Miiko was right – I *had* seen some of Juri’s work and not known it. And she was right again when she said that Juri was good, very good. It was if she could access the soul of a person right through the makeup and clothes, right through the pose or the background. I spent about an hour looking at some of Juri’s portfolio, while she stayed conspicuously away, claiming to have some work that needed to be finished.
Eventually Juri came back into the room and shot Miiko a meaningful look. The younger woman was right on it. She thanked me for indulging her and said that after a good night’s sleep, she’d let me go home. Then, with a quick kiss for Juri, she was gone.
We sat facing each other, each lost in our respective thoughts. There was too little time here and we both knew it. Too many things that needed answering and too few answers.
“I expect you have already figured out that I am not the one who hit you.” Juri began. I nodded, but said nothing. “Do you know who it was?”
I didn’t say anything for a while, then, “No. I think I can make an educated guess, but I’m still not entirely sure why.”
She looked surprised. “You don’t? Surely it’s obvious?”
“I’ve learned nothing at all, what could I possibly know? I’m no closer now to Tenjou Utena than I was when I began.” I felt tired, and bitter.
Juri leaned forward and pinned me with that feline look. “You have all the information you need. Someone else knows that you do, or they wouldn’t have knocked you out. Obviously, they feel that you are getting close to the answer…close to Tenjou.”
“You know,” I diverted the conversation, feeling suddenly uncomfortable. “We still haven’t had a chat about her. What can you tell me about her?”
Juri was miles away and I had to repeat the question before she heard me. “Tenjou Utena.” She said, and then smiled. “I owe her quite a bit. A remarkable young woman.”
“Saionji said that, too.” I commented.
“Really?” This seemed to surprise Juri. “If, as you say, he has managed to find happiness, then yes, he probably does.” She paused. “Would you mind if I told you a story? It’s not a particularly good one and it might not help you, but, then again, it might.”
I gestured for her to continue.
Juri closed her eyes and leaned her head back. “Once upon a time,” her lips quirked slightly at that, “there was a girl. She was beautiful – or so people said – and good at anything she tried to do. She was popular too, but had two special close friends. The three were inseparable until, well, until puberty hit. Terrible thing, puberty. Because, you see, two of the three friends fell in love. Only, not with each other. It became the classic love triangle. And like all love triangles, it got ugly. One day the two friends ran away together and the girl thought she was relieved, since it took away the temptation to do something that wasn’t good, wasn’t right…wasn’t natural.
“Some time passed. One day Tenjou Utena showed up and something happened to the girl. She had thought that after all this time she was pretty much over the whole love triangle thing, that she had pulled herself together and had moved on and all that. But when Tenjou showed up, she realized that it was all a lie – that she was obsessed, unhappy, and worse, had grown cold. Of course, this had to stop; no one wants to feel that they have become inhuman. So the girl took it out on Tenjou. But Tenjou was young, and idealistic. She hadn’t grown cold and inhuman. At first it enraged the girl, and it strengthened the girl’s desire to hurt her. Then something happened…”
“You fought with Tenjou over the girl Anshi.” I interrupted.
Her eyes snapped open. “Yes. So you know about them. About the duels.”
It was like something in my head shifted at that very minute. The Kiryuu’s, Kaoru – who had loved Anshi, Saionji – who thought he had, and now Juri. They had all dueled with Tenjou Utena over my client. Several times. And they had all lost. Whatever it was that had happened to them – it had to do with those duels.
“How is it, that you remember them, where the other Council members don’t or can’t?” I wondered out loud.
Juri shrugged, as she shifted position. “I’m not sure, but I can hazard a guess. The Kiryuu’s both lost a lot in those duels – their self-assurance, their innocence, their power. Miki, well, poor Miki. I’d say he was too young, but he was the same age as Nanami. I don’t know why he hasn’t managed to remember. At the end he seemed free, but maybe something happened since then to trap him. I wonder if his sister…” Juri’s voice faded out again.
In some way I was enthralled. I felt like I knew these people; who they had been, who they were now. Almost as if I had been there, ten years ago, while this drama unfolded. Almost. But I was still missing pieces. I watched Juri as she searched the past for clues, hints.
“Who is Himemiya Anshi?” I asked suddenly. Her only reaction was to purse her lips.
“I have no idea.” Juri admitted. “She was the Chairman’s sister and the crux of the duel, but to be honest, I can’t see her face at all. I see Tenjou as clear as day – pink hair, blue eyes, standing in front of me stretching, while she talked of things she didn’t understand…” Juri’s blue eyes met mine. “but Anshi is a shadow in my mind. I couldn’t tell you what she looked like, even if she stood next to you right now.”
I felt a chill pass along my spine. Even if she stood next to you right now. I resisted the temptation to look around me, just to make sure she wasn’t.
I gestured again. “Please, finish your story.”
Juri’s eyes closed again. She wrapped her arms around one knee, looking as graceful and beautiful as ever.
“In the end, the girl decided that life was too damn short to take so seriously. And at that moment the chain that had enclosed her heart snapped. She was free. It was that easy. Later she left the school, went to university, and became a teacher. But she didn’t fall in love, you know, because that chained one’s heart.” Her eyes opened to meet mine.
“So…” I prompted. “What about Miiko?”
Juri laughed. “She was very subtle. First she asked my assistance with her class work. When she ran out of classes to take, she asked if there was anything she could do to assist me. I was oblivious through all this, of course. I just thought she was a good kid – dedicated, energetic. Students had crushes on me all the time, all through school – it wasn’t anything different, I thought. As soon as she met someone else, someone her own age…”
“I don’t think she was thinking of it like that.” I laughed.
“No,” Juri admitted. “She knew what she wanted. It took her a long time to get it. She tells me she nearly lost her patience.”
“Is it all worth it?” I asked. “Losing the job, I mean?”
Juri gave a short bark of laughter. “Worth it? Had I known it would end up this way, I’d have given in a lot faster.” And we both chuckled at that.
Silence fell again. It was a comfortable silence, the kind that falls between old friends. It felt good and I didn’t want to ruin it.
It was Juri who finally broke the silence. “Somewhere, somehow, you must already know where Tenjou Utena is. Find her, please.” There was a plea in her voice that surprised me. “If I can help, let me know. Tenjou Utena was a good person and I’d like to see her happy.”
I sighed and closed my eyes. They hurt and my body was filled with a low-level ache. “What next?” I thought. I must have spoken aloud though, because Juri replied.
“Ohtori, obviously. Where else?”
I couldn’t even nod. My eyes wouldn’t open and my head felt thick. I could hear Juri moving, and feel myself lowered to the couch beneath me. I was asleep before my head was level.
I took my leave of Juri and Miiko early the next day, but not until I promised to let them know when I reached home. Before I left, Miiko threw her arms around my neck and hugged me. Her slim form was rather nice to hold – I envied Juri. Juri and I shook hands, but I lingered, not quite wanting to part from these two.
“Look,” I said a bit abashed, “if either of you are ever in Kyoto…”
“You’ll be the first to know.” Miiko assured me. She beamed at me and I grinned back. I left then, but my mind stayed behind with those two women. I hoped I would see them again.
My apartment had never looked so good to me. There were several messages on the answering machine, but there was no rush to answer them. I called Nikki and told her that I was back and to be in the office bright and early. She yelled at me for not checking in, but I told her that I’d explain the next morning.
I made myself some strong coffee and watched TV until the dinner I ordered had arrived. Chinese tonight. Juri and Miiko ate too healthy for my taste and I craved fried rice – it tasted better than usual. I was feeling satisfied and happy with my place in the world when the phone rang. I let the machine pick it up.
“This is Himemiya Anshi. Please call me at your earliest convenience.” The noise of a disconnect. Hmmm. I walked over to the machine and hit the replay button. The first message was from a friend. Second one was from a credit card company offering me a great deal on long distance.
The third was more interesting. There was silence, then a voice hissed. “You bastard!” Then a scratchy silence. “Stop looking for Tenjou Utena or something much worse than being knocked out will happen to you.” The phone was hung up. Well, now, that was interesting. Of course, the voice was muffled and unrecognizable. The last call was from Nikki, wondering what was up – not panicked, just worried.
Not one call from my client. And I was gone three days longer than planned. No call until just now. How fascinating. I stared at the phone for a long time, debating whether to call her or not. It was obvious to me that the only way I was going to get to the bottom of this was to find out what secret my client was hiding. I picked up the phone.
She picked up on the first ring. “This is Himemiya.”
She recognized my voice and I proceeded to apologize for the unexpected delay. She sounded unconcerned and suggested we get together yet again to discuss business over a meal.
“My treat this time. Meet me outside the Kyoto National Museum.”
We agreed upon a time and rang off. “Curiouser and curiouser,” was what kept going through my mind, over and over.
I brought bento boxes I picked up from my favorite street stand and met my client in front of the museum. We ate outside in the sun on a bench and watched the people streaming into and out of the Museum grounds. She was, I noted, not uncomfortable with my choice of location – or food. In fact, she was completely at ease, just as she had been at Capital Toyotei. A rare woman indeed, and an enigma on many levels.
We finished up and wandered into the museum and began to stroll through the permanent collection. I gave a concise, somewhat edited report on my visits with Saionji and Juri.
She stopped in front a large piece of calligraphy from the Edo period, as I told her of my little brush with discomfort. Her eyes were dark with concern. When I had arrived at our assignation, she had noticed the now-faded bruises on my cheek and asked about them. I told her that we should eat first – that I like to keep business and eating separate. She had smiled at that.
Now as I told her of being rescued by Juri, watched all night by Miiko and my recovery in their care, she looked genuinely concerned. I was touched by it, but unsure what it meant. I finished my report and we continued to walk.
“The school records you gave me.” I said conversationally, “They’re fake, aren’t they?”
Miss Himemiya said nothing. She stopped in front of a Heian painting – a representation of the Buddhist hells. Demons at the various levels tortured their victims with their own desires. She stared up at the painting, her hands clasped behind her back. She looked young all of a sudden. Like a schoolgirl on a field trip. I could see her in that photo, embraced by Tenjou, her smile bland but sweet. Her voice snapped me out of my reverie.
“Yes, they are. But they are also the “official” records of the school. As far as Ohtori Academy knows, Tenjou Utena did all the things in those records – one more in an endless succession of students.” She sounded distant.
We stood and looked at hell together in silence. As one, we turned away and continued into the next gallery.
“Did you change those records?” My voice was softer than I had expected it to be.
She looked up at me, her eyes bright with some memory. “Yes. It was the last thing I did before…before I left.” That look, the one of remembered pain, settled across her face once again. I turned towards her, stopping where I stood. I held her by the shoulders and look hard into her eyes.
“Anshi – please tell me the truth.” She reacted with surprise to my use of her given name, but she didn’t correct me. She turned her head away from me and said nothing.
“Please…” I begged.
“I…can’t.” her voice was tortured, broken. I let go of her shoulders and she put her hands over her face and began to cry.
I pulled out a handkerchief and she took it, but did not look at me. I could feel my heart breaking for her. I was at a loss. I had no more leads and my client had lied to me. And all I wanted…all I wanted was to take her in my arms and hold her and tell her that it would be alright.
I tentatively reached a hand out for her and when she didn’t flinch at my touch, a second hand. Her sobs grew quieter, but did not stop. At last I gave in completely and held her tightly to me, stroking her hair while she cried. I could feel her tears soaking my shirt and feel her body quaking with her grief.
At last the tears subsided. Anshi pulled herself together, wiped her face and with a self-deprecating laugh, suggested we leave. “I believe I’ve made a sufficient spectacle of myself for one day.”
As we left, I offered her my arm and when she took it, she gave it a slight squeeze in thanks. It made me very happy.
We walked to my office, so she could clean up before she left. I was sitting on my desk when she came in. Her face was shiny and a little puffy and the sight left me breathless. I stood quickly, but she held up a hand to stop me.
“I’ve made up my mind.” She announced. “I can’t tell you everything. But there are a few things I can tell you. And so, I will.”
I sat back down on the desk and waited while she gathered herself together.
“I hope you aren’t tired of hearing my stories.” She said. I shook my head and she gave me a small smile. “Good, because there is another one you need to hear. You remember the story I last told you?” I nodded. Then she did. “Good.” Deep breath.
“Well, then. The Prince had the sister, you remember – the witch. The Prince came up with an idea that he could get his power back, but he needed to take it from someone else. So he created a situation in which a group of children, who all excelled in many things and were strong and capable, would be gathered together. And the finest of them would be rewarded with power and prestige. But there was a small price to pay – nothing unreasonable. Silly, even. They would have to fight duels for the possession of one of the students. Well, one after another, students stepped up to take this challenge, but in the end, none were truly strong enough. And the Prince at first grew desperate, then forgot entirely why he had created this situation in the first place. He grew to love the duels for themselves and forgot that he and his sister were trapped in their pain-wracked and weakened bodies.
“He. Forgot.” Anshi stared at the floor. She looked like she wanted to speak, but some force held her back. Her body was tense with some pain I couldn’t identify.
She took another deep breath. “And by the time Tenjou Utena,” her voice cracked, “came, neither the Prince nor the Princess believed that they would ever be free.” She looked at me, pleading with me to understand.
I cleared my throat. “But Tenjou did believe, didn’t she? And she freed the Prince and the Princess?”
Anshi nodded and swallowed hard. “But the Prince didn’t, couldn’t even realize it, so enamored was he with his games.”
“But you did – and you left Ohtori.” My head was pounding with all this. It was like a tale from my childhood – something barely remembered. “But Tenjou…” my voice was hoarse. “What happened to her?”
Anshi shook her head, tears cascading down her cheeks. “I…please.” She swayed where she sat and I leapt to support her. On my knees I held her, while she groaned in frustration or pain. It was a long time before we moved.
And then the moment was gone. Anshi pulled away and her eyes were dry. I felt like my head was on fire, but my thoughts were clear and concise.
“Anshi. I have to go to Ohtori.”
She looked at me, frowning. “I know. I had hoped…but then, if it comes to this, then this is what must be.” She stood and smoothed her dress. I stood as well and walked her to the door.
She turned to face me, then leaned forward and placed a small kiss on my lips. “Please be careful.” After the door closed behind her, I touched my lips where she had kissed me. I could feel her in my arms the whole way home.
As I packed a small bag for this next trip, I pondered what little I actually knew. It wasn’t Juri who had hit me – all she had had to do was leave me there and I’d have been little further trouble. Someone wanted me to think it was Saionji, and had gone to a lot of trouble to follow me to Kagoshima, so I would think it was him. But Saionji had left the past behind – he wasn’t the one who had done it. That left three choices and I was pretty sure I knew who, of those three, had the most to lose.
I thought hard about this quest of mine. I knew now that I wasn’t even *trying* to find Tenjou Utena at Ohtori. She wasn’t there – hadn’t ever really been, in fact. Her presence had been a cipher, a catalyst. And at the center of it all had been my client, the beguiling Himemiya Anshi. I whistled tunelessly, as I admitted to myself exactly why I was going to Ohtori Academy.
Juri had her wish – she was able to assist me. I had called her the night before and asked to borrow that helicopter of hers. Houou was out of the way and it would be difficult to get there on short notice otherwise. She sounded pleased to be able to help. Now, as I sat in the back of a cab heading towards the airport where my novel form of transportation waited, I thanked her silently. This wasn’t going to be fun, but one way or another I had to go.
My ride to Houou was fascinating. I had never been in a helicopter before (except for my unconscious flight a few days earlier) and thought it rather exhilarating. I like speed, heights, things that get my blood flowing and my heart racing. The pilot was a guy about my own age, who was happy to tell me all about flying helicopters. It made the time pass. When he set down on the helipad, we agreed that he could have the rest of the day off, but that he should be ready to lift off any time after 20:00. I didn’t know how long my visit would take, but I wanted to sleep in my own bed tonight.
I was expected at the Academy. A minor official met me, gave me the tour and answered general questions. He apologized and told me that the Chairman would be busy for another half hour, but would see me then. We walked amiably around the campus, while I watched the students going about student-like activities. Everything seemed perfectly normal, nothing out of the ordinary. I found it nearly impossible to believe that these fantastic and strange duels had occurred in this posh, pleasant school.
At last, the Chairman himself came to meet us. His smile was sincere – a politician’s smile. I searched his face for signs of Anshi. His skin was a lighter shade than hers, and where her hair was lush and dark, his was pale, lit from within. There was little resemblance between them. For some reason, I was relieved about that.
He gave me a polite greeting and let the minor official go about his duties. He escorted me up the hill towards his office. As we reached the summit of the hill, I began to feel something, a prickling down my spine and I knew that this was what I had come for.
The Tower was visible everywhere in town, much less on campus. I had seen it from the moment the ‘copter flew in sight of Houou, but now, as we approached it, it was as if a curtain was drawn from in front of my face. I could *see* the Tower – it looked exactly the same as it had, but now I could also feel the power emanating from it. It gave me the creeps. I hesitated at the door, but the Chairman invited me inside and I followed.
The Chairman himself was not what I expected. He was a slight man, standing just slightly too close, letting a hand touch you lightly, leaning down to talk to you…it was if he was letting you into his confidence. An attractive man, he was obviously used to using his looks to get his way. His whole manner was geared towards seduction. I wondered how many of the teachers he had slept with…or students. I began to dislike him instantly. I don’t care to be manipulated and he was clearly a master manipulator.
As he spoke to me of the accomplishments of Ohtori students, I wondered if you kept peeling away his layers, would you find anything underneath or just more layers.
We took an elevator to the top of the Tower, and entered a vast room, surrounded by palladium windows. From there you could see the whole of the campus, and on clear days, most of Houou, as well. I strode carefully around the room, trying to find just what I had come here for. The Chairman continued to talk and I continued to let him. Halfway around the room, I found it.
“What’s that?” I asked, pointing out to a small, but dark and thick, growth of forest behind the main area of the campus.
He smiled and came up behind me. A hand was laid gently on my shoulder as he leaned his head next to mine to point. I tried not to flinch.
“Oh, that?” His voice was a soft purr in my ear. I could see where it would have sent chills along the spine of a younger, or more naïve person. Male or female, this man made you want him. He set my teeth on edge. “That is a remnant of the old growth forest that once covered this area of Japan.”
I nodded. The hand on my shoulder moved to my back and I stepped away. The Chairman hesitated, then stood to his full height. “We leave it there to contribute, in our small way, to the conservation of the environment.”
I turned to face him partially, keeping the forest in my sight. “What is that structure inside of the forest?” I kept my voice casual, but his reaction was not casual at all.
A fist clenched by his side and the color drained out of his face. No longer teasing or seductive, his eyes grew cold and hard. “Just a memorial.” His voice was clipped. “To past students.”
“Not,” I let my eyes drift back to the window, “the place where some of the students fight duels?”
There was silence. I turned to face the Chairman and in his eyes I read the answer. I had found what I was looking for. I could go home to Anshi.
It was late afternoon when I left Ohtori. I felt drained. And in some small way, I felt sorry for the Chairman, a lion with no fangs and only stubby, dull claws. He’d never escape from that place; never gain back his former glory. Tenjou Utena had destroyed that possibility. I wondered how Anshi had felt when she understood that. And I wondered if she felt any lingering pity for her brother, who had trapped her there for so long.
I still had some time to kill before I had to get to the helipad, so I wandered the streets of Houou randomly, stopping at a café for a light meal. The seats were full of students and I eavesdropped openly on their gossip. It was all the usual kinds of things, which reassured me.
It was time for me to go. Time to go home and make my final report to my client. Time to close this case. With a sigh, I headed down a small street and watched people hurrying to their homes for meals. The street became pedestrian only, then narrowed into an alleyway. I slowed my steps, to give my stalker some time to catch up. It wasn’t hard to hear the footsteps, even on the crowded streets. They had stopped when I had, resumed when I had. I saw a small cul-de-sac to my right and knew that I had found a good spot in which to make my stand. Stopping where I stood, I hunched over my overnight bag, pretending to rummage around in it.
The footsteps made no attempt at muffling themselves and I knew immediately when the knife had been swung. Putting one arm out to intercept the swing, I stepped back and leaned into a classic koshi-guruma. I took the knife from my assailant’s hand as she went flying into the cul-de-sac, landing heavily on her butt with a “whoof.”
I glanced at the knife – an antique tanto. Saionji’s, in fact. He had played with it as he talked to me in his study. I looked down at my attacker who hadn’t moved since she landed. She breathed heavily, her face sneering with anger, but said nothing.
I ticked the questions off on my fingers as I talked. “One – why do you hate Anshi so much? Two – why do you hate Saionji so much? Three – what is so important that you feel murder is worth committing? Four…I can’t think of a four right now, but I’m sure I will.” I stared down at her, as she glared up at me. “Four – are you going to sit there all day?” I reached out a hand, which she ignored. Standing and brushing herself off, Kiryuu Nanami walked past me with not even a word of apology.
As she passed me, I reached out and spun her around. She struggled, but I grabbed at her arms and held them tightly. Her eyes narrowed. I realized that I was the one holding the stolen knife…and I was manhandling her. I wouldn’t put it past her to scream bloody murder and get me arrested. I let her go and she stumbled back a few steps.
“You’re an idiot,” she said. “Just like before – no one listens to me, they think I’m crazy. But I’m the only one who sees what’s going on!” Her voice had risen, become shriller with each word. “It’s just the same! Don’t you see?” Her voice cracked and she stopped shouting. Heaving with emotions I couldn’t begin to understand, she stood; fists clenched staring at me, daring me to deny her challenge.
“No.” I said, tired once again. “No, it’s not like it was. The duels are over Nanami. You don’t have to fight anymore.” My words seemed to suck the anger right out of her. She slumped, defeated. I checked my watch. The pilot wasn’t expecting me any particular time. I could wrap this up before I left.
“C’mon,” I said and took her arm, guiding her down the alleyway to a larger street. I found a vending machine; got us some canned coffee and sat her down on a bench. The streets were nearly empty, everyone inside for their evening meals, TV and however else they forgot about how awful the world was.
Nanami wouldn’t look at me, but I watched her. She looked young, younger than me by a little, anyway. And she was the one who ran the company. A lot of pressure for a young woman. I felt bad for her, but not that bad.
“Are you going to make me ask you again?” I said, at last. She shook her head.
“Well?” When some time passed and she still hadn’t said anything.
“It’s all confused,” she snapped. “I don’t know where to start.”
“Start at the beginning,” I suggested, but she shook her head again.
“No. The beginning makes no sense, neither does the middle. Only at the end did it make sense. And now it’s not over.” She looked up at me. “That’s the problem, you see. I thought it was over. But it isn’t. You’re here and you don’t understand.”
I finished my coffee and tossed the can in a wastebasket. “You’re wrong, Nanami. I do understand – I understand everything.” And I met her eyes evenly. She looked at me hard, for a long time, and then took a shuddering breath.
“I hope to God you do. I don’t want to lose him again.”
“Who, Touga?” I wished I smoked or something – I was restless, with nothing to do with my hands.
She nodded and finished her coffee. She stared at the can until I took it from her and threw it away. Let her be restless too.
“Yes. My beloved brother.” A slight, almost imperceptible stress on the second word. Nanami looked around, then back at me. “You don’t have a cigarette or anything, do you?” I shook my head. “Oh, well, that’s probably for the best. I don’t really smoke.” She clasped her hands in her lap. When she began to speak again her voice was very low and soft.
“After he graduated, we all thought the worst was over. While she was at the school, Tenjou did something to him, you know. He dropped out of sight for a while. That was when I took over as acting President of the Student Council. It was awful – I hated it. Miki was so serious, Juri, well, she looked at me like I was a worm, you know. Saionji was gone, and I was glad. He was a terrible person. He clung to my brother like a barnacle, always pretending to be as good as him. When he came back I tried to make him feel bad, but he wouldn’t. He took up his position like he had never left. And worse, my brother and he seemed to have made up – become closer even. Too close.”
“Lovers?’ I asked. She shrugged.
“Well, at least it seemed that way. Whether they actually were, I don’t know. Everyone was hinting, and hinting about other things. Touga and I had a disagreement and I left home for a while.” She sighed. “Up to that point, I had always assumed it was Tenjou Utena’s fault. From the beginning, my brother obsessed about her. But after I left home, I learned something horrible and I had to come back. And that was when I figured out that it wasn’t Tenjou – it was that Himemiya witch.”
I stuck my hands in my pockets. “So you found out. About her and her brother.”
She looked at me with huge eyes. “It was disgusting. And Tenjou so blind, so innocent…” Her words became a hiss. “Even when I warned her. She pretended there was nothing wrong. Idiot.” She put her face into her hands, but when she pulled them away a moment later her eyes were dry. “And then, all of a sudden – it was over. Tenjou was gone, Himemiya was gone. And we all twirled, like streamers in the breeze, with nowhere particular to go.
“I thought it would be better once they were gone, I really did. I went away myself, for a while. Went to college, got a business degree. Then I heard from my parents, there seemed to be something wrong with my brother. I came home and found him wandering the house, as if he had lost his memory. I tried to talk with him, but he barely remembered anything at all. Like it had all been a dream.”
I leaned back against a streetlamp while she went on.
“His memory had nearly disappeared…not just of the events at Ohtori. Of *everything.* And I began to get worried. That’s when I began to run the business. It’s been years since then, and he still fugues sometimes, or gets depressed. He needs me now….” She laughed bitterly. “Do you know – when I was a child, all I wanted was to be the most important person in his life? And now I’m trapped by that very wish.”
“And me?” I shook the pocket that held the knife.
“You? You started it all up again. Touga had been doing much better; he was paying more attention to business, spending less time in his dream-state. Then you came, asking all those questions about Tenjou and Himemiya. The next morning he was gone.”
Her face was bleak. “Gone. When he came back two days later, I had no idea where he had been, and he couldn’t remember. Or he wouldn’t say. He said he’d gone to find Tenjou Utena, that he was her prince. I was livid. After all this time, I thought we were free, at least of that name. I tracked you down…and you know the rest.”
I let the silence between us deepen for a while.
“And killing me would have solved the problem?” I asked finally.
She looked up, genuinely surprised. “If you can ask that, then you don’t really know everything, do you?” And she smiled, a strange, twisted smile. “Just like it was before.”
I thought about that. I felt like she was telling me something, but that the meaning was just beyond my reach.
“One more question and then I’ll see you to wherever you need to go.” I said. “Did the Chairman ever try to seduce you?”
She laughed that bitter laugh again. “No. It might have been better if he had.” But she fell silent and wouldn’t say more.
I offered her a ride anywhere she wanted to go, but she turned me down, saying that she was staying with friends. I let her go, and watched her slim form disappear into the night, all the time thinking about what she had been trying to say to me.
Glossary of terms:
Koroshi-guruma: Hip Wheel. A throw in judo.