2018-04-16 - Soi: Utena v. Kasagami, Second Duel

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Soi: Utena v. Kasagami, Second Duel

Utena returns to Ohtori Academy to take back herself from her depression -- which means confronting Kasagami, the One Engaged, while the rest of the Duelists look on from the Student Council balcony. Their battle is so explosive that it winds up leaving the arena and continuing throughout the school, before the eyes and hearts of their friends, who are on campus for the pre-election party (as Student Council elections are tomorrow). Anthy Himemiya witnesses something unexpectedly familiar.


Anthy Himemiya, Kasagami Araki, Utena Tenjou, Touga Kiryuu, Mikoto Minagi, Fuu Hououji, Georgia Jenks, Shizuru Fujino, Usagi Tsukino, Ye-jin Song, Miki Kaoru, Lera Camry, Nori Ankou, Eri Shimanouchi, Akko Kagari, Niramo Umokeshi


Duel Arena/Student Council Room/Crystal Hall Atrium, all at Ohtori Academy

OOC - IC Date:

04-16-2018 - 04-10-2015

*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+ 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> Anthy Himemiya [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Socially central to Ohtori Academy, the atrium is an elegant glass edifice that plays host to all manner of campus events: traditional, scholastic, and just plain celebratory. Let it never be said that this most glamorous and prestigious institution does not know how to throw an endless string of parties!

To those approaching from outside it is indeed the Crystal Hall, a gleaming jewel so clear it captures every brilliant shade of blue in the sky just as well as it reflects the gold burnishing of coming sunset. It is a perfect cylinder capped by a dome of beautiful symmetry and construction, and the day is such a lovely accompaniment to the festivities that the skylight atop it has been lifted to admit fresh air and the scent of the rose gardens with it.

Within, all that colored light streams in unchecked, casting the sun's fading rays across all gathered. The Student Elections are imminent, and this may be some candidates' last, best hope of reaching unswayed hearts and minds. They've been invited, nay, encouraged to hold forth here in the grand atrium after school. To pontificate, to woo, to dazzle. Oh, and free refreshments have been promised.

It is a frenzy. A very elegant frenzy, mind! This is still Ohtori Academy, and its student body is expected to go about their shameless politicking with some visible decorum. What they get up to behind closed doors, well...

There's a rumor going around like wildfire, too, about one of the candidates. The fine points of the rumor vary depending on which hallway gossip you get your version from, and it probably varies even if you were there to see and subsequently spread it yourself. The most common points of agreement are that there will be a fight after school, and that the fight involves Kasagami Araki and Utena Tenjou.

The atrium, lovely clear fishbowl that it is, sits before a wide swath of campus green -- it commands an excellent view of much of the school. With plenty of food, planned events, and the high potential for extra entertainment... The atrium is the place to be, after school today.

OOC: Welcome all! Any non-duelist scene participants are welcome to place themselves on campus and begin socializing, enjoying the
refreshments, and discussing the shocking goings-on at Ohtori of late! There will be action happening in parallel, elsewhere, as
you enjoy the party.
<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

After the Challenge, and the distinctly ruined end of the Luncheon following it, Kasagami Araki had retreated to the Dojo on campus, eschewing the beautiful Atrium that many have been drawn to. She couldn't risk her own roiling feelings ruining her chances at being elected. She needed solitude and so she found it in that place of martial training.

Well, aside from a certain Rose Bride that she hasn't tried to slip from. She needs her at her side, as much as she can be. Kassie has an inkling that the Bride has her own rituals to attend to, but for once she isn't pushing away. A bokken is in her hands, and she swings again and again and again!

"What does she really know!? I never should have tried to get her to open up to me! I am going to be King, and she dares do something like that in public? Who would have thought that pink haired woman would be so...so..." Lost in her anger, burying the questions that Utena had raised in her about her own selfish nature.

It's not said at Anthy per se, but she does look for the young woman's presence. She checks the time. It won't be long. But even just a few more perfect swings might make the difference.

Finally though, she places her borrowed practice blade back where it belongs. She offers an arm, and lets out a slow sigh. Into her pocket goes a hand and she fishes out a picture. Her parents. Another of the Shepherds. Pluto and Rinji. Away they go again.

"I'm doing this for all of you. No one else!" She says, as if trying to convince herself. "Let's go Anthy! I have a Duel to win!"

And so she'll have a Bride to escort through the campus. The tension in her arm is easily felt. The sunlight falling about campus is entirely ignored by Kasagami. In her mind, there's only the Duel Arena and the Castle above it awaiting. Surely if she can prove victorious against Utena, anything is possible. Her dreams are possible! Every step is made with increasing confidence with the soothing Bride at her arm.

When they arrive before the Forest at the gates leading in, Kasagami presents her ring. Water falls, sluices and tumbling overhead as it opens before her. She eyes the long stairs up, taking a moment to say a silent prayer in this most holy of battlefields. Then she begins the long walk up, eschewing the elevator as she tries to master herself. It's an exercise in futility, but she tries.

Her mind things of those gone, and all those she owes victory here to. The walk is as agonizingly slow as it is no time at all. She crests the staircase, boots tapping on the stone floor as she looks out to the Arena itself. Silently, she walks to the other end, arms crossing. Nothing to do but wait. Her body trembles. Anticipation sits on her face.

Tense, nervous, and imperious as she stands, she both awaits the sight of her opponent eagerly and with conflicted feelings.

<Pose Tracker> Touga Kiryuu [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

The immaculate pressed whites of Touga Kiryuu's uniform shimmer like satin in the gentle sparkle of sun sweeping across the Student Council's observation balcony. With long limbs and a deliberate saunter, he strides to his waiting chair in the center with the casual airs of a cat padding along a fencetop, tea already in hand.

Pouring himself into his seat like red wine splashing into a glass, he crosses his legs, idly wagging a polished shoe. Sipping from his tea, slender fingers pluck a narrow stem from his breast pocket, a long and narrow handle culminating in delicate opera glasses. Smirking softly, he peers below, taking in the preparations for the drama to come.

His own preparations have already been put in order, of course.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Mikoto's early release had come with a lot of stipulations. She wasn't to push herself, wasn't to put physical strain on herself ('which means no jumping out of windows!' Mai had exclaimed on the way out), was to take frequent breaks, was to take all her medication... Mikoto had agreed to all of it, for the sake of getting out of there. Mai had insisted she stayed on campus instead of going out that night. She'd agreed to that, too, even though she had so much to do. She couldn't bear to see the worry on Mai's face. But she didn't want to stay in her dorm - and even though she's gotten home after school's finished, Ohtori's still in the swing of events. So she goes out.

There are bandages under her uniform - around her upper arm and upper leg, forming visible lines under her shirt where they wrap around her midsection. There are healing cuts and bruises on her skin, and a fading pale line across her cheek. She leans on a walking-stick as she makes her way through the crowd. Aoi and Chie are very concerned, when they spy her after school.

"Mikoto-chan, what happened to you?!" Aoi exclaims, hand clasping over her mouth.

Mikoto stares, for a long moment. "... crashed." It's not technically a lie. Miroku and Fallen Stern crashed together many times. The Sovereign's lance also crashed into her at full force. That Aoi will assume it's a car crash is... ... is... ... it's very Mai of Mikoto, to mislead Aoi like that. Mikoto hates herself for it. Doing things Mai's way got her into such a huge mess in the first place. But Mai would never forgive her, if she got her normal school friends wrapped up in all of this. And Mai already has so many reasons to be angry with her...

"Oh, geez, it must have been a big one." Chie folds her arms, tilts a hand up to curl a finger underneath her chin. "Well, we're glad you're okay. You've just gotta do your best, Mikoto-chan. Say..." She smiles, sly, thinking of how she can cheer Mikoto up. "Have you heard the rumours?"

Chie is good at rumours. Mikoto is not. Even less, when she's been in hospital all this time. She shakes her head.

"They say Araki-san's gonna fight Tenjou-san after school today. Talk about a way to drum up publicity!" Chie grins. "After all, two of the most desirable girls on campus..."

Aoi shoves at her, playfully. "Chie-chan! You mustn't say those things in front of Mikoto-chan!"

"Sorry, sorry," Chie waves it off with a smile. But Mikoto isn't smiling. Mikoto's frown has only grown deeper as Chie's spoken, and Chie's own smile fades as she realises. "Oh... don't worry, Mikoto-chan. I'm sure it's nothing serious. Girls issue challenges all the time! That's the secret of our burning spirits!"

"... Kasagami's always serious about fighting." And she has a sinking feeling.

"Eh?" Chie blinks. "Do you know her?"

"Both." Though she hasn't spoken to Utena for a long, long time.

"Well, don't worry! I'm sure it will be fine!" Chie shakes her head. "... do you want to sit with us? We can make sure no one bumps into you."

But Mikoto shakes her head, and keeps on moving. Somehow, being around people she likes, people who know nothing about anything she's done or anything she's capable of, the fighting she's done alongside Kasagami herself... it's too painful. More painful than any of the dull aches in her body. She'd rather be alone in a crowd than pretend to be a normal girl who happened to get into an accident, as if she were faultless. And she'd rather be alone than around someone who gossips about fighting as if it were a casual thing.

Mikoto snarls as a boy pushes past her on her injured side, but whether it's the pained scowl on her face or the bandages around her, most people seem willing to keep a wide enough berth. It's a lucky thing; her reflexes, right now, are so much slower than they ought to be. Mikoto thinks to herself that if an enemy were to attack, in this event, she'd have little chance of reprisal. That thought is painful, too.

But Miroku is still, eternally, slung across her back in its black case. There's no other place it could be.

(Rumours are sure to fly anew about the mysterious wild golfer-chan, whose dedication to her art is so strong that she won't lose sight of her clubs even after getting into a car crash. A few student's paltry assertations that they've seen Mikoto golf and she had no idea what she was doing are helpless against the onslaught of Ohtori gossip. They've never let the truth get in the way of a good story.)

Mikoto makes her way towards the atrium. Politics don't interest her at all, but she has to do something that isn't lying in bed, after so many days doing just that. Seeing food, Mikoto naturally gravitates towards it. Even if it's not Mai's food - she misses Mai's food so much - food is still food, after all. She picks up a fancy little cake, and pops it into her mouth.

... it's good. Really...

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

Concentrating during class isn't usually that hard for Fuu. This afternoon, however, she was a little bit distracted - partly because of what happened during lunch, moreso because of what's going to happen later.

And as soon as classes were dismissed, she was on her way, texting apologies to Yumi, to the heads of the middle- and elementary-level teams, just letting them know that something had come up. She didn't even wait for responses before hurrying to the train station ...

And as soon as she could get to Ohtori, she did. Because even if Utena remains largely a stranger to her, even if she doesn't particularly think of Kasagami as a friend, even if she's normally content to stay away from Ohtori's interpersonal politicking as the geography of Tokyo allows? She still wants to be here to find out what's happening with that fight between the two girls, before the rumor mill has a chance to blur things.

And from the sound of it, as she makes her way through the atrium, the rumor mill is already hard at work. Fuu generally doesn't speak to anyone, except to exchange polite greetings; instead, she listens intently, as if entering each rumor into an array in her head and working out how best to sift truth from distortion once she has all the available points of data, however false any of them may be.

... and then she spots a familiar face. "Ah, Mikoto-san, good afternoon," she says to the younger girl. "How are you feeling?" ... it's a fair question, given the visible injuries and the caution with which Mikoto appears to be moving.

<Pose Tracker> Anthy Himemiya [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

At some point in the walk between the cafeteria and the dojo, Anthy Himemiya slipped off and retrieved a pair of roses.

It's not at all clear when or how. She never seemed to leave Kasagami Araki's side, showed no furtiveness. Certainly there were moments when she was not in the direct line of view of that steely eye... but none long enough for her to sneak all the way off to a garden and pick some blooms. Yet by the time they're there, she has two nestled into the crook of her arm: one dark red, one pure white.

Her eyes are on the flowers at first, but Anthy looks up to her Engaged as she holds forth. She has assumed a pleasant, blank, and utterly unchallenging mien: one Kasagami is well familiar with. Up until now she has said nothing at all, not since the luncheon. "It is a surprise, isn't it?" She could be discussing the weather.

"After you beat her like you did." A dainty tilt of her chin. Then she shrugs, as if it is no matter to her. And maybe it is not. Anthy looks back down at the still-damp petals, dark and bright. "It is almost time," she says.

A few swings of a practice blade later, and it is time. Her Engaged beckons and Anthy Himemiya comes along. When Kasagami presents her signet and opens the way, the girl at her side still wears a new Ohtori high school uniform. They each place feet upon the first of many stair steps and Anthy is a normal teenager.

On the way up, the Engaged turns inward. She sinks into her past and bounds forward to the future. In the present, utterly unnoticed, Anthy paces on her blind side. As go the roses, so the Bride. No gleaming transition gives away the change, no chimes nor fluttering petals nor even change in pressure between their linked arms. When they crest the final step and enter the arena proper, she is no longer Anthy Himemiya but the Rose Bride.

Resplendent red silk flows forth from her waist and hugs her torso, atrim in green and gold and white; purple curls host a gleaming crown, smooth and sharp. The tassels at her shoulders ruffle slightly in the breeze. She looks out across the etched circle of the arena floor with no expression at all, and stands by the side of her Engaged.

COMBAT: Anthy Himemiya transforms into The Rose Bride!
<Pose Tracker> Georgia Jenks [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Ah yes, the student elections. A time where hopeful candidates run around doing their best to win votes from Ohtori's student population. It must be very stressful for them... but Georgia wouldn't know, personally. And she's more than happy to keep it that way. Puttering around the atrium she looks around at the circus of it all, an eyebrow raised and an easy smirk on her face. Of course, her eyes linger on the free food and drink as her belly rumbles in response. Yeah, she's totally here for the free food. Having to listen to someone's campaign promises is a small price to pay for it she supposes.

Moments later she has a plate of food in hand, tucked away in a corner chewing thoughtfully. The food is good, of course. Top notch as always when it comes to Ohtori. But she pauses, brows furrowing as she overhears that damned rumor again. Kasagami Araki and Utena Tenjou are going to duel one another sometime today. But... where? She shakes her head, sighing a bit as she starts to walk at a lazy pace, eyes darting around for any signs of a fight breaking out. It would be a hell of a lot more entertaining than whatever this was. "Well, I guess it can't be helped..." If anything she plans on grabbing more food and finding a nice spot on campus to sequester herself...

...That is, until she sees her classmate Mikoto Minagi... who looks rather beat up. Oh? What's this then? Unable to help herself Georgia slides on over to the girl, noticing another girl has engaged her just before she could.

"Yo Mi-na-gi~ What happened?" Ever the tactful one, Georgia...

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

Sunset comes again. Sunset on this campus, on a certain time here, perhaps; regardless it is gold and liquid and beautiful, and the balcony for use of the Student Council is a perfect place to view it. Shizuru Fujino is there, though she is no longer the Vice President, is not dressed in the uniform of the Council or the school. Her cream coat is a decent fit for the colors of the others; the purple silk blouse beneath with red ribbon formal enough for this place, the black fabric over her knees apparent as she sits cross-legged at the table, looking down towards the Arena rather than the surface beside her. Her Rose Signet hangs on a chain about her neck; in the place most Duelists wear it is her engagement ring.

...And she sits with a purple-and-red party hat looking dispassionately down towards what is coming, the bottle of champagne in ice on the table as yet untouched. Touga is watching. ...Shizuru was already here, as always. She is a fixture in this place; perhaps she is this place, to still be here with no Student Council title.


The paper noisemaker at the watching young woman's lips extends and rolls right back up again. At her foot there is a covered box. ...And she shows little enthusiasm for the party.

Preparations. Yes, perhaps there have been some of those for her, too.

<Pose Tracker> Usagi Tsukino [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

"How do I look?"

After all the fidgeting with her blue bow and the vest and the blazer. Usagi Tsukino whirls around almost theatrically - her twintails snapping into place behind her as she poses. Her friend looking on - Naru Osaka just giggles.

"Usagi-chan it's not like we're going to a formal event or anything. You're just wearing the uniform!"

"I know~I know~" Usagi says as she flaps a hand at her while rubbing the back of her neck with the other. "But this is the first time I've been to Ohtori in it. So this might be the first time Madoka-chan or Mami-san sees me in it..."

She'd specifically avoided posting selfies for that purpose. So that the first time they see her would be with her own eyes - but there was someone she didn't mention too that she was hoping she'd see again. "... and I want to make a good impression at Rei-chan's school anyhow!"

"So where are we meeting up with them?"

"W-Well..." "You did let them know you were coming over - right?"


In the atrium itself - Usagi Tsukino feels like her uniform stands out. That's difficult for the average Juuban Student to hold their own against the Ohtori but she feels like the Juuban High uniform stacks up well against the Ohtori one. And yet there's almost noone she knows here other than Naru who's chatting up the daughter of one of her mother's bigger vendors...

Usagi instead has taken up drinking some liquid courage in order to get the nerve to walk up to one of the candidates she doesn't know - that being the virgin punch. She's already had two pieces of cake, evidenced by the dab of cream by her lips. But now to quench her thirst she's tipping back a cup And yet...

Have you heard the news? That Araki-senpai was challenged to a fight... it could be going on right now!

Usagi barely missed a beat hearing this. That Kasagami was getting into fights was no surprise to her, looking one part annoyed to three parts sad as she brings back the cup again.

Who's she fighting?

Well you'll never believe it... but it was...

A name enters her ears, and Usagi suddenly sputters punch, pounding her chest. Then with a cry of disappointment as she sees her blazer and vest splattered in it hastily grabs a napkin and starts dabbing.

... and she was wearing the girl's uniform!

Whoa that's...

It wasn't so strange hearing that part. The image didn't contrast with the Prince putting a hand to her hip and saying that she didn't have a boyfriend either.


Usagi's eyes light up a little upon seeing Mikoto and Fuu talking with Georgia in tow. And yet as she walks up to them and hides the soaked napkin behind her back she, "Oh- heyyy there Mikoto-chan! Hououji-san- whoa are you alright Mikoto-chan? You look..."

She trails off then starts up again, "...say Mikoto-chan since this is your school maybe you or one of your friends would know? If someone was going to - Oh you know..."

She laughs awkwardly, "...have it out somewhere after school... you know like..."

Usagi shadowboxes a little awkwardly until she realizes it just revealed the napkin and returns that behind her back. "...to duke it out... where would that kind of thing usually happen?"

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

You have to be afraid to be brave, but Utena doesn't feel brave at all, just the first part. It was easier, surrounded by other people, whether friendly or hostile. It is harder to walk alone.

Memories haunt her like the ghosts of the trees in the forest, as she kicks up little puffs of ash along the way to the one grove that survived that particular apocalypse intact.

Gray covers her like concrete dust. Like cold winter rain. Like a curtain between herself and the rest of the world.


"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?"

"You can rely on me.

Because I'll never leave you. We'll always be... togeth--


"--So you're really going through with this then? Really committing to it? ... it's never going to end you know."

"Make sure there's something behind your opponent's sword that you can't live without."


She feels the wire of the hilt in her hand eating into her palm, where it's being held in a death grip, and blinks. Color returns. Gray, yes, but there are so many shades of it, and her eyes widen as the beholds these subtleties. Some of it is stone, around the pool, and more of it rises into the gate -- and its handle.

There are other hues, too. A faint bit of vivid green where each of her footsteps parted the sea ash -- the earth having spent the winter quietly engaged in its own renewal. A flash of pink as her hair reflects in the pool.

Another, as the signet on her ring is reflected by the natural, unnatural mirror behind the gate's handle. It glitters.

Knowing something is coming doesn't always change the thing itself. She shivers as the icy water stings her hand. It roars into life, curling the wall upwards into an open threshhold -- crowned by a massive stone rose.

Utena knows that if she dawdles, she'll lose her nerve; concrete and sweat and blood and venomous green eyes and torn-up roses. She aches and she hasn't even started the stairs, her whole body pulsing in all the hidden places beneath her uniform that still bear the marks of their last fight -- her last loss.

Her unequivocal obliteration at the hands of Kasagami Araki and Anthy Himemiya.


"You hate the duels... But stepping in now is returning to them. They won't stop. Knowing you could die? Knowing that she won't even thank you for it? You just have to throw yourself into this? ...Of course you do."

Shizuru's left hand comes out of the water to cover her eyes, the diamond glinting there, dripping, her fingrtips pressing through her own hair.

"...What has she done? What has she done, that you're so loyal to her? Why are you willing to risk so much for someone who acts as if she doesn't care about anything?"

A kiss from Utena is the perfect marriage of innocence and sensuality, perfectly naive and cruelly so. She leans in and places one gently, tenderly, on Shizuru's left temple, just where her brow meets her hairline. Gratitude passes warmly between her lips into the older girl's skin -- but it's also a goodbye.

"Who else will?"


BGM Start! Zettai Unmei Mokushiroku https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76bAjM5eyXk

She started moving without even realizing it.

Her legs are pumping. Her hair bouncing. Her hemline, too.

There is no visual transformation, as Utena takes the spiraling stairs two at a time. There are no ruffles, no cords, no glittering epaulettes, no sparkles at all. Last time, she was bestowed all of those accoutremants by the Rose Bride, and they felt like a silly Halloween costume instead of a second skin.

Not this time. She is not, after all, the One Engaged.

Today, that means ascending to the ring unarmored even by her own iconic style. It is even more strange, seeing such plain clothing in this place. Sometimes girls come here with swords -- but they don't usually come here in skirts. And when they do, they're properly dolled up, like the Rose Bride.

The total abnormal normality of Utena's appearance is almost as inappropriate to this event as would be showing up naked.

As she passes through the upper gate, Utena is wearing the only pair of shoes she owns, old and worn and sassy, and a brand new high school girls' uniform, and is carrying some kind of saber that she must have borrowed from somewhere, since it's almost a running gag at this point that she doesn't own or collect swords or even really seem all that interested in them.

And her eyes are endlessly, perfectly blue.

They're steady, now, as they first are inexorably drawn up to the spinning, upside-down castle in the sky, and then to the ring on her finger, and finally and most powerfully, across the arena to those who await her. There is still fear behind them, but acceptance of it, too.

Yes, she is afraid.

Yes, she's here anyway.

She's back.

"Let's do this already," she calls over -- accidentally using the same words as last time, when she limply presented herself for execution, unable to give more when she had nothing left to give. But this time they aren't sighed, and they aren't weak. It's like she's speaking a completely different language.

She has come as she is.

She is no more and no less than herself.

COMBAT: Utena Tenjou transforms into Revolutionary Girl Utena!
<Pose Tracker> Ye-jin Song [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Hi-Fly Stomp - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRh-TSm03eU

Election day will soon be upon Ohtori, and Ye-jin Song is out in force.

She's claimed a part of the atrium for her own, painstakingly staked out her territory with ribbons and banners to create a border of pastel colors that mark her unrivaled domain. Woe to any other candidate who would dare cross.

Woe also to any competitor that's forced to be near to her space in general. Upon a small stage she's hired a small band to play, a half-dozen musicians that score her speech and provide upbeat background music to students that congregate around the area. She has her own designated snack tables (with her own giant cake, of course), and any member of the student body to wander near is accosted with a gift basket.

Ye-jin herself whirls through the crowd, moving to the beat of the music. She steps, bows, greets, repeats, swaying through the crowd with a dancer's grace. No one is untouched by bright smiles, cheery waves, and many other insincere gestures as she makes her way to take a big step onto the stage.

A commanding stomp of her foot earns her a microphone, and a lull in the music to greet: "Hello evereone~!"

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

Punctuating the end of Shizuru's party blower is the click of a stop watch.

He doesn't even look her way - as he resets it. And starts it again.

But it's only then that he greets Touga Kiryuu, "President Kiryuu." He takes it for granted that this title will remain, because he cannot accept it changing hands.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Speaking of people Mikoto hasn't spoken to in a long time -

"Fuu," Mikoto smiles, happy to see her. But it's strange, because Mikoto is normally so full of energy, and it seems like so much of it has been sapped right now. Perhaps it makes sense, with her injuries. Perhaps it makes sense that her smile is also a little sad.

She shakes her head. "... been better." But she doesn't want to drag Fuu back into this, not after she managed to wrest her away from being her enemy. So she switches to another topic, abruptly: "But I'm glad to see Fuu!"

It's a subject which everyone seems intent on bringing up, though - no less her classmate. "Georgia," she greets her with that same smile, by her first name because she, too, is a master of tact. Mikoto frowns, pausing for a moment before she answers the question. "Crashed," she says, finally, in that laconic way she does. She's already used that story. She might as well keep it. Georgia isn't involved in any of this, either.

"Usagi!" Mikoto smiles for Usagi, too, as she arrives. She is as plainly honest and open as Mikoto is. Mikoto shakes her head, silently this time, and moves on to her next question. "I don't know!" She says, and it's just a little too harsh, just a little too sharp. She doesn't know where students spend their time play-fighting. The machinations of Ohtori remain a mystery to her, as much as she would like to know where to be! She shakes her head, again, immediately afterwards. "... garden, maybe." The words are contrite, offered as apology.

The truth is, she has no idea where Kasagami is going to challenge Utena. But she knows it's not going to be a schoolyard scuffle, in the way she sometimes observes and has learnt not to treat as enemy action. Kasagami likes fighting, but Kasagami has never been casual about it.

Ye-jin's declaration provides a convenient distraction, and Mikoto's head turns towards it.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

"I'll simply have to beat her once more."

Kasagami finally glances with her good eye to the Rose Bride suddenly resplendant in her beautiful red gown. This feels right. Anthy assumes her place in the ritual of the Duel, as she does as the Engaged awaiting her opponent. Her hair flutters, but even as part of her vision is obscured she doesn't turn her gaze from the stairs.

And then pink tresses and beautiful blue eyes herald her arrival. Her mouth is pulled into a line. There's no sign of the warmth she'd used as a mask yesterday. Kasagami Araki is all business, hardly hiding the sting of the Challenge and burn of her fury within steel and white. At first she doesn't reply, taking in a breath as she looks over Utena in a way that's at first sizing, then openly disgusted. Her clothes are nothing like what she normally wore. It was strange enough at the luncheon. But to walk in here wearing that?

And in a curious mirror, her words are the same too. It may as well be a different person that Utena presents to Kasagami. The One Engaged doesn't overlook this breach of etiquette and insult to the codified ritual she's fully latched onto as both holy and a right for her victory.

"Eager are you, Utena? I'll give you points for bravery, but how dare you come like that!? Do you have any respect for the Duels here? Even an outsider like me that wants to change everything knows that there's value in tradition! This is a proving ground Utena, and you walk in here dressed like a common schoolgirl? Where's the outfit that you wore with so much dignity when I first met you? I am getting tired of playing these games with you!" Snarls out Kasagami as she finally feels her emotions boiling over, lending heat amongst the feelings radiating through the Arena. The oranges and reds frame her, casting her shadow over to Utena's before she casts her gaze sharply over to Anthy.

"I'll admit, I'm feeling the same way regardless. This King will grant you your wish! ANTHY! Neither of us are patient today. Let's go!" Offers Kasagami as the challenging brashness so well known from the Engaged is let loose towards Bride and her challenger alike. Boots grind at arena floor as she awaits, already the picture of barely restrained violence ready to be unleashed.

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

"It's good to see you as well," Fuu replies to Mikoto with a smile, honest and heart-felt. Mikoto is a terrifying enemy, truth be told - but that fact wasn't all of why Fuu was so desperate *not* to fight her, the last time their blades crossed. "Please tell Mai-san I said hello?" she adds ... and others are approaching as well. Some familiar, some less so, as best Fuu recalls their faces.

"Usagi-san!" the bespectacled Infinity student greets the odango'd twintail from Juuban, smiling just as genuinely, seemingly with no regard for the slightly abused state of Usagi's uniform. "I gather the rumors drew your attention as well? ... although rumors notwithstanding, I hope the new term at Juuban is treating you well. Have you had trouble getting used to the new uniform yet?" She looks down at herself, a little sheepishly. "I'm sure they'll get more comfortable within a couple of weeks ... and I think they size these expecting us to grow into them, too."

That might have turned into a line of conversation more focused on uniforms than Fuu really meant to, but oh well. She turns her attention towards Mikoto's other friend - a relative stranger to Fuu, but that's certainly only a temporary situation, right? "Good day to you," she greets Georgia, not only smiling but bowing. She's about to introduce herself properly when -

'Hello everyone~!'

Fuu winces just a little, but nods to Georgia, her attention veering towards Ye-jin's stage. She's still listening a bit to Georgia, though: enough to catch what might be said.

<Pose Tracker> Georgia Jenks [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

"Ahhh. Ok then." Georgia nods, as if totally satisfied by that explanation. And she probably is, to be honest. If she isn't, well, she doesn't let on as much. She shoots Fuu a smile and a wave. "Fuu is it? I'm Georgia." She too doesn't bother with being formal much, it seems. At least not amongst peers. The arrival of the blonde girl with twin-tails of hair garners Georgia's attention next. She laughs at her shadowboxing antics, mimicking them herself. "I know right?! I kinda wanna see them duke it out. Of course they'd probably have it somewhere private and secluded so they can be jerks about it. Oh, I'm Georgia, by the way. Usagi, huh? Cute name." She silently thanks Mikoto for introducing both girls to her in the span of a few seconds, making it easier to form some sort of familiarity, even if it's ultimately fleeting and temporary.

Her gaze is then pulled forcefully from Usagi over to one of the student council candidates -- more specifically Ye-jin Song, who has gone above and beyond in Georgia's opinion. It's pretty off-putting to say the least. "Ahhh. Ohtori's outrageousness distilled into one person. Wow."

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

<Too bad Sky's too stuck up for this.>

"Right?" Lera Camry asks, trying her best to play it cool. Playing it cool, in this case, means that Lera is wearing her uniform and a pair of sunglasses. Any effort at looking sneaky is ruined; the sunglasses are rimmed with little plastic flowers and bright orange-yellow, which matches her red-orange hair. She steps into the atrium, and looks around.

<Rob from the rich and give to the upper middle-class. It's got style.> Broken Ground is currently a bracelet dangling around her wrist, and the little yellow gem in the center flashes lightly as he speaks to her.

"W-When you put it that way, I kinda sound like a jerk, y'know?" Lera asks.

<Sorry. Still kinda new to this whole... bonding thing. But the food looks good. Or would if I had a tongue and digestive track.>

Lera walks in, arms swinging, as she looks over the tables. For a moment, she smiles -- and then she spots an empty space. Where, once, when she came to Ohtori events, there would be blonde curls and eyes the same color as hers smiling back at her. So Lera smiles, briefly, at a blank spot.

Then, she doesn't smile at all. She stands there, stare blank, and doesn't find a hello for Usagi, Fuu, or anyone else for a moment.

<Pose Tracker> Usagi Tsukino [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

Going from Mikoto smiling at her as she says her name to snapping at her from being unable to answer the question is a little bit of a whiplash, but Usagi just waves a hand - "Hey hey it's okay if you don't..." She gives Mikoto a sympathetic look, "... let's catch up later - maybe over a parfait?" Fuu asks about the new uniform, and she answers quickly, "Oh not at all! I love the new uniform! It feels so..." She holds up a finger as the answer comes to her, "...mature! I absolutely adore it!"

Before Usagi claps her hands together, "Oh you think so? Well it's so nice to meet you Georgia. Wow are you an exchange student? You must be!"

But then a suggestion is granted by Mikoto in the form of apologies - "Hey thanks!"

Which is when Naru Osaka walks up, "Hey did someone mention-" "Sorry Naru-chan gotta run I'll be back soon!" Which is followed by Usagi literally starting to jog towards the exit, nearly ramming right into a crowd of Ohtori students as she careens on by - nearly running into Lera on her way out, "SORRYLERA!"

Hey watch it!

You see? Take them off their own campus and they act like hooligans...


Not long after...

An out of breath Usagi arrives at the French formal gardens. Which are gorgeous enough that she considers looking for Anthy Himemiya. But panting, she knoks herself on a head lightly with a fist, "No- no focus..."

She takes off into a run again. Her flight only broken up by a twintail getting snagged on a rose bush and her having to tearfully untangle it after it got became taut.


A little longer after that...

Usagi runs through a field of red poppies with the setting sun at her back.


Sometime a little bit after....

Usagi's pace has slowed to a crawl, her posture drooped as she enters into an English landscape hedge maze. ... Which she gets lost in.


Who knows how long after!?

Usagi enters the Japanese traditional gardens - only to see them mostly empty too. Usagi groans and starts to complain, "This school has... too many... gardens..."



She's on her way back to the Atrium again - looking a little despondent.

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

A very palpable hit; heat rises to Utena's cheeks immediately, she briefly bites her lips, and she looks down.

Down -- down to her yellow jacket, her gray skirt -- unfolding its pleats up to hip-height with her free hand. Breathing, she controls herself, and the smile that emerges from a complex part of her is briefly rueful. "It wasn't really my first choice, yeah," she admits, letting the weight of the skirt collect downwards again, gravity pulling, fingers flexing. "But then, my old outfit kinda got trashed." Scraps of it remain in Shinjuku. "And I wore what I wore long before I ever knew about this place. I know you only came after... but there was a before. But, you know..."

She pops her jaw.

Her eyes flick up to meet Kassie's.

Her voice crosses the distance between them with the power of intimacy, intense and rising, as she talks about very private things. "...I want to be a Prince, not a boy. If this uniform is good enough for Wakaba and Himemiya, it's more than good enough for me."

She tosses her splendid hair with a jerk of her chin, takes a step forward, and flips her sword from her right hand to her left, then back to her right again, controlling it all the while. A casual display of athleticism -- and danger. And also the gleaming length of the sword itself.

The sword...


BGM Swap: Decretum https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HcgEHrwdSO4

Its knuckle bow is not quite in the form of a musical clef, but it recalls one quite clearly. The shell guard is relatively shallow, and embossed and textured as well, so as to grip rather than divert blades that lock with it, suggesting a more muscular and less elegant style of combat than the Student Council engages in. Pale gold gives way to lunar silver -- heavy as a Celtic broadsword.

Utena brings up the borrowed blade in a salute, bisecting her face. It reflects both Kassie and Anthy along the flat as perfectly as fresh water.

"--Mami Tomoe wore it. This uniform isn't an honor you deserve. I don't deserve it either... but some others disagreed."

Sweeping the sword safely out of Anthy's path and prudently pointing it tip downward, she stands tall, unbowed, and awaits more of Kasagami's rage -- and Anthy's rose.

<Pose Tracker> Ye-jin Song [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

"I hope everyone is having fun--" Ye-jin, on her stage, continues to speak: "I'm so excited to help everyone achieve their dreams for a better Ohtori. I've heard a lot of you say what you want to see change, and how to make our school better, and I'm going to get out there and do it for you. More school events and more club initiatives, and a real voice who cares about your vote!"

There's tentative applause as Ye-jin pauses for effect. She makes a short gesture at the musicians behind her, and a cymbal quickly hisses those nearby to silence

She finishes shortly after: "I'll be here all day, come up and talk to me! Let's make Ohtori great together!" She indicates her audience is now allowed to clap by doing so herself, leading her own applause with a polite golf-clap.

When she dismounts the stage the microphone is casually lobbed off into the background, Ye-jin squeezing thumbs and forefingers into 'OK' circles as she rejoins the crowd.

<Pose Tracker> Anthy Himemiya [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

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 crimson and white 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 Utena Tenjou, then Kasagami Araki, 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 the challenger goes the first rose. Her eyes are on the flower until she reaches the duelist whose token it is meant to be. The hem of her skirt nearly brushes the tips of those worn, familiar shoes with their red bows. Eyes the color of a forest's deepest mysteries rise like mist in morning, even as hands rise with the rose. Together they reach their destinations.

A rose all colors and none tucks into its appointed place, petals pristine and aglow in the sunset. Anthy's eyes catch the same shimmer as they're drawn upward, reflecting nothing but Utena herself: long pink hair, skirted silhouette, and the curve of a borrowed blade alongside. The Rose Bride is very close and also altogether beyond approach.

And then she is away. The Rose Bride turns toward Kasagami Araki and approaches with measured pacing. To her Engaged 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 well-practiced deference. They make a striking pair, submission and aggression, as the Rose Bride tucks a crimson rose into place above her heart.

Once the bloom is in place, rather than moving away, the Bride tucks closer still -- a warm presence along Kasagami's non-dominant arm, facing across her fearful glare as it burns into Utena Tenjou.

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. One of many swords within the Rose Bride stirs.

From red-rose pommel to gold-wound-black the hilt of the Sword of Dios pulls forth from her chest, offered as if by inverted deathstroke to the hand of the One Engaged. The Bride bleeds light in scattered rays that spill across Kasagami's face and streaming hair.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Mikoto nods, to Fuu's request. She'll tell Mai! Mai, who is... probably at work by now. Or checking on Takumi, in hospital just like she was. Or sitting at home, worried about her -

No, no, don't think about that.

It's nice, to see people smiling honestly. It makes Mikoto smile a little more freely, too. (A stab of guilt, buried in the dark.) Fuu is a good person, after all, and Mikoto likes her!

Georgia she hasn't had as much time to estimate - but she thinks she must be good, at least from her interactions with her in class. Georgia has always seemed honest and direct. They're good qualities.

And Usagi - well - Usagi is Usagi. Mikoto can't say a bad thing about her. She's a little ray of moonlight over everything. Which is why it might seem so strange, when she snaps at her. But Usagi just waves it off, and Mikoto turns back to her, smiling, visibly relieved. "Parfait? Okay!"

Georgia wants to see them fight, though, and that makes Mikoto frown. "... does Georgia really want that?" She sounds kind of sad, to ask.

Maybe she doesn't like the idea of two friends fighting with each other.

Maybe she didn't notice Utena, on the battlefield, in her single-minded focus on destroying one particular boy.

Maybe if she had, she wouldn't feel any remorse for the pink-haired Prince.

... but she didn't, and she does.

Usagi runs off, at Mikoto's suggestion, and Mikoto watches her go, blink-blinking. She feels bad, all of a sudden, realising that Usagi must be feeling as anxious about it as she is.

Ye-jin is making her speech, and Georgia is commenting. "Very Ohtori," Mikoto says, as if Ohtori were an adjective. Considering the school they go to, it just might be. "... but Ye-jin's a good person," she nods firmly, a moment later.

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


Goodbye. It came earlier. Shizuru remembers it well. She remembers...

The former Vice President does not speak to Miki for now. She watches Utena as she steps into the arena, steps up the stairs, in a uniform just like the one she used to wear. Slowly her red eyes cant from Utena to Kasagami, watching them oppose, watching them prepare their Duel. The setting sun frames her as well; her hair hangs at her shoulders, her attire colored by the light. ...And the rituals of the Arena seem to be treated as so much baggage. Until Utena speaks. Utena, whose voice rises, who makes clear her statements...

Who has that sword. Shizuru leans closer in surprise to see it, to realize what it is, where it comes from. And what she says about--

"..." Shizuru says nothing about it. She says nothing as she watches the Rose Pride pin the roses on each duelist, as the Sword comes in all its miracle grace. She sees Utena, prepared to die for this girl. She sees this duel begin and for once--

Shizuru's hand curls, quietly, and she blows another little honk of the noisemaker, staring. Finally she takes it away from her lips.


<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

When Usagi runs by and bumps into Lera, she brings her out of the distracted moment. Her eyes blink -- and she turns, her head looking back at Usagi. "Um? Oh--it's okay, y'know? Uh--be careful--"

But, Usagi is gone then.

She looks over her shoulder for a moment longer, then she shakes her head and walks into the atrium the rest of the way. She scans the crowd; she knows Fuu Hououji. She has seen Mikoto Minagi in the past. Georgia Jenks is a mystery to her. Good enough, she reasons. She steps over, closes the distance, and stops next to them; Lera looks at the stage, and listens to Ye-jin Song for a moment.

"Quite the speaker, y'know?" she says, a little awkwardly. "Uh, hi. I-I'm Lera Camry, and I'm just wearing an Infinity Institute uniform because I'm... uh... trying it out. I'm not here for food."

<Perfect. Pretty sure they're buying it.>

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

When Usagi runs by and bumps into Lera, she brings her out of the distracted moment. Her eyes blink -- and she turns, her head looking back at Usagi. "Um? Oh--it's okay, y'know? Uh--be careful--"

But, Usagi is gone then.

She looks over her shoulder for a moment longer, then she shakes her head and walks into the atrium the rest of the way. She scans the crowd; she knows Fuu Hououji. She has seen Mikoto Minagi in the past. Georgia Jenks is a mystery to her. Good enough, she reasons. She steps over, closes the distance, and stops next to them; Lera looks at the stage, and listens to Ye-jin Song for a moment.

"Quite the speaker, y'know?" she says, a little awkwardly. "Uh, hi. I-I'm Lera Camry, and I'm just wearing an Infinity Institute uniform because I'm... uh... trying it out. I'm not here for food."

<Perfect. Pretty sure they're buying it.>

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

Not so long ago his sister dueled him in clothes that would have been more fit for the runway than the arena. He felt too that she was making a mockery of this.

And some part of him feels uneasy as Kasagami calls out Utena for wearing the uniform. He doesn't quite agree - he can never bring himself quite to agree with Kasagami even when the two are in accord. That's his own hypocrisy.

However he accepts right away Utena's explanation without fully understanding it.

But that sword - he gives it a peculiar look but without any sense of recognition. He mentally goes through a list of every duelist's blade and comes up short of an explanation of where that broadsword came from- and comes up short.

Whatever the case may be... he laces his hands together over his stopwatch, watching as he has so many times before as Himemiya shines...

<Pose Tracker> Georgia Jenks [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

"Ah, yeah, I kinda am." Georgia says in response to Usagi, rubbing the back of her neck a bit. "I think I've fit in pretty well here. Though-" Before she can properly finish however Usagi runs off, leaving Georgia blinking rapidly at the girl's sudden departure. "Ahh! Ok then! See ya later!" She waves at her retreating back, looking highly amused as she turns to the others. "Is she always like that? She's pretty funny!" Oh, if Georgia only knew the half of it.

Mikoto's reaction to her eagerness to see the fight causes Georgia to pause, then react. "Ahhh... Ummm... Well I mean it's just a silly duel right? No need to get worried... right?" Now she's wondering if she's missed something vital. Kasagami is pretty zealous now that she thinks about it. So that could be a bad thing. But no one would let things get too out of hand on campus, yeah? That would just be nuts!

Another person arrives to fill Usagi's vacant spot, earning an easy grin from Georgia once she introduces herself. "Hey hey! I'm Georgia Jenks! And I'm weathing the Ohtori Academy uniform because I totally go here! Oh, and I'm also not here for the food." She says that last bit with a bit of a wink and a nudge in Lera's direction, eyebrows waggling a bit too much for any sort of subtlety to be had.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HgRP1Mv5mLs

Kasagami takes the rosepinning in utter silence. Her brow twitches, and she might almost be seeming to ignore Utena's response. No, quite the opposite. As much as she tries to focus on Anthy completing the ritual, her mind swirls. Memories of that night in Shinjuku with so much tragedy and pain have her biting her lip. There's too much. She can't. No, to vent her fury now would be to spoil this blessed Duel.

As the Rose sets about placing the rose, Kasagami gives a single nod imperiously. She looks upon Anthy as though she were a servant belonging to her, a mere part of the background and only useful for this act. As always, her contempt is cast for the doll of a girl, this fragile sheath. A convenient place to direct her hatreds that might otherwise be pulled inside of her own heart.

But Anthy stays close, and as she speaks those words, Kasagami attends to her as is proper. With now well-familiar and practiced steps, she sweeps behind Anthy like a ball dancer. Magical winds and shining light casting her face in brilliant warmth as she bends to accept the Rose Bride. A brilliant, fabulous fulcrum, her strong arm easily holds the young woman's weight as she closes her eyes. Her long black hair billows out, her ponytail brilliant and consuming as her black coat joins it in the magical wind conjured by the Rose Bride.

She doesn't hesitate in drawing the blade as it's hilt appears in Anthy's chest, wrenched out with a warrior's savagery without care for the one she's holding. It's a taking, a conquering King ripping something precious out from that which she's claimed for herself without regards for what she's tearing it from.

The beautiful longsword's blade gleams with light as she holds it before her, pushing Anthy back up to her feet. And most importantly: out of the way.

"Grant me the power to bring World Revolution!" She at once howls and whispers, words coming to none but Bride and Engaged.

And so much like that violent ripping as she pulled out the Sword of Dios, sparkles of magic wash around her from the motion. Coat turns to a brilliant sable cloak about her, earrings shine into existence with ruby hawks on them, and on her back sits a royal coat of arms of crossed swords and the noble falcon in blood red upon it.

But she hasn't pushed Anthy away as much as usual. Instead, she kneels aside and nods at Anthy. It's a short, commanding thing. The Sword of Dios is held like a sacred object in her hands, and all she needs is an altar.

"Bride of the Rose! Abandon your body and protect the sword!" She starts ritualistically. Her teeth grit.

"Give me everything, Rose Bride."

As the blessing ends, Kasagami comes to her feet and flourishes the now radiant blade in her hands. Gripping it like a katana, only then does she fully address Utena Tenjou.

"I never said you were one! A shame you didn't keep a spare I always liked it. It's all about decorum, Utena, and showing where you are in the world!"

Any more reproaches aimed Utena's way are suddenly strangled in the cradle as her vision clears and centers with the Sword of Dios' healing touch. That blade is one she knows all too well.

And the name piled onto it uttered moments prior comes to haunt her and stills her tongue that's so often spitting words. She stares at the blade of Mami's knight in the hands of a Prince. Her body shudders. Those wounds are too fresh.

"Don't speak that name to me! I'm tired of thinking about her! You shouldn't be holding that sword, Utena!" Howls out Kasagami. She doesn't hesitate. Legs bend as she stares at Utena with that sword. It feels like an insult, thrusting vengefully into a wound.

Sword of Dios held tip at the side, she's a moving, shining blurr of stained glass motion as the dark crimson humming blade draws sparks while she rushes in straight and true to meet her opponent! Her eye is on that rose entirely, her heart screaming to end this quickly! To no longer have that image of Sayaka Miki's weapon and Mami's dead body in her mind.

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

"It's very good to meet you, Georgia-san," Fuu says to the possible exchange student, once Ye-jin has finished giving her speech. If Fuu's smile is a little wider than before ... well, she *did* overhear Georgia's observation, and it seems like a good summation. If not for Ye-jin herself (Fuu doesn't know her quite *that* well), then 'outrageous' as a word for Ohtori as a whole. Quite apt.

She didn't get a chance to say much more to Usagi before Usagi went dashing off in search of wherever Kasagami and Utena are planning to fight. Which ... honestly? Fuu sort of wishes she had a better lead on where the fight is going to happen, rather than go running all over campus. She remembers roughly how big Southern Cross Island is - which is, in her considered estimation, somewhere between 'too big to explore in a hurry' and 'too small when you're trying to hide from an armed occupation'. (There are some things she doesn't forget, however much she'd like to.) And then Fuu spots Lera, and smiles, waving to her fellow Infinity student. "Lera-san, how was your spring break?" she asks.

... presumably Lera has a reason for lying about her uniform. Fuu is too polite to try and puncture her story.

On the other hand? She has no reason *not* to be here for the food, and while she keeps listening to her surroundings, Fuu turns some of her attention to the refreshment tables. She didn't really get much of a chance to eat when she was here during lunch, so she's more than a little bit hungry. (Another thing which kept her from concentrating fully during the afternoon's classes ...)

<Pose Tracker> Anthy Himemiya [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The Rose Bride twirls to face away from her Engaged. She bends like the greenest sapling, supple to the limits of ligaments and beyond. The drawn bow of her back, smooth and unquivering, betrays not a whisper of her muscles' screams.

Her body, an altar for this sacrament of blade and ambition.

Which is then forgotten, an empty sheath, as Kasagami rises and draws away a streak of dark crimson energy away from the Bride's torso like a spray of arterial blood. That swan-neck droops and her whole body sags for an unbalanced moment, unsupported, then a stumbling pirouette saves her. Her Engaged demands everything; limits of the Bride's reservoirs of power are mysterious, but it seems certain she gives much, indeed.

With a flourish of seafoam-limned red she twirls to a neat stoppage once more and takes up her traditional attendant spot before the grand arch of the Arena entrance. Safely away from the storm breaking over the great sweeping rose emblem, she clasps brown hands together in front of her dress -- the red cuffs at her wrists joining like wings upon otherwise bare arms.

Engaged and Sword of Dios slice through the air together, and the Rose Bride watches. Otherwise motionless, she flicks her vision across the stone circle even more quickly than a powerful and skilled duelist can press an advance, to the waiting adolescent in the pink hair and her extraordinarily ordinary girl's uniform.

COMBAT: Kasagami Araki transforms into The One Engaged!
<Pose Tracker> Ye-jin Song [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Now descended from her stage, Ye-jin is on to making rounds in the immediate area. There's plenty of people to see and things to say, and all of it is a lot of work. So much so that she remains distracted from most events happening outside of her little sphere.

She does, however, eventually wander farther afield. At the edge of her domain lies a small gathering of students who she recognizes as non-Ohtori (or at least non-Ohtori-like, in the case of Mikoto), and she gifts them with a portion of her schmoozing:

"Mikoto-chan," She greets, more composed than their initial meeting. Pause is given as she examines the girl and her condition, but no mention made of it. "I'm so glad you put those posters up for me. Especially the ones that weren't on the roof." The jab in that second part is made up for by her tone indicating Mikoto did a very good job.

"Hououji-san," She says to Fuu, "I see you're here again, how nice. I hope you're enjoying yourself. Don't forget to come by dance club sometime, okay?"

Georgia and Lera are both new faces-though Georgia's uniform indicates her the more important for Ye-jin's purposes. Either way, both get a resounding: <Hello!> in Engligh. She switches back to Japanese after, asking Lera: "Did you come with Hououji-san?"

Georgia, as an Ohtori student, gets a seperate greeting and bigger smile. "Thank you for coming out today, is there anything I can do to help you, as Vice President?"

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

"Yup," Mikoto nods, to the question of Usagi Being Like That. Usagi doesn't do things by halves.

It's just a silly duel, Georgia says, and Mikoto glances away, growing quiet. "... maybe." She doesn't know. She really doesn't know. Maybe Kasagami is just having fun, in that weird way she does. Maybe everything is fine. Maybe...

... that's a lie, and she knows it. Nothing is fine. It's childish to think that anything Kasagami does would be done by halves, either. She just hopes Kasagami doesn't get hurt. And a part of her hopes the same for Utena, too. She might be closer to Kasagami, but Utena once helped her get back one of Mai's precious bentos from a thieving monkey.

But speaking of bento: a new person arrives, and Mikoto turns to face her. Lera isn't here for the food, she says, and neither is Georgia. "I am!" Mikoto says, blatantly contradicting them. There's a pain-worn edge to her cheer, but it's cheer nonetheless. She grabs a biscuit and devours it in demonstration. There's a dull ache from her bandaged upper arm as she moves it. It's worth it.

It's worth it, because everything is totally normal.

"Mikoto," she introduces herself, in turn. She doesn't gesture to herself - her good arm is occupied with leaning on a walking stick - but it's fairly obvious she's talking about her own name, when everyone else is introducing themselves too. She's seen Lera before, but she can't remember ever speaking to her at length - or what passes for length with Mikoto, anyway. She doesn't say that she goes to Ohtori, because it ought to be obvious from her uniform. Unless people have started wearing uniforms which aren't theirs, like Lera apparently is, but it seems obvious enough to Mikoto that she wouldn't do something like that.

No last name, apparently. Mikoto's never been good at last names. Or honorifics. She's not like Fuu, with her kind dignity; she's so much more direct, like her classmate. (Are they really classmates? Mikoto is tiny compared to Georgia!) And while she's gotten better at conversation, over the years...

... her attention's a little bit divided right now.

Still, it seems important to her to establish: "It's okay to like food, Lera! Georgia, too. Food is good!" Mikoto speaks with vast certainty that this must be true - almost a little too fierce. Food is great.

Ye-jin arrives, then, all stately and composed and, indeed, very Ohtori. Mikoto smiles to her, that strange mesh of happiness mixed with pain swallowed down by inches. "Ye-jin!" She doesn't ask, and Mikoto is intensely grateful. If Ye-jin meant to barb her with her thanks, Mikoto hardly seems to notice, because Ye-jin sounds happy, and that's more important.

She looks from Ye-jin to Georgia and Lera, as a foreign language is spoken. Ye-jin seems to know foreign language quite well. Mikoto, on the other hand, has never been very good at it, and has no clue what that greeting was.

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

"Hey, Fuu-san," Lera says. "It was..." She thinks of a shared piece of cake, slid over during a late night chat, and the clink of her fork against it. She can almost taste the cake; she can almost feel the silverware between her fingers. Her smile flickers at Fuu. "...it was fine," she lies.

She looks up, though, in surprise -- eyes widening at the name 'Mikoto.' Her mouth opens, but it closes again as she realizes Ye-jin is approaching her. Her eyes widen at the use of English; then she waves a hand at her. "Uh, no," she says. "We know each other, but I'm... er... here on my own."

She seems distracted, though, because she knows Mikoto -- recognition coming, in the worst way. When she is so cheerful and encouraging, she hesitates, but an awkward laugh comes out: "O-oh, uh--yeah! Thanks. I like it."


The mention of Georgia makes her look to her, eyes briefly wide and concerned -- and then her expression shifts into a smile.

"Oh, uh--nice to meet you!" Lera says to Georgia. Her cheeks flush a little, though; it seems at least one person (every person here) has seen through her ruse. "I'm Lera. Lera Camry. I'm a second year high schooler!" She extends a hand out towards her, and then beams brightly as she declares: "I'm from America!"

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Utena greets Anthy by name when she approaches, a soft, respectful "Himemiya," that can't even begin to succeed at creating distance between them in the way 'Tenjou-san' did. She didn't even try, not really. What she keeps firmly out of her voice is any neediness, any expectation.

She definitely lacks any ability to keep the affection out of her eyes, though, and the relief that the Rose Bride finds there, when Utena sees no particular venom in her former roommate's eyes, brightens the infinite horizons of Utena's gaze as surely as the setting sun is rendering azure unto gold.

After, she is left with nothing but a lengthening shadow for company, and the late afternoon breezes tugging at her hair. That, and a white rose. Briefly and unconsciously, her free hand floats upwards to rest lightly along the petals -- fingertips tracing the lingering warmth and also the flower's simple existence. Unripped. Undamaged. ...Whole. For now.

And then the Rose Bride bleeds a sword.

The first time Utena saw this, she thought it must be some kind of tacky magic trick. Like the castle, the whole thing, really. A dumb charade by kids with too much money and too much time.

Even after she became a volunteer for the routine, she still kind of scorned the idea that the Power of Dios was anything important, anything really real. Could it help her with finals? If it meant anything to her, it had nothing to do with combat and everything to do with bare feet on winter floors, and sunlight filtered through a tree on a grassy hill. Shaved ice melting on the tongue. A brimming watering can, a wheelbarrow, a picture bento...

But magic and miracles do exist. And she can no longer pretend that it isn't significant, who grasps the hilt of the Sword of Dios. It matters to her on so many levels; the funhouse mirror of her heart has room for distorted images of herself and Himemiya together in a thousand poses, even Chu-Chu. And also the corpse of Mami Tomoe.

It isn't easier to witness the violence and indignity inflicted upon the Rose Bride the second time. No, repetition makes it worse; Utena gasps not in outrage but in horror as she realizes how many times this must have been allowed to happen in the intervening time between their last duel and the present moment. At Shinjuku, it was just a single point on the graph. Now it is all too clear a line.

This time she doesn't look away, forces herself to gaze at the whole thing, through the darkening of her eyes, their empyrean hues plummeting into the Abyss. Bearing witness is part of taking responsibility. It isn't enough, but it's a start, and her grinding teeth draw blood to the soft tissue inside her cheek, trembling with the desperate but unfulfilled need to clobber Kasagami Araki away from Anthy Himemiya.

It is a second, now no less intense, relief, when the bells peal, loudly and beautifully spilling across campus, signaling the start of the duel and the end of the segregation of her fist from the face of the Engaged. Hopefully.

She does have a sword, though. And the juxtaposition as to their origins really couldn't be more different. Awareness fizzes through her even as her muscles start to burn with the effort of hefting the blade back into a readied position. It really is heavy, compared to what she's used to using -- or maybe not. Last time, she was too weak to lift the Sword of Dios at all.

"Like hell I shouldn't!" she shouts back. "It's strong because it was given to me -- it's not something that can be taken!"


Kasagami provides iconic, living counterexample. There's a moment where everyone has to wonder if this is just going to be a repeat of Shinjuku. Utena's just STANDING there, like she's going to try (and fail) to take the strike head on again, which went so catastrophically badly for her last time--


--the electric guitar stings to life!

<SoundTracker> Nanbito mo Kataru Koto Nashi https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4bKFGNGIExU

Her magnificent legs flex and Kasagami is treated to the sight of her erupting into the air like an angel who doesn't need wings to fly. The sword and its might passes harmlessly beneath her; it seems that Utena isn't just going to wait to die, this time.

Adjusting her grip, she completes her backflip with her own sword held in both hands over her head. Then they come down together, blade-first, in a waterfall of broadsword and fluttering gray fabric and flowing sakura hair. Utena's soft grunt as she jackknives in midair in order to pour even more momentum downwards, through her shoulders, down her arms, and into the hilt, makes for something of an understatement.

Again her eyes tell the true story. She's giving this everything.

The chorus comes in, invisible voices howling...



<Pose Tracker> Georgia Jenks [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Georgia beams at Fuu, giving her a salute in response. Unlike most of Ohtori's population, she has no qualms talking with others who come from other schools and other backgrounds as a whole. If she were to be honest she herself didn't feel like she fit in all the time here. But that's a worry for another day. Now is a time for socializing and food and...

...Overly polite student council hopefuls. Ahh. Right. Georgia turns to regard Ye-jin when she comes over, eyebrows lifting with mild impressedness when she greets her and Lera in English. "Oh. Hey." She says, shrugging her shoulders nonchalantly. The next question from Ye-jin gives Georgia a moment of pause as she reflects on it. Was there anything this girl could do for her? The blonde American girl taps her chin for a bit as if in deep thought. Then:

"The Music Club could probably, like, use a sauna or something like that."

Huh. A sauna. She smiles with a pleased nod as if pleased with herself before turning away from Ye-jin to focus on Lera again. "Ah you're American too! Sweeeet." Georgia very much looks like she wants to talk American-isms with Lera, but is interrupted by the sudden chiming of bells... followed by... singing? She shifts and looks around comically. "Huh? What's that? Am I hearing things? You guys heard that too, right?"

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

Fuu smiles, bowing politely in response to Ye-jin's greeting. "Song-san," she says cordially, still smiling (if a little more crisply than before). "Yes, it's quite the gathering today. Best of luck in the Student Council Elections, even though I can't vote in them. And I shall certainly continue to keep your invitation to dance club in mind!"

Lera's response is met with a nod, and if Fuu senses any hint of a lie behind the words, she doesn't try to poke or prod at what Lera said.

And then - bells ringing out across the Ohtori campus, a guitar and chorus from nowhere ... Fuu manages, somehow, not to drop her plate of freshly-gathered munchies, or the cup that is as yet empty of a beverage; rather than filling it, her bespectacled gaze rakes across the atrium's ceiling and upper walls, slowly working her way around and down, trying to figure out where *that* came from. "Perhaps there's another candidate for Student Council who's only chosen to announce their campaign now?" she suggests in reply to Georgia.

Honestly? If this were Infinity, she'd believe such a possibility *easily*. Ohtori .... she's less sure but can't rule it out.

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

Not long, not long. It's easy to view it that way. For Shizuru, though, those older duels seem somehow timeless, far too long ago to bring them fully here, and yet remembered all too clearly. ...She doesn't so much as look at the other Duelists on the balcony now. She is watching those in the Arena, watching Kasagami as she wields a power that they have all looked for. She watches here as there is red, as there is power, as Kasagami Araki uses all the power she can gain from her sacred hood ornament.

The power of miracles; the power that Shizuru has fought for, has manipulated for, has sought and sought. And here it is, in use; here it is, showing itself. Not the strange princely power of Utena Tenjou, but the ugly blood of a sword from this girl. Shizuru shows no horror, no nothing as she watches it happen.

...She watches only Utena, as the bells peal, just as she watches only the Rose Bride. ...Just as she only watches Kasagami Araki, her greatest student.

"...Where you are in the world, mm?" she murmurs, voicing it softly, as if more to a lover in quiet than a girl standing down far away in the Arena, ready for her battle.

There is no light in her voice. She knows what is coming, and she is not kind enough even to herself to avert her gaze from it.

The noisemaker is stark upon the white tablecloth, rolled up, its colors violent against that purity.

<Pose Tracker> Ye-jin Song [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

"Oh, do we?" Ye-jin's head tilts slowly at Lera's claim that they are familiar. "Oh?" She squints, dark eyes burrowing into the orange-haired girl across from her. And after a moment of intense scrutiny--she bows in appology. "Oh, I'm so sorry! I must not have recognized you like that, Camry-san. How nice to see you here, I hope you're having a wonderful time." Ye-jin meets a lot of people she doesn't care about, it's just a safer bet for her to assume Lera is one of them.

Georgia's request gives Ye-jin nary a pause. After all, she's doubtlessly heard more decadent requests in her brief campaign. Georgia isn't even asking her to make someone's life a living agony, like Nori Ankou had earlier on this very day. "That sounds like a wonderful idea. I'll see what I can do."

"Thank you, Hououji-san. I'll look forward to it!" She makes a short bow of her head, seeming satisfied with this.

And then Ye-jin favors Mikoto and the rest with another bright smile before she steps back, receding into the crowd once more. She doesn't even really give a proper farewell, just pivots to begin a new conversation with the next set of nearby students. In a moment, she's gone.

At some point, once she has a break between socializing, she turns to an assistant to lean in and asks: "What's the hell's that sound? Tell the band to play louder." She chops a hand aggressively, her smile returning soon after as she returns to mingling.

<Pose Tracker> Usagi Tsukino [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

Usagi has only just made it back to the Atrium. Despite the fact she's been breathless since the field of poppies and that she's walked most of the distance - she's still breathless now. Gulping down air like it was the sweetest ambrosia and on her way to the refreshment table for hydration.

She dumps the napkin she's held in her hand the whole way in a trash can.

She lifts up a cup of punch in her hand and bells peal.

This isn't unusual to Usagi because they're in a school... except they don't sound like Ohtori's class bells.

After a moment she just shrugs and tips the cup to her face.

Then an Electric Guitar stings to life - a chorus. There's a strange tension in the air tonight - but she doesn't understand.

Her head cants sideways as if trying to listen to it in the distance while she's glugging down the punch.

Lowering it, she dips it in for a refill and starts heading back over to Mikoto again.

"I couldn't find them..." Is a single note of unhappiness before she seems to perk up, "But I got back in time for the show! I wonder who they're having play tonight?"

She leans over to her and whispers to her, "Do you think they got Jagged Stone?" She sounds excited, before straightening back up - "Well whoever it is I'm sure they're really going to go all out!"

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Mikoto notices that Lera seems nervous, but can't fathom why. She couldn't even begin to guess the reason. Lera must be a good person, because Lera likes food just like Mikoto does. Why would Lera associate with someone who has caused her so much pain? It's not even a possibility in her mind.

The only expression on her face, as Lera reacts with shock at her name, is concern. Lera seems unsettled. Lera seems unhappy. That makes Mikoto feel bad, too. "Lera, you okay?"

... was it something she said? "I'm not being rude," Mikoto explains to Lera, a little awkwardly, putting effort into saying it right. "I just, don't talk much..." Maybe she is being rude, but what she means is that she's not intending to be, and she's sure that much should be obvious.

She frowns, eyes downcast, fidgeting with the lower hem of her shirt as she trails off. It's so close to the dark strap which crosses over her chest, the strap of the case which must surely hold the black and terrible sword Miroku.

Mikoto shakes her head, looking over to Georgia as she asks for a sauna. "... Ohtori," she comments, a single word which expresses everything about the school. There are so many things Mikoto still doesn't understand about school life. 'Why the music club would need a sauna' is one of them. She's not opposed to the music club having a sauna, mind you. She just doesn't understand why.

But Ye-jin doesn't seem to oppose it, so she supposes that music and saunas must go together somehow. Mikoto smiles to Ye-jin, as she leaves.

And then, the bells peal. It's strange, to hear music from all the way across campus, but not so strange during one of Ohtori's many festivals.

Usagi returns a moment afterwards, and Mikoto realises she's worn out. "Did Usagi," Mikoto asks, concerned, "just search... every... garden?" She winces, and it's not clear whether it's from her injuries or Usagi's breathlessness. "... sorry, Usagi." She led her on a wild cat chase, didn't she? Mikoto feels bad. Her face clearly shows it.

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Nori Ankou has been here but she hasn't been making a scene. She got a cup of black coffee, or its nearest equivalent, but she hasn't drunk it. It has been sitting in her hands, black-tipped and pale, as it slowly cooled.

Nori is wearing a straw hat layered in dark gauze, with the last layer drawn down by silver-and-jewel weights into a veil. A long sleeved dress without ornament, marked by a mottling in its black. She is wearing open-toe pumps and a corroded coin anklet which has left green stains on her skin.

Since she has not moved consequentially in the last little while, it can be reasonably assumed that she has fallen asleep.

Until a chord strikes and her head raises upwards, eyes wide and staring from behind the veil. Like a clockwork performer brought to life, Nori raises her cup to her lips beneath the veil, draining it despite everything in a single smooth motion that leaves a bronze stain around the rim of the cup. Nori rises.

"Oh," she says from behind Usagi's shoulder a moment later, "they certainly will... that is something you can count on."

Nori's attention turns with slow pivot towards Georgia, then. "Jenks-san," she says. "Do you have a moment to discuss your plat... oh; yes; my mistake."

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Contrasts in so many ways, once Anthy has given all she feigns to give, Kasagami Araki spares nothing for her. Sword drawn and battle ready, she's once again just a piece of equipment to be wielded for the sake of obtaining a true crown. There's no warmth or care, ceasing to exist except for the fact that her opponent accepts her as being something other than a tool.

So too does Kasagami hold the Sword of Dios as if it's natural and light as a feather. To her it might well be, so much smaller than her usual weapon of choice. Yet she holds it with the perfection and grace a lifetime of learning the blade can give a person, first at her Mother's side and then amongst clubs, tutors, as well as her own constant striving for physical perfection. Utena just seems to stand there. She remembers their last true Duel and how she seemed so weak. Will this be the same after all? It fuels Kasagami's pumping legs as the Sword of Dios sweeps her along in it's currents.

"Anything can be taken, Utena! Anything and everything can be reduced to ashes, stolen without rhyme, reason, or fairness at any moment if you're weak!"

How can she be so naieve after Shinjuku? That thought lingers in Kasagami's mind as the pink-tressed angel leaps on high and her sword passes beneath. She's more alert than usual thanks to the Sword, and the eye once unseeing catches her leap. Boots skid and hips turn to reverse directions and swing that sword in a grand arc beneath herself. A circle drawn in darkest crimson and sparking metal, her ponytail and bangs are a furious cascade as she turns her attention upwards.

Eyes meet as Utena descend like a comet. The rage and frustration dosn't fade, but her own gaze sparks with something many have seen before in her. Primal, all encompassing joy in battle.

She doesn't back up, but instead aims her strike upwards to meet Utena's borrowed blade! No words, just a warcry. No fanciful multiplying blades, just a single perfectly elegant yet brutal slice rising upwards to lash power into her opponet in an effort to clip that rose from her chest!

<Pose Tracker> Usagi Tsukino [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

"I'm not sure...!" Usagi laughs awkwardly at Mikoto, "There's just... so many gardens, I probably... you know... probably missed one somewhere..."

But she pats Mikoto lightly on the shoulder, "Hey don't worry about it. It's not your fault. I mean I knew it was just a guess... but you know? A guess on an exam is better than not filling anything in!"

She thinks she remembers Ami telling that once after seeing one of Usagi's quizzes where she gave up trying and started doodling on the margins.

She's in the middle of tipping the cup back again when Nori says that behind her shoulder.

And she slowly lowers it to give her a smile of delight, "Nori-chan! Huh? Oh-Oh! I getttt it. As a celebrity guest of course you'd know who's performing tonight!" She winks, "Well if you don't want to ruin the surprise for me that's okay."

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

"O-oh, yeah, I'm fine! It's, um--"

Lera flusters. The initial reaction was panic. The more measured, second reaction is guilt. Did she misunderstand the situation? Was something else wrong in the fight, and she didn't understand it. She shakes her head once and waves her hand in front of her. "You're not being rude, y'know? It's, um, nice to finally... meet you, y'know? It's just--um--"

Her cheeks redden. When she gets flustered, or frustrated, or just unsure of what to say, Lera's mouth begins working independently of her brain. And, for all of her strengths, she has a flaw: Lera Camry, when put on the spot, isn't a very honest person. "I thought I recognized you! On, um, Line. I saw something and it made me worry, so--"

The bells ring.

She glances at Georgia, but her attention turns back to Mikoto. She paused for a moment, when the bells tolled, but then Lera picks up where she left off. She blurts out: "I-I just... I heard a girl that looks like like you got hurt in the bombing by the Metropolitan Building! A-Are you okay?"

If it weren't for the stammer in her voice and the wide-eyed look, this might seem like a ploy of some sort. But, there is a wide-eyed expression, with real concern written all over her face, and she smiles sheepishly -- and like she might be about to get caught.

The roar of an electric guitar sounds. She blinks -- looking up from Usagi before she does. "That is really loud..."

<Pose Tracker> Georgia Jenks [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

The fact that Ye-jin seems to actually be considering her request is of no surprise to Georgia. Whether or not it'll actually happen is a whole other thing entirely. Heck, Georgia isn't even sure she's going to vote for anyone in this election. Though she supposes if there's even a glimmer of a chance Ye-jin will actually give the Music Club a sauna... the girl might get her vote. Might. Cause saunas are nice. And the Music Club probably totally deserved one for all their hard work. She's sure her fellow club members would agree on some level.

Usagi's return and explanation of where she's been prompts a short peel of laughter from the American exchange student. "Oh Usagi, did you really search all of the gardens for them? That's a riot! This place has way too many of those. I would've helped you though if you'd asked!" But to be honest the result probably would've been the exact same. Wherever the duel is happening is ~top secret~ or something, and likely not the kind of thing someone could just stumble upon randomly. As lame as that is.

Nori's appearance somewhat startles Georgia. Where'd she come from?! She hadn't seen her there behind the recently returned Usagi, apparently. "Ahh... my what? Oh... Oh! Yeah no I have no platform cause I'm not running!" This earns another bark of laugher from the girl, who reaches up to wipe a tear from her eye. "I mean could you imagine me of all people campaigning for a spot? I'm pretty positive no one here would elect me. Ohtori politics suck!" That last part is said loud -- likely loud enough to draw the attention (and possibly ire) of some of the surrounding students. But Georgia doesn't seem to mind (or care). Truly fearless? Or truly crazy? It's likely a little bit of both.

"Huh? What's that? Mikoto were you involved in that disaster? Is that where your injuries came from?" Lera's nervousness is wholly missed by her as she crowds Mikoto a bit, looking her over suspiciously.

<Pose Tracker> Anthy Himemiya [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The Rose Bride cannot help seeing the affection that lies bare in Utena Tenjou's gaze. It sinks into her like a stone, falling deep and leaving no visible ripples: swallowed up by the shifting mystery in her own eyes. Then, of course, she is gone, gone to the ritual. Gone to surrender herself and her power to the One Engaged.

She watches from her usual haven and from within her customary strange serenity as Utena Tenjou rises like an angel and presses an attack against a foe she should know she cannot beat.

Kasagami slices a circle with the Sword of Dios and raises it to meet this brave, improbable refusal to give up before its overwhelming empowerment. There is a sound so bright it is purest white -- or maybe it is a flash so deafening that none can fail to hear it.

The world's shell does not crack.

The Dueling Arena does.

Whether one is near or far from the base of the spiral stair determines whether one feels or hears it first. Those in the closest parts of campus not only hear it, they hear nothing else: the sharp CRACK so immense and heavy it supplants the air for a moment, chased by a deep primal rumble that begs eyes to search a stormless sky for the accompanying flash.

Others -- those, for instance, packed into a grand glasswrought atrium -- experience the outward-racing shockwave first.

The concentric vibration reaches the front of the Crystal Hall and sets it to singing, each pane dancing within its own earthquake-proof casement. It is nothing so grand as a full temblor, and feet used to such seismic events may even tell the difference immediately. No mobile alerts accompany its passage. It rushes through the hall and shudders its occupants in a swift-passing wave. In its wake that CRACK resounds with stone-ground thunder nipping its heels.

Sharp-snapping lines splinter outward from the point of conflict, this most reliable stone surface -- impossibly eternal in its defiant favoring of graceful form over the pitiful demands of earthly gravity -- giving way like the first cracking of pond ice in spring. The once-perfect circle snaps off near its edge like a deadheaded rose, leaving stair and arch and the barest of platforms behind as its gleaming white stem.

The Rose Bride in her rose-red gown stands with the tips of her shoes brushing the edge, a drop of blood marking the point of separation. Her hands do not flutter from their serene clasp; her eyes do not flicker about, but remain as intent on the combatants as they ever do, during a duel.

The duelists, those directly complicit in the destruction of the arena, have the fullest experience of its demise. Their feet lie upon its cracking surface, and they must quickly choose which shifting segment their immediate allegiance belongs to.

The rose emblem graven upon the stone shatters with the rest, losing its lovely clarity to split along ugly, lightning-jagged lines.

In a second's passing the expanding fragments of the breaking seal shift outward, and then --

-- in a lurch of utter wrongness like stepping for a stair that does not exist, amplified a thousand times over --

they shift down, aesthetic defiance of gravity as shattered as the rose etched into a hundred stone shards. The open air between arena and earth reaches out in welcome.

They do not take the expected or direct route down. Nothing happens in Ohtori without the application of artful misdirection, and much relies upon the unfathomable magic of its mysteries. As the pieces of the arena break apart and fall, there is the terror of wind and height and uncertain footing, yes. But rather than plummet directly downward, the shards of arena tumble apart and storm in a churning swirl, like they slice upon the same wind that tears at the duelists.

Almost, almost like they are rose petals.

From her perch above, the Rose Bride peers over the edge, finally forced to crane to keep her view of the duel. Below, chunks of pale stone tumble across and around and down in their tornadic descent, criss-crossed with sweeping lines that now might as well be the inscribing of magical circles as the stylistic expression of Ohtori's greatest symbol.

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

The currents of conversation shift further, and for a moment, Fuu is left alone to listen in on nearby talk, and to nibble on the refreshments she's already selected. Also to decide on something to drink in between bites of food.

She had, to be sure, wondered how Mikoto got injured - and was content to accept the younger warrior's cover story, such as it was. Ostensibly, she still *is* accepting of it; all girls have their secrets, magical girls even moreso - and at a place such as Ohtori, she's certain that the mundane secrets are even more sensitive than magical ones.

... although when the windows suddenly shiver in their housing, a frisson of alertness overtakes Fuu's politely quiet demeanor, prompting her to look up and around. The windows shiver but don't shatter; the CRACK which follows the other vibration sets her nerves tingling anew, and for the briefest of seconds, anyone looking at Fuu might wonder why she's suddenly so alarmed.

The instant passes as the mysterious vibration-wave did, and Fuu dares to breath again, still unnerved without knowing why, and still alert in case something further comes of that phenomenon. Perhaps it's not a bad idea to stay more alert ... and not as close to the snack or drink tables, where there's going to be a lot of traffic by hungry students. She tops off her plate with that thought, and merges into the flow of students mingling.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Nori would know, but Mikoto doesn't recognise Nori at all, except perhaps as that girl who keeps showing up on things. She smiles to her, friendly, if still quite pained. "Hi! I'm Mikoto." With no fear over introducing herself to a star, just as Georgia fearlessly declares that politics suck. Some things never change, even if this Mikoto seems so much different to the Shepherd's berserker.

But Lera is still uncomfortable, and Mikoto peers at her as she stumbles over her words, clearly flustered. "Lera..?" She sounds worried. There's a frown on her face as she tries to figure it out. She doesn't know what this 'Line' is - Mikoto Minagi is not good at social media - so she figures Lera is just using the wrong words because she's nervous. Unfortunately, she has no idea what it might have stood for.

And then Lera asks whether she was hurt in the bombing, as if Mikoto wasn't the source of so much of that damage. Did they explain it as a bomb? They must have. Her face - already a little pale from her aching muscles - whitens to the shade of a sheet. Her grip on her walking stick tightens. Her words catch in her throat. "I--"

Mikoto kept saying she'd gotten into a crash. And here Lera is, claiming it was a bomb. Suddenly, she looks a lot less okay than she previously was.

She takes in a sharp, pained breath, through clenched teeth, and remembers something Nao once said to her. "-- don't wanna --" -- talk about it, except that Georgia has already latched onto the gossip. Crowding close, the other girl can clearly see the tension in her body, the pain which follows it like a lost kitten, the way her breath shallows.

Mikoto looks away, glaring obstinately at the ground. No. No. This was supposed to just be... a normal...

'I just wanted to pretend we were just normal students, was that so wrong?'

"Yeah," Mikoto murmurs, more to the memory than to Georgia, though it must seem like a reply. "... yeah."

All the positive energy she has struggled to build over this meeting has drained from her, in the face of Lera's detective work, replaced with base animal tenseness. For a moment, she feels like she might cry. She did try. She really did try. She tried to just go and do something normal, and not involve her messed up life at all. It would have made Mai happy, if she could have... but... it is wrong, after all. That's not for her, is it? hers is to follow to fight to find

Her tension works against her, as the ground rumbles. Mikoto feels the vibrations in the earth - feels them quite early, her sense of touch as keenly-tuned as the rest of her - but there's little she can do to stop it. Mikoto braces, but it's useless. She stumbles - falls, haplessly, against Georgia, with a cry of pain as her side and limbs screams their protests. "Aaah-!"

She is light. Miroku is so, so heavy.

<Pose Tracker> Usagi Tsukino [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

Usagi laughs back with Georgia, uncertain if she's being laughed with or at so she laughs with her to be certain it's the latter. "Well we'd just met! I thought it'd be rude to ask!" Whereas she nods at Lera - "Yeah I mean it sounds like it's far away but maybe that's part of the show? The music just gets closer and closer until something earth-shattering hap-"

A sharp CRACK as a distant arena shatters. The shockwave striking the crystal atrium like a chorus of water glasses played by finger tips.

"-PENS!" While most feet are steady in these light tremblors - Usagi Tsukino's have ever been clumsy.

And so she staggers backwards into the much taller Lera who might catch her - or she might just end up on the floor in a sprawl of limbs. And that punch cup goes flying-

Which might cause someone to get doused, or it might just splatter harmlessly on the floor.

In either circumstance though she dares to ask - "W-What is even going on!?"

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Something was certainly wrong in that fight, but how much Lera knows...

Mikoto smiles, to Usagi, but it's clear she still feels bad. "Usagi'll be okay," she assures her. A little running never hurt anyone. ... well, it might hurt Mikoto, in the state she's in.

Nori would know, but Mikoto doesn't recognise Nori at all, except perhaps as that girl who keeps showing up on things. She smiles to her, friendly, if still quite pained. "Hi! I'm Mikoto." With no fear over introducing herself to a star, just as Georgia fearlessly declares that politics suck. Some things never change, even if this Mikoto seems so much different to the Shepherd's berserker.

But Lera is still uncomfortable, and Mikoto peers at her as she stumbles over her words, clearly flustered. "Lera..?" She sounds worried. There's a frown on her face as she tries to figure it out. She doesn't know what this 'Line' is - Mikoto Minagi is not good at social media - so she figures Lera is just using the wrong words because she's nervous. Unfortunately, she has no idea what it might have stood for.

And then Lera asks whether she was hurt in the bombing, as if Mikoto wasn't the source of so much of that damage. Did they explain it as a bomb? They must have. Her face - already a little pale from her aching muscles - whitens to the shade of a sheet. Her grip on her walking stick tightens. Her words catch in her throat. "I--"

Mikoto kept saying she'd gotten into a crash. And here Lera is, claiming it was a bomb. Suddenly, she looks a lot less okay than she previously was.

She takes in a sharp, pained breath, through clenched teeth, and remembers something Nao once said to her. "-- don't wanna --" -- talk about it, except that Georgia has already latched onto the gossip. Crowding close, the other girl can clearly see the tension in her body, the pain which follows it like a lost kitten, the way her breath shallows.

Mikoto looks away, glaring obstinately at the ground. No. No. This was supposed to just be... a normal...

'I just wanted to pretend we were just normal students, was that so wrong?'

"Yeah," Mikoto murmurs, more to the memory than to Georgia, though it must seem like a reply. "... yeah."

All the positive energy she has struggled to build over this meeting has drained from her, in the face of Lera's detective work, replaced with base animal tenseness. For a moment, she feels like she might cry. She did try. She really did try. She tried to just go and do something normal, and not involve her messed up life at all. It would have made Mai happy, if she could have... but... it is wrong, after all. That's not for her, is it? hers is to follow to fight to find

Her tension works against her, as the ground rumbles. Mikoto feels the vibrations in the earth - feels them quite early, her sense of touch as keenly-tuned as the rest of her - but there's little she can do to stop it. Mikoto braces, but it's useless. She stumbles - falls, haplessly, against Georgia, with a cry of pain as her side and limbs screams their protests. "Aaah-!"

She is light. Miroku is so, so heavy.

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Nori makes a noise that's kind of like a small laugh in response to Usagi.

"... I am very glad to see you," she then says, with a tremble that may seem inappropriate to the occasion.

After this Georgia speaks up and Nori looks at her. Is she blinking behind that veil? It is not clear. "Many great and terrible lords started their careers with that sort of an argument, you know," she tells Georgia. "Does that mean you are announcing your run...?"


Nori's hair is gently stirred, but when she sees Usagi start to pitch, she tenses up - too slowly. Her hand reaches out to snatch the cup, though she is too late for its contents, like an over-chilled snake.

Behind the veil, she looks towards Mikoto, but her expression is almost entirely unreadable. "I don't know," she answers Usagi. "Are you afraid?"

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

It occurs to Lera a couple of seconds after speaking that, really, this wasn't the smartest idea. Her eyes widen slightly as it occurs to her, and she turns to look at Georgia with a grimace all over her face. She looks at her, mouth starting to open -- and she doesn't finish before Georgia asks. She looks down at Mikoto, and then her expression falls when she looks pale.

When she stammers, and she is -- even if completely different than how she was before -- so unlike the terrible force of destruction that Endo fought. Lera stares down at her with wide eyes.

"S-Sorry, I shouldn't have asked, it's--it's probably traumatic, y'know?" She stammers it out, even as she feels a flash of irrational anger. Why does she feel guilty for evening bringing it up? Mami died. She shouldn't feel guilt for causing them pain. She shouldn't--


"Uh," she stammers, and then she looks down at Mikoto, then up at Georgia. "I think--I think we better get somewhere safe? If that was an earthquake or something, um--"

<Pose Tracker> Georgia Jenks [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Georgia waves a hand dismissively at Usagi while still pressed in close to Mikoto. "Ahh, don't worry about that." That being the fact that they'd only just met. It seems she's fairly open to going on wild goose chases with complete and total strangers. With that she crosses her arms and affixes a serious look on her face as Mikoto goes quiet and grows noticeably uncomfortable. That causes her to relax a bit, even backing away just a tad. "Ahh umm... Well I'm glad you're alright. A lot of crazy things happen in this city. You can never be too careful." She speaks as if this is coming from experience. Hmm!

Nori's words takes her attention of of Mikoto just then, and she rubs the back of her neck a bit sheepishly. "Ahhh really? I don't think I'm much of a-"


A shockwave of some sort sweeps through the area, and Georgia lets out a yelp as the glass overhead shifts and reverbarates. It's enough to knock her off-balance, which wouldn't have been hard to recover from normally. But in this instance a certain Mikoto Minagi is also put off-balance by the sudden phenomena, and in the next instant Georgia goes down, likely taking said Mikoto Minagi with her. It's not a very graceful landing at all.

"Tch!" She squirms beneath Mikoto and whatever-the-heck-is-in-the-bag-oh-god, making for a comical sight for sure. Lera's suggestion they get somewhere safe would probably be heeded if she could do such a thing at the moment.

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Utena didn't lead with a dangerously overextended offensive because she thought she could win.

She did it because she knows that it will only take one good hit -- even one glancing hit -- for her to lose. Time is fundamentally on the side of the bearer of the Power of Dios; it's only a matter of ticking seconds, rushing sands, before Utena is too slow to avoid it. It's already a given that she's not strong enough to withstand it.

Kasagami rises to meet her midfall, and can see clearly that Utena is as unhappy as she is happy; she feels no joy at all, only desperation, mingled with a raw and vivid commitment to see things through to the end.

And anger. Yeah, there's some of that.

But the last thing Kassie sees of Utena, precisely as the world explodes, is surprise. Pink brows lifting -- pink lips parting.

Utena was expecting their blades to clash -- for them to strain back and forth -- for sparks to fly everywhere. And that wasn't what happened at all.

Impossibly, effortlessly, the chorus carries over the roar.



She backflips again, this time involuntarily, spinning over and over and over as she's blown backwards by the explosion. Waves of force crush her as mercilessly as the tide. She feels squished and she feels torn and she CURLS around herself--

--no. Utena curls around her rose.



Gradually, her fall backwards becomes a plummet downwards.

She only begins to realize what's happening when her hair is tugged upwards off her neck, in grand, heavy streamers, and her eyes reopen, panicked, just in time for her to hit one of the falling shards back first. It shatters immediately, and she falls through it, landing feet-first the second time onto a second chunk of arena.

Her gaze follows her hair, head snapping upwards.

"HIMEMIYA!" she screams, above the wind of velocity and beyond the distance of their separation. But with a third relief, this one instantly and totally overwhelming the earlier two, she catches a glimpse of purple curls and red skirts high above her upon what's left of the arena. Anthy is safe.

Utena is not.


She and her chunk fall together -- it's hard to think straight with the whole world spinning beneath them, the setting sun's golden trail across the water the only navigation marker she has -- some wild part of her admires the white buildings of campus as they rush up to meet her -- she's dizzy -- another chunk is about to collide with the one she's standing on -- she leaps!


She lands on another chunk, then jumps to another, picking up speed as she races this makeshift escalator downwards to the ground before the world gets there first. Again and again, her knees pump, then release. Her legs flail inelegantly as she tries to control her trajectory, to aim for the next landing; this is a race for simple survival, and her intuitive grace cannot withstand the urgency of these terrible moments.


Fear makes Sayaka's weapon lighter in her hand -- it doesn't slow or drag her down at all. Jump. Jump. Jump. Jump. Her legs, her core, everything burns, her whole body is on fire.

Don't stop.

Just a little further.

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

It is only distantly that Shizuru regards each detail of Kasagami's ready stance. Discarding the Rose Bride; holding the sword, so lightly. ...Working the blade as she always has so proudly. ...But she is sure that it will not be quite the same as their last duel. That there will be a key difference.

It is not an especially optimistic perspective.

Anything can be taken, stolen, Kasagami says, and then she specifies about weakness and a dagger's slash of a smile spreads on her lips, a cruel mirth that is more at home on a killer than a Duelist. The two clash together; it is easy to spot the two from this vantage point, easy to note each skid of a boot, reverse of a hand.

When she spots Kasagami's joy in this the glint in her eyes ceases anything resembling kindness. ...And then her eyes widen as the Dueling Arena itself cracks, as the gateway to eternity snaps. The arena is breaking, swirling, and the former Vice President finds herself searching through fragments for the combatants, leaning slightly forward to keep track of the action, the barest expression of emotion this: she looks towards it, she gives the hint at all that she cares one way or the other what is happening.

And that is a strangeness of its own.

She is watching, watching, until she hears it. She hears the scream from far down, from falling. She hears it, again, and it digs and it digs until it finds soil. One word.

Shizuru's party hat points mercilessly to the heavens, a brilliant riot of color. The box at her knee makes a thunking noise, bumped by the sie of her foot.

She knows what will happen, here. She knows. Just a little farther...

Shizuru's perfectly painted fingernails dig red gouges into her palm, as she waits.

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

After witnessing the truths revealed by the dueling arena. After being so inured in Ohtori for so long - the shattering of the arena only causes Miki Kaoru to bat a singular eye. In the same way he might to seeing Juri score a point on him in one of their countless fencing practices.

The fantastic - the overwhelming is taken for granted.

It simply is.

The only thing that really isn't to him right now is that Anthy Himemiya is standing on the precipice, looking down. Being simply around their duels is so dangerous that he generally takes her safety in the arena for granted - but now - he actually stands up. To walk towards the edge.

He is not a Prince racing to her rescue, despite his concern.

And that is because he agrees with Kasagami while rejecting his phrasing. Himemiya can be stolen at any time. That is why he tells himself that he duels so often.

But as he hears the scream from below - he also takes it for granted that while she can be stolen, that harm - true harm cannot come to her so long as Utena Tenjou can help it.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Nori's expression is unreadable. Mikoto's expression is unveiled.

"... yeah," she says, to Lera, her voice a hoarse whisper. "Thought I was gonna die. So... don't wanna talk about it."

She won't involve her. Doesn't know she's already involved. Doesn't even suspect it. If Lera wanted to see pain, over Mami's death, Mikoto is certainly thus: a voice thick with emotions, guilt and anger and regret. They are such harsh, sharp things.

She is such a harsh, sharp thing.

"... lots happens," she concedes, to Georgia. If she were thinking clearly, she might have made the connection. But she's not. She can't. She is all nerve-endings and bracing for a blow which doesn't come.

And then she's bracing for something else.

Georgia, mercifully, breaks her fall, but Mikoto still hisses in pain as she finds herself on the ground. ... if Georgia is a normal girl, she must be crushing her. With that thought in mind, Mikoto pushes herself upwards - good arm over bad, good leg over bad. Her teeth grit like a steel trap. She paints a picture of perfect agony as she rights herself, breath labouring through tortured lungs. She must do this. she doesn't have a choice She grasps the stick as she brings herself up.

She cannot bring herself to look at Georgia. She cannot bring herself to look at any of them.

"... sorry."

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

"Nowhere is safe," Nori answers Lera, which probably officially puts her in the oddball category for the day, even when she concludes: "Only safer."

She proffers a hand to the fallen Georgia. "It may be more comfortable outside," Nori says: "The tall trees won't fall on us any more."

Her head cocks slightly towards Mikoto. "..." is Nori's answer, a silence that is a deliberate statement. (Internally she roils but does not erupt. A thousand things occur to her, but she doesn't say any of them. 'sorry for what' 'you should be' 'serves you right' occur frequently.)

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

If Lera wanted to see pain, she finds out she doesn't. She looks down at Mikoto as she stands up, the guilt heavy and churning in her stomach. Her expression turns crestfallen -- even as Mikoto climbs back to her feet. She stares down at her, noticing the way she moves like she is pained. The orange-haired girl steps back, to give Georgia the room that she will need to stand back up.

She glances sideways at Nori, then she hesitates -- and nods. "Y-Yeah, I get you. Sorry, um--from San Francisco! We didn't really get earthquakes there, y'know?"


<Pose Tracker> Usagi Tsukino [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

It's good to be told that one will be okay just before they fall - like reassurance that at most they'll just get a scabbed knee, even if that's not what Mikoto was really saying.

On the ground - Usagi puts her palms down and...gapes up at Nori - "A little?" A beat, "Shouldn't I be scared when things are a little scary?"

The chorus grows louder and louder. And Nori says that nowhere is safe only safer... "N-Nori-chan that's a little grim..."

I mean she knew the girl was goth but right now she's a little bit freaked - and not just because she's worried for what might be going on between Utena and Kasagami. She's not quite to the point yet where she thinks this is worthy of transformation - even if it's into a Seismologist telling people to evacuate.

But the strangeness of the choir's words are getting to her - like something is coming.

And she's just frazzled thinking about what that might be.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Steel and white on blue, the awaited clash never comes even Kasagami aims the Sword of Dios in shroud in dark crimson screaming for the other girl. Time seems to slow for the Engaged for just a moment. She can drink in every emotion on Utena's face. Her own is twisted, a reflection and yet not. The intensity of their feelings ring true, Kasagami's own rage mixing with her glee. Her own commitment to a dream that has increasingly cost herself and others so much.

So too does her eye widen briefly in surprise a second or two after Utena. The world is sound and light, she's thoroughly blinded and deafened for a singular moment. Somehow the chorus stings her ears even as she can't hear anything else.

Kasagami acts on as much instinct as fine tuned training. She starts to skid, and slams the tip of the Sword of Dios into the cracking floor of the Dueling Arena. The healing powers of the Sword slowly banishes the ringing in her ears as her weapon tears up one more line while she digs into the heels of her black boots to come to a rest as her cloak flutters behind her. The crest given to her upon her back shines brilliantly as her slitted eyes regard her opponent. Her blade is wrenched out, she eyes the inevitable just a mere moment before it happens.

As the plunge begins, Kasagami can spare no attention to the girl that Utena cries out for. Not a single look upwards. Even as the Dueling Arena crumbles, the fight must go on. Even as everything shatters around her, she has to win! Gripping the Sword of Dios in both hands, the tornado of fluttering shards that swirl and move in that cyclonic drop has Kasagami first kicking her boot into her chosen hunk of rock as they go down for stability.

Which quickly becomes untenable as her opponent leaps from chunk to chunk speeding about like a pinball. Kasagami kicks with her other boot, and then the rock she'd taken refuge on simply disintegrates from the force of the blow! Eyes follow the leaping signs of pink, and she too picks up speed.

Her own trajectory is less prone to seeking the ground as it is seeking her opponent. Three leaps in, and there's a 'petal' of stone rushing for Kasagami. Her sword lashes out once and it scatters before the blade. A few fragments meet her boot, kicking shard after shard after Utena. First theyfre aimed to crash into Utena bodily, then Kasagami begins to punt entire pillars worth to explode Utenafs landing platforms and leave her nowhere to go but down!

Kasagami is soon a blur of light refracted from some unknown, unseen stained glass mirror, getting closer and closer to her opponent! Her blade slices, finally slicing through every single piece of the falling scenery in an increasingly reckless desire to deprive Utena of safe places.

It's Kasagami's turn to hold her blade up high as she pauses amongst a higher piece of the Arena. Blade held up, she does a forward flip after catching her breath. Her ponytail's holdings have been blown back by the speed, her red-tipped black hair a wild spray of curls as she gracefully falls. She looks as the Morningstar cast down from the gates of Heaven as she plummets with purpose towards Utena. Rainbow streaks of reflected tips from the Sword lash in a freefall.

Kasagami's steel toed boot crashes down alongside that mystical display.

<Pose Tracker> Georgia Jenks [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

"Oh I'm fine. No worries." Georgia says from her spot on the ground, thankful that Mikoto managed to get off of her fairly quickly. Phew! What was she carrying in that bag, anyway? Georgia's sure her super secret HiME status helped her not get any vital parts of her crushed. Or at least that's what she chooses to believe anyway. Sitting up she dusts herself off, then looks up to see Nori's offered hand.

"T-Thanks!" She smiles and gives the goth girl a thumbs up before taking that hand to pull herself up onto her feet. "Outside? Well..." She casts a dubious glance up towards the glass ceiling, which thankfully hasn't shattered. "As long as that holds up I think we'll be alright. What in the heck was that? Couldn't have been an earthquake. Way too short..."

Lera stammers something out about being from San Francisco and not having earthquakes there, which causes a single blonde eyebrow to fly up. She says nothing, though.

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

"Mikoto-san ... ?"

The voice is Fuu's; the bespectacled girl's hands are empty now, apparently having finished what refreshments she'd collected. Her emerald gaze flicks over Mikoto, taking in the walking stick, the visible effort just to stay upright, the bowed head.

"Would you like some help?" Fuu continues, her voice soft, just loud enough for Mikoto to hear clearly without interposing on other nearby conversations. "I was going to get some fresh air, and it looks like you could use some as well." She offers an arm to support the younger girl - not forcing Mikoto to accept it, giving her space to determine if she *wants* that help or not, but ready to provide what aid lies in her power to give.

If the sounds of singing are still troubling Fuu, she's doing an excellent job of not giving that away.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Nowhere is safe, says Nori, and Mikoto knows it in her aching bones. She doesn't look at her, but only at the ground which was shaking a moment ago.

But then she looks to Lera. Lera, who drained the warmth and smiles from her as surely as the Wolkenritter's magics. Lera, who broke through her desperate attempts to connect even as she worried for her. Lera, who she has only just managed to introduce herself to, after so long of occasional meetings.

Guilt meets guilt. But there's anger too, in Mikoto, and an obsidian hardness, and - her eyes are damp with tears. It is so very complicated. It goes completely unexplained.

Fuu asks if she'd like help. Mikoto hadn't even realised she'd returned.

She realises, a shard of cold glass through her heart, that monsters are not welcome at parties.

Mikoto nods, swallowing against a lump in her throat. "Yeah," she says, her voice roughened with emotion. She wishes she didn't need it. but she is so weak But her muscles are screaming. She turns to Fuu, takes the offered hand - Fuu on one side, walking stick on the other. The chorus follows her as she limps away.

"... everything got messed up," she whispers, to Fuu, as they separate from the others, and to her she does not sound angry, any more - only shattered. "Everything..."

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Lera meets Mikoto's eyes. To her credit, she doesn't look away, and she feels the guilt settle in -- and realizes it won't be leaving her quickly, now. Her jaw shifts, slightly, as she feels a lump in the back of her throat. Her face feels hot. She knows she said something she shouldn't have, but words are like the contents of Pandora's box. She can't put them back in.

She sees the anger, too -- and that scares her, even as she feels that old familiar friend boil up. She isn't always honest. She also, at times, lets herself get too angry. Today, she puts a lid on that anger and forces it down. She is angry at herself, besides.

She mutters something, as Mikoto leaves with Fuu: "...sorry."

It may go unheard. It is wholly unequal to the task, whether it is heard or not. Lera lets out a long, ragged sigh through her teeth -- and catches the raised eyebrow of Georgia Jenks. She opens her mouth, then closes it. "Ah, sorry," she says, louder but still lamely. "I-I guess not. There's, um, there's... all that singing too."

<Pose Tracker> Georgia Jenks [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Georgia watches Mikoto as she takes her leave with Fuu, brow furrowing. The mood definitely changed with the mention of her possibly being caught up in that bombing incident. She refrains from going after her, though, realizing she likely needed some space. Sighing, she shakes her head as she turns back to Lera.

"Yeah... I'm not sure what's up with the singing. I'm starting to think it's not part of all of this student elections business." But if that's the case, what could it be? "I'm really stumped, Lera! Should we investigate? I think we should investigate. I'm really curious now." And curiousity made Georgia her own worst enemy many a time before.

<Pose Tracker> Anthy Himemiya [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

After the song of the shockwave and the echoes of the CRACKing sound die away, the chorus of human shock begins in the atrium. The competing presentations and music, all of the tables full of delicious and free things to eat, even the rumors of a fight to watch later -- they can't hold much to whatever THAT just was.

Everyone starts to talk at the same time. Some kids check their phones. Some topple, overbalanced by the shockwave...

"Did something just explode?!"

"There's nothing about it online."

"Is it an election stunt?"

The more enterprising and social media-savvy in the crowd flip on their cell cameras in eager anticipation. A few near the door run outside to get a better view of... whatever that just was, tangling briefly on kids outside who want in at the exact same time on the assumption that someone inside must know what happened.

No one in the atrium is left to wonder long.


Fragments of arena floor spin and swirl and fall. They are meteorites falling to earth and they are rose petals and they are springboards for desperate duelists, slightly less dangerous than the alternative: the merciless empty air surrounding them.

Neither of these magical girls can fly.

They can fall with exceptional skill and speed and grace, though, and that is what they do, controlling their descent with leaps that span the dizzy gaps between whirling chunks of debris. The ground flashes closer, and the golden-fire sparkle of sunset off hundreds of panes of glass rushes up to meet them.

Kasagami wields the might of her Sword and her heavy boots against the tumbling chunks of arena, making bid to finish the demolition job begun so far above and deny Utena any footing, and it is a thoroughly effective strategy. The air around them becomes distressingly clear with a quickness as the best places to land slice up and splinter away.

At the last moments neither of them have a piece of stone to lay a flailing foot to: gravity claims them both, even as Kasagami refracts dark crimson devilry across the empty space separating her from Utena. The tip of the Sword of Dios slices rainbows from the air itself. It is a slim blessing that her boot catches the girl instead -- the same boot that ground chunks of Arena floor to dust moments prior.

The force of the blow sends Utena hurtling down ahead of her, blown back-first toward the earth. Kasagami's consummate athletic prowess enables a graceful midair spring -- off of Utena, no less -- to angle her feet for a landing.


The sparkling atrium rushes up to greet them, and its open skylight engulfs their fall -- it is almost as if there is a shifting of the glass panes to meet them, to perfectly position that opening beneath their feet. But that is impossible, and a rainbow refraction glares from the glass, so perhaps it was just a trick of the light...

The two teenagers fall to earth and hit the ground simultaneously with a clear ten feet of atrium floor between them.

Everyone else stops talking at the same time.

A whistle of metal through air sounds clearly throughout the atrium.

The severed length of Sayaka Miki's loaned sword, straight and long and sliced clean through two thirds of the way up its keen edge, spins down like a throwing star to embed in the floor at the exact midpoint between the duelists. It is utterly missing from Utena's borrowed hilt, amputated by the sheer power of the Sword of Dios.

It isnt fear that made Utenas sword lighter in her hand, during the fall. She wielded it against her foe with such reckless force that it broke itself in pursuit of a better world.

The Rose Bride steps into the silence, after, from the adjoining glass-lined hallway that serves as the main connector between campus and Crystal Hall. Every curl of purple is perfect. Every line of her gown falls exactly as it should. Her face wears unapproachable serenity like the mask that it is.

Her eyes are only for the duelists. She ignores the crowd entirely, and they back away from her a half step further without understanding why.

Above and around them, the sunset glints off of glass as it moves, as it shifts, as impossible and distracting and visual as a set of funhouse mirrors drifting overhead. Every facet of the Crystal Hall begins a new dance, slow and stately at first. They expand outward so the sun's dying rays shine between uninterrupted, and then then begin to gradually shuffle like cards against the sky...

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Kasagami's boot saves the floor the trouble of driving all the air out of Utena.

Everything hurts, but the momentary reprieve from movement is almost restful.

It would be so easy to just... stop.

When the blade sinks into the ground next to her, it becomes even easier.

It's over.

She's lost.

Her expression is dazed, distant with agony...

...as her hand painfully unfurls from her chest.

From the untouched white rose.


She kicks up, in a flash of long white legs and swirling pink hair. It isn't an effortlessly athletic movement. It required her, in the moment, to punch the ground in order to push herself up. A tiny crater is left there, next to the larger one made by her original impact.

Shaky but standing, Utena raises what's left of her blade, now a scant dagger instead of a sword, in a second salute. Again, it bisects her face.

Again, the message is clear: bring it!

Just in case there's any question though, her voice rings out through the atrium. If it's a little bit of a wheeze, who can blame her? The defiant fire in her eyes burns so hot that it's blue. It more than makes up for her timbre.

"You're wrong," she gasps. "It doesn't matter -- how strong you are --"

Despite being much shorter and lighter than it was, the tip of her sword wavers in the air a little bit, tracing a tiny circle. She frowns, steadying it, and herself.

"You can't take away the promise I made."

Even the music was shocked by the impact, the electric guitar fading away into jangles. Now it surges forth again.



<Pose Tracker> Usagi Tsukino [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Sprinter - Kalafina(Acoustic Version)=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1MZcmqQtPs

The skylight shatters. The chorus grows loud. Usagi Tsukino screams - before she's drowned out.

Two girls hit the floor - the debris and glass settles. And hesitantly she gets up to her feet, eyes wide and uncomprehending. There are a million things she could be seeing right now and she's uncertain what it is. Until a familiar girl kicks up - and says... there's something that cannot be taken away.

But when she does it comes first as a whisper from her lips.


The last time she saw her... the ruffles and epaulettes have vanished. And there is only a coughing, stunned middle school student - tears streaming down her cheeks. And despite the agony of her breathing - she uses that breath to speak a single word.


And after that moment it's like Usagi has never stopped. In a supreme confluence of trauma - she couldn't bring herself to even find out her fate. In stark denial that the moment ever happened if no miracle was forthcoming...

A scared bunny runs - and she kept running. She ran from Sailor Uranus' betrayal. From the hostility of Haruka Tenoh. She ran from the growing hostilities of the war. From every dark rumor surrounding Kasagami and the Outer Senshi both. She even nearly ran from her adorable same height sister's fears...

Since then - when has she ever truly stopped?

She has no inkling of what has happened to Utena Tenjou from then unto now. The only connection she can see tying them is Anthy Himemiya, and she cannot fathom how it does. Hearing about her fight with Araki is one thing - seeing her with her own two eyes that she's still alive. Still fighting...

That's quite something else.


Her name is a relief. Her name is a prayer. Her name is a plea. Her name is a resolution. Both giddy with excitement upon seeing her gearand anxious with fear upon seeing her lock swords with Araki. She knows implicitly that this is Utena's fight even as she tries to push up to the fringes of those around it- just another normal girl in a crowd, but perhaps - she might stand out just enough.

But even if it is there's something she can still do for her. It's what so many girls taught her from different locked petals of a prism flower. Utena seems so much braver and more confident than she was on that day - but maybe all the same - it's something she can give her.

"Utena - I know she's tough but you can definitely beat her - because..."

The honor's all mine -- you're the bravest princess I know, Sailor Moon!

She almost calls her the bravest prince she knows. Almost. But not quite. It doesn't sound right on her tongue. There's something more fitting she can say.

"...because - it takes someone special to reach out to a crying girl who's in pain. It's an act of true courage. And that's the kind of world we should all want - one where people like you fight for us!"

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

"I think, um--I think maybe we should," Lera answers Georgia. She doesn't rally, entirely, but she manages to pick herself up from the downward wave -- enough to look functional in front of a new face. She smiles a little weakly at her. "It's not--"

The voices around them fall quiet as metal whistles through the air. A severed long sword blade slams into the ground in the middle of the atrium -- and the two Duelists slam down afterward, along with the Rose Bride. Lera's eyes widen as she turns her head, staring at Anthy Himemiya for a moment -- and remembering the time she caught a falling Rose Bride from the air. She closes her mouth.

Then, she looks back at Kasagami and Utena. Her eyes shift, sliding to Georgia. She finishes, quietly: "...I think we have where it came from, y'know?"

But she quiets. Utena is unarmed -- and today, Lera did not bring Soaring Sky. She did not bring the Device that can grant someone a sword. Is this, she wonders, how her mother feels? To see the people who struggle, and wish she could arm them? Her fingers curl, nervously, as she looks at Utena and sees her distant, pained expression.

And she sees that expression become more.

Lera's eyes widen as Utena holds the remains of her sword up in a salute. Usagi calls out to her, too. She stares for a long moment -- and then, for the first time tonight, her expression breaks into a real, genuine smile. She cups her hands together, and calls out: "YOU CAN DO IT, UTENA-SAN!"

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

Shizuru watches from above. ...For a long time, she has. For a long time, it's been literal. But this remains enough to move the unmovable Fujino heiress, seeing the way that the Duelists must navigate among the falling stones. She is not looking to her phone for explosions; she is not even considering the party out in the atrium. ...Not until they fall into it, hit the ground, prompt utter silence. Utena's sword is destroyed, of course. ...And Shizuru....

Shizuru watches a world collide with another and it is as unsettling as anything that has happened yet. Even her antipathy for Anthy is set aside, pushed away, in favor of what the suneset shows. Shizuru Fujino is still seated, her noisemaker forgotten, perhaps never really noticed at all... As she sees Utena's hand unfurl. As she sees the rose--

"...It's not possible," she murmurs, staring still, eyes unblinking.

Utena speaks of the promise that she made. The older girl's eyes flicker to Kasagami, then. Towards the juggernaut that she could harm, but has not defeated. She does not even waste a moment on the student body that she has claimed to serve for so long. She finds the Rose Bride--and she finds, once again...

That promise. The meaning of the white rose. Shizuru does not say anything else, does not offer ammunition for the sharks around her who smell blood as surely as she does. She does not look to the noisemaker that was one, and then three, and now five, each sitting starkly on the white table before the bottle in ice.

But she does not blink, either. She knows what is coming. She knows what must come next, what is inevitable.

...And the blood gouged from the palm of her hand drips, drips, drips to the stone below.

<Pose Tracker> Georgia Jenks [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Two things happen in quick succession. Two people crash into the atrium suddenly, shushing everyone present immediately. Georgia's mouth falls open, eyes widening as a sword comes sailing in afterwards, embedding itself in the ground. She turns to Lera and only nods mutely in response to what she says. Yep. This would seem connected to all the strangeness they've been experiencing up to this point.

"Are... they alright?" She questions aloud, not really expecting anyone to answer her. So these were the duelists. They had been fighting somewhere on campus afterall. And their battle was so fierce it finally spilled over here to the atrium.

Then, one of them gets up. It's... Utena Tenjou! She begins a speech, ending it with her intentions of keeping a promise she made. "W-Wow. So serious." Georgia says under her breath, body tense as her eyes dart between Utena and Kasagami. Would things continue here? Could things continue here? She's not sure whose side she's supposed to be on... if sides are being chosen, that is. It seems as though Usagi has picked a side, either way, and Georgia resigns herself to just watch the scene further unfold.

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

"... I, I am sorry," Nori says to Usagi, her voice faltering. It's like it's skipping a little. "I haven't felt... well..."

She sways. Even leaving aside the turmoil in her heart - which is not easily done - she has had five slices of cake for lunch and a cup of cold coffee for dinner. "Usagi," she begins, when the sky falls.

The shock of it, the sheer surprise, is enough to startle the interior narrative tracks into silence. In that moment the sunset reflects off the shards of the atrium and for a moment Nori (is it Nori?) feels her eyes hurt despite the gauze of her veil, despite everything. It's a sick and pounding pressure. She feels like she is shrivelling by tiny bits.

Even so, despite the obscure obscenity of a bare star in the sky, Nori Ankou is silent. She presses her hands to her face, flattening the veil against her cheekbones. Her fingers crook, letting her left eye glimpse outwards. There's that blurring sense again, that sense that 'she' isn't there. That there is only a patchwork heroine at the wheel as the future glows and she screams.

Her throat tightens. She can't speak. She can feel cold sweat on her neck. Because there is another hidden secret and that is that Nori is afraid of Kasagami. Whatever she may think of her, and the feeling is complex, she is undeniable in her power.

Usagi cheers. It's a pure sound. Lera echoes it, makes it real, fully stereophonic and not a subtle displacement of Nori's own thoughts.

I can become anyone - I can become anything

Nori tilts her head forwards, hiding her eyes completely. For two seconds she is absolutely still and then with a sudden twist of expressive motion she has oriented her left hand towards Utena. The charm is not there now, and the raised horns of index and pinky finger with crooked thumb do not mean much in this part of the world: and yet, as the chord plays, the intent is there.

A blessing from somewhere far away. Maybe not as far as you'd think.

She is able to answer Georgia in a choked voice. "I said, Jenks, that your words oft precede a career." Nori dry-swallows twice. "But that does not mean, that they are wrong."

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

Some people, upon offering aid to a girl in need, might have an agenda. Fuu is *not* one of those people - or rather, her 'agenda' is just 'giving help to someone who needs it'. Not lending, not expecting anything in return, just helping Mikoto because the younger girl, however terrifying she may be in battle, simply needs a friendly hand. The fact that she *accepts* that offered hand is proof that it was needed, really - and Fuu doesn't try to hurry the catlike girl along, instead supporting Mikoto and letting her set the pace.

Not that Fuu isn't increasingly curious about what really happened, admittedly - but she's definitely not going to ask questions while they're still in a public setting. The door isn't that far away now; beyond it lie privacy and quiet and fresh air and peace -

THere is no shattering of glass, but the noise as bodies and a broken sword plummet into the Atrium is still enough to make Fuu's heart skip a beat; she whirls to see what happened, half-reflexively swapping which hand she's offering to Mikoto, making sure the injured girl can continue being supported.

There's Kasagami - she knows the disciplinary committee head in both mundane and magical guises. The pink-haired girl ... Utena? Possibly. Perhaps. It would stand to reason. Usagi called out her name like she recognizes her, at any rate. And the purple-haired young woman who comes in from the hallway - was she running, she's too calm to have been running - she can only presume from vague recollection.

And a piece of a broken sword, a piece which came from the shorter-than-usual blade which Utena holds. Even with a broken weapon, she still faces Kasagami boldly, determined to pursue victory.

Fuu's gaze bounces between the two duelists. She knows Kasagami better, but ... should she cheer for Utena instead? Or remain silent?

Her warm, gentle hand squeezes Mikoto's lightly, as if confirming she's still here, confirming her support for the injured Mikoto. Maybe seeking guidance as well - after all, *Mikoto* is a student here; Fuu isn't.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

The last moments are a dark, forgetful thrill ride for Kasagami. Destruction trails behind her even as her opponent lays before her. The catching of stone then Utena with her boot sends a shiver up her spine. In that single, glorious instance as she springs in the air to a perfect landing on her feet she has no reason to doubt or be guilty or pine for the loss of her favored enemy. Only locked in battle can she lay claim to something close to peace and enjoyment in her life. Struggling against another and giving herself to competition and her own dreams.

That, at least, is the lie she speaks to herself as she lands. The ghost of warm arms, living and dead, are a weight on her shoulders she can't feel right now.

The impact of most of that blade embedding itself into the Atrium has Kasagami's mouth blossoming into a wolven grin. That is the sound of impending victory. Yet even as she's dusting off faint debris from her uniform and cloak, Utena's legs and arm push her up. Shaking and with naught but a dagger to her name, she doesn't back down. She's keenly aware of the crowd, and Kasagami's first instinct is to play the show-woman. A flourish, quick and sliced in that ten feet that keeps them apart, and legs bend.

"And that is where you and I have always disagreed, Utena. With enough strength and power a person can accomplish anything! Just look around you!"

She motions with the Sword of Dios to the crowd about them both. Arms open as if to welcome all of the students to this crashed party of violence and magic.

"All of this is built because people with ambition and fury decided that they wanted to change the world around them. Ohtori's very stones are proof that strength and purpose can create beauty in this cruel world! Every single great nation would built on the very same principles! Power is the bedrock of civilization, and ambition the nurturing water that keeps humanity alive when the darkness seeks to tear everyone we love from our hands, Utena!"

"And that is why I'm going to reach for my dreams with the strength of my own two hands, and cut straight through your precious promise! And how I will lead Ohtori Academy to heights never before seen as it's President!"

Kasagami shouts amidst the hall before the crowd! Ambition is true in her words, she believes in every one of them. And right now?

She won't back down even as it's spilled so openly amidst the student body.

The words of others meet her ears. But Kasagami reminds herself of the Shepherds, her friends and lovers aside from that group.

Hands grip her sword to her side as if it was sheathed. Her gaze narrows so that only her opponent and the many colors of uniforms gathered lurk on her periphery. A chuckle, even as the One Engaged moves. Once again, she's a flicker of light.

This time she's at Utena's side. A single, almost casual slice aimed expertly for precious petals. She's gone again, feet pounding the atrium's floor as her movements leave more streaks of rainbow. Up, down, left right. Rather than the shattering strength she showed during her descent, she moves on to impossible movements and precision. They blur into one another as she steps all around Utena. Even as the sun's rays paint it, the One Engaged seems to lay her blade everywhere at once as she tries to strike free the beautiful petals of the rose on her opponent's chest. She could apply so much more force. But here, right now, that wouldn't get her aim.

And so Kasagami dances about, spinning, lashing, hair swirls of black and red as she tangos with the Sword of Dios and Utena all at once while she follows the power of the sword in her own contrails of light.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

There are tears, in Mikoto's eyes. She struggles to contain them. They leak down anyway, silently. There is a great and vast sorrow, etched onto her face along lines of pain and desolation.

The question of what has happened is left entirely unanswered as they move through the crowd. The question of what Fuu has done is not. "Thanks," Mikoto says, though her voice is small and worn. "Fuu's really... a good person..."

In another world, they leave the crowd, they go to a private place amongst one of Ohtori's gardens - they talk.

That is not this world.

Mikoto limps away with Fuu. But there's something out of the corner of her eye. She turns her head - jerks her body around painfully as she realises, openly grasping onto Fuu for support -

The Duelists are falling. Fuu can feel Mikoto's hand, gripping at her arm. It is a weaker grip than she might expect. It is as tight as Mikoto can manage. Fear grips Mikoto; Mikoto grips Fuu. She can't believe what she's seeing. It is too much. too heavy for her

Crash. Not a convenient lie, this time. The sound a body makes when it hits the ground. The sound boots make when they impact with a multiplier force.

"... Kasagami," she whispers, and it is awe and happiness. A beat. Grief and sorrow. she should be used to death by now "Utena..."

They have fallen from so far above. She cannot even see from where they might have fallen. Optimistically - the roof of the crystal atrium. Less optimistically, the rooftops of Ohtori. Even less... even less...

And then Utena gets up, and for the first time since Lera started asking questions, Mikoto smiles. She smiles through tears, smiles through pain, smiles through despair.

Mikoto looks at the way she guards her rose, as she rises, and she realises that it is the mark Kasagami is seeking. That it might not be a fight to the death, but just a fight to the mark. It's strange, to her, closer to training than battle. But...

... if it's something like that...

She hopes it is. She prays to dark and transcendent things. Mikoto cannot help. It is so, so painfully obvious that she cannot help. If this is a true battle, and Kasagami is hurt, killed - Mikoto can do nothing. completely useless

- Usagi yells.

Lera yells -

And Mikoto realises she might be able to do something after all.

"... Kasagami!!" Mikoto yells, and the deep breath aches at her chest. And it is relief, and hope, and pain, and the aching truth that Mikoto will believe in anyone who shows her such love and affection. Mikoto does not tell her to fight, because Kasagami knows to fight. Mikoto does not tell her to win, because Kasagami knows to win. Mikoto calls her name, so that Kasagami knows, simply, that she is there, and she is witness.

The others cheer for Utena.

Mikoto cheers for the girl who called her family.

She offers no explanation to Fuu for her belief, but it is evident. She is glad Utena is alive - but it's Kasagami's name she shouts.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Eri Shimanouchi has been here - because she doesn't really know what to do. Kasagami had stated her 'Office' but such things seem implicitly cancelled by the fact that she was challenged by a fight. And while she knows Kasagami's power well enough to believe such a fight would be over quickly...

She'd intended to visit Mikoto in the hospital and Yumi - but when it came to choosing obligation to Kasagami to facing guilt over neglecting the other two...

She chose cowardice.

In the same way she hasn't approached Mikoto despite glimpsing that she's here at the party.

And yet as the two crashed through the skylight - and Utena gets up. She feels she has no choice.


There's only a glimmer of emotion in her voice.

"If you wish to do this with your own two hands - then I won't interfere unless you ask it of me."

There's something distant in her eyes as she watches the glint of the Blade of Dios, "While we were in Hokkaido - I told you I'd believe in your change if I could see it."

She's believed for so long that truly changing the world cannot happen. That any change is small and rare and precious and fleeting like a rare flower blooming out of season.

"And you accepted my challenge."

But a little more emotion does enter her voice as she pleads for something beautiful. Something fraught - and just a little vulnerable.

"Please... show me."

<Pose Tracker> Anthy Himemiya [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The Rose Bride follows the descent of Utena Tenjou with green, green eyes until she craters into the Crystal Hall floor, followed by the remainder of her blade. Her face is the calmest in all the atrium as it turns to take in the predator's grin upon the face of her Engaged.

There's an awful lot of weirdness going around already, and the crowd teeters on the precipice of panic in the face of so very much unknown. The more base and primal of human motivations war, and in the end one wins out and anchors the uncertain mass of students in place, together:

A chant breaks out. "FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!"

The Rose Bride watches long pink tresses pool against the cracked tile, sees the slump in slender shoulders beneath the feminine cut of Utena's uniform, and laces her fingers together. It's over. She's lost.

The bottommost array of glass panels, tall and stately, elevate themselves entirely out of the way to hang above and around the wondering crowd like so many sunset-catching prisms. The Crystal Hall is, for the moment, mystically converted into the strangest of open-air event halls. No cables hold up the floating rectangles; no clever mechanisms or even overt magical workings are in evidence. They slide through the sky like it is the most natural thing in the world for massive panes of glass to do.

It is, of course, entirely unnatural -- and beyond the reckonings of most of those left in the open space once defined by walls.

The Rose Bride spies the purity of white as Utena unfurls her hand, and she blinks.

Kasagami presses her advantage, battering at Utena with words as the girl kicks her way back upward -- and the whole atrium listens in, as they are meant to.

A hungry chorus of the surrounding students goes up, in practiced howls that emulate (but always fall short of) the sheer furious glory of their idol and the President of their hearts, uttered by black-coated supporters that make endless inky pockets in the crowd. They organize their chants quickly, and soon the sharp syllables of "A-RA-KI" threaten to overshout the opposition -- those who still hold affection for the prodigal pinkhair.

The Rose Bride hears every word the duelists exchange. She has drifted closer, unseen, and the crowd never realized it parted around her. Their jeers flow around her -- but do not touch her, somehow. It is as though something else fully arrests her attention and does not allow even phobic intervention.

The One Engaged becomes one blur, and then countless blurs, refracting as if cast like a column of fiery light through the hovering walls of glass -- every swordswoman-shaped beam, each bladed angle centered upon a pristine white rose. Utena is forced to her heels and further, driven to retreat with all desperation to keep that bloom intact. The crowd scatters before them -- the two combatants accelerate to a degree no more improbable than the glass floating overhead, bodies swift as blades, and depart the area that is still vaguely defined as the atrium at full speed and more.

They tear across the campus grounds faster than any normal feet could follow, soon out of sight -- except...

...an unignorable series of red-orange flashes light up the sky, reflecting the sunset down onto the gathering. Anyone who looks up sees more impossibility: the glass panes of the Crystal Hall, hovering at canted angles all around, each gathering the reflection of light so bent that it sparks rainbow at the edges, much like how Kasagami splits light with the Sword of Dios. And in each pane, the image of the striving duelists superimposes in brilliant clarity against the backdrop of the dying flames of sunset.

Those with magical means may be able to keep up with Kasagami and Utena. Those who cannot will miss none of the strange, violent show.

In full view of all, they crash toward the Ohtori Chapel -- except that it, too, has shifted, has refracted, has bent like the light. Kasagami drives Utena toward an escalating, twisting series of cathedral towers that corkscrew into the sky by the dozens. The whole structure looms massive, all gothic arches spanned by gleaming tapestries of stained glass. So many of the figures depicted ride proud white steeds, and all of them tilt toward mythic dragons.

The Rose Bride paces the single bell tower high above the rest, her gaze fixed upon her Engaged and the girl who insists on continuing to fight, against all odds and reason. Because she promised.

The towers churn and whirl, behaving more like pistons in a combustion engine than proper cathedral belfries, all around the central high tower housing the princess in her red gown and her purple hair and her intent, unwavering regard. The winds catch at her skirt, creating movement where the girl herself shows none at all.

This new battlefield orients itself around the combatants as they enter it, seeming just as intent upon their duel.

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

Mikoto cheers for Kasagami, and she is not alone in doing so. Others are still cheering for Utena. And Fuu remains unsure who to support - because parts of her, different parts, want to show her support for both. For all that Utena remains a relative stranger, something in her struggle seems purer than Kasagami's lofty self-confidence ... and the events of the day's eventful luncheon come back to her mind.

Fuu has seen how Kasagami treats Anthy: not as a friend, nor as a companion, but ... as something that belongs to her by right.

And in the garden, earlier that day, she saw how Utena treated Anthy: like a friend she wanted to make up with, not a 'something' but a 'someone,' someone *important* to her.

And she's seen, by now, how Anthy reacted to both of them. Passive and submissive to Kasagami, accepting her role ... but to Utena, acting like she actually was alive, with a heart to call her own.

Fuu doesn't cheer aloud, doesn't call out, but whispers, "You can do this, Utena-san ..." with the same intensity that would go into one of her spells. She's not garbed in the armor of the Knight of Wind, not able to call forth magic - and she wouldn't dare cast a spell into *this* contest even if she *could* - but even as the Duelists speed away, Fuu sends her wishes after them, as though a whisper on the breeze could be a tailwind to buoy Utena towards victory.

A piece of her wants to follow, to watch with her own eyes. But she's still supporting Mikoto, and she's not about to abandon the wounded girl - not even if they happen to disagree about who they want to see as the victor. So Fuu simply turns her gaze to one of those floating panels, taking advantage of that 'reflected' image of what's continuing to transpire.

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The crowd's eruption into noise is jarring to Utena -- had she not quite realized that they had fallen into unexpected company? She knows it now, knows it from the fullthroated support of Usagi and Lera and Fuu and the silent-but-deadly support of Nori Ankou. She was already the very image of defiance, but their words inspire her to stand up even straighter; to ready herself even more; and, really, to loosen up a bit.

Not because things are less serious.

But because if she's the oak, she'll splinter.

Only the willow can survive this kind of wind.

The voices of her friends ringing in her ears, Utena remembers to breathe. Fluidity returns to her motion, from the grip on her blade to the fluttering tips of her hair.

Other voices do too -- friends, acquaintances. Enemies too. She may have been the first to fall at Shinjuku, is vividly, painfully aware that her unavailability to confront girls like Mikoto and Eri -- her failure -- her, yes, weakness -- contributed to their school's collective loss.

"Like you led Mami Tomoe?" she snaps back, while rolling out of the way of Kasagami's first strike. She's unable to evade the second one, which rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrips straight across her jacket, slicing the buttons clean off, and misses her rose by the narrowest of margins.

It gapes open, revealing that Utena Tenjou wears nothing but her iconic gray sports bra underneath. She doesn't blush. Until, that is, she notices the inexplicable and impossible presence of Anthy Himemiya. Then, without really understanding why, she does pinken, just a little.

And she accelerates. In short order it's become a running battle, with little to be seen of the two girls but blurs in their respective colors and the occasional clash between them. There's no question, though, that Kasagami is the cat and she the mouse. She's driven back over and over and over.

"Or like you led me?"

Her voice echoes in the chapel -- the cathedral. Utena shivers in the darkness, and shivers more when she slides into the light of stained glass. This is not a good place for her to be.

Her blade is not in a good place either. It's amputated, broken, and the disadvantage against the already legendary range of Kasagami Araki really cannot be overstated.

Still, every time the One Engaged closes with her to try to take her rose, she tries to riposte in time to make it count. She doesn't ever hit anything but bending light, though. With that crimson light surrounding Kasagami, Utena is hopelessly slower.

"You're no leader, just a bully!" she shouts the next time they clash. Afterwards, they are momentarily separated by a churning tower, which causes Utena to let down her guard a bit, to speed a little less and talk a little more. "You love to talk about ambition, but all you ever use your power for is doing whatever you want! And you do whatever you want just to get more power! What kind of King does that?!"

(Utena Tenjou has a somewhat warped perspective of history, perhaps.)

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

One voice does not rise into the din. It is not the only voice that is silent, but it is one. ...The other Duelists are meant to be above this sort of thing, after all, literally and metaphorically, dispassionate observers, civilized. It is one of the many trappings that affords dignity to the practice of trading a girl among them as a result of secretive Duels. It is one of the many trappings that lets them pretend not to have their own burning miracles, each and every one of them, and that they would not go to great lengths to be the ones in that place.


Shizuru Fujino says nothing. She watches Kasagami begin to play the crowd, knows well her approach; not only great skill, but intentional charisma, bringing her plans to fruition by sheer force of stubborn personality. But she does it talking... about power. The power to accomplish anything.

Shizuru could almost laugh. Almost. Almost, and leagues and leagues away. The former Vice President hears this talk of power, of Kasagami's intent for her leadership...

And the speed of what comes next. Of course the chant breaks out; of course that base motivation brings feeling to all of them, and the Fujino heiress should enjoy that passion, should enjoy the spark that comes of changing the entire student body, of bringing such hot feelings to the fore. ...SHe should. She should, even with the chant of that girl's name.

But just as the Rose Bride is untouched by the crowd, Shizuru is here, with the other Duelists, looking dowm from on high. She does not ask how she is able to keep such a vantage point even from this place; she does not comment on the cathedral, for it can be nothing less in this battle. On, and on, there is the Duel... And Utena Tenjou, with her noble opposition.

But Shizuru does not like to look upon this battlefield, either. No, she recalls the white collar she wore in a storybook, once upon a time...

It will be the end of that story, finally. It's inevitable. Shizuru finally opens her hand, lifts it, looks down upon her shredded palm, the blood making slick her engagement ring. She looks away from the battle long enough to look at this, instead. ...To see the battle in her heart, rather than her eyes.

But she cannot look away for long. The noisemakers are ten now, and the one in the center is pink, glorious, glorious pink and white.

The former Vice President places that hand palm-down on the table, marring its surface another way. The tower churns between the combatants. The talk of ambition...

"...All of them," Shizuru answers Utena, a helpless shrug in her voice but no movement at all in her actions. It's almost funny.

...It's not funny at all.

<Pose Tracker> Usagi Tsukino [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

And then comes Kasagami - faster and more powerful than Usagi Tsukino can believe. She knew she was strong - but this is stronger than she's ever seen her. Her words given weight by the power behind them. She quails a bit as she listens to her - worrying about Utena being the recipient of that power. Worrying that she might fall. Swaying the crowd to her side with all of the charisma to back it up.

Usagi Tsukino - doesn't understand what Utena is saying about Mami, or even in regards to herself. There's too much going on that she doesn't understand.

But she fully understands what side she's on... it's even more and more clear as Utena calls Kasagami out. It hits too close to home.

She still remembers a drugged Madoka - barely able to stand, sobbing on her shoulder.

She even remembers a Sailor Pluto - the unflappable Guardian - even her reduced to tears for the consequences of defending silly little Usagi Tsukino - who misunderstood what was going on.

She remembers the look that Anthy Himemiya gave her over her shoulder - as she was being led away, locked in Kasagami's arm. Wondering still to this day what she was feeling that night.

Usagi is just another voice in the crowd - of the chanting for either - but she still puts her whole heart into it.

"Just a little longer! Hold out a little longer! Keep pushing forward Utena - for every girl she's made cry-"

Her last words a fervent plea as she squeezes both of her hands into fists


<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Voices split the air even as she fights. Two of them so intimately familiar by now that she could pick them out if a bomb went off right next to her.

The first is the strong, fearsome feline and warrior that she holds so dear. The simple, strong girl that's fought beside her and confided in her search for her Brother. A person she holds so much love and affection for, respect for martial skill long ago blossomed into more personal care.

And then, Eri's voice filters through her own words and clashing. The glimmer of emotion, that vulnerable note and pleading. A challenge accepted, and now reminded from the girl willing to kill and suffer for them all.

Her proud, furious gaze softens just a moment. A tear slides down her cheek.

And in that single moment, she's reminded that she too has promises to keep. Resolve strengthens in the love and trust being put into her hands by the duo of Shepherds.

The ink-coated students that idealize and support her lead a background chant that only steels her spine in this clash. And she'll need it. Utena, even as she seeks out the young woman's rose in their hunting game, slices with words more keenly than any blade! The first name has her eyes widening. Pain blossoms in her heart, as that fresh scab is ripped off. She drives back Utena again and again, but the pink haired one in all her now tattered beauty manages to keep the one thing safe that stops Kasagami from claiming victory wholly untarnished.

Kasagami can't even find the words to mention the first, and so she reaches for the second. "How could I when you never gave me the chance?" Is her bitter, hurt words. A second scab ripped open, at the memory of that day in the East Dorm when she was so utterly rejected.

When they land, separated by those churning towers, Kasagami's gaze is all Utena's. Even the horrifying background all around them is just a backdrop. The pacing Bride above in the belltower and the noble steeds and horrible dragons beckon. Kasagami switches her blade to a one handed stance, turning away her own rose and regarding her opponent with an iron gaze.

"I love you dearly, Utena. But you've always spoken exactly like someone who knows nothing about this world at all! Have you ever opened up a history book, huh!?"

Her voice is as vicious and angry as the horrible scaled beasts that the steeds and their riders on the Chapel are turned towards. The clash has Kasagami flashing away, right back to the side of one of the church towers. Her boots touch the side even as she holds in place. Her hand casually reaches out to some of the twisted, Escher space, and she draws that clawed up appendage across reality. It shatters in her wake thanks to the blade in her other hand, and she grips those many stained glass shards like a million knives clutched close.

Without a word, she leaps hard for Utena, gathering momentum. It's less like a flash, and more like facing down the movement of a rail gun fired point blank.

Particularly as she lets loose with those shards in the process, a spray of pointed colors that try to slam into Utena in a conal shape, even as the hilt of the Sword of Dios follows Kassie's other hand as it seeks to slam into the rose still pinned on the other young woman's torn uniform.

The previous glass shattering sound is nothing compared to the force that shoves the two towards the Garden they were so recently at.

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Lera's eyes widen, as she watches the screen. The girl's hands ball into fists at her sides. The part of her that is a practiced sword fighter feels her gut clench with concern; Kasagami is so much faster, so elegant, and commands such power. Utena doesn't have that advantage. A part of her wants to transform on the spot, then rush in to help her fellow Chevalier. She clamps down on that part of her brain.

Instead, she bites her lip, and she makes herself watch.

She doesn't know Kasagami Araki, except for the time they fought -- and the time that she saved the Rose Bride, and received her thanks. She would say it isn't personal, but when she looks to each side...

She sees faces there, but not the one that she is looking for. That pushes her on; the girl turns, looking back up at the strange screens. Her eyes widen, and then she cups her hands around her mouth, and yells out: "C'mon! You can do it!" she yells. "For Mami, and for all of us! We believe in you!"

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The world is melting like her vision seems to, Nori Ankou thinks as she lowers her hand, the sign of Les Mysteres fading into limp fingered grace at her side. Is it? Is it really? The towers loom.

Nori shakes her head once, sharply. The weights on her veil jingle. She reaches up and takes it off, gently.

I want, Nori thinks. I want.......

Her eyes are puffy and the makeup has run.

She doesn't know what she wants.

Lera says Mami's name. So does Utena.

Nori bites into the brim of her hat, getting that bronze lipstick all over the gauzy cloth. She still can't scream.

But at least she can watch.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Eri is here. Eri is cheering for Kasagami. Eri is challenging her to greater heights.

... Eri is alive. Eri's not yet been killed. Eri is here!

Piece by fragile piece, the piercings of her heart are patched over. Piece by fragile piece, a delicate patchwork gathers. Piece by fragile piece, Mikoto fights off hopelessness for one more moment.

Fuu cares for her even when she is so sharp. Kasagami's spirit is indomitable. Utena survived her fall. Eri is alive.

Piece by fragile piece, a smile makes its home on Mikoto's face again. It is small, and it is wavering, and it curves with her open mouth as she takes in hungry, pained breath. But it is there.

She holds tight to those fragile little things, those shards of hope. She doesn't think about the implications of Eri not talking to her. She can't. She can't afford to. She is just glad she is here, she is alive - that she still has a chance to protect her.

Her tiny voice tries to tell her she can't. She swallows the negativity down, with the ache in her muscles and the tears drying in her eyes. Swallows it down, and watches as Kasagami fights. She is beautiful, and precise, and every too-swift movement has a purpose.

Mikoto cheers for Kasagami. Fuu cheers for Utena. But even though they believe in different people, Mikoto clings to Fuu still.

The Duelists are fast; they exit the Crystal Hall as soon as they enter. On any other day, perhaps Mikoto could have followed them. But there are mirrors, and the mirrors reflect the truth of their battle.

"Kasagami is a good person," Mikoto confides in Fuu, softly, as she watches those mirrors with intent golden eyes. Maybe the others would disagree with her. She doesn't care. Kasagami is her friend, and Mikoto has never cared about what people say about her friends - just ask Natsuki or Nao. But she will explain, to Fuu, because Fuu is her friend. And so: "Kasagami cares so much, about me, and everything else in the world..."

She is loud and brash and fierce and devoted and Mikoto recognises, in her, the same core of loyalty which lies within Mikoto's heart. And what little she has seen of her behaviour with Anthy - well -

- Anthy isn't the only person here whose body is a tool.

"... that's why I believe in Kasagami."

She watches, breath hitching in her throat, as Utena speaks the name of the defeated. There are complicated emotions, on her face. A narrowing of the eyes, a flash of hatred - but fear, as well, in the way the air won't leave her lips for a moment, as if there is something about that legacy Mikoto dreads. Regret - though, perhaps, not for the reason anyone looking might assume.

Like she led Utena. A story Mikoto doesn't know. A story Mikoto necessarily dismisses.

Mikoto shakes her head, as Utena calls Kasagami a bully. Maybe she's loud like one - but - that's not the Kasagami she knows.

In the distant crowd, her voice shining over the others and to Mikoto's ears by the force of her heart alone, Usagi bids Utena to fight for every girl Kasagami's made to cry. And Mikoto cannot - will not - imagine Kasagami doing such a thing at all.

Her heart closes ranks around her friend. It must. She cannot do anything else. She is such a devastatingly simple creature.

"... Kasagami is a good person," Mikoto insists again, quietly, against the weight of all the accusations laid against her.

Kasagami can do it. Mikoto knows she can. Her strength is overwhelming, her spirit towering, her love unquestionable. And when Kasagami presses forward - even as Lera shouts the defeated's name to the screen anew - it is with the sort of unstoppable force Mikoto herself employs.

Her grip on Fuu is tight, but without her full strength, it's not tight enough to be painful.

<Pose Tracker> Akko Kagari [Infinity Institute (8)] has posed.

"Do you think she'll be okay, professor?"

Akko Kagari pokes her head over the shoulder of Ursula Callistis, but the wide-brimmed witch's hat on the blunette's head makes it hard to look down at the garden below, and get a full view. From where she sits, it is a furious blur of red and pink; of clashing blades and sparks, and those eerie sparkles of shining glass from Kasagami's power unleashed. It is beautiful, Akko thinks -- it is magic, to be sure, and that makes it wonderful.

But it isn't magic in the way that she ever wanted to see it, and that makes her hug around Ursula's waist tighter than before. It helps calm her. It also helps, though, that she can't see the empty, tired look in her professor's red eyes.

"I think so, Akko," Ursula says, softly. "You can cheer for her, if you want. But... think about the right thing to say, okay?"

This gives Akko pause. "Well..." Her expression screws up, as she looks to the left, then to the right, and starts to pout. "...I want her to win, so--"

"But, it sounds like she cares about the girl that she's fighting," Ursula interjects, gently. "And..." She slides her glasses up; they reflect the light. Akko shifts on the broom, floating high above, and blinks. "...When you fight someone you care about, if you win, it can feel like you lose."


Akko's eyes narrow, as she looks down with an intense expression, and then she nods. "...I understand, professor--or--well, actually, I don't. But... I see what you mean, anyways." She smiles. Then, she cups her hands around her mouth -- and Akko starts to slide off the broom. She doesn't stop herself, shouting out: "KASAGAMI! Make sure you don't get hurt! Rin-san and Niramo-chan and Sailor--"

Ursula gives her a look. Akko's eyebrow twitches.

"--Not Really A Planet And I'm Only Saying That Because I'm On The Astronomy Professor's Ride will be sad if you do! So... take care of yourself, okay!?"

Then she yelps as she starts to the slide the rest of the way off. Her feet kick, desperately--

--but it's fine, because a hand grabs the collar of her uniform, and yanks her back on.

"Th-thanks, Professor."

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The back and forth clash is impressive even for her - and she's used to seeing Goddesses of War clash. What she aspired to be was defined by them. The Puella Magi she all looked up to when she was bright eyed and new.

But Utena invokes a name. And Eri Shimanouchi's head slowly turns to regard her coldly. And yet she can't even refute it. There were things about Mami Tomoe she knew better than many - and how she felt in response to Kasagami is one of those things.

But the responsibility for Mami Tomoe's death is something she is prepared to own - even if in her eyes the blame... the blame belonged to more than her.

And yet what Kasagami says...

"Don't say you love her." Eri rasps harshly. "The moment she resolved herself to oppose you... was the moment those feelings don't matter anymore."

Closing her eyes for a moment, she inhales - then opens them - her eyes fixated upon Kasagami.

"Crush her Kasagami."

There's no beauty or poetry in what she says. No romance.

Just brutal honesty.

"For the sake of the world you're building."

<Pose Tracker> Anthy Himemiya [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Kasagami slices that fine new girl's uniform wide open and the Bride sees; Utena's cheeks tint as gently as the sky did at sunset's advent, and she sees. They blur across the campus and she is nowhere to be seen.

Then the Rose Bride stands before the cathedral bell, its brass curvature a pale echo of her sweeping silk skirt. She witnesses and she presides and she is the unbeating red-draped heart at the center of this weirdling chaos, all from on high.

Cathedral towers grind and stab toward the sky with their pointed witch-hat tops while two girls battle for their lives and their ideals and the safety of their rose tokens. The Bride witnesses their words to each other. From the great remove of her perch it would be almost impossible for anyone to discern the exact cant of her gaze.

She follows Kasagami as she claws one hand through the contorted air and twists it free full of dagger-twists of glass, then looses them at an Utena who's driven back again -- but refuses to drop. Refuses to yield. Refuses to recognize that this fight was finished before it ever begun, decided the moment the would-be Prince issued her challenge in the garden to the would-be King.

The crimson-clad duelist fires herself into the girl in what once was a high school uniform, its orange and grey tatters showing all the vulnerabilities Utena Tenjou is willing to bare before giving up the integrity of the white rose upon her breast. As they rocket away from the cathedral and its churning gothic spectacle, the towers whir into high gear as one -- then sink into and beneath the green campus grass in a cascade. The bell tower is last to descend, without spin or speed, a stately coming-to-earth that reveals it to be, at its very top, the more familiar church. Back where it always was.

Far behind the duelists. They are in the rose garden, now.

Iron bars painted white part to welcome these warring royals, then reconvene to sturdy parameters: bars evenly spaced and encasing, the shimmer of antique glass between them a pretty mask for the cage they've formed. It is the familiar garden of the lunchtime challenge -- and it is not.

None of Kasagami Araki's alterations have survived the garden's own personal interpretation of Ohtori's protean state. The party banners and refreshment tables are banished beneath twisted and seeking vines that grow and entwine and sport wicked, curving thorns. The vines climb the white ribs of the garden's interior, dark veins running wild, the growth so rapid it is audible as a fibrous stretching.

There are only three roses visible in the entire garden, amidst all this verdant spiderwebbing. Dark crimson petals curl, untouched, over the fury that thuds in Kasagami Araki's heart. A bloom all colors and none glows with unmussed purity upon the shredded remains of Utena Tenjou's uniform, as miraculously unbowed as the girl protecting it.

And the third, the Rose Bride, walks through the only door to the greenhouse at her stately ritual pace and shuts it behind her with a little metallic *click* that speaks of a lock closing. Her eyes are the greenest points in the garden, absolutely vivid, and they are locked as well: upon Kasagami Araki and Utena Tenjou.

The opacity of that clouded antique glass only flows one way. While the duelists feel cut off from the outside world, that world still sees, between the curls of vines against the windows. Duelists and spectators alike have clear view of the way those animate tendrils whip out to cross the interior of the greenhouse, forming a complex webwork that looks more than solid enough to support an athletic duelist -- should she feel like risking it.

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Amid the crazed whirling of the chaos cathedral, Utena makes the sound that someone makes when they've been stabbed, at Kasagami's bitterness -- at her vicious confession. It's a tiny gasp, as soft as a baby's and as hard as an ending's. Her fingertips shake, shocked numbness pouring through her, and she drops what is left of her sword. It lands at her feet in a clatter, as she gapes at the One Engaged, defenseless, open, easy to pluck.

Her empty hand clutches at her heart as though trying to push it back in, and that unconscious gesture is the only thing that saves her.

Kassie has a front-row seat to Utena's expression when she detonates her railgun of glass. It seems almost redundant; it's Utena who's shattered. She's gone completely white. Her lips, full of feeling, tremble like the floor of the Dueling Arena did just before it collapsed. Her eyes are open wounds, wide with the expression of a girl who, for the first time, truly understands that someone else will do anything, will say anything, to get what they want.

As helpless to resist as a feather in a whirlwind, Utena's feet are swept right off the ground by the force of the Power of Dios, and she goes flying backwards, pursued and tormented by a swarm of Kasagami's shards.

Strips of her uniform rain down on campus like confetti, as she's sliced again and again and again, but it's a layer of her innocence that's being torn from her forever, irreparably lost.

She lands, again on her back, in the garden. Whatever the glass didn't get, the thorns claim for themselves, impact slamming her straight through the web of vines until she hits the floor. There's all but nothing left of the cute skirt now, the yellow jacket, fully revealing the red gym shorts and gray sports bra she had had on underneath all along.

Sprawled out like that, Utena becomes the fourth rose, her hair in a pink petal halo all around her, jungle green vines converging beneath her from every direction.

A line across the back of her hand weeps blood, and when she lifts it, a couple of droplets fall, painting the white rose beneath with red splashes in a few places. It must have been pinned really deeply, through multiple layers of fabric, for it to still be attached.

Looking to her right, she sees the hilt of her sword, her borrowed sword, that must have been tossed along with her by the storm of glass to land nearby. It's so loyal. Even though she keeps failing, it never gives up on her.

Looking to her left, she sees the hem of the Rose Bride's skirts. Wildly, the image of Himemiya's now-invisible feet flashes through her mind. The memory from earlier today, when brown flats and red-bowed sneakers stood so close together that they almost kissed at the toe.


And her demolished expression, her demolished body, starts pulling itself back together yet again, as she reaches out -- and reclaims her weapon. In the same movement, she rolls into a crouch and brings the short blade up overhead, hilt in both hands, to intercept the Sword of Dios at the nick of time -- just as the elder girl has caught up to her and is bringing it down for the final blow!

The two blades ring as one -- and Utena's voice rings out with them, simultaneously -- "ENOUGH!"


The same thing Utena yelled in here earlier today. It was said in anger, then. And it's said in anger now too. But more than that, it's said in pain. She hurt before the two of them finally got the clash of blades they've both been repeatedly denied by their greater strength and lesser speed respectively.

Now... agony lances through her, down her wrists and up her arms and into her back, her core, straight down to her toes, which are fighting to keep their grip on the greenhouse floor.

Compared to the pain in her heart, it's almost a relief.


Utena can't bring herself to look at Kasagami right away, staring past her instead, into the middle distance, the endless vines -- but she has to give her an answer. 'I love you,' she said. No one has said that to her since her parents died.

Her words come slowly, forced through exhausted lungs, but when they do come, they come unstoppably.

"...Maybe you do."

Their locked blades strain back and forth. Mostly back, towards Utena and her rose. But she isn't giving up easily, even though her arms are starting to shake -- haven't stopped shaking, really, since she was blown away.

"But, senpai..." She heaves a breath, then expels it as quickly as possible, packing as many words into it as she can. She knows she doesn't have much air to spare on conversation.

But she needs to do this anyway. For Kasagami... and for herself.

"What if I had given you what you wanted, when you came in demanding answers, and collapsed into your arms for a good cry? What if I had told you everything? Like all the reasons that I was sad, and hurt, and scared? Like everything that I was going through?"

Her eyes aren't on fire anymore, but the rest of her is -- the demonic flames that she threw herself into in this very greenhouse, which spread up her legs and down her hair as her hands reached out and grasped --

-- grasped Kasagami's hands on her own katana's hilt, helping her push, even though she already had no strength left to give --

-- in the present, the Sword of Dios takes another inch towards her rose, as though for a moment, the two of them were cooperating once more behind the same weapon --


-- but she takes another breath, feeling the wire hilt eat into her palms, that extra edge of pain bringing her back to the present, and bringing the two blades to another momentary halt.

"Would you have stopped? Would you have cancelled your whole thing? Would you have denied yourself the opportunity, your best chance to take the power you wanted most?"

It's a rhetorical question. One answered over and over, and now again--


--as the next centimeter is seized by the Sword of Dios not by pressing Utena downwards, but by beginning to eat straight through her blade. Sparks pour from the remnants' of Sayaka's weapon; it has about two thirds of its width remaining. If it weren't so heavy and broad, this would already be over.

And Utena raises her eyes to Kasagami at last. They are wells of hurt, liquid pools. All this time, she hasn't cried, but it's too much for her now, and a tear overflows. It is crimson, not with blood, but with the reflection of her opponent.


It leaves a shimmering trail down her cheek.

"...I didn't think so."

It falls onto her rose.

Utena coughs wetly, the force of which jars both swords a little where they now intersect, and yet paradoxically her eyes brighten. Not with acceptance -- certainly not with absolution -- but, at least, with comprehension. With the glow of connection that can only be forged through real understanding of another's heart.


"...because that's who you are...you want...to be King..."

Her whole body is forced to twist beneath the might of Kasagami and her Blessing. The only way Utena is able to remain upright is by slamming down one knee. From above, it's a good look. Satisfying. One could take a snapshot of this moment, the two of them in profile, and see a prince kneeling before her liege.

But only by ignoring the look in Utena's eyes -- which now refuse to break their stare -- which now contain the opposite of surrender. As her fight becomes more and more hopeless, she resists more fiercely than ever.


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

'...the moment those feelings don't matter anymore.'

Shizuru Fujino finally lets her attention encompass more; she does not look away from the Duelists, but she hears Eri's harsh rasp, allows herself to grow in her awareness of that girl offering brutality to her ally. ...It sounds like something that she'd say herself, to her ears. But it is a note, one that hangs in the air for her, waits unknowing for the chord to come.

...And another is Kasagami mourning not being given the chance to lead. The Duelist above, hand still dripping blood onto a white round table, watches them. Oh, she watches thsoe stained glass shards, she watches that leap, and knows that at any moment what she knows will happen could finally come. The Duels seem almost hollow to her for an instant in this moment, an ache filling that spot where ambition has carved out this path. ...As the Rose Bride follows. As the Rose Bride is there, in the new arena, as the locale changes once again, the protean nature of Ohtori having long since crept into the former Vice President's awareness, crept into her eyes such that its beauty goes unremarked upon now. The garden... The garden is special. The garden should be a haven. It is not her garden, but it is one of them, and she cannot help but see the flowers there, wondering how long they will bloom before they, too, are cut down and gone forever.

Maybe it's now. The clatter of Utena's sword, after all, seems to make it finally it. A moment of defenselessness, and the lavender rose Duelist feels even more of herself drain away as she sees feet swept, but she does not even see the uniform's destruction. She sees another outfit in bloody rents, sees bruises, sees something in the dark and not in this glowing sunset, not here with the mirrors and their burning light.

...And when Utena's hand weeps blood, her white rose is still there. Of course; it would be. It will be. It is not the rose that will fall first. So this flower, this flower left in the garden...

The final blow is coming, and--

That split second sees a fractional widening of Shizuru's eyes again. She can hear that pain, and what Kasagami said, what she said floods into hizuru then where she had almost missed it before, and her nails tap flush with the surface on which her hand rests. That word, that feeling, Shizuru remembers a seat in an audience. She remembers... A knife in her heart, in the symphony hall, and a knife in her hands. Kasagami's widened eyes, as Shizuru spoke.

"It's not about your looks," Shizuru answered Kasagami. "...When you feel that way for someone... It's your heart that will show through to them. The person that you really are."

And here it is. Utena asks, and Shizuru knows what happened then. That opportunity, was it? The one Shizuru herself took advantage of. The one--

The one that did not care for those tears.

Shizuru looks to this stage now, this theatre, and to look at her she is merciless, hate-filled, loathing this challenger who dares to interfere in their game.

...But just because something is hard to see--just because no one is looking--does not make it true. No, it is something else. Shizuru is watching. She knows, it's time; she remembers, when she pressed Kasagami to the breaking point...

She remembers what comes next, and knows that there is not the strength in this battle to let that ending remain the same.

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

'Kasagami is a good person,' Mikoto just said - the same girl who commented earlier that Fuu herself was a good person. Still holding Mikoto's hand securely to support her, still propping her up if need be, Fuu weighs the younger girl's words as she continues watching the duel, tensing up as she sees Utena at an increasing disadvantage.

She's not about to argue that Mikoto is wrong; for all Kasagami's brusque confidence, even arrogance, and for all her behaving like a king already crowned? For all that she and Fuu have clashed more often than they've cooperated? Fuu herself will admit that Kasagami's behavior isn't necessarily 'evil' - even if Fuu is equally hesitant to quantify it as 'good'. She's met, and fought against, opponents who turned out *not* to be evil - or whom she was reluctant to believe were evil to begin with. (Mikoto herself, for one example.)

But because somebody isn't evil, or even because somebody is actually good - doesn't mean they can't still be *wrong* about something, especially an important something. And it doesn't mean that they can't disagree with somebody else, even if neither of them is entirely wrong - even if, in fact, they could both be *right*.

But when it comes to who she hopes wins this duel - a duel which she can only suppose is related to with whom Anthy will stand hereafter - Fuu is increasingly certain that, however much she *doesn't* know about the situation, she doesn't want Kasagami to win. "Come on, Utena-san," Fuu murmurs - still hesitant to raise her voice, but what her words lack in volume they *do not* lack in heartfelt intensity. "You can do this, you can still win ... you have all the blade you need, in your hand and in your heart!"

.... that blade. Something is *just* barely familiar about it - or is that her imagination, in the face of reality stopping at the corner deli for a sandwich?

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Do the shouts and encouragements reach her from this distance? She certainly can't hear them. But Kasagami's eyes remain alert. Far more alert than they've ever been. The young woman can smell victory inches from her grasp as she presses the attack and the two Duelists alight to the Garden. There's no glib taunts. Too much lays between them tonight for that sort of playful banter. Kasagami's eyes remain passionate, obsessed, and showing the wounds in her heart that aren't on her body.

Crash. Click. Kasagami doesn't spare a look for the Rose Bride as Utena and Kasagami are locked into the warped Garden with it's writhing and twisted vines all around. Not for the first time, Utena's uniform is torn to shreds by Kasagami's use of the Sword of Dios. And yet that Rose remains stubbornly in one place thanks to that act of her brave opponent. It goes beyond reason for Utena to struggle so much. But it's not unexpected, coming from the girl who confronted her in Shinjuku.

If she were a better person, she might be proud of the young woman she once thought of as a friend.

The crashing sound of metal on metal rings out as Kasagami puts her entire body into the strike. Even with a massive advantage, she strains her own muscles as every bit of leverage and strength is put into it as Engaged and Blessed Sword press down with everything that's in her. Victory is so close.

The pair of blades come to a halt. The questions that Utena give her drive like stakes shoved into her heart. Her gaze, so furious, so eager to win and to defend her place as the Engaged slowly becomes one of first, confusion. The entire time that she'd been fighting for the chance to face Utena, for all the pretty words she'd said about taking Utena out of the Duel Game for her own sake, were they ever really true?

Kasagami doesn't answer. It's not meant to be answered. Even as the Sword of Dios starts to eat into the remains of Sayaka's sword, sending sparks that light up her face? Steel and blue meet once again.

'I didn't think so.'

"...Utena...I..." No. Don't think. Win. Her heart hammers in her chest with force that no physical or magical exertion could cause from this Engaged. What could she say? Here, locked in combat, with the position she fought so hard for? With this brilliant opponent she's both loved and scorned in equal measure, how could she take refuge in the thousand little lies she told herself and others to excuse the march towards power she sought since the moment she set foot at Ohtori?

Since the moment she stood over two tombstones and swore she would become a King.

Eyes, once clouded with realization of just what she's been doing, swimming with guilt and rage and sorrow, widen with iron purpose.

Her own tears that were threatening to form die, as Utena herself reminds her of exactly who she is.

"That's right! Damn you, but you're right! I will become a King!" She howls, fury and strength returning to hands that were beginning to shake. She stands over the girl of Revolution, forced to one knee. Hands and body press renewed. This is her only path. Why does it hurt so much to bare down so much force and Blessed power onto this person that should by all rights be just an enemy to cut down.

"Even if I wanted to, I couldn't, Utena! A King must protect others, and lead them! They must be the ones that seek out power and prestige for those who are unable and unwilling to! Only by conquering everything can someone bring this world to peace!"

"If I take even one step back from the path that I'm on, then how could I even be worthy of achieving that goal? A King is relentless, doubtless, and strives for their goals even...even if it means they must defeat others and stain their hands! Don't you see, Utena? This world is cruel and hateful. It needs order and justice."

Her body trembles with energy, as she bares her heart to her opponent. "Maybe that makes me a Tyrant! Maybe that makes me cruel too! Because a King has to rule based on the world around them until they've found enough power to change it's very essence."

She doesn't break lock or gaze. She owes this to Utena. Kasagami realizes it now.

Her voice drops to a hissed whisper. "And that's why I'm going to win! I have to win! Even if it's against you! I'm going to Revolutionize the World, and then there won't be a need for ANY of this Utena!" She laughs. There's no joy in it, only naked desire to slice a rose and the lies and pain she'd kept bottled up for telling them. She's hurt her friend so, so very dearly.

"Besides! It's up to a King to keep a Prince safe! And every moment this goes on I'm betraying that!"

<Pose Tracker> Niramo Umokeshi [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

The chaos of a party turned into a battle has filled the night, but not the chaos of a normal battle of good against evil. The chaos born from the conflicting emotions of two wills, each with their own desires for the world clashing against one another and throwing up sparks rivaling those coming from the blades the Duelists wield. A beautiful dance that the public would never see is playing out, and with the entire Ohtori grounds being the battlegrounds, not many could keep up with the chaos.

Niramo was barely keeping up as it was, panting with exertion and annoyed that magically-enhanced fitness doesn't benefit her with simple jogging. Her school uniform is windswept from, and it's not going to look at all ideal for a party that was originally about celebrating a victory for a friend. That's only a tiny portion of what she's feeling, almost the majority of her is completely focused on the clashing swords of Kasagami and her pink-haired opponent. This brazen conflict was intense, maybe because it was just between two fighters, and the questions being raised has no answers upcoming. Just why were they fighting, why couldn't it be absolved peacefully, and does it have anything with how Kasagami hasn't been her usual self lately?

Catching her breath near Fuu and another Ohtori student, Niramo takes in a deep breath of air and holds it to calm her pounding heart before attempting to speak. It only helps partially, but her heart is pounding from more than just some physical exercise. "She's right about Kasagami-san, about her caring for others, even if she doesn't quite show it like you would expect. She can go from one extreme to another, from almost being physically sick in worry to dancing to heavy metal music, all for the sake of one of her friends." Niramo's left hand raises up, rubbing the back of her neck in a clear sign of worry. "And...well, I get the feeling that Kasagami-san doesn't have too many friends, so she holds on tight to those that she's able to bond with."

A frown slowly starts to develop on Niramo's face, however, as recent memories start to rise up to the surface. A moment of hesitation, of self-doubt, before a calming breath before she takes a plunge. "But...lately, I feel like Kasagami-san is completely different, nothing too noticeable, but still very major. It's like...she has an ideal vision of what she wants everything around her to be, and if given the chance, will force that upon others, even if it's not the best for them." A flash of earlier today, of Kasagami's future plans for the garden that would break the calm aura it held, was all that she needs to continue on. "And...that's not like how Kasagami-san was when I first met her. She was very supportive of any plans you may have, and make suggestions...but now." The hand lowered, to start to tug on the end of a ponytail, and a sigh was let free.

"Now i'm worried about her, and I mean more than just...this."

<Pose Tracker> Anthy Himemiya [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The vines never stop reaching, though their growth slows from wild to creep. A glance upward within the garden would show sinuous tendrils dark against white iron and glass panes gone crimson with the sunset, a nightmare art print impression in the highest contrast.

Beneath, Kasagami Araki wields a power-painted blade, her every last hard-trained muscle expressing a lifetime of skill and a welter of personal pain and fury. Crimson shines in streaming hair; the dying sun glints from the ruby hawks at her ears. The coat of arms upon her back catches fire in the light.

The girl who challenged her lies on a bed of thorns, her outer layers slashed and torn and ripped away. The vines do not hesitate to scratch at exposed skin, to pierce wherever they touch. They can hardly do otherwise; it is in their nature.

The Rose Bride tilts her head to look at the pink rose blooming prone by her feet. The wire hilt lies beyond the again-fallen Utena with its remaining slash of borrowed blade.

Araki-sama has her now, she thinks. I pity her. She should give up before this goes too far.

The shield of Utena's hand lifts and drips the cost of its steadfast defiance onto a pristine petal, painting one at least in a single color rather than all and none. The slide and drip of red blood from a pale hand... The Rose Bride blinks, unbidden. When Utena Tenjou snatches up the brave remains of Sayaka's sword, no thorns scrape at her bare knuckles. A pair of old garden gloves cushions the hilt.

It is impossible, this thing the girl with the pink hair is trying to do. The One Engaged brings the Sword of Dios to bear, the proof in the crimson-stained edge and the force of her wielding. She is all furious power and glorious agony, a howling force who refuses to be stopped. Utena brings the short of her sword up in time to delay the inevitable, but...

The Sword of Dios, inexorable, begins its victory march through what metal remains between itself and the shaking, striving girl with the long pink hair. Utena challenges Kasagami over the arcing sparks and crossed blades -- and the One Engaged stands strong above her kneeling opponent, accepts the blow of words and roars right back.

A tear *plips* onto the unharmed white rose, more pure than morning dew. Its clean trail down a petal glitters, unlike the heavy red line painted across its sister.

The Rose Bride watches it all from her place in front of the white iron arch of the rose garden's door, a living breathing statue aside from those intent green eyes. All about the three of them the vines thicken and cluster, as if with anticipation.

She thinks, this is it.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Mikoto doesn't seem to see Niramo, at first. Her hand grips Fuu, tightly, as the mirrors show Utena bowing - and making her challenges. "Kasagami," she whispers, in opposition to Fuu's own prayers. Calls out in support, as her friend wavers, though the girl must surely be too far away to hear the cries of her desperate heart: "Kasagami!"

But Kasagami's spirit is indominable, and Kasagami has something to believe in. Mikoto's breath catches in her throat, as she listens to her declare her will over the world, her desire for the world she will create. Mikoto was made to follow; it is so beautiful, to see someone so exquisitely designed to lead. Someone who wants to protect the people under her, to guide them, to shape them.

... she knows, in her heart, that her dear friend cannot be the one to rule the world, though she cannot recall quite why.

She knows, and yet her will to lead, it really is -

"... just like him," Mikoto murmurs, and her voice shakes with quiet emotion.

It's only when Niramo starts sharing her concerns that Mikoto looks to her, pain and love mixing like watercolours on her face. She can tell, by her words, that she cares for Kasagami, and yet...

"We're all sharp now," Mikoto says as her smile fades, her eyes moving back to the mirrors. She doesn't know what Niramo knows; she can't possibly explain more than she does. Fuu can feel her grip tighten, as her jaw clenches, can hear the regret in her voice. "... no choice any more."

All their best intentions turn to ash in their mouths as they are driven further and further into darkness. Kasagami is no different to Mikoto.

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

For Lera, it is a long and tense moment.

She doesn't know Utena Tenjou that well. She doesn't have the advantage of history here. She only has what she saw for herself -- the words of Kasagami and Utena, and the knowledge that Utena is a Chevalier. But, she helped her once. She tenses, as she stares up at the strange reflection that acts a monitor. Before, she shouted out.

Now, Lera quiets.

Her hands are clasped as she looks up at it; her fingers lace together, entwining, and she watches with a nervous gaze, as she hears the exchange.

"C'mon," she whispers, instead of yells. "You've got it in you. You're almost there...!"

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.


Utena has heard Kasagami declaim her mandate of heaven over and over and over.

For the first time, she actually listens.

Though it's getting a little hard to make anything out over the drumbeat crescendo of her own heart in her ears. Red spots dance at the edge of her vision, and they aren't the iconic crimson petals of the One Engaged, and they aren't Himemiya, either. Slowly they are merging into a misty frame that she is forced to see the world through.

But she does.

And she shivers, her skin crawling all over, at Kasagami's words. It isn't the good kind of rippling gooseflesh, like you get at the exciting part of an action movie. It's the bad kind, like you get at the exciting part of a horror film.


Kasagami can see it in her eyes -- the fear. Utena Tenjou is afraid of her.

And Utena Tenjou is afraid, perhaps not unreasonably, of the continued descent of the Sword of Dios, which is steadily eating through the second third of her own blade. There's no real question that once it bursts all the way through, it's going to take off a whole lot more than just a rose, legendary Araki swordsmanship or no. Nothing less than a total application of brute force can defeat her, this time. It will not be a controlled moment.

It's entirely possible that she will fulfill Shizuru's prophecy, and die.


But still she does not yield, even though her chance of turning the tables is, very obviously, exactly zero percent. Even though the garden itself, site of so many pleasures and so many tragedies, is turning against her once again. Before it was easier to look away from Kasagami, but now it's easier to focus on her, so she doesn't have to see a landscape that is uncannily familiar, that reminds her forcefully of losing the rose on her chest to ripping, tearing fingers rather than any noble blade.


Her back strains as she shifts her weight onto her back foot, the still-straightened leg, which turns her involuntary kneeling into more of a lunge position. More tears join the first, jarred out of her from the effort, and also from the way that it rips along the thorny vine that, even now, is crawling upwards, aspring to embrace her, to encase her, from heel to thigh.

(The Rose Bride can see something that her Engaged cannot, given their facing: the current and miserable state of Utena's back. We'll leave it at 'tattered'. There is no need to guess how it got that way, given the ways and means of her arrival.)

More words, too. There isn't much emotion in them except for pain, which lends them urgency, desperation, and a completely unequivocal lack of apology.

"You're right -- Kasagami. You do sound -- exactly like -- a King from world history -- ah!"

She tries to rise to her feet alongside her own rising voice, and only succeeds at delivering the edge of her rose closer to the collision of blades, and interrupting herself with a brief scream, wrenched straight out of her lungs by what feels like the Power of Dios intensifying in triplicate against her attempt.

She is pinned in place like a butterfly on a card.


Utena gasps in more air and forces herself to continue, "So I don't think -- you can call what you're doing -- revolutionary. Hurting other people -- in the pursuit of power -- and calling them necessary sacrifices -- because you think you'll magically become a better person later -- is -- like --"

Her filler word costs her; she runs out of air, and loses another fingernail-length off her weapon. And yet, the fire pouring off of her is only stoking, intensifying in heat and in brightness. It's going to be a beautiful death, if nothing else.


Like a star going supernova.

"-- like," she gasps out, "Literally the most traditional thing there even is..."

Another groan escapes her... and she loses the other leg. Now she's on both knees.

This is kind in the sense that it gives her ankles a rest in favor of her shins, but it also means the ending is drawing even nearer. The swords slam down closer and she bennnnnds backward beneath them, as far as she can without losing the leverage she needs to resist at all, which also incidentally bears her breast, and its blood and tears-spattered white rose, upwards. It is very reminiscent of the submission of the Rose Bride to the One Engaged, except instead of the sword being pulled out, it is about to be thrust in.

Even now, she refuses to look away. She stares the wannabe King down.


"But I like... another story... better. Once upon a time..."

She's forced back again, becoming less vertical and more horizontal second by second by second.


"...a little girl lost her parents...and she was alone...and waiting to die..."


"until...someone saved her..."

Her tears have stopped. This is not a tragic story. This is her story. And it is her happiest place. She sets it against Kasagami's tale of the requirement of conquest with a sweet, gentle voice.

"And she decided...that she wanted to be like that Prince...no matter what."


"To help people... when they're suffering. To save people... like she was saved..."

The final third of her sword is entering jeopardy, as is the structural integrity of her spine, its bend approaching the appallingly extreme. Paradoxically, as the blade is penetrated more and more, it seems to become more stronger, harder to slice through -- just like Utena herself.

But they both have limits.

"Even if I screw up... even if I fail... even if I get hurt... I'm going to keep trying to be... like that... and if I can dry the tears... of even one other girl...like you..."

Her smile says the rest. It's trembling and agonized and glad.

It'll be worth it. She'd do this again, even knowing the preordained outcome.

After all, she did know. Before she even arrived.

Sometimes it's the battle that counts, not the victory.


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

Metal on metal, the sound scrapes against the air, but Shizuru feels it more than she hears it here. ...It is not only because of the magic of this place. It is for other reasons. Others, as Kasagami uses her size, her height, her strength, all of that on top of the Sword of Dios beyond. That fury changes--

...Shizuru can see weak points. She can see when people are about to break. And she knows that Kasagami will not yet. She knows it, and she is shown right when that howl comes, as she speaks of the nature of a king... as she speaks of her plans. Of--

Shizuru looks down her nose at Kasagami's talk of keeping the prince safe. Her lip curls, a long, slow breath rattling out of her. ...The sting of her palm she doesn't even feel, but the tiny red shape drips further, growing, bleeding, wandering across the table. It moves away from the champagne; it mars the surfaces below of noisemakers now numbering twenty, inexorably creeps and creeps towards her... But it is not there yet. Her cream sleeve is untouched.

She feels every bit of the elevation she has, of her position high above towards the clouds, when she watches Utena's fear. She spoke her prophecy, and she knows it will come true; she knows that the hour is up, that the moment is close now. There is no way that Utena, resisting this strongly, can be defeated without this cost. However she has found this strength, it is just enough that it will be her end. And that will be all for a girl who would save the careless Bride. That will be it, for this...

The garden is turning. It is not Shizuru's garden. She does not see familiar paths and gentle flowers, have memories of a girl standing within it, speaking with her for the first time.

Tattered. Of course it is tattered. The vine creeps, and Shizuru hates it for its confining touch.

The blade will go through her, Shizuru thinks now. She can imagine, does imagine in some detail, what it will look like when it pierces her, the perfect metal dripping past her back. ...It gets harder not to imagine it with every word. Every word of that story, that thing that seems to redouble her, that awful, gentle, lovely voice--

Her gaze says it, when her words won't. The pink noisemaker is at her lips, and it is stained red.


Shizuru stares dully and does not say what about that girl when you leave, what about what happens after the battle, what does nobility gain you in this world but fond words and emptiness.

She does not say anything. She could be a statue, tensionless, slack, eyes down on something without focus.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Some small part of Kasagami drinks in the fear. Like a hungry predator, she smells it. Does she know she might very well take this girl's life in order to secure her own victory?

It's the last thing on her mind as she bares down with every bit of force and power she has. Kasagami is committed now. She sword to not take a step back, and so she keeps going. There's no elegance, she has to put everything into breaking that thick broadsword that was borrowed by Utena.

And so they war, looking into each other's eyes, neither yielding in this spectacle of dueling blades and hearts. Even as she presses Utena cruelly further into the thorns, sh doesn't let up. There can't be room for mercy. Kasagami must be a Tyrant. She must be a King. Utena screams.

Don't think. Win.

Don't think! Don't feel! Win!

The mantra continues in her heart. Too many are counting on her. Too many promises and three dead bodies leading up to this point.

Kasagami doesn't flinch away from that heat and fire of Utena's resolve. Down to both knees goes Utena. Kasagami can't find a reply at first, arms screaming in the effort of using so much power in such a blunt way. Not even the Sword of Dios can keep that in check anymore. A single bead of sweat drips down her brow from the exertion, pounding and blood surging through her veins.

Kasagami's long legs stretch and go lower as she forces Utena back and to the ground more and more. That edge just has to meet that rose. No matter what lay beyond it. A sacrifice in the making to someone she doesn't want it to happen to. But what's this girl against the weight of the world? What is any single girl?

"I won't...be like them! The ones that failed, Utena! You know nothing! I am going to change the course of history! There is nothing else for me! Otherwise this world will fall to ruin!" She forces out between gritted teeth. The One Engaged denies Utena's rebuke utterly.

To not believe in her own ambitions and path would be to risk losing. It's the only thing that's kept her fighting and kept her up when she was almost broken in the Dueling arena by her teacher.

"Utena!" That story hurts. A story of being saved, of wanting to be a Prince. The sword nears its end. So close! This act of violence is intimate, personal, and draining. Even if Kasagami wanted to, she couldn't stop now.

"You would sacrifice yourself, get yourself hurt for just one person? How can you think like that!? ...You're so naive. There has to be more than that!" Kasagami hates it. Sacrifice for something so small. She's been the one whose tears were dried. Setting herself up to be a tragedy, this pink-haired would-be Prince. The difference in them is so stark, a cavern between them. Yet she pushes herself away from the swirling emotions.

"This is for the world and the people I love!" Affirms Kasagami in one more howl. Both hands grip the Sword of Dios. Then with shoulders flexing, arms and back tightening, she puts those words of molten steel into the descending blade with it's dark crimson glow with all of her might and ambition.

<Pose Tracker> Niramo Umokeshi [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

The briars, twisting and obscuring the view of the battle as if they were truly alive, leaves much to the imagination except for a fleeting moment when segments of the fight are all too clear. A blade nearly sheared into two - the determination and willpower etched into each fighter's face - and the crimson stains marking Kasagami's glamorous sword. Niramo's frown becomes fully formed upon seeing the blood staining the sword bearing down upon the pink-haired challenger.

Several memories come rushing back, each vastly different yet with one thing similar with all of them. A chunk of rebar, torn out of a wall and being used by Kasagami to swing at encrouching scorpions. Kasagami, covered in what could only be descriped in goop, cleaving through a oddly-shaped robot. A sword held high above red hair, enchanted with destructive magic the likes she have never seen before, in a moment before swinging down at a monstrosity of a mind parisite. All different memories of the Duelist in her mind, but one thing was always the same. The might that her friend wields being used to strike down a threat to the innocents, destroying any plans any villian may hold.

But seeing the Sword of Dios, coated with the blood of someone fighting for her own ideals, stands out harshly for just how bizarre it is.

But the pink-haired girl, challenging her friend for reasons she doesn't have an inkling of knowledge, is the opposite to Kasagami in that moment. Her blade nearly cut cleanly through, wounded and on the verge of defeat, yet still urging herself onwards despite how hopeless the situation is. It's an inspiration and yet another measurement that Niramo feels that she is sorely lacking when compared to. For just a moment, she wonders if she has ever inspired anyone with her actions, if she can ever hope to equal what the challenger is doing now.

And then the moment is gone, and Niramo is solely focused upon the duel once more, Kasagami just on the verge of victory. The words the One Engaged roars into the face of whom would defy her can just barely be heard from the outside, and while the smile that they bring shows her faith and trust in her friend, it's the glow of the sword etching shadows upon her friend's face that worries her.

Just what is that capable of?

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Kasagami presses down, as inexorable as Mikoto's own strength. Presses Utena back, back, back. Mikoto is sure she is breaking, must be breaking, to bend so far and strain so hard. And yet she doesn't snap, doesn't fall. She is a consummate warrior, skill and purpose so evident as she struggles against the Sword of Dios.

Because she magically thinks -- "It will get better," Mikoto says, hoarse and desperate and fierce and cornered, and for a moment she's not thinking of Kasagami's duel at all. 'It will get better,' are the words, but the way she says them screams, 'it has to get better.' They'll - they'll all get to be better people, once all this is finished. Once their enemies are defeated, everything can go back to the way it was. no it won't They can be normal magical girls again. no they can't Everyone can be happy again. that's impossible They won't have to be monsters any more. she always was They won't have to choose between what is good and what is necessary any more. goodness isn't for her They can... they can...

And then Utena tells a story of hope and kindness, and Mikoto wants to look away, but she can't. Tears well in her eyes, and she can't. Someone saved her when she was scared and alone, and they inspired her, and -

- and the wretched girl called Mikoto knows it, knows it, knows that her most important people are trapped so tightly in her heart because they saved her from her crushing loneliness. And she sees, in Utena, that same desperation, and how it led to such a different end. Such a noble, kind, and selfless end.

To be like a Prince, no matter what...

... to be like...

"I tried," Mikoto's voice wavers as she whispers, all guilt and sharp edges. Mikoto Minagi tried so hard to be a good person like Mai Tokiha, to follow her example. She tried so hard, even as she kept failing. Tried, and tried, and tried, until she was driven so far into the blackness that she knew trying was so completely hopeless. She used to think trying was enough. She once told Eri that they should try to be the good people Mai thought they could be, because Mai believed in them. That honest desire... now, it seems so far away.

Mikoto's tears fall, even as Utena claims she's fighting to dry the eyes of every desperate girl. They fall because Kasagami screams what Mikoto can already see: Utena is so much like her. They would both throw everything away, hurl themselves into the jaws of death, for just... one... girl.

She can't afford to look away from the mirrors, to find Eri Shimanouchi. There's too much at stake reflected in them.

"... Utena..." Mikoto murmurs, and it is a word heavy with grief and regret for a girl she never knew was so much like her, a girl who managed to be so much better than her. A girl unburdened by obsidian purpose, who was able to follow the noble example of the one who saved her.

Kasagami's strength is relentless. Kasagami's purpose is pure and unassailable. Kasagami's blade is terrible.

Mikoto knows she will drive the sword in, and she can see the way her muscles strain, reflected in the mirrors. Power like that... Mikoto knows how difficult it is to control. Mikoto knows how impossible, in their current struggle, it would be to only score Utena's rose.

Dark and transcendent things do not answer prayers. They only demand service.

<Pose Tracker> Anthy Himemiya [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

At the same moment, two girls recall the feel of rose petals ripping free. One remembers with her fingertips. The Rose Bride moves not a muscle; the garden shivers, once, expressed through the vines beneath and around them all.

In all defiance of the impossibility of her situation, of the inevitability of the long keen edge coming her way, Utena Tenjou stays where she is. No -- where she has put herself, willingly. Directly in danger's way, again. Even though her back bears the stab wounds of a score of curved green daggers.

There's something strange about Tenjou-san, thinks the girl by the greenhouse door, her dress as perfect in its draping as it was back upon the unbroken arena floor, her eyes unflickering fields of green.

She might die. Why does she keep coming back? She already knows she can't win.

Maybe, whispers something deeper than thought, she knows nothing of the sort.

The intent gaze of the Rose Bride, so keen and discerning, seeks the tear-filled windows to Utena's soul. Why does she keep coming back?

'Once upon a time...'

She looks for lies, for deceptions, as that second knee falls down amongst the grasping vines. There is only noble blue, angelic blue. She seeks blind denial of reality in Utena's eyes and finds none. It is not denial. Instead she finds something else, something only her hidden heart remembers she has been looking for all this time.

'...until...someone saved her...'

I've seen this before, thinks the waking mind of Anthy Himemiya. This is familiar.

'And she decided...that she wanted to be like that Prince...'

This is...

'...no matter what.'

This is...

Beneath glasses lenses, Anthy Himemiya's eyes round and gleam.

I know this!

The blessed steel of the Sword of Dios runs crimson. A heartsblood font of power pulses down the blade, and as Kasagami bears down that power bites more deeply. Sword and duelist together will burn through the last stubbornly strong centimeters of Sayaka's sword at any moment now, will slice down on the pink girl with her white rose and strike the final blow.

'...and if I can dry the tears... of even one other girl...like you...'

It's like what happened that time...

With eyes that shimmer like dew on morning grass Anthy Himemiya sees a boy in white, a boy with her own coloring, brave and noble. She sees Utena Tenjou smile up at her coming death, sees the grace in her eyes that she shares with the girl who is about to cut her down.

The Blessing upon the Sword of Dios shatters.

It splinters into a thousand thousand fountaining shards of rainbow light, a stained-glass cascade as beautiful as it is unprecedented. The eldritch crimson limning the edge bleeds away into the air with the faintest of audible hisses, like steam released. The air between the duelists twinkles with magic: dismissed, dissipating... gone.

The wells of Anthy Himemiya's wide and staring eyes fill, and a single shining truth spills down one dark cheek.

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

By now, Fuu has fallen entirely silent - watching, listening, taking in all that happens.She says nothing, because there's nothing left she can say ... partly because she's expressed her wish and her hope that Utena should triumph -

And partly because, by the time she feels the need to speak, the power of Kasagami's sword has sundered in her hand.

The Duel must surely be decided by that fact. It was Utena's sword that was the first to break ... but there was still enough of a blade for her to keep fighting. The blade which Kasagami wielded ... as the light disperses, Fuu peers closer at the image reflected on a floating window. Sure enough, Kasagami still grasps a length of metal on a physical handle, but the Power which enshrouded it, which blessed Kasagami's prowess with magic - as far as Fuu can tell without her own active magic, it's simply a piece of metal now. Maybe she could fight on.

Maybe she can't.

Fuu squeezes Mikoto's hand, maybe less gently or mindfully than before. She's entirely aware of what's about her - Mikoto at her side, Niramo nearby, strangers and acquaintances and no few friends in the space around her which had been the atrium - but her focus remains on one of those floating panels of glass, still displaying the Duel whose results are, she's certain, about to be determined beyond all doubt.

Even if it's Utena who's declared the winner ... that doesn't invalidate Mikoto's claims about Kasagami. Only Kasagami's own actions, be she triumphant or vanquished, will confirm or deny Mikoto's faith.

And no matter what *that* outcome is? Mikoto is still someone whom Fuu counts as a valued ally, and hopefully as a friend. That alone is reason to stay by her side, to keep supporting her as best she can.

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.


As Kasagami makes her final, mortal push, Utena closes her eyes, her face screwed shut by pain. So much azure goes out of the world when she does, leaving only red behind. There is fear and there is bravery, but it turns out to just be too much to ask for her to watch her own imminent demise -- even if she's willing to accept it.

What she isn't willing to accept any more is that singular, defining lie.

Too quietly for anyone else to hear save the intimately close ear of the woman straining to take her life, she whispers -- without bitterness, without even anger, instead with hope, not for herself but for her one-time friend, who might be saved from a great many tears in the future if she can be brought to understand the terrible truth now --


"No, Kassie... it's just for you."


The words escape her lips simultaneously to the pressure letting up, so much so that she almost misses that fact, expecting as she was that they would be her last. But when she realizes that she isn't dead on schedule, she also realizes that it isn't because she was spared. There simply could not have been revelation in time for mercy.

She cautiously opens one eye, then the other, and peers at the two silvery blades. The two... silvery...


Her words did not bring about this miracle.

She has no idea what did.

But this isn't exactly, like, a good time for introspection.


Gasping in her first breath of air in whole minutes that is actually light and fresh -- that hasn't been undulating, vibrating, supersaturated with the Power of Dios -- she tastes roses. In the same moment, she desperately rips herself free of the blade lock, rolling up and even daring a quick swipe with the now jagged edge, in order to cover her own retreat. She doesn't connect.


But what a retreat it is. She LEAPS backwards, out of the briars and clearly on her way out of the greenhouse entirely. She twists in midair to meet the thrice-locked door with the ringbearing palm of her free hand, and it swings open not at her touch but simply at her approach, both anticipating her needs and, perhaps, flinching away from such sublime closeness that that contact would have been.


From Anthy's perspective, Utena rockets by horizontally in an instant, her feet obviously never even so much as touching the ground. The wind of her passage is warm and sweet and it ruffles the Rose Bride's skirts without once distressing her balance. And the empyrean endlessness of Utena's eyes is, in the split second of her passage, only for her.


Ohtori kaleidoscopes around a girl in flight.

Her legs flex as she lands out in the fields somewhere, still inside Academy walls, but well beyond the point where courtyard flagstones yield to grass. Scratched and torn they may be, but they still bear her weight. It will have to be enough.



Utena screams as she charges back in, perhaps forgetting that even without the Power of Dios, Kasagami Araki has inches of height, entire multiple feet of blade, and countless years of experience and dedication to the way of the sword on her. She is hopelessly outclassed in absolutely every respect. The One Engaged is faster and stronger and better armed and far more skilled.

Or maybe she didn't forget. Maybe she just doesn't give a single damn.



White roses explode all around her like ignited jet fuel, pushing her even further and even faster until she is nothing but a streak of pink light.

No prince comes down from the castle, there's no superimposition and no light show; the perfection that is an impossible strike at Kasagami's rose belongs to Utena alone.

Maybe the prince didn't come down because they were already here.


<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Words of hope are spoken to a girl that's put hope into a selfish dream. But there's no time for them to take root in the Engaged's heart so long as she's resolved herself to making a sacrifice of even Utena to what she wants.

Only the ghost of guilt in her eyes.

Whatever else might be in Kasagami's head is utterly shattered along with the cracking mystical reflection of the Sword of Dios' magic turned to rainbow light. What was once the dark crimson of power granted by the bride, there's simply two silver blades locked, even if one has nearly met it's death.

"How!?" Comes Kasagami's confusion vocalized, eyes going wide at the cessation of power she's so clinged to. All of that seemingly infinite power stolen right from her hands, for seemingly no reason at all. A miracle to one. But to Kasagami? A nightmare in its beginnings.

Utena rips her way out of the sword lock, and Kasagami reacts on instinct. A step back and a guarded stance. She may not have the Blessing, and no time to seek the Bride. A swipe stops her from immediately regaining ground as utena leaps with her ever-impressive legs, even wounded as she is.

The One Engaged, with no words left in her, pursues Utena out of the Garden when it opens to her passage. She rushes along after the leaping Revolutionary Girl as quickly as her long legs will carry. Kasagami takes much the same tact when Utena arrives at the field. Hard boots stamp the ground, and she's gone in a flash, only to skid to a stop just outside of the Dojo. A deep sigh, and she takes a moment to remember better times.

Hours of training, of sparring, the place of solitude and where she's met so many of her friends for the first time. Times that, perhaps, she can have again as Mikoto might believe. But only if she can defeat Utena! Her legs bend, the scent of roses gathers around her, and she too charges. Cape fluttering behind her, Utena's scream reaches her before her body does.

Sword raised for a strike, the oncoming streak of roses and pink light is unavoidable. She doesn't bother trying. The two young women have picked their paths and now they hurtle towards each other, two trains on a track whose only end is to crash.

Kasagami's world becomes a thin dark red line racing for pink. She doesn't stop even as she slashes, putting all of her ambition and dreams into her strike. Without this power, she can't truly keep her friends and loves safe. Without dominating here, she can't lay claim to World Revolution or stop senseless tragedies such as Shinjuku.

A single, final blow to defeat this foe with such noble baring.

A follow through as she seeks finally destroy the rose upon Utena's chest.

She doesn't realize she's screaming. Or the tears in her eyes.

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

There is a reason that the point of no return is an idea that people know, a concept that reoccurs, again and again, in life and in history. They exist. Times that cannot be taken back. Events that cannot be undone.

Still Shizuru stares down, her gaze as constant, and weighty as the sun, just as unable to stop and look away. But she does not bring light. She does not bring growth. She only looks, because it is time, now. It is that point.

...Get yourself hurt... For just one person. Kasagami's eyes flutter up to Shizuru Fujino's ears, alight on wings of Ohtori's magic. More than that. More than someone, than one person.

No, the former Vice President of the Student Council knows far, far better than what her student is saying now, far better than the girl she has tried to pass on what she has to. A sacrifice for something small? More?

She knows: there is no more than the sacrifice for one. It is everything.

And so she is watching, watching Utena make that sacrifice, watching her and listening to her and hearing her and she cannot see brilliant, wide-open blue from here, knowing it is there. She cannot see it. She can only see the blade cutting, cutting deeper, deeper and towards Utena, towards her instant by instant, the moment that the Duel will end and this foolish challenger will break for her beautiful foolishness. ...She can see--

She is not watching Anthy Himemiya. She is not looking at the Rose Bride. ...And this is her error; she is not looking at her when the light breaks, when the terrible bloody lining twinkles and shatters and is absolutely gone, not until she stares, eyes widening, and sees--sees staring eyes. Sees that truth.

Even the Rose Bride.

Utena speaks to Kasagami, but Shizuru may as well not hear words meant for her, see only the twisting maneuvers, the light air, and she, too, tastes roses--smells roses, wild, out of nowhere. ...No, out of something better than nowhere. The door is open. The door is there. The light, shining, shining, disappearing--

White roses explode everywhere, and a smear of blood is left on the table as Shizuru sweeps the noisemakers from it, rising in one smooth instant, rising to stare over crenelations, to lean down towards the abyss of beauty. She is heedless of the sound of her fine chair clattering to the ground, of the noisemakers--twenty, forty--all falling, falling from the table, falling to the box forgotten at her feet and clattering, clattering, clattering, rattling, rattling, rattling--

The former Vice President watches a streak of pink light racing towards a line of red and holds her breath, one thing escaping her lungs as she stares wide-eyed for the instant of what must happen, and feels a prickle deep within as deep and savage as a needle thrust through her.


<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Mikoto's breath catches in her throat, refusing to move over the lump which has formed there, as the overwhelming red energy which comprises the sword's Blessing shatters, and Utena finds herself with the breath of a chance again. It hits Mikoto once more how she does not want Utena to die, and she does not want Kasagami to bear a murderer's weight like -- one of them already does. It is too heavy, too awful, for someone who shines so brightly. To kill someone Kasagami can't even seem to think of as an enemy, in a duel where they aim for roses instead of flesh and bone and blood...

... what would it do, to someone who has not been trained to destroy her enemies?

"Kasagami," Mikoto whispers, and her name on her lips is a plea. It is such a fragile thing. It may well remind the girl standing by her side how vulnerable she is, right now.

Fuu squeezes Mikoto's hand. It's so familiar, and Mikoto squeezes back, in wordless acknowledgement of her support. She hasn't let go of her hand since they turned to face this duel. Fuu is a lifeline, and Mikoto clings tight.

She would support Kasagami in much the same way, if Kasagami chose to go down that dark path. It is such a terrible thing to bear alone, the tears in the night... but she hopes. She hopes, as her prayers go unanswered.

For here is the truth about Kings and Lords, which the instrument of destruction called Mikoto Minagi knows intrinsically: they do not dirty their hands with death. They command, and the weight of command is enough for them. That is why little sisters like Mikoto exist. That is why she would kill in the service of those greater to her. It is her purpose. And Kasagami's purpose is to rule whatever kingdom she can carve for herself. If she were to do this --

"Leave it to me, Kasagami!" Mikoto hisses, sharply, all pain and desperation.

But Utena is a warrior, even if, perhaps, not as trained as Kasagami clearly is. When she's given the opportunity - when she realises her chance, opening her eyes against the looming threat of Kasagami Araki - she leaps away, magnificently, and Mikoto is able to breathe again.

If only for a moment.

Mikoto's hands grip as tightly as she can - walking stick in one hand, Fuu's hand in the other. The mirrors reflect Utena as she lands - as she charges like a bullet-train - as the jagged remains of her sword lash out towards Kasagami's rose.

"... Kasagami!" Mikoto cries, her heart in her throat. She may not want Utena to die, may not want Kasagami to kill her - but she still believes in Kasagami's victory. For the sake of all her dear friend's hopes and dreams, she still wants Kasagami to win..!

<Pose Tracker> Usagi Tsukino [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

They're so close and yet so far away. It's like they're battling in a different realm.

And right now she's Usagi Tsukino, not Sailor Moon. She knew from Madoka Kaname that it is Usagi Tsukino that can best protect people's precious feelings. And there are so many feelings she wants to protect...

Right now though she can just watch and listen as a story is told. Her eyes shimmering as she hears it. The way it affects her is profoundly different than the way it affects Anthy Himemiya.

She never had a real concept of how Anthy was feeling - never able to read her. She only had a desire to be close to that beautiful gardener.

I'm exactly where I deserve to be.

And with that one singular response - she at least came to understand the raging river that stood between them - still oblivious to the vast ocean - and how she could only dip her toes in the water helplessly

A blessing shatters - and she can't understand why - where it came from - or the feelings that lay behind it.

Yet when Utena tells the story of a girl, she thinks of what Himemiya had told her all the same about being with Kasagami...

... and thinks that the Prince that came to dance with her that night would swim across the most fearsome whitewater river, no matter what the cost to dry her tears if she knew Himemiya felt that way.

She wonders if somehow in her own way - that's what Utena is doing now.

Utena charges at Kasagami - a single final blow. Hands clasped together - they're a world apart, but still Usagi Tsukino lurches forward with a single word on her lips - "... Utena!"

<Pose Tracker> Niramo Umokeshi [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

The dark light fades from Kasagami's blade, the lighted shadows it cast upon the scarlet-haired Duelist gone in a flash and leaving behind stunned confusion on her face. Cerulean eyes peaking open in wonder at the miracle that has given her a chance to succeed. And white and red rose petals, clashing with one another in a dance of beauty and death, hope and despair. These are all but flashes that stand out the most to Niramo, the sudden turnabout confusing the Juuban student, distorting the tragic victory that was sure to unfold just a moment ago.

Hand still holding on tightly onto the ends of her ponytail, Niramo has to remind herself to breathe as Utena rockets forward, Kasagami reaching forward with her sword, to bring the duel to its' finality. Despite being so far away, seeing the fight is almost too much to watch, yet impossible to look away from. Her newfound doubts, her latest concerns about what Kasagami desires are momentarlly forgotten, all thoughts focused entirely upon this final strike from these two Duelists. It doesn't matter if the next moment is victory or defeat, it only matters that her friend, the person who was the first besides Takk to give her advice on the mantle she has taken up, is putting everything on the line for her ideals.


<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

"Once upon a time..."

Utena tells her story. And Eri tears her eyes away, forcing herself not to listen - but she can't. No matter how much she tries not to listen. She hears stories all the same, even if they're not Utena's.

... there was a girl who taught her sister how to start a fire. And when an accident happened her only wish in her guilt was to disappear.

... there was a girl who was in a terrible car accident and made a wish to save her life.

Two stories that went different ways... but each arrived at the same conclusion.


And how many other smaller stories that happen each and every day? Of people whose stories she doesn't even know? Devoured to feed her wretched need for survival.

She knows her own story isn't worth telling. It's not even worthy of a once upon a time.

The idea of her existence vanishing used to be an idea that profoundly frightened her as a Puella Magi... desiring to leave some proof that she exists.

Now... she wonders.

In those final moments where Kasagami is fighting for her world - Eri Shimanouchi couldn't even be there for her.

So wrapped up in herself she doesn't even notice Kasagami's peril until it's too late - looking up at the exact moment that two blades slice. The glint reflected in her glasses blinding her to the immediate outcome.

And she stands - frozen, lips mute of any words that could possibly express how she feels.

<Pose Tracker> Anthy Himemiya [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The Rose Bride, in her chosen station by the greenhouse door, was a beautiful statue, a pretty doll, unmoved and unmoving in her ceremonial gown and her golden crown and her implacable calm.

Anthy Himemiya stands in the same spot, wearing the same red silk and shining purple coif, her face still possessed of the same large lovely eyes and fine-boned construction. But she is a girl, who both moves and is moved. She twists at the waist to keep her the gallant rocket of Utena Tenjou in her sight. The deep blue heavens sweep by in all their unstoppable nobility and draw liquid emeralds along with them, sparkling with rare emotion.

The combatants emerge from the creeping confines of the garden, and soon there are no roses left to it at all -- only the vines and the thorns and the gathering shadows beneath them. Except...

Nestled within green coils, deep in a tight hidden knot of briars, an elongated bud of gentler springtime green takes shape. No... it has always been there; it has matured beyond its neverending prenatal quiescence at last, that is all.

But they are upon the grassy hill, now.

Each of the three involved in the duel takes a different path there, be it by way of an emotional centering at a place of martial devotion or by way of a single desperate long-legged leap.

Anthy Himemiya -- the Rose Bride -- the delicate girl in the red gown is there already, hands clasped, beneath the renewed shade of a great gnarled tree whose branches flush pale with a new year's growth. The sky burns with the death of the day, but even the intensity of sunset cannot steal the green from tree above, nor grass below, nor the still-round eyes of the girl between.

White roses, full and pure and as impossible as the strike they chase, fan out in the air, and Anthy is in Shinjuku -- an alley, a plaza, a place home to things both terrible and miraculous -- for the briefest of moments.

Except that she is not. Beneath the bell of her gown, her ankles feel the warm tickle of grass instead of the damp chill rising from city streets. And Tenjou-san, Tenjou-san is...

Her heart squeezes deep down in her chest, a strange sensation. It is not fear. It is not pain. It is not the sting of spite, nor the clench of hatred, nor the grinding pressure of despair.

Dark crimson and pink intersect, the blades indistinguishable from the duelists.

In the wake of their crossing, dark red sprays.

Arterial, vital: every scattered rose petal another heartsblood drop of Kasagami Araki's priceless power, spilled.

All bear witness. All see. And all hear: the pronouncement of the bells, those mysterious bells whose toll proclaims no particular hour nor date, but the passage of that power.

In the wake of Utena Tenjou's victory, the mysteries of Ohtori unfold and flatten away, mystical origami in reverse. The glass panels over the atrium crowd shift and shuffle and ultimately reconstitute the Crystal Hall, the reflections in them fading until they show nothing more than the deepening purples of a sunset giving way to night beyond. The show is over.

Anthy Himemiya bears witness to the end of the duel and more from her intimate spot under the shade of the tree on the grassy hill in all her bridal accoutrements -- save the veil of her implacable calm, lifted to display the tremulous quality of her astonishment to Utena Tenjou.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

The world pauses for Kasagami Araki. A single drop of sweat drips from her chin. Exertion, suppressed pain by the powerful blade in her hands, it's all catching up. Her body is posed at the end of a strike eeking martial perfection. Her hands still tremble from it's making. She can't even turn to see her opponent. Her Blessing gone, skill and purpose has been her own formidable danger to Utena Tenjou's rose.

And yet, dark crimson spills like life's blood to the ground. Her mind comprehends it before her heart can. What the scattering of petals mean. Not the brilliant white that surrounds both Utena and herself, but rather the single rose's worth falling to the ground. Her right eye glances down to her chest to see the truth unwavering before her.

The Sword of Dios dissolves into motes of golden light that scatter upwards into the sky. Pealing bells cry out victory for one, and utter defeat for another. Her knees go weak, and she falls to them. Then to her hands. They tremble.

But denial is finally shattered as the light goes out of her right eye as slowly as the Sword she fought for too fades.

"No." It's a low, whispered denial. The kind given when one doesn't know how to process something. That one just wants to shove away the evidence before them, and return to what they had before. Kasagami had only muttered such words in that tone twice. The first was finding her Father dead. The second was waking up, and being told she was alone. And now, on the eve of reaching high for her Revolution against a foe she's so cared for and scorned in turn?

Crystal clear, undeniable reality cuts through her self-given lies, her arrogance, her life's worth of training and desires and ambition. She tries to reject what she sees with one good eye before her. With hands emptied out of what she had fought so hard to attain and use to fulfill her life's dreams.

"This can't...no! I can't lose! No no no no no NO! I'm too close! Not now! Why NOW!?" Her eyes have no tears to weep over her loss. Over her failure to protect the power she'd used in Shinjuku alongside those that had protected her. That she'd turned against a General of Darkness. That she hoped to use to conquer all in that mystical Arena that she would use as a stairway to the sky towards the miracle dwelling within that unseen Castle looming above it.

She can't comprehend the lie inside of her that Utena fought against. She can't comprehend why she lost even after the brilliant young woman crashed across her. She can barely see past herself, and losing something yet one more time in her life. The well of power which so many envy, obtained, and then stolen away just like that.

Anything, after all, can be taken away without any rhyme or reason at any time in the world.

Kasagami's face peers at the ground as she chokes down a scream when the right side of her body finally feels the fire of losing the soothing touch of the Sword and it's Bride.

The nauseating pain is nothing against the burning humiliation of losing, and the utter lack of awareness of why. Her entire body quivers upon the gentle grass of Ohtori's hill as she stares in shock.

Only one single thought remains in her head.

She's failed them. Eri, Niramo, Mikoto, and even Akko if not directly that stood here tonight. Failed the Shepherds. Failed Rinji, and failed Pluto. Shame courses through her. Palms and knees both give up at once, and she collapse into a heap on the ground in quiet, personal sobs.

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

When, Fuu wonders, did she stop breathing?

She didn't consciously start holding her breath, but as petals scatter like drops of blood and the bells begin their call, she realizes that her body really needs oxygen - and the first petal has barely touched the ground as she *does* breathe in, still gazing at the 'reflection' even as it begins to fade, the atrium starting to rearrange itself as it normally is.

It's over. That, for a long moment, is all she really knows - and as Fuu realizes that Mikoto's hand is squeezing hers, and her own clasping the younger girl's just as tightly, the other pieces start to fit back together. Utena's rose was a pure white, and Kasagami wore a rose of her own. But the petals which scattered in that last moment ...

Weren't white.

Fuu takes another deep breath, bowing her head briefly. If what she thought she saw is what happened, then she can't help but be a little relieved. But her sympathy goes out to Kasagami nonetheless ... because for all that Fuu doesn't know, and *realizes* she doesn't know, about the Duel she just had the privilege of witnessing? She at least has a sense of how much Kasagami must be hurting right now. She hates to lose, even in something as minor as a video game. And this - the stakes must have been so much more.

"Mikoto-san," she whispers, "did you still need to sit outside, get some fresh air? Or ... should we go look for Kasagami-san?"

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Utena's world is so simple. So narrow. So incomplete.

There are so many things she cannot see.

She cannot see the noisemakers rattling on the floor of the Student Council's vaunted sanctum, nor the wide, wide eyes of Shizuru Fujino.

She cannot see Mikoto's hands, her twin death grips on the stick that Shinjuku has forced her to use -- the hand that Fuu has offered freely.

She cannot see the past, where Anthy tells Usagi where she is -- or the distant present, where Usagi's lips mouth her own name.

She cannot see Niramo's perspective any more than an ant can see the curvature of the Earth; what is white and red and black and pink from afar, what is beautiful and what is deadly.

She cannot see Eri's gleaming glasses, much less the frozen girl behind them, much less the despair in her heart.

And she definitely cannot see what grows now that she's gone, in the place that they've left behind, the sharp and bitter place, the sad and confined place, the too-familiar place -- spring green growth in that heart of darkness.

She only sees what she's running toward, as the bells peal out an ending, and a beginning. She only sees a tree -- the tree, their tree.

Their tree, and the girl beneath it.


Herself settled in the grass with knees pulled up and elbows atop them, Anthy gives the impression of lightly perching despite having her butt firmly planted on the ground. The first of her Valentine's Day gifts is, in an opinion of Anthy's so private even she does not fully appreciate it, her Utena-sama's delighted reaction upon opening the bento. Violet curls pillowed in the crook of her elbow, she absorbs the awe and the laughter like a rose bush might drink in the sun's rays after a long winter; her cupid's-bow smile widens from consciously-pursed prettiness to broad and sweet delight, reflected and amplified.

She straightens up, still well-pleased, and takes the box. Tucking her knees down and her legs to the side, Anthy sets the gift on her lap and prises the top open. Her eyes and mouth go round to match her owlish glasses.

"O-oh, my." Even with a soft touch a surgeon would envy, she pauses, as if afraid to disturb the finery within. With fingers steepled downward to create an interlaced cradle of slender brown digits, Anthy handles the egg as if it is spun glass instead of chocolate. "It is so pretty..." Oh so carefully she rotates it, taking in every swirl of frosting.

Thus she spies the looking-glass opening and, with a big-eyed blink at Utena, brings the gorgeous delicacy to within a breath of her cheek to take a peek. That's when the impish giggles chirrup up from her chest, brightening mouth and face and body language all -- she curls again, but this time into a girlish ball of amusement.

When she looks back over to her friend, the tropical seas in her eyes share the joke, reflecting the sun rather than outdoing it with a playful glint like sunrise from shore-splashing waves.

"It is perfect," and it is. "Me too," and she is. If there are more complicated emotions present -- and there are -- they lurk beneath that cheerful ocean for the moment. "But this is too pretty! Do people actually eat these? It seems like a shame. I would rather be able to see into it whenever I like, and visit this pretty little garden.

"The frogs will be back soon, with the spring." This, too, pleases Himemiya.

Anthy's laughter -- a mirror of Utena's own -- washes over Utena like a warm rain on a parched desert, and she can't help but laugh again, making that desert bloom, just a little, with the brilliant blues of her eyes when they shine, the rose of her hair when she tosses her cap, that shield against an angry world, off entirely. It settles on a root nearby.

"It's funny," she says, feeling a fizz in her breast that she cannot easily identify, nor would she want to, "I was thinking the exact same thing about your bento." She's loathe to tear her eyes from Anthy's happiness for long, but can't help but admire the lunchbox again, the thought and skill -- and humor -- that went into it. Then she looks back up at the chef. "Some things are definitely too pretty to eat."

Reaching into her pocket, she pulls out her smartphone -- it is simple and functional, unengaged in the race-to-the-top of the 'who's got the latest best gadget' tree, but certainly it has a camera.

With one hand she adjusts the bento so that it's at chest-level, tilted forward a little but not precariously endangering the contents inside. "Here," she suggests. "Let's take a picture of us and the Valentine's chocolate? Even if we don't eat it, Chu-Chu probably will while we sleep." She says this without rancour or even exasperation, just a sort of bemused acceptance, the same way that a sailor accepts the nature of the winds and the tides. "At least this way we'll have something to remember it by."

Without really thinking about it, she starts to put her other arm across Anthy's shoulders, which feels as natural as breathing, just kind of the thing to do right now, but then pauses -- because then there's no one to take the picture. "Oops," she grins, and starts to disentangle herself, to hold the camera out straight.

"Say 'spring'," she suggests, by way of cheese. With a little extra sparkle.


Utena staggers, stumbles to a stop, forcibly braking herself with skidding heels, ripping up a small puff of grass and dirt, arms windmilling frantically -- so that she doesn't charge straight into Anthy Himemiya.

Himemiya, astonishment writ large across her face.

Their toes do not kiss only because there is a vast red hem in their way; she's only able to arrest her momentum in the very, very nick of time.


She smiles then, and it's such a simple thing. So liberated from the complexities of the world. For a moment there are no agonized friends, no bitter enemies. No Kings and no Tyrants.

No Princess and no Princesses, either.

Just two girls sharing the same tree.

Just Utena Tenjou, smiling with exhausted relief at Anthy Himemiya. Her shoulders shake and her chest heaves and her manifold scratches sting and she could drop the shattered little bit of sword that remains to her and part of her wants to, but she won't. After everything it's been through with her, it deserves better than that. She adjusts her grip instead, curling her palm more gently around its hilt, and points its tip carefully, deliberately downwards.

Kasagami screams behind her, and her own face freezes, her smile becoming a rictus of understanding. Very few people have the capacity for empathy, when it comes to the feeling of losing the Rose Bride. Utena is uniquely qualified, and even she -- she, at the time, had a certain buffer in place.

For she, at the time, was no longer the sole inhabitant of her own heart -- and the parasite was determined to protect her from the agony of feeling by any means necessary.

Even he couldn't shield her from it completely, though -- and seeing it in the living mirror of her former friend... maybe, impossibly, her once and future friend?... it brings it all back.

But she doesn't droop; doesn't go limp; isn't lost to the vines that lurk in the dark and private garden of her own soul. A place that was once violated, no secret left unclaimed, by one who wielded the thorny wires of doubt and self-loathing and horrific despair as crucifying lashes or a marionette's strings. He's gone now... but they remain.

They'll always be there -- they were always a part of her, after all, from the very beginning.

But they can't stop her from shouldering through them, as she takes a step forward towards the sobbing girl on the ground.

And a step away from the Rose Bride. She turns her head to keep looking at Anthy, her body perpendicular to both now, as she separates them, the one in between.

"...I'm sorry," she finishes the sentence, interrupted first by relief and now by profound awareness of another girl's suffering. "I'm sorry for everything. Please don't..."

Her breath hitches in her throat as she brakes herself as harshly away from the end of that sentence as she did from bodily slamming into Anthy moments before.

"I don't," she concludes more carefully, "Think that all of this... can just magically make everything that happened okay. Okay..."

The repetition wasn't a question or even a confirmation; it was a prince bracing herself to do the right thing... even though it's hard.

It's so, so hard to leave the shelter of the tree.

But one thing makes it possible: the memory of Himemiya leaving the Dueling Arena on the arm of 'Araki-sama', smiling upwards with perfect politeness.

"Okay... I'm gonna go get help!" she calls, turning away fully at last, to jog past Kasagami, towards the atrium -- and towards their precious friends, the ones which, each in their own way, they both fight every day to protect.

Big King and Little Prince.

As she passes by, impossibly pink, sunset-kissed hair streaming behind her, Utena leaves the briefest, softest, gentlest clasp to Kasagami's left shoulder in her wake -- and the smell of wild roses.

BGM Start! Truth - Luca Yumi https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SY8I1jeC9Mg

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Mikoto Minagi is so, so familiar with the screaming rage of battle, of tears unbidden in the middle of a fight. The terrible certainty of destroying the enemy at any cost...

... but unless Mikoto has misread the signs of battle completely, this is a duel of roses, not blood. A place where precision is valued over force, where only one injury matters - that of the rose on their breast. There's no other reason Utena would defend hers so diligently. In this strange, foreign, unimaginable world of the rose duel, where enemies are not destroyed but only divested of their floral accompaniments...

... in this strange world of the duel, is berserkergang enough?

(There are so many stories which don't have happy endings, in this world. So many stories which are too dark, too brutal, too hard, for the kind and loving souls of girlhood. But Mikoto Minagi, who has told her story to so few, in such scattered remnants... in this world, is her desperate heart enough?)

The trains charge together on the same track, relentless, unavoidable, two giants clashing by the grassy hillside. Kasagami's skill, Utena's speed - both are overpowering, in that moment. Mikoto can see the strain they're under, that burst of power as if they both know they must end it soon.

And so it ends.

They pass so close by, in a flash of crimson and pink and there is a spray of something like blood, but it is not blood, could never have been blood. It's petals, dark red petals, Kasagami's rose shorn and fluttered to the wind.

Mikoto feels as if she might fall, for a moment, and she leans heavily on Fuu, though her wounds protest.

"... Kasagami..." Her voice is so small, so sad.

The mirrors rearrange themselves before Mikoto can witness Kasagami's grief. She doesn't know how much her friend is suffering, can't possibly see it, and yet she knows it must be vast. "... yeah," she replies, to Fuu, on the matter of Kasagami, but her face is pale. "Just gotta... sit down a moment..."

There are chairs behind the tables which have been set up, and surely with Fuu's help, she makes her way over to them. She grabs a glass of some liquid or another, reaches into her pocket, and pushes a couple of those doctor's painkillers out from the blister pack of medicine into her hand. Swallows them, along with the punch. They taste terrible, but Mai had made her promise to take them when she needed them.

And she needs to be able to help Kasagami. It's not even a question in her mind.

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Lera didn't really know, as she saw the last of the fight unfold, how she should feel. At the start of the fight, it had been easy enough: to cheer on her fellow Chevalier. But the close calls -- the times it seemed that Utena might falter, the times that Kasagami's skill shone through, and the words exchanged made it so much more complicated. Her eyes are locked on the end, though -- and end up on Kasagami.

She remembers, dimly, that feeling. She remembers falling, when she failed, and someone had been there to catch her. She can't say someone isn't there to catch Kasagami, metaphorically. But the image is enough to give her pause.

She finds her answer, though, when Utena turns from Kasagami -- and starts to walk towards them. Her eyes widen, but her expression relaxes into a smile. "Good job," she says, quietly. "It looks like--"

She realizes who she was talking to. When Lera looks to the side, there is that conspicuous empty spot -- and she is reminded that the friend she came to Ohtori to see isn't there. Her smile fades, slowly, and she looks back at Utena.

She still doesn't know how she should feel.

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

The oldest of the Duelists assembled on the balcony may not see the others now, as she stares down, standing on the edge, one foot on a crenelation... But they see the outcome as well, and they see her. Hear. The way that Shizuru used the Challenger's name is not missed, not lost to the moment, and if she does not care now, it may be something to care for later.

The Duelists are not friends, per se. That is not what this group is for, not what it means. ...But there is an intimacy in sharing these moments, in the shared struggle, in watching one another strive and win and fail in the Arena. And that is something that is known, but need not be discussed.

It is true, however; Shizuru Fujino has seen much of Kasagami Araki and Utena Tenjou both, and now she is watching, watching, watching, with wide open eyes, and if she is not as emotional as some might be then there is at least something in knowing, in needing. White roses... So, so many. The noisemakers still fall, piling up at Shizuru's feet. They pile, and pile, until they suddenly stop.

Red petals scatter, and Shizuru sees. The bells peal, and Shizuru hears. ...The Sword fades, and Shizuru feels. She stares down, unreacting at first, as Kasagami shouts her denials, as Utena keeps going. Shizuru stares...

The rattling box finally loses its lid, and red, blue, yellow, orange; balloons lilt, floating up, and up, a whole set of them to brighten the sky, to celebrate.

And still Shizuru stares. She does not notice that she has started breathing again, at first. She does not notice until, looking down at Utena and her rose, even as she looks to the Rose Bride--


It's small at first, and then joined by another, another, as Shizuru starts laughing softly at first but soon so far that her shoulders are shaking, her posture shifting downward, her bloody hand coming to her stomach and--

"Hahaha--Ha, ha, hahahaha--"

Kasagami suffers. Utena apologizes. ...And Shizuru laughs, a bizarre, joyful sound, rocking her so hard that she has the ghost of tears from her closed eyes, doubled over. ...And the balloons coast upward, upward, impossibly to the sky, to eternity, where they will never be seen again.

<Pose Tracker> Ye-jin Song [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Ye-jin Song, amidst the crowd, watches on.

While others crowd against the crystalline borders, watch in wide-eyed at the inevitable intersection of red and pink so far away, Ye-jin sits patiently at the side of her little stage. The platform is abandoned almost entirely now, tables scattered, baskets overturned. Only she remains near its pastel edge, a crystalline glass pinched between her slender fingers, periodically raised to her lips at mechanical intervals.

'Once upon a time...'

5rShe watches, all of it, every word and every motion as the duel draws to its close.

'To help people... when they're suffering. To save people... like she was saved...'

Ye-jin Song does not know Utena Tenjou. Not really, not in any personal capacity. She was just a rumor, a ghost, a fallen prince cast from Ohtori's hallowed halls before Ye-jin entered. She doesn't know her, but she listens. She understands the words, but her mind can only faintly touch their burning meaning.

'This is for the world and the people I love!'

She knows Kasagami. Not well, truthfully, and not with any particular intimacy. But she has a tentative knowledge of the disciplinary executive. She understands drive, ambition. Love. They don't align, they not completely, but the crimson duelist is something she's more capable of understanding. Something that itches at her thoughts, at feelings shut tight.

She also knows the truth, and it is immutable: Those who need to be saved are weak. The Golden Age is for the chosen. To fall to someone who doesn't understand such unassailable realities would be impossible. To lose to someone like that would be--

Swords flash. Crimson petals fall. The image fades.

-- "Pathetic." The crystal glass shatters, tumbling from Ye-jin's hand to strike the marble tiles below.

She doesn't give it a second look as she rises to leave.

<Pose Tracker> Anthy Himemiya [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Anthy Himemiya still resides within her state of heart-deep shock as the pink-haired winner of the duel comes windmilling up, with her athletic underwear and her strong scratched limbs and her eyes, those eyes, with their blue more true than any shade the sea or sky could aspire to.

Her name exists as a warm mass of Utena Tenjou's breath; Anthy inhales, sharp and deep, of the air between them. It trembles past lips parted with wonder, a subtle shade of expression away from the astonishment rounding them moments before. Then the other girl smiles, and there is only the two of them beneath the tree.

No duels. No swords. Just them.

Anthy does not smile back. Everything within her trembles, and her emerald eyes hold pools of that same wonder as she watches the noble victor go to show love to her fallen foe.

After Utena Tenjou departs there is a brief period of quiet when the only sounds on the hill come from the rustling of the breeze through blades of green grass, and from the shaking heap of Kasagami Araki upon the ground.

Then there comes a different rustle, one-two one-two, a stately approach of feet down the hill.

The Rose Bride crouches down beside the kneeling girl who was her Engaged with a crinkle of voluminous silk.



Head down, heart pounding, Utena rushes out the door of the East Dorm at high enough speeds that the nascent tears in her eyes threaten to be pulled onto her cheeks -- and has to skid to a stop, all but jackknifing to avoid running over Anthy. She manages it, somehow.

"H-Himemiya," she gasps out, turning her face far to the side to avoid burdening her roommate with her expression. "I'm... I gotta go out... sorry for the mess in there... please, take as much as you want, okay?" And then she disappears into the darkness, into the rain, and ultimately into the alleys of Shinjuku.

Anthy stands where she is on the steps leading up to the East Dorm's entrance for a few moments, watching her roommate as she flees and then watching the spot where Utena disappears, after. When she heads in, she finds a dining room table overflowing with tokens of love meant for her Engaged, an explosion of heartful packages in all the traditional colors of the holiday.

She is a long time in seeing to the mess. Selecting her own prize from amongst the bounty of discarded affection is an easier task: the colors of the wrapping betray its giver. Anthy steals it away -- no, Anthy steals nothing at all. It has been given away; it was never accepted at all, not really. She does secret it away, though. It steeps in her possession, a fine poison awaiting its time.

It is nothing at all like a homemade picture bento and a chocolate looking-glass egg exchanged with warm laughter and warm eyes beneath the shade of a tree on a grassy hill.



The Rose Bride sets a box, papered in careful red and black, onto the grass by Kasagami Araki's scarred and pain-wracked right hand. The wrapping paper is still held in place with the original tape, still bears the original crinkling. It has to all appearances never been opened. There's line drawn through the 'Utena' on it -- a looping feminine hand has written 'Araki-san' beneath.

"I would not want you to go unarmed," she says in that quiet voice of hers.

Then she, too, is gone.

The dagger is still inside the gift box, safely sheathed in red and black. The card is there, too, penned in Kasagami's own hand. 'A prince is a warrior, and should never go unarmed. Don't disappoint me.' A triumphant Chu-Chu puffs out his chibi mousemonkey chest atop the crude Kassie figure that was drawn there originally.

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

When Miki Kaoru lost his last duel to Kasagami, he believed there was no hope left for him. He'd lost Himemiya, he'd lost his chance at having any sort of sibling affection from his sister. And then Sayaka Miki ran away - from his outstretched hand. He'd fallen into a profound despair, believing that all hope for such shining things were lost.

But as the duel ends, Miki finds himself going a little weak in the knees, as he gropes for his chair with a hand. Finding the arm rest, he brings himself back down to a sitting position.

When Kasagami had won before all he could focus on was the paperwork he'd have to fill out as the title of Engaged changed hands. It's all he could allow of himself. But as Utena wins - he doesn't feel vindicated, but he does feel lighter. Like he can hear a certain melody again. Like he could feel it. He finds himself looking forward to all that paperwork, even in triplicate.

But just as he nearly allows himself to smile - the moment is spoiled by the harsh dissonance of Shizuru's laughter. Kasagami's downfall is something he's glad about but...

As Shizuru laughs at Kasagami's downfall...

...Miki can just picture in his head, her laughing at Kozue too, in the aftermath of that night.

"Someone's in a good mood." He comments without any feeling whatsoever. Without even looking Shizuru's way.

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The crowds are dispersing back into their cliques, into their separate parties, clustering candidates' offerings of food and drink, of power and prestige. The crowd, united in its interest in the fight even if they were divided in their support, won't soon forget it; already the rumors are spreading from mouth to mouth, and the winds of change begin to blow through the school.

Utena arrives in yet another rushed stumble. Her adrenaline hasn't hardly faded a bit, the urgency of Kasagami's need providing the last bit of fuel necessary for the pumping of her piston legs, and so it is that she bursts into the atrium both aglow and aghast. Her hair is always the last to know that she's stopping, and pours over her shoulders into her face.

She pauses only to put her palms on her knees and suck in another bellyful of air.

"MIKOTO!" she yells, at the top of her lungs -- the party doesn't stop for her, though every head turns at some point to take in the vision of the striking figure of the long-lost and splendidly returned Prince of Ohtori. Being in her athletics clothes, being dashingly covered in what could be called dueling scars -- it's a good look on her, even if it isn't a put-together one. Sweat transmuted to sparkles, leftover tears to diamonds. All that sort of thing. "MIKOTO!!"

But the fear in her eyes isn't something anyone wants to see, so she isn't approached -- just directed, by some helpful souls who can point out the girl in the chair.

Utena's lips tighten as she sees the other girl, the green girl, nearby.

Her long, long legs eat up the atrium floor like she's going to go eat a stack of pancakes later tonight: the space between them is devoured.

"You're the ones -- she needs -- right now," she wheezes, rolling a little on the balls of her feet. Mission accomplished, all the energy is going to drain out of her fast, and she knows she'll have to sit down before she falls down.

She rolls her head back on her neck wearily, and closes her eyes, summoning directions and transforming them into words. Tracing a path.

"She's on the hill -- with the single tree -- the one near where her falconry club meets -- and she needs you -- right now. Please. Go."

A victorious Utena in obvious need of a little TLC is far more interesting than the frantic one, and a moment later she is swallowed by a mob of girls' uniforms, just like the one she isn't wearing anymore, all of them with hands and smiles and hankerchiefs and towels.

The only thing she can do, in the face of all that, is go along with it good-naturedly (and with a fair measure of gratitude, too, she really really does need that proferred water bottle) -- and try to guide the course of this spontaneous tide of admiring girlhood a little bit, stumbling away to get the crowd out of the path of the ones she came here to find -- and to send.

Everyone saw her; but no one can say exactly, later on, when exactly she slipped away, much less where she went.

<Pose Tracker> Usagi Tsukino [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

And among that horde of admiring girls is one Usagi Tsukino - "Utena- Utena! You did it! You really- h-hey stop shoving!"

Usagi never quite makes it to the front of the pack - but every so often Utena might catch a glimpse of a girl in a Juuban High School uniform bunny hopping and waving to try to get her attention.


Later - much later - long after Utena has slipped away. Usagi Tsukino finds herself walking. She doesn't take the same path as Anthy Himemiya or Utena Tenjou. Of course not. Her path is off the island.

Instead arms laced behind her, she stands near the edge of the island right beside the bridge - right where the light pollution of Tokyo proper starts to bleed away the stars in the sky. In a firmament between it and the silver light of the moon.

While she's smiling - there's still some sadness there. Because Usagi Tsukino is remembering the first night she and Kasagami truly faced off.

It wasn't in a warehouse, it was over the fate of a single girl. And in the aftermath she had wondered wistfully.

The most important thing is that she's a person. A normal girl. Isn't it?

Do you ever wonder how to remind someone of that?

"You know it's funny how that just happens..." She says as she looks upon where she thinks Mare Serenetatis. "... when someone helps you find the answer to a tough question - and it turns out to be really simple."

And what is that answer?

BGM Change: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vws9UuQmCi0

Once upon a time... a little girl lost her parents...

Such thoughts are interrupted by a sudden, "U-SA-GI!" From a familiar Naru Osaka who just snuck up on her, "There you are! How could you just ditch me like that!? I've been looking everywhere for you since you just ran off like that-" Freezing, then awkwardly laughing, Usagi rubs the nape of her neck, "Gomen-gomen Naru-chan! I wasn't trying to - I just... you see I had the chance to see someone I hadn't heard from in a long time..."

Naru gives her a coy look, "Ohhhh~! And who might that be? It wouldn't happen to be a certain Prince Charming from that Christmas party?"

Usagi gets this look like she's been pegged - caught - Naru seeing right through her instantly, "W-Well..." Clasping her hands in Naru's she promises with a bright smile, "... tell you all about it on the way home?" Anger giving away unto delight - Naru starting to pull her towards the bridge. "If you spare even one detail I won't forgive you!"

And soon enough it's just two silhouettes backlit by lamplight crossing over from Southern Cross Island back into their own world. Both voices far too loud in the sedate night.

"Naru-chan! I have to keep some secrets you know!"

"Well then I guess it means you won't be forgiven!"

"Come onnnnn! That's not fair!"

"And what's fair exactly about cutting me out of the loop?!"

"I'm noooootttt!"

<Pose Tracker> Anthy Himemiya [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Her feet fall lightly on the stones. She ambles more than walks. It is a pretty evening, and the scent of roses is in the warm twilight. She wants to enjoy it, as she has been disallowed so many such small and precious joys. But she also has somewhere to be, and so she ambles with purpose.

Something fearfully new trembles in her breast, too. Something vulnerable. It whispers that maybe, maybe now... she can take more walks like these again. Maybe there will be picnics and shared lunches again. Maybe...

A whole field of maybes springs to life, all freed by the power of that simple, beautiful smile and the noble girl who shared it with her beneath the tree.

She walks alone, with none to witness how long those wide green eyes well with tears.

Soon her feet quicken their pace of their own accord.

When their paths meet she is all Anthy again, in her orange jacket and her short grey skirt and her seamlessly pleasant mien. All of these the girl regained in privacy, some with more difficulty than others.

She has her school case with her, and she's not the only one who has come prepared. Chu-Chu tips along next to her, laboring beneath a cloth-tied knapsack larger than he is -- a mighty ant of a monkeymouse, short and brave and strong.

The girl with the funny owlish glasses and the purple curls comes to a slow stop on the path before Utena Tenjou. Her eyes need no sunlight for their verdant shimmer, defying the color-stealing properties of night without effort. They gleam as they fix on the approaching girl.

Chu-Chu stares, too, with his intent little coal-circles. Together, they wait for her to join them.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Eri Shimanouchi stares at that space for just a few moments - as the magic fades.

Her eyes are dry. She's become good at willing herself not to cry. The world doesn't care for her tears now and she knows it never has.

The world doesn't care that it dashed her nascent hopes to see something different. To hope for a triumph that actually felt like a victory. Where their efforts, their sacrifices, weren't punished.

She curses herself for having them.

She curses herself for being so selfish as to make this moment about her.

A few seconds later, her eyes find Mikoto. Sitting down - guzzling pain medication.

She makes herself walk over to her. Tonight perhaps is the first time Mikoto has seen her in the Ohtori High School uniform.

It's something that not so long ago she wanted her to see her in.

Not like this.

"Mikoto..." The way she says her name sounds distant

And then she hears the yelling. Her neck turns like a whiplash her eyes narrowing protectively as the Prince calls out her name - as if Eri wonders if Utena is calling her out to a fight while she's like this.

But the truth - as Utena sprints across the space, and their eyes meet. Eri's lips are not tight as she listens to her plea. She doesn't look startled or stunned or sad, but there is a glimmer of anger.

Instead she just offers a hand to help Mikoto up, "Think you can walk that far? You can lean on me if you need to..."

She has her arm around Mikoto as they make their way out of the Atrium - even outside it's like Ohtori white saturates them. Even in the dark shadows of angular architecture. She says something quietly to Mikoto, "If that's her idea of kindness - I won't thank her for it."

It might be hard to understand why she feels this way but once... in what feels like a lifetime ago. A girl shot her in the chest and left her to die. Maimed and suffering... and two girls came just in time to save her - summoning who she needed to survive.

And in retrospect - sometimes she wonders if the greater mercy would have been for neither of those girls to come.

As they arrive at the bottom of the hill she looks up it at the shade of the duelist atop it, and hikes up her arm around Mikoto's shoulders in support, "One last push... think you can make it?" It's a rougher time for Mikoto than it is for her - getting up that hill - under the shadow of the tree. Once they get up top, she unhooks her arm around Mikoto, and moves to kneel right beside the sobbing Kasagami. She can hear the rustling of the Spring breeze through the branches and feels it through her hair and over her ears, "Not a bad place to end a fight... feels like the kind of place I would have wanted to be confessed to once."

Her arm is put around her back, to give Mikoto full access to Kasagami's front, as she rubs there with a hand, soothing her like a child while looking her over for injuries. It takes her a while to find words, "... she said we're what you need right now. And well... I don't know... I don't know if there's anything I have that you need... I can't tell you that it's going to be okay..."

Why does the sky always look so pretty on days which are so sad? It's a mystery she will never have an answer to.

"... but I can tell you that we're here for you..."

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

The doctors told her not to push herself. The nurses told her not to push herself. Mai told her not to push herself.

... but Mikoto pushes herself, because Kasagami needs her, and Kasagami is her friend. The guilt weighs on her, as she imagines Mai's worry, but she cannot possibly ignore a friend who has fallen so far. It is simply not something Mikoto Minagi is capable of. She will not stop. She cannot stop. It is not her nature.

But the crushing guilt is too much to stand against, for one staggering moment. So she sits, and she takes her medicine, because she knows what she's going to have to do. She tries to do it right - as right as she can. ... she is still trying, after all this time.

Eri approaches. Mikoto's smile, for her, is pain-worn and yet so full of love that it threatens to overwhelm the aches lined on her face. "Eri... Eri made it..." and she must know, must know what she means, the golden hues of her high-school uniform, the significance of her achievement. "... I'm so happy."

And yet there is such distance, in that name, and not all of the pain on Mikoto's face is physical. it makes sense she's useless to eri now after all

'MIKOTO!' comes a voice, a familiar voice, a voice who hasn't spoken to her in so very, very long. Utena barrels into the atrium, diamonds and sparkles and the terrible, terrible weariness of someone who is at her limit.

"I'm here," Mikoto calls, in reply. The movement hurts her chest, as she barks it out, but she winces and takes another deep breath and calls out anyway. "I'm here!"

And so, Utena finds her. She listens, as Utena gasps out her words. Of what Kasagami needs. Where she is. There's a glimmer of anger in Eri, perhaps - but an overflowing of concern in Mikoto.

She listens, and she looks to a girl unburdened by obsidian purpose, a noble girl, a girl who succeeded where Mikoto failed. She finds herself glad, so glad, that Utena is not like her. A girl like her would not have hesitated in the face of an enemy. A girl like her would not have only cut the rose from her breast.

But a girl like Utena would.

"... Utena's still a good person," Mikoto says. It's an acknowledgement of the long-ago, and if Utena remembers, she might hear how much Mikoto's speech has improved since she first came to Ohtori. She turns to Fuu, and there is gratitude in her eyes, but there's a firmness to her words which cannot be argued with. "Let's talk tomorrow. ... thanks, Fuu." Where she's going, she knows Fuu can't follow. It might seem strange, to see her treating someone who was once an enemy with such warmth, but Mikoto doesn't regard Fuu with any suspicion at all.

"I can," she says, to Eri. She pauses, shakes her head, amends her statement: "... I have to. Thanks, Eri..." She is slow to rise, grasping that walking-stick tightly, but the medication makes it easier. Eri is there, to help, and Mikoto leans on her as she begins to route the path Utena has laid out for them.

She glances to Eri, as she whispers, and murmurs in return: "... Utena isn't like us." There's a heaviness, to her voice, grief and regret and guilt. "Right now, all I can do... is be grateful... Utena isn't like us." It is so obvious, so very painfully obvious, that she couldn't draw Miroku right now. She couldn't defend Kasagami at all. what is the point of her

On the hill, with the tree... Mikoto looks up, and dreads the incline. But she nods, regardless. "... I'm not gonna stop now. Kasagami needs us, Eri."

... it is not a fast thing, for Mikoto and Eri to show up on that grassy knoll. so utterly useless But she goes as quickly as she can, under the circumstances. And when she comes to Kasagami - that crumpled, defeated, desperate girl - Mikoto goes to her, and lowers herself painfully down until she is sitting beside her. The only hint of her pain is the way her breath hisses out through her teeth.

"Kasagami," she says, when she is level with her, and it is concern and compassion and kindness and for a long time it is only her name, her blessed name upon her lips. She reaches out, with her good arm, to stroke a hand through that black-blue hair. She doesn't flinch away from her face, not at all.

"... Kasagami was amazing," Mikoto says, after a moment. "No matter what. I know Kasagami can keep going. Because Kasagami has something to believe in... and I believe in Kasagami, too."

She swallows against a lump in her throat, summoned by Kasagami's naked suffering. "... but, must hurt a lot..." To be struck down by a mighty blade, again and again, to be unable to defeat an enemy even at her full strength... and once more, Mikoto isn't thinking about the duel at all. She shakes her head.

"... but I'll help, okay? Because I like Kasagami. When Kasagami is sad... I'm sad, too..." And it's obvious, in her voice.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

The King lays defeated. Slumped into a ball of humanity, her low sobs are all but inaudible. Even as the sun goes down, Kasagami Araki feels the touch of Utena Tenjou upon her unwounded shoulder.

No, nothing will magically get better. There's no act of magic that can lift her up from her heap, or allow her to make what's truly right with Utena, or her Family of Shepherds and friends and even her enemies. Kasagami's body twitches at the touch. And yet that light and merciful touch tells her that she's alive. Poor comfort for the defeated Once-Engaged. And yet, something about Utena merely caring enough to stop by her side stirrs something in her.

There's a howling voice on her periphery. Kasagami's head can't take much more, and her good eye opens with pure force of will. Her vision is streaked by tears. All alone on her favorite hill where she's heard birds fly free, here she is collapsed.

Something is pressed to her hand. A box. Kasagami's body shudders, and she pulls that box close. She hugs it, and the words escape her at first. Only when she's crushed the familiar red and black tape, that she's held that thing close, does it get unconsciously unwrapped.

The card falls naked. A blade meant for the Prince she had hoped to be hers. Instead? Returned in disgrace, and the unviewed card's inelegant doodle met with one atop it. Kasagami's gaze peers.

Even as she clings to that little knife in the uniform she wears, shame redoubles as she finds herself not just less than a King, but even less than a Prince.

One single eye glances to the retreating form of the Rose Bride. And in that moment? For all that she's weak and dejected? Kasagami Araki once again finds contempt that is swiftly followed by hatred.

Only for her body to give out once more. Warmth falls upon her back suddenly, and the young woman lets out a gasp that's almost inaudible. Proof that she's alive.

'I can't tell you that it's going to be okay'

The proud Duelist shudders at those words.

'But I can tell you that we're here for you'.

Kasagami goes still. There's no comfort, no relief at those words. The power she's sought has slipped from her hands as easly as rose petals fly off in the wind by the whims of the seasons. But like a straining and bent tree in the middle of a tornado, there's something to keep her in one piece if one is charitable.

Mikoto kneels. Kasagami can't see her, too wrapped up in her own suffering. But when a hand runs through her hair and offers those words of encouragement? Her heart ceases to beat for a moment that is as agonizing as it is swift. Her one eyed gaze looks from Shepherd to Shepherd.

These two are here, encouraging her in their own way. One eye of steel, one eye of white regards the pair of Shepherds here to tend to her. That's when the real tears start. Regardless of who might see her own, she looks upon Mikoto and Eri as true family.

When last she was fallen this far, she hadn't anyone left.

A shudder. She curls into a ball, and the guilt floods her at once.

"Mikoto...Eri! I was...I'm sorry...I'll...I won't..." Kasagami's proclaimations devolve into muttered words of self-loathing as she finally passes out, pressing against the touch of her two dear friends beside her.