Himemiya Heavy Industry Concern
Popular Friends Forever, Fashionable Ultimate, And All Is Well
Cats make no sound, unless they can talk.
Dusty padded silently into the room. He had been avoiding talking to Himei most of the day... she didn't seem like she was in a mood for conversation. Every time he tried to talk about the Yamiko she got worse. Every time he tried to talk about something other than the Yamiko he did such an awkward job of it that she could tell he was trying to talk about something other than the Yamiko.
But hours had gone by, and Himei was getting more and more distant. Days had gone by and things were crashing all around him... she had changed. From the warrior of light, Sailor Salvation -- to a hollow soldier, Sailor Nothing. There wasn't a whole lot different between the two other than uniform... but she felt empty to him, as if she was going through the motions in a kind of horrified acceptance rather than the plausible denial she felt before.
Cats don't think about these things, unless they can talk.
He had to climb a mountain to see her. A mountain of dolls. All neatly piled on top of her cot. On top of her. All that was visible of Himei was her face, staring upwards at the ceiling, surrounded by her dolls. A Curious George and a Hello Kitty stared at Dusty in flat accusation as he perched on the dolls on her chest, and spoke up.
"You know, Himei, I was thinking," he said, because he was indeed thinking. "This isn't normal."
No response. No response at least meant no 'Please go away, Dusty,' so he continued.
"Usually we find maybe two Yamiko a week, at best," he continued, tail flicking side to side in nervousness. "We've hunted down three in the last two days. That's more than the normal rate, see. Not really what we're used to. So, I was thinking, 'What if the Dark Generals of the Yami-gaia are up to something?'. They don't usually organize, but I don't think they could pull this off without some serious--"
"What does it matter?" the girl buried in the mountain asked. "We have to stop the Yamiko."
"Well, yes, of course, I know, but I think there's more going on here than meets the eye. Maybe some sort of--"
"Magnificent Kamen always handled the tactics," she explained. "He just told me who to fight. I don't know anything about that stuff... neither do you. You're just speculating."
"...I know. I know I'm just speculating. But you can't go on like this, Himei."
The dolls didn't shift an inch. "Why not?"
"Because it's too hard on you," he mildly scolded. "You're not getting enough rest.. I mean, less than usual, even. Your wrist is probably sprained and you took a bad knock to the head last night, and the risk is going up the more you get hurt. You can only tell your parents you fell down the stairs at school so many times before they start asking questions.. even YOUR parents. And... and If you keep fighting alone like this, you might--"
"Die?" Himei asked, a single word, with an inquisitive tone.
"...I was going to say get seriously injured, but yes, that's possible too," Dusty spoke, trying to downplay it.
"So what? I might die," she said calmly. "I stand that chance every time I go out. But I still have to go out. I can't not fight. It's all I am. It's all I have left."
Dusty's fur started to stand on end. "Himei, please don't talk like that..."
"Let me know next time you feel a Yamiko," Himei spoke, shifting under the pile so that Hello Kitty fell into the gap her face previously looked through. Her voice muffled instantly. "I'll be right here."
Not that he was expecting some great resolution, Dusty reminded himself as he wandered off to rub up against the couch in the living room. (It helped him relax.) Her father was watching some old American war movie... soldiers in green costumes storming a beach, covering each other as best they can under a thundering hail of cannonfire. Even with the volume on low, the sound kept him from properly relax, but it did help him think.
His charge was driven now. She had purpose beyond just satisfying Magnificent Kamen's demanding standards. She still hated her purpose, but now she had nothing other than the purpose, and would keep going at it and plugging away and fighting until...
Something was going to have to be done. But what could a simple cat do? Or even a not so simple one. As Dusty rubbed back and forth against the couch, he thought. He didn't think about his next bowl of catfood or the litter box or mice. He thought of war. Of armies and soldiers and what it takes to keep yourself together under fire. Every problem has a solution, he reminded himself. Other than the death of the problem.
The Way of the Samurai is found in death. Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one's body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears and swords, being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease or committing seppuku at the death of one's master. And every day without fail one should consider himself as dead.
-Hagakure: Way of the Samurai
Sprained wrist. It's a good thing my powers aren't based on some kind of heart moon wand or something, but it does make it hard to write on school quizzes. Getting my clothes on in the morning also poses some problems, since I can't completely close my hand without shooting pain up my arm. I've taken to taping it tightly, and that helps a bit. I told mom it was a fashionable thing at school now to tape your left hand. She bought it. It's for the best that she bought it.
The headaches aren't too bad, so I don't think I have a concussion from when the Yamiko slammed my head into a metal cabinet. They've been fading in intensity, even if the pulses are strong enough to make my eyes hurt. I tend to heal fast... not a magical power, I don't think, just that my body has gotten used to doing it.
The Yamikos responsible for these injuries were destroyed. That's what matters. The next one I see will also die. And the one after that, and the one after that, until it's over, one way or another.
Being Sailor Nothing (as opposed to Sailor Salvation) was awkward at first. The sheer panic in my veins made me collapse just a dozen away from the goal of my desk. Since then, I've adjusted to it quite well. It's like falling into a shell when I transform now... I can feel rage somewhere, but it takes care of things on its own without me having to do a whole lot. It feels a lot like the night I made a mess of the businessman in the alley, sometimes. I can't physically feel anything while transformed now, just a dull numbness through my skin (pain comes through just fine). I'll only start to worry when I feel that numbness while I'm Shoutan Himei, which can't be far behind...
Okay, now I'm whining. I'm whining and blowing this all very much out of proportion. Heroes of the past would probably scoff at me if they saw me prattling on about numbness and pain and so on. Fighting evil is the most straightforward thing in the world, right? It's the simplest thing imaginable; good fights evil, evil is destroyed. If I get hurt or if I die, that's just how it goes in war. Soldiers do this every day around the world, trudging through foreign lands, waiting for the day a bullet finds them before they can find the bullet. I'm not excused from the same fate just because I'm a schoolgirl. It'd be petty and selfish of me to think anything else. This is how it goes for soldiers, even pretty sailor soldiers.
But then again... maybe that's also where the numbness comes from.
I feel another Yamiko out there. Right now. Dusty will be here in a moment. Time to get back to the war.
I'm very tired.
Maybe that should be Sailor Nothing's new catch phrase. "Sailor Nothing Says: I'm very tired!" It's not marketable, but I doubt anybody will be making an action figure of me anyway. For now, I need sleep. I'll sleep now, and sometime soon, sleep forever.
People who talk on and on about matters of little importance probably have some complaint in the back of their mind. But in order to be ambiguous and to hide this they repeat what they are saying over and over. To hear something like this causes doubt to arise in one's breast.
-Hagakure: Way of the Samurai
Another bright and wonderfully sunny morning! The way the rising sun of Japan's light played off the glass buildings was quite beautiful, in a poetically beautiful sort of way. Even the sound of the trains rolling along to and fro was like music, a train a mile away harmonizing with a train rolling nearly overhead. The sound echoed in your head like a canary in a tin can...
Aki had walked to school with the entire Fashion Club. Solidarity! Unity! Friendship! The previous night had been the most fun she'd had in weeks. No boy troubles, no worries, just good friends and good snacks and sappy romantic movies. They laughed, they joked, did each other's hair and Ami was nice enough to do a full evaluation of Aki's wardrobe. She'd be going to the mall this weekend to replace most of it, since according to Ami, she was woefully out of date and unfashionable.
To signify Aki's 'rebirth' into the delightful world of friendship, each of the members had tied a colored ribbon into her hair. (Ribbons were a tolerable modification of school uniform.) The colors all flowed together into one eye-pleasing design that showed: You are loved. The Fashion Club are united!
She'd been using the words 'unity' and 'friendship' a lot in her internal thoughts that morning. They were the most used words during the slumber party, so it was only fitting. Unity. Friendship. They echoed around like the canary in the tin can, a beautiful song in an empty space...
Aki caught herself humming that latest hit song from 5 Boy 4 U when she noticed Himei's black eye.
Her own eye only strolled across it as if taking a brisk walk, noting the injury, noting how Himei slept upright at her desk looking like hell warmed over. Aki didn't linger on it, she didn't let anybody see her looking at it. Himei had gotten hurt quite badly... but where? What was she doing, fighting in a bar? It looked quite swollen, and she'd guess it was swollen shut if both eyes weren't shut already in daytime slumber...
A muffled beep from her desk signaled another message from Ami. The club had been IMing her all morning with reassuring and supportive things. She read the latest one, a joke about Ms. Kushrinada from Home Ec class, and typed up a quick 'rofl' in response...
'Rofl' never made much sense to her. She wasn't really rolling around on the floor laughing. She'd never rolled around on the floor laughing even once in her life. But it was how you talked over IM, and she didn't want to--
"Yes, sensei?" she replied quickly, sliding the PDA deeper into her desk.
"We're short on the new workbooks," her generic teacher spoke. "Services only delivered fifteen of them. Could you be a dear and visit the storage room, Aki? Bring back ten more of them for the other students."
"Yes, sir! I'd be happy to volunteer!" Aki replied. (Showing initiative and team spirit is very unity.)
Off she strolled, a bird on a lark, happy as a clam, whistling while you work, smiling, happy, sedated, and free.
There is nothing frightening about the storage room of Wazurau High School.
'Storage' is usually some out of the way hovel jammed in the least important part of the building. Distance from civilization is the meterstick of fear, since it implies disrepair, darkness, and a certain level of dank. One would expect to find rotting wooden walls, or cold and moldy stone. It would be more akin to a chamber of the Inquisition or the wine cellar of an ancient Scottish castle where virgin sacrifices were done by crazed cultists...
In fact, the true storage room is antifrightening.
It is not in the basement. It is, in fact, on the top floor of the building. The windows face the east and during school hours, every wide pane of glass is flooded with cheerful yellow sunlight. Dust is kept to a respectable minimum and people are in and out of the room on a regular basis to rotate the contents from old to fresh and back again. When asking someone to go there, the line is not
"Dare you step within the horrible chambers
of the STORAGE ROOM, LITTLE GIRL?"
but more like
"Could you be a dear and visit the storage room, Aki?"
Which, of course, she could.
This is why she had no fear whatsoever of entering that fateful room, and this is why she was totally unprepared for the hole she fell into.
Not a literal hole.
The man wore a gray cape and had white hair. He stood next to another student, a student with some queer look in his eyes. Aki approached them quite unthinkingly, because she hadn't thought about a great deal in the last twelve hours.
"Excuse me, where are the sophomore year English workbooks?" she asked.
The man turned to look at her.
"I suppose one more wouldn't hurt before we leave," he replied. "Hold her still."
Her arm was wrenched behind her back by the student, while the man pressed a hand to her forehead. There was an unpleasant wrenching sensation from her toes to her teeth, and then nothing but black.
I was dreaming in memory again.
For some reason, I was dreaming of walking to school with Aki. I didn't find her on my way to school today so maybe she went in early; she does that sometimes, it's no big deal. These aren't nightmares. They're mundane, they're very repetitive... ordinary memory reel spliced together from the many times we've walked to school. Nothing special. We meet, we talk, Kaneda sometimes runs by, but nothing else eventful happens. It's a relief compared to recent dreams, to tell the truth -- maybe not a cup of water to a man in the desert, but a cup of water to a man who would like a nice drink.
And yet... there's a fear there. It's distant and tingling at the back of my mind, barely noticeable, but it still counts as a fear. It's not something in the dream, but something pulling at me. What is it...? Very familiar. Something I tend to fear when I'm awake, but my dreaming mind has trouble trying to figure it out... my dreaming mind wants to go back to Aki, to walk with her and think of nothing scary...
It's... it's the sense, isn't it. Yamiko. A Yamiko was just spawned somewhere, and I'm feeling the event.
But I don't want to fight evil right now. It feels so easy not to fight evil while I'm asleep. It's like being underwater... you can burn up all your energy trying to swim to the surface, plowing hard against the water, or you can just stay where it's comfortable and dark and keep sinking. When there are sharks at the surface, sinking feels so much better. Sinking into sleep. I'm so tired. I can't, I have to wake up, I have to go...
It is a good viewpoint to see the world as a dream. When you have something like a nightmare, you will wake up and tell yourself that it was only a dream. It is said that the world we live in is not a bit different from this.
-Hagakure: Way of the Samurai
She awoke to a cup of water tossed in her face.
The (now empty) cup was set down on a nearby bookcase, as the cupholder stepped back to examine her. She shook her head, flinging droplets left and right, as she tried to orient herself again... she was standing up. Maybe not standing on her own, but definitely upright. She was still in the storage room. The sun was still in the same part of the sky, so not a lot of time had to have gone by. And her hands were stuck to the bookshelf...
Taped, to be specific. She looked up to see a lot of electrical tape clumsily wrapped around her wrists, locking them against the metal bookcase. She tugged at them, but no matter how poorly the taping was done, it wasn't going to shake loose under her undeveloped strength. And--
"Are you awake yet?"
She was standing in front of herself.
Aki looked at Aki who smiled at Aki who looked confused and frightened at Aki who was smiling and casually leaning against a wall and waiting for Aki to figure out what exactly was going on, even if Aki had no chance of doing so.
"Wh... wh..." she managed, which is admirable under the circumstances.
"It's so good to finally talk to you like this," Aki told herself, smiling a little too widely. "Hello, me. Meet the real me."
"...I'm dreaming," Aki decided. "I'm dreaming. I'm having a nightmare. I just have to wake up--"
"Oh, you ARE having a nightmare, that's not in question," Aki spoke, hopping up to sit on a crate of math books. "But you are not dreaming. I'm very much real, as real as you are. This place, and what's happening to you, is quite real. You know, he wanted me to go with himself and the other one, to leave this world... but I told him I had unfinished business with you to handle first. He seemed to understand. You don't understand, do you?"
"Who are you?!" Aki shouted. "What are you doing?"
"Good questions to start with. For all intents and purposes... I'm you. But I'm the monster in you, Aki," Not-Aki spoke, leaning forward, dropping to a whisper. "And... I HATE you. I hate you so very, very much, Aki... do you know why that is?"
Aki's mind tumbled. It's a dream. It's a dream...
"Aki, you're quite worthless," the monster accused. "Absolutely and totally without use, except as a glorified dressing window mannequin. A little girl with no purpose other than to consume, look good, and fit in. You aspire to nothing and you've never done anything that actually matters to anyone other than yourself. You're a clone of Ami, of Umi, of Emi and the rest... and as you learned last night, you want to be a safe little clone who doesn't need to worry about anything. But you know already this, because I already know this. You just refuse to admit it--"
"What are you talking about?! I'm nothing like that!" Aki replied, ignoring for the moment that this was clearly a dream. "I'm a member of the Fashion Club, I'm class president, I have friends on the sports teams and I run my own website for tips on--"
"Yes yes, I know. And what good is any of that?" Aki asked herself. "Does any of it truly make you happy? What is it other than a colossal waste of time? You don't do anything to actually help the class as their president, because you know the role is meaningless in the first place. You befriend people so you can ply them like a crowbar to get what your club wants. You KNOW this. You know your life is a ritual, a routine, meaningless, pointless! Every morning you think to yourself how pointless it is! Whatever you do is like masturbation -- a pure waste of energy with nothing gained. It doesn't even make you happy, it just makes you think you're happy."
"...this is a dream. This isn't--"
"You could die today, Aki," the monster spoke... voice getting more serious than serious. "Do you ever think about that? Yes, you do. At your lowest, you think about it. You could die today and nobody would care, except that they would be sure to cry about it in public to make it look like they cared. To make it look like they were good human beings who have emotions. But they can always find another dressing window mannequin to fill the empty slot you leave behind..."
A chill ran up Aki's spine, then ran back down it. She looked down... and saw that her other self had a retracting box cutter in her hand, and was fingering it idly. Sliding the blade in and out...
The look was noticed, and the monster laughed. "What, this? Don't worry. I'm not going to PHYSICALLY kill you right now. Of course, if I did... one person might miss you. The one person you've forsaken in favor of matching pumps, political power and the ability to turn off your brain at will. The only real friend you have, and the only friend you forsake on a daily basis... you know who I am talking about?"
Aki's mind spun. "H.. Himei?" she responded, feeling she was supposed to answer that.
"Very good! Of course, you could always admit it to yourself. You could never tell the world, because you were too afraid of what the world would tell you in return... and that's your fatal weakness. One which I will now demonstrate. The reason I stayed behind to talk to you instead of leaving..."
The other girl stretched more electrical tape from a roll, sliced it with the box cutter... and slapped it over Aki's mouth, before she could comment. The monster set the box cutter down nearby, and snatched up a megaphone from a nearby equipment storage rack.
"Keep an eye on the window, Aki-chan," she spoke, adjusting her stylishly tailored uniform before propping the window open, letting in the ordinary sounds of trains in the distance. "I'm about to kill you in the way you most fear."
Among the maxims on Lord Naoshige's wall, there was this one: "Matters of great concern should be treated lightly." Master Ittei commented, "Matters of small concern should be treated seriously."
-Hagakure: Way of the Samurai
When a body is found at the bottom of a river by the police, it isn't left in a watery grave. Even if it's at peace in the darkness below, it has to be hauled up from the bottom by divers trawling with nets. Since a body is just a body, it has no means of protesting being dragged back to the surface...
I was forced awake by the noise. That comforting sleep I had decided to linger in was shattered by someone dropping a textbook on the floor in a rush to get to the window.
I couldn't remember what I was dreaming about, but that's normal on waking. I rubbed my eyes. Shook my head. Got my senses back in gear. Noticing the crowd around the windows, and the teacher nervously trying to herd his flock back to their desks, I decided to see what the big deal was. The crowd around the nearest window wasn't thick, and I could push my way near the front easily enough...
To see what the big deal was. To remember that I had felt the twitch of a Yamiko's spawning in my sleep...
"Yes, you heard me!" she was shouting into a megaphone, standing atop the high wall around the school. "My name is Komachi Aki, and I'm sick of everything about this school! I'm a member of the fashion club... who are a bunch of self-centered prissy bitches who are a waste of the air they breathe! The school float I'm working on is being constructed by freshmen who want favors or dates out of them, but they have no plans of giving either..."
Yamiko. I knew it in my bones. Aki would never do that. She wouldn't alienate all her friends... but a monster might, just to hurt her...
I had slept through it all, and now Aki was going to be hurt because I would rather have slept than done what I was supposed to do.
I failed in the worst way possible.
I could see my own reflection in the window, see the color (what little there was) drain from my skin as I went cold...
I used the chaos of the classroom to my advantage, and snuck out the back door. It was too late to stop the monster... Sailor Nothing couldn't go charging out into the courtyard for a brawl, not with likely half the school population watching from the windows. But the Yamiko would be chased off in a moment once the school staff got out there to stop her. I could still catch the beast, I could still purge it. But the damage had been done...
My friend Aki might even be dead. All because I slept on the job.
Sailor Nothing Says: I'm very tired!
Nobody would want to buy my action figure now.
Her head banged against the metal bookcase, over and over. Tears streamed down and soaked the glue of the tape over her mouth, without loosening it enough to come free. Textbooks rattled and shifted with each impact, her muffled wailing poorly echoing off the cheap shelves...
"Yes, thank you, thank you!" the doppleganger continued. "Now you know that I'm not normal, that I'm nothing like all of you. Heck, I'm even good friends with Shoutan Himei! Henmei, yes! But wait, since I hear them coming for me and I have to wrap this up, for my last trick... I'll show you what being popular is REALLY about!"
Aki looked away immediately when she saw the thing go for its blouse buttons. But looking away didn't save her from hearing a few whistles from her fellow classmates, and some horrified gasps...
They'll all assume it was me, she thought. It's insane to claim that something that looks like you was saying those awful things, burning all her bridges, and now exposing herself to the world in other ways. They're going to assume it was me, and my whole life will... has already come crumbling down. She was murdered. That's what the thing meant when it said it was going to hit her weakness, kill her in the way she most fears...
She was almost thankful to hear the voices of school administrators chasing the monster off.
"Get back here!"
"Aki, please, stop this!"
"You're in big trouble, young lady!"
"Where did she go?"
"She's over there!"
"No, she isn't..."
Because she was here, now.
The monster tossed the megaphone aside, wiping sweat from her brow. "You're really out of shape, you know," it commented. "I was worried I might not outrun them. Fortunately they're all old farts and I'm in the prime of my youth! So... did you like my coming out party, Me? Now they know you've just been playing along to make them happy. They'll never look at you the same way again..."
As if the situation couldn't get worse, the monster produced the boxcutter again. She extended the blade longer than it would ever conceivably need to be.
"Of course... you'll never need to see those looks, or anything ever again," she said, stepping forward, up to the bound self she spawned from. "Way I see it, you've had enough time to regret what you never bothered to be. I gave you a chance to make your peace, to come to terms. But it's over now, Aki. It's time to sign the check on what you've done to me!"
The dull gray blade flicked to the right, ready to flick to the left across her throat.
Aki almost felt relief that it would be over soon, squeezing her eyes shut, not wanting to see...
Except it wasn't over.
Her eyes opened when she heard the thud of body on body on floor. Someone had tackled her 'evil twin' to the ground. Unless she was now insane and hallucinating (which was a possibility from the beginning of all this), there was a girl in a very exaggerated but shredded version of the school uniform tangling it up with her copy... rolling over and over, fighting for control of that blade.
The monster snarled like a trapped animal, trying to twist the sailor suited girl's arm, to get the blade back. The two locked up for a moment, a test of strength... until one of them just let go, and fell into the knife's edge. The sailor.
In a queer sort of lucidity, Aki understood why. As the blade slashed along the girl's arm, even as she screamed in pain, it put the weapon in just the right spot to be wrenched free from the monster. The girl twisted it away, hurled it aside, and rolled to her feet... the cut arm dangling, starting to soak her uniform in blood.
"You're the enemy, aren't you?" not-Aki spoke, wiping some spittle from her lips, waiting for the next move. "He told me to look out for you. To kill you if I could. Well, two bodies in one day is--"
Darkness consumed the other Aki in mid sentence, and it was all over without so much as a victory chord.
The sailor quietly fetched the discarded blade, and used it to slice the tape between Aki's wrists. She sank to her knees immediately, her feet asleep and unable to support her weight... then yelped in pain as the tape was stripped from her lips.
Now, now she could get a good look at her savior. For some reason, she couldn't place the face... it was like it was in the back of her mind, but something was stopping her from making the connection. A waking dream? Was she only imagining this last minute miracle save?...
"Go home," the sailor said, covering her arm cut, trying to stop the bleeding. "It's over now. I did what I could."
A black eye. The sailor had a black eye. The rest was like looking at a bunch of dots which suddenly look like a sailboat.
"Himei?" Aki asked. "Is that you? What...?"
Himei flinched, on being recognized. She stepped backwards, away from Aki... Aki, who couldn't give chase, because her feet hadn't quite woken up yet. "I'm sorry," Himei said. "I fell asleep and couldn't save you in time. This is the best I could do. ...I'm sorry. Goodbye."
Now Himei was running off. Aki forced herself to her feet, pulling herself up with a shelf, and tried to give chase... but stumbled in the effort, fell, and clocked her head something fierce on the wall. Once again, all went black.
She only had one true friend today, and it certainly was not luck.
Office Report on Komachi Aki Incident.
At 10:35, Komachi's teacher sent her to the storage room to retrieve a stack of workbooks. Based on the large bump on her head, we can assume that she tripped and fell. This is the most likely cause for her unusual behavior in the courtyard today; her return to the storage room was likely part of her confusion, as she hadn't retrieved the books yet, and she finally passed out from the blow when she got back. It is the finding of the Nurse's Office that Komachi Aki be given a three day suspension for medical and disciplinary purposes.
This incident is not related to the cases of two other students passing out in school today, nor the recent incident involving Ishukawa Kaneda. Discussion of these matters is not to leave the main office. Posting flyers encouraging a healthy diet and a good night's rest for all students, and other promotional activities to better student welfare are strongly recommended.
In the words of the ancients, one should make his decision within the space of seven (7) breaths. It is a matter of being determined and having the spirit to break through to the other side.
-Hagakure: Way of the Samurai
Dusty paced back and forth, back and forth, back... and back again, just for a change of pace. His eyes never left the clock radio by Himei's cot, however.
The VCR in the den had the Blinking Twelve syndrome, since Himei's parents weren't very technically inclined. Himei always kept her clock in good time, however... synching it to the official government time, changing the batteries regularly, anything she could to try and fight the urge to go to sleep in the morning. Dusty would watch each day as she rose, and precisely counted the minutes it took to get dressed, get washed, eat, get out the door... routine. She'd be back home at a routine time as well. Which is why he was worried, because the non-blinking-twelve was well past the time for her return.
Maybe a Yamiko? He did feel one a few hours ago, but it winked out a few minutes after it appeared. Himei must have tagged it already. No other twitches since, so why would she...
"Hello, Dusty. How are you?" (1)
The cat nearly tripped over its own four feet in surprise. Here he was so focused on worrying about Himei that he completely missed her arrival...
Himei sat her schoolbag down by the door, and squatted down to give her favorite cat a nice skritch between the ears. She had a smile on her face... although it wasn't the happy smile she wore yesterday morning. There was something final about that smile...
Dusty wormed out from the nice-pet treatment, not wanting to lose his sharp focus amidst pleased purring and contended cat stuff. "Himei, where have you been?" he asked right off the bat. "You're really late, you know! Did something happen?"
"No, nothing. I've been thinking," Himei said, taking off her coat. "Just thinking..." (2)
"Your arm!" Dusty yelped, spotting the bandage, still tainted with a vague red. "What happened to your arm? Did this one have claws or something? They're not supposed to change shape until they're weeks old, and--"
"I messed up, Dusty," she spoke up, not directly answering his question. "I messed up and Aki got hurt. She recognized me as Sailor Nothing, too, but that doesn't really matter. She got hurt in a bad way--" (3)
Just because Himei's life had a habit of taking a bad situation and making it worse, someone picked that moment to spawn a new Yamiko. Dusty felt it just as strongly as his charge did... that irresistible tug at the back of the mind, like a silent three alarm fire. He gave an equally silent curse at the world in general, and studied Himei for her reaction to it...
Which was the usual. She looked off in the distance, in the general direction of the spawning, rising to her feet. "You feel that?" she asked, knowing he did. "Another one. We have to go. Come on." (4)
A SECOND tug?! Dusty's fur stood on end, as if his tail had been jammed in a light socket. A second twinge! TWO Yamiko! There were now two Yamiko out there to fight, both in the same direction... two on one odds. Handicap.
"Okay, that's it," Dusty decided, trying to look resolute and firm, despite being cute and furry. "You are NOT going out there and tackling two monsters at the same time, Himei. That's enough. You're banged up, now you're cut up, and you're in no shape for this. I'm putting my paw down, Himei. I don't care how hard it pulls at you, or pulls at me... we're staying put. Maybe this will encourage the Magnificent Bastard to pull his weight for a change and handle it himself... wherever the jerk is."
Himei stood in silence.
"You hear me in there?" Dusty asked, padding around in front of her. "We're not going. You're not obligated to save the world anymore. He said as much! You don't have to do this to yourself--"
"Okay," Himei spoke calmly, her smile faded, but her eyes still locked on something far away. "We don't have to go. I'll stay here this time. I have too much homework to do, anyway. Dusty, did I leave my math book under my desk? I didn't have it at school." (5)
"Wha?" Dusty asked, a bit stunned at the ease of convincing her. He glanced back to the desk, puzzled, but instinctively feeling the urge to help her out. "Your book? I don't see it under--"
The door latch clicked shut behind her.
Dusty's blood ran cold, as he turned to find himself addressing a closed door. A doorknob too high for him to reach... which then sounded the dull metallic clack of the lock sliding shut from the outside. "Hi.. Himei!?"
"I have to go fight, Dusty," Himei spoke, voice muffled from the other side of the door. "I can't ignore it again. Never again. I'm sorry." (6)
Frantic, Dusty clawed at the door with his declawed paws. "HIMEI!" he mewled. "Himei, don't do this! You can't! You won't survive this fight if you do it! Are you there? Unlock the door, please, don't go, don't do this, don't...."
No response, other than the sound of silence. She was gone.
I said my goodbyes.
There are two of them out there tonight, I can feel it. Strong ones. I don't think I'm coming back.
I've let everybody down, and I'm sorry.
When in a more sophisticated area it is natural that one's disposition be affected by different styles. But it is vulgar and foolish to look down upon the ways of one's own district as being boorish, or to be even a bit open to the persuasion of the other place's ways and to think about giving up one's own. That one's own district is unsophisticated and unpolished is a great treasure. Imitating another style is simply a sham.
It is said that what is called "the spirit of an age" is something to which one cannot return. That this spirit gradually dissipates is due to the world's coming to an end. In the same way, a single year does not have just spring or summer. A single day, too, is the same. For this reason, although one would like to change today's world back to the spirit of one hundred years or more ago, it cannot be done. Thus it is important to make the best out of every generation.
-Hagakure: Way of the Samurai
Mother was mortified.
Father was very disappointed in her.
The doctor said there was nothing wrong with her.
Each was like a stab in the gut, but nothing was worse than the phone call Aki made immediately upon returning home. She flew from the car and went straight to her room, locking the door, whipping out her Himemiya Heavy Industry Amazing Graceful Combo Answering Machine Telephone, and dialing up the number she had memorized close to her heart.
"Ami! It's me, Aki!" she 'greeted', if 'stated in a panicked rush' counted as a greeting. "Listen, please, hear me out. That... that thing today, that wasn't ME! Nobody believes me, but I didn't say those things and I didn't do those things, and--"
"I'm glad you called, Aki."
"It makes things easier for us. Aki... I'm afraid you're not Fashion Club material," Ami stabbed. "Your behavior today lacked style and grace... not to mention it made us look like fools. The entire parade float committee resigned today. Resigned!"
"But it wasn't ME--"
"That's a very bad excuse, Aki. What happened to Unity, Aki? What happened to Friendship?" Ami asked, acid dripping into her voice with every word. "I thought we had settled all this last night, and now you did such an unthinkable thing! Never again will you be welcome at the Fashion Club. We're going to do everything we can to make sure your name is mud in every other club and circle as well -- not that anybody popular would have anything to do with you now. You made a shameful mistake, Aki, and we'll never forgive you."
Her grip tightened on the phone hard enough to crack the cheap Himemiya plastic.
"...is that so," Aki said quietly, sitting down gently on her bed, letting the sweat drop from her forehead...
"Yes, that is so. Don't be seen near us again, Aki, or you'll regret it. In the spirit of Unity and Friendship, we have unanimously voted for your ejection from--"
"Friendship?" Aki asked, maintaining a calm tone, trying to hold it in... "You're talking friendship with a capital F, yes? That's what last night was, right? Friendship and Unity. Unity when you criticized my musical tastes, Friendship when you complained because the smores weren't squishy enough, and then you... you TORE into my wardrobe and insulted everything I had spent hours and hours trying to decide on buying, buying it just to make you guys admire me? That's your idea of friendship with a capital F!?"
"No, it's my turn to talk now," Aki decided, jumping to her feet, letting the base of the corded phone drop to the floor. "I've been a member of the Fashion Club for a year and months now, and I've done everything you wanted of me. I dressed like you wanted me to, I did my hair the way you wanted to, I did everything for my friends because I wanted you to like me... everything! I sat through the meetings and I applied the power I had on others and I supported everything, and... and this is how I'm thanked! For something I didn't even do... although I'm beginning to wish I DID... you screw me over and kick me out? If that's the case, then you were never my friend, Ami!"
"I only have one friend now, and it's not you. I'm glad you're out of my life, and I wish you well," Aki lied. "Goodbye."
The drama was killed when she had to fumble and pick up the phone's base in order to slam the receiver down on the cradle, but the spirit was there. The spirit burned in her.
The monster was still a monster. Aki would never do such a terrible thing; she'd never make such a gross public scene of it, even if she had the strength. She'd cut her ties this way, over the phone, over the very phone that Emi suggested she buy to replace her ugly black plastic cordless.
But maybe, in its own twisted way, that thing did her a favor. Now her friends and her enemies were clear. She was so defined, so focused... everything like flawless glass, and even if she hated what she saw, at least she wasn't wobbling around in a hazy cloud as she was this morning...
If she could only hold onto that rage, maybe she could stave off the great wave of despair she felt coming around the bend. Despair over the death of her old life, over being comfortable, fitting in, being normal and liked by others. The only way she knew how to live and it was gone-- no. Stay angry. Angry is good, angry keeps you from doubt, and it wasn't like she could go back and put things right again...
She couldn't, could she. It really was over now. When she returned to school after her shameful suspension, she'd be outcast. A reject. Spit on and kicked and disliked, something Aki had never been, not once, never in her entire life because she had played the game so well, and now...
When did she end up curled up on the floor?
An hour didn't pass just now, did it?
Weakly, Aki pulled herself off the floor. Yes, there was the despair. She didn't stave it off after all... but maybe she'd slept through it. She was having a hard time figuring out when she was asleep and when she was awake lately--
The dream. Dream that wasn't a dream, the monster. The one who saved her...
Himei would know what was going on. Himei could help her, could help her understand why this was happening to her. Without a word, Aki breezed out of the house just as quickly as she had breezed in, pausing only to fetch her coat and shoes at the door. Somewhere in the dark recesses of her brain was Himei's home address, and she had time to dig it up while waiting for a bus.
Lord Naoshige said, "The Way of the Samurai is in desperateness. Ten men or more cannot kill such a man. Common sense will not accomplish great things. Simply become insane and desperate.
"In the Way of the Samurai, if one uses discrimination, he will fall behind. One needs neither loyalty nor devotion, but simply to become desperate in the Way. Loyalty and devotion are of themselves within desperation."
-Hagakure: Way of the Samurai
The problem with committing suicide is that if you pick a particularly messy or complicated method, you don't get the relief and satisfaction of instant death. Walking off towards certain doom in a fight I cannot win is a good way to go, but the problem is that I HAVE to fight -- I can't lie down for them. That means I'm not going to die right away. In a lot of ways, that makes it worse... I have to think about it more.
But it's not like I could change my mind now. I had made my decision; I'd go and fight, even if I've never had a two on one fight before, and I'd most definitely die. Sailor Nothing had no reason to exist except to fight, and I had to satisfy her. I ran as fast as I could towards the place my senses told me to go... a vacant lot, behind some closed convenience store.
I found exactly what I planned to find. One Dark General. Two Yamiko. A brother and sister, from the looks of it; they dressed similarly, looked similar, and both wore the same pleased smirk that newly spawned Yamiko wore. They seemed a little familiar, but weren't from my school... strange. Their hosts were snoozing in a crumpled pile off to the side. At least nobody else would have to die tonight. I felt a little better about that.
I had transformed en route, and now stood twenty feet away... the classic showdown. The Dark General glanced over his shoulder at me, smiling, flicking a stray lock of white hair out of the way. Everything the generals do is about drama.
"So, you are the one who has purged every new recruit I've formed these last few days?" Dark General Argon (because I knew who it was, I knew all of them) asked. "I'm glad I stayed around in order to meet you. You seem vaguely familiar--"
"I'm Sailor Nothing," I replied, and that was the sum and total of my dramatic speech. I drew the darkness from myself, forming it into the attack I had become so used to, and hurled a ball of Nothingness--
All three dodged easily, leaping aside as graceful as gazelles.
Oh, right. These two were the top male and female gymnastics stars of Kuroken High. They won some major competition last week, it made all the local news sites. That's where I remember them from.
In a small token of relief, I realized I was totally outclassed. I didn't get any major speed or agility boost just because I wore a sailor suit, while these two had taken to their Yamiko forms like ducks to water.
Soon I'd get my wish. I had to keep fighting, of course. But I wouldn't last long. Then maybe I could pay for what happened to Aki, once and for all.
Stealth was not high on Aki's list of skills to learn. She was the sort to ensure her presence was announced at all times... her beauty, her flair, her popularity all being terrific things to flaunt to others. Her instinct was to barge on up to the front door, demand to see Himei, and start asking questions...
Of course, that wasn't going to do. If her parents heard about the incident today, or if she was at home sick from that cut she got, she wasn't going to be granted access just because she was cute and (at one time) powerful. A phone call wouldn't have worked, either. She needed a more... subtle way of talking to Himei. Stealthy. Sneaky.
With no other precedents to work from, she recalled episode #2 of Magical Princess Sailor Rose Wand. When the male lead needed desperately to talk to the female love interest after curfew, he scooped up some pebbles and rocks to toss them at her bedroom window. Since TV didn't lie (well, not usually) (okay, very often) (especially during commercials) it had to work!
Using her keen analytical skills, Aki luckily picked the right window. She snuck around under it, scooped up a handful of rocks, and tossed.
In the anime, the noise was a light clatter, not the distinct sound of glass breaking. Aki winced in embarrassment, praying her parent's hadn't heard that (and Himei wasn't in the throes of a surprise heart attack), and made herself visible to the window.
"Himei!" she quietly called out, at least quieter than shattering glass. "Himei! Are you there? I have to talk to you, it's very important!"
A dusty grayish cat popped up in the window, mewling frantically. Aki waited and waited for Himei to come, but other than the cat freaking out, nothing happened. Things were too noisy... clearly Himei wasn't here, and she was making a scene. Keen on making no more scenes in one day, Aki turned to leave. Maybe she could e-mail--
She quickly turned back, looking for Himei... but only saw the cat. It had jumped out of the window to follow her! Silly animal. She bent down to scoop it up, intent on returning it to the house...
"Aki, we've got to hurry!" the cat said with much alarm.
Having your own doppleganger show up is one thing. Talking cats is quite another.
"Come on, I'll explain while we're running!" the cat replied, dashing off between her legs. "Hurry, hurry!"
Of course, that one thing wasn't real far from the other...
Perplexed, Aki took off after the cat... if she was just starting to go insane from the stress of the day and the voice was in her head, she had to at least fetch Himei's cat to take back home before deciding she needed to see the doctor again.
That was the most likely explanation. Yes, that was it. Maybe the doppleganger didn't really exist, maybe the school nurse was right and she simply had a nervous breakdown. That would also explain talking cats--
"You're not going insane," the cat insisted, dropping back to run alongside her. "Don't worry."
"I'll try not to," Aki found herself replying.
Then maybe she really WAS in episode #2 of Magical Princess Sailor Rose Wand...
There was no more waiting. I was licked. My shoulder was dislocated, and I needed that arm to complete the motions of Nothingness. My legs were too tired from dashing and jumping, trying to keep up with the gymnasts... they had me slumped against the back wall of a convenience store, out of breath, out of spirit, and not able to continue the fight. Not that I had the will to fight, but I had to be beaten down. There wasn't any other way I could stop myself from fighting than to be beaten down.
"It seems my trap worked quite well," Argon spoke, commending himself as usual. "Excellent. Sailor Nothing proved to be nothing of importance after all..."
I had no witty reply. Witty replies weren't my thing nowadays, anyway. I just closed my eyes, and waited for the end. I'm sorry. I'm sorry for everything...
"Halt, minion of evil!"
I dared to look up.
I'd never seen another Sailor before. Now I had. In a flawlessly tailored fuku, colorful and flashy without being too tacky, a girl with a sequined ribbon in her hair posed, pointing dramatically at the Dark General...
"How dare you bully a girl like a gang of common thugs?" the Sailor asked. "Such cruelty, I will never forgive! You will taste justice at the hands of... um. ...Sailor Beauty! Right!"
Dark General Argon cocked his head, puzzled. He flicked one finger -- his two minions knowing what to do. They sprung into action, both charging this newcomer at the same time...
She couldn't survive these odds any more than I could. Forcing myself through the pain, I did what I had to do... I raised my injured arm, I let the absolute lack of anything flow through me despite the freezing hot agony it gave me, and took aim.
"Nothingness," I spoke. My attack warped and bubbled and burned through the air, but went where my will told it to go... to the gymnast Yamiko closest to her. The Yamiko vaporized in an instant, just as the Sailor was warming up her own attack.
With a light spin on one heel, she threw out a wide spray of glowing points of colored light. "Amazing Grace!" she called out, they twisted and locked onto the remaining monster...
In a single flash of rainbow-hued annihilation, the monster yowled and was turned to a whiff of gas. It evaporated immediately.
For the first time in awhile, I saw a Dark General lose his smile. I tried to charge up another attack...
Bad idea. The first one slammed through my system like drain cleaner, leaving behind a scraped and raw mind. Just trying to summon that power again was enough to put me under. Darkness engulfed me, and rather than the darkness of death, it was merely the darkness of sleep.
Somehow, I'd survived.
I woke up in a tastefully decorated room and in incredible pain.
The pain blocked any attempts to size up where I was and what was going on. I looked at myself, and saw bandages where I had none before. I was back to being normal Shoutan Himei, and someone had done a sloppy but adequate first aid job on me. What was going on? Who had saved me? Was I really dead, and just imagining all of this...?
Then Aki showed up with the s'mores.
"Himei, you're awake!" she shouted, rushing over and nearly dumping the tray in the process. She set it aside on the bed, and reached over to check on her. "Don't worry, I called your folks... they think we're having a slumber party tonight, so you can stay and rest. Dusty told me how to set your shoulder. Are you okay? You collapsed right before I scared off that guy with the white hair."
"I'm fine," I instinctively said, shrugging her off. "I..."
White hair? Scared off?
My cat's furry ears popped up from his hiding place at the foot of the bed.
"There's a perfectly reasonable explanation for all of this," he said quickly.
...I wasn't going to like the perfectly reasonable explanation.
Our bodies are given life from the midst of nothingness. Existing where there is nothing is the meaning of the phrase, "form is emptiness." That all things are provided for by nothingness is the meaning of the phrase, "Emptiness is form." One should not think that these are two separate things.
-Hagakure: Way of the Samurai
PREVIEW OF NEXT EPISODE
You have no idea what you've done. Now you can never go back...
I know I can't take what I did back. Now I need to figure out why I did it -- I've got time to think it over, at least. But I don't know if I can go back to school after what happened.
Speak it loud from the mountaintops! Fire, wind, water, mountain! We won't stay silent anymore, no matter how much you want to brush us under the rug!
Someone whose ideals haven't died yet, apparently.
Next time on Sailor Nothing, the truth shall set you free, or die trying. Why does everything have to be about death, anyway?
TO BE CONTINUED
nothing copyright 2000 stefan gagne
unauthorized use prohibited