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AiPri Cup — Prologue

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It was an ordinary school day for Manaka Lala. She was struggling to pay attention to class as her mind kept drifting back to that fateful live show last week, which saw her become a divine idol alongside her best friends Mirei and Sophie after a flawless performance. The thousands of people cheering, the dozens of congratulations she received from those around her, it all felt like a dream to her, and as such, she was constantly daydreaming about it, hoping she wouldn't suddenly wake up to find out that everything was a dream and that she was actually still a Pri Para beginner. She spent half of her class daydreaming like that until a shrill voice called out her name from the doorway.

"Manaka-san! Could you please come with me?"

The voice belonged to Ookanda Gloria, the Pri Para-hating principal of Paprika Academy, the school which Lala attended. Her straight posture and military-inspired choice of clothing gave her an intimidating presence, but Lala found her incredibly easy to fool, falling for even the most unlikely of excuses when questioned about her involvement in anything Pri Para-related, which was the only reason why she hadn't managed to confiscate her Pri Tickets before becoming a divine idol. Standing alongside her was the head disciplinarian and idol partner Mirei Minami, who was wearing an expression as stern as ever through her glasses. It was almost impossible to believe that this brunette – who appeared to be perpetually serious to those who didn't know her very well – was the same girl as the fun-loving blue-eyed blonde idol that Lala had performed all of her auditions with, but they were indeed both the same person.

Lala feared that the fact she had been summoned to the principal's office meant meant Gloria had finally caught onto her double-life as a result of all of the media coverage she had been getting lately [1], and that her Pri Para career was about to come to an abrupt end just as she was about to hit the peak of her popularity as a result. Nevertheless, only a fool would refuse a request from her, so Lala's response was an extremely unenthusiastic "OK, coming." and she proceeded to reluctantly follow Gloria and Mirei to the principal's office, with all the students that they passed by making sure to keep an extra-wide berth with both headmistress Gloria and head disciplinarian Minami in the travelling party as they walked through Paprika Academy's extensive network of hallways until they finally reached the principal's office. Waiting outside of the door was a young woman Lala didn't recognize. She had unkempt black hair and blue eyes and was watching them intently. When they arrived at the office door, the woman spoke to them.

"Oh, so you are Manaka-san? Nice to meet you. I am Tsukikage Honoka. Could you please follow me into the principal's office? There is an important matter we would like to discuss with you and Minami-san." Lala replied to this by instinctively saying her catchphrase, "Capisce!", and instantly hating herself for saying that in such a formal situation, especially when she saw how stern Honoka's expression was. She didn't have much time to hate herself, though, as Honoka and the others swiftly entered the principal's office.

However, what awaited Lala on the other side on the office door caught her completely off-guard [2]. In the office, there were three ladies she had never seen in the school before. Even though she never saw her in real life before, she did recognize the youngest of the three, who looked to be around eighteen years old. It was Kanzaki Mizuki, the top idol of the Aikatsu system that most of the world's professional idols used. Her flowing purple hair reflected the light shining on it in much the same way as how the moon reflects the sun's light to shine in the night sky. But what was she doing here, in the principal's office of the idol-hating Paprika Academy? When Lala finally took her eyes off Mizuki and her dazzling beauty, she looked towards the longer-haired of the two older women, who appeared to be in their late twenties. After racking her brain for a couple of seconds, Lala finally realised that she was looking at Orihime Mitsuishi, former member of the legendary idol unit known as Masquerade and headmistress of the esteemed Starlight Academy for up-and-coming Aikatsu idols. Despite being almost thirty years old, she still looked fresh-faced enough that she could step out onto the stage and perform as an idol herself if she really wanted to. However, she was unbale recognize the other woman, no matter how hard she tried.

After finally giving up on trying to figure out the mystery woman's identity, Lala took a seat by the large circular mahogany table where everyone else was gathering. Once everyone was seated, Honoka started the proceedings.

"OK, before we begin the meeting, I would like everyone to formally introduce themselves. I will start, and then we will go clockwise from there My name is Tsukikage Honoka, and I am Kanzaki Mizuki's manager and chairwoman for this meeting."

From there, everyone gave their formal introductions, Lala being careful to not mention her Pri Para exploits. She also found out that the mystery woman with the short hair was Yumesaki Tiara, headmistress of Dream Academy, a rival Aikatsu academy which was already held in as high esteem as Orihime's Starlight Academy, despite the fact it has only been running for just over two years. With the introductions out of the way, Honoka moved onto the main part of the meeting.

"As everyone here should already know, Hojou Sophie, Minami Mirei and Manaka Lala became divine Pri Para idols last week..."

Lala was in shock about her secret instantly being blown wide open right in front of headmistress Gloria. However, the school principal didn't react to this at all and just listened intently to Honoka's words, much to Lala's relief.

"...So to commemorate this occasion, we would like to organize the return of the AiPri cup."
 
Lala was in shock for the second time in less than a minute. The AiPri cup is the only competition where idols from the Pri Para circuit, which is often considered to be the amateur idol circuit due to the significantly lower entry requirements and the fact that no present-day professional idol uses the Pri Para system, could face off against professional idols from the much more prestigious Aikatsu circuit. Both circuits have plenty of fans across Japan, with a good number of idol aficionados preferring the greater variety on offer from the Pri Para idols to the more mainstream idols that Aikatsu has. As a result, whenever the AiPri cup is held, it is considered to be the biggest event in the idol world. While Lala was attempting to get her head around what was happening, Orihime picked up where Honoka left off.

"As you may well know, the final of the last AiPri cup is considered to be one of the legendary moments in idol history, where me and Miya, as Masquerade, faced off against Pri Para's own legendary idol unit, The Saints. While I unfortunately failed to win the cup on that occasion, the quality of both performances was so high that the result is endlessly debated to this very day, ten years after the final originally happened. One of the more contentious points about that final was that it involved a trio facing off against a duo, and whether that gave The Saints an unfair advantage, so I would like to announce for this incarnation of the AiPri cup, only duos will be allowed to enter. The third Pri Para member can be used as a reserve in the semifinal, however. I am also delighted to announce that, all eligible Aikatsu idols who attend Starlight Academy shall be participating in the event."

At this point, Tiara took over with a faint smile on her face. "I am delighted to say that all eligible students who attend Dream Academy shall also be taking part in this wonderful competition."

Finally, Mizuki joined in the meeting, not showing even the slightest hint of excitement as she said. "I have discussed the matter with Natsuki Mikuru, and she has said that she shall be participating too. Naturally, I shall also be competing in the tournament myself."

With the participants announced, Honoka went into the finer details of the competition while drinking black tea brought into the room by Suzukawa Naoto, Tiara's younger brother. She explained that the tournament would take place over the course of a single day and will feature eight teams over three rounds. The first two rounds shall be decided using a best-of-three format, with the final only featuring a single performance from either side, and that all participants would be singing an Aikatsu circuit song of their choosing, with a second song being chosen just for the final. Also, all of the Aikatsu idols shall be allowed to use the Pri Para system to be able to modify their image as they wish, a feature that Aikatsu's system lacks [3]. Finally, the Aikatsu idols will not be allowed to pair with idols they have already performed with as either a duo or trio, to encourage new and exciting pairings to grow and prosper into all-time greats on the biggest of stages. Once she had finished with her rule explanations, she asked her audience if they had any questions.

In reply, Mirei immediately raised her hand and asked "Will you be preparing facilities in order for us to be able to practice the routines to Aikatsu songs?" Lala thought in her head "Wow! As expected from Mirei, she is always alert, confirming every detail, even when most will be too excited about the competition to check details like that!."

Meanwhile, Honoka replied to Mirei's question in her usual businesslike fashion, saying "Of course. We have made arrangements with Prism Stone to set aside a special audition room just for you, Lala and Sophie to practice routines to Aikatsu songs, complete with full stage effects. Does anyone else have a question?"

Ten seconds of silence followed in the spacious office where everyone was gathered before Honoka declared to be the meeting to be over, stating that the competition shall take place one month from now, with the Aikatsu idols registering their teams in the flagship Prism Stone branch one week before the competition is due to get underway.

As soon as everyone had left the room and moved away from them, Lala reached out and hugged Mirei, saying "Wow! Can you believe that we are taking part in a legendary tournament like the AiPri cup?", to which Mirei replied "I know, right pri? It has always been my dream to compete in the AiPri cup pri!". Mirei's unexpected reaction had caused the half a dozen students who happened to be walking down the hallway at the time to simply stop and stare, whispering among themselves at this most unusual sight. Overhearing the quiet murmurs of the other students, Mirei realised that she had unintentionally slipped into her idol persona, causing her to blush in embarrassment, then made an abrupt cough and reached in her pocket for a piece of paper with a big "X" on it, wrote "300" on the top of it and slapped it on Lala, accompanied by her usual lecture, where she said "Paprika Academy rule 9026: No hugging people on school premises. This is your three hundredth rule violation this term, Manaka-san, so you have to polish the statue of our school's founder again!" Lala replied with an exasperated "Whyyyy?", which Mirei responded to with "Because rules are rules!" in her sternest voice.

After finishing off the lessons for the day and polishing the statue, Lala returned to her home, which also happens to be the local pizzeria. Upon entering her home, she said hi to her mum and dad, and looked around until she saw her younger sister, Non. Upon finding her, she said excitedly "Hey, Non, you never guess what happened to me today!" The younger sister replied in a deadpan tone "You broke the rules three hundred times and had to polish the school founder's statue again?" Manaka replied in a slightly embarrassed tone "Well, that too, but I'm going to be competing in the AiPri cup next month!" The younger sister's eyes immediately lit up in excitement at this news "Wow, really? I will be rooting for you, onee-chan!"

After this, Non immediately ran off to her room and checked her Kirakiratter feeds on her computer, but no news of the event was made available to the public yet, so nothing appeared apart from some rumours here and there, so she then decided to check with her online friend – a famous idol professor – whether it was true by logging onto IRC with her chat handle of "0mana".

<0mana>       BlueFuture, are you there?
<BlueFuture>  Yes
<0mana>       Have you head anything about the AiPri cup possibly returning?
<BlueFuture>  Yes I have!
<BlueFuture>  I was just going to tell you that I was going to take part in it! (\^o^/)
<0mana>       Wow! My onee-chan will be taking part too! (^_^)
<BlueFuture>  Yes, Bepp-sensei already told me that the three new divine idols from Pri Para would be taking part.
<BlueFuture>  You must be proud of your sister.
<0mana>       Well, I am on this occasion. <(^_-)>
<BlueFuture>  The competition will be tough, but I am really looking forward to taking part!
<0mana>       I hope you go far in the competition, BlueFuture!
<BlueFuture>  shouldn't you be rooting for you sister, 0mana? (゚Д゚)
<0mana>       Of course, but I will be support you until you face my onee-chan!
<BlueFuture>  Good to hear that. (・∀・)
<0mana>       btw, who do you plan to partner with?
<BlueFuture>  I haven't decided yet.
<BlueFuture>  The tourney rules mean I can't pair with my usual partners.
<0mana>       Finding a new partner... That's going to be tough.
<BlueFuture>  Indeed. I know a lot of great idols personally, however, so I will find one.
<BlueFuture>  Well, gtg now.
<0mana>       Bye

Moments later, two girls were having a conversation in a hallway in Starlight Academy as they headed down to the cafeteria to eat their dinner.

"The AiPri Cup... Isn't it exciting that we will be taking part in the biggest tournament in the idol world?" said Hoshimiya Ichigo – a cute blonde who was wearing a bright red ribbon in her hair – to her friend Kiriya Aoi  – who had her deep blue hair tied in a side ponytail – in her usual cheerful and bubbly voice.

"Indeed." Aoi replied to Ichigo with a look of contentment on her face. "I was just chatting to the younger sister of one of the Pri Para competitors online. I have a feeling that this tournament is going to be remembered as one of the greatest in idol history, just like the last AiPri cup was."

Upon hearing her friend's comments, Ichigo became excited, and that excitement could be heard in her voice when she replied "I agree! There are lots of great idols, and they will all be pairing with someone they have never partnered with before! I just want next month to come already!"

"So, have you decided on a partner yet?" enquired Aoi to her friend, moving closer to her face as she did so.

"Of course! The partner I have in mind is someone who I always wanted to partner with since I first laid eyes on her, but I never had the chance to until now! I'm not telling you who it is, though!" the Ichigo in an energetic and confident tone, to which her friend retorted "Why did I expect any other answer from you? You were always the type to act first and think later."

Before the conversation could continue any further, the two girls noticed Shibuki Ran waving and calling their names, so Aoi said "Shall we continue this conversation later?" Ichiho replied "OK." and the two girls joined up with their friend and went to the cafeteria, thinking about the legendary tournament they were about to take part in.

[1] The media coverage of Lala's, Mirei's and Sophie's exploits immediately following their ascension to divine idol rank had been so great that they received more coverage from the media than a lot of Aikatsu idols did.

[2] While most people would find Honoka's usage of the word "we" before they entered the office suspicious in that kind of situation, Lala wasn't very good with words, so she didn't pick up on that particular hint.

[3] This difference is due to the contrasting philosophies of the two systems, with the Aikatsu system founded on the belief of using song and dance to to allow one's innate natural beauty to shine though, while Pri Para's philosophy is to allow anyone to become the person they have always wanted to be, even if that person is completely different from how they wish to be.