Once upon a time, I said that I wasn't going to do this.

I lied.

U MAD BRO?

Anyway, this volume will completely rip apart the last two and throw them into the garbage can because I HOPE that I've improved since at least the first one. Soooo yeah. Hopefully this won't be crap.

A word of advice: If you haven't already read the first two volumes, I advise that you do so. They're both crap, but they were also both written a year ago, so there's really nothing I can do about that.

I might write a revamp of ALBN somewhere down the road, but that 'somewhere down the road' is very, very far away.

For anyone who's confused, this is the third volume (NAWWWW durrrr) of an OC-insert series. The first volume focused around Okami. The second volume was a prequel, with a different main character taking the camera focus. This time, we're handing Lilac back her main character status for Okamiden. Fun plot time, everyone!

And for the next two volumes... Because there ARE two more... I'm not telling.

Chapters 1-4 on this volume (1-7 on the old outline) are already on deviantART, but I'm changing a lot of stuff in the chapters that are there. The first part of this chapter has been completely rewritten so the song is Nyan Nyan Special Medley, not Real Emotion, and the 'first four chapters' have been mashed together into one. Because they're all plotless prologue fun.

Fantastic, right?

And probably no, all the chapters from here on out will not be as long as this one. Hopefully a few, but not all.

... just read the chapter already.

Lilac: Senom299 doesn't own Okami/Okamiden or the one character from Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. She also does not own the song Nyan Nyan Special Service Medley from Macross Frontier-

Senom: WOOOO, TEAM RANKA!

Lilac: - ... which includes the songs Lion, Infinity (#7), Watashi no Kare Wa Pilot (My Boyfriend is a Pilot), Diamond Crevasse, Seikan Hikou (Interstellar Flight), What 'Bout My Star, Ai Oboete Imasu Ka (Do You Remember Love), and Aimo. Yes, I watch too much space opera anime. Anyway, the idiot only owns yours truly and the lyrics she wrote for them. Excuse me while I go try to kill myself.

(Magical line break of doom.)

"For my deepest and most cherished prayers to one day reach to you

Under the cherry tree I shall sing again today

All the answers that we've sought will always lie right here

For so I was once told..."

October 1

I spun around in the chair, drumming my fingers against the sides and glancing over at my partner. "So, Sheryl, think we can pull this off?"

"You tell me, Ranka." She replied, attaching her earring. I just shrugged and tugged at my cape a bit.

"Wish I had a monocle on me. Then I'd really look dapper."

Emily almost choked, half laughing as she turned to me. "You're not even singing Niji-iro Kuma Kuma."

"What? I like the outfit anyway. It's not like you're the one doing Diamond Crevasse, yourself." I got up. "Showtime?"

"Yeah, let's get going..."

0-0-0-0

It's been nine months since I left behind the old world. To be honest, my memories are starting to slip away... I can barely remember some parts of it, but a few are shining brighter than the rest.

It's hard to tell if it was a dream or not. I woke up like it was, but maybe...

That doesn't matter now, anyway.

The van rolled to a stop, and my brother turned to give Emily and I a thumbs up. "Good luck."

"Got it, Claus." I threw the door open and jumped up, spinning around. "Think I pull off a good Ranka?"

"Not cheerful enough." Emily leaned over in her seat and had a brief makeout session with Claus before getting out herself. "I told you we should've switched."

I shrugged. "That's why we switched image songs. C'mon, we need to find a good table inside. We're already fashionably late."

"Our Alto had a deal with me." My partner just winked.

"You lost your earring in his locker?" I raised an eyebrow as we stepped into the cafeteria. She just snickered.

"Something like that..."

We snuck around to a table. Elliot glanced up when I smacked him on the shoulder, lightly. "Who's up?"

He turned and handed me the talent show list while Emily started chattering with Brittney.

It's weird. After I woke up, after vacation ended, I got into my own group of misfits. Elliot and Brit are like Emily and I-we've all been friends for years, in a way. Everyone knew me, but I was never really around anyone until Emily started going out with Claus.

I guess my luck just turned around after I started doing... my job.

Oh, right. My job.

There was still half of the current performance going on before Emily and I were up, so I clasped my hands together and silently sent out a prayer. To the gods and spirits of the world, thank you for continuing to watch over this land of mortals. I pray that you will forever thrive and prosper, and that one day humankind can continue to believe. Thank you, for everything.

It was weak, but all I could offer- my thanks. I'd been making the same prayer every day and just hoping that it was enough.

Of course, that wasn't all I gave. I had something else to give, and damn did I ever give it. Whether it was the sun or moon shining, I'd do it and give it my all.

Speaking of...

Jordyn and Chris finished up onstage and rushed back down to the table. Emily and I exchanged a glance before nodding and heading up to the stage.

I want to think that I've matured since then. That I've grown up, that I'm a better person.

Truth is... I'm the same crazy brat I was when I left.

I just believe now. But... that's all.

We made it on stage and both grabbed our mics as the music started in the background. And I let the feelings flow.

(A/N: If you want, play Nyan Nyan Special Service Medley ~ Macross Frontier at this point in time. If you want to imagine along with it, Lilac (playing Ranka Lee) sings all of the 'lighter', more bright and cheerful vocals, and Emily (playing Sheryl Nome) sings the harsher, more emotional ones. You'll be able to tell who's who pretty quickly. Also, Seikan Hikou and Diamond Crevasse's singers are switched. Enjoy the show! ... Or just skip over it, whatever.)

"Minna!"

"Everyone!"

"Dakishimete!

"Hold me!"

"Ginga no... hatemade!"

"Until... the end of the galaxy!"

The lights went out, two spotlight flickered on, and I felt my heart practically bursting out, wanting to release the energy.

I let it all go.

"The stars will spin when you hold them at the core of all time!
Somewhere in the woods the butterflies will dance just for you..."

"I've seen the door leading to your heart, and you don't guard it that well!
What an embarrassing tale;

"Take one false step, you've landed in the lion's den!"

"I want to survive

My spirit will shine on

As the song of the galaxy!
Until you see the other side, inside of me
I will not forget love..."

I've been practicing my ability to change emotions into power through music. No one ever really told me about it then, but it took some guesswork and a lot of practice. Now, if I'm singing, I can turn emotion into energy and make people feel it. Not just that, I can take in theirs.

I glanced over at Emily. Her feelings were focused completely on Claus. Not a surprise. All she was giving out was what I wrote in the lyrics, and it had worked perfectly.

On my side... Well...

That was why I'd chosen Ranka.

"I cannot forget because of you

For the feelings I hold clasped close to my heart

You can never erase my love!"

"Embrace the eternal goodbye!
Embrace the eternal love!

If I should die before the dawn, the world will go with my heart!"

"I will go on, grace at my feet

I will go on, all tears left behind...

"I will see you at the promised place, so won't you please wait for me!"

"Kyun kyun, kyun kyun!
Watashi no kare wa,"

"Watashi no kare wa...

"Pilotto!"

This was where things had gotten switched up. I let go of the charade of sounding young and cheerful and let out the darker side.

It just sucked that I was still spouting a bunch of lies, but what the heck, right...?

"If we are born again, oh find me my darling and never let go...
This is our last chance, this is my only chance:
To say goodbye, it's a fleeting moment so please hold on to my hand...
If we are to lose it all, won't the planet tell me I'm not alone..."

"My soul might keep living in your mind, please never let go

I came this far, alone as I may be, because you're there for me...
Was I ever truly alone is my eternal question;
The answer is so close, isn't it?"

Emily took control, pulling off a better cheerful facade than I'd been able to.

"KIRA~!

Take a ride on a shooting star with me,

Don't worry, I'll catch you if you fall
Can't you see in the sky where stars are alive

We're the main show, take a shot, here with me

And my last act is to say, I love you...

And my last act here is to say, I love you!"

We switched roles again. Good.

"Darlin' don't you hear me calling you?

No you, no life is how my world's run!

Need your heart and need your love;

Yeah let's swing and kiss~!"

"I believe in true love, so don't go!
You and me, we can make life so exciting

One more chance: no rules!
I want to see you...

I'll give it all to you!"

"Three, hey I'll count down!"

"Two are you ready?"

"One, it's showtime!"

"Zero, let love ring out loud!"

"What bout my star~?"

"I want to survive,
Even if no one can see

I vow to always love you!
I'll shake the universe if it brings me to my end!

To sacrifice my nature

I'll offer up a prayer
I vow to always love you!
Until you see the other side, inside of me I will not forget love!"

We went out of character for a second to grin at each other. "Speaking of remembering love..." Emily winked as the other classic came on.

Which was, unfortunately, another one that was nearly impossible to translate, so I'd just given up and left it as was.

"Oboete imasu ka? Me to me ga atta toki wo?

Oboete imasu ka? Te to te ga fureatta toki..."

"Why were we born into this world?"

"What were we born in this world to do?"

"I want to survive

My spirit will shine on

With the light of the galaxy

And I will shake the universe if it brings me to my end!"

"I'm not alone anymore, because..."

"I want to stop my endless search

And be by your side, to rest till the end of the world...

And if you see the other side inside of me

I will never forget our love!"

I could feel the emotions at full blast now. I didn't care if it was all lies-I amplified the feelings. Finish it off with a bang!

"I know that I'm not alone anymore...

Because you're here with me..."

"I want to survive

Even if no one can see

I'll shine the song of the galaxy!

Let the stars guide our new path..."

"I promise to survive

My spirit will shine on

I'll sing the song of the galaxy

I'll let you see the other side, inside of me

And grant you my eternal love!"

We both stepped away as the music continued for a few moments, then I took the finale into my own hands.

"Aimo aimo neede rushe

Nointa miria enderu purodea..."

I glanced over at Emily, who was busy wiping the sweat forming on her forehead as the song ended. She just gave me a thumbs up, laughing.

"Best seven and a half minutes of my life!"

I probably would've agreed if I hadn't been spewing lies from my mouth the whole time.

0-0-0-0

October 2nd

A few hours later, I was alone.

The only sound in the bedroom was the steady heartbeat of the pocket watch clasped in my right hand. It was about past midnight, I knew that much, and the room was blanketed in nothing but shadows.

I should've found it so easy to sleep. If I were anyone else in the entire world, maybe I could've found some solace in the nighttime and just fell into a peaceful dream until the morning.

Fate is cruel that way.

When my eyes grow heavy, I dread the nighttime. Because instead of solace, all I find in my sleep is my darkest fears chasing me. They'll take me in their clutches and force me to watch all the pain I've seen, every black and white moment frozen in my memory.

That's the only time that I don't want to forget. Because when I try and submit myself to a night in the darkness, it kills the light in front of my eyes.

Over.

And over.

And again.

I try to stay awake as long as I can. I can see my eyes reflected in the watch's surface-it's the thing I care for most in the world at this point. My last memory, the last bit of evidence that I can cling to that I can believe in something. Every night, I focus on that surface and nothing else.

Sometimes, I imagine I can see my memories reflected in it.

I flipped the watch open, running a finger gently across the face of it. Barely, I could make out the hands pointing to 1:45 AM. I groaned, rolling over on the bed and staring at the ceiling. It was going to be a long night.

I could either fight the nightmares and face the day like an enemy instead of a friend, or I could take my chances and try to catch precious little sleep.

"Yeah, like that'll happen." I muttered under my breath, getting out of bed and climbing on top of the windowsill. I may have been able to climb up there when I was a child and snuggle myself between some pillows, notebook cradled in my arms and writing silly little drabbles running through my mind. These days, I was a little too old for that, but I would still find a way to sit up there and watch the skies for a while.

Sometimes, I wondered.

I could almost pretend that I was alone, standing in a graveyard in the middle of the night. If it could be called a graveyard, really-there was only one grave, and a little girl in a black dress would always sit curled up at the grave's base, weeping.

I couldn't speak. I couldn't call out. I couldn't run away. All I could do was pace across the grass, waiting for some event that never happened.

Minutes would pass, melting into what seemed like hours. When the starlight dimmed down and nothing was visible anymore, a hand grabbed mine. Dozens followed.

I'm not as strong as I want to be.

I'm still a child at heart...

... afraid and useless.

That'll never change.

And I screamed.

A shrill alarm burst to life, causing my eyes to jerk open. I turned over, my own screams still ringing in my ears, trying to make out the numbers on the clock. 6:35 AM.

Well, I had gotten some sleep. That had to count for something.

I tried to push off my covers, ignoring the temptation to lay back down and try to find dreamless sleep. That nightmare had long had its clutch on me, and had never let go.

It hurt, the feelings that I'd kept submerged for so long after I'd learned to believe.

I grinned and looked over at the mirror on the wall. "Get dressed, you worthless thing." I quoted to myself, and then started the day.

~*~

"LILAC!"

"Oh god what'd I do this time." I whirled around, just then opening my locker and getting crushed to death by Chris hugging me.

"We got first place last night!" Jordyn chimed, grinning. I highfived the twins, still trying to get my breath back.

"Nice!"

"Hey, you did good too. You and Lockheart got second." Chris told me, holding up a piece of paper. Sure enough, our names were listed.

"That's great." I tried to smile and then grabbed my books from the locker. "Hey, I'm gonna get to class. Crazy Pre-Algebra teachers wait for no lazy student."

"True. See you in fifth period!" Jordyn called, sprinting down the hallway with her sister. I sighed and looked at the inside of my locker.

Last year, it had been covered with dreams and fantasies. This year, there were two poems and one picture. I stared at myself, holding hands with another girl my age.

"For once, Claus has his dating priorities straight." I muttered, glancing at Emily in the photo and then slamming the door and walking off.

Elliot and Brittney were waiting in Pre-Al.

"Good job last night." Brit gave me a highfive as I slid into my seat.

"You better have told the twins that, too. They're the ones who made someone spit out their punch laughing." I told her.

"Girl, did you hear that applause when you went off the stage?" Brit laughed. "The only reason why you didn't get first was because... well... errr..."

I glanced at her dully, one eyebrow raised. "Terrible lyrics?"

"That's not true-! I mean hell, Li, you wrote them, anyway-"

"You know Chris and Jordyn were kidding." Elliot told me, already copying down the homework. "... crap, what was number fourteen last night? Think I skipped it."

Brittney and I exchanged a glance.

"Did you even do yours?" I asked, grinning.

"Shut up." She muttered. I turned to Elliot.

"Negative twenty nine."

"Thanks."

"Anytime."

I glanced out the window throughout class, thinking. That nightmare from last night... it came every night now. I couldn't avoid it, couldn't run away from it.

I didn't want to face the truth of it. And that was what still scared me.

0-0-0-0

A few hours later, some of my worst fears were confirmed in homeroom.

"So." Brittney slammed her books down on the desk in front of me and I winced. When Brit got angry, she got angry and let everyone know it. And by 'let everyone know it', that usually meant 'turn best friend into scapegoat'.

"So?" I tried weakly as Brittney sat down backwards in her seat. She gave me a dark look.

"So I got Elliot to come over to our table today..." She trailed off as Emily walked in. I waved, trying to be oblivious to Brit's glare boring a hole in my skull. "It was just fine until we left and I realized, oh yeah, he didn't say a word to me the whole time."

I facepalmed. "Brit, I hate to break it to you, but don't you think you're rushing this just a little bit? Give the poor guy some breathing space. Elliot's just the type that goes a little... slow, you know?"

"And you know someone of the fast type?" Emily asked, sitting next to me and grinning. I shrugged.

"How long did it take Claus to get together with you?" I covered up. The real answer was nothing I could say here. Not here, not now.

Never, nowhere.

"Your brother doesn't count!" Emily laughed. Brittney cracked a grin despite herself and I turned back to her.

"Just give it time, Brit. Elliot'll come around, and if he doesn't-" I paused for effect. "-then the guy doesn't deserve you."

Brit nodded. "All ri-" She paused. "Hey."

Oh god, I knew that look in her eye. That look that spawned a fear in me that caused every blood cell in my body to freeze up and scream a resounding, "Oh crap." A resounding "Oh crap" of panic I hadn't felt in months. "Li, I thought you never dated." Brit grinned and Emily joined in.

"You have seemed a bit more educated on dating than you used to lately." She chimed in. I winced, sinking back in my seat and digging for an excuse, an escape.

"Well-" I sat up straight again. Keep your composure. Don't let yourself cave in, not now. I told myself. "-Maybe it's because I read way too many freaking romance novels a certain SOMEONE keeps supplying me with!"

Both girls burst out laughing, to my eternal relief. "Okay, so I should stop being your book supplier?" Brittney asked, giggling.

"Hey! Those words never once left my lips and you know it!" I snapped playfully, laughing along with them.

The rest of the period went on like usual. I'd escaped confession for another day, I thought with relief, staring out the window of the classroom absentmindedly.

Not even Emily, my partner in crime for everything I was too geeky to admit to anyone else about, knew what had transpired that had really changed me. I'd kept it a secret, locked away under ink on a page that danced around the truth with lighthearted riddles that I called poetry these days. I kept the memories locked away, trying to keep myself seeming sane.

I wanted the key to open that lock again, though I never admitted it.

I wanted to open that lock and embrace the memories in one more sweet life-changing dream.

It would be better than the frequent nightmares, that was for damn sure.

But when I really thought about it, maybe...

I looked down at my poetry notebook, hidden under my desk and cradled in my lap. Taking a sharp breath, I eased it closed.

Maybe I didn't deserve a second chance.

"Hey." Emily interrupted as the bell rang, both causing me to jerk up. "You remember what tomorrow is, right, Lilac?"

Students piled out of the classroom, chattering excitedly about the freedom of another day, another week. Friday. What a sweet escape it gave us.

I deadpanned, turning back to an expectant Emily and Brittney. Both giggled, exchanging those 'idiot' glances.

Tomorrow... okay, you can focus for a minute on this. I thought. Tomorrow... October third... October thir-CRAP!

"OH CRAP!"

"Yep. See you later!" Brit called, darting off to catch her bus. Emily turned to grin at me.

"Sorry I can't come over tomorrow. Tell Claus I said hi and I love him, okay?"

"Yeah." I muttered, head spinning.

"Happy early birthday, Li!" Emily called as she left.

I was silent for a moment before cursing.

"How the HELL did I forget my fifteenth birthday?"

0-0-0-0

The house was silent and empty when I got off the bus, just the way I liked it on a Friday afternoon. Claus claimed to have 'plans' when I texted him-"Big fat surprise," I muttered-and mom was at work late, like every week.

A brindled cat jumped up on the couch to greet me as I fell back, dropping my bag on the floor by my feet. I ran a hand through her fur in greeting.

"Hi, Luna." I grinned. Shadow, a black cat, wrapped his tail around my lower leg in that possessive way of his. The two cats of the Alexis household were a different sort. Shadow was an old cat, older than me. Maybe the whole 'cats have nine lives' thing had something to it after all. If so, Shadow certainly didn't waste his.

Luna was six years old. She might have been a little crazy, I remembered, grinning at her curious pupils staring into mine, but she was a sweet cat and she cared, for sure. Both of them did.

Luna gave a mew of hello while I greeted Shadow. "Okay, you guys, seriously, if you don't let me up I'll be trapped on the couch until doomsday."

After five more minutes of hopeless joking, begging, threats, and overall general comical insanity, I managed to hit the bathroom and pull the ribbon that kept my hair tied down and without being trapped again, dragging a comb through it and looking at my reflection with mild half-interest.

I really hadn't changed much over the course of nine months. Gotten a little taller, maybe. I was still, unfortunately, as pale as a freaking vampire, which wasn't any shocker. Every time I wore the clothes that I did that day-ironically, a long-sleeved blue tee and matching skirt-I had to keep myself from laughing out loud. It had been a half-prank, half-dare to myself just for fun. And maybe memory. And even though the scar had been gone when I woke up, sometimes I pretended I could still see the bandages wrapped around my upper right arm.

Fate was cruel to me that day.

I glanced in the mirror again, pressing a hand against the glass.

"Who says goodbye is really goodbye?" I asked my reflection softly before laughing.

"Now that-" I noted, grinning, "-I would take as a birthday present."

And then, I froze.

Reflecting in the glass behind my figure was a woman who looked about in her twenties, hair shock white and reaching her shoulders, eyes reflecting mine-lavender, with a hint of a childish, mischievous spark.

I knew that spark.

"Grandma?" I whirled around, greeted by an empty wall. Heart dropped to my chest, I took a deep breath and left the bathroom, heading up the staircase and into my own bedroom. Shadow laid there on my pillow, looking at me expectantly as I laid back.

"What do you think?" I asked the cat softly, running a hand through his fur. "Do I really even deserve a second chance in the past?"

I was replied to with a stare.

"Or am I as crazy as Luna?" I asked him, giggling. The other cat came into the room as if she'd heard, jumping on the bed beside me and curling up.

I didn't realize it until much later, but I had no nightmares that night.

I guess it compensated for the fact that the true nightmare was still yet to begin.

0-0-0-0-0

October 3rd

I think I'm losing him.

I stared out the window, notebook cradled in my lap again. It was raining now, storming furiously like the end of the world was upon us.

He's been getting worse. It really doesn't help that Emily and I are really all he's got... Mom's just been getting distant and we're pretty much on our own now.

I think I'm going to lose Claus too, just like I lost her.

I think I'll be spending today completely alone. I don't care. It'll be fine.

... Happy freakin' birthday to me.

The notebook slammed shut, and I sighed, staring out the window again. If it rained any harder, the street was probably going to start flooding.

I got up and laughed to myself. Nine months hadn't changed me a bit. I was still the immature psycho girl I'd been, even at the start of the adventure.

Sure, I'd been doing my job. Secretly, anyway. I had secrets to keep, sanity to pretend I still had.

There was a louder clap of thunder outside than usual, and I groaned, throwing the window open. Freezing rain instantly started pounding my face, drenching my sleeves while the cold turned my face ashen white in seconds.

"Will you shut up out here?" I yelled to the storm. Surprisingly, it started dying down almost instantly. With one last reluctant boom in the distance, the tempest turned into a light shower.

"And thank the gods for that!" I snapped irritably, slamming the window shut and going in search of a towel.

Somewhere in the hall, I glanced up as the clock struck 11:42. One more minute until I was fifteen.

"Fifteen down, not many to go!" I cheered to myself unenthusiastically, pulling the stopwatch hanging on a chain around my neck out of its hiding place. The silver surface hadn't been scratched at all, and the gear engraved into it was as visible as ever.

I flipped it open. On one side was the clock itself, ticking on steadily like a heartbeat. On the other, engraved in words so small they could only barely be seen, was the message 'Belief is in the eye of the beholder.'

"Thanks, Grandpa." I smirked. I'd never actually bothered to call him that before.

Maybe that's the first place where I had gone wrong-I'd respected my grandparents more like friends than, well, my grandparents.

There were fifteen seconds left, and time seemed to slow down. I shut the stopwatch and returned it to its original position, clasping my hands together.

"To the gods and spirits of the world, thank you for continuing to watch over this land of mortals..."

The clock struck eleven forty three, and everything went straight to hell.

All of the sound in the world, all of the light, went out in a flash of blue fire. I fell to my knees, pain exploding through my chest like I'd been stabbed. The fire turned lavender, no heat touching my skin but instead freezing me like I was drowning. Blue sparks burst from a spot at the base of my throat.

The stopwatch.

My hands clutched onto it, the metal now chilling my skin. It was like it had turned to ice-my fingers couldn't pull away once they were wrapped around it, and the cold became numbing. The clock ticked on like a heartbeat, and in an instant, everything stopped.

I was alone again.

It was like I was actually drowning, now. I was drowning. Blood raced by my eyes in clouded blurs, wrapping around me in wisps. Pain still plunged through my stomach, but whatever had stuck itself in me was crystallized.

The ice broke.

And I opened my eyes.

"Sleeping like that really isn't going to help you out much this time around." A familiar voice told me, a gauntlet-clad hand closing on mine. "Come on, Li, get up."

I struggled to get up to my knees and was pulled up to my feet, glancing up and resisting the urge to scream with delight. My grandfather grinned, blank eyes flashing.

"Well, you did say you'd take it as a present. I guess this counts. Happy birthday, Li." He paused.

"Welcome back."

(Enter a line break here, because our local Line Break seems to have run away. Er. ... yeah.)

This is the longest chapter in the ALBN series yet and most likely will be the longest you'll ever get.

... Okay, Eye of the Storm and Back to Reality might beg to differ, but not even the ending chapters here in Closer are going to be this long.

Anyway, I'm aiming for a chapter per Saturday. So, next time on Closer to the Rising Sun: Chapter 2 - Something like Happiness!

Lilac: Review. Because. Yeah. ... What, you wanted me to do better because it's the first chapter? Oh, whatever, someone else is doing the next one, anyway.

Senom: Dammit, I can't stop you people from getting in my author's notes, can I?

Lilac: It's because you left the door unlocked and the keys were... er... dropped in the incinerator.

Senom: ... we don't have an incinerat-

Lily: *clicks camera off* See you all next week!