a tower of pure glass sprang from the very crest of the hill I had run up. I hadn't seen it before, I reasoned, because it was so transparent. I went up to it and almost placed my hand on it, but then I felt the cold. It was ice, not glass. I was suddenly grateful that I had noticed - if I hadn't, my hand might have frozen to it.
But the sides were perfectly clear, and I could see that the bottom of the tower was filled with dolls, lying in heaps. They were all girl-dolls, all sizes, all dressed in the Rose Bride dress. The dresses were every color of the rainbow, although it seemed to my shocked eyes that most of them were pink or red. Frost covered them.
I leaped back from the side of the tower in horror, so suddenly that I lost my balance and rolled down the green grass of the slope. Lying on my back at the bottom, I could see the top of the tower, with the sun behind it, breaking into a dazzling haze of rainbows. I looked away.
Set into the side of the hill, underneath the bright tower, was an archway of stone, and in this archway of stone was set a stone door. It was the door of a tomb, I knew that, but when I went closer to read the inscription, I saw:
NO ENTRANCE. EMERGENCY EXIT ONLY.
Then I woke up.
@---Go on to Part Eleven---@