Way of the Rose
Utena took a long look around at what her mind could only describe
white room. To simply call it a white room, however, would be an
understatement. There were no corners, no walls, and no boundaries
of any kind, that she could see. The infinite expanse was somehow
illuminated, yet there were no visible sources of light, nor were
there any shadows cast.
That came as a surprise to Utena, as she lifted one foot, then the
looking for her shadow. It was then that she noticed what she was
In place of her usual traveling attire and duster she now sported
looking uniform composed of a long-sleeved white top with red trimming,
black shorts, calf-high black socks, with red and white dress shoes.
glanced at her left hand with a growing sense of both shock and
wonder. The rose-shaped mark that had adored the back of her left
hand her whole life was gone. Upon the ring finger of the same hand
there now rested a ring made of white gold and adorned with rubies
arranged in the shape of a mosaic rose. Her mind finally cleared
enough to form three simple words.
"Where... am... I?"
"The Ends of the Earth."
Utena spun towards the voice, her hand instinctually reaching for
that wasn't there. Her body stopped mid-motion as her eyes came
upon the source of the voice. Before her stood the woman of her
resplendent in her elegant white gown with its red trimming, her
lavender hair, and her soft olive-toned skin. Her turquoise eyes
with a smile that echoed on her lips.
"The Ends of the Earth?" Utena asked as she relaxed her
The woman only smiled an expression that was both sympathetic and
"Who are you?" Utena tried again as she slowly approached
"Welcome home, Miss Utena..." the woman's soft voiced
grew distant as she
was engulfed in darkness.
"DON'T LEAVE!" Utena shouted as she shot up in bed, her
body soaked with
sweat, her breath coming in ragged gasps.
Utena took deep, slow breaths to calm her racing heart. She looked
the room, re-acquainting herself with her surroundings. Her saddlebags
sword lay upon the chair where she had dropped them the night before.
duster lay in a heap on the floor, as did her boots. A soft snoring
her attention to the corner of the bed where Chu-Chu lay soundly
Utena giggled in spite of herself as she reached over and pulled
portion of the blanket up to cover Chu-Chu.
"Sleep tight, little buddy," she whispered as she got
up, "I'm going to go
Utena grabbed her boots, duster, gloves and sword as she silently
of the room, making sure not to wake the sleeping desert mouse.
Buttoning up her duster to protect against the chill of the morning,
walked up the path leading from the Rose's Thorn. She remembered
seen a building very similar to the training hall of her youth the
before. "If it is a training hall," Utena thought to herself,
"then maybe I
can get a workout in before breakfast..." She approached the
noting with a smile that a light was visible within. "Well...
it looks like
The unmistakable clanging of swords meeting rung out into the cool
The sounds of shoes squeaking upon a training mat... the sounds
dodging, and lunging...
Utena listened more and more intently as she approached the training
"Sounds like someone's already training...."
A grin spread across Utena's lips. "No... sounds like someone's
one-sided training session..."
All the dozen or so of the fencers-in-training stood around the
training mat, all of them dressed in padded fencing attire. Each
heavily on his or her fellow trainee, their breathing made a chore
sheer exhaustion each was feeling. Their teacher stood at the center
training mat, her orange hair spilling messily over her shoulders
her back. Her dark-green eyes coolly evaluated her trainees from
fencing mask. Lady Juri Arisugawa pulled off her mask and set it
hip, a small grin forming on her lips.
"Come now," she catcalled to her students, "surely
some of you have been
practicing while I was away?"
As one, all of her students loosed a heavy sigh and resigned themselves
rest on the floor. Juri couldn't help but laugh a hearty yet feminine
laugh. It was a laugh of genuine amusement.
"Fine, fine," she said as she regained her composure,
"everyone hit the
showers. We resume tomorrow morning. I at least hope that some of
taken something away from this morning's lesson. If any of you wish
for another lesson, speak now..."
"Yes, I'd love a lesson..." The sole reply came from somewhere
by the main
door. Juri narrowed her eyes at the raised hand that poked out above
sea of students. In total silence, the students parted, giving the
pink-haired girl unhindered passage to the training mat.
Utena walked calmly towards the mat, her sword high above her head
stretched out her back. She brought her arms to her sides and slowly
her head to one side. An extremely audible pop echoed in the training
Utena turned her head in the other direction, an equally echoing
filling the training hall once more. All the while she was being
up by the eyes of the master swordswoman that stood awaiting her.
"And who might you be?" Juri asked, already reaching for
"My name's Utena. Utena Tenjou," she said with a polite
Juri smiled at the show of respect. With polite nod of her head,
responded, "I am Lady Juri Arisugawa."
Utena returned the smile, "Well, Lady Arisugawa, how about
Juri tossed Utena the fencing foil, handing her mask off to a student.
boots on my training mat, and do take off that coat, if you please..."
said as she undid the neck of her two-piece fencing attire. A gold
dangled from her neck, a rose-shaped locket being the only adornment
With a shrug of her shoulders, Utena let her duster and right glove
the floor, kicking off her boots as well. With great care, she placed
sword upon her duster, giving everyone surrounding her a warning
Thankfully, Utena surmised from their reactions, none would be foolish
enough to disturb her sword. She stepped upon the mat and held the
her left hand, letting her arm get re-accustomed to the weight and
the training weapon. Her black short-sleeved shirt hung comfortably
her lean frame, as did the faded woodland-green traveling pants
Her gloved hand tightened around the grip as she brought the training
up for a sharp salute.
Juri grinned, impressed by Utena's formal stance and salute. "You
Utena returned the grin, "Ready as I'll ever be. Yourself?"
"We'll see, won't we?" Juri eased into a relaxed stance,
her foil held at
the ready. "En guarde!"
As one, the two duelists lunged at each other, each almost caught
by the other's speed. The students surrounding the mat visibly flinched
when Juri and Utena's foils met with a reverberating clang. Juri
down at the crossed foils. She cracked a smile at Utena's audacity.
had made her take the defensive stance.
"Not bad, Miss Tenjou."
"Please, call me Utena."
"As you wish, Utena..." With a grunt, Juri pushed Utena
back as she went on
Blow after carefully calculated blow was deflected, though Utena
herself losing ground fast. The more she tried to find a gap in
offense, the more she was pushed back. With a well-placed parry,
able to reverse the tide of battle. To their horror, the students
begin her offensive; a rather surprised Juri quickly losing the
had gained. Once again, Utena and Juri found themselves in the center
the mat, their foils crossed.
"Not bad, milady," Utena offered with a sly grin.
Juri's flirty wink caught Utena off-guard. The distraction proved
Utena's undoing. With a well-timed maneuver, Juri disarmed Utena,
her foil flying into their audience. Utena felt a slight pressure
chest. She couldn't help but smile as she looked down to find the
Juri's foil tapping over her heart. Utena chuckled as the students
into cheers and clapping, each voicing their congratulations to
Utena shrugged her shoulders. "Two out of three?" she
asked, her eyebrow
arched in anticipation.
"Two out of three," Juri answered as she lowered her sword
and signaled for
Utena to be brought another fencing foil.
Utena rolled her shoulders as she relaxed her stance. With a quick,
movement, she brought her fencing foil up in salute. With a mischievous
grin, Utena offered Juri a wink of her own as she brought the sword
settled into her dueling stance.
Juri could only smile back as she assumed her dueling stance. "En
The duelists paced around the training mat, sizing each other up.
jabbed experimentally, a move easily countered by Utena. Utena returned
favor with a jab of her own. The students in the training hall held
collective breaths, waiting for the master duelists to make their
"So, whatcha waiting for?" Utena asked as she backpedaled,
"I could ask you the same thing, you know." Juri also
altered her stance to
Without warning, Juri launched her offensive. Utena easily blocked
after jab. Much to Juri's surprise, and to the student's horror,
began to laugh. It wasn't a mocking laugh, Juri realized, but the
Utena thoroughly enjoying herself. With a graceful parry, Utena
Juri's offensive around. Utena's laughed proved contagious, as Juri
herself laughing as well, even though she was on the receiving end
"You seem to be having fun, Utena."
"Well, the same could be said of you, milady. May I offer a
bit of advice?'
"And what advice would that be?"
Utena's grin matched the smile in her eyes. "Don't blink..."
The students let out a collective gasp, as Utena attacks seem to
together. Juri's mind raced to keep track of the incoming attacks
body struggled to counter each as it came. As unexpected as the
surge of speed was, even more unexpected was Utena freezing in offensive
stance. Juri looked down to see the tip of Utena's foil over heart.
point in her onslaught, Utena had managed to sneak past Juri's defense.
her surprise, Juri could discern neither how, nor when, it had happened.
"That makes us even, doesn't it?" Juri asked as she to
a step back,
grinning at the unexpected challenge that Utena was presenting.
"Yes, I do believe it does." Utena stood up from her offensive
casually rested the foil against her shoulder.
"Well, care for something a bit different for our final bout?"
"What would that be, milady?"
Juri offered Utena a sly grin as she whispered something to one
students. She placed her foil at the edge of the training mat and
a black ribbon. With a little bit of flourish, Juri tied her wild
orange into a simple ponytail, the ribbon even with her neck. Following
suit, Utena left her foil at her end of the training mat. When she
back, she saw Juri looking over her sword, the keen metal glinting
light of the lights high overhead.
The hand-and-a-half sword was simple, yet elegant, in its design.
double-edged blade came to a bronze crescent-shaped cross-guard,
in etched relief of twin dragons facing inward. The handle of wrapped
leather culminated in a bronze endcap. It was a versatile and deadly
weapon, in the hands of a proper master.
With an acknowledging nod, Utena motioned for her sword to be brought
The young duelist-in-training was quaking in his boots as he brought
her sword. She grasped the handle with her left hand, and with a
motion, Utena drew her sword from its scabbard. The clear note sung
brought her blade parallel with the ground, the fingertips or her
hovering barely an inch below the tip of the blade.
"So, what are the rules, milady?" Utena asked as she made
a few slashes at
a non-existing opponent.
"Simple... neither to the death nor first blood... first one
to give up
loses... fair enough?"
Utena's answer was an anticipatory half-grin as she took her place
mat, bringing her weapon up in salute. To her surprise, Juri removed
padded chest piece of her fencing attire as she approached the mat.
opponent took her place, her bright orange hair swaying against
The two-piece fencing garment, now devoid of protective padding,
Juri's defined muscular shape moved within it.
Juri brought her sword up in an answering salute. "After you,
Utena smiled. "Thank you for the honor... En guarde!"
The unmistakable clang of swords meeting echoed within the walls
training hall. Juri and Utena concentrated on each other from opposite
of crossed blades. Both knew that neither would give quarter, and
would request it. With a push, Juri forced some distance between
and Utena. There was something new in the way Utena had met her
offensive maneuver. As she began circling the mat with Utena, Juri
what it was. The raw determination that one felt on the field of
Yes, that was it. Utena was simply emanating that determination.
that she, herself, was also exuding a sense of resolve that was
found during training. They were both treating this as fully-fledged
"And why shouldn't we?" Juri thought to herself. "This
is as much a duel as
any I've ever had... but we are going to duel on my terms, aren't
dear?" Juri allowed herself a small smile as she again forced
Utena back to
allow herself some space.
"Any particular reasons for smiling, milady?" Utena asked
"Oh no, none at all..." Juri answered, adjusting her stance
for her next
maneuver. "Tell me, does it seem warm here to you?"
In the blink of an eye, Juri had lunged forward and was now behind
her sword held with its point down. Utena smiled as she felt the
half of her shirt fall off her body.
"Two can play at this game," Utena thought to herself
as she turned to face
With a fluid motion, Juri turned around to face Utena, her body
automatically moving into a defensive stance. She never had a chance
fully realize the stance. Juri felt a tug at her left sleeve, and
up at Utena, saw her grinning broadly, sword resting on her shoulder.
already knew what had happened. With a sweeping bow, she let her
sleeve come sliding off her arm.
"Figured I'd return the favor." Utena said with a shrug
of her shoulders.
Juri couldn't help but grin at her opponent.
Almost as if answering some unheard signal, both opponents launched
other. The students encircling them visibly flinched with each blow
sounded. The combatants were using maneuvers, attacks, and defenses
most of the students had only ever heard about. More pieces of cloth
their way to the training mat with each blade's flash.
To her horror, Utena found herself completely devoid of her shirt.
simple black bra that she wore offered scant comfort as she imagined
the male students around her were thinking. "NO!" she
"Keep your mind on Juri..." Utena looked at her opponent,
a smug look
adorning her face. Utena took stock of the damage she had visited
opponent's attire: both sleeves and one of her trousers' legs were
"Okay... let's even the odds."
With a fierce battle cry, Utena charged. To the students' surprise,
charged with a war cry of her own. At the last minute, Utena crouched
mid-charge and leapt over Juri, the distinctive swish of a well-placed
sounding. Juri paused in her fully extended stance. As she rose,
the remainder of her shirt slip off her body. She turned to face
head held proudly high.
"Do you normally wear pink, milady" Utena chided with
a good-natured smile
as she eyed Juri's rather ornate pink bra, the golden speckle of
peeking out from her cleavage.
"Not usually. Do you?" Juri asked, a smile of her own
giving Utena pause
to consider her words.
With a visible gulp, Utena looked down. Her fear was confirmed as
her pants in a bundle at her feet. The buttons that had been holding
up had been expertly snipped off. Her rather ornate pink panties
glow under the hall's numerous lights.
"Give?" Juri asked as she rested her blade on her shoulder,
imitating the stance that Utena had adopted earlier.
Utena kicked aside her pants and brought her sword up to her right
it's point aimed at Juri's fencing trousers. "Not quite yet..."
Juri effectively parried every slash meant for her trousers' buttons
ties. She caught Utena off balance with one particularly overextended
thrust, causing Utena to spin away from her. With a slight push,
up the distance between them.
"Now, now, Utena, to lose your focus is to lose all."
Juri sensed that Utena
had begun to rely more on her fighting instinct rather than her
She was proving too good of an opponent to let the challenge slip
such a manner.
"And to lose your buttons," Utena countered, ducking low
and spinning, "is
to lose your trousers..." The unmistakable sound of buttons
bouncing off the
marble floor of the training hall echoed in the stunned silence.
Juri closed her eyes as she felt her trousers, now devoid of their
slide off her hips. "She tricked me," Juri thought to
herself with a mental
smile, "she led me to believe she was losing her concentration...
waiting for me to lower my guard just that much... oh, but she is
this one..." She turned to address her open-mouthed students.
all of your, no doubt, questions... yes. I always wear thongs."
brilliant smile seemed to soften the edge in her voice, releasing
tension that had thickly hung in the hall. "And no... I usually
Juri tugged at the waistband of her purple undergarments.
She turned back to face a grinning Utena.
Juri laughed at the audacity of Utena's question. "My dear
Utena, there is
only one way for this duel to end."
"And how is that, milady?"
"Simple..." As Juri reversed her grip and began her upswing,
she'd been had. She had let her guard down just enough for Juri
Utena brought her sword up to attempt to block Juri's slash. She
late. Juri stood tall and proud, dazzling green eyes intently studying
Utena. Her right fist was motionless next to her cheek. Held securely
within its grasp was the sword's grip, the blade facing up and away
Utena felt something on her chest give. With a surprised squawk,
dropped her sword and grabbed the now-parted halves of her bra.
sword clanked upon the floor, the students erupted into cheers.
patted, money exchanged hands, and a chorus of 'I told you so' echoed
within the walls of the training hall.
Still clutching her cloven bra, Utena brought herself up to her
She bowed deeply, much to everyone's surprise. "Thank you very
the lesson, Lady Arisugawa."
As she rose, Juri snapped her sword up for a sharp salute. Holding
salute, she offered a bow of her own. "Thank you very much
for the lesson,
Miss Utena. Tell me, where are you staying?" A rather attractive
purple-haired girl brought Juri a flowing cloak that reached down
ankles. A golden brooch in the form of an ornate rose adorned its
"At the Rose's Thorn, milady." A nearby student blushed
fiercely as she
handed Utena her duster. With care, Utena slipped on the old leather
garment, fastening it completely up.
With a polite nod, Juri turned and began to walk off the mat. "Have
day, Miss Utena."
"Thank you. You, too, milady." Utena said as she began
collecting up the
pieces of fabric and buttons that had once been her clothes. With
lop-sided grin, Utena turned to the few remaining students in the
"Anyone know a good seamstress?"
A pair of wide blue eyes watched Utena as the crowd around her burst
good-natured laughter. "Amazing..."
Lord Akio Ohtori massaged his temples, his attempts to clear his tumultuous thoughts doing nothing for his headache. He stared down the length of the massive table that occupied the Hall of the Duelists. With a weary sigh, he lifted himself up from the table. As he stood, he depressed a button hidden on the armrest of his chair. As if responding to an unheard command, the lone candle went out as the enormous table suddenly jerked upwards, before beginning its descent in to the inky sea of the tiled marble floor. The grinding of gears whispered at the edge of Lord Akio's hearing. A click echoed off the walls of the Hall of the Duelists as the table finally settled half a foot below the level of the floor. The table slid horizontally away from where Akio still stood to reveal a set of stairs leading down into the deep dark.
Akio straightened his uniform with a sharp tug and took his first step into shadow. His path illuminated as a small candelabrum on the wall to his right flashed into existence when the sole of his shoe made contact with the marbled step. With every other step he made further down the pathway, another candelabrum would ignite of its own accord, just barely keeping the path directly ahead of him lit. Akio made his way down the steps, the silence of the pathway being disturbed only by the sounds of his heels striking the floor.
Sensing the end of the stairway, Lord Akio slowed his descent. As if on cue, two candelabrums directly in front of him flared to life, banishing the encroaching darkness. The candelabrums flanked a massive door, the entirety of which was covered with a tangle of roses, their thorns glinting in the flickering candlelight. The ornately carved golden handleset, bereft of the thorny ivy that covered the door, stood out like a beacon amid a dark sea. Akio stopped an arm's length from the door, his steel-gray eyes focused on the handleset. With the silent grace of ritual, he removed the dress coat of his uniform and hung it on a coat hook that shone at the edge of luminescence. The cufflink on his right sleeve came off soon afterwards; the sleeve of the silken shirt was rolled up by deft fingers to bare a lean and finely muscled forearm. The countless scars that marred the olive-toned skin glowed white beneath the candlelight.
Eyes closed, breath held, Lord Akio Ohtori reached for the handleset. The thorny ivy that covered the door exploded in a blur of movement. With a piercing grip, the thorns encircled the entirety of Akio's forearm, completely immobilizing his arm and halting his hand just as his fingertips barely caressed the handleset. Blood wept from both new wounds and old scars reopened. Akio calmly regarded his arm, his eyes taking in the sight of the rose thorns, bathed in his own blood, as they glistened in the candlelight. He looked up at the door. The steel-gray of his gaze locked onto the rose seal that had been uncovered with the shifting of the rose thorns.
"I, Akio Ohtori, Lord of the Ends of the Earth, bid entrance to the Sanctuary of the Rose." The challenge was given with practiced ease.
In silence punctuated only by the sound of blood dripping to the stone floor, the thorny ivy of the guardian roses slowly uncoiled from around Akio's forearm. They receded to the far sides of the entrance to expose the massive door. The handleset depressed of its own accord, and the door swung open to admit Akio.
The chamber within glowed and ethereal blue, the inner walls basked in soft hues. At the center of the circular room there stood a tall domed structure similar to a birdcage in appearance. The support structure of the cage was of highly polished silver wrought in intricate patterns designed to emulate rose blossoms and petals. The silver cage overlay a glass dome, the fluid sealed within being the source of the soft blue light.
At the geometric center of the birdcage floated a young girl. Her iridescent white dress flowed around her in gentle patterns, the fair skin of her arms and feet glowed with a life and fire of their own. The maiden floated in a curled position, her knees close to her body, her calves nearly touching the back of her thighs, her delicate arms wrapped loosely around her legs, her face close to her knees. The gently swaying mass of deepest violet that was her hair alternated between allowing full view of her person and completely obscuring her from view. On her forehead, just above her brow, was a simple red marking. The circle and teardrop shapes combined to resemble the silhouette of a keyhole. The blood-red of the symbol stood in stark contrast to her fair, almost pale, pink skin.
Akio Ohtori entered the sanctuary, his steps precise and his pace brisk. He stopped a foot away from the massive birdcage; a mirthless smile played across his lips as he observed the slumbering you lady within. Possessive eyes traced every contour and detail of her form. Akio's steady breathing played counter-point to the rhythmic splashing of blood dripping from his injured arm to the dark stone floor.
"Soon," Akio intoned as he reached up with his bloodied arm and pressed his hand, fingers spread, onto the glass. Warmth emanated from within the seemingly cold dome. "Soon you will awaken, and your power will be mine once again... a bride surrounded by roses..."
Akio threw back his head and laughed, the malevolent sound echoing off the black stone walls of the perfectly circular room. He gently passed his hand along the glass with all the tenderness of a lover's caress. In its wake, his hand left a long bloody smear. Backlit by the inner light of the dome, the blood glowed with its own ethereal hues as it slowly began dripping down the glass.
To Be Continued...