|AmeMite II: The Seven Mysteries
Author: DezoPenguin PM
The second entry in the slice-of-life "Ame no Murakumo ga Miteru" series; now openly dating Chikane, can Himeko deal with teaming up with Miya-sama's lead fangirl on a class project?Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Himeko K. & Chikane H. - Chapters: 13 - Words: 53,905 - Reviews: 132 - Favs: 48 - Follows: 55 - Updated: 09-20-12 - Published: 04-05-12 - Status: Complete - id: 7991892
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"Geez, Chikane-chan, it wasn't that funny!" Himeko moaned. Himemiya Chikane, it seemed, begged to differ; she had her arms wrapped round her midsection, laughing so hard that she sagged against the oak tree and would have fallen over if not for its support.
"I don't get it," Arrow said. The five friends were eating lunch together in the rose garden. "I mean, sure, the story's obviously bull, but it's not particularly funny."
"Though Miya's sense of humor is a little out of whack," Alice noted.
"That is true," agreed Saya. She sat next to Alice, hands clasped, taking advantage of the privacy of the garden spot to be close with her girlfriend.
"It's a deep act of friendship that I'm not getting video of this on my cell and uploading it to the Internet," Alice continued. "I don't think the world is ready for their Miya-sama laughing until she's red-faced and crying."
"But what the heck is so funny, anyway?"
"Some day, Chikane-chan, you're going to be an urban legend and we'll all sit around laughing at you," Himeko huffed, which just set Chikane off into renewed laughter.
"She already is," Alice contributed. "There's one story called 'The Haunted Rose Garden,' where mysterious voices, always female, can be heard coming from the rose garden even though it's off-limits to students except at special viewing times. Except that one is us, thanks to Miya's secret gap in the hedge. No, wait, didn't you actually find the gap, Himeko? Miya said something about that once, I think."
"Mmn," Himeko agreed, nodding. She swallowed her mouthful of sweet omelet and explained, "Chikane-chan would just use the gate, since as student council president she had the key. I chased a loose puppy into the hedge and found the gap by accident."
"So anyway, kids walking by the main garden outside here could sometimes catch bits of our conversation, so it became a legend that the garden was haunted."
"Oh! But we can't say that in the story, can we, Saya-san? If it would get you into trouble..."
Saya shook her head.
"It's all right, Kurusugawa-san. Himemiya-san is the council president, so as you suggested she has a right to be here."
"Not to mention the Himemiyas pretty much pay for the garden anyway, as part of their endowment of the academy," Arrow added. "So I don't think anyone'd raise a stink about Himemiya using the place to get a few minutes' peace from her fans now and again."
"We won't publish that, though, for Himemiya-san's privacy," Saya decided, "but it's all right to tell Kisaragi-san if she stats looking for an explanation."
"Though if that snotty fangirl tries to poke her nose in here, I'm kicking her back out and I won't be nice enough to send her through the gap!"
"Down, Arrow," Alice snickered.
Chikane's laughter was winding down; she took several deep breaths to try to catch up on oxygen.
"I'm still not sure that I understand what was so funny. Kurusugawa-san, what did you mean about if Himemiya-san became an urban legend and that we'd laugh at her? Are you saying that she is laughing at you?"
Himeko sighed heavily, letting her breath out in a woosh.
"...Yes," she admitted. She turned and glared at her lover. "Shouldn't you have gotten all your laughing done in the sixteen years before I moved here?"
Chikane held up her hands.
"I didn't know, Himeko, honestly. I'd never heard that story before today."
"I hadn't heard it either," Arrow admitted. "Though, to be fair, I usually glaze over at stories about ghosts and demons."
"I've heard it," Alice said.
"And I only heard it because you told me," Saya added. "Where did you hear it from?"
"Ah, Aniki was giving me grief about how I was in the haunted classroom this year and how I'd better not forget my books and all that."
"You have an older brother, Arisu-chan?" Himeko asked.
Alice held up three fingers.
"Three of 'em. Fred's twenty-seven; he was at university when we moved to Japan so he stayed in Canada. Scott is twenty-two, and Alex is twenty. Oh, Scott is 'Oniisan' and Alex is 'Aniki,' in case you were wondering, though most of the time I just use their names."
"Wow. Do you have any siblings, Saya-san, Arrow-chan?"
"I'm an only child," Saya observed quietly, apparently wishing she had siblings.
"I've got a big sister," Arrow contributed. "I don't see her much, though; she was a real rebel in high school and got into a lot of fights with our parents, until she finally ran off to Tokyo." She shrugged. "We still talk now and again, though we don't ask too many questions about what she's doing."
"Yakuza," Chikane said succinctly.
"She seems happy, though. It's not exactly a respectable lifestyle, but..."
"Preacher's daughter," Alice said. "East or West, some things are pretty constant."
"So you still get along, then?" Himeko asked Arrow.
"Oh, yeah. It's not that she and my parents hated each other or anything, just that Tsu-nee wanted to be badass and Otousan thought she was being bad and an ass."
"And speaking of bad jokes, you still haven't explained why you were laughing like a maniac, Miya."
Chikane sipped her tea placidly.
"It's because she knows what started the story," Himeko sighed.
"So how do you know that?" Alice pressed. "You haven't even been here a month."
Himeko blushed, and Chikane had to bite her lip to keep from bursting out laughing all over again.
"It's about me," Himeko mumbled.
"Did you say it was...about you?"
"But you just moved here, Kurusugawa-san."
"No, I mean..." Belatedly, Himeko realized how awkward these kind of explanations could sound. Chikane chose to speak up then and spare her the burden of putting it into words.
"Do all of you remember how it was that I said I knew I'd meet up with Himeko again?"
"Yeah; I swear, you could have knocked me over with a feather when I saw Himeko walk into our classroom for the first time and you two go all googly-eyed over each other. Oh! Oh, I get it now!" Alice clapped her hands. "You always said you knew her from your past lives together. So this is from an incident in that past life?"
"Exactly," Chikane said. "Though obviously very different than the way it really happened."
"Oh, I don't know. After all, the girl from the story is still haunting the classroom."
"Kidnapped by demons," Arrow groaned. "Yeah, I can bet the story changed."
"Wait, so you don't believe in demons, but you do believe Miya and Himeko had a past life together?" Alice boggled. "Isn't that kind of an odd place to be drawing a line?"
"Okay...were you spirited away by a demon, Himeko-chan?"
"Well, no..." Himeko shivered, recalling the moment of absolute terror when the hand of Take no Yamikazuchi, the Orochi god, had crashed through the wall of the school and grabbed her, the sudden pain and darkness as she'd been knocked unconscious. She'd have died there, had Ohgami Souma not shaken off the Orochi curse when he saw that the priestess he'd been trying to kill was the girl he cared for.
No, she hadn't been spirited away by a demon. But that didn't mean that the demon hadn't been there.
Then again...A playful little smile crept over her lips.
"You look like the cat that swallowed the canary," Alice said. "What are you grinning about?"
"I was just remembering. The end of that incident was the first time that Chikane-chan kissed me."
"Your first kiss?" Arrow said. "You've got to tell us about it!"
"I'd like to hear, too..."
"Well...I was lying there, nearly unconscious—"
"Unconscious!" Alice yelped.
"The wall collapsed," Himeko explained, "and I fell." It wasn't the full and complete truth, but it was accurate so far as it went without bringing in the priestesses or Orochi. "Chikane-chan had rushed to my side at once and as I came around, I found myself cradled in her arms. She whispered 'Happy birthday'—we'd just turned sixteen that day—and the next thing I knew she was kissing me!"
"So Miya was so worried that you'd been hurt, then relieved that you were okay, that she couldn't hold back her feelings any longer? That is amazing. I never believed she'd be the one to confess first!"
"Not that Himeko noticed," Chikane said with a wry grin.
"Wait, what do you mean, she didn't notice? She's telling us the story, isn't she?" Arrow demanded.
"I was just waking up from being knocked out, so I was still a little loopy. And Chikane-chan, well, she was Miya-sama, just like she is now, beautiful, talented, this incredible person! She was everybody's idol, and she was just kissing me out of the blue? I didn't believe it was possible that she could do something like that, so I thought it was just a dream. And I couldn't just come out and ask her, 'Hey, did you kiss me yesterday, or was I just dreaming from hitting my head too hard?' I mean, if it was a dream, how creepy would that be, huh?"
Alice pursed her lips in a look of mock concentration, then pretended to reach a conclusion: "So basically what you're telling us is, that you've always been an airhead?"
"Aw, geez," Himeko groaned, while everyone laughed, but even she had a grin on her face.
"Though to be fair, look at her side of it," Alice went on. "It can't be easy to look at the girl you like and say, 'Excuse me, Chikane-chan, but are you a creepy lesbian stalker who kissed me while I was half unconscious, or am I a creepy lesbian stalker who fantasizes about things like that and can't tell my dreams from reality?' Tough choice, really."
"Um...actually we're both kinda creepy and stalker-ish?" Himeko returned the joke and got everyone to laugh.
"You can dream about me kissing you whenever you like, Himeko." She'd meant to be teasing, but put a little too much truth into the words and Himeko found herself staring into liquid sapphire-blue eyes that were overflowing with naked emotion, the raw force of Chikane's love for her. She wanted to respond, but her breath caught in her throat and she felt tears start to well up...
"Oi! Hey, lovebirds, some of us haven't finished eating yet, here," Arrow spoke up, and took a bite of her melon bread to illustrate her point. The lovers broke off the shared gaze, blushing.
"It's fun having Himeko around," Alice observed to no one in particular. "It was really hard to find stuff to tease Miya about until now."
~X X X~
Oomori Naomi pulled off her kendo mask.
"That was really nice work, Kurusugawa-san."
"Really?" her opponent asked, a trace of disbelief in her voice.
"Yeah, really," Oomori told her.
Himeko took off her mask as well, revealing blonde hair matted to her face by sweat.
"I'm glad. The shinai"—the bamboo sword used in kendo—"still doesn't feel quite natural."
"The scary thing is, I believe you." She'd seen Himeko using a bokken—the solid wooden practice blade designed to imitate the weight and curve of an actual sword—and it was amazing, like something out of a video game.
Sometimes, Oomori wished she had gone to some other school. It had been bad enough last year, when she'd been expected to be team captain until prodigy Himemiya Chikane had walked in and shown that she was as ridiculously good at kendo as she was at everything else she did. Well, it had been aggravating to be shown up by a first-year, but it was mostly all right because at least Himemiya backed up that princess attitude with ability. And she was a good captain, too, patient with the team members, stern when she had to be but generally supportive, even if sometimes Oomori got the idea that it didn't really go down deep...as if she was an actress playing the role of "good team captain" off a script. Himemiya's friend Alice Ishida was also on the team and once in a while Oomori caught something in how Himemiya dealt with Ishida that was missing with other people. It wasn't just the casualness of friendship but a...lack of polish that called attention to the "performance" aspect of how Himemiya dealt with other people.
It was kind of funny. A lot of people, even a couple of the team members, were upset with Himemiya for outing herself and having a girlfriend. Oomori actually found it made her like the team captain more for putting some really big cracks of humanity in the too-perfect facade.
That did not mean that Oomori appreciated having the girlfriend foisted off on them as a member of the kendo team. Until, of course, the shy, clumsy, puppy-like girl had proven to be as ridiculous a talent as the captain. Himemiya you'd at least expect it from. Kurusugawa did not exactly project the warrior spirit. Instead of striking out with a bold battle cry, she was more likely to whimper when she parried a blow. Which she did a lot, since Oomori had never landed even one hit on her in practice.
Honestly, Kurusugawa's problem with kendo was that she was too good, that she did by reflex things that weren't proper for a kendo match but perfectly useful for killing someone with a four-foot piece of sharpened metal. Oomori, as deputy captain, was working with her not so much to develop her skill but to help compartmentalize her mind, to create that divide between "kendo" and "battle" that Himemiya already possessed.
It was rewarding work, because Kurusugawa was clearly trying hard to accomplish this (and like any teacher will say, a student who wanted to learn was a pleasure to teach), but also because the part of Oomori's soul that resented being deputy captain to a younger girl liked seeing that there was someone actually capable of scoring points off Himemiya.
"Honestly, the only thing you're really having trouble with is your kiai," she told her pupil. "It needs to be simultaneous with the strike and you're still throwing it in as an afterthought at least half the time. The referee won't award a point just for hitting your opponent, and you don't want to end up in a zero-zero match. Especially if you run into judges who don't like the idea that Ototachibana's best swordswomen are dating each other."
"I'll try harder," Kurusugawa promised. "I'm...just not really very good at yelling."
Gee, who'd have thunk?
"A battle cry isn't about being angry at your opponent. It's an expression of your warrior spirit, coming from within you rather than any outside stimulation."
Kurusugawa looked at her blankly.
"Um, I'm not really sure I understand, Oomori-sempai."
Oomori sighed, thinking it over.
"Well, try it this way. You fight like you've trained for real combat. Have you ever been in a serious, real-life fight?"
Which I haven't, and yet which I'm now going to lecture you about, Oomori considered the ironies of teaching.
"Then, try imagining that you're in a fight like that, and that you're protecting something very important to you, like Himemiya-buchou. So it doesn't matter if you're facing an opponent you can beat easily or a really tough enemy that takes everything you have. You're going to give it everything that you can because you can't afford to lose. So you reach down deep, summon all your courage and determination, and you strike—and you cry out with all that spirit, because it's too much to be contained. You exhale while you strike, and the kiai bursts out of you, almost as part of the blow, not just something else added on. Does that make sense to you?"
"I...I think so. I'm not sure that I can really do it, though."
"We'll try it on a few practice strokes, then, without sparring. Like I said, the opponent's irrelevant."
"Okay. We haven't been doing much of that."
"That's because I don't have anything to teach you about your form. There's no point in me observing you practice that when you're better than I am, so you can do that on your own when I'm working with the other members. This is different."
"Yes, Oomori-sempai. Oh! That reminds me, I met your younger brother today."
"Oh, so Takuma finally got to talk to you? I hope he didn't fanboy all over your shoes."
"Well, maybe just a little."
"Kid brothers. Can't live with 'em, can't drown 'em at birth. Do you have any siblings?"
"Yes; I have a younger brother, too, although he's only ten."
Oomori grinned at her.
"Well, then, you know what I'm talking about!"
"But he can be really fun, too."
"Yeah, mine too. Family, right?"
Himeko blinked, her violet eyes going unfocused for a second as if she was trying to think of something.
"Oomori-sempai, have you ever heard of the 'Seven Mysteries of Ototachibana Academy'?"
"Yeah, I think so. I've heard some stories, at least."
"Oh! Could you tell me about them?" she asked happily.
"Kurusugawa-san, aren't you supposed to be practicing your kiai? Why are you so interested?"
"The Photography Club has me working with Kisaragi-san of the Newspaper Club on a story about them."
"I'm glad you're so enthusiastic, but may I point out that this is the Kendo Club, and that we have a tournament next week in which we're expecting you to help us win."
The strawberry blonde sighed.
"Good. Now remember what I told you?"
"Mmn," Kurusugawa affirmed, nodding.
"Then let's give it a try."
Kurusugawa assumed the ready position and began to attempt a sequence of forms, kata. Oomori noticed at once that she seemed stiffer, her movements less fluid than they had during sparring. It was all part of the puzzle that made up the blonde girl; she was so badly out of shape—strength, muscular endurance, and cardiovascular endurance alike—that Oomori was convinced she'd never had any kind of rigorous exercise in her life. That made her different from Himemiya, who was in top condition. But it also made no sense, since the kind of training it would take to be that good would certainly take time and effort. Yet Kurusugawa was as soft as a baby, despite her absurd skill level.
It almost made Oomori think of magic. That would almost make more sense than the known facts.
As deputy captain, she made a few suggestions. It got easier for Kurusugawa when she tried to imagine an opponent in front of her. Clearly, whatever was lurking in her subconscious was prepared for combat, not training exercises. She was clearly doing her best as a team member, though, trying to integrate those battle instincts with the rules of kendo. She was getting better at it, too, when Oomori called a halt to the practice.
"Nice," she said. "I think you're starting to get it, Kurusugawa-san."
Her face lit up with childlike glee.
"Really? I am?"
"Yeah, and faster than I expected, too." It struck her that a samurai's kiai was a traditional part of swordsmanship that had been adapted to the sport of kendo, so maybe that instinct of Kurusugawa's wanted to use it and it was the girl's personality getting in the way? It would explain her rapid absorption of the concept as well as anything, Oomori supposed.
"Thank you, Oomori-sempai!" She mopped her sweating face and neck with a towel.
"So, since you've been a good sport about it, I thought I'd tell you about one of those Seven Mysteries. I've only heard the one story, though. Ghosts and magic don't really interest me much."
"Any at all would be great. Kisaragi-san and I are trying to compile all of them. She told me about one this morning, and Arisu-chan another at lunch."
"So it's five to two that this won't be a repeat. Good odds. It's called the 'Goblin of the Old Hall,' or sometimes the 'Hungry Goblin.' Did you hear about that one?"
Kurusugawa shook her head.
"No, not at all."
"Good! Now, the Old Hall is actually part of the original academy building. As you know, the academy is laid out like a large T, with the 'stem' being the new wing that was built around forty years ago. The central section and the east wing had a lot of extensive repair work around twenty years ago; they followed the original plans as best they could but some things had to be altered on account of the new construction."
"So that's why I keep getting lost!"
"Oh, nothing. I'm sorry for interrupting you, sempai," she said, looking embarrassed.
"Well, in any case, the west wing is still pretty much intact. They say that the upper level, where the science labs, home ec, and music rooms are located, is haunted by a mountain goblin that inhabited this hill. The story goes that the west wing was built right over the entrance to its lair when the school was first constructed, and that it creeps up into the building. Sometimes, when classes are over, if people have to go to those rooms for club activities or the like, they can hear rustling in the halls or the scrape of footsteps from above...and if you leave out food, the goblin will eat it during the night."
"Really?" Kurusugawa squeaked.
"Uh-huh. Some people do it as an offering, either to bring good luck on a test or to turn away the goblin's wrath at having its mountain used as a building site."
"H-have you ever heard the goblin, Oomori-sempai?"
Oomori shook her head.
"No, not heard it—but last year, when I heard the story, it was because I saw one of my sempai setting out meat for the goblin so I asked her why. She told me about the goblin and, sure enough, next morning nothing was left of the food but bits and crumbs!"
"S-so, c-could it have been a prank?"
"I don't know, but if it is, a lot of people are helping out with it because it still happens pretty often even now."
"Kurusugawa-san, are you scared of ghosts?"
She shook her head.
"No, I'm not scared of ghosts...it's just, I am scared by ghost stories!"
That was an odd distinction to make, Oomori thought, but shrugged it off.
"Anyway, you've had enough of a break. Get your mask and we'll try sparring again and see if you can do better with those kiai now."