Author's Note: This story is a sequel to another story in these archives of mine entitled Shades of Gray. I don't advise reading this story without having read its predecessor, unless you enjoy being really confused. You can find the link to Shades in my profile.
This story takes place four years after the end of Shades, which means four and a half years after the end of Mai HiME. Natsuki and Nao have both graduated from Fuuka Gakuen, as have all but the youngest cast members. So while some things will be the same, many things will be different.
And before we begin, I leave you with a warning. There are gratuitous amounts of plot ahead, so continue reading at your own risk.
A thin faced man pushed his tiny set of glasses further up the bridge of his nose. His brow furrowed, showing a rare emotion upon his face. His eyes scanned down the simple piece of white paper delivered some short time ago, hoping to divine some sort of deeper meaning out of the neat boldface print.
Time until Crystal Fragmentation: Five days, two hours and thirty seven minutes.
The freshly printed ink was impassive, refusing to impart to him any hidden wisdom. He drummed his fingers upon the oaken surface of his desk. Where others could only see worry and danger, John Smith only heard the siren call of opportunity. That was how he had gotten to where he was: by always finding a way to convert the worst of situation into beneficial ones, no matter how impossible it seemed. With a resigned air of finality, he picked up the small black phone on his desk. There was always a way.
Himeno Fumi made her way down the long hedge, absently tracing her fingers along the well kept bushes which lined the walkway. Some months ago, the pristine buds covering the plants had bloomed, exposing their precious petals to the life-giving sun. The field of beauty had stretched beyond the hedgeline into the distance, all the way out to the coast, an unending field of blossoms that all shared hue of her hair. She had asked once Mashiro-sama why she had ordered the planting of the massive pink garden. Her wheelchair bound mistress had only given her a demure smile, and left the answer up to the imagination. Though she never would let herself to voice the thought, in the deepest corners of Fumi's mind, she allowed herself the arrogance to pretend Mashiro-sama had planted them for her.
This past April, like every April, the sight of them had been breathtaking; their fragrance a deliciously sweet delight. But as time winded its inevitable course, the flowers had wilted and spilled their delicate petals upon the walkway, just as they did every year. She ordered the groundskeepers to sweep the petals away as they fell, saving them from the fate of being ground into a thin organic paste under the collective churning heels of hundreds of high school students. They were Mashiro-sama's favorite flowers after all... they deserved that much at least.
Now it was late July... approaching the August break, and the students were getting restless. The schoolday had ended, so without any meetings or other responsibilities left for the day, she had let her feet carry her back to her residence. The Director's Mansion. That's what the students called the building, and what she called it as well, but the identical names carried two different meanings. To those enrolled in Fuuka, Fumi was the Director who presided over their school, and awarded scholarships to entice students with exceptional skills in music, arts and the sciences to come to the prodigious Fuuka Academy. They considered this house to be hers. But to her, this house would forever belong to the wispy purple-haired girl to whom she had been her master, servant and lover.
"I'm home." she voiced into the empty darkness. It felt lonely, but that was a sensation she had grown accustomed to in the last four and a half years. She and Mashiro-sama had always known that their time together would come to an end, and Fumi had tried her best to prepare herself emotionally for it. Her companion had done her best to make sure she was ready to assume the mantle of leadership as well. The transition had been a smooth one, and her tenure as Director of the Academy had been graced with relative peace. Faint rumbles had reached her, stories of the First District slowly regathering its resources, and tales of Searrs' supposed renewed interest in the surviving HiME. At first, she had dismissed the rumors as phantoms of the imagination... grasping attempts by the members of Mashiro's vast network of informants to stay useful and ensure the continual flow of their payment. But recently, the whispers had grown to a low clamor, and the worry had begun to grow in her gut.
Fumi tried to put that all aside, and use this rare free time to bathe in the luxury of the memories her time serving Mashiro-sama afforded her. She traced her fingertips down the wooden supports of the ornately engraved wheelchair, noting with some dissatisfaction that a minute but noticeable amount of dust had accumulated between her cleanings. Her responsibilities left her precious little time for the housework she enjoyed so, but she indulged herself when she could.
She moved to the closet, pulling out a feather duster, allowing herself a small smile of satisfaction. Letting it trail gently down the painted wood, she expertly eliminated any blemishes from the embodiment of her memories of her love. Mashiro-sama wasn't truly gone, she knew. Though events had effectively separated them forever, just the fact that her wispy, purple haired master was still alive and sleeping peacefully was enough to give Fumi the strength to enjoy life. As she moved from room to room, her duster fastidiously removing any particles of dust from the raised surfaces of the room, the distance between herself and Mashiro-sama felt as though it narrowed to nothing.
Humming softly to herself as she worked, she made her way into her office. A slight creak, as though the weight being borne by her leather chair had shifted, sounded through the room. She stopped, surprised by the intrusion. The chair faced away from her, so she couldn't be sure. "Who's there?" she asked, her voice calm and polite.
The brown chair rotated slowly, revealing a figure reclining behind her desk. A long crop of sanguine hair drooped below her shoulders, and her head was tilted down, letting her bangs fall and obstruct Fumi's view of her eyes. Papers were clutched tightly in the figure's hands... the most recent batch of information culled from the network, by the looks of it. The figure's voice was low and strained. "What did you do to her?"
Fumi walked closer, narrowing her eyes to see more clearly in the shadows. "Yuuki-san?" The girl stared back at her with deadened eyes, a blank expression upon her face. What is she doing back here? Never one to forget her courtesies, Fumi smiled broadly. "Welcome back, Yuuki-san. Is there anything I can help you with?"
"Help me?" Nao asked, her voice sounding harsh. "Tell me... what did you do to her?"
"Do to... whom?" the pink-haired woman asked tentatively.
Fumi barely even saw the flash of movement before Nao had leaped over the desk, slamming into her body and carrying her to the floor. Her hands were barely raised to protect herself when she saw a flash of metal, a letter opener that had been lying on her desk, screaming down towards her. It missed her head by inches, instead piercing through her sakura curls, thudding heavily as it was driven nearly an inch into the polished floorboards. The handle quivered next to her head, but her attention was on Nao's face. Moisture clouded the corners of the girl's eyes, but her expression was one of pure anger and desperation. "What did you do to my mother??" she shouted from inches away from Fumi's face.
Reports unheeded came to her mind, and a sensation of dread washed over her. Oh dear. This is going to get very... very bad.