2017-10-15 - Couronnement: Utena v. Kasagami, First Duel

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Couronnement: Utena v. Kasagami, First Duel

Utena, unable to regain her powers after they've been drained by the Wolkenritter, has succumbed to severe depression for that and other reasons. Kasagami, determined to be the one to revolutionize the world through her own reign, has fought for the uniquely easy opportunity to become Engaged, and all that remains is for her to claim her prize. The other Duelists look on as witnesses.


Kasagami Araki, Anthy Himemiya, Utena Tenjou, Shizuru Fujino, Takeo Akamizu, Sayaka Miki, Kozue Kaoru


Duel Arena

OOC - IC Date:

10-15-2017 - 02-25-2015

*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+ Duel Arena +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*
  The most forbidding feature of Ohtori's campus looms at the far rear of
  campus, but remains visible even at the main gate. It is an odd structure, a
  great white decagon that slopes upward, forming the support for a hulking
  jade pagoda. This pagoda, however, is made not of tile, but of living
  forest. A dark canopy of leaves forms a vaguely pyramidal roof, supported
  invisibly by the gnarled trees beneath. Though this arena is akin to a
  potted plant on a grand scale, it's hard not to see it as a single discrete

  Entrance to the arena is possible only through a single, grand gate. Bone
  white, the gate sprouts stylized marble wings at either corner, which arch
  up to form a frame for a three-meter diameter carving of a rose, its white
  petals worked so delicately they appear silken-soft. This gate is locked at
  all times, only permitting entry to those with the proper signet ring.

  Inside, a fairy-tale path of white stone guides a visitor through the
  graveyard darkness of the forest, until they reach the center, where a wide
  corkscrew of a stone staircase is driven into the soft earth. Ascending
  feels oddly effortless, though the steps are as identical as they are many.
  At the top is the duel arena, an uncanny place that feels as though it were
  hung from the sky. This stone-floored dueling field is rarely the same
  twice, changing according to the people and emotions that fill it.
<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The rays of the sun filter onto the Arena overlooked by the Castle Hidden in the Sky over Ohtori. Oranges and blacks mix with the whites and reds of the area, making shadows overlong and the view a gorgeous one if you can see it.

A beautiful battleground where dreams go to be lifted up or stepped upon and broken like glass all by the scattering of a rose.

~Earlier In The Day~

A long searing shower washed off the physical signs of the previous night's nervousness and last minute training in her room. Her right hand has been freshly bandaged, and the warmth of her time holding Rinji close still fresh in her mind. A glance over to her phone as she tightens the collared uniform about her neck. Checking her hair, and a reminder of the words sent over text. Then finally, to the picture of her departed family.

"You can do this, Kasagami. No matter what she's become...the only thing that matters is winning." Offers Kasagami to the empty room. There's a note of hollowness to it. She repeats it again and again until some note of truth rings.

Lies can sound like truth if spoken enough times.


Ring touching the gates to the Arena, Kasagami barely notes the beautiful sounds of flowing water all around her. Nor the gates themselves pulling open. Instead, her eye casts it's way slowly upwards, tracing the path from the ground up to the Arena itself. And then higher, to that miraculous castle. She bites her lip. Shouldering her nodachi, sheath and all, she lets out a low sigh.

What would her Mother think? It's the biting ant at her ankle. Kozue's words are cold daggers in her sides. Her hand on the handle of her weapon clenches hard.

"Time to end this." Kasagami can feel eyes judging her that aren't there.

Boots crunch until she reaches the elevator. No stairs for her this time. Her head is downcast as she begins to rise up. Visions of the distant, and recent past consuming her. She remembers why she's here. It hurts.

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

Morning light intrudes on a slant through the windowpane, marching a pale whisper of warmth across a blanket smooth and neat atop a bed crisply made. In the kitchen, a wooden table holds a single place setting, empty save for a note written in a fine hand:

'Utena-sama, breakfast is in the microwave.'

And so it is, a tented plate of hearty food ready to warm a belly once it is itself warmed. Chu-Chu is sleeping off his own breakfast atop his best friend's pillow. Anthy is gone.


She is with her roses.

Anthy preceded daybreak to her garden, and spends the whole of her morning and day seeing to their care. Their roots need tending in the fading frost, as the earth softens and grey quickens to soft greens.

The buds unfurl at her beckoning, and to any passersby, she seems as calm and at peace as she ever is. Evening slants shadows in the far direction when Anthy rises; the garden is her sundial, and it is time.

After a moment's pause she selects a bloom from the bush she's been tending. Its petals are white like clouds in a dream, perfectly pure like snow before it touches ground. She closes her eyes and finds the spot partway down the stem by feel and practice. The shear's blades cross with a swift sharp sound, and the rose falls into her waiting hand.

Anthy Himemiya makes her way to the Arena, two blooms cradled in her arms.

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Tokyo never sleeps, but it does obey the passage of time.

Darkness, however appropriate, however frightening as a companion, however precious as a veil, eventually runs out.

Dawn breaks like a baseball through the schoolyard window.

The high towers are always lit up, but neon, LEDs, these cannot compete with the simple electricity of human activity. A thousand thousand boil out of the apartments, flow down the streets. The flotsam and jetsam of humanity ride the trains like the tides.

Tokyo comes together, drawing its citizens, the cogs of its engine, from the already-dense outlying districts to the already-denser center and what is born from this fusion passing critical mass is another day in the big city.


The thin white line of morning advances as steadily into the bedroom as any enemy detachment. Utena and the ceiling have spent a long, intimate night together, both too intense and too dull unfeeling to be interrupted by Anthy's departure. And its gradual transformation from safely invisible, to the faint pockmarks of spackle catching just enough light, and casting just enough shadow, to demarcate themselves within the gloom, to finally a steady and oppressive gray -- she can't stop it, but she can prolong things by adding the additional barrier of her eyelids.

All she's wanted to do is sleep, and it only claims her on absolutely its own terms. If Utena could have surrendered to slumber she would have had a much more pleasant night. Instead it grabs her violently and drags her under, but not far enough under to be restful at all.

By the time her eyes craggily reopen, the sun is streaming in through the shutters.

The room is empty, and the fact is that this comes as a little bit of a relief, which tastes as bitter as sea salt under Utena's tongue. As sweet as guilt.

She rolls over a few more times for good measure, trying to get the blankets and sheets to tie her down, but there's no escaping the day.

Finally, every muscle protesting, every vein in her head pounding, she reluctantly crawls out of bed. She went to bed in clothes streaked with sweat and grime and a little blood, but her feet are bare, and they slap the freezing wooden floor, one, two. At first her soles flinch from the chill, but in an instant they ease into it, like it's a welcoming parade.

BGM: Regina Spektor - Hallelujah https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2oa_q6Jnukg

Utena drifts through the dorm like the last dried pea in a broken maraca, rattlingly empty. Everything feels familiar and unfamiliar, precious and worthless. Most of all it feels distant and strange, like she's not even inside her own body, but suffering from an additional degree of separation, an external observer.

She doesn't see the note, or the thoughtfully prepared meal it implies. Food never even enters her mind, and so she never even enters the kitchen. Her guts do not protest. They are busy with other, more profound biles, and she swallows again as nausea infiltrates her throat.

Eventually she winds up in the bathroom, and has to peel her uniform off piece by piece. It drops, stiff and torn all at once, piling on the ground like a veteran's armor. She catches sight of herself in the mirror, bent over with the last of a shirtsleeve escaping her bony wrist, and freezes in the headlights of her own eyes.

Straightening, she doesn't even recognize the person looking back at her. Parts of the whole are correct -- the sharp, angular features that the poor would call hungry and the wealthiest refined, the short, feathery hair. The red eyes she guesses she can understand, and their absolute emptiness, too. But still...

She reaches out and touches the one in the mirror, palm to palm.

Her ring makes a too-loud 'click' as its underside impacts the glass; it startles her. Shivering, she flips on the shower and lets steam replace darkness as her privacy shroud.

She stands under the water for a long time, too long. The heat both comforts and tenderizes her bruises and scrapes. At least it removes the odor, even without her wielding the soap with either courage or conviction. She goes from pickle to prune to, finally, frog. She didn't notice right away that the hot water ran out. It's only when her teeth clatter together, the first sound other than the trickling of the drain to penetrate the room in an hour, that she is jarred from her reverie.

Walking past her discarded, filthy clothes, she returns to the bedroom and discovers that, an unasked-for but welcomed miracle, there is one set of clean clothes left. Though made of fine fabrics at Ohtori's expense, the pants, the jacket, they both rasp against her skin as she pulls them on. At least they aren't tight. They used to fit her perfectly, but now no lines of tension draw between them except for the one she adds, a belt that she has to dig through three drawers to find.

And then there's nothing left to do.

She looks around the room again, and for the first time, notices Chu-Chu. With shaking fingers, she reaches out and drags Anthy's sheet over the monkey. She doesn't quite touch him, doesn't give him the familiar, affectionate pat they've both grown accustomed to. It feels wrong, invasive. Chu-Chu is Anthy's friend first, after all.

Sliding her freezing feet into her shoes, pushing them firmly over her toes with one tap, then the other, she walks out of the door and leaves the East Dorm to him.

Slowly, like a ghost or a half-forgotten memory, Utena wanders towards the Dueling Forest. She doesn't have to see where she's going, and mostly doesn't, drawn like a lodestone, drawn by something deep inside.

Utena blinks, and she's at the base of the stairs.

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

Gray brick and golden bells cross the divide between Dueling Arena and audience, a tower stretching upward with the perfect view of the spectacle to come. It is not the first time the Student Council has gathered to observe one of the ordered duels.

Nevertheless, there is a charge in the air for this one.

The sunset makes the tables and chairs here on the balcony glitter, ornate railings and stone crenelations the only barrier between remaining on this lofty perch and falling down down below.

There are boxes spread about the edges of the walls, black and closed, and figures with rose crest rings spread about; at a table, by a wall, seated with opera glasses...

They can see and hear, thanks to the spectacle of the Arena.

One sits at a table, her usual perch, the Vice President staring down at the rose insignia of the arena, her rings both glittering on her finger as she pours herself a cup of tea, pours another for those who have chosen to sit beside her here.

There is a small plate of vanilla cookies beside Shizuru Fujino's teacup. Her red eyes focus, inexorably, on red paint and white stone, on archways and flowers..

Teacups at her table wait for others to find them. She has issued her own invitation today. She waits for the one that brought her here without having to ask.

<Pose Tracker> Takeo Akamizu [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Takeo Akamizu stands with arms folded over his chest and looks out at the arena from his own usual perch. A pillar that he leans against. His eyes watch the arena carefully examining it and wondering briefly what it would be like to the one down there. To once again be the one challenging the engaged instead of being stuck in a spectator's box. He frowns slightly and looks to Shizuru's vanilla cookies. He has to peel his eyes away, food, usually any food, always has his attention. "Well. This should prove enlightening." He says not looking at any one person in the room.

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

"A date, Kaoru-kun? I'm afraid that she can't stay. It isn't appropriate to Student Council business, you understand."

Miki pauses where he is, then turns to Shizuru. At his side is another Miki, of the Sayaka variety. She's wearing one of the few dresses she owns, which tend to pop up around Miki Kaoru and not otherwise. This one's a blue Bardot dress, off the shoulder and simple in cut. Lipstick somewhat less rushed but equally simple pinkens her lips and emphasizes her pale blue lashes. She has her messenger bag over her shoulder in lieu of a purse.

"She was here the time before last," Miki points out. "What's the difference between now and then?" Sayaka hadn't expected to be defended like that, and she folds in her lower lip to try to keep a little smile hidden.

"My. What an excellent question." With an absent nod, Shizuru continues forward along the bone-white walkway towards the gate.

Sayaka watches Miki watch Shizuru depart. It had felt so nice having Miki stand up for her. It made sense too, right? He's Student Council, too. And probably works harder than any of them. Shouldn't he be able to take a giiiirl...

Sayaka manages to fluster herself somehow.

"I'm sorry, Sayaka-chan," Miki says. Smart in his white uniform and blue trousers, Miki turns to Sayaka regretfully. "She's right." What if Touga brought all his dates? "It's my fault, I didn't think."

Sayaka, crestfallen, forces a smile. "Nn-nn. I was too pushy, ehehe, I didn't want to get you in any trouble."

"Should I walk you to the train station?" Miki asks. It's just dutiful, as Miki always is, but to Sayaka, duty is close kin to gallantry.

"N-no. These things don't last very long, and I have homework to do, so I can just wait..." Liar. She stripped everything out of her messenger bag but "purse stuff." She can't do math problems with a packet of tissues and an eyeliner tube. But if he knows she's sitting here bored...

"Okay," Miki agrees. "I'll come find you when it's over."

"Cheer for Tenjou-san for me," Sayaka says cheerily as he goes. She waits with the same smile as he's flushed into the porcelain gates by a rush of water (wait...). It's not until he's gone that she drops from her consciously dainty posture into a lanky slump. Plodding over to the set of three stairs that begins the path to the arena, she sits and makes one powdered cheek blobby by resting her face heavily on one palm. "Stupid Fujino," she grumbles. "Not even cool."

Sayaka closes her eyes, sending Utena Tenjou her fervent hopes.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The ride up to the Dueling Arena is agonizingly slow. Not due to any actual slowness, but rather through Kasagami's own inward thoughts. It's been a long road. Her feet ache despite fresh showers and a massage last week. She can all but feel the rose petals on the ground, the tears and sweat of her opponents and herself.

Anger, dismissal, agony, and humiliation. And worst of all, frustration at the one she's sought after for so long boil in her. She's always walked out with swagger, with a quick jape to try to throw her opponents off guard. There's none of her jovial insults today.

As the elevator stops and the door opens, piercing the silence, Kasagami Araki jolts just a moment. She pushes back from the wall she'd been leaning against. Heart hammering in her chest, she makes three slow strides forward.

Again, and again, and again until she's crossed the center of the Dueling Arena. By now she can all but trace it in her sleep, or so she thinks. Steel slowly slides from wood. The sound further decimates the purity and silence of the Arena. Boots and metal and her own breathing are impossibly loud. When she comes to a stop, sunlight framing her, the back of her family sword rests comfortably across shoulders. Her eye closes. One more breath as she tries to calm herself.

That massive blade trembles in her hand as she awaits her opponent. Her mouth, usually smirking as she waits, is a thin line. Her body is tense. Coat and hair gently fluttering behind her, silence but for her heart in her ears and shivering steel keeps her company for the moment.

One hand caresses the gold pocket watch in her coat pocket. Her trembling grows weaker. But only by a touch. Even that memory can't quite quell her feelings, gathered on this most important of days for the Crimson Rose Duelist.

<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Corporations - Martha Tilston and the Woods - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gshhJ84_fzI

There's only a singular addition to Kozue's school uniform today besides her bag. A scarf, her scarf but not 'her' scarf that she was well known for instead just a simple azure one. She didn't dress up for the occasion. There's an air about her that's a little different today. The trek up the steps of one of Ohtori's many ramparts ploddingly. Eyes not facing forward, but her motion relentless.

Until it isn't. The motion stops most of the way up the stairs, the sounds distant but unmistakable. The tip top of her blue head of hair invisible to those on the marble walkway to where they must go. For a moment her eyes close, her grip on her bag tightens. A stab of anger harsh enough to reach her even in a void of null feeling.

Taking a moment to just breathe, she stands there for a long time.

Long enough for two to depart.

Even then it takes her some time to begin movement again. Eyes facing forward. They pass over the one left behind as if she were invisible- she walks past her as she fumes, a palm on her cheek without acknowledgement. All the way up to the threshold to where the Student Council watches. In moments she'd be inside, not even an obsidian blur as she ascends, but instead she stops.

Her head rotates just enough that she can look over her shoulder, just a shadow of blue falling upon Sayaka. "You coming?" A shard of anger present in that eye that hasn't slipped into her voice, "Better hurry. It's going to start soon."

Why isn't she rubbing it into her face? Telling her off? Anything else but this?

It's simple really...


Kozue is a dark blur until she crests over to the observation deck, silent as she scoops up a vanilla cookie from the dish beside Shizuru's teacup. Not looking at Miki, and absolutely looking at him simultaneously from the corner of her eyes. Having the appearance of her eyes facing the arena as the challenger enters the arena proper, blade in hand, "I hope noone minds that I brought a date." She takes a bite of the cookie.

Tsubasa Kazanari walks over from Ohtori Academy.

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

Earlier she ascended the same stairs she now faces, being the second arrival to the dueling floor after Kasagami Araki. The challenger received a single long look: the lines of her mouth and eyes and brows all level and flat, parallel to the lines of earth and arena and sky. Now,

She waits.

At the entrance of the Dueling Arena atop the pinnacle of the spiraling stair, she waits. Red hugs her torso and blooms out from her waist, edged in white and gold and the green of the sea; she wears a shining crown atop purple curls. A bindi marks the centermost point between eyebrows lax and smooth above shuttered lids. Every inch of her gown, every strand of her hair, each thick eyelash is perfection in placement and form and curvature.

She is the Rose Bride, and she waits for her Engaged.

Some sense must inform her that Utena approaches. Before the Engaged even becomes visible around the final bend the Bride is lifting one red-cuffed arm in a long slow gesture like the beginning of a dance -- and it may be that -- up and around and out, fingers spread and lax. The Rose Bride curves her palm around air and magic trims Utena's uniform.

She waits in her gown and her crown, a red silhouette within the intricate Arena gate atop the stair, and watches Utena Tenjou ascend.

COMBAT: Anthy Himemiya transforms into The Rose Bride!
<Pose Tracker> Shizuru Fujino [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

The encounter with Miki and Sayaka is something Shizuru leaves behind. It can catch up with her, she's sure. A little bit of added intrigue in the spectacle and pageantry adds another layer to the event.

Takeo's statement receives silence from Shizuru. The cookies on her plate remain soft, fair, appearing to have just the right level of crunch that a cookie ought to have, only to look at them. They're a wonderful, if not terribly appropiate, addition to tea.

One disappears under Kozue's hand.

"Do you?" Shizuru's voice is smooth, sliding into the space after Kozue's question. "Somehow I doubt that." She picks up her teacup, bringing it to her lips to inhale the bouquet as she watches Kasagami and her sword. "How chlidish." She sips.

She punctuates the thought by picking up a cookie, dipping it in her tea, and taking a bite. It indeed remains a beautiful bite.

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Zettai Unmei Mokushiroku https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=elrwRshCUpk

When the red trim appears on her black and white uniform, snaking in towards the middle from the cuffs, Utena pauses, midstep, to stare openly.

She's taken these stairs so many times, and in all times but the very first, felt Anthy bestow her raiment upon her. She's felt it outside of the arena, too, fighting in places that the Rose Bride is nowhere near.

Always the experience of transformation, for Utena, has been defined by a feeling of closeness to Anthy. Emotional, not physical, closeness.

But she has felt drifted apart, pulled inexorably down and away by undertow, for months, and now -- after last night --

She blinks and shakes her head in disbelief as the red crawls across her. Swallows something hot and tight in her throat as she again begins her ascent.

Ruffles blossom from the hem of her jacket, filling the space between the hollows of her rail-thin form and the fabric, and it feels alien.

Epaulettes surmount her shoulders, glittering gold and red, and her shoulders droop beneath them like a little kid caught in a lie.

The green jewel upon her breast, connected by noble cord to her shoulder, burns there like a brand. Her fingers drift up to it, disbelievingly, but the pain is no lie. She could touch it and dispel the illusion, the uncertainty -- either it is solid beneath her hand or it is not.

In the end, she doesn't dare try.

Feeling less and less comfortable inside her own skin with every passing step, Utena passes through the gate at the top of the stairs, and into the arena, feeling gawky and clownlike.

Feeling costumed.

Flash back a moment to Halloween, to tiny Utena at the elementary school party or in a pack of trick-or-treaters. She's dressed up as a cowboy and a vampire. A ghost, a dog, a police officer. Every year her costume is off the boys' rack -- she has no parents to help her design something original -- and every year she was cute and happy in it.

But never did she ever wear the prince costume. Some things are too precious, too important, to use as a holiday prop. Trying to be a prince... she was doing that before she ever put on cuffs and ruffles and cords.

For the first time she feels like she's in costume -- like she's just playing make believe -- and that sad, scared internal feeling externalizes, too. In her stance, her expression. She does look a little bit ridiculous, like someone cosplaying as a Duelist. The accessories don't really sit right. They're just a little bit off, in color, in size.

Or maybe she's the one who's changed.

Approaching the other two in the ring, she gives Anthy a brief, pained look, like she's searching for answers that she's already found. Last night's apology, agony, is resonant in her eyes.

It isn't recognizable to Kasagami. When she last saw Utena, Utena was depressed, but something has happened. Something bad has gotten worse. She was a stained glass window, like the eternal preservation of a terrible moment. Now the girl in front of her is just shards.

"I'm here," she announces, after standing in silence for a beat too long, her words limp like a trombone afterthought rather than a grand fanfare.

Looking at Kasagami, at Kasagami's own uncertainty and tension, she recognizes and grieves over another victim of her own self-obsession. Utena steels herself. She knows what she has to do. It really is the least she can do, for her friend, who she has made worry so. She can, at least, perform her duty. She can do her very best.

She closes her eyes, reopens them. Closes her fists, reopens them too, to empty palms. "All right. Let's do this already."

COMBAT: Utena Tenjou transforms into Utena Tenjou!

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Sayaka opens her eyes to find Kozue approaching. She expects to be mocked, and though she's inwardly wincing in preparation, it isn't as if her day isn't already ruined. She just wishes she hadn't worn this stupid dress; if she's not going to get to go in there, it just looks weird, right? On Hitomi it would be fine, but Sayaka feels like she got abandoned before prom.

When Kozue passes silently, Sayaka blinks, straightening herself like a meerkat and craning her neck to follow her progress. Mystified, she wonders if Kozue even saw her. She's just placed her fingertips on the step in preparation to turn forward again, when Kozue finally pauses.

Sayaka blinks again. Her shoulders slump. The fact that Kozue is offering doesn't change how humiliating this is. She's being allowed to crawl back after picking Miki... and she will, even beyond her desire to be included, because she's worried about Utena. Why isn't Kozue making the most of having all the power? Uncertain, Sayaka stands partway up, hesitates, then picks herself up the rest of the way and snags her messenger bag as she goes, jogging clumsily in her flats to catch up.

  • * *

Well that explains it.

"I-it's not a date," Sayaka stammers to the Student Council, red-faced. She looks in particular to Miki himself, but he's spending all of his energy and attention right now demonstrating that he doesn't care what Kozue does, and stonily looking out onto the field as Anthy waits. Sayaka pushes up a little on her toes in unconscious need for acknowledgement, but Kozue continues to claim the space and Miki continues to avoid fighting her for it. Sayaka sinks back down. She can't exactly go over and sit with him without getting him in trouble.

From a distance, it is easy to ignore how frayed Utena has become. Sayaka rushes the edge of the balcony like a sailor spying land, both hands on the bannister, her feet leaving the floor for the moment as she leans over beaming. "Tenjoooou-san!" she shouts, as her feet plop back down. "You can do it! Rip her rose off and st--"

Sayaka feels an icy prickle on the back of her neck, and lets herself off the bannister with a grimaced smile. Clearing her throat, she steps back. "Tenjou's gonna win," she says more mildly.

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

"Were you expecting a middle schooler to act as maturely as you- Fujino-senpai?" She remarks casually, staring still at the challenger. At Kasagami. The King To-Be, awaiting only an engagement for a crown.

Sayaka's stammer brings forth a smile, but it's more like a memory of a smile rather than one of triumph. Anger still rests within her as she interposes her place between Miki and her.

Today she wins this battle in their little sibling war, and the more she doesn't address Miki and the more he tries to ignore it only increases her victory over him.

But then Utena crests the top. And Kozue's breath catches a little even as she hears Sayaka's cheer.

Are things different than she expected?

In a moment she realizes in Utena's announcement, in the way where it seems rote more than anything, going through the motions in a way that makes her seem like half a Rose Bride to Kozue's eyes.

Usually this is the part where I tell them that I don't want to fight... but today, I really kind of do.

Her expression dips at that sudden memory, and at Sayaka's declaration Kozue says mildly, "What if she can't?"

And she is not. A set. Of keys!

She turns to face her, half a cookie held near her mouth. She speaks matter of factly, with only a sense of cold dread, "Look at her right now. Really look at her. Do you think she has what it takes to beat Araki right now?"

In the deepest recesses of her soul, she wants to hope. But she knows that she can't bring herself to. This was reality and she wouldn't turn away.


Even in that vague, distant ephemeral hope was still waiting despair. Because if Utena managed to pull it off...

What did that say about her?

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Kasagami almost misses the Rose Bride's arrival. Her glance offered the purple-haired woman is scathing. But not at her, per se. She can't even find herself taking refuge in contempt for the cold girl that's plucked the wound of her heart more than once.

Steel meets green, and slides away without another look back. Prize though she may be, she isn't why Kasagami is here tonight. It's the holder of that particular rosed sheath she's more interested in.

She might have come here expecting the worst. After seeing her in the Garden? Kasagami had built up all of her worse fears for what she might encounter in place of the person he'd come to so admire and consider a member of her ragtag circle of 'family'. Yet somehow, it's enough that the boiling rage and tenseness in her muscles slack away for just a moment. The tip of her sword drops just a quarter of an inch or so. A feather would feel like an iron weight about her hand right now.

That steel grey eye goes wide. Seemingly unable to comprehend the girl she'd built up so much in her mind, she shivers one more time. The corner of her lip quivers for just a moment.

And then she straightens, one foot before the other. Roses, already gathered around her cuffs and jacket, flutter beneath her ankles. Kasagami's eye narrows as she takes in the entirety of the ill-fitted girl in front of her. Even the voice can't quite reconcile her view of the Would-Be Prince. She takes two more steps forward. Her shadow looms along with her body despite the distance between them.

"What kind of greeting to your opponent is that, Utena Tenjou!?" Roars Kasagami as she's finally unable to keep it all in.

"Though I'm not convinced this is the same person that captured my eye during the festival. You haven't just lost a warrior's spark, the spark of nobility and drive. I feel like I'm looking at a broken little wind-up doll."

Her gaze finally returns to Anthy. "But I'll agree with that much. Let's start this, Anthy. If I'm going to get any kind of satisfaction out of this, we'd best not delay."

And then back to Utena.

"I just hope you won't dissappoint me for a third time by not being able to draw that sword." Her words by now are openly bitter. Only knowing that other eyes are upon them keep her from weeping at the sight of a shattered person before her.

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

For long, long moments, Shizuru stares at Utena Tenjou in her costume. Her eyes through opera glasses take in a jacket that hangs too loose, a voice and an expression that hang together, search for something beyond the cords and the epaulettes. She looks into this shattered glass, and her expression does not change, completely unmoved by the sight by looking at her.

She takes another bite of her cookie without looking back at Sayaka at the way the girl in the blue dress stammers out her explanations. She doesn't answer at first, save to look at Miki briefly and offer a long-suffering sigh.

"What can I say?" the vice president addresses Kozue. "I'm an optimist." The casual lie is easy, simple... And stands for Shizuru through Sayaka's cheer. Through her shout, throuh her more mild assertion...

"Kaoru-kun," Shizuru speaks with a hint of reproach before pouring an additional cup of tea at an empty space. "...Miki-kun. Take a seat."

The cookies sit there, painted in sunset colors. "We'll see."

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Sayaka rounds on Kozue, not in anger, but in triumphant passion. "Of course she can," Sayaka says. "She really cares about Himemiya." Whatever Sayaka's personal dislike of Anthy, she still understands that. "Araki doesn't at all. People who fight for selfless reasons always beat selfish people in the end."

Face blanking, Miki Kaoru pulls out his stopwatch, shaking the cord loose and smoothing it.

Obediently, Sayaka turns to look at Utena more carefully, squinting. What she can see from here pales before what she can infer, from having seen Utena lately. She's been such a bruised and feeble personality lately. She wouldn't even stand up to Kasagami in the garden with Sayaka at her back. But Sayaka frowns, turning back to Kozue.

"She'll win," she assures. "Just wait."

Miki can't help but find Shizuru calling for the attention of "Miki-kun" and "Kaoru-kun" distracting, and he glances over. Sayaka (the intended Miki) is still reflexively submissive to the authority of the Council, despite her complaining about Shizuru earlier, and she seats herself at the table. Next to Kozue, of course. She's Kozue's guest.

<Pose Tracker> Takeo Akamizu [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Takeo is not the smartest in the room. In any room really. However he is very good at fights, and at the strategies in them. That isn't to say he is the best in the room, it is just something that between the short life he's lived and the memories in the back of his head from a lifetime of duels and battles he just ... knows. His eyes scan Utena. Her stance, the placement of her hands, the distance between her feet and even her breathing. From her his eyes track to Kasagami and do the same thing.

The entire time Takeo leans against the pillar his arms folded over his chest. He hears the girls discussing and Sayaka's belief in righteous battles. A year ago he might be proclaiming the same thing. "If that were the case Miki-chan," Takeo says with a hint of pained and bitter scorn in his voice, "My sister wouldn't be nearly dead." His eyes continue to track the two opponents as they square off. "Don't fall for the crap I did. You should still fight for what is right. For what you believe in. But listen to me kid," He finally turns his head over to look at Sayaka, "Sometimes the bad guy wins." He then turns his head back to the duel. Watching.

<Pose Tracker> Anthy Himemiya [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Dios he no Inori https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPVWphAj0G8

Utena arrives adorned in shining bits of waking myth, and Anthy's gaze alights on pained blue eyes for a torn heartbeat of a moment, then slides away. It has been a very long time since the Engaged entered the Arena with purpose, since she has been a participant in the rituals. Nothing now can be seen of the strange funny girl who makes bentos full of festival food; she is shuttered somewhere deep beneath opaque green irises.

Her Engaged commands the duel begin. 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 white and crimson show. They are fresh blooms, diagonal death wounds still dripping water from their stems, culled from her personal garden earlier that day. 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 Kasagami Araki, then Utena Tenjou, 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 will belong to whomever is the victor. To Kasagami Araki goes a rose too richly dark to be called true red; throughout the rosepinning the Bride keeps her eyes downcast so that only a sliver of their beauty shows. The downward swancurve of her neck describes careful deference before she turns to go.

She turns toward Utena Tenjou, and approaches with dainty pacing, eyes still on the Arena floor until she stops before the taller girl. The hem of her skirt nearly brushes the cuffs of Utena's black-and-white pants. Eyes the color of a grass covered hill beneath a tree's shade climb upward even as hands rise with rose in hand. Together they reach their destinations.

A rose all colors and none tucks into its appointed place, petals pristine and aglow in the evening light. Anthy's eyes catch the same shimmer as they shift to find Utena's, reflecting fragility from a great distance. She is very close and somehow also a thousand miles away.

Her eyes drop and close; her palms rise before her. "Rose of the noble castle." Light gestates within the curled cage of her fingers.

"Power of Dios that sleeps within me." She holds the light and shapes it, rays coruscating across the Arena and its occupants.

"Heed your master and come forth!" Her skirt ripples with rising power. Back she bends to describe an arc of contorted grace with the curvature of her spine, chin tilted back to offer her surrender and the light that blooms from her chest to her Engaged.

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

Sayaka's passion is not met with passion. There's anger there, but it's only the low-level kind that's lying under the surface. The kind from rejection and resentment.

Takeo already puts out his opinion. She doesn't echo it even if she holds an opinion that isn't similar but perhaps parallel.

Instead Sayaka's certainty on who will win and who will lose is met with a simple question, "Oh is that how it is?" There is a sense of coyness now at least. "I could have sworn that's only how you want it to be."

She accepts Shizuru's invitation gracefully despite the reproach, a glimmer of good humor in her eyes as she takes a seat. Once seated she crosses one leg over the other, and picks up her tea cup, taking a sip.

The sip is interrupted by Anthy calling forth the sword, the glimmer of light. For just a moment she stares at Anthy. Her eyes cross over to Miki just then, with his stop watch. With a sniff, she lowers the tea cup, and finds herself just watching Utena. And Araki's reaction.

"You always do offer the best tea, Fujino-senpai."

Though mentally, she corrects herself to Shizuru offering the second best.

She was bold enough to defy her authority by bringing Sayaka, but she would never, ever, dare to place her tea-making skills anywhere but at the top openly.

That would be grounds for public execution.

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Utena flinches at Kasagami's roar, her eyes filling with the wide, credulous expression of someone who had just really tried, just really put herself out there, and is informed by the schoolmaster or the referee that she failed before she even started.

But she opens herself to it, too. Squares her shoulders. Takes it on the chin, rather than curling into herself. She feels no pride but she does feel obligation. She deserves this. All of it. Worse, even. And that acceptance is total. Utena looks at Kasagami and sees her own callousness and cruelty in every line of the older girl's frustration. Older, wiser Kasagami, who only wanted to be her friend. Who only wanted to help.

'It hurts to see you like this,' he said, in the alley. It repeats in the ears of her heart like a subtitle underneath Kasagami's bitter fury and disdain.

"I'm gonna make it up to you right now," she promises, in a low voice. A raw one, as the Rose Bride approaches. "I... I have to make everything right."

She doesn't deserve this; this nearness to Anthy, the shimmer in her eyes. In their eyes, together. The shared moment isn't perfectly tender -- the gulf between them has never felt vaster. Utena looks at Anthy and, again, doesn't really see her, only her own mistakes. Only what she did wrong. Still -- she's looking. Looking, and softly giving what she can.

"Himemiya," she repeats, the last thing she said, at the end of the night. "I really am... I'm so sorry."

The voice rings inside of her again, and what of Utena's heart she was able to share with Anthy, Anthy quickly loses, to brooding, to introspection. To desolate regret.

'There are so many people in your life that care about you so much. Don't you think that shutting them out is selfish? You're trying not to hurt them, but you end up only hurting them more. Wouldn't it be better then if you didn't do everything on your own?'

The radiance blinds her. In fact, Anthy invoking the Power of Dios blindsides her, even after what happened with her uniform. Of course, the magic was really Anthy's all along. Being smashed to the ground when she took the shot for Sailor Moon, stripped and sundered by Vita -- she was only ever a conduit, right? She was never the source. And everything that happened after... all those failed attempts to win back what she'd lost...

Her lips twist in another round of self-recrimination, the glorious light coming from the Rose Bride's chest making her cast a long shadow, like the minute hand on the clock face of the arena floor. She's been so stupid. It's just like he said, right?

'Strength can come from being weak sometimes in the company of the people who care about them... you can rely on them sometimes, you know.'

This is about making everything right for everyone else, but her traitor heart is leaping in her chest anyway, with selfish hope, with the same wonder she felt the first time she saw Anthy. The same wonder she feels every time she sees her mysterious and wonderful roommate, here or at home or anywhere else.

Was it really always this simple all along?

Was she just too stubborn, too stupid... to ask for her help?

She moves in gingerly, apology still making her movements jerky and hesitant, but to her shock and amazement the magic is there, between them, as she extends her arm and rests Anthy within it. She supports the smaller girl easily as she arches back.

As with the jewel on her breast, there is a brief moment where her fingers linger above the hilt of the Sword of Dios. She licks her lips, psyching herself up.

She's afraid.

But Anthy's weight presses into her arms, and, closing her eyes, Utena lets herself believe. Her fingers curl around the hilt. Its solidity makes everything real. As it passes out of the Rose Bride and into the world, as their faces draw together, near-parallel, there is a moment where everything feels right again. It is like a long, sweet kiss after a painful parting, not that Utena has ever been kissed.

Well, except for that one time, by her Prince.

But this must be what it's like. For the first time in ages she feels confident, she feels powerful, she feels assurred. With infinite care she helps Anthy regain her balance, and does not let go until she is perfectly safe.

At the exact moment that they lose contact with each other, the Sword of Dios -- long and silvery and shining, that icon of power crowned by a rose -- crashes to the ground, dragging Utena, who was unprepared for its abrupt weight, with it.

She scrambles back to her feet, sets her knees like the athlete she's been her whole life, and tries to lift it towards the sky, to salute the Castle Where Eternity Dwells and Kasagami, too. It takes her two hands to even be able to shift the point. Even then, she can't get the tip up more than a spare, wavering inch or two.

Crimson with humiliation and horror, the bells' tolling is a mercy. They're too loud to speak over. At least for an instant, she doesn't have to say anything, or hear what the others will have to say. Nor does she have time to think deeply about what this all means.

She delays conversation further by setting herself alongside the weapon, trying to wield it like a claymore even though it's the size of a longsword. "HaaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAA!!" she screams as she charges Kasagami. Still unable to wield the blade effectively, she at least has her shoulder, which she sends at her opponent instead, full force. The rest of her, of course, follows.

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

Shizuru takes another bite of tea-soaked wafer as Sayaka expesses herslef on the opinion of selfless and selfish combatants. She savors the slight softness added to the crunch of the cookie, the way it permeates what could otherwise easily turn to crumbs. Her bites are small, delicate, ladylike.

She does not speak while eating.

"...There's something to be said for devotion," she comments finally, after Takeo has added what he has. "After all, we gather here over the power of miracles."

The bad guy. It brings a quirk of a smile to Shizuru's face, that turn of phrase, an amusement that reaches her eyes as she lets herself be dazzled by the display of the power, of Anthy and the sword. ...Of Anthy, fascinating Anthy, again. "You flatter me," the older girl notes absently to Kozue at the mention of her tea, lifting her cup to take another sip. She tastes it distantly, more information about the heat and flavor than really anything else in the moment.

Shizuru wonders instead, staring down at Utena's desperate charge. The bells have tolled, and this part of the audience at least is waiting. The vice president's expression is unreadable, intent. A chill breeze ruffles her bangs.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Kasagami's brief gaze to Anthy as the Rose Pinning begins continues to hold that dismissive, uncaring look. She's never once pretended to care about or even like the Rose Bride. That single contact between demure deference and uncaring apathy only brings a nod from Kasagami. In her heart, she feels this is right. One without ambition or dreams should be beneath her. And she sees nothing so powerful in the eyes of Anthy Himemiya. The rose at her chest too, feels comfortable. Almost comforting in a way.

But then, light spills from Anthy and the hilt of the Sword of Dios rises. One arm shielding her from the glare, Kasagami watches the process with sudden and renewed interest. Despite how broken she looks, despite how obviously pained she is, Utena at least showed up. Kasagami can't hear the words spoken so low to Anthy.

Utena draws that sword and nearly crashes down with it. Somehow the motion brings the smallest of smirks to Kasagami's mouth. Despite all that she'd told herself in the mirror this morning, the tiniest glimmer of hope dangles before her. Could there be something left of her Prince still within Utena? The one she dreams to rule with beneath her?

That smirk finally becomes a smile as the blushing, humiliated Engaged rushes her shoulder-first like a desperate warrior has her eye softening. A laugh escapes her. Her throat feels dry.

"Maybe you aren't dead inside after all Utena! If you really can be a Prince still, then give me everything you have! I won't hold back for my dream either!"

It's her turn to feel desperate. Her gaze hunts for a sign of her friend in the pink haired Engaged in front of her. Both hands grip her sword high above her head. She turns her body just slightly. Her own shoulder is ready to interpose itself, and with her long and strong legs she leaps forward. With a howl of her own, she'll meet Utena in kind with all of her magical strength and speed.

And then her arms drop, her real attack as bodies are ready to collide is the hilt of her weapon aimed for Utena's shoulder.

<Pose Tracker> Takeo Akamizu [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

"Go for her right." Takeo whispers. "She's blind on her right side." The words are soft, and encouragingly sent to Utena. She obviously can't hear them, but he just wills her to notice Kasagami's weakness. He does look to the girls and their tea and raises an eyebrow. "Tell me Senpai, do you only drink tea? Or do you have a secret stash of Root Beer or something else someplace?" He gives her a little grin. "I only ask, because it is literally all I have seen you eat or drink. Cookies and tea. I mean. I can't judge, I'd live on bacon if I could, but I wonder if you might be so bitter because you only drink Tea." He then looks back to the duel.

He kind of wishes he had some tea drink himself....

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

Consider: a rose in full bloom.

At its edges roll velvet curls, broad and bright and open. Within them, sister petals nestle in a corolla, their unfurlings progressively smaller and gentler as one nears the center of the flower. Find there a sheltered fold, the heart-bud of the rose. Layers within layers within layers.

The smooth outer petals of the Rose Bride brush Utena Tenjou after she makes her apology again. They do not share the secret dark of their dorm room; no wordless breath escapes to hint at things unsaid. She shows nothing of the fear that sends her scurrying down and away from the light, deep into herself; nothing of the cold anger, nothing of the hollowing pain.

The sword emerges and she steps away and to the side, as she always does, but there's an odd hitch in her gait when the Sword of Dios clanks to the Arena floor. She reaches the entrance and turns, her face as expressionless as it ever is during the duels, to watch.

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Sayaka's eyes fall. "It's how everyone wants it to be, I think," she tells Kozue softly. "Everybody wants to live in a world like that." She used to be completely certain of it. She doubts, now, and Kozue has earned most of the credit for that.

She sits a little too pert on her chair. Sayaka's nervous, not only because of Utena but because of who she's been compelled to sit next to. She sneaks glances at Kozue occasionally, and follows her lead in sipping tea, just to give her hands something to do. She has found, at last, that she's capable of giving Kozue her hatred, but indifference remains beyond her.

"You'll see," tells Kozue quietly, where Shizuru and Takeo and all the worldly mini-adults of the Student Council cannot scoff. Utena is Anthy's champion, but in a small way, just for today, she is Sayaka's as well.

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

The Sword of Dios is drawn. And it's tip crashes to the ground, dragging Utena with it. Kozue can't stop a wince. The pain she feels seeing that cuts too deeply. Even now, with Utena as a perfect example to her guest, she wishes there was something she could give that could assuage the humiliation over the tolling of the bells.

She knows there isn't.

Instead she simply watches the charge as if Utena were part of the light brigade, facing down the hopeless artillery of Kasagami's magic.

The passionate fire from Kasagami becoming more so at the site of the fumbling charge, in a way that Kozue finds equal parts befuddling and disquieting.

"Do I?" She says quietly to Shizuru, and takes another cookie.

Takeo's chatter towards Shizuru is in her ears, and it fades away into a sort of white noise as she watches the duel.

And eats the refreshments offered for the wake.

However two words cut through that white noise, mid-sip of her tea. Tipping up the cup as she watches the fluid gather along the edge, checking the bottom of the porcelain- she says nothing for a while. Perhaps yearning for the times when she such delusions could return as she watches the residue slide down back into the fluid of the tea.

On one side of her Sayaka, more distantly on the other side, her brother cradling his watch. The distance between each of them was small, but it might as well be a great gulf with one calling to her from a distant shore, unheard. The other... not even looking in her direction. Inhaling a breath through her nostrils, sweet air intermingled with the rich scent of tea... she whispers softly.

"No. I won't."

It would sound as petulant as a child, but there's absolutely no feeling in her acceptance of that.

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Utena needs to stay absolutely focused on Kasagami but Anthy's retreat distracts her anyway. She can't help it -- she may not know a single word to put proper names to the anatomy of a rose, but she has come to know at least something of the layers of the Rose Bride. Her sleeping self knows it better than her waking mind, and right now, instinct screams at her, but wordlessly, an incoherent whimper.

Whether it's really Anthy's pain or just Utena's own projection, she feels it profoundly.

And the way that Anthy distances herself as Utena struggles to wield her sword, the totally normal, totally abnormal expressionlessness -- it doesn't bring it all back (it never really left), but Utena takes it, rightly or wrongly, as validation of her own impotence. All the fear, all the pain. All the self-loathing.

All this, mid-charge. What happens next is as painful as it is predictable.

Even on Utena's best days, Kasagami is older, taller, and stronger than she is, and months of going without food and sleep have rendered her a shadow of what she once was. There's a clear comparison to make here, too -- the night that they faced the Araki family demon together was the same night she was drained. Before she even understood that she had been drained. She stood behind Kasagami, pushing with all her mortal strength, supporting her, even as the flames rushed up to meet them, burned away her hair, sent her to the infirmary.

She wasn't left scarred like her counterpart -- she was very lucky in comparison, really. But that ordinary Utena, of two months ago, and this one... they both would have died, facing that demon alone, but this one would have died quickly.

Stumbling as she puts her eyes front again, the sword's unfamiliar weight tripping her up, she flies straight into Kasagami. Not like a linebacker. This was not a successful tackle, an expression, an explosion of strength.

This was Utena getting hit, in mid-air, by her freight train of a senpai. Curling frantically to one side is all that spares her shoulder the direct impact of Kasagami's hilt; but nothing spares her body the direct impact of the rest of Kasagami, and she goes crashing to the arena floor, hard.

The Sword of Dios falls first and fastest, again almost to blame, pulling her down with it. But, come what may, she does not let it go.

For a moment she sees nothing but pain. That's all she's been seeing in general, but at least this is regular old physical pain. Stars. Little cartoon ducks around her head. Whatever. It is almost a relief in its relative simplicity.

Kasagami's momentum ran her right over, and her opponent is now past her; this gives Utena a few scarce moments to collect herself, to again scramble up off the ground, a little more slowly than last time -- to set herself for what's coming.

"It isn't about can or can't," she growls, and if she sounds confusing, if the full moon of her meaning is a little difficult to follow, only the crescent in easy view, at least the crescent is energetic in a deeply upset way. "That is -- I mean --"

She's out of time.

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Sayaka hears the scorn in Takeo's voice. He's older, and he's been at this a lot longer than Sayaka has. He knows more about the Council and he knows more about combat. Once it would have been easy to shake all that off. Once she had left doubt so far behind she couldn't even see it anymore if she turned around. Now, she has to fight for it.

She's not afraid to fight.

"If you don't believe like you used to anymore," she tells Takeo tightly, "don't try to drag me down with you." She has such a stoic look, bare-shouldered and uncomfortable amidst her skirts. "You have plenty of company down there already."

It doesn't take a tactical mind to see Utena's weak start. Most everyone speaks the subtle language of the body, and Utena's is screaming right now. Fear. Shame. Desperation. It's uncomfortable to witness even from a distance.

Shizuru, unexpectedly, gives a listless but vaguely supportive comment on miracles. Suspicious not of Shizuru but of this turn of events, and struggling to resolve the ambiguity of her language, Sayaka remains silent, a matched pair of blue with Kozue, between the pain-wearied Takeo and the unreadable Shizuru.

Utena takes Kasagami's body as a battering ram, and with her down, Sayaka winces, leaning forward. She can't cheer at such a stressful moment; it could be over any second with Utena so vulnerable.

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

"Hmm," Shizuru vocalizes, watching Utena rather than Kasagami, though both are within her field of vision now. She reflects on a certain kind of cruelty, different from her own. ...She has no illusions, after all, that she is one of the selfless, one of the 'good guys.'

"You do," Shizuru answers Kozue with a quiet assurance. She remembers a broken tea bowl, beautiful even in pieces. She woners for a moment about bringing it up. She declines.

"Do I seem bitter, Akamizu-kun?" Shizuru asks mildly instead. "I'm hurt. I try to be a good example for the younger members of the student body, after all." Her engagement ring glints in the sunlight. She does not touch it. "There is something simple in tea, and infinitely complex. You could call it a passion of mine, really."

"But maybe I just enjoy grinding something up and immersing it in hot water."

Shizuru sips her tea, staring down at the disastrous charge of Utena into Kasagami. If she hears any of those whispers she does not announce it. "...The leaves, too, do their best. There is poetry in it." A beat, "You see, Akamizu-kun, if you use water that is too hot, then you overwhelm the mixture with bitterness. It's a matter of finding the appropiate temperature, the perfect action." A beat, "But they do call overly-steeped drinks strong. Are they? Ah."

Doubt. Shizuru glances once, at Sayaka. Only once, for now. Then she returns her attention to Utena, over the backdrop of her tea. Utena, and Kasagami.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Kasagami wouldn't know, and perhaps doesn't care to see the inner petals of the rose that is the Rose Bride. She doesn't see the shared anguish that Utena projects upon the girl. The Duelist is fully an objectifier of Anthy in the most blunt of ways. Whatever a few soft interactions might have had on Kasagami, she's still a means to an end.

They collide, and Kasagami almost overextends herself. That brief glint in Utena had given her hope. But as she barrels past and through the pink haired Duelist, she pauses to look at her sword. Frown. She barely felt any resistance. Not of the magical kind. With a snap to her boots she flicks around.

Her gaze meets the confused, dazed one of Utena's. That growling, hurt voice has her laughing. It's increasingly bitter once again. Yet there's a moment of relief. That same moment when the horrid demon was driven away. That Utena hadn't been so unfairly scarred and hurt like she had. Yet Utena, even though the hair is still that short crop, doesn't look anything like that Prince-like rake. The look that gave her a smile every time she saw it.

The hope growing in her cracks, and cracks hard. Kasagami finally realizes that the hollowed out husk of a Would-Be Prince probably couldn't even face her self of a few weeks ago. Her heart hurts. It's almost cruelty to fight Utena. Can she continue to batter a friend?

Gloved and bandaged hand alike grips her sword. Her heart grips her bitter dissappointment and anger. The betrayal, no matter how imagined and self-inflicted it might be. And that painful guilt over what she herself has started.

"At least you're still stubborn Utena. But if you can't be a Prince, then how can you hope to stand up to someone who will become this world's King? Even with that brilliant blade in your hands..."

And then she leaps into the sky. Twisting about, she makes a graceful arc from on high. Her coat billows behind her as Kasagami spins once, twice, sword pointed up. She hangs there for one long, impossible moment as rose petals and the falling oranges of the sky behind them frame her. The rose at her chest blends in with crimsons.

"Even if you were to crush every hope I had for you, Utena, the only thing that matters is strength! Unless you show me resolve and power, then you'll be swept aside! Get up and fight me properly!" There's an edge to her voice. Something perhaps lost in all the ferocity and self-righteous surity. Her selfish belief in her own power and it's value. A desperate calling to Utena. To come back, to be herself. An order from the power-hungry tyrant that the Duelist would crown herself as.

And then her body and blade descends alike, aiming to utterly smash through Utena's defenses with the weight of both. Her sword is polished and sharpened to a mirror's edge. She tries to cut her way towards that rose on Utena's chest. This time, there's not the slightest hint of hesitation in her sword.

Kasagami Araki wants to win.

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

Having reached her traditional place beneath the strange arch that grants entrance to the Arena floor, the Rose Bride stands apart. Her hands clasp before her in an echo of the polite stance she so often assumes as Anthy Himemiya in her school uniform.

Eyes so blank and flat they could be colored in green by a grade schooler's marker observe a duel that is no contest. The first exchange, if it could be called that, calls to mind a crash between a monster truck and bicycle. If she blinks then, it is so quick as to be unnoticeable. The Bride must observe, so she does, showing nothing of what fills the shell of her.

Kasagami rises in a cloud of petals and the Bride's eyes fix on the shifting negative space between her and Utena as it grows, as it holds, and as it shrinks again -- Araki falling with her blade. 'Soon it will be over,' she thinks, and does not herself examine whether her mental voice flutters with relief or anxiety.

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Most of Utena's pain here has nothing to do with Kasagami, but finally something is torn loose. Truth rips from her lips as easily as blood.

"I never wanted to stand up to you -- I just wanted to be your friend!"

Now battle has really joined in earnest. Accordingly, the chorus picks up as Kasagami leaps into the sky, backed by enthusiastic electric guitar.


Utena can't match Kasagami in any respect. She can't join her in the sky. Her amateurish swordsmanship has been reduced to less than nothing, with a Sword she is not prince enough to wield. No rose petals embellish her feelings. And whether she would be agreeable to follow the tyrant's orders, or not...

Well, maybe it is about 'can or can't' after all.

And maybe Kasagami is right, that the only thing that matters is strength.

Here she comes, the essence of might closing to exercise her power...



The scream escapes her as she twists her entire body into the blow. Sparks pour from the Sword of Dios as the blade scrapes along the arena floor in the manner of Miroku, before the two of them spin together to meet Kasagami head on. It's more like a hammer throw than a sword strike, and the analogy to Mikoto fails quickly, for this has none of that girl's power behind it. If anything -- as ever -- Utena winds up dragged along by the sword, overextended beyond belief.

Still, she does not let go.

Tears pour down her face as the force of impact blasts them apart. Her costume is the first casualty. Like cosplay cardboard and foam, the epaulettes are chopped away by the mere nearness of the cosmic sharpness of the Araki nodachi. When they hit the ground, they disappear, tassels, cords, and all.

When Utena hits the ground, she wants to. Her blue eyes are blank with shock, her face tight with anguish.

Swinging the sword like that -- with everything she had behind it -- didn't feel like victory. She looks more defeated than ever.

<Pose Tracker> Takeo Akamizu [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Takeo Akamizu shrugs to Sayaka but remains silent. His eyes watch the match, the movements and the strikes. His right hand makes a fist, the nails digging into his palms. "I'm sure Fujino-san that you are secretly a sweet and innocent woman. All flowers and sunshine." He gives her a slight smirk and then gives Sayaka a quick grin. "Utena-chan appears to at least be trying. She may not think she is a swords-woman, but she is very good. Athletic, and strong in heart and body." He shrugs.

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

Strength, resolve, and power.

Shizuru, sitting here on this secret platform, drinking tea, ontinues to watch the duel. She watches body language, listens to words that she can hear brought over to her. She does not particularly radiate these things, at the moment.

She doesn't radiate much of anything. She is focused elsewhere, not on herself.

Soon, it may be over.

Utena's scream rips free and Shizuru continues looking down at her. She holds her teacup, and does not look at Takeo as they speak. She doesn't need to. "I do enjoy flowers," she comments to him simply. "But is any of us here really innocent?"

She smiles slightly. "...Strength isn't enough. No matter how long you're steeped."

She waits.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.


Kasagami blinks. Friendship. Isn't that part of why she came here? Worry over the strain of the Duels breaking Utena? Of losing her friend? Kasagami's fall is inexorable once she's made it. The motions can't be stopped, but the reminder is a distraction. Just for a moment, her hands tremble.

"Fine words coming from someone who's slapped my hand away every time I asked you what's wrong!" Real anger touches her again. Concern fades to that betrayal, the sting still there.

Down falls the burning one, and steel rings. Steel scrapes on steel. And the suddenly desperate resistance as Utena puts all of her body and might she can gather into that hammer blow has Kasagami audibly gasping. In surprise. In amazement, as the girl overextends herself to the point that their combined clash sends them both sundered backwards.

The crack is deafening. There's magic in the Sword of Dios, and it shows. Kasagami switches her grip, slamming the tip of her sword down as she goes skidding feet and feet back. Knees bend, and solid bootheels drag rents of stone away with her. A leather coat flies off in the distance. A deep tear through a sleeve. And on Kasagami's uniform?

A rent, diagonal cut down her neck. Scarred skin and healthy alike peeks, until it meets her armguard. There's no blood. Her rose is safe.

But despite all odds, Utena Tenjou has scored a blow.

Letting out a breath, Kasagami slowly straightens up. The bewilderment on her face dies. She looks down, body shivering. And then she breaks out in the wide, demon's grin she's so known for. Finally, after such weakness from the one she wanted to meet here, and battle with all of her strength?

Cracked hope mends. Just a little.

"Now THAT is my Prince! Was that your plan all along, Utena? Knowing you barely had any strength, drawing me in? Or was that just a valiant, crafty Prince at work?" Her voice is joyous. Overwhelmed, happy, and joyous.

"You really did find your scrap. Now get back up. As a reward..."

Kasagami's boots step lightly as she starts to circle the fallen Utena. Swishing it through the air in an awful arc, it sends a light dusting of wind towards her opponent. A last urging. One more prayer that she is indeed still the Utena Tenjou she calls a friend.

The world shudders for just a moment as Kasagami draws on her deepest desires, her magic, her ambition. Her eye closes. Roses still flutter. The tip of her sword, held to her side, leaves tiny little afterimages that look like shattering glass. They come and go just as easily, until she finally takes up a stance.

"I am Kasagami Araki, and I will become this world's King! No Prince, no monster, no warrior will stand in the way of my ambitions! Rejoice, Engaged, for today I'll show the weight of my blade and the skills of the Araki family!" She proudly proclaims.

"Now show me what you're capable of, if Anthy Himemiya is truly your Princess!"

And then, blade gripped and hide to her side, she charges Utena once again. Once again, she seems as if an oncoming freight train ready to barrel and cleave through the girl. Her eye narrows.

And then, she stops her charge, only inches within her long blade's range. A boot smashes down, cracking floor as she halts her charge. Knees and calves flex hard to contain her own forward momentum.

The world, for a moment, might almost seem still. Kasagami's entire concentration isn't on putting power into her swing. The swing itself is just a touch slower, hands slightly more together on the blade as it comes for Utena. This is, for all it's appalling power, a precise, measured swing. It aims for the rose on Utena's chest. And aiming for nothing more, or less.

And all in the same breath, that sword comes slamming down from a perfect overhead strike in perfect synch. Aimed to cut off any counter-attack or leap up from Utena. This one is similarly carefully struck.

The third blade rises upwards to try to catch and flick away that brilliant sword in Utena's hands. To leave her utterly defenseless. The Crimson Cage closes, Kasagami's good eye a burning point to the shuddering glass of reality that will only soon crack and fall away.

But Kasagami sees none of her own magic. All she sees is three fluttering candles. Wax dripping as time goes on. But will her skills put them out?

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

When the Sword of Dios scrapes and sparks in Utena's double grip, when its enervated wielder throws her screaming all into fending off the falling stroke of Kasagami Araki beneath the twin howl of chorus and guitar...

Well, it is a bit miraculous, isn't it?

The lidded angles of the Rose Bride's eyes smooth and round, motion as liquid as the flicker of a candle's flame which then gutters and resumes dead passivity. She watches the white rose, still secured at Utena's breast: perfect, whole, a fractal of timeless beauty.

'...if Anthy Himemiya is truly your Princess!' comes Kasagami's challenge, and the Rose Bride's world balances on the single edge of a blade refracted into three. For a moment her vision blurs, a blink away from clear.

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Utena, primed to accept blame for everything down to broken fingernails or downgraded homework, accepts Kasagami's retort without the slightest argument. As it stands she's a little busy blaming herself for losing herself in the moment -- for swinging her weapon with force that, had the situation not been so one-sided, might have been lethal -- that 'being a bad friend' just kind of goes on her internal wall as a footnote. Her eyes are shimmering slits. Her face is white. Her hands are shaking.

It is perhaps emblematic of their relationship that what horrifies Utena overjoys Kasagami, and as her friend -- her rival -- her opponent glorifies her loss of control, she scoots back, further away, using her feet to push her butt, to pull the sword. Such ignominous use of the Sword of Dios.


Eventually she staggers back to her feet, the sword her crutch to do so. They kind of both get up together, the two of them, and where Utena is ragged and dirty and worn, the Sword remains glisteningly perfect. The contrast is marked.

Still, she does not let go.

'Circling around her' is mobility Kasagami has that Utena doesn't. She can't even keep up with THAT, not and keep ahold of the weapon.

Still, she does not let go.

Bringing Anthy into things is a reliable way to get a response out of Utena, even when she barely has the air to stand. Her lungs slam down, forcing out the air. "Himemiya isn't my princess!" she insists, and if a certain protectiveness of Anthy from objectification is driving this, so too is the shame that has filled her to the brim, to it and past it. Again it's the truth she speaks, but this time things are more complicated and her words feel like a lie. "She's my friend!"

'Are you saying it's none of her business either? That she shouldn't follow you out here? The very act of you coming here placed her in danger, didn't it? What would your desire to protect her amount to then?'

She looks over at Anthy desperately, trying to find the magic words, the right words, to make this all better. They do not come.

But Kasagami does.


The nodachi is everywhere at once; Utena's eyes can't hope to follow it. She has no ability to defend herself from it.


But she knows where her rose is, and she can defend that.


Taking one hand off the hilt of the Sword of Dios, she moves it down the blade, then hefts it as a shield, the flat against her chest.


The force is unbearable as the nodachi rams into the Sword.

Sparks fly everywhere, crimson and gold, spattering her with tiny burns.

Still, she does not let go.


The Sword is unbreakable, impenetrable. It will not fail her, and it does not. Kasagami simply cannot cut through it. The hilt twists in her grip. The blade, also, slicing shallowly across her fingers.

Still, she does not let go.


It's obvious to both of them what will ultimately fail in this contest -- not the nodachi and not the Sword of Dios, but Utena herself. She does not let go, but her hands break before the sword does. It's ripped from her and goes clattering across the arena lightly, with no sign of its apparent weight.

That makes sense. It was just forced from Utena by someone with the power to wield it, after all.


Utena loses her balance when this happens -- winds up flat on her back, as helpless to protect her white rose as she was Anthy, and all those other Shinjuku women besides.

She looks up at Kasagami, but sees only her mistakes. She can't see Anthy from this angle but imagines her vividly. Not standing off to the side as prize and referee, but on the grassy hill together, or under the Valentine's Day tree. A thousand cups of tea at their little table.

The chorus cut off mid-verse -- the world holds its breath.

"She's my friend," Utena repeats weakly, as though hoping that repetition will make it more true.

It doesn't. It just makes Utena feel, more acutely than ever, how totally she failed her as one. Failed her, and failed everyone.

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Sayaka finds herself in the strange position of being dubious about how optimstic Kasagami seems about Utena. She finds her palms are damp, her breath a little quickened. It's just as well that Takeo withdrew from the conversation as quickly as he entered. It is just as well that Sayaka cannot parse out the meaning of Shizuru's light discussion of tea leaves, sensing only some vague malignance in its cracks. Because something's wrong.

That's right. This is all very familiar. It's like Sayaka is watching herself be mauled by the leonine Juri. The gap in strength and confidence is just as wide, and Utena lacks even the reckless, deluded aggression that had kept Sayaka on the offensive. Sayaka had not realized until now how sore that trauma remained; Mami had soothed her in the aftermath and the reward of regaining her friendship was worth any number of Juri beatings. But there is nothing quite so scary as realizing a situation has moved out of your control, and as Utena spirals, Sayaka begins to feel what she felt at Juri's hands all anew.

Miki would have been willing to hold her hand right now. But she can find no such comfort from his twin. All this is doing is proving Kozue right, though her face shows nothing of it. "Tenjou-san," Sayaka whispers. "Come on."

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Utena's glorious moment of return seems to fizzle out in Kasagami's gaze. That spark of violence, of unyielding warrior's spirit. Everything that she'd built up Utena to be has blinded Kasagami for just a moment. Maybe it always has. Ever since her breakdown in the Dojo, ever since their triumph in saving children at the Festival. Of shared laughter and sports. Was that ever reality?

The white-faced, terrified figure of Utena isn't one she can reconcile with that. It hurts to see. Shouldn't Utena be rejoicing in being able to fight despite her handicap? Shouldn't her warrior spirit rise, and push her effortlessly back to her feet for another desperate charge?

That hope in her heart, of that battle of wills and proper swordsmanship cracks more. But she doesn't ignore the pink haired Duelist's call. There's no immediate answer as Kasagami comes for her, other than a laugh that's far less amused.

The clash comes, and the power of the Sword of Dios doesn't dissappoint, unlike it's wielder. Sword and shield both, there's no scattering of petals. No resounding victory. Only sparks and metal sparring. Yet the old sword of her family is a resiliant thing. It may be mundane metal, but care is writ in it. And more than that, belief held by it's owner that the pride and skill of her family wouldn't be tarnished in battle. Not even by this most powerful of swords. Her blade smokes from the impact, mirror sheen smudged, but the blade undamaged.

A sword flies, and an overhead strike seems to fade from existance. It's no longer necessary as the glass sheen of magic she's employed swiftly begins to shatter. For as powerful as it is, it's a fleeting trick of ambition, refraction, and desire. Two candles snuffed.

The central one remains lit. The one that matters in a contest of Dueling.

One of Kasagami's arms falls to the side. She breathes heavily for just one moment as she lets the magic of her attack shatter behind her and reality untwist itself from that one second of pure impossible bladework. Kasagami looks down at the fallen Utena. The weak response draws a heavy sigh.

"Friendship is a wonderful thing. It can pull a person out of the depths of despair and agony. But unless you combine that with the power to defend your friends? It just leads to tragedy. Forgive me, friend."

Her sword falls one more time without another word. A single, perfect one-handed cut towards the helpless Utena's chest. There's no cloth ripping, barely a sound other than swinging weight of metal and wood of her sword.

Until white petals scatter down to the Dueling Arena's floor. An unfulfilled weight settling into the pit of Kasagami's stomach, just as surely, though she knows not from where it comes.

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

Utena has kept her grip on the Sword of Dios through everything, choosing that hilt over freedom, over self-preservation. Anthy has kept her fingers still and interlaced before her; not nearly so remarkable, on the balance of things, but it still comes at the usual cost extracted by the habitual sublimation of emotion and pain.

'She's my friend!'

None are close enough to see the tightening of her knuckles, the way joints sharpen to points on smooth brown fingers. Utena looks to a Rose Bride as faraway as she has ever seemed, a mirage of a girl who recedes when approached. She is as close as the span of an arena's floor, and as distant as the menacing advance of three drunk thugs down an alley can make her.

If any spare a glance her way when the Sword of Dios flashes free of Utena's grip, it is then that the Rose Bride's fingers loosen, allowing hands to fall free of each other. They drift to her sides in balletic slow motion.

The duel does not reach its end as soon as the Bride thought it might, but it does reach its end. Loud and brassy and hollow of voice, the bells announce the shifting of the ground beneath her feet. Perfect white petals blow past like snow on the wind, and the Rose Bride follows their flutter with her gaze. Her lack of expression does not change.

Her polite body language does not change, even as she walks up to the two duelists. No... to Kasagami Araki. She turns and tucks her slight elbow into the strong right arm of the standing duelist. "Congratulations, Araki-sama." There the Rose Bride stations herself, a close and feminine presence attached to her Engaged.

<Pose Tracker> Takeo Akamizu [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Takeo Akamizu winces as Utena falls over. He pushes off the pillar he's leaning on and walks past Shizuru and her tea set up. he pauses long enough to snatch a cookie and pop it in his mouth. He eats it quickly and then goes to leave, stopping by the door to look over his shoulder at Sayaka. "I'm sorry kid." he says quietly to the younger girl. "Sometimes ... " he takes a deep breath. "Sometimes the bad guy wins, and there is nothing we can do about it." He shrugs a shoulder, gives the girl a weak smile and then leaves.

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

It was possible, in its impossible way. The vision of what can't be is what draws Shizuru Fujino to these duels, what drew her when she first saw the castle in the sky and pledged herself to this awful thing.

Even in the face of that miracle failing to come, she would do the same again.

Shizuru is unsurprised by Kasagami's perfect precision; she has never doubted the driven young woman's skill with a blade, after all. To put out candles without severing them is a simple expression of such skills. So, the world burns. Hot, this evening, at the same time that it still feels cold. Utena's rejoinder, her assertion...

Shizuru stares, unable to see what Utena sees in that moment, unable to understand the depths of Kasagami's passions, and unknowing of Anthy's internal world being the way that it is.

But she can see things here, see things she has learned and things that it seems, "She can learn after all..."

Shizuru does not explain to Sayaka what she meant. She doesn't acknowledge her any further at all, much like she wouldn't acknowledge Takeo except that he steps close. "...Enjoy the cookie," she says cryptically, and sips at her tea.

"Heh... The bad guy, hm...?"

Shizuu sets her teacup down. "I hope you had a good time on your date," she says to Sayaka and Kozue both.

She pushes out from the table, rises gracefully, returns her chair to its place... and stands, once she's moved closer to the wall, studying the scene below.

Her cellphone hangs heavy in her hand, her thumb already picking out a number though she does not yet dial. "I wonder," the Vice President murmurs, and her eyes do not leave Utena Tenjou even as the echoes of the bells fade.

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

The chorus screams its final word in the moment that the duel meets its end.


Kasagami has barely harmed a hair on Utena's head; it is less than nothing in comparison to the extensive and entirely ordinary beating she sustained in an alley last night.

It hurts so much more badly when that rose scatters to the four winds, when the Sword of Dios, abandoned across the arena, fades into golden light and vanishes. Why? She never asked to be the Engaged, right? She never asked for any of this, right? Why does she care? Why does it hurt?

Kasagami has a ring-side seat to the tears filling Utena's eyes. She had already fallen down, but she feels sunken, now. Like the arena is swallowing her whole.

But it's not. There are Kasagami's boots.

There is the hem of the Rose Bride's skirt.

It hurts even more when Anthy tucks herself into Kasagami's arm, and that makes even less sense. It's not like things were like that between them, they're both girls, and in any event she just finished disavowing any ownership of Anthy, right? And they're both her friends, right? This is two of her friends getting along better than ever before, right?

Nothing has really changed, right?

"Himemiya," she breathes, and even just the name on her lips is now synonymous with sorrow, with anguished regret. Tears stream down her cheeks, and there was a time that she was so sure of herself and her place in the world that she wouldn't have noticed, much less bothered to care.

But now she lifts her empty hands to her cheeks, and roses bloom beneath them. She flushes with the one thing she feels most of all: shame.

She did this -- she brought this down on everyone -- and now she has the audacity to act like the wronged party.


Feeling bad about it doesn't make the tears stop, though. She just can't will herself into feeling better. Into being strong.

She pulls herself onto her knees, but keeps her face averted, down and to the side. Her hands, slick with tears, fall into her lap, clench the hem of her jacket.

She gave everything she has. She has nothing else to give.

Blankly, she stares into her own heart, and sees only her own mistakes.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The sound of wood and metal meets for one last time tonight. Sheath meets the blade of her family sword, and Kasagami Araki tucks it beneath her armpit. Her right arm is taken by the Rose Bride. Her property now. The second sheath at her side. The single eye gazing at Anthy might speak as much. There is, openly, little respect or care for the one within whom the Sword of Dios dwells.

Her arm clutching her own sword clenches. She can hear the breath of Utena. The sorrow. The regret. Some part of her aches with the knowledge that some of this is her fault. Is she even a good friend, the same thing she leveled at Utena.

And yet, as the ringing of bells fade, she looks up to the Castle in the Sky. Slowly, she smiles. Everything is within her reach. She can create all of the dreams, the shining, perfect kingdom without suffering that she's always looked for. Smite her foes, and leave nothing but beauty behind. She draws Anthy nearer to her side, and steps forward confidently. Whatever she may feel about the battle itself?

The future is an infinite horizon in front of her. All leading towards a brilliant throne for her to occupy. A tear drips down her face. Wouldn't her parents cheer her on, in this moment of victory?

Even the sobbing of a dear friend can't quite break the spell, the intoxicating lure of victory. To have, after everything, won.

"Anthy! Little princess of Roses, we go to make a new world! One where such tragic dramas are a thing of the past. Know the name of your Liege-To-Be!" Comes Kasagami triumphantly. She's moving forward. That smile holds, yet, the slightest bit of a quiver to it. A glance backwards.

Her last words are a whisper. Frustration lurks, before fading back to the euphoria of the power she can feel ready for her grasp.

"There's a place for you yet, oh fallen Prince. I go to my dreams."

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

Her name exists as a warm mass of Utena Tenjou's breath; Anthy inhales, sharp and deep, of the air between them. The tears on the fallen girl's face reflect in perfect miniature within green irises.

The girl within the Rose Bride has to think of where she is, of who she is with, and of the power the Engaged holds over her. This is one of the most delicate moments, the point of power transfer, the determining of the new relationship.

There is something savage and cold about the way Anthy rips up her roiling emotions and stamps them down, like uprooting fresh-sprouted greenery. She tells herself there is no place for it here, that this is yet more pain of a piece with the whole of her existence, and that it can dwell with all of the rest of the pain, unvented and quivering and red.

"Goodbye, Tenjou-san." She is perfection in politeness before she turns on Kasagami's command to go. They reach the stairs together and descend.

Her voice is as light as the fingers on Kasagami's uniform sleeve, and she turns a smile upward to the older girl. "You have a great many things to look forward to. May I show you one of the first?" There's a tingle, strange and soothing like a cool cloth applied to a hot forehead, along the mangled nerves of the forearm she touches.

By the time they reach the bottom of the stairs she is Anthy Himemiya again in her winter uniform. There is no moment of change to see or recall; before she was the Rose Bride and now she is not. It is as simple as that.

A limosine awaits them, long and shiny and black with a driver attired to match. Its interior breaks up the dark decor with accents of crimson along the arm rests and the paneling. Anthy Himemiya slides in first and scoots across leather seats to make room for Kasagami.

"It has been a long night. Your car will see us there, if you want to rest on the way." Anthy makes the ownership of the sleek conveyance clear. If asked where they're going, she replies, simply, "Your car will see us home."

Any level of attention will make their destination clear, at least once they drive out of the city proper. It's a direction Kasagami Araki has traveled many times before. The further they go, the more inescapable the conclusion:

They are headed for the Araki family estate.

The gates, as they pull into view, are pristine.

The estate beyond... immaculate.

Gleaming, restored, made whole by mysterious and swift-acting wealth -- the same mystical prosperity that is now Kasagami Araki's to command. It is as she has always wished it to be.

Chu-Chu waits inside.

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

The falling petals have felt inevitable for a while now. Hope is possible even in such circumstances, however, and there is plenty of it left when it all dies. She remembers how that felt to her, when the blossom was rent, when she lay at the feet of a fierce and superior foe. She feels sorry for Utena, and yet she knows how awful it is to be pitied at such a moment.

"Tenjou-san," she grieves softly. One of her hands flies to her face at a tickling sensation beneath her eyelashes; she's crying, she thinks. But no, just the unfamiliar weight of her lower lashes again.

Looking up at Takeo, Sayaka receives his pity in her turn. It softens her shoulders, which fall. She looks down for a moment, embarrassed at her sorrow when he's looking at her. But with a breath of her own, she looks up again, jaw firm.

"You're wrong," she says. "There's always something you can do, if you don't give up." She shudders, remembering the garden. Her eyes fall to shadow beneath her bangs.

"She gave up before she started," she whispers intensely.

It's moving the goalposts, and that's not a fair argument. But Sayaka seizes on it regardless. A true champion of justice wouldn't act like that. Sayaka should remember that. With her powers, Sayaka has come to abhor pain as the true danger, not injury. Yes. Utena had the right idea, trying to hide her pain for the sake of others. She just couldn't manage it.

Thinking of Mami's soft sorrow, Garnet's moral torment, and Nori's fretful self-doubt, Sayaka resolves to learn from Utena's mistake.

Then Shizuru lays her light finger on the moment. "It's not a date!" Sayaka expostulates again hurriedly. Maybe Shizuru is a nice person after all; there weren't many things she could have said to Sayaka right then to distract her from her thoughts, but now she's flustered again. When Shizuru's gone, she sinks back into her chair and braves a look at Kozue.

"Fine. She didn't prove it to you." Sayaka slides her thumb through the strap of her messenger bag until it's tugging weight, then eases it over her shoulder as she stands slowly.

"But I will."

COMBAT: Anthy Himemiya transforms into Anthy Himemiya!
<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Etching this into her memory frame by frame, like some painstaking editing process that is instead merely the recording.

Kozue listens to the triumph of the one who said she had no place in her world.

The pain of the fall of someone who thought of the three of them could go back to the way it was steals heartbeat and breath.

The departure of the Rose Bride who learned to play their song returns it as if the shock of seeing her nature in action, in the casual way she discards one engaged for another...

It strikes her more deeply than it has a right to for a girl like her.

Sayaka's sudden reassertion of her stubborn resolve is less surprising, familiar, bringing this dark volatile mixture of emotions within her.

She does not stand up, she merely levels her gaze upon her.

The only thing that can kill me is pain.

"Even if it kills you?"

She asks quietly, without affect in the despair of this moment culminating within her heart like some dark infection seeping into the membrane.

"How far are you going to take this just to prove your point to me?"

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Sayaka has just hiked the bag up to her shoulder when Kozue asks her question. She pauses for a long moment, then turns her head to look down at Kozue. Her steady gaze is her only answer to the first question. But the second question is different. It makes her eyes drift up to the wall, away from Kozue, like they might not ever return.

"Shinjuku," she says.

Miki jams his thumb down to clear his stopwatch. When did he stop it? Not when Utena fell, not when bells tolled, not when Kasagami joined the Rose Bride. What was he timing? His expression gives no clue, to that or anything else.

Unnerved, Sayaka hurries over to him, Student Council rules be damned. "Are you okay?" she asks. "I know that..."

She zips her lips. What she knows about him and Himemiya, she has no intention of saying aloud.

Miki shakes his head, as though the question were irrelevant. "There's a new Engaged. As Secretary, I need to update all the records to reflect the changeover, and draw up new paperwork in cases where a document is unique." He seems unperturbed. "Or in cases where there aren't enough blank lines left to update a document with another name."

It's too surreal. Sayaka can't help but sag a half-step back amidst the gentle flutter of her own skirts, eyes searching his face for something she cannot find.

"If Tenjou-senpai had won," Miki says distantly, "most of the documents would still be up-to-date."

Everyone else has departed. Beneath an impossible castle, atop a verdant mound, there is a white table littered with crumbs, a curliecue bannister of painted iron, and three blue children who never had a goddamn chance to begin with.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Kasagami feels exhausted as they finally descend the stairs. The downside of the passionate, she used a reckless amount of magic. Not because she necessarily needed to. But because in her mind, her opponent earned. Or maybe all to validate the construct of a friend she'd drawn up in her mind. Either way, she has to use the shorter girl slightly to lean on.

That smile increasingly doesn't waver as realization dawns. She won. She's done it! Shall a crown descend upon her head soon?

The tingling along her arm isn't noticed. Not just yet. Kasagami dismisses it as a phantom pain. She can't be that hopeful. Not so soon, with all of her emotions still high and running. Adrenaline leading to dull pleasure as it slowly wears off.

A limosine. Kasagami pauses, blinking. Another long look to Anthy. Her head tilts at the suddenly uniformed girl. She straightens her uniform as much as she can. Grin. Confidence surges in her. For now, the figure of Utena is forgotten in the rapture of what's being offered, mysterious as it is.

A laugh. "I think we both could. I'm sure this wasn't exactly easy on you either, Anthy. And please! Either call me Kasagami-san, or 'My Liege' if you're being proper!" There's a long wink, and then she's all but collapsing into the car. It's not her body that aches. The pain and triumph is all in her heart.

Kasagami Araki knows how to treat a girl. She opens the door herself, holding it for Anthy. She well knows where they're going, but she'd half napped on the ride over. What was she expecting? Maybe a nicely trimmed graveyard? At best, maybe the dojo made whole?

Kasagami Araki is standing, hand offered in a gentlewomanly sweep before she really looks at their arrival. Classical japanese buildings complete with a running pond are juxtaposed with slightly more modern facilities hidden deeper back. The dojo isn't just it's normal childhood gleam. It's the size of it's grandeur when their house was well known for both warriors and governors. When their school was ascendant in the chaotic periods of war where such blades were called for.

And the bloody crimson roses sway darkly in brilliant swathes that no single hand could possibly care for. Immaculate gates stretch, and inwards, the main house is as it was before it all turned to ash. A sea of fire, the dark memories made as though they never happened.

The Araki Estate looms large, ostentatious, and strong. And the only reminder of tragedy is the graveyard with but two graves.

Kasagami Araki falls to her hands and knees. Slowly, and with a cry of almost disbelieving joy, she calls to the sky.

"My...my HOME! It's...how!?" Tears fall hot and fast. Staggering, using the weight of her family sword, she shoves herself to her feet. Then she turns, back to the agent of such a miracle, or so it seems to her. Shaking, a hand reaches.

A wry smile, that doesn't quite become a grin. She has a home again. Some gifts can move even a burning heart. She'll urge Anthy to follow towards the dining room.

"Anthy! Surely you're starving. I am too. Tonight, we celebrate! To the restoration of my family's glory!" And then, she's rushing off to the main door, shoving it open. She doesn't stop weeping in disbelief the entire time.

"But I'm cooking, understand!?" Then, only finally, does Kasagami Araki grin.

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> The Delgados - I Fought The Angels https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUdY2GS6Kvk

Kasagami promises Utena a place, but Anthy, in a single word, confirms Utena's worst fear -- that they have no place in it together.

As with all else, she immediately opens her heart to accept this as her just punishment for her monstrously poor behavior. Anthy doesn't want to be her friend anymore -- fair enough. She deserves that, and Anthy deserves better. So much better.

It turns out to be a little harder than 'all else,' though. Her breath hitches in her chest, the closest she comes to a goodbye.

She doesn't watch them leave, her eyes fixed upon the marred surface of the arena, but she does listen. Hears the sharp sound of Kasagami's boots and the soft susurration of Anthy's skirts.

She listens to the sound of silence for a long, long time after, until it is no longer punctuated by her own ragged breathing. Until she is, once again, perfectly still.

It takes a magnificent act of willpower just to get back to her feet. Pins and needles pour down her as she staggers, but at least now there's no one to see. She catches herself on the edge of the stairs, and takes a few quick breaths before slowly, slowly, seeing herself down them, into the forest, and out the gate.

The world, even the gilded and gentle world of Ohtori Academy, is too bright and too loud for her right now. Boys and girls chatter as they go off to dinner together, and she averts her face from them. She doesn't want to burden them, either. Solicitous sympathy from her friends sounds like a fate worse than death right now, in any event.

And so it is that she processes nothing much about the trudge back home, in much the same way that she has few memories of the trek out to the forest in the first place. She might have been able to autopilot herself straight into bed if she hadn't tripped into the door.

Tripped, because there's something on the stoop of the East Dorm. Two cardboard boxes, and a suitcase. She looks down at them, uncomprehendingly, then flexes her stinging palms, regains her balance, and--

--the door won't open.

Utena stares at it blankly.

It's never been locked, not the exterior door. Individual student dorm rooms, certainly, but the main area... never. That just isn't done, unless... a dorm... has been entirely... closed... down.

She's out of tears right now. It's too much even to grieve.

Slowly she collapses onto the stoop, her heart bearing too heavy a load for her to stand. Her inner silence is stirred, unexpectedly, by unbidden words, which pop quietly into her heart.

'You can rely on them, sometimes, you know.'

'You can rely on me.'

'Because I'll never leave you.'

'We'll always be... together.'

Neither knowing nor caring what will become of her next, Utena eventually discovers that it's taking too much energy to even sit upright. She curls uncomfortably around one of the boxes, as though it rather than she has priority when it comes to claiming space.

She could be mistaken for sleeping, but her eyes do not close.

They stare, empty, like a window into a vacant, lightless home.

Utena looks at nothing at all, and sees only her own mistakes.

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

Tears. Shizuru watches them, sees the glint of them in the glowing darkness through her opera glasses. Her tea lies on the table, to cool there indefinitely, left behind as surely as the loser in these contests is left to find her own way down.

Shizuru is not unkind, as she watches the drama unfold. She is not much of anything in fact, resembling nothing more than someone watching a vaguely interesting scene on television, disconnected from the players. Her lips press together thoughtfully as she considers further, as she listens to the talk here on the balcony as well. Kasagami moves towards her dreams...

"My," she says to Sayaka's hurried retort to her. A smile spreads on her features, and she inclines her head. "Of course." She says nothing more to Kozue.

With a last look at the departing Engaged and Rose Bride, a last look at Utena who is now merely Utena Tenjou...

Shizuru begins to walk for the exit, lifting her phone to her ear. "Yes, this is Fujino," she murmurs, shoes clicking against the tiles.


In front of the East dorm a black car pulls. It waits in the drive, at the gate, as a woman steps out of it in her black suit and opens the door for a younger woman with brown hair, dressed in her white variant of the Ohtori High School uniform. Shizuru Fujino steps outside, glancing once to her driver with a slight nod before she moves up, towards the gate, past, towards the front of the building, those doors. The fountains splash on, and she is unmoved.

"...My, my," Shizuru vocalizes, as she looks down to where Utena is sprawled on concrete. "You look terrible," she admits.

She considers, thoughtfully, strange in the lack of emotion in her gaze... Until one thing does shift, and she inclines her head. "...That's fair enough," she says. She may well be speaking only to herself, as she lifts her hand, makes a gesture to the woman waiting at the car door for her.

Shizuru herself steps closer, bends at the knee, her footing perfect and graceful as always. She scoops one arm underneath Utena's knees, presses the other against her back, and with a slight grimace of effort, picks up the too-light girl who was once Engaged bodily.

"Come then," she says. "Let's get you out of here, shall we?"

Shizuru turns, and begins to walk towards the car, where her driver is coming to meet her. "Get her things. The same destination, yes."

The Vice President of the Student Council carries Utena Tenjou to her car.

She does not look back at the dorm until they have left the island. Her thumb plays idly at her engagement ring's band. Shizuru watches the window as they ride.