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Of Love and Loss

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Loss.

Not a draw, but a flat out loss.

The girl threads her arms into the dress shirt. Crisp cuffs kiss her wrists roughly— so very unlike the silk ruffles she loves and has grown accustomed to throughout the years.

Yet no more, no more.

She quietly throws the standard Hyakkaou Academy blazer over the shirt. It is odd, not having to tuck the left lapel under the right. Her hair flows freely down her back, doesn't tug gently at her scalp. 

She secretly misses it already.

There is a bittersweetness about the entire affair. Four walls had borne witness to three individuals, of which two are of the same soul, all partaking in one outcome.

“Are you ready?”

It is her voice. Or what had once been her voice. The tone, the lilt, the aura of indomitability— a deity among mere men, that voice determines who should live and who should die. Those decisions are clear cut.

It is so unlike the affairs of attraction. And oh so very different from matters of love.

Her thoughts drift toward Sayaka Igarashi. The sunset outside casts the room with golden hues, but she feels none of the warmth. She wants to cry, but can't.

She has forgotten how. 

The girl feathers her fingertips across the mask. Forever it smiles at the outside world— a world that doesn't miss her, for she doesn't exist in it. Never had existed and never will exist. Just like how the hollow eyes, vanta black voids, blindly gazes into a future that will never be. 

Of course, it makes sense. Her most fervent wish is now reality and the stellar explosion had not been a disappointment. Most had expected her to perish entirely, be engulfed in the solar flare of her own ego so completely that nothing remained but ashes. 

…not the case unfortunately. 

Few realize that other options exist, such as when the progenitor collapses into itself, into an inescapable black hole. 

She picks up the mask, flips it around and cradles it. The carbon fiber material is light and belies the burdens it bears. 

“Are you ready?” The question repeats, albeit slightly softer this time. They are still sisters, after all. The question is insidious and it echoes in her empty soul, weighing down her bones. 

Who is to say…

Are you ready?

… which one of us is… 

Me ?

The girl pauses long enough for melancholy to mould a small smile to her once blue-tinted lips.

her.

That is the one that hurts the most, she can tell— the one where the pain is uneven for all involved. That is also the one that neither could get a full read on. 

That is the one.

The girl realizes this as she slips the mask on her face in silent confirmation.

 


 

Mary Saotome emerges from the room first, alone, without her gambling partner in tow. She is quiet, not at all like her usual boisterous self. Full of bravado and determination. Dark anxiety creases around her eyes, cutting heavy, heavy bags underneath them. Her steps on the tile are laborious, and she drags her feet.

"Saotome-san."

Mary trudges on. Void is the expression on her face. Journeying to Hell and returning doesn't automatically insinuate that one is alive to tell the tale.

"Saotome-san."

Mary turns, but does not make further acknowledgements. The fire in her eyes has dimmed. The sight reminds Sayaka of a soldier trying to return home after a long war— hungry, haggard and homesick. The election has been a lengthy battle of attrition filled with skirmishes, allegiance switches, and proxy wars.

More words reach Mary’s ears. Something about the results of the gamble. Something about the votes.

Who cares about the gamble?

Mary Saotome had witnessed a murder.

A bloodless murder at that.

A death without a body.

A corpse with a beating heart.

Mary's analogies grow more and more absurd in her mind and she can't stymie the incredulous laughter any longer. It comes out like a foreboding sound, warning the secretary that it's best— it's the most logical— not to dig further. Prying at Momobami affairs never ends well for those involved, as Mary has experienced first hand. 

She imparts the warning upon the visibly distraught secretary and turns her heel. 

Waiting for a reply isn’t necessary. Conversing further is fruitless. Sayaka Igarashi may be the only human who can understand, but it doesn’t make it any better. None of it does. 

She grinds her teeth as the secretary continues to pelt her with more questions. Something about the results. Something about the votes all going to... Kirari, but also a comment about how that makes no sense.

Another tidbit here. More morsels there.

Kirari may have won, but every fiber in Sayaka's body knows it is a lie. Her heart just doesn't believe it, doesn't want to. And Mary's expression (or rather, the lack-thereof) makes it even more difficult for Sayaka to accept it.

The interrogation does not cease until they stop at the getabako. Mary throws her loafers into her locker, exchanging them for a set of raggedy tennis shoes. She closes the door with a slam, well aware of the long shadow of a girl claiming her from the end of the row of steel. 

It isn’t too long ago that a masked face had surreptitiously followed Mary Saotome here, peeking from behind the lockers and locking the blonde in an empty, unnerving stare as she had taken her sister’s promise to a literal T.

Mary inhales sharply. It's almost a silent hiss.

She slaps the door.

The embossed number plate bites at her open palm in retaliation.

The stinging sensation is a welcome reprieve, and she fights the urge to introduce her forehead next against the door. 

Everything had been so stupid back then with the masked girl. Who the hell stalks someone she’s never really interacted with all the way to the bathroom? Who on Earth gets someone to poison her own cousin to force a gamble?

Who would've thought those were simpler times— the best times that they would have together?

Mary grinds her teeth and blinks rapidly, determined to stalk past the figure waiting for her at the end. Her vision blurs and deteriorates with each foot she places ahead of the other. Perhaps it’s all for the better. Being unable to see clearly means that she can pretend. Just pretend that it is the vice-president being her usual stupid awkward self so Mary can bark at her and ask her what the fuck she was staring at and stop being a damn class-A weirdo and there is no reason to start blushing— 

“Stop.”

Mary learns on that day that all illusions are fragile, just like how time is always short with those she cares about. 

Sayaka Igarashi, standing at the end of the row of lockers, asks where Mary is going.

That question gives Mary pause. She thinks about Yumeko and Ryota. The former had looked devastated when the secretary ushered her out of the gambling room. Mary idly wonders if she's alright.

She remembers Tsuzura and that, too, dredges up painful memories.

A part of her wonders if Ririka, too, will become a part of her memory— and for how long?

“Home.”

The heavy doors of Hyakkaou Academy slams shut, not done with Sayaka Igarashi quite yet.

 


 

The door of the gambling den creaks open. The masked girl has to fight back a grin at the outburst of words accompanying the flurry of footsteps.

“President, it’s good to— I— oh!” 

Sayaka stares at the individual before her. Dark, empty pools of nothingness stare back. As she runs her eyes along the familiar figure, something feels amiss. The uniform is perfect, with not a single strand of platinum hair out of place. The same goes for the mask. Pristinely white, impossibly perfect and unblemished, it bears none of the scars of civil war nor of strife.

The vice-president stands as an impervious statue in the oncoming storm that is Sayaka Igarashi. Nonetheless, she smiles behind the mask. Why had she expected anything less? Sayaka is loyal to Kirari and Kirari alone.

If she were Kirari, she would cock her head to the side— just a touch— and curl her knuckles under her chin. Her looped wreaths of hair would swing gently as she giggles to herself at her secretary’s unbridled enthusiasm for simply sharing the same space she is in. 

But she is Kirari no longer. Instead of greeting the secretary with a quick embrace, she remains still. The display should have no effect on her. And she shouldn’t have the urge to correct Sayaka as the secretary begins to bow and apologize for confusing her with… someone else.

She tells herself this repeatedly behind the mask. It’s only when Sayaka inquires about the gamble’s outcome does she respond.

“I lost.” The modulator ensures that all defining characteristics in her voice are filtered and scrubbed from existence.

She could see Sayaka flinch at the synthetic voice. The secretary had confessed once that it was one thing she would probably never get used to. Could she tolerate it on a daily basis? Sure. Live forever with it? Highly unlikely. 

The newly masked girl figures it is probably for the best. She side-steps to take her leave without further discussion, as per norm. It’s easier than she had anticipated in the gambling den moments earlier anyway. Tomorrow will come and so will the day after, until the days blur into weeks, the weekends blend into months, then years, until they both bleed away from each other’s recollections. 

“Wait.”

She continues to walk away, all the while knowing that Kirari wouldn’t ignore her distressed secretary.

“Wait, please.”

The taller girl pauses. Her platinum hair, now pouring loose down her back, sways as she does. There is no need to turn around.

“Wait—”

“I didn't win.” The monotone voice reiterates. 

That subtlety makes Sayaka pause. Only Kirari would ever bother trying to explain things in different ways, knowing that her secretary would lose sleep if she didn’t understand some things. It reminds her of times when Kirari completely and utterly misreads her, leading to more and more absurd analogies and bending of facts. 

“I’m not the student council president,” the older girl retries.

The mix of love and loss and their implication brings tears to Sayaka’s eyes. A bold and explosive victory, grandiose in scheme— even greater in execution— had brought them together in the first place. Thus it's natural and perfectly logical to assume that a loss— a supernova of equal proportion— would spell their parting.

Yet footfalls echo softly, crescendoing in the masked girl’s ear. She tries again, not because she has to, but out of a force of habit.

“I’m not Ki—” 

“I… I know you’re not,” Sayaka interrupts. It is sharper than either had been anticipating. No matter, though— Sayaka does not want to hear that sentence completed— ever. 

The secretary clenches and unclenches her hands as she continues to approach the alabaster statue.

'Ririka'.

Sayaka is unsure if she can ever make the switch internally in her mind. Inches away from a curtain of silvery hair, she closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. Clamminess englove her palms as she steps to the side and interlace their fingers together.

To her, the girl whose hand she clasped dearly will always be Kirari.

She never had the chance to call her by that name. The opportunity had never presented itself. And now it never will.

‘Ririka’ dips her head, saying nothing. Her fingers tense, deliberating on whether pulling away is the right thing to do. 

“You didn't have to win,” Sayaka whispers. In the empty hall, each syllable is like an anchor being dropped onto the tiles and shattering them. Nevertheless, she had to try— something— anything to prevent the girl from leaving. A single tear falls, rolls down her worn face, then another and another until they streaked her cheeks and redden her eyes. 

They both pause, letting silence overtake them as they try to hear the lie under the surface. The only sound they can hear is of a door opening and closing behind them. The noise makes Sayaka double down on her grasp.

Time, of course, is always short with those one cares about.

Sayaka gives the hand in hers a squeeze. The secretary does not say any of it, but she doesn’t have to. ‘Ririka’ is able to fill in the blanks:

You don’t have to be the student council president.

You don’t have to be the clan head.

You don’t have to be Ki—

“Sayaka.” 

Sayaka’s spine stiffens at the voice. She doesn’t have to look over her shoulder to see who it is. It is customary that Sayaka bows whenever the president of Hyakkaou Academy’s Student Council greets her. In the past, she has never hesitated, freely offering her respects and reverence to Kirari Momobami.

She forces herself to break her hand free from the masked girl's, feeling her heart tear when she does, not bothering to clear the tears from her face. Reality slowly settles in as she bows, for the bow feels like a backstab— a betrayal— toward the one she stands beside and will always stand for.

President.”

The title leaves the secretary’s lips with a raw edge that neither twin had been prepared for. Ocean blue eyes— cold, deep, and haunting— probe Sayaka Igarashi. There is no tease, no mirth, and no sign of a soul.

Why can you tell us apart even now?

Why aren’t you loyal to me?

What am I missing?

All that stands before them is the mock of a girl that is Kirari Momobami.

Those blue eyes continue to scan, but Sayaka Igarashi is unreadable even when she’s vulnerable— and that itself is a threat. 

The Momobamis do not take threats lightly.

Before the twins leave Hyakkaou for good, Kirari silently promises then and there to drown Sayaka Igarashi in her aquarium. It will be a fitting end: her most beloved fish meeting her demise in Kirari’s favorite place. 

Tonight, however, isn’t the time to do so. 

“Ririka, let’s go,” Kirari bades, moving past them with stiff grace, stopping to wait for her twin and not bothering to spare another breath on her secretary. 

“We’ll see you tomorrow…” The masked girl intones, trailing off with a ghost of lilt— and Sayaka swears— she swears she can see blue lips curl behind porcelain white into a soft, bittersweet smile.

It is the beginning of another end. In spite of the sun setting outside, all three of them can see it coming as clear as day. The secret they all share and the thoughts they cannot verbalize— all will carry over onto tomorrow as time ticks on. 

A secretary to a tyrant. 

A masked girl with no identity.

The roles they play will remain— until the aquarium shatters.

But until then, the secretary nods, fulfills her duty and bows to the twins— both of them. Routines are supposed to be comforting in their expectations, except this one does nothing but tear the rip in her heart wide open. 

Sayaka returns the farewell to the masked girl, because who knows whether the tomorrow they share turns out to be the last. Her whisper is rough with the sobs that she keeps in. “I’ll see you then…”

“Goodbye, Igarashi-san.”