Mono No Aware

I was not born to live as others do, laughing, crying, loving and hating others.

I was a weapon, whose sole reason for existence was to destroy the Empire as it currently was.

And yet, one night, I allowed a moment of weakness to creep into my heart, and stir a maelstrom of memories which I thought were long forgotten.

As the shooting star streaked across the sky, I allowed myself to make a silly wish that was unbecoming of the weapon that I have willed myself to be.

"You have one day to live out that wish of yours."

Only pain awaited that wish.

"After that, you will return to your rightful destiny, alone."

But I wished it all the same.

I realised two things when I woke up, standing in the middle of the alleyway.

One, I did not remember who I was, and what had transpired in the previous nights and beyond. My name thankfully did not escape me, but those words were meaningless without an attached identity and significance. Even so, I remained calm. Frantic racing of emotions would only serve as an obstacle to obtaining my goal, which was to retrieve my lost memories.

Two, I did not belong here. The wrongness of where I was struck me immediately. It was a sharp intuition which was well practised and beyond the pathetic powers of mere amnesia. It deduced that I was not dreaming, for I could smell the cold and crisp autumn air, feel the breeze ruffling through the white frills of my black dress, and see the sunlight peeking over the peeled and graffiti-infested walls.

And since I wasn't dreaming, and since I didn't belong here, I had simply one thing to do.

I headed out of the alleyway in search of a way to get back to where I belonged.

It was still early morning when I found myself on the streets. Few vehicles eased their way along the roads, unhurried to their destinations. A scatter of people strolled on the boulevard, sheltered by the swaying, red canopy of maple leaves. A few birds rested on the telephone lines and burst into occasional song.

A weekend scene, or a city which found rushing about a redundant exercise of energy.

The low buildings with thatched roofs, kanji-painted road signs, and the overhead snatches of conversation, suggested that I was somewhere in Japan. The feeling of wrongness intensified; I knew for certain that it had been a long time since I last stepped foot in the country. I also knew for certain that this was a part of Japan that I have never ventured to before.

Either way, I began asking around. The few people subjected to my questioning gave me incredulous stares, as though I was insane.

"You mean you don't know where you are?"

"Girl, go find your tour guide before you come and ask us."

"You probably had a drink too many, go sleep it off."

"You may be a looker, but being mixed doesn't give you an excuse to forget part of your roots."

My glare silenced them. Those comments have hardly offended me. On the contrary, their bitter familiarity was almost comforting. I was merely irritated by the time wasted dithering in their one-sided banter.

Since asking the locals yielded nothing useful, I searched my skirt pockets for a possible mobile phone that would allow me to search for information unhindered by nonsense.

No such luck. I had nothing in my possession. I was a crazy girl who probably decided on one fine night to wear her favourite dress, fly all the way to Japan with no passport, no money and then concuss her memories away with a smashed beer bottle for good measure, logic be damned.


My stomach decided to growl and waste more of my time.

Doubly brilliant.

Before I could even plan a strategy to satiate my hunger, a distant cry caught my attention.

"Yagami-chan! I swear that it wasn't me!"

There was no doubt about it. It was a cry of an idiot.

And in close pursuit, another voice of an enraged girl.

"Who else would plant a bucket of water on top of the door?!"

The girl's voice was painfully familiar, even in this strange setting. It provoked a tsunami of images and sounds that I couldn't understand at that point of time.

A dark warehouse lit by little pockets of light… A wave of demonic cries demanding a purge… a knife slicing across a delicate, innocent throat … a ribbon spurt of blood through the air… and a chant of prayers screaming the same, endless refrain.

"You'll be okay!"

"You are my only friend!"

"You can't die!"

I shook my head furiously to ease the sudden vertigo, leaning against the telephone pole for support. The hallucination was an unwelcome additional problem that I had to contend with. Closing my eyes, I inhaled multiple deep breaths to steady myself.

In the meantime, the voices continued to argue, accompanied by the pitter-patter of approaching footsteps.

"Go ask Haiiro!"

"Duck-kun has given it an alibi!"

"You'd rather believe a toy than to believe me?!"

"Haiiro is not a pervert. You are!"

"Why would I go through all this trouble when I can just peek at you while you are changing?!"

"You. Are. So. Dead. Kenichi Bakahentailinger!"

"I am already dead! Haha, joke's on you, Yagami-chan! Haha, I will continue to yabaiiiii—"

I cut short the idiot's triumph of victory with an outstretched leg. Opening my eyes, I watched a man dressed ludicrously in a brown duster and fedora hat tumble and kiss the adjacent street walls. My eyes widened as the victim of the bucket prank caught up; a girl with a ponytail bent double, her azure eyes blazing, her breathing ragged, her already drenched shirt and track pants soaked further by beads of perspiration skating down her face and neck.

The feeling of familiarity intensified. I felt a faint prick in my chest, and a vague longing which I could not explain.

Time passed. A single maple leaf landed on my shoulder. I stood there, even though I knew that my job was done as an unwitting participant in this slapstick comedy.

I waited for the girl to regain her breath. I should be leaving instead of frittering around, yet an inexplicable desire kept me rooted to the ground.

I wanted to talk to her. I needed to talk to her.


"Thank you," the girl straightened her back, rested her hands on her hips, and smiled at me. "Without your help, I wouldn't have been able to—"

Her smile faded.



We spoke each other's names in unison. We had not introduced ourselves. Her visible confusion at knowing my name was as pronounced as mine.

The man extricated his face from the wall and winked at us.

"Oho, a long lost reunion between lovers that have forgotten about each other! It's time for me to deem a new canon ship called TsuYuri–"

A flying shoe smacked him back into kissing the wall for the second time.

"I apologise for his endless idiocy," Yuriko lowered her arm and stood on one leg. "I'm not quite sure why I know your name, since it's my first time meeting you. Tsukiko-san, am I correct?"

I nodded.

"There is no need for formalities. Just Tsukiko is okay."

The man extricated his face from the wall and winked at me.

"Oho, Tsuki-chan is quite the cold, long-haired beauty blending the best of East and West! Ah, your skin would shimmer like the moonlight under the lovely night, though your figure doesn't seem to be as shapely as Yagami-chan's waitwaitwaitmymasochismquotaisfullforthedaystopstopstop–"

A flying shoe smacked him back into kissing the wall for the third, and hopefully final time.

I scowled and stood on one foot. His persistence at clowning around was almost admirable.

"I think we will be very good friends, Tsukiko," Yuriko extended an outstretched hand. "Yuriko Yagami."

I stared at the extended hand of friendship. The right thing to do was to ignore it and walk off. The right thing to do was end our acquaintance as it was and let time relegate us back to strangers anew.

I took her hand and shook it.

"Tsukiko Amherst—"

My stomach growled again, grumbling at the punishment of prolonged hunger. I struggled to stifle a hot flush creeping up my cheeks.

"Looks like the poor girl hasn't had her breakfast yet," Yuriko giggled. "I know just the right place to bring you. And it's my treat, okay?"

She sighed at the sight of her drenched outfit.

"But I'll need to get myself changed first."

"I can help you change, Yagami-chan, yeah bye!" The man screamed his last defiant line of nonsense. He scurried away before either of us could end up bare-footed.

"So you have forgotten everything about yourself except your own name?" Yuriko's voice was muffled as she stuffed her cheeks full of chicken quiche and struggled to gobble it down. "Strange, sounds exactly like Ken-kun."

We were comfortably seated on couches in a café which boasted the most curious designs. Everything was turtle-themed, from the shell-patterned back of the couches, the ravenous turtles pleading for food on each page of the menu, the turtle-crafted lampshades ogling at us from the overhead lightings, to the aprons donned by the maid waitresses featuring the reptilian mascot with wide, sparkling eyes.

I would personally have preferred another animal, but this atmosphere was not unpleasant.

Aside from the hyperactive behaviour of the six maid waitresses; they rushed about the café, desperately cleaning up tables that did not need to be cleaned, rearranging cutlery and napkins that did not need to be arranged. It was as though the mere action of sensible waiting would condemn them to the worst fate imaginable.

The conversation flying between them matched the hyperactivity of their movements.

"Iko! Go clean that table!"

"It's already been cleaned twice!"

"Uko! Go check if the toilet needs cleaning!"

"Kako is already doing it!"

"Oko! Neko! Go out and solicit customers! Bribe them with a lap dance if you need to!"

"But Neko is a gu–"

"Nobody knows if you don't tell them! We need to keep working before Ako disowns us from the family!"

Whoever Ako was, she was definitely a demon who had duped those poor workers with nursery rhymes for names into a family slaving enterprise.

I muttered a silent prayer for them and filtered them away from my vision and hearing.

"Where's that idiot?" I took a sip from the coffee cup, allowing the roasted bittersweet flavours to linger on the tongue. "And swallow before you answer, Yuriko, lest you want to choke."

Frozen before the act of speaking, Yuriko clumsily chewed and wiped off the dangling flakes of pastry from her chin with a napkin. She pouted.

"Buuuuu, why are you blaming me for horrible table manners when it's Kenichi's fault for making me run like crazy in the morning?"

I found myself momentarily at a loss. Before I could even formulate a reply, Yuriko's pout broke into a mischievous grin.

"I was just pulling your leg. You looked so stiff half the time that I thought that I might have pissed you off somehow. I'm glad that I am wrong."

I clicked my tongue in mild exasperation and took another sip from the coffee cup. Such frivolous banter was not my forte, but it was not unpleasant receiving it from her.

The faint prick made its presence known again.

Yuriko giggled and answered my earlier question.

"Ken-kun has gone for his daily martial arts training with Sasaki oji-san, followed by a quick meeting with the soup lady. He'd join us as soon as it's over, and he'd probably be so worn out that you would be spared from ninety percent of his usual idiocy."

I stared at the warm blush tinting Yuriko's cheeks, and another question escaped me before I could even process its implications.

"Is Kenichi your boyfriend?"

The blush deepened into a creeping crimson which reduced Yuriko into spluttering unintelligible words for the next ten seconds. When I could finally understand her, the reply was an unconvincing denial.

"Of… of course not! And stop smirking!"

I forced the curve of my lips back to their usual impassive positions. Without preamble, the tsunami of voices returned and attacked.

"I'm not sure what to do about it. I'm not… really experienced in things like this, so—"

'You're the one he likes. Not me.'

"That's impossible! I was going to help you realise your feelings for each other… it was supposed to be Yuriko! It—why?! Why me?!"

"Tsukiko? Are you all right?" Yuriko's voice swam in and out of focus as the hallucination fled. My hands were clammy as I lowered them from my face. I must have looked like a ghost, for she had left her seat and was clasping me on the shoulders.

I steadied myself with a few deep breaths. There was no need to panic, Tsukiko Amherst. I would understand those auditory experiences in due time. Right now, I needed to formulate a plan and stop my friend from worrying over me.

Friend. Did she regard me as a friend?

Now is not the time, Tsukiko Amherst.

"I'm all right, Yuriko," I said. My voice sounded weak, but it grew steadier as I continued speaking. "Probably just a hunger fainting spell—"

A chocolate croissant cut short my explanation, jamming deep into my throat.

"Then stop eating like a princess and screw table manners!" Yuriko jabbed angrily on my chest as I spluttered and choked on the croissant. "I don't want to curse our friendship on the first day by sending you to the hospital!"

At that moment, I was thankful that the croissant impeded a smile from forming. It felt like a sin.

The abrupt sensation of warmth felt like a sin.

I chewed desperately on the croissant and washed it down with several gulps of coffee. Yuriko sighed in satisfaction and settled back on her side of the couch.

"That's more like it. Less princess, more commoner. Though I have to say, you do resemble royalty from the way that you conduct yourself."

The electronic doors inched open, halting her from making further observations. The new visitor squeezed through the gap and found himself besieged by an army of ravenous maid waitresses.

"Welcome to Nana Kameko Moe Moe Café!"

"If you order a Special Deluxe Set Meal, you will get a free lap dance from Neko-chan!"

Kenichi leered eagerly at the maid waitress named Neko. His expression of excited anticipation disappeared instantly.

"Hell no! You are a guy!"

And then, he squeezed back through the still opening gap, followed by a chasing army of girls (and one guy) determined to stay in their cursed family.

"I'll go pay the bill, Tsukiko," Yuriko tapped on my shoulder. "Let's catch up with Ken-kun and have some fun together. Maybe you'd regain your memories along the way."

I nodded, even though engaging in frivolous activity was not my forte.

I did not reject her.

I did not want to reject her.

We began in a district similar to Akihabara. Tall buildings draped with neon signs, advertisements proclaiming a myriad of electronic brands, and streets filled with schools of teenagers hopping from arcade to arcade.

It was there where I discovered my useless talent at manoeuvring the metal claw in a soft toy vending machine. Yuriko seemed adamant at exploiting it to the fullest.

"Go, Tsukiko! You can do it!" She cheered, gleefully ignoring my scowl as I moved the sixth Hello Piggy towards the disposal chute and dropped it. "With my financial and moral support, and your superlicious craning skills, we make an invisible team!"

"You mean invincible."

"I know what I said!"

Yuriko popped open the hatch and plucked out the mouthless pig. She deposited into a budging shopping bag already threatening to burst. Glancing at me, she then proceeded to rummage through the pile and pluck out a soft toy.

It was a lion-shaped doll wearing a crown of daisies and large, detachable black sunglasses.

"Mister Stuffy Paws," I whispered, unable to control myself.

"Your share of the spoils, Tsukiko," Yuriko said. "You've been eyeing this ever since we have started. I'll give it to you on one simple condition."

"What is it?" I hissed, unable to hide my desperation and impulse to snatch Mister Stuffy Paws away from her teasing hands.


I scowled.

"Non non non, Tsukiko," Yuriko wiggled a finger. "We are going to have to do something about that sour look of yours."

Without seeking my permission, she grabbed me by the wrists and dragged me to the nearest photo booth.

As we bypassed Kenichi, the latter winked at me with a tip of the fedora hat. The wink was not flirtatious, as it had been back in our initial meeting. It was oddly poignant, mirroring his muted behaviour ever since we had caught up with him outside the café.

There were no more noisy displays of idiotic perversion.

"Enjoy your day with Yuriko, Tsuki-chan. Enjoy it while you can."

Only a pensive man who looked at me like he knew why I was here.

Before I could even ask him for the reason behind his statement, Yuriko announced with a determined fervour.

"Smile Practice Start!"

And I stumbled with her sharp pull of my wrists, into a booth where we would spend the rest of the morning taking photos and straining my cheek muscles.

The day flew by in a blur.

Maple leaves fell and swirled through the air like dandelion petals, their flight unburdened and whimsical. The gentle orange glow of the sun briefly disappeared behind the clouds as the autumn rain drizzled on earth, umbrellas and the joyous faces of children bounding through the streets with wild abandon.

We left the vending machines, photo booth and Kenichi (who had departed the group citing his wish not to interfere in a girls' day out) behind, spending our afternoon at the shopping district. I became Yuriko's unwitting model at various clothing stores, cosplaying as a maid waitress, punk rocker, vampire with a whip fetish, and countless other variants that I did not wish to remember.

She had capitalised on my weakness to the fullest, holding Mister Stuffy Paws at ransom. Her victory was absolute.

My modelling business was not the end of the ordeal. Yuriko then dragged me from café to café and stuffed my mouth with parfaits, ice creams, crepes and all manner of sweet things.

Until that day, I had never realised that I possessed an extra stomach to contain hefty calories of sugar.

The sun's orange glow had deepened into crimson shades painted across the sky by the time we left the shopping district, our outing drawing to a close.

"There's one more place, Tsukiko," Yuriko gazed at the dying sunset with a lonely smile. She grabbed my hand. "Don't worry, we aren't doing any more crazy things."

I nodded and enclosed my fingers around hers, allowing her to guide me to the venue of our next activity. I would not have minded even if I was forced into more modelling and dessert frivolities in the days and weeks to come. It had been a long time since an unyielding warmth embraced me, a warmth which I had regarded as sin.

But a warmth which was so painfully comforting like old blankets that I refused to relinquish its hold.

I would not have minded if I forgot my identity and past for eternity.

Those thoughts occupied and sidetracked me from fully observing my surroundings. The bustling city area gave way to quiet streets, pebbled footpaths and chipped stairways with rusty handrails leading down to a platform.

Yuriko and I stood alone in an abandoned railway station. Night had seized full control, littering the sky with a glitter of stars. The cries of cicadas echoed, cacophonic and angry. Prodded by the low keening of the wind, the corrugated tracks and broken benches replied with tired creaks.

Yuriko gazed at the tracks, her lonely expression unyielding.

I waited.

"Tsukiko," Yuriko said, not looking at me. "I wish to apologise for today."


She had nothing to apologise for. If anything, I should be thanking her for letting me remember how it was like to feel and to live.

"I didn't help you in remembering who you were at all. As a matter of fact, I had an ulterior motive for kidnapping you for the entire day."

"Which was?"

Yuriko turned and looked at me. Her smile was heartbreaking.

"I was using you as a substitute for my best friend, Tsukiko. I've not seen her for a very long time. And I doubt that I would ever see her again."

It was a simple tale between two girls who used to share their conversations, dreams and time together. They were a single shadow, never apart. They loved to mess about at the arcade vending machines and win soft toys that they did not need. They loved to take photos and tease one another into silly, blushing fits. They loved to play dress-up at clothing stores and annoy shopkeepers for never making a single purchase. They loved to feast on sweet desserts and lament about expanding waistlines, while doing little about them. They loved to visit the abandoned railway station and set free a spray of fireworks, their sparkling dance in the sky repeating an unspoken promise to return the following week and beyond.

It was a simple, sweet relationship that could not last. Because depression struck one of them in a random lottery that none of them wanted to win. The depressed girl no longer cared about silly conversations and fluffy dreams, nor the haunts that she had used to enjoy. The depressed girl only spoke of self-harm and hurt, of a world that was unkind and how her company was unworthy.

The other girl tried her best. The other girl tried to listen. The other girl tried to let her know that everything was okay, everything was all right, and she would always be there no matter what. But each time she was pushed away, her resolve began to weaken. And it came to a point when she decided that it was easier to drift apart and pray that time would whisk her friend's depression away.

The single shadow split into two.

The other girl broke her promise. And the price for breaking the promise was final and irreversible. Text messages and phone calls went unanswered. Many months later, when she saw her at the shopping district, her former friend glanced at her and walked past her like a ghost.

Time had relegated them back into strangers anew.

"I'm past blaming myself, Tsukiko," Yuriko said, twirling a single strand of her hair. "But I couldn't help it when I saw you. Even though you are completely different from her, I felt like I knew you. It was like in a parallel universe, we are really close friends."


I felt a sharp piercing through my chest and willed myself not to shudder.

"So thank you for indulging me in reliving my past for one last time. From tomorrow onwards, I will no longer use you as a substitute, but as a treasured friend that you deserve to be. But for now…"

She rummaged through the handbag and emerged with a small skyrocket, lighter, and an empty plastic bottle.

"I'm not sure if it even works now, but humour me one last time, please, Tsukiko?"

I accepted the three items. I placed the bottle near the edge of the platform, inserting the stick of the skyrocket into the opening.

Before igniting the lighter, I looked back at Yuriko and flashed her a reassuring smile.

"Why didn't you smile like that just now, Tsukiko?" Yuriko's eyes widened, and she broke down into hysterical fits of laughter. "That was so beautiful! I would have totally fallen in love with you if I was a boy!"

I scowled and returned to the task at hand. A flicker of flame lit a moving fuse, which burned its way into the skyrocket, which froze for too long a second that I believed that it was a dud. And then the skyrocket took off with a whistle into the sky, its shrinking silhouette exploding into a pop of rainbow colours which sparkled and disappeared into the glittering canvas almost immediately.

Yuriko's laughter died as she watched it with me. The fireworks display was ordinary. The moment was ephemeral.

But it belonged to us.

"Thank you, Tsukiko," Yuriko collected the bottle and deposited it back into her handbag. "I think I'm done here. Shall we go and rest for the night? If you don't mind, you can squeeze in with me in my room. "

"I wish to stay here for a little bit longer," I replied. My request was unbecoming of the girl that I believed myself to be. What was I intending to accomplish by lingering around in a deserted venue where the camaraderie between two girls was nothing but ghosts left behind by time?

Yuriko seemed to understand my request. She turned and made her way up the stairs.

"I'll wait for you outside the station, okay?"

"Wait, Yuriko."

"Hmmm? Oh yes, I forgot about giving Mister Stuffy Paws to you—"

"Not that," I interrupted, the rising flush in my cheeks blissfully hidden by the night. "You can keep him as a memento of our… friendship."

"Thank you, my dear Tsukiko. So what is it?"

I could see Yuriko's hidden smile even with her back turned to me. I braved myself and continued.

"I would like to keep a photo of us as a memento."

Yuriko turned back with a wide grin.

"Fufufufu, I knew that you liked Smile Practice. We shall continue with the sequel tomorrow and make this a never-ending series. We'll make you the best smiler in the world yet."


The night could not hide my smile.

Yuriko rummaged through a stack of photos in her handbag and picked one. She slotted it into my skirt pockets.

"You can admire yourself later in my room with the better lighting," Yuriko winked. "Don't stay for too long and end up getting kidnapped by a crazy cult. I don't want to curse our friendship on the second day by filing for a missing persons report."

And she left.

I was barely alone for more than a few minutes when my vision plunged into darkness.

It was not a loss of consciousness, for I did not feel any beer bottle crashing into my head. Rather, it felt as though something divine flicked the switch and disabled all light sources in the world.

"Yuriko, are you there?" I called out.

There was no reply.

"Your time is almost up, Tsukiko Catherine Amherst."

My auditory hallucinations had decided to return after a long day away, invading my brain.

"I am not a hallucination. I'm just here to usher you back to where you belong."

"I belong here now."

"Silly girl. You are a weapon, whose sole reason for existence was to destroy the rotten Empire. You do not speak of sentimental attachments."

"What are you talking about?"

"Silly girl. You uttered those very words yourself. I suppose the soup's effect should have worn off by now, or do you not wish to remember?"

The voice was right. I did not wish to remember. I did not wish to remember the identity and significance of the name Tsukiko Catherine Amherst, and all the baggage it carried.

I wanted to live. I wanted to laugh, cry, love and hate. I could do all these things in this world with Yuriko.

"I need to find Yuriko."

There was a dissatisfied pause. The voice issued a final warning.

"I'm giving you an easy way out of this, Tsukiko Catherine Amherst. Should you disobey, the consequences will be drastic."

"I need to find Yuriko."

"Very well then. I shall let you… find her."

The light returned and I found myself at the warehouse.

It was a simple tale between an unlikely group of friends. A boy whose baseball exploits earned him popularity among his peers. A girl who loved to read and sew, whose sheltered upbringing protected her from reality's horrors and kept her kind. And a princess whose duty to her destiny compelled her to close her heart to everyone else.

They were supposed to remain as three separate shadows, because it was easier that way. But the girl was kind. The girl hated the cruelty pelted at the princess, a discriminatory cruelty which was common in their world. So she extended her hand of friendship to the princess, giving her homemade cookies when the latter expected insults. The girl did not shy away when the princess did not respond with warmth.

And because humans could never completely sever their curse with their feelings, the princess accepted the girl's hand, because she wanted to, for that ephemeral moment, have a place in the world, and to be among people who genuinely cared for her. And for that ephemeral moment, her wish was granted.

The boy entered their intimate circle. As simple tales went, relationships became convoluted when opposite genders got involved. The boy told the princess that he had a crush on the girl. The princess knew that the girl had a crush on the boy as well, telling him that she would play matchmaker and bless them together. But her maiden experiences in matters of the heart did not stop her from developing a crush of her own.

For a while, the three shadows became one. They spent their time in a secret hideout, which was nothing more than a tiny stuffy room, empty bookshelves and scratched coffee tables. And it was their hideout, they were friends, and they did not have to worry about anything while they were there.

But there were people who wanted the princess dead, the impure blood of her kind purged from humanity's existence, for ignorance bred fear, and they failed to understand that princess was not a monster out to destroy the country, and all it took was the girl's naive intervention to split the shadows forever—

I stared at Yuriko, bound by rope to the steel chair, her bulging eyes frantic and pleading. I stared at the seething Takagawa as he held the knife to her throat, the silvery blade glinting dully under the dim illumination of the warehouse.

"Give Yuriko back! Or else!"

The voice was mine. But I did not think of those words. They were uttered with the practised intonation of a girl who had repeated the nightmare again and again.

Ryota was not there, that silly Ryota who I had briefly crushed on in this silly love triangle which I should never have gotten involved in. I was alone in a confrontation that I did not win.

And could never win.

"Halfers are dangerous! They'll destroy this country! This is the only way for me to get out of here alive!"

Despite knowing the outcome, I sprinted towards them, my eyes gleaming crimson, my hands willing my cursed powers to protect a friend that I had lost, but did not want to lose again.

Thousands of tiny glass fragments materialised in the air around me, crystallising into innumerable shards of glass powerful enough to withstand a blow of bullets and a slashing of a knife.

I could not control the shield precisely enough the last time, but surely I would not fail–

The knife slashed across Yuriko's throat. Blood spewed everywhere. Her bulging eyes clouded.

"YURIKO!" I screamed, leaping forward and

I stared at Yuriko, bound by rope to the steel chair, her bulging eyes frantic and pleading. I stared at the seething Takagawa as he held the knife to her throat, the silvery blade glinting dully under the dim illumination of the warehouse.

"Give Yuriko back! Or else!"

The voice was mine. But I did not think of those words. They were uttered with the practised intonation of a girl who had repeated the nightmare again and again.

So that was how it was. This was my punishment for wishing for the ordinary, for defying the purpose of my existence.

"Halfers are dangerous! They'll destroy this country! This is the only way for me to get out of here alive!"

For refusing to bloom as a flower, I would wilt here alone.

The knife slashed across Yuriko's throat. Blood spewed everywhere. Her bulging eyes clouded.

"YURIKO!" I screamed, leaping forward and

At some point, I closed my eyes, exhausted and numb from reenacting my role. I simply listened to Takagawa's deranged cries, Yuriko's muffled pleas, the knife's shriek of glee as it slit her throat again and again and again.

"Will you go back now, Tsukiko Catherine Amherst?"

The voice was chiding. Patient. Expectant.

I sighed. My time for frivolities was up after all.

I opened my mouth and replied–

"Stop, Tsukiko!"

She stood at the entrance of the warehouse, her black cassock blending into the shadows. Her azure eyes were sad and angry.

She whipped out a cross with one hand and a vial of holy water with another. She uncapped the vial and sprinkled water over the cross.

She was not the Yuriko Yagami whose cookies I had eaten, who had befriended me despite the gossiping of her peers, whom I had lost at the warehouse. She was the Yuriko Yagami whom I had befriended at the turtle-themed café, who had dragged me around the city doing silly things, whose promise of unending smile practices would never be fulfilled.

And I loved them both. I was about to lose them both.


A flash of white light bathed Takegawa, Yuriko, me, and everything in sight, its brilliance unmatched. It disintegrated the warehouse, reducing the surroundings into a sea of pure, blinding white.

When it disappeared, nothing had left.

Except for Yuriko and me.

Yuriko smiled at me. The anger in her eyes had faded, leaving behind a sadness that spoke of an imminent farewell.

"I told you not to stay for too long, Tsukiko. Look at the mess that you've ended up in–"

I leaped forward and began hammering her on the chest with light fists. My tears were flowing and unhindered, and I did not care.

"Why did you have to approach me? Why did you have to give me the cookies?"

Yuriko hugged me and remained silent. I struggled to push her back. She held on and did not let go.

"There was nothing good from befriending me, only pain! You should have understood that from the beginning, Yuriko!"

It was not fair to her. I was merely using her as a substitute. But I could no longer hold back the torrent of emotions that I have buried within me.

"Why did you leave me behind without saying goodbye?"

Yuriko's hug tightened.

"I missed you, Yuriko. I missed you so much…"

My words became choked gasps of sobbing. I let myself slump onto the comforting hollow of her shoulders, and let myself love her without the burdens of my identity.

Eventually, we reluctantly parted. I stared at the tearing Yuriko.

"I hope that you meet her again, Tsukiko," Yuriko said. "I hope that you get to tell her of all the things that you have told me. Because she deserves to know."

I nodded.

"I will. And from tomorrow onwards, I will no longer use you as a substitute, but as a treasured friend that you deserve to be."

There was no tomorrow here, but this moment belonged to us.

"Pinky promise," Yuriko offered her little finger. "Remember to practise your smiles, okay?"

I entwined my little finger with hers and smiled.

A long-haired girl stood alone in the dormitory room. Her pale skin shimmered under the glow of the night. Her little finger dangled loosely in the air.

She reached into her skirt pockets and pulled out a photo. Her steel-black eyes softened.

She gently placed the photo on the desk and left the room.

Under the glow of the night, the photo showed the long-haired girl, her smile strained with defeat, and her mischievous compatriot strangling her playfully around the neck.

And a single, glistening tear.

Author's Note: So I ended up borrowing scenes from the last chapter of GG. Cheap, I know, but I thought they were fitting here as well. This crossover (featuring Tsukiko Amherst from ORCHID) is dedicated to Y.S. Wong, for being the first reviewer of GG, for encouraging me out of my hiatus when all seemed lost, for being the first reviewer of the final chapter, and for simply being an awesome writer and guy in general. All the best with your rewrite ;)

This is also for Faithshinkou, a friend lost and dearly missed.

And for those who are not acquainted with Tsukiko, you are free to acquaint yourself with ORCHID (and/or ROSE) as they are great stories in their own regard. Hopefully, the crossover still makes sense without context.

Finally, as the title of the crossover already implies, everything shall come to pass. It has been a wonderful time, but I will no longer be updating GG. Thank you, and I hope to meet you again in the future.