Author's Note: This fic is a continuation of the fic I worked on collaboratively with centauri2002, though I'm putting enough detail in here that it's fine if you wish to start off reading at this point. Centauri2002 just doesn't have the time to write anymore with what's going on in her life, but I didn't want this story to die. I kind of rushed to get this chapter out, so apologies if it isn't up to my usual standards. I just didn't want people to have to wait a day longer for it. I'll try to make chapter 2 better though, no worries.
Title: Ascension Reborn
Chapter 1: The Dance
"Mai!" Natsuki yelled as she barges into her and Mai's room, slamming the door against the wall as she threw it open. "We have to start practicing for our battle with our Oneesamas!"
Mai turned around slowly from her desk, stunned by Natsuki's panicked entrance. "…Natsuki?"
"Now! What are you waiting for?" Natsuki said frantically. She couldn't stand the thought of losing her bet with Shizuru. That damn girl had manipulated her into putting her very body on the line over the outcome of their battle.
Their talk had started out innocent enough, with Shizuru explaining to Natsuki the importance of doing well in the graduation battles, where Natsuki and Mai were to face off against Shizuru and Haruka. To encourage her to do her best, Shizuru had first offered Natsuki a prize of her choice if she could hold out against her in battle for more than five minutes.
When Natsuki assented to this – under the duress of a very alluring woman not inches from her body giving her a sweet, she had to note – Shizuru revealed the flip side to the bargain. If Natsuki were to fail, Shizuru had her choice of prizes from Natsuki. With the way she'd been acting, it was very clear what she wanted: Natsuki.
Natsuki had been afraid to take their relationship to the next level for quite some time now, and she'd been holding the two of them back. She'd wanted their first time to be just perfect, but she'd never felt confident enough about the situation to go through with it. And then, the longer she put it off, the more perfect the situation had to be. She'd set an impossible standard that just scared her off of the prospect even more. Apparently Shizuru had finally decided to take things – and Natsuki – into her own hands. Natsuki's only chance out was to win their bet, and then she'd have a chance to go the next step on her own terms, rather than having to be dragged into it by Shizuru.
"Okay," Mai said with a forced calm. She put down her pen and swiveled her chair to face Natsuki. "But aren't I supposed to be the one pressuring you to practice while you complain about how it's pointless when we're doomed to fail? Since when did you become the gung-ho one?"
"Since Shizuru… Shizuru…" Natsuki trailed off, realizing just how embarrassing the truth might be. Switching gears, she settled on a moderate lie. "Since Shizuru convinced me of how important it was to put on a good show in this battle."
Mai stared back at her in disbelief. She'd roomed with Natsuki the whole year, and was the only person other than Shizuru who could see right through her. "Right," she said, sarcasm dripping from her voice. After a moment of roasting Natsuki in her glare, she suddenly lightened up and gave a shrug. "Well, no matter about that. We can finally get to training now!"
"Yes!" Natsuki said, relieved that Mai didn't pressure her about her rationale. "So what are you waiting for then? Let's go!" Natsuki ran over to her dresser and scrambled to find some good work-out clothes.
"Er, Natsuki," Mai said from behind her, still in her chair. "Don't you think it would be a good idea to figure out first what exactly we should be preparing for?"
"Huh? What do you mean?" Natsuki said, turning her head back to look at Mai. "We're preparing to fight Shizuru and Haruka-oneesama, aren't we?"
"Well yeah," Mai said. "But I mean we need to figure out a strategy. The odds are heavily stacked against us from the start. No amount of training is going to make up for the fact that they've got a year of experience over us and better robes and elements. If we want to win, we've got to be smart about this."
"Oh. Right," Natsuki said, coming to a stop in her shuffling through her dresser. She reflected back on Mai's earlier comment about how they'd seemed to switch roles suddenly. It actually would have made a lot more sense if she were the calm one recommending they strategize than the other way around. She decided that it was time to take back control of the situation. She turned back to Mai and said, "Alright then, let's start with the advantages their robes have over ours. They're likely going to make use of them, so we need to know how to counter them."
"Right," Mai said. A grin on her face said that she knew full well what had just gone on in Natsuki's mind, but she wisely chose not to comment. "Well, the first big one is their flight ability. It'll give them a big maneuverability advantage. Their robes are also tougher in general, but that shouldn't be an issue here with the computerized damage calculations."
Natsuki nodded and thought for a moment about what they could do. "You know, if we stick down between the pillars, their flight won't be such an advantage. It may even give them some extra trouble if they try to use it."
"Yeah," Mai said. "At least until they decide to simply destroy the pillars. It won't take Haruka-oneesama long to come to that decision, to be honest. She really loves bashing things with her mace."
"Oh, that's what Haruka-oneesama likes to turn her element into when we're sparring. Haven't you ever seen her in action?"
Natsuki shook her head. "No, I've always just been sparring with Shizuru. There was that battle between her and Shizuru near the beginning of the year..." Natsuki smiled fondly at the memory of how Shizuru fought for her, setting a Garderobe record in the process of trouncing Haruka. "But Shizuru managed to take her out before she even materialized her element."
Mai grimaced slightly. "Yeah, Shizuru-oneesama is quite a danger. Though I think Haruka-oneesama's big mistake there was rushing head-on and not bothering to even try avoiding that chain-thing Shizuru-oneesama does with her element. We'll really have to watch for that."
Natsuki let out a groan as bad memories about that chain rose up in her mind. "Tell me about it. I can't count how many times she's gotten me wrapped up in that thing while sparring. It's like she gets a kick out of restraining me like that." Natsuki noticed that Mai seemed to be holding back laughter at this, and she realized that yes, Shizuru most likely did indeed get a kick out of it. A blush rose to her cheeks and she growled at Mai. "Not a word!"
Still trying to hold back her laughter, Mai gave a motion of surrender to Natsuki. After she calmed down a bit, Natsuki tried to steer the conversation back to strategizing. "Okay, so what are we going to do to stand a chance against them?"
Stifling the last of her chuckles, Mai said, "Well, I take it you and Shizuru-oneesama were talking about the battle in her room. Did she give you any ideas of what they might be planning?"
"Not really," Natsuki grumbled. "She basically just challenged me to stay in the battle for at least five minutes, along with some very Shizuru-esque threats if I couldn't."
"Oh really?" A devious smile appeared on Mai's face. "Did she threaten to tie you up again if you couldn't do it?" she said suggestively.
"Baka!" Natsuki snapped, a blush rapidly rising to her face. That hadn't occurred to her, but it did seem like a frighteningly possible eventuality. "I told you not a word about that!"
"Yes, yes," Mai said, rolling her eyes. "But seriously, five minutes? Haruka-oneesama couldn't last five seconds against Shizuru-oneesama before the battle was essentially over. I don't think I even remember any fights in our enrollment battles that lasted that long. We're really going to need to do something fancy to stand a chance."
Natsuki grunted. "You're telling me. Maybe we should just try to run from her the whole time. We know charging straight in like Haruka-oneesama did is suicide."
Mai's eyes widened at this suggestion in shock. "What kind of battle would that be? The fight is supposed to be an elegant dance, not a chase!"
"Hmph. You're sounding just like Shizuru now," Natsuki said. "She was saying all the same things."
"Maybe you should take a hint then," Mai said. "Why don't you suck up your pride for once and just act like an Otome? You may be the second Coral, but you're not going to impress anyone if instead of dancing you just run away."
Natsuki grimaced in frustration, but inwardly she had to admit that Mai's words were getting to her, as they started to echo more of Shizuru's. It occurred to her that if perhaps she at least put up a good effort, Shizuru might be merciful and at least avoid tying her up. Running likely wouldn't work for long enough in any case. With a sigh, she gave in, "Fine, fine, I get it."
"Good," Mai said. "So let's think of how best to fight back. What do you think Shizuru-oneesama would do if she expects you to fight defensively? I think we can probably count on Haruka-oneesama to charge straight in regardless of what she expects anyone else to do, but Shizuru-oneesama is a bit harder to read."
"Yeah," Natsuki said. She thought for a bit on what Shizuru might do, going over her tactics in their sparring sessions. "Well, she's not so good at long range; she can't extend her element quite that far, and charging really isn't her style. She's really at her best when she can stand in one place and just focus on wielding her element. That's pretty much how she took Haruka-oneesama out in their battle, if you remember; she just nailed her with the chain as Haruka-oneesama got into her range and clobbered her from there."
Mai nodded at this. "That's not going to work so well if she expects us to run away from her, though." Mai paused for a moment in thought. "I don't know. What would you plan to do in her place?"
"Well, it could work if she could anticipate where we'll be moving and get in front of us. Maybe she could rely on Haruka-oneesama to scare us in her charges and then cut us off."
Mai nodded and clapped her hands together in victory. "That's it then! So, at the beginning, for instance, we could expect Haruka-oneesama to come straight at us while Shizuru-oneesama circles around to cut off our escape. If we don't run away from Haruka-oneesama, it'll completely screw up their plan."
Natsuki raised an eyebrow skeptically at this. "And let her bludgeon us to death? Even if we try to fight back, I don't see how we have any chance of overpowering her."
"Aha, but this is where what I've learned from sparring with her comes in! For I know about Haruka-oneesama's big weakness."
"You mean her overconfidence?" Natsuki said.
"Aside from that."
"Her tendency to get words mixed up?"
"No, aside from that too."
"Her soft spot for that Windbloom University student, Yukino Something-or-other?"
"Okay, that's enough already!" Mai said, fuming. "I'm talking about her balance. For all her zeal, Haruka-oneesama is surprisingly easy to trip up. What I'm thinking is that if we charge right back at her, we could try to use our elements to trip her up, maybe redirect her straight into the ground or something."
Natsuki considered this for a bit. "I guess that might work. But, is it just me, or do you seem oddly enthusiastic about humiliating your oneesama?"
"A-heh… well, that is…" Mai fumbled around a bit, playing with her fingers idly. "Well, let me put it this way: If you had a chance to make Shizuru-oneesama blush as much as you usually do, would you turn it down?"
A picture of a blushing Shizuru ran through Natsuki's mind, and she was quickly drawn into dreams of it. "Yeah… I guess I see your point there…" she said dreamily.
Mai rolled her eyes. "Well if you can get your mind off of your girlfriend for a minute, I think we're good to start practicing"
A slight blush rose to Natsuki's cheeks as she was caught by Mai in her dreamy state. She shook it off and said, "Right!"
Author's Note: And there ya go. I have more already written up, but I'll need some time to rework it properly. I should also warn you that I've had to turn off anonymous reviews thanks to a persistent flamer who pointedly refuses to read beyond the author's note and first couple lines before deciding that my work is crap. S/he's still welcome to review, but she'll have to sign in to do it so I can reply properly. I apologize to all the legitimate people who like to review anonymously for the inconvenience.
Edit to add: Poll is up on my profile over who you want to win the bet. It may or may not influence the outcome. ;)