~~~~((~~~((@ THE ROSE GARDEN @))~~~))~~~~
A fanfic by Chiba Mamoru, as re-told to Pandora Diane Waldron
"Mystery glows in the rose bed, the secret is hidden in the rose." --Farid ud-din Attar, 12th Century Persian poet.
CHAPTER 9: My
Part 3: All Aboard For The
So the next time I
ran into Odango, taking the bus on my way to Moto Azabu High
School, would you believe, I surprised her talking to her cat, of
"Luna, say something!" I heard Odango say to the little black furball. Well, now I KNOW that Odango Atama is strange. And I took advantage of the opportunity to tease her.
"Yeah, Luna, say something, why don't you? Whatsa matter, `cat' got your tongue?" Yeah, I know. Not exactly sparkling repartee, was it? Why, oh why, does that Odango always make me say just the wrong thing?
"You AGAIN?" Says Blue Eyes. Yeah, me again, Odango. The bad penny, turning up again.
"You're SO noisy, Odango Atama. Can I help it if I overhear your little heart-to-heart talks with your furry friend there? Hey, Sorr--reee, Ms. Luna, didn't mean to insult your Royal Feline Majesty. What a glare your cat has, Odango. Wouldn't wanna cross HER path!"
The weird thing is, both she and that black cat of hers looked very uncomfortable, as if I'd REALLY caught them talking together. But right after that, at the same time, I dragged out my student card to impress her. Hey, I'm not one of your junior high friends. I, Mamoru, go to an elite private high school, Moto Azabu High School, on scholarship. So there. Notice me, dammit. God, I was SO transparent, when I thought I was being SO clever.
Well, my student card did not impress the girl with the long blonde ponytails at all, much to my chagrin. [Hmmm...maybe I should try pulling those ponytails...no, that wouldn't quite get the results I was after. I thought better of that impulse.] What a strange, strange girl. She seemed far more uneasy about the fact that I was spying on her and her little black cat, than thrilled to know she was sharing her bus with someone from the prestigious Moto Azabu High School.
[Well, honestly, how was I to know that her parents had done nothing but constantly remind Usako how intelligent her classmate Umino was, and how poorly, she, Usako, was doing at school? How was I to know they kept nagging Usako to go out with the bright Umino and thus, improve her marks? How was I to know that hinting to her that I was intelligent was just about the worst approach I could have chosen? All right, I admit it. I am sometimes dense as a post. At least, I admit it.]
However, I don't give up that easily. I tried another gambit. I asked Odango if she'd heard about all the Grade 7's who had disappeared while taking this very bus route, the Sendai Hill bus route. This was THE hot story that week, after all.
Privately, I had found some of the reactions I'd overheard over the past week to be amusing, though I didn't tell Usako that. Although a lot of the students in our neighbourhood were either upset or scared about the string of disappearances, there were quite a few of them who were just plain excited about what was happening. Maybe some were hoping to be transported somewhere more interesting than school!
Some of the more daring ones,
the ones who enjoyed scaring themselves, were deliberately taking
this bus route, even though they didn't have to, and I could
overhear whispers and giggling...ooooh, we're gonna disappear if
we stay on this bus, snicker, snicker, snicker. The bus route was
beginning to turn into the equivalent of the "dark tunnel
ride" at a carnival, with giggling girls being clutched by
their would-be boyfriends...."Don't worry, honey, I won't
let you disappear!" the guys would say.
Secretly, though, I had a bad feeling that the destination might be somewhere in the Dark Kingdom. That was the real reason why I was taking Usagi's junior high route bus in the first place. Well, it WAS the original reason, before I got...errrr...distracted.
Ah, I'd finally aroused her interest. "So, you take this bus route all the time with the junior high school students? What do you know about these disappearances?" Sky blue eyes were focussing on me with rivetted interest...now why was I starting to forget what I was going to say?
Ummmm....let's see. What tack to take? Ahhh, yes, mysterious and scary...that's the ticket. "Well, strange things happen on this route," I tried to sound really ominous [I am, if I do say so myself, very good at sounding ominous. I scare the heck out of those youmas, I like to think]. "But I can keep you company if you're scared,Odango." [Well, that line was working well for some of the other guys, O.K.?]
That cat of hers gave me a dirty look. It's almost as if the cat knew what I was up to. Me, up to something? Nah.
Odango has drawn herself up very stiff in her seat. [Oh-oh! Bad move, Mamoru. Overplayed your hand a little there. Damn.]
"Arigatou. I can look after myself just fine." How warm those sky blue eyes can look at you, and then how cold. So cold.
Whew! Did the temperature just drop in this bus, or what? I try to think of something to say to recover the situation, but it's too late. She's leaving. I messed up...AGAIN.
I hear the recorded bus announcement say, "Next stop, Sendai Hilltop, and the Hikawa Shinto Shrine."
So Odango gets off the bus at the Sendai Hilltop stop, cat in her arms. That little black cat is looking back at me over her shoulder the whole way....with a baleful cat glare. But Odango? She won't even turn around.
But then she does...but not at me. The cat seemed to tense and put a paw on Odango to get her attention, and they both turn to stare at a girl with long, long black hair, getting on the bus in the unmistakable uniform of that expensive private girls' school, the T.A. Academy.
The girl sees me at the back of the bus, and beams. "Mamoru-san! Hey, you doing anything tomorrow? Wanna meet me in the park?" It's that girl, Hino Rei, who I met the other day at karate class.
"Uhhhh, yeah, O.K." I
replied, hardly knowing what I'm saying. Hey, can't I sound a
little more enthusiastic than this? Let's try that
again..."Oh, yeah, sure, let's!" [Well, at least
somebody values my company, I think.]
The bus doors close, and the girl with the odangos and her eerie black cat are gone. Why do I feel so...frustrated?
[Usagi re-tells this part of the story:]
"This is where it happened. The buses all disappeared right at this stop," Luna informed Usagi. "See that girl there with the long black hair? She's the temple priestess at the Hikawa Shinto shrine. She may know something about the disappearances of those students. When she comes home tonight...follow her!"
continued, "she may be the Princess we've been seeking! Why, this priestess
is SO beautiful, just like a princess! Just look at her noble
complexion...her piety. There is no nobler work for a member of
royalty than labouring at a sacred shrine. And you must have
noticed how graceful she is, Usagi-chan, and she goes to a
private academy, too!"
"Yeah right, Luna!" Usagi, replied, sourly. "Couldn't be less like me, could she? All right, if this is our mission, this is our mission. But must you go on and on about that priestess?"
"Usagi-chan, I've been sent here to be your guardian. Please try to be more respectful." Luna snapped back.
"O.K., O.K.," Usagi sighed loudly.
"Oh, and Usagi-chan?"
"Yes, what now?" Usagi asked, resignedly.
"Something else I've been meaning to tell you. I don't think you should talk so freely to that young man, Chiba Mamoru. He's a suspicious character if ever I saw one. So I think you should avoid him."
"Well, it's not like I'm trying to bump into him, Luna. HE keeps bumping into me. But really, am I such a baby I can't be trusted to talk to him, for heaven's sake? He annoys me, but Luna, really. You can't tell me who I may and may not talk to."
"Usagi-chan, you show an alarming tendency of developing a certain..attitude with me."
"Attitude? What do you mean, attitude?" Usagi looked indignant.
"Like the other night. It was good we made our new contact, Sailor Mercury. She is the first of the Sailor Senshi [Soldiers] who will help us in our mission. We must find the others. But all you could talk about after we got home last night, was Tuxedo Kamen. Now I don't know why he keeps showing up where we are, but remember, Usagi-chan, you know nothing about him. He could very well be the enemy. You let him take far, far too many liberties. I know you don't like me to say this. But I have to warn you about him."
Usagi turned a furious face on Luna. "He saved my life, Luna! Why won't you trust him?"
"Did he, Usagi-chan? Or was that just a gesture designed to make you let down your guard? How do you know what he's really after?"
"Luna, I don't think I want to talk about this any more. You depress me," and Usagi turned away.
"I...I depress you?" Luna looked non-plussed. She just didn't have an answer prepared for that remark.
That evening, after school, Luna and Usagi took a long look around the temple and its surroundings, trying to get a feel for the mysterious things which had happened here. But from out of the sky, two black crows swooped down, attacking Usagi.
"Hey, stop that! Leave me alone!" yelled Usagi.
At the sound of her cries, the dark-haired girl came running out of the temple. She was now wearing the traditional white and red robe of the temple priestess. Pointing her finger at Usagi, she called out, "You! I know about you! I've been warned by my vision! You are going to bring me trouble! Something terrible is going to happen at this sacred shrine, and you're connected with it! But I won't let you! Evil spirit, begone!"
At these words, she held out a small slip of paper with writing on it, and with a dramatic gesture, she threw it at Usagi. The slip of paper landed right on Usagi's forehead, and with a groan, Usagi fell to the ground.
The dark-haired girl ran forward, and as she reached the fallen Usagi, she looked startled, and embarrassed. "Whaaat? It's just a girl. I must have misinterpreted my vision." She helped Usagi to her feet, and the two crows settled on each of the girl's shoulders.
"I'm really sorry about the misunderstanding, and about my pet crows dive-bombing you. But with everything happening around here, you can understand me being just a little nervous about strangers prowling the temple grounds, can't you? Just the same, Phobos and Deimos don't usually attack people like that. You must give off bad vibes, or something,"
"Thanks A LOT!" retorted Usagi.
The dark-haired girl coloured at that, "I'm sorry. You must think me very rude. It's just my way with people. I don't always realize how it comes out sounding, till after I've said it. But please don't hold it against me. I'm Hino Rei. What's your name? I've seen you around with that cat of yours. Do you take her everywhere with you?"
"I guess it does seem a little...unusual." responded Usagi, trying to think of a way to explain Luna. "Well, actually, she's ummmm....she's my guardian cat! Yeah, ummmm, she's an attack cat. So I bring her everywhere with me."
Luna, of course, looked disgusted at this explanation...so she was to be described as a mere bodyguard, instead of her actual status as Royal Advisor. How demeaning! Of course, Usagi completely ignored her...she was very good at that.
"I'm Tsukino Usagi. This is really a lovely shrine you have here. It must take a lot of work to keep it looking like this. I know *I* couldn't do something like that."
Rei looked gratified. "Yes, you're right. I do have to work so very, very hard. No one appreciates how hard I work. Certainly not my grandpa. He just takes me for granted. But why don't you come in and sit down? I'll put on some tea. It's the least I do after that little mix-up. And I'll make sure Phobos and Deimos know you are welcome here."
As she said the name of each bird, she stroked it gently. "But don't let them too near that pretty brooch of yours. Crows love snitching shiny stuff like that, and I don't know if I've found all their hiding places on the temple grounds yet. You wouldn't believe how many pieces of jewellery I've lost that way."
Usagi looked alarmed, and clutched tight to her brooch. "Naughty crows!" she called to Phobos and Demos, "If you DARE to touch my brooch, in the name of the moon, I WILL..." At that moment, Luna scratched her ankle. "OWWWW!! Luna!!"
"In the name of the moon, you'll WHAT?" Rei asked, eyeing Usagi suspiciously. "Just what are you going to do to my poor crows?"
"A-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha!" Usagi rubbed the back of her head in embarrassment. "Oh, nothing, sorry, I meant nothing. It's just that this brooch is very special. It's...ummm..it's a family heirloom."
Rei's face, stormy for a moment, cleared. "Oh, I see, a family heirloom. Of course, I understand," Then, looking sad, she continued, "My mother died a long time ago, and my Dad's away on business most of the time, so I treasure everything they've given me, too. Now there's just me and my grandpa. And really, I take more care of him now, though he likes to think he takes care of me. I can't really talk to him about how I feel."
She stared off into the distance, her eyes dark with remembered pain. "I've been on my own for a long, long, time now. Often, I tell my deepest feelings to the sacred fire." And Rei gestured towards a wonderfully warm, roaring bonfire in front of them. "But though sometimes, it sends me the answers I seek, it's not like talking to a real person."
"I feel like that too," Usagi said, in between sipping her green tea, which was piping hot and perfectly steeped. "I can't talk to my mom or dad about some of the things I'm going through right now. Sometimes, I'm so scared, and I wish I had a real friend I could talk over these things with." [Although, who COULD I ever talk to about being Sailor Moon?...Luna isn't quite the same as another person, either...although she tries, though, Usagi thought.]
Rei grinned. "Well, you can come back and talk to me, anytime! Bring your cat too, if it makes you feel safer! Grandpa says my temper scares some people...so maybe you NEED an attack cat!" And Rei burst out giggling. Soon Usagi joined her. Yes, that Rei certainly had an abrupt manner, but she knew right away she could trust her...trust her with anything.
The next morning, Ms. Haruna's class was abuzz with the news. Umino, the class gossip, as usual, was bursting to tell Usagi the latest--whether she wanted to hear it or not.
[Why do my parents like Umino so much? Usagi sighed to herself. Sure, he gets great marks at school, but I don't like the way he pokes into everybody's business the way he does. All he does is talk, talk, talk. There's nothing to know about Umino. He's as transparent as those glasses he wears. But Tuxedo Kamen, now...there's a guy who's mysterious!]
"Usagi-san? Usagi-san? Are you O.K.?" Umino's thick specs were just inches from Usagi's face, peering at her.
Noticing this, Usagi backed up two feet. "Yes, what is it you simply must tell me, Umino?"
"Did you hear? Some more 7th graders went missing last night! Why do you suppose it's always 7th graders? I'll bet it's some really weird sick guy who goes looking for kids that age! Hey, you want me to take you home tonight, Usagi-san? I wouldn't want YOU to get kidnapped by some weirdo!"
"No, I DO NOT!" Usagi snapped. "I'm going on the Sendai Hill bus to see my new friend Rei..and I don't wanna hear about it! Go protect someone else, Umino!"
"Usagi-chan, you were very hard on him," Luna said when they were alone.
"He won't leave me alone if I'm nice to him," Usagi retorted. "And anyway, what do YOU know about guys, Luna?" Luna looked very uncomfortable, and then looked away.
[Chiba Mamoru continues his narrative:]
Moto Azabu High School let out early today, because there's a big exam tomorrow, and they wanted all the students to study extra hard...it's worth 25 % of the term mark. I'm not worried...I know this subject very, very well. But I haven't been sleeping very well lately, so I think I'll take the opportunity to grab a nap..after I input some more data into my computer about the Illusion Silver Crystal.
I've been trying to research crystals at the school library, but I have a funny feeling I'm going about this all wrong. Nothing I've learned at school has prepared me for this mission, it seems. I'm in uncharted territory here...I feel so lost. And as for finding the Princess...how does one find a Princess...will she just turn up one day, wearing her shimmering white gown? Absurd. Just absurd. Oh, I'm so tired. Let's switch off this computer, I can hardly see the keyboard any more. And my shoulders are getting stiff from sitting here. Time for that nap. Maybe something will come to me in my dreams, who knows?
I am dreaming again. There she is....her hair is all loose this time, so long and golden, flowing over her shoulders in waves, golden silk against the dazzling white of her gown. This time, she takes my hands in both of hers. She looks so sad, I feel as if my heart is going to break.
"You must find it for me...the Illusion Silver Crystal. Or I can never be...or we can never be. There is so little time. And I am so afraid...oh, I am afraid! Do not fail me...Endymion."
That name again. Is that name mine? But I will not remember the name, once I awaken again. Sky blue eyes look deeply into mine..they are somehow, so familiar....She breaks her hold on me suddenly, and I feel as if my very soul were plummeting into an abyss. She floats away like a wraith, but her warm hands in mine...were so real. "No, No! Don't go! Please don't leave me!" I hear myself cry. Don't leave me alone again. I can't bear being alone any more.
But it is no use, these thoughts. I awake, as I always do, the cold sting of tears on my cheeks. Who is she? Why does she come, night after night, if she is only going to leave me again?
I try to shake myself out of these hopeless feelings. Why can't you live in the here and now, Mamoru? Why worry about your dreams? What about your reality? I get up then, and get a bottle of juice from my fridge, and while I'm standing there sipping , I take a look out of my window. I always have my blinds open so I can see the street.
Such a great view I have, of downtown Tokyo...the hustle and bustle outside reminds me, that I am never really alone...there are lots of people out there. Nobody special in your life though, is there? The inner voice says insistently. And I hear myself reply defensively, Hey, wait a minute, I have friends! And that girl I just met, Rei, she's nice....
And then my eyes fall on a girl running down the street, hurrying to catch a bus..a girl with long golden ponytails. Her again. Odango. Getting on the Sendai Hill bus. Wait a minute. I don't like this. I have such bad, bad feelings all of a sudden. And then...I don't remember anything after that....
"Caw, caw!" A big crow just swooped past my ear. And another one, diving at my head. Guess they don't like my top hat, or something. My top hat? Yikes. I must be in the Tuxedo Kamen outfit, again.
Now where the heck am I? O.K., where are those crows going? Circling a building, a shrine..oh sure, I know this place. That's the temple where Rei works, the Hikawa Shinto Shrine. So I know exactly where I am. Who's that in the distance? A girl with long golden ponytails, in a sailor-suited uniform. She's looking at a bus...which is going the wrong way.
Something is very, very wrong about this, I can feel it. I see the girl, from the back, throw something cylindrical into the air. She shouts something, and suddenly someone totally different is standing there. She tenses herself, as if to spring onto the side of the bus. I find myself running, my heart pounding. I have to get there..I have to help her.
As I get within range, I see that the girl has changed herself into a very sharp looking airline stewardess, who is now hanging off the side of the bus. Who was she...was that really Odango? How did she manage to change her appearance like that? Sudden , I realize a small black cat is scrambling to get hold of that stewardess's very shapely leg, and getting nowhere. Cat? That cat, Luna? So It WAS that girl, Odango.
Odango. She transformed right before my eyes, into that stewardess.....I was so busy staring after her, I never noticed the bus pulling away at high speed. The first thing I know, that poor little cat, Luna, who couldn't get a hold of her mistress, we flying. Luna landed straight in my arms, and I don't know who was more uncomfortable about it, her or me.
I must confess, if someone was going to land in my arms, the cat wasn't exactly who I had in mind. I was still watching the sailor suit/stewardess, well, whoever she was...fascinating in any form she chose to take, that's for sure. But as far as Luna wa concerned, if it was a choice between landing in the arms of that untrustworthy scoundrel, Tuxedo Kamen [who was probably the enemy], or landing on the dirty Tokyo pavement, I won out, but not by very much. She scrambled and almost clawed her way free, the moment she could leave my care in a dignified fashion. A cat values her dignity, and Luna is a very dignified cat.
Now what? Oh God...that bus is leaving the ground now, being sucked into what looks like a big black hole in the sky. Odango the disguise artist, flying buses, and now another, black hole dimension. Curiouser and curiouser, I think Alice In Wonderland said in a similar situation. All I need now is a White Rabbit to run past, yelling, "I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date!"
Wait a minute, here, I HAVE met a rabbit, in a white uniform, anyway..that's what her real name, Usagi means...Rabbit. But it's Tuxedo Kamen who is late for a very important date. I've missed my bus, it seems. And though I do feel as if none of this is real, that I'm not really here either, the fear I have right now is very, very real. I have got to get to that girl..Usagi...Odango. And I have no idea what to do about it.
The fear builds and builds in me. I feel strange, as if my body were on fire. Have to get there...have to get there..I keep repeating it, like a mantra. Suddenly, I feel very weak, and I have to sit down on a nearby bench. My head is swimming. But I can't black out now. Please, not now. She needs me.
PLEASE GO TO: Part 4: Chasing The White Rabbit
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