2017-11-07 - Nemuro Memorial Hall, Interview One: The Curious Case of Kozue Kaoru

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Nemuro Memorial Hall, Interview One: The Curious Case of Kozue Kaoru

Kozue, on the verge of losing everything, is offered one last chance to get everything she wants.


Miki Kaoru, Kozue Kaoru, Souji Mikage


Nemuro Memorial Hall, Ohtori Academy

OOC - IC Date:

11-07-2017 - 03-03-2015

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

"Aspiration pneumonia."

Kozue repeats and she sounds faintly distant. The two pronged slip of plastic in each nostril itched, but not as badly as the tube they'd threaded down into her stomach earlier to suction out the settled poolwater from her gut. Wires fettered her to a monitor on the wall which showed her heartbeat with a constant low-key blip.

A yellow liquid flowed down tubing through this machine that was attached to the straw in her arm. The nurse had felt it important to clarify it wasn't a needle.

It burned a little, she didn't complain.

They'd showed them the X-Ray earlier, on a part of the wall that had lit up. Pointed the patchy opacity in the bottom corner of her lung.

They'd even found it important to say this usually doesn't happen from pool water due to the chlorination - it happened from the contents in her stomach getting caught in her lungs, but reassured them it didn't look like a bad case.

For some reason that struck her as a little funny - she didn't even have the dignity of saying that the drowning itself put her here. Instead she'd defiled her own lungs in response to it.

Heaving out a sigh, her head dropped back to the pillow. Her hair had dried by now, but it was still matted a bit. The pediatric gown that they'd given her was covered in flowers at least rather than cutesy kid's stuff, tied at her back.

The bed she laid in had two rails up next to the head, and she felt a little claustrophobic due to it. Like she was boxed in by the rails and all these wires and tubes - when she knew she had to get out sooner rather than later.

Right now she was the only patient here, at this time of night, and thanks to the excess of Ohtori - they had their own room besides.

It was spacious, but honestly that didn't matter except perhaps to her brother - her only visitor who had an especially nice cushioned chair, placing them in a solid reversal of roles from just over a year prior... when Miki spent so much time in a hospital. A futon by the wall for if he wanted to stay, already decked out with pillows and blankets.

When they'd asked to contact their parents, Kozue had stated - 'Don't bother.' but they told her they had to for consent. Which solicited a - 'whatever.'

That pretty much had amounted to the parental reaction too.

For a while Kozue's eyes just focused on the flower painted on the ceiling to add a little color where everyone looked. A Red Spider Lily.

Her lip quirks a little in amusement as she remembers their place in cemetaries...

"Miki..." Trailing off. What do you say to someone who you've resented for so long? Who you're now going to have to leave behind? Who you're going to have to leave dealing with greater hurt?

She didn't know. Even telling him she loved him felt like too much now, knowing what she did about what's going to happen before sunset tomorrow...

Quietly she whispers over the beating of her heart, without looking at him, her eyes trailing over to the window, "Do you ever think about where it all went wrong?"

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

The hospital lights seem sallow in comparison to the night outside Kozue's window. Miki's head is now bandaged neatly, the gauze fresh and white beneath his pale blue bangs. He's ignored the cot this whole time, instead sitting upright at the chair. He's used to that from the piano. Without Kozue, he was made to practice all the more, until he didn't need to be made anymore.

His blue eyes shift to the side of Kozue's head as she looks at the ceiling. What do you say to someone who you've resented for so long? Who just yesterday had been your tormentor, and now lies weak and vulnerable?

Now he's looking at the back of her head, as she looks out the window onto the rolling shadows of Ohtori's hills.

"Yes." It's neutral, but the repetition sounds duller. "Yes."

After a few seconds, Miki's hand slides into hers. It's delicate, like a girl's hand, but also strong, wiry. There is no sign that it was once mauled beyond all use. He doesn't squeeze; not with all these tubes. But he grasps gently.

"Don't talk about leaving anymore," he says, pride keeping the words cold. "All right?"

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

Kozue's skin feels less grainy than before. It's lost the wrinkles - leaving it with mostly softness only tempered just a little by the submersion. His hand slides into hers. And after a moment, her fingers curl around the back of his hand. Unlike him, she adds a certain amount of pressure. It's less weak than before.

Her eyes close, and she offers this light sigh, opening them again to look at the hills.

"Alright. I promise I won't."

It's not a lie, she won't talk about leaving but she feels like a liar for offering it anyhow, given his expectations of her staying.

"But... promise me something..." Her neck slowly turns to look Miki in the eye, even if her cheek is half burried in the pillow. "...Fujino-san, and these Outer Senshi. Don't confront them."

She says with all due seriousness. "They won't think twice about doing this, or worse to you. And..."

There's a spasm of motion in her fingertips, against the back of his hand as she says quietly, breath hitching more from sorrow than breathlessness, "...I can't lose you... so please..."

And then she has to swallow her pride to say, "... don't tell Sayaka either..."

She sucks a breath in through her nostrils, "... maybe she wouldn't care, but maybe she will..."

It's the latter possibility that she fears the most.

Leaning back against the pillow, she sounds... upset and a little resigned, "...and I already can't stop her."

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

The sun rises over Ohtori Academy, as it does every day. The scenic brick pathways fill with uniform shoes and pale yellow uniforms. The flowers are kissed by watering cans, the classrooms are unlocked, the boards wiped of chalk. There is nothing unusual about today; no holiday, no exams, no school events. For most students here at Ohtori, it is one of the most average days they will have all year.

The hospital begins to wake up too. The brighter day lighting flickers on. The hallways begin to fill with chatter.

* * *

Miki takes Kozue for breakfast. It's the sort of thing that should not be odd for any sibling, but his self-consciousness shows. It's painfully clear that he doesn't trust her, and equally clear that he is ashamed of that. He keeps glancing at her as if he expects her to turn into a beast again at any moment. The wrought iron tables are mostly empty, though students sit here and there, in twos and threes. No one is alone.

"Nothing sweet, right?" he asks.

Kozue gets very plain white yogurt, and no sugar added granola, and apple slices.

* * *

"Are you quite sure? The repeated truancy of this particular student..."

Kozue cannot see the administrator Miki is speaking to, and she does not recognize her voice. Deep buried in the office, with its scents of old paper and varnish, she may well have no body at all.

"Is irrelevant," Miki finishes politely but in the tone of a teacher rather than a student. "The medical report is all very much in order, and I can personally attest to its veracity."

"Still, with /this/ student..."

"Is there a change to the regulations on medical absence that the Student Council was not apprised of?"



There is the sound of a pen scratching, and Miki takes a blue card from the voice.

"Thank you."

* * *

"I don't have to attend any of my morning classes. Afternoon... they know I was leaving early anyway." Miki walks alongside Kozue. He let her keep his jacket, and he himself wears a regular Ohtori Middle school boy's uniform, having changed back at the hospital. The columns and rose hedges pass by slowly as they wander campus. Miki doesn't know what Kozue likes to do anymore, other than... /that/. And he's too ashamed to ask.

Off down the hill, a familiar strain of sound touches Kozue's ears. Just a short yelp, but distinctive. A blue sort of sound. On the walkway down there, Sayaka is holding a stack of books, probably on the way to deliver them for a teacher. An administrator is chiding her over something, however, and Sayaka keeps bowing, abashed. It's often oddly fun to watch Sayaka get in trouble for screwing something up school, and not out of schadenfreude exactly. It's just that she's so used to it, so accepting of it, and so amiable about it. It's never misbehavior.

It didn't use to be, anyway.

When the administrator leaves her, Sayaka heaves a sigh, and looks down at her books. It seems like she'll set off right away, but she doesn't. There's something heavy in how she stands, here when she thinks no one is watching. Her face is not visible, her blue hair forming a sheaf blocking it from Kozue's view. What is her expression right now?

"Watch the step," Miki prompts dutifully, as the last pillar of the breezeway blocks Sayaka and her unseen face from view.

* * *

Sitting quietly on a hill. Miki says nothing. It's like Kozue's question from the morning has bubbled up again, rounded his surface, sealed him. The clouds move above, blue skies stretched thin and dark at the apex of the sky.

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

At some point Kozue dozed. It's hard to say when, and how long - but awakening groggily... her eyes are over by the window towards the light of the daystar flooding in. Squinting, she listens to the squeak of someone turning on a faucet outside, the rush of water through a hose.

Sort of ruefully she thinks about how she missed her last sunrise over Ohtori.

Turning to the side, she sees Miki, still at the bedside - leaning over just past where the upper rail is, his hand still in hers. She'd watched him sleep for years.

Would this be the last time she gets to do that too?

She tries to tell herself no, but for a while she just finds herself admiring the way his bangs lay askew, how innocent he looks even in sleeping. Somewhere between boyhood and manhood... and uncertain now what end of the spectrum he was on.

Her fingertips of her opposite hand slide over the bed, just with the lightest touch of the hair just before the back of his neck. Feeling something stinging her eyes, she puts down her hand lightly to the back of his neck, applying just the faintest pressure to force him to stir. "Morning sleepyhead."

This morning she greets his awakening with a smile, having hidden her tears just in time.


"Mmm." Kozue looks over her plain breakfast. Her fingernails tapping lightly on the table, one is cracked from having clawed at Shizuru too hard, she doesn't even notice the jagged split yet. She sees the distrust written in his eyes. She can't quite trust that this won't turn into something else either. That after a while the resentment will be closer again, and what she felt will be farther.

After a moment, she lifts her hand to finger through sugar, then it passes over to salt - past pepper. Towards something that would only be available at an Ohtori table. A shaker of brown cinnamon.

Upturning it she dusts her yogurt just a little, and her granola, and her apple slices. "Today I wouldn't have minded..." She says a little airily. Miki might get the impression that she's teasing him some.

"...just a little." Even moreso than when she grabs the honey beside that and puts a dab of that in the yogurt too.


Kozue can't see the exchange going on behind the wall, she can just hear it. There's a sort of smugness about her, but marred by a little wistfulness in her introspection. Kasagami's statement last night on her brother felt like it was part of her standard greeting. And now she's seeing it in action again.

Her the untrusted delinquent. The traitor.

Miki - the genius with his authority implicitly respected.

Her keeping secrets to protect him.

Him using his authority to get her out of trouble - except he can't this time.

The scent of dry paper causes her nose to itch where the tube was not long ago.

As she listens to the conversation again, she tells herself it's the smell that's causing her vision to blur. Her eyes are clear again by the time he gets back.


Miki's jacket had been dry cleaned by the hospital staff - compared to last night it feels warm. "No student council business today?" She asks, quietly, as if in growing dread. She knows everything Miki would want to hear if he asked what she wants to do. Not a single answer he'd want to hear is offered though.

She keeps pace beside Miki, though her stamina feels less than before today. The nurse had warned her that she'd be leaving against medical advice... but today she can't be bothered to spend it in bed.

Then there's Sayaka, getting chewed out by someone, and her pace slows just fractionally.

Her head turning to just look. But just moments before Sayaka looked so affable about being chewed out... and now... what is she thinking?

Miki mentions the step ahead and she looks ahead and down to make certain she doesn't miss this next step through this rotten world. She wonders if that's what Sayaka is thinking about right now as she moves out of view...

And she knows she's responsible for that.


Sitting on the hill, Kozue looks strangely vulnerable to Miki's gaze today. The way she sits back, with her palms back. But every so often he'd swear she was glancing at him. She isn't talking. She doesn't talk for some time. As if worried whatever she says is just going to cause them to argue.

She doesn't want her memory of her last day on Ohtori campus with Miki to be of that...

After a moment, a fingertip slowly trails up into Miki's field of view, pointing up at the blue sky to a puffy cloud mass overhead with wisp like an elongated head and neck. "Turtledove." She declares as if it were some long forgotten game, rediscovered in the moment of silence.

She tries her best to smile. She can't quite right now.

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

"Is it?"

The question may curdle Kozue's stomach. She's so well trained now. She says something and he doubts it. It takes a moment to realize that's not the case here. He's looking at the cloud too.

"I guess it is."

* * *

"Can I have an autograph?" the sixth grader asks Kozue in a tremulous voice. Miki looks away, blank-faced, hard to read.

* * *

Kozue is in the bathroom, one of the outdoor buildings near the sports fields. Miki is kicking his borrowed shoes idly, when one toe pushes up the end of a long white feather. Pausing, he reaches down to pluck it from the grass, rotating its hollow rachis between thumb and forefinger. The soft plume flits back and forth, displacing little puffs of air.

Kozue would like this, he thinks.

Turning, Miki comes face to face with Juri, who stands solemnly with her fencing bag in one hand.

"You're all right?" she asks.

Miki nods.

Juri shifts a little, her stance turning partway towards the bathroom. "And your sister?"


Juri's eyes shift back to Miki.

"Hope so."

Juri blinks. She's making too much eye contact.

Miki shifts uncomfortably.

"Don't worry about practice today," Juri says. "Take as long as you need."

When she's gone, Miki looks back down at the feather, lips drawn. By the time Kozue returns, it is sitting in a the green metal garbage can nearby.

When Kozue takes her twin's arm this time, he seems a little less warm.

* * *

The pillars throw shadows now. They are not long, but the day is beginning to rust.

"There's a place I want to go," Miki had told her.

The bustle of students going home or to clubs is distant. The twins are in the middle of campus, but somehow this route seems ill-travelled nonetheless, and unfamiliar to Kozue.

"A place I want /you/ to go."

The buildings they pass are clearly not abandoned; a window on one even tilts open as they pass it, someone inside cranking it. The voices are casual and half-familiar; unlike in the office, there can be no doubt that these people have bodies and uniforms and smiling lips. It's just that the two Kaorus never actually /see/ anyone walking, or moving around inside the buildings.

Between twin pillars, weathered and ivied, Miki stops, and turns to his sister. In his hand is a small, plain card. A simple border lattices a rectangle concentric to its edge. "I have my concert tonight," he apologizes. "If it were just a small recital, I'd..."

A few seconds pass.

"But it's not."

The card reads You are cordially invited to discover your own potential.

"You can come, if you want." There's some hope there. "It's actually on the island, so..." He's careful not to hope too much.

"But I have to go get ready now. And this place... I heard it can really help. I know you hate when Mother tries to get you to talk to someone," such euphemisms, "but if you could just, this /one/ time..."

Something painful in his chest cuts his voice off. His face falls.

"It's up to you," he says. "I'll see you at home?"

Then he's gone.

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

She almost dropped her finger right there at the tone of the question, her eyes half lidding in her preemptive disappointment.

She's about to lapse into silence again, distrustful of breaking it again - when - he agrees. There's a fractional exhalation. This time she's able to smile, but she's subdued.


Kozue takes the autograph board without looking at Miki. Most of the time she'd be a little brusque to her fans but she never is to the elementary schoolers. Even if it was only two years ago that she was one herself. "Aohime fan?" She asks rhetorically.

She signs it without looking at him still. And hands it back to her. "You're sixth year right?" She asks a little sadly, thinking in a few months she'd be a middle schooler. "I know you may be looking forward to middle school... but try to cherish the time you've got left."

It seems like such an unusual thing for Kozue to say - her expression is just as inscrutable as she returns to Miki's side.


In the restroom, Kozue is on the phone. "... yeah that's right. A rush job. Needs to be done before sunset." She sighs lightly, unaware of what's going on outside. "... no there won't be anyone to let you in. Key is under pot on the windowsill left of the doorway. I'll text you the list..."

She sounds a little choked up about it, though she's trying to keep her tone carefully controlled.


As she slips out of the restroom, her eyes are downcast, just enough that she catches site of the slim edge of the feather. She tilts over just to get a little look to check if there's a bird inside, before her hand take's Miki's... "Sorry I took so long."

The sudden chilliness of his grip causes her to look once at him nervously as they move on.


Kozue raises an eyebrow as Miki says there's somewhere he wants to go. There isn't much left to the day... but then he clarifies. "..." And he's met with grim silence as if he's caught wind of her tone. Her grip on his hand is beshadowed by the buildings they're passing.

And when they stop, and their hands part, he hands her the card. Kozue finds herself just staring at it. She doesn't say anything, just taking a breath.

She's still not looking at him, just looking at the card. It's similar to the one that the school nurse handed to her one day. She flips it over to check the back. She's still not looking at Miki.

She knows she can't agree to go to his concert. She knows it. Any answer is just going to disappoint him.

Especially her lack of one...

After a moment though her eyes shut, murmuring, "I'll talk to them." She finally agrees. She hates this. She hates the idea of it. She doesn't want to talk to anyone about it, especially not some upjumped therapist who won't understand anything but she knows she won't make the concert. She knows. She knows. She knows.

She hates the pressure he's exerting on her. He hates that he thinks this is kind of him - when it feels cruel.

The option of saying 'yes' is closed to her.

So as her last act... she'll do this for them.

He's gone.

And she's alone, holding a card. A hand moves up to her eyes, and she she rubs at them with a palm, "... no you won't..." She says as the shadows of the day hang low and cause the color of her whole being to painfully dim as the side of the building cuts her off from the daylight.

Strangely... the isolation permeating this place is comfortable, familiar. Most people would be put off by it, she seems drawn to it. Her expression sad and miserable as she approaches it.

There's no place for her to go but back into the numb emptiness. She coughs as she passes into the light before the front door, resting a hand against the handle...

And moving back into the shadow.

She wasn't here just to wallow. She was here to fulfill her last sisterly obligation before she moved out, but she couldn't help it.

Calling out that she was here to speak to someone would feel too humiliating even in her despair - she's fallen this far. So low - that she's going to leave Ohtori, leave her brother. A place where Kasagami is exalted as the engaged, and she's rejected as the outcast.

Right now it feels like Tsuru's promise was further away than ever... and it was the only thing left to her.

Her steps are plodding as she advances past the door...

<Pose Tracker> Souji Mikage [Ohtori Academy (S)] has posed.

There's no one inside, but the building doesn't feel empty. Nemuro Memorial Hall has too much character for anyone to be truly alone inside its walls.

A million smells so common, so omnipresent, to campus that they are only marked by their absence, suddenly come to the fore. It doesn't smell like notebook paper or chalk or erasers. It doesn't smell like the insidiously popular body spray that's been sweeping the male student population like head lice. It doesn't even smell like roses.

Like the stones outside, the air is older here. Old and heavy, pregnant with its own age, pregnant with its own silence, pregnant with potential, waiting to be born. Like the first half of a breath, as yet untaken; like the hinge of a question, as yet unasked; these and more are what it's like in Nemuro Memorial Hall.

Kozue's shoes click on the hard tile floors, but they are too dull to reflect her shape.

It's gloomy within. That doesn't mean it's a mess; the building is very clean, more clinical than sparkling. Keeping it that way is not an act of self-care, nor self-love. But presentation is important.

But, yes -- the interior lighting cannot compete with the blazing sun; the high, vaulted ceilings are nearly invisible in the comparable darkness. There may have been windows on the outside but there are none in the foyer that the front door opens onto.

And, furthermore, what unnatural light there is is subtly, anachronistically different from the LEDs and neons of Tokyo. Old-fashioned gas sconces embrace the walls, just far enough apart that their coronas never quite touch. The edges of things, lines of shadow, are easy to notice but impossible to focus on for long.

It is a straight shot deeper into the building; there's a ledge on one wall that might be a receptionist's counter, but the window's panel is closed and there's no bell to ring, and past that, hallway. That doesn't mean the place lacks direction.

Quite the opposite.

Instead of windows, chairs line the hall. They merge the uniformity of the sorts of stacking chairs that tower against Juuban gymnasium walls with the luxury of Ohtori -- gold-rimmed legs, red velvet seats. Atop each: an identical paper sign, engraved with a hand that points further down the hallway, and below, a phrase:

"Interview Room"

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

Despite having walked through what feels like every hallway in Ohtori - having found so many secrets of the campus in her search for places for clandestine affairs and trysts... she's never walked through this one. It feels like a void to many of her senses. A deprivation of that which is Ohtori.

Like some Ur-Ohtori that exists outside of its natural laws.

It doesn't even occur to her that it's nearly sunset. That her life is forfeit. That she might round the corner into Shizuru Fujino - wielding a Naginata. And maybe this time the rest of the Student Council with her.

No, she walks forward as if the gloom entrances and intrigues. A hand draws in Miki's jacket close. Now it felt like parody that she was wearing it, like theater. Like a costume or a mask as some thin veil over the ugliness that was her.

Down the corridor she walks, taking a glance at the receptionist's counter without halting in her steps.

Right now her eyes are neither Aohime in their blueness, or Akamira in contrast with her bloodshot sclera nor both... or neither. They're simply windows to the patheticness within her soul.

They trace a line down the signs, down the seats. She never stops walking.

Gaze dipped so low that she sees more chairleg and tile than anything, she mumbles, and draws the jacket further over her, "Let's just get this over with..."

And then afterwards... what?

What's left for her?

<Pose Tracker> Souji Mikage [Ohtori Academy (S)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Mitsu no Naifu https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y73TaS2aDek

The signs keep their promise.

Down the hall--

--around a corner--

--there is an open door.

Its handle is silver and complex, a leaf-like knob at the heart of a rose-like spiral. There's a sign hanging off of it, but with the door hanging open, nearly flush with the wall, it can't be read.

But once Kozue passes through that portal, on to the other side, the door closes behind her, with a sustained creak and heavy thud better suited to a bank vault than a piece of wood, no matter how old and fancy.

Inside is a tiny chamber that could be compared to a confessional as well as about anything else, except for how there's a glass display on the wall containing a butterfly, pins through its wings, instead of nails through the wrists of Christ.

Instead of the twin of the hallway chairs, there's a stool, and it faces a window.

Instead of a confessional's privacy screen, there's a mirror.

In the mirror is a girl.

Her hair is pool-like blue. Her skin is white as snow. Her eyes are red with blood.

And she is desolate; too full of misery to even feel the relief of emptiness. A doll would be happier. Sticks and stones can crack porcelain but words can never hurt it.

She is not good company. She is painful to look at, and painful to be looked at by.

In a few minutes, she'll be away from this place. Isolation; that is what is left for her. Loneliness. There is very little time left.

But she is not alone quite yet.

"All right."

The voice is male, and older, but not old; it possesses a familiar timelessness, that of a teenager with secrets. With mysteries. With power...

His voice isn't unpleasantly cloying or friendly. Like the building itself, he is, if anything, clinical; his distance and facelessness makes things safe, especially for Kozue. And his simple, professional respectfulness doesn't feel like mockery, either. It feels like a lifeline. Like there's someone left in this place who's willing to listen. Not because she isn't pathetic -- but because there are people in this world who are there for people like her, at times like these.

"Please begin."

This room really is very small. And the air feels heavier by the minute. Pleasantly so.

The world is quiet here, in this little bolthole, this secret lodged too deeply in the heart of Ohtori for others to find.

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

A girl steps around a corner. Through a door.

Something creaks shut behind her. Too wrapped up in her despair, the horror of that doesn't even register. It's no longer exiled, it's there, it's present. It's real. It's her life.

Her eyes pass over a pinned butterfly and she remembers the shadow of a pinned wing twitching on a wall... and she turns around to take a seat at the stool, places her hands on either side, and spins herself face forward.

And faces a girl.

It takes her so long to realize that she's looking at a reflection.

It doesn't seem like her face. There's an image in her mind of her face after a session that looks more like hers than it...

But it's hers.

She's disgusted by the sight of her, she doesn't want to look at this wretched glimpse of herself in this state.

Could she muster even enough anger to smash her fist into it? How long would that take? It's an academic question.

But then the voice jolts her out of that. Jolt is too strong a word, it's more like a shifting of the phonograph needle from one song to the next. One thought pattern to the next.

It's telling her to begin. Where to begin? She feels more claustrophobic than ever while knowing she must leave...

"Kozue Kaoru-" There's hesitation, "-Eighth grade - Class B." It was still true, though not for long.

An hour ago she would have told herself this is ridiculous. What can she say? How can anyone advise her right now - when she's fallen this low? There's so much she can't talk about...

But looking at that horrific visage in the mirror, she knows she can.

"I'm a model for Aohime. I am now at least. But I've always been Miki Kaoru's little sister. I grew up with him and this other girl... Sayaka Miki. They've always been kind to me. Always..."

That word trails off, as if she knows it's a lie. Like she's being careful about their reputations, or kind to them - or just in this state of wretchedness believes everything about the way they treat her is kindness - at least on this, on the surface.

"...but I shut them out. Because I know I can't be a little kid anymore... that I have to grow up..."

Right now, her hands are upon either shoulders, she feels a growing rattle in her chest that the doctor told her would be there for a while. Holding her shoulders her fingers feel like claws. To her growing horror the image in the mirror seems more terrible now with that clenched jaw, that twisted expression.

"... but I keep them close too, because I don't want to grow up... and move on without them."

<Pose Tracker> Souji Mikage [Ohtori Academy (S)] has posed.

At some point everything started to sink.

It can't possibly have been subtle -- there was a CLUNK, and then the whole cell started moving downwards, revealed to be an elevator. But it's impossible to place exactly when that happened. The CLUNK exists only as afterthought.

But the slowly increasing momentum, the weight that presses down, gently for now, on hands and face and chest and limbs, that is here to stay. Like a compression vest on an anxious dog, it is comforting, in a way. It embodies a promise, a long-wished for truth: Kozue is going places.

As the chamber descends into even deeper and more secret parts of Ohtori than where it began, the scraping of stone fills in the silences between Kozue's words, like a bookmark between pages. Like ribbons in the gaps of an elaborately fashionable gown.

The one in the mirror travels with her, of course. And it is, indeed, becoming more terrible. The dueling signet twinkles on one of the fingers across the shoulders of that jacket. It really is handsome. Only the best for Ohtori's precious Council. And the eyes, the eyes stare back at her unflinchingly. There's kindness there, yes, but also a welter of other emotions, inner conflicts that Kozue can read as easily as her own heart.

There in their jewel-like depths, they are yearning and repulsed. Innocent and ignorant. Admiring and jealous. Desperate and frustrated.

Gradually her reflection's expression shifts further into the future; a future where Kozue is not at Ohtori. Lost, and full of loss. Lonely. Frightened. ...Vulnerable.

His hair is royal blue. His jacket, white as snow. His hand is red with blood.

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

Again she's jolted - this time for real. Though she barely seems to notice.

That's just the way her thoughts are right now. In descent. The physical manifestation of her inner landscape.




Under that growing heaviness that surrounds her, Miki's jacket feels like a straitjacket, her limbs crossed in front of her in restraint that's both comforting and uncomfortable. An inmate in a grotesque asylum who has been discharged - and doesn't want to be free.

That compression is in accelerando... and she knows she must leave. But she doesn't want to. She doesn't. There's a song picking up in her ears like a dirge.

And the girl is silent. It is the ma. The emptiness - in this snuff film of her decision to return to Ohtori. Her decision to be in this booth.

When at sunset her life is forfeit...

With her eyes pinched shut, her breath is part of that silence, even the nasally inhalation is not much at all, as she stares at the mirror. And stares.

And stares.

Her teeth chatter with the strain and there is emptiness yet.

But she doesn't shake her head in denial. Not at this. Not at the truth.

Without her in this viper's den - how would he grow up? Blinded by shining nostalgia amongst amoral princes whispering in his ear. How will the death of his innocence finally come about? She'd wanted to kill it gently, but they will crush it without mercy...

And then what will he be? What will she be? What will all of them be?

Will that be her blood on his hand?

Frustration arises out of desolation at the thought, as she hugs her arms and rocks in her restraints.

And the emptiness is broken anew as it boils outward from her thoughts... "I obsess over them. I know what I need to do is move on with my modeling career... but everything about them..."

The rocking motion stops to stare at the visage once more. A face alit by enough androgyny that even as a famous model, she's often mistaken for 'him as a girl'. There's a shuddering rasp out of her chest, "... everything about them keeps bringing me back here..."

BGM Brief Change: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CfhR7n75A9M

In her perception her vision is distorting, there's a pounding in her ears - as she remembers a sunken obsidian face with emerald hair and garnet pits for eyes. To her eyes alone it's like a funhouse mirror - gently rippling in it's amorphous nature.

Changing - and suddenly she's seeing what's really there. Him. With his royal blue hair and his jacket white and red on his hands. And just like that her fear of the depths of her soul starts becoming acceptance...

"... even when I know it'll kill me."

<Pose Tracker> Souji Mikage [Ohtori Academy (S)] has posed.

The butterfly, above and behind Kozue on the wall, has become a chrysalis on a branch. Brown and dull to some, it is swollen with life to others. But then, its potential has already been seen, expressed in those mayfly wings -- and skewered by those pins.

This is a place that offers a rewind. A place that offers another path.

Anything could come out of that chrysalis next time, when the elevator re-emerges on the surface.

But it isn't going up.

Down it plunges, picking up speed, an echo of Kozue's own intensity. The weight of its motion is gradually becoming too firm to be kind. It pushes her into the stool, dragging her arms down to her side and even her eyelashes to her cheekbones. The jacket yields to the pressure and opens around her, billowing. It is becoming a struggle to see, to breathe, though this is nothing like the pool. This is a plunge down a birth canal, or perhaps a death canal. The pool was an ending -- and this is, as ever, an in-between.

'Even when I know it'll kill me,' she says to Miki, but she isn't talking to Miki.

"Deeper..." the voice urges, and this guidance is like a single precious candle in the gathering darkness of the abyss.

Kozue can only barely make out the figure in the mirror, now, as blackness falls along with her eyelids. But it's there. It's inexorable.

Emptily, the reflection in the mirror stares back at her.

Her hair is mermaid blue. Her cape is white as snow.

Her throat is red with blood.

Sayaka's corpse's lips move in time with Kozue's. Even when I know it'll kill me.

"...go deeper."

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

The forcefulness of its descent removes restraint, inhibition. It's only fitting that she's free from the straitjacket as she takes the quick plunge into the depths of the soul.

She always claimed to be a wild animal after all... but was that really true?

Even the wildest inmate is still an inmate.

Her breath hisses in urgent gasps and coughs as the air picks up around her.


How could she possibly go deeper than that?


Eyes facing forward upon the mirrored surface of her soul there's a girl with mermaid blue hair, a cape as white as snow. Her throat stained scarlet.

She can't. She can't accept what's in front of her eyes...

She can't.

With a groan she shakes her head once, twice, thrice... the horror capturing her in a miserable vertigo.

And again she knows just how easy it is to go deeper.

So simple...

It's like swimming to her. There's a pang of fear - the memory of the water bringing such trauma is so close.

And then she plunges herself into the ocean of red.

"I do things to them... nasty things... terrible things..." It starts with just a tugging at the corner of her lips. Like a joke that she finds funny and noone else does. "I hurt them... so much..." The edges of white are showing in her teeth like a predator beginning to bare its fangs. "... I let people tear pieces off of me... sully me... while they watch."

There's a slight drift of her head to the side, like the gravity of the plunge is taking it's toll on her neck strength, "...they can't help it..."

The inhalation of her breath hitches like this quiet laugh, again humor that she finds that noone else can in this scenario. "I think... I must enjoy it... hurting myself to hurt them. To prove them both wrong. Making them suffer because they won't accept me..."

Her upper lip is twitching again, the whites of her teeth are more visible in the smile that's forming, "We used to share so much... why not our suffering too?"

The image of Sayaka stands out in her mind, yet Sayaka is her, her throat slashed and covered in the blood of her jugulars pouring out.

And she's smiling.

"... it makes me feel so alive... And they hate me for it... hate me for being their weakness."

Her eyes level on the eyes of a corpse.

"... just as I hate them for being mine."

<Pose Tracker> Souji Mikage [Ohtori Academy (S)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Orpheus https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TqpUe0bETg4

A blinding light flashes by.

It should be coming from the crack under the door, from the floors of hell they're speeding past, but it's not.

Another one. The second time repetition makes it possible to notice that it's orange. Neon. And coming from inside the mirror.

Again. It plays across Sayaka's back, catching in sparkle on her fortissimo barette, transforming her once more into shadow, into silhouette. In those moments she is potential and so is Kozue. They could be anyone. They could go anywhere. Anything could emerge from the chrysalis...

But the corpse remains in the darkness in between. Faster and faster, in split seconds of terrible urgency, the lights of Shinjuku illuminate the elevator and the girls inside of it, on-off-on-off-on-off. It's a rotoscope and with each passing flash the chrysalis is more like a leaf and Kozue is more like expelled.

But every single time Sayaka is dead dead dead dead dead.





Kozue can hear screaming, and it's the rails of the elevator and the souls of the damned.

"Do you want her to die?" asks the voice, cutting effortlessly through the maelstrom without struggling to be heard or in any way disrupting the cacophany. He provides no relief. Only a challenge: to go deeper. "What do you want?"

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

There are spots in her vision. They dance in her eyes. It's a prismatic, dazzling dance in a red light district. Sayaka's bleeding form becoming a shadow of itself in Kabukicho.

There are flashes...


A pool at summer camp.

Hide and seek.


Milkshakes in a garden, a blender upon a table. Butterflies gently alighting on a straw.


A stuffed bluebird.


There's a scream in her ears and she wonders if it's hers as she's savagely shunted from the potential of chrysalis to the regression of an egg.

Faster and faster and faster and-

Does she want her to die?

Of course not!

What does she want?

A milk shake is pouring out on the streets of Shinjuku, a slow drip. Drip. Drip. It feels like it's emptying a vessel of blood.

She can't respond to the challenge that fast, she can't get to that level of honesty that quickly.

"I want... them not to hate me... I tell myself it doesn't matter how much they hate me so long as they..." Survive. Grow up? What? What is it?

Now the smile becomes a sort of desperate, nervous frown. Like this level of honesty scares her. "...but they hate me so much... they don't even want to be around a loathsome creature like me... in a few hours I won't even be able to force them to be."

Her lip quivers, as her fear and desperation settles in. It's the fear of a little girl sitting alone in a room. It's seeping in, a smothering numbness, it feels like the slow drip of a milk shake of blood covering her. If she becomes numb... she'll die.

"Soon they won't even have to look at me at all... just at each other... they'll grow closer and I'll grow further away. I can end it... end it instantly. It wouldn't even be hard... but what's the point in ending it if it'll... if it'll..."

She wants to hide her face, she wants her to bury her hands, she doesn't want those corpse eyes to look at her again, it'll become real.

The force of the room becomes more smothering, as the reality settles in, the numbing reality. Drowning in the womb, this time without anyone for comfort. Lonely even there. She struggles against it as it pours down her throat, corrupts her lungs.

What would her life be like? Miki walking on eggshells, waiting for it to go back to the way it was. And once it does, he'd never come near her again...

And Sayaka... Sayaka... would be...

Her hands rub against her, pushing down past them, before balling up before the blood-stained tears. "Of course I don't want her to die! Dying for something pointless! Dying to prove..."

With a primal growl, she picks up her straitjacket and throws it on the ground, and then with one monumental effort she pushes past the fear and the numbness, into all-consuming anger, lashing out with her hands in gesticulations towards the rotoscope of imagery, "...IT DOESN'T EVEN MATTER! DEAD IS DEAD! GONE IS GONE!"

Now that it's here, it must be vented, "...ALL THAT MATTER IS I'M GOING TO BE ALONE IN THIS MISERABLE WORLD!"

The effort makes her weak, as she sinks back, "...when all I want is to be with her... with him... with both of them... forever..." Behind her eyelids she sobs once, as she inhales, "... It's not just that I want it... I need it too..."

Her greatest desire, her greatest need... they were both one and the same.

"... I need them close to me."

As basic a need as oxygen where Sayaka and Miki, as well as Miki and Sayaka. She learned about one of them before she was born... and while she met the other when she was small, she only came to knew the necessity recently.

<Pose Tracker> Souji Mikage [Ohtori Academy (S)] has posed.

The elevator is in free-fall now. If this were truly therapy the elevator might have hung in midair, suspended on the profound catharsis that Kozue's confession could, should, release. But it does the opposite instead.

Pressure, speed, urgency bears down on Kozue, a dizzying counterpoint to the lightness of heart that comes from such an admission.

"You can't be close to them by getting expelled," reasons the voice, speaking nothing but the truth of Kozue's own heart.

Sayaka's still in the mirror. When Kozue gestured, she did too; threw off her cape and gestured outwards, too, gestured towards her counterpart -- towards herself. But her motions were jerky, strung. A marionette. A corpse danse.

"You can't save her if that happens. There isn't enough time."

Falling, falling, totally out of control. In the corners of the room and the corners of Kozue resound the thrum-thwack of warp and weft. But the beating of the loom is slow, too slow. It cannot keep up with this ride. It cannot keep up with her heart.

It cannot keep up with Shinjuku. The neon is in full view now, blaring garishly behind the mirror. Blissfully it keeps Sayaka in darkness, at last, and Miki, and Kozue too. It could be any of them or all.

But it pours out of the mirror to surround and bind Kozue, and she cannot help but see herself clearly, not through her reflection but through the harsh lens of reality. Miki's jacket cast off, in tangled disarray, just like the rest of her. Her skin, too pale. Her breathing, too ragged. There isn't enough time.

"But there's another way," murmurs the man. The black figure is approaching its side of the mirror now, closing in on the opening, and reaching out, fingertips splayed, trying to make contact, to touch, to be close--

"One last way. A way that she cannot refuse you."

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

There's no release. Not from this session, not from the weight of reality. Instead she quietly cries in the corner as everything bears down upon her all at once. At the crushing need to save a marionette mirroring her movements. If she were less on the verge of desolation from this admission and more hopeful, she'd try to deny that cold, rational voice - that frigid logic. But as she sinks into her, she knows it's right.

Even knowing what she wants, she can't actualize it. She can't have it. It is simply impossible.

The G-Force of their fall is causing her ears to pop, and she doesn't notice. It feels right - like she's swimming still. His voice is distorted by the wash in her ears. Her heart pounds within them frantically, in contrast to her despairing outside. She's hyperventilating so hard that it feels like her hands are growing numb...

And when she's numb she'll die.

Because she knows when she's numb, she's as good as dead. A marionette herself - going through the motions of life, dancing to the jerks of others upon her strings.

The neon world is gone, and she's shuddering between each breath, coughing. Miserable, more and more miserable for this confession.

She doesn't have any means to act upon her desire now...

All routes are closed to her...

And then it's her face in the mirror. The face of a pathetic wretch in a body that's not even her own. It feels like she's ruined property that's not hers. A horrid visage that no longer looks anything like Aohime or KOZUE but just her. Just her.

It feels like it's nothing to look at.

Without them she'd be numb. Without them she'd just be waiting for death to become clinical.

But then there's a twinge of hope.

And in that moment the girl's breathing begins to still. Her chin begins to drift upwards, her bangs shadowing her eyes. And in those spheres of blue surrounded by ghastly red, there's a hunger.

A hunger for any desperate hope.

Even more than that, a desire to fight for that desperate hope - to fight for any other way.

And then in that moment there's a sharp imperative - "How?" It may sound like a question, but to the ears of someone really listening, it's obvious that she's demanding he give it to her.

<Pose Tracker> Souji Mikage [Ohtori Academy (S)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Konzert 01 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ha0Y-4xR3Uk

They're falling to their death. There's so little time. No time at all.

The words come urgently.

"A path has been prepared. Come and take it. Take this, your last chance. Her last chance."

The figure's palm is black against the mirror's edge. He waits for Kozue to match her own to it, and then, once hope has first drawn the weeping girl to stillness, then to motion, he continues.

"No one but you sees the danger she's in. No one but you is willing to do what it takes to save her... even if that means saving her from herself."

The mirror feels warm to the touch, and pliant. There's a bit of resistance, the skin atop the pudding. The elevator is going so fast now that it feels like the opposite -- Kozue's hair, her skirts, her feet lift from the floor, tugged gently upwards to float, suspended, in midair.

Only her hand remains connected to this world, or any other.

"In a few hours, you won't even be able to force her to live," he echoes. "But -- in what little time remains -- you still can."

The mirror gives way to Kozue's hand, and now they're palm to palm, the blue princess and the shadow.

But their skin does not quite touch. Something stands between them -- something long and thin and sharp. It doesn't quite pierce Kozue's flesh, but she feels the edges, becomes aware of the danger.

Of the potential.

Her hand closes around a rose, and it emerges through the mirror, darkly. As it passes from the strange beyond to the in between of the still-falling elevator, it gains color and detail. The stem is a brighter green, the leaves darker.

All the black in the world clings to the petals. They do not brighten at all, but remain firmly the property of the mirrorverse, the shadowlands. There is no gradient towards red nor blue. It is perfect darkness.

It has thorns, but its sharpest edge is the tip of the stem, where it was cut.

It is a weapon. It is a dagger forged for the heart.

"Pierce her with this, and she will scorn your wisdom no longer. As a knight obeys a princess, she will be yours."

It is a lifeline. It is a dagger forged for the ropes that bind destiny.

"As a knight is close to a princess, she will be yours."

The neon vanishes, and the elevator is consumed by darkness in an instant. Kozue can't see herself or anyone else, can't feel anything but the rose in her hand -- and a sense that, now that the rose is indistinguishable from existence itself, she could be lying in a whole bed of them. She is surrounded by potential.

The voice bestows a final piece of advice to go with his gift. "It will wither to dust in an instant if it leaves the place where it was born," Ohtori Academy. The clock's ticking.

But the elevator has stopped.

When did it stop? When did it even slow?

The door swings heavily open, every centimeter leaving a fraction of a single, magnificent creak in its wake.

And there's the hallway -- at the other end, the exit. The way that she came in. It's like she never left.

Except that now all of the paper signs on the chair have reversed direction, are pointing forcefully outward, out towards campus, out towards the soon-setting sun.

And except for the black rose clasped carefully in her hand.