WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization
Seinen Kakumei Utena (it's Seinen, NOT Josei), crossing with Penguindrum starting Part 2
Rating: T for mature and sensitive subject matters.
Timeline: 10 years post Revolution, few weeks post Fate Train Transfer
Notable "Mysteries" Covered: Nemuro Hall, Child Broiler, Million Swords, Fate Train, Shadow Girls, Invisible People
Summary (or rather, Excerpt): "The revolution succeeded; it crumbled afterwards only because those whose lives got revolutionized did not follow up on the revolutionary success," said the Bride, her words setting their closed hearts aflame. "This time, will you help us help you?"
Please C&C if you like this~
Seinen Kakumei Utena
Utena and Penguindrum characters belong to their various owners.
WARNING: Parts of this work contain depictions of transphobia, controversial shoujo fantasy trans situation that in no way reflects real life trans people, and misogynic magic attack leading to forced masculinization
Part One: Flowers Adrift
"I don't suppose you can count how many flowers are floating in there?" asked the petite stylist, her lushly manicured fingertips working non-stop as they undid the rollers from the model's hair; thick, springy curls were sent flouncing vibrantly about.
Without lifting her indulgent gaze – currently focused upon the slim thighs revealed underneath the stylist's frill-adorned black skorts – the seated but still obviously glamazonian model pursed her red-painted lips. "Forty-nine thousand."
" . . . that exact?"
"I don't have to count; the director's assistant showed me the receipt when the bouquets arrived."
They were steps above a rooftop patio, one that was rapidly turning into a shallow pool from a spraying hose. Orange roses, cut from right underneath the sepal, drifted atop the water's glassy surface, glowing under the glaring spotlights as they glided nimbly by the half-submerged furnishings. The otherworldly setting was contrasted against the worldly downtown night view to eerie effects, and it was amidst such eeriness that the model-in-grooming was set to work her magic for the camera.
"While wooing you, of course." Having finished hairspray-ing the model's now artfully-pinned curly updo – every orange curl contorted to resembled the roses in the pool – the stylist let out a mock-pained moan as she pulled the salon cape off of the model, revealing the crystal-studded couture gown draping over the latter's curves like a sheen of glittering scales. "Either way, you could've at least pretended to count with me. Even after all these years, you still suck at being playfully romantic, Juri."
"Not playful, no . . ." reaching back to pull her stylist's maroon-haired head to herself in one suave, almost gallant motion, Arisugawa Juri purred huskily into the other woman's shell-like ear, "but still plenty romantic enough to keep my little Shirori with me, I hope."
"It's unprofessional to flirt with the stylist right in front of the crew, Juri," chided Takatsuki Shiori, even as she leaned into the bigger woman's embrace with much familiarity.
They had been close since childhood, since back when closeness knew no deeper name other than friendship, and beauty held little meaning cause love, love was an icky notion to the children they were, something to giggle over for fun. With adolescence came the hormonal boys, came their growing interests in the girls, and the cruel distinction between the attractive girls and the less attractive ones. Cracks grew between stunning Juri and plain Shiori, resulting in much mind-games, much coldness, much hurting via faceless, irrelevant boys that perverted two close-knitted girls into bitter enemies. And such enmity may well have followed the two into adulthood, if not for the series of (in hindsight, highly fantastical) events in high school that led to both Juri's secret love for Shiori and Shirori's repressed obsession over Juri getting simultaneously exposed. Then came the denial, the violent conflicts and wild heartbreaks; and when those had left them all burned out, the two were left mutually resigned to the fact that they were both way too into each other for them not to be together. Thus together they stayed, through high school and college, up to where they were now here at this flowery scene: a model and a stylist, both currently working under the same modeling agency – the internationally renowned Aranjia.
"And speaking of being professional . . ." even as her delicate hand wandered about Juri's supple form, Shiori's flowing murmur started slowing into a more hesitant pace, "I'm feeling something that's a little too bulging on a supermodel of your calibre. I think it's time you start on this protein-fibre diet that Yuuko -" The hissing snort from Juri cut her off like the sound of a whipping foil – a sound she has since associated with their volatile youth on their fencing team back at Ohtori, the one she mustered up the courage to join after that highly fantastical event, the one Juri said was a -
"You and your obsession with being thin," muttered her Juri of here and now, in a voice showing tints of the defensiveness that Shiori remembered so well from their old days. "I think you've been hanging about Yuuko and Aiko a little too much around the pantry, trading your outrageous dieting tips and getting your views further and further warped-"
"You know this is not about my views or how I want you to look," hissed Shiori from underneath her breath (they were surrounded by the crew after all), her hands since retracted from Juri's now rigid body. "I don't know what the clients are saying behind our backs, but the office boy has let slip that the bitches ruling the women's department have been bitching about your figure during their meeting, said how you've upped two sizes since they first signed you on ten years ago, back when - "
"Upping two sizes in ten year is bad?"
"Juri!" It took the young stylist all her control to keep her agitated voice whispery. "You're not doing dishwasher commercials: you model for couture brands and walk for major fashion weeks every season! You're not just competing against other models your age – though a good many of them are slimmer than you've ever been – you're competing against girls as young as fourteen but all hitting six feet! I mean, look at those!" She gestured subtly towards the models' dressing tent, illuminated from inside like some giant lantern, within which a trio of girlish, stick-thin silhouettes were seen undressing via stretchy, sinuous movements that made them appear even more elongated than they already were. Juri arched a fine brow at their showy display.
"I see they've got some very nice stick insects to go with the flowers."
Growing impatient with Juri's counterproductive defensiveness, Shiori darkened her voice. "You studied fashion design, Juri - you know how clothes hang on bulges."
Appearing pensive (it had been a long time since Shiori had cut her with words), Juri stood up and away from Shiori. Stepping languidly up towards the edge of the patio turned pool, she kicked nimbly at its cluttered surface, sending floating roses adrift to reveal mirror-smooth water, and her own image as reflected upon it.
She still was beautiful, of course: beautiful enough to turn heads on any street she walked, and get hit on by men at every function she attended. But the hourglass figure of her teens – sculpted by the vigorous fencing sessions she had time/energy/money for back then – had since broadened in the middle; her face, once small and chiseled, had since gone rounded (although makeup by Shiori was already keeping it defined). Decked in couture, she looked more award-show actress than high fashion model – the latter being her job.
Shiori had by now stepped up from behind, the reflection of her trim build seemingly breakable upon the rose-framed pool. Juri closed her eyes.
"Maybe it's about time for me to quit and start on that label we've been talking about for so long," she finally said. "God knows we have enough sketches between the two of us to fill at least two seasons."
"But not the funds," Shiori pointed out, prompting Juri to open her eyes again. "I've done the calculations: even if we'd successfully pulled strings to have the models, the directors, and the marketing in place at rock-bottom rates, we still ain't got enough to cover production, retails and other base costs. You don't want us to borrow excessively from banks and end up in debt, so that option's out." There was a noticeable pause, before she spoke on at a more cautious pace. "Now, if you could reconcile with your parents . . ." her words trailed off at Juri's now frosty expression.
"We're not asking for money from people who screwed us over and that's final."
Knowing Juri, and knowing the reason behind her stubborn grudge against the wealthy Arisugawas (who could've effortlessly funded their label beyond its first year), Shiori hung her head. "Then it will take us at least another three years earning and saving at the current pace for us to even jumpstart our label, without considering how to keep it running beyond the quarter should stocks stall."
Back straightening (and actually looking leaner for a moment), Juri's expression regained some that pristine determination of her youth – the brilliance of which having once drove a younger, duller Shiori into the pits of self-pity. "We will just have to spend less in the coming months. Try to save up enough to get our label launched within two seasons before our designs get too outdated -"
"We've already forced down spending to the bare min," interjected Shiori, hating herself for having to dull Juri's bright thunder with such tarnishing reality. "All our social-wear are from your shows and shoots – some modified to fit me – and we're still staying at that same unit we've been renting since college. We don't even have coffee outside unless while chatting with people in the industry. And I know you're making do on just fast food when working away from town, even though I told you to stick to the non-processed stuff regardless of price." Price. A word that had meant nothing to the Juri from ten years ago, back before her rift with her rich parents; a word that now had power enough over her as to be taboo. "Still, modeling in high-fashion, you earn much more than a second-rate stylist like me." What a difference money could make: that a glorious angel could be reduced to this weary showgirl without the conveniences, the pride provided by wealth. "I know how much you hate the idea of dieting, Juri, just like how you hate doing all these things other people had to do that you deem to be beneath you." How cruel it was of her to have launched those vicious attacks against Juri back in high school, to tarnish that golden, transient youth with such ugly memories – all because of her own unsightly pettiness. "But we've both grown up now." Away from Ohtori, from the infuriating machinations but comforting dorms, their days were now filled with worries over trite matters, like rent and bills and taxes and future prospects. "We have no choice but to make compromises." Away from magical Ohtori, the machinations still were there – powered by worldly hands this time – keeping them bound as powerless cogs in their world. "Cause life isn't going to miraculously get easier for us just because we believe it will – we're in the real world now." A world that a born heiress like Juri should never have had to face, if not for getting dragged down by a commonplace bitch such as herself.
A hand clasped onto her stooped shoulder; Juri's hand, big and strong for a woman but still so fine-boned, turning her around such that they faced each other again (when had she turned away?). The much taller woman had that familiar indulgent look in her green eyes, the look that Shiori had (blind-sighted-ly) mistaken for pity in her twisted youth, the look that now warmed (yet also pained) her more than anything else in this world.
"FIVE MINUTES TO TEST SHOOT!"
The blasting voice from the microphone cut off whatever Juri was about to say, as the submerged patio's floor lights snapped on along with the overhead Fresnels aimed at the water, such that the many roses floating about now resembled clusters of vibrant flames engulfing the elegant patio furniture. The trio of skinny models had since exited their dressing tent, and had already stepped into the water. Yet they remained shadow-cloaked from where they strutted right in front of a glaring light source. By their sleek silhouettes, Shiroi could only guessed that they might be wearing lingerie, along with large artificial wings crafted to resemble those of a butterfly, a cicada, and a hummingbird, respectively. Already they were practicing their poses, contorting their thin, elongated bodies to dramatic, almost agonizing effects.
Mind back in the present, Shiori quickly checked Juri's hair and makeup for any potential flaws, before guiding Juri down the steps leading into the glamorized wetness.
"Watch your steps: you'd be walking on water on high heels," cautioned Shiori, who herself wore water boots.
"And how much more difficult is this compared to everything else we've been through this past decade?" muttered Juri, stance assured as she stepped into the shallow pool via platform shoes so high, she actually looked like she was walking atop the shallow water in ripples of rose-coated waves. Even though her steps appeared effortlessly graceful (thanks to her athletic coordination), Shiori (holding Juri's hand like the makeshift servant girl she now was) could sense that tenseness in Juri invisible to the eye. No doubt she was again dwelling on how damned difficult everything has been for them since leaving school and entering this too-real world, where the adult life that they once hoped would grant them the power of choice had turned into little more than animalistic survival. "To think I was the one who got you into all this . . ."
"Wasn't it the other way around?" asked Shiori, voice low and somewhat timid. "One of the reason I followed you into the fencing team was so I could have a chance at your locket while you were changing after practice. I was the one who got hysterical after seeing my picture in it, shouting those awful things at you in the locker room that got those gossips going. And then, having gotten dumped by some jock I was seeing then, I was the one who got drunk and went into your dorm room that very night. After all the shouting and fighting that turned into . . . something else, everyone in the building knew by morning what we've done and what we've . . . become." She was blushing furiously by then, from the shame and the remembered arousal: how Juri had conquered her senses with that strong, beautiful body; how that sheer passion had forced her to admit the base attraction she harbored beneath her jealous front. "When words got to your parents, it was no wonder that they called up my mother, and-"
"They stopped being my parents the day they got you disowned by your mother," stated Juri in that cold, resolute voice that allowed no argument. "Mrs. Takatsuki loved you more than anything in this world. If it wasn't for those hypocrites calling her up and making those vulgar accusations, she'd never-"
"Mama's choice of reaction was her own," said Shiori, her voice dead even as she willed more life into it for Juri's sake. "Her getting into that accident afterwards was also just . . . that. There's no need to blame other people for what happened," no need to make her Juri feel even worse than she already did, "cause it won't bring her back anyway."
Juri held onto her anger (and Shiori knew it was for her sake). "They got us kicked out of Ohtori with their babbling. We were sixteen, Shiori, and they left us with no relatives, no savings, and no permanent address. We almost ended up on the streets!"
"But we didn't," soothed Shiori, her voice wistful with memories, "for you then signed the deal with Aranjia and started modeling professionally to keep us afloat. I couldn't have afforded college if not for you working then to support us both." A genuine, albeit bittersweet, smile curled her small lips. "You had to drag out your studies because of your erratic work schedule, while I actually had the gall to switch majors at a time like that-"
"You had to switch because you got burned out from waiting tables at that damned pub!" Juri cut her off, sounding sorry and pained and so full of self-directed guilt. "That was what messed up your studies. I should've taken on more jobs back then. You shouldn't have had to work surrounded by those-"
"TWO MINUTES TO TEST SHOOT!" blasted the microphone, and Shiori found herself actually relieved by its grating sound.
"Just focus on the shoot for now. Juri, remember what the director wanted: that you channel this 'mermaid of material excess', and glide by the pool with intense, yet inhuman wanting in your eyes of green-"
"Shiori," persisted Juri, "I got you into this." This being the path of no return, a path away from the stable family, stable life that Shiori otherwise should have attained. "I'll do anything, even ridiculous things, to get you everything you want."
"I followed you into this," replied Shiori, large eyes reflecting the glittering lights from all around. "Because following you, I know everything I want, I'll have." Knowing that Juri would want to kiss her now (and thus ruining her painstakingly applied makeup along with the shoot), she made light of the situation on purpose. "Fitting that we'd be having this conversation in a pool of roses."
Juri, who knew and understood what she was doing, went along with her and laughed lightly. "You don't see roses with quite this shade of orange every day." Thus the inane smalltalk began.
"Orange like your hair. And aren't their petals still pretty firm considering how long they've been soaking in water?"
"It's some rare, hardy species they ordered through that new flower boutique down at the Phoenix Court Plaza. The director insisted on something that can last even being cut and drowned. I think he got what he wanted."
"I know which one you're talking about. It's the expensive-looking one that sells mostly roses, right? We've passed by it a few times since it opened last month, and every time there were some suited gents inside buying something. I think the potted plants around the agency's office are all from that place. I remember it's got some rather tacky French name . . . Château . . . Princière?"
"Château Princesse," Juri squinted her eyes at the sign on a vehicle parked right beside the fantastical set. "Their flower van is right there at the . . . corner . . ."
Not yet noticing the strange manner by which Juri's voice had died down, Shiori studied the glittery pink flower van, its design looking compact yet sturdy. "Oh, I didn't notice that. Château Princesse . . . wait." Abruptly, she discovered a glaring peculiarity in what she saw. "Why is a van up here? It's the rooftop."
Juri did not speak, but had clasped her hand in a tight, cool grip. Shiori spoke on, her own voice starting to cool as well.
"It's parked under a ray of . . . spotlight? But where is the equipment? There's nothing above it but . . . the . . . sky . . ." She felt Juri's hand sweating – or was it her own hand sweat slicking Juri's palm? "And where had those skinny models gone? I thought they were in the pool with us-"
"The plate," Juri's spoke up as though she did not hear a word of her fear-fueled babbling. "Read the van's plate." Shiori did.
And she saw.
"THIRTY SECONDS TO TEST SHOOT!"
Normally, Shiori the stylist would have stepped away from the set by now so Juri the model can start posing. Not this time. Shiori could not have let go of Juri even if she had wanted to: her entire body had since gone rigid.
The pink van bore a plate with the letters "MIKAGE", headed by a black rose motif.
"Mikage, Mikage Souji; I must've forgotten this name for a lifetime," said Juri, her voice uncharacteristically hollow, almost airy. "I thought if I held onto my memories, they'd last beyond that time, beyond the ends of that world. But this . . . this I've forgotten since way before-"
"Black rose," Shiori's own voice was as a whistle of the night wind, "your sword, my duel. I went to his seminar, and he gave me the idea." Tears threatened to escape her wide eyes, as she realized how even in shock from dark memories returning, she still was blaming others for her own faults and inadequacies. "I stole the sword in your heart so I could fight like you did, so I could have what I wanted." She still was excusing herself, even now, for hurting Juri, for being jealous. "I fought against that handsome girl I always saw you with, the one with hair pink like Mikage's, the one you told me had triggered the Revo-"
"Revolution." The word growled its way out from between Juri's clenched teen like a bound beast breaking free. Suddenly, she laughed, and Shiori could see Juri's self-assuredness fast returning. "I see now." Stance panther-fierce now, Juri manoeuvred herself between the ominous car and shell-shocked Shiori. "Just like the old days."
"J-Juri?" whimpered Shiori from behind her taut back.
"I heard and I forgot. My sources at the time had told me rumors about Miki's father, about who he was about to marry . . . to think that the enchantment could touch even grownups, even those outside the Academy." As Juri spoke, Shiori gradually came to realize how she wasn't speaking to her. "So this is why life hasn't been easy even away from Ohtori, because even though the views had changed, the one showing us the views had not. Father and Mother . . . what miraculous treasures did that monster show them, that they would even go so far to crush their own daughter? What was really behind that so-called accident that took Mrs. Takatsuki's life?"
"The crew of this shoot, the thin models, the people at the agency . . . by what strings did he puppeteer them into this elaborate set up? Where had they gone? Are they even real? Or are they merely images, just like those baseball players showing up playing a game right in the middle of a Council meeting, or those shadows on the wall gossiping about Ruka's death?"
"Juri?" Shiori's cold fingers were digging hard enough into the other woman's bare shoulders to leave prints behind. "Juri?"
"Shiori," at last Juri addressed her, in a dramatic, resonating tone obviously meant for a third party yet unseen to hear, "I know now that life can never be easy for us in this world. Nothing we do, no miracles we make, could ever change that, because this real world, just like Ohtori, is also his world." Eyes on the illuminated van, parked forty-five degrees against their point of view such that its plate and sign both were visible to them, "Isn't that right, Himemiya?"
"TEST SHOOT BEGINS!" blasted the microphone (behind which no one was present present), as the van started rotating as if on a moving stage, thus revealing the one Juri had been speaking to (no, more like against) all along.
Out in the world away from Ohtori, Himemiya Anthy bore little resemblance to that dull, almost nerdy girl from Shiroi's memory. With her glasses gone and her startlingly rich tresses unbound, the dark-featured young woman looked the epitome of East Indian beauty; a beauty in full flower, Shiori suddenly realized, as the one in front of them had further blossomed as per the passing of years. Without makeup, and dressed only in a loose scarlet tunic that would have made lesser women look inappropriately under-dressed, Himemiya instead appeared primitively exquisite – like an exotic wild flower, looking all the lovelier without the banal constrains of pots and fences and hothouses and gardens. Out of a corner of her eye, Shiori saw Juri subconsciously raising a hand as if to touch her own foundation-coated face, before quickly forcing the hand back down. Standing demurely upon crossed feet (like a model posing in this fashion shoot gone supernatural), Himemiya Anthy smiled at them, her expression benignly serene, and Shiori found herself and Juri both tensing up, for every expression they had seen on the malevolent Rose Bride of old looked just as benignly serene. Undeterred by their rigid guardedness, the (divine? demonic?) apparition stepped up to the flooded patio on sandaled feet, and started walking towards them atop the floating flowers.
"Juri-sempai, Shiori-sempai, I meant neither of you harm," said Anthy, even as Shiori cowered further behind Juri. "You see, I came seeking your help."
"You're deranged if you think we're going back to help that monster you call your brother," Juri stood her ground. "No matter what powers the Rose Bride might have, I know you cannot make people do anything they don't want to, or you wouldn't need resorting to manipulation every time back in Ohtori." Still moving steadily towards them, Anthy's smile further sweetened with something akin to indulgence (or could it be veiled condescendence?).
"Making people do things they don't want to goes quite against my nature. It's unlikely I'll ever do anything of the sort nowadays, especially not for my brother; not with Utena being so disapproving of-"
"Utena is with you?" Juri almost barked out the question, right as Anthy stopped in front of her, smilingly unfazed. "Since when?"
"Since the day I found her, of course," answered Anthy, in the tone an educator reserved for educating the mentally handicapped. Face twisted in rage, Juri raised a hand as if about to slap Anthy, before stopping herself as she probably remembered who she was up against. Juri looked like she was about to speak, but Anthy beat her to it. "I did not 'hide' Utena after Revolution, as you've so obviously been thinking, nor did my brother; nor did we make you or anyone else forget anything about the Victor who revolutionized your lives for the better – it's something you've all been doing very well on your own. Out of sight, out of mind, such is human nature."
Juri's cheek reddened as if struck. "I didn't . . ."
"You didn't forget, Juri-sempai," Anthy cut her off, her once-soft voice now showing steely sharpness. "I was the one who had to forget against my will. One of the aftereffects of the duel called Revolution was an enchantment meant to hinder my brother's effort to search out the Victor and possibly enact retribution. Every time he was to think about details that might lead him to Utena: her family name, her age, her background, even something as insipid as her hair color, pain akin to ones from hateful swords stabbing shall assail his head. And should he even mention her to another, by word by writing or by any other means, his heart shall scorch as if burned by charcoal. I, being linked to my brother by blood, was likewise affected, and the enchantment on me could not be undone until I was to meet with her in this outside world."
"Then how did you manage to meet her?" Shiori, who had been listening timidly all along, could not help but ask. Anthy kept her increasingly cold eyes on an increasingly uncomfortable Juri.
"He, being loveless, dismissed Utena as a dropout from his world to avoid the enchantment's wrath; I, being in love, persisted on searching." She paused to take a deep breath, as if even her now was emotional. "It would be years later before I was to discover how Utena had merely been rushed to the neighboring town's hospital right after Revolution; registered under her own name, even. Had people on the Council – had anyone at all – bothered to look for her then, she would certainly be found; and I, with my senses attuned to each and every one of the Duelists, would have found her accordingly. Why did you not look for her, Juri-sempai?" That last question punctured Juri's defenses like a sword thrust, and the taller woman actually doubled over slightly as if from pain. "That game of squash right before the end, the joke about having her picture in your locket . . . had all that been but a mindless farce? Had Tenjou Utena truly meant so little to you, to all of you?"
"Don't blame Juri," Shiori managed, sounding much weaker than she wanted to. "She got caught up in a lot of things soon after the Revolution." Like their rocky relationship coming into fruition, then into light, then into the public scrutiny that robbed them of everything they had once took for granted . . . some good the Victor's Revolution was to them. But then she finally had Juri, for good; loving, loyal Juri, who was more valuable to her than any private school education any dream job in this world . . .
Anthy made no indication of having even heard her, focused as she was upon guilt-ridden Juri. "Unaware of my searching for her, Utena moved about out of . . . necessities. It took me seven years before I finally did manage to meet her face to face. And by that time, the damage had already been done."
"The . . . damage?" asked Juri, voice brittle.
"No one exits my brother's games unchanged," stated Anthy, as she closed her eyes in apparent pain for one merciful moment. Behind her, the pink surface of the Mikagemobile (as Shiori had come to label it/him) glinted darkly under the spotlight. "Utena now suffers from the kind of damage most in this world would consider irreversible. It would take more than my power to have it completely undone. Thus why I've come seeking your help." When those eyes opened anew, Shiori's heart throbbed at realizing that she now had been included in her merciless gaze. "Both of your help."
"Hold!" protested Juri, regaining some of her fierce protectiveness. "Shiori had nothing to do with this! She barely even knew-"
"Shiori-sempai had been both duelist and bride in the games," countered Anthy, and Juri was silenced like a radio turned off. "She has as much to do with this as you and the rest of the Student Council – all of whom had readily agreed to give aid to Utena." Shiori saw Juri visibly wilting at those words, and something inside her – something that drew strength from her petty, shady nature – bubbled through her fear and to the surface.
"Maybe you should get your brother to help Utena too, Anthy-san" she heard herself saying, darkly, even. "He was the one responsible for using you to hurt everyone of us, her included. And he has power, if that's what you're after."
Instead of being offended, Anthy actually appeared impressed by Shiori daring to make a pointed jab, as her lips now curled in a semi-approving smirk. "I haven't yet clarify my request – I am seeking everyone's help in seizing my brother's vast power and have it redirected towards reversing the damage on Utena."
Shiori and Juri both were stunned by her words. "And what will become of the Chairman after we've taken his power away?"
"By logic he would cease being," answered Anthy as if in reply to a common math problem. They could detect neither hesitation nor lingering attachment from her nonchalant voice.
"You're asking us to kill your brother to help Utena," stated Juri. Anthy, who by now had retreated back to beside the Mikagemobile without either of them noticing when (maybe she never had come forward to begin with), deepened her smile.
"The power we take from him will help more than just Utena, but others as well," she ran a delicate dark hand caressingly against the van's pink, glossy surface, "including you two."
As if on cue, LED billboards shot up to flank all sides of the rooftop, their bright screens displaying a multitude of images: a slimmed-down Juri posing as a top brand's exclusive model, Shiori's lushly painted face advertising her own makeup line, the label Juri Shiori looking resplendent with its haute couture license, Juri and Shiori at a fashion award gala, being clamored by the media, Juri and Shiori at their wedding, being accepted and blessed by all . . .
"You're offering as prize the miracles we want," murmured Shiori, scared yet also somewhat wistful. "Again."
"What damage is Utena suffering from, that you need to bait us Ohtori-style here in this world?" asked Juri, cautious even in face of the vast temptations on display. Anthy pursed her peach-colored lips pensively.
"I can take you both to her so you may see for yourself," she offered, her voice kind and reasonable. "But once you see her, there will be no backing out – you will be duty-bound to help her."
"Can your trap be any more obvious?" muttered Juri, but her stance now clearly lacked in resistance. Shiori hesitated but for a moment, before raising her manicured hand like a schoolgirl in class.
"Count us in."
Juri turned to her baffled. "Shiori!"
"We can't refuse, Juri, not when she's offering us the future we've been working towards for all these years," stated Shiori, calmly resigned now. "And I know you want to see and help Tenjou Utena, while I have no qualms about killing the Chairman for what he did to us."
"Shiori . . ."
"Your old, special friends have all agreed to help, so we might as well too. I should consider myself honored to be included."
"You won't regret coming along." Beaming, Anthy produced an electric car key (one with a black rose motif visible even at a distance), opened Mikagemobile's door, got in, and started its now purring engine. "Utena is so looking forward to seeing you both, and Chida-san makes the best rose tea for her guests."
Juri arched a fine brow. Shiori blinked.
A flash of metallic, pink movement their eyes cannot follow, and the two women abruptly found themselves already seated at what must be the surprisingly, sterilely neat back area of the Mikagemobile flower van, from where Anthy could be seen at the driver's seat driving. The van's clear-glass windows showed flashes of light-dotted darkness moving too quick for the eyes to follow, much like how the view had been like in Akio's red convertible, back when he was speeding them towards the ends of their worlds.
"She's our landlady," replied Anthy, "the one who lent him to me. Though I still drive him around now and then, she's really the one to keep him from rusting – his rightful driver." By now, Shiori could see her almost playfully enigmatic smile from the rear-view mirror. "Much like how Juri is yours."
Before either Shiori or Juri could ask her to elaborate on that worryingly puzzling statement, the car accelerated impossibly past what should've been the top speed for any land vehicle. Light, bright as what the core of the Sun must be like, speared through the windows, engulfing their senses and burning off what tenuous hold they still had on reality. Amidst all that, Shiori thought she could hear Anthy's voice, sounding impossibly steady against the suffocating high speed, against this overwhelmingly fantastical circumstance.
"We're riding towards eternity, towards shining things, towards the power of miracles that which you both sought, and now is seeking again. Do not look away; open your eyes to the power of revolution – to the Light of the World."
Shiori looked, then cried along with Juri for one agonizingly joyful moment, before neither seeing nor hearing anything anymore as her many limited senses shut down on her all at once.
End Part One