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SCENE 14 – The Wasteland, pt. 1

The Boreal Express, through all the wild twists and curvy turns it makes along the tracks, finally ends up at a station, where the train descends to a halt, its wheels winding down by the glass platform – hissing out steam.

A few of the attending gnomes come by, unlatching the carriage doors. The children come out, stepping down and gazing outward – already captivated by the baroque atmosphere the sights have evoked.

The Conductor steps in front of them all.

Amidst the hundreds (if not thousands of kids) who are organized into groups by the gnomes, looking like they're ready for an organized march - Utena spots Anthy in the distance (knitting a cantrip with Chu-Chu), popping out behind Nanami and Stevie.

"Utena, what happened?" Anthy asks. "Was Shinji always on the train? Did you help him find his ticket?"

She tells Anthy about chasing the silhouette of the Conductor above the train and all the events after that.. besides the passionate kiss she shared with Shinji. "There's something bigger going on that the Conductor isn't telling anyone else," Utena adds.

The Conductor is waving for everyone's attention, before taking a boom mic from a gnome and gets his voice amplified. "Well! We have made our trip – there is a ceremony where you get to meet Santa Claus, but.." He checks his pocket watch. "We have about an hour to spare, lucky us, because of my wonderful and efficient scheduling."

"What are you suspecting?" Anthy asks, hushed. She trusts Utena's gut feeling more than anything, like the time when Kyouichi Saionji set a trap in the hallway in a vain effort to 'win' Anthy's heart back, even outside of a rose duel.

"Why would Santa Claus pick hundreds of children to take to his North Pole? Look around – the domes, the crystal spires – this is incredibly advanced technology; and I'm pretty sure we're not in a dream."

"Maybe Santa is feeling especially generous? He wanted to see the children, to remind himself why he's gifting the Christmas spirit?"

"We look like the only ones here who are over 12.. oh, I found Shinji alright. He's landed a new job looking after the train engine." Utena spots the fey boy clambering out of the Conductor's caboose, having two steaming cups of mocha at once.

The Conductor waves his hands. "Now, now, if you'll follow me, it will be my absolute delight to show you tots how presents are made, and how each of you children get chosen to be on Santa's good or naughty list. Get into formation – groups of 16, four by four, we need to be organized so no one dilly-dallies."

Some gnomes accompany the batallion of kids; it takes a few minutes for them to get them all sorted, before the Conductor whistles, and the shuffle of footstep movement carries Utena and Anthy along.

"Boy oh boy, I wonder what kind of spy satellite tech they've got!" Stevie goes, before tugging at Nanami's sleeve. "Don't you want to know if you can spy on your crush or not? You're past the age where cooties apply, I know your heart must be bubbling for someone special!"

A brief blush washes over Nanami's face. Touga.. my big brother Touga! She sighs on the inside. "I do.. but that is totally none of your business Steve."

"I'm just curious, that's it – I don't know what it's like to be in loovee, me being 8 and all. But I read up that it drives all the girls and boys crazy with hormones."

Nanami gives Stevie a good long glance; he's bubbling up and down, gitty with pure excitement. Then she says, "You need better hobbies," before letting out a giggle – she can't help how adorkably charming Stevie gets.

/

In the surveillance station, the gnomes peer over the monitors, where each screen flips from one perspective to the next every few seconds.

"So far, our program is going as intended," the chief security reports to the supervisor, handing a tablet which holographically projects the statistics. "We counted 1,696 children, and the Conductor hasn't broken a sweat. Oh, he's improvising a tour of our production facilities.."

"A tour!?" The supervisor gives the monitors a glare.

"Sir, he's on time with an hour and three minutes to spare."

"Jolly good."

/

As the accompanied children cross through the gate, light glimmers from the landscape of living crystals. A civilization of Gnomes and Elves – like ants, they are seen walking along the branches, or in some places, gathering to see the children from afar.

Some of the crystal clusters would split away, with each separate globules flying off to service a different existing cluster, or to reform entirely in another place.

Service Gnomes skid between the clusters on web-like rails – escorting freight cargo.

The Conductor leads the children to a very large platform inside a tower. Not everyone will fit at once, so the ones behind get to watch the process where the Conductor rolls his hand through a watery control device, and a bubble is formed, lifting those on the platform up in zero gravity, and carrying them afloat to one of many huge connecting tubes – they stretch from the diameter of the snow globe to the very centre.

Utena glances at the bubbles and all the children who float around in them. She thinks she sees a girl who looks like a young version of herself, spinning around and colliding with other kids.

In her head, imagery flares up – the roses she was lined up with in the coffin, the cruel starkness of glancing at her parents' graves. Crying miserably to herself every night in the foster care place, alone, and when the figure skating programmes come on TV, she feels a pang in her heart – would she find Spike Spiegel again, enrapturing her world with total delight?

There has to be another time.. I want to see him again, watch him dance again, hear every single word out of his mouth like silk again..

I can't bear the painful reality of being alone.

I don't want to be alone anymore..

So she ran away, when it was supposedly lights out, and everyone was supposed to be asleep in their cots. She'd looked up someone in the phone book whose name was listed as Spiegel, S. – listed with the address. And that could just be him – she tried calling the number, using her one free phone call privilege, only to be met with an answering machine message – a woman: "Hi, you've reached the Spiegels. We're sorry we can't reach you at the moment, but if you'd like to leave a message, yatter away!"

Maybe Spike had found a fiancée and he's married. Perhaps she would find him once more, and tell him everything that's happened with her, and..

(the perfect Christmas I cherish in my heart)

That was the one hope Utena hung onto – that lit her mind in that time of total uncertainty. She didn't bother leaving a message, knowing full well the attendants could hear her, so she just hastily wrote the address on a slip of paper, and glanced at the map. 1176 Ichinomiyacho, Kokubu, Fuefuki.

It was barely within walking distance from the orphanage.

That dinner, Utena ate whole-heartedly from the rice and grub, never mind that it tasted bland, even with the other girls and boys noticing – she'd need the energy, and a bit of courage to go during the night.

Her heart was racing, as it did back then. For the first time in a long while, her thoughts brimmed with liveliness. She kept Spike's face at the forefront of her mind, for all the handsome features and his warm, understanding eyes.

When it was on the verge of curfew, Utena waited in the downstairs washroom.. and waited. For that chime which announced another night confined to the cots. It felt like forever, the seconds rushing through her pumping veins. But there the chime went, and she had to act fast, the caretakers would scrounge up to the top floors to do a head count..

Utena ran out the maintenance door on the side of the orphanage, and with her jotted, hastily drawn map, she faithfully followed the street corners, away from that stone-cast building looming with its deep shadows in the dusk - getting closer to her Spike.

She was panting, the humidity of the Spring and all the cicadas chirping. Passing by a few teenage smokers by a bus stop.

It was a modest neighbourhood, with the suburbs cast in white under the street lights. Utena hastily glanced at the house numbers, finding 1173.. 1175..

She turned around to the other side of the street and saw Spike's house, looking gloomy behind the darkness of the tree-cast shadows.

"Spike!" she went, not caring about anything else, as she unlatched the gate and hastily ran up the steps to the door, and rang it. Her fingers ramming the doorbell for all it's worth.

Then she saw the window lights turn on.

Someone's inside!

She was waiting, and then the door opened – Ikari Shinji comes into her mind..

"Hello? Utena-sama! Wake up!" Anthy rubs Utena by the shoulder – it's their turn for the bubble ride.

The bubble is inflated around the platform, and soon everyone in it is carried off, the bubble caressing the platform before letting it go.

From the viewpoint of the gnomes and elves watching, it looks like a stream of giant blown bubbles, with the people in it like bouncing Skittles.

The zero-gravity for Utena is like being in an elevator rushing down, except the sensation fully awashes her, liberating her temporarily from the entire weight of her body, the butterflies in her stomach, and feeling a rush of total euphoria across her senses.

She gets bumped by a boy, and the motion has Utena bouncing back from the membrane walls, and she can't help laughing and giggling from the motions.

"Chuuuu..!" Chu-Chu is dangling off of Anthy's flowing hair. The petite monkey is so unused to the zero-gravity, before he gets flicked off by Anthy moving her head, looking around – and he is tumbling in a daze.

It's like having your entire centre of gravity being disrupted, and what looks like the ground is a vastly spanning wall – no, a ceiling.

In Shinji's bubble – "Get me off this ridee!" he goes, fits of laughter escaping him.

The Conductor simply stands stoicly, as his body rotates anyway and is knocked aside by a group of kids who have the idea of holding hands in formation.

"Newton's third law aglore!" Stevie pips, before his glasses let loose from his face and he gropes for them.

/

Everyone is in a wonderful daze by the time the bubbles have set in a hangar. Pink gas emits from the floor, which rids them of the sense of vertigo as a few uniformed gnomes arrive through the doorway.

"I heard you want to do a tour of our gifting facilities?" one of them asks the Conductor.

"Yes.. I doo," Hans von Hozel goes – tapping his foot as if the sands were slipping out of the hourglass. Some sweat seems to have grown under his chin, which he tugs at his collar. "I was thinking you'd be readily available."

"Oh, we are.. yes, we are," the gnome goes, glancing at his other comrades. Then speaking more boldly: "We've been expecting your arrival Herr Hozel. Come, come! We are just preparing our last batches of gifts, this is an opportune time to see!"

Utena has been under the impression of being led through a look-don't-touch tour, a boring if not mildly interesting spectacle that she's been led a few times through school field trips. If you're lucky, you get to touch a few things, hands-on, but otherwise it's how Utena easily tunes out of the conversation.

Then, more pertinantly, it hits her. She realises the scheduled nature of the whole North Pole visit. There'll probably be some snacks and food along the way, and if they're lucky, actually see the jolly old fat man himself, with a huge, huge lineup of who gets to talk with him on his lap.

But she'll never really get to have her one-on-one moment with Santa. The way he ignored her pleas when she really needed a miracle to set her life right again. All he can do is give out shoddy material gifts for these kids who don't know any better.

She gulps. Her only option is breaking free – slipping off from the group and search for Santa.. yes.

As the Conductor and the gnomes finish chattering in front of the scattered kids, more thoughts rush through Utena's mind. She can't just rush off on her own – the radically advanced technology is enough to discourage her by intimidation (you're awed by it in Star Wars and the Fifth Element, but actually using it is a whole different story).. she'll need some help.

Utena goes and taps on Anthy's wrist. "Anthy – I'm going to run off from this tour."

"What?"

"I have to find Santa, on my own terms. He is why I've been haunted for a long while."

"Utena.." Anthy is instilled with Utena's sense of urgency.

"Will you come with me? Help me find him?" Utena is asking her with an utmost sincerity – and of course, after glancing at the children who are being indulged now by the factory gnome, Anthy nods yes.

"I'll help you, Utena-sama," Anthy goes.

Utena is almost on the verge of hugging Anthy – before she catches Shinji, separated from her by children who are almost a header shorter than either of them. Her heart is drawn to him. But his attention is caught by the factory gnome's words.

Then the Conductor lets out a shrill whistle; the gateway before everyone is opened, and the following shuffle is like a wave of forward motion, carrying Utena and Anthy along with it.

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Étranges Libellules – by QDesjardin
those strange butterflies, wishing for a fading dream

1

Her name is Clare. By day, an illustrator working for Studio Escalier, a multimedia aesthetics group who has a high demand from clients (both business and personal). She will resort to using any means necessary to realise their vision, be it through Adobe Photoshop, zBrush, or Blender.

On the occasional night, when she isn't working on a project, she goes out to carry an oddjob for a friend, or even venture into the underworld to carry out a contract for some mafia boss. And right now, she needs over 20,000 francs to have her own studio financed, so she could move out of her slumhole apartment room.

In those nights, she doesn't want anyone to know her, so she styles her hair in a bun, applies some temporary hair dye to give it sheen, decorates her face with ink that gives her a vicious appearance – a cheshire grin and lastly, a rabbit-eared mask. If you didn't know any better, she would be on her way to a dazzling costume party, except that in the Parisian 2020s, many people express their imaginations through myriads of outfits in the nightlife, thus allowing their sleepwalking escapades without putting their personal identities at risk.

The humidity makes it awkward, as she is profusely sweating with her red scarf, while she strides by a group of top hat gentlemen near a cafe, who smoke marijuana, passionately delving into the metaphysics of your digital self profoundly affecting your relationships with real people.

"So imagine if you've gotten into a relationship with an American chick, so deeply, and when you're making it with your wife, in your mind you're also fantasising about the American..!"

You can always glean some amusement if you're paying attention on your journey. But mostly, Clare relishes her ability to feel rejuvenated, letting her mind absorb the sensations of her surroundings.

Her assignment is simple: to deliver a message to Mme Jang – to pack town and never come back. If you're wondering, Jang is a lawyer – a prosecutor who pursues her cases with fanatical fervor, and it seems that someone doesn't want her on their ass.

Clare has occasionally heard about Jang through online news; the most well-known case being about what's been dubbed as the Pakistani-Kolbert scandal. Money, sex and banking miscounts make a potent combination, it seems.

Her purse is packed with all the necessary tools – and then some. On the subway, she has her purse comfortably tucked under her arm. People will eyeball her, and she'll view them with a lens of indifference, but someone can always take the chance of ripping away the purse from her grasp. One time it actually happened, it was a scrawny punk skinhead who wanted some cash, and he almost found out what was its contents.

The building Jang resides in is an office complex in the metropolitan area. Usually she'll never set foot in those places. She ventures through the door into the lobby, where it's way past busy hours and it's just a lone security guard in the foyer.

"You'll have to come back tomorrow. Visiting hours are from 10h to 18h.."

Clare has her taser out, and aims directly at the guard's face. The contacts land on his cheeks and forehead, and the voltage she delivers shocks him into being a jibbering jabberwocky, mouth sputtering spit in nonsense and his body convulsing into unawareness, the chair he was sitting in flung over from his collapse.

Usually, there'll be another guard (on break), so Clare quickly climbs over the desk, pauses the security footage, rips out the guard's keys and pass.

Never take the elevators. Take the long way – the stairs, to the 26th floor, where Jang would be pulling an all-nighter, typing away the indictment rap sheets. Clare is panting a little, but she peels the door open..

/

Kristiva Jang still tastes the bitter lacquer in her mouth. Coffee is one of her best friends to type around in the solemnity of her office, the monotony of phrasing and re-phrasing the terms of Eren Jaegar's obscene affair with the so-called Duchess, who was really just a 13-year old girl who didn't know any better. There's a thousand different reasons Jang can come up for letting Eren off the hook and putting the girl in the spotlight, and she has to not just suppress them – but twist them around, press them to her uses, so that it's Eren who should easily have decided against his cyber-sexing, the signs were there after all that he's dealing with an underage child behind the beautiful Geisha avatar. After all, the chat logs prove it.

The dim hums of the night skylines, her years ticking and passing her by. It's not that she relishes the pained, anguished faces of the ones she's hired to prosecute, it's just that justice needs a firm hand like hers to realise it.

Then, like in a horror movie, the lightbulbs start to flicker and shut off, leaving her in complete darkness save for the computer screen, but it only perturbs Jang when her ultrabook pops in a notification: there's only five minutes of battery life.

She is more annoyed than flustered. Only two more days to go until trial day, and she really doesn't have the time for this interruption – this power outage.

Her office door sleeks open and shut without her noticing.

When the lights instantly come on, far more brighter than usual, Jang is startled by the visage of a pale, red-scarved woman. Her heart jolting, she thinks her mind has finally given in to hallucinations, and lets out of a whimper, blinking rapidly before realising that the person in front of her is real.

"Hello," Clare goes.

From the outside of her office, peering through the frosted glass, it looks like the shining arm from the heavens has descended.

Clare walks around Jang's desk, over to where her fat, rigid bottom is sitting. "I'm a messenger, and there's someone on the line who wants to let you know something." Then she pulls out her phone that she's been holding from behind, like a magician's sleight-of-hand, and by the time she rests her toes between Jang's legs, Clare can already detect how Jang is easier to break than originally thought, just by the blubbery movement of her fat lips.

"Whoever the hell you are, I want you to know, you're trespassing," Jang goes, eyes squinting as Clare thrusts her phone into Jang's grasp.

And when Jang raises the phone to her ear, she hears the ragged breathing. Doesn't have a clue who the other person is.

"Jang speaking." Trying to maintain professional composure.

"Fifteen years ago.. you defended the man who raped me as a child." It's not what Jang expects – it's a feminine voice. "You looked into his beady eyes, and told everyone with a straight face that he simply beat me, in a heated provocation. And that I was the one who was seeking attention, who fantasised about older men, and kept crying wolf to make up for how small and timid I was at school."

Clare blinks. She'd merely thought it was going to be a stern warning from the guy who indirectly contracted her.

"You bitch.. I was in a coma for over a week, and for 10 years I've had to take therapy over the painful trauma I've been reliving, now that he's out there, free.. I've suffered enough because of your decision-"

The line cuts off, and a guy is speaking now.

"Does that ring a bell, Jang-pi?" It is Eren Jaegar. "You leave a trail of desolate victims wherever you go, it's not hard to track down one or two.. or even all of them who aren't suffering in jail."

"They got rightously served," Jang goes. "You have no business whatsoever with any of them.. and who do you think you are, sending a freak show up my alley? You think it'll change my mind on your conviction?"

"Au contraire, Jang – I know where you've hidden all the real evidence on your victims. Having the sides of your woman's underwear tested while leaving out the part that actually matters.. tsk tsk."

Jang gets flustered. "If that's what you want to think, okay."

"I'll see to it our mutual friend delivers the stuff, one ziploc bag at a time, that I can take to you in a lawsuit. I'm sure your brother wouldn't mind if we knock on his door, would we?"

Jang wipes the sweat off her cheeks. "What do you want?"

"Call off the case against me. You have NO case. That girl should've known better than to pose as a Geisha in an adult chatroom. That's what you'll announce tomorrow, or your career is history! Now let me speak to our mutual friend."

Jang passes the phone to Clare.

"Yes?" she goes.

"Make sure Jang understands – and then let her go."

When Clare tucks her phone into her pocket, she leers at Jang, her foot pressing on Jang's crotch. "Do you understand?"

"Y-yes.."

"So say it."

"I.. understand."

Clare nods, then lays her foot off Jang, before heading out the door – the lights flickering and dimming again. By the time Jang recollects herself, her office looks the same as it always does. Except for the fact that her thinkpad screen is roasting with smoke, digital noise, and growing spots of blackness.

Jang is left stunned, and jolts in shock as her screen fractures and cracks out.

/

The first guard wakes up in his chair, being slapped by his partner-in-law. He feels distraught, his face tingling with slight numbness.

"Hey you, Gibson, save the nap for bedtime! You've got some coffee already, why don't you drink some?"

Gibson just has the faint recollection of a woman – a bunny mask, and then the sharp crackle of painful energy through his jaws. But everything seems kosher. No alarms are being thrown, so maybe it was a weird dream he's had?

Except for the fact that there's a mug on the desk, that he doesn't recognize: "ME BOSS. YOU NOT." It's just been poured with steaming vanilla coffee, frothing at the top. He stares at it miraculously for a while, before deciding to give it a sip.

/

Clare feels the exhaustion settling in her mind, as she hangs onto the train's railing. She can feel the memories resurfacing, like those of a bygone era still lingering in her awareness. Not the torment she's endured, long ago, in Canada, when she faced daily acts of abuse at school. But the one boy there who made a difference in her life – who saw a speckle of hope and goodness in her, and in that one Christmas dance..

(the power)

(like another monsterous awareness)

(always in her, buried deep)

She deigned to stand up to all of them, and showed them what's what. And yes, the ordeal – the struggle and fighting whose moments blur altogether in her memory, before.. awakening in a sudden shift to being in a Swiss hospital, over a thousand miles away.

His name was Martin. And somehow – through uncomfortable feelings that have grown between them, she could feel him growing distant from her. Especially in her emotional turmoil, when it feels like she's struggling with the weight of the whole world against her.

She remembers him shrinking away, giving her glances. Trying to change the subject to something unrelated when she wants to talk her feelings out with him – the demons she's facing, he just has no emotional context for.

Whatever happiness they shared together, eventually it seemed all but done for.

Finally, she had enough of it – she cut herself free from him. And in a flurry of heated words that left her sobbing outside in the rain afterward, Clare was alone again. Maybe love isn't meant to last forever, no matter how much it felt like living a real life fairytale.

Well, not exactly alone. She still has other friends, both in the studio, and her neighbours who she occasionally visits with her baked cookies. It's almost so easy to forget that she was once just a shadow..

Something that she's never brought up with anyone since leaving Martin.

qdesjardin: (Default)

SCENE 13 – Fiat Lux

"How can you just leave me standing?
Alone in a world that's so cold?
Maybe I'm just too demanding
Maybe I'm just like my father too bold
Maybe you're just like my mother
She's never satisfied
Why do we scream at each other?
This is what it sounds like
When doves cry.."

There in the distance, far above horizons known to anyone, is the floating city of Lux. Amidst the dimly red skies of the North Pole, the white domes are aglow – clusters of them, like lanterns perpetually adrift in the sky.

This is where the train's skyroad leads to, and if you peer closely, an intricate series of skyroads connect the domes with one another, with transport cars carrying gnomes who are super busy for the night, and guidance balloons along their paths (they signal the state of the tracks).

Utena and Shinji have their mouths agape outside the Conductor's car.

"Wow!" Shinji goes, while Utena clutches the train railing with apprehension. Even if this is all but just a dream of hers, she would have never imagined Santa Claus to live in such a scene reminiscent of what you'd find in the deep oceans. It shows how much she doesn't actually know about the jolly old man who's supposed to grant any wish a child makes on Christmas Night, no matter how small or extreme.

"How come nobody's ever been able to find this place out?" Utena asks the Conductor, standing right behind them.

"Ahh, it is trade secret," he says. "If I told you, even a middle-schooler like you could spread the news to anyone not incredulous to our existence! You do have one curious mind Utena.."

"I just.." A beat. She wants to say everything that's weighing in her heart, the deep trauma of her soul – how everything she loved has been ripped out her being, and just holding on to the nobility of being like the prince who rescued her from despair – that is what keeps her going.

She wonders if the Conductor could see it in her eyes. The pain she's kept buried for years, leeching out every once in a while, when no one else is around, she'd cry and find it beautiful for some reason that always escapes her lips.

In the end, she just says: "I've always liked learning," with an eager smile to placate any worries.

"Oh.. and that is why you scored a 37% in one of your math quizzes?" the conductor goes off-handedly.

("Sucks to be you!" Wakaba goes, jeering at Utena's piss-poor mark. "Wee-hehehe!")

"Hey.. how'd you know?! I was caught up in those rose duels, I never got the chance to study ever!" Utena is taken aback by the Conductor's mentioning of a personal detail.

"It seemed like you had a lot on your mind.. that's all.." the Conductor says. "I won't pretend to say I know which thought it is, for my ESP powers are failing me this time of year. But I do confess, it is not a healthy habit to allow personal anxieties to get the best of you, Utena-sama. A heavy heart, it inevitably closes itself off from receiving joy - everyone is feeling joyful about Christmas, and you should too! You're one of the rare few in this world who's hand-picked to see the Wizard of Oz!"

Even Utena couldn't resist smiling from the Conductor's enthusiasm, and as she glances at the approaching domes, feeling the wind rushing, ripping over her hair, she feels her gut swell about what these domes have inside.

"You want some tea? Hot chocolate?" Shinji asks from inside the conductor's car – apparently he is fiddling with the Conductor's magic drinky-making machine, which can produce any delectable drink the imagination can conceive, but all Shinji can think of at the moment is how chilly he feels in just his pajamas (he should've worn his bathrobe) and being nice to Utena. Oh, and also the friendly Conductor too.

"How about some black tea?" Utena goes.

"I do not like tea, but I do like the coffee," the Conductor says.

So Shinji makes them black tea and coffee, and he passes the foam cups to each of them, while they seem busy admiring the way all the clouds are layered all around, silhouetted by the domes, as if God hadn't yet formed the world coherently. It looks jarring for the eyes to see, really.

"What else is out there?" Shinji whispers, adding nothing to their conversation.

/

Back in the passenger cars, Stevie is playing with a stuffed Garfield (Santa Claus edition!), making the orange cat do the Spider-Man crawl over the windows. He's having an awful lot of fun seeing the cat defy gravity – just like the floating marbles out the window.

"Oooh, aren't you having fun!" Nanami decides to join in Steve's playing. She was bored of 50 rounds of pattycake with the girls, and wondered how that little geek could keep himself so entertained.

Seeing past the Garfield on the window, the domes remind her of those luxury pearls she's wanted for herself – ever since she walked by the display case one winter's night, where she was window shopping by the boutique district down Roppongi (with Keiko and buddies), and saw a beautifully carved mannequin, in an understatedly elegant black dress that made her think of those older women in those erotic thriller stories she'd read about, with a circlet headdress that made the hair sheen, and.. those pearls, that adorned her neck – completing the whole picture.

She imagines herself dressing up for her big brother Touga, taking him out on a night where her wildest fantasies will come true, a candlelit dinner – take his mind entirely off the Student Council and his worries, and be the only person there for him. A night they'll both surely remember.

But the entire thing.. let alone the pearls, costs the equivalent of $10,000 CAD. And though the Kiryuu family is rich, there's no way they'll let her have it; especially when she's still at a young, budding age.

She made a secret wish, written to Santa Claus, that she'll give her whole being just to be good for the rest of the school year, if she could have a chance of having that outfit, and to spend that one special day with Touga..

"Hey, you just went limp-eyed on me!" Stevie goes. "What's the matter, are you thinking of what you'll be telling Santa on his lap?"

"Why, yes I am.." Nanami goes.

"Ooh, lemme guess, you want a.. uhh, ermm.. Ken and Barbie dollset!"

"Not that, but you're vaguely on the right track." What good does it do to tell him about a grown-up-related thing? "You know, why don't I try guessing what you want for Santa to do for you?"

"Alrighty, but you'll never hit the mark in a million years."

Nanami grumbles. "Humph! Try me!"

Stevie grins. His eyes seem to beam especially behind his glasses. "I want to meet Albert Einstein and Kurt Godel and all the great minds of history and ask them what the speed of an unladen swallow is!"

"African or European?"

"Ohh! So you do have some genius on you, Miss Smartypants!"

She's seen a subtitled copy of Monty Python's greatest hits, thanks to her older brother's collection and taste in art. Nanami smirks at her little victory. Nothing is ever beyond her wits!

"Hey, do you know what these glowing things are?" she wonders, notioning at the globes. "I've never seen those before."

"Hmm.."

A lot of the kids are now peering over by the windows, their eyes awestruck by the fantastic scenery.

The train is zooming in, faster and faster, past the globules – then it is all enveloped in a tunnel, the air currents howling as beams of light rush by the windows in a constant rate. The lights of the train dim and recover in breaths, and the train lurches upward, making everyone feel like on a zooming roller-coaster that's climbing up to a precipice.. except a weird feeling occurs where it feels like the center-of-gravity has shifted to accomodate the change of slope.

And then the tunnel ends, and what everyone on the train can see is the multi-faceted, breathing city of Lux. Where all the buildings seem comfortably constructed upon all the possible slopes and beams, like crystals that have grown upon tree branches, branching out in perpendicular directions.

This is what is inside a snow globe.

qdesjardin: (Default)

12 – snake eyes

The Staff of Ra. A few thousand years ago, it was held by Egyptian rulers as a symbol of ultimate trust, and now David Bateson is retrieving it from a hermatically-sealed glass chamber for this evening, up in his private chambers.

He's just finished checking on the hotel's finance records, certain that tomorrow's gigantic event with the Black Rose will give his shareholders the huge boost they've been waiting for – over ten millions in ticket profits (not including the other income sources).

/

When he goes to check on the Black Rose's rehearsal backstage – they've already gotten the gist of their acts, with Renton now being able to fish out yin-yang (Baoding) balls from an unsuspecting audience member – having practiced on a waitress who has free time to spare.

Good.. if everything runs smoothly, along with the auction, I'll be sure to go down in the hotel's history as its best owner. Not to mention a suave retirement.

"For my next trick," LeBlanc twirls with her staff, smirking, "I'll make your 5G reception bars disappear."

Satisfied with the proceedings, David sips a small brandy from his pocket bottle. The Black Rose's itinerary of magic seems solid:

1. Opening act – Lulu and Heimerdinger are French chefs, serving ratatouille (real). LeBlanc is a demanding food critic. Involves one or two audience members.
2. 2nd act – Swain and LeBlanc have a tango ("Roxanne"), involving the dizzying heights of the ceiling.
3. 30 Minute Intermission
4. 3rd act
– Twisted Fate and Renton try to outfox one another in games involving cards, chess, etc. leading to heated duel of words and tricks.
5. Finale – A ballad involving all cast members, leaving everyone with the promise of finding magic in their own lives (metaphorically speaking).

Swain calls everyone over for a group huddle.

"Remember what we need to do.." he goes, once he's sure David has gone away. "While our show is on, the auction will be occuring during the intermissions and afterward. I just found out David will be giving away his staff the first thing."

He nods at Heimerdinger. "Heimer's come up with a duplicate, based off observations. It'll look like the real thing, more or less, just that it will feel a bit off to a familiar hand. We'll be swapping the staffs, so no one will be alerted. By the time they find out, we'll already be stepping foot in Italy."

Renton gulps at the mention of Italy. It's only been around three days since dropping through the rabbit hole to this alternate reality, and he's just getting used to the idea of grandeur – the feeling that you could do anything you wished for, the stuff you'd see in TV, movies and comics, and now being in another country?

He'd never even contemplated that possibility, except as a young child when his father was still alive, promising him someday he'd get to see those beautiful gardens his father's seen in Belgium, where the white water lilies seem to sift on the ponds.

And now, it's as much in his reach as Evaine's billowing cape before him.

She smells like.. a bizarre mixture of oranges and plums that hit the nose in such a manner as to bring your senses to an allured stillness..

"Renton..? Renton!" Swain is calling out his name. "Can I trust you with the actual swapping of the staff? Nobody knows your face yet, and your innoceous looks can prove disarming."

Renton feels like being the lead role of a spy movie, so of course he says "Yes!"

"This is what you'll be doing before the 3rd act.."

/

Being canned is an uncomfortable fit. Singed, in a waiter's outfit, is lugging a cart of canned fruit – along with Zac (in a can).

They are part of backstage catering, and will be checking in on the Black Rose, hoping to glean any info out of their doings. In short, they're just like villains-for-hire in a Saturday morning cartoon.

So far, what they've found out is that there's an auction they're really concentrating on, and a staff of Ra they want to acquire.

"A staff of Ra?"

Yes. Those artefacts which are fabled to ascend anyone to a higher plane of existence. Viktor has searched through his data files and discovered the thread which the Black Rose has been chasing after. A fascinating thread – that would seek to quench that underlying question about magic. He isn't sure what they've already acquired, so he is hoping to forge a temporary alliance with them, despite their long-standing rivalry.

It is a bit of a long-shot, but Swain is enough of a reasonable man to be swayed. A long time ago, Viktor pulled Swain out of a messy situation from the Russian Mafia..

Now Singed puts the cans under the catering table, where Zac is to listen in, and heads on back so he could refill the drinks.

While this is going on, Rumble and Veigar are putting on the finishing touches for the stage lighting.

"Spotlight check!" the head electrician goes, and up in the control booth, the coordinators test each of the spotlights, one-by-one, making sure everything is in working order.

Rumble has set his Tristy mecha on standby, by the ceiling, when everyone else has left the stage. He's dressed it up in a Super Galaxy outfit. Having seen the Black Rose's perfomance itinerary, the idea is to interrupt their finale – giving the audience a real shocker, like something out of wrestling when another wrestler comes by unexpectedly for a showdown. It might seem rude initially, but whatever makes the crowd cheer, so Team ROCHAT can have some publicity, as well as getting the Black Rose's attention to their joint-venture proposal.

He's also reprogrammed the routines in the control room, so the lights will dim and re-focus accordingly when they crash the party. "It's a change of plan sirs," he told the control guys, showing them a written letter with Swain's signature (faked). "They're orders directly from the Black Rose," and with the time pressure, coupled with his convincing tone of authority, the control guys don't bother checking the purpose of these routine changes. An extra dim here, some spotlight focuses there – these seemingly innoceous changes – and the show goes on like normal afterward.

Veigar wipes his forehead. Mon dieu! Thank god it's over, everything is set to rock.

"They have Kool-Aid in this place, non?" he says to Rumble, when the rest of the technician team are busy congratulating themselves.

"There's 20-year old Merlot and Sherry," Rumble goes, having glanced at their fine wine collection. "I'm pretty sure they have your favourite somewhere."

/

Alone in her makeup room, LeBlanc is playing around with the blushes and lipstick, experimenting with her new look she'll be presenting outwardly. It's like with Madonna, who's able to reinvent her image with every one of her new albums, which is something LeBlanc's always admired.

Currently, she dabs a bit of lipstick just in the middle of her lips, and pulls back her hair in a fanciful bun. When she spent time imitating a geisha, she found it suiting to be poised like a mime. Ready to suggest people through her hands and gestures, not with her words.

The door creaks open.

"Evaine?" Renton goes. He sees her wiping away her makeup, and catches a momentary glimpse of what she was going for in the brightly lit mirror. She is immensely talented, and his already pounding heart is erupting now, like a volcano.

He inches himself inside the same room as her, and the scent of vanilla caresses his nose. Bursting out of him, those moments which have been underlying himself the whole time.

The way she's kissed him, sliding her lips back like how the ocean waves retreat, before diving deeper in his mouth for more.

Losing all sense of himself under her embrace..

It touches the innermost recesses of his mind, that he's yet to feel comfortable revealing.

"Why do you love me?" he says. "It was so sudden, and.. and.." Nothing can express the confusion he's having over this. "I don't understand. Do you know me from somewhere, like distant cousins?"

"Non." She exits her chair. "Renton.. you don't know what I've been through. Seeing you brings back so many memories. I'm not related to you or anything. I just.. used to have a son, and his father.. that's such a long time ago."

This revelation isn't really that stunning for him.

"I'd have thought you were together with Twisted Fate or Swain," Renton goes. "You're so beautiful, why aren't you in love with-"

"I was. But it grew exhausting on them after a while, and so we had to break it off, keep professional. Ever since, I've hidden my feelings from everyone, though they know about it.. how I had my heart torn to shreds, and left with nothing but despair."

"What happened..?" Renton approaches Evaine's still figure.

"My lover was killed! And they took my son – he was all I had left in my world. My SON, Renton!" Her arms are clasped over her chest, like trying to stifle a bleeding wound. "It's not the Black Rose. Someone else. Katarina.. Cassiopeia.. Riven! Oh god, I can still remember all their names..!"

And she slams the table with her fists, the items on the table clattering. It takes a second for her to recollect herself.

"My son's name was Booker, Renton," she goes, her eyes partly caught up in her memory. "I was going to look after him, hold him tightly in my arms, grow older with him. I don't even know if he's even alive! The last 23 years, I sought to find those bitches who took him – hoping that the next city we'd venture into, I'd find them, and my son with them. Or the next city after that. But they're all gone now, and.. I'm sorry.."

She is weeping, and Renton is agape trying to comprehend what she's saying. He just knows her feeling of loss, thinking of his long-gone father, and that he feels this pull towards her.

"Hey, there's no need to be sorry." He tugs at her shoulder. "When I was around 10, I lost my dad in a truck crash, and it's never been the same for me since. I miss him every day that's passed – it's just something that happens, and I live the best I can for his memory. I try to, at least."

It makes Evaine smile. "He must be so, so very proud of you.."

"I can't imagine how it's like to lose your child like that. But if Booker were here, knowing you still care about him after so long, he'd be so happy." Renton flashes her a reassuring grin. "You never stopped believing in him."

"Oh-!"

A lipstick falls to the floor.

He finds himself suddenly cradled in her embrace. Passionately warm and soothing and intoxicating. His cheeks pressed by her neck, while his breathing is slightly constrained within her arms – every inhalation makes his chest press back against her soft breasts.

It's like before, where he is shuddering at experiencing the entirety of her being up-close. Her fingers running along the back of his neck, curling up at the soft parts she finds.

"Does this.. feel good?"

They look like lovers caught in a still frame of an intimate waltz.

"You're so beautiful.." Renton goes.

"What are you talking about?"

She leans in to kiss him – holding still in his mouth, before slowly drawing back. And then another, this time with a trail of saliva linking their lips which makes her smile.

The excitement proves too much for Renton, and his breath noticably trembling, he tries to lunge towards her life-giving mouth, but she draws away from his unrestrained eagerness.

"Slowly.." she instructs him, a finger on his cheek – not wanting to break the feeling of delicacy – and when he kisses her again, he remembers to relax, and let his mind be saturated with those sensations her soul delights in showing him.

/

Tomorrow evening's show has almost a hundred thousand showing up. The parking lots have been congested with varieties of car colours – when a spot is filled, the ground underneath it is set aglow, which is a nice touch for the event. There's also small business owners inviting other cars into their backlots (with cheap Christmas lights to replicate an MGM Grand spot), and a huge lineup of viewers, reporters, stretching down the sidewalks as far as the hotels some of them are staying at.

Police and security dot the vicinity with their presence, from the parked cruisers that help redirect traffic, to the guards who do random patdowns to check for weapons and laser pointers.

Even refreshment tables are there since the entire line has been growing for hours long.

In the actual hotel/exhibition centre, David Bateson is chewing on a Snickers bar – his reflection silhouettes his walking cane behind the glass. It's like a piece of him is going away with it. And a weight off his mind. Then the custodians tow his cane away, along with the numerous treasures he's found throughout his travels.

And Renton, he is also chewing a Snickers bar. While his stage outfit is ready in the dressing room, he's wearing normal clothes.

"Just talk with David Bateson and lead him into letting you have your hands on the cane. The loading area has a few blindspots in their surveillence, and I'll show up moments later to congratulate Bateson and his crew in their efforts – that's when you make the switch. Hide the real staff in a blindspot, and we'll retrieve it later."

Everyone is already murmuring in the stagearea, and Renton can feel the hefty weight of the retractable cane in his pockets, as he wanders into the loading bay, where David is overseeing the process of every item, film memorablia, jade doll being fitted into its display case.

How am I supposed to get his cane? It's not they'll be willing to undo the boxing just for me..

Doubt gives Renton pause over Swain's idea. A part of him wants to turn back and ask Swain if maybe he should rethink it. He continues forth anyway, and with a slight change of perspective, sees the glass case beside David in which the cane rests.

"Young lad-!" David goes, spotting Renton. "I know you're not one of the faces I usually see here! It's not an appropriate place for you to be – were you looking for the washroom?"

The loud whirs of the drills intermittently erupt through the room.

"Yeah.." Renton scratches the back of his neck. "I was. I got a little lost – I'm in a hurry for the show. Can you show me?"

Bateson checks his watch. More than enough time. So he leads Renton back to the halls..

"Around your age Renton," he says, with a slight lisp in his step, "I didn't really dream big, truth be told. I was what you'd call lazy and modest. I thought the best I could aspire to was being a content pencil-pusher in the offices."

"I don't know yet what I want to aspire to," Renton goes, feeling a tinge of embarassment go through him as they pass by a WC sign that has the gendered stick people pointing in the right direction.

"There's no need to hurry yourself. A lot of the historical greats didn't know what they really wanted to pursue until they were well into their middle ages.. you, my lad, it seems like you've got a lot of spirit showing through you."

"That's really encouraging."

The men's washroom, you turn right at a juncture between the men's and women's. Some music from the first act plays very distantly, as the frightened yelps from Heimerdinger suggest that LeBlanc is slapping his ass over the poorly-made Antoinette cake.

"There we are," Bateson says.

Renton is at an impasse – Bateson is just going to turn back around, and he'll be left in awkwardness if Bateson sees him stumbling by again. Why did he even run along with 'going to the washroom'? That was foolish-

"Oh, now that I think of it," David Bateson goes, "I could use the little men's room too."

So after Renton takes a whiz, he mentions to David about his 'famous' cane that he used to be walking around with. "What happened to your cane?"

"I'm giving it away for the auction tonight."

Renton notices his frown in the washroom mirror.

"You're going to miss your cane, aren't you?" Renton goes.

"We've been through so much together." David pats his face after he's given it a splash. "It even saved my friend's life."

"Really? That must be one cool cane..! If I could have had the chance to touch it beforehand.."

A beat. David eyeballs Renton, and then the idea hits him – the last thing he does with his cane should be something happy, and what better moment for finality, than to let this boy take a look with his own eyes?

"Tell you what Renton," he goes, "You can run your fingers along all its intricate lines if you like. The auction isn't for another half-hour anyways."

"Oh – you're so gracious!" Yeesss!

Coming back to the loading room, David is opening the cane's display case. The workers ask him what he's doing, and he's explaining that he's giving his cane a last, sentimental hurrah. After the case's security alarm has been deactivated, he unlatches the cover, and lets his fingers carry it over to Renton.

It's really thrilling to hold a piece of history in your own hands. By touching it, it's like you become a part of its history. No longer is it just a vague idea you'd find off a library book, with the old picture to prove its existence outside of words.

The light faintly sheens over the staff of Ra's surface as Renton turns it over, revealing the numerous micro-scratches it's accumulated. Somehow it feels lighter than the fake staff Renton's been carrying, and then the thought hits him – wouldn't Bateson know right away that it's fake from the switch? If he gets his hands on the fake..

Where is Swain? He's supposed to show up any second.

"I like it very much," Renton goes, hoping that light talk will let him hold the staff longer. "What did it look like when you first picked it up?"

David snatches the cane from him. "There were bronze gildings over it. 1952. The excavation site of Hamunaptra, where we were looking for the Egyptian tomes buried by Nasus's tomb. Mon dieu, it was so hot. It was a souvenir from what we found, and I kept it – helped me trek back through the desert."

"Ooh. You were an archaeologist?" Renton's hands are just eager to get the staff back.

"Yeah. From China to Greece and the Mayan ruins. Now I'm selling off the last of what I have. It'll be lonely with just my memories, but my work will go on better appreciated once I stop clinging to the past, so to speak." Bateson runs his hands down its whole length, and Renton could swear that there was a weird glow from the staff, before his focus snaps back to his mission.

"Hey, I'm not done looking at it."

The magic show is being broadcast on TVs, and Renton hears the applause over the first act's ending. Swain's going to be in the second act..! It's going to be starting very soon, and he hasn't even come yet.

"I have to put my cane back now, young lad," Bateson goes.

A deluge of confusion. What is Renton to do now? His head is swirling, wanting to snag the staff away and run, or just plain head off and report back to the dressing room.

Then after he hears: "Ladies and gentlemen, we apologise. One of our principle cast members is currently unavailable. But we promise, the show will go on! He should be around shortly." And the groans and uneased murmurs of the audience.

"Umm, excuse me," Renton pips. "I need to be somewhere." And he is striding off – his hesitation dispelled with the fact that Swain is missing from the whole picture. Everything is starting to go wrong..

"What's that all about?" David asks to himself. "Funny lad."

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