2017-07-19 - Résorption: Miki versus Kozue, First Duel

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Title: Résorption: Miki versus Kozue, First Duel (alternate title: Paradise Lost)

In the third duel of the first round of the challenge bracket, twin faces twin.


Miki Kaoru, Kozue Kaoru. Shizuru Fujino and Anthy Himemiya


Duel Arena

OOC - IC Date:

Weds, July 19, 2017 / dunno???

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

A rippling brand of sun wavers beyond the treeline, casting a horizontal orange light across Ohtori's campus. Black shadows cut sharply across geometric shrubs and ornate brick facades. Two animated forms separate from a wedge of darkness, their puffy shoulders and hair marking them as Ohtori girls.

OST - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adJ4EO2fR18&t=0m24s

"Do you know, do you know? Have you heard the news?" One shadow rises as the other falls, their knees splaying in alternation. While one is outlining a perfect square with her bent legs, the other draws a straight line as she stands upright.

"It's the big family reunion! Get your grandmas here! You won't find more grandmas anywhere!"

The two shadow-faces are enthusing at one another. "How was the drive?"

"How's school?!"

The second shadow has gotten quite animated, waving her arms. "So, are you seeing anyone?"

Both lean back again, seeming satisfied. "Here's your name tag, then. Just write your name here."

"Thanks!" She balls up the name tag cheerfully and throws it in a nearby trashcan.

"Here's your replacement name tag! Just write your name here."

"Thanks!" Into the trash it goes again.

"Here's your replacement replacement name tag!"

"Thanks!" As cheerful as the first time, she crumples it and tosses it into the can with the others.

The other shadow morosely tears off another segment of the roll. "I'm going to run out of these," she confides queasily towards the audience.

<Pose Tracker> Kozue [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Evelyn, Evelyn - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pixkuUL9LgU

Welcome to the Dueling Arena at sunset.

Though right now it might as well be a runway as KOZUE steps out from the arch in black leather boots, an asymmetric layered mini-skirt of the same color. Her top is a bold choice for winter, with how much midriff is showing. The strips connecting them on each side feel far too flimsy and cover far too little as it ascends into a gauzy square neck top that feels like a thin veil as lines of violet roses dance upon it.

As she takes her place, she stands there for a few moments- before with a coy look like she just remembered she zips up the satin bomber jacket to give the Rose Bride a place to pin the rose. She'd let her hair grow out some, but only a slight amount. It's not particularly well trimmed and had a kind of casual windswept chaos to it. Like she'd just gotten out of a car ride in a convertible along the bay...

She doesn't even summon her Element right away, she just walks to her spot and stares across the gap at the other boy. "Ara. I didn't think you'd actually show. Are you really going to point a sword at me Miki?" She tsks, "So cruel. I wonder what little Sayaka-chan would think about that." She gives this little head shake of disapproval which only seems to put her hair in more disarray, "Then again, maybe I should double check that you're not her after everything that's happened. How funny would that be? If you were some imposter and I just didn't recognize you..."

A hand runs through that hair that has the violet touch of the sky peeking out through a swell of stormclouds, "That we'd just grown that far apart." There's a certain thoughtfulness there as she taps her chin, "But I suppose I shouldn't worry about collateral damage like that. I have /my/ future to think about."

There's this light laugh as she tips her head his way. "Oh that look in your eyes." There may be nothing there for her to read in Miki's face, but she says it anyhow as if she can, "Don't worry Miki. Once I've made it to the top I'm sure I'll be able to find time for you every now and then. I'll let my assistant know to try her very best to work in those little cake dates you seem to love so much..."

<Pose Tracker> Miki Kaoru [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> George Winston - Lights in the Sky https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lt6ORx7WRis

Red felt unrolls whispersoft. From white key to black it crawls, turning hard stark monochrome to a soft strip of vivid crimson. Somewhere in the room, the head of a metronome swings back and forth to the tin rhythm of its own clicks. As the dust cover rolls to its full length, fitting the keyboard exactly, Miki raises his head and looks to the setting sun.

He wants a second opinion. Silhouetted against the window, he reaches into his pocket and withdraws his stopwatch, checking its face. His shoulders slump. Closing the lacquered key-cover, he stands.

Sayaka has started to daydream, staring out the hallway window she's leaning against as the silence of Miki's piano stretches out. When the music room door opens, she startles from the window, moving her empty hands behnd her back as though hiding something. Blushing, she shares a silence across the width of the hall with a perplexed Miki.

"Are you waiting for me?" Miki ventures.

"I was just--" Sayaka starts. She turns her eyes to the side. "Waiting."

Miki nods.

"Doesn't your practice go for another hour?" Sayaka asks, curiosity overriding common sense.

"There's an unscheduled student council meeting."

Sayaka looks between Miki and the nylon sword case he's wearing across his back. "But," she ventures.

Miki waits.

Sayaka looks down.

"I have to go. I'm really sorry." Turning halfway, Miki pauses. He hasn't recieved the social permission he was waiting for. "Sayaka-chan?"

"Of course!" Sayaka enthuses hastily. "Have a good time."

Miki nods, hesitating just a moment longer. "Thanks."

  • * *

Walls of water erupt behind Miki Kaoru as the Tower accepts the authority represented by his ring. The bone-like ivory gate parts. Soon he treads diagonally up an endless succession of spiral stairs. The nylon case lies abandoned before the closing gates below.

Atop a grid of vast marble blocks, he confronts his twin, sword strapped to his hip. She has already managed to poke at his composure by her mode of dress, a fact which frustrates him. She doesn't look like any Duellist that's come before her--not in her mode of dress, anyway. Physically, she resembles two prior combatants quite closely.

"I wasn't sure you would /remember/ to show up," Miki counters. But she catches him off-guard by mentioning Sayaka, whom Miki just left in a hallway five minutes ago. "What does Sayaka-chan have to do with this?" he demands suspiciously. His jaw sets angrily, and she gets just the look in his eye that she was hoping for as he endures the rest of her barbs.

"This isn't about your future," he rejoins at the end. "This is about Himemiya-san. When you get bored of wearing clothes as a part-time job, you'll move onto something else, like you always do. So if you're only here to show off how famous you are, you're wasting everyone's time!"

<Pose Tracker> Anthy Himemiya [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Red fabric whispers across the smooth arena floor as the Rose Bride makes her stately approach, steps measured beneath the bell of her full skirt. With her she brings a breathless still, the sort that would doom sailors to long days adrift, which permits even the slightest of sounds to carry to the edges of the arena and all its occupants.

True to her title she has two roses gathered to her breast, both hands cupped around them so only gentle curls of blue and indigo show. They are fresh blooms, diagonal death wounds still dripping water from their stems, culled from her personal garden that very morning. The duels call for sacrifice and the Rose Bride obliges.

Her face is as calm as the absent winds, her eyes lowered to the beauty nestled between her palms. As she steps up first to Miki Kaoru, then KOZUE, she is all demure deference.

That is, to any observers. Each duelist in turn experiences the intimacy of receiving a token from the girl who might one day belong to them. She glides between two sides of a mirror, and who can say which side is the original and which the reflection? Perhaps her expression will give it away. It begins with a smile which peeks from behind that offered rose and its petals which so nearly match Miki Kaoru's hair, and ends with a veiled and lingering overshoulder look as she turns to his twin.

She is halfway between the siblings before KOZUE receives that aquamarine regard, so alien and beautiful -- not unlike the young woman she approaches. No smile, no blush, no coy look for the sister. Neither is the Indigo Rose Duelist ignored, as brown hands pat green stem into the breast pocket of her freshly-zipped bomber jacket. She gets a direct look through clear lenses. Its content is simply entirely up to other girl's interpretation. Then she's away, keeping her pace ceremonial as she returns the entrance of the arena.

The Engaged awaits her there, tall and noble. Upon reaching Utena she turns, skirt sweeping behind, and takes her place by the pink-haired girl's side. She addresses the duelists in a soft voice:

"If the rose is knocked from your chest, you lose the duel." Pleasant, bland smile; pleasant, bland eyes. That windless calm abates with her words, as if the world releases a held breath.

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

Shizuru Fujino took an elevator up to the tower on which she stands, on the other side of great bells with an ideal view of the two combatants assembling before her. Twin to twin, two forms of art, violet to blue. Shizuru's opera glasses are perched delicately against her face as she cosiders both, clicking her tongue at Kozue's choice of dress.

"My, my, Kaoru-kun," she says, staring still. She has a great deal of interest. "Both of you are so passionate today. I wonder..."

"Which will win? Would you both hate me if I suggested you had your own similarities?"

A smirk on the vice president's face, two rings on her left hand.

"Heh heh."

Anthy pins roses--the Rose Bride pins roses. Shizuru lets out a bored sigh.

"...Speeches aren't my style after all." She starts sipping at her cup of tea.

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

There's a touch of cruel pleasure there written on her visage. Yet she doesn't qualify what Sayaka has to do with anything. She waits for him to finish. "It's just like you to think this is some fickle fancy of mine." Laughter bubbles out of her lips. As if she believes Miki is relating this career to her long line of scandalous paramours and just laughs it off. However then Anthy walks up to Miki- all mirth fades, as she watches the girl like some predator hawk ready to swoop down and smack the rose out of her hands.

At this angle she can't see her face, but she can imagine how she looks at Miki. She certainly can. Her fingers curl up as if around her imagined weapon.

And then Anthy walks up to her. She's still imagining the look Anthy was giving Miki. It's at that moment she leans forward as if to offer her a better angle to pin the rose, and whispers in her ear, "Still hoping to cheer him up?" The way she looks at Anthy right then might be somewhat unsettling as it's done and Anthy outlines the rules.

It's only then that she answers, as if choosing this moment to be the right one to spoil his mood- rather than immediately start the duel. "It's simple though. Utena once delivered me a message, that Sayaka-chan hopes the three of us can go back to the way we used to be. Isn't that funny? With you having no hope for me- and me about to knock that rose from your chest."

The temperature around the arena drops a degree or two, as her Element materializes into her hand in a swirling . A blackened sickle attached to a chained weight- she so casually starts to whirl it around with her off-hand in a vertical arc at her side. It's circular rhythm that Miki might find both comforting and ominous at the same time.

It's discordant with her sudden burst of vicious sniggering. "Laugh with me Miki." She continues to set it in that easy, blurring spin, not allowing it to reach her twin quite yet. "Or just come at me with all of that /passion/ of yours. I don't particularly care one way or another."

COMBAT: Kozue transforms into HiME Kozue!

<Pose Tracker> Miki Kaoru [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Spira Mirabilis Gekijou https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ISlt_OTGwY

Subsiding at the approach of the Rose Bride, Miki straightens his shoulders, the swaying strings strings of gallant epaulettes the only motion on his body. As Anthy tucks the blue rose into his uniform, he remains intentionally impassive. But when their eyes meet, a rapid dissonant trill of piano keys sound. Miki's eyes widen, then fall, his cheeks pink. "It's n-nothing," he says reflexively. A 'you're welcome' instead of a 'thank you'---how embarrassing. But she doesn't seem to mind, her smile as soft as ever. He's sure her smile is hope, and his heart soars. He knows he's doing the right thing, taking up the sword once again. Not even Kozue putting her poisonous mouth near Anthy's ear can dampen his mood. But Kozue, as ever, is full of surprises.

"Sayaka-chan said /that/?" Unbidden, the image of a shadowy female form at a garden piano flashes in his mind. He shakes it away. He needs to focus.

The blade-weighted chain that falls from Kozue's palm does a fine job of focusing him. "Kozue?" he asks, raising shocked eyes to her face. His expression is question enough. Her challenge is invitation enough.

Drawing his rapier, Miki sets his stance. In this as in all things, he is precise, geometric. His advance is balanced at all times, retaining as much freedom of motion in all directions from moment to moment as he can. "Are you telling me I shouldn't give up? Is that it? This isn't home, Kozue. What you do here--it's important, whether you 'care' about that or not."

With a sudden juke to the side, Miki drives into a deep diagonal lunge, stabbing forward towards the side of Kozue's body where the chain is just a chain and not a blade. "And I won't hesitate just because you're my--!"

COMBAT: Miki Kaoru transforms into Blue Rose Duelist!
COMBAT: Miki Kaoru has fully healed himself.
COMBAT: Miki Kaoru has used Metronome Strike on Kozue.
COMBAT: Miki Kaoru has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Kozue narrowly counters Miki Kaoru's Metronome Strike, taking 17 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Kozue's Reverse ability activates!  Kozue's Tactician ability activates!
COMBAT: Kozue's counterattack, Strepitoso, partially gets through, doing 19 Fatigue damage to Miki Kaoru!  Critical Counterhit!

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

The Duel starts in earnest, Shizuru still sipping away at her tea as she seems to ignore her surroundings in favor of the Kaoru twins, the Rose Bride, and the Engaged. ...But especially the twins. She can see the shock in Miki's eyes, can see Kozue laughing. Kozue doesn't care.

A faint smile spread onto Shizuru's face. "My, my..." A grin. "You're such a bad girl, Kaoru-kun. Saying such things..."

But then she looks to Miki, wathing his excellent swordsmanship. She can want more than one thing in this Duel. "Aw," Shizuru almost pouts. "You didn't say it."

She's enjoying this Duel more than most.

"Hmhm..." She sips tea, before she sets it down and picks up... a vanilla wafer.

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

She's not one of those people who spends a great deal of time watching from the catwalk in the fencing hall. But she'd certainly heard about her brother's swordwork. Laughing as he lunges, she slides a foot back, and spins a shallow arc, before casually flinging it over his forearm. The chain catches her arm back simultaneously to try to draw it taut, she's shocked as Miki's rapier is slashing diagonally.

Juking her side, the rapier creases across her lower jacket. That's the moment where it grows taut, her brow grimacing as she yanks him and the blow wide just before it would hit the rose. "If you hesitated-" She draws the sickle in an unruly slash across his own flawless jacket, marring it. "-I'd be disappointed!"

Spinning on her boot, she uses the chain to guide him past her, before the chain's hold unravels, sending her brother past her- while she darts back in a sideways run while he's recovering, coiling back the chain before sending it spinning in a circular arc.

"What's wrong Miki? Unable to say it?" She's still running when she sends it out in a clockwise whirl. Over and over, trying to force her brother to keep his distance. The weight passes by as a pendulum over and over and over, trying to make him rethink the idea of approaching her as she finally skids to a stop. "Does it gall you that /your/ family name isn't on a single one of my posters?"

It keeps coming- that wheeling detterence. Closer and closer towards him. Each time she shifts the distance, so it feels like this sustained spiral. Whether he charges or falls back- it might still eventually make for a jarring impact. "Is that one of those things that's important to you too? My my."

COMBAT: Kozue has used Sostenuto Spiral on Miki Kaoru.
COMBAT: Kozue has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Miki Kaoru narrowly counters Kozue's Sostenuto Spiral, taking 5 Fatigue damage!  Miki Kaoru is Quipped!  Cripple, Diversion, and Stagger applied to Miki Kaoru!
COMBAT: Miki Kaoru's counterattack, Attaque Au Fer, partially gets through, doing 12 Fatigue damage to Kozue!

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

Miki runs with the momentum of the chain wrapped about him, trying to divest himself of by reaching the end of its length as soon as possible. When it tears free, however, it takes a scrap of jacket with it, and her return swipe rips it halfway open, the red inner lining exposed along with the upper part of is undershirt.

"It's OUR family name!" he shouts, as though he'd had that pent up in him all along, simmering ever since he saw all those posters and billboards. In a sense, Kozue gave up her advantage just now; the first of them to admit they cared was the loser, and Kozue raising an issue Miki has never so much as mentioned implied that she was doing it on purpose. It is not, for Miki, a very satisfying victory.

"We're twins, Kozue. I'm sorry if you don't like that." That last is spit out like blood, and Miki seems the paler for it. "But you can't change that by putting up signs." Kozue's dizzying control of range and space backs Miki up around the arena floor, and every time he tries to close distance, he is confronted with that deceptive, whirling wall. Finally he lunges right through it, and it captures his arm. For a few moments the two twins struggle against each other directly in a tug of war, the chain crinkling tight around Miki's arm.

"And if you try," he continues, face-to-face. "I'll get on bigger signs right next to yours. And they'll see both our faces together!"

Slinging Kozue away with a twist of his arm, Miki pursues. He's off his rhythm, but that happens sometimes. If she's forced a new time signature, he can change it again. See how well she can keep up. His sword clangs against her chain directly every time she tries to lift it, to spin it, to get any sort of momentum with it. He swats it accurately, trying to keep her just as off-balance as he is.

COMBAT: Miki Kaoru has used Changement de Rhythme on Kozue.
COMBAT: Miki Kaoru has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Kozue narrowly braces Miki Kaoru's Changement de Rhythme, taking 7 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Kozue's Block ability activates!  Kozue's Parry ability activates!  Stun applied to Kozue!

<Pose Tracker> Anthy Himemiya [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Two shades of the same color dance and stab at each other. That sneaking comment in the Rose Bride's ear drew nary the flutter of an eyelash. KOZUE will need to strike more truly than that. Perhaps she just does not know her target well enough, yet.

The same cannot be said for Miki Kaoru, who stopped sharing kind words with his sister long ago and now cannot even share a name with her. When KOZUE draws a line she holds it, with wicked scythe and savagery. Still, he would not be much of a brother if he let her keep him out, would he?

Perhaps that is what the Rose Bride thinks behind those shiny lenses and aqua irises. Maybe the girl that Miki Kaoru so admires will admire him back for his persistence.

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

"Is that so?" Holding the handle of the sickle with one hand and the chain with her other she tries to fend off her brother's assault. As it's a rapier that's more difficult than one would think. A parry here, and there with her ever shifting guard. The reach of the sickle isn't as grand as his and he's making that perfectly clear the advantages he has at this distance.

And eventually, she jukes it just right so that the blade slides straight through a link. The blade makes a hiss of metal and sparks as it slides up the length of his rapier until it becomes too narrow a hole- but at the same time it pierces a hole through her jacket, right by the zipper. Her expression contorts and with a snarl she backpeddles a step or two.

"You think it's that easy for /you/ to compete with /me/ when you're newly recovered from a hand injury?"

The dark chain becomes a grim umbilicus tying the two together- given their contest it feels like one might strangle the other with it.

"You think all it'll take is practicing with some new piano teacher to keep up your comeback momentum?"

Trying to step inside of his guard before he can force his way back, "Time for you to face reality Miki. Passion on it's own-"

The descending blow of her sickle is like a staccato note in their terrible duet. "-only gets you so far!"

She follows it up immediately with a kick aimed at his abdomen- meant less to actually hurt and more to force him back and sever the link between them. "And you don't have what it takes to stay ahead in this world!"

COMBAT: Kozue has used Staccato on Miki Kaoru.
COMBAT: Kozue has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Miki Kaoru narrowly dodges Kozue's Staccato, taking 27 Fatigue damage!   Critical Hit!  Miki Kaoru's Fade ability activates!  Miki Kaoru's Flash ability activates!

<Pose Tracker> Miki Kaoru [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> In Circles https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGMWL8cOeAU

"I'm not recovering!" Miki rejoins as he struggles. "My hand is fine, there isn't even one scar! It's a miracle that says--I was meant to play the piano!"

The umbilicus trembles taut between them as Miki is suddenly trying to swallow emotion.

"I was meant to play the piano... with..."

In the hazy sunlit garden, a black cameo of a girl lowers her fingers to the keys.

All around Kozue and Miki, upright pianos are scattered, each identical down to the music set on their stands, each pointing in a random direction. The chain drags a little in Miki's direction as his teeth clench.

"My shining thing." Now there is a little glass vase on each piano, with a violet-blue flower in it.

The clangor of separating sword and chain echos across the arena, and Kozue steps in, bringing her sickle down with a horribly solid sound onto her brother's shoulder. Miki stumbles back wildly with Kozue's kick propelling him, his hand gripping the severed epaulette and holding its two halves together over the wound. His mouth is open slightly, his eyes large and betrayed. It is the first time either of them have physically hurt the other--the little slashes and shoves so far were little more than sparring injuries. This was a deliberate, successful attempt to harm Miki directly.

Kozue had been so shy. Miki had been so gentle. Neither had much of a wild streak back then. When one cried the other would always cry too.

"What...?" Miki asks her, horrified. But he steps forward. He should have been prepared for this the moment he drew a sword on his own twin, but he wasn't. Now he is.

"What do /you/ have?" he demands, advancing on her directly with a downward, beating swipe. "Sarcasm?" His sword clangs against chain. "Lovers you despise?" Clang. "Blue lipstick?" Clang!

"I have practiced on the piano every single day, all by myself. Because I knew one day I'd find her. When I lost my hand I thought it would never happen, but it came back! I came back!" In perfect technical precision Miki is beating at Kozue's defenses, forcing her back. "And now she's waiting for me..."

The white glow of glasses-reflection is in the corner of Miki's eye, above a red dress.

"Waiting for me to free her! And all you care about is making sure I stay as miserable as you!"

COMBAT: Miki Kaoru has used Metronome Strike on Kozue.
COMBAT: Miki Kaoru has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Kozue narrowly dodges Miki Kaoru's Metronome Strike, taking 13 Fatigue damage!

<Pose Tracker> Anthy Himemiya [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

'And now she's waiting for me...'

The Rose Bride is waiting, that much is true. Many things said about her have that sort of ring to them, it's just that only she also hears how hollow they are once the first peals fade to empty echoes.

'Waiting for me to free her!'

All Miki Kaoru gets to see is her smile beneath those round white moons. It looks sweet enough, like the soft blue rose she tucked into his breast pocket.

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

Shizuru is leaned close, facing away from the rest of the setting on this tower, where they cannot so easily see the makeup hiding her bruises. There are times to milk an injury... But not this one. She has no time for such things. She has time to watch, interest in watching. That dark chain... That /passion/...

"Tsk, Kaoru-kun... Don't discourage him." Maybe she's right, of course. Shizuru doesn't say; she's been nicer to Miki so far, pleasant.

But here he shows his passion. He shows his /certainty/ in something beautiful, so alien to the vice president that it fascinates her again. This boy...

Shizuru sips at her tea again. She is warmed by it but barely tastes it. They're hurt together. This is how it should be. What does she have...?

"Poor boy," Shizuru murmurs to herself. A faint laugh. "I wonder if he'll show us our places, Kaoru-kun?"

"Such cruelty..." Her eyes stay on Miki, now. Perfect technical movements, only interrupted to her with checks at what Kozue intends to do.

"It's lovely."

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

Like avant garde monuments in some strange savage garden, are there those pianos. She doesn't notice them ringing her duel.

Time erodes all things. Shyness is often a casualty of growing up. Even memories are. In a more closed off sunlit garden is a dark outline of a boy. Beside him is another of a girl. The girl is subtly different from the girl in the other garden.

Her betrayal is written in her twin's face. That shock. She's hurt him so often. Again and again as he sees how she lives- however this isn't the same as the other times. Her sickle had become double edged as if her blow had slid it through her ribs and into her lungs- and it still hurt less than that look. Her lips part for a moment. Like a gout of blood might erupt any second but the rest of her is face is blank, flat. Her lips contract- the shade of her blue lipstick smudges subtly within that press.

Her lips part again as she regathers herself just in time for his assault, "Is that really what you think of me?" The HiME is more brutal than fast, with every beating swipe, she jerks to the side in a narrow evasion as the glancing blows start to add up adding even more of a wild mystique to the girl but also wearing her down in a desperate dance to regain her footing. "That that's all I have." There's something low and dangerous, even as he backs her into what feels like a corner- the narrow curve of a grand piano.

"So much disdain for how I live..." The laughter is almost like some prelude to some terrifying storm.

Her teeth grit, and her eyes flash dangerously as his strike beats her back into the piano hard enough to cause a discordant whine. "So much anger because I refuse to be your /shining thing/! You think because of some miracle it means you'll get someone else to be /it/ so easily?"

And that's when the chain is simply swung harshly enough- without any lead up or fanfare, to skitter across the piano lid in a great circle. It smashes through the music rack- turning a vase into so many shards of pulverized glass.

There's a girl, the same girl in the closed off garden, sobbing in a darkened room. The same boy's shadow falls across her from the aureole of the door's lighting. The boy doesn't move.

The chain whips harshly into Mickey's side. "Screw your miracle Miki-" If he's not quick it'll wrap around him guided by the weight and with a shift of her foot and a yank of her hand she tugs it tight. "-I don't need one handed to me to know I'd do whatever it takes-"

She pivots harshly, in a rough tug of war to try to crash him into the side of it, "-to get what I want!"

A harsh chorus rises right before the eyes of the Rose Bride and the Vice President.

COMBAT: Kozue has used Dominant Chord on Miki Kaoru.
COMBAT: Kozue has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Miki Kaoru narrowly counters Kozue's Dominant Chord, taking 16 Fatigue damage!  Kozue is Psyched!  Trap applied to Miki Kaoru!
COMBAT: Miki Kaoru's counterattack, Attaque Au Fer, partially gets through, doing 7 Fatigue damage to Kozue!  Critical Counterhit!

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

"Disdain? When did I do a single cruel thing to you?" Miki demands. "When did I mistreat you?"

When Miki is angry, he closes off. He gives Kozue flat looks. He doesn't respond to her provocations. He pretends not to see her entangled with some leering beau against the arts building. He does nothing. How can she complain about him doing nothing?

Glass shatters as the chain smashes across a piano lid. Sweeping around, it wraps Miki's slim ribs and Miki sets his feet wide to keep his balance. The boy doesn't move.

Kozue secures the chain tighter about him, pivots, and swings him into the rear side of an upright, crunching the delicate wooden panels. Miki follows up on this swiftly even as the daze of impact fogs his head. Realizing the chain is taut, he twists over it and slaps his elbow down against it, jerking it so hard and so rapidly that it may smack Kozue onto the ground too.

"So what if I want someone else to do it?" he demands. With Kozue unable to pull the chain taut again, he slips free of it; he's as lithe as she is despite the gender difference--and as delicate. He puts the piano between them as he scrambles to his feet, eyeing her warily across it. Over her shoulder he sees Anthy smiling, and he's sure it is for him. Heart lightening, he returns his attention to Kozue with a further sense of righteousness. "So what if I what to give her a good life, a happy life? You don't want it! Soon it will be too late anyway! My teacher says that if you don't find true passion when you're a teenager, you'll never find it! And then you can never be a great pianist!" There is an innocence in his fervid acceptance of this truth.

Miki walks around the piano to keep it between him and his sister, buying him time to think. "You being here means one of two things," he starts to work out in his head. "Either it really is a whim, and you hate me and want to push me aside..." The padding progress of his red shoes starts to slow and grow more regular. "...or there's something I don't know about you. So go on." A red stain is starting to spread down his shoulder. His sense of other people's feelings has always been clumsy and hesitant, but he seems at risk of gaining by logic what he's never been able to gain by emotion. "Tell me the truth..."

Her twin's eyes stare into hers, as evenly matched as any mirror. Even his eyelashes are sufficiently feminine for the illusion. "...or admit you hate me."

COMBAT: Miki Kaoru has used Boy Genius on Kozue.
COMBAT: Miki Kaoru has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Kozue fails to dodge Miki Kaoru's Boy Genius, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Miki Kaoru is Psyched!  Analysis performed by Miki Kaoru!

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

Miki's pivot twists over the chain and the rough motion causes her to lose her footing and slam her bare knees into the ground. There's a rough grunt as she struggles to maintain control- but eventually it too fall slack as the lithe boy slides out of it. With a tug she sends it across the arena floor and back to her hand where she grips it, and she puts one foot under her to the other. He looks at the Rose Bride. And she hesitates a moment. The piano between them.

She doesn't say anything, she just starts to walk, but her twin equals her gait in her slow predator's lope around the side of the piano. Looping the chain round and round and round in a slow arc, her eyes fall upon the crimson stain on his shoulder. "There's a lot of things you don't know about me Miki." She starts slowly- "Where could I even begin? Are you hoping I'm like some math problem that you can solve once you have all the missing values? Heh. You always were clumsy like that."

She shakes her head and for just a moment it sounds like there's this strange hint of fondness. Miki might swear it's there, "People aren't so simple. Maybe you're hoping Himemiya over there will be like that for you. You win the duels, you take possession of her, suddenly you've solved the equation for the two of you having a happy life together?"

There's this tiny sigh right now. It's a sigh like out of her girlhood. The kind of sighs Miki would hear from her right after their parents scolded her, or she messed up at a hard piece her tiny fingers couldn't quite manage yet. He'd understand at least the kind of feelings that go into it.

"There's a lot about you I hate Miki Kaoru. Too much for me to list."

Miki however would feel the omission there. He'd feel it in his bones, in the part of him that knew Kozue as a child. In the part of him that watched her after she fled from the stage. In the part of him that /knows/ this girl and doesn't know her. It's there, a hollow space in what she doesn't say. "But you really think that's why I'd be here? On some petty grudge, or whim? Because of some hatred of /you/? I'm here because there's something /I/ want. And however I feel about you-"

There's something strange in the air. This queer turbulent emotion. This strange undercurrent. "-doesn't factor into it." She stops walking. She's still for a few moments. Her head tilts to the side, her head shifts. Her expression no longer feels fond. "Cassandra."

Kozue Kaoru doubles. A blurred image sliding out of her very being, before changing into something else that crashes through the piano with a taloned foot. It's at least three times as tall as her brother is with how high and long it's neck is. Metallic armor plating in place of feathers. Pinions like razors. A fan-like crest on it's forehead like a peacock's. And yet there's something quite alive about it. Something than transcends understanding other than it being some sort of armored swan.

Miki has seen this before. Just after the invasion- when she revealed what she was to him. The air condenses, becoming as thick as fog over a lake before the rays of dawn burn it away. It's crimson eyes fixate upon Miki.

And then it rears back as if in horror. It lifts a wing and lowers its head and it backs away from Miki. The sound it makes is almost mournful, sad, even pathetic. As monstrous as it seems- it feels less so in this moment. They're burning into her instead. Kozue stares at the swan, and her voice is hard as she commands- "Cassandra. Do it." It makes a rebellious noise. It backs up another step- it's mass causing this part of the arena to tremble.

Kozue's expression hardens and she looks angry- "CASS!" The Child rears up, it's wings spreading open as it gathers itself...

Possibly giving Miki all the opening he needs upon the distracted duelist.

COMBAT: Kozue transforms into Kozue and Cassandra!
COMBAT: Kozue has used Westermarck Effect on Kozue.
COMBAT: Kozue has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Kozue accepts Kozue's Westermarck Effect, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Kozue is Reinforced by Kozue!  
<Pose Tracker> Shizuru Fujino [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

As Miki is entangled, thrown around, destroying a piano, Shizuru keeps eyes on the both of them. She watches him escape, and considers the finer points of his speed and agility, even as she listens to the words she can hear even from here. He talks about passion, about a happy life...

It doesn't show in Shizuru's eyes, or her face, her eyes covered by opera glasses. This feeling doesn't show throgh at all, as she calmly lifts her teacup once again, the hot green liquid passing her lips. But it is there, nonetheless; Shizuru withdraws more fully, gathering upon herself like a snake coiling, as she feels an acrid burn. Innocence. Following authority, trusting one's teachers...

His question brings a faint laugh. Shizuru waits. "My," she says. "How demanding, Kaoru-kun." She speaks performatively, unmoving save for her tea and her lips. She has no need to speak aloud, but there is a spectacle here in which she, too, can participate.

She, too, can act under authority.

Kozue's hesitation leads into something else. "...You're stalling," Shizuru points out, as if fondly. Maybe it is fondly. But she, too, feels the omission. She feels the lie. And she feels what is coming quickly. Here, in the arena...

Shizuru has seen this Child before. Bt she has not seen what happens next. It is difficult to see where the fog begins to thicken. But it is not hard to see Cassandra's actions, hear Kozue's commands and orders, hear Cassandra's...

"Ah?" Shizuru asks, tilting her head briefly. "My. How unusual."


<Pose Tracker> Miki Kaoru [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Love Will Tear Us Apart - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9D8LE-R9H4

Miki keeps his eyes matched to Kozue's as they pace around the piano. He can keep his hands from trembling visibly, but the tiniest disruption on the grip of such a precise instrument as his rapier causes the tip to wobble. "You know me better than anyone," he admits. "And you see everything bad about me. If I only spent time with you, I'd think I was all bad."

The sigh is not lost on him. So much of his identity is bound up in being Kozue's literal other half, and as awful as that has been lately, he remains her brother. Lowering his sword a few inches, he wets his lips. "Kozue," he implores. "What do you wa--"

A burst of displaced air cuts him off and Miki steps back, this monster of Kozue's dwarfing him. He snaps back into a fighting stance, ready to spring away. The glint of his sword seems so insubstantial compared to the multifarious glints of braced feathers. A shadow falls over him...

...and subsides. It won't attack. "Kozue..."

He sees the chance. He could reject the opening. Trust Kozue, yet again, hope yet again that this would be the time he's rewarded for it. Make a little truce here on the arena floor. Decide which of them takes the other's flower, or just cut both of them off. He's seen destinies turn over and over here beneath the hanging castle. Both of them are teetering, both have said so many things today that they had once only glared at one another, or communicated through turned shoulders, through absence and feigned indifference. If he pushed her right now she might tell him everything, and if she pushed him he might let it in his ears. Couldn't it work? Couldn't he just say it?

I love you, Kozue.

And then if it failed, and this chasm persisted, he would know it was permanent.

Fear of a sort Miki hasn't felt since he tried to move his shattered hand drives him forward. He leaps up the upright in a single fleet jump, past the blank-faced figure playing there. Is her hair indigo? Purple? /Blue/? Right now the uncertainty must be defended. The flap of his military jacket hanging half-open, he is a gallant young officer mounting the trench. His arm graceful and precise as it lifts, he is a conductor. And when he dismounts with a whirl of his blade that chambers it deep back across his shoulder for a falling strike, fluttering in white, he is Sayaka Miki.

But when he betrays his twin sister, trading perhaps his last chance to reach her for a distant blank-eyed bride and a postponed prognosis, he is just Miki Kaoru. And no future joy can absolve him of that.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Miki Kaoru has used Spira Mirabilis on Kozue.
COMBAT: Miki Kaoru has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Kozue narrowly braces Miki Kaoru's Finisher, Spira Mirabilis, taking 64 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Kozue is unable to keep fighting!  Kozue's Block ability activates!  Kozue's Parry ability activates!  

<Pose Tracker> Kozue [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Love Will Tear Us Apart - (Still Playing) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9D8LE-R9H4

Couldn't she just say it too?

But there's so much I love about you too.

What happens though? What happens if the two of them bare all? Holding nothing back. Four years from now when Miki is working on his university applications, a circle of commitment upon his finger. Where does that leave her? Where does that leave her as the years take them apart and the inexorable march of time keeps them from each other. Are the phone calls from his honeymoon enough? The letters? The occasional visits?

Distance created by geography more terrible than distance created by misery.

Carving out an identity without the people closest to her in her life- it felt like some hollow emotional sepsis that would put her back into that darkened room. Only this time there's no boy at the door watching.

Fear drives them both. As Miki propels himself forward- she wrenches her eyes away in a desperate defense. Her Child joins in. Though it's not aggressive in its defense. An armored wing interposes against her twin's skillful swordwork as some half-wall dividing them. Her sickle parries. Her chain. Each time the Child puts forth a flashing metal and his rapier skitters off and his footwork takes him around- he changes. Like some terrible slideshow in the fog as he changes with every strike and thrust into a familiar girl- blurring between phases like some changing lunar phases.

And all she's trying to do is fend him off. It's no longer some snarling feral animal that he sees. It's some frightened little girl. Frightened of failure. Frightened of loss. So timid and skittish that she might run off the stage. So shy that she might climb a tree. So terrified to say how she feels in front of everyone else.

What does she want?

You. I want you to accept me. I want you to stay with me. But most of all I want you.

And then with one final thrust. Indigo petals scatter. Bells peal. And she's got this expression on her face that just has disbelief written into it. He can see her throat move. The lump in it that makes her seem like some reflection of him.

For what feels like an eternity she just stands there in shock, before her eyes slowly lid, pinched shut in this moment. "I lose." Her Element dematerializes from her hands. Her next command is whisper thin, "Cass go back." Her child makes another mournful sound. In her duel against Utena she mustered rage in the wake of her loss. It felt like she might strike out anyhow before depression set in. Against her brother, she can't find it. Just this hollow feeling. She's just a little girl in a dark room again.

"Congratulations Miki." It's this empty noise from her throat. Like Miki had just told her he'd won another music competition and she can't muster any excitement- or anything at all. Another eternity passes, she can feel times march taking herself away. Taking him away. Finally she says. "I'm going out for the night." Turning around, she begins her slow walk towards the stairs. Like all she's trying to do is keep up what little dignity she can- and even that feels like a hollow gesture right now. "Don't wait up for me."

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

The great tower-bells of Ohtori call out their tidings to ears knowing and ignorant.

When blade cleaves bloom the Rose Bride observes, as she always does, that final bodily desecration of the velvety corpse she has offered up in the name of the Duels. Petals dance downward, as unpredictable as a hundred indigo butterflies on their way to alight on arena floor and pianos both. Her eyes follow.

By the time either duelist has opportunity to look for her response it is already gone, she has turned, they are going. Shizuru and Utena would have seen her smile widen, just a bit. The Rose Bride must be pleased by this turn of events, and why not? What a sensitive, gallant, /kind/ suitor this Miki Kaoru is!

And what a shame he never even got to see that reward of a smile which was so surely meant for him. Victor and defeated only get the backs of the Bride and her Engaged, their classical profiles pairing perfectly in that aesthetic Ohtori way -- a different sort of mirror than the one which just cracked there between the pianos.

Behind them the last floating corpse-bit finds its resting place, looping once upon its own private breeze before sailing directly into the open neck of a vase.