13
Nov
09

untitled 2 – 10/13/09

I am jolted from sleep. The uncomfortable feeling, like the sharp prick of static shock, rushes through my body, bringing with it all the vivid sensations that distinguish the waking world from the dreaming. The air is cold, bitterly cold. Occasionally, a lashing wind blows by, intensifying the chill, and causes our meager vessel to tip and rock precariously. It was this that had awakened me. I blink a few times, feeling flakes of snow fall and perish on my eyelids. You notice that I am awake.

“We’re almost there,” answering my unspoken question, you tuck my scarf over my face and under my chin. The wind must have blown it out of place.

I look upwards. The tarp that covers half of the boat is only meant to keep out a light drizzle. We had known that snow was imminent, but money had been scarce, and it was the best we were able to haggle for. But it at least allowed us sight of the star-studded sky, calm and unshaken, completely separate from the icy storms below. I spend a few minutes staring, hypnotized by the white specks and the black velvet that held them in place, before another gust reminds me of our current situation. I wriggle my toes, afraid my inattention to them during sleep may have caused them to become frostbitten. But they are neatly wrapped and protected. Not my doing, if I recall correctly, though this is a fortunate discovery nonetheless. Slowly I prop myself up, breaking contact with you momentarily.

“You’re letting heat slip away,” you reach around my waist and pull me back.

“Mm, sorry,” turning my head, I pull my hood away and kiss you. I then lean back into you, and we sit, watching in silence as our boat presses on.

The wind has died down a bit, though snow continues to fall. In the distance, lights of our destination appear. They grow in number and intensity as we approach.

“Docking soon, misses,” a tired voice crackles behind us. A draught of snow tumbles onto my lap as our guide taps his cane on the tarp above us. He coughs, and I wonder if he ingests rocks; the rattling of his congested lungs is indistinguishable from a turbine.

The horizon is fully alit now. Gas lamps spaced evenly along the roads bathe the sleeping city in an amber glow. The waves near the docks are more volatile, and the boat tips enough that water splashes onboard as our guide ambles to the bow to tie up the boat. Grabbing my satchel and brushing the snow from my pants, I rise, trying to keep as steady as possible. Slipping out from behind me, you leave the vessel first. I take your hand when you offer it, and follow after. My breath leaves as clouds of precipitation, made visible by the cold of the city. It feels good to stand on solid ground again.

“That’ll be sixty-five kopens, misses,” our guide extends his thick mug of a hand, like a bear’s paw, gloved thickly in the black skin of some robust animal. You fish around in your bag, and before I can protest, you hand over the currency. “Mm, thank ye kindly, miss. Pleasure doin’ business with ye,” he stretches his lips back into what must’ve been a grin. His mouth is empty, save for a golden tooth on one side – golden, or severely stained, I’m not sure. Wiping white frost from his beard, he nods curtly at us and lumbers into the city, shaking his pouch of coins.

We stand on the dock for a moment and listen as the crunch of his boots fade away, admiring the still, winter silence that presses in around us.

Light, from the ebbing street lamps, and the stars that twinkle above.

Dark, from the inky blackness of the sea and the nocturnal sky.

Cold, from the frost that sticks to my skin, and the tempest that gusts relentlessly.

And warmth – you shiver, and I bring myself closer to you – warmth, from having you beside me.

We’ve made it. The city of Luthorn sleeps, awaiting the morning. Yet I can’t imagine sleeping now. Here, we’ll being our journey. At last, we’ve made it.

——

Author’s note:

I’ll think of a title for this one soon. (Pseudo)promise. Hope it will evolve into something more than a one-shot. I seem to be able to write intros, but that’s it.

10
Oct
09

untitled 1 – 10/10/09

A deep breathe inwards, and Life surges ruthlessly into me, bringing with it tactile feelings of a substantial world. Beneath me, a surface. Flat, soft. A bed, pushing upwards with a force equal to that with which my weight presses down. A second breath, and I feel cobwebs stir inside, the waking process ripping and tearing them apart. Third, and the lightness and electricity dissipates. I am heavy now. An awareness of a body, my body, this collection of atoms, arranged in this particular way, which finds itself here, particularly here, no where else but here. I’m sure of it. I feel dust, hovering and floating above me, brushing against my surface, my skin.




Don’t touch me, I’m far too raw at this moment.




But Dust will not listen. He continues his search along my body. Languidly, agonizingly slow. He presses himself on top of me, and coats me until I am his second layer. I will suffocate if I do not react, if I do not push him away.




The pain lasts for a fraction of second. Any longer, and I will burst. The seams which hold me together as one entity threaten to snap. But they don’t. Only a fraction of a second, see. And my eyes are wide open now. Dim lights reflects off them, and I take in what is processed: an image of a ceiling, grey blotches of pasty stucco churn as my vision adjusts and focuses: a square window to my right produces the only source of light in the small room: a white, searing light, that floods in and almost burns my retinas after what seems to have been a long, long period of darkness. Long, I know, because the ache that penetrates my flesh, bones and perhaps soul, if I have one, makes me tremble and seize in a way that only a long drought of inactivity could do. But I am conscious. Or at least, I think I am.




I think, therefore I am.




I send out signals, and the filaments which make up my muscles respond, one by one. Awaken, twist, turn; make yourself useful. A flooding, tingling sensation lights my body ablaze as I flex each body part in turn. Whether I’m ready for it or not, I’m awake.




——–
Author’s Note:


First random one-shot~. Have a larger , vague story scheme it might continue onto maybe. Started on, um, August 3rd. Whoo, 380 words in two months. orz;;


09
Aug
09

Awesome Tales and Adventures of the CPM Posse.. of Epic Proportions – Chapter 1

The air was cold and crisp, and made her lungs heavy with each breathe. She tightened the muscles in her legs, preparing herself for flight, just in case someone were to pass by her hiding place and spot her. She pushed softly on her earpiece, “We have visual,” her voice was barely audible, “Target is a tall gentleman, six foot three, or there abouts, with ruffled dirty-blond hair. Dark attire: suit, neatly ironed, with an unremarkable grey tie. Shades, even though it’s evening. He’s carrying a..” she squinted, “a small pistol, safety on, in a pocket under his left arm. No other weapons, it seems.”




“Roger that,” a voice only she could hear affirmed her report.




Opposite her location, in a similar position, a young man peered at the entrance through binoculars. “Betcha I can take this guy out in less than eight seconds,” he whispered to another companion who was kneeling behind him.


“He’s worth no more than seven,” without taking her eyes off an metal orb she held in her hand, Yukia Rei made the final adjustments to the apparatus, and pocketed it before surveying the scene with her partner. “Make that five.”


“Confident, huh? Alright, if you can pull it off in five, dinner’s my treat.”


“Hm, sounds good,” she glanced quickly at the time on her wristwatch.


“And if not…” the man grinned, “you give me your HEA-“


“Yeah, yeah, heart, got it.” Before he could finish, Yukia pushed herself away from the wall beside her and rolled out into the open.




Five.




“Rei is on the move. She’s out solo. Plan C: commence,” the girl with the earpiece pulled at the cloth tucked underneath her chin.


“Ok, Leo. You know what to do,” the voice on the other end was smug and deliberate. Its owner was in no fear of the team’s failure.


“Mhm..” with her mask securely in place, Leonore braced herself, left hand steadying her body against the ground, and her right placed lightly on the black scabbard at her side. The guard at the entrance turned at the sound of crunching gravel.


“What the-!?”




Four




“Hey. What’s up?” Panels on the orb flashed under the street lamps as Yukia pulled out her creation. The guard only registered its presence when it collided with his face. Immediately upon impact, the orb loosened, and a translucent netting material emerged from it, engulfing the bewildered man. Leonore took this as her cue and sprinted out from where she had been hiding. She had little time to crack the code to the door before the guard’s colleagues would begin to notice that his radio had been silenced.




Three.




Leonore placed her fingers on the touchpad and concentrated. She felt the molecules of the pad vibrate, quickening the harder she focused. Hurry. She urged the code to present itself to her. Hurry. Her mind darkened, and she soon became unaware of her physical surroundings. All sensory stimulation was unknown to her. In this abyss, she waited.




Two.




A jolt of electricity illuminated her mental vision, so brief, she wasn’t sure if what she saw was real or if it was simply her imagination.




366j9t8s2


Her eyes shot open. Without delay, she punched in the numbers and letters.




“Password incorrect. Please try again.”




One.




Scalding flames whipped past her, licking at stray tips of her tied-up hair. She jumped back, just in time to see the fireball make quick work of the doors in front of her; the edges of the newly created meter-wide hole sizzled, and dripped of hot magma.


“BOOYA!” his voice was high and excited. It took a few seconds before Leonore could shake the adrenaline off and turn to face the fireball’s creator. “And that’s how it’s done, mm hmm. Come on, give me some love,” Kowz had emerged from the shadows and approached the ninja with outstretched arms.


“Nicely done,” Leonore caught the quickly moving Kowz and took his hearty hug, “Whoa, alright, alright..”


“Yeah, hugs lasting longer than six seconds are reserved for… other people.” Yukia had retrieved the spent orb, and was walking towards her comrades. “Strange you had to use it though. Leo’s technopathy doesn’t usually fail.”


“Unless I slipped up on entering a character..” Leonore pondered.


“Got too nervous in the heat of the moment?”


“I, I was pretty focused..”


“Maybe she wanted me to demonstrate my awesome powers,” Kowz stretched and surveyed his work, “Nicely done, nicely done, indeed, Kowz..”


“Right. Just don’t cook yourself, yeah?” After mentally calculating if she had sufficient distance to clear the debris, Yukia quickly leapt through the hole. “More guards soon. Hustle,” she smirked back at her friends before disappearing into the shadows.


“Yikes, she’s fast, huh?” not bothering to match her speed, Kowz slowly inched his way over the smoldering rocks.


“Yeah, she’s efficient in what she does,” stepping sideways out from behind Kowz, Leonore quickly hurdled her way through the hole, and raced off into the passage.


“Oh, hey, wait! What? Aw..” muttering to himself, the fire mage continued his slow crossing. At last, he hopped off onto the other side.


“Let them go first. Monitoring is easier from afar,” the message was quietly transmitted through his earpiece.


Kowz adjusted the small device, “Ah yes. Monitor..”


“We’ll let them stake out the area, set tracks, and if they do indeed get close enough to the prize..”


“We snatch it! And sell it. For LOTS AND LOTS OF PESOS!! AHAHAA.”


“No. We don’t sell it.”


“But-”


“No.”


“But-!”


“Shut up.”


“:’<”


“Yes… once I get my hands on the prize, I will have the power to cast off this hideous guise, and live as I was truly meant to: as ruler, ruler! RULER! Of this rotten place.”


“Why do you want to be ruler of a rotten place?”


“I said ‘shut up’.”


“Listen, you don’t own me, parrot.”


“I, I’M NOT A PARROT.”


“Right. I hear feathers ruffling.”


“Oh, just you wait, Kowz…. Once that prize is mine, you’ll suffer for your disresp-“


“Ok, ok, stop yabbing, Shin, they’re probably miles away now. Gotta go, see ya.”


Running his hand through his hair, Kowz switched off his earpiece, and sped off after the others.

08
Aug
09

I’m not really this capricious

Re-routing all future blog-type entry things to this site. Will prevent redundancy and hopefully increase convenience. Or make it confusing and cluttered. We’ll just have to wait and see. Older blogs can be found on the side-bar.


Beginning work on a fiction inspired by fellow CPMers. Synopsis in “works catalogue.” Will post as things churn out. Suggestions/ideas/contributions very much welcome! :D




Currently listening to: urara – 伴 都美子

18
May
09

The Fourth Column – Chapter Four

As with everything, the passing of time eventually drew the ceremony to a close. After paying their respects to their seniors, the new students were rounded up by the Miss Maria who, at present, was explaining to them the itinerary for the rest of the day. Eagerly, the girls lapped up the information, but Nao noticed one student who seemed less than fully interested. The first-year’s eyes had wondered away from the archaic speaker, half-drooped from boredom. Her arms were crossed, and she stood with all her weight on one leg. Their eyes met, and the girl quickly righted herself, embarrassed that an eminent Column had caught her slacking.

But Nao only chuckled, “Reminds me a little of myself.”


The students dispersed, and the crowd followed suit. Nao watched as they were politely ushered out of the grounds by the security personnel. She felt a tap on her shoulder.

“Meeting in fifteen, in my office.”

Nao folded her arms, “More formalities, Natsuki?”

“Yes, there’s still much to be discussed about among the higher Otome,” the principal adjusted the folder of papers under her arm.

“Like what?”

“Like what you’re going to be doing for the rest of the year.”


The room smelt pleasantly of lavender. Although Nao had been in the principal’s office on a number of occasions (most of which were during her more rebellious school-days), she remained impressed by its breadth. The back wall was entirely glass, and the view offered a magnificent panoramic view of the campus. On one side was a fireplace and sofas, arrayed around a small coffee table. A ceramic teapot and a plate of cookies had been placed on top, and beside them, sat a bowl of purple potpourri – the source of the aroma. Natsuki was seated behind her large desk, her back to the glass wall.

“You’re early,” Natsuki was busy organizing a mess of documents on her desk, but she looked up and gave a curt smile as her guest entered.

“Yeah, no point lingering outside the hallway. Thought I’d come in and call the best seat,” Nao sauntered over to the couches, and stretched herself out on the largest one. She eyed the pastries, “Mind if I start first?”

“Help yourself. No one else is coming.”

She crunched into the cookie, “Hm?”

“Everyone else has some other important business to attend to, so it’s only you this time,” Natsuki pushed the last pile of papers in place, and then focused her attention on the munching girl.

“Oh? A private meeting with the principal?” Nao placed her elbows on her crossed-legs, and licked away a crumb from her lip.

“Yes, something like that,” Natsuki rose from her seat. She walked over and sat on one of the luxurious seats. She picked up the teapot and filled two.

“Thanks.” Nao let the steam from the cup warm her face before taking a tentative sip, “These cookies are good; I didn’t think you’d ever get over that cooking handicap of yours,” she said as she reached for another.

“I didn’t,” Natsuki chuckled, “Actually, Shizuru made them.”

“Oh.” Nao stopped and examined the treat warily, then shrugged, and continued eating voraciously. She would pretend it was Shizuru’s head. “So, what can I do for you, principal?” she asked between bites.

Natsuki cleared her throat, “Well, most classes for this year have been sorted out, all except for one.” She pulled a paper from her folder and slid it across the table.

Nao picked it up, “A course syllabus? Oh, it says Shiho’s teaching it. What happened? Did a student file a complaint already?”

“No, nothing like that. Shiho’s not going to be teaching it this semester.”

Nao frowned.

“She sent me a message just yesterday. Seems she was offered a position as Meister to a Mr. Frederick Newman Dole during her trip back home to Cardair.”

“Who’s that?”

“Apparently he’s the heir to some big energy company. She seemed really flustered and excited on the phone, so I couldn’t catch all the details, but I can assure you, he’s very ‘handsome and rich,’” Natsuki smirked as she quoted her phone conversation.

“That lucky scum bag!”

“Yeah, I knew you were hoping to hit the riches one day too. Sorry.” Natsuki took one of the cookies and settled back in her seat.

Nao leaned forward, “Well, I want retribution.”

“For what?”

“For being stuck here in Galderobe for the rest of my life.”

“I’m stuck here too, you know.”

“Yeah, and that warrants me extra benefits.”

“Well, I hate you too,” Natsuki sipped her tea casually.

“At least give me a new room. Away from those annoying kids.”

“Hm, that I can do,” Natsuki thought for a second, “Room 533 is vacant at the moment.”

“That one’s beside that disgusting bathroom.”

“How about 275?”

“Too close to the classrooms.”

“075?”

“…That’s the dungeon.”

“I know,” Natsuki grinned.

“If you want to lock me up, there’s better ways of doing it…” Nao fixed her companion a sultry look, smiling as she let Natsuki’s imagination explore the hint.

Natsuki blushed, and looked away. As well as she could counter against her rival, Nao always leveled the field when the teasing became suggestive. It was not that she was particularly incompetent in the subject – well, to be honest, she was – but what drew Natsuki back the most was her fear of pushing Nao to the edge, and beyond. How far Nao could carry her flirting, Natsuki did not know. After all these years, she was never really sure how serious Nao was in her ministrations. Although she trusted her friend enough to believe that Nao would never try to force anything upon her, if the situation ever arose, Natsuki had reason to believe she should be afraid of her own response…

Nao had always found Natsuki’s uptightness cute, although she would have to be dragged for miles by horse carriage to admit it. She envied her friend’s pureness of heart. It was something Nao herself had lost too long ago to regain. As much as she teased her senior, she admired her strength of character, and her unbreakable resolve to fairness. But above all, she liked Natsuki’s human side: the side that was still vulnerable to embarrassment and shyness, and to emotions. Nao was capable of drawing out blushes from the principal, but that was as far as she usually got. It was the one gripe Nao had against Natsuki’s virtue…

Natsuki regained her composure, “Just… stay where you are for now. I’ll try to work something out. Deal?”

“Your room’s pretty spacious; we can be roommates.”

“No way. You sound like a horse when you sleep.”

Memories of a bygone school camping trip surfaced in Nao’s memory, “I told you, that wasn’t me! It was the stupid camp counselor and our paper-thin tents!”

“Whatever. I distinctly remember seeing you drool.”

“Oh? So you watched me sleep? How bold…”

Natsuki rolled her eyes.

“Alright, alright, I’ll stay put. But you better be snappy in finding me a new room.”

“Yes, master,” Natsuki pulled a face at her cheeky junior.

“Zhang-sama,” Nao corrected.

“Yes, Juliet-chin,” Natsuki would not give in this time. She then pointed at the syllabus, “Now, back to the meeting. I need you to take care of this.”

“What is ‘this’? Proofread it or something?”

“No, I need you to take Shiho’s place.”

Nao’s eyes widened, “You want me to teach the class?”

“Well, you’re more-or-less the most senior student here. I think you can handle it. It’s an introductory course.”

“That makes it even worse!”

Natsuki could not help but laugh, “Yeah, I know.”

“You’re sadistic, Natsuki. First-year students are crazy: they’re either so keen and ambitious they’ll bug the hell out of me, or they’ll be complete idiots who’ll break down and slobber when they realize they can’t make it.”

“Well, someone’s got to do it.”

Nao poured herself more tea and sighed, “Fine. But don’t blame me if I scar these kids for life.”

“Just don’t do anything lewd, and you’ll be fine.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that. I’m pure as snow,” she rose her cup and drank from it.

18
May
09

The Fourth Column – Chapter Three

“Miss Maria asked us to clean the fifth floor washrooms.” Shading her eyes from the light, Natsuki called up to the branches of the lush oak. The day was beautiful, and a soft breeze made the leaves rustle, like chimes. Nao had pretended not to hear her. She sat aloft in the foliage, her face buried ­in a book. She had thought her location was inscrutable. Unfortunately, Natsuki’s vision was subpar to none. “Juliet-san, I know you’re there. I can see you.”

 

Nao waited, wanting to make sure the other girl was not bluffing. At length, she heard a sigh, but not receding footsteps. Rather, Nao jumped as she felt the base of the tree shake, as though someone else was attempting to climb it. Soon, her suspicions were confirmed, and the face of a rather disgruntled girl emerged through the leaves.

 

“Juliet-san…” her voice was calm, but Nao could hear traces of strained irritation, “I really hate to disturb you, but…”

 

 

The buckets of water sloshed drunkenly as the two girls made their way up the stairs. They had already lost half of the liquid traveling up the first four flights, and had to be extra cautious of losing the rest. “For a place this big, you’d think they’d installed some elevators.” Nao grunted with effort.

 

“Think about it as part of training,” Natsuki answered maturely, but secretly agreed.

 

They eventually reached the summit of the stairs, and stood for a while, panting with exhaustion. Nao was the first to regain her composure: her frequent arboreal rendezvous had given her the upper hand in dealing with these types of exertions. She walked over and patted Natsuki’s hunched-over back,

 

“Come on, Natsuki, on with training. There are washrooms to be cleaned,” she prompted, sarcasm dripped from her voice. Natsuki looked at her incredulously, before shaking her head, and following the other girl into the first washroom.

 

It was no coincidence that the first washroom they entered was by far the dirtiest one. Its convenient access right next to the stairs not only applied to them, but for the rest of the student populace, and its excessive usage was quite obvious. Upon stepping through the door, Nao reeled back and coughed into her hand, and made a frantic attempt at the exit. Natsuki was following close behind, and effectively stopped her partner from leaving.

 

“Juliet-san, you can’t avoid it. It’s gross, I know, but it’s our duty.” The odour was slowly seeping its way into Natsuki’s nostrils, and she suppressed the urge to gag. “Y,you get used to it.. after a while…” She said this as much to convince herself.

 

Defeated, Nao plopped her bucket on the ground and grabbed a mop, with one hand still covering her nose. “Then let’s just get this over with as fast as we can.”

 

“Finally, she said something reasonable,” Natsuki nodded, and gave Nao a small smile of approval. Nao nodded back, and Natsuki thought she saw a small smile develop also behind the young girl’s hand.

 

Natsuki was right, and soon, the two were too busy trying to finish their job quickly that they forgot about the smell. They exited the washroom in triumph. Nao filled her lungs vigorously, “Thank God!” But her spirits quickly faded as she peered down the hall: eight washrooms left. “Who the hell puts nine washrooms on one floor!?”

 

Natsuki lowered her head sympathetically, but said nothing. By the time they had reached their fourth washroom, Nao had had enough of the ordeal. “I’m sick of scrubbing piss off the floor! I need to get out of here.” She let her mop fall to the ground, and marched towards the door. Natsuki was too slow to catch her, so she followed her out.

 

She grabbed Nao’s arm, causing the younger girl to stop. “Juliet! Listen, I hate it as much as you, but we can’t avoid it. Miss Maria assigned us the duty for this week, so we have to do it. If you run away, they’ll just force you back up here, and probably add another floor on top of it.” She was tired of her companion’s hotheaded outbursts.

 

Nao broke free from the grip and glared at her apprehender, “Who said I wasn’t going to do it? I just said I needed to get out of there. You know, to take a breather.” She turned her back to the frustrated girl, and began walking up the last flight of stairs of the building. Nao stopped mid-step and turned her head, “Are you coming, or what?”

 

Natsuki was at a loss for words, and decided that, “Yes, maybe it was best that we took a short break.” She sighed, and followed after.

 

The top floor of Galderode was spacious, and the ceiling reached high above the two girls. It was mostly unused by the students, and serve primarily as a place for storage. A tall window looked out onto the courtyard at the end of the hall. Nao walked over to it, and sat on its low sill. Unsure what else to do, Natsuki also approached the window. Cautiously she sat, opposite and facing Nao.

 

They sat in silence for a while, watching the millings of people below them. It was high noon, and the world seemed alight with life; the sun shone brightly, and the muffled chirps of birds could be heard outside the glass. Natsuki gazed upwards, following the contours of the arch that rose up and framed the window. A beam of sunshine revealed particles of dust, drifting lazily in midair. The air smelt old and musty here, but Natsuki felt calm and comfortable. Her attention slowly shifted to Nao, who was still preoccupied with the view outdoors. Her auburn hair shone brilliantly in the light, her short locks curled slightly around her face. Her green eyes were fixed on the distance, and she gazed, somber and serious, as though she was contemplating deeply. Nao blinked, and turned her head to face Natsuki. The latter looked away awkwardly: she had not noticed she had been staring.

 

“Feel better?”

 

Natsuki looked back at the questioner. She nodded: it was true, she did feel better.

 

“Yeah.”

 

Nao smiled smugly, but she seemed pleased with her partner’s better mood. Her eyes returned back out the window, “I usually come up here when things get out of hand.”

 

“It’s a nice place,” Natsuki commented. Silence returned, neither of the two knowing how to continue the conversation.

 

At length, Nao spoke again, “So, why’d you come here anyway?”

 

Natsuki was not sure what she meant, “Well,” she ventured, “Miss Maria asked us to…”

 

“No, not that. I mean, why’d you come to Galderobe?”

 

Natsuki looked at Nao curiously. The younger student’s face focused on Natsuki’s: no sign of mockery. “I… want to be an Otome.”

 

Nao let out a laugh, “You certainly love pointing out the obvious. But why do you want to do that?”

 

Natsuki paused, “So I can protect people…” she felt herself blush at the tacky answer.

 

Nao did not reply, but the smile remained on her face.

 

“What about you?” Now that the question had been raised, Natsuki found herself curious about Nao’s own reason. The girl did not seem like the benevolent type.

 

Her smile faded a bit, “I want to see what it’s like. It just… seems more exciting then living a regular life.”

 

Natsuki nodded slowly.

 

“And, I want to get back at all the jerks in the world.” Nao grinned mischievously.

 

Natsuki could not help but chuckle. For all the trouble she had caused, Nao’s spunky attitude somehow amused her. She was not as threatening as others made her out to be. “I hope you don’t mean Miss Maria.”

 

“Would you help me if I said ‘yes’?” She was teasing her now.

 

“No,” Natsuki shook her head, “I don’t think getting expelled would work well with my goal for being here.”

 

“Always so straight and narrow…” The sky was changing from its midday white to mellow amber.

 

Natsuki watched the girl in front of her. A thought returned to her, and she remembered the solitude she often found Nao in. “So, how do you find Galderobe? Are you… getting along well with everyone?”

 

Nao watched a pair of students pass by underneath them, “It’s ok,” she shrugged, leaving the second question unanswered. The memory of snide looks from her classmates crept into her head.

 

Natsuki noticed Nao’s increasing somber look. She felt a pang of sympathy. Natsuki had never been the outgoing type either, and had begun her schooling in relative anonymity, but her naturally virtuous character drew people to her, and it was not long before she developed a trusting circle of friends. The same did not yet seem to have occurred for Nao. “Hey, your class has break from one to two on Tuesdays and Thursdays, right? Mine does too. We should have lunch sometime.”

 

Her eyes met the older girl’s, “Are you to be friends?”

 

Natsuki blushed involuntarily. Nao’s blunt question had made her feel like a schoolkid again, “S,sure. If that’s what being friends means.”

 

Nao was quiet for a bit, then grinned, “Alright, but you’re paying for the first time. You know, for dragging me out here to clean the washrooms and stuff.”

 

Natsuki had just about retorted that she had also been put on cleaning duty, when she realized that they had yet to finish the job, “J, Juliet! There’s still four washrooms to be done. If we don’t finish ‑­them soon, Miss Maria’s going to kill us!” She rose quickly from the window and went to the stairs. She heard Nao sigh and rise behind her.

 

“Ok, ok, we’ll clean the damn johns,” they trudged down the steps. “Oh, and Natsuki?”

 

Natsuki stopped, and looked back.

 

“Call me ‘Nao’, will ya?”

18
May
09

The Fourth Column – Chapter Two

The whistling of miniature rockets mingled with the crack of fireworks. From the sky floated confetti, sprinkling atop the heads of excited bystanders. September heralded the beginning of the school year at Galderobe Academy, but this year, the event was marked with an additional source of excitement: the young Queen Mashiro had agreed to be present at the ceremonies, welcoming the new students as well as the old. Mashiro had been working hard to fulfill her duties as ruler of Windbloom, with particular emphasis on mending bonds she held with her people. It was difficult: a reluctant few who still saw the queen as a spoiled brat had tested her patience with their taunts and stubbornness, but she knew it was her responsibility to make amends.

 

Seated in an open loft specially designated to her by Galderobe, Mashiro watched another rocket whiz through the sky; a wispy tail of smoke trailing behind it. She was waiting for the events to start. Although she had curbed her desire for luxuries, she was still fond of celebrations, and when the principal of the academy invited her to partake in the festivities, Mashiro certainly had no objections. A crowd had gathered along the sidelines of the boulevard inside the gigantic complex, where the opening speeches would soon be made. It was rare that the institute allowed common citizens inside its stone walls, but the recent brush with mass-destruction had left a need for celebration in the minds of the people: many wanted to express their thanks to the Otome who had saved them, and so with the persuasion of the Queen, Natsuki agreed to open the gates for them. Security was kept tight, however, and although she could still smile and wave at the waiting audience, Mashiro was kept far from its reaches. “For your safety, your Highness,” her guards had said, and while she agreed with their logic, her mind soon drifted into boredom from lack of interactions. Her servants had been recruited by Galderobe to assist in last-minute preparations, and other than her vigilant, but deathly quiet bodyguards, she was alone.

 

Mashiro slumped back in her cushioned seat, “Why are they taking so long?” she grumbled to herself, “I bet Arika probably messed something up; tripped over the main power cord or something…”

 

With calm returned to the Kingdom, Arika had returned to Galderobe to continue her training. Although her official duty was now by the Queen’s side as her Otome, Arika was still green in the field, and it was mutually agreed upon that, while there was peace, it was best for her to focus on her studies at the academy. Although she never admitted it, Mashiro was disappointed to see her friend off. True, she had been busy herself: reforming policies and taking care of other dynastic affairs, but there were often times when she missed the company of her care-free partner, and the bickering the two had often engaged in. She rested her head on her elbow, and had just about closed her eyes to take a quick nap when a bright voice called out her name.

 

“Mashiro-chan!” She heard the gasps of the crowd first, followed by the whoosh of iron wings. Mashiro lifted her head to the sky, squinting against the sun, as a sparkling figure quickly descended down towards her.

 

“Arika!” she shouted; the flapping pigtails and pink uniform were unmistakable. The flying Otome slowed her speed as she came closer to the loft, but this did not stop her from creating a current of air that blew into the compartment. Mashiro coughed at the gust. “Your flying is still terrible!” she covered her face, and shot her friend a look of half-amusement, half-irritation.

 

“Thanks!” Arika smiled her toothy grin. She wiped her brow, steadying herself in midair. “I heard you were waiting here, so I thought I’d stop by to say ‘hello!’”

 

“Well, that’s awfully nice of you,” she tried to sound snide, but Mashiro, too, was grinning. “I was just thinking that you were probably the reason why the ceremony is taking so long to get started.”

 

Arika stuck out her tongue. “It’s not just me; everyone is so bubbly, they won’t settle down and get their act together. Principal Natsuki is going insane trying just to get all the Otome in one spot.”

 

“I’m sure you’re helping her by flying around like this.”

 

“I was trying to find all the no-shows.” she retorted, “The last one was Nao-sempai , but we just dragged her out of bed, so the ceremony should be starting any minute.” In the distance, a trumpeter sounded his instrument. “Oh! That’s the signal. I have to get back now. I’ll talk to you later!” With a twist, Arika’s Robe flashed into action; stream-line wings propelled the girl upwards. She looked back at her mistress and waved. Mashiro waved back, watching her Otome grow smaller and smaller as she flew towards the call.

 


 

 

Juliet Nao Zhang pulled at her robe. Her uniform seemed to constrict in around her under the blazing sun. Her late arrival did not prevent her from standing for an agonizing long time in queue with the other Otome. The square around the stage was filled with people, eager to catch a glimpse of their heroines. Their excitement did not pass onto Nao, however. She scanned the crowd: there were the typical aspiring students, with their hands clutched to their chests, likely dreaming of the day when they could share the stage with their idols; and also an overwhelming number of plain fanatics: those who could never become Otome (they were male), but nonetheless, who held unbridled passion for them. She wrinkled her nose at the sight of one such gentleman: his sweat-drenched bandanna bore the fiery words: “I love Juliet-chin!!” complete with poorly drawn hearts. Clinging to his chest and belly, she saw a distorted, stretched-out image of herself: a make-your-own-t-shirt, worn especially for the ‑­occasion. She shifted her glance uncomfortably, as the man grew particularly excited, noticing that her focus had been on him. To her right, stood Sara Gallagher and Mahya Blythe, Columns number one and five, respectively. The two were not often on the Galderobe campus, but had stopped by to take part in the welcoming ceremony. To her left stood Shizuru Viola, the third Column. The tall Meister was looking out pleasantly at the sea of people, seemingly unaffected by the heat and delay. She noticed Nao’s sidelong glance, and turned her head to face her.

 

“It’s quite a beautiful day today, isn’t it?” she smiled.

 

Nao looked at her, unsure whether she wanted to pursue what seemed like what would be an empty conversation. The rays of the sun continued to beat down relentlessly. “Huh,” she replied, before returning her focus to the audience.

 

Their conversations were often like this. Nao was the youngest of the Columns, while Shizuru was the oldest. From the time she had transferred to Galderobe, Nao had remembered Shizuru as the “Onee-sama” that everyone fawned after. She never understood it. To Shizuru’s fans, it was her maturity and elegance, along with her subtle, flirtatious attitude; somehow, it drove them wild. Nao remembered with disgust her fellow classmates who had wrote excruciatingly pained letters to the Amethyst, professing their love, admiration, and undying devotion. “All to someone who could care less,” Nao’s inner thoughts muttered.

 

Shizuru certainly had no qualms about her loyal fanbase, and quite enjoyed teasing them, wrapping them around her finger. But she did not care for them, for in her heart, she belonged only to one person: Natsuki Kruger. It was devotion this deep, which yielded to nothing, that was the most dangerous. Behind Shizuru’s calm smiles, Nao knew there was someone else, someone who could be cold, ruthless, and unforgiving, all in the name of one particular dunce.

 

Nao snapped out of her thoughts when said-dunce made her appearance on stage. “Finally…” she sighed. Natsuki approached the podium, surveying the Otome as she walked by. Nao could not help but feel a certain resentment when she noticed Natsuki’s gaze linger on Shizuru. The principal was holding a folder of papers, and she placed them on the stand below the microphone. She cleared her throat. A hush replaced the buzz of the crowd.

 

“Good afternoon, citizens of Windbloom and guests. My name is Natsuki Kruger, and I am the principal of Galderobe Academy.”

 

The crowd waited for her to continue. 

 

“Today marks the fiftieth year of our institution, and we are proud to welcome you as we commemorate the new academic year.” A small applause crackled through the crowd as Natsuki paused. “Recent events have made marked impact on many of our lives, and it would be a lie to say that the memories of war have faded.” Many people nodded knowingly, particularly Arika. She tried desperately to beat down the emotion that was welling up in her chest as she was reminded of her friends, Nina and Erstin. She swallowed hard. Across the open area, Mashiro felt her heart constrict: she could feel her Otome’s pain, “Arika…” she murmured.

 

“But our emergence from this struggle has proven to us that life does go on; that people’s perseverance and hope carries us forward,” the Principal continued. “Many of you have probably come here to say thanks to our Otome, who did the physical work of battle, but we would not have been here had it not been for your support: the support of the people. We would like to thank you all for the trust you give us to protect your countries, and for the encouragement you continue to provide us as we ­continue our legacy of training Otomes.” Natsuki looked up from her papers, and out at the crowd. They responded with loud cheers. “I would now like to introduce the new students of Galderobe. These fifty young ladies have undergone strenuous examinations and preparations, and we would like to congratulate them for their success thus far.” The principal collected her papers and backed away from the microphone. Stepping down from the podium, she walked towards the line of five Columns, and positioned herself between Nao and Shizuru.

 

“Good job, Natsuki”, Nao heard the tall Otome complement the young principal. She glowered at the floor.

 

A fresh bout of clapping rose from the crowd, as a file of first-years made their entrance onto the stage. Stars were in their eyes, and each beamed with pride and excitement at the opportunity of meeting the senior Otome for the first time. Nao heard the aspiring students let out a collective squeal of jealousy. She had been at Galderobe long enough to know what welcoming ceremonies entailed, only it usually had fewer people in the audience. She knew that only a handful of the new candidates would make it through their first year, and progressively fewer as they climbed the ranks. Back then, she had suggested that they should have the ceremony after the year was over, so the Otome would not have to endure greeting the students who would not make it anyway. She knew the idea would never fly, but she enjoyed making the principal frown.

 

The first students had passed by the Corals and Pearls, and were now slowly greeting the Columns. Nao held out her hand and shook the ones offered to her. “Congratulations,” she mumbled to each one as they passed.

 

“Nao,” Natsuki had nudged her out of her thoughts again, “be polite to the first-years.” The older Otome’s eyes rested on Nao’s. A gap had developed in the line of students: one of them who had a fastidious admiration for Chie was trying to engage in small-talk while shaking her hand.

 

“I am being polite,” she smiled, widening her eyes innocently.

 

“You should smile like that to them,” Natsuki pointed with her chin at the moving line of students.

 

Before Nao could reply, another student had stopped into front of her, “Z,Zhang-sama, I am very honoured to meet you. P, please, teach me well.” The stuttering girl bowed deeply, before quickly moving on.

 

Zhang-sama…“ Nao smiled at the title. “Hey, Natsuki,” a new gap had developed: another Chie fan, “I think you should enforce usage of proper titles for us Columns.”

 

“What? ‘Master Zhang?’” She had overheard the nervous student.

 

Nao grinned, “Yeah, I think it sounds pretty good, don’t you think?”

 

“I think ‘Juliet-chin’ sounds better,” Natsuki smirked back. The relationship Nao had with Natsuki was an odd one. Natsuki was principal: head of the Academy, and technically, superior to Nao. But Nao had never felt intimidated by the other girl. Even before she was promoted to the title of Column, she had always felt Natsuki was more-or-less her equal. Curiously, Natsuki felt the same way. She knew it was terribly unprofessional to retort mockingly back at her subordinates, but their history of harmless bantering had gone back a long time, and it felt natural to poke and prod at Nao as the latter did at her.

 

They were not far apart in terms of age. Natsuki remembered when Nao had first entered Galderobe. She was still an undergraduate herself, and so she had often ran into Nao during class changes and such. Natsuki’s first impression of her was that of the quiet type. Indeed, Nao was often by herself during their encounters, but Natsuki soon found out that this was not the result of shyness; Nao was anything but shy; she simply did not get along well with many people. She had a hard attitude: she was not impressed easily, nor was fond of white lies. Her arrogance was a quick turn-off to any potential friends, but Nao never seemed to mind. She didn’t want to gain friendship by pretending to be someone she was not. At first, Natsuki tried to avoid the difficult underclassman, but, one day, she was inevitably paired up with her for cleaning duty.