Some time ago, I started writing about Chikaru being in love with Shion and vice versa. At the time, Lestaki challenged me to write about the beginning of their relationship, from start to finish. The idea simmered for a while in my mind, but now it's finally put to paper. I actually wanted to finish Summer Holiday before posting this, but seeing I already had the first chapter done, I figured I might as well post it.
This story won't be of the same epic length as Lestaki's wonderful Astraea Lake, but expect to see all the Stopani characters we know and love when they were still young students at the Hill. Eventually all of the characters will be making an appearance. I'm also looking forward to exploring the Shizuma and Kaori relationship, but seeing we start out in Chikaru's first year, that won't turn up until couple of chapters. I hope you'll enjoying reading this story.
DISCLAIMER : I don't own anything. Neither Stopani or Pulp Fiction. There's also some swearing in this chapter, due to Shizuma. But I assure you, it's all in context. :)
Chapter 1 : School starts
Minamoto Chikaru sat in the back of her father's car, watching the trees pass by as the car made its way to one of the most prestigious schools in all of Japan. Astraea Hill was ahead, and so was an entirely new beginning.
Her father was talking constantly, as was her mother. Chikaru only listened with half an ear: she knew her parents longer than today. They were nervous and somewhat sad, so they talked non-stop.
In sharp contrast, Chikaru was excited. And a little scared, but mostly excited. She had taken a tour at the end of the school year to visit Lulim, and really liked what she saw. But even though she definitely knew she was going to have a wonderful time experiencing new things, there was the double feeling of leaving her family and friends behind.
Through hard work in school and all the socially oriented extra curricular activities, she had won a prestigious scholarship at Lulim, one of the three schools of the Hill. She had applied for the scholarship, as she had for many scholarships. Though the Minamoto's weren't poor, they certainly weren't wealthy enough to pay for the higher echelons of Japanese education, after all. She had never expected to win any of them, least of all the most prestigious one of the lot.
Nevertheless, it had forced her to make one of the most difficult decisions in her life. She had intended to go to school in her hometown, but Lulim was on the other side of Japan, meaning she'd have to leave her family behind and live in the dorm. It had caused her many sleepless nights, but in the end this scholarship was an opportunity for her she could not let pass by.
She had already said a very tearful goodbye to her two little brothers Kisho and Tomo, but she knew she would see them again when her parents would visit her next month and take them with them for the visit.
What belongings she had wanted to bring with her had already been shipped to the Strawberry Dorms. The only thing she dreaded now was the goodbye itself. No more shopping with her mom on a lazy saturday afternoon. No more watching Gundam with her dad on weekends. No more hanging out at the Mosburger with her friends. No more... No more...
Chikaru willed herself to stop thinking in such negative terms. There'd be plenty of opportunities in the time to come.
A mere five minutes later, the car pulled to a stop at a small parking lot outside the main gate of Astraea Hill and Chikaru found herself standing in front of her parents. Her kindly dad and her doting mom... She already felt tears sting her eyes.
"Mom," she whispered and found herself in a fierce embrace.
"Take care of yourself, Chikaru-chan," her mother sniffed. "Be sure to eat well and behave. We'll come visit you as soon as we can."
"Dad," she whispered when it was her father's turn.
"Chikaru-chan!" she found herself in a fierce bear-hug of an embrace, and Chikaru realized that her father was sobbing. "If anything happens... anything... If you want to come home, just call. I don't care if it's the middle of the night. Just call and we'll come and get you. We love you, sweetie."
"I love you guys too," Chikaru replied and said her tearful goodbyes.
And then they were gone. Chikaru watched the car leave, and remained standing there for a moment after the car was out of sight. It was then that the reality of her situation really started to sink in. But though she was sad, she was eager to explore the school that would be her home for the next six years.
The first thing she noticed when she entered the gates was all the bustle. When she had come her for the first time with her parents for the introductory tour, most students had already left for home or vacation, but now... the entrance beyond the gate was alive with all manner of sprightly girls of all schools and years. So much that Chikaru herself was stunned.
She smiled as a stately six-year of Miator strolled by, looking so incredibly stately in her black uniform. A group of white-uniformed Spica fourth-years stood near the edge of the road, chatting animatedly about older students. Another group of Lulim students, second years by the look of them, were sitting in the grass playing some sort of trading card game. More Lulim students, older ones, were running back and forth between the groups of students carrying around some sort of petition for some upcoming school party, though she didn't catch the details.
There were two students, however, two Spican first years, whom she made a mental note to try to avoid. One was a tomboyish tall girl with flowing long black hair down to her hips. The other was a brown haired girl with a mischievous look on her face. They practically radiated arrogance as they surveyed their new surroundings. 'Here we are now. ENTERTAIN US!' their expressions seemed to convey.
The uniforms they were wearing seemed so beautiful... from the beige sweater with the red bow-tie, to the plaid skirt and the high socks. Chikaru felt slightly out of place, seeing she hadn't received her uniform yet. She was wearing a simple black skirt and white shirt, after all.
She was of two minds to join the Lulim students to meet them, but she made her decision when she saw the forest beyond. A city girl at heart, she had few opportunities to explore such a fantastic forest. And she did had some time to kill before she had to report to the Dorms.
And so, Chikaru entered the forest, enjoying the coolness and the gentle breeze. Such nice smells too. Clean air, the sun breaking through the canopy. Bliss. It wasn't long until she didn't hear anything aside from the chattering of birds, the voices of the excited girls long behind her.
And soon enough, Chikaru found herself to be hopelessly lost.
Still, it was a rather nice place to be lost. And it was not as if this forest was all TOO big. If she just kept walking straight ahead, she had to run into a fence or a gate or possibly the road. Astraea Hill was an enclosed environment.
However, it turned out that the forest was bigger than she had expected. After about 30 minutes of walking, there was still no sight of a fence or a road. She passed a large lake as some point and then more forest.
But when she passed the same lake again, she realized she'd been walking in circles. Chikaru stopped at a fork in the path for a moment and picked the left direction, hoping she'd arrive somewhere else now.
Time passed again. And still no buildings in sight. Until... she definitely heard someone nearby. She stood still and listened for a moment. Yes, she definitely heard someone! Chikaru ran to the source of the voice and found a single girl muttering to herself.
"So, of course, why wouldn't it be... If I am there, and the lake is here, I should be able to see the dorms from here. But I can't? Why can't I? Because this map is useless, that's why! Useless!"
Chikaru frowned, but was happy to find someone else wandering about. Maybe this girl knew where she had to go. She pushed herself through the underbrush and saw a blonde girl with a high forehead peering intently at a piece of paper. The girl was dressed in a white skirt and a light sweater, signifying she was a first-year student of Spica Academy for girls.
"Uhm, hello," Chikaru greeted carefully.
"Aah!" the other girl started, dropped the paper and stepped backwards. And as she stepped backwards, she tripped over a branch and landed straight on her butt.
"Oh!" Chikaru gasped and rushed to her. "Goodness, are you hurt?"
The girl looked up and shook her head. "No," she said as she picked herself up and dusted off her uniform.
"I'm so very sorry. I didn't mean to startle you," Chikaru said.
"It's okay," the girl said as she walked over to the fallen paper and scooped it up. "Dammit, where IS it?"
"Um," Chikaru spoke and bowed slightly. "I'm Minamoto Chikaru. Who are you?"
The girl looked confused for a moment, but then remembered herself. "Oh, um, I am, um, Toumori Shion, Minamoto-san. Pleased to meet you."
"Please, call me Chikaru-chan. Everybody does," Chikaru smiled sweetly.
Shion nodded. "Call me Shion, then."
"Alright, Shion-san. Pleased to meet you," Chikaru said.
Shion divided her attention between the map and Chikaru for a moment. Without saying a word, the blonde girl started walking. Chikaru quickly stepped up and followed her into the seemingly random direction she was headed in.
"What school are you from? Or are you a visitor?" Shion asked while stopping at an area with heavy underbrush. She muttered something about a machete not being allowed on school grounds and checked the map for a way around it.
"Hm?" Chikaru replied. "No, no, no, I've enrolled in Lulim. Today is my first day at Astraea Hill."
Shion smiled for a moment. "I figured you'd be in Lulim. You're the type."
Chikaru stopped for a moment to ponder that statement, but quickly caught up with Shion when she realized the other girl had kept walking. "What do you mean, Shion-san?" Chikaru asked.
"I'm not surprised you don't know what I mean," Shion said. "Lulim is the newest school of the three, and a laid-back and undisciplined attitude is the norm there. The students there have way too much freedom and too little guidance. Even the school building is pink... that should tell you something. You seem like the type to fit in there."
Chikaru frowned but didn't rise to the bait. "So how is Spica different, then?"
Shion stopped in her tracks and gazed upon the sky for a moment. A wistful look was in her eyes as she smiled slightly. "Spica is... wonderful. The entire curriculum is aimed at teaching girls to be independent in a disciplined environment. Spica teaches girls to excel and allows them to live to their full potential. Spica has given Japan women who can and have played active roles in society for the past two hundred years!"
Chikaru raised an eyebrow and wasn't entirely pleased with Shion attitude. Still, there was a passion in Shion's voice that Chikaru couldn't ignore. She gathered that Shion must have been looking forward to go to Spica for some time now.
"I suppose you must be speaking from experience," Chikaru said. "How many years have you spent at the Hill, then?" She hadn't intended to say it quite so harshly, but Chikaru wasn't about to let the other girl get away with so much attitude.
Shion apparently got the hint and blushed slightly. "Well, uhm, this, uhm... is my first day."
"Ah," Chikaru smiled.
Shion didn't miss a beat, though, and already had a retort ready. "But girls from the Toumori family have been attending Spica for nine generations! My mother was council member on the Spica student council and my grandmother, the grand matriarch of our family... she's Toumori Tsuyuri, who was student council president and brought about many reforms to Spica during her reign. Every single female member of my family has left her stamp on Spica and, well... Now I'm here too."
Chikaru nodded in understanding. "That's a lot of pressure on you."
Shion's smiled faded for a moment. "Well... maybe. But I know that I will do well in Spica."
"Um, mind if I ask you a question?"
"Where are we exactly?" Chikaru looked around and saw they were standing on a rather darkened forest pass. There were no sounds of voices within earshot, nor any other sounds save for the rusting of leaves.
Shion sighed deeply and sat down on a fallen log. "I'd tell you, if I knew. I've been walking around for an hour now and I've still to find it. I thought I saw a short-cut on the map and I fancied a stroll through the forest, but... this map is inaccurate, I tell you! If I follow the directions on this map to the letter, the Strawberry Dorms should be right where we're standing. And obviously, it's not. Unless it's an underground dorm, which I doubt."
Chikaru smiled and sat down next to her. "Well, maybe we could look for it together. Two heads are better than one, Shion-san."
Shion fished a small pocket-knife from her inside pocket and flipped out a small travelling compass. She checked the map, and then the compass. "Dammit!" she said. " We should be able to see the Cathedral from here. I think my compass is busted."
Chikaru looked over Shion's shoulder and noticed just what was wrong. "Uhm, Shion-san. I think your compass is working fine, but.."
"But what?" Shion narrowed her eyes. "How do you know?"
"You're holding the map upside down."
Shion froze. She stood still like a statue.
"See?" Chikaru said. "See the navigational star? The way you're holding the map, N is pointing down while it's supposed to point up."
The was no sound from Shion, only her even breathing. A slight but steady blush started to form on Shion's cheeks, making Chikaru feel bad about having confronted her with her mistake. Shion tossed the map on the ground and moved to a fallen log at the side of the path where she sat down.
"It's all going wrong... It's all going wrong..." Shion started crying softly.
Chikaru sat down next to her and put a hand on her shoulder. "Hey, hey," she whispered softly. "It's okay. I'm sure they'll find us. This forest isn't big."
"It's not that," Shion sniffed. "I... I wanted to make a good impression on my first day. I... I wanted to show Spica what I'm made of and... now we've missed introductions, the tour and the welcome speech by the Etoiles. And what is everybody going to say when they lift us from the forest after being lost for an entire day?"
"I think they'll say that they're glad to have found us. That they're glad that we're safe."
Shion was torn between laughter and tears. "Lulim might, but not Spica," she sniffed. "Look at us, we're pathetic, Chikaru-chan. Lost in a tiny fenced off forest. We'll be the laughing stock of the entire school for as long as we'll be here. Everyone good you do is negated by one foul-up. I... I so much wanted to make a good impression on my first day... And now..."
Chikaru tried to offer Shion her most encouraging smile. "Shion-san. Think more positive thoughts."
"Positive?" Shion scoffed. "What is there to be positive about? How could this mess have ANY positive side at all?"
"There is one," Chikaru said. "At least for me."
"Because... why? Pray tell," Shion challenged.
"Because I've only been at this new school for a couple of hours, and I've already made a new friend," Chikaru smiled.
Shion was shocked enough to stop her sobbing. "W-what? Do you really want to be my friend, Chikaru-chan?"
"Yes," Chikaru replied. "I like you. Is that so strange?"
"You don't have many friends, do you?"
"I like being alone. It's not problem for me."
"You... do have friends, don't you?"
Shion looked away. "It's not a problem. I like being alone." The message was clear.
Chikaru nodded. "In that case, I'm honored to be your very first friend."
Shion scoffed. "I'm not some charity-case, Chikaru-chan. I know nobody likes me. You don't have to pretend to make me feel better."
"I like you," Chikaru smiled. "And I never say anything I don't mean. I'd like us to be friends. Friends help each other, like we're doing now. Friends talk to each other, like we're doing now. Friends encourage each other, like we're doing now. See, we're already friends! Why wouldn't anyone like you?"
Shion seemed taken aback, but Chikaru had a fair idea what was going on. Shion, being a member of a rather rich family with aristocratic roots, no doubt had a very sheltered upbringing and was possibly home-schooled by tutors. Not the best environment to meet new friends and have fun. And at that moment, Chikaru promised herself she would cheer up Shion and be the best friend she could be for her. If Shion would let her.
"Chikaru-chan?" Shion replied. "Would you like to call me... Shion-chan?"
"Of course... Shion-chan," Chikaru smiled while she took Shion's hand as the blonde girl got up from the log. Together, the girls set out to find their way out of the forest.
"If we just keep walking straight ahead, we're sure to run into a fence. From there, were just follow the fence to the school. You got your compass right?"
"Right," Shion said with renewed vigor. "We'll do it together."
And the girls walked. And walked. And walked. Through the green forest, which looked less welcoming with every single step. Until...
"Listen," Chikaru said. "Don't you hear?"
Shion listened intently for a moment. Above the chattering of the birds or the singing of the cicadas, she could hear... "Voices!" she said.
Immediately, the two girls ran towards the source of the voices in hopes of finally finding a way out of the forest.
"I can't believe you got away with that," one girl in the distance said.
"I had a little chat with the teacher, that's all. It's not as if she specified what was unacceptable for class," the other girl spoke with humor in her voice. "She specifically said we were free to choose whatever we wanted to read for English class. And you can't say it wasn't classic."
"That is not what I consider classic, Shizuma," the first girl spoke. "Shakespeare is classic. Chaucer is classic. Tolkien is classic. What you chose was..."
"Only the cult film of the nineties. Come on, Miyuki, not only literature can be classic," the girl called Shizuma replied and scraped her throat. "DESCRIBE WHAT MARCELLUS WALLACE LOOKS LIKE!" the girl called Shizuma shouted in English. "SAY 'WHAT' AGAIN! SAY 'WHAT' AGAIN! I DARE YOU, I DOUBLE DARE YOU, MOTHERFCKER. SAY 'WHAT' ONE MORE GODDAMN TIME!"
At that moment, Shion and Chikaru burst through the bushes and onto the dirt road which the other girls were traversing. Their uniforms identified them as Miator students. Miyuki's expression was one of surprise, while Shizuma merely seemed bemused. It was then that Chikaru took in the sight of them. The short-haired Miyuki looked to be friendly, but stern, but Chikaru found herself being involuntary drawn to the girl besides her.
Shizuma was an exceptionally well-developed girl for her age, with silver hair that was long enough to reach her backside, even when pinned up. She had the most piercing amber eyes, and carried herself with a grace and elegance that belied her self-confidence. Still, her expression was friendly and inviting, and the smile on her face showed her jovial mood perfectly. There was an air of mystery surrounding her, and Chikaru found herself blushing without knowing a reason for it.
"My, my," Shizuma smiled. "New students."
Shion gasped and bowed deeply. Though not of her school, she recognized these student as second-years and upperclassmen. She knocked Chikaru back into reality by nudging her. Chikaru started and did the same.
"Please help us."
"We are lost."
The two first years bowed deeply while Shizuma and Miyuki exchanged a look.
"Come, come," Shizuma said. "No need for such formality. We're not much older than you are."
"Please," Miyuki said and matched the bow. "Rokujou Miyuki."
"Hanazono Shizuma," Shizuma added. "Now, quit bowing before you topple forward into the dirt."
The two girls looked grateful and looked the older girls in the eye.
"Don't mind Shizuma L. Jackson over here," Miyuki said. "We've just had English class and the teacher had given us an assignment to find an English text of our choosing and read it to the class to test our diction."
Shizuma crossed her arms defiantly. "Everybody loved my selection!"
"Yes, well," Miyuki huffed. "When the teacher requested us to choose excerpts from the English language, I didn't think she expected to hear lines from Pulp Fiction."
"But she didn't say we couldn't," Shizuma smirked. "ENGLISH, MOTHERFCKER! DO YOU SPEAK IT? Jules is so cool..."
"Shizuma!" Miyuki narrowed her eyes. "Enough 'mothers' have been 'fu... funked' today, wouldn't you agree? Besides, you're frightening these young first years."
Shion and Chikaru exchanged a look. These two girls were certainly strange, but they seemed harmless so far.
"Would you like to join us for lunch?" Miyuki asked. "You look like you could use something to eat."
"Miyuki..." Shizuma stressed. Apparently, she had other plans for lunch, but Miyuki dismissed her with a simple glare.
Miyuki smirked at her friend. "Don't worry, Shizuma. Konoko-san won't mind, seeing she worships the ground you walk on. As do Karin-chan and Sei-san. At least they won't fight for the privilege of having lunch with you if you're occupied with these first years."
"Well, that's true... maybe I should play hard to get today. Alright, it's a deal."
"Thank you, Hanazono-sempai, Rokujou-sempai," Shion bowed. Chikaru did the same. "Please take good care of us."
"Laying it on a little thick, hm?" Shizuma said while she lead the others towards what would be the way to the Dorms. "Say, do you like Pulp Fiction?"
"Shizuma..." Miyuki hissed.
"DOES HE LOOK LIKE A BITCH?" Shizuma shouted in English. "DOES. HE. LOOK. LIKE. A. BITCH?"
Thankfully, Shizuma and Miyuki knew the way back to the school. And embarrassingly enough, Shion and Chikaru had been walking around the lake in circles the whole time. When the girls set foot on the campus, it was Shion who was the most embarrassed. She blushed deeply, kept her head load and avoided looking at any of the other girls. Chikaru was simply happy to be back at the campus.
Though the second years already had classes today, the first years had not. For the first years, today was mostly introduction and meet-and-greet, so technically they hadn't missed anything important. It was hard for Chikaru to convince Shion of that, though.
"I think you'll be pretty popular in Spica, Shion," Shizuma spoke while looking over her shoulder.
"Hm?" Shion whispered softly.
"You see, every year the senior students of all three schools hold something like a betting pool," Miyuki explained while the four girls were walking into the Dorms and ended up in the cafeteria. Miyuki explained further when the girls took their seats in a nearby booth. "Every year, first-years inevitably get lost in the forest. The girl who is lost in the forest the longest 'wins', and since the student body of every school bet on themselves, well... Let's just say that you've just made a lot of girls at Spica very happy, Shion-san."
Shion blinked. And blinked again. "Really?" she asked with a tiny voice.
"Yes," Shizuma smirked. "I remember overhearing from the Miator first-year welcoming committee that the two of you were the only ones still missing from the roster."
"Overheard?" Miyuki narrowed her eyes, but her smile spoke of subtle humor. "Karin-chan is on the Miator first-year welcoming committee, is she not?"
Shizuma grinned back. "You'd be surprised how much you overhear when you're making out in a broomcloset. In any case, you're this years winner. A shared position. We don't often have that."
"It's okay," Chikaru said. "Shizuma-sempai, Miyuki-sempai, I have a favor to ask. Could you tell everyone that you found me wandering the forest first and that you found Shion-chan later? Then Shion-chan will get all the credit for Spica."
"Chikaru-chan..." Shion whispered.
"It's important to you to leave a good impression at Spica, Shion-chan," Chikaru smiled. "I wouldn't be a good friend if I wouldn't do my best to help you with that."
Shizuma and Miyuki shared a look. The four them ordered a small bento and ate it over some introductory conversation for fifteen minutes or so.
"Shizuma," Miyuki said. "It's about time we return to class."
"Back to boredom and slavery," Shizuma sighed heavily. "Oh, well. It was nice meeting you. I'm sure we'll see you around. Oh, Chikaru-chan? If you see Sei-chan in Lulim, tell her I'll be meeting her tonight in the usual place. She'll understand the message."
Chikaru was confused, especially when Shizuma added a sly wink to her request. She wondered what the Silver-haired girl with the intense eyes could possibly mean. She did see that Miyuki was slightly annoyed at this request. It was barely visible, but there.
"Good," Shizuma took Chikaru's hand for a moment. So soft, so incredibly soft. Even Shizuma's touch was overpowering. "I'll talk to you later," Shizuma added while she and Miyuki got up from their seats and said their goodbyes.
When Chikaru and Shion were left alone, Shion turned to Chikaru and smiled. "Chikaru-chan," Shion said. "Thank you. You didn't have to do that."
"Yes, I did," Chikaru smiled. "You needed your moment of glory more than I did."
"D-do you really want to be my friend?" Shion asked. "For real? No joke?"
"For real," Chikaru smiled at Shion's thinly veiled excitement at having made a friend. "Though we should probably get to our schools now."
Shion seemed disappointed. "I guess."
"Don't worry," Chikaru said. "We'll meet again soon. But we shouldn't go into the forest without our sempais anytime soon."
Shion chuckled for a moment. "No, we shouldn't. We really shouldn't."
And so Shion and Chikaru said their goodbyes and promised to meet each other again very soon. Chikaru remained in the cafeteria for a moment after Shion had left. It'd been an odd day for her: she'd started living in a strange school with strange people, away from her parents. She got lost in the forest, and made a nice new friend. Not to mention she had found two potential friends in the two nice sempais that she had met.
All in all, it was a good day. And her adventures at Astraea Hill were only just beginning.
Thanks for reading. Next updated will be Summer Holiday. :)