Chapter 1: The Choker
“STOP!” Came the frustrated and out of breath shout, “Hold it right there you-!” The speaker had to stop shouting in order to catch her breath and continue chasing after the inexplicably fast pink figure.
“There’s no way I’d stop!” The pink figure chased in question turned around to answer but never stopped running, “Not as long as you’re waving that thing around, thank you very much!”
And indeed, the chaser of Yamamoto Annis, a rather fast disciplinary committee member, was running after the pink-haired girl with what appeared to be a horsewhip (Where did she even get her hands on one of those?! Weren’t they prohibited from being used in Japanese schools nowadays?!).
Now Annis wasn’t particularly in the habit of halting when someone who was chasing after her told her to stop, but she especially wasn’t suicidal enough to stop running when said chaser had a very painful-looking whip!
“OOOOOH NO! TODAY’S THE DAY, YAMAMOTO! THAT CHOKER OF YOURS IS COMING OFF!” The rather disciplinary committee member (who really had to be admired for her lung capacity) gestured threateningly with her whip towards Annis’s neck, where a thick black chocker adorned by a single red rose was perched, “YOU KNOW THAT THING’S A BLATANT VIOLATION OF THE DRESS CODE!”
Annis was exasperated. They’d had this discussion a million times already. She was tired of constantly repeating herself! “But it won’t come off! I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve told you that!”
“WHICH IS WHY I FULLY INTENTD TO TAKE IT OFF FOR YOU…” Annis could swear there was a dark aura around the disciplinary committee member as se shouted and thrashed her horsewhip around, “BY FORCE IF NEED BE!”
This girl was crazy! Annis was feeling some serious sadistic vibes coming from her!
Why couldn’t the girl understand?! Annis wanted it off, too. Desperately, in fact. She would have taken it off a long time ago, if only she could!
“Listen to me now, Annis…”
A tall, dark man was crouched down in front of a small, pink-haired girl with rose-colored eyes as he spoke to her in soothing tones, “Do you understand? You mustn’t ever untie this necklace, nor must you lose it. This is something precious that will always keep you safe, Annis, a ‘charm of protection.’”
Lovingly, gently, he caressed the side of her face. He slid it over the light pink hair, hand gliding through the long tresses, before suddenly tightening his hold and pulling it sharply. It was all she could do for the six-year-old to hold back a whimper of pain as tears gathered in her eyes. Suddenly, the man’s air shifted from caring to threatening, and the girl trembled in fear at his next, ominous words, “Should you ever lose it, a terrible, fearsome punishment will befall you.”
The memory still haunted her to this day.
It was one of her oldest memories with her father.
It was also one of her only memories with her father. But amongst, them, it was by far the most vivid. Every time she recalled it, an intense fear would overtake her.
Annis couldn’t help but wonder… What kind of “punishment” was he talking about?
In moments of rage against the power her absentee father still had over her, she had tried to remove her choker. No matter how many times she had tried to cut through the material, however, nothing worked. From scissors to knives to even fire, nothing would even damage the choker. It still looked the same as when she had received it all those years ago, as though it had simply grown alongside her.
To make matter worse, every time she tried, something bad would always happen afterwards. She had suffered from comedically being hit by potted plants from above to almost being hit by a car and killed. After the last incident, she hadn’t tried again.
She resented the choker immensely. IN every school she’d ever attended, the teachers on the disciplinary committee always had their targets fully locked on her. Even gangs wanted to pick a fight with her about it, as though the choker was a symbol of, “Hey! I’m a thug! I’ll be a bad influence on everyone around me and I wanna fight you!”
She didn’t even think it looked good! She wasn’t particularly into the whole gothic look. And the rose on the choker was just unnecessary.
She was broken from her reverie by the sound of yells from overhead.
“C’MON, ANNIS! YOU CAN DO IT!”
As she looked up, Annis saw her classmates cheering for her.
“Class is gonna start without you~! Steal the home plate!”
“You can do it! Just a little bit more! You’re almost inside!!”
“Good luck! I believe in you, Annis!”
“Haha! The disciplinary teach’ is eating your DUST!”
“ANNIS-SAMA! YOU’RE TOO COOL! SHOW THE DISCIPLINARY TEACHER WHO’S BOSS!”
Annis was touched by the sentiment, truly (although that last one was a little too fangirlish for her to be truly comfortable with it), but she wished they’d stop! Comments like those only made the disciplinary teacher madder and more set on catching her!
Annis sighed. The worst part of the choker, perhaps, was how it made her stand out.
If this stupid choker really is a charm of protection, Annis thought as she continued running, Then I wish it would just let me live my life peacefully!
Just as the bell signaling the beginning of class rang, the door to the classroom slid open loudly, and in came Annis.
Another morning, another close call. Frankly, though she was barely winded. Having these daily races certainly kept her in shape, if nothing else.
“Chalk up another win for team Annis!” Cheered a bright, curly-haired girl who wore her hair in pigtails.
“We can always count on you for one heck of a morning race! Good work out there today, you were great!” Congratulated a black-haired girl who was altogether too cheerful for a school morning. Slyly, the girl looked over at Annis again, “I think you beat your last score. There’s rumours that tomorrow your fanclub will prepare posters and a finish line to cheer you on!”
“Hilarious, Yumika, absolutely hilarious.” Of course, Yumika was being absolutely serious, but Annis didn’t know that. “I wouldn’t have to run so fast if I wasn’t being chased by a madwoman-“
She couldn’t finish her sentence as someone bumped into her, sending her school bag to the floor.
“Hey! Excuse you!”
“It’s your own damn fault for standing in front of the door when I’m trying to get through,” Was the unapologetic and borderline hostile answer. As Annis looked up at the man who bumped into her, she was met with a broad chest and deep wine-colored hair. She’d have considered him to be handsome if it weren’t for his crappy attitude.
While some girls might have been intimidated, Annis was not one of them. “What’s your problem?”
“My problem is with how much noise you’re making so early in the morning, Yamamoto Annis.” He left right after, leaving Annis seething.
Yumika was quick to offer her two cents, “That’s just kinda the way Kaede is, y’know? Ever since you beat him in that sports festival a while back, he’s held a pretty deep grudge, Annis.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Another girl pitched in.
“But despite his totally bad attitude, you have to admit he’s seriously hot,” The pig-tailed girl exclaimed with a perverted giggle.
Annis ignored that last comment, choosing to focus on Yumika’s. “The sports festival… But I only participated in the boy’s race because everyone else made me.” She shot Yumika an irritated look.
Annis remembered that day well, she had been cheering from behind the starting lines with the other girls. Suddenly, she heard the sound of thunder and before she could control herself she was racing off, high on adrenaline and fear.
She later found out that it was Yumika who had simply blasted the sound of thunder from a stereo, basically forcing her to participate in (and win) the boy’s race.
The girl in question was unrepentant, “Awwwww, C’mon-! We only did it to see how fast you could run away! Like, take some impromptu measurements and stuff.”
Annis sighed. She wasn’t afraid of a lot, but there were certain things: earthquakes, thunder, fire… but nothing quite compared to her fear of her father.
If you remove it, a terrible punishment will befall you. Her father’s voice reverberated in her head.
Annis squeezed her eyes shut, turning away from her friends so they wouldn’t notice. She wanted to curse herself for her weakness. Why did her father still have such control over her when she hadn’t seen him in years! Why couldn’t she just forget him and freaking move on with her life!
She couldn’t even clearly recall his face. Supposedly, he flew all over the world as part of his job, but she was fairly certain that no job kept a father away from their daughter for twelve years. That man was probably still out there somewhere.
I hope he stays and doesn’t come back, She thought viciously. She’d feel guilty, but she was sure he felt the same way. She could probably drop off the face of the earth and he wouldn’t care.
Tugging at her choker again, Annis frowned. Frankly, she wouldn’t care as long as she took the damn thing off.
This isn’t even a choker, Annis couldn’t help but think. It’s a collar.
She was nothing more than her father’s dog.
“Okay guys, settle down! Homeroom’s about to begin!” Itsushi-sensei called.
Annis slowly opened her eyes to find her homeroom teacher had just entered he class.
Class passed by quickly after that. As usual, Annis tried to pay utter attention to class. She figured if she focused on her studies she wouldn’t be able to think of her father or her cursed choker. Inadvertently, this dedicated attention had turned her into a frighteningly good student.
Before Annis knew it, it was time for lunch and her friends were rushing out the classroom and dragging her with them.
“Annis, this way! It’s a shortcut!” Yumika lead Annis.
“Class went over way too late!” Groaned another.
“C’mon, hurry up! We gotta get there before the bread vendor sells out!” A third hungry girl urged.
Yumika huphed, “You can go ahead get the bread, I’ve got a tastier treat in mind!” Yumika chuckled lecherously. As she skipped along the hallway, still dragging Annis behind her, she explained, “I hear that the third-years pass through here!”
Annis swore the girl almost swooned. “Oh, wouldn’t that be great?” She sighed dreamily. All thoughts of bread and her growling stomach apparently forgotten.
“They pass through here?” Annis questioned.
Yumika responded with a creepy gleam in her eye, “Of course they do! I’ve been studying them!”
Annis sweat dropped. “Isn’t that a bit much?”
“What? Nonsense!” Yumika rebuffed indignantly before her usual perverted grin took its place, “Besides, you know what they say! You can’t call yourself a woman unless you’ve got the hots for the president!”
As though summoned by these words, a group of third-years walked by, a single man surrounded by several heavily made up girls.
Annis’s friends couldn’t contain themselves, “President Tenjou has arrived~!” Their eyes gave way to hearts and they collectively swooned.
The student council president, Tenjou Mitsuru-sempai.
Annis could admit she was attracted to the president. He was tall and lean, with the barest amount of muscle showing through his white student council uniform and hinting at a fit build. He had white blonde hair and deep blue eyes. He had the face of an aristocrat, and carried himself with an almost princely manner that she could not honestly say she was unaffected by.
The pinkette found herself trying to fight down a blush as the president passed her by.
She heard her friends whisper beside her once they recovered from their initial swooning, “Kinda sucks that we can’t break through the throngs of third year chicks around him to get any closer than this, though.” A brown-haired girl sighed, before recovering, “But he’s sooooo cooooooollll!!!!”
“Oh please, cool doesn’t even begin to describe him!”
The fangirlism was strong in those two.
Annis couldn’t really say anything, though. Even she admired him. Being “cool” wasn’t the president’s only good point. His grades were better than even hers and it was rumoured that he could to all sorts of sports. And at the same time, he was always nice to everyone.
Smart, athletic, kind. Could people really blame her for being swept along?
As Annis watched the president walk away, she giggled. It wasn’t like she’d do anything about it. Besides, he was the type who was hard to approach.
One of Annis’s friends squealed as she caught sight of something from the window, “Oh wait, wait! Liking an older guy is great and all, but personally, I really like him right now!” She gestured at someone outside and all the girls moved to the window to get a look.
“Asagi Seiran-kun of Class C!”
There, sitting on a bench under the shade of a blossom tree and reading a book, was perhaps the cutest boy she had ever met. His hair was a light blue and his eyes a molten gold. He was small and rather frail looking, and seemed to have a fixed dreamy expression, as though he were looking at things not of this plane. He was as cute as a girl! The pinkette felt the intense urge to go down there and hug him, then proceed to protect him from all possible harm.
She chuckled at the imagery. She’d be his knight and he her princess. What a pair they’d make!
Suddenly, Annis was bumped into for the second time that day.
As she turned around to yell at the perpetrator, thinking it was that rude Kaede again, she was shocked by a frightening glare from blood red eyes. It sent goosebumps down her arms. A tall man, taller even than Kaede or the president, with beautiful pale skin and inky locks glared at her ominously.
If he wasn’t so scary he’d be incredibly handsome, She thought.
Recovering from her shock and reminding herself that no one intimidated her like that, Annis glared right back. Time seemed to stop as their gazes connected, neither of them backing off. She felt she could get lost in those blood red orbs. She thought she could detect a glimmer of surprise on the stranger’s face, but she couldn’t be sure.
At this unexpected confrontation, the air seemed to tense, as if waiting for something, before the mysterious stranger turned away and walked off, leaving Annis feeling oddly bereft.
As the frightening person walked away, Annis couldn’t help thinking that this person was unquestionably dangerous.
“…Wha!” Was her delayed verbal reaction. “What was that?”
“That guy… Oh yeah, he’s that second year. I’ve heard some pretty nasty rumors about him. His name is Mutsuki Kurama.” Yumika explained.
“Nasty rumours? Is he some kind of delinquent?” Annis questioned. She could deal with delinquents, she’d been dealing with them all her life because of the damn choker and its provoking appearance.
“No, I don’t think so.” Yumika was uncharacteristically serious, “All ya need to know is that you shouldn’t mess with him.”
Rumours, huh? Annis thought. She kind of knew how that felt. She had rumour of her own going around as well.
Last she heard, she was the wealthy daughter of the largest yakuza syndicate in the area. Before that, she was a pampered young ojou-sama who begged her parents to let her go to a normal school and used the choker to make friends with the commoners. And before that, she was the leader of a gang of famous high school delinquents. It went on and on.
These thoughts stayed with her throughout the rest of the day, right up to after school cleaning duty that she – unfortunately – shared with Kaede.
“Quit slacking off, Annis.” Ah, speak of the devil and the devil shall arrive.
“I’m not slacking off, you ass!” She scowled indignantly. Yes, she had been deep in thought, but she had been mopping up the floor just as efficiently as him! “Anyway, where do you get off calling me Annis?”
And with no honorific either! That sort of thing was supposed to be special.
“Who cares, it’s just a name.” Kaede huffed exasperatedly, “’Sides, we already have another guy named Yamamoto in our class.”
She supposed that was true.
With a mischievous grin that oddly suited him, Kaede added, “Fine. I’ll just start calling you ‘the weird Yamamoto.’”
“Don’t call me weird!”
She was distracted, however, by something red in the sky.
“Annis?” Kaede’s voice seemed to be coming from far away.
Is it a flower petal? Annis was about to reach it, when a black bat like creature slammed into her.
She felt herself stumble and fall backwards.
Idly, she thought, I’ve been getting beat up way too much today…
She fully expected to hit the hard concrete floor, and was surprised to instead be caught by strong arms.
Kaede had reacted instinctively. All he saw was Annis falling down after being hit in the head by something, and before he knew it his arms were wrapped around her in an effort to catch her and her pink hair was enveloping them.
She smells like roses, he couldn’t help noticing.
Momentarily stunned by his own action and the situation in general, Kaede could only hold her close. From this proximity, he could see how wide her dark pink eyes were, and the way they were gently framed by dark, thick eyelashes. He felt they could easily see into his soul. Her lips were full and just begging to be kissed. There wasn’t a blemish to be found on her skin, nor any hint of make-up, but then he knew that already. Everyone knew that Yamamoto Annis was a natural beauty the likes of which had never been seen before. From her uncommon hair color to her mesmerizing eyes to her clear skin to her perfectly shaped body… Her soft body that he was still holding.
The spell was broken, and both students jumped away from each other, blushing heavily.
Wha- What the hell was that?! Annis screamed internally. Her heart was racing a mile a minute. Kaede’s intense gaze (he was probably judging her and finding all her faults, the bastard) should have been unnerving, but instead felt natural. In fact, just being in his arms had felt natural.
Annis quickly pushed those thoughts away. She must have been hit harder in the head than she thought. That was the only explanation.
As she opened her eyes again, she found a red card in front of her, with a small red rose at its center.
What on Earth? It was such a pretty card, too. Probably belonged to a collector of some sort. Maybe Kaede collected them? He didn’t seem the type, but then again, she didn’t want to judge.
Just as she was about to ask Kaede about it, he interrupted her.
“…Hey, wait.” He was looking at her intensely again and this time Annis did feel uncomfortable. “Where’s your choker?”
Chapter 2: Down the Rabbit-Bat Hole
Disclaimer: I do not own Barajou no Kiss.
A/N: I couldn't help myself. So, the very same day, another update.
"Oh… Oh, no! I can't believe this… Wha- Why-?!"
Annis panicked. She looked around frantically for the missing choker she had tried to get rid of most of her life. As she frenziedly looked in the surrounding bushes, she spotted the black bat like creature that smacked into her.
As soon as it realized she saw it, it ran off.
Oh no you don't. Annis wasted no time chasing after it, leaving a Kaede who was staring at her card in confusion behind. It definitely has my chocker. It has to have it!
"Get back here!" She yelled at the creature, "Stop running!"
Had Annis time for irony, she would've laughed at how she was repeating the same words that had been yelled at her just that morning. As it was, she was entirely focused on getting back her choker.
If I don't get it back, something terrible will happen.
She found that her daily races served her well, and she was able to keep up with the creature. She chased him all the way up to the school library, thankful that the school was empty since classes were over for the day.
Carefully entering the library, she rushed after the creature, following him into a corner behind a bookshelf. Just as she lunged to grab the choker thief, she felt herself falling.
What- It's an empty space?!
In a scene that wouldn't look out of place in Alice in Wonderland, Annis fell what felt like several stories onto a checkered floor.
Senses on high alert, Annis quickly got up and surveyed her surroundings for any possible threats. Or the Mad Hatter. Whichever, really, as long as she figured out what was going on.
Annis didn't have to look long, as standing in front of her was a humongous black monster, with dragon-like wings and claws the size of her entire body (although she wan't very tall to begin with). Its eyes were humongous, glowing an eerie yellow light that made Annis think of the souls of the dead. It was, perhaps, the most fearsome thing she had ever laid eyes upon.
Was this it, then? Was death at the hands of a monster to be her punishment for losing her choker? Had her father known about this?
She tensed. It didn't matter. Dragons or monsters or lords of the dead - she wasn't going down without a fight.
"Who's there?" A voice rasped from behind.
Annis quickly turned around, and to her shock she spotted her homeroom teacher sprawled stomach-down on the floor, scratches all over his body. She retreated away from the monster in front of her and towards her teacher slowly, with graceful, deliberate steps, keeping an eye on it for any sudden movements it might make.
Finally reaching her teacher, she knelt down, angling herself so that she kept the monster in her line of sight. It gave another fearsome roar and she shuddered. If only she had something she could at least try to defend herself with!
Itsushi-sensei didn't seem to have any serious wounds, but she wasn't an expert and felt it would be best to take him to see a doctor as soon as possible. She looked around the checker-tiled room for possible exits, but found none. Shit, how on earth was she stuck in a room with a huge monster and a hurt teacher with no exits in sight!
She needed to calm down. She needed to be strong for her teacher, for both of them. Panicking would only lead to injury or, she gulped, death. If she didn't get her act together, both of them might die.
Seeing as she was the only able-bodied one, she felt the urge to reassure her teacher. She couldn't let him see her doubts. Now, she just had to find a way to distract the monster and sneak out of this place. There had to be some sort of hidden passage leading outside. She refused to believe there wasn't.
"Don't worry, sensei. I'll get us out of here, okay? You just have to be very quiet."
"You're… Yamamoto Annis of… Class D…"
"Yes, that's right," Annis tried to be comforting but she figured she was failing miserably. "Can you walk, sensei?"
"Tell me…" The man started, "Can you see… that child over there?"
Child? Is there a kid in this room?! Annis panicked. Please, please tell me that the child is not hurt. She desperately looked around the room, frantically trying to find any small human forms, but the only living beings in this Alice in Wonderland themed room were her, Itsushi-sensei, and the monster.
Looking to her teacher once again to ask where exactly the child was, she found that he was pointing at something. Following the line of his finger, she encountered only the monster.
"Y-You mean..." She pointed stupidly at the monster. Itsushi-sensei gave a feeble nod in response.
Surely her teacher was joking, although why he'd choose such an inopportune time to do so she had no idea. Maybe it was the fear talking? Fear did make people act in absurd ways. Perhaps his wounds were more serious than she realized and he was hallucinating. Damn, she really needed to get them out of there!
Deciding to just agree with the obviously irrational man in order to get them moving, Annis replied, "Yes, I see it, sensei! And we really need to get away from it right now! It looks like it hurt you pretty bad." As Annis once more tried to pick up her teacher, her interrupted her.
"Hold on! You- That… Card!"
Annis looked down to the hand he was looking at. Still clutched tightly to her was the card she had found right after being slammed into by the bat creature and losing her chocker.
"I guess I kept holding onto it in all the ruckus…" Annis muttered mostly to herself.
"I see. You're…" Suddenly, Itsushi-sensei's entire demeanor softened. "Could I ask you… for a kiss, if possible…?"
Annis nearly dropped him right there in shock.
Was that? What did he-? What?!
Was this one of those final wishes before death? Did he want to kiss a woman for the last time before he died? But they were teacher and student! Teacher and high school student. That was not okay! She hadn't even really had her first kiss yet! But then again... did age gap or taboos or her first kiss really matter in the face of a dying man's wish? There was a certain honor to those things, wasn't there? But wait! Her sensei didn't really look like he was dying! Maybe he was so hurt that he thought he was?
Sensing her flustered state, Itsushi-sensei clarified, "Not me…" He pointed at the red card she was still holding in her hand. "That."
"That is something precious that will always keep you safe. A 'charm of protection.'"
Her father's words echoed in her head again – he had used the same term, a 'charm of protection'. That, more than anything else, gave her sensei's words more legitimacy.
Perhaps that was what made her do it in the end. She hardly thought there would be negative consequences to kissing a card. If it worked and saved them, then good. If it didn't, then at least she'd know for sure that her sensei was being nonsensical and she could proceed to ignore him and find a solution to their situation on her own.
Annis kissed the card.
She felt something stirring inside her, spreading through her body, eventually reaching her lips and spilling forth into the card form there. It was like a buzzing inside her head she hadn't even realized was there suddenly stopped, giving her some measure of peace. Like the world adjusted and suddenly things were back the way they should be.
"Open, Path to thy destiny." A deep voice coming from the card surged forth. Soon after, and to Annis's utter confusion, red petals fell out of the card. What shocked Annis even more, however, was that a man appeared as though summoned from the card.
The man spoke, "As ordained by our ancient contract, I present myself to you, as your rose knight."
The red knight bent down on one knee, head lowered and hand to his chest in a gesture of fealty.
"Milady, I await your orders."
And there, amidst the red rose petals, kneeling before her, was Kaede.
"Kaede- what – what are you-" Annis was completely out of her depth. First she falls through a hole in the school library after chasing a bat like creature that stole her choker a la Alice in Wonderland, then she is confronted with a humongous potentially man-eating monster, then she meets with her potentially perverted or dying homeroom teacher, who then asks her to kiss a collector's card she just found, and now Kaede appeared out of the card along with rose petals proclaiming himself to be a rose knight.
I am so done with this weird day.
Finally, Kaede looked up at the person he was kneeling to. "ANNIS?!"
After a second to register her face (she had a brief moment to vainly think about what a mess she must look. Her uniform was in complete disarray, her hair definitely a pink mess, and she must have been gaping unattractively), the red knight scowled to himself, "Of all people, why'd it have to be you?!"
She was about to angrily retort, but the monster started attacking them. This was no time for their usual bantering. Quickly hiding Itsushi-sensei in a corner, she started running and dodging alongside her classmate turned knight. Never had she been more thankful that she was an athletic girl. "Damn it, Kaede. If you can do something about this, then do it."
"As if I'm going to start following your orders."
"This is not the fucking moment for this, Kaede!" Annis was incensed. They were being attacked – they might die along with their defenceless (and possibly perverted) homeroom teacher– and Kaede wouldn't do something to help them because of his pride?! Annis felt something insider her snap. She was not having any of this right now. "Hurry up and DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS ATTACK!"
Suddenly, from Annis's pinky finger appeared a thick black stem full of thorns. It moved as though it had a will of its own. The black rope-like apparition curled itself around Kaede's neck, and for a moment Annis was afraid it might choke him.
"Tsc." Kaede muttered, "The real deal, huh?"
He turned to her, "I had to make sure."
Annis just nodded. She wasn't sure what he meant, but she'd just about agree to anything if it meant he'd do something and made sure they all lived.
Kaede continued, "Let's get one thing straight! You absolutely cannot laugh, got it?"
Without even waiting for an answer, Kaede started chanting, "Heed me, Rose, O my Rosario! As we have been ordered!"
From Kaede's hand, a gleaming red blade appeared, illuminating his face. Annis would have concentrated on that seeming impossibility (not that it meant much in a night full of other impossibilities), but she suddenly felt weak. No matter how she felt, however, she could not tear her eyes away from Kaede's display.
"Rend asunder!" He yelled, thrusting his sword at the monster.
Annis was captivated. It was a powerful sight. Kaede looked brave and trustworthy, like a noble hero valiantly fighting against a mythical monster. She briefly noted that he was one of those people that seemed to have been born in the wrong century; he'd have been famous and glorified for his valor in battle had he been born in the ages of the samurai.
In a wondrously anticlimactic display, the huge monster turned into the small, snivelling bat like creature that had slammed into her.
"I really must apologize. I am so, so terribly sorry. This is all my fault." Itsushi-sensei was no longer lying half-dead on the ground, instead standing up and gently holding the bat creature protectively in his arms while he bowed repeatedly. "You see, I was in a bit of a rush to eat my bentou in here this afternoon, and, well… in my haste, I brought this little one back with me, and he tangled himself up in that prickly ash outside."
The little one in question had big fat tears in his eyes, his small bat-like wings flapping weakly, "Those meanies. Dey made boo-boos." He spoke with a child's voice, and along with the tearful eyes and the stuffed-animal like appearance, it was too much for the pinkette.
Annis felt a blush coming on as maternal instincts she didn't know she possessed came to the surface. The- the bat creature (Although now that she really looked at him, he looked more like a cat than a bat). Ignoring the impossibility of an animal speaking, Annis couldn't help but be taken in.
He is too adorable!
The pink-haired girl squealed inwardly as grabbed the creature and held him close to her chest. He was so snuggly!
"What's your name, little one?" She asked in a rare affectionate tone.
Kaede turned to her, surprised at her complete change in demeanor. Gone was the irritable, energetic, and sometimes rather intimidating girl and in her place was a caring, nurturing woman with a calm but powerful presence. His eyes were wide as he observed her gently soothing the small bat creature.
The bat creature himself was slightly flustered, confused but strangely pleased at the care he was being shown. Big yellow eyes peered into comforting dark pink ones. With uncharacteristic shyness, the creature answered, "N-Ninufa."
She couldn't even get mad at the whole falling-down-a-hole-in-the-freaking-library-and-thinking-her-teacher-was-going-to-die-and-having-to-face-an-enormous-rampaging-monster-thing. The creature was thatcute.
But that didn't mean she couldn't be confused.
Annis was going to get answers. And she was going to get them now.
Still cradling little Ninufa in her arms, she sent the nonchalant teacher a stern glare, "Exactly what is going on?" Gone was the gentle, soothing dulcet voice and in its place was a harsh, demanding one.
"What, you ask?" Itsushi-sensei seemed entirely unaffected by her glare. Annis almost pouted. She had scared several gang members away with that glare before! Gesturing to her and Kaede, Itsushi-sensei continued, "Why, you two showed me the answer to that question just a little while ago."
At her unimpressed look (she had no patience for riddles), Itsushi-sensei quickly continued, "Allow me to formally introduce this little one: He is Ninufa, the guardian. Ever since the formation of the contracts long ago, he's protected that card you hold in your hand."
Annis looked at the red card she had so innocently picked up off the ground earlier that day. Had Kaede really come out of this card…?
Ninufa looked up at her shyly. "Ninufa has more cards he can give."
Ninufa opened his mouth wide and from it, three more cards appeared, each a different color. One was the purest white she had ever seen, the other the darkest black, the third a beautiful sky-blue. Like the red card, each had a rose at the center.
Annis was very close to having a small meltdown at being confronted with more cards and thus possibly more weird knights like Kaede.
She was just about to angrily turn on Itsushi-sensei or Kaede and demand more answers, but something stopped her.
Ninufa had the most heartbreakingly dejected expression any adorable bat-cat hybrid had the right to have. He peered up sadly at Annis, "You don' like dem?"
Annis's angry expression evaporated as though it had never been there. "Oh no, Ninufa. I love them! They're all so pretty!" At his unconvinced and still rather forlorn expression, she rushed to explain her previous storminess, "I was just sad that I hadn't gotten you a present when you gave me three lovely ones!"
Ninufa visibly swelled with pride at her approval, his small chest puffing out. "You don' have to worry, miss! It's Ninufa's job to guard the cards!"
"Well you've done a very good job, then."
Kaede had still not picked up his chin off the ground at Annis's continued loving attitude. It was a completely different side to her he had never encountered! Who knew she could be so- so sweet!
I wonder how it'd feel, being cared for by her, He thought. Kaede fought down a blush. What? Where did that thought come from?!
"Well, that's all of them." Itsushi-sensei motioned to the cards. "Go ahead and try kissing a different knight."
Annis blushed red, "You mean a card, sensei! I'm kissing a card! It's just paper!"
Resisting the childish urge to turn around to kiss the cards in order for the others not to see her, Annis pulled on what remained of her dignity and gently kissed each card.
Once again, she felt that strange feeling permeate her being, leaving her feeling hyperaware of her senses and oddly complete. Finally, a soft voice whispered in her head, finally we are one.
Rose petals began to pour out from each card, their color matching the color of the card they came from.
Amidst the shower of white, black, and blue rose petals, a deep voice resounded in the room, "The seal has been broken."
Before she could contemplate what it meant, they appeared.
Three new knights stood before her.
"I've eagerly awaited your arrival, my dominion." The white knight spoke, "What are your orders?"
The black knight silently eyed her with a disapproving eye.
"I will follow your every command, milady," the blue knight whispered, his melodic voice still making itself heard.
Annis was stood immobile before them. She was shocked not only by the dramatic arrival of her knights, but at their identities as well.
For standing in front of her were the white knight Mitsuru Tenjou, the black knight Mutsuki Kurama, and the blue knight Seiran Asagi.
"These contracted cards have been waiting for you." Itsushi-sensei explained. "Since long, long ago."
For the destined rose princess.
Chapter 3: My Dominion
Disclaimer: I do not own Barajou no Kiss. If I did, it would be a true reverse harem.
A/N: This is for Tsukiyoko_Natsume27. Thank you for your support! I hope you enjoy this new chapter!
A terrible punishment will befall you.
"We await your orders, Dominion."
As she looked at the four undeniably handsome men standing in front of her, she felt that as far as punishments go, this one wasn't so terrible.
"We've eagerly awaited the arrival of the one person who could command the power of the cards this little one has been guarding," Tenjou gently laid a hand on top of Ninufa's head, "In other words, Annis-sama, it would appear that you are the one for whom we have waited so long." He turned to look at her with sky blue eyes, and if she hadn't already been stunned speechless by the absurdity of this entire situation in general, the subtle reverence in his gaze would have done the trick, "The Dominion of the Rosette."
In the midst of the confusion of being called –sama, the Dominion of the Rosette (and that sounded like an official title, there was no way it could apply to her, a mere high school girl), and being talked to by her secret crush, it was all Annis could do to mumble a hesitant, "Me…?" Let it not be said eloquence in the midst of shock was not her strong suit.
"Fate has destined you to us, Dominion."
The president's eyes were steadfast and true, as though he had no doubts at all of his outrageous statement.
This kind of cheesy line more appropriate to a badly written romance would ordinarily have made her laugh and then promptly proceed to ignore it, and perhaps make fun of the person who said it, no matter how handsome he was, but… but there was something about it. As though part of her knew it was true.
No matter what, she couldn't have escaped this.
This was her fate.
The thought terrified her.
"Long ago, in the distant past," Itsushi-sensei started, tone taking on that of a historian's, "Neither magic nor alchemy were techniques yet lost to this world. The contracts, and thus the cards themselves, were created during this period and sealed away with the intention that they would be revived at a later date during the 'time of resurrection'. As for the actual purpose behind their creation…" Itsushi-sensei hesitated a bit, as though unsure whether or not he should be imparting this information to a 16 year old girl, before apparently making up his mind and proceeding with a somber tone, "It was because of the Devil."
Annis sucked in a sharp breath. She wasn't a religious person by nature (and a small part of her wondered if she hadn't just dropped into a cult meeting that was lead by Itsushi-sensei for handsome young boys. That seemed like a much more plausible answer), but once again a part of her told her that this was the truth. That she should believe it, take steps to confront it, prepare herself for it, or there might be… dire consequences.
This part of her was immediately suppressed and dismissed, especially at Itsushi-sensei's next words, "The Devil that doesn't exist."
All of the room's occupants felt the tension that had been mounting at Itsushi-sensei's tale suddenly drop at the teacher's anticlimactic finish.
"And exactly what is that supposed to mean." Annis noticed Itsushi-sensei fail to suppress a flinch at the menacing tone in Mutsuki's voice. Truly, with his tall stature, midnight black locks, and red eyes he cut an imposing figure.
Strangely, she herself felt no fear. And she understood his frustration. Itsushi-sensei was telling them morbid tales about the Devil as though they had to fight him or something, making her flush in fear and an odd sort of determination, only to reveal that there was nothing to worry about. The same thing happened when she thought he was dying on the floor while fighting monster-Ninufa. It was like the teacher derived a sadistic sort of enjoyment from their reactions.
I'll have to keep an eye on him… He's not as innocent and harmless as he seems.
The high school teacher hurried to explain himself, "Let me explain. There certainly was a person during that time that had prophesized that the Devil would be resurrected someday… Though it seems he was apparently entirely mistaken." Itsushi-sensei sheepishly scratched her cheek, "Er, that's what I found out at the Association's HQ, anyway."
Annis mentally filed the name away for later. Who was this Association's HQ?
"Too baaaad," Ninufa was quick to add his own two cents.
"You gotta be kiddin'." Kaede looked frustrated.
"That is truly unfortunate." Tenjou looked sincerely disappointed.
Seiran looked slightly devastated, and Mutsuki continued to look murderous.
Annis, for her part, was baffled at the boys' upset reactions. They just found out that they didn't actually have to deal with the Devil! How was this not a good thing?! Personally, she was feeling such giddy relief she felt she could burst into joy.
Then I suppose this is where we part ways, Annis sighed. It had been a long, nonsensical day and she was ready to head to bed and pretend none of this had ever happened. She looked at the rest of her knights, unbeknownst to her all standing to attention as her gaze rested on them, "I apologize for…" She hesitated on the word, feeling ridiculous even as she said it, "Summoning, I guess, you all here. It appears there was no motive for it."
She shot Itsushi-sensei an accusing glare. Why had he made her kiss the cards and summon all of them if it served no purpose? All she had done was disrupt their lives for no reason.
"Of coursethere is no problem." The school president said with a dramatic flair, his platinum blonde hair shining in the checker-tiled room's dim light. "We could not possibly find fault with any of your actions," Tenjou leaned in and took one of her hands in his, much as a knight would to his lady, with the other laying gently at the small of her back, as though to support her. Annis felt her heart skip a beat, even as she felt a part of herself relaxing, "My dominion." The last was said almost as a caress, and Annis felt a shiver down her spine.
"My lady, we, the lord knights, are yours to command. It is our duty and privilege to serve you unconditionally, no matter the circumstances." She was about to protest – she was a modern woman who firmly believed in free will and didn't quite like the idea of servants or slaves (especially when they were so resentful of it,. Kaede and Mutsuki came to mind), but Tenjou continued, "There is, however, a catch-"
Of course there is, Annis thought bitterly. There is always a catch.
"Heed my call, O pure white light of completion," Tenjou chanted, much as Kaede had done earlier against the monster-Ninufa, "And return this room to its original form."
Breathlessly, Annis watched as the debris from the fight with the monster turned cuddly bat began to levitate back to its rightful place. The tiles on the floor repaired themselves, the scorch marks on the walls disappeared, the smoky fog that had permeated the room gradually lifted.
The wind from the repairs ruffled her skirt and blew her hair away from her face. She had never seen anything like this before.
Is this magic? Annis questioned with no small degree of amazement. Those thoughts were swiftly cut off as she suddenly felt faint. Her strength seeped out of her body, and she felt herself leaning more on the president's arm that was still at her back. She was grateful, now, that he was supporting her.
"I beg your pardon, my dominion," As he easily held her full weight in his arms, he looked at her regretfully, "In order for us knights to make use of our abilities, we are forced to use the life-force of your blood."
"Ah… " Annis sighed. Of course. In her weak state, she thoughtlessly murmured what she was thinking, "So this is my punishment, then."
Tenjou turned to her sharply, "Excuse me, my lady?"
"Oh!" Annis quickly backtracked. There was no need for others to know of her twisted relationship with her father. "Nothing at all! I'm just saying nonsense due to the fatigue." That part was true, at least. She was exhausted.
"So does this mean that my life is shortened each time you use your powers?" Her voice was held an edge of resignation to it. She had expected some kind of punishment for the loss of her choker. She looked at the cards that were still somehow tightly clutched in her hand, despite everything. She was almost surprised to see them still there.
Such pretty cards, for such fearsome consequences. Looking at the handsome men around her, she couldn't help but think, Much like their handsome but ever so dangerous knights.
"Oh, not at all." Itsushi-sensei was quick to reassure her and dispel her morbid thoughts. "If used too extensively, perhaps it could take a few years of your life," Itsushi-sensei admitted. "But by life force we only mean your strength, your power."
Power? What power? Annis thought mockingly. She was the weakest person she knew. I can't even argue with my own father, how can I have any power? I'm possibly the worst Rose Dominion in history.
Itsushi-sensei smiled reassuringly at her, "Just be sure to use the cards sparingly and you should be absolutely fine."
Annis nodded. With a start, she realized she was still leaning against Tenjou's chest and hurriedly moved away, ignoring the strange pang at the loss of contact.
Tenjou, himself, was surprised at how reluctant he was to let her go. Her skin had felt soft against his, and he liked the idea of her leaning on him, relying on him.
Feeling disoriented, Annis reached for her neck, planning on fingering her choker, a habit – not of comfort, no, but of, of grounding, she supposed. A useful if painful tether to reality – but was met only by bare skin.
She was reminded of the very reason that she had chased Ninufa into this strange room. That's right… I don't have my choker anymore!
"Ninufa!" She called, and if anyone could hear the almost desperate quality of her voice, they didn't comment. "My choker, Ninufa! Do you have my choker?!"
Ninufa looked at her blankly. "Please, please, Ninufa. I really need my choker. If I don't – if I don't – "
All of the knights, even the stoic and contemptuous black knight, were shocked as the surprisingly composed girl in front of them looked at the small bat like creature in genuine fear. She had been shocked and disoriented by the magic and by the tale of the Devil (as well as by the fact that she was the Dominion and had Rose Knights), but there had always been a measure of grace in her reactions. She had never fully lost her composure. Despite her moments of hesitation, she always seemed ready to face the next obstacle.
Even Mutsuki found himself reluctantly appreciative of that fact.
But now there she was, kneeling on the floor next to the bat like creature, practically begging him to give her her choker.
The knights frowned unconsciously. For some reason, they didn't like seeing her beg.
What on Earth could cause that reaction over a piece of jewelry? She didn't even react like this when we were being attacked by a huge monster! Kaede puzzled, Perhaps it has sentimental value? But then why is she so terrified?
"Ni-Ninufa don't got it!" Ninufa was quick to shout.
"Annis-san, Ninufa really didn't have anything with him when he came down here." Itsushi-sensei's tone was gentle, sensing the girl's fragile state.
Annis looked up at him with a measure of desperation in her eyes he hadn't even seen when she was alone, facing down a monster she believed to be lethal, the life of her and her teacher resting on her delicate shoulders.
The knights exchanged looks. There was definitely more to this than they knew.
"Today's the day, Yamamoto Annis!" The disciplinary teacher was smug, whip ready to be used in her hand. "That choker of yours is-"
"Good morning, sensei." Annis's tone was polite and well-mannered, with an underlying tone of satisfaction. The wind gently blew her hair away, and she delicately tucked a pink strand behind her ear, revealing beautiful dark pink eyes and a pale, smooth skin. No wonder there had been rumours she was a genteel ojou-sama, she certainly looked and sounded like one at the moment. "It's a beautiful day today, isn't it?"
The disciplinary teacher stopped. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong indeed.
Annis wasn't running away.
Annis wasn't justifying herself as she yelled at the teacher over her shoulder.
Annis wasn't wearing a choker.
Annis wasn't wearing a choker.
Something inside the disciplinary teacher stopped working. All of her weeks- no, months! – of hard work, of running, of chasing, of working out and training for the explicit purpose of catching the deceptively agile pink-haired delinquent – were they a waste?! Did they serve no purpose?! What was she, the disciplinary teacher, what were her goals, if she couldn't finally succeed in removing Annis's choker form her neck herself?!
The disciplinary teacher stood stunned, unable to move, as Annis leisurely walked passed her to the school doors.
"I hope you enjoy your day." Annis said, voice still polite and melodic. She chuckled at the disciplinary teacher's still gaping expression.
Perhaps losing my choker isn't so bad, Annis smiled serenely. I haven't had such a calm morning in forever. When was the last time I walked to class instead of ran?
Neither the disciplinary teacher nor those gang members – not even random people on the street would look at her twice again! There would be no more running, no more discrete looks, no more being challenged by gang leaders and forced to fight with them and accidentally beating them and then replacing the them as leader of the gang only to order the previous leader to take the position and have the entire gang start calling her "one-sama"! None of that! No more!
She was free to live a wonderfully normal high school life.
Her positive thoughts were once again disturbed by someone bumping into her from behind.
Unsurprisingly, when she turned to look the culprit was Kaede. "Roadblock."
"What's with that attitude?" She was about to mention yesterday and his entire kneeling to her thing, but stopped. She still wasn't sure if all of yesterday was a dream or not. And frankly, if Kaede was forced to be subservient to her, she wasn't going to rub it in his face.
"Good morning." A familiar aristocratic voice from behind called. It can't be… but sure enough, it was, "Beautiful weather, wouldn't you agree, Lady Annis?"
Tenjou was in his pristine white student president uniform, smiling gently at her. The sun seemed to hit his platinum blonde hair just right and form a halo around his head. Annis blushed lightly (hopefully unnoticeably), "Good morning, Tenjou-sempai."
But Tenjou wasn't done making her blush, "You know, I really must confess," He looked earnestly at her, "After our destined encounter yesterday, you had me so excited sleep was completely out of the question."
D-Destined encounter! What on earth is he saying! Is he incapable of feeling embarrassment!
The murmurs immediately started. Annis looked around, flustered. It seemed everyone had immediately begun listening in when Tenjou started to talk to her!
One of her classmates that was around was quick to stutter, "A-Annis? Did you and President Tenjou…?" She knew Annis was stunningly beautiful (and really quite charming, not that the pink-haired girl thought herself to be either of these things), but to receive such a confession from President Tenjou!
The gaggle of third year girls that always followed (read stalked) Tenjou were quick to comment.
"What's going on? That girl doesn't have something with the president, does she?"
"Destined encounter? What destined encounter? How did we not know about this?"
"We follow him all day, how couldn't we have seen it?!"
"I don't believe this!"
"No way! Please don't let this be true!"
"Wait, but they're kinda cute together, don't you think?"
Tenjou completely ignored the murmurs around them. Annis was almost admiring – she wasn't sure if he really couldn't hear them or if he was just so used to being talked about he hardly noticed anymore. The president looked at her adoringly, "Lady Annis…"
No! I refuse. Sure, Annis admired Tenjou-sempai and sure, her heart never failed to skip a beat when he was near, but she had just secured a normal high school life, attention-free! She was not giving it up, even if it meant avoiding a ridiculously handsome blonde and blue-eyed president!
"Ah! Please excuse me! I have to go!" To this day, Annis will argue that she did not run away, she tactfully retreated. There was a difference.
She breathed a quiet sight of relief as she was finally alone in the school hallway. It was short-lived, however, as she heard her cellphone ring. Taking it out of her pocket, she realized it was just a text message.
'Coming home tomorrow.' The number was unknown, but Annis didn't need a contact name to know who it was.
She almost laughed bitterly. All these years of living alone in a large, opulent but empty house, hoping that he would come back despite all of his harsh words and punishments… only for him to decide to come back just when she lost her choker and desperately wanted him to stay away.
How typical of him.
A terrible punishment will befall you.
It wasn't the punishment Annis was afraid of… it was her father.
Chapter 4: The Search
Annis had a list of things she had to do.
She had to research. She had to study. She had to interrogate the hell out of Itsushi-sensei and find out what he was hiding about this whole Rosette Dominion situation (Because she knew there was more going on that he was telling).
But most importantly, she had to look for her choker.
It wasn't that she wanted the cursed thing back. She had just gotten rid of it, and if her father wasn't coming back she wouldn't get near another choker with a ten foot pole.
But, if only to herself, she could admit she was terrified of what her father's reaction would be if he found out she didn't have it.
So she had to find it, before he came back.
"Come on, where is it… Black choker, black choker, black choker…" Annis was shamelessly digging through one of the school's trash bins, looking for her lost piece of jewelry, "It's not here, either!"
"Is you really dat scared a' your daddy?"
Annis was going to yell at the rudely intrusive bastard who thought her family was any of his business - one simply didn't just bring up deep seated familial issues so casually –but when she turned around, poised to lash out at the person, she found only Ninufa, floating above the ground.
The fight left her as her maternal instincts overtook her once more – since when did she have any of those? – and she let out a weary sigh.
"What are you doing here, Ninufa? Have you been following me?" Her tone was soft as she avoided the question asked. It wasn't a particularly subtle attempt, but Ninufa either didn't realize or didn't care.
"'Cause Ninufa is da guardian dat protects da cards!" Ninufa seemed to puff up proudly, and despite her horrible mood Annis couldn't contain a small grin at the adorable sight, "And 'cause Ninufa protects da cards, Ninufa's gotta stick with da person who got da cards!"
"It's very admirable that you're taking your duty so seriously Ninufa," Annis said, trying her best to be serious and valiantly fighting the grin that was threatening to overtake her face. "You're a good boy, aren't you?"
This seemed to surprise the little bat-like creature, and Annis could've sworn he blushed. But his face was quickly hidden as Ninufa floated down to her and nuzzled into her lap. The pinkette had to contain a squeal.
Using instincts she didn't even know she shad, Annis gently pet his fur.
It was an unexpected moment of serenity, Ninufa cuddling into her, her petting his head as she looked up at the fluffy clouds overhead.
But Annis couldn't afford to forget what she was here for.
Annis carefully turned Ninufa's face so that she could look at it and found that the small creature was sleeping. The perfect picture of childlike innocence. With great care, she removed Ninufa from her lap and laid him on bag, removing the books from inside so it would be softer for him.
That done, she attacked the school bins with renewed vengeance. She was going to find her choker! Even if it was the last thing she did!
After a few more minutes of fruitless searching, she heard a voice form behind.
"Annis-sama?" The pink-haired girl turned to find Asagi Seiran leaning down a bit, his shadow blocking the sunlight from her eyes. "If you need any assistance, please don't hesitate to issue an order with the cards."
Her blue knight was still as adorable as ever, dark cerulean hair and caramel colored eyes enchanting her. His smaller stature (he was only a few centimeters taller than her!) only accentuated how very precious he was.
Taking a more considering look at him, Annis couldn't help but think he looked frail as well. Sitting out here in the sun rifling through the trash would definitely not be good for the delicate-looking boy.
Annis ignored the voice telling her the blue boy would be just fine and that he would be delighted to help her – Kami-sama, when had she become so arrogant? – and answered.
"Thank you for the offer, Asagi-kun," Annis bowed, so she didn't see the blue knight's eyes light up at her words, and then summarily deflate at what she said next, "But It's my own fault I lost track of that choker. I should be the only one who has to look for it."
Besides, if someone spotted me with Asagi-kun after the incident with Tenjou-sempai this morning, it's goodbye innocuous existence and hello center of attention!
She had just gotten some normality back into her life. She needed to revel in it a little longer before she willingly gave it up.
With a small, sad smile that broke Annis's heart a little bit but that she didn't understand the source of, Seiran left her to look for her choker by herself.
Unknown to Annis, Mutsuki Kurama was observing her trash-hunting from the window overlooking the school's bins. Overlooking how she rifled through the trash, Mutsuki turned away in disgust. He couldn't watch the pinkette willingly lower herself to getting her hands dirty like that.
He ignored the fact that he wasn't sure what the source of his disgust was- the fact that Annis was rifling through the revolting trash or the fact that Annis was being forced to do such a dirty, plebeian job.
He didn't let himself ponder upon the insinuations of the latter.
I will not accept that girl as my master, The black knight sneered to himself. What were the fates thinking, choosing such a girl to be the Rose Dominion?
He would grant that she was pleasing to the eye, and not a total coward given how she managed to hold his gaze, but she was but a useless human girl. Mutsuki was sure that the moment a challenge arose, she would break down crying or run away.
Too disgusted by the sight of the supposed Rosette Dominion, he walked away from the window.
The Rose Dominion herself was bent over a particularly large rubbish bin, shirt rolled up to her elbows as she desperately searched for her choker.
Despite looking rather disheveled, evidence of entire morning and part of an afternoon (ever since she received that blasted text) spent in the sun and looking through garbage, Annis still maintained an inexplicable elegance to her being. Somehow, while doing what was perhaps the most repulsive of jobs, she still managed to make it look as though she were a noble young lady, a grace to her movements that couldn't be copied.
Despite all her elegance, it didn't stop someone from pushing her from behind, shoving her deeper into the trash bin she was bent over. Had her reflexes been any slower, she would have surely fallen into the bin.
"Oh, Come on." Annis was not having a good day. She didn't need bullies or whatnot to complicate her life even more. She didn't even have her choker on today! Why would they want to give her trouble?
(A horrifying thought that perhaps it wasn't the choker that had always attracted trouble but rather just her was entertained for a second before being dismissed. No, it was all the choker's fault. The bully probably just didn't realize she didn't have a choker at the moment.)
The pink-haired girl turned around, fully intent on venting her frustrations on the pusher, but found no one.
Things like that had been happening to her all day. While retracing her steps, looking for the choker, she had encountered all sorts of problems. When she was descending the stairs, a bucket of water fell from above and drenched her, forcing her change her clothes. When she was walking down the hallway, there was a wet patch in front of her that she had slipped on and would have fallen because of had she not possessed a very good balance. And in the library, several books had fallen on her, bruising her head and actually succeeding in spraining her wrist, as it fell at a wrong angle when she was knocked over by the descending literature.
She had actually had to go to the infirmary for that last one, and she hummed with impatience the entire time the nurse was bandaging it. She didn't have time to sit idly at the infirmary – she needed to find her choker!
All of these unfortunate happenings had made her think, however. Were these all milder punishments because she lost her choker? Were they steadily going to increase in gravity until eventually it reached the point of the "terrible punishment" her father had warned her about?
Or maybe she was just being paranoid and imagining things. Perhaps the exhaustion and the sun were getting to her.
Either way, she knew she couldn't keep doing this by herself anymore.
"This just isn't working," She had been looking for the hated choker all day and had still found no trace of it. As she looked up at the sky again, she realized it had taken on a sunset hue.
I'm running out of time… and options.
She took out the red rose card. She hadn't wanted to summon anyone, she really had meant it when she told Seiran that she felt she should take responsibility for losing it, and she still didn't like the idea of forcing someone to help her against their will, but… she was desperate. And she needed to find that choker before tomorrow.
Bringing the red card to her lips, and blushing furiously, "Relax. It's just a piece of paper. It's just paper," Annis kissed the red card, still surprised at the flurry of red petals that appeared and the wind that rushed from the card and sent her hair flying away from her face while ruffling her blazer and skirt.
She opened the eyes she had unconsciously closed during the kiss (why did she close her eyes, damnit? It wasn't like she was kissing a person! It was just. A. Card.) and found Kaede standing in front of her, red roses falling from the sky all around him.
A part of her hadn't believed that it would work, and so for a moment she stood stunned at the sight.
But Kaede's unusual appearance broke her out of her surprise, "Wait, what are you wearing?" It wasn't that she didn't know what he was wearing, but rather couldn't understand why he was wearing that. For Kaede was comfortably sporting a gi and hakama, tied loosely at the waist and the open robe-like shirt displaying his muscled chest. It looked like the kind of thing a rather nonchalant monk would wear at the temple.
A small voice inside Annis told her he looked very sexy in those formal clothes, but she quickly beat that voice into submission and told it that it was not welcome. No matter how broad and firm and muscular his chest was this was Kaede. He wasn't sexy.
"Huh? I was just helping out around the house." Kaede answered, voice deep and definitely-not-sexy-Annis-don't-even-go-there.
So they're summoned in real-time then, the obviously more logical part of Annis thought. Interesting.
"That's right. You live in a shrine, don't you?" While Annis and Kaede had never been incredibly close, they had been classmates for a few years. They knew some things about each other, and this was one of them. She had never been to his family shrine, but she had always been curious.
"Yeah, that's right." Kaede looked around, spotting the garbage bins around her before scrunching his nose in disgust. "I'm out of here."
"What?" She had just called him and he was already leaving? He wasn't even going to hear her out? "I summoned you here so you could help me!"
"Hell no. Do it yourself."
Annis was getting slightly desperate, and in a louder tone than she meant, ordered, "Just look for it with me!" Before she understood what was happening, the black stem-like whip with thorns on it that had appeared when she last issued an order surged from her pinky finger and wrapped itself around Kaede's neck. It looked like a collar, much like her choker once had, except this one had a visible leash that connected the collar to the owner, in this case her.
Horrified with her own actions, Annis immediately mentally ordered the stem-like whip to disappear, slightly surprised to find it immediately obeyed her. She didn't want to force anyone to do anything, even the rude Kaede.
She wouldn't force him, but she still really needed his help.
"Kaede, please." One of her small hands gripped the sleeve of his robe, pulling at it lightly. When Kaede looked at her, he was surprised to find the usually confident and exasperating Yamamoto Annis looking down sadly, long pink hair shadowing her eyes. "I can't – I need – I need to find that choker before my father comes back." She looked up then, and Kaede sucked in a breath at the intensity of her rose-colored stare, "Please."
Damn, he hadn't meant to make her beg like that. Seeing her pleading felt wrong to him somehow, as though left was suddenly right, or as though the Earth had started spinning in the opposite direction. It just wasn't supposed to happen and made his skin crawl a bit.
Kaede had just expected Annis to order him to do it and that would be that. But this- this was too much.
Running a hand through his wine red hair, Kaede looked away from the girl still clutching at his sleeve, a light pink dusting his cheeks.
"Fine, woman, I'll help you." The red knight answered, "Just- Just stop looking at me like that."
Annis blinked. She hadn't realized she was looking at him in a particular way. But if it got him to do what she wanted, then she'd make a mental note of her expression to try to recreate it.
She said she was against forcing people to do things, not manipulating them so they would. There was a difference.
"So, uh…" Annis started awkwardly, "I take it you're not planning on using your magic to find my choker, huh?"
"Of course not. There are some things my magic can and can't do. And finding things is on the 'can't' list."
They were both rummaging in the bushes near where Ninufa had knocked into her, and where they had first realized her choker was gone. It was already close to nighttime, the sky significantly darker, and Annis couldn't help but appreciate that Kaede was still here with her. She hadn't expected that from him.
"So what can your magic do?" She asked curiously. There was still so much she needed to learn about the Rose Knights and even her own role as the Rosette Dominion.
"My specialty is attack magic, actually."
"What can the other knights do?"
"I don't really know everything," Kaede started, "But I do know that the white knight focuses on defense and healing-" He stopped at seeing her slight blush at the mention of the student council president.
"So you're into guys like that, huh…"
"It's- it's not like I'm in love with him or anything," Annis quickly defended, shooting Kaede an earnest look, "I just admire him. You have to admit he's really good at school, and at sports, and he's always nice to everyone no matter who they are…"
In a lightning quick movement, Kaede had stolen her white rose card (how had he even known where to get it? Could the knights sense where their counterparts' cards were?) and pressed it to her lips. "Stop wasting your breath, and just tell him yourself," He grunted.
Annis would have cursed him, but was interrupted by the flurry of white roses that appeared, and with them her white knight.
Tenjou was kneeling in front of her, dressed in European clothes that looked to be very expensive, complete with white gloves and shiny formal shoes.
If kneeling on the dirty school floor when he was dressed so nicely bothered Tenjou, there was no indication of it on his face. In fact, he seemed pleased to be there, "Good day to you, my Dominion." Tenjou gave one of those beautiful smiles he was so famous at school for, "My lady called, yes? I am honored."
Annis would have thought it to be sarcasm if it came from anyone else. But Tenjou just seemed to be one of those people that could say cheesy romantic lines and clearly mean them.
"You'd like me to assist you in your search for your missing choker, correct?"
"Yes…" Annis nodded shamefully. He probably had a million better things to do at the moment.
"Understood. This should be a fairly inexpensive task, then."
Inexpensive? She didn't really think it would cost him money to search for her choker with her. But maybe he was one of those people that believed that time was money?
Taking his phone out and quickly pressing a few numbers (was he calling a parent to tell them he'd be out for a few hours? Annis felt terrible making him drop everything and come like this), Tenjou waited a few seconds before speaking into the phone, "Hello, it's me. I need you to assemble 1,000 of our men to help look for…"
What? 1,000? In a surprising moment of perfect synchrony that would have annoyed both if they found out, Annis and Kaede had the exact same thought. Human-wave tactics?!
"Wait! Please, wait, Tenjou-sempai!" Annis called. She didn't want to disrupt 1,000 people just to look for her choker! That brought a whole new meaning to excessive!
Tenjou looked at her, surprised, "You disapprove?" he asked. "I was only going to assemble a few of our church's devotees."
What kind of church was this that a phone call could gather 1,000 people to look for a choker? That was clearly not normal.
Annis hurried to explain, "I really don't want to trouble you to that extent. And frankly, I would much prefer to avoid making a scene as much as possible-"
The pink-haired girl was interrupted by a loud clatter coming from the school building. She saw the silhouette of a girl running away as soon as she realized she had been spotted. Almost on instinct, Annis gave chase.
Once again, Annis found that her daily races with the disciplinary committee teacher were useful, as she steadily caught up with the fleeing girl.
There's something black in that girl's hand! Could it be the choker?
Behind her, Kaede cursed before running off after Annis, Tenjou close at his heels.
How on Earth is this girl this fast? She's so delicate-looking! Kaede couldn't help but think to himself slightly bitterly, memories of the race he lost in Middle School flashing through his mind.
The duo of girls, followed by the duo of guys ran up the stairs until the fleeing girl was cornered on the roof.
Finally, Annis caught up with her, grabbing her shoulder, "Just a second." Could this girl have her choker? Would she finally be able to find it? "Please, let me see what you have in your hand-"
"Give it a rest already!" The girl shoved an uncomprehending Annis off of her, "Just what's your problem, anyway?!" The girl pushed Annis away forcefully, catching the pinkette off-guard, making her teeter at the edge of the school roof.
"Annis!" She could see Kaede running towards her, faster than he had ever run before, arm reaching out to grab her. Their fingers brushed against each other, but it was too late.
Annis felt herself fall, watching almost distantly the horrified faces of Kaede and the unknown girl. To think she didn't even know the name of the person responsible for her death. She guessed she'd just blame the choker.
I'm falling again, Annis thought. I hope Kaede doesn't feel too bad about my death.
She wondered if anyone would miss her. Yumiko, Sakura, and she hung out a lot, but she wouldn't necessarily describe them as close. She hadn't truly confided in them the way she imagined she would to someone closer to her. She didn't know her Rose Knights, and if anything she was sure they would be relived to be rid of such a useless Rosette Dominion, whatever that was supposed to be anyway. Her father missing her was a laughable concept. He'd probably only feel anger at her disobeying him once he saw her corpse without a choker. If he even deigned to visit her after her death.
Ninufa had gotten attached to her, though. So maybe he'd miss her.
"O fair white roses…" Was that Tenjou's voice? "Hold our princess in your embrace."
There was a rush of white light and white rose petals, and suddenly Annis was being held in Tenjou's strong arms.
"Are you unharmed, my lady?" Tenjou's voice cut through her dazed post-being-pushed-off-a-building-and-thinking-she-was-going-to-die state.
"I- yes. Thank you." Annis managed. Realizing she was still being held in the president's arms as though she weighed nothing, she flushed. "Please put me down, sempai."
"Oi, Annis." Kaede arrived at the sight, dragging the girl who had pushed her behind him. Discreetly, he checked to see if she was visibly hurt anywhere. It wouldn't do for her to think he cared. "What do you want to do with this one?"
Annis looked at the girl who almost managed to kill her and all she could feel was pity. The poor girl was sobbing and kept repeating the word 'sorry' over and over again.
"I just want to understand," Annis's voice was gentle so as to not further scare the girl. "I don't even know you. Why would you do something like that?"
The girl's response was instantaneous, "Seeing the way President Tenjou treated you so specially, I just couldn't stand it anymore!"
Annis sweatdropped. She knew that being seen publicly with Tenjou would ruin her brief choker-less moments of peace!
"I was such a fool…" The girl continued, "This morning, I almost convinced myself to give him this love letter… but I threw it out, before I could embarrass myself!" Annis looked at the black thing the girl still had clutched tightly in her hands. So it wasn't a choker, but instead a love letter. The pink-haired girl thought this was incredibly unfair. Who sent black love letters anyway? That was just made to be confusing. "Butyou went out of your way, fishing around through the garbage just to find it!" The girl's tone turned angry, "Just so you could show it and all have a good laugh at my expense, is that it?" The girl started tearing up again, but this time they seemed to be tears of frustration, "So I tried over and over again to get you to stop by playing mean tricks on you, but…"
So she's also the one who has been responsible for all of these accidents I've been having…
"Look, girl," Annis belatedly realized that she still didn't know this girl's name. 'Girl' would have to do for now. "I have better things to do than search trash cans for your love letter all day. And I don't think exposing it to the school would be funny. I was just looking for my blasted choker that I lost."
The girl was frozen in shock. "R-really?" she asked. Her gaze travelled down to Annis's neck. "It's true that the school has been wondering why you stopped wearing it all of a sudden… There was a lot of conflict in the fan club because of it…" She muttered. Annis wasn't sure what she was talking about. Why would the school care about her choker? And what fan club? "So all this time you've just been looking for your choker?"
"Absolutely. I didn't even know you had written a love letter."
The girl blanched, as though finally going over all she had done. "I am so sorry, Annis-sama! I completely misunderstood the situation!"
Annis sighed and was about to reassure the poor girl, but was stopped by a voice from behind.
"Is that all?" Tenjou's question was unexpected to both Annis and the girl, and caused the latter to flinch. Tenjou approached the pair before stopping right in front of the girl, "Do you honestly believe such a thing is capable of wooing anyone?"
Annis wasn't sure what was happening, but felt somehow that this moment would change everything…
And it did.
"To love is to serve! I have dedicated all that I have to that service, and now, this body of mine belongs to her alone, to do with as she wishes! She may step on me, flog me, leave me alone to die! I'll do anything to serve her! A SLAVE to the roses!" Tenjou melodramatically put on a pained expression, and one gloved hand covered his face in anguish. "I am nothing but a pitiable wretch of a man, his fate tied exclusively to that of the wild rose of love!
Sparkles appeared behind the president as he finally looked up from his tormented pose, tears glistening in his blue eyes, "Aaaah, but in spite of all that… Nothing could ever fill me with as much joy as I feel now! So please, Miss, could you find it in your heart to forgive me for my inability to respond to your feelings!"
The girl sobbed tears of admiration and was developing a dangerous case of hero-worship, "President! To think you were so serious about love!"
"Could you possibly overlook what you've witnessed today?"
"YES! ABSOLUTELY!" The girl cried, "I had no idea! I'm so ashamed of myself! I'LL RETURN ONCE I'VE LEARNED WHAT LOVE REALLY IS!" And she dashed away.
The president is grossing me out.
Annis's image of a white knight or prince shattered, leaving behind only an overly dramatic man with a servant fetish. Or was it a mistress fetish? No, this was the desire to be punished or humiliated in some way, wasn't it? She had heard of humiliation play before, where one partner derives pleasure from belittling the other, or when one partner takes satisfaction from being degraded, but she had never seen it…
"So that's…" Kaede was wearing a disturbed expression. Annis imagined it was probably like looking at a mirror. He seemed to hesitate before continuing, and Annis remembered that he thought she liked Tenjou, "Uh, you're into that stuff?"
Annis's expression became more disturbed, if possible. That, more than anything else, reassured Kaede. "Uh… Er, no… Really, just…" Annis stared at the president, still disbelieving.
"Come, Mistress, won't you allow me the pleasure of soothing your worries with my overwhelming radiance?" Tenjou exclaimed dramatically, "Just say the word!"
You know what? I take it all back. I really am being punished, aren't I?
Chapter 5: The Antique Shop
Disclaimer: I do not own Barajou no Kiss.
Annis stared at the screen of her phone, not sure if she should feel relieved or irritated.
She settled on a mixture of both.
Blaring at her from her phone screen were the words:
'I apologize, I was cut off. I meant to say I am sending home some of my things tomorrow, so take care of them for me – Your Father.'
To think that she had rummaged through garbage desperately all day yesterday for no reason. Which had then led to her chasing a girl who decided black was the ideal color for a love letter, thinking it was her choker. Which had led to her being pushed off a building by that same girl. And then to the very unwelcome realization that the president, whom she was starting to have a crush on, was into humiliation play.
Well, perhaps it wasn't all entirely for nothing. The entire thing showed her that she had to find her choker anyways, as her father would have to come back someday, no matter how much of a neglectful parent he was. And when he came back, Annis would have to have that choker.
She was too frightened of what her father would do if he found her without it.
So the search for the choker continues, Annis sighed. At least I won't have to look through trash anymore; fairly certain I covered all bins the choker could possibly be in yesterday.
"Annis, are you even listening?" One of her classmates huffed.
Annis was at school, sitting at her desk and for the first time in her life wishing that class would just start already. The reason for this was that ever since she stepped foot on school ground, dozens of girls, that she knew and that she didn't (some of them weren't even from this school) had kept hounding her for information.
Currently, all of the girls in her class were surrounding her desk. At any angle Annis turned her head, she was faced with female bodies. There was nowhere to run, so Annis had resorted to ignoring them.
The strategy wasn't working as well as she would've liked.
"Come on, Annis~" Another of her classmates insisted, "Spill the beans already, wouldja?"
And, of course, they were asking about her and Tenjou.
"Yes! Tell us about how you two met!" In a dungeon under the library after I magically summoned him from a card.
"Is he a good kisser?" It was like kissing paper – actually, exactly like kissing paper. It's a card.
"Did he take you on a fancy date? It feels like he'd take a girl out on a fancy date." Yea, sure, if chasing after a crazy fangirl and then falling off the school building in the creepy hours of the night is a fancy date.
"Did he take you to his place?" Whoa whoa whoa. Waaaay too fast there, girl.
Annis was half-tempted to reveal the truth of Tenjou's humiliation fetish and put a stop to all those disgustingly dreamy sighs whenever his name was mentioned, but figured it wasn't her place to air someone else's private… preferences. Besides, they probably wouldn't believe her anyway.
Or, a horrifying yet suspiciously accurate part of her brain supplied, all of the girls would then convert and join the world of humiliation play.
"You two are actually so cute together." One of the girls squealed. God, I hope not.
"Did you meet at some sort of models' convention? Are you and the president going to model together?!" What? That is flattering, but really far-fetched, no?
"C'mon, C'mon!" A brown-haired girl piped in.
"Tell us all the little details!"
The pink-haired girl looked around at the girls' eager faces and decided that the ignoring tactic was really just not working.
"Girls," Annis's tone was unamused, "Tenjou-sempai and I are not dating, we have not kissed, and I most certainly did not go to his place. Our greeting yesterday was him being polite. Nothing more." Annis gave a look around to make sure people got her point, and was relieved to hear the school bell ring, "Besides, that's the school bell. So I suggest you all sit down and get ready for class before Itsushi-sensei scolds you."
She thought she heard one of them chuckle perversely and mutter, "I wouldn't mind it if Itsushi-sensei scolded me," but they all thankfully went back to their desks.
Yumika, who was her desk neighbor in class, leaned over her desk so that she was practically on top of Annis's, her black hair serving as a short of curtain between the two girls and the rest of the class.
"So, what really happened? Is he good in bed?" She whispered.
Annis went red, the blush reaching the tips of her ears. "Yumika!" Annis strangled out, "We didn't sleep together! There's nothing between us!"
And then, as if the universe was determined to screw with her, Tenjou appeared.
"Lady Annis!" He entered the room with a bam, sparkles mysteriously manifesting themselves behind him to create a sort of halo for his blonde hair. His expression was molded into one of such adoration, Annis could barely contain a shiver of disgust.
"Tenjou! What are you doing? Class has started!" Annis whisper-shouted. She sensed this was a poor argument to use since the school seemed to bend itself to the president's every whim, but it was all she could think of at the moment.
"These bells shall never hold power over me, for in this dirty, foul, wicked heart of mine, only the Rose of your command is law!"
God, he's grossing me out. How is no one else seeing this?
"Annis, you sly dog." Yumika grinned lecherously.
Annis turned to Yumika to tell her once again that she was wrong and there was nothing happening between her and Tenjou, but closed her mouth soundlessly. Yumika wasn't her priority right now. Tenjou was. She needed him out of here!
Annis rushed out of her desk and stopped in front of where Tenjou was standing by the class door. Hopefully by stopping him from stepping any further into the classroom she could push him out before he drew any more attention. And ruins my normal high school life before it even begins!
"Tenjou!" Annis was so flustered she missed the president's pleased expression at being referred to with no honorifics. "Would you stop saying this 'order' and 'command' stuff in front of people?" How had no one found out about his fetish for humiliation play before this when he was so blatant about it?
"Ah, my lady," Tenjou started, and Annis knew she wasn't going to like what came out of his mouth next, "I was just so overcome with the thought that you'd already used me that I simply couldn't restrain myself…" He trailed off, pink dusting his cheeks.
What the hell? Is he blushing? Annis stared, horrified. And he's making it sound like I took his virtue or something!
Annis nearly tipped forward by the sheer force of the squeals that sounded behind her.
Of course, the whole class had been paying attention to their conversation.
And they had definitely misunderstood.
Slowly, like a child who knows the monster from his nightmares is behind them and that by turning around he will make it more real but simply can't resist out of a macabre curiosity, Annis turned to look at the rest of her class.
"We wanna do that kinda stuff with President Tenjou, too~!" As though they had practiced this before, all the girls in class shouted in perfect synchrony, followed by high-pitched squeals and general mutterings about how great Tenjou was.
Annis even thought she heard a few saying how they wanted her to do that stuff with them, but dismissed it as her having misheard.
Somehow, Annis's gaze zeroed in on Yumika, her traitor of a friend, who was staring at the blonde and pink-haired pair, chuckling lecherously while blood oozed out of one of her nostrils.
Annis moved to push Tenjou out of the classroom before he could further destroy her normal school life, but flinched at the sudden pressure that applied on her right wrist.
His chest was hard.
And damn, her wrist hurt. It was still injured from the previous day, when the girl (who pushed her off a goddamn building) tried to make a bookcase fall on top of her and caused her to fall on her wrist at a bad angle.
At Annis's flinch, Tenjou's mood abruptly shifted, like a switch had been flipped, and instead of the happy, sparkly, gross aura he entered the classroom in, now his eyes were serious.
Her white knight quickly and yet somehow gently grabbed her wrist, cradling it in his hand. Slowly, he pushed the sleeve of her blazer up, revealing the white bandages around her wrist.
"How did this occur, my lady?" His voice was so serious Annis could barely recognize it, the shock at his sudden change in attitude making it hard to process what he was saying.
"Hm?"Annis looked distractedly at her hurt wrist. It had hurt her a bit last night, but she'd had much worse. In fact, Annis had completely forgotten about it in the commotion of the morning. "Oh, it's nothing. I sprained it a bit when a book hit me on the head and I fell the wrong way. I'll be good as new in a few days." She looked up at him with a bright, reassuring smile (temporarily forgetting how disgusting she found him) only to pause at the frown on his face. Annis's eyes widened. She didn't think she had ever seen any expression other than a charming, princely smile on Tenjou's face.
"I did not realize that girl had succeeded in hurting you, my lady," Tenjou muttered, and Annis's eyes widened slightly in surprise that he had made that intuitive – and accurate – leap. She hadn't mentioned the girl, yet he knew immediately that it was because of her that she was hurt. Well, she supposed he was top of his year for a reason.
Tenjou's brows creased in an expression of regret – and was that anger in his eyes? – that Annis had never seen before. "If I had known I would not have let her get away so easily."
Annis would have laughed at him and his corny line, but there was something in his voice that made her utterly believe him.
There was a darkness in Tenjou's expression that worried Annis. Not for herself, but for the girl. As though there was a lot the president was capable of that he was simply hiding from the rest of the world.
And that girl might be unfortunate enough to see it.
Instinctively, Annis knew she had to say something, lest the girl mysteriously go missing sometime over the next few weeks. She knew the president wouldn't kill the girl, of course, but there was the sense that there might be… unfortunate consequences should she not do anything, "It was an accident. I'm sure she didn't mean to actually hurt me, just warn me away from you."
His frown deepened, if anything, "But she still managed to injure you-"
"It does not hurt, my white knight," Annis smiled softly at him, using his official name in order to distract him. "I do not wish to speak of it any longer."
"Very well," With one last serious look to her wrist, he smiled disgustingly once more. "Now, my lady," And Annis knew that they were back to their old relationship dynamic, where he'd be disgusting and she'd be disgusted, "I, your humble servant, have worked tirelessly all night to provide you with these. They are proofs of the fires of my desperate devotion to you."
From one of his pockets, the president offered her a stack of photos. On closer perusal, Annis found that they were stacks of different black chokers with roses on them.
"Do any of the chokers in these photos resemble the one for which you search?"
"You sure did find a lot…" Annis was a little overwhelmed by the sheer thickness of the stack. That was a lot of chokers.
"For you, my Dominion, I would spare no expense," Tenjou smiled at her, and Annis felt herself smiling back at him, a little touched.
"Well, Mistress? Is the radiance of my charity not at its blinding peak now that I am-" Annis drowned him out. Considerate as he may be, he was still so gross.
Ignoring Tenjou, she continued filing through the chokers, checking to see if any matched hers.
Not this one.
God, some people have no taste.
This one has a lily, not a rose.
Who would buy this atrocity?
She stopped flipping through the photos of chokers when a small tingle went through her spine.
When Annis looked up, she was met with the sight of the infamous Kaname Mutsuki, her black knight. His black hair and red eyes were still as striking as ever, and he was even taller than Tenjou.
The student president had spotted him as well, "Aaah, Mutsuki. Perfect timing." He waved the black knight closer, "Come here."
For a moment, Annis pitied her black knight. He had probably been innocently walking through the corridor, minding his own business, only to have the very bad luck of getting Tenjou's (gross) attention and all the chaos that came with it.
The venomous glare Mutsuki sent her and Tenjou's way quickly erased the feeling of pity, however.
Mutsuki remained silent for a moment before answering, "How unusual for you to speak to me on school grounds."
"Oh? I'm sorry, you weren't getting lonely, were you?" Tenjou mocked.
"Don't waste your breath."
So they knew each other before that night in the dungeon… Annis thought. What an unlikely pair. The princely student president and the dangerous possible delinquent.
From inside her classroom, the whispering started.
"Are you for real? You mean the guy everyone's been talking about is him?"
"Yeah, they say if you meet his eyes you'll be cursed."
"Isn't he like a huge delinquent? Like, the 'King of all delinquents' delinquent?"
"God, I've got such a thing for bad boys."
Annis frowned. She had gotten used to people whispering about her behind her back (she had also been called Queen of Delinquents once, strangely enough. Alongside the rumors of her being the yakuza heir, as well as foreign noble wanting a normal high school life), so she could sympathize with Mutsuki.
It was annoying, the whispering.
And terribly, horribly alienating.
"Oi!" Annis shouted at the class, silencing them. "Your whispering sucks. It's so loud the people in the next town over can hear you. And your theories are all shit. Cursed for looking into his eyes? What are you, five?" She gave a stern glare (that she hoped had even a fraction of the intimidation power of her black knight's glare) to her classmates, cowing them into submission. "You should all stop making such unfounded assumptions about people. If you have absolutely nothing constructive to say, as is apparently the case, then shut up and be quiet."
With a loud bang, Annis slammed the class door shut, leaving her alone in the corridor with Tenjou and Mutsuki.
Looking at the slightly widened eyes of her two knights, Annis fought down a blush of embarrassment at her outburst. She knew that telling people off like that wouldn't stop the whispering for long, if anything there would be more once people got over her outburst, but she couldn't help herself. For some reason she felt oddly… protective… of her knights.
In order to conceal her embarrassment, Annis looked through the pile of choker photos in her hand again, taking the opportunity to compose herself, before handing them back to Tenjou.
"Thank you for your help, Tenjou, but it doesn't look like my choker is in any of these pictures."
Her two knights seemed to have used the time she spent looking through choker pictures to school their surprised expressions as well, so that both no longer looked surprised.
"My lady, you need not thank me! Every act, every breath, every beat of my heart is for you! To thank me for aiding you is akin to thanking a sunflower for turning to the sun, or the wind for rustling the trees!" Tenjou declared dramatically. See if Annis ever thanked him again, the idiot. Looking down at the stack of chokers again, Tenjou turned thoughtful, "But it is truly a shame that none of these are your choker. In that case, Mutsuki-kun of the Black Rose," He turned to the man he had addressed so formally, "Perhaps you could be of some assistance? Lady Annis is searching for a certain choker. If you would hear her out-"
"Don't be absurd," Mutsuki interrupted. "I have no intentions of accepting this wench as my Mistress." And with those flowery rose, the black-haired man walked away.
Wench, is it? Annis huffed. Who even uses that word anymore? What, are we in a historical drama and someone forgot to tell me?
Annis felt an eyebrow twitch, but pushed down her irritation. It was his right to not accept her as a mistress. Hell, she wouldn't accept herself as a mistress. The only one who seemed to accept it was Tenjou, and he had a weird fetish.
Speaking of the devil…
"PRESIDENT TENJOUUUUU!" The high-pitched squeal that seemed to be only replicable if you were part of the select group called fangirls echoed through the corridor.
Honestly, does no one attend class anymore? The bell rang a few minutes ago, the more academic part of Annis couldn't help but disapprove, completely disregarding the fact that she was also skipping class at the moment.
Behind the president was a stampede of raging fangirls, each running to get to Tenjou first. And were those… chokers in their hands?
"We found the rose chokers just like you asked us to, President!" One of the girls breathed out.
They were! Every fangirl proudly thrust out the rose chokers in their hands, each one gaudier than the last, and none of which looked like Annis's.
By the time they were done, there was a huge pile of chokers in front of her. It wasn't even only chokers. The girls had brought anything that had a rose on it – from mirrors decorated with roses to… was that just a badly done drawing of a rose? Some girl must have gotten desperate to find something rose-related she could present to Tenjou and decided to just draw… That was pretty sad, actually. Either way, the pile in front of her was so big Annis could do nothing but emit a soft "Woaaah".
"Da-a-mn…" The voice was much too close to her ear for comfort, and Annis could feel the person's breath on her neck, sending tingles down her spine.
Annis quickly turned around, only to find none other than Kaede leaning over her, his tall frame dwarfing her smaller one.
Well, obviously I'm the only one who takes school seriously here.
The wine-colored knight grinned in amusement at her surprise at seeing him so close and held up one of the uglier chokers from the pile. It had a stuffed cat who seemed to be as disgusted with the whole display as she was in the middle of the rose petals, and the choker band was a blinding shade of neon pink, "Hey, what about this one? It's totally you."
Annis felt an eyebrow twitch, and unlike the time with her black knight, didn't resist. She hit Kaede on the shoulder, and turned around, ignoring his loud "Ow!".
Unfortunately, this brought her face to face with her class. The door she had oh so dramatically slammed had been opened (presumably by Kaede in order for him to get to her, the bastard) and now she was faced with the flushed faces of all of her classmates.
Seemingly forgetting their fear of Annis in the face of a possible budding romance between her and the beloved student president, they squealed.
"No way! Don't tell me it was a present from President Tenjou!" Sakura, one of her closest friends, squeaked, "Omigosh, Annis! You lucky girl!"
"No! Sakura, it's not like that!" Annis panicked. Sakura was usually the more reasonable one of her friends, especially compared to her other close friend, Yumika, who was a total pervert. If even Sakura was starting to buy into this, then that meant Annis's chances of anyone believing the truth were getting dire indeed.
Annis's protests were interrupted by the sheer chaos around her.
Next to the squeals and loud speculations (that she really didn't want to hear. She stopped listening once one of them started saying that Tenjou was courting her, and they were engaged to be married since birth), was the president himself who was surrounded by aggressive fangirls, each of them fighting with each other for his attention.
Next to Kaede and her, seemingly out of nowhere, appeared Seiran, "It sure sounds like everyone's having a lot of fun in here…" His voice was as soft as usual, and Annis felt the strange desire to protect him from the sheer chaos that was raining down around them.
A part of her was slightly disappointed. She was so sure that Seiran-kun was the studious type! Maybe he was simply out of his classroom to go to the bathroom?
"Hey," Kaede seemed similarly confused with her blue knight's presence in front of their classroom, "Didn't you say you were in the class next over, or something?"
Seiran wasn't even in their grade…
Of course, Seiran's presence only added to the chaos. Not the quiet boy himself, of course, but rather people's reaction to him.
People as in her ever-gossiping classmates who could see everything that was happening because of the still open door. Damn it, Kaede.
"Eh?! Even Asagi-kun's here!"
"He's so cute!"
"Tenjou is so dreamy!"
"Annis has a harem!"
Yumika's lecherous grin got even bigger, if possible, and her nose started bleeding again, "Annis, you beast!"
"Damn it, Yumika, It's not like that!"
Predictably, Annis's cries fell on deaf ears.
Annis had her arms crossed over her chest, her eyes serious.
She wasn't budging on this.
Tenjou opened his mouth, but Annis stopped him before any sound could come out.
"No, Tenjou. No." She shook her head for emphasis, "I am not getting in your limousine."
And indeed, behind Tenjou stood a pristine white limousine, the driver in a full tux and awaiting Tenjou's – and apparently her – orders.
Of course, this couldn't possibly happen anywhere other than right in front of the school's main gates, so Annis could already hear the mutterings of her fellow students around her. She just knew Yumika would make a perverted comment tomorrow.
"I don't even understand why you have a limousine. Or why it's coming to pick us up from school."
"I simply wish to transport my lady home. This is how I go home every day."
Of course it was. Why wouldn't it be? This was Tenjou.
"No. Tenjou. No." Annis wasn't giving in. "I've already told you not to talk to me during the day," Something she had decided on after this morning's chaos, but was fairly sure wasn't going to change anything, "In order to avoid attention. This is exactly the kind of thing that will gain even more attention." And say good-bye to her normal high school life.
"Milady, please, you needn't be so distant! If you would only call me 'Mitsuru' without any honorific!"
"You are clearly not getting my point. That'll only make things worse!"
This back and forth continued in much the same manner for the next ten minutes, until Annis was so frustrated she was tempted to just get in the limousine to shut the president up. Or maybe destroy the limousine. Thankfully, Tenjou seemed to remember something and changed the topic.
"Concerning Mutsuki, by the way," the white night started, "If you're interested, his- That is, the Black Rose's forte lies in the field of investigation."
Annis immediately understood where he was going with it. So the black knight could theoretically investigate and find the location of my choker, then. Annis sighed, This would be so much simpler if he didn't look like he hates me.
"It is… difficult to place a name to my specialty, but I suppose you could call it 'Protection', as well as the derivatives thereof," Tenjou continued with his explanation. This made sense. So the black knight was 'investigation', the white knight 'protection', and she remembered Kaede saying he specialized in attack techniques… She wondered what Seiran's specialty was.
"Mutsuki is…" Tenjou paused, as though considering something, "Well, why not try summoning him once to see for yourself what he's like?" He asked. "I think you'll find he's quite the intriguing character."
Annis swore the smile on Tenjou's face was borderline sadistic. She really hoped that wasn't another fetish of his.
"Aaaah, but at the thought that someone other than myself would be receiving your kiss, flames of jealousy burn throughout my body!"
"Tenjou. Go burn. Away from me."
At a ring from his jacket pocket, Tenjou took out his phone and checked something. "Your pardon. Apparently the Antique Shop over in the sixth ward has placed a rose choker up for sale."
He showed her the photo on his phone, and Annis gasped. It looked exactly like hers!
"Somebody must have picked it up off the ground and sold it to that shop."
"It certainly is a possibility," Tenjou agreed.
Annis didn't waste another second. Ignoring the limousine (which would probably take even longer than walking at a snail's pace anyway), Annis ran out of school towards the Antique shop. She had to make sure she got there before anyone else bought the choker.
Not that she thought anyone else would buy the thing, really. She had taken so long to get rid of it she couldn't think of anyone who would actually want it if they weren't being threatened at gunpoint (or by their father) to wear it.
Finally, heaving, Annis arrived at a quaint little shop with 'Antiques' written proudly on the front. She felt oddly grateful once more to the disciplinary committee member who religiously chased her every morning while she still wore a choker. Without her, Annis wouldn't have been able to run all the way from school to the antiques shop in such a short amount of time. The pink-haired girl made a mental note to get the woman flowers, then laughed. The disciplinary committee member would probably faint at getting flowers from the girl she'd openly declared to be her sworn nemesis.
Taking a minute to compose herself from her run, Annis's fingers combed through her pink tresses and vainly attempted to smooth out some wrinkles in her uniform. It wouldn't do to look like a delinquent when entering the shop.
Finally deeming herself presentable, Annis opened the antique shop and was hit by the smell of wood, parchment, and simply age. That smell that couldn't be quite pinpointed, but that let you know irrevocably that something was had been here for a long time. The smell that belonged in libraries, museums, your grandmother's dusty house, and, of course, antique stores. Taking a cursory glance around, Annis saw many grandfather clocks, wooden furniture, masks, and other seemingly random antique memorabilia.
She walked around the room, the history nerd inside her fascinated by all the antiques she found. Oh, if only they could speak, imagine the stories they could tell!
Then, at the back of the room, on a high shelf, she saw it.
Looking a little lower, she spotted the ominous sign the choker sported.
Sold?! Annis gasped, But how? Who would want such an ugly, cursed thing? No one wears chokers in Japan anymore anyway, except for gangs and really out there fashionistas!
The pinkette calmed herself. Maybe it wasn't her choker. Maybe it was just an exact replica of her choker, although why someone would want to create one of those things, much less two, was a mystery to her.
I just have to make sure it's really mine.
With measured steps, Annis approached the shelf. Slowly, as to not lose balance, she stood on the tips of her toes and stretched her arm up in an attempt to grab the choker.
I can't reach it, Annis grumbled. Why does the shelf have to be so freaking high?
For not the first time in her life, Annis cursed her short stature. Why did she have to be so short when almost all of her knights were depressingly tall? Kaede, Tenjou, and Kurama were all so huge – especially Kurama. She was fairly sure he was more than a head taller than her. If she could have even an inch – not even an inch, just a few centimeters! – of his height she'd never complain about anything ever again! The black knight probably wouldn't even notice, the bastard. He'd still unfairly tower over everybody. Even Seiran was taller than her! It was only by a few centimeters, sure, but he was a first year. And he was rather short for his age. It was enough to drive a girl to drink.
And boys continue to grow until they're at least eighteen! Sometimes until they're twenty-five! Annis complained internally, While we girls reach our adult height at fifteen or sixteen! I'm already sixteen! I'm going to be short forever!
Eyeing the inconsiderately high shelf as though it was somehow its fault that Annis was so unjustly vertically challenged, Annis resisted the urge to kick the wood until the choker fell from the shelf.
Then and there Annis decided that she'd start a protest of the short people. She'd pass a law. Every shop would have to have a mandatory stool for short people to use to reach high places that people like Kaedecould get to with no problem.
Resigning herself to forgoing any dignity she had left, Annis bent her knees and started hopping up and down to try to reach the choker. Each time, she came close, even touching the 'SOLD' sign a few times, but never managing to bring it down.
"Who's there?!" A crotchety old man holding an antiquated duster appeared seemingly out of nowhere, making Annis freeze in surprise. The expression on the man's face said he was clearly not happy with her. "Just what do you think you're doing, you delinquent?!"- oh, honestly, why did everyone insist on thinking she was a delinquent? She didn't have her choker anymore! Was it something about her face that just screamed 'prone to violence'? – "That item has already been purchased! See?" He pointed at the sign. "SOLD! SOLD! So keep your paws off of it!" He gave her an accusing glare she was sure he had intimidated several other young people with, "Get out! You'd better not show your face around here ever again!"
Annis didn't move. Instead, she straightened her posture, coming to her full – if rather unimpressive – height. Her hands came together at her front delicately but sternly, and her hair was pushed back so that there was nothing guarding the rude shopkeeper from her glare. She looked to all the world like an affluent young woman instead of the unruly teenage girl she had seemed while hopping up and down after her choker. The transformation was sudden, but a practiced one. It was not the first time Annis had had to do this to escape unsavory situations. There was a reason there were rumours about her being a rich young ojou-sama, after all.
Putting on her best unimpressed rich lady face, Annis looked down her nose at the rude shopkeeper.
"Are you quite done?" She asked in her best arrogant drawl, a perfectly sculpted brow raised as if to say You are so beneath my notice I cannot believe you are even deigning to speak to me in anything but a worshipful tone.
"If this is the way you treat all of your prospective customers, sir," the last word was uttered with not so subtle mocking, "I am unsurprised at the disrepair this place has suffered." She eyed the room contemptuously and sniffed in faux disgust, "The floor creaks, the antiques look like they are a day away from disintegrating, that is if they are not already broken, there is dust everywhere, and the service is certainly… lacking." She sent him a condescending smile, "but I suppose it can be passed off as some quaint antique charm." Seeing as the shopkeeper, who had evidently been expecting an easily cowed high school girl and not someone who could very well be a customer, was gaping at her in shocked silence, Annis felt her point had been made. She had no patience for those who were rude to her for no discernable reason. "Now, if you are ready to speak like a civilized person, then I will accept a glass of water."
"I- Yes, Miss, of course."
Well that was easier than I thought. Annis breathed a sigh of relief as she saw the man rush away, presumably to get her a glass of water, All those years of having to escape troubles caused by my choker have made me into an expert bullshitter.
When the shopkeeper came back, Annis took dainty sips from the glass of water, condescending rich young lady persona in place, while exchanging polite conversation with the shopkeeper.
"Would it be possible for me to look at that choker?" Annis finally asked.
"I'm afraid not, Ojou-sama." The man started nervously, wringing his hands. "I'm really sorry. It's store policy that already sold items are kept away from customers. The only reason it's on that shelf is because it was bought this very day. Once the day is done it will be put back into storage until the new owner comes to get it. But there's another selection of necklaces-" Annis tuned him out as he led her to another display with several antique necklaces.
I suppose that's not entirely unexpected, Annis sighed. It could be for situations just like mine. People who lost something looking for their lost item – if they can't buy it back, they'd be much more likely to try something, especially if it's old and of sentimental value. Not that my choker is.
Annis resolved she'd come back to the shop when there was a cover of darkness and take it. The man already said it'd be in storage by the end of the day, and given that there was only one backroom door, she'd take a wild guess and say that that was where it would be. Security in this place didn't look hard, either. At the very least, she saw no cameras.
This should be easy.
Annis spent around an hour looking at the other necklaces. The shopkeeper needed to associate her with something different from the choker. It would be too suspicious for her to come in looking for the choker, and then have it disappear that very night. She needed to act casually in regards to the choker, as though it was only a passing interest and not something she would contemplate theft for.
The girl made it a point to not look once at the choker, instead focusing solely on the display of necklaces in front of her. She ended up choosing a silver one with a delicate ruby pink diamond-shaped gem that matched her eyes. It was much smaller than the other necklaces on display, but still considerably expensive.
She hated using that man's money, but felt she had little choice.
If Annis bought an expensive necklace from the shopkeeper, he was less likely to suspect her of theft.
Annis also gave him a fake name, just in case, but was keenly aware of how few pink-haired people there were in Japan. Especially naturally pink-haired people. If the shopkeeper called the police, all they'd need is a hair description to find her.
Well, even then I'm only a possible suspect, made less probably by the fact that I bought something and seemed uninterested in the choker by the end of my stay. And nobody suspects the rich young ojou-sama.
As Annis left the store with her new purchase, she spent an idle moment thinking about how breaking and entering and theft was the first solution all those gangs that challenged her would have come up with, and how it was the first solution Annis thought of.
Perhaps delinquent-ness was contagious.
I'll worry about my morals later, Annis resolved. For now, I'm getting that choker back!