An old fashioned manual elevator, open to the sun and sky. The clatter as the door is pulled shut. The sudden weight as the elevator begins to ascend. A distant organ plays a toccata in a minor key, as a sonorous voice rises above the mechanical noises:
"'Twas Eve who saw the fruit was good for making people wise."
A willowy girl in her late teens, orange ringlets cascading to her shoulders, leans against the side of the elevator. Her eyes are nearly closed, and the expression on her lips is unreadable.
"The apple, stuck in Adam's throat, then opened up their eyes."
A wide-eyed young boy, palm pressed to the other wall of the elevator for balance, watches as a flock of doves fly past, nearly at eye level for a brief moment.
"We know much now, but still we see as through a darken'd glass."
A young man, tall and proud, with a mane of wavy green hair, stands to the side, unsupported by the elevator walls. Hands jammed into his uniform pockets, he stares with narrowed eyes off to the side.
"When we ourselves partake this fruit, we'll be the ruling class."
Another young man, as tall as the other, maybe more so, stands ramrod-straight as a soldier in the very center of the elevator. It is he who intones the litany as the elevator continues its ascent. But now four voices ring out as one, in invocation:
The green-haired man removes his right hand from his pocket, placing it heavily upon the shoulder of a dark-skinned beauty, no taller that the blue-haired boy. Her face is devoid of expression, her bespectacled green eyes dull, flat, and pupilless. A thin line of light runs across her irises, or perhaps it is the reflection of the sunlight outside the rising cage. Her head turns slightly toward the green-haired man as he speaks alone:
A Shojo Kakumei Utena / Chobits crossover story
by Ukyou Kuonji
Disclaimer: Shojo Kakumei Utena belongs to Chiho Saito, BE-PAPAS, and Software Sculptors. Chobits is the property of CLAMP. No infringement upon these rights is intended, though personally I wouldn't mind having a persocon that looked and sounded like Ran-chan, if you get my drift…
Episode 1: Seeing Red
"I told you already, he's not a pet!"
The strange-looking half-mouse, half-monkey creature squealed in apparent fright and pain as it dangled by its tail in front of her face. Utena cringed at the look on ChuChu's face, even as the teacher continued to lecture her, ChuChu's tail pinched between her thumb and forefinger.
The teacher waved ChuChu mere inches from Utena's nose, causing a sweatdrop to appear on the girl's brow. What kind of damage could this crazy woman be causing? "I know very well that he's a persocon, Miss Tenjou. Just because this isn't Tokyo doesn't mean we're wearing animal skins and living in caves. We even have a policy regarding persocons, in case you didn't know. And that rule is that they are NOT allowed in the classroom!
"The whole purpose of Ohtori Academy is to teach students to think for themselves, Miss Tenjou. If we let students use these things, it would utterly defeat that purpose. They would do all the thinking for you."
Utena desperately tried to choke back laughter at the idea of letting ChuChu do her creative writing homework; a paper covered with "Chu, chu-chu-chu, chu chu" would not exactly win her high marks.
She decided to stifle her laughter by arguing with the teacher instead. "They do not do all the thinking… they can only think as well as they've been programmed to, Lamer-sensei."
Bad move. "And once you've programmed them, they'll do all the menial work you're supposed to be doing! I won't have it! Ohtori Academy will not have it! I do not want to see you with a persocon on this campus, do you understand me?" The instructor, in a fury, was whirling ChuChu over her head by the tail, as if to fling it into orbit.
Utena put up her hands in an attempt to block the teacher in case she did let go of ChuChu's tail. "Lamer-sensei, please! That thing cost me a lot of money! Can't I just leave it in my room?!"
The two principals lock eyes, as if preparing for combat. Only the green-haired man is armed, and with what could hardly be considered a weapon; the dark-skinned, dull-eyed girl. Her own gaze at the red-haired man duplicates that of her companion, but while his eyes burn with hidden passion, her gaze is flat and unblinking, like a mannequin. It is unnerving, even for Touga Kiryuu, President of the Student Council, confident of End of the World, to be in the sights of these pairs of eyes.
He cannot bear it any longer; he strikes. "The Student Council and I are much displeased with your treatment of the Rose Bride. Do keep in mind she is only yours by the will of End of the World…"
"…and he has certain rules pertaining to our quest for the Power to bring Revolution to the world. Yes, yes, I am well aware of it." Kyouichi Saionji cracks a smile. It is not a happy smile, but a hard, smug smile, and he directs it full force at his closest friend and nemesis. "Why would I not be? The Rose Bride has told me everything—"
"—and yet you choose to treat Her in the most shameful manner,” Touga cuts in, the anger rising in his voice. "You are not free to do with Her whatever you please."
There is a murmur from the smaller, blue-haired boy, seated at a small round table further onto the balcony where the Student Council meets. "…whatever you please." He appears to be taking minutes in his notebook, and yet there seems to be little about this particular exchange that has to do with Student Council business.
The girl, seated carelessly opposite the younger boy, also repeats the phrase. "Whatever you please…" Her tone drips contempt; whether from a distaste of Saionji's alleged mistreatment, or what said mistreatment might entail, cannot be determined. Her tone is enough to cause Saionji to twitch ever so slightly, and tighten his one-armed embrace of the dark-skinned girl.
"The Bride has an intimate knowledge of the rules, and has shared that intimate knowledge with me. There are no secrets between us. None of these rules dictates what my treatment of Her should be. I love Her, and this is how lovers behave; do any of you have a problem with that?!"
The smug smirk on Saionji's face grows wider and tighter with the ensuing silence. Touga merely continues to stare at him, while a fierce red blush slowly spreads across Miki's face, and Juri's face sours further. But none of them answers. Not content with mere silence, the green-haired man throws down the gauntlet. "I didn't think so. However," and here his gaze locks once more on Touga, "if you should have a problem with the way She and I act, there are rules that permit you to try and change things. Anytime you feel yourself ready to challenge me, be my guest."
With this, Saionji turns on his heel and strides away toward the elevator. Prompted by a sharp "Come, Anthy," the dark-skinned girl — the Rose Bride — follows him out. The three remaining Student Council members stare at each other as two sets of footsteps echo off in the distance. There is a loud rattle of the elevator cage being opened, and a clang as it is shut.
And suddenly, the balcony is utterly deserted.
"So she let you keep it? Lucky!" Utena's was the only persocon Wakaba had ever seen, and it was so cute, too! She would have hated to see it confiscated by the teachers.
Utena placed her hands against the small of her back and pushed, sighing in relief as her vertebrae settled back into place with a satisfying series of popping noises. Wakaba was a good friend, really, but she had to lay off the caffeine, one of these days. There was such a thing as too enthusiastic a greeting. "Well, sort of. Ordinarily, she'd have had me ship ChuChu back to my folks, but since my folks are dead and all that, she told me I could leave it back in the dorm. But if she ever caught me with a persocon in class again, she made it pretty clear it was gonna be the property of Ohtori Academy in reeeeal short order.
"But it's really kinda pointless. I mean, ChuChu's got my appointment book, my to-do list, and all sorts of other stuff like that that I need to have on me at a moment's notice. Really, you might as well penalize every kid with a Day-Runner or something like that. By leaving him at the dorm, all he is, is a pet. If I just wanted something to greet me when I leave class, I've got you, Wakaba." Utena ruffled her hand through Wakaba's hair, being somewhat careful not to muss up the smaller girl's topknot.
"Ooooh, Utena-sama, you're so mean!" But Wakaba said it with a broad smile, like she did nearly everything else. It was Wakaba's smile that had kept Utena sane in the past couple of weeks since transferring to Ohtori. Sure, she'd proven surprisingly popular for a transfer student, what with being both athletically and academically gifted, but for all that, most of the people she'd met at Ohtori were interested in what she could do for them, be it in basketball or computer programming. All Wakaba was interested in was Utena herself. It was refreshing, it was liberating, it was… occasionally hard on the back. Wakaba's gang tackles made Utena wonder whether the girl had ever considered trying out for the rugby team.
But that smile, bright and wild, Utena could always count on it to make her day. It was worth the pain to see it every day. Utena stared out an open window as the sun beamed down upon the quadrangle; it was almost as bright as Wakaba's smile.
"Oooh! There he is!" Wakaba's finger jutted across Utena's field of vision, pointing out someone out there on the quad.
"There who is?"
"Saionji-sama!" Seeing Utena's puzzled expression, Wakaba elaborated, "Oh, come on, you don't know the Student Council Vice-President, Kyouichi Saionji? He's like the most popular guy in school!"
Utena's grin quirked on one side. "Can't be the most popular, if he only made Vice President…"
But Wakaba wasn't listening to her friend, as she proceeded to tick off Saionji-sama's virtues: "Captain of the kendo club, Student Council Vice-President — okay, you already know that — three-time Dean's List honoree…"
"You do mean the green-haired fellow down there? Who's the girl he's talking to, by the way?"
"Mm?" Wakaba's face puckered, as if Utena's question had anointed her with lemon juice. "Oh, her. Name's Anthy Himemiya. She's supposedly in our grade, but she almost *never* comes to class. And she still seems to get nearly-perfect grades!"
"Huh," Utena muttered as she leaned slightly out the window. "Wonder what her secret is."
"Dunno. Most of the time she's in the Council rose garden, just tending the flowers."
Utena pulled her head back in to look at her friend. "The Rose Garden?"
"Gosh, Utena, I know you're new here and all, but how could you miss the Rose Garden? You know, that little round greenhouse in the middle of the quad?"
"Ohh, so that’s what that thing is…" Utena went back to watching Saionji and Anthy in the quad. It looked like they were having a rather heated discussion. Well, okay, Saionji was having a heated discussion; Anthy didn't seem to be responding much. "And here I thought the place looked like a bird cage."
Wakaba giggled. "A bird cage? What kind of bird wouldja put in a cage that big? Ostriches?"
Utena tuned out her friend as she continued rattling on about big birds in cages, and how they might react to the situation, flapping her elbows like wings and stalking stiff-kneed about in a circle. Her focus was on the angry young man in the quad, and the girl that was evidently provoking him somehow. Suddenly, his hand lashed out and slapped Anthy on the cheek, hard enough that the impact could be heard from Utena's vantage point. The pink-haired girl frowned. "Mr. Perfect, huh? Can't say I think much of him."
But whatever was going on down there was none of her business. She drew in her head once again; she had the feeling that watching any more of this would just anger her further.
Whatever she had seen in the courtyard was already becoming a distant memory, drowned beneath the tide of trivia unleashed by Wakaba. Once she had gotten over laughing about ostriches in a bird cage, she had returned to what she considered her sworn duty toward Utena; that of educating her new classmate of the ins and outs of Ohtori. Who the easiest teachers were, and the hardest; the secret passageways connecting dorms and class buildings, so as to never be late, even in the dead of winter; where to sneak off to cop a smoke, and where to get 'em (not that she recommended that activity — yuck); who the hunkiest boys were on campus, and whether they were available, and where to find a little privacy for… well, you know…
Utena blinked at her friend with no small incredulity. "Um, Wakaba… you don't really seem the type to, ah, indulge in that sort of thing. How do you know about all this stuff?"
Wakaba laughed a little nervously, blushing and rubbing the back of her neck. "Well… it's just the sort of thing you hear about, if you've been here long enough. And if you're interested in knowing about it…"
"Why would I be interested in knowing about stuff like that, Wakaba? We're hardly fourteen years old."
"Oh, come on, Utena… don't you have dreams of being swept up by some prince on a white horse? Having him gather you in his arms, and bring you to the peak of ecstasy? I know I do." Wakaba's grin turned vaguely sheepish. "So I'm gathering information for when that day comes."
"And so you can, too, huh?" Utena instantly regretted her little joke, as Wakaba blushed a deep crimson. That had been a bit nasty, and it hadn't been that good of a joke. "Hey, I'm sorry about that, Wakaba-chan." But it kept Utena from thinking about princes on white horses; right now, she wanted that sort of thing as far from her mind as possible. Best to change the subject. "Look, do you have anyone in particular in mind yet?"
Wakaba's smile froze on her face, and her eyes appeared to lose focus for a moment. "Oh, Utena… he's tall and handsome. He's strong and defiant. I've dreamed about him so many times, just him and me…" She trailed off as her eyes got ever glassier, then suddenly snapped back to normal. "But you know what? I think something might happen between him and me soon. I've finally gotten up the nerve to write to him, and tell him how I feel."
"You wrote this guy a love letter?" Utena looked at her friend for some sign that she was kidding about this. None was forthcoming; Wakaba's happy face never wavered. "Doesn't that strike you as a bit desperate? A love letter in a locker, that's kinda cliché, isn't it?"
"Says one who's never gotten one." Now Wakaba's face wavered, if only to let her to stick her tongue out at her friend.
"You've gotten a love letter, Wakaba-chan? From this guy you're writing to? Then why are you bothering to simply—?"
"No, silly, not from my guy. From someone else, a while back. And don't look so shocked; why can't I have an admirer or two, after all?" Wakaba giggled as they walked through the classroom building, en route to the dorms. The setting sun poured its reddening rays into the hallway, and the girls' shadows grew longer with every step. Utena, in particular, found herself staring at the shadows as she attempted to frame a reply.
"What happened to the guy that sent you that letter? Did you go out with him or anything?"
Abruptly, Wakaba turned and gave her friend a quick hug. "Oh, U-te-na-sa-ma! There's no point to being so sensible about 'affaires de la coeur', okay?"
Even with her face scant centimeters from her own, Utena's murmured "I'll take that as a 'no'" went unheard, or at least unremarked on by Wakaba. Utena sighed. Sometimes, Wakaba could be so hard to figure. Was she really this shallow, or did she pretend to be to try to protect herself from the inevitable heartbreak?
"…and you were in my dreams last night, and we were dancing…" A half-distant voice, masculine, nasal and snide, interrupted her reverie… and melted the smile from Wakaba's face. What was this?
The two girls scurried over to a bulletin board a few meters down, where a crowd had gathered. A boy was reading something that had been pinned to it. "'Oh, it was so wonderful, dear Saionji, just you and I in the moonlight. I suppose you'll think me a fool for saying this, but…' Ha! I'll say! What a load of sap!" He laughed, and the others around him joined in.
Not Utena. She marched right in among the boys, and snatched the note from the reader's hands. "What's the matter with you? Making fun of some girl's love letter… how would you like it if the letters you sent to your girlfriends — or maybe you can't get any, it wouldn't surprise me — were tacked up here for everyone to make fun of?" It was enough to cow most of the boys, who either walked away shamefacedly, or mumbled something incoherent at their feet.
The reader, however, was more defensive that apologetic. "Hey, I didn't put it up here, I was just reading it. Talk to Saionji; for all I know, he probably did it himself."
"Fine! Where is the bastard?"
"Maybe check the kendo room, or the Rose Garden."
"The Rose Garden?" Something connected in her mind from earlier. "With Anthy?"
Why had that occurred to her? "Who?"
Utena ignored the boy, turning back to find her friend in the crowd, and her perplexed look only grew as she couldn't find her. "Wakaba?"
A swipe through the air, followed by another, and another. The young man clutches the wooden practice sword with a death grip as he swings it down upon an imagined opponent's head. The End of The World has spoken:
"There will be a challenger shortly. Prepare yourself."
Soon, imagination will be superceded by reality, and he will have to accept the challenge. He grits his teeth at the very thought that someone would dare take Her away from him. His swings become fiercer, faster, as he imagines his foe crushed before him.
No one must come between him and Eternity.
It took some time, but eventually Utena had tracked Wakaba down. She was in the deserted music room, crying. It wasn't a pretty sight. It wasn't that she was a sloppy crier, with mascara and powder trailing down her face, but rather that this expression was just so alien to the girl Utena had grown accustomed to. It was like seeing her with her hair completely shorn off; this was a completely different face Wakaba was wearing, and it wasn't an improvement.
Utena's temper flared. She'd had a bad enough day without this already. And it was bad enough that some jerk would make fun of some girl who gotten up the nerve to tell him she was crazy over him. But this was personal.
This asshole. Made. Wakaba. Cry.
He was gonna PAY.
Utena waved the torn letter in front of her friend. "Wakaba…? This is the man of your dreams? Kyouichi Saionji?" Unable to reply coherently, Wakaba nodded through her sobs.
Utena pursed her lips and nodded. She should have expected this. Placing a hand on her friend's shoulder, she pledged, "Look, I'm not gonna lecture you about your choice in men. I'm just gonna go kick the dude's butt for you, and then we can talk about this, okay?"
The look in Wakaba's eyes was blurry. Was there gratitude? Was there fear? There had to have been hurt and embarrassment, but Utena found herself at a loss to confirm anything. Finally, the girl nodded again, and Utena, given her self-appointed marching orders, drew herself up and stalked out of the music room.
Wakaba held her sobs as she watched her friend depart to do battle with the man she still loved despite this incident. When she could no longer hear Utena's footsteps, she burst into a fresh round of wailing.
Utena stalked through the halls of the athletic building, looking for the kendo club room. "Jeez, Wakaba, I know the guy's handsome and all that, but d'ya really want a guy who's gonna do this sort of thing? I tell ya, the only kiss that sonuvabitch deserves is from a couple of these!" She brandished her balled-up fists. "And I'm a mind to give 'em to him, too!"
The light filtering in from the dying sun was blood-red now, as Utena thought about the only memory she had of Kyouichi Saionji — the image of him slapping that Anthy girl. She pictured Wakaba in the dark-skinned girl's place, recoiling from the force of the back of his hand, stumbling backwards, to land roughly on her knees before him…
By the time she finally found the kendo room, she was ready to tear the door out of its shunt.
The reply was cool and unperturbed. "Practice is over. Applications to join are over there on the table." He pointed with his practice sword to a stack of papers on a table in the corner of the room. He seemed taller, now that Utena was no longer looking at him from four stories up. Taller, leaner, and fiercer than before, with a hunted look in his eyes. Inwardly, Utena found herself quailing at his presence. But there was no backing out now.
Images flashed through her mind. Anthy, falling to the ground, cheek bruised to a flaming red; the crowd of boys with their sneering laughter at the bulletin board; Wakaba wailing about what a fool this… this… she couldn't find it in herself to call him a man… had played her for. Rage returned, and she found the strength to stand.
"I wouldn't join any club that would have you as a member, let alone leader! What you did to Wakaba was unforgivable!"
He actually turned to look at her. She could feel his gaze upon her as it slowly slid down his nose at her, but at least he was giving her attention. "Wakaba?"
"Don't act like you don't know about that letter on the bulletin board!"
"Oh, that." His chuckle was without any discernable regret. "I get a lot of letters, you must know. That one? It had a certain… je ne sais quoi. I simply couldn't just throw it out. Prose like that should be published for all to read, don't you think?"
"You made a fool out of her, in front of everybody! She poured out her heart and soul to you, and you just laughed and threw it right back into her face! What the hell's the matter with you, anyway?! Don't you have a shred of decency?!"
The green-haired man does not reply, but merely returns to working on his forms. Strike, strike, strike. It is good practice; the ability to fight through distractions may come in handy some day.
The girl grabs a shinai and levels it at him. The pose is meant to be threatening, but is no more so than a mouse to a lion. She doesn't even have an idea of how to hold the wooden sword properly; for all the effect her pose has, she might as well brandish a banana at him. His smirk broadens.
"You're not even listening to me!" That much is true. The girl's ranting has become tiresome and pointless, and he has chosen to ignore her as he continues to practice for the upcoming duel.
And then she says those words:
"Fine. Then I challenge you!"
Only years of training and discipline keep him from dropping his shinai outright. He turns and stares at her, with particular emphasis given to the ring finger of her right hand. Good god, this girl is the new chosen Duelist? Does End of The World mean to insult him, sending a middle-schooler up against him in a Duel? His hand clenches around the handle, his other hand balls into a fist. Silently, he counts backward from ten, and then he addresses her.
"So, you are the promised Challenger, then. Very well. We shall meet in the forest behind the school after classes. The Dueling Arena is there." He casually places his shinai back with the rest of the equipment, and leaves to change.
She stands there, unmoving, as if stunned. Before he disappears entirely, she recovers herself sufficiently to call out: "Um… could you make that about eight or so? I've got work-study from five to seven-thirty…"
A thin pale hand waves dismissively. "Fine, fine. Eight it is. We will be there. Prepare yourself."
The Challenger has no idea what she is up against. End of The World may be disappointed by the quick battle, but what of it? Saionji Kyouichi shall retain Eternity.
Utena could feel the icy hand of fear grasp her. Saionji himself was intimidating enough, but that he would bring others to fight her… what had she gotten herself into?
It was at that moment that the school clock took the opportunity to chime. "Oh, shit! It's five o'clock!" Fear was pushed aside as she spun on her heel and made a mad dash for the computer lab.
"Sorry I'm late. Had a little dust-up in the hall."
"Yeah, someone told me about that. Tenjou, you've really gotta watch that temper of yours, girl." Tatsuya's grin was gentle, but there was a glint of annoyance in his eyes that made Utena hang her head slightly. "It's gonna cause you no end of trouble someday."
"Sorry, sempai." Then she looked up, defiantly. "But they were making fun of Wakaba!"
Her co-worker's face softened at the mention of the name. "Wakaba, huh? Well, then, bust 'em in the chops for me, will ya?" That Tatsuya had a bit of affection for Wakaba was an open secret. Wakaba didn't seem to notice it, but even Utena — never the most socially observant of people, by her own admission — had figured it out after only a couple of days working with him.
He rose from the desk overlooking the Ohtori Academy computer room, and motioned that she should take the seat. "Speaking of chops, you want that I should pick up dinner for you from the cafeteria?"
"Lousy segue, Kazami-sempai—"
"Ah-ah-ah. We're classmates, Tenjou. Equals."
"Fine, Tatsuya," Utena trailed off, making clear she was dropping any honorifics. "You were the one who showed me the ropes, here, though. And I owe ya one for dinner, yes, thanks." She settled herself down in the chair, adjusting it slightly for comfort, and setting ChuChu down on the desk.
"Hey, you gotta keep up your strength, don't you? Something to sustain you throughout the crushing boredom." Any glint of annoyance had completely vanished by now, replaced by a genuine smile shared between comrades-in-arms.
Utena found herself powerless but to return the smile as Tatsuya took his leave, before returning to the business of hooking ChuChu up to the standard PC on the desk. She sighed as she realized it would be the last time she could review her notes online like this: from now on, she'd have to take notes by hand. Damn Lamer-sensei…
And despite the teacher's assertion, Ohtori did strike Utena as a bit backward. Sure, desktop PCs had their place, but walking, talking always-on-the-go-with-you persocons were so much more powerful and (for the most part) convenient. Granted, ChuChu's speech sequencers made him a little less user-friendly, but her full-sized persocons had to remain with her aunt, unless she wanted to pay for double the room and board to house one. Yeah, Ohtori was doing its damndest to ignore the computer revolution.
Not that the lab she was paid to monitor for a few hours each day after classes was exactly primitive, although it was clearly not designed as a computer lab when first built. From the looks of it, it had originally been a small theatre, with banks of ultramodern desktop PCs forming a multi-tiered semicircle around the 'stage' the monitor's desk was perched on. From this vantage point, Utena could see everyone in the room, and make sure nothing untoward was going on. At the same time, everyone in the lab could see her, too, so she had to watch herself as well.
Of course, with everyone — including herself — engrossed in their own computer work, who was really watching anyone?
Homework done for the time being, class notes printed out for the last time (once again, Utena groaned — she would have to buy some notebooks before long. First, she'd have to find the time. Maybe this weekend…?), Utena looked up from the monitor long enough to scan the empty theatre. Tatsuya hadn't been kidding about the boredom; when was he going to bring dinner, anyway? She looked at the clock in the back of the room. Six.
She hadn't been here for an hour, yet.
It was time to do something drastic. "ChuChu?"
"Initiate Internet connection, and IRC protocols." The monkey-mouse nodded, and as his eyes glazed over, several windows popped up on the desktop terminal.
Technically, one was not supposed to use the Internet for recreational purposes in the computer lab. In fact, there were protocols set up in the Ohtori Academy mainframe server that either prevented certain accesses, or monitored them for later review (and potential disciplinary action, if necessary). However, since the people assigned to monitor these unauthorized accesses were those working in the computer lab itself, they knew how to circumvent the protocols.
And did so, with impunity. For Utena, ChuChu was the key. Since the connection was actually running through him, rather than any of the lab computers, any activity on her part was not being picked up by the mainframe; or rather, was picked up as being performed by some student on their own PC on their own time, and thereby acceptable. Utena wasn't sure which, but knew she would be safe in either case.
There was a brief pause, and suddenly the following text scrolled up:
## Welcome to the Ohtori Academy Chat Room.
## This system has been set up by the order of
## the Acting Dean of Students, Ohtori Akio, to
## facilitate open communication among students
## throughout the Academy, regardless of race,
## color, creed, appearance, sexual preference,
## or social standing. Ohtori Academy has, by
## the creation of this system, attempted to
## create a virtual safe haven wherein students
## may collaborate over school assignments,
## discuss current affairs, obtain information
## regarding extracurricular activities either
## sponsored directly by the school or by its
## various clubs, or simply converse amongst
## themselves in a free and nonconfrontational
## manner. Ohtori Academy expects that
## students will consequently respect each
## others' views and opinions in this forums.
## Any breaches of this atmosphere are to be
## reported to the Acting Dean of Students,
## Ohtori Akio, who will take action as he shall
## deem appropriate.
## Welcome, CalyxRex, to the PLEAIDES system.
## The time is 18:05.37.
## You are user number (14) on this system.
Utena sighed. This was the curse of working during the mealtime hours; virtually no one else would be online at this moment. Still, there might be some announcements from some of the clubs that she could glean information from.
> /join #kendo
## You are in #kendo
## Topic is: Still accepting applicants through
## next week. First tournament to be announced
## when full team assembled.
## Set by: VeniVerdeVici
Utena sighed heavily. She hadn't really expected to find anything about the Dueling Arena in the club announcement, but had figured it couldn't hurt to check. Unfortunately, it hadn't helped, either.
A click of the auditorium door announced the arrival of a student, a girl Utena had seen before with a large red bow in her hair. Utena had always gotten a quiet giggle out of her appearance, as she reminded her of that little witch from that old Miyazaki flick. She approached the monitor's desk, signed herself in with an all-but-illegible scrawl, and took a seat amongst the front tier of computers,
She decided to try another tack. Saionji had said something about a 'Dueling Arena'. Sword duels, if that was what he was referring to, seemed to be more Arisugawa-sempai's department.
> /join #fencing
## You are in #fencing.
## Topic is: Practice tonight from 7pm to 9pm.
## Tournament against Houou Public is next week,
## we have to get ready NOW!
## Set by: TenshiNiNaranja
Nothing here, either. Granted, there was the temptation to drop by and practice a few moves in the half-hour between quitting time and when she was expected in the forest for this duel. But captain Juri Arisugawa had a reputation for being a strict regimentarian; the whole arrive-late-leave-early routine Utena was considering would *not* sit well with the Arisugawa in the slightest. Even less so since Utena did not belong to the fencing team to begin with.
"Checking the boards again, eh, Tenjou?"
The hand on her shoulder was enough to give her a start. "AH! Oh, Kazami." She let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. "Jeez, don't sneak up on me like that."
"And after all the trouble I went through to smuggle this out of the cafeteria for you… you almost knocked the tray out of my hand when you jumped." Tatsuya set a tray on the one corner of the desk that wasn't occupied with either computer gear or paperwork. The main entree appeared to be some sort of chicken breasts covered with a mustard-based sauce, along with a side of potatoes drenched in a peppercorn-laced cream sauce. Garnished liberally with parsley, the presentation wasn't bad, but…
Utena stared hard at the alleged food for a moment before turning to her classmate. "French cuisine, huh?"
"Oh, yeah." Tatsuya nodded. 'French cuisine' was a bit of an inside joke at Ohtori. It is well known, after all, that the French are culinary geniuses, creating sauces of bold and delicate flavors. Less well known, however, is the original purpose for developing this skill: gustatory subterfuge, pure and simple. While the diner's palate is distracted by the flavor of the sauce, the chef can palm off substandard meats and other such staples undetected. It was in this somewhat ironic and derogatory sense that the Academy's cafeteria food resembled French haute cuisine. "Forget the Iron Chefs; you'll need an iron stomach for this stuff."
"That bad, huh? Wonder what they're covering up, anyway?" Utena stuck her fork into the chicken and carved off a chunk. After a tentative sniff, she popped it in her mouth. "Beats starvation, anyway. Not by much, granted." After a minute or so of chewing: "Iff pretty rubbery, ifn't ih?"
"Not very loverly at all, if you ask me." He grabbed a chair from behind him, and pulled up to the desk. "So anyway, back to my earlier question: anything in particular you're looking for in the chats, or is this your typical 'boredom' search?"
Utena finally managed a swallow. "Yeah, actually. I'm trying to find something about a Dueling Arena."
"Yeah, I mouthed off at Kendo-boy a bit too much, so we're having a duel at eight or so, I guess. He said something about the Dueling Arena in the forest back of the school."
Tatsuya was aghast. "You challenged Kyouichi Saionji to a duel? Whaddyou got, a death wish? He'll kill you!"
Utena gave him a sour-apple look. "Don't you think you're over-dramatizing things a bit, Kazami? Besides," she huffed, "you did say I should 'bust 'em in the chops for me, will ya?' He's the one with the chops I gotta bust."
Tatsuya deflated a bit with this piece of news, complete with a load exhalation. "It had to be 'Saionji-sama,'" he muttered.
"Anyway," Utena returned to her classmate's question, "I don't know anything about any Dueling Arena, and I certainly don't know anything about the 'Forbidden Forest'. For all I know, the place could be crawling with centaurs and werewolves and spiders."
"Oh, my," grinned Tatsuya.
"Yeah, yeah, whatever. Thing is, I can't find anything about it, at least not in either of the clubs having to do with swordplay."
"Wait a tic… the 'Forbidden Forest'? Saionji's on the Student Council, right?"
"Maybe there's something about being on the council that grants them the right to go in there. So if you check their chat, there might be something in that topic about it."
Utena rested her chin in her hand. "Why didn't I think of that?"
Tatsuya grinned broadly. "You don't want me answering that, do you?"
> /join #StudentCouncil
## You are in #StudentCouncil.
## No topic set.
"Oh, well that's a big help."
"Wrong channel, Tenjou." Tatsuya shook his head. "You're the op in this channel, see? So you just created it. No, it's got a different name to it…"
The list that came up seemed to have very little out of the ordinary. Classes were generally represented by their catalog number — #Literature102, #Mathematics211, and the like. Sports and other extracurricular clubs, like #fencing and #kendo, were straightforward descriptions. Everything had a place, and was in its place…
"Hey, what about this one?"
> /join #apple
> Password: *
"Password? I knew there was a rift between PC and Mac users, but since when did the Mac users feel the need to go underground?"
Tatsuya shook his head as he stood up. "I dunno, Tenjou. I don't think we're gonna find anything between now and when you gotta be wherever it is you gotta be. And I gotta get going — unlike you, I have some homework that I haven't finished."
"All right. Good luck, okay, Tatsuya?"
"Sure… you too, Tenjou… you need it more than I do, what with Saionji and all…" And with that, Kazami Tatsuya walked out, pausing only long enough to stop another student, a girl with a pair of tightly wrapped pigtails, and remind her to sign in at the monitor's desk before settling in at a terminal.
The girl dutifully glided over to Utena, scribbled her name, patted ChuChu a few times on the head (earning a grateful-sounding 'chu' in the process), and appropriated a terminal in the second tier. Utena hardly noticed her arrival, as she was still puzzling out the password to #apple.
"Maybe… 'Macintosh'? Kinda obvious, but you never know…"
## Invalid password
"How about… 'IBMdiediedie'?"
## Invalid password
"Oh, I'm never going to crack this thing."
## <RibonNoOnna> #Kashira
That was all. Just a channel designation, and not one that she had seen in the list she had just run a few minutes ago.
What other leads did she have?
> /join #Kashira
## You are in #Kashira.
## No topic set.
## Users: OsageNoOnna RibonNoOnna
## <RibonNoOnna> Do you know?
## <OsageNoOnna> Do you know?
> Know what?
## <CalyxRex> Know what?
## <OsageNoOnna> Have you heard?
## <RibonNoOnna> Have you heard?
> Heard WHAT?
## <CalyxRex> Heard WHAT?
## <RibonNoOnna> A duel is set for tonight
## <OsageNoOnna> In the forbidden forest!
> /me sweatdrops. "You've heard about it too, huh?"
## * CalyxRex sweatdrops. "You've heard about it too, huh?"
## <RibonNoOnna> Oh, brave hero! Fighting for a friend's sake!
Utena felt her cheeks burn as she read this statement. She wasn't sure whether she was embarrassed at the attention, or angry that this 'RibonNoOnna' seemed to be mocking her.
## <OsageNoOnna> Careful! Don't make a mistake!
## <RibonNoOnna> There are rules in the forest, you must be aware
## <OsageNoOnna> Remember these words when you get there:
## <RibonNoOnna> Hold not the Green Knight in scorn
## <OsageNoOnna> With every rose, there is a thorn
## <RibonNoOnna> The World's End has many tricks
## <OsageNoOnna> You deal with roses, you deal with pricks.
> What are you two talking about? Can you tell me anything about the Dueling Arena?
## <CalyxRex> What are you two talking about? Can you tell me anything about the Dueling Arena?
## You have been kicked from #Kashira by OsageNoOnna (Sorry, but you know too much already. Any more, and we'd have to kill you. ^_^ )
"SHHHH!!" The two girls working in the lab instantly silenced Utena's scream of frustration. It was enough to send her face crashing to the desktop. And there she remained, moaning softly, until she felt a hand on her shoulder.
She didn't even look up. "Just sign in, please, and take a seat."
"No, Tenjou-sempai. It's time."
The boy looks down at the girl, not out of contempt, but with concern. Clearly, the Challenger is not prepared for what awaits her. "Tenjou-sempai, you need to go now. The forest behind the school…?"
At this, she springs bolt upright in her seat. "Oh, shit! That's right! But… how'd you know about that…" and as she turns to face him, her face clouds over with confusion. "Wait a minute. You're not Tanaka."
Indeed, he is not. His uniform is not the standard issue cuff-to-collar teal of the typical Ohtori student, but rather a white jacket trimmed with blue, and crisply pressed blue pants; one of the perquisites of occupying the Student Council. His posture suggests the authority of his position, despite his obvious youth. And yet there is no arrogance in his eyes, but rather an odd sort of respect for the girl before him.
The boy gives what is meant to be a reassuring smile. "I'm sure Tanaka will be along shortly, Tenjou-sempai. I will fill in for you until he arrives. He sees that the girl's confusion has been replaced with some measure of suspicion. "Don't worry. I know a thing or two about computers; I should be able to help whoever needs assistance in the next few minutes.
"Meanwhile, you need to get going: the forest is on the opposite side of the quadrangle, you know." He extends his hand to assist her in getting up.
She ignores the hand, and rises using only the desk for support. "If you say so…"
"Miki. Miki Kaoru."
"Kaoru-kun. Thank you.
"Well, I guess I'd better get going, then. See you!" She bows quickly, and scrambles out the door.
Once the door closes behind her, the boy sits down at the monitor's desk. Quickly eyeballing the lab's two other inhabitants (whose faces are so intent on their respective computer screens that they cannot be seen, save for their hair ornamentation), the boy settles in at the terminal.
> /join #apple revolution
## You are in #apple
## Topic is: Challenger to arrive shortly. Today there shall be a duel for the Power.
## Set by: EndOfTheWorld
> /topic Duel to take place at 8 pm. For the Revolution of the World!
## Topic set
"Oh, yes. We will see you soon, Tenjou-sempai…"
Shinai in hand, Utena dashed across the dark quadrangle. At least it was late enough and deserted enough that she didn't have to worry about crashing into anyone on her way.
"Now, where would the entrance be to an off-limits area?"
After some consideration, she decided to circle behind the administrative building. Sure enough, behind the otherwise nondescript structure stood an immense granite gate. Even in the darkling light of the hour, the thick foliage of the Forest could be seen beyond — and through — the stonework.
So she was in the right place. Now it was a question of getting it. The doors loomed over her, some five meters tall, and made of the same solid granite as the fence and gate. She gripped one of the handles and gave it an uncertain tug. She was not surprised when she failed to budge it.
"So how am I supposed to get in here, anyway?"
As if in answer, there was the sound of a single drop of water magnified a thousandfold. Suddenly, she felt a bone-chilling cold spreading throughout her body, starting with the ring finger of her right hand. In fact, it had somehow emanated from the ring itself.
With a yelp of pain and surprise, she let go of the handle.
And then the entrance erupted. Utena found herself bathed in cold, white light as floodlights switched on from somewhere on or around the administrative building. She muttered a string of curses: she'd been set up! She spun around, squinting and otherwise shielding her eyes from the worst of the brilliant glare, in an effort to escape before anyone in administration showed up and caught her — although it did cross her mind that she'd probably already been caught on film or some such.
Just what she needed, to get into trouble twice in one day like this. It was probably only a matter of time before she got herself expelled, at this rate.
With her head down, she almost didn't notice her escape had already been cut off until it was too late. As it was, the spray of water in her face and hair got her attention just before she ran straight into one of a series of waterfalls, cascading down from points unseen above the level of the floodlights. For a brief moment, she stood there, open-mouthed, gazing at this new obstacle and wondering what to do about it.
But then, behind her, there came a scraping sound, loud enough to overwhelm even the pouring waters in front of her. Once again she turned, and watched as stone ground against stone; granite gears turned and lifted the massive doors, panel by panel, until the door had resculpted itself into the shape of a colossal stylized rose.
Utena shook her head as if to clear it, before declaring, "Well, that answers my question, anyway." Still acutely aware of the limelight surrounding her, and knowing full well that it may already have sealed her fate at Ohtori, she strode into the Forest. If she was going to be punished for this, she fully intended to kick the ass of the green-haired bastard who set her up.
They stand in the center of the vast Dueling Arena, gazing at the entrance. She stands placidly, dressed in the blood-red gown that is the mark of the Rose Bride. Her hands are clasped demurely in front of herself, slightly below the waist. A faint pattern of light crosses her dull violet eyes; perhaps it is the reflection of the twinkling lights of the castle hovering above them.
His stance is more defiant and arrogant, yet he has posed himself behind his Bride. One hand rests heavily on the Bride's shoulder as he waits.
There is a distant flash of light as the air is filled with music. It is not the eerie organ fugue that can be heard from the elevator, nor the tintinnabulation of the carillon visible from his vantage point. Unseen singers, ghostly voices pour out words in a rushing torrent. Life, birth, light, darkness, death; individual, corporate, global; time, space, depth, height; relativity, absolution… and revolution.
The time has come for the Power to be contested for and claimed.
The time has come… for Eternity.
To be continued.
|Layout, design, & site revisions © 2005||
Webmaster: Larry F