Chapter 17: Revolution
We were dreaming. Or rather we sat in a joined trance, cross-legged and facing each other on our bed, eyes closed and hands entwined. I’d seen ChuChu madly waving an incense stick around before my eyes had drifted closed at a few arcane words of Anthy’s. Meaningless to me, they had taken us both down a seemingly endless hallway to what she said would be my memories.
“Is this real?” I asked her, turning to where she walked at my side, hand firmly encased in mine.
“Yes,” she said softly, “and no.” Her next question was rhetorical. “What is real.” She studied me with somewhat worried eyes.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, striding on, so that she had to rush to keep up.
“You’re scared,” she said softly, “you’re hurting my hand, and I’m worried for you.”
“Oh,” I said, trying to loosen my hand’s grip a little, and feeling embarrassed that my fear was so obvious. “Sorry.”
Pulling me to a halt she copied my earlier actions, kissing me firmly and before I could react. Her arms twined about my neck and I felt myself sigh against her lips, melting easily against her. Long moments later, she took my hand again and we continued along a horizontal staircase (what the?) covered in swirling fog.
“Better?” she almost purred. I sighed again. She already knew the answer I was sure.
Rounding a corner we found ourselves at the dueling arena, eerie in its emptiness.
“Back here again,” I groaned. “I’m sick of this place.”
“Why are we here?” she wondered, glancing all around. “Utena?”
“I don’t know,” I said, shifting my weight nervously. “Maybe because everything bad happened here. Or somewhere like here.”
“The projector room,” she guessed instantly, no doubt seeing the same wide white couch I saw always on the edge of my mind’s eye.
I shrugged and moved into the arena’s centre, keeping a sharp look out for duelists, or cars popping up, or mysterious trinkets with symbolic relevance. Nothing and nobody. Glancing up I saw the castle of eternity was whirling through the sky as always, modestly out of reach.
Anthy was watching me closely.
“What happened,” she asked me carefully, “after I fell?”
I fell to my knees just at that one memory.
“Utena!” she cried, rushing to kneel in front of me immediately.
“It’s nothing,” I grunted, gasping from the wave of panic and despair invoked from the phantom pang of her hand slipping out of mine. “Just remembering.”
“I was alright,” she told me, placing her hands gently on my slumped shoulders. “I fell to my freedom.”
“I wish I’d known that,” I told her. “Maybe things would have been different.”
“Different how?” she asked, gripping my shoulders tighter. “How?”
I shrugged helplessly.
“I don’t know, I really don’t.”
Anthy thought for a moment, biting her lip.
“I think you have to go back,” she said at last, regretfully. “Show me what happened. Let’s go to the edge.”
She pulled me up and over to the broken edge of the long platform that had once led to the coffin behind the rose gate. Had it even been present a moment ago? I didn’t remember it. As though I was in a dream, I followed her, content to let her lead in this place that was hard for me just to be in. At the very edge we stopped, our bodies brushing as we peered down.
“Is th…that…blood?” I stooped down to examine the break. Anthy gasped next to me. I looked up to ask what was wrong and straight into the metallic face of the swords, raining down with jangling screams.
It was the duel called Revolution all over again.
Suddenly I was lying draped over the platform’s edge, bleeding sluggishly from where the rose bride had stabbed me. Desperately I strained over that same edge, endlessly reaching for a hand that had already slipped from mine.
“I really…couldn’t become a prince.” My whole life had ended up a lie. “I’m sorry, Himemiya,” I choked out, although she was long past hearing me. “Sorry for ending up just a make-believe prince…”
All around me the rubble that had been the castle of eternity rained down. The sky was intensely orange like a storm, then shifting to purple. The air was roaring like a beast. But I only had eyes for the speck (could I even see it anymore?) that had been the rose coffin - Himemiya’s final resting place. Her hand, slick with my sweat and blood and tears had slipped. Himemiya had fallen, was gone forever. I’d failed her. I couldn’t be her prince because I was selfish, because I had wanted to be a prince for me, because I was only a girl. She was gone. And I would never have the chance to beg for her forgiveness…
I didn’t actually see the swords hit. But I felt them. I screamed in terrified anguish as they scissored through the concrete, breaking the platform around me. Sword after sword nailed me to my own concrete coffin, as the edge finally broke off and dropped into the abyss.
I fell. It was only what I deserved for my failure.
More of the million swords whirled around the ball of stone and metal that bore my pain-wracked body. It seemed I didn’t have enough body to contain them all, but they kept coming. They kept sliding in wherever they could reach, all greedy for a taste. Hazily I saw the sky spinning below me as pinned into place, I stared out forever over the edge. Helplessly I continued to search for what I couldn’t have. But she was gone. Himemiya was gone…
The sky was blue now. Blue and endless, stretching all around. The platform flipped. Now the sky was above me. Or was it? Which way was up? Now beside me. No, under me again. The sky was filled with gleefully growling swords, dancing all around. Rubble from the castle fell with us, like meteors streaking toward impact; only there was never an impact. The impact had already made a crater of my heart.
No more Himemiya. No more friends or enemies or duels or prince. Just pain and hatred and brokenness, and cloying bleak despair. It was night now (when had that happened?) and I was falling through stars. My rock tumbled through an 180 degree arc so quickly I saw splatters of my own blood whirl around me. How was it that I could still bleed? Surely all the blood that was in my body had already soaked into this stone to stain it forever. Surely the swords had drunk all there was to drink. Stars were blazing on every side, blurring to my unfocused eyes. The swords were like stars too, twinkling as they fell. The jewels of their hilts winked lewdly at me. I felt sick, if I felt anything at all anymore. What was it like to not be in pain?
Day again. Blue sky. Swords. Accusations. I was hated, so hated. I had failed her (who?). I had failed every one of them (who?), and all of their families by extension. Every girl in the world, every princess that hadn’t been saved. Each of them had fathers and brothers and uncles and these patriarchs shouted their demands at me. I had no voice to shout back with. I couldn’t even moan anymore. The swords called on me to be a prince and when I failed (how could I be a prince like this? How could I be anything?!) they called me a witch. I stopped listening to them. But when they stabbed me they still spoke, and louder than words besides.
Had it been long? Hours? Weeks? Years? Maybe even lifetimes? Was I alive? Or dead? Did I care either way? All that existed was the swords. I didn’t even remember why they were here. They issued forth the kind of pain that was unendurable. Yet I couldn’t do anything about it, except stare at the sky and the swords and weep empty wracking sobs, and cough up blood that never stopped flowing.
“What are you doing?”
I opened blood-fogged eyes. I didn’t remember closing them. There, a rock. Falling next to mine at exactly the same rate. It’s occupant was sword free, dressed in spotless white with not a bloodstain to be seen. He was young, dashingly handsome, and above all, familiar. So kindly he smiled across at me, like he knew me very well. He posed his question again.
“I said, Utena-kun, what are you doing?”
I didn’t have the strength, let alone the wits to answer him. Fortunately he seemed to realize this.
“So you took the swords for her, did you?” he murmured, stroking the empty sheath at his slim hip. “I always hoped you would.”
I made a pained sound that could have been an enquiry. It was a wonder I could even understand what he was saying. Maybe he was enabling me to push past the pain temporarily. That was as good an explanation as any. Or maybe he spoke directly into my mind. I remembered him now…he was Dios. He was a prince wasn’t he? The prince. He must have power.
“So you’re the rose bride now, is that it?” he asked me, and he smirked just a little. “You’re not wearing the right outfit though. And it was always the prince the swords were meant for. But your prince’s uniform is a little worse for wear.” He gestured disdainfully toward the bloodstained tatters literally sticking to my body – all that remained of my dueling outfit.
“What are you doing, Utena-kun?” he asked again and suddenly his voice sounded more feminine, and to my enormous shock a form started superimposing itself over his. Long pink hair flowed temporarily over his silvery locks, and big blue eyes peered out of his green. I gasped. It was me! My face flashed on and off over Dios’, like a lightbulb that was about to die. Or maybe it was more like a lightbulb trying to flicker into being.
“What are you doing here?” she asked me again, impatiently. “What about Himemiya?”
I tried to speak, to explain that I had no choice but to be here, but the swords wouldn’t let me speak. Utena/Dios had no such problem.
“You won the duel called Revolution,” they intoned, their voices chiming over each other in time to their alternating faces. “You don’t have to stay here.”
Where have you been? I wanted to ask Dios then (I had no idea what to make of my other self). Where, my prince? All that came out was a wet cough.
“Anthy’s close,” murmured Dios, at the same time as Utena said, “Himemiya, I can feel her.”
Where?! I wanted to cry. Instead I made a choking noise.
“We’ll bring her here,” they said in unison.
“Utena!” cried the voice I’d been dreaming about hearing since I began to fall. And forgetting. And trying to remember. And dreaming up all over again.
The prince-like apparition faded and in its place knelt Anthy, clinging desperately to the rock falling alongside mine.
“H…Him…mem…” I croaked out incredulously, and with one lithe moment she was on her feet, balancing precariously, and then springing over to land beside me. Another heartbeat and she’d knelt to pull me onto her lap and into her arms. I was helpless to stop her, and equally helpless to hug her back. All my strength and impulse had left long ago. All I could do was lean back weakly against her chest and cough up more blood. I vaguely noticed the swords had faded from visibility in the presence of another. Yet their physical presence remained, stabbing me through and through. If I squinted just right I could still see them. Probably she could see them too.
She was speaking to me, stroking my tangled hair out of my eyes and pleading with me but I couldn’t make out her words or their meaning. I heard her exclaim as a hungry sword wiggled into my belly and I writhed against her, but I don’t know what she said. But I knew she was what I’d wanted, waited for, fell towards all this time, and that was more than there had been for an eternity.
Slowly I became more aware. Warm hands stroked my cheeks. Achingly familiar green eyes stared desperately into mine. Words faded in and out. “Utena!...to me…get up now…listen!...is how…block them…I did…can too…block the swords…it out…focus on…listen to me….my voice…Utena…you hear me?”
“H…Himem…iya,” I managed, causing her to nod eagerly. Her mouth moved again.
“You’re…prince, and the…try…now listen…only me…attention…listen…look at…here, Utena, and I…my prince.”
Slowly I puzzled out that she wanted me to focus on her, to try and actually hear what she was saying. How could I when the swords were so raucous? There was nothing left to try with; I was tired down to my bones. Yet her eyes were pleading with me, begging me over and over to do this one thing. And I’d been waiting for her forever, so how could I deny her now that she was finally here? Here with me?
I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth. I concentrated. Slowly so slowly the swords’ voices faded out to a low-level buzz. Little by little I gained further awareness: Anthy’s lips on my forehead, Anthy’s encouraging words. There was still pain but it was becoming distant, like it was happening to someone else. Someone connected to me but not really me. Tentatively I opened my eyes.
“H…Himemiya,” I managed again.
“Utena,” she murmured, getting to her knees to help lever me into a proper kneeling position. “You did it.”
Part of me wanted to ask what it was I’d done, but most of me had no energy to frame any questions with. Instead I knelt there, and stared at the swords lighting up the night sky as Anthy moved around to kneel in front of me again, her hands on my shoulders.
“Utena,” she prompted. “What do you remember?”
The swords were beautiful. I’d never noticed that before, never had a chance to. They were terrible in their whirling beauty. Absorbing.
“Utena!” Anthy’s voice was sharp. My eyes snapped to hers. She looked…I don’t know how she looked. But it wasn’t happy, I knew that.
“Do you know who I am?” she asked, and I did, of course I did, but I just gazed at her vacantly for reply. The swords were still humming on the edge of my nerves, sending ripples of pain right through me. Frankly it was hard to concentrate. To form coherent thought. To act on anything.
“Utena! Do you know who I am?!” Suddenly Anthy’s voice was forceful, even commanding. It cut cleanly through the haze.
“Yes,” I said, dimly surprised at how flat my voice came out.
“Who?” she ordered. I blinked.
“Himemiya-sam…” I bit back the honorific before I could finish it, horrified at myself. But the dread faded in a second, in less than a second. I stared apathetically at Anthy whose own horror was plain to see.
“I see,” she said finally, and her voice was like nails being pried out of a coffin. “Get up.”
I did. Part of me mused that I seemed to have no choice in the matter. Another part of me scoffed at the idea. My will was tempered steel, nothing could change that. But somehow I was gazing out at the swords again, not thinking very much at all, while Anthy put her face in her hands and sobbed at my feet.
After an indeterminate period of time she rose, wiping her face clean and squaring her shoulders.
“Utena,” she said, her voice firm, “listen to me.” My eyes tracked to hers and then to her palms resting on my breastbone. “I thought you’d gone to another world, but I was wrong about which world that was.”
I blinked, once again vaguely shocked. Anthy could be wrong?
“You took the swords for me.” Her voice broke on the word swords. “They’re…affecting you now. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” I murmured, but it was a more an expected answer than an actual affirmation. Her words sounded foreign, like they were being spoken underwater. But agreeing seemed important. Anthy’s shoulders slumped again and she sighed.
“Please listen,” she told me, “you’re not the rose bride. Yes you took her place…”
“…but you’re also the prince.”
The title rang strangely in my head. I found myself nodding. Anthy’s hands clutched at the tatters of my jacket as she took in my reaction.
“We’ve got to get you out of here, Utena. We’ll have to work together.”
“Yes,” I agreed woodenly. She bit her lip. Suddenly her arms were around my waist as she crushed herself to my unresisting chest. Surely all the blood was making her travelling suit (what a pretty shade of pink) all dirty. She didn’t seem to care though.
“I’ve found you,” she was murmuring, “it’s taken so long to find you.”
This didn’t seem to require an answer, but I felt dimly happy to be in her arms. Almost relieved. She hugged me harder and I felt myself relax a little into the embrace. I heard her choke down a sob. Her lips pressed against my neck. It felt…nice. Right. I sighed.
“Utena,” she whispered, “listen to me. We have to go to the castle.”
I looked up. The castle of eternity was a tiny brilliant speck, light-years above. We’d never make it there. If it had been impossible to reach from the dueling arena, it was laughable from a rock crashing into the abyss.
“Utena?” she whispered again. My lips tried to frame the word: How?
“Yes,” I said instead. Somehow Anthy seemed to understand anyway.
“It’s possible,” she told me vehemently. “Anything is possible.”
“Yes,” I said, meaning, Is that really true? She stepped back and stared up into my eyes, no doubt seeing the doubt poorly hidden there. Her eyes were green fire.
“Yes,” she said with more passion than I had ever heard in her voice. “Going to the castle is nothing compared to what you did for me.” A sudden surge of emotion made me weak at the knees.
“What I did for you?” I repeated faintly.
Her lips curved into a smile: a real smile. I stared at it wonderingly. I kept staring as she lifted my unresisting hands to kiss them with those curving lips. She lowered them to clasp them between us, smiling up into my eyes. Something cracked inside me.
“Don’t you know,” she told me, “that it’s my turn to come to you? I’ve found you now.”
“I’ve been…waiting,” I whispered, just realizing that truth myself.
“If anything is troubling you,” she murmured, “tell me about it.”
My eyes widened at the powerful rush of that memory. We said the next line together.
“I want to be your friend.” I felt tears welling in my eyes to match the tears in hers. I felt my hands find life again and squeeze hers back.
“Himemiya,” I gasped, finally able to frame the question I’d been screaming inside since she arrived. “You’re free?”
“Yes,” she said, “yes, Utena.” Her smile was like the sun coming up. New life poured into me, squaring my shoulders and lifting my head.
“The castle,” I mused. “We have to go there?” I squinted up at it.
“Yes,” she agreed calmly. “The power of Dios is there.”
“Oh yeah,” I said, “that makes sense, I guess. But how do we get there? It’s er, kinda far away.”
“You were far away,” she reminded me. “I found you. And I was unreachable. You reached for me anyway.” Her hands tightened on mine.
I nodded slowly. She was right. There was nothing that we couldn’t do, now that we were together.
“Alright,” I said, “tell me what to do.”
She looked me up and down.
“Maybe a change of clothing,” she mused. And then her hands were cupping and spreading in the graceful ritual she always used to dress me for a duel. This time however I found myself wearing a suit of polished ebony armor (complete with scarlet epaulets), with a white rose emblazoned on my breast.
I simply gawked as she went on to move her hands in a new and intricate pattern. She traced the lines of her own body – for a moment she was naked (I always flushed when that happened and hoped she wasn’t looking) and then she was fully dressed in a matching suit of blood-red armor (outlined in black) also with a white rose emblem. My jaw dropped all the way open. Where was the gown of the rose bride? Where was my dueling outfit?
“You have a lance!” I gasped out. In point of fact she had two. She was even handing one to me. Automatically I took it, running my hands up its expanse.
“Do you like it?” she asked me, but it was one of her non-questions. I even read in her smug tones that she felt rather pleased with herself. I blinked.
“Sure. It’s…shiny. Say, Himemiya, can you dress us in anything at all?”
Her eyes went coy.
“What did you have in mind?”
I turned as red as her armor. While I was spluttering she had turned to make a clearly summoning motion toward something in the distance. When I regained my composure I squinted in that direction. At first I could see nothing. But then there was something, two things, moving toward us at what seemed to be a disturbingly fast rate. My mouth dropped again. Horses, one silvery, one white, festive plumes decorating their scarlet bridles. They were galloping. Through. The. Sky.
“I don’t like horseback riding,” I mumbled, thinking of the two rides I’d recently taken (or had it been recent?) one downright disastrous, and the other disastrous in a whole different dimension.
“A prince needs a steed,” Anthy told me, faintly amused. She mounted the gray with an ease that defied any belief that she was a mere schoolgirl. I scowled. Anthy outdoing me at something physical? That was unexpected. Trying to calculate the force I would need to spring into the saddle, I took a breath and made my best effort. Strangely enough my mounting was flawless. Seated securely in the saddle I gasped, hoisting my lance.
“I told you,” said Anthy, as calmly as only she could. “You’re a prince.”
“Wow,” I said, and then our horses were leaping from the godforsaken rock, right into the sky. I clutched the reins in a white-knuckled fist, certain I was about to slide off and die.
“Come on!” called Anthy, and she was leading the way, her stallion galloping up a spiral path of sky that only he could see. My heart was thudding so hard it took me a moment to realize I was riding as effortlessly as I had mounted. Make that flying. It was easy, it was joy. The sensation of galloping, no gliding through the star-spangled sky was…indescribable. I felt a laugh bubbling up as I leaned low over my mount’s neck, wanting to catch up to Anthy. Her own exuberant laughter echoed back to me.
I was happy again. We were together.
Chapter 18: The Power of Dios
We had been galloping through the sky for a long time, first one of us taking the lead, than the other. I was ecstatic, buzzing from the high of seeing Anthy in my line of sight, of being able to reach out and touch her armor with my lance. To hear her tinkling laughter at my teasing nudge sent my heart soaring. Had I ever been this happy?
I was so distracted I didn’t even notice when we finally reached the castle.
Our horses alighted outside and I followed Anthy’s example, sliding from the saddle. Immediately the stallions leapt away, disappearing into the sky.
“Wow,” I said, “that was really fun.” Anxious not to be apart from Anthy I moved to take her gauntleted hand in mine. She smiled up at me. With a grating of chains the portcullis slowly rose.
“Who’s opening it?” I wondered, goggling at what looked like heavy iron rising under its own power.
“ChuChu,” revealed Anthy, and sure enough as we passed underneath I saw him tugging furiously at the gears.
“He’s too short,” I noted, thinking that really, this shouldn’t be possible.
“Tell him that.” She smirked, while I kept gawking thinking that he was one strong little whatever-he-was. With a peep of excitement he noticed me, and raced over to cling to my boot. Carefully I lifted him up and set him on my shoulder, so he could cling to my neck instead.
“Oh ChuChu, I’ve missed you,” I told him. I could tell from the pawmarks that were leaving tiny bruises on my neck that he had missed me too.
Anthy led our way into the castle of eternity, down a dimly lit hallway cluttered with statutory and candles. Strangely enough all the bejeweled sparkling seemed confined to the outside.
“We’re not upside-down,” I mused. “That’s weird.”
Once again Anthy favored me with an amused look:
“Hey, Himemiya,” I told her, distracted by the pair of armored suits flanking us. “These knights, their armor looks just like ours.” She only smiled in reply and tugged at my hand so that we kept walking.
The hallway was long and filled with wonders. I couldn’t study them all like I longed to, what with the rapid pace Anthy kept up. My head constantly whirled from side to side as I tried to take everything in.
Hugely arching candelabras. A marble bust of an angelically beautiful man. Tall silvery vases without any flowers. Painting after oil painting decorating the walls: ancient portraits that made me uneasy.
I hesitated by one where the paint was peeling off, it was so old. It showed a girl in scarlet rags, kneeling before a young man dressed all in white.
“W…what’s this?” I asked Anthy, pulling her to a stop.
“It’s nothing,” she said, tugging firmly at my hand. “Nothing we have time for right now.”
“But Himemiya,” I murmured back, setting my feet and not moving, “I really think…”
“It happened a long time ago,” she told me softly, so softly that I almost couldn’t hear. “But believe me, Utena, we don’t have time for that right now.” And she pulled on my hand with such force that I had to stumble after her.
“Later then,” I said to her back, and heard her sigh. I looked back but the girl in the painting was gone…and the man had lifted his head to look straight at me. I gasped and blinked again, but I couldn’t see the painting anymore. A trick of the light?
We were moving faster now, so fast that the interior decorating became a blur. Anthy rushed us through the hall, and up a spiral staircase, and through another hall, and up another staircase. I was puffing for breath, and my hand was sweating in Anthy’s determined grip. It was strange: I couldn’t hear her breathe heavily…wasn’t I the fit one? But we were rushing so fast there wasn’t time to dwell on it. Yet another hallway, God they were endless. Lots of knickknacks and candlelight and cobwebs. Wasn’t there some kind of eternal cleaner?
Then, wow, a treasure trove, and then a storeroom of some kind. Then what seemed like a basement, only hadn’t we gone up not down? Was that…chains on the wall? A cage? It seemed like a dungeon, but wait, now we were passing through a series of bedrooms. Luckily I didn’t see a kitchen, for we would have lost ChuChu there for sure. I lost track of which way we’d come or where we were going and just focused on keeping up with Anthy.
Finally she stopped and let go of me. I rested my hands on my knees and tried to catch my breath. As soon as I was able to pay attention I saw we were at the threshold of what looked to be the castle’s throneroom. I craned my neck and stared all around the massive audience-chamber, all ornately-carved stone pillars and a ceiling further overhead than a cathedral’s. From where we stood a long stretch of plush red carpet began, extending to the throne at the room’s far end.
“Is this where the power is?” I asked nervously, straightening up. Turning to face me in reply, Anthy’s hands slid up my forearms to rest just above my elbows.
“It makes sense,” she said, searching my eyes intently. “The power should be where the throne is. In an ordinary castle.”
“This isn’t an ordinary castle,” I muttered, eyeing a pair of unusual statues watching us from the shadows at one wall. They looked Egyptian even to my ignorant eyes – the male was green skinned (jade?), wearing what looked like a Pharaoh’s crown with plumes on either side. He held a crook and flail and his feet were wrapped in bandages. The female wore a long sheath dress, and held a lotus flower, with a strange symbol I didn’t recognize crowning her head. As I squinted her crown seemed to change, becoming what looked more like the horns of a cow, holding a sun. Maybe I hadn’t been looking right? I shuddered.
Anthy’s hands tightened on my arms.
“Utena,” she said, “try to focus. Do you…feel the power?”
I tore my eyes away from the eerie statues.
“Um,” I said, “I don’t know, maybe.” I closed my eyes and concentrated. Aha! There was something here…something buzzing, no wait that was only the million swords. Still lingering on the edge of my awareness they dived through the sudden gap to slice at me. Startled I cried out.
Anthy slapped me hard.
I stumbled back from her, blinking as I raised a hand to my stinging cheek.
“Sorry,” she gasped out, “I couldn’t risk…”
“It’s alright,” I told her immediately, lowering my hand and stepping forward to crush her to my chest. “It’s fine.” Her arms wrapped themselves tightly around my waist. We stood there for long moments, as I braced myself to try again. This time I kept my eyes open, studying the room over Anthy’s shoulder. She held me like an anchor as I focused my attention, searching for some sign that Dios’ power was here.
There. Over there. There was something different about the throne itself. It was too far away for me to see clearly, but there was something there. A shining thing, I was almost sure of it.
“The throne,” I told Anthy. She turned in my embrace to study it.
“Let’s go there,” she murmured. ChuChu squeaked agreement. But when she reached back to grab my hand and started to move us forward, I hesitated.
“What is it?” she asked, glancing back.
“I don’t know,” I muttered, “I don’t think it’s such a good idea, is all.” Anthy turned to stare at me appraisingly. For long moments I shifted restlessly under her too-seeing gaze. ChuChu patted comfortingly at my neck.
“Utena,” she said at last, trying again to draw me after her. “It’s alright to be scared.”
“I’m not scared!” I told her, suddenly furious, but the fear skating down my spine told a different story. I sighed, and took a dragging step after Anthy. “Alright, I’m scared. But there’s probably a damn good reason.”
“Probably,” agreed Anthy, not reassuring me in the slightest. She tugged again. I took another reluctant step.
“Isn’t fear meant to be like a warning?” I babbled, humiliated at how sweaty my palms were, and that I couldn’t hide my unexplainable dread from Anthy, or even from myself. Instead I felt like a coward: unprincely in the extreme.
Anthy didn’t answer me directly.
“Please,” she said instead, turning to look at me with soulful eyes. “Come with me now, for us.” Her eyes narrowed just a little in what I suddenly thought was a calculating manner.
“For me,” she murmured.
I banished the disloyal thought.
“Alright,” I agreed, beginning to force my feet to make slow but steady progress down the crimson carpet. Anthy was right of course, we had no choice but to do this. She’d stopped trying to hurry me and had come back to keep pace at my side, one hand nestled supportively at the small of my back. ChuChu was bouncing up and down on my shoulder, emitting small cheeps with each landing. I think it was his way of urging me on. Even with their help it took every shred of courage I possessed to keep moving.
There were more pairs of statues half-hidden in the shadows as we gained on the throne, all from different cultures: Greek, Roman, ones I didn’t recognize. They looked like matching gods and goddesses, or princes and princesses. Figures out of myth, and all similar in some disturbing way, while all completely different.
“This is such a creepy place,” I muttered, feeling their eyes lingering on us. “I don’t like it.”
“Almost there,” said Anthy encouragingly, although it still seemed far off to me. ChuChu squeaked and bounced. I chanced a glance at the throne (which I had been avoiding looking at directly) and froze in place.
“Oh hell,” I mumbled, “what is that?”
The throne was occupied. I couldn’t see by whom, because the figure was obscured beneath a tangle of thorny vines. Naturally they were rose vines, blood-red rosebuds sprouting amongst leafy green foliage. Was it another statue?
“Let’s find out,” said Anthy, pushing lightly on my back. I stumbled forward.
Closer. Closer. My sense of sick dread was growing by the step. ChuChu had transferred himself to Anthy’s shoulder, where he was chittering anxiously into her ear. I could see that the figure (whatever it was) was wearing white. Or at least some white. I could only see patches of its clothing, thanks to the concealing vines.
We moved closer. A step. Another step. Another. Sweat trickled down the back of my neck. My world narrowed down to Anthy’s hand pressing me forward, and the terrifying something that filled my field of vision. So close now. Only 10 paces from the throne. Light from the torches ensconced on the wall behind the throne glinted off something. I blinked. What had that flash been?
5 paces. I caught a glimpse of something red.
2 paces. Something…pink?
We were there, standing on the bottom throne-step.
Anthy gasped. Me, I was too shocked to even do that. It wasn’t a statue beneath the thorns, it was a person. Or what was left of one. The harder I looked the more I saw, until I saw entirely too much.
The person was me.
“Utena!” gasped Anthy, one hand flying to her throat. I swallowed bile.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “That’s me.”
Utena-on-the-throne had her eyes closed (thankfully), and was slumped forward against the restraining vines. Her long pink hair was caught in the thorns, her white prince’s uniform was marred by old and new bloodstains. These spread around the thorns that dug cruelly into her flesh at so many points.
“There’s something else in there,” I muttered, craning my neck as I tried to see better without getting too close to those dangerous thorns. “I can’t quite see what it is…” The light was glinting off the mystery object, hurting my eyes. Anthy’s hand fell from my back, causing me to look at her. She’d lifted both hands to her mouth, partially stifling her whimper of protest.
“What is it?” I asked desperately, knowing from the tortured look in her eyes that she’d seen what I couldn’t yet see. ChuChu had fled into her armor, squashing himself down her neckhole with difficulty.
“What?” I asked again, when she wouldn’t, or couldn’t reply. I whirled back to my other self. I leaned closer, as close as I could get without touching. Something flashing, something shining. Yes, a shining thing. Finally I saw it for what it was, snaking between the vines.
The sword of Dios.
How well I recognized this particular blade, the one that I’d drawn from Anthy’s heart time after time. Associating it with that sensual memory, my first reaction was mild. I actually smiled to see the familiar jewels of its hilt winking at me. Naturally my eyes followed the hilt along, to where it was buried in my alter-ego’s stomach. My eyes widened. It entered me at exactly the point where Anthy’s stab-wound had exited. One of my hands moved reflexively to the armor over my own scar as I stared.
The sword was pinning me to the throneback, slicing cleanly through gold encrusted stone.
I gasped as I saw it all clearly. The prince…I was the prince. Yet somehow I also wasn’t, made helpless by words denying I ever could be.
I couldn’t breathe. No wonder I was bound to this throne in a masquerade of my own personal rose coffin. My own belief was impaling me, making it impossible for me to be the prince, just like my foolish beliefs had once driven me to be the prince at all costs. Horrified I reeled back, and straight into Anthy.
“Utena!” she cried, catching me and holding me there so we both stared in dismay at this meant-to-be prince. This close to the terrible truth, I could feel it beginning to affect me. My mind was shutting down. My arms had dropped limply to my sides. I thought that Anthy was shaking me, but I couldn’t be sure. I stared at the sword of Dios (the power of Dios was in the sword…of course…it was obvious now), and at the sword sheathed in my vulnerable flesh.
This sword, this power was supposed to live in the prince’s bravely wielding grasp. Or maybe it was meant to live in the sheath of the rose bride’s heart (no, that had never been right. Had it?). I knew it wasn’t meant to impale the prince though, short-circuiting the power to revolutionize a world. Miserably I looked at my feet, unable to keep my eyes on the dreadfully wrong sight. It came to me vaguely that I couldn’t actually feel my feet anymore, and then I felt myself slumping forward.
Anthy’s arms were wrapped around me as she fought desperately to keep me from toppling straight onto my altar ego’s lap. She was yelling into my ear; I was staring into my own eyes which had opened and were staring wildly back, filled with terrible pain.
“Utena!” cried Anthy and other-Utena at the same time.
All at once I was watching the scene from far away, as though I was an observer or a ghost. Utena in Anthy’s arms crumpled forward toward her other self…and vanished the instant she touched the thorns. Anthy screamed. Utena’s plate armor clanked on the floor around the throne, thoroughly empty. ChuChu squeezed himself back out of Anthy’s neckhole and rushed to search the armor, squawking with dismay.
For long aching moments Anthy stood immobile, hands pressed to her mouth as she stared down at my armor. Then slowly she looked up toward the throne. Bound-Utena had closed her eyes again as though she had never opened them. Tentatively Anthy stepped forward. I could see she was thinking hard, considering the situation from every angle. Finally biting her lip in concentration she stretched one hand out, reaching carefully through the thorns to grasp the hilt of the sword.
She whimpered a little as cruel thorns scratched her skin (it was impossible for them not to, they grew so densely packed). But she kept reaching, forcing her hand through until it reached its destination.
“Utena,” she whispered, “wake up.”
Anthy closed her eyes and wrapped her other hand around her wrist for stability, before hauling down on the sword of Dios. The thorns scraped her cruelly but she kept her grasp.
It didn’t budge.
Anthy stopped pulling, panting with exertion but refusing to let go of the hilt.
“Utena,” she whispered again, bending over me in a gesture I recognized from all the times I’d done it to her. Her next words were slightly hesitant, worded very precisely. “Oh noble memory of the…Power of Dios…now slumbering here.”
I blinked. She was changing the words she’d always said, combining the rituals of the sword of Dios, and the sword of nobility. Awed I watched as her eyes closed in total absorption and she hovered over sleeping-Utena’s face. The thorns were drawing back just there, as though they sensed and welcomed Anthy’s proximity. Her lips were almost brushing my other’s own as she completed her mantra.
“I beseech you…appear fully before me.” Her voice firmed, gained resolve. An unearthly breeze was building, sweeping her hair back. Light was flickering between her fingers. Her final words came out as a command.
“Grant us the power to revolutionize the world!”
The rosebuds blossomed into full roses in a flurry of scarlet across the thorny vines. A ball of light bloomed around the hilt and Anthy’s questing hand, like the birth of a sun.
All at once Anthy’s arm was moving smoothly backward, pulling the sword (so easily, as though from butter) out of its victim. Silvery light flashed off its tip as it finally slid free. Without changing posture Anthy’s wrist flicked, and whirled the sword in a complicated gesture too fast to really see. Then she turned the point back toward sleeping-Utena, to rest over her heart.
As I stared spellbound, her hovering lips finally met Utena’s waiting ones, even as her arm effortlessly flowed forward, thrusting the sword directly into Utena’s heart. A small nova flared the moment Anthy’s hand touched Utena’s chest, concealing the sword’s final slide into its new home, until it faded to reveal Anthy’s hand pressed flat. I stared at the light, at the hand, at the lips pressed sweetly together. I stared at my slowly stirring self.
Utena’s eyes flickered open.
* * *
My first solid memory after the last duel is Anthy’s voice, calling me forth through jagged points of darkness.
“Utena-sama? Utena-sama, can you hear me?”
I opened my eyes. Blinking away the blurriness I found myself staring up into her vivid green eyes. Was it my imagination, or was her (impossibly) long hair swirling like purple fire about her head? She was leaning over my lips, over my throne. No, my bed. Not a throne, a bed. A hospital bed. Her delicate hand was pressed to my breastbone, directly over my heart. Over my…sword.
“Utena-sama,” she whispered. “Can you hear me?”
“Himemiya?” I gasped.
Her smile was like the rising sun.
“Utena,” she said and her eyes filled with tears.
I blinked some more, trying to sort through conflicting memories, times, places. One hand of its own volition reached up to wipe at her tears, even as the other reached to pull her down on top of me.
“A…Anthy,” I gasped. “What happened? This already…”
“Shhh,” she said, and leaned in to kiss me (which had never happened then, I think I would have remembered it if it had!). My eyes slid shut at the sweetest sensation of her lips on mine. Reality whirled confusingly out of being.
* * *
Back in our hotel bedroom we woke simultaneously, discovering that we were lying down wrapped tightly around each other.
“It…it was you,” I gasped, clutching her closer.
“It was me…” she agreed faintly, sounding like she didn’t believe it herself.
“You found me,” I murmured, “you freed me.”
“I…I…” For once, for the first time, she was at a loss for words. Slowly I sat up, toying absently at the place where the sword of Dios had entered my heart.
“You didn’t remember?”
She blinked up at me. Then blinked again. If it was possible she looked even more surprised as she finally formed her answer.
“No.” A pause. “Because…it hadn’t happened yet.”
“Oh,” I said, and then my mind caught up and my jaw dropped. “Huh?!”
Anthy sat up and smiled at me, entwining our hands – clearly having already regained equilibrium. (I’d never known anyone else to have such composure. It wasn’t really…natural.)
“It hadn’t happened until tonight,” she explained. “Until we went into your dreams and searched for the power of Dios.”
“That’s crazy!” I protested. She shrugged, her sidelong glance clearly saying that it had happened anyway.
“That’s impossible!” I protested again. Anthy arched an eyebrow at me, and I flushed. When had the impossible not been happening, ever since I first arrived at Ohtori? A world with a rose bride was hardly a regular world.
But this, this was meant to be the real world. Wasn’t it? Yet even rule world rules didn’t seem to apply to things like princes, and revolutions, and a brother and sister from beyond…I didn’t dare to think too hard about it.
I sank back against the bed-head, turning what had just happened (or had happened long ago) over and over furiously. Anthy favored me with an affectionate look. Another moment and she was cupping my cheek.
“Utena,” she murmured tenderly. “Stop fretting.”
“I’m not fretting,” I muttered, even while I leaned helplessly into her hand.
“Thinking won’t help you understand what only feeling can,” she intoned. ChuChu chirped agreement. I frowned. Anthy only leaned in to cuddle up against my chest. Running my fingers absently through her hair I thought about her mysterious words. It was true that I hadn’t thought very much about the last duel…just charged blindly in…
“So the hospital?” I asked, moments later. “I remember it…wrong? Er the first time, I mean. God, this is confusing.”
Her voice was patient. “We only remember it fully now, since it’s fully happened.”
“Uhuh,” I said. We rested a little, curled up together. I tried hard not to think too hard. Five years missing. Five years found. How could I not think about it now that I’d been forced to? It was an impossible task.
“What will we do?” I finally asked her, and my voice shook. “What does it mean? If I have this power, then how do we stop him with it? How do we…”
“We go to sleep.” Uncharacteristically she cut me off. Her warm breath tickled my neck. “You need to rest.”
“But, I really think that…”
“I’m so tired.” She cut me off a second time, but her unexpected words distracted me.
“You are? Oh, well, we should go to…”
“Good night.” She kissed the side of my neck and I shivered. I watched her slide down to curl up under the covers, and meekly slid down myself following her example.
“Okay,” I mumbled sleepily, suddenly feeling the full weight of bone-weariness crash down on me as the adrenaline wore off. My last waking action was to make sure Anthy was wrapped up tightly in my arms.