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Author Topic: The Circle of Three [CONCLUSION: 28: Ascension]  (Read 49454 times)

Offline rokun

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The Circle of Three [CONCLUSION: 28: Ascension]
« on: October 11, 2007, 02:21:42 AM »
Well, it seems people like drabbles and one-shots around here, but I just can't help myself and have to write "epic"s... :lol: I'll leave it to you to judge what it is, but this story is definitely more premeditated than probably anything else I've written. It's the culmination of a slow work week and all the ideas that have been floating in my head the past months as I've plowed on through Odyssey and Berry Beautiful (though of note: it has no relation to either). It's actually probably more like my first fic, Curse of the Dragons, but I hope it stands on its own well enough as well. As an intended long story, this Prologue and first chapter only give teasers to what the story may eventually be, but I tried to include everything I wanted to. I don't know if it's what you'll like, but here it is anyway because I wanted to write it! Now... have fun!


The Circle of Three

Prologue

Screams from behind drove the young mother along as she ran through high brush surrounding the banks of the river which gave life to her people.

So it had been for countless generations. When news from afar came to them of some distant chief that called himself Lord of All Lands, the people of the small village thought little of it. They didn’t understand how some man they had never heard of could govern them; truly, they were just beginning to understand the concept of government. For generations it had been a completely content communal society where no man thought himself higher than another. As it grew, and they came to understand the differences in temperaments of their neighbors, a primitive form of law had developed in order to ensure the well-being of all, and they had even elected a chief, but he was still thought to be no more than any other man.

However, the truths of what they could not understand rang clear when soldiers clad in stiff leathers and weapons made out of a material never before seen in the village – the new invention of bronze – marched into the village’s dusty streets. “By order of his majesty Shang, King of All China, all women who have borne offspring that to this date are yet to live a year must present them to us in the square,” a man at the head of the rank bellowed.

The people came out to stare at the soldiers, since they had never before seen their like. When they didn’t respond to the demands the soldier continued. “I give you one additional and final warning. Bring your newborn to us, or you will all suffer the consequences.”

At this time, some of the throng that had gathered at the spectacle began to include mothers carrying suckling babies, and upon no further response and the soldiers seeing this, the one who spoke nodded to another at his side, who clutched his spear and advanced toward one of the mothers.

Not knowing any better, the villagers watched as the soldier advanced, and only reacted when he reached the child and, raising his spear, plunged it down through both babe and mother. As the mother wailed in pain, the villagers began to run in all directions. Some soldiers ran after other mothers who had appeared, while others were sent to enter homes and root out any that hadn’t. Before long screams began to resound all around through the early evening dusk as babies were murdered in their cribs, along with mothers who put up any resistance. Others however took flight in their desperate effort to save their children.

The mother did her best to endure as stiff bamboo and reeds slapped against her body as she ran, her arms encircling her infant son in an attempt to protect it from the same treatment. She could hear the sounds of her pursuers, the men who at first had been exotic wonders and were now terrors out of her worst nightmares.

Finally she arrived at the edge of the great river, and quickly chopping some bamboo from around her, began to tie them into a small raft. With the sounds of her pursuers drawing ever closer, she knew she didn’t have time to fashion anything larger that might carry her as well, so she did the best she could to get a sufficient platform for her child.

Tying the last rope together, she set the crude raft at the water’s edge and knelt, laying her baby on it. “May the gods watch over you, child of my heart,” she told it tenderly and with inevitable sadness at the parting. Then she pressed her lips to its forehead, which made it stir slightly out of the sleep it had fallen into once she’d stopped running, and carefully laid it on the water, giving it a slight push.

She stood as the current picked the tiny raft up and carried it toward the center of the flowing water, and with her hands folded in front of her looked after it with sadness in her heart that mixed with hope at the life her child might yet live. A sudden sound of bamboo breaking behind her made her turn away, and she looked into the faces of two of the men in the solid leathers.

“Where is your child?” one of them ordered gruffly, and his eyes darted around the bank.

“He has gone,” the mother responded, raising her head in defiance at the authority she had until this night never known. “He is now beyond your reach, and the gods will provide for him.”

“That was a mistake, bitch,” the other man stated roughly, “All we wanted was the child. You could have lived.” And, raising his spear, he thrust it through the mother just above where her hands lay folded at her stomach.

She fell in pain, and when she hit the ground couldn’t move as she felt her life’s blood drain away after being disrupted by the wound. In the position she fell, her head leaned back far enough to give her sight of the river’s eastward course.

Through her throbbing ears, she heard the men speak to each other. “As far as I’m concerned,” one said, “Both mother and child died as she was trying to protect it. Is that what you saw as well?”

“Of course,” the other responded. “Like you, I do not have a death wish.”

“All is well then,” the first replied. “Come.” With that, the pleasant and calm clatter of bamboo rustling as they departed the bank was the last sound the mother heard.

“My dearest son…” she breathed in her last whispers as she watched the speck floating quickly through one of the last rays of the setting sun down the center of the river that gave her people life. “By the gods, you are saved…” With that, she choked, and was still.
« Last Edit: September 08, 2008, 04:23:23 AM by rokun »

Offline rokun

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Chapter 1 - A New Year Amidst the Stars
« Reply #1 on: October 11, 2007, 02:22:26 AM »
Chapter 1 – A New Year Amidst the Stars

“…And so the baby Izanagi floated down what we now call the Yangtze River, from a place supposedly near what is now called Chongqing, all the way to the river’s mouth and out into the sea,” Mita-sensei, a relatively young teacher of history and folklore, explained as he prodded the map overlaying the chalkboard. Thirty girls stared at him from their seats, some appearing bored, and some enraptured by his words.

“There are some tales of Izanagi’s journey down the river, as might be imagined by the length of the trip…” He gave a sly grin at his comment, to which several of the girls giggled. “But of course, he is best known for what he did once he came out to sea. It is said in legend that he created all the islands which now comprise the country we all live in, and you can see that they almost appear to spread out from the mouth of the River, as if he created them one by one. As you also well know, he bore the celestial trinity of Amaterasu, Tsukuyomi, and Susanoo – the Sun, the Moon, and the Tempest.”

“So all of that came from this baby boy who was saved by his mother?” asked Airi Suzuki, who sat in the fifth row. “We knew all about the sun and stuff, but I’ve never heard about that.” A few of the other girls giggled again.

“Yes, Miss Suzuki,” Mita-sensei said, still grinning. “According to this legend, it all came from that poor little baby boy.” The chastised girl blushed in embarrassment. “Of course, that’s the key point –” he said, rising from the reclining position against his desk he’d adopted when asked the question. “According to this legend…”

The sound of the bell signaling the end of the class day made the girls all quickly gather their bags. “Don’t forget,” Mita-sensei said as he walked around his own desk to wrap up. “Tomorrow is a sports day, so after checking in here in the morning we’ll be heading out to the field. Dress appropriately!” As girls began quickly heading for the door, he raised his hand for their attention again and continued loudly. “Also!” There was a collective groan from the girls before him. “You’ll have a report due next week – Truth or Myth: Which is More Convincing? You’re to choose one of the legends we’ve gone over in class and do an analysis on it to argue your case whichever way you wish. Suzuki,” he said, nodding at the slim girl who clutched her bag tightly and ducked her head to hide the pinkness that appeared on her cheeks as some of the other girls looked at her too. “I expect quite an insight from you on this baby boy, his mother, and… the sun and stuff.” This time, nearly the whole class joined in on the giggling as Mita-sensei smiled warmly at the now desperate-looking young girl. “Now, you girls all have a wonderful night. Don’t forget, our first assembly of the year will be held at seven sharp. You’ll meet all the first years, and also find out who will be the new head of House Nakazawa. Hopefully those of you in the other houses remember who your leaders are.” He kept smiling at Airi as he spoke, who after he finished scurried quickly out the door.

“Well you can’t be too surprised about his attention there,” said Risako Sugaya, Airi’s classmate in year and friend, even though she was from a different House. “After how last year ended, everybody knows you’re Yajima-san’s favorite.” Airi still tried to keep her head low as much as she could. Risako adopted a pensive face. “I wonder who is going to be the new head of Nakazawa…”

“Don’t ask me,” Airi responded finally once she’d found her voice. “Like I’d know anything about what goes on with school leaders.”

Risako stopped dead, forcing Airi to do the same, and stared at her before she began a quickly cut-off laugh as if just realizing that what the girl staring back with a serious face had said wasn’t intended to be funny. “You’re kidding, right? You’re not gonna get away with any of that this year. People might have counted you out as being just a first year for most of last – not me of course – but not after Fujimoto-san caught you and Yajima in the bath. She might be graduated now, but she told everyone she could find before she left.” Airi kept staring back at her with a blank expression. “You didn’t know?” Risako said, eyes widening. “Oh Airin, Airin… We have a lot to talk about…” And wrapping her arm around Airi’s shoulders, she began to usher her down the hall.

The girls didn’t get too far though before in the distraction of chatting with each other, they nearly ran into a girl leaned up against a wall. “Hey!” she barked. “You two best watch where you’re goin’,” The two girls froze at the easily recognizable voice and looked up slowly to see the bumpee and two other faces staring back, each with its mouth moving as it chewed something. Gross… Airi thought. Don’t tell me that’s tobacco! The random thought was part of her defense mechanism that clicked in when she realized she was face to face with the three girls remaining from the group that even the Circle was reluctant to mess with – Reina Tanaka, Miyabi Natsuyaki, and Koharu Kusumi.

“Excuse us,” Risako muttered hastily and desperately. “We apologize for bothering you.” She also bowed her head over and over. For some reason however, Airi did not do the same, just stared into the face of Natsuyaki, the one she ran into. She knew she should be bowing and apologizing also or she was liable to be used as a cute girl-sized punching bag until dinner and stuffed into a locker, but her better judgment had fled and she did no such thing. It had fled because when she touched the older girl, a tingling feeling shot through her body like a very thin jet of flame. Even more oddly, after her initial rude comment, Natsuyaki had just stared stiffly back at her.

“Didn’t ya hear her, ya little shrimp?” Tanaka said, taking a step toward the two second years. Risako was frantically yet fruitlessly tugging on Airi’s arm. “Ya better watch yourself!”

“It looks like she wants to play, Rei-chan,” Kusumi said with a glimmer in her eye. “Whaddya wanna do to her, Miyakko?”

Tanaka reached out as if to grab Airi by the hair, and Airi noticed the hand that was tugging at her arm fall away, but Natsuyaki held out her arm to stop the fifth year’s move. “Hold it,” she said, her brows furrowed as she studied Airi’s face closely. As her leader stood down with a frown, she paused before continuing, “Leave this one be.” Then she turned and gathered the other two girls, with Kusumi protesting that her fun was being spoiled, but Tanaka just shrugging as if she didn’t care one way or another.

“It’s not my problem if you’re goin’ soft, Miyakko,” Tanaka said as they began strolling down the hall without looking back. Then she turned to the girl she was addressing. “At least, you’re not gonna make it my problem, right?”

“No,” the other responded. “Jus’ this one time. Later tonight, though…” Airi couldn’t hear what else they said as they disappeared down the hall through a path that was eagerly made for them by the students they passed dodging quickly out of the way and into other passages.

“You have become crazy since the spring!” Risako said in a breathless but obviously immensely relieved voice. “Facing down the Skulls like that. You’re lucky we’re both not being… drowned in toilets or something right now!”

“Right…” Airi responded, distracted, as they started walking the other direction down the hall. “Sounds like fun.”

“What?” Risako asked, alarmed. “Being drowned in toilets?”

“Sure,” Airi said, and turned quickly to her friend, grasping her wrist. “Hey, I need to run back to my House. Can I meet you at dinner?”

“…Sure,” Risako responded, giving her friend a very strange look in return. “I’ll bring mothballs and dirty rags to have with our sukiyaki.”

“Sounds great,” Airi said, still deep in thought. “See you later!” And with that, she turned and walked briskly down the hall and outside toward her House.

When she entered into the front lounge of House Matsuura, still in deep thought, she received the same reception she drew every time she walked through there since returning for the school year. All heads turned toward her from their studying or chatting, and most continued to look at her as she passed them while heading toward the stairs to her room. One girl did more than stare however, and jumped up, quickly gathering the material she was studying, to run and join Airi just before she reached the stairs.

“Hey!” Chisato said. “How was your first Friday of the fabulous new school year?”

“Y’know Chisa,” Airi said, breaking out of her thoughts to greet her friend with a grin. “You’re not going to get the Skulls to like you if you keep saying words like ‘fabulous’.”

“But I’m not saying it to them,” she protested lazily. “I’m saying it to you!” Airi rolled her eyes. “By the way…” she said, stepping forward and spinning around to block Airi’s path as they left the flight of stairs. “I heard you had a little run-in with them.”

Airi frowned at her. “Boy, word sure travels fast around this place.”

“Hey!” Chisato complained. “I told you not to call me ‘boy’!” Airi huffed, and flipping her hair, walked around the shorter girl to continue on her way. “Just kidding, just kidding…” Chisato said quickly, running to catch up with her. “And you know word travels fast here. This is Seishin Gakuin, after all.”

“Tell me about it,” Airi said, stopping in front of her door and fumbling for her keys in her bag.

“So… You don’t seem to have a scratch on you,” Chisato commented, looking Airi up and down. “Maybe I should start looking to you for advice on how to approach them!”

“I still don’t know why you want to join their stupid gang,” Airi said. “They’re a bunch of idiots.”

“Yeah, well, may be!” Chisato stammered. “But so am I!” Airi stared at her, letting her key hover at the lock. “I mean,” the other girl recovered. “No they’re not! They’re more than they seem to be, I’m sure of it! And they’re also so cool, and always get their way and everything… Don’t you ever wonder what that would be like?”

“Yeah,” Airi responded. “Every day I wake up wondering, ‘What would my life be like if I was an idiot who stood chewing tobacco all day and staring at people like I was a cow, and talking the same way?’!” She stuck the key into the lock and twisted it hard, pushing the door open after it clicked.

“I’m sorry,” Chisato said quietly, and Airi turned to see the girl with her head bowed. She suddenly felt guilty about acting that way toward her friend, but the girl really was just being ridiculous! Chisato raised her head as she felt her friend’s eyes on her. “But I still think you’re wrong about them.”

Airi looked at the resolved tomboy a moment. She wanted to just sit in her room and think for a little while about her experience with Natsuyaki, but she felt a responsibility to console and at least hear out her friend. “All right,” she said. “Maybe I’m wrong.” She of course didn’t believe that, but she thought it might make the other girl feel better. Then again, Natsuyaki could have easily led the other girls in beating her up like they had so many others, but she hadn’t… She shook her head to try and clear it from such silly thoughts. “Do you want to come in? I was going to do a little homework, but you know, we haven’t really had the time to catch up yet.”

Chisato looked at her oddly before following her into the room and jumping on a bed, laying on her stomach with her knees bent and legs waving in the air while propping her head on her hands. “It’s funny you’re inviting me in. This is my room also, after all.” She let her head turn to look at Airi with a grin. Airi felt completely foolish. She really had to stop being distracted so completely. “Then again, I suppose I should be used to it…” She shifted a hand to her mouth to try to stifle a giggle, but it didn’t work very well.

“Grr…” Airi growled in mock sulkiness, and jumped on the bed after Chisato where she started to tickle her.

The girls fought and played like that for a few minutes until they noticed someone in the doorway, and once they both realized who it was they stopped tumbling, chests heaving, and stared up at the older newcomer.

“Chisato Okai and Airi Suzuki…” the girl said in a self-satisfied voice. “I thought it might be a mistake matching you two as roommates, but we must do what we can to ensure our girls’ happiness.” The girl started walking into the room, swaying as if trying to show off her athletic build. “Still, Airi-chan, you at least I thought above childish games like this. It’s almost a different person from who I knew at the end of last year…”

She grinned, and Airi blushed at the subject of last year coming up. Chisato turned to look at Airi warily. She’d never told her friend exactly what happened that time in the last week before everyone went home for the summer, so all she’d heard was the story that… that Fujimoto girl had spread. Her face kept its reddish hue, but it turned from embarrassment to anger. She looked up at Maimi Yajima intending to say something, but her tongue froze at seeing the girl’s smile widen.

“Now that’s the Airi I’m talking about…” she said. “I’ll see you around,” she continued, apparently content now with her effect. Her gaze lingered on Airi, but she also tossed Chisato a smirk as she turned to leave.

Once out the door, Chisato punched her fist into the bed and huffed. “That girl…” she scowled between gritted teeth. “Some day… when I’m head of House Matsuura…”

Airi though stayed silent, just looking down at her hands as she played with her thumbs. This would be a long year…



“Seriously,” Reina said, pulling at her bubble gum as she chewed it. The three remaining members of the Skulls had gathered around one of the tables in the cafeteria. They needn’t worry about getting the table they wanted even if they came late of course, but it was a good place to hang out at until everyone else started arriving for dinner. “What is up with you, Miya? You’ve been out of it seemingly ever since that little girl ran into you.”

“It’s nothing,” Miyabi said, though her brow was still knit in frustration. She was trying to remember what she felt when the girl had run into her, but it all happened so fast it was hard to tell. It almost felt like… a jolt of lightning… She didn’t know why, but the feeling bothered her. She didn’t like things intruding into her space like that.

“You’re not trying to rob the cradle, are you?” Reina continued, grinning, and Koharu broke into a giggle.

“Of course not,” Miyabi said dismissively. “Besides, she’s not my type. And her friend’s cuter.” She tried to bite off the last word as she said it in order to have the comment back, but it was too late. She heard an excited gasp from beside her.

“Oooh!” Koharu exclaimed between chews. “Miyakko’s got a sweet~heart, Miyakko’s got a sweet~heart!” she sang, until Miyabi sucker punched her in the stomach, causing her to nearly spit out her gum. “Owwww~!” she whined, still keeping her sing-song voice. “Did you see that?” she pled to Reina. “She hit me!”

Reina rolled her eyes. “As far as I can tell, you deserved it,” she said lazily, and sat back in her chair, draping her leg over the back.

Miyabi probably should have restrained herself, but the girl still sometimes pushed it too far. Koharu might be in the same class as her, but she’d only joined the Skulls late last year, so was still a little wet behind the ears. As for herself, Miyabi had been involved with the gang going on three out of her four years at Seishin. Fujimoto had been quite proud of her. She’d been somewhat of a prodigy. Somehow she’d always thought Reina was threatened by that, and she knew she’d be on pins and needles about it this year since the older girl was officially the leader. Well, maybe she could shake things up a bit… Then again… she thought, looking at Reina, who was picking at her teeth with one of her long black fingernails, and the chastised Koharu beside her. She’s not really that bad…

“The girl’s right though that it’s been boring so far this year,” Reina said in a slightly complaining tone. “No good fights, and the one that nearly fell into our laps today you had to go and walk away from.” She lolled her head to stare at Miyabi, who found the wonky-eyed look disturbing. Well, it didn’t hurt their image to the girls they picked on at least. Still, it made her uncomfortable. It was just unnatural! “I still think you went a bit soft over the summer. Or is it just because you like that girl’s friend?”

“I told you, it’s not like that!” Miyabi said in a loud voice that was becoming angry. The other two girls looked curiously up at her, and Reina raised an eyebrow above her eye which Miyabi swore didn’t join the other in looking at her. Shivering, she turned away and continued with a sigh, “It’s just… when that toothpick bumped into me I felt this like… shock… go through my body. I’d never felt anything like it before, so it got to me, see? I just didn’t feel like pummeling her anymore.”

She turned around to see the other two girls grinning stupidly at her. “‘Cute girl’ has competition,” Koharu said, and this time Reina just nodded.

“If you’re gonna start crushing on every second year and younger you see Miyakko, we’re gonna have to make you a different kind of Skull,” Reina said ponderingly.

“Yeah,” Koharu chimed in. “A thief.” She looked around at the other two girls, who stared back at her. “Of cradles.” More staring. “Oh come on, do I have to spell it out for you idiots?”

“We get it…” Miyabi said slowly, as her and Reina still stared at her.

“Oh…” the freshest blood responded.

“So this… shock…” Reina said, and couldn’t keep a smile off her face, nor a laugh that began to escape. Miyabi glared at her. “I’m sorry! It’s just too cliché…”

“It’s not like that…” Miyabi grumbled, under her breath this time. She was through trying to explain it to these girls. They were intelligent enough most of the time, but, well, even more of the time their hormones got the best of them. Then again… she thought, and tried to put herself in their shoes. She sighed. A sound made her turn to see a few girls begin to come in for dinner. Private time was over. She chuckled as she looked at the early comers, and their eyes widened at the sight of Miyabi Natsuyaki giving them what must have looked like an amused and sadistic laugh coming from a Skull. A shock… That is pretty cliché… isn’t it?



“Are you ready to accept the mantle we have for you?” a girl said from a shadowy chair on the outside of a large circle drawn on the floor. The drawn circle enveloped a drawn triangle, and chairs stood at each of its points. Only one of the chairs was illuminated, and in that chair sat a visibly nervous young woman.

“It’s been my dream ever since I entered this school,” the nervous woman replied. “It may be my last year, but… I am ready.”

“Then we will perform the ceremony,” the girl who hadn’t spoken yet said.

“Just as it was performed for us.” From the first again.

“Repeat after us,” they said together. “No more than students of Seishin we may be.”

“No more than students of Seishin we may be,” the increasingly anxious young woman repeated.

“But more than students we can become.”

“But more than students we can become.”

“Matsuura of the Sun, give me strength.” Only the one with the higher voice spoke this time.

“Goto of the Moon, grant me your power,” spoke the other.

Knowing she no longer had to repeat, but instead utter the phrase she’d been given beforehand even though she had no idea of its meaning, the young woman finished, “Nakazawa of the Tempest, bestow me with your ire.”

The light upon her flared out as the last word left her mouth, and a breeze began to blow through the completely sealed off room. The breeze increased until it felt like a whirlwind traced the circle around the triangle at whose points sat the girls, the Heads of the Houses of Seishin.

Then suddenly, the young woman spoke words she’d never known before along with her two companions. “In return for your blessing, our lives are yours.” The howling wind died out into nothingness, and the young woman saw what looked like eyes flashing red where her companions should have been. And as all the lights once more flared to life and she saw the two girls smiling over at her, she understood.

Far above, a grim-faced man looked on, and gave a nod as the eyes of the newest member of the Circle of Three flashed red as well.

Offline JFC

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Re: The Circle of Three
« Reply #2 on: October 11, 2007, 03:11:29 AM »
If it's all the same, you might want to hold off posting more chapters for the time being with the possibility of the forum going down again. It'd be a shame to get a whole bunch of responses, only to lose them.

JPH!P :heart:'s Fushigidane, ChrNo, Jab & marimari. Always.

Offline rokun

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Re: The Circle of Three
« Reply #3 on: October 11, 2007, 03:41:47 AM »
Ahh, along with everything of course I didn't even know that was going on!  :-\ Especially since I just now with these posts got access to the Asshole where the thread discussing it is, lol. The good thing is it seems likely the forum won't be lost... And if it is, everyone is always around, and I have copies of all my stories in a zillion places. ^_^ I have no plans to post more chapters anytime soon anyway, lol. I hope people can enjoy these while they can. :)

Offline JFC

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Re: The Circle of Three
« Reply #4 on: October 11, 2007, 04:57:25 AM »
^ Heh, looks like I may have jumped the gun a bit. :mon sweat: Yeah, ebc gave a more detailed description of what exactly happened, so it looks like it's hopefully not as bad as I initially thought (though losing the gallery/picboard still sucks ass).

JPH!P :heart:'s Fushigidane, ChrNo, Jab & marimari. Always.

Offline mode107

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Re: The Circle of Three
« Reply #5 on: October 12, 2007, 12:31:39 AM »
Ok, so I've actually read this new story of yours about twice, but I kind of rushed through it because I had other things to do. So now I just read it all through, and I have to say that it has me hooked . It make me want to learn more about the characters stories:)    I was kinda sensing a harry potter thing going on when I read about the houses and the years, but then I thought differently after I read the last half. Anways, sweeeet work  :yep:
« Last Edit: October 12, 2007, 12:45:44 AM by modesta107 »
"Under the beautiful blue sky"

Offline rokun

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Re: The Circle of Three
« Reply #6 on: October 12, 2007, 03:59:33 AM »
Hey modesta! Glad to hear from you here. :) There definitely will be a Harry Potter vibe throughout the story, but I didn't want to make it a completely Harry Potter theme. :) I mainly just wanted to use the boarding school setting, and Harry Potter was a perfect template. Still, there will also be more fantasy elements coming about later!

@JFC: Yeah, thanks for letting me know about the jphip problems! I'm sure I'd still be clueless about them if it wasn't for you. I wonder if that's also why people seem to be hesitant to comment... There definitely seem to be enough of you that have looked at it at least! C'mon, tell me what you think. :) Even if you hate it. There's not much to go by yet, but I always love input! I plan my main themes, but most of what actually happens comes about just as I write.

Also, I didn't mean to start it exactly this way, but this is not a Berryz or C-ute-centric fic. It's more H!P-centric (or at least, of active members). You've heard of a few Momusu (Reina, Miki and one other as of yet unidentified one :) ), and after this introduction things will be fleshing out a bit more. That's basically what this was - an introduction to some of the characters and plot elements. Anyway, I think part of the reason people don't bother with me is because I talk too much, so I'll stop now. :lol:

Take care everyone!

Offline rokun

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Re: The Circle of Three
« Reply #7 on: October 20, 2007, 12:50:39 AM »
Yoshi! A couple quick postings between my stories, but I wanted to get this up as soon as possible since I haven't really allowed anyone to get into it yet. :) This chapter definitely opened a lot more thought for me though... I hope some of you enjoy it too!


Chapter 2 – Airi Suzuki

“I didn’t know that seventh years could even become Circle members!” Chisato stammered in her normal bubbly voice. “That means I may really have a chance!”

“You really are quite ambitious, aren’t you Chisa-chan?” Risako asked rhetorically.

“It can happen,” Airi said, as the three girls walked down the hall after leaving the first assembly of the year. “If there’s a really good candidate but the last one or two house heads had a long tenure. They just have kind of bad timing. Still, whether it’s for one year or your whole Seishin career, once you’re part of the Circle…” She didn’t need to go on, and the other girls nodded their heads in understanding.

Nobody fully knew why, but every girl who had become Head of her house and thus part of the Circle had gone on to do great things of one kind or another in their lives, and tenure didn’t seem to matter. Only being in the Circle seemed enough. Personally, Airi was curious to see what kinds of things Hitomi Yoshizawa, the just-graduated former Head of House Nakazawa who she’d liked in the short year she had to know her, accomplished. She heard that the woman had taken some governmental job in Aichi.

She came out of thoughts to her two friends staring at her. “You read too much, Airin,” Risako said. “You need to get out more! Do some partying! Enjoy yourself! I mean it, if you don’t have fun in the sports festival tomorrow I’m going to be having a talk with you…”

“Me too,” Chisato said, giving her a toothy grin.

“Ugh!” Airi huffed, and quickened her pace as if to walk ahead of the other two girls. They of course caught up quickly. Airi could only go so fast with the amount of books she carried around…

“Maybe you’ll beat me to the Circle,” Chisato said, still grinning. “Especially if Yajima-san’s vote counts for anything at all…”

As if bringing up that subject had cast some sort of spell, the three girls fell into silence as they kept walking. Eventually though, Risako spoke up again. “So what really happened last year, Airin? Were you and Yajima-san really making out in the bath like Fujimoto said she saw you doing?” Both her and Chisato blushed slightly when she asked that.

Airi stopped dead. “What!” she demanded. “That… that… girl said what?!” Risako and Chisato just looked between each other, both with heads slightly bowed and still slight flushes.

“I take it that’s not how it was then?” Chisato asked, daring the question.

“Of course it wasn’t!” Airi nearly shouted. Her raised voice made some of the other students walking nearby scuttle away and try to avoid the three of them the best they could, but she didn’t care. Their curious stares suddenly began to take on a whole new meaning to her though. “We were just talking! She’d invited me in there, and we just… enjoyed each other’s company…”

“Oh…” Chisato said, still looking as if she was trying to decipher her friend’s meaning. “So she asked you out?” Airi’s eyes widened at the girl’s suggestion, and with another huff she clutched her books tightly to her chest and stomped off between the other girls.

Once again though, they caught up to her quickly. “Well…” Risako said, the two looking as if they still didn’t get it. “What did you guys talk about?”

Airi glowered at the two a second, and hesitated before responding, “Oh you know, we were just beginning to flesh out plans for taking over the school… and then taking over the world. And it would all start at the sports festival tomorrow.”

She thought that would end this silliness, but Risako just brought up another question. “So… you two have still been in contact since you’ve been back this year?”

Airi stopped dead again, and her friends, having taken another step before noticing, turned back toward her. She stared into their earnest faces. “No!” she said. Their expressions didn’t change. “We made all the plans we needed to in the bath. They included us acting as if we’d hardly talked before when this year started in order to not look too suspicious. Oh…” she added, as if in afterthought. “And then she gave me the most wonderful massage…”

“…It’s not nice to make up lies to your friends, Airin,” Risako said, and with a glare Airi started walking again, although normally this time, and the other girls joined her. “We’re not stupid, you know.”

“Could have fooled me…” Airi grumbled.

Chisato poked her in the side, and she looked over to see the girl smiling at her, if a trifle uncertainly. “You have to admit, Osuzu. It’s strange to see a member of the Circle and a first year talking alone like that in a… close… setting.” Airi began to open her mouth in protest again, but Chisato held her hands up to stop her so she could finish. “Even if nothing more happened!”

“Why’s that so strange?” Airi asked frustratedly. The two other girls gave each other quick glances again. Airi hated when they did that…

“You know,” Risako said. “I think she will have you beat once Yajima-san graduates.”

“Oh well,” Chisato responded. “That’s still three years away. A lot can change.”

“Your interest in the Skulls won’t help either,” Risako added. “I’ve never heard of someone from there joining the Circle, and some of them have even been better leaders!”

Airi huffed again, and the two girls stared at her. “Thanks for your interest…” she said sarcastically. Then she followed quickly, “Fujimoto was some leader all right…”

“She was!” Chisato protested. “I bet she could have outdone Shimizu-san any day. And maybe even Yoshizawa-san!”

“Thank Kami-sama I’m not in that parallel universe…” Airi responded gratefully.

“Sometimes you speak strangely…” Risako commented, frowning at her.

Airi gave her a grin. “That’s why you like me though, isn’t it?”

The other girl broke into a grin of her own. “Of course! Still… it makes it hard to understand you sometimes…”

“Story of my life…” Chisato sighed, and Risako looked at her curiously. “You don’t room with her,” she explained animatedly. Risako giggled.

“Guys…” Airi said. “I’m really still here…”

“Oh well,” Chisato said dismissively, as if changing the subject. “If Osuzu’s destined for the Circle, at least I still have the Skulls…”

“Good luck with that,” Airi said, and Risako gave her a cock-eyed smile and nodded reluctantly in agreement.

“You’ll see!” Chisato pouted. “They’re more than what they seem, and when I join I’ll prove it by being my same cheerful and optimistic self!”

“They’re optimistic, all right,” Airi said with a grin, and Risako giggled, apparently catching onto her meaning. Chisato apparently hadn’t. “Optimistic about how easily they’ll beat everyone up…” Now, her slightly younger friend looked almost offended.

“Hey yo,” came a voice from the side of the hall, which shadows obscured slightly. They shrouded the speaker so well in fact that Airi couldn’t even identify her. However, the voice was enough. “Twerp.”

The three girls froze. Risako adopted a look that was almost full of terror, but Chisato’s eyes sparked with interest. Airi felt like sighing. The girl really was going to get stuffed into a toilet one of these days… Then they looked around at each other. “Twerp,” the girl had said, which sounded like she only meant one of them, but they didn’t know which one.

“Geez you people,” the girl in the shadows said. “Do I have to spell it out for ya?” Now she stepped out into the light, and the three young girls faced Miyabi Natsuyaki again. “You.” She pointed at Airi. “Toothpick. I want a word. You others can scurry away.” Even though she pointed at Airi, the girl’s eyes lingered on Risako. Airi even saw her biting her lip as if she was nervous at something. Why in the world would a terrified second year make a member of the Skulls nervous?

Even though her offer sounded like a command, none of the girls began scurrying anywhere. Chisato actually stepped forward. Airi held back a groan. “Natsuyaki-sama!” she said breathlessly. Frowning, the addressed girl shifted her attention. Chisato seemed to lose a little of her nerve once the girl actually caught her eyes. “I… I want to be a Skull! I think you guys are just the greatest, and even though I know I’m nothing special, especially compared to all of you… I also am sure I’d have a lot to offer!”

Natsuyaki studied her a moment, her face unreadable. Risako seemed like she would pass out at any second. “Joining the Skulls isn’t child’s play, ya know,” she said finally. “We only take the best, and ya have to pass an audition before you’ll even be considered. And I dunno…” She looked Airi’s young friend up and down, and the girl blushed at the scrutiny. “Ya look kinda scrawny and green to me.”

“No I’m not!” Chisato protested, drawing her small frame up. Airi had to give it to her. The girl definitely had nerve. “Plus, I know you joined them in your second year!”

Natsuyaki smiled a cold smile at that before saying quietly, “So ya think you’re as good as me, huh?”

Chisato’s eyes widened at the black-garbed older girl’s question, and her mouth opened and closed as if trying to find some way to explain that what she said wasn’t really… what she said.

Thinking this was beginning to go in a direction that would not end well for her friend, Airi spoke up. “You said you wanted to talk to me?” Her voice sounded much stronger than she felt. Although, she couldn’t help but feel quite curious about running into the girl who, when they literally ran into each other last, acted very strangely. And then there was that shock.

Natsuyaki looked over at Airi again as if just remembering she was still there, and smirked. “Yea, I do,” she drawled. “You, girl,” she said, glancing out of the corner of her eyes to Chisato again. “If you want to audition, be at the Cave Sunday night. Midnight.”

“B-but…” Chisato said, still nervous even though it seemed Airi had bailed her out. “That’s a school night…” She hesitated, but decided to add one more comment. “And my name’s Okai!” Well, Airi had tried.

Natsuyaki looked fully at her now. “So it is. Don’t be late. And you can bring a friend.” Her eyes drew back to Risako. “Or two. Now scram.” Both girls hurriedly gave a look of pity to Airi before running off together down the hall. Airi gulped at now being alone with the Skull.

“Alone at last…” she said, looking Airi up and down this time. “How romantic.” Airi gulped again.

The older girl closed in on her and wrapped an arm around her shoulder, escorting her in the same direction her friends fled, but slower. Girls still passed them from time to time, but made sure to keep their distance at seeing Natsuyaki’s clothes, which made her very identifiable. However, most of the girls still glanced curiously at them to see who the Skull was being friendly with, and more than a couple eyes widened when they saw Airi. Great… Airi thought. That was all she needed. First she was found in a – she blushed – compromising position with the Head of House Matsuura, and now everybody would think she’s friends with the Skulls, since they didn’t make a habit of walking this closely with, well, anyone. She’d never be able to live her reputation down after this. Why did she feel this was all too much for a second year?

Eventually Natsuyaki led her down a side corridor that was empty except for a few straggling students. The stragglers even disappeared before long. Airi cleared her throat and decided to be brave. “Natsuyaki-san…” she offered. “What was it you, er, needed to talk to me about?”

“No need to be like that,” the girl said, her eyes flicking around them as if to make sure they were completely alone. “We’re friends after all. Buddies, ya know?”

Airi smiled wide despite her nervousness in what she hoped was an agreeable expression. “Sure,” she said. “Buddies.”

Upon apparently deciding the area was clear enough, the older girl turned and rounded on Airi, who tried to keep herself from stepping back. “Now…” she said. “I want to know what you did to me when you ran into me earlier.”

Airi stared. The girl’s vernacular seemed to change completely, and she almost sounded like a normal teenage girl, if a rather strikingly confident one. “I… I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Liar,” the girl hissed in a low voice. “I felt something go through my body. It’s like your touch shocked me or something. The others have already teased me to where I can hardly stand it anymore, so I thought I’d get to the bottom of it myself. What’d you do, toothpick?”

This time Airi gave her a level look. For some reason, hearing the girl complain about being teased and her apparently uncertainty – which Airi had caused her – made her less afraid. “The name’s Suzuki.”

“Yeah yeah,” she responded. “Airi, right? What a sickeningly cute name.”

This time Airi drew herself up. Sickeningly…? Oh, sickeningly cute. While she was trying to figure out whether that was an insult or not, the other girl poked her in the stomach as if for an experiment. “Ow!” Airi protested, and thoughts of sick puppies left her mind.

“See? I didn’t feel it that time. It must have been something you did then. What was it?” She looked at Airi curiously as if that would force her to explain it.

“I didn’t do anything!” Airi stated loudly. “How would you expect me to be able to do something like that to begin with?”

“You’re the one that Mikitty caught with Yajima last spring, aren’t you?” Miyabi said quickly as if presenting a further fact in her experiment, studying her closely. Who’s Mikitty? Airi thought. “Are you working for the Circle?” The girl’s eyes narrowed.

“No,” Airi growled. “I’m not. And I don’t appreciate being accused of things I’ve not done.” She had realized who ‘Mikitty’ must be. “For your information though, when you got in my way earlier, I felt something shoot through me as well.”

“Did you?” Miyabi responded quietly. “Now that’s… interesting. Thank you, toothpick. I mean Aichi.”

“Airi!” Airi corrected again with irritation.

“Whatever.” The girl finally let go of her, and Airi hoped this meant she would be going. “I guess I’ll probably see you at your friend’s audition Sunday.” She grinned devilishly. “It’ll be a blast.”

Airi was saved from responding by a taller girl walking toward them. “And what are you doing to this second year, Natsuyaki-san?”

Miyabi darted her eyes to the newcomer, instantly curling her upper lip. “None of your business, Yajima.” Airi hadn’t identified her savior yet, but at that name she felt like groaning. Could this night possibly get any worse…?

“It is if I find her tied to a lamppost anytime soon,” the older girl replied.

“That won’t happen,” said Miyabi.

“I’m sure it won’t.”

“Fine. Well, yea, see ya later, Aiko.”

“Airi!”

Maimi stepped around seemingly to take Miyabi’s place as she sauntered back down the hall, and appraised Airi. “You’ve got some guts, standing up to Natsuyaki-san like that,” she said with a smile. “I’m beginning to remember what I saw in you last year.”

“Yeah,” Airi responded, becoming more relaxed. “Well, I’m beginning to regret ever meeting you last year. Do you have any idea what’s happened since that Fujimoto girl walked in on us? If this keeps up, the only people who will still talk to me are my best friends, and apparently for some reason defying all understanding, you and Natsuyaki.”

“Oh, I doubt you’d find that to be true,” Maimi said. “Fame is a funny thing, you know. At first the effects of it might be quite a shock, but eventually envy sets in and people just want to be close to you. Besides, I have heard those rumors. Troublesome things. Me kissing a first year in the bath… You want to talk about reputation…”

“What have you got to worry about your reputation?” Airi asked suspiciously. “You’re in the Circle.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” she said, looking thoughtful and obviously not the least bit worried about her supposedly tarnished reputation. “Dreadful things it still can do to your social life though. Umeda certainly hasn’t been giving me the kinds of glances she did last year.” She sighed wistfully as if at her loss. For some reason Airi did not feel sympathetic, and actually had a hard time even wrapping her mind around Maimi wanting to date someone, as it appeared she did this… Umeda. “Oh well.” She turned her attention back to Airi, who felt herself laid bare by the scrutiny. “Maybe it wouldn’t be too bad a thing making the rumors true. You are pretty cute, after all.”

Airi tried her best to keep herself from blushing. She knew the girl couldn’t be serious, but at this moment she just could not even deal with the idea of the Head of House Matsuura coming onto her. “What is it you want, Maimi?” she asked finally, just wanting to get back to her dorm and her pocky.

“Nothing in particular,” the girl responded, busying herself with pulling fuzz off her sweater. “I just thought I should save you from a bad influence.” She gazed at Airi again. “But you look to be quite fine on your own. I really am impressed.”

“Yajima-san…” Airi blurted out suddenly, surprising even herself by the formality.

“Yes?” the girl responded, somewhat surprised herself before her expression fell into an amused smile.

“Do you intend me to replace you in the Circle when you graduate?”

The older girl just continued smiling as she turned and headed back down the hall, calling back after a few steps just to say, “See you around, Airi-chan.” Then soon she was gone, and Airi was left alone in the quiet hall. However, now that the notorious figures had departed, one by one a few students started trickling back through, every one giving Airi an interested glance as she passed.

Airi sighed, and clutched her books to her chest again before heading back toward her House. Eventually she reached it, and found both Chisato and Risako apparently waiting for her in the lounge. “Airin!” Risako cried, and threw her arms around her. “You made it back! When Natsuyaki-san wanted to talk to you alone, I was sure you were a goner… or at least that we’d find you turned up in the dumpster in the morning.”

“Nope!” Airi said cheerily. “No dumpster for me!”

She looked over at Chisato, and frowned when she saw the girl staring at her with a look not far short of awe. It soon turned to a small pout though. “It seems you’re better than me at everything… You got to know someone in the Circle… You can talk to a Skull without getting clobbered… You do better than me in every class…”

“Hey!” Airi said, concerned about the girl’s attitude. “You got invited to that audition you know! Sunday night…”

“Yeah… I guess,” she said, and her face suddenly lit up. “Yeah! You’re right, you know! I have an audition with the Skulls!” Her face began to take on that look of awe again. “I have an audition with the Skulls…” Risako hurried to pull up a footrest for Chisato to plop down onto instead of the floor.

“Um…” Airi said, thinking it might be best to change the subject. “Speaking of the Circle, I ran into Maimi… er… Yajima-san.” She tried to catch herself, but the damage had already been done. Both girls stared up at her this time. “It was nothing much!” she explained desperately. “Just… well… She said she came to save me from Miya… I mean… Natsuyaki-san.” The girls continued staring at her, and now she was attracting attention from across the room too. “She… just wanted help with her homework?” she continued meekly… and hopefully. “I think I’m gonna go up to my room. I have lots of homework to do myself… er… I mean Yajima-san’s homework. Right. Bye!” And she ran across the room, up the stairs, not resting until she sat on the edge of her bed, her books laid to her side. Sure she had her best friends. Just like she had told Maimi. For how much longer?

She heard the door click, and hurriedly grabbed a book to pretend to read out of it. She didn’t look up as the girl entered and walked across the room. She even did her best when the footsteps stopped right in front of her. “Airi,” Chisato’s voice said. “What are you doing?”

“What does it look like I’m doing?” Airi replied briskly. “I’m reading.”

“Well unless you enjoy reading upside down, I think you’re still just trying to avoid me.” Airi blinked before actually focusing on the book for the first time. Blast it! she scolded herself. It really was upside down…

Heaving a deep breath, she closed the book and set it aside, looking up into the concerned face of her best friend. “You know I’ll still be your friend whatever happens, right?” the girl said. “Even if you become evil and try to take over the world, I’ll still be there. Okay?”

Airi stared another minute before breaking out into a giggle. “Taking over the world…” she repeated in an amused tone. “As if! Although… Didn’t we use to plot that a long time ago?”

Chisato smiled now too. “Mmhmm! You wanna do it again? Maybe we can even call Risako in this time.” Airi grinned. Maybe the day wouldn’t turn out too badly after all…

Offline mode107

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Re: The Circle of Three [2: Airi Suzuki]
« Reply #8 on: October 20, 2007, 01:50:31 AM »
Wow, two updates on two of your different stories, nice going rokun  :yep:

This 'Circle members' thing really has me interested. So we know Maimi's part of  it, but who else? I'm kinda sensing that Miyabi is too.
and whooo's goin to be the head of the house of Nakazawa?  heh, I really wanna know.

So I see a little Miya/Risako in the works, and also an Airi/Maimi, I sense the second pair's relationship is going to be a little undercover, because
of that mention of the reputation, and how Airi saying that they would act as if they barely spoke to eachother before the new school year to avoid looking suspicious.

 I'm rushing somewhere now, so once again, awesome chapter.
« Last Edit: October 20, 2007, 03:38:35 PM by modesta107 »
"Under the beautiful blue sky"

Offline g4rfield

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Re: The Circle of Three [2: Airi Suzuki]
« Reply #9 on: October 20, 2007, 02:01:49 AM »
*Sigh* I feel sad that chapter 2 is over and I want to read more!!! D@mmit! Update this quick. I need my fix!!  :twisted:
I have to admit, when I read the prologue I was like WTF is this?? Then, I tried a couple lines of Chapter 1 and well, then I wasn't very interested in Berryz or C-ute or well ya know, and Chapter 1 doesn't really have any of my fave in it with dialogue. What do you know, I got hooked on that other Berryz Fic of yours and here I am sprouting non sense!  :lol: Hmmm....are you gonna bring The sun, Moon and Tempest  as well as Miki and Yossie into life? I mean, like having them appear at the school and interact with 'the students'??
Pairings: Miya x Risako. Airi x ?? My first time ever reading Airi pairings with whoever. 

Offline rokun

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Re: The Circle of Three [2: Airi Suzuki]
« Reply #10 on: October 20, 2007, 06:05:49 PM »
Hey guys! Thanks for your comments. :)

You'll definitely be seeing some of Miki. In fact, it won't be too long from now... (can you guess when?) Others who've already graduated (like Yossi) might pop up from time to time also. Or they might not. As for Nakazawa/Goto/Matsuura, well, they're around. ;)

Next chapter you'll find out a lot more about the Circle, and the main plot will be hinted at a bit more... There have been subtle little things so far, but nothing that you would be able to make sense of yet. XD I'm eager to see your reactions when things begin to fall into place.

Also I do want to say, even though there's been a lot of a few Berryz and C-ute so far, this is by no means a Berryz/C-ute fic. The Momusu just haven't appeared much yet. :) However, this is based mostly on who's currently in the three groups. There's a structure to how everything's set up that kinda copies what's going on in real life. One thing I'll say now, since I probably won't state it too explicitly and it might be hard to figure out (though you might even be able to already with a few hints): You know there are the three Houses of Seishin Gakuin - Matsuura, Goto, and Nakazawa. C-ute are part of Matsuura. Berryz are Goto. Momusu are Nakazawa. :)

Offline g4rfield

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Re: The Circle of Three [2: Airi Suzuki]
« Reply #11 on: October 20, 2007, 06:32:19 PM »
I guess I'm a little slow. I know there are 3 houses as I read Harry Potter and the setting is close enuf BUT I didn't notice the set up around the kids as to which house they belong to.  :lol: Baka!  :sweat:

Offline iacus

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Re: The Circle of Three [2: Airi Suzuki]
« Reply #12 on: October 21, 2007, 06:59:38 AM »
chapter 2 is over and I want to read more!!!

I got that same exact feeling. I haven't been around lately and I just noticed this story. I read through the whole thing and, while it's mostly set up so far, it looks great.

Offline meowz

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Re: The Circle of Three [2: Airi Suzuki]
« Reply #13 on: October 21, 2007, 09:54:19 AM »
You know there are the three Houses of Seishin Gakuin - Matsuura, Goto, and Nakazawa. C-ute are part of Matsuura. Berryz are Goto. Momusu are Nakazawa. :)

Ah...and I've been thinking the next head of house Nakazawa would be Takahashi. Am I close?

Offline rokun

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Re: The Circle of Three [3: The Skulls]
« Reply #14 on: October 24, 2007, 02:24:19 AM »
Well, Airi was fun and fresh, but now it's time to move on! :D Some of your questions may be answered here, and I realized now that I said what I did in my last comment, things might start to make a lot more sense. :lol:


Chapter 3 – The Skulls

“Bored now…” Reina said, lounging in a recliner in a back lounge of House Nakazawa. The small but cozy room was vacant but for a crackling fire and two girls – Reina, and Koharu, who was pulling at her bubble gum while lying on the couch and staring at the ceiling. It was vacant except for the two of them because this was known as the favorite hangout for the Skulls, and no normal Seishin girl desired the consequences of trespassing on their turf.

“And you’re just the most interesting companion…” Reina continued, staring at the side of her kouhai’s head.

“I thought the Skulls would be full of fun and adventure,” Koharu said wistfully. “That’s why I joined. Last year was fun enough under Mikitty, but so far this one…” As if the apparently brain-dead girl just noticed what she’d implied, she let her head fall to the side to look quickly over at Reina. “I mean, it’s just getting off to a slow start! That wasn’t at all a comment on your leadership…”

“If I were you, I wouldn’t continue opening your mouth and letting sounds come out of it…” Reina warned, and turned to look away again. “We need to recruit some new members. With Mikitty’s graduation and Maihacchi’s transfer, we’re at the fewest the Skulls have had in a generation.” She didn’t say any more for a few seconds as she churned something over in her head. “If I don’t change that soon I really will be the worst captain we’ve had in ages. The Skulls have been around for over a millennium, and that’s not how I want to go down in history.”

“You actually agreed with me?” Koharu asked in astonishment, eyes wide and mouth hanging open. In a flash, Reina leapt from her recliner and cuffed the younger girl on the side of the head. “Ouch!!” she cried, pressing her hand to her ear as Reina loomed over her.

“I didn’t say that,” Reina said in a voice that brooked no nonsense. “Now. Do you know of anyone who might fit in well with us? Any friends?” Reina paused again, staring into space. “I cannot believe I just asked you that. That’s all we need, is more of you.”

“Hey,” Koharu whined. “I’m a Skull just like you are! So what if it took me nearly four years to be invited. Mikitty chose me!”

“That she did,” Reina said, wondering what kind of drug the old captain had been on at the time. True, the girl had passed her audition – after trying unsuccessfully to get one for years – but Reina had not voted for her inclusion. Maiha had, oddly. And so had…

The door swung open, and Reina and Koharu both became suddenly alert to be ready to identify the intruder, but upon seeing who it was stood down. “It’s about time you got here!” Reina grumbled. “I’ve been left with nothing but this lot for company,” she said, gesturing at Koharu, who gave her a narrow-eyed look before yawning in her face.

“Oh give it a rest, Rei-chan,” Miyabi said, entering the room looking troubled by something. “If you’d let the girl have a chance you’d see she’s really not that bad. When she’s not being a childish idiot of course.”

“H-hey!” Koharu piped up, looking between the two of them as if trying to work out whether she’d really been bailed out or not.

“Yeah, I guess,” Reina said, stepping back to her chair. “There are few enough of us as it is. It won’t do to be constantly at each others’ necks. Well, for any serious reason.”

Miyabi gave Koharu a cool look as if considering Reina’s words before continuing. “Speaking of how few of us there are, I found a new candidate. I was skeptical at first, and she’s young, but she shows a bit of promise. Plus, she’s from Matsuura.”

Koharu perked up quickly at the news, but Reina considered its implications before responding. So the girl had been on the job. Good for her. This might be just the thing she needed to begin her legacy as Captain of the Skulls – they hadn’t been able to pull someone from House Matsuura in since before her time. Those girls were for some reason usually such goody-goodies and obsessed with nothing but c-uteness. Still, lacking such a member meant a third of Seishin’s population was virtually inaccessible to them, one of the few things that had caused Fujimoto much grief.

“So someone’s got a death wish, huh? She must have been pretty special to sway our Miyakko so quickly,” she said finally.

“Nah, nothin’ like that,” Miyabi responded offhandedly. “She was quite assertive though. I just came on her in the hall, and she told me she wanted to join.”

“Very special indeed…” Reina said, now studying her first mate. They all knew, even though she was younger, that Miyabi had a more impressive resume than Reina. She joined not long after she even entered the school, which was almost unheard of, while Reina had joined late in her own first year – a fact that was still quite impressive, especially since there wasn’t anyone recorded in generations that had joined as early as Reina. That was, until Miyabi came along. She also had quite an aptitude for finding trouble, and an even higher one for getting away with it. Reina knew that if she didn’t have nearly a year more experience and higher class standing than her, it would be a close argument as to who was best suited to be captain. She was still proud though – Fujimoto had not hesitated one bit in naming Reina as her successor. Sometimes first impressions were the most lasting. “So who is this mystery student that I haven’t caught any drift of yet?”

Miyabi was frowning at Koharu for some reason obviously only known to herself as Reina spoke, apparently oblivious of her insinuations, but at her question she responded, “Let’s see… Oh yeah. Okai… something or other.”

“Okai?” Reina asked. “Never heard of her.”

“Okai…” Koharu said slowly with her brows knit. “Chisato? I know of her. She’s a second year. You’re right that she’s young, but if she already shows promise then, well, I guess that’s great news.” Reina was impressed. The girl said that while even knowing the obvious truth that she was putting herself down for only joining at the end of her third year. However, she did sense a slight bitterness in the girl’s voice. If this Okai chick really did pass the audition and get invited to join, the nearly two year gap between their statuses would cause quite a lot of tension between them. Reina grinned vilely. This idea was getting better and better all the time.

“Still drawin’ a blank,” Reina said again after dropping out of her fantasies, and relaxed into her chair. Well, whoever this girl was, they might as well give her a chance. Any potential was better than none, especially with such intriguing strings attached.

“Wait,” Koharu said again quickly. “I remember more now. She always hangs around with…” She shot Miyabi a look that the older girl hurriedly avoided. Now what could that be all about? “…That Suzuki girl who ran into you earlier.” Ah. That would be it.

Reina barked a laugh. “Is that so? I suppose you invited her friends along to the audition, according to the Code?”

Miyabi still avoided their eyes. “Yes…”

Reina jumped up from her chair and loped over to her, stopping only just before running into her. “Are you sure you didn’t invite this Okai to audition just because you wanted to get under the skirt of one of her friends?” she whispered as a sarcastic hiss into her ear.

This time Miyabi brought her eyes up to Reina’s and faced her steadily, her gaze becoming heated. “No,” she growled. “Okai showed as much promise as could be expected before an audition. We’ll find out for sure there.”

“All right then,” Reina said in a suddenly normal voice, and turned back to her chair. She paused before sitting down again though. “For when should I summon the Master?”

“Sunday night,” she heard Miyabi say behind her, since her back was still toward the girl after turning. “The usual place.”

“I’ll note it on my calendar,” she said with a smirk while finally dropping back down into the chair and looking up at Miyabi.

“There’s one more thing…” Miyabi said, a trifle hesitantly.

Reina cocked an eyebrow. “Yes?” Koharu had started pulling on her gum, apparently bored already again. Reina could tell she was listening closely though, but she couldn’t gauge her reaction to the audition. The only people who had a say on auditions were the current captain and the one who found the candidate, so she had no place to talk. That apparently didn’t prevent her from absorbing as much as she could about the situation. Maybe Fujimoto had seen something subtle about the girl.

“In the hall, I didn’t only run into Okai…” Miyabi responded. “Suzuki and the other Goto girl were there too.”

Koharu started giggling, and Reina felt herself grin. “So perhaps there were some ulterior motives…”

“Yes,” Miyabi said, in a more confident voice and becoming angry again. She looked at Reina hard, and it quickly wiped the grin from her face. So the girl was being serious about something. “I wanted to talk to Airi – Suzuki – about what happened when she ran into me.”

Koharu began giggling more at the use of the girl’s first name, plainly wondering about what kind of crush Miyabi might have on her, but Reina didn’t join her. Now that she knew there was a point to get to, she just wanted the girl to get there. Apparently Miyabi was still unsure of Reina’s attitude though, because she hesitated before going on. “I see,” Reina said, letting her know she had her attention. “And?”

The other girl visibly relaxed, although still appeared quite tense for some reason. “It wasn’t just me. She felt it too.” Koharu now had dropped her giggling, and just looked between the other two girls trying to figure out what she’d missed. Reina was beginning to catch on, but she wasn’t sure if she liked where it was heading. “Just like when you and I first touched,” Miyabi finished meaningfully. Reina sighed, closing her eyes. Well now. That was an interesting turn of events.

Before she could gather a response though the door swung open again, and since now the arrival couldn’t possibly be someone who belonged here, all three Skulls shot looks toward it. Reina was almost glad someone had decided to trespass. She felt quite an urging to beat some poor defenseless girl to a pulp at the moment. It had been a long and pulp-free week.

All three of you are here,” came a quite composed yet almost taunting voice from the doorway. “Good. That’ll make this much easier.”

The Skulls froze as the girl who spoke walked through the doorway and was soon followed by two more. “Ai-chan, will you close the door and lock it behind us? We don’t want anyone interrupting us and our little… ice breaker here.”

Reina looked hard at the one who’d spoken. She almost ground her teeth at the girl’s diminutive size and how weak she seemed. Despite that, Saki Shimizu was one of the most respected and feared girls in the school – even by the Skulls. Above and beyond that of course, she was head of House Goto and one of the Circle of Three. Reina had sworn when she became Captain of the Skulls that she would not be cowed by someone as pathetic-looking as her like Fujimoto had been for some reason, and that she would bring the Skulls back to their rightful place. It had been centuries since the Skulls and the Circle had literally had equal footing, and that was one more thing she intended to leave as her legacy. Shimizu was also the perfect one to begin with, but as she looked at the rest and felt the attention of all three, she couldn’t help but feel a little anxious. Her eyes lingered on the last one in – the girl who’d shut the door. Unlike the other two, this one she knew quite well. It was hard to adjust to thinking of her now as a Circle member. She suddenly felt slightly less impressed by the whole idea of the group.

Shimizu followed the gazes of all three Skulls, and Reina noticed they had all been looking at the same person. “Ah, yes. You’ve seen the formalities, but we haven’t introduced House Nakazawa’s new head in a friendly sort of way yet. I believe two of you know her already. Yes? Ai-chan, would you like to say something to our friends?”

Ai Takahashi stepped up and looked from one Skull to another. She didn’t have quite the poise that Shimizu or Yajima did, but Reina had talked with her several times on occasion before she’d joined the Circle. The girl in front of her now seemed much different.

“Hello you guys!” she said in a sweet voice that completely contrasted with Shimizu’s. “I’m still getting used to my new job, but Maimi and Saki-chan here told me we should come down for a little visit.” Her smile almost sickened Reina. “Wow! It’s sure much different not seeing… Mikitty… along with you.” Reina caught a hesitation when the girl said the graduated girl’s name, and her brows furrowed slightly as to what that might mean. She thought back to the times she’d run into Takahashi in previous years. No… It couldn’t be…

Yajima cleared her throat. “As you can see,” she said with a grin, “She’s taking to her new role quite well. She’ll be a nice new flavor to the Circle, don’t you think?” Reina looked at the other Skulls. Miyabi just stared, and Koharu nodded her head with her mouth hanging open as if unaware what she was doing. Suddenly she burst out into a laugh herself.

“Are you guys actually serious?” she choked out, drawing the eyes of all five of the girls, who were in various stages of confusion at her laughter. “So now we have a shrimp and a choirgirl - who kept getting tossed out like garbage while fawning over someone way beyond her league - as our great and wonderful Heads of Seishin? At least one of you almost looks the part!”

Takahashi’s eyes widened at Reina’s derision, and Reina thought she saw some anxiety in them. “How’d you know…?” she began before trailing off as if she hadn’t realized she’d let the words come out of her mouth.

Reina coughed another laugh. “I was so stupid not to realize it before… I thought it was odd I’d run into you so much near here, but each time it was right before Mikitty would talk about another one of her conquests. Then last year she almost laughed every time she talked about ‘this one girl’ who just couldn’t seem to get enough. You didn’t think she actually liked you, did you? You knew she was a Skull after all.”

Takahashi’s face had darkened throughout Reina’s taunting, until when she finished the girl glared at her out of no more than slit eyes, her face quickly adopting the visage of a storm cloud.

“Now, you see,” Yajima said, shaking her head. “This is just the kind of behavior we can’t have from you this year. The Headmaster says this is going to be a very important year for us, and while I’m not sure what that means, we still can’t have you constantly harassing other students and just being generally insubordinate.”

“Insubordinate?” Reina spat. “But you’re the all-powerful Circle. What? Not used to having challenges to your supposed authority?” She purposely turned her back to them and returned to her chair, falling back into it lazily.

“Reina…” Miyabi warned through gritted teeth, her eyes flicking between her and the Three, all of whose expressions became colder by the second. For some reason it also felt like the air around her became colder by the second. She quickly discounted that in her mind. It must be due to how hot she was becoming in her anger and heightening incredulity. Koharu looked like she was almost scared out of her wits. Well, at least one of her girls had some kind of backbone. Far from their glory days, indeed…

Her thought was disrupted violently however when she felt a rush of wind as strong as a typhoon hit her, and her chair flew back to hit the wall, herself thrown up into the air before hitting the wall as well and sliding a meter or two down to where she hit the floor hard. Through the disorientation and sudden blazing pain in her back and rear, she tried to catch her breath and her bearings again.

“Now, now,” Shimizu said, a smile coming to her face. She was speaking to Takahashi, who stared wide-eyed at Reina as if in disbelief at what she’d just seen. Miyabi and Koharu had apparently run to take refuge behind the couch. “There’s no need for such vulgar displays… Although I don’t claim to disagree the good captain deserved it.”

“I…” Takahashi stuttered. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened. I just was angry, and…”

“We’re going to have to help her learn to control that, Saki-chan,” Yajima said, looking over at the shorter girl. “It won’t do to have her tossing around everyone she has a fuss about. Now, you take care of the other two, and I’ll tend to our captain over there.” She walked slowly over toward Reina, who tried unsuccessfully to move, while Shimizu rounded the couch for the others.

“Still,” the Head of Matsuura said softly as she bent toward Reina. The girl’s words were plainly intended only for her. “I hope you’ve gotten the message.” She clutched Reina’s arm, and at the touch Reina’s mouth dropped open in a desperate but voiceless scream as she felt scathing fire flood her body, making her feel like she was being burnt to a crisp. The pain was so terrible it felt almost eternal, but it really only lasted a second before the girl released her arm and she felt as if nothing had happened, aside from having developed a sudden soaking sweat to go with the ache in her back which suddenly didn’t seem that big of a deal.

She gasped to take in air to cool herself off, and looked up at Yajima, who was studying her carefully. “You’ll live. That ache will serve as a reminder. I don’t know what it is with you… Skulls… but every time a new leader comes along you have to be taught again who’s really in charge of this school.” She stood up, still looking down at the heavily breathing Reina. “This is a free school, so you can play at your little rebellion as much as you want, but just remember that if we ever catch you causing trouble or being too much of a bad influence…” She left the warning there with a hard expression before turning her head to the side. “Saki-chan, are you done over there?”

“Yeah,” the other girl said, smiling up at Miyabi and Koharu, who were smiling back pleasantly as if they hadn’t a care in the world, much less seen their captain tossed across the room and nearly fried. “I think I’ve come to an understanding with these two. Do you need me to talk to Tanaka too?”

“Nah,” Yajima said, looking back to Reina, who still sat hard against the wall. “Not aside from the usual. I think Ai-chan and I have gotten through to her quite well enough, though in a perhaps… messier… way.” She brushed at her skirt, and Reina vaguely wondered if her skin really had fried and left some ashes on the girl’s clothing. She hoped so. The girl deserved that and much more.

Then, as if drawn by some invisible force, Reina’s eyes were pulled across the room to Shimizu’s, which gazed steadily back. As she shared the look Reina felt a tingling inside her head, but it was gone in a heartbeat and the small girl turned away. Reina blinked, but her present situation hadn’t seemed to change in the slightest. She still nearly groaned as she tried moving her aching sweat-soaked body.

“What’s going on?” Takahashi asked, looking between the other two Circle members. “You’re all giving each other funny looks…”

Yajima smiled. “Oh, just taking care of a little business. Well!” she continued, looking at the three Skulls, Reina still on the floor and the other two beginning to adopt confused looks. “I’m glad we were able to introduce Ai-chan to you all. You all have a wonderful year, and I’m sure we’ll run into each other again.” She beamed at the three Skulls. Reina desired nothing more at the moment than to punch the girl in her brightly smiling mouth to make it bleed, but she still unfortunately couldn’t get up from the floor. “Oh…” she continued, and she frowned down at Reina. “You guys might want to help your friend. I think she’s fallen for some reason and can’t get up…” At this cue, Miyabi and Koharu looked over at her, and with concern developing on their faces walked over to help her, much to Reina’s disgruntlement.

“See you around!” Shimizu chirped as she led the Three out the door, Yajima not looking back but Takahashi casting Reina a nervous glance. Before her comrades had helped her up though, they were gone, the door swung shut again behind them.



“Some help you two were,” Reina grumbled, narrowing her eyes at Miyabi and Koharu.

“What?” Miyabi asked. “It’s not our problem you fell.” She cast a glance back toward the door. Something had just happened, but she couldn’t remember what. She could have sworn there were just other girls there…

“Yeah,” Koharu snorted. “Some captain. Can’t even stop herself from falling dow ~ OUCH!” she finished, stumbling toward the side after a ringing blow from Reina’s hand.

“What the hell!” Reina swore, looking between the two of them. “Am I the only one with any brains in here? Didn’t you see what just happened? This means war…”

“What are you talking about?” Miyabi asked. She was getting annoyed with Reina’s not making sense, but that wasn’t the only thing that fed her temper. She still felt some kind of fog in her mind that she couldn’t shake however hard she tried.

“I’m talking about…” Reina began brusquely before cutting off abruptly. “About…” It looked as if she was trying to mouth words, but nothing came out. Her eyes widened and she looked desperately between her two kouhai.

“Yes?” Miyabi asked skeptically. Of all times for their captain to go crazy… They had an important audition coming up, and she needed to get ready for it. “We were just talking about the Okai girl’s audition. You were going to call the Master?”

Reina opened her mouth a couple more times before closing it without saying a word. Miyabi tried to keep her face as straight and serious as possible. “Are you getting sick or something?” Koharu asked, now looking cautiously at Reina. “If so, you better get away from me… I have a lot of homework to do this weekend – not to mention girls to taunt – so I better not catch anything!”

This time when Reina closed her mouth it clicked shut. “Girls to taunt…” she growled, though she did so slowly as if surprised she could speak. “Girls to… taunt…” she growled in an even more dangerous voice, and by this point Miyabi thought Koharu’s wariness was well-founded.

Sure enough, barely another second passed before Reina jumped the girl, and with a screech from Koharu they crashed to the floor, both wrestling and fighting for position. Every so often Koharu would emit another screech when Reina pulled out a bit of her hair. Miyabi leaned against a pillar lazily and watched, yawning. The two ended up doing this quite often for some reason. She had tried stopping them in the beginning, but since then she’d learned to let them be. Reina always won of course, but despite all the clawing and hair-pulling Koharu usually somehow ended up barely the worse for wear.

Miyabi didn’t move until Koharu was thrown against the pillar she leaned on, and she dodged aside easily to avoid getting knocked down by the girl as well. She fell to the floor, and Reina towered over her, chest heaving in exertion. She was also sweating a lot more than usual for some reason. “Geez Rei-chan, you seriously need a bath,” Miyabi said.

Reina’s furious gaze snapped up to Miyabi. “You want a piece of me too?” she warned, but Miyabi looked back at her with disinterest.

“Sure,” she responded with little emotion. “Just name the time and the place.” After staring another second, Reina just huffed and turned to walk away a few steps, holding her arms crossed. “You know Captain, pouting really doesn’t suit you.”

“My boot will suit your…”

“Hey!” Miyabi suddenly interrupted with a shout, feeling some of the fog clear somehow in her mind. She’d been fighting against it throughout Reina and Koharu’s whole fight, and right this moment forgot everything else at the sudden breakthrough. “The shock!”

Reina turned fully around to stare at her. “What?” she asked, totally thrown herself.

“I remember now! Right before you fell we were talking about when I ran into Airi—” she ignored Koharu’s giggle this time “—and how we both felt some kind of shock when we touched! And how it reminded me a lot of when you and I first…” Reina’s eyes widened as if she had just come to some realization as well. “What is it? Do you remember something?”

“Yes…” Reina responded. “I remember something alright.” She suddenly became an odd mixture of excited and seemingly mad. “Those…” she started, spluttering before saying more. “She…” Once again she failed to say more. “Iya~!!” she screamed in disgust, and threw her arms up. Miyabi was completely lost, and by what she could see out of the corner of her eye, so was Koharu. “Fine!” Reina yelled into the air as if to no one, while looking up at the ceiling in the same way. “I get it!” She brought her gaze back down to Miyabi. “Yes…” she hissed between gritted teeth. “That does sound very similar to what happened between you and me.”

Feeling relief that her supposed senpai may not have completely lost it yet, Miyabi commented again quickly. “That’s kind of odd, isn’t it? We should probably look into it?”

“Yes…” Reina said condescendingly as if speaking to a young schoolgirl, making Miyabi’s own eyes narrow. “We probably should talk to this… Airi… more.” The girl’s words made Miyabi drop her ire and lower her head in a blush. “She’ll be coming to Okai’s audition, right?”

Miyabi nodded, keeping her eyes down. “Yes. I would guess so. Suzuki seems to be her closest friend, and you know girls like them. If they can get away without doing something on their own, they will.” She was careful not to say anything but ‘Suzuki’ this time.

“Good,” Reina responded in a high voice, as if satisfied in a maniacal sort of way. “We’ll go about things as usual, and Sunday night we’ll… do our best to learn more.” Miyabi grinned, looking up at her leader. Despite her quite odd attitude, Reina’s mouth curved up in a smirk as well. That was beginning to sound like quite a fun night. The mist unclouded in her mind to reveal the face of the girl from her own House that hung around with Suzuki and Okai, and she tried her best to keep herself from blushing again. Well… she corrected herself. In a manner of speaking…

Then she was snapped out of her thoughts by the girl next to her, who stood looking at shards of wood and cloth jumbled against the wall. “Um…” Koharu said. “What happened to the chair?”
« Last Edit: October 24, 2007, 02:26:03 AM by rokun »

Offline mode107

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Re: The Circle of Three [3: The Skulls]
« Reply #15 on: October 24, 2007, 03:31:45 AM »
Updated  :w00t:

So is this cave thing coming in the next chapter? I can't wait to read what'll happen. Maybe they're gonna "beat in' Chisato?  Hope not.
  So Saki is head of the house of Goto and Ai is head of Nakazawa? and Ai liked Miki? niceee

and those parts where Miya blushed when Reina mentioned Saki, is it possibly Miya is starting to like Airi too?
I like that c-uteness line  you added in there.  :lol:
"Under the beautiful blue sky"

Offline chibilolli

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Re: The Circle of Three [3: The Skulls]
« Reply #16 on: October 24, 2007, 11:28:58 AM »
Wow. What a great story so far. I know you said that the 'houses' are based on Harry Potter but when I read it I think of Strawberry Panic! Have you seen that anime?

I like your placement of Koharu in the skulls. First of all I thought she was too 'dumb' to be in a group like that. But all the 'hard' gangs need one stupid person with them lol.

Can't wait for the next chapter with the audition (if you put it in there). I'll spare you the 'Update Now's!!!' until later lol.

and I promise to write better comments as the story goes on

Offline iacus

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Re: The Circle of Three [3: The Skulls]
« Reply #17 on: October 30, 2007, 07:49:13 AM »
*Random story speculation time*

Reina, Miyabi, and Airi, all have the same "potential" as the Circle girls have. Reina is going to try to use this to overthrow the Circle/make the skulls famous/get revenge. There's probably something big happening with the Circle as well but I can't tell what that is yet. Is Miki going to come back as a teacher? That would be so awesome.

Offline g4rfield

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Re: The Circle of Three [3: The Skulls]
« Reply #18 on: October 30, 2007, 05:52:42 PM »
So....what I gather from the little 'incident' with Reina is that The Circle all possesses magic within them, as proven when Ai-chan tossed Reina like a sack of garbage across the room, Saki burn Reina's inside, (Fire magic?) and put the silence spell on her, making her not able to tell the other 2 about what exactly had happened.

The Skulls doesn't look like they're capable of any magic right now, but they might be when they connect with a certain someone like Miyabi with Airi or Miyabi with Reina when they touch. Hmmmm...interesting.  :mon heh:

Heh...I feel all doki doki while reading chapter 3 and as soon as it near the end I get all sad again. You need to write longer chapter Rokun.  :grin: Yeah I'm greedy. I also can see the differences in paragraphs now. It's shorter and much easier on the eyes. Yaay for that!  :w00t:
This sentence confuse me a little “So now we have a shrimp and a choirgirl - who kept getting tossed out like garbage while fawning over someone way beyond her league" until you supply the explanation on the next paragraph. *jaw dropping* Ai-chan had a crush on Miki??! Wow. Just wow.

Offline rokun

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Re: The Circle of Three [4: The Three]
« Reply #19 on: November 01, 2007, 06:29:32 PM »
Thank you guys for being interested in my story. ^_^ I hope maybe to get some more comments as it goes on and develops more. Speaking of development, in the next chapter there's a lot of information about the world... And it's also a good bit longer if that's something you wanted. :P Also, some of your questions might be answered or explained a bit more fully...

However, it seems like some of you are on pretty good tracks for where the story's going. :) I also wanted to comment on the part of Ai liking Miki, which some of you have mentioned (and I'm glad to see you enjoy). Yeah it might have been a little confusing when Reina first started babbling about them, but she'd just come to the realization herself and was figuring out how to express it in her own mind. So I have a feeling everyone in the room was confused at least at first. :lol: More on that too in the next chapter. :) Maybe you've noticed a little theme as to the chapters so far... This will probably be the last one like that though, since the plot is really beginning to get underway. The chapter after this should be very interesting. ;) For now, a lot of dialogue and background! Hope you enjoy, lol.

____________________________________


Chapter 4 – The Three

“All right!” Ai shouted. “We’ll do better next time, I’m sure of it!”

She stood on a slightly raised platform looking at a group of disheveled girls from her house who wore rather disappointed expressions. They’d just finished the final competition of their inter-house tournament – a futsal game - and although they had beaten Goto, they lost to Matsuura in points, something that she knew she would never live down to Yajima-san. She thought a second. She supposed she should just be calling the girl Maimi from now on, since they were both Circle members now after all.

That idea and what it entailed still seemed rather crazy to her. It was just at the end of last year when Yoshizawa-san had called her to her room – the girl’s own room! – and told her that she was recommending her as Nakazawa’s new Head. She knew there wasn’t a very talented batch of younger students. Tanaka had shown some promise, but for some reason the Circle didn’t look too kindly upon the Skulls, much less recruit from them, and now with both Mikitty and Yoshizawa gone her house was quite weakened. She also knew that she herself couldn’t yet compete with Yajima or Shimizu…

She looked over at the other groups of girls. Shimizu – Saki – was already leading her rowdy group back to their house. She wondered how the girl did it. She looked as proud as ever in her diminutive figure, and her girls chatted as if they’d just won. Maybe competition just didn’t mean the same thing to everyone. Then she looked at Maimi.

The Head of House Matsuura was giving her girls a very emotional pep talk, to which there were loud cheers and condescending looks on the girls from other Houses. They were obviously happy they won. It doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone…

“Um, Ai…chan?” a girl from the front row just before her said. Ai blinked and looked at her before breaking into a smile. “Are you going to stand up there all day?”

She blushed around her smile, and with a glare at a chuckling Tanaka a few rows back stepped down to join the curious one. She wasn’t sure if she liked Tanaka better now that she was ignoring her, or before last night when the girl just cracked jokes and made fun of her. Of course, she did the same thing to everyone, and none of the rest were spared the torments that she now avoided since tossing the girl across a room. She still was astonished, and a bit frightened, of how she did that. Maimi and Saki promised to teach her, but nothing happened last night since they all just wanted go to bed.

The Nakazawa girls began walking back to their house, but most avoided her except for a few of her closer friends at the front, and none were closer than the girl who brought her back to reality when she had dozed off on the platform.

“If I’d known becoming part of the Circle would change you that much, Ai-chan, I wouldn’t have let you do it…” said Risa Niigaki as she looked over at her with a concerned face.

She smiled back. “I’m not really different. I guess I just have different… responsibilities. You know I’m not used to it. With Mikitty and Yoshizawa around, there wasn’t much need for anyone else…”

Risa snorted a laugh back. The two of them had known each other since arriving at the academy over six years ago, and were close friends almost from the start. However, for some reason the girl had never approved of her choices of people to date…

“Fat lot Fujimoto did,” she said after her laugh. “Unless you call harassing every girl she came across and doing her best to be a bad influence on those delinquents a great contribution to the school…”

“Hey,” Ai said, in a voice that was not amused at all. “Don’t talk about her like that. Nobody really understood her.”

“And you did?” Risa asked skeptically. “If you regard spending a few nights in her room as a way of finding some understanding of her, then most of the older girls in the school would understand her perfectly.”

Ai rounded on her best friend, her eyes burning with anger. The girls following them stopped, looking among each other to see if anyone knew why their new leader looked as if she was about to attack one of the other seventh years. Risa gave her a wary yet challenging look in return. A slight breeze also came up from somewhere and started swirling around them.

“I think you’ve insulted her enough for now…” she said through gritted teeth. “You’d think my best friend would be a little more supportive at a time like this…”

“…Whatever,” Risa responded after a second. “I’m just glad she’s gone, so you can wake up and smell reality again.”

The wind whipped up a little more, and Ai opened her mouth to give another retort, but stopped when she felt a hand on her shoulder. Seeing the other girls suddenly become anxious she had an idea who it was, and quickly tried to calm her own mood.

Before looking back, she shouted to them, “Good job everyone! Run on back to the house and enjoy the evening.” Most looking very relieved, they hurriedly broke ranks and ran ahead as Ai turned to face the girl who interrupted her.

“I thought I’d break in here before you lose control again and do something you’ll really regret this time,” Maimi said quietly with a small smile. She lowered her voice even further to continue, likely so that Risa couldn’t hear what she said. “Tossing a Skull around is one thing, but I think you’d feel bad doing that to one of your friends…”

Being unable to hear didn’t keep Risa from leaning forward to try and catch the girl’s words. Maimi looked over at her and started speaking in a normal voice again. “Quite an inquisitive friend you’ve got there, Ai-chan. Brave and loyal, too. Not many people would even approach me if I was with other Circle members.”

“Thank you for the compliment…” Risa said in a bitter voice as she scrutinized the younger girl. Ai didn’t think she’d ever gotten used to girls younger than her in their authority positions, especially compared with the examples Yoshizawa and Iida had set in their time here.

“We’ve been best friends since first year,” Ai said quietly. Come to think of it, she never did really see Maimi or Saki hanging out with members of their own houses. From time to time she’d see Maimi flirting with Umeda or Saki chatting with Tsugunaga, but from what she could tell their relationships could hardly be called friendship. In her last year though, she was determined not to let anything change with Risa. She just had to figure out how to keep her temper better... And it would help a whole lot if the girl just dropped the subject of Mikitty.

“I see,” Maimi said with her unchanging smile. “That’s very sweet. Ai-chan,” she began, looking over at her. “Would you walk with us? We should talk about today’s events.” Ai looked beyond the girl and noticed for the first time that Saki had joined them. The petite girl was easy to miss sometimes…

“If it’s all the same to you,” Risa said, “I’d like to stay with Ai-chan too.”

Maimi raised an eyebrow at Ai, who looked back steadily, before responding indifferently, “Suit yourself. We’re going to the Circle’s private bath, but you can tag along on the way.”

Then the two other Heads began walking without regard for what the two of them were doing. Ai gave Risa a look before hurrying to keep up, and her friend fell in at her side soon after.

“It was a fun day, don’t you think?” Maimi commented in a bright voice.

“For you, maybe,” Saki said, her face seemingly dark. “You didn’t come in last place.”

“You’re right,” Maimi responded, her voice losing none of its luster. “We didn’t!”

“Aren’t you being a little cocky?” Risa asked, and for her effort got a glance from Maimi before she turned her eyes back ahead as if the girl wasn’t even there.

“I’m very happy with my House this year. We’ve got some very strong second years, and our first year class even seems to be the best in a generation.”

“Second years, huh?” Saki said, a little caustically. “I suppose you’d mean Suzuki and the older Okai girl. They do seem pretty strong… I think they could even beat out some of your fourth and fifth years, don’t you?”

Maimi frowned at her. “I didn’t mean it that way… I just said they’re strong.”

“Whatever,” Saki retorted. “I’d like to see Natsuyaki or Sudou tackle some of their classmates from your area. I have a feeling we’d have some Matsuura to sweep up from the floor after that…”

“Don’t forget Natsuyaki is a Skull,” Maimi growled, and Ai thought she was nearly going to round on the other Circle member. “That basically forfeits anything she can do.”

“Speaking of…” Saki responded, apparently changing the subject since she knew she couldn’t argue that point. “I heard your Okai girl has set up an audition with them.” This time Maimi stopped dead, and Risa exchanged a glance with Ai as the rest of them stopped too. They were barely halfway across the field and back to the school.

“Is that so…” she said in a low and dangerous voice, avoiding everyone’s gaze as she stared at nothing, apparently caught in her own thought. Ai once more felt the same thing she did in the room with the Skulls yesterday. The air around them seemed to suddenly become chilly. Risa even crossed her arms as if to keep warm, but obviously thought nothing of it. After yesterday’s events, Ai wasn’t so sure anymore that it was a coincidence…

Saki smiled smugly in her apparent victory. “Yeah, it’s too bad really…” she said as if speaking idle thoughts. “I just hope it doesn’t rub off on her sister too… It would be a shame if your first and second year classes, which do show so much promise, would come under a bad influence…”

“Not if I can help it,” Maimi said, still with her dangerous voice. “No Matsuura has been with the Skulls in either my or Ishikawa’s time as Head, and I don’t intend that to change now.”

Saki kept smiling, despite Ai’s thoughts that it might be good not to press the Head of Matsuura any further. “And how exactly do you plan to stop them? You’ve somehow been able to keep any qualified girl away from auditioning all this time, but once it’s begun you know we have little power to stop them from doing whatever they want to.”

“Yeah,” Maimi responded, her voice becoming a little more normal, to the relief of both Ai and Risa. “Well, I think it’s time we reassert our authority. The Skulls have been allowed to flourish for far too long at this school.”

Saki even giggled at that. “It’s been this way for centuries, Maimi! You know we can’t do anything about it because we can’t use our powers in front of anyone. Without them, we’re nothing more than average girls that happen to lead the others around by the noses.”

Silence met them after Saki spoke though, because Maimi had turned quickly to a confused-looking Risa, and after a second Saki looked her way too with a frown. As if to put it behind them, Maimi began walking briskly again, forcing the others to either keep up or stay behind.

They walked quietly for most of the rest of the way before Saki spoke up again, this time in a noticeably more chastened and controlled voice. “So what’s going on with you and Suzuki anyway?” she asked Maimi. “Ever since your ‘talk’ with her last spring, you seem to pay a lot more attention to her, and even I was surprised at the, er, extent you went to back then.

Maimi broke into a grin. “She’s cute, there’s no doubt about that, even if she is a little bookworm. I don’t know. What do you think, Ai-chan?” At the sound of her name, Ai was brought stiffly to attention, but she felt a little lost in the conversation. “Do you think a young girl like her, and a queen like me…” Ai stared at her. “I was kidding about the ‘queen’ thing, you know…” she said quickly.

After Ai stared a few more seconds, she turned away again. “Gosh,” she said in a disbelieving voice. “Saki-chan, we’ve really got some work to do on this one…”

“Don’t bother telling me that,” Saki responded. “If you went on to me about skirt chasing after a second year, I’d stare at you like you were crazy too.” She leaned her head around Maimi’s body to give Ai a toothy grin, which she gratefully smiled back at.

“Pssht,” Maimi sassed in return. “Don’t tell me you’ve never thought about it. I’ve seen you making eyes at that one second year of your own. Sugaya I think her name is… right?”

“I do not!” Saki cried, scandalized.

“Do too,” Maimi said, grinning, and this time she shared it with Ai as well.

“Do not!!” she insisted again. “I’m not a perv like you are.”

“Well,” Maimi said with a shrug. “A Circle member has few choices. Sometimes we have to take what we can get. I still don’t understand how you can be so satisfied with just boys even though none are around here.”

“There are plenty back at home during vacation time…” Saki explained slowly and with emotion. “While here, I can restrain my urges for a few months…”

“Your loss,” Maimi said, shrugging again, and this time grinned at both Ai and Risa, who ducked her eyes quickly away from the other girl’s. Now what was that all about?

“Er…” Ai said, feeling like she was intruding when speaking for the first time in so long. The other two girls looked interestedly at her though, which gave her confidence to continue. “I’m afraid I’m with Maimi here on this one, Saki…” she said carefully, and Saki huffed overdramatically, turning away.

“See?” Maimi said. “Even our wise and powerful Nakazawa colleague sees the sense in not denying your urges. You’ve got nearly three more years here, Saki-chan. You really should lighten up.”

I have to lighten up?” Saki responded. Maimi grinned and shrugged again.

“Although…” Ai began slowly again. “Seriously, Maimi…” the girl looked at her curiously. “A second year?”

This time Saki giggled. “I think she’ll fit in just fine. Don’t you, oh queenly one?”

“Oh I’m sure she will…” Maimi responded distractedly, but didn’t go on since they had finally reached the entrance to the Circle’s compound. “Well, it’s time for us to go on alone,” she said, turning to Risa. “Scram, unworthy one.” She said that in a teasing voice, but it was still clearly a dismissal. However, Risa looked at Ai before going anywhere.

“You’d better go…” Ai said reluctantly. “There really isn’t supposed to be anyone except Circle members allowed in here, and don’t you remember the stories that the Headmaster will come down and eat you if you try to get in and aren’t in the Circle?”

“And also the fire-breathing dog…” Maimi added.

“And the ghost of an old Head who haunts the tower and will never let you sleep again…” Saki added too.

Ai shrugged and grinned as if to express her helplessness. “I’ll come visit you later tonight, okay?”

“Okay…” Risa said. “You be careful, Ai-chan,” she said seriously.

Ai was a little confused by her tone of voice, but responded brightly, “Aren’t I always?” before following the other two girls in.



A short time later saw the three Heads soaking very happily in the large bath which sat in the middle of a chamber that had to have been larger than most classrooms. It was less a bath than a hot spring somehow brought into the middle of the school. After spending a little time there, Ai decided she may very well be able to get used to this whole Circle thing after all…

Maimi sighed in pleasure. “Now that’s what I call nice after such a long day…”

“No kidding…” Saki agreed.

“What are you talking about?” Maimi responded, tilting her head and half-opening an eye to look at the other girl. “If you’d actually done any work you wouldn’t have come in last. I still can’t believe you lost to our Ai-chan here…” Saki just sighed, apparently in too much comfort to be bothered by the girl’s diatribes this time.

“By the way,” she said after a time, changing the subject again. “What’s going on with that friend of yours there, Ai-chan? It’s not too often someone willingly walks with us that far like that.”

“Mmm… What are you talking about, Saki-chan?” Ai responded, unhappy with the interruption of her relaxation. Speaking was something that felt like it took more work than was necessary right at this moment.

Maimi coughed out a laugh. “The girl’s obviously in love with you,” she said. “I could see it every time she looked at you.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Ai said, brushing off their comments and trying to return to her relaxation. “We’ve been friends for ages. It was never anything like that.”

“If you say so,” Saki responded, and gratefully seemed to let the subject drop.

However, after another minute or so Maimi spoke up. “Was it true? What Tanaka was saying about you last night?”

“Huh?” Ai responded. That seemed like all she could drag out of her throat since words and especially complete sentences seemed too exhausting a proposition at the moment.

“About you and… Fujimoto. You know, you fawning over her when she threw you out like garbage and just treated you like one of her conquests, but you still couldn’t get enough.”

This time Ai’s attention was captured fully, and she lolled her head to stare hard at the rude Head of Matsuura. “It’s not like that,” she told her firmly. “I was special to her.” Maimi cleared her throat instead of responding, and shared a look with Saki.

“You know,” Saki said in a tentative voice. That might be the first time Ai heard such an unsure tone coming from either of their mouths. “Now that you’re in the Circle, a lot of things will be different for you. It’s almost all good, but one of the first things you need to do is be honest with yourself.” Maimi nodded as if encouraging the girl to go on. “Fujimoto kind of… got around.”

“I know,” Ai said stoically. And she did know of all the girls other than herself who had gone to that room and not resurfaced until the next morning. But these new friends of hers didn’t know what it was like. Mikitty just had this way with her… She made her feel more special than anyone ever had before.

The other two shared a look again. “Listen,” Maimi said. “Fujimoto isn’t the type for commitment. I don’t doubt she made you feel, um, very special, and I’m sure she quite enjoyed your little trysts, but that’s all they were to her. Tell me,” she said, pulling herself up in the bath a little to focus fully on Ai. “Have you even heard from her at all since she graduated and left Seishin?”

Ai stared between the two girls. Maimi looked hard at her, but Saki just gave her glances every so often when she opened her eyelids halfway as she relaxed. “Well… no…”

Maimi nodded solemnly. “And have you tried contacting her in that time?”

“…I’ve mailed her once or twice.” It was more like several dozen times, but the girl had never responded. She didn’t want to hear any more, but Maimi wouldn’t let up.

“Then I don’t think you need our help to figure out where you stand…” And she relaxed back into the water, apparently satisfied she’d now said enough.

Ai sat there a moment as the girl’s words – and her own – resounded through her mind. She’d been trying so desperately to cling to some hope… but they were right… she was right… It was obvious where she stood. It just wasn’t easy to accept. She’d given to and shared more with the girl than she had anyone else, over the course of almost two years. And even before she had the nerve to approach her, she’d had a crush on her for nearly as long.

She began crying a little and hugging herself, and Maimi reached over to pat her shoulder. “It’s okay… I know it must be hard. But the best thing you can do is move on.”

“I’d start by paying more attention to that friend of yours,” Saki continued. “Like you heard us say, it’s hard for anyone in the Circle to have a relationship while in school, but it’s not unheard of. And as long as you stay away from the Skulls, you’ll be fine.” Ai looked over to see the girl smiling at her. “For example, it’s probably best not to become like Maimi-chan here. Not only has the girl whose skirt she’s chasing barely lost her baby fat, but she also may soon be the best friend of a member of the Skulls.”

“I swear, I didn’t know that,” Maimi said seriously. “If I had… but it’s too late now. It’s not her herself that’s joining, and I know I can best any member of the Skulls any day, so I’m certain I can keep her from being corrupted.”

“Um…” Ai started, wanting to finally ask about things that had been on her mind almost constantly since last night. “Why does the Circle despise the Skulls so much? And what happened last night? I… I don’t know what I did, but I think you guys did something too… I’m surprised what happened isn’t all over the school by now.”

Maimi and Saki exchanged glances once again. “I’m sure you know by now, Ai-chan…” Saki began. “But being in the Circle gives us certain… privileges. Privileges above and beyond authority as Heads of Houses.”

“The ceremony we performed for you last night bestows in a new Circle member the power inherent in her House,” Maimi continued. She checked to see how Ai was receiving this information, and at a blank look since she didn’t understand what the girl was saying at all, explained further. “I suppose you know the legend of how Seishin Gakuin was founded?”

“Of course,” Ai responded impatiently. “That’s one of the basic traditions of the school. Nearly two thousand years ago, around when China first took notice of us, three exceptionally powerful women from different tribes around Japan came together and decided to start what, at the time, was a training center for young women with similar ambitions. It’s evolved over the years as our education system has evolved into the school it is today, but that legend is what we take a lot of our pride as Seishin students from. Of course, there’s surely no truth to it… I bet it was just started during the Edo period to try to rally popular support for the shogunate.”

“Well, that’s an interesting theory…” Saki said. “And one that I’m sure many people believe both inside and outside of Seishin. However…” She looked earnestly at Ai. “The legend is true.”

Ai stared at her. “How do you know that?”

Saki became slightly ruffled at her challenge, but Maimi responded calmly, in contrast to her usual demeanor. “We just know it. If you really think about it yourself, you’ll realize it too. The theory you gave might be what you believed before, but after last night, you’ll experience certain revelations… and that’s one of them.”

Ai still stared at both of them. What the girls had just told her seemed ridiculous, and yet… Now that she thought about it, she wondered why they couldn’t be right. There was definitely something going on inside her, and it had to have some cause, didn’t it? Plus, it almost seemed like she could envision those three women from the legend more sharply than she could have based on any picture she’d seen up until now. She could almost see them smiling at her…

When she came back to reality though, all she saw were the two other Heads smiling at her. “See?” Maimi asked. “You know the truth now. However, the legend is a little different from how we’ve always learned it…” She looked over at Saki, who nodded before continuing the explanation.

“Nakazawa, Goto, and Matsuura were supposedly women with high authority in their tribes. That kind of power was unusual for any women of the day to hold, so it’s amazing no one wonders more how they came to it.” She smiled eagerly as she went on, as if excited about telling the story. “They came to their status because they had power beyond political authority… In their day, they were called witches.”

Ai became silent in thought at the girl’s words. Witches? That means they had some kind of mystical power – powers like that which she’d just been observing among herself and the other Circle members…

Saki continued hurriedly, “It’s said in secret histories found only in this building that they bestowed some version of their power to those that followed after them… to those students that showed the most promise at the school… to those who were granted authority over other students…”

“The Heads of the Houses…” Ai said, completing the girl’s line of reasoning.

The other two nodded. “That’s what they are today. What we are, Ai-chan.”

Suddenly Ai became afraid as she slowly embraced the realization. So some part of one of these historical witches was now inside her? Aside from being creepy, she was scared about what that power might mean. After all, she’d thrown Tanaka across the room and nearly done the same to her best friend…

“But…” she began in a trembling voice. “What… how… what kind of… powers… do I have then?”

“They’re different for each Circle member; for each representative of a different House,” Saki responded. “It’s said the original three founders had different powers, and so bequeathed only their own to the Heads of their respective Houses.”

“So that means…” Maimi continued. “We can’t necessarily help you directly with your own, but we can do our best to guide you on the general principles. Yoshizawa wasn’t exactly… forthcoming… over what all she could do, so we don’t necessarily even know everything you’re capable of.”

She looked at Saki and gave her face a discerning inspection. “I don’t think even the two of us know what one another is fully capable of.” Saki just smiled softly… and quietly. Maimi took her eyes from the girl and looked out the large window looking out onto the night. “If I remember right, it’s almost a new moon tonight, isn’t it? Are you planning to go out later?”

“Maybe,” Saki responded. “There’s an audition for the Skulls tomorrow, after all. It might be good to liven things up a little bit…” Ai looked carefully at the small girl, and noticed that not only was she excited to tell the story, she’d seemed to be excited all night so far. She suddenly felt slightly insecure sitting in the bath with her.

“Ah, yes. That audition…” Maimi said. “We’ll definitely have to keep an eye on it. Care to join us in our plotting, Ai-chan?” she asked her, a sly grin gracing her lips.

“Um…” Ai said, but decided she’d better do what she could to keep these girls happy. “Sure. It sounds like… fun.” She kept her eyes on Saki that whole time, but the girl just smiled up at nothing as if musing to herself.

“Great! I think it’d be the best thing for you, especially since Fujimoto is likely to arrive sometime tonight.” Ai’s attention was instantly caught by this new piece of information, and everything else flew out of her head.

“Yes…” Saki said, still staring at the ceiling. “I’m particularly looking forward to that.”

“Mikitty…?” Ai asked, trying to hold back her excitement.

“Don’t get your hopes up too much,” Maimi warned. “We’ve heard that she’s taken some important position in the Skulls alumni association or whatever they want to call it. It’s kind of like the Circle – once you’re a member, unless you really screw something up, you’re in it for life. Anyway, I doubt she’ll be giving any calls to old flings she’s completely outgrown now.”

Ai was silent at the girl’s words. Well, this might be a chance for her to find out once and for all if what the girls were saying about her was true. “That’s why we want to keep you with us while she’s here,” Saki said earnestly. “I don’t think anything good would come of you meeting her alone now that you’re in the Circle, and while we’re not crazy about seeing her again, we also don’t want you electrocuting her or pulling what you did with Tanaka again. Only this time, I think you’d toss her a much longer distance…”

“I’ll keep myself under control,” Ai muttered, affronted at how these girls thought they needed to take care of her and watch her every step.

“Well then I’m certain we’ll have nothing to worry about…” Maimi said, relaxing into the water again. “I think we’ve been in here just about long enough,” she said after a time. “But, this talk of you meeting Fujimoto reminded me… We never answered your question about the Skulls, did we?” Ai shook her head, though the girl paid her no mind and just went on.

“The Skulls have been around for almost as long as the Circle. Yes, since not long after the founding. They’ve had different characteristics throughout the centuries of course, but the common thing has been that they’ve always rebelled against the Circle’s – and thus the school’s – authority. Now, not even the ancient Circle members who wrote the secret histories know why, but they’ve always been a thorn in our sides, and despite our best efforts we can’t seem to get rid of them.”

She paused a minute as if to let her soaking relax her a bit more before continuing. “Recently the Circle has been winning that battle, and we’ve managed to regain our full authority a little bit. Yoshizawa was able to somehow keep a leash on Fujimoto…”

“A leash?” Ai asked, responding to the horrible things that image conjured in her mind.

“Yes,” Maimi said. “And now I think we might have to do the same thing with Tanaka and Natsuyaki. Tanaka might be their Captain, but we’re not fooled that there isn’t some friction between them. They have too few members right now to be much of a threat, but if they start recruiting again, which seems to be starting with that Okai girl’s audition tomorrow…”

“I have to vouch for that,” Saki interjected. “If they get even five members again, they can cause us a lot of trouble. Especially if they pick someone up from Matsuura.” She looked at Maimi, who nodded grimly. “Maimi’s done a good job of keeping order in her House without their meddling, and that’s also why she’s… well… how she is today.” She looked up at Maimi, in a slightly nervous way, Ai thought. The other girl just smiled.

Ai felt like she understood. She’d felt it since she’d gotten to know these girls more. They all might be in the Circle, but Maimi clearly seemed to be the most confident of them all in her power. Were the Skulls really that big of an influence on the Houses?

As if in response to her inner question, Maimi said softly, “I feel sorry for Saki-chan a lot of the time. She puts up with a lot from Natsuyaki. I think she may even be losing a few hairs…” She grinned over at the smaller girl, who gave her a shadowy look in response. Ai had no clue what the girl might have meant other than the obvious – her hair is falling out – but she didn’t notice anything of the like. Her hair was quite bushy now, actually. She also knew that she’d rather not have Saki glaring at her in that way… It really scared her, and she wasn’t even its target. She idly began wondering what Saki’s secret powers might be…

“Well, I think that’s good enough for me tonight,” Maimi said, climbing out of the bath and snagging a towel hanging beside it. “Ai-chan, just remember it’s best if you stay in. We don’t want you running into Fujimoto yet, plus Saki has her little… scouting mission… that I don’t think you’re quite ready for yet.” She smiled as she talked about the other Circle member, who very quietly and calmly as if ignoring her words climbed out of the bath as well.

Supposing she might as well follow, Ai did the same. “Sure, no problem,” she said. “I think I’ll just go to meet Gaki-san and hang out for a while.” She looked up at the other girls as they toweled off. “That is okay, right?”

“Of course,” Saki said distractedly. “You two have fun.”

“Yes,” Maimi said with a grin. “Have fun!”

Ai blushed, suddenly feeling very naked in front of these girls in just the towel she held around her, and turned away stiffly to head toward her clothes. She heard some giggling behind her as she did. She honestly didn’t know what they were talking about. Her and Gaki-san? They’d been best friends for what seemed like forever. There was no way…


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