[This is the conclusion of Part 13: Prydwen.]


The table was laid with a damask tablecloth, brilliantly white and ironed so crisp that the corners folded like paper. Each place setting had five plates stacked, white on white, the edges of the porcelain thin as flower petals. The silver, polished until it was pale as moonlight, was folded neatly into the silken napkins, and the crystal glasses -- dry of water or wine -- reflected back the candlelight in brilliant flecks, without rainbows. The inevitable rose centerpiece, centrally placed on an embroidered lace table runner, was of white roses stripped of their leaves, ghostly as pearls.

There was no one sitting at the head of the table. Beside the heavy, carved chair, Shiori stood, her red dress like a shout beside the pale table.

Hoshiko sniffed disparagingly, unfolding her napkin with a wrist-snapping neatness and taking her seat with all the disdainful primness of a cat. "What's the use of having a Student Council Meeting without the Student Council President, I'd like to know. Or perhaps she simply likes being late to her own party?"

Toshiro stood behind the chair opposite her. "If it pleases the Student Council President to be late to her own party, then that is her perogative."

Yukio prowled around the table, choosing a seat near the foot where he would not be looking directly at Hoshiko. "At any rate, it is characteristic of her to do so." He stared moodily at his plate. "It seems to me that we have all been behaving... uncharacteristically of late."

Tsuwabuki snorted, pulling out the chair next to Hoshiko and sitting down carelessly. "I think we have all only been acting according to our own natures. How else are we supposed to act?"

This appeared to sting Hoshiko, though it was not directed at her. She fanned herself energetically with a carved ivory fan, the dependent silk tassels trembling with her rage. "Indeed!" she said. "I refuse to act out of my nature. I certainly decline to take the... instructions the End of the World was so impudent as to send me. I have never read anything so unnatural and obscene as that letter!"

"Obscene, madam?" asked Toshiro, seating himself after a final glance at Shiori, who still stood like a statue next to the empty chair at the head of the table. "Strong words." He sat down carefully, using one hand to move his dress sword out of the way of the chair. The ribbon of some foreign order gleamed palely in the light of the candles on the table.

"There is, at any rate, nothing inappropriate in how I am expressing myself," said Hoshiko, fixing Toshiro with a stern glance over the edge of her fan. "The letter was obscene and I see no shame whatsoever in both declaring this and refusing to follow those... instructions." She snapped the fan shut and tapped it significantly on her plate.

Tsuwabuki yawned and glanced meaningfully down the table at the empty chair. "We must make allowances for your sex, madam," he said, with a touch less politeness than Toshiro. "For myself, I found nothing obscene or difficult of performance in my instructions from the End of the World."

"That can hardly concern me," replied Hoshiko loftily, running her fingers along the string of pearls which encircled her dainty throat and dipped into the low neckline of her dinner gown.

"But why not?" asked Tsuwabuki. He did not look down at the figure at the foot of the table, who was looking away and fidgeting with his cuffs, ostentatiously ignoring the conversation. "But why not, indeed? Do you not feel a small curiosity -- the charming weakness of your sex, madam! -- to know what was in the letters sent to others?"

Hoshiko stopped the gentle movement of her fan, looked at Tsuwabuki directly, and said, "Why, pray tell, would I wish to know the contents of someone else's letter? It cannot affect me."

"You feel no curiosity on that point whatsoever?" pursued Tsuwabuki, aimably adjusting his monocle. "About anyone's letters?"

Hoshiko closed her fan with a little snap. "I do not indulge in vulgar curiosity about other people's affairs. Why do you persist in pressing the point?"

"No reason," said Tsuwabuki, glancing toward the foot of the table. Yukio, his chin sunk into his deep blue silk cravat, was still looking out the French doors at the view off the balcony. "No reason at all."

Anthy and I walked toward the auditorium. There was a sign taped to the door that read, "Gathering Shadows Kashira Theatre Auditions and Rehearsal for the Spring Play."

"Anthy," I said. "Isn't it summer already?"

"Hush," she replied, as we groped for our seats in the darkened room. "It's impolite to talk during auditions."

Most of the chairs were empty, but the auditorium still felt crowded, perhaps because of all the fuss around the stage. Two girls were standing on either side of Miki, who was sitting at the piano below the stage with a bewildered look on his face. Another was standing, script in hand, gesturing wildly as she tried to herd actors into place. The stage floor was black and polished, and the curtains were red. There was an old backdrop pulled across the back of the stage -- a faded scene showing a garden and a castle.

Suddenly, Kozue strode onto the stage, dressed in a brown Victorian men's suit. She looked extremely elegant, from her polished leather shoes to her gold watch-chain. In one hand she held a small book, but she didn't bother to look at it.

Miki, who had been hustled from his piano and given a top hat which looked ridiculous on him, was pushed onto the stage. He held a photocopy of the script helplessly and looked anywhere but at his sister.

Shiori, wearing a dirty skirt and apron and a battered flat straw hat, entered the stage from the other side, carrying a basket of roses. She stared at the floor.

"We'll just start," announced the girl who had been waving people to their places. She reached up and tugged wildly at her pigtails. "We'll read some of the lines, just to get you started." She was standing in front of some of the footlights, which were aimed awkwardly; other students were working on the wiring and the angling of the stagelights. "All right. Scene!" she said, pointing to the three "actors" on stage.

Another girl, a mere shadow from the wings, said authoritatively to Miki, "Don't just stand there, Freddy. Go and find a cab!"

Miki stared at her, consulted his script, and read out mechanically, "All right, I'll go. I'll go." Then he stood there until the director impatiently strode over to him, seized him by the arm and flung him at Shiori.

"Sorry!" he blurted quite naturally, as they collided.

"Look where you're goin', dear," shouted the girl in the wings.

Shiori looked down and said nothing. Miki carefully steadied her with both hands, letting the white sheets of his script scatter over the black stage. "Are you all right? I didn't mean to..."

"Line!" shouted the director.

Shiori said nothing.

"Let's try the next Eliza," said Kozue cuttingly. "It's clear that this one won't do."

While they were taking Shiori offstage, I turned to look at Anthy, whose eyes were fixed on the stage as if it were a proper performance. "Anthy," I said. "Why are we wasting our time here?"

"Shh," she replied.

I knew this room. I knew this room and I did not want to be seeing it, but I looked anyway.

The chairman's office was huge, so large that the planetarium projector took up surprisingly little space. So large that the enormous arched windows that lined the walls seemed barely enough to lighten the shadows at the center, where the rug and the two white couches were placed.

One of the couches was occupied by a sprawling red figure. It took me a moment to focus enough through the shadows of the room to see that the figure was an empty dress. An empty red dress, sleeveless, with a green underskirt. A dress with peculiar gold epaulets. A dress, some cuffs, and a little tiara, tossed onto the couch and lying there like a broken doll.

Wakaba was standing behind the other couch, staring.

She was wearing her usual uniform, and her hair was bound up into her usual ponytail. She was standing, her hands resting lightly on the back of the couch, staring at the dress. I couldn't hear her breathe.

She didn't move, or speak, or even clench her fingers on the cushion. She only stood and stared, her face as frozen as an image painted on china.

Now Hoshiko, dressed in the flat straw hat and carrying the basket of flowers, was ushered onto the stage. Miki had the script thrust into his hands again, and Robert, dressed in full evening dress with a white waistcoat and top hat, in constrast to Kozue's elegant brown tweeds and trilby hat, came on stage. Miki was still miserably out of costume, wearing only the awkward opera hat.

"Cheer up, Captain," said Hoshiko. Her script was nearly hidden among the roses in her basket. "Would you consider buying a flower from a poor girl?"

Robert, clearly enjoying himself, said, "I'm sorry. I haven't any change."

"I wouldn't have any trouble changing half a crown," said Hoshiko politely.

I couldn't help thinking that it was unkind to leave Miki on stage with both Kozue and Robert, and I tried whispering to Anthy, "Don't you think--" but she put her fingers on my lips.

"I haven't done anything wrong by speaking to the gentleman!" declared Hoshiko. "I have a right to sell flowers as long as I stay off the curb. I am a respectable girl, so help me!"

The director said, audibly enough for us to hear her five rows back, "Too respectable." She conferred with the prompt-girl with much waving of hands and scripts. Meanwhile, Hoshiko demanded to know of Kozue why "the gentleman" was taking down her words if not to "take away her character and force her onto the streets."

Robert informed Kozue, with a wealth of meaning in his tone, that she needn't begin protecting him against molestation from young women until he asked her to. The director gestured angrily at Hoshiko, who gave her a lofty look.

Meanwhile, Miki was attempting to make an exit stage right, but the prompt-girl with the giant bow on her head kept shoving him back onto the stage.

Hoshiko, who had clearly been getting more and more fed up with the commentary and instructions from the director, cast her basket down and announced that she didn't have time for anything as juvenile as play-acting. "I have better things to do with my time!" she announced in a ringing voice into a sudden silence on the stage.

Into that silence, Kozue stepped into the center of the stage and said, "A woman who
utters such disgusting
and depressing noise,

she has no right to be anywhere,
no right to live."

Hoshiko spun on her heel and marched off the stage. She held her head high, but I think she was crying.

Chu-chu, who was currently dressed in overalls with a little red-spotted handkerchief tied about the lower part of his face, crept into the darkness.

It was a large, unnaturally clean garage. There was, of course, only one car in it. A red convertible.

"Chu!" exclaimed Chu-chu, delighted, and produced a wrench out of nowhere. This exclamation, however, seemed to be his undoing. As he hurried toward the car, an enormous hand came down out of the shadows and seized him by the head.

"What," said Touga's voice, "did you think you were doing?"


While the prompt-girl was offstage lookng for another Eliza, Kozue continued with her first song, delivering it with emphasis and verve, and apparently not needing to refer to a script. She sang, "Why can't the English
learn to
Set a good example," directly at Robert, who could only shrug his shoulders and smile at the implication.

Wakaba looked waiflike and charming in the straw hat, and although she had to look at her script for the words, she sang a song about "loverly" things with a great deal of liveliness to the audience: "Someone's head resting on my knee/Warm and tender as he can be/Who takes good care of me

Oh, wouldn't it

Be loverly!"

She got a round of scattered applause from the director and the people in the seats. As I was clapping, I whispered to Anthy, "What's going on?"

"I've found a lever," she said serenely. "'Galatea never does quite like Pygmalion; his relation to her is too godlike to be altogether agreeable.'" And she laughed, perfectly soundlessly, with that mischief in her eyes which was always deeper than mischief, a trickster depth that seemed to open endless mazes. "Godlike," she repeated, and laughed again, this time a somewhat more-than-soundless giggle which made me laugh helplessly, and made some students in the front seats turn around and stare.

On stage, Kozue and Robert were having a conversation over Wakaba.

"She's so deliciously low," crooned Kozue, slinking around Wakaba. "So horribly dirty!"

"I ain't dirty!" said Wakaba, stamping her foot. "I washed my face and hands before I come, I did!"

Robert said, "Ohhh!" as though he had only just now divined Kozue's real intent.

"We'll start today. Now. This moment. Take her away," said Kozue, flapping a hand at... at Juri, who hadn't bothered to put on a costume. "Mrs. Pearce, and clean her. Sandpaper... if it won't come off any other way."

I didn't care for the look she gave Wakaba at that point.

"Is there a good fire in the kitchen?" Kozue asked, spinning back to Juri, who raised an eyebrow and glared at her coldly.

"Yes, but I--"

"Take all her clothes off and burn them. We will have some new ones made." One corner of Kozue's mouth curled up cruelly. "Just wrap her in brown paper until the dress is ready."

"You're no gentleman, you're not!" burst in Wakaba breathlessly, "to talk of such things! I'm a good girl, I am!"

Robert and Juri protested this proposed action, and Kozue overrode them grandly.

"You can't take a girl up like that, as if you were picking up a pebble on the beach!" Juri snapped at Kozue, and I thought that she probably had reason to know, doing the work she did.

"Why not?" asked Kozue, and turned to Wakaba.

Kozue smiled into Wakaba's eyes in a way that was unpleasantly familiar. That was not Kozue's smile. "The streets will be strewn with the bodies of men... shooting themselves for your sake before I'm done with you."

I gripped Anthy's hand as Robert drawled, with an ironical note which gave the lie to his words, "Does it occur to you, Higgins, the girl has some... feelings?"

"Oh, no, I don't think so," crooned Kozue. "No feelings we need worry about."

"Anthy," I hissed between my teeth. "They're going to--"

She squeezed my hand reassuringly.

Juri stepped forward, script in hand. She looked angry but restrained. "I must know on what terms the girl is to be here. What's to become of her when you've finished your teaching? You must look ahead a little. Sir."

Kozue smiled tolerantly, throwing her head back as though against a comfortable couch. "What's to become of her if we leave her in the gutter?"

Juri said sharply, "That's her own business, not yours."

Kozue's smile grew sharper, more like her own. "Well, when I'm done with her, we'll throw her back in the gutter and then it'll be her own business again."

Robert protested this, and after a prolonged wrangle, Kozue agreed that Wakaba had to know under what terms and conditions she was to stay.

Kozue walked around Wakaba, not quite touching her. Wakaba stood very still, her arms wrapped around herself. "At the end of six months," said Kozue in a soft, insinuating voice, "you shall be taken to a fantastic castle, in a gondola, beautifully dressed."

"If the Prince finds out that you are not a lady," said Kozue, dropping her words like coins into a well, "the police will take you to the Tower where you will be executed by the sword..."

She stopped, glanced once out over the audience, and smiled, slowly. "...as a warning to other presumptuous flower girls."

I reached out for Anthy's hand again. The seat next to me was empty.

Yukio looked over the busy courtyard, leaning his forehead against his arm on the raised window sash and peering under it. The mass of students below parted like butter before a swordblade, and he focused on the cause. Tsuwabuki strode among them, face stern. Conversations faltered and people shrank back from him.

Hoshiko was standing with a group of admirers of the feminine persuasion, and she spared a single glance toward the cause of the myriad little silences. As she did, another group of girls hurriedly shifted themselves between Tsuwabuki's line of sight and a slim dark girl with a pixie haircut, closing ranks like wildebeest around a calf.

Tsuwabuki turned so quickly that his braid snapped in mid-air. His gaze seemed to drive a line straight into the heart of the group of girls, even though they turned their faces away. He began to prowl in that direction, slowly and carefully.

Hoshiko called, "Tsuwabuki-san!"

Tsuwabuki looked her way and came to polite attention. "Yes, Fujiwara-san?"

Hoshiko walked toward him, a grim little smile taking possession of her face. "I need your stopwatch for a moment, Tsuwabuki-san."

As Tsuwabuki reached into his pocket for Miki's stopwatch, the herd of girls spirited their calf away into the nearest building. Yukio scowled at Hoshiko and mumbled, "You proud little liar."

I could have told him that caring about the other members of the Student Council was one thing, but this was another entirely. But he wouldn't have understood.

I couldn't watch most of the next scenes. Kozue seemed to take a spiteful pleasure in sneering and snapping at Wakaba's words, putting an empty tray (which was supposed to contain strawberry tarts) out of her reach, and brutally stuffing her mouth with marbles. Robert seemed disposed to interfere in the last, but didn't. Wakaba seemed too frightened to protest.

Finally, she managed to pronounce something about the rain in Spain correctly (although I thought the script took an awfully long time getting around to it) and Kozue and Robert preened themselves on their success and danced together while Wakaba, forgotten, stood alone on a corner of the stage.

Wakaba sang about dancing all night, which struck me as very sad, since she hadn't danced at all. She was whisked off the stage to dress for the next part.

Miki reappeared. They had managed to get him into an elegant gray morning suit and a matching top hat, in which he ought to have looked quite nice. Unfortunately, he was so unhappy that he reminded me of a small child at a wedding. The script-girl appeared beside him, and then Kozue strolled across the stage and engaged the script-girl in light banter.

Then Wakaba appeared on Robert's arm. She was wearing the most preposterous dress I have ever seen, and was completely eclipsed in an enormous cartwheel of a hat that was stuck sideways onto her head and enveloped her in clouds of veiling. Robert squired her across the stage and introduced her to Miki and the script-girl.

I blinked. It was hard to tell, when she was only saying, "How do you do?" in the lowest and most well-bred tones possible, but she didn't sound like Wakaba.

"My sister-in-law died of influenza, so they said," remarked the vision in the enormous hat, "but it's my belief they done the old woman in."

That was not Wakaba's voice. I blinked in shock as the other characters on stage registered mild surprise at the words.

"They all thought she was dead," said the woman playing Eliza, "but my brother, he kept ladling poison down her throat. Then she come to so sudden, she bit the bowl off the spoon. Now what call would a woman with that strength in her have to die of influenza?"

I couldn't understand why the people on stage hadn't noticed.

"But you surely don't believe your sister-in-law was killed!"

"Do I not! Them as she lived with would have killed her for a dress pin, let alone a dress," said the person behind the veiling.

"But it can't have been right for your brother to pour poison down her throat like that."

"It might have killed her!"

"Not her," said Anthy serenely. "Poison was mother's milk to her. Besides, he poured so much down his own throat, he knew the good of it."

Chu-chu stood outside on what looked like new, black asphalt. In front of him was an equally new, white-painted, expensive-looking wooden garage door. He looked up at it, with determination in his eyes and a hairpin clutched in one tiny paw.

There was one problem, though.

The padlock that secured the door (also shiny and new and bearing, I couldn't help noticing, a discreet red Ohtori rose seal) was a good four feet off the ground.

Chu-chu looked up at it, and his little ears drooped.

There was a ball, after which Anthy was declared to be "Hungarian!" I wondered whether she thought this was amusing.

Kozue, after indulging in what I thought was an unseemly amount of soliloquy, began to sing in a saccharine, ironic tone, about being "accustomed to her voice." I sat on my hands.

"What an infantile idea," Kozue snapped at the audience. "What a heartless, wicked, brainless thing to do. But she'll regret it. She'll regret it! It's doomed before they even take the vow." She looked over the dark theatre and stared into my eyes. Her own were wide and mad.

"In a year or so when she's prematurely gray/ And the blossom in her cheek has turned to chalk. She'll come home and, lo you'll have upped and run away..." sang Kozue to me and I very nearly leapt out of my seat and went for her throat. She smiled at the expression on my face.

"Poor Eliza! How simply frightful!" sang Kozue, playing to her audience. "How humiliating!" she sang with false sympathy to a girl in the front row. "How delightful," she purred to a young man hanging on her words.

It was only at this point that I saw that she was no longer dressed in the neat brown Victorian tweeds. She was dressed in an all-white Ohtori uniform. The Prince's uniform. Akio's uniform.

"How poignant it'll be on that inevitable night, When she hammers on my door in tears and rags," sang Kozue, walking back and forth, "Miserable and lonely, Repentant and contrite." She flashed an anticipatory smile to the audience.

"Will I take her in or hurl her to the wolves?" she asked, examining the nails of her left hand. "Give her kindness or the treatment she deserves? Will I take her back or throw the baggage out?" She made a wide, throwing-away gesture as she asked this, smiling an ironic smile that turned her face into a skull.

"Well, I'm a most forgiving man. The sort who never could, Ever would/Take a position and staunchly never budge," she murmured confidentially to a pair of fluttering first-years who clutched each other and giggled in the front seats. "A most forgiving man."

"But I shall never take her back," Kozue sang with a grand gesture, "If she were crawling on her knees! Let her promise to atone! Let her shiver, let her moan!"

She knelt down, stared out into the audience, and whispered, gently, "I'll slam the door and let the hellcat freeze."

After that line, the rest of the song was something of an anticlimax, for in it her double-sided assertions that she had grown "accustomed to her face," were delivered in the same deadly gentle voice.

"Eliza," she said finally, turning her back on Anthy, who had just entered the stage, "Where the devil are my slippers?"

Anthy said, "You want me back only to pick up your slippers and put up with your tempers and fetch and carry for you."

Kozue whirled around, looking -- for a split second -- helpless and startled. Then she said, irritated, "I haven't said I wanted you back at all."

Anthy replied serenely, "Oh, indeed. Then what are we talking about?"

Kozue visibly groped for her line. "You never asked yourself, I suppose, whether I could do without you."

Anthy replied, with a startlingly accurate accent, "Oh, you are a devil. You can twist the heart in a girl as easy as some could twist her arms to hurt her. I can't talk to you: you turn everything against me: I'm always in the wrong. But you know very well all the time that you're nothing but a bully."

Kozue blinked and shook her head. The prompt-girl and the director exchanged their scripts and the prompt-girl frantically leafed through the second script before hissing, "Independence!"

Kozue picked up the cue smoothly, stalking towards Anthy and growling "Independence? That's modern blasphemy. We are completely dependent on one another, you and I."

Anthy replied, looking sideways up at Kozue, "I'll let you see whether I'm dependent on you. If you can preach, I can teach."

Kozue snorted. "What'll you teach, in heaven's name?"

Anthy smiled, away from Kozue, into the audience. "Certainly nothing that you have taught me."

Kozue was caught up for a moment, but before the prompt-girl could give her a line again, she snarled, "You take one step towards teaching and I'll wring your neck." She made a motion as though to seize Anthy, but stopped short for some reason. "Do you hear?"

Anthy flung her head back. "Wring away. What do I care? I knew you'd strike me one day. Now I know how to deal with you. You cannot take away the knowledge you have given me; and we always knew I had a finer ear than you. And I know how to love, which is more than you. Your duchess is only a flower girl after all, and I can teach anyone to be a duchess -- or a witch, which is the same in the end." Her words took on a deeper resonance. "Oh, when I think of myself crawling under your feet and being trampled on and called names, when all the time I had only to lift up my finger to be as good as you, I could just kick myself."

"You damned impudent slut, you!" said Kozue, raising her hand to slap Anthy across the face. But she thought better of it, and lowered her hand. "But it's better than snivelling, better than fetching roses and wearing spectacles. I said I'd make a woman of you, and I have."

Anthy replied coolly, "Yes: you turn around and make up to me now that I'm not afraid of you, and can do without you. And it is not from you my womanhood comes."

Kozue flexed her skeletal fingers, and replied, grudgingly, "Of course I do, you little fool. Five minutes ago you were like a millstone around my neck. Now you are a tower of strength, a knight, a prince."

The script-girl, awkward for the first time, called from the wings, "The carriage is waiting, Eliza. Are you ready?"

Anthy said, "Quite. I shall not see you again, Professor. Good-bye." She started to exit, stage left.

Kozue's hands flexed again, as though to grab her and bring her back. "Oh, by the way, order in some rose petal jam and a cake, will you? And buy me a pair of white gloves, to match this suit of mine."

Anthy said, without turning around, "Buy them yourself." And walked offstage.

Kozue stood there staring after her, then snatched the script from the prompt-girl, hurled it to the stage, and walked off in the opposite direction.

There was scattered, uncertain applause from the audience, and Robert said, entering from the wings, "Was that... the way the play was supposed to end?"

Miki, who was sitting on the piano bench, replied without looking at him. "Well... that was the way it originally ended."

"Oh," said Robert.

We went to the cafeteria for lunch. It should have been dinner, I suppose, or breakfast, or something other than lunchtime after lunchtime in the eternal golden afternoon of Ohtori. I looked down at my tray, contemplating that eternity and feeling ill.

"Oh, come on, Utena," snapped Nanami. "The cafeteria food here isn't that bad."

"It's loads better than what I'm used to," said Saionji, popping open a can of tea. "And I can't believe you've gotten fussy on Himemiya's cooking."

Anthy reached over and put a cold can of soda on my tray.

"Where's Kaoru?" asked Juri, and although I knew she was diverting the conversation, I flinched from the ambiguity.

Nanami looked startled. "I haven't seen him for hours. He won't know to look for us here."

Saionji swallowed a mouthful of food and said, "We'll run into him back at the dorm, then. Or you could try calling his cellphone."

"Idiot!" Nanami flared up. "I don't have coverage in Japan; why don't you try calling him?"

"Don't know his number," said Saionji sulkily.

Juri rolled her eyes and looked around the cafeteria. "I could swear I recognize about half the people here. I hope it's just similar faces."

Nanami said, "I'd think it was similar faces if half the people here didn't seem to recognize you."

Juri stood up, ignoring this remark, and waved her arm to someone on the far side of the room. Behind her, three young men in glasses turned to look to see who she was waving to.

Nanami looked in that direction, then stood up to see better. "Miki!" she shouted, when Juri's wave seemed to not be effective. The three young men in glasses all stood up to see better and shaded their eyes with their hands.

Juri and Nanami sat down and Miki made his way over to the table. He was carrying a tray, but there wasn't anything on it but a prepackaged energy drink.

"Miki!" scolded Nanami, "That can't be all you're having for lunch!"

"They were out of milkshakes," said Miki, and sat down, eyes on his tray.

Behind Nanami, the three young men in glasses all carefully stirred ice-cream into their coffee, and drank the resulting mixture through straws, staring all the while at Miki.

Kozue had her sword in her hand. Her coat was draped over a chair in the dormitory lounge; she wore a tight-fitting black tank top and her white trousers. She took a fencing stance and saluted the piece of wood she'd hung on the lounge wall. Then she lunged, striking the point into the wood. She withdrew it and struck again. And again. And again.

Students peered into the lounge from the doorway. Some hurried away. Some paused, admiring; others lingered, hungry looks consuming their faces.

Toshiro drifted into the lounge with books in his arms. He didn't spare a glance for Kozue, who had built to a regular percussion of destruction on her side of the room, but settled into a deep leather armchair. He set his books on the table beside him, glanced out the window at the fine afternoon, then took up the first volume and started reading.

Chips and splinters were flying from the wood now. Kozue's face was fixed in a feral snarl. Her sword point drove deeper and deeper into the wood.

Toshiro paged sedately through his book.

Students gawped through the doorway.

Hoshiko shoved through the crowd and stood just inside the door, her gaze moving from Kozue to Toshiro and back to Kozue.

The sword broke through the back of the wood and thrust into the plaster wall. Kozue let go the hilt and stood back. Her sweat-soaked shirt clung to the sawtoothed ridge of her spine.

"Pardon me, Kaoru-sempai, but what are you doing?" Hoshiko said, her words polite but her tone sarcastic.

A girl elbowed past Hoshiko in a violent rush, followed by two or three more. Hoshiko staggered, catching herself gracefully on the back of Toshiro's chair. She spun like a cat to glower at the girls, who were offering Kozue towels and glasses of water.

Kozue smiled at her admirers, taking a glass of water from one girl and a towel from another. Then she dashed the water in the girl's face and lashed out with the towel at the rest. They shrieked and stampeded back toward the doorway. The glass shattered against the lintel of the arch, and the last of the students fled basely.

Toshiro turned another page without lifting his gaze from the book.

Hoshiko turned an appalled gaze on Kozue. Kozue smiled demurely and said, "Why, surely, Hoshiko-kun, it is obvious what I'm doing." She caught up her coat and jerked the sword from the wall. She gave Hoshiko a mocking sketch of a bow and strode out.

A piece of plaster fell out of the wall. Toshiro turned a page. Hoshiko stared at the pierced wooden board, which still had the remains of the Ohtori symbol on it.

Technically, I was looking for Chu-chu, but actually I was tactfully leaving Miki and Anthy alone together. I'm not the most perceptive person in the world, I know, but I can tell when someone has a burning need to confess and beg for forgiveness when all they do is hover around the person they want to talk to, while staring anywhere but at that person's face. Miki was painful to watch, and my unfortunate peeping-tom ability did not make things any easier for me. So I told Anthy I was going to go and look for Chu-chu and she said that was a great idea.

I had no idea where he was, of course. In a garage, last I saw. I did not remember a garage anywhere around campus.

I walked around the edge of campus, running my fingers along the cold iron rails and peering down staircases, hoping for a burst of inspiration for where I should look for this garage. I didn't get one. What I got was a brief warning of running feet and then someone tackling me from behind.

"Hi, Wakaba," I said, as best I could with my face wedged in between two iron railings.

"Utena! U-ten-A! I'm so glad to see you!"

"I'm glad to see you, too," I said, extricating myself from the railing and turning my head to see her profile. "You're very cheerful today."

"Why wouldn't I be cheerful when you've come to visit? Hey, I just got a great idea! Let's go for a ride!"

"A ride?" I asked. "Where?"

"Oh, out in town. It'll be fun, Utena, c'mon!" She slid off my back and grabbed my hand and squeezed it.

I couldn't help grinning back at her, she was so happily, innocently pleased to see me. "Okay," I said, more to her smile than to her words.

"Great!" She started towing me off, talking all the while. "...and there's this great little shop, you can get the most amazing sweets there, all in the cutest little shapes, flowers and animals and little tiny teacups..."

"Really?" I said, letting her tow me along and thinking unhappily about her uniform with its cute, fluttering skirt. The year she ought to have graduated...

"This way!" She pulled me down a staircase and we were in a little courtyard. I frowned, trying to remember. Had I been here before?

"And we could stop and get some tea, and maybe buy some cute pencils or barrettes, you know I always lose my hairgrips for my ponytails," said Wakaba, leading me towards the iron gate at the other side of the courtyard, which was standing slightly ajar. "It won't take us long to get there!"

I stopped, Wakaba tugging on my unresisting hand, but my feet were rooted to the concrete. Just beyond the gate, in the shadow of the wall, was a red convertible.

"Come on!" said Wakaba. "It's so much fun to ride in!"

I opened my mouth to say something, to ask her something, but I didn't say a word. Akio strolled around from the other side of the car and smiled at us. "Wakaba-chan," he said. "How thoughtful of you to bring your friend."

Wakaba beamed.

Akio leaned down and kissed her on the cheek. "But Utena and I have so much to catch up on, Wakaba-chan. Would you forgive us if we went out just the two of us this afternoon? We'll come back and have dinner together."

Wakaba smiled up at him. "That's all right. I'm sure that we'll have lots of time to catch up, won't we, Utena?"

"Oh, yes," said Akio. "Plenty of time. All the time in the world, in fact."

Aiko and Yuuko were sitting at two desks in the office. The shades were pulled. Behind them, Keiko's desk stood neat and empty.

Aiko -- or possibly Yuuko -- was staring down at a stack of papers on her desk. She picked up a pen and put it down. Her fingers trembled.

Yuuko -- or Aiko? -- was staring at the keyboard of a computer. On the screen was some sort of form. None of it had been filled out and the cursor blinked impatiently in the "date" field.

Suddenly the one who was sitting in front of the papers said, "What do you want to do with your career?"

The other replied, in bright, brittle tones, "Oh, we have the best career in the world right now!"

"Of course, of course." She picked up the pen, held it poised, then put it down. "But if you were to do something else..."

"But I wouldn't!" The other pushed the computer mouse away from her in a sudden spasm of terror. It hit a teacup, which rocked in its saucer and fell over. The teacup was empty and clean inside, white as an eggshell.

"Hypothetically," said the first, taking a pair of sunglasses from a drawer in her desk and sliding them onto her face.

"Oh. Well. Hypothetically, of course," said the other, twisting her hands together. "Hypothetically speaking, I thought I might go into journalism."

"That's a good career," said the first, taking a deep breath and picking up her pen again. She started to write on the top paper of her stack.

"Of course, there's a lot of competition," the other replied, untangling her fingers with difficulty. She picked up a lipstick, then put it down without using it. Instead, she pulled a green eyeshade out of the file drawer and put it on. "What would you, hypothetically speaking, like to do, if we didn't already have a career?"

The first paused and regarded her handiwork. "I thought I might go into politics. Or diplomacy."

"That's boring."

"Not as a secret agent."

The one in front of the computer thought about this, touching a few of the computer keys thoughtfully, her eyeshade tilted down over her face. "You're right, that sounds quite exciting."

"And elegant," she said complacently. "It's very important to have an elegant career."

"Maybe journalism isn't for me," said the other. "Perhaps I should do something more... exotic."

"Like what?"

"I don't know," she mused, leaning back in her chair and hooking her thumbs under her collar. "But I think it would involve UFOs."

The town unfurled beyond the car windows like a banner. I stared straight ahead, somehow still aware of the way Akio leaned back casually, only one hand on the wheel, a look of sleepy pleasure on his face.

We drove in silence while I wondered in frozen panic whether I had ever seen this intersection, that convenience store, a particular wayside shrine. Why didn't anything look familiar?

The car swung to the right and bus stops and bicyclists began to grow fewer. "I thought we'd drive along the highway for a while," said Akio. "It's nice to relive old memories, isn't it?"

My face felt numb, as though I had been to the dentist. I looked directly ahead, noticing that the windshield was perfectly clean. There weren't even any fingerprints on it.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Akio look in my direction. "What, no smile for old memories? Don't you remember your school days fondly, Utena?"

My mouth felt stiff and heavy, as though it were cast in bronze. I hated the way he said my name.

He looked back at the road. "I certainly remember your school days fondly," he said, with a smile in his voice -- the sort of smile that made me long to wipe it off his face, except it was in his voice and I couldn't reach it, if you see what I mean.

There had to be something I could say, the right thing to say, the key. I remembered searching for it before, desperately, trying to talk away the bodily heaviness and the terrifying flesh. But my metal jaw would not move, and I could not think of what it was anyway.

"If we drive far enough along this road," said Akio as the highway rolled away under us, "we'll come to the carnival site. But I am afraid it has shut down for the season."

My desperate gaze found myself in the car's side mirror. I sat bolt upright, not touching the seat back. My face looked as frozen as I felt. But in my hair, caught just above my right ear, was a tiny pinch of Queen Anne's lace.

I turned my head slowly toward the passenger window.

Anthy was walking up the steps of Nemuro Memorial Hall. It was as solid as though I had never seen it in ruins -- had I seen it in ruins? She opened the door and went in.

She passed through the dim lobby with its red velvet chairs and walked past the elevator doors. Down one corridor, then another, and here the hallways were white linoleum, which still somehow looked dingy and funereal.

She put her hand on the lock of a black office door and went in without bothering to knock.

Mikage sat behind the desk. Behind him stood a chalkboard, covered with what looked like strange zeros, large and small -- carelessly written and open at the top. His desk was entirely empty except for a single teacup and saucer set in the center of the blotter. He sat leaning forward, elbows on the desk, hands folded under his chin, staring at the door as though expecting someone to come in.

Anthy walked up to the desk and stood before it.

"I thought it must be you," he said. "I have not forgotten."

Anthy merely bowed her head.

"I would say that I am surprised to see you here," he said, "had I not passed beyond all surprise a long time ago. At least, I suppose it is long."

Anthy bowed her head again, without removing her gaze from his. They stared at one another in the dim and dusty room.

Finally he said, "My teacup. It is empty."

Now she replied, "So it is."

He answered, pressing his folded hands to the bridge of his eyeglasses, "In some ways, you know, you have not changed."

She replied calmly, "Change takes time to get used to."

He said, more sharply than I could account for, "Time?"

Anthy smiled at him.

Mikage looked away, passing a hand over his face as though to hide his reaction. "I'm thirsty," he said finally, as if it were an admission wrung from him by great pain.

Anthy said, "I need your keys."

His head snapped back to look at her, his eyes widening with shock, and then narrowing again with something that looked like calculation. "My keys," he said slowly. Now the look between them was the gaze of coding and decoding. "Pour the tea," he said.

Anthy walked to one side of the room and returned with a white teapot. She poured tea into the single cup on the desk and it steamed there, hot and fragrant. Mikage stared at it as though it were a miracle, while she stepped aside into the shadows again and, presumably, put the teapot back where she had found it.

He raised the teacup and sipped from it. Anthy stood and watched him. She did this neither with her old, folded-hands pose nor with any sign of impatience; instead, she leaned casually against the side of the desk and watched him as familiarly as an old friend.

Finally, he put the cup down. Then he opened a drawer of the desk and produced a ring of keys. They jingled faintly in his hand as he stood up. "Where?" he asked.

Anthy walked a few strides away from the desk and paused, half turned, smiling enigmatically. She pointed downward with one hand.

I turned my head away from the car window. Akio said, "Wakaba is very fond of car rides."

Somehow I knew -- from his demeanor, if nothing else -- that he had not seen what I had just seen. Anthy had told me, but he didn't know. The knowledge loosened my muscles and warmed me.

I found my gaze fastening on the car keys dangling just beyond Akio's right hand, as I wondered what Mikage's keys opened. If only someone had taken these car keys away from Akio -- then this damn car wouldn't go anywhere. I pictured it sitting in a garage, gathering dust. No, better, sitting outside, rusting and filling with rainwater, the fancy upholstery rotting in the sun, covered in pigeon poop. I smiled.

Akio's voice broke in on my thoughts. "Pleasant memories?" he asked, insinuatingly.

"No," I said. I said it a little more assertively than I meant to, I think because I was making such an effort to get the words out.

He smiled anyway. You know how it is when you're not looking at someone, but you're still paying more attention to them than you are to what's right in front of you? That's how I knew he was smiling.

"My memories are always pleasant," he said, as though I had just confessed to unpleasant ones. Of course, unpleasant ones immediately crowded my mind.

Anthy would know what to say to that, I thought miserably, staring at the endlessly unrolling double line of the highway. "I was sorry to hear about Kanae-san," I said, surprising myself. I imagined Anthy patting my shoulder, as a reward for a job well done.

He reached down and shifted gears. "Yes," he said solemnly. "That was a tragedy. I don't think we were very well suited, though, do you?"

I looked down at my hands and the familiar/unfamiliar glint of the rose seal ring on the left. The side closest to him, I noticed. I couldn't think of a good answer to the question so I didn't give one.

"Kanae was always so formal and restrained," he said, leaning back in his seat again, resting one hand lightly on the wheel. "I greatly preferred the time I spent with you."

I folded my fingers together and tried to think of an answer to that. I mean, you might think that someone is lying to your face, but you can't just say so. And he might not have been lying, but that wasn't really important, was it? Inspired by that thought, I said, "Is that really important?"

He glanced sideways at me. "Of course you are important to me," he said smoothly. Which hadn't been what I was referring to at all.

Irritated, I looked out the window again.

Into the silence, he said, "I don't believe I ever showed you the Ends of the World." There was an appalling silence after that statement, and then the hum as he pressed down the accelerator.

I said, my head turned away to look out the side window and my hair whipping into my mouth, "I saw it in any case. I didn't care for it."

He laughed, and the car hummed a little louder. "Brave words. It is what you came for."

I reached up and pushed my hair out of my eyes. "I -- no, it's not!"

"Anthy brought you here to claim it," he said. "But you cannot claim it without me."

I shook my head. "We had this conversation before," I said. "I don't want your eternity." I swallowed an unwise urge to spit after saying that word.

He laughed. It sounded exactly the same as it did before, but for some reason it raised the hair on the back of my neck. "But of course you do. Is it not what everyone is searching for? The miracle that lies beyond the Rose Gate. You saw it."

I remembered what I'd seen. I also remembered what had happened, and the scar in my side throbbed with my pulse.

"Anthy cannot claim it without me. When you flee it, you only flee the truth." He was looking at me, and I turned my head away from him again, again in irritation. I did not want to have this conversation again, and I was awfully cold.

I saw, in the side-view mirror, that someone was following us. Not a car. Motorcycles. A cavalcade of them, streamlined and sleek and black, perhaps half a mile back on the highway which had been completely empty a moment before.

After I saw them I heard them, a distant asthmatic aggressive roar.

Akio glanced in the rearview mirror, and I saw -- turning to look, this time -- a tiny frown contract his brow. He glanced aside at me and threw off another empty smile, a rictus in his stiff, pale, face. "There are so many who pursue the dream," he said.

They gained on the car with suicidal speed, identical low black machines occupied by figures in black leather body armor and faceless, featureless black helmets. I had thought there were half a dozen, then a dozen, then fifty, then at least a hundred of them, trailing off behind the red convertible like an honor guard.

Akio placed both hands on the wheel and pressed the accelerator pedal down. The car leaped forward, the engine whining with excitement; but the roar of the motorcycles drowned it out, shrieking their challenge. Now they were mere feet from the rear bumper, riding easily, spreading out in a black peacock's tail.

I raised my voice to shout, "Are they going to the Ends of the World, too?" Akio shot me a murderous glance, then turned his head as though to check his side mirror and froze.

I did too. One of the riders had pulled up next to the driver's side of the car, and pulled off her helmet. Blonde hair and a red scarf streamed back, and Ohtori Kanae stared expressionlessly at her husband, all the while handling the motorcycle as if it were a part of her.

Behind Kanae, two more of the riders pulled their helmets off, but because of the angle of the sun, I could only see them in silhouette. They seemed to be wearing the Ohtori uniform under their armored jackets, and one of them had her hair in a single large ponytail.

With a scream of tires, one of the riders pulled in front of the convertible. Even before he removed his helmet, I guessed who he was: pale red hair fluttered in the wind around his collar. Instead of tucking his helmet under his arm, though, he tossed it in the air, and it landed in the back seat of the car in a move any cinematographer would have envied. He was riding double, and the rider behind him wasn't wearing a helmet -- a boy with pale brown hair and freckles. Mikage swerved right and left as though anticipating Akio's moves as he attempted to maneuver around; but neither he nor Akio slowed down.

I sneaked a look at the speedometer: the needle was hovering at 180 kilometers per hour. I wasn't sure I believed it.

Akio snarled and pressed the accelerator all the way down. I looked behind us and saw Ruka, riding almost on the bumper. Next to him, riding so close that their knees were almost touching, was a woman I didn't know, with a beauty spot beside her mouth, wearing a silk aviator scarf. Behind them, more riders and their bikes snaked down the highway, revving their engines and following in a massive high-speed convoy.


I looked out my window just in time to see Anthy take off her helmet. Her hair, freed of its constraint, whipped behind her like a banner. She, too, tossed her helmet into the air; I didn't worry that it would hit another rider.

"Utena, take my hand!"

I stood up, reached out, and took her hand. She pulled her motorcycle in close to the car and, steering it impossibly with her knees as if it were a horse, she reached out with both hands to guide my leap to the seat behind her.

I wrapped my arms around her waist and laughed into her hair. She laughed back, her wild voice whipped past me by the wind, and we peeled off from the convoy. As she slowed the motorcycle along the shoulder of the road, we watched the rest of them go past -- intent, focused, herding the convertible down the two-lane highway like a pack of hunting dogs after prey. On the backs of their black armored jackets were black roses, outlined in white, on their helmets were the Ohtori seal, also white on black.

After the last of them went by, she swung the bike around and we started back the way we'd come. I pressed my face into the back of her neck and held on tight to her hips, as tight as when we made love, until the highway ended, and we were back on real streets again.

Miki stood outside the three staggered windows of the music rooms, holding a folder of music in his hands. He looked down at the book and seemed as surprised as I was to see "Camelot" embossed across the cover instead of "My Fair Lady." He sighed and started walking around to the door.

I wanted to yell and warn him not to go in there -- again! -- but of course it wouldn't have done any good. I wasn't there.

He pushed the doors open and entered the familiar corridor, neat and polished and exactly like all the other school corridors. He walked down the hall with a quick, purposeful tread, apparently intent on returning the music to... wherever music lived when it wasn't in use.

A door swung open just ahead of him and his steps slowed.

No! I yelled at him. Don't! This isn't a videogame! Leave it alone, get out of there!

But he couldn't hear me and he paused and looked into the room.

In the room was a grand piano with a three-branched candelabra sitting on a fringe-y shawl draped over it. The window was open and the breeze lightly fluttered the pages of the music left on the piano. It looked perfectly peaceful.

Miki stepped into the room.

NO, I bellowed at him, more in frustration than in hope that he'd hear me.

He strolled over to the piano and brushed his fingers over the keys. Then he sat down, put the music on the bench next to him, and with an oddly guilty air, reached out for the keyboard.

I felt a great urge to reach out and shake him by the shoulders, if only there weren't kilometers... or something... between us.

He gently played the first phrases of "The Sunlit Garden."

I wanted to bash his face -- or maybe mine -- into the keys. Hadn't he learned anything about how Ohtori worked?

"Still playing the same old song, aren't you?" asked Kozue, lounging in the doorway.

Miki startled back from the keys, nearly toppling off the bench.

Kozue strolled into the room. She was still wearing the white uniform -- not hers, but Akio's -- and it hung on her like old clothes on a scarecrow. She gave him a rictus of a smile which seemed to show far too much in the way of teeth and drew her sugar-brittle fingers over the silk shawl on the piano. I saw that there were red roses embroidered on it.

"Even though you... left, brother," she said, leaning against the piano as though on a crutch, "You still can't seem to get beyond those first few chords. Those first few baby steps."

Miki stared at her in horror and said, "At least I left."

"Didn't we have this conversation before?" asked Kozue. "It seems to me that you never really left at all." She smiled at him again, this time without showing her teeth, a narrow knifegash of a smile.

"That's not why I--"

"Ah, but why did you?" She strolled around the piano bench, leaned down to pick up the music in her corpse-white fingers. "Was it to find your shining thing? And did you? And was it as shiny as you thought it would be?"

"No," he replied, although I doubted any of us knew which of the questions it was in reply to.

"Perhaps I will be able to give you something else," she said, idly flipping through the book.

"I don't want anything from you," he said with unexpected vehemence.

She looked up then, staring at him over the edge of the music with a narrow, lidless, reptilian glare. Then she leaned over in a stilted, puppet-like parody of seduction (her flat bosom was, in any case, well buttoned up), and said:

"Even your son, O Prince?"

It was a garage, but the door of this garage was open. Abandoned on the asphalt, a shiny new padlock with the red Ohtori rose around the keyhole lay. It had suspicious scorch marks on it. For some reason, there was a tiny beret next to it.

The inside of the garage was dark, a velvety full darkness such as you don't expect to see on a summer's day.

Suddenly, there was a stir of sound and movement. "CHHHUUUUUU!" Then, "Chu! Chuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!" wailed Chu-chu -- or at least, I had to assume it was Chu-chu, because I didn't see him. A tire rolled down the slight incline of the driveway and off into the distance.

"Chuuuuuuuuuuu......" faded off into the distance with the tire.

As we entered the high iron gates, I said, "Anthy. Anthy!"

"What?" she asked, raising her voice over the roar of the motorcycle beneath us as she coasted to a stop. All around us, students stared.

"Miki," I yelled. "Music room. You have to hurry!"

"Right," she replied, and kicked the engine back to snarling life. Students shrieked as she swung the machine onto one of the footpaths and gunned it. I couldn't help laughing as she headed directly for that building. I could have sworn I saw my old counselor throw herself ungracefully out of the way in her narrow skirt, her pointed glasses nearly flying from her face, and I giggled into Anthy's hair.

I half expected Anthy to go right through one of the tall windows, but she didn't. She did leave the motorcycle in the front hall after gunning it up the broad front steps (students in Ensemble practice stuck their heads out of windows to gape at us), and the doors flew open for us just like in the movies. She jumped off the cycle and I dismounted with somewhat less grace.

She started off down the hall, looking utterly out of place in her torn leggings and long skirt and I followed, feeling my heart suddenly squeezed against my chest. Not because she could drive motorcycles up front steps or rescue me from cars at impossible speeds: because she wanted to.

When I followed Anthy into the music room, Miki had fallen off the music bench and was sitting stunned on the floor. One arm was raised as if to shield himself from a blow. For some reason, the candelabra on the piano was lighted -- three tall tapers, white as bone, had ghostly little flames dancing at their tips, bleached in the sunlight pouring in the windows.

Kozue had both hands braced on the piano bench, peering gleefully down at Miki. She looked like a vampire stooping over its prey. "You can hardly run away from us now, my brother," she said. "Not now that you have such a tie to us. I know that you wouldn't want to abandon your responsibilities."

Anthy walked across the room and picked up the candelabra. As she did so, the black shawl slid to the floor at her feet and lay there like a puddle of shadow.

Kozue seemed to notice us for the first time, and shot an irritated glance at me. Then she saw Anthy and stood up, lifting her knifelike chin. "You can't change the past," she told Anthy.

"And you cannot change at all," said Anthy.

"Your brother is stronger than you," said Kozue. "He's your oniisan, after all. And I'm with him."

"You are too weak even to bleed," said Anthy, and blew out one of the candle flames. It seemed to me that the sunlight was more golden, more slanted, and it came in through the windows in a sharply defined angle now.

"I'm too strong to bleed," retorted Kozue. "I have remade myself of steel and ivory, and others bleed for me. I never lose anything of myself."

"To bleed is not always to lose," said Anthy.

Kozue snarled. "He said it would work. Just like the story."

"He lied," said Anthy, and blew out the second flame.

Now the light pouring in the windows was ruby and amber. It seemed to me that Kozue gave it a terrified look -- as though, in a bizarre reversal, she was afraid of the coming of dark -- before rounding on Anthy again. "You lie!" she said, her voice rising to a shriek. "You lie! What can you know about such things?" She reeled back away from the piano, from Anthy. "It happens... like with Keiko..."

Anthy shook her head. "The dead cannot make children. They can only... take credit for other people's work."

Near Kozue, I saw Miki get to his feet, his face pale as milk but his gaze steady and fixed on Anthy. He whispered something -- I couldn't hear it but Anthy could.

She said to him, "This place is outside of life. Life cannot start here," and then blew out the last flame.

Dusk fell with frightening suddenness. The shape of the piano became nothing more than a looming shadow; the chair in the corner faded. Anthy was standing suddenly not on a scarf but on a patch of ground strewn with red roses, wilting at her feet.

In the quickly spreading darkness, Kozue cried out, but whether in anger or in fear it was hard to tell. The door banged, and she was gone.

"It would seem that we have," Yukio said to his sister across the tea table at the center of the hedge maze, "new invitations from the End of the World."

I hadn't even known Ohtori had a hedge maze. The hedges were decorated with colored paper lanterns, and fireflies were beginning to rise under the dark arches of the bushes.

Hoshiko glanced at the red-sealed envelope on her plate and sniffed. "I shan't bother to open it then." The plate had a design of tiny, sleeping mice painted around the edges.

"You might be interested to know, though," Tsuwabuki said, checking his stopwatch, "that it merely invites us to witness a duel."

"In the arena." Toshiro dangled a hand down from the branch he was reclining on and grinned unpleasantly at Hoshiko. "While the duel is happening!"

"How unprecedented," Hoshiko said, tearing her envelope in two and holding the edge of one piece to the lantern on the table. It began to burn. "Will you be participating, Kiryuu-san?"

Touga smiled at her, then carefully knocked his croquet ball through the wicket. "I have other things to do."

There was a crashing in the vegetation, and a machete slashed open the hedge nearest the table. Kozue staggered through, panting and perspiring heavily, a battered fedora cocked back on her head. "It's time," she said. "Come on, all of you." She looked up at Touga. "Except you. And you know what to do."

"Better than anyone, Student Council President," Touga said. "Don't keep the End of the World waiting."

It was a disorienting several moments. There I was, in the darkness of the music room. Miki was nearby -- I could hear his harsh breathing as he was trying not to cry. Anthy was holding my hand. And yet. And yet...

There was Anthy, saying to Juri, "It's time to end this."

Juri, standing in the salle with a foil in her hands, said, "About time," and put the foil neatly back in place. The two of them left together.

And there was Anthy, saying to Saionji, who was lingering in a hallway, "Come on, Saionji-san. What we've all been waiting for is ready."

Saionji cast a last look at the door that led to the office of Aiko, Yuuko, and Keiko, shook his head, and followed her from the building.

Anthy was there, too, with Nanami, saying, "Come, Nanami-san. Your brother is waiting."

Nanami tossed her head, turned her back on the campus green, and followed Anthy.

The Anthy holding my hand said, "Miki, Utena, it's time for the duel."

Miki stood up straighter in the dimness. "Will there be a duel then?" he said.

Anthy laughed gently. "He thinks so, anyway."

She squeezed my hand, and Miki and I followed her out of the building into the twilight.

In a brief flash, I saw what seemed to be a brightly-lit garage, shiny and clean as something in an advertisement. In the middle of the impossibly large space was a red convertible.

It was up on blocks, tires missing. The hood was up.

In front of it, dangling the keys from one limp hand, stood Touga. He scratched his head in puzzlement, and looked around the garage vaguely, but there were no tires to be seen.

As Anthy ascended the steps to the gate ahead of us, I had to stop to rub my eyes. I suddenly saw her as if through a heat shimmer, or a hall of mirrors, with a dozen Anthys converging on her, a dozen pairs of arms raised or poised or moving. She looked over her shoulder at me -- well, one of her did, because I saw another face looking the other way -- and the shimmer resolved, and all the arms came together into her two arms.

She put her hands on the gate and the mechanisms began to flow and shift with rushing water. The enormous flower of the gate bloomed open. Unlike times past, though, a curtain of water poured over that opening. The veil of water broke the hard, polished sunlight streaming in behind it into a shimmering, flowing glow, like a special effect in a movie. It was made all the more eerie by the fact that we were all standing in a purple dusk, the black outlines of campus buildings looming behind us.

When Saionji balked at walking through the water, Anthy smiled and said, "Did not the samurai pour water over their swords to purify them?"

Saionji looked at her and opened his mouth, then closed it. He plunged through the curtain. Miki followed him. Nanami covered her hair with her hands and threw herself into the water.

Anthy took my hand and we passed through the gate together, as we'd never done before. We emerged on the other side, streaming with water. Juri followed, striding through the water in a single step.

Anthy stepped close to Juri and slid her hand along Juri's waist to the small of her back. Juri's head snapped up and she turned a shocked look down upon Anthy. Anthy just smiled and stepped away. Juri shook her head and led the way to the stairs.

Miki and I made a cursory hunt for the gondola, and couldn't find it. Anthy watched us tolerantly, then passed on by. We gave up and began to scale the stairs for what felt like the thousandth time, walking behind Anthy in her old and ragged shirt, skirt, and leggings.

Of course, Akio was already there in his white Prince's uniform. Shiori stood at his left hand, still in the Rose Bride dress. Touga lounged against the wall, one hand resting on Keiko's shoulder. The Student Council stood in a small cluster around Kozue, with Yukio standing just a little apart. Wakaba stood alone, hands clasped behind her.

"This is an interesting reversal, little sister," Akio said. "It's been a long time since anyone challenged me to a duel."

Anthy regarded him with, I thought, something like pity. "You know it's over now," she said.

"I will have a duel," Akio said. "That's the way we play, little sister."

He gestured sharply to Shiori, and she stepped forward, opening her hands in a way that was deeply familiar.

Shiori said, "O Roses of the noble castle..."

Anthy seized my wrist. "Utena," she said.

I found that I felt oddly numb, even paralyzed, by the sound of Shiori's voice.

Shiori said, "Roses of noble memory..."

Anthy said, "Utena, pull the sword from me."

I couldn't move. I noticed that Shiori's voice was shaking.

Shiori said, "O Power of Dios that slumbers within me..."

Anthy turned to me and grabbed the sleeves of my uniform. "Now," she said through clenched teeth.

I saw that Shiori's face was wet. It took every ounce of will I had to drag my gaze from Shiori down to Anthy.

Shiori said, "I beseech thee, harken unto thy master..."

Anthy said, hissing, "She'll die, Utena."

I looked down at Anthy's furious face, and the paralysis lifted.

Shiori said, and so did Anthy, "Appear before me..."

Shiori, Anthy, Akio, and I all simultaneously said, "Grant me the power to Revolutionize the World!"

Anthy went back over my arm with the ease of long practice. I saw the bright, sharp light between her breasts and reached...

I remember those other times. I remember how the hilt was warm and fit my hand perfectly. How the sword slid out of her chest silently and easily. How it came free and I swung it aloft as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do.

This was not like those times.

My hand closed around the hilt, as before, but then I began to struggle to pull the sword. I gritted my teeth, braced my legs, and pulled for all I was worth.

Later, Nanami gave me a curiously vivid picture of what she saw -- me dragging the sword out of Anthy, Akio struggling to hold onto the sword in Shiori's chest, and the motions of a tug-of-war going on for several eternal seconds.

I won, the resistance vanishing and the sword surging up into the air and catching the sunlight in the unnatural midday of the arena.

When I looked up, Shiori was flung backward over Akio's arm. Her face was white and wet and blank. Akio glowered at me from under his brows. He dropped Shiori carelessly.

Shiori hit the arena floor with a sickening thud and lay still.

I set Anthy carefully on her feet. Anthy, jaw tight, straightened the front of the red Rose Bride jacket with a determined tug at the hem.

Anthy said, coolly, "It's all the same as always. C'est toujours perdrix, mon cher frËre." She gestured and the Rose Bride dress exploded into a fountain of roses. A wind whipped around her and spiraled them up away from her dark and naked form. The flowers vanished over the side of the arena, and she was left clothed only in her wildly blown hair.

Akio snarled at her, then stretched out his hand to Wakaba. "Wakaba-chan, I need your help."

Wakaba went to him obediently and gazed up into his face. "What can I do, Akio-san?"

"I need your heart," he said, stroking her cheek lightly.

I started to step forward, raising the Sword of Dios, but Anthy gripped and held my wrist.

"You have it, of course, Akio-san," Wakaba said, a little confused.

"Good," he said, and set his hand over her breastbone.

Wakaba made a tiny hurt animal noise and fell backward. Akio seized the hilt of her heartsword and raised it so that the blade sang. He let Wakaba fall, as he'd done with Shiori. This time, though, Yukio darted forward to catch her before she struck the ground. I gave the Student Council Vice President a grateful glance.

Akio launched himself toward us, striking as quick as a snake, the sword scything lethally toward me.

Before I could throw myself back or try to block with the Sword of Dios, I heard and saw the blade -- Wakaba's heart -- snap into three pieces.

Akio managed to club me brutally in the jaw with the hilt before retreating.

I staggered back. I felt dazed and thoroughly out of shape, but raised the Sword of Dios and set my stance again as best I could.

Akio dropped the hilt with a dull clang and pointed at the Student Council President, saying, "You now."

I saw Kozue flinch, but she stepped forward with chin raised. She made no noise when the sword leapt toward his hand, but clutched once at the air and fell slowly to her knees. She gave a long, hoarse exhalation as the blade slid out, and tumbled limply to her side.

Akio brandished the heartsword.

Before I could react, Miki lunged past me, drawing a sword -- I did wonder briefly, from where? and then dismissed the thought as trivial -- and meeting Akio in a clash of sparks and sound.

Miki was a superb swordsman, there was no question of that. Their exchange was brief, savage, and so fast my eyes could barely follow their motions. For a few moments, Miki looked as if he had the advantage. Akio lost ground, backpedaling a few steps. But then he lunged forward again, catching Miki by surprise, and a final strike cast Miki's blade wide. Instantly, the point of Kozue's heartsword drove for Miki's heart.

I was deafened by an explosion next to me, and Kozue's heartsword went flying away. Akio's hand bloomed with a trail of red rose petals, and he clutched it to himself, looking past me.

I followed his gaze and found Juri lowering her police pistol. She looked down at it, gave a sideways glance to Anthy, then tucked it into the waistband of her uniform at the small of her back. "That's enough of that nonsense," she said.

Miki had fallen to his knees and retrieved Kozue's heartsword. He stared at it, with its intricate hilt and slender blade, and didn't seem to know what to do with it. And then it broke in two in his hands.

Akio turned to Touga, who backed against the wall, looking pale and appalled. "Please," Akio demanded, extending the injured hand.

The tableau held for several seconds, their gazes locked, and then Nanami interposed herself.

She turned her back to Akio and faced her brother, fists on hips. "You know, oniisan," she said, "he lied to you, just like he lied to all of us. He lies to everyone. He couldn't possibly be our father, your father, whatever it was, exactly, that he said. Look at him." We all, including Touga, obediently looked at Akio.

The planes and curves of Akio's skull shone clearly under his skin, which had taken on a ghastly grey hue. His eyes, which I remembered as so brilliant and clear and compelling, were dull, possibly with pain, and strangely cloudy. He seemed to be shrivelled into a husk, a cicada's shell, left behind in the summer. The prince's uniform and his hair and his skin all seemed to share the same bleached, colorless quality. The only color in the image of Akio was the steady dripping of red from his hand, drops that struck and splattered into rose petals on the arena floor.

"Does that look human?" Nanami said to Touga. "Does that look alive? Do you think he's capable of having children?"

"A dead god," Juri said.

"A dying god," Anthy corrected, "who refused to die. He was dead from the moment he refused."

The grey statue that was Akio had continued to stretch out his hand to Touga, and now he roused himself to gesture again with the bleeding hand. "Who will you believe?" he rasped.

Touga shrank back as far as he could go without flinging himself off the arena. Akio dropped his hand and looked emotionlessly at the remaining clutch of Student Council members. He took a step toward Hoshiko.

Akio paused and shifted his gaze from Hoshiko to Yukio. "You," he said hoarsely, "or her. Decide."

Yukio looked away from Akio, at Hoshiko, who, for once in her life, looked confused and worried. The siblings gazed at each other a long time, and then Yukio very deliberately stepped toward Akio.

Tsuwabuki erupted into motion, twin swords singing from their sheaths. "I'm the chosen one now!" he roared. "Not you!"

Yukio flung himself aside from the first wild slash. Tsuwabuki turned and started to charge Yukio again.

Hoshiko kicked out as he passed her. One snap-kick sent the nearest blade flying, and a heavier kick drove accurately into Tsuwabuki's solar plexus. He let out a "whoof!" and dropped his other sword, clutching at his belly and making siren-like attempts to inhale. Hoshiko stood and watched him for a moment, then her leg flashed out again, high and true, and struck him hard in the side of the head. Tsuwabuki dropped as if poleaxed.

She strode over to Yukio and slapped his face nearly as hard as she'd kicked Tsuwabuki. "That was stupid!" she snarled.

Toshiro -- little Toshiro, so strange and so easy to ignore -- dashed to Akio's side and fell to one knee at his feet. "Oh, my lord of the World's End!" he said in his highest and most polite language. "I will not -- nay, cannot desert you. Take my sword or my life, my dear lord, for they were ever yours!"

Akio lowered his stony gaze to the boy. Without a word, he reached down and set his bleeding hand on Toshiro's chest. The sword came free, shining and golden in the odd light of the arena, and Toshiro cast himself backward on the floor, arms outstretched messianically.

I raised the Sword of Dios once more as Akio turned stiffly to confront me with Toshiro's sword.

Akio fought, in our first flurry of blows, without his customary grace. He moved like a marionette: he gangled, he lurched, he flopped. It was more effective than you might think, even so, and I found myself losing ground to this inhuman monstrosity. It was all I could do to defend myself from the madly keening heart of Toshiro.

Anthy stepped between Akio and me, and caught the descending blade of Toshiro's sword between her palms. With a sideways wrench, she tore it from Akio's hand and cast it away. Toshiro's heart blew apart in screaming slivers as it left Akio's hand. One grazed my cheek, stinging like a wasp.

Anthy reached back, her hand closing over mine.

I let her take the Sword of Dios from me.

"You have no right to that sword," said Akio. "It won't serve you."

"It won't serve you either," said Anthy. She glanced down casually at the sword, and then, with surprising force, drove it into the floor of the Dueling Arena. It stood there, quivering, and a tiny crack opened in the white marble where it was driven in. "Not anymore. Not ever again."

"It's mine."

"I made it for you." I looked at Anthy, startled, as she said it. There was nothing in her cool, even tone to suggest that what she was saying cost her anything. But I knew that it did, and exchanged a look with Juri that made me think she knew it too. Anthy rested her hand gently on the hilt of the sword in a gesture that was not a caress but a sign of ownership.

Akio's skin was drawn tight around his mouth and eyes. "The Sword of Dios," he said in a low voice, not quite a whisper.

"Yes," said Anthy, looking down at it. She placed her other hand on the hilt of the sword as well. "Dios' heartsword. You couldn't use mine."

"You don't... you can't..." Akio drew himself up to his full height and seemed to will life into himself. Despite the sickly color of his face, he managed to regain his aura of strength. "Anthy." His voice was caressing, but there was a note of something else behind it. "Anthy, think about what you are doing. After so long, you can't throw it all away. Think, Anthy, think of me. Think of yourself."

Anthy stood perfectly still, although the wind picked up again and teased at the long loose coils of her hair. "That," she said, almost in a whisper, "I have already done."

She didn't move, just stood there with her hands crossed on the hilt of the sword. For a moment, all was still.

Then I heard a strange singing noise. I flinched -- it was too like the sound of millions of swords slicing the air with their speed. But this was a singular, edged, metallic noise. Anthy did not move. Yet the noise increased and rose in pitch until the very air rang with it, as though we were all enclosed in an enormous, transparent bell. And just as it seemed the note could climb no higher, it stopped.

In the utter silence that followed, the Sword of Dios cracked soundlessly along its blade, and exploded into bright nothingness under Anthy's motionless hands.

We all stared.

Akio fell to his knees.

Anthy, motionless as a statue, naked as the sword had been, regarded him. Then she raised something in her fingertips and examined it at eye level.

It was a rose hip. Wrapped around it was a single silver hair.

She untangled the hair from the rose hip carefully. It caught on the floral sepals on one end; it twined around itself in intricate knots; it clung to the rose hip like a lover. But she unwound it and held it up between her fingertips as a fine, almost invisible line, defining tautness between her hands.

Then she snapped her hands apart and the thread broke. Although it was impossible, I could have sworn that I heard the sound of it breaking, like a pin dropping onto a glass floor a thousand miles away. Akio flinched and his lip lifted in a snarl, showing impossibly long teeth, the fleshless grin of something embalmed. "I didn't need that anyway," he said, but his voice was curiously drained, like a recording from long ago.

Then she examined the rosehip itself, turning it this way and that, rolling it sensuously along her fingers. She lifted it to her lips.

"NO!" bellowed Akio, and lunged forward.

She closed her eyes and bit into it. She chewed briefly, then swallowed.

Almost immediately, she wrapped her arms across her abdomen and sank to her knees. I stepped forward, reaching for her.

A circle of scarlet began to spread out from her, staining the white floor of the arena.

Akio saw the edge of the circle and his eyes widened. He threw himself backwards and scrambled away crabwise from the advancing tide. "Anthy..." he said, gasping. "Anthy, no!"

Anthy raised her head and smiled at him in a pained way. "Tempus fugit," she said. The red hit the curved lines of the rose pattern and raced along it, too fast to follow, swooping and encircling everyone standing in the arena.

I heard a scream, and turned to see Keiko clutching her belly. She reached up and out blindly. "Touga-sama!" she cried.

Touga, if possible, looked more horrified than he had when Akio was confronting him.

Saionji dropped his sword and ran to her side. She struck at him and called, "Touga-sama!" again, but Saionji scooped her up into his arms.

"Are we done here?" Saionji asked, gritting his teeth as one of her flailing hands struck him across the face.

"Yes," Juri said. She looked briefly at the prone figure in the Rose Bride dress, then turned her back.

The entire arena floor was patterned in red, and Akio was cowering against the far wall, arms across his face. Blood ran freely from his hand, and the sleeve of his jacket was dyed crimson with it.

I went to Anthy. She smiled up at me and rose to her feet. "Sorry," she said. "You probably think I'm such a wimp. But, you know, I'm not used to it the way you are." She looked down at her blood-streaked legs. "I suppose I will get used to it, though."

I put my jacket around her shoulders and kissed her forehead. "Let's go," I said.

We found the gondola, with Anthy's help, and squeezed aboard. Saionji held Keiko, who screamed without ceasing for Touga. Juri held Keiko's feet to keep her from kicking anyone. Nanami watched Keiko with morbid fascination. Yukio and Hoshiko kept to their own side, trying not to bother the rest of us.

Wakaba, having woken up as we found the gondola, shakily ran toward us. "Utena! Wait!"

I went to meet her, and helped her the rest of the way in. She leaned against me and sniffled. My gaze met Anthy's over her head, and Anthy smiled almost maternally.

Miki hesitated and looked back at his sister's huddled form.

Anthy put a hand on his shoulder. "She has to rescue herself, in the end. Like these two did." She nodded at the siblings from the present Student Council, and they stared back at her, uncomprehending. "If she can, she'll come down from the tower on her own two feet. Or she'll stay, and there's really nothing you can do about it. He'll cast them all out himself."

"Even my brother?" Nanami said.

Anthy shrugged. "Eventually."

Miki shook himself like a dog, stepped aboard, and hauled the gate shut. The gondola shuddered into descent.

We were all silent, except Keiko, until we had passed through the gate that no longer roared with water.

Hoshiko paused then and said, looking distastefully at the shrieking pregnant woman, "I can call for an ambulance, if you like."

Saionji nodded. "Please," he added, after Keiko wound up and punched him hard in the face. Juri took hold of her wrists, leaving her feet to kick.

Hoshiko produced a cell phone and placed the call while we walked through the campus. I noticed that Anthy's skirt and ragged shirt had appeared again, sometime between the end of the gondola ride and when we stepped back onto campus.

Students were wandering around the quad dazedly, some of them weeping, some of them laughing, some of them just holding their heads. One was sitting on the ground, turning the pages of a textbook. All the pages were blank. It was afternoon again, yet the quality of the light was different. This no longer seemed like an afternoon that would go on forever.

We passed Aiko and Yuuko. Or possibly Yuuko and Aiko. They sat on a bench, side-by-side, solemnly watching us through their rose-colored glasses and sipping tea from china cups. They looked far older than they ought to, like little old ladies at the park.

As we neared the front gate, we saw an elderly man and woman getting out of a car, calling out to a young female teacher who stared at them, appalled, whispering, "Mother? Father? How did you get so... old?"

When the ambulance and a couple of police cars arrived, the attendants had to put Keiko in restraints (with the assistance of one of the police officers) to get her aboard. She continued to call for Touga. They tried to stop Saionji from joining her in the ambulance, and he angrily informed them that he was her husband. He put his hand to his pocket, in search of his ID, and looked helplessly at Anthy.

She, of course, produced his wallet from a pocket of my jacket. "I think you dropped this, Saionji-san."

"Thank you," he said, earnestly gripping her hand as he took the wallet. "For everything."

He swung aboard and the ambulance drove away, lights flashing, sirens sounding.

"Will she ever," Nanami said, looking after the flashing lights, "you know, wake up?"

Anthy was silent for a moment, then said, "It's up to her."

"I doubt it, then," Juri said. "Shall we go? I think we've done enough damage here."

We all looked at Anthy. She smiled her best mysterious Mona Lisa smile at us.

Just at that moment, someone called, "Miki! Miki, wait!" and we heard running footsteps behind us. We, of course, all turned.

Robert jogged up to us, looking haggard and bedraggled. He stopped a few feet from Miki, and fixed Miki with what I guessed to be the most charming smile he could conjure at that moment. "Miki, old boy," he said almost jovially in English, "I'm in a spot of trouble, I think."

Miki looked at him without reaction.

"Really," Robert said, his brow wrinkling with consternation. "I've got no passport, you see. And I've, uh, I've been given to understand that, um..."

"You've been dismissed from service?" Miki said, sweetly poisonous enough to do his sister proud.

"Yes," Robert said, deflating. "So you see, I'm really in quite a fix."

"Indeed," Miki said.

There were a few beats of silence.

Nanami said, suspiciously, "How did you get to Japan without a passport?"

Robert blinked. "He, ah, sent the car for me." We all stared at him. "Well, you know, it doesn't do to think too hard about these things. What do you say, Miki, can you help me out? For old times' sake?"

Miki raised his eyebrow. "Which old times are you referring to? The old times where you were seducing me at the behest of Ohtori Akio? Or the old times where you were sleeping with my sister?"

"Oh, I say," Robert said, sounding hurt. "I say."

Miki sighed and turned a look at me, then Anthy, then finally settled on Juri. Miki raised an eyebrow. Juri smiled.

She stepped forward. Robert shrank away from her. She grabbed him by the shoulder and spun him around, cuffing him expertly. "Oh, come now," she said, "We'll get you home safely, you illegal alien you. I'm sure a little time in the reality of the Japanese judicial system and being deported will be a welcome change from Ohtori, don't you think?" She smiled and nodded to us, then shoved him into motion toward the gates.

"Juri," I said, "this may be a bad question to ask, but where did you get those handcuffs?"

"Funny," said Juri, "I just reached into my pocket and there they were." She glanced back and held a hand out to Wakaba. "Shinohara-san, I can take you home."

Wakaba looked longingly at the profferred hand, then up at me. I smiled and nodded in what I hoped was an appropriately cinematic manner, and she gave me a squeeze and went with Juri.

We watched as Juri shoved Robert into the back of one police car and slammed the door on him, then took Wakaba to the other car. After a moment, the police cars pulled away and drove down the hill toward the town.

We all looked at each other.

Yukio and Hoshiko took polite leave of us then, not inquiring how we would be departing.

Anthy ran her fingers through her hair and sighed, sounding tired. She looked around at the students crying, laughing, sitting in poses of mute despair. Then she said, murmuring the words, almost whispering,

"And every scream tore through my throat.
No hurt I did not feel, no death
That was not mine; mine each last breath
That, crying, met an answering cry
From the compassion that was I.
All suffering mine, and mine its rod;
Mine, pity like the pity of God.
Ah, awful weight! Infinity
Pressed down upon the finite Me!
My anguished spirit, like a bird,
Beating against my lips I heard;
Yet lay the weight so close about
There was no room for it without.
And so beneath the weight lay I
And suffered death, but could not die."

Nearby, a young female student -- perhaps thirteen years old -- was crying "No, it's impossible! It's impossible!" over and over again into her cell phone. Next to her a young man, perhaps sixteen, was staring at the front gates of the school as though at a miracle. As I watched, he stood up, threw his bookbag to the ground, and ran out the gates without looking back.

We stared at Anthy. I know I must have looked appalled. She said, "Edna St. Vincent Millay. It's a very long poem, in English. It ends like this:

"The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky,—
No higher than the soul is high.
The heart can push the sea and land
Farther away on either hand;
The soul can split the sky in two,
And let the face of God shine through.
But East and West will pinch the heart
That can not keep them pushed apart;
And he whose soul is flat—the sky
Will cave in on him by and by."

I doubted that most of the students understood what she was saying. I wasn't sure that I understood, and I at least spoke the language.

Then she turned, raising her chin, and looked at me. "Let's go home," she said. "It's time to go home."

@---Go on to the Epilogue ---@