Way of the Rose
Ye Olde Disclaimers: Shoujo Kakumei
Utena (Revolutionary Girl Utena) and all the characters pertaining
to the manga/show were written by the wonderful Chiho Saito
and brought to animated life by the folks at B-Papas and the
skillful directions of Kunihiko Ikuhara. The story elements
written within this fanfic are my ideas and belong to me.
This was written for fun, not profit. I’m just borrowing
the characters for a while. I hope you enjoy reading this
as much as I’m enjoying writing it. We fanfic writers
thrive on feedback, and all comments/questions/flames/etc.
are welcome. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you, and enjoy!
A lone figure traversed the open plains of the scorched earth, picking their way through the ruins of a centuries-old settlement, their booted feet sinking slightly in the sand. Gutted remnants of moisture-collectors and crumbling foundations dotted the otherwise barren landscape. From their protective mask and tattered leather duster, to a hood pulled over their head, the lone being was protected, head to toe, against the searing winds of the dunes. Their only other possessions were a saddlebag, and a sword strapped across their back. The sword’s handle of exquisitely carved ivory played a beautiful counterpoint to the wrought steel guard, both of which glinted in the rays of the waning sun.
At the summit of the highest dune, the traveler paused and surveyed the scene with a pair of binoculars. The crosshairs came to rest upon an oasis. Ruins, both great and small, dotted the solitary patch of fertile earth. A heavy sigh passed through the mask.
“The Oasis of Ohtori,” whispered a decidedly female voice, “and just in time for a late dinner.”
A scurrying at the corner of her vision caught the traveler's attention.
“But first… lunch.”
A luminous full moon was halfway to its apex by the time the woman reached the ominous gate that marked the entrance to the oasis. Two tall towers that probably housed the wall guards flanked the double-door gate, each half heavily fortified with steel cross-sections and spikes.
“Halt! Who goes there?” challenged a gruff voice. The “ching” of a round being chambered echoed in the darkness.
“I am Utena Tenjou,” answered the tall cloaked woman, her voice calm.
“What business have you here?”
“I have journeyed many months. I seek shelter and, if possible, food.”
“To what end is your journey?” answered the challenging voice.
“What I search for and why are my business and my business alone.”
The Captain of the Guard paused to consider his options. Lone travelers seeking admission to Ohtori this late at night were rare, but not all that unusual. He weighed his options a moment further. “Very well. Approach the gate with both hands in the air.”
The woman raised her hands above her head and stepped towards the gate. The massive doors whispered open as three heavily armed men advanced on Utena. She was admitted only after she had been patted down and her saddlebags searched. Once in, she lowered her hood and pulled off her protective mask.
The guards stared in awe as a flowing mane of pink hair cascaded down the woman’s back, coming to rest just past her shoulder blades. Concealed among the pink tresses was a beautiful face with eyes of intense blue. The light of the full moon gave the stranger an almost otherworldly glow and beauty.
Utena shifted the saddlebags to her other shoulder and proceeded,
unhindered, down the dimly lit path. A pair of curious blue eyes
followed her from the shadows.
Utena cautiously approached the inn, her eyes falling upon the well-worn sign that hung above the door of the establishment. The sign bore the painted image of a many-thorned rose.
“The Rose’s Thorn, eh?” Utena whispered to no one in particular, unconsciously rubbing the back of her left hand. “Charming, I’m sure…”
With a resolved sigh, Utena entered the inn. The intoxicated tenants that haunted the bar spared her slightly more than a moment’s notice. She made her way to the dining area, where a few of the tenants were still finishing their evening meal. Utena took a seat at a table farthest away from the large illuminated stage that dominated the dining room. As she set down her sword and saddlebags, a young woman approached her table.
“Good evening, stranger,” she said in a timid voice.
“Hmmm?” Utena looked up at the girl. “Good evening….”
It took the waitress a few moments to realize the tall woman was inquiring her name.
“W- Wakaba,” the waitress said in a near-whisper, her doe-brown eyes intently studying something on the floor.
“Well, ‘W- Wakaba,’ my name is Utena.”
“Oh, no… its just Wakaba,” she said, looking Utena eye-to-eye for the first time. “What can I get you, Ms. Utena.”
“Please, its just Utena.” A friendly smile played on Utena’s lips. “Tell me, Wakaba, what do you have in the way of drinks?”
“Well, Utena, we have ale, a slightly weaker beer… though not by much,” she added with a wink, “milk and well-water, though I wouldn’t recommend the well-water.”
Utena paused to ponder her choices. “I think I’ll go with the ale. Do you have any soup or stew?”
Wakaba looked back towards the kitchen. “I think we might have some stew left, although it isn’t very hearty. I’ll go check, if you wish.”
“Please,” a smirk betrayed Utena’s attempt not to smile at Wakaba’s timidness.
As Wakaba departed, Utena began to unbutton her duster and take off her gloves. A quiet chittering emanating from the saddlebags caught Utena’s attention. She undid her bag and peered into it, her dexterous fingers opening a hidden compartment deep within the bag.
“Not now,” she whispered, “I’ll feed you soon. I promise.”
She hastily shut her saddlebag as Wakaba returned from the kitchen. In her arms she carried a serving tray with a bowl of steaming stew, a loaf of bread, and a tall mug of ale.
“My, my!” Utena exclaimed as she took a whiff of the stew. “Smells wonderful. How much do I owe you?” she asked as she reached for the mug.
“That’ll be…” Wakaba froze, a stark look of panic overtaking her face. She stood rigidly still, her eyes transfixed on the outstretched arm that gripped the mug of ale.
Centered on the back of Utena’s left hand was a small tattoo of a rose.
Wakaba snapped out of her reverie and quickly bowed her head, her eyes staring at her feet. She fretted nervously, bowing deeply, and slowly started backing away.
“I’m so sorry, Ms. Utena! I-I had no idea, t-there is no charge, of course. How could I think such a thing, p-p-please forgive me…”
With another deep bow, Wakaba turned and was about to run to the relative safety of the kitchen, when Utena reached up and grabbed her arm.
“No, wait, please…” Utena looked at Wakaba with the same amount of confusion with which Wakaba was regarding her. “Sit, please. Why did you say those things? Why did you try to run away?”
Wakaba gingerly took her seat, her eyes never daring to meet Utena’s.
“Have you already eaten?” Utena gently asked.
A vigorous nodding of her head let Utena know that Wakaba had already dined.
Utena began speaking, spoon in hand. “So tell me,” she began as she stuffed a heaping spoon of stew into her mouth. “Mmmm…. That’s good. Anyway, why the sudden mood swing?”
“You don’t know?” Wakaba asked, her confusion evident on her face.
“The mark…” Wakaba cautiously pointed to the emblem on Utena’s hand.
Utena set down her mug and stared at the rose-shaped symbol. When she spoke, her voice was heavy with years spent pondering the mysteries of the mark.
“This? I’ve had this as long as I can remember,” she began slowly, “My parents once told me that it was a message from the Fates… a guide to my destiny….” She trailed off, memories from a distant past surfacing.
Wakaba could only stare at the face of the woman called Utena. Her face was serene, but her eyes, hidden behind pink tresses, were troubled.
At a complete loss, Wakaba could only ask, “Who are you?”
Utena looked up with an odd expression, caught off guard by Wakaba’s question.
A whining sound coming from the saddlebags caught the attention of both women. With a mischievous grin, Utena reached over and undid the ties of her saddlebag. With both hands she pulled something out, hiding it within her grasp.
“You already know who I am,” she said with a gentle smile in her eyes, “and this… is Chu-Chu.”
As Utena parted her hands, a tiny desert mouse hopped onto the table. He bounded towards Utena, landing next to her forearm. With a series of angry-sounding noises, he swatted at her arm with his kangaroo-like foot. Utena brought her hands up defensively.
“I’m really sorry, Chu-Chu,” she said apologetically, “I really am. I didn’t want to bring you out until I knew I could trust her.”
Her comment was not lost on Wakaba, who found herself close to tears. They exchanged understanding smiles, but were awakened from their reverie by an incessant tapping. They both looked down, only to see Chu-Chu impatiently tapping his foot on the table. With a laugh, Utena tore a piece of the bread and offered it to the desert mouse.
Chu-Chu looked away, refusing the peace offering. Wakaba took the bread and offered it again to Chu-Chu.
“I’m sorry I kept your mistress from feeding you, Chu-Chu. Forgive me?”
For a reply, Chu-Chu took the bread in his tiny claws and hopped up to kiss Wakaba on the nose. He made his way to a corner of the table and settled down to enjoy his dinner.
Utena and Wakaba stood at the threshold to one of the inn’s room. Chu-Chu stood perched on Wakaba’s shoulder, a very content and smug expression on his whiskered face.
“Thank so much for the wonderful dinner. Its been a long time since I’ve sat down to a warm, home-cooked meal.”
“Oh, it was nothing, really,” Wakaba offered with a slight bow.
“We really must speak again sometime,” Utena said with a friendly smile, “I enjoyed our conversation.”
“I’d like that,” Wakaba whispered with a slight blush.
The women exchanged a hug, sealing a promise of friendship.
“Come along, Chu-Chu,” Utena ordered as they parted.
The desert mouse nuzzled Wakaba’s neck with a sigh and kissed her jaw before he leapt onto Utena’s shoulder. Wakaba giggled at the tickling of Chu-Chu’s whiskers.
“One more thing, before you go…”
“Could you wake me up about an hour after sunrise?”
“As you wish,” Wakaba said with a slight curtsy.
“Good night, Wakaba.”
“Good night, Utena.”
Utena closed the door as Wakaba departed to finish her duties. “Well, Chu-Chu?” she asked her furry companion as she made her way to the bed, tossing her bags and sword onto a nearby chair. “What do you think?”
Chu-Chu hopped off Utena’s shoulder and onto the bed. A series of positive-sounding squeaks and chirps were his answer.
Utena contemplated the evening, smiling at the memory. “Yeah, I think you’re right.”
Utena unceremoniously plopped herself on the bed, Chu-Chu scrambling out of the way of his descending mistress. With a sigh, Utena brought her left hand up to her face. She stared at the rose mark on the back of her hand as memories of the far-flung past came unbidden.
Having lost both parents when she was but a child, Utena had been raised by a friend of her family. Papa Gendo, as she had called him, was a sword-master of great skill and wisdom. Such love and kindness did Papa Gendo impart raising Utena that she had come to love him as a niece loves her uncle.
On the day her parents died, Utena had begun having a recurring dream every night to the present day. A beautiful woman with olive-skin, flowing lavender hair, and dressed in an elegant white gown with red trimming, would intone her name, calling out, “I have finally found you,” before being engulfed in darkness. She would see visions of a glowing white rose, in full bloom, floating above a great arena whose surface was covered in petals of various colors: green, red, blue, orange, pink, and lavender.
Papa Gendo, her mentor and surrogate-family, had always maintained that the mark and the dreams were sent from the Fates, as a guide to her destiny. Both Utena and Papa Gendo knew that one day Utena would leave to seek the answer to the riddle her dreams presented. To prepare for that day, Papa Gendo had begun training Utena in martial arts, fencing, and survival. An adept student, Utena had quickly learned what her Uncle had taught her. Higher levels of martial arts and weaponry were aggressively pursued, and just as aggressively taught. Then one night, two years ago, the mysterious woman of her dreams appeared again, this time reaching for Utena, pleading for her to go west.
Both Utena and the man who had been her family for over 15 years knew that the day had come. At their last meeting, Papa Gendo had taken away the battered broadsword Utena had trained with for ten years. “This training tool is not worthy of a warrior as skilled as you,” he had told her. “You require a weapon whose strength and grace are a match for your own. Here… take this.” In Utena’s awaiting hands was placed a sword, which almost glowed with the nobility that had forged it. Its long, slender, and finely honed blade came to a cross-guard of steel worked to resemble ivy, and its grip of ivory had been intricately carved with thorns and roses in various stages of bloom. The weapon was a sword-smith’s magnum opus. In what would be a somber parting, Utena had taken the gift with reverence, and had tightly embraced her adopted uncle.
Utena sighed as she pushed her left hand into its glove, a habit she had picked up long, long ago. The leather and cloth barrier between herself and the mark, indeed between her present and her destiny, provided a temporary comfort. She shifted on the bed, looking for her furry companion and chuckled quietly when she found Chu-Chu on the corner of the bed, very much asleep, and snoring lightly.
“G’night, buddy,” she whispered as she, too, closed her eyes and allowed herself to fall into the waiting arms of sleep.
Again, she dreamed of a beautiful woman with olive-skin, flowing lavender hair, and dressed in an elegant white gown with red trimming.
At the head of a massive table sat a man, perhaps in his early twenties, with a brooding expression. His olive complexion stood out in stark contrast to his light lavender hair. He had his hair tied in a simple ponytail that rested haphazardly on his left shoulder, the tip spilling down to mid-chest. Hidden among his bangs were stormy gray eyes that almost glowed in the dark chamber where the table stood. He held his hands together, fingers steepled, as he absently tapped his index fingers against his lips. The golden buttons of his military-styled attire reflected the light of the single candle that adorned the center of the table. A heavy sigh escaped his lips as he leaned further back in his chair. A knocking on a door hidden somewhere in the darkness caused the man to stir from his reverie.
“Enter.” The command was concise and wielded with authority.
The heavy doors opened slowly, the light of the hallway flowing into the room. A young woman dressed in a resplendent and flowing white gown entered the chamber. She stood at the threshold, shivering, though not from any chill. She was afraid. She began to shiver even more as the man’s gray eyes bore down on her.
“Yes?” he asked casually, with an air of boredom.
“M-my lord…” she stammered as her eyes looked to the floor. “Lord Kiryuu wishes an audience with you.”
“I see. Show him in.”
With an almost grateful sigh, the young lady bowed deeply and quickly exited the room.
“Touga,” the man murmured to himself. He turned towards the door. “It has been too long, my friend.”
“Indeed, my lord Akio,” Touga Kiryuu responded as he bowed his head in respect, his flowing mane of red cascading down his shoulders.
“I trust your journey was… pleasant? Please…” Akio motioned towards a corner of the room. A fully stocked bar appeared in the darkness, illuminated in a soft lavender hue.
Touga chuckled as he approached the bar. “As pleasant a journey as any across the Black Rose Dunes can be.” He removed his cloak and adjusted his similarly styled uniform.
“Such a diplomatic way of putting it, my dear Touga. The usual?”
“If you please. Tell me, my Lord Akio, have any other members of the Council arrived?” Touga inquired as he took Akio’s offered drink.
“Indeed. Lady Juri Arisugawa, Lord Miki Kaoru, and his sister, Kozue, have already retired to their respective rooms for the evening. Lady Chigusa Sanjouin is due to arrive within the next two days.”
“I see…” Touga said, lost in thought as he raised his drink to his lips.
“Oh yes, how could I forget… Lord Kyoichi is training at the fencing hall, as we speak…” A feral grin played across Akio’s features for a fraction of an instant.
Touga turned to Akio, his drink forgotten on the table. His icy blue eyes intently studied Akio’s unreadable gray eyes. Unexpectedly, he began to chuckle. “If you’ll excuse me, my Lord Akio,” he said as he pulled a stray lock of his blood-red hair out of his eyes. “I do believe I must go say ‘hello’ to an old friend…”
“Of course.” Akio responded with a nod of his head. “Enjoy yourself, Touga, for the Council convenes in three days.”
Without a further word spoken, Lord Touga Kiryuu exited through the doorway that conveniently appeared at the far wall.
Alone once again in the darkened room, Akio Ohtori approached the bar. He picked up Touga’s still untouched drink and intently studied it. A resigned sigh escaped his lips as he stared at the glass with eyes that held a sad inevitability. He began to chuckle, a low sound with a malevolence that filled the entire expanse of the room. His eyes no longer held the same sadness as before, but a calculating malice as he downed the entire drink in a single gulp and sent the glass hurtling towards the wall. The sound of the glass shattering was lost amidst the sound of Akio’s full-throated laughter.
The sword danced through the air, an extension of the arm of the master who wielded it. The form was simple, yet elegant. The blade effortlessly cut down whatever imaginary opponents the warrior faced as he worked through the exercise. His wavy mane of green was tied back in a simple ponytail, more for function than for style. His lavender eyes shone with the highest of concentrations, the sweat upon his forehead and exposed chest testament to his exertion. The billowing sleeves and pant legs of his fighting gi hid the movement of his arms and legs, making it difficult for any would-be opponent to gauge his actions. His lips curled up in a fierce snarl, the warrior loosed a war cry as he finished his exercise with a powerful downward swing.
The sound of clapping from the entrance to the fencing hall caught the warrior’s attention. He turned towards the sound, smoothly sliding the katana into the sheath at his left hip. The figure’s face lay hidden amidst shadow, clapping hands and highly shined shoes the only parts of their person peaking from the darkness. The finely manicured hands ceased their clapping and fell to the figure’s side.
“Impressive as ever, my dear Saionji.” The amused masculine voice commented from behind shadows.
Saionji Kyoichi narrowed his eyes, his right hand instinctively reaching for his katana.
“Who is that? Step into the light,” he commanded as he gripped the leather-bound handle.
“I’m hurt,” answered the figure as he stepped forward into the soft light, his shoes clicking smartly on the hardwood floor. “You don’t remember your old friend?”
“Touga Kiryuu,” he answered with a derisive snort, “is no friend of mine.”
“Do come off your high horse, my dear Saionji. It doesn’t suit you.”
“And the false air of sincerity you present doesn’t suit you.” Saionji shot back as he walked to a stand along a near wall. A multitude of wooden practice swords were held horizontally at varying heights. He propped his own sword against the wall and retrieved two wooden swords from their hooks. “Has your scheming and flattering left you any time to train, I wonder?”
Touga smirked as he unbuttoned his coat and set it upon a nearby coat rack. “Has your constant devotion to training left you any time to refine your conversational skills, I wonder?”
His question was answered by a dismissive laugh. “Let us converse in the manner of true warriors and I’ll show you exactly how refined my ‘conversational skills’ are,” Saionji brandished his wooden training sword to emphasize his point. The other he held out to Touga.
With an amused chuckle, Touga took the offered sword. “Indeed, and I shall show you that ‘scheming and flattering,’ as you so eloquently put it, are not the only talents I have pursued.”
Both master swordsmen stood facing each other, each already in his battle stance. Saionji held his sword high above his head, poised for an initial and decisive downward strike. Touga held his sword low and loose, the shaft of the wooden blade almost parallel to the ground, the extreme concentration in his eyes betraying the seemingly lax appearance of his chosen stance.
They lunged at each other, a blur of movement as their respective swords met with a resounding clank. Each continued their onslaught, neither giving any ground as supreme technical skill was matched by a pure passion of the blade. Both Saionji and Touga smiled, enjoying the challenge they presented each other, a challenge they’ve not had in a long time.
“So, the preening peacock does have talons,” Saionji commented as he deflected a slash meant for his abdomen.
“It would seem the lumbering ox does have finesse,” Touga returned, ducking under a precise jab.
The battle ended as it had always ended during the bouts of their youth. A skillfully placed jab at Saionji’s chest ended the duel. The green-haired warrior felt a slight pressure on his chest and looked down with a wistful grin. Both fighters parted, bowing to each other in a mutual show of respect.
“A different time, and both of us different people from when we were young… yet always the same outcome.”
“Perhaps the same outcome, but your skill has indeed grown since last we met,” Touga acknowledged with a salute of his wooden sword.
“Such modesty. I thought you incapable of it.” Saionji returned the salute.
They both shared a laugh as they replaced the wooden training swords on their respective stands. Saionji retrieved two towels from his saddlebag, placing one on his shoulder and offering the other to Touga. He accepted it with a nod, realizing that he indeed had worked up quite a sweat during the duel.
“Three days…” Touga said absently as he wiped the sweat from his defined arms.
“Yes. Three days… my, how the years have passed.”
They both stood, each mindful of the coming days, and the challenges soon to be. Saionji was the first to break the silence.
“I take my leave, but I wish us both good fortune in the coming days.” With a bow, he grabbed his saddlebag and made his way towards the entrance.
“Good fortune, my dear Saionji.”
With a nod, Saionji left the Fencing Hall; a pensive Touga stood alone, his mind full of tumultuous thoughts.
Anthy Himemiya sat alone at the table farthest from the tavern's entrance. The shade afforded by the large potted plant nearby kept most of her features hidden amongst shadow, leaving very little of her olive complexion to reflect the light of nearby candles. Anthy's dark lavender hair was pulled from her face in a simple ponytail, the tip coming to rest along her abdomen. Her clothes were functional, with the utmost comfort for travel having been the main focus of the hands that had made them. The sturdy, yet well worn traveling boots tapped absentmindedly on the hardwood floor of the tavern. Her satchel and sword rested upon the table, nearby a now-cold wooden platter of food rested forgotten. Lost deep within her thoughts, Anthy's hands gently caressed a small ring. Skillfully made of white gold and adorned with rubies arranged in the shape of a mosaic rose, the ring was a link to her past, and her future.
Since she was but a baby, left on the doorstep of a childless couple, the ring had always been with her. Not one to question the Fates, her guardians had told her that the ring was the key to understanding the dreams she had been having since she had come of age to be considered a woman. Always the same dream, night after countless night. A beautiful woman with pale, unblemished skin, flowing pink hair, and dressed in an elegant red gown with white trimming, would intone her name, calling out, “I have finally found you,” before being engulfed in darkness. She would see visions of a glowing white rose, in full bloom, floating above a great arena whose surface was covered in petals of various colors: green, red, blue, orange, pink, and lavender. Knowing that she would one day have to set out alone to seek the answers to her visions, her guardians had her tutored in all manner of warfare and combat. She had shown particular adeptness at fencing, something her guardians looked upon with some worry, but no less the pride. Then one night, two years ago, the mysterious woman of her dreams appeared again, this time reaching for Anthy, pleading for her to go east. It was with great sadness that Anthy's adopted family would give her the final piece of her puzzle. The day that Anthy was to set forth on her journey, her surrogate father had presented her with a sword.
A majestic, yet deadly, work of art. The straight, double-edged blade came to a simple cross-guard, wrought to resemble ivy, a massive emerald the centerpiece of the guard, and an equally impressive ruby adorning the hilt. "This was also with you that night you came to us," was all that the man who Anthy had come to know as father had said. It was all that he had needed to say. Without another word, Anthy had taken the sword and set out towards the east, unsure of what she would find, or when, for that matter.
So lost was she in her thoughts that the hand slamming down on the table barely registered. She looked up to see two rather unattractive men, obviously drunk from their bloodshot eyes and foul breath, leering at her.
"Hey there, girlie," one managed to say before he hiccuped, "how's about you treat me and my friend here nice for having bought you this drink?"
Anthy eyed the half-empty glass of Fates-know-what on the table as she slipped the ring into her pocket. "I never ordered a drink. Why don't you two 'gentlemen' go away and bother someone else?"
The men visibly bristled. Although severely intoxicated, they had enough sense between them to know when they had been insulted.
"Why you ungrateful-"
"Now, now," Anthy interrupted with a feral grin, "that's no way to talk to a lady..."
The man that lunged at her, evidently the drunkest of the pair, was unconscious before he hit the ground. Anthy scrutinized her boot, hoping the drunkard's face hadn't nicked the leather. The other fellow stood shocked, his alcohol-imbued mind struggling to process the fight or flight response.
"Just walk away," Anthy said as she smoothly stood, reaching for her satchel and sword, "it isn't worth it."
Unfortunately for him, the man made the wrong decision. He lunged at Anthy, a piercing shriek of rage catching the other resident's attention. With barely an effort, Anthy weaved her sword through the man's open guard, and hefted him head over heels. The man fell on the table, the wood splintering under his bulk. He briefly struggled to stand up before collapsing upon his friend.
"I warned you..." Anthy signed as she dusted herself off. She reached down and undid both men's money pouches. She tossed them to the Barkeep as she made her way towards the door. "For the damages," she said over her shoulder as she exited the establishment.
To Be Continued…