Mirai no bokutachi wa kitto kotae o motteru hazu dakara

Honki de kakenukete

Chansu o tsukamaete

Hikaru kaze ni narou we got dream!

Sweat dripped down the nine girls' faces as they sang out their final verse of the live show with all their might. Despite their aching muscles and raw voices, they couldn't hide their beaming smiles as they looked upon the crowd while striking their final poses. All they could see were deranged lightsticks moving about the arena, but their ears were filled with the shouts of passionate fans cheering for them.

It was always their favorite part; looking at the sea of lightsticks happily dancing for them all. Nobody was left out as there was a fan for everybody, even if some gravitated more towards others. At the end of the day, everyone knew it took nine members to be Aqours, no more or less.

After taking in their moment of gratitude, it was time for the finale. They knew the ending process like the back of their hand. They all gathered towards the head of the stage in their usual order, Yoshiko always being the last to stumble along. All nine girls interlocked their shaking hands as they began stealing glances with one another, making sure each member was satisfied with the show they had just put on. Their small group moment was over before they knew it as all eyes were on their leader, awaiting her closing speech for the audience. With the deafening silence slowly taking over, the crowd was locked in suspense, holding their breath for what was to come next. Chika knew this was her moment. She puffed out her chest as she shouted out,

"Thank you so much for coming! I hope you all loved the show as much as we did. I can't thank you all enough for coming out to see us. Though this will be one of our last shows as nine members, I hope you all will continue to support us as we will keep trying our best for all of you!"

The speech was never long since the orange-haired girl already knew everyone was running on the end of their adrenaline rush. She didn't want to exhaust the group even more before they could make it home. Besides, she knew to save the biggest speech for when it was all of their final time as a group.

With this in mind, Chika began her bow as the girls followed along, not breaking their connected hands. After getting back up, they each took out their earpieces, allowing them to hear the crowd's cheers roar upon the arena in their full glory. Chika was the first to break their aligned order as the rest followed along.

While waving towards the sections they felt they might have missed during the live show, the nine girls slowly made their way backstage, thanking the crowd a multitude of times for their support. They heard numerous shouts of each member's name with stomps accompanying it, guaranteeing each member felt their passion for them.

Crickets could be heard chirping all around the weary school idols as they sat at the bus stop awaiting their ride. It was the last bus of the night and the girls barely made it. They couldn't leave without a final encore performance, however doing so meant they had to run to make it to their destination on time. They all slumped upon the benches as they finally let their hearts calm down for the night. With 15 minutes to spare and no one around in sight, all the girls began talking amongst themselves.

Chika sat herself between You and Riko in order to be closest to her best friends. Still on a high from their show, Chika broke the fatigued atmosphere of the trio to shout out,

"Ah what a great show, huh? I love singing on that stage with all of you guys, it kind of makes me proud with how far we've come when it was just the three of us starting out."

Chika looked towards the deserted road in front of them. It was only lit by the nearby street lights creating a dim atmosphere for the young girl. She whispered aloud while smiling,

"I wish it wasn't over just yet. I just want more time on that stage."

You giggled tiredly at the orange-haired girl's statement. As her best friend, she knew that Chika was passionate about their art they created together as nine, but it was far too late at night to be having such sentimental conversations. She poked Chika's cheek, keeping her finger in place, before saying aloud,

"Even if we did a 6 hour long live show it probably still wouldn't be enough time for you, am I right, Chika-chan?"

With Riko on the other side listening in on the two's banter, she giggled from the young sailor's accurate statement. She knew as well all about how Chika could get when thinking about how much farther they could go as a group, always wanting to push just a little more for everyone to truly shine. She repeated You's actions as she poked Chika's other cheek, holding her finger there as well, as she added,

"I don't even think Kanan-chan could hold out that long, even with all of her intense training."

With both You's and Riko's index fingers still at her cheeks, Chika pouted at them. They acted as if they were her parents, poking fun at her thoughts. Suddenly an idea popped into her head. With her voice muffled, she boasted out with confidence,

"How about we test that theory next time?"

The orange-haired girl raised her right arm up towards the star filled sky. With determination spread across her face, she shouted out,

"Come on girls, let's do a 6 hour live show next time!",

Before Riko or You could even respond back, their heads were guided towards a loud shushing noise coming from Dia as a sleepy Ruby laid upon her shoulder. Chika backed down from her high stance but not before a yawn began to sneak out. She removed her raised hand from the night sky to her yawning mouth as she let out a loud cry. Both Riko and You laugh at Chika's dying energy as they proceeded to give her a side hug, encompassing the small mikan into a friend sandwich. You looked upon a tired Chika before telling her,

"We'll see about that, Chika-chan."

After sharing their fits of giggles, the second years proceeded to talk amongst themselves, mentally preparing for their next live show. They began their checklist of discussing the costumes, music, and lyrics for the next event with one another.

To the right of them, in their own little world, were the pairing of Kanan and Mari. They each were cuddled by one another, as they usually were. Mari had taken brochures from the tourist area and was explaining to Kanan all the places they could go when they had free time together. Kanan however was using Mari's warmth to lull herself to sleep. Despite Kanan having more energy, she easily got tired at night since she was so programmed to wake up at the crack of dawn to help around her diving shop.

While occasionally opening one eye to see what Mari was talking about, Kanan continued to doze off on the blonde's shoulder while hearing the usual "Shiny" under Mari's breath.

Finally, the last four members sat upon the opposite side of the second year trio. Ruby rested her head upon Dia's shoulder, fighting to stay awake. She didn't want to bother her sister later if she were to have to wake her up for the bus. Ruby just wanted to prove that she was responsible enough to do things like this on her own, that way when Dia finally left for college, she wouldn't be worried about her over the simplest things.

Next to the Kurosawa's sat Hanamaru, eating her usual Noppo bread. The small first year was in her own little world when she was snacking upon her favorite edibles. Since all eight members were sitting down however, it left the unfortunate fate of Yoshiko to stand. She stood impatiently at the edge of the sidewalk, tapping her foot incessantly. The members paid no mind to her at first, believing she was still on a high from the show, until her fidgeting became worse as she started looking around the area. Hanamaru was the first to notice this unusual behavior from the blue-haired girl. Letting her curiosity get the best of her, Hanamaru decided to ask what was on her mind,

"What are you waiting for, Yoshiko-chan?"

The fallen angel didn't say anything but rather kept looking around, as if someone were watching the girls. Not satisfied with the silence and mysteriousness radiating from Yoshiko, Hanamaru decided inquire further, believing it would snap her out of her current mood,

"Yoshiko-chan, why don't you spread your wings and fly home instead of waiting for the bus to arrive like the rest of us, zura?"

Yoshiko quickly snapped out of her anxious stance to turn around to face Hanamaru. With her eyebrows furrowed and face red in anger, she screeched back at her,

"I would be leaving behind my loyal little demons if I did that! Also, it's YOHANE!"

Upon hearing the shouts, all the girls turned to the source of the noise. They knew Yoshiko would get riled up by these types of things, but it was so quiet around them, they half expected her to tone it down just a bit. Dia, being displeased by the loud yelling coming from Yoshiko, responded in an agitated shushed voice,

"Yoshiko-san, could you please be a little bit more quieter? Ruby is tired and wants to sleep!"

Yoshiko, still being vexed from Hanamaru's taunting, began to yell out,

"It's YOHA-"

However, her sentence was cut off upon making eye contact with the angry older Kurosawa. Looking down at the ground, Yoshiko let out in a calmer tone,

"Whatever, you girls don't listen to me anyway."

Ruby lifted her head up from Dia's shoulder upon hearing Yoshiko's defeated tone. She hated to hear when her friends weren't happy, even if they technically deserved their scolding. Rubbing her emerald eyes, Ruby yawned out in her tired voice,

"No no, it's fine, I shouldn't be asleep yet anyway. I'll just wait till we're on the bus, it will be a long ride home anyway."

Hearing Ruby defend her, Yoshiko struck her signature pose accompanied with her "evil" laugh. Now in her fallen angel persona, Yoshiko looked upon Ruby as she said in her calming deep voice,

"Thank you, little demon Ruby."

Ruby couldn't help but gulp nervously. When Yoshiko was in her "Fallen Angel" mode it always frightened her, but if Yoshiko was happy then she would play along. Before Yoshiko could continue on her lookout though, the bus suddenly appeared from the shadows, right behind her.

As the shuttle bus pulled near the girls, it honked as to signal them to hurry in. With the loud noise coming from the large machine, Yoshiko jumped from fright as it broke her out of her Yohane character. Everyone began to gather their things as they got onto the bus one by one.

As usual, each girl paired with one another for the ride home. Since there were only 9 members, it meant one would be left out, usually being Hanamaru. She often used the entire seat to lay upon with her snacks all the way in the back. On her right were the pairs of Ruby and Dia along with Chika and You. Across from the Kurosawa's were Mari and Kanan with Yoshiko and Riko in front of them. After each girl took their seat and got settled in for the long ride home, they all drifted to their own little world to pass the time.

As the bus engine rumbled, it filled the silence that was brought upon the exhausted girls. The night sky consumed the light all around them while the moon weakly guided their eyes to the figures of the trees they passed. Each girl distracted themselves with one another. Kanan was exhausted entirely by the time the bus ride started, with the soft bumps of the road to rock her to bed slowly. She slumped upon Mari, as if she were her own personal pillow, while keeping a firm grasp on her arm for comfort. Mari, however, was wide awake and used her free left hand to scroll mindlessly through her phone. Occasionally she looked over to Kanan to make sure she wasn't drooling or seeing the little pictures she was taking of the sleeping diver.

Soft snores could be heard from the two best friends of Chika and You, as by now they were fast asleep like Kanan. Both girls leaned on one another while holding hands for comfort. It was a little habit that had never left them even as they got older, they always found their way back to each other as they held tight. With the occasional shift in movement when the bus would hit a large bump in the road, the girls laid in peace awaiting their final stop home.

Hanamaru, behind them all, enjoyed her free space as she laid down. Crunches could be heard as she was munching on her numerous snacks she had brought for the long trip. She was always wide awake during the ride home as she never could sleep without being in the comfort of her own room.

Yoshiko and Riko sat by one another, however, Riko was far too distracted by the glistening moonlight to converse with the young girl. Taking this free time, Yoshiko decided to quickly reach into her bag to retrieve a hidden item.

With the object in her grasp, Yoshiko stepped away while Riko was distracted. She moved quickly, using the darkness of the bus to aid her as she made her way to the final pair on the bus, Dia and Ruby. Dia, being just like Riko, looked out the window in an attempt to keep herself awake, while Ruby had long let sleep consume her.

Yoshiko kept herself low, knowing that if she were to be caught now, she'd receive far too many questions with not enough answers. After a quick look around the bus, Yoshiko hid what she had taken from her bag behind her back.

Within her hand was a small red box wrapped in pink string with a bow to top it off. Despite nobody seeing her, Yoshiko was blushing upon thinking of what she was doing. Being nice wasn't in the demon handbook but she knew her consequences if she were to not do this. Whispering out, Yoshiko attempted to grab the sister's attention,

"Dia-san...psst, are you awake?"

Dia, being aggravated from lack of sleep, snapped her head towards the sound. She was met with a Yoshiko bouncing back and forth on her feet, as if wanting this interaction to end.

"Yes, Yoshiko-san. What do you need?"

Yoshiko took her chance to hurriedly pull the gift from her back, presenting it to the older girl as if it were for her.

"I got Ruby a gift. Well, a late birthday gift, but still a gift. I told you I would."

Dia took a look at her presented hands as she grabbed a hold of the gift. A part of her wanted to tell the fallen angel what she truly thought.

It really took Yoshiko nearly seven months to finally pull together something so simple and small as a present for Ruby and she wasn't even going to give it to her herself? Rather than causing a scene though, Dia let her annoyance radiate from her as she gave a slight nod towards Yoshiko, allowing her to leave and sneak her way back to an oblivious Riko. The older Kurosawa glanced upon a sleeping Ruby. She didn't want Ruby to think she was giving her another gift nor disturb her slumber. Placing the gift on her lap gently, Dia continued her gaze out the bus window.

After Yoshiko returned to her seat, the silence still lingered between the members. Finally becoming bored with her phone, Mari looked over to see some of the girls were still awake. She broke the silence with her loud voice booming through the bus,

"Girls, why did we travel by bus? I could've just taken you all for a ride again like last time!"

Dia immediately turned her body towards the loud girl, having zero patience so late at night, as she responded to her in a cold tone,

"Mari-san, did you forget you nearly killed us last time? I don't know what you were thinking driving like a madman but it was highly irresponsible! I still have nightmares!"

Mari just looked at Dia with the biggest smile, knowing it would only set the girl off more as she responded back with,

"But it was fun, right?"

Dia turned her head away from Mari, already knowing the conversation wouldn't do anything but wake up the other girls if she were to start lecturing her on proper driving etiquette. The other members who were awake went back to their own little world, except Ruby. The red-haired girl had awoken from a yelling Dia but instead of complaining, she saw a small present on her lap.

She took hold of it, looking at it's bright colors. However, being too tired to even open it, Ruby instead held a firm grip on the present as she let sleep take over her yet again.

Nothing could be heard from the Aqours members for the rest of the night as one by one they all fell victim to their exhausted bodies.

"Ruby, get up!"

Emerald eyes peeled open as a voice invaded Ruby's ears. It was bright out and all that could be seen was the ceiling of a room and the open curtain of the window, letting in an array of sunshine.

With a loud groan, Ruby sat up to look around her messy room. She couldn't recall the memory of ever getting into bed, actually she barely could remember anything past sitting down on the bus.

Taking a look at the clock by her bedside, Ruby noticed her alarm didn't go off at all. Throwing the covers off of herself, the young girl began to get ready for her day in a hurry.

Dia sat in the living room as she drank her morning tea. Being the first one awake in the family household was just a habit she had picked up since she was young. As she brought her tea to her lips, all that could be heard were the heavy thumps of a certain troublesome little sister attempting to get ready on time.

"Ruby, could you watch your steps? You sound like an elephant running around the house."

Ruby, who had just barely found her school bag, skidded to a stop in front of Dia with her school uniform skewed and her hair barely put together.

Sighing in disappointment, Dia got up to help her younger sister at least look somewhat presentable for the day. As the taller girl gracefully strode towards her, Ruby just looked down knowing Dia was going to scold her, it seemed she could never make her happy nowadays.

"Ruby, you're getting quite careless."

Dia began her lecture as she started fixing Ruby's appearance. Knowing she couldn't escape her older sister's words, Ruby just looked behind Dia to focus on anything besides her,

"First you fall asleep on the bus after one of our usual performances, then you didn't even get up when it was time to get off the bus. You know I had to carry you and our bags home? Of course with Kanan-san's help, but we shouldn't have needed any help in general. We're the Kurosawa's, we can't rely on anyone but ourselves. You need to learn that. You're going to be on your own one day and I can't help you forever."

As Dia's lecture went on, Ruby continued to look all around the room besides at her sister. The moment she made eye contact she knew Dia would see right through her and realize she wasn't paying attention to each word.

As her eyes wandered, Ruby noticed something on the table. A red present. It seemed familiar to the young girl but she couldn't place her finger on it.

"Hey, onee-chan. What's that?"

Ruby pointed her finger past the older girl as she was just on the ending of fixing her uniform. Dia turned around to see what Ruby was distracted by, only to see the small present. Dia's mood dropped as she turned back to her younger sister,

"It's your birthday present from Yoshiko-san."

Ruby jumped up in enthusiasm as Dia went to retrieve it for the young girl,

"But before that, breakfast."

Ruby slumped on her cushion and hurriedly scarfed down her rice bowl Dia had prepared,

"Ruby, you better slow down you might ge-"


Ruby thrusted her bowl in the air with excitement as she began wiping away the extra pieces of food still around her mouth. Dia sighed as she got up to give Ruby her gift. She grabbed hold of the box and presented it to a bouncing Ruby.

As soon as it was set down before her, Ruby began to tear into it, not caring about how much of a mess she made. After throwing the wrapping paper all around, she finally came into contact with her present: an axolotl keychain. It was just roughly smaller than her palm. Immediately admiring the small creation, Ruby bounced out of her seat as she shoved the present in her older sister's face,

"Look, onee-chan! Look!"

Dia gracefully steered the object away from her, giving the object a strange look. Something was off about the gift.

"Ah, that's nice Ruby, how kind of Yoshiko-san to give you a keychain."

Dia tried her best to sound genuine but her sarcasm naturally flowed into her words. She took ahold of the small keychain to observe it more as Ruby kept stroking it in Dia's hand as if it were real,

"Don't you think it's strange she gave you such a foreign animal as a keychain? It doesn't remind me of you whatsoever. And besides, axolotls don't really have any meaning behind them. Now then if it were, say, a frog? I could see that being a good gift since they are considered good luck as well as bring protection, don't you think, Ruby?"

Of course Dia's questioning just went in one ear and out the other for the younger sister. Letting out a sigh knowing nothing was getting through to the red-haired girl, Dia handed back the small animal. She couldn't really judge what the gift was when at the end of the day it was a gift in general. Ruby began attaching her keychain to her set of keys when Dia suddenly remembered something important,

"Ruby, just so you are informed, I'm not going to be around when you return home from school today. Mother and Father want me to join them for something so this is going to be first priority."

Ruby stopped playing with her keychain as soon as the words left Dia's lips. She looked back at her sister in woe. She knew Dia was getting ready for college as well as beginning her first trades as the leader of the Kurosawa business, but it seemed unfair to overwork herself each day especially when she had just a few more shows with Aqours left,

"You're gonna work? Right when we had a performance yesterday? Why not just tell them you're tired so we can hang out, like old times?"

Ruby tried using her reasoning with Dia but she was not having it,

"Ruby, don't complain about things you can not fix. Of course I want to rest but I just can't, okay?"

Ruby sighed out in disappointment before giving up. Dia never reasoned with her, it was her way or the highway. Ruby continued to finish her tea in silence, awaiting for her time to go to school. While the seniors all got to leave early before the school year ended, Ruby, as well as the other underclassman, all had to attend their final weeks of school preparing for the next year.

Getting up, Dia began making her way towards the door as she called back to Ruby,

"Ruby, the bus is here. Make sure you don't leave anything like last time, okay?"

Ruby got up, taking her bag along with her keys sporting her brand new keychain. She ran up to Dia, giving her a hug as they always did when they parted ways,

"I won't, onee-chan. I'll see you when I get home!"

Dia let out a sigh as she smiled at her younger sister, Dia may be getting older and less patient with childish things, but she was glad that no matter how much she changed, Ruby never would. She hugged her younger sister back, filling Ruby's heart with joy as she stepped back before saying,

"Have a great day at school. Focus and study hard!"

Ruby began her jog to catch the bus as she shouted out behind her,

"I will, onee-chan! I love you!"

Dia simply waved back towards her as she watched her go onto the bus. As Ruby finally got on, she still waved towards her sister as long as she was in sight. After making their turn on the street corner, Dia headed back into her house but not before whispering out,

"Love you too, Ruby."

Ruby dragged her feet to the rooftop of the school as she prepared herself for the one good thing about her day. The entire school day she just couldn't focus, and neither Hanamaru nor Yoshiko were in class to help her as she was scolded by the teacher. During lunch she tried messaging them but she got no response, which wasn't uncommon from Hanamaru since she still had a hard time with technology, but Yoshiko was always on her phone in and out of class. From things going from bad to worse after the morning time, Ruby was ready to unwind and hang out with her friends, or at least the ones that were actually at school.

As she stepped up each stair, she began to get worried. Usually by the time she got near the roof, at least Riko and You were there doing stretches and chatting yet she couldn't hear anything.

Ruby made it to the last step before the rooftop only to realize, it was completely empty. Not a soul could be seen. She began to look around to see if maybe any of the girls had left their bags but there was nothing. It looked just as it did when they left for practice each day.

Ruby checked her phone, believing she had gotten to practice early. In reality though, she was about five minutes late. Everyone should have been there. Ruby decided to call Dia, in hopes she had missed a previously discussed meeting in a different area while she was asleep on the bus the day before. Scrolling through her contact list, Ruby dialed up her sister, awaiting her call,

"Pick up, onee-chan, please."

Ruby pleaded with the phone as all that could be heard around was the howling of the wind passing through the trees, giving Ruby shivers down her spine. As the phone went to dial tone, Ruby tried calling the other members, but one by one everyone's phone went to voicemail. Something seemed off about the entire situation to Ruby. First her sister didn't answer her phone, then none of the other members. It was either the cruelest joke or something was truly wrong. Ruby picked up her bags and dressed back into her school uniform as quick as she could. She hadn't missed the last bus to go home so she still had time to go see if Dia could explain what was going on.

As the bus neared her house, Ruby immediately jumped up in her seat to get ready to run off. On her way home, she kept trying to call each of the members once more but nobody was answering. It was worrying the young girl's heart out.

As the bus rolled to a stop, Ruby sprinted off, not before thanking the bus driver quickly. Reaching the front of her house at full speed, Ruby didn't bother to slow down. There was something off about this entire situation, she could feel it. As soon as she barged in the house, Ruby called out,

"Onee-chan! Where are you?"

Getting nothing in response, the young girl began walking forward. Usually a house servant would greet her at the door but no one was home today.

Ruby began making her way towards Dia's room, as she was usually there in her free time practicing her yamatogoto. Nothing ever stopped her sister from working. As she pulled the sliding door, Ruby called out for her sister yet again,

"Onee-chan? Are you home?"

Her ears were met with silence as she peeked in and saw nobody. It looked as if Dia hadn't even been in the room all day. Ruby wandered the space a bit to see if there was any form of life but everything looked as it usually did. Not even Ruby's bad luck of always getting caught sneaking around Dia's room came into play as no one was near.

Nothing was adding up, it seemed that everyone had disappeared off the face of the Earth. As Ruby walked out of the empty room, she took a quick look back. She hoped something could give her a clue but alas everything was as perfect as Dia was herself. Ruby sighed as tears brimmed her eyes. She just wanted to see everyone again.

Ruby slid her own door open to her room, heading for her desk. She just couldn't wrap her head around what was going on. Everyone wasn't answering their phones and her sister was missing. It was as if everyone disappeared without a trace.

Making her way towards the closet, Ruby decided to grab another set of clothes.

If no one was going to answer her, she was going to go find out why herself.

As she went to open the door, a hooded black figure jumped out, startling the girl backwards. Tripping over her own feet, Ruby landed on her bottom before quickly looking up towards the person.

They stepped forward slowly, building their anticipation, as Ruby tried to scoot away. She only had so much space before her back hit the wall though.

Struck with fear, Ruby's tears fell down her face as she lifted her hands up to make the person stop. The figure reached out and tossed her hands out of the way though as it did nothing to stop them.

Ruby tried to see the person better, so she could identify her attacker, but she soon saw a blunt object headed her way instead.

The young girl closed her eyes quickly before her world went dark.

With her motionless body hitting the floor, Ruby was left with no clue as to what was awaiting her future nor the pain of everything that would soon follow.