The Kimono Girls are dancing to the accompaniment of bell chimes, their every moment precise and graceful. The girl in the center is especially beautiful, and as the chimes come to a stop, she holds up the glowing clear bell in the air.
Mai, who becomes aware that she is one of the dancers, stares as the lead dancer slowly turns around. There is no mistaking the haughty eyes and the purple kimono. She is staring into the face of Naomi.
It is another one of those dreams, Mai thinks wildly, stepping backwards. Her sandal catches on the edge of the pagoda roof and she falls backwards until a cold hand catches her.
Naomi has disappeared, replaced by Sumomo, glaring at her daughter with a look of admonishment.
"You've stayed too long in Ecruteak City, Mai," she whispers. "I warned you."
"I've come to see you," Mai says, as her mother's face morphs into that of a haunter. The pagoda has dissolved and she is standing in the Burned Tower.
"No," the haunter says, shaking his head in disappointment. He floats away. "You're not her...you're not her..."
And then the fire engulfs her.
Mai awakens with a jolt, breathing heavily. She scrambles to turn on her bedside light. As her childhood bedroom in Goldenrod City comes into focus, she rests her forehead against her knees.
She has been having nightmares nonstop since her return home from her first year at the Dance Theater. Often she dreams of Mother and the other Kimono Girls, so tonight's dream is rather typical. Sometimes she dreams of Father, Morty, and the Elder engaging in pokémon battles that end up consuming the city.
The worst, however, is when she dreams of Tim, Simon, and Jackie.
Remembering, it takes quite a while before Mai is calm enough to fall back asleep.
It happened the day after Akina's departure was announced. A first year's departure barely made a ripple among the upperclasswomen and the initial shock faded quickly even among the other first year girls. After all, departures towards the end of the semester were more or less expected for first and second years, and it was a relief to learn that someone else left.
Mai was settling into her seat at the breakfast table when Rikuyo, whom all the first year girls now recognized as the Theater gossip, came over.
"Did you guys hear?"
"What now?" Chiyo said, yawning. "Did someone from your class decide to leave too?"
"No, the pokémon center caught fire last night." Mai dropped her chopsticks, but nobody noticed. "It started in one of the guest rooms and spread to a few others really quickly before the firefighters arrived." Rikuyo leaned in more closely. "A few people died."
Hana groaned. "We're eating. Can we talk about this after breakfast?"
"Who died?" Mai said, trying to keep her voice from shaking.
Rikuyo grinned triumphantly. "This is the really juicy part. You know the Rainbow Reckoning challenger? Timothy something? He was staying in one of those rooms with his friends. I heard that it was too late for all of them, by the time the fire could finally be put out."
Chiyo was pale. "Are they dead?"
"Yeah, I hear Officer Jenny is trying to contact their families right now."
Sachi was waving Rikuyo back to their table, so she left. Mai shuddered; it was creepy how much Rikuyo could enjoy the news, when all she could think about was the three trainers who had listened so intently to her just a few days ago.
We know more about these agents than they know about us, isn't that ironic?
A glum silence descended upon the table. Then with a sigh, Keiko broke it.
"That's a real bummer," she said, turning back to her porridge. "I guess we won't get to see how the Reckoning ends."
That wasn't the end of the matter for Mai.
That afternoon, after her final class of the day, she was summoned to Tamao's office for the second time in less than a week. Nanami almost looked sympathetic as she chaperoned Mai to the office and waited outside to stand guard.
Tamao was not alone this time. A woman with light purple hair and dressed in a gray trench coat was sitting across from her. She seemed to turn before Nanami knocked on the door to announce their arrival.
"My name is Anabel, International Police Chief. I'd like to ask you a few questions, if I may."
Mai avoided looking at Tamao as she sank into her seat.
"As you may already know, three members of my team have - had been living in Ecruteak City for the past six months, preparing for the Rainbow Reckoning. You probably know them as Timothy, Simon, and Jackie. I am here to investigate their deaths, because I do not believe that the fire at the pokémon center was an accident."
Mai privately did not believe that either, but she said nothing.
"I understand that they were in contact with you before their deaths," Anabel continued, "so I would like to learn more about your relationship. Why were you corresponding with them, and what information were you exchanging?" She glanced briefly at Tamao. "I assure you that you can speak freely in my presence without repercussion."
Jackie had told her that she would be needed as a witness in the future. But surely not like this, not posthumously.
"They asked my friends and me for directions once," Mai began. "And then we ran into each other a few times around town. Jackie asked me to tell her if anything weird happens."
"And did anything weird happen?"
Mai stared down at her wooden sandals. She thought at first of Sumomo's diary, of the real story behind her parents' marriage and death. And then she found herself remembering Camellia's forlorn silhouette in her grandparents' house, and the articles describing her mother's talent. She could feel Tamao's eyes boring into her head.
"I am usually not allowed to leave the Theater," she found herself saying. "I'm afraid that...I usually don't see anything."
Anabel was staring at her in an odd way, almost as if she were probing through her thoughts. Mai looked away nervously, in time to see Kaguya leap onto Tamao's desk and start hissing at the police chief.
"I don't appreciate you trying to read my student's mind," Tamao said. "I also believe that she has told you everything she knows. You have far exceeded the five minutes I allotted you. Please allow her to return to her usual activities."
"Of course, I have learned all I need here. Thank you both for your time. It is time for me to go."
Anabel stood up and started for the door.
"I'm sorry," Mai said. "About...what happened to your team. They seemed nice."
Anabel turned, but she was looking at Tamao. "This isn't over," she said quietly, before she showed herself out.
A week later, Mai learned that she had earned a scholarship for her second year at the Dance Theater, an honor even bigger than being selected as Ho-oh for the first year spring dance.
As usual, the sunlight streaming through her windows does a great job of fading away memories of last night's dream. Seated at her desk, Mai fiddles with the headband that Jake has given her, carefully attaching the rainbow-colored feather. She wondered once whether the feather once belonged to a Reckoning challenger, but realized that she wasn't ready to pursue that train of thought.
It had taken a long time to accept the fact that the deaths of Tim, Simon, and Jackie was not her fault. It had taken even longer for her to stop feeling guilty over not helping Anabel. But she is just one person, one first year dancer whom nobody would miss. Naomi and Morty already tried and failed to fight back from their esteemed positions at the top. Eleven-year-old Mai can't win against Ecruteak City.
The business card from Anabel is now tucked in her mother's diary, locked in her desk. It will bide its time, as will she, for the day when the cracks in Ecruteak's facade become once more apparent. Until then, she will become the best dancer that the Kimono Dance Theater will have ever produced. She will become a legend in her own right.
Mai puts the headband on her head and admires her reflection.
This concludes Rainbow, which has been over seven years in the writing! I can't describe how satisfying it is to change a story status to completed.
The ending was interesting to write. I lost the original drafts of the story when I got a new computer, but the original intent was to have Mai succumb to the strange happenings in Ecruteak City and accept them as her new normal, and betray Jackie + co. Reprising the story years later, I decided to leave the ending more ambiguous, since that feels like a more organic evolution of Mai's character. I can envision a follow-up exploring the dynamics between her and Ecruteak City years later (perhaps with her best friend Jake leading an investigation this time), but given my track record I'm not sure that I would start or finish it.
Thank you for your support and readership - I love reading your thoughtful reviews and hope you enjoyed the journey.