2017-02-22 - AoAka Christmas Gala

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Title: AoAka Christmas Gala

Since their dramatic debut, must-have clothing lines Aohime and Akai Mirai have gone from an untested, upstart presence in the fashion world to a known force in the industry. But AoAka remains enigmatic. Its founder Tsuru allows little media access, and seems to run her business out of nothing more than a run-down basement shop in Shibuya.

All of this seems poised to change at the AoAka Christmas Gala. Held in the building above Tsuru's shop at 4-4-4 Shibuya, Tokyo, a charity fashion show with the theme of "Our Story" will benefit victims of a string of tragic accidents in the city several months ago. The focus, however, is on the party to follow, where rich and glamorous will mingle. Tsuru is rumored to be making a keynote speech about the true purpose of her designs.

Sister Schools members, as usual, can get in for free.


Kozue Kaoru, Madoka Kaname, Marinette Dupain-Cheng, Natsuki Kuga, Nori Ankou, Setsuna Meioh, Tsuru and Shizuru Fujino


Shibuya Hikarie Building, Shibuya Shopping Ward

OOC - IC Date:

February 22 2017 / December 28 2014

  • +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+ Shibuya Shopping Ward +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+
 Any rural ingenue looking to come to the big city and get swept away at       
 first sight would be well-advised to get off at Shibuya Station, where you    
 could fill a high school yearbook with the people teeming over a single       
 crosswalk, and a legion of ten-story department stores offer a choice so      
 broad it resembles existential crisis. Shinjuku might administrate Tokyo,     
 but Shibuya is its style capital. Its densest concentration of boutiques,     
 retailers, and restaurants is bound together by Shibuya Crossing, a bustling  
 pedestrian intersection resembling an even gaudier Times Square.              
 Within walking distance to Harajuku, Shibuya is less whimsical, and far       
 grander. Its most iconic symbol is the Shibuya 109 department store, a        
 cylindrical grey monolith famous even outside of Japan. Each floor of 109     
 has about a dozen shops, and with ten flights of escalator to ascend, it      
 doesn't take a mathematician to realize that even this single store can be a  
 lot to take in. But Shibuya too has its side streets and quirks, and it's     
 not hard to find a chic little cafe to rest in. Those who find themselves     
 energized instead have recourse to the night clubs that trade on Shibuya's    
 stylish reptuation.                                                           
 Shibuya Station has a humbler landmark as well. It was here that the loyal    
 dog Hachiko waited for his owner each day, even after the owner had long      
 since died. A bronze statue of Hachiko waits here still, a reminder that      
 love and loyalty never die.                                                   

<Pose Tracker> Tsuru [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Santa-San https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTz4-6peF30

The unnatural winter storm that had tormented the city over Christmas was at last defeated, a metaphor which was less metaphorical for those who had a hand in its defeat. With daytime temperatures above freezing and the constant torrent of snow turned off like a spigot, Tokyo Metro and Japan Rail were able to restore their main lines to service within a day. Busy ploughs created snowpiles in stadium lots and truck stations that were like unto ziggurats. Salt was strewn, signs with bowing cartoon workmen sprang up on buildings and sidewalks still unfit for travel, and hypothermic Tokyo began to awaken.

Soon after, registered attendees of the cancelled AoAka Christmas Gala received an updated invitation. The party was on again.

The location: Shibuya Hikarie, a panelled sapphire building resplendent with alternating red and green windows, plastic snowmen in Aohime and Akamira accessories mixed among the photographers outside the velvet rope. A tall, glossy building in the shopping district, Hikarie still has a roof encrusted with snow, giving it the appearance of a frosted cake. As the guests file in the front door, few even take note of the dusty basement-level shop labelled 4-4-4 Shibuya that rests underneath the retail complex. Some are under the misapprehenshion that the 43-story Shibuya Hikarie itself is AoAka's headquarters, but the only portion of it that founder Tsuru actually owns is that tiny shop. One paparazzo unwittingly discards a balled-up carryout bag down in the little pit in front of Tsuru's workplace.

The cameras flash steadily, overtaxed photographers tasked with discerning which guests are famous fashion celebrities and which are Sister Schools students, a task complicated considerably by slick cool of many Infinity Students, not to mention the numerous rich and stylish heiresses of Ohtori. At least the public school innocents of Juuban gawking their way in wearing Uniqlo are easy to sort.

Stella Amanogawa will be all over the internet tomorrow in a candycane gown, leaning towards the camera to blow a trademark kiss, her elegant daughter Kirara in the background winking.

Ponytailed Bauanne Baurollo may disappoint fans by his total loyalty to his usual black-suit, black-shades aesthetic, but his beloved white cat Chopenfield seems more ready to embrace the holiday, enduring with grace not only a Santa cap, but also a Santa beard.

Violet-haired Momoka Kurumi has chosen an ice fairy theme, balletic skirts blossoming on famous long legs as she waves graciously.

The venue for the night is the multi-floor gallery area above the shops, which has been cleared and prepared at considerable expense. Of particular note upon entry is the opposite wall, which is covered entirely in a neat grid of wooden ema plaques dangling from nails. Normally, one would hang these at a temple with a wish or prayer written on them, but all of these are blank.

The room itself is spacious. Half is lit a warm red, the other half a sort of forest green; 'ao' once meant green as well as blue. In each half, one of the two lines holds court. Akai Mirai's ream is decorated with clear ice and rich red and gold ribbons. Aohime holds court amidst piles of soft, false snow, with whimsically dressed snowmen atop.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

After somehow making it home from a classical music concert on Christmas Eve, Madoka spent Christmas cozily ensconced with her family, sipping cocoa and snuggling under the kotatsu. She's been largely out of touch ever since, wisely staying out of the thawing city and its icy patches. She has winter vacation homework to do -- art to draw -- a little brother to entertain.

The normality feels idyllic but also unsettlingly strange. Junko and Tomohisa exchange troubled looks when they catch their daughter staring endlessly out the window. Is she looking at the street? Or just her own reflection against the dark?

It is parental intervention that pushes the Sister Schools student out to the party. A new dress was one of her many Christmas gifts, a pure white confection with golden shimmer in the weave, and just a hint of red embroidery at the hems. It's rather quinceanera, not that Madoka knows that, and the trim means that her favorite ribbons match! so she's happy.

Happier, anyway. She's not the type of girl who's wholly comfortable going to a party like this by herself. But all the cell phones she tried went straight to voice mail; texts got no response. And when Mama insists, Mama gets what she wants...

The young girl -- absent her uniform, she looks more like an elementary-schooler than usual -- stares wide-eyed at all the cameras, blinded by the many flashes, then drifts into the room like a stunned sheep. That white isn't fleecy or floofy, but it is fluffy simply by Madokan proximity. Her twintails can share that attribute on everything sufficiently nearby.

Nervously, she heads towards the Aohime side, though 'more snow' is kind of the last thing she wants to be hanging around right now, and she shows it with a little tremble down her back, telegraphed by the tips of her ribbons.

<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Out front Tsuru had spared no expense, but Kozue knew the truth. She knew it all. The grime and sweat behind the gliz and glamour and camera flashes. She felt it suited her well.

The prep work in the back is just as frantic. Makeup artists are all over- trying to make each model their personal masterpiece. And as a storm of activity swirls around her- one of many around each model Kozue sits in the middle of it, allowing others to micromanage the fine details while she casually sits, staring at a mirror.

Tsuru had already finished her handiwork, well in advance given the painstaking process of applying it all.

Her eyes flicker to the seat beside her, at the Akamira model who is also getting ready. She gives no indication of when she's going to attack, she simply does without warning, "Rumor has it, that our little Nori-chan has been on a date. Good going, Nori-chan."

She arches her neck sideways, a hint of a smile playing upon her lips, "I don't suppose you'd care to share the details with your junior- and everybody else? It's no small thing after all." If it sounds a little sarcastic, that's because it is in her context. Kozue goes on dates all the time. To her it's the smallest thing, a trifle. "Just who was it, that was bold enough to ask you out? Just how far did the two of you go?"

She's doing this within earshot of the others certainly. She absolutely wants them to hear. As she shifts in her seat to regard her, so too does the shear lace that she's wearing. A hand slides on one blue heel after another.

Then she stands to regard herself in the mirror, admiring herself from one angle, then the other. The conversation appears to have not distracted her from her prep at all.

<Pose Tracker> Shizuru Fujino [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

Shizuru Fujino, of course, is a rich and stylish heiress, dressed in her traditional style even here rather than choosing to wear the clothes being celebrated directly. She pays little attention to the photograhpers on her way in, however. What use does she have for them other than keeping up appearances?

She's rather more interested in the models and what they do today.

Walking through the gallery, she lifts her eyes at the blank ema, but mostly she favors for now... The punch.

Christmas was like any other Christmas for her. She's willing to talk to people as necessary, and indeed already has engaged in little chats on the way over. She can't really escape a little mingling.

<Pose Tracker> Natsuki Kuga [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

The party is pretty much what Natsuki expected it to be. Full of glitz and glamour, and not enough grounding in reality. She came dressed in her preferred pant suit as she kept close to the food table.

She normally didn't bother to this kind of party, but with the promise of possible intel with all the schools presence, and perhaps sneaking a glimpse at the new shoe line, Natsuki found herself there quietly keeping to herself in the corner. She looks upon the scene bored as she finds herself actually wishing Mai was there to banter with. At least hearing her complain about the rich people's wasteful tastes would be interesting. <Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Nori still has her eyes closed as someone is finishing applying her makeup, which is, of course, a little complicated and definitely meant to be /perfect/. As such, she can't see the expression on Kozue's face, but she also has a good excuse to think about her answers: they're working on her lips.

She raises one hand, which is tipped by freshly lacquered dark-red nails, and makes a vague gesture. "You've heard about the date, but not who did it...? It was Kasagami," she says, "though I'm not sure that I want to keep with it..."

For reasons, which she does not amplify on.

"But we went pretty far," Nori concludes. Her eyes stay closed, but she does turn slightly to ask Kozue, "Does the lipliner get messed up if I do -" An exaggerated air kiss, in Kozue's general direction but not AT her - "This?"

(It doesn't, or at least, not meaningfully.)

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Meioh [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

As much as she is grateful for the thaw, there is a part of Setsuna Meioh that misses the frozen quiet, the way the entire city had been crystallized into a fantastical winter wonderland. Tokyo's characteristic bustle made the tall woman, accustomed to long solitude, feel a bit claustrophobic. For all the trials the blizzard had imposed, it had also brought an eerie sort of peace she appreciated.

Still, she muses as she steps out of her hired Mercedes onto the freshly-cleared sidewalk, she will enjoy the coming spring.

Setsuna's smooth, confident bearing and trained model's gate draw flashbulbs her way. She pays them no mind, letting the papparazzi's attentions bounce off of her just as the light does; her white woollen longcoat shrouds all details of her outfit save a tantalizing sweep of oxblood chiffon along the ground.

Once inside she shrugs her outer layer into the waiting hands of an attendant; she is far too poised to react to the wave of gasps that flutters up around her at the garment she reveals. Her strapless floor-length gown twists down from a straight neckline, body-hugging layers of gauzy fabric angled diagonally and wrapping around her to create a vortex of color. Here, in the as-yet untinted light of the entranceway, all the hues shine true: deep reds and burgundies transitioning to rich violets, each layer edged with a narrow strip of gleaming black.

She may not be representing Akai Mirai in any official capacity this night, but like any good model she knows the value of showcasing the brand even in off hours.

Setsuna and her Akamira gown fit right in under the warm red lights and shining ice decorations, and the illumination's hue plays tricks with her dark skin and crimson gown, making the former shine and picking out the purples in the latter. Her long evergreen hair, normally mostly free to fall down her back like water, morphs black in its elegant updo.

It doesn't take long before she finds her way to the gingerbread houses, and shows gentle amusement at the kanji confection in particular. She remarks to whomever happens to be nearby: "I think this one might be my favorite, but I cannot decide whether the baker created it with their tongue in their cheek or not."

<Pose Tracker> Marinette Dupain-Cheng [Juuban Public School (8)] has posed.

Such a grand gala, as if to celebrate the breaking of winter's chill. The invitations went out a month ago, the corrections a handful of days - but for those planning on attending, a few extra days meant little for preparations. Rentals could be rescheduled, prepared outfits could very well stay prepared. Perhaps re-shuffling of a few appointments, but little more.

For little Marinette Dupain-Cheng, bakers' daughter, it meant all the difference in the world.

That handful of days since Christmas, since the storm finally broke, were a flurry of activity. Helping send out delayed orders, finally delivering presents she wished to send out...managing to avoid anonymity in one case only by the sheerest of margins. That tiny victory had her filled with a flush until she got home, and saw the invitation...

She could have gone with Uniqlo. She could have gotten something from the Akai Mirai line. But a few days' notice was just enough time to give her the possibility of finishing a little project of her own. Before Christmas, there wasn't the time, but now...

As one Juuban student arrives at the gala, temptation winning out gives photographers just a little more confusion. She's wearing a red-and-pink dress, splashes of Juuban's school colours proudly mingled among the shades. But it's unique - no rack produced it, the twin lines being celebrated do not recognize its form. A variant of a cheongsam, paired with a fluffy stole for warmth. (Perhaps the gloves, at least, are Akamira?) The girl is on the short side, with dark hair, and only her faint uncertainty betrays that she's not a celebrity - but then, what designer produced her outfit? The world might not know, today.

Marinette is, once inside, wide-eyed and taking in every detail. The high society, the key figures of the fashion scene gathered in one place for some mystery revelation - it's almost too much to take in! And yet, she wants more - needs more. She brushes past a girl in a pantsuit, apologizes when she has to stop short of colliding with some heiress or other, and generally tries to make her way toward where the models might appear - maybe she can sneak a peek? Or at least listen in on-


Overhearing just enough of the exchange between KOZUE and Nori Ankou, with no visuals but her imagination to accompany the latter's words about lipliner, she nearly staggers over to the nearest table of mulled wine. Maybe someone is in earshot to hear her muttered comment, maybe not...

"...are the lives of all models that...scandalous?!"

<Pose Tracker> Tsuru [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Noto Mamiko https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_J5_caM3FeE

The lights soon dim, and the audience falls expectantly quiet. The room is partially lit by the soft LEDs in the floor, but mostly from the glow of the city through the windows. A spotlight trails to one wing of the stage and lingers there, broken in half by the adjoining wall, bent across the roof-like tops of the ema behind. Pointedly the light lingers. Where are the models?

A white foot in a straw sandal intrudes deliberately on the black stage, and Tsuru herself steps into the moon-like circle of light, her skin absorbing it all, no less pale than her plain white yukata. Hime-cut, demurely placid, large and dark of eye, she walks the stage with care and precision, but no outward flair, no pretension. It is as though she intends to teach tea ceremony.

The enigmatic AoAka designer could not be more different than Baurollo, but they have one thing in common; both either understand the power of a single, iconic style in establishing a brand, or simply lack interest in constantly re-adorning themselves the way they do their models and customers. Tsuru too has made no allowance for the holiday. The only color on her body is the rich lacquered comb in her hair, and the vivid, finger-thick stripe of red in the center of her lower lip.

"I want to tell you a story," she said, this narrow fading brushstroke of a girl, alone in the center of a stage. She was someone who wanted very few things very much, and thus something in her voice made what she wanted seem well worth the listening.

"Once upon a time, the wealthy lords of the Searrs family desired to place monuments all about the city of Tokyo. To what end, who can say? Glory, riches, might; these are the currencies of power. One or all they sought."

Tsuru did not speak with her hands, or even her face, but her voice held a soft gravity, as though she were imparting dangerous tidings. "Each location was auspicious. Where the three currencies of Searrs prevailed, an eight-sided mirror was placed. Where pride and independence resisted..." Tsuru shuffled her feet in the manner of a geisha or princess, then walked towards the wall of ema, reaching a delicate hand to lay atop one wooden panel. "Terrible accidents came to roost."

Turning the panel, the twine twisting about its nail, Tsuru revealed a horizontal black brushstroke. "Clover Town Street," she names the panel. "The rich lords of Searrs, in their great benevolence, made their money a bandage for the wounds they themselves inflicted." Walking down the stage, Tsuru picks out another specific tile among the many hundreds, revealing two horizontal lines: numerical kanji, then, first one, then two. "Dream Land," she names this one, after the famous amusement park.

"Searrs had only one request in return for their aid--to be able to erect their monument on the restored land, as once they had asked. Hikawa Shrine." She flips the third ema, reveals the third kanji.

"No one knows what became of these monuments. Five mirrors, eight sides each, bought with three currencies. But they are used up now, broken, their purpose expended." Dark incisive eyes regarded the crowd. "The story of beauty and the story of power have the same shape. They are stories of boundaries crossed. Boundaries defended. Boundaries enforced or manipulated. As designers, as artists, and as people, we must decide which of the two stories is our story. Penguin Park." The fourth ema flips. By now it is clear to anyone with a knowledge of Tokyo's geography that there is a spatial relation between the four marked panels; the wall is a great blank map of Tokyo, and Tsuru is revealing the points that matter most.

"My decision was made long ago. Thus it is that I devote tonight's designs to beauty. Beauty that refutes power. Thus it is that I declare myself a friend to the foes of insidious power." Long lashes beat slow, like rising wings. Deliberately, she reverses the final ema. Go, five.

"Searrs Corporation Pavillion," she says, as if by afterthought.

Stepping to the front of the stage, the five marked tiles arrayed around her like a Buddhist halo, Tsuru folds her hands before her. "Tonight's theme is 'Our Story'," she says. "Tonight's featured models are, as always, KOZUE and Nori Ankou."

The music starts in before she's even left the stage, as if designed to amplify the affray of confused and eager gossip that follows in her wake as Tsuru descends the stage and joins the party floor.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

There's a lot for Madoka to admire here, and there is nothing more soothing for her nerves than to focus hard on someone else and how great they are. By the time she's done staring at the Vice President's kimono, her hair ribbons have stopped drooping. Marinette's fabulous cheongsam restores a twinkle to her eyes. And Setsuna's gorgeous gown leaves her in slack-jawed bedazzlement. Unconsciously her hands start swirling her own skirt, clawing for her notebook and pencil. But this is a nice dress, which means it has no pockets, and she has no tools. The world is cruel.

Fortunately she is distracted from this misery by the dimming of the lights, and along with the rest of the party, transfixed by the tale told. This is the first time Madoka's seen Tsuru in person, and the way that the designer lives absolutely up to her expectations is both comforting and unsettling, attractive and repulsive. It is a fine thing for someone to be exactly who they're said to be, but stories aren't supposed to be this true, gossip this accurate.

She loses her breath, and does not regain it until Tsuru leaves the stage.

Then, her eyes bright, her tone very eager to discuss, she turns to the nearest partygoer, who turns out to be Marinette. "I, um, uhh... I'm not sure that the models are the real scandal tonight. Do you, ah, do you know what she meant by 'three currencies?' But," she adds loyally, "Nori-chan isn't scandalous at all. She's a wonderful person!"

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Meioh [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

When the overhead lights dim Setsuna turns garnet eyes to the stage, folding her arms loosely before her hand-on-wrist. She adopts utter stillness as she listens to Tsuru and finds herself drawn into the tale and its hypnotic quality. She makes mental note of the five auspicious locations. Perhaps it pertains to nothing at all, but it is still information, and fascinating on top of that. History lessons are rarely lost on her.

Beauty that refutes power. Setsuna's gaze drifts to the reflective translucence of the decorative ice nearby; her mind drifts back to recent memory and the delicate magic of moonbeams, a slender blonde figure aglow with them and dancing across the blackened surface of a pond.

At the tale's conclusion, Setsuna gives herself a little shake and squeezes shut eyes gone dry from a lack of blinking. Tsuru's creations deserve her full attention, she tells herself sternly; she can daydream of graceful moon princesses later. The privacy of the lowered lights mercifully hides a brief darkening of her cheeks.

<Pose Tracker> Shizuru Fujino [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

Strictly, Shizuru doesn't show any reaction to the story Tsuru tells at all, not any more than she does to anything else. Oh, there's polite interest, there's obvious listening, but to all account it's jut meaningless to the Vice President of Ohtori's student counil.

Perhaps the thing that registers most is te talk of boundries... and the talk of beauty. She muses over both, though les pleasantly over boundaries. ...Less pleasantly over beauty.

No, there isn't really anything pleasant in her reaction. She stands in winter kimono and looks at Tsuru as she starts to leave the stage.

Shizuru will have to make a phone call.

But in the meantime, she steps around and starts to pass Natsuki, coming to a pause. "...How surprising to see you here," she remarks mildly, and it's anyone's guess whether she means it. Thre's a faint smile before she continues forward for now. ...She doesn't have much time for pleasantry.

<Pose Tracker> Natsuki Kuga [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Natsuki blinks as Tsuru spoke. "Huh," she muttered softly. Most of it was information she had known from her intel gathering, and frankly all it did was confirm her suspicious.

However, some of the events she hadn't known about she was certain she had heard Mai mention in passing.

"I should probably go and compare notes with her," she muttered under her breath. "There's probably more stuff going on than we realize."

Shizuru then speaks to her and Natsukie could only offer a shrug. "Well, admit I was a bit curious on the fashion line," she said and then gives a yawn. "With that said, I think I'm going to slip out. I have something...things to check on."

She offers Shizuru a small smile before she begins to head out the back. There was much to think about.

<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

That was not the answer she was expecting from Nori. Neither on the person in question- on not wanting to keep at it. Nor on going pretty far. "Kasagami, huh?" Despite her low opinion on her, it was hard to tell her that a student council member was beneath her. She just didn't expect Nori to announce she was dating her so easily. Part of her was proud that Nori was coming into her own, but the rest of her wondered if she wasn't getting a little too full of herself.

Still while it had been an opportunity to tease- she can't help but switch it up to something complimentary, "Good for you. Change up frequently- keep people guessing."

Nori kisses the air and Kozue almost laughs, part of her wonders if she pushes her just a little further, whether she'd collapse upon herself, the thought is amusing but- she gets up, starts to walk away- "My~my- just look how far you've come? Just be careful- rise too far too fast- and you might be in for a hard fall."

She'd test that some other time. Tsuru's financial situation was still deeply in the red, and her future as a model depended on their success tonight. If either of them fell apart out there...

Just out of view on the edge of the stage, in the shadows, she watches Tsuru make her appearance. There is something different about tonight. She just doesn't know yet.

She hadn't- truly expected.

The first time she hears SEARRS, she feels bile rise in her throat.

Feels something razor thin upon her back and blunt upon her face. Like a phantom pain.

Tsuru keeps telling 'Our' story, and Kozue's chest moves in it's own rhythm for a few seconds- rapid, uneven- eyes closed to the halo surrounding Tsuru. However-


Beauty that refutes power? Foe of insidious power?

Her eyes flare open suddenly and it's like she's stunned into immobility and- "What are you doing Tsuru?" The words leave Kozue's lips, uncertain of what to make of this. The boldness of this declaration- when she could barely even manage her own affairs in the background. Kozue admired boldness but- this. This felt like too much.

It took her a while to recompose herself. And then it's like she floated out onto the party floor. She's wearing a blue strapless mini-dress with a sweetheart neckline- sheathed in a layer of off-shoulder matched lace that covers her arms to the wrist and extends a flowing- floor sweeping hem behind her showing off her seemingly flawless skin over a swimmer's muscles. All the lace is embroidered with snowflakes, no two of which are the same- is that an illusion? Or is it really true?

She is Aohime after all. Winter is her domain.

Blue high heels of a matching color to the dress. Her scarf is present too, chaotically wrapped around the base of her neck- the same one from the debut to those who get a good look and yet it seems to not only uncannily match, but accentuate what she's wearing, in how it seems to float behind her like smoke, differently from the lace, weightless yet as dense as a cloud.

Her skin is sacral by the lightest dust of foundation, blued and shadowed eyes, her lips a seamless gradient of a quartet of shades.

Madoka Kaname might hear the footsteps of heels behind her of someone approaching. But when she turns- KOZUE is there. Camera flashes greet her entrance- whispers, murmurs from the crowd.

And she favors them with this self-assured smirk- "Are you really so sure about that?" She says in an almost silky way, "She just might surprise you."

It continues to play upon her lips as she looks upon her smaller senior, "Just like another friend of yours. I'm so glad you both made it- Kaname-san-" Her eyes train onto her, making it crystal clear just how perfectly she remembers her, then on the other, "-Marinette-chan. I do hope you're enjoying yourselves- please don't hold yourselves back at all."

Across the room are others she recognizes. She'll definitely be making her rounds to them soon.

<Pose Tracker> Marinette Dupain-Cheng [Juuban Public School (8)] has posed.

The lights dim, and the hostess of the evening reveals herself. Having heard only conflicting rumours of the enigmatic Tsuru - those in the media, those through internet-savvy friends, and those through stray comments from models - Marinette isn't sure what to expect. An ordinary student like any other? A rich heiress playing at fashion designer? Gabriel Agreste under a false pseudonym? The possibilities are absolutely endless.

Whatever she expected, Tsuru's appearance startles the half-Chinese girl. An almost ethereally pale girl in a white, like some ghostly princess - perhaps a clear choice devoid of colour? Hard to say - but then she starts telling a story. A story that brings a confused frown to Marinette's face...and the tiniest of gasps from somewhere in her fluffy stole. (Volume serves a purpose, and Tikki did not want to miss the party.) Marinette does her best to keep up with the tale that seems to verge on conspiracy theory, taking mental notes as best she can to relate to Alya later - but she's distracted by the frantic muttering from her shoulder. She might ask for details...

...but while she knows she has a Kwami with her, to anyone else whispering into one's dress would be terribly gauche. Muttering to herself, sure, but that's as far as she can go. "...but whose story is...oh, never mind."

Later, there will be questions. But for now...apparently, the show is meant to continue. She starts upon hearing a voice, turning to face the girl who greeted her - a fellow middle-schooler, probably? Marinette bows reflexively in greeting. "I suppose not - I'm only an amateur, so I don't know if talk like that is normal at these sorts of shows. Er, parties, not shows..." She flushes, just a bit. "I don't think I've heard that term myself. I guess...she might be talking about what rich people might spend instead of money? I know a rich girl who uses bullying a lot, maybe it's like that..."

Something to grumble about, perhaps - and then Madoka displays loyalty, and Marinette pales. "Oh! I'm sorry - you're friends with Ankou-san too? I've only met her the once, but you're right, she seemed really honest - I just got worried at something I heard, because there's someone I don't know enough...I've really made a gaff, sorry. Erm, I'm Marinette Dupain-Cheng, from Juuban - nice to meet you!" There. Things can't go badly saying that kind of thing, right?

Wrong. KOZUE is there, to make things awkward again, and Marinette turns to face the Aohime model. "Oh, KOZUE! I suppose you'd have more of an inside view - though I did speak to Ankou-san as well, and she did seem to treat things...normally? I guess? Thanks for answering my questions that time, by the way - it was really insightful!"

She is shuffling on the spot a bit, glancing back to Madoka, and seeming...a little embarrassed by her outburst.

Okay, a lot embarrassed.

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CeJCzCKoEtk&feature=youtu.be&t=271

Hearing the words of Marinette through the dividers makes Nori...

It makes Nori smile wide enough to bare her teeth. Finally she can open her eyes, though.

"Do you think it is?" she asks Kozue, even as her eyes open. Her eyebrow, which is currently elegantly accented, raises as she's warned about a long fall. And then comes the story, and the final adjustment of her clothing, and a step forwards.

Her thoughts of Searrs are peculiar, now. Not good, but with distance. Maybe it's because I'm in this 'mask,' she thinks to herself. Obscurely, she wants the taste of grilled snails.

But as she emerges, some moments after Aohime has made its splash - for winter's due must be granted - Nori steps forwards, into the stage of reality, of festivity proper. The intricate makeup on her face is not garish, though her lips and her eyebrows have been embroidered and extended in a way that gives her an ethereal look that complements the uniform pattern on the rest of her garments. Oh, the fabric isn't the same, but a kimono-sleeved bolero jacket in near-black, a silk blouse with no sleeves beneath it, and a pencil-cut skirt that comes down just to knee level, all seem to move in a uniform way as she walks. The impression is like those patterned cutouts in some animation.

(It helps that Nori is walking carefully, of course, but less than you might think.)

As she steps round, wearing wedged sandals (and calf-high stockings of the same pattern as above), Nori smiles without words to several passerby, but when she comes to the taller woman, her head tilts, one lock of her well-brushed and lightly bound hair shifting position. "Ah... Meioh-san, isn't it? You look wonderful; I'm glad to have your help here, to keep the embers glowing."

"I was going to greet my friend, while I made my rounds," Nori says, pointing one of her painted fingernails towards Madoka. "Would you like an introduction?" Either way Nori is drifting that direction if not QUITE there. Not yet. NOT YET.

<Pose Tracker> Tsuru [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

Tsuru is a scrupulously attentive presence, if not the most vocal one. She greets her rivals politely, and tonight her most frequent response is a gentle shake of the head. She's denying suppositions, diverting probing questions, refusing offers, but always so softly. Once, while chatting with Stella Amanogawa, her attention slips. No, better to say it refocuses elsewhere; it may be accidental but it is not subtle or partial. When Kozue reaches the end of the stage and has to turn, Tsuru stops listening for a moment and watches her. Stella continues for a few words, then sighs tolerantly and looks to Kozue herself.

"She has a lot left to learn," Stella says, with mischief but without cruelty. "It looks like a dancer taught her, not a model."

That gets Tsuru's attention. "Is this something you can see?"

Stella laughs easily. "Looking for tips? Nothing's free, you know. Put a bid against Baurollo for my next contract if you want to learn what I know."

"I would not presume," Tsuru says. Another little head shake.

"It would be hard to go back to children afterwards, I suppose," Stella allowed. Professional-minded, she hadn't intended it as an insult, but her daughter Kirara seems to find an excuse to excuse herself immediately after the comment.

"Your designs aren't bad," Stella continues. "Perhaps not ready for Paris, but..." Nori is about to do her turn, now, and Tsuru is looking away again. Now it's Stella's turn to shake her head.

The lesser models finish their walks, and join the party in their turn. They and the other venue staff begin encouraging attendees to take the stage instead, and write or scribble as they may on the ema on the wall. The remaining bulk of ema are blank on the other side; Tsuru had a good memory, to pick out the few marked ones. But they are either a reddish or greenish blank, with no discernable pattern to their arrangement.

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Meioh [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

Fortunately for Setsuna, the gliding grace of KOZUE's entrance and matching weightlessness of her Aohime couture do a good job of distraction. The cerulean-haired girl possesses a sharp-edged sensibility that further hones the fashionable attire sheathing her. Setsuna nods, a gesture as lost as her earlier blush was in the dim, in salute to the Ohtori student's blithe command of the stage.

Nori sweeps in next, drawing Setsuna's eyes along with those of the rest of the crowd, girl and garment flowing in manicured unison. The ethereal, high-fashion warpaint further elevates this meticulous display of the Akai Mirai ideal. And soon enough, Akamira meets Akamira -- Setsuna smiles a greeting to Nori as she approaches in mutual recognition of previously-shared backstages.

"Ankou-san, it was a pleasure to see you walk for the label. Tsuru chose well." Then, Setsuna has gotten the impression that the line's designer makes no unconsidered decisions. "It is easy to be supportive of such an innovative collection."

She follows Nori's fingertip to Madoka and recognizes the pink-haired girl, smile growing and softening at the same time. "We've met, though it has been a while. Let us go join forces and make sure everyone gets a closer look at Tsuru's genius." She falls in step with Nori and together they carve an avant-garde wake through the admiring crowd.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Other than /admiring/ other people, the greatest balm to Madoka's spirit is seeing them in distress and wanting to help them. Which could be construed as schadenfreude by her critics, but no one's inside her head right now, right?


All this is to say that Marinette's meltdown is accompanied by the relaxation of a line of tension down Madoka's back, and the appearance of sweet little dimples in her cheeks as she smiles, gently. She returns the bow, though hers is a little wobbly and graceless. "Like, uh, influence? I guess?"

She shakes her head as though the jerking of her chin can smooth the apology away. "We're classmates, and... friends, yeah." There's a silk-smoothness to the way her voice glides over 'friends'. She never takes it for granted. It is a precious treasure even just to say. "I'm Madoka Kaname, 9th-grade Ohtori! Pleased to meet you!" She bobs again, reflexively.

Then Kozue rolls in. Questioning Madoka's belief in Nori's goodness is a guaranteed argument, except that she tends to get tongue-tied and nervous, especially when she doesn't have the bulwark of a blue-haired bestie at her side. And also she's having trouble breathing while in close proximity to that outfit. Red flags unfurl on her cheeks. "I, um, I like... Nori-chan... and... surprises?"

Real smooth.

<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Oblivious to Stella's comments during the walk- she'd perhaps have strode right to her off the stage had she heard- she continues chatting.

There's this almost smiling laugh on her lips as the budding fashion designer fumbles over her words. "It's certainly fine. I actually appreciated getting the perspective from an outside eye, someone so- down to earth." A hand brushes through the blue filaments of her hair. "After all. Aren't the hopes and dreams of girls like the two of you- what these lines are built on?"

Certainly they didn't mind the upper class splurging on the custom haute coture, but giving membership to the Sister Schools to make them affordable had a distinct purpose- one veiled in her words.

Her eye drifts to catch Nori out of her periphery, speaking to- someone else they know. One of Tsuru's models from the shows.

Then she leans down. Not too far necessarily. "Do you? How wonderful. We have so much in common." She says, perhaps ironically, yet sincere at least in this context. Madoka is short but she's not too much taller. A hand cups the flustered girl's chin with the gentlest of touches, one finger by the hollow of one cheek- the others playing upon the other- lace brushing her shoulder, she's close enough to smell the faint scent of saffron. "You're cute." She leans in close to hear ear- close enough that her breath might tickle its lobe, "No wonder Sayaka-chan takes such a shine to you."

The hand drops away, and she straightens back up to her full pose- and takes a moment to enjoy any reaction she gets.

<Pose Tracker> Tsuru [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

Standing at a polite distance, a fashion club member holds a cordless phone with her hand scrupulously over the receiver, waiting for a break in what seems to be an intense conversation Kozue is having. Making eye contact with Setsuna (her fellow Infinity Fashion Club member), the girl jerks her head plaintively at Kozue for assistance. When Kozue stands straight, however, she sees her chance, stepping up.

"Pardon me, KOZUE," she says. "He says he's your attorney. Claims it's very urgent. It's about..."

Tsuru steps up to the circle of girls, and the fashion club assistant cuts herself off, instead offering the phone out to Kozue.

Tsuru approaches looking at Kozue first, but upon seeing the phone, she gives Kozue a slow blink, then turns to Nori instead. "Thank you as always, Red Future. You were magnificent tonight." Setsuna, her occasional volunteer, she acknowledges with a silent nod. When her large, dark eyes fall on Madoka, however, Tsuru stops looking about the group and focuses on her with an odd intensity.

"You are a Sister Schools student?" Tsuru's smiles are small, her voice delicate and just a little frayed, like the end of a plume. She seems to look right at Madoka's blushing cheeks for a moment, but expresses no comment. The red stripe halving her lower lip makes it look very small from a distance, like a maraschino cherry, but up close the pale sides of her mouth are visible, as is the thin lilting upper lip.

"I go to Infinity Institute," she offers Madoka. "I am happy when my fellow Sister School students come to support Kozue and Nori." Tsuru refers to them in a very familiar fashion at odds with her otherwise ornate etiquette.

<Pose Tracker> Marinette Dupain-Cheng [Juuban Public School (8)] has posed.

There's a little distress. Put Marinette in earshot of Adrien Agreste, and there might be more. Clearly, this is a girl for not-schadenfreude-honest Madoka to hang around in future.

Awkward, embarrassed Marinette tries to to recover - this smiling girl is cheerful, and friendly, and...well, as a whole, far from what Marinette has in her mind as the Ohtori stereotype. She should know better - does know better - and yet there's that image of the 'ojou' that persists. Probably by virtue of the school's middle school council president. But Madoka Kaname defies that image with a friendly smile, and Marinette tries to shake off the image. Literally, perhaps.

"Pleased to meet you too - and sorry, again, for any assumptions about your friend Kaname-senpai." She tries to smile to match, though - it might be rude not to. "I mean, I'm classmates with a fashion model - I mean there's a boy in my class who's a model, so I should really know better! I just...anyway, never mind."

But that, of course, was before there was a Kozue.

Marinette finds herself with a fashion model running a hand through her dark hair, and while it's something she might have imagined, her imagination hadn't exactly supplied this face to go with the daydream. "Um - thank you! I'm glad that shoot worked out - well, before it didn't, but that was kind of a special situation..." Babbling is cut off by the comment of hopes and dreams, and even her embarrassment for her earlier gaffe seems to fade as she muses on the comment. She's uncertain, but...

A hidden weight on her shoulder gives an unseen nudge, and Marinette straightens her back just a bit. In red and pink, in her not-from-Akamira cheongsam, she gives the slightest of smirks. "Well, I hope these lines aren't built on my hopes and dreams - don't you think there's another line that could use that foundation?" She doesn't have her sketchbook with her, naturally, but she dares to meet KOZUE's gaze for a moment.

Then, remembering her other conversation partner, she turns back to Madoka. "Sorry for not mentioning, senpai - I came because I kind of have a little interest in fashion design myself. I'm not sure if it's what I want to do, but - well, I want to see what this world is like before I get too far in..."

Tsuru's approach is startling, and Marinette suddenly realizes that declaring herself a potential rival might have been saying a little much - and so she immediately starts backpedaling. "A-anyway! Nice to meet you, Kaname-senpai! Good to see you again, KOZUE - and now I need to go. And see a thing. Um, talk to you later!"

And off she goes, all that confidence turning into a flustered retreat that almost bumps into Nori Ankou, isn't that just her luck? Maybe she can find a classmate. Or some of the mulled wine, that's allowed to teenagers right?

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

"Thank you," Nori answers Setsuna. She gives her a slightly sidewise look and a quirk of the lips. "It gets easier every time, doesn't it...? Sometimes I wish I could do it all day."

That's probably a thing that's alright and OK. Either way Nori gets nearer to matters, and she sees that Kozue is reaching for Madoka's face... and leaning in... and Nori's lips turn into a slight frown where nobody is quite looking, and says a bit more clearly than she might have otherwise, "Madoka-!"

At which point she gets a bump from Marinette. "Oh," Nori says as the impact ripples through her clothing in a shimmery way, before she says, "Marinette-san, hello again - it is wonderful to see you here--" She may be winging this, perhaps not wanting to try to get her surname properly.

Tsuru is speaking too. Nori answers her with a rather formal sort of bow and no words... just in time to straight up and see that Tsuru is also turning her attention to Madoka, as if Madoka was a particularly delectable snail or similar freshwater mollusk, ripe for the feeding.

But... OK, it's alright. "This is my comrade," Nori says, a little exaggeration being good for the soul, "Setsuna Meioh. And this is Tsuru, of course... Tsuru-san, Meioh-san, this is my dear friend, Madoka Kaname... She was there for me when no-one else was, and brought me from the pits of despair with the aid of friendly whales."

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Meioh [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

"I find value in both the walking and the watching," Setsuna returns to Nori in a calm, conversational way as they go. "But you are right, it does get easier each time."

Setsuna notices her fellow club member's wordless appeal, but by the time she and Nori arrive, the situation has been handled. She returns Tsuru's greeting, two mysterious girls exchanging grave nods, before turning her attention to the rest of the growing conversational circle's members. Each is known to her somewhat but none are close acquaintances -- not that the Outer Senshi has many of those to begin with -- and she appreciates Nori's gracious renewal of introductions.

"KOZUE," and she favors the other model with a nod almost as deep as one she gave the fashion line's young matriarch herself, "you stunned, tonight." Unless, of course, KOZUE is already taking her lawyer's call; then Setsuna will just have to save the praise for later.

That somewhat warmer smile returns as Setsuna looks to the frothily-frocked Madoka. "It is good to see you again, Kaname-san. Your dress is truly lovely, it suits you. I would love to hear more about those whales, sometime." There is nothing but sincerity in her low, smooth voice. "Did your Halloween costume turn out well?"

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Kozue may get drawn away by a helpful lawyer, but surely she still gets a glimpse of the reaction she's looking for. Madoka's not unaware that the model -- her underclassman, does that even have meaning right now? -- is moving her flirting through targets like a (very) hot knife through grease, but mere context doesn't make her immune.

By the time Tsuru arrives, the red has mapped itself all the way across her face, down the nape of her neck, even on the back of her palms. But at the same time...

"...Sayaka-chan, we're not... she has..."

Maybe it's just as well that they've been thoroughly interrupted. Madoka doesn't bother to finish the thought; the mark on Tsuru's lips slays her too thoroughly to be able to form actual language.

The silence stretches and stretches. The rhetorical question goes unanswered; the explanation and compliment, too, and the introductions from Nori that come after. The question from Setsuna.

Madoka swallows.

A spot of sweat forms at her temple. A breath of air causes her bangs to flap over it and stick. Then it starts to trickle along her hairline.

Her eyes close, not gently but tightly, blocking the crowd from view. Alas, the sounds remain, each one a jagged sensory experience.

There's nothing to do but to create her own.

"SHE HAS MIKI-KUN!" Madoka blurts out in a raw shriek, unable to form any sentence other than the one that had conveniently already been half-constructed, the only bridge across the anxious chasm that had formed around her in every direction.

Her eyes fly open -- she claps both hands over her mouth, mortified -- and she looks everywhere and nowhere at once, wanting nothing so badly as to disappear on the spot, right here, right now.

<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Kozue doesn't even notice the fiddly fashion club member looking for an opportunity to give her a phone. Frankly her presence doesn't even register to her. "You know Marinette-chan. You don't have to be so anxious about speaking your mind." She winks at her with a perfectly shaded eye, "But it's adorable that you are." But then Marinette meets her gaze, and that playful smile becomes less so for a moment, "My. Perhaps you'll go even further than you hope to- if you show off that side of yourself more often."

She laps up the flustered reaction of Madoka like a cat lapping up cream- adoring that red shade that's mapped out all over her face, her fumbling over her words about Sayaka-

But after she straightens a phone is offered. And frankly, Kozue is hesitant to take it. She sure it's just one piece of contract minutia or another- "Oh it can't be that important. They're just fretting over-" or at least she is for a few seconds, until she remembers something that happened.


Suddenly her expression changes into something deadly serious, "Maybe you're right. I should take this."

She takes the phone from the girl, putting her hand over the receiver as she catches Tsuru walking up. But when her eyes drift up she catches the end of Tsuru's blink. And perhaps something clouds over in her eyes when Tsuru tells Nori she was magnificent. It might just be that she saw Kozue was on the phone.

Might be.

She keeps a hand over the receiver one last moment as Setsuna walks up, "Such praise. High praise to receive it from you. I actually thought it was a pity that you weren't with us tonight." There's this twinkle in her eyes. "Just look at you. You're presenting competition when you're not even featured."

It's only then that she turns around, steps a few paces away for the sake of some semblance of privacy, uncovers the receiver and puts it up to her ear, "Yes this is Kozue. Well what is it?"

But then a raw shriek takes her ears, even with a phone pressed to them. And Kozue whirls around- glaring daggers into the other girl.

Whatever the lawyer says on the other line, they'd better make it good. As she's about to press end and storm right up to her.

<Pose Tracker> Tsuru [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

For Kozue it had been a slow blink, for Madoka, two quick ones. She looks down at the shorter girl and her all-consuming wildfire blush, then briefly at the furious Blue Princess. "Kaname-chan." Her voice is gentle, even submissive, as if she has offended her better. "I am sorry. I have flustered you. It would have been best for me to wait. I only happened to notice something special about you, something I wondered if you were aware of."

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Meioh [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

She's an observant type, to say the least, so Setsuna notes the increasing tension in the overwhelmed Madoka with some personal chagrin. Still, she's definitely not prepared for that shriek, has no idea what it really /means/, and ends up blinking in an utterly owlish fashion at the aftermath.

Before the end of the night Setsuna Meioh drifts over to the great abstract map of Tokyo, its lightweight hanging components swaying ever so slightly in the passerby-generated breeze. She stands there a long time, deep in thought, before selecting a red ema near, as best she can tell, the Infinity Institute and its trio of sentinel towers.

It clacks back against the wall, spinning a bit before it settles, with a very common and unremarkable prayer written on the back:

"For the health of my family."

<Pose Tracker> Tsuru [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Who is She? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Sk78uP9m-E

Kneeling directly on the floor and getting not a few startled looks for it, Tsuru looks to Madoka's face for permission as she unwinds a bit of knotted silk from her sleeve. Kozue's seen her use the bit of string to measure clothing before, but this time, she holds it up to Madoka's calf. "If you would... lift your foot," she requests softly. "And point your toe. You may take off your shoe, if you like."

Many of the attendees have taken to filling out the ema. There's a certain satisfaction in flipping them to the colored side, a puzzle starting to form on the wall, with five unpainted, kanji-marked pieces that don't quite seem to fit.

The phone crackles as Kozue finally puts it to her ear. "Yes, Kaoru-san?" The attorney's work for the family, not for KOZUE. "Your kohai there told us this was a bad time, but it's a time-sensitive matter." A certain pinch in his voice suggests he's holding the phone betweeen shoulder and ear; the very hour he remains at the office testifies to his seriousness. "It relates to your client, Miss Tsuru. The firm has been asked to notarize and validate a transaction. A /very/ large transaction I have no reason to believe is legitimate. It's..." A short delay indicates the attorney is flipping through documents, either digitally or otherwise.

"You have the ideal figure profile for ballet," Tsuru tells Madoka. The string is held directly down the line of symmetry, from knee to pointed toe. "Nori," she says, serenely satisfied. "Do you see? The dramatic shape, on both sides. Don't look at her leg. It is the empty space that matters." Tracing a finger in the air, Tsuru indicates the hollow behind Madoka's ankle, the curve of her shin, the arch of her foot. "This sort of shape," Tsuru says. "It lets the body speak."

"...the purchase of a massive, early-stage foreclosure. We're not a real estate firm; I barely feel qualified to read these numbers aloud to you."

Enough ema have been flipped to make it obvious some sort of characters are written with the green panels, with the red serving as background. Charmed, the guests start trying to play Wheel of Fortune with the sketchy outlines. Looks like just three letters.

"Let me put it in simple terms. The Bank of Japan is claiming that your client purchased a massive amount of debt from them today. Good debt, triple-A, which is to say, there's no way she turns a profit from the transaction. Major leases go to early foreclosure fairly routinely, it can be more lucrative than securing a loan if a company's finances fluctuate briefly. Given that she's months behind on that basement of hers, we can both agree there's no way this is legitimate, right?"

"I hear the rent on that little shop of hers is months behind," Stella whispers to her daughter.

"There are rumors," Baurollo intones direly in subtitled Italian, to his group of fellow European designers. "Yakuza loans." He pops an olive from his martini into his mouth, chewing through the last word. "Unpaid."

"It's no wonder she has so many customers, even at that price," Momoka Kurumi admires, gazing at Setsuna Meioh's dress in admiration.

"Uwah!" Erika Kurumi, Infinity Fashion Club, exclaims aloud as the makeup counter she was gently leaning on topples over like plywood. "Such junk! Where is all her money going?"

"For what it's worth, the foreclosure in question is on the lease for the entire, ah... which was it."

The ema are all filled out, and so the stage lights begin to rise again. The letters are clear now, but they're not letters at all. 4-4-4, they read.

Tsuru gently helps guide Madoka's small foot back into her shoe. The cold, leaden metal of her engagement ring is the only dissonance to the comforting care with which she handles Madoka. The black opal atop it seems out of place on her flawless hand, on Madoka's delicate ankle.

"The lease for the entire Shibuya Hikarie building," the attorney reads off.

Tsuru turns her calm contentment on Kozue at last. "That which is missing," she concludes. "That is what matters most."

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Nori laughs softly when Setsuna asks about the whales. She then takes a deep breath, but Madoka is struggling... she can't just tell that story without Madoka's presence.

And then... An announcement is made. Beneath her makeup Nori blanches, slightly. Kozue is there, Nori thinks, and oh, she's going to be dreadfully upset if this is how she finds out. What Tsuru is doing, though, those movements. Her head turns like a karakuri doll to look when Tsuru gestures and guides her eyes to look at the leg of Madoka.

She doesn't reply, aloud, but her attention is benign. Maybe she wants to draw Madoka in with us, Nori thinks: a pink perhaps between red and blue? Isn't pink just a shade of purple? She heard that somewhere.

She isn't looking towards the Ema. Nori speaks to Madoka with warmth, but perhaps a distance as well. "Tsuru-san is always right about these things, you know... maybe you should become a ballerina, Madoka. Do you think that would be fun...?"

It feels almost hollow to say that, Nori thinks. But it's a nice kind of hollow. Like the inside of a guitar.

<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krUFWOAbBNk

There's nothing she'd like more than to break up what she sees right now. With Tsuru kneeling down using that string to measure her calf- bading her to lift her foot. She grits white together and fumes- finger poised right above the end button.

Fortunately, the lawyer chooses their words well enough to prickle at her sense of foreboding, and the finger moves away. A hand raises as if she were going to use it to smother her fury, but it stops before it would even touch it preventing it from smearing even the slightest dab of makeup. "I understand." The hand instead moves to quiver through the strands of her hair. "Yes- it's a good thing you called me."

But her eyes are still upon Madoka, as if she could hope to make her squirm, wriggle like a worm beneath her gaze- for not just what she shrieked out- but for the sin of catching Tsuru's eye. Her sin.

Her brows pinch together, "That doesn't make any sense, even with her new capital coming..." Kozue had made certain that Tsuru wouldn't fall deeper and deeper into this endless abyss of debt, and now she's willingly taking the plunge? What?

Suddenly her eyes are no longer on the pair, but her ears are hearing them nevertheless.

Let me put it in simple terms...

It's no wonder she has so many customers, even at that price, ...and greedy men do not jockey me for it.

The sound of toppling boards draws her eye- The truth is I know little of business. The truth is that every merchant cheats me. I do not know how, I just know 'yes'.

The Ema are all filled out. ...it is alright for them to steal, because money is not what's truly at stake.

The stage lights begin to rise again to reveal-


The phone almost slips through her fingers. Somehow it remains. Somehow. She doesn't know how. Somehow. Her lips move and no words come out.

In wonder she turns back to Tsuru, as she guides Madoka's foot back into the shoe. Those blue eyes are wider perhaps, as she regards her in wonder. Like the pieces are sliding together and she still can't fathom the end result of what she'll see- her eyes meet Tsuru's black, placid, but never bored.


Finally she speaks into the receiver, "Stay on the line for just a moment. I'll have you an answer shortly."

Kozue takes a few steps towards Tsuru, then cants her head towards the 4-4-4 "And is this one of things that's missing, Tsuru-san?" She asks calmly, "All you have to do is say the word- back out now. Say it was a mistake and I can make this go away."

She doesn't understand. She wants to know what's going through her head right now, more than ever. It could all fritter away in a heartbeat in this business- they both know this.

And that lack of understanding causes her to speak really slowly, enunciating. It's not that she's being condescending- talking down to her. She can't consider herself superior to Tsuru in any respect that isn't business- because she barely can wrap her head around how she thinks. She just wants the answer to be as crystal clear. "So are you sure- /absolutely/ sure- that /this/ is that important?"

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

If looks could kill, Madoka would be dead -- except that such attacks require a certain kind of consent. If Kozue glares through a crowd, and her target isn't there to see it, does it make a sound?

She's not there because she is with Tsuru, of course.

"I, um...?" For once her stammer isn't a stall, a journey between two places but neither destination. It's gently interrogative.

She winds up on the floor next to the older girl, without a shade of embarrassment; push her far enough past the boiling point and a little more heat hardly matters. Besides, she's only down there for a moment, in order to take off her shoe -- it has intricate clasps, and she can only remove it with it stuck out under her skirts, using both hands.

Then she's back on her feet, allowing Tsuru to perform her demonstration. She may have ballet-friendly physiology, but dexterity, no. It requires the gentle intervention of the fashion designer to keep her from toppling over when her foot is extended.

Aware of how pathetic that juxtaposition is, she shakes her head -- a rejection, though it stinks of automation, of reflex. Faced with an offer of unique ability, that thing she claims so fervently to yearn for, she backpedals away from it with all the alarm that she'd treat a lavu letta if it finally showed up in her shoe locker. "No, I... I could never be a ballerina. I'm clumsy, and no good in PE anyway."

Her foot is back in her shoe now; there's no risk of a Cinderella flight. Tsuru can feel it tremble, with eagerness, with anxiety. "I, um... I never thought I'd get to talk to Tsuru-sama, but... here you are, a student just like me!" She never knew, or she forgot.

Her smile doesn't simper, but it can't help but be sweet, just as the sun can't help but shine. Leaning down, she offers the designer a hand up. Like her foot, her hand is warm and soft, like the idea of a cloud. In this way is she most unlike a ballerina, of course -- no calluses. No hard-earned excellence, the third currency for which is always pain.

She doesn't even know what she's missing.

"I love your clothes... Aohime, Akai Mirai... it's, um, it's really inspiring to know that another Sister Schools girl could make such wonderful things."

She breathes the words in the same tones that the treasures of Tutankhamun deserve.

<Pose Tracker> Tsuru [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Jyo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vFEUf0E4t4

Tsuru seems secure in Nori's regard. She takes it for granted, in the sense that she does not thank Nori, nor demur politely, but something in her posture seems more comfortable, as though she were wearing the praise. And is there a better compliment to return after a gift?

Where Madoka might have expected a queen, she finds instead an ethereal sort of servant. Elegant but deferential, humble in speech, sparing with eye contact. Dirty-kneed in her yukata and holding Madoka's small foot as if it, too, were a treasure. Inclining her head with thanks, she rises, unfolding step by well-practiced step, every point at which her body folds perfectly counterbalanced throughout the whole passage. It has the effect of making Madoka feel she has done this--offered the perfect hand up to the perfect hand, acted with grace and benevolence. Perhaps it's what it feels like to dip a beautiful woman.

And Tsuru is beautiful, the old Yamato kind, meant to be seen in the dim, where the gradations of shadow carve her features, hollow her clavicle, pool below her fey eyes.

"There are only two reasons a girl can fail to become a great ballerina, if that story is truly in her heart. The first is a defect in her body profile... and yours is beautiful, Kaname-san. The second is a shallowness of sentiment."

Tsuru's eyes shift discreetly. Her effort to avoid a direct reminder of Madoka's blushing may backfire, if Madoka's intuition is sufficiently strong. "This too, I doubt you should encounter."

Folding her hands before her, Tsuru lets the top of her head and shoulders tilt to express her contentment at the praise. "To me, it is an inspiration that my fellow students would wear my designs," she says. The black opal on her ring finger is on the inside hand, right now, hidden. "I will continue to design them for all of you so long as you wish. So long as I am able."

Tsuru turns her eyes to Kozue, waiting there on the phone for answers. Briefly, she looks back to Madoka. "If one day, even just for a moment, you truly believe you can become a great ballerina, please visit me. You can find me at Infinity after school, many days." Her hands slither into their sleeves, her face lifting serenely as she approaches Kozue.

"Or here," she adds as she goes. "In my building."

Stopping in front of Kozue, Tsuru looks at the phone in her hand. The gaze is held too long, in the way Kozue has come to expect from Tsuru. It is as though she has some quiet, unresolved confusion about the way the modern world works.

She looks back at Kozue for a moment after her question. The blue-haired girl is framed by the great numbers on the wall behind her, five dissonant points spread about her shoulders in a smooth semicircular halo.

"I did not come to dwell in the roots of this place by chance," Tsuru says. "Blue Princess. You of all people should know this already."

A snowy plain.
A loom, too far away to ever reach.
Crumpled noodle cups around a single wooden box.

"When the party is over," Tsuru encourages, "take a look around. This place has room enough for your secrets, too."

"Tsuru-san!" The Fashion Club girl who had given Kozue the phone is back. "People want to know what that number means... they're pretty confused..."

Tsuru looks at the ema, and inclines her head in assent, her answer, however, is given directly to Kozue.

"That is the name of our building."

<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Tsuru never truly spoke to her on this subject. Despite being distracted, whe overhears enough-

And finds that she holds a certain jealousy. A certain greed.

Tsuru holds her gaze for far too long- and it feels like there's some failure not just in communication, but in values between them. What each of them values.

Tsuru tells her. And she remembers.


-what does it matter?

That's what she thought about saying. But then she thinks again, turning the thought over in her mind.

What if meant- everything?

None of Tsuru's works had been by chance.

"What-? Really?"

How could she make such a bold declaration when she was in such dire straits.

I confess an unexpected greed as concerns your secrets, no greed is incorrect, I do not hunger for you to grant them, I only covet them once granted.

She doesn't hold any truer understanding of the situation- simply of the necessity to Tsuru.

Standing in silence, for a few seconds longer, the fashion club girl asks a question. And Tsuru answers to her.


Longer still. It's like her breath is catching, and when it finally comes out, fogging on some snowy plane. Her eyes close a few moments later, and she lifts the phone back to her ear, and tears her gaze away from Tsuru's.

"Still there?" A moment passes, "It's legitimate. Don't even- I /know/ what it seems like to you! I /know/! Just do it! And push that distribution contract through as soon as possible!" Another pause, "You know which one! I'll cover the extra fees- just burn the midnight oil!"

When she finally clicks End on the call. She feels like such a fool. It went against everything she knew. It went against all sense.

There's something on the other side of the screen.

The loom feels prehistoric.

When the noise comes a third time, it is firm. Intentional.

But it's all in the service of becoming someone that can't be refused.She glances back at Tsuru in profile, out of the corner of her blue eyes- and it's softer, "Happy?"