2014-10-17 - Graduation Prep

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Title: Graduation Prep

Preparations for the Sister Schools' graduation ceremony are underway! A special team is assembled to retrieve the traditional Juuban Graduation Camera - but there's more than just dusty records and equipment in the basement.


Nagisa Misumi, Honoka Yukishiro, Mikoto Minagi, Mai Tokiha, Rue


Juuban Public School - Basement

OOC - IC Date:

28 March 2014 - 10/17/2014

<Pose Tracker> Nagisa Misumi [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

Today is the very first day the cherry blossoms bloomed, and because of it there aren't enough frowns in the whole city to fill a teacup. Spring break has begun, but in many ways, today was like any other school day. Children woke for school, put on their uniforms, exchanged shoes at the lockers. There were few teachers about, however, and those that were there were taking a vague supervisory role. The Sister Schools, like all Japanese schools, believe in giving students responsibility in their own education. They also passionately believe in making little kids mop, set up chairs, and distribute graduation caps. Why should grown-ups do all the boring stuff? It's optional to attend, of course, since school is over.

But GIVING YOU A DIPLOMA is pretty optional too. UNDERSTAND?

For graduation day is approaching fast, and there's much work to be done. Class reps and student council have handled more of the organization than the teachers; this institutional knowledge is passed down year-to-year, with students teaching other students the traditions and requirements. One such tradition was communicated to a younger Honoka Yukishiro, when she was the top student in second year instead of third. One of the most important parts of graduation is the graduation photo, which students prize and parents prize yet higher. Infinity has the photography club utilize digital camera with a lens that looks like some sort of laser cannon, Ohtori hires fashion photographers bound by the most brutal of confidentiality agreements, but Juuban just has a nice antique camera it uses each year, stored, of course, in the basement.

The school is swarming with fluid little groups of students. Class reps trade them like baseball cards as they continually complete tasks and take on new ones of varying sizes and demands. One such group is assembled around Honoka Yukishiro. Nagisa Misumi is one of them, of course; some baseball cards don't like to be traded. Her younger brother, Ryouta, has a mouth full of happy teeth as he awaits Honoka's command like a tiny soldier. Nagisa herself is almost as cheerful as she thoughtlessly brushes her hands clean on her blue pleated skirt. She was cleaning the stage earlier. "This is going really fast!" she exults. "Everyone's energy is great today! It's the cherry blossoms, I bet."

"Who cares about cherry blossoms? It's because Honoka-san is such a good leader," Ryouta disagrees, offended.

Nagisa can't take offense. "Yes, yes. So what's next?" she asks Honoka.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

"Minagi-san! /You can't eat that!/"

One student's irate missive cuts through the air in one of those little groups, the young woman tasked with one part of the many decorations Juuban requires. One short discussion later, and she gestures the poor girl and her bag of golf clubs (seriously, what is /up/ with that thing she carries around everywhere?) away, with firm instructions to go and help /Yukishiro-san/.

"Looked like candy," Mikoto grumbles, as Mai no doubt leads her through the unfamiliar halls of Juuban in search of the girl that's been described to them. But when they pass by one of the windows, just in time for the breeze to capture some of the petals and send them swirling into the sky, Mikoto turns, and grins, and tugs on Mai's sleeve and gestures out to them.

"Mai! Mai, look, they're pretty!" Still smiling, she looks up to her compatriot and meal ticket. "Mai used to be here, right? They were always pretty?"

She's probably not getting distracted on purpose...

<Pose Tracker> Rue [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Rue--just Rue--is a peculiar asset. She is that sort of minor celebrity which is not entirely uncommon among the Sister Schools, though she is from the Infinity Institute. The Infinity Institute's minor celebrities tend to have an early grasp on post-graduation fame.

She doesn't. Not like Haruka Tenoh or Michiru Kaioh. But, she could if she reached out for it. She's such a good dancer. She was the Sugar Plum Fairy in the schools-wide production of The Nutcracker during winter break.

It went well, mostly.

Rue waits idle now. She has helped during the day to be sure, and truly helped at that. Her lace handkerchief has already received quite a beating, dusting off her hands and uniform. Its suffering has kept her presentable, standing tall and alone apart from the main throughways of little helpers. Most traffic circles around her. This is stage presence.

She is holding a book in one hand, her red-eyed gaze moving steadily across the page. It is the sort of book that looks like it should be dusty itself, but it is actually in remarkably good condition. Perhaps it is some kind of faux-historical binding for style.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

This time last year, things were completely different for Mai Tokiha. A different school, a different job, a different social circle entirely. Perhaps a little less busy - not by much, but for spring break she'd been free from work enough to take part in class activities for once. It was a bit awkward - part-time work having kept her from getting to know many of the classmates she graduated with - but fun all the same. She went through her proud graduation ceremony at Juuban, and got ready for a new high school life just as before.

A lot has changed since then - a mid-year transfer, a new roommate, new friends, and everything else that's cropped up over the last few months. Somehow, though, circumstances have brought her here once again - the joint ceremony is a nice idea, and Mikoto asked her to come along as her guest...

How could she say no? It's a chance to see her old school again - to claim a bit of nostalgia for slightly simpler days - to be a part of normal life once again.

It's also a chance to keep an eye on Mikoto while helping out, admittedly. The eternal cry of 'Minagi, no-' ringing out was unfortunate but not unexpected. Carrying a stack of chairs from one of the storage rooms, Mai looks to see what sight has caught her roommate's attention now-


A wistful look falls upon the older girl's face, a warm smile as nostalgia comes calling. "This time of year, Mikoto? Always. If you're lucky, they'll be in full bloom for the graduation itself - it's a fantastic sight." A moment to take it in, another, then she tears her gaze away from the window. "It's very nice, Mikoto - but we should get moving. We have to help out Yukishiro-san, after all!"

Keep things positive - that small smile isn't fading any time soon, fortunately - and with Mikoto there to get the door, she should be able to make this delivery.

<Pose Tracker> Honoka Yukishiro [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

"It's because everyone is putting their hearts into it," Honoka placidly corrects them both -- taking Nagisa's side indirectly but laying the blame neither on herself nor the natural phenomenon, but more directly where she feels it belongs. Wringing a mop into a bucket, she looks with satisfaction upon what they have wrought, the sparkle and shine of the stage bespeaking the elbow grease of its cleaners. "Next up is--"

She is interrupted by a flood of other students, recently released from their own tasks and eager to find something else to do. There is no more efficient dealer in responsibility than Honoka, and as quickly as they've come, they depart with new things to do; Shiho and Rina are set to sweeping sakura petals -- which are already starting to blanket things with the slightest gust of wind -- from the front walk, while Nao discovers a destiny of washing windows and Akira, who was brought by another grad in Mikoto's class, finds out he has to braid streamers. So many streamers. All the streamers, forever. Despite his grousing about the unmanliness of this task, his fingers work quickly and precisely.

Once the flurry has died down, Mikoto and Mai are present and Nagisa is still waiting. Honoka smiles at all of them, the expression contained entirely within her eyes, aglow with lambent warmth. She really enjoys hard work like this. "Your timing is fortunate, Minagi-san, Tokiha-san." She got their names earlier, in passing. "We have a very special task to do -- we must collect the graduation photo camera from our basement. I'm afraid this may not be entirely trivial, so the more eyes we have, the better."

Bending down slightly to be more on Ryouta's level, she adds gently, earnestly, "It will be your job to look at all the lower shelves! This is important, it will keep the rest of us from ruining our backs the day before we all have to sit up very straight in front of a large audience."

Without further ado, she leads the way. Noticing Rue is idle, she summons the prima donna with a simple, expectant gesture of her hand. It's cheerful yet, but won't be for long -- Honoka does not suffer the lazy at any time, much less a time like this. "How fortunate that I found someone else who requires a task," she says serenely, her vocabulary as primly formal as usual. "Do please join us on our trip to the basement, Rue-san. We need to find the camera."

With the expectation that the celebrity girl will be a professional -- Honoka thinks the best of everyone by default -- she continues on her path without looking back, leading the group down hallways and stairs until they reach a place of legend, of horror, and of storage: the Juuban Basement.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

"Wooow," Mikoto stares up at the trees. It'd be nice to go and take a nap in the cherry blossoms, wouldn't it? Like lying in a big, pink, fluffy blanket... No doubt /someone/ will have to call her down from there at some point in the near future. Stopping Mikoto from climbing onto everything and disappearing from everyone who wants to find her for some task or another is almost as impossible as stopping Mai from fussing and worrying. Not for nothing is she the demonic cat of their dorm.

For now, at least, Mai calls her back to the task at hand. Mikoto skitters over to open the door for Mai and her delivery, and once the chairs are firmly on the ground, a voice rings out...

'Your timing is fortunate,' says Honoka, and Mikoto takes half a step back behind her taller roommate, because the sort of people who say things like 'your timing is fortunate' are usually /horrible/ news. Still, that's definitely the Yukishiro that was described to them, and if Mai isn't worried, it can't be that big of a deal, right? Right.

Still, the only response she'll get out of Mikoto is a mute nod. She reaches up to touch the strap of Miroku's holster by her shoulder, as their leader confesses the severity of the task alongside its location in a dark, cold, and probably /super haunted/ basement. That's why so many people are being collected for this, right? It's super haunted? It's almost certainly super haunted.

Still, Mikoto will follow Mai down there.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

"A pleasure to help, Yukishiro-san." Mai bows upon meeting the ace student, and returns the smile. It's terribly busy around, but whatever tasks remain, she's happy to contribute-

-except maybe that one. "Wait, seriously? I thought after last year's issues we'd found a safer place to put it - how did it wind up back in there?" She shakes her head. "I guess I couldn't escape having to go down there forever..." Through fortune and circumstances, in all her time at Juuban, she'd escaped having to delve into the deep storage of legend - in later years, by being busy with work whenever such a quest was needed.

This may not have been entirely coincidental.

Still, her dire pronouncement isn't entirely serious - because frankly it can't be as bad as the rumours were saying. She makes sure to give Mikoto a smile in encouragement - but hey, if that Infinity girl who seems to have been slacking off gets a bit spooked... well, that's hardly her problem.

With the stray cat at her side - at least, until the next cherry blossom tree distracts her - Mai sets forth for the basement. And if she checks to make sure Mikoto's still with her a bit more often than usual, that's her business alone.

<Pose Tracker> Rue [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

There are the rare conspiracy theorists who tell tale of Rue being the most vicious of prime donne, but her typical reputation is one of beatific grace. Fortunately, prima ballerinas do not have so many nasty connotations pinned upon them.

Rue is looking down at her book, but not to such an extreme that she does not notice Honoka's gesture. She glances up at the motion, places her dusty handkerchief to mark her place, and then shutting her tome with a dull clap of paper on paper.

"Ah, Yukishiro-san, yes? You are right, a heart's true wish is sometimes granted."

She falls into line behind Honoka, her book tucked under her arm. The only part of the title not hidden by her sleeve is DROSSELMEYER, in gold leaf. "And sometimes they are not. I go to my fate without my poor handkerchief to protect me from further dust. I will be brave."

DICE: Honoka Yukishiro rolls 1d100+0 and gets 49!
DICE: Rue rolls 1d100+0 and gets 23!
DICE: Mai Tokiha rolls 1d100+0 and gets 95!
DICE: Nagisa Misumi rolls 1d100+0 and gets 80!
DICE: Mikoto Minagi rolls 1d100+0 and gets 49!

<Pose Tracker> Nagisa Misumi [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

The Juuban Basement. If half the stories about it were true, this school would have more ghosts than students. The really good stories last a long time, passed like the knowledge of this camera from senpai to kohai. Most of the stories are more ad hoc, and tend to leave the school when their creators graduate. It's a way to add some excitement to one's days at Juuban, that most ordinary of schools, and despite all the whispered rumors, everyone who goes down here to fetch a broom or a folder comes back.

They do not, however, always manage to find the folder. The brooms are easy; every student knows where the cleaning supplies are. But Juuban is an aging school, and even neatly kept file cabinets can get overstuffed and proliferate. Labels peel off sometimes. And frankly, it's pretty dark down here.

Linoleum stairs with metal safety edges turn to smooth grey concrete flooring as the girls descend into the basement. Upstairs, there would be plaster around these bare metal poles, panels to hide the ducts on the ceiling. But this is a place that doesn't hide its entrails. The fact that it's kept so clean keeps the basement from being repellant, but it also lends it a certain institutional coldness that recalls a hospital, or a warehouse. Or an asylum! My brother said that the school used to be...

"I'll look all over!" Ryouta promises, moved by being assigned such an important task in such a soft, pretty voice. "Every low shelf!"

"It's good that you're so short," Nagisa grins down at him. "You won't need to work very hard." Ryouta shows Nagisa what the inside of his eyelid looks like.

Anyone who's been to a Juuban graduation before probably remembers the camera, which has long spindly legs and a leather-and-wood casing. It should be hard to hide, and yet as the girls (and little brother) fan out to look, they do not meet with much success.

Rue is the first to discover an item of interest while looking on a shelf: the camera's tripod. Made of polished bamboo, it may even be older than the camera, as it has a certain postwar roughness to it, though its extendable legs still operate smoothly.

Soon after, Honoka and Mikoto spy a cabinet drawer with a most promising label. GRADUATION CAMERA, it says unambiguously. Inside, however, there is nothing but a stack of class photos, each from a different year, about twenty in total, with gaps here and there.

It's Mai who discovers, sitting on the top of a file cabinet, the dusty leather box that comprises the graduation camera. Slightly collapsable, with a great wide lens, it doesn't look like it would take very good pictures, to a modern eye, though it's certainly newer than the tripod. But the technology of photography has followed a strange path, and in many ways recent cameras are simply striving to recapture the quality of the older cameras. This camera takes very large film, and so it takes very good pictures. No parent has ever complained about how they turn out, though occasionally the graduate is making a weird face.

Nagisa and Ryouta don't find anything.

<Pose Tracker> Honoka Yukishiro [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

Honoka isn't always very good at understanding people -- when she sees Mikoto shy away from her, worry leaks into her gaze. Whatever could be the matter? Mai's friendly response soothes her concerns, however, and she bows to them both deeply, her dark her flowing over shoulders with the motion. "What safer place could there be than the basement?" she asks, entirely without guile, extending her bow in response to Rue's comments, then proceeding on her way.

Few rumors last long in her presence; essentially immune to the idea that it's fun to spread disinformation, she's quick to correct all would-be asylum inmates or ghost hunters. And as a member of the student council -- though only a class rep, she's held the position since time immemorial, giving her more seniority than most -- she's all too familiar with the layout. This gives her an advantage against scary shadows and the brush of spiderwebs missed by a lazy student, but even she feels the tiniest of chills at the base of her spine when she spies the cabinet drawer, walking straight over to it, briskly.

This is too easy.

Leaning over its empty expanse curiously, at exactly the same moment as Mikoto, their heads impact, and Honoka sees stars. "Oh! Please excuse me, I'm so sorry!" She's quick to offer a hand to steady the other student, though she has a bad case of the wobbles herself and this may wind up with both of them on the concrete floor. "Are you all right?"

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Luckily for Mikoto, she's never attended Juuban; she's's insulated from most of the horror. Unfortunately for Mikoto, she's /very good/ at reading into Mai's protests about the basement... and Honoka's reassurances about the same. "Mai," Mikoto murmurs, frowning, "what's in basement?"

The way she glances back and forth, it's probably not a good idea to tell her all the ghost stories. Would Mikoto try and attack a ghost? Mikoto would probably try to attack a ghost.

At least, when it comes time to search, Mikoto is willing to fan out and look around. Mikoto skitters from drawer to shelf, and when she sees the label on the cabinet from the corner of her eye, she whirls around to look at it -- only too late realising that Honoka is, in fact, /right there/.


Mikoto scowls, shaking her head and trying to get rid of all the little cats dancing around her head in a comical fashion, because let's be real here, stars or tiny tweeting birds aren't her style at /all/. But when she glares up at Honoka, the other girl is apologetic and concerned -- and surely, Mai and Mikoto have had a talk about Accidents Being Accidents at some point. "... 'm'okay," Mikoto says, after a hesitant moment, and takes Honoka's hand to try and right herself.

Mikoto isn't very heavy on her own, but her everpresent bag is almost as hefty as she is, so it might be a real struggle to keep them both upright.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Mai's favourite rumour had always been the one where the school was built on an old concert hall, and there was a mad musician down there providing background music to those in need. Just don't go looking for him, or else-

Mai starts to reach out as Ryouta dashes off - a quickly-abandoned action, since he's already got at least one older sister watching out for him. Instincts are hard to break, is all. For a moment, she wonders how Takumi's managing - but being largely uninvolved in this year's ceremony, he's probably just relaxing at home.

(Or, perhaps, helping with refreshments without her knowledge...)

"Just keep an eye out, Mikoto - it's got a leather and wood case." The basement is ominous, and splitting off from Mikoto doesn't help things there - but searching separately is the best way to find things, right? Where Ryouta goes low, Mai goes high - going so far as to pull herself up to peek on top of shelves and cabinets.

It's a bit risky, perhaps, but better her than one of the students graduating tomorrow.

Fortune smiles after the tenth or twentieth shelf, and she exclaims in surprise. "Ah - here it is!" Of course, thick shelves and full cabinets likely muffled most of that shout, but Mai's concern is the goal. How the cabinet could get so much dust in just one year is a mystery, but one for another day - with the caution appropriate for such a treasure, she brings the case down. Thinking of years of tradition and the coming ceremony, she cradles the box securely with both arms.

It takes a minute or two for Mai to emerge from that secluded row of cabinets. Something to check when she gets home - where her and Takumi's respective photos wound up. And maybe she can find a good place for Mikoto's picture...those thoughts of reminiscence are cut short when she sees the wobbling do. "Mikoto! Yukishiro-san! Are you two all right?" She starts heading over to help, even though her hands are full...

<Pose Tracker> Rue [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Rue puts on a ghost of a smile to answer Honoka. "A tomb."

At least she's in the mood. She descends without further commentary.

"What a dreary place," says Rue. She sounds faintly enchanted by this impression. The dancer prowls through the academic viscera, bold enough to strike off by herself without a moment of trepidation. This is not such an epic action since their search area is not large enough to truly lose each other, but at least everyone can check 'brave a poorly-decorated basement' off their list of things Rue will do.

Silence from Rue's quarter. She pauses before a certain area of shelving, sliding her book onto an empty space. The dancer looks up at a box--and then rises as if by levitation to reach it. If someone is standing at the right angle, they may see that she is standing on her tiptoes with incredibly strength and poise.

"Is this a piece of our treasure?" she asks, turning around to present the polished bamboo of the camera stand. That there is no immediate answer doesn't bother her, because she abandons her helpfulness to marvel at Honoka and Mikoto striking each other.

"Would you like me to find the nurse?"

<Pose Tracker> Nagisa Misumi [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

Ryouta walks like an old man in the park, his hands behind his bent back, as he carefully examines the low shelves. His older sister flits here and there, never looking very thoroughly before she feels some other area is surely more promising, but covering a lot of ground while jogging around. "Don't run in school!" Ryouta chides her in his hoarse little-boy voice as she buzzes him.

"Did your teacher tell you that?" Nagisa teases, emphasizing his youth just when he was trying to impress Honoka with his maturity! His scowl promises revenge.

"Everybody knows it," he denies sulkily.

Rue found her piece first, and Nagisa jogs over to her, getting another chiding from Ryouta, which she duly ignores. "Yeah, that's it! I remember that old tripod from when Fu-- um." Nagisa is at least pretty good at shiritori. "Full of students... the graduation chairs. Were." She dips her head in a few embarrassed nods. "Now we just need the part that takes pictures."

"It's called a camera," Ryouta informs her, genuinely helpful.

"I know that!" Nagisa exclaims.

Nagisa joins Mai in heading over to worry over the injured, and so does the camera. Athletes gain a certain resistance to worrying about little accidents like this, and so Nagisa's concern is quickly overwhelmed by triumph. "Hey, you found it! Do you think it actually works?"

A blinding flash of light pops right in Honoka and Mikoto's faces, with the others down here catching almost as much of it. It seems to fade slower than science says light should be able to, but when it does, the flash bulb atop the hoary old leather box is cooling. In its wake, the basement seems to have lost a lot of its color. The drawer which should have held the camera glares unopened at the room, its lettering insistent.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Blinded by the light, Mai staggers a step or two to one side - colliding with a shelf, making the boxes gathered there rattle noisily. One hand moves from the box to her face, rubbing at dazzled eyes. "You surprised me! Sorry about that, everyone, I must have bumped the button..."

...right? That must be why the light went off. She doesn't remember hitting the switch, but she must have...

"...well, the flashbulb seems to work, at any rate. As soon as I can see again, we should get out of here - unless there's something else we needed to get from this basement, Yukishiro-san?" At least it isn't as bad as some of the rumours had said - though in that lingering monochrome, the shelves and cabinets seem that much more menacing.

<Pose Tracker> Rue [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Nagisa gets to Fu--. Rue leans in ever so slightly, waiting for the rest. Her lips move to suggest the shape of the sounds to follow.

full of students

Rue purses her lips. "Thank you. I will hold onto this, then." She recovers her book from the shelf and moves to rejoin the group, both of her arms now occupied. This turns out to be writing most convenient, because it positions her perfectly to get a glancing blow of vicious flash.

The dancer teeters backward onto her heels, exhaling with a short, sharp hiss. For a moment she looks as if she is about to topple over, but she daringly spins to extend her foot to stop her momentum and catch her balance. She remains artfully posed, tripod and book held tightly.

"Ugh, did any of you--" The afterglow begins to clear from her eyes. Rue stops abruptly when it is faded enough for her to realize their surroundings. "Does this room seem--different?"

She reflexively looks upward.

<Pose Tracker> Honoka Yukishiro [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

Honoka digs in her heels, windmills her arms, and manages to arrest their momentum; the worst is averted, and they will not fall. She shakes her head good-humoredly, touched by everyone's concern but not seriously harmed. "We're both quite all right, but thank you for the thought. And yes, Rue-san, that does appear to be the stand; well done."

All this has distracted her from any possibility of hearing Ryouta and Nagisa bicker, but the latter's excitement is infectious. "Ah," she exclaims, the flute of her vocal chords making the simple exhalation melodious and soft. "Excellent!"

The stars are still fading from the impact of moments ago -- she has not remembered to let go of Mikoto's arm, her hand a gentle, warm pressure -- when the 'pop!' goes off and they are joined by a galaxy's worth of more.

She laughs, a rare sound, like a bag of silver bells spilled onto the lawn, and does not seem terribly discomfited by the change of palette. Perhaps it's just their eyes adjusting to the shock. Instead she leans forward to finally open the drawer she was heading for in the first place. "I wonder what's in here, then..."

Since the camera wasn't, is it simply empty?

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Honoka averts tragedy, and the two of them do /not/ go sprawling onto the ground together.

Though, surely, they would have been forgiven for it, given the light that floods the basement a moment later. Mikoto raises her hands over her eyes, grimacing; luckily, it's not the threat display of an Orphan, but just Mai's camera. Unless Mai's camera is an Orphan. Mikoto's not going to discount the possibility.

Squinting, the girl looks from that camera, to the drawer which was /supposed/ to have the camera. "Escaped," she muses, frowning -- because clearly cameras can get up and walk out of their designated cabinets.

<Pose Tracker> Nagisa Misumi [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

The room /does/ seem different. The color in the basement doesn't seem to come back even after one's eyes have adjusted back to normal after the bright flash. The spring warmth flowing in from the widely-thrown front doors seems very distant, the stairway far away. The fairies at Honoka and Nagisa's hips, however, are not making any subtle nudges of objection, nor are any other magical girl canaries sounding any mine-alarms.

There are copies of some of these photos around the school, pictures of past classes near trophy cases. They're never exact copies; these seem to have been the discarded photos, the ones that weren't quite right. The top photograph has a Juuban class of only five years ago, and their hairstyles and manner are all more or less the same as today. All arranged in neat little rows, all dressed the same as one another, all wearing the same smile. The edges of the photo are starting to peel, a thin film coming off of the more vulnerable material below, into which a yellow stain has begun to creep.

There is a boy in the third row who has no face. A black splotch like a cigarette burn has abrided it from sight, though it seems to be part of the picture rather than some form of malicious damage. This is, at least, how it appears to everyone but Mai and Ryouta. Those two see a perfectly normal, if somewhat somber, boy.

The top photo is not the only strange one. The second has two girls missing, the third one girl, the fourth a girl and a boy. The photographs grow older the deeper into the pile one goes. Around the nineth photo, there ceases to be anyone missing. The previous photo was missing a single girl.

The remaining ten photos are unremarkable, save for the last. The last seems to have gotten in here by accident, slipped in by some art student from a portfolio. It's as big as the full-class panoramic shots, but it is far more intimate. In it, a blurry figure of a girl with a friendship bracelet is hunched at a desk, cupping the cheap little bauble with its dangling charms. An identical bracelet sits at the empty desk next to the wall on her right, but there is no student there. Every other desk is filled with students. Every other student is glaring at the girl.

Or that is what Honoka sees. Mikoto, instead, sees an unsheathed sword stuck into the ground. It doesn't look like /her/ sword, but rather a stereotypical knight's blade, cruciform and straight. Its edges are pitted with orange rust, and its angle is crooked. Not left her as a marker, simply abandoned. Its grip is beginning to rot, but Mikoto notices a sad intactness to it in another sense: it doesn't look like anyone ever used this sword, because there's no wear on the leather. A little blue ribbon is tied around the hilt, faded almost to grey. This had been a gift.

For Rue, it is a photo of a gorgeous young man, dressed to go out for a summer's day, with straw hat and linen suit. His palm is against the window that frames the shot, the skin whitened from the contact, and he looks bored, as if he has been waiting a long while. Behind him is a woman squinting crow's feet into her eyes as she bends over a mirror, her lips drawn in tight desperation. Her entire makeup cabinet is spread out on the table before her, and most of it seems to have been used and then wiped off onto a wet towel lying in a copper basin. She is starting over, yet again.

Nagisa sees a photograph of a girl at the piano, on a grand stage. The pianist cannot play, because another girl is sleeping atop the keys. The pianist's fingers hover hesitantly.

Mai and Ryouta see something very simple: the senior photo of a girl in school uniform, with long braids. The uniform is different, the collar broader, the stitching visible: this is an old photo. She is a round-faced girl who cannot even seem to make eye contact with a lens. She is smiling, but her eyes are sad.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

"Glad to hear it. I suppose we're done...oh, you found something?" Carefully setting the camera down next to the drawer, Mai crouches down to look at what the duo has found while butting heads. She looks up, briefly, at Rue's comment - and frowns before shaking her head. "Things seem normal to me, it's just an old flashbulb. Goodness knows we've all been blinded at least once..."

Old pictures beckon. Memories of past classes from years gone by - what might have happened to some of these students? Are they still attending? Are they forgotten, or remembered? The earlier warm smile is long gone; a concerned frown is Mai's expression as she joins in the examination.

The somber boy from years ago - has she seen him? Probably not - even if she were still going to Juuban, that class must already be gone. The friendships of the past...how many of them lasted, and for how long? (Longer than many of hers, she fears...)

The final picture is a bit of a surprise. "I wonder how that one wound up with these class pictures..." She frowns in concentration - for there to be a photo of a single girl mixed in with all the group ones...well, it's probably just a mixup, but maybe she was important?

Or maybe it really is just a mixup. Mai lets out a sigh, giving up on placing the face. "It's a shame these weren't stored more securely - some of these are nearly ruined by now. I wonder who that girl was - but I suppose we can't know now, right?"

<Pose Tracker> Rue [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Rue bites her tongue hidden behind her lips. The change in the room still has her interest despite the other girls. She sets her book aside, freeing up a hand--but, with a wary (and nearly weary) glance at her fellows, she clenches her hand into a fist and lowers it to her side.

It is too early in the story for the princess to reveal her magic. Not for something the commonfolk may take care of. There is yet time for the narrative to reveal itself, in any case. It always does.

"What are you looking at?" she says, to draw herself back into the conversation and away from this Chekhov's monochrome. The dancer moves over to join the others, finding an angle from which she may view the photographs.

People. More people. Ghastly people. Hideous people. Ages and ages of humans, living and dying, their hearts pumping themselves raw until they just break one day and then it is the carrion crow's turn. Rue maintains careful neutrality in her expression. She is very good at pretending to be one of them.

The last photo is drawn. A moment, and then Rue sucks in a sharp breath. The ancient bamboo tripod creaks--her hand has tightened around it so. She is not so good at pretending that she is able to hide the disgust in her face. The anger, the hurt: this, she manages.

Is this the story being told today?

She won't go on.

"What ugliness," the dancer all but spits, turning away from the pictures and the group. "If that's all, I'm leaving to bring this upstairs. Do you approve, Yukishiro-san?" She waits in half-balance between steps, barely turning to look back such that her hair hides her face.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

As the colours fail to return to bloom, the entire room looks colder.

Mikoto, too, joins in the examination of the photographs. The photos are old -- not old as she remembers her home, beholden to its ancient customs, but old nonetheless. Class photos, people who used to be here. A boy with no face. That realisation settles in the pit of Mikoto's stomach, and she looks to the other pictures.

They're inoffensive. Poorly-maintained, not perfect, but nothing which Mai seems to find odd -- and Mai would know, after all. The eighth, ninth, tenth --

Mikoto's mouth forms a thin, tense line, matching the way her shoulders and fingers tighten. She doesn't need Mai's guideance, to know that isn't right. That isn't a class photo. That is... "... left behind," Mikoto whispers, to herself. Yes, that's right. A sword left behind, a weapon never used. It's a story she can complete with no further input: a story of a gift discarded after waiting far too long, the story of a promise never kept.

Mikoto takes one step back, and then another, her lips turning downwards and her eyebrows angling up even as she swallows at the lump in her throat.

<Pose Tracker> Honoka Yukishiro [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

Honoka rifles through the pictures, frowning at the cigarette burns. "It's strange, the pattern of damage..." She doesn't finger the burns, too light-handed for that, too much a scientist to disturb evidence, or old things.

Then they get to the bottom, and her heart stops. She stares at the girl, the broken friendship bracelets, the hatred, and her shoulders slump. Tears spring to her eyes, a rare thing; but the shocking way that this cuts straight to her core will not be denied. She looks at Mai, at Mikoto; both of them seem to see what she sees, an unknown girl, left behind. "I don't know," she whispers. "But it's just... so sad. The way all the other students in the picture are glaring at her..."

Rue takes her leave, and the girl makes no attempt to stop her, lost as she is in thought, the happiness of the afternoon so thoroughly washed out to gray.

<Pose Tracker> Nagisa Misumi [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

Nagisa doesn't mind Rue leaving, either, and says nothing to her. It takes Nagisa a second to even remember what their job was, but she's aware before that that the job is finished. She reaches tentatively for Honoka's shoulder, but it feels too much like that last photograph, and so she hurriedly sets it down. Even Ryouta is quiet, glancing around pensively. The cubs have a good sense for the mood of the elders.

"Hey, let's bring this upstairs and go outside, okay?" she urges quietly. "The cherry blossoms are blooming, and..." Honoka's expression scares her. Whatever upset Honoka, whatever upset all of them, isn't Nagisa's fault. But if it had been Nagisa who took away Honoka's smile, could she bear that? She gently takes the pile of photos from Honoka, and replaces them in the drawer.

"They don't last very long," Nagisa concludes, right before she was about to forget to end the sentence at all. As she grasps the drawer to close it, she fails to notice that the top picture is no longer that of a girl in a white gown poised uselessly before a piano, but instead the girl in glasses that Mai saw. Eyes averted, she slides the sad-eyed smile into darkness again, until the metal drawer clicks shut.

It's just as well. A few teachers still work here who knew this girl, but none would remember her. Asking them about the photo wouldn't have helped.

But her name is written on a piece of cloth tape stuck to the bottom of the camera.