A/N: I'm glad there are people enjoying the start to this story! I'm still thinking about various things I could include, so I hope I'll be able to develop a coherent narrative.
Disclaimer: "Majisuka Gakuen" is property of Yasushi Akimoto, TV Tokyo, Dentsu, etc.
Chapter 2: Setting the Board
The girls sitting together in a circle were a year younger than their upperclassmen, Team Hormone. Instead of green tracksuits they wore yellow, and instead of meat they ate cheese fondue. That was why they were – Team Fondue. Like their upperclassmen however, the girls passed the time they spent eating their favourite food by discussing the goings-on of their school – Majisuka Jyogakuen.
"Do you think they'll call in the Tsu Alliance?" Kanburi looked around the circle of girls for their opinion.
"Dunno," muttered Tsuri as she dipped a potato chip into what was left of the melted cheese.
"But Nezumi tried that before, didn't she?" Toshima was referring to the time Nezumi had sent an email out in an attempt to rally the troops. Team Fondue opted to not answer her call. "It's hard to trust her."
"Center trusts her," Docchi somberly mentioned to her team.
"Doesn't mean we should." Lemon pouted her lip out at the thought of having anything to do with Nezumi.
"But she fought for MajiJo with everyone against Yabakune," Kanburi pointed out.
The chip between Tsuri's fingers snapped between her teeth. "It could just be part of her scheme."
Lemon tilted her head to one side as she said, "What are those two thinking? They could save everyone all this trouble if they accepted the top from Maeda."
"There's no choice now. They know what they want." Docchi dropped a handful of grated cheese into the pot. "We'll have to wait for what's next."
- Majisuka Jyogakuen rooftop -
The wind at the rooftop was as strong as it had been the day Center first went up to the Rappappa clubroom. Although the view from the roof was the same, it looked just a bit more satisfying than it used to.
"Who will you take down first?"
Center glanced toward the girl who had joined her by the railing. "It doesn't matter to me; but since Gekikara's in the hospital she'll likely be the last of the Big Four."
The corners of Nezumi's mouth curled up as she replied, "Of course." She turned and began to meander amongst the refuse that had been left on the rooftop. "I presume Otabe would follow? Although she's the president it's only because Maeda gave her that position." Nezumi spun around and perched herself on the back of the dog statue. "Well, Maeda's locked up for now so you need to wait to fight her anyway."
"It's fine." Center turned, the wind blowing her hair back as she faced her friend. "I'll work my way up to Maeda. She's the one I want to have a one-on-one with the most."
- Rappappa Clubroom -
"So that's how it is." Gakuran had just finished telling Otabe the decision the Four Queens had come to. She braced herself, expecting the president to rebut with some justification for not fighting as she had done during the war with Yabakune.
Otabe leant on the shelving by the window, her expression impassive. Finally she said, "Very well."
The eyes of Gakuran, Shaku, and the Kabuki Sisters widened in surprise.
Shaku shot up from where she was sitting. "You're okay with it?"
Otabe knowingly smiled. "Even if I wasn't would it make a difference?"
The girls cowered when they realized Otabe had predicted this sort of action from them.
Their president continued. "Since the showdown with Yabakune and the others, there hasn't been any noise from those schools. The most suitable time for a fight for MajiJo's top would be now."
Ookabuki grinned. "Then we'd better get it over with quickly."
"Before we're interrupted," Kokabuki added.
Otabe took a step forward and meaningfully regarded the others. "They're the ones who chose this, so give them everything you've got."
Gakuran agreeably smirked. On behalf of the Queens she answered, "For sure."
- Hope Reform School -
Even in the dining hall of a reform school, certain girls sat together at certain tables. The dining hall was filled with the sound of chatter, girls gossiping or arguing, and the clatter of dishes. It was with luck that Maeda had found a table that was free where she could eat in solitude. She was still thinking about her encounter with Miso and what she had said. She had heard that Gekikara had been stabbed by someone from Yabakune, but Maeda didn't expect she would come face-to-face with that person herself; and the fact that Miso made contact with her must have meant she was planning something.
"You're Maeda Atsuko, right?"
Maeda looked up from her tray of food and saw a girl had slipped into the seat across from her. "Yes."
The girl had a friendly appearance, but turned a bit somber as she quickly glanced from side to side. She leaned over the table and whispered, "It's dangerous to be a lone wolf around here. Most of the girls have grouped off. You should think about joining one."
Her response was immediate. "Not interested." Maeda didn't have time to be getting caught up in other girls' problems, not if she wanted to make it in time for graduation. It also appeared Miso would be keeping her busy, if her attempt on puncturing her hand was any indication.
The girl pursed her lips but was undeterred by her dismissal. In the same concerned manner, she said, "We're here for rehabilitation but fights still happen. There are some dangerous girls here. If you get in a pinch it'd be good to have comrades."
Maeda was in the middle of bringing some rice to her mouth, but stopped upon hearing the last of the girls' words. A memory of high school girls standing outside an abandoned office building surfaced in her mind. She lowed her chopsticks and looked at the other girl. "If comrades come naturally, I won't oppose it."
Appearing satisfied with Maeda's answer, the girl smiled and picked up her own pair of chopsticks.
"Do you have a name?" Maeda asked as she watched the girl lift her soup.
A startled expression of realization crossed the girl's face. "Oh, sorry! Yes, you can call me –"
Their trays suddenly slid across the table after a foot kicked its edge. The two found seven glowering girls standing at the end of the table.
"So you've finally come out of hiding, Maeda?" The girl in the middle cocked her head.
"How did you end up here?" said another. "It looks like Takahashi lost her life for nothing."
At first Maeda only stared at them, but then something in her head clicked. Takahashi… Takahashi… Takahashi Minami… Minami. Girls wearing beige blazers and long dark skirts flashed in her consciousness, and then girls wearing red jumpsuits being taken away by the police. A slow, almost terrible comprehension dawned on her. She gazed at the imposing group of girls and said, "You're from Gan Gire…"
"Well, duh!" a girl at the end spat in response to her sluggish recognition.
"It's your fault we're stuck in here!" Another girl beside her slammed her hand on the table and glared at Maeda. "You and that Takahashi."
A swirl of emotions Maeda couldn't tell apart brewed somewhere in her chest – but one of them felt distinctly like a surge of vehemence.
The girl who had been sitting with Maeda stood from the table. "You should go," she warned the Gan Gire High School girls. "Look, security is coming this way."
The girls grimaced at her, but two guards were already coming close.
Before slouching off, the girl with her hand on the table leaned in to Maeda and muttered, "Don't think this is over, Maeda. No way is it over."
Security followed the GGHS group out the dining hall, to the relief of the girl remaining with Maeda. She looked over at her, still sitting at the table with her chopsticks in hand – but it seemed to her Maeda was holding them too tightly.
- Rappappa Clubroom -
"I wonder how Maeda's getting along," Bungee mused as the meat crackled over the grill.
Maeda Atsuko had for the most part been missing since the new school year began. No one but Otabe knew what she was up to, or where she was. Now, the students knew where she was, but it was still troubling not to know how she was faring.
"She's probably fine," Akicha answered.
"Probably getting along better than Gekikara did," Unagi remarked.
Wota rubbed the bridge of her nose. "Reform school didn't really do anything for her. It's Yuko-san that made a difference – probably for Maeda too."
"Do you think we should visit her?" asked Mukuchi.
"That's a good idea!" A sixth pair of chopsticks reached into the grill and plucked a piece of meat.
Team Hormone followed it back to the owner's mouth and reeled back in shock. "Daruma!"
"Why are you here?" Unagi exclaimed.
Daruma toothily grinned and said, "What do you mean? I'm a MajiJo student, aren't I?"
"Aren't you supposed to be training?" said Bungee.
"I've already powered up!" She formed her free hand into a fist and pumped her arm. "Didn't you see?"
Recalling her appearance at the office building, Akicha said, "Even you can beat up small fry so it's not that impressive."
"What?" Daruma made a sweeping motion at them with her chopsticks. "I can take you guys on now with my level."
"Don't exaggerate," Mukuchi muttered.
Wota shook her head. "Anyway, why haven't you been to see Maeda yourself yet?"
"Ah…" For a moment Daruma looked nonplussed. "I don't know where she's staying."
Together Team Hormone shouted, "Seriously!?"
- Not too far -
The stairwell was deserted as the second-year student took measured steps down the stairway. Eavesdropping was a hobby of hers, and although she knew her predisposition would be considered rude, she had no qualms about it. That was why she was Nezumi.
She stepped out of the stairwell into the corridor, which was not quite as deserted. A student was headed her way, probably returning to her classroom. She stopped in her tracks when she saw the girl in the hooded sweater, but Nezumi ignored it and walked by.
Nezumi paused a few paces behind the other second-year student. "What?"
She swallowed and gathered what nerve she could find. Kanburi had never personally spoken to Nezumi before and simply getting her attention was daunting. She stood her ground and asked, "Will the Tsu Alliance be involved in taking the top?"
A smirk played upon Nezumi's lips. She turned on her heel and in an ironically amused tone said, "There are still people interested in being in the Tsu Alliance?"
Kanburi faltered. "Well… maybe not… but my team still wants to know what you plan on doing."
"The alliance has been disbanded." She turned back and started to walk away. "That's all you need to know."
Kanburi's mouth opened and closed. It didn't seem like enough information. She floundered, making an effort to think of what else she could say to try and gain her acknowledgement.
Nezumi was nearing the corner when another girl stumbled into her path. Scowling, Nezumi grumbled, "Why are the small-fry suddenly coming out to pester me?"
It looked like the girl had been in a struggle. The white lace on her shoulders and headpiece were slightly askew, and her usual haughty attitude abated as she attempted to properly stand. "Team Under took my room. They said if I have a problem with it to take it up with you."
Originally Team Under had seized Nezumi's hideout to establish their headquarters. Apparently even after taking over someone else's space the team wanted to cause trouble for her. "I've got nothing to do with it. If you wanted to keep your room you should have done a better job fighting for it."
"What did you say?" She lunged forward and threw a wild punch, which Nezumi effortlessly sidestepped.
Their positions in the corridor reversed, Nezumi continued to goad her. "That room was occupied by the Sanshou Sisters, but are you even a Sanshou Sister anymore? Those other two beat you up and transferred to Yabakune."
Manamana's face twisted in anger and again she raised a fist. "Shut up!"
"Don't!" Kanburi sped forward and latched onto Manamana's arm, holding her back.
Manamana was momentarily stunned by her interference, and even Nezumi had a mild expression of disbelief.
"Let go!" shouted Manamana, thrashing about to try and free her arm.
Kanburi held fast. "Hitting her won't solve your problem!" It was growing difficult to keep a hold on her. Being part of Team Fondue, Kanburi only had one-fifth the strength of an apt yankee.
A booted foot kicked out to the back of Manamana's knee and the lolita crumpled forward onto all fours. The same foot stamped onto Manamana's back, forcing her to lay out on the linoleum flooring.
"It's laughable how quickly the three of you turned on each other even though you were a team." Nezumi kept her foot firmly planted on her victim while she expounded. "Even so, you were beaten by your comrades because you wanted to stay at MajiJo. Why don't you prove you belong here and do something useful instead of blaming others." She pushed her foot off Manamana and didn't give either girl a second look as she continued on her way.
"Ergh…curses…" Manamana sat herself upright and watched Nezumi's receding form. "She's one to talk about loyalty."
Kanburi didn't say anything as Nezumi rounded the corner. Only she saw the malevolence fade from Nezumi's face when she delivered those last few words.
- Hospital -
"Don't think about leaving the hospital again. Center will want you to be at your best for your one-on-one."
"So you know." Gekikara ruefully smiled.
Today the Rappappa president was paying her a visit. The moment the door slid open Gekikara anticipated she would bring up the matter of the second-years; but unlike Gakuran and the others, Gekikara was not taken aback by her blessing.
Otabe returned her smile with a placid one. "Although since the top is supposed to be theirs anyway it seems meaningless to fight. It would be a test of strength and will more than anything else."
Her comment struck a chord with Gekikara. At the time when the other Queens had visited her she had thought about this too – a reason for fighting. She turned pensive and felt Otabe watching over her. "Yuko-san taught me that there has to be a reason for fighting. Fighting without a reason is meaningless."
Otabe patiently listened. "Do you have a reason for fighting Center?"
Gekikara quietly thought for a moment. "Before the war with Yabakune I thought fighting Center would mean protecting Yuko-san's MajiJo. A lot happened and fighting Center was the last thing on my mind."
"Well, you still have time."
She looked over at the Rappappa president. "What about you, Otabe?"
The girl sitting at Gekikara's bedside became reminiscent. "I was always fighting to prove my strength, but after meeting Maeda that changed. Rather, I think I learned something from her." She met Gekikara's gaze and said, "Maybe I can learn something from Center as well."
- MajiJo Cultural Studies Room -
It didn't take long for Team Under to clear out the belongings the Sanshou Sisters had left behind. The room still had some of the items that were part of the culture studies room, but among them the team had set up their own furnishings, such as an exercise machine and their large photo of Shaku.
"It sure is convenient to have a sink in here." Rice tapped one of the faucets attached the counter where the group sat.
"Should we have kept the tea set?" considered Showa. The set could still be salvaged since they had boxed it.
Anime frowned. "What for?"
"Maybe we could boil some flowers in it."
Showa made a face. "That sounds gross."
"But tea is pretty much boiled plants, right?"
"Not exactly." Anime knew a thing or two about tea from watching Rozen Maiden.
Team Under was diverted from their conversation when the door opened and Team Fondue unexpectedly walked in. The four girls got up from their seats, provoked by the intrusion.
"What do you want?" Rice demanded as the teams approached one another.
The members of Team Fondue fanned out and Kanburi replied, "We thought we'd do something useful."
- Flashback -
Docchi furrowed her brow. "So Team Under is there. What does that have to do with us?"
Standing in front of her teammates, Kanburi ardently declared, "We should fight them."
The girls gaped at her. "Haaah?"
"Team Under is part of Rappappa. If we win against them our status will go up," she reasoned. "We want to be in Rappappa next year, right?"
Tsuri countered, "But if Center and Nezumi manage to get the top, we'd be their underlings."
"Center is fine, but Nezumi…" Toshima trailed off.
She knew how most of the students at MajiJo felt about Nezumi, but Kanburi remembered what had happened in the corridor. "Actually, Nezumi's the one who said to prove ourselves."
"Nezumi said that?" The surprise and skepticism in Tsuri's voice was evident.
Kanburi hesitated. "Well… maybe it was more for Manamana, but still…"
Lemon crossed her arms and set her face into a willful expression. "If Nezumi said that I'm totally against it."
Toshima agreed. "She could be trying to use us to get what she wants."
Her team's reaction was not what Kanburi had been hoping for, but she understood where they were coming from. It was difficult to tell with Nezumi when she was being sincere. Center probably couldn't tell either, but she was faithful to her nevertheless; and Nezumi's attempted betrayal of her caused nearly everyone in the school to be wary of anything having to do with the hooded girl. Still, Kanburi couldn't help thinking that after recent events maybe something had changed, even a little.
"What we want is to be in Rappappa."
The girls looked toward Docchi, who was staring intently at the fondue pot.
She lifted her gaze and solemnly regarded her team. "If beating Team Under will get us closer to that goal, then…"
- End Flashback -
"Are you working with Center and Nezumi?" Anime growled. Team Fondue had once been part of the Tsu Alliance, as had Team Under. While Anime was fairly certain that by now the five girls also distrusted Nezumi, at the same time they respected Center.
"We're not doing this for anyone but ourselves," stated Toshima.
To that, Tsuri resolutely appended, "Because we're the next generation of Rappappa."
"Shouldn't you be challenging Team Hormone, then?" said Jumbo. Team Hormone was the group closer to the higher-ups of Rappappa.
"No." Straight-faced, Lemon stated, "Hormone and cheese fondue go well together," baffling the four girls.
"Formation!" Docchi cried out.
Inexplicably, the members of Team Fondue voiced clanging sounds as they clasped one another's limbs and set Lemon on Kanburi and Docchi's backs.
"Human Missile!" Lemon loudly proclaimed, holding her arms straight out.
Team Under stared at Team Fondue's position, which looked highly ill-suited for fighting.
"Fire!" Lemon shouted, and her teammates ran forward, carrying her on a one-way course to charge the other team who started yelling.
"What are you doing!?"
- MajiJo Infirmary -
Manamana was starting to think she should have gone home, but at least after threatening Kiken, the school doctor let her clean her own wounds. She was in no state to be challenging Team Under again today but she had to do something to recoup what she had lost.
That room was occupied by the Sanshou Sisters, but are you even a Sanshou Sister anymore? Those other two beat you up and transferred to Yabakune.
Even so, you were beaten by your comrades because you wanted to stay at MajiJo. Why don't you prove you belong here and do something useful instead of blaming others.
That Nezumi could be irritating but her words held some truth. Sitting alone in the room drinking tea wasn't the same without Myao and Love-tan; and while she didn't regret remaining at MajiJo neither did she want to be a leftover pepper.
"Oh, what are you doing?" Kiken noticed that Manamana was holding the gauze sponge but not using it. He grinned perversely and said, "If you need help all you have to do is ask."
His hand reached for the tweezers and Manamana jabbed the appendage with the fused end of the tool.
"I can do it myself!"
The infirmary door rattled open and a battered Team Under staggered through its entrance.
"Oh, what happened here?" Kiken may have been conveying concern if he didn't sound so pleased.
The ill-tempered aura Team Under had when they came in did not dissipate. Rather, they focused it on the girl sitting on one of the infirmary beds. Manamana had no idea what was going on. She should be the one giving Team Under dirty looks.
"The cultural studies room," Anime groused. "You can have it back."
They grabbed some supplies from the infirmary and left Manamana staring after them, as befuddled as before.
"Ah, wait!" Kiken chased after Team Under out of the infirmary. "Let me take care of your wounds!"
- Hope Reform School -
The perimeter of the reform school was not laid with physical barriers. Students were free to roam the school grounds but must be in their rooms by curfew. Anyone caught attempting to run away from the facility was punished upon her return with physical exercises to the point of exhaustion. It was with care that one girl ventured into the woods surrounding the school, making sure she did not pass the facility's intangible border.
The person she was to meet was waiting at their usual location, leaning against a tree with her back to her. The other girl wished she wouldn't do that, because with her hood up, she was always uncertain whether it was her or not.
"So how is it?" the hooded girl inquired, not turning to verify her contact.
"If she's as strong as you say, she'll be alright, won't she?"
"Even Maeda's fist can't stop a blade. Miso will do whatever it takes if she wants to get rid of someone."
That outlook made her uneasy. She questioned whether someone that dangerous should even be in a reform school. "That's not right."
"That's because she's not right."
Feeling that circumstances were becoming more grim, she reported, "Also, the girls from Gan Gire High School came up to her during lunch." She saw the hooded head move a fraction downward.
"I see." She paused and remarked, "It would be interesting to see Maeda get serious in this place." Nezumi moved away from the tree and faced her inside contact. "Whatever happens, keep an eye on situation – Peace."
The girl wearing the green hair band answered, "Yeah. I'm in charge of procurement after all."