Haruki and Haruka jumped out of their beds with a start, and followed the earsplitting scream to Haruna’s room. They found Haruna in her bed tossing and turning with all of her might. Within an instant, both sisters had grabbed hold of one of Haruna’s sweaty hands, and were frantically attempting to awaken her. All of a sudden, Haruna was quiet; her body seemed completely lifeless. The air was deathly still once more. Tentatively, Haruki called out softly to her sister. A split-second later, Haruna’s eyes shot open.
Her eyes were slightly bloodshot; she had parched lips; sweat covered her body; and she was breathing quite heavily, but Haruna was awake. In the same manner as before, Haruki repeated, "Haruna honey? Are you okay?"
Haruna gulped some fresh air. Shakily, she nodded her head and replied, "Y-yes, I th-think so." After a pause, as if doing a mental check, Haruna added, "It was just a bad dream. I-I’m alright. D-don’t worry about me."
Haruki sighed and shook her head hopelessly. "Don’t you try and lie to me, Haruna. I know you better than anybody else." Despite this, Haruki relaxed her muscles a little, and rubbed Haruna’s arm soothingly. Out of seemingly nowhere, Haruki produced a warm mug of cocoa, and offered it to Haruna. With a slight intake of breath, Haruna thanked her sister and took a sip. Licking her lips, she exhaled deeply. Haruna gathered her strength before insisting clearly, "Thank you so much for being here with me, both of you. I really appreciate it...but I think I can go back to sleep without having another nightmare."
Haruna’s sisters knew what she was trying to get to. Silent until now, Haruka gave her sister a scrutinizing look and responded, "I’m not so sure... I’ll stay with you the rest of the night, and try to keep the bad dreams from getting to you."
Haruna blinked drearily, as if she were already starting to nod off. "That’s really sweet of you," Haruna stifled a yawn, "but I’ll be fine. Besides, what can you do to stop them from coming in the first place?"
Haruka grinned and gripped Haruna’s hand a little tighter. "How ‘bout I hold your hand, and channel my protection through you; the bad dreams might sense it before they get to you, and run away."
The weary sleeper cracked a soft smile, but her resolution was firm. "I-I can’t let you do that. You have that play to perform tomorrow night, don’t you? You need to save your energy and rest up for that."
As if the two sisters had just remembered said event, an awed silence existed for a few short moments. It was Haruki who came up with the accepted solution. "You’re in the play too, Haruna, so you need your rest as well. Alright then, how about this? If we all sleep in here, then you’ll have double protection and we’ll all get the sleep we need. Is that okay with you?"
Thinking this over, Haruna finally gave in and nodded. Used to sleeping in odd places, especially when studying, Haruki went over to the bean-bag sofa next to the bed, and lay down between the blankets that had been left there from last time. Haruka eased under the covers next to Haruna in order to "better protect her from nightmares". Not too long afterwards, the trio fell into a deep sleep uninterrupted by bad dreams of any sort.
The next day at school, Haruka and Haruki constantly kept at least one eye on Haruna, ensuring her safety. In the halls, in the courtyard, or in the classroom, if someone wanted to even talk to Haruna, the sisters were always one step ahead of them. Haruka made it clear without words, that if anyone wanted to get to Haruna, they’d have to go through her first. As this behavior was actually believed to be quite natural to their schoolmates, no one argued with it, and knew especially not to mess with them that day. Unfortunately, Miss Gentsuki had no intention of ignoring them today of all days.
Miss Gentsuki was, in all aspects, typical Prom Queen material. Whichever guy she wanted, usually a jock of some sort, she’d get. Whenever she was caught in the act, she somehow got away with it. The two co-captains on her squad were her friends and lackeys, and they followed her everywhere. They’d do anything for her, and they wouldn’t get into any trouble either.
In those ways, she and her posse were very similar to the triplets. The only difference was that Kyoko Gentsuki was an ostentatious show-off. She’d show off her riches by wearing expensive jewelry and clothing. She’d get people’s attention with her short skirts and part see-through designer shirts. Whenever possible, Kyoko would even boast about her huge mansion, her prize-winning pets, or in general, how much better she was than the "three stooges", the nickname she had given the Shouri triplets. Usually, they all had their intended purpose, but that was also what separated her from the triplets.
That day at lunch, Kyoko walked towards the triplets as if she were a model on display. She was closely followed by her two friends who were also acting pretentious. As soon as she came to a stop near the cherry blossom tree, Kyoko commanded, "Move it stooges. We’re sitting here today."
Kyoko’s two friends, Kama and Gejo, nodded defiantly as if daring them to counter, and counter they did. Haruka instantly swerved her attention to them, a glare of pure venom in her eyes. She excused herself from her sisters, and stood up, all the while still glaring at the persecutors. Slowly, like a cheetah stalking her prey, Haruka advanced on them. The look in her eyes paralyzed them on the spot. Once she was mere inches from Kyoko’s face, Haruka’s glare increased in deadly poison, and she began speaking in a low, murderous voice.
"Look, I’ll be straight with you-leave us be, at least for today."
Not many would have survived that glare, and even less would have responded while it was still on them. Kyoko was defiant, though. "And what makes you think you can stop me?"
Haruka let a slow smirk cross her face, as a pearly white fang lay shining in her mouth. "You’re actually asking me this? Alright, I’ll tell you." Haruka bent forward a little to the side, so that her mouth was right next to Kyoko’s ear. She whispered, "I can beat you up right now for one thing. Then, I could have my friends follow you around and mess with you too. Not to mention, I could even tell my football buddy, Benji, all about your little..." Just then, Haruka named something that caused Kyoko to become bright red at the very mention of it. Shaking, Kyoko finally took a step back, and Haruka straightened, a confident smirk on her face.
Kyoko growled with frustration, the evidence of embarrassment still splashed on her cheeks. She stammered, "How- How did you find out about that?"
Haruka gave her a confident smirk. She folded her arms in front of her chest. Haruka haughtily replied, "That’s for me to know and you to find out."
The scene remained quiet for a moment before Kyoko huffed and turned her heel on Haruka. "Tch. Fine. Consider yourself lucky that I’m taking it easy on you now."
"That would be my line."
As she took a few steps away from the triplets, Kyoko stopped and remarked, "This isn’t over, stooge. We’ll see you at the drama production tonight. Try not to mess it up now, hmm?”
With that, Kyoko, Kama, and Gejo left, before Haruka even decided whether she should respond or not. Watching them for a few moments, Haruka sighed, and took her place again next to Haruna; Haruki was on Haruna’s other side. Together, they laughed once Haruka related what she had promised to tell Benji if it came to it.
Right after school, the triplets went out for an evening on the town before they had to return to school for the play. Since the play would be right after club practices, clubs were canceled for the day.
In the town square, Haruka asked her sisters to wait by the fountain while she bought something. Knowing that Haruka was the type of person who didn't buy anything unless she thought it was necessary, and was very quick to decide, they obliged. While waiting, Haruna and Haruki talked about the play and ended up going over their lines.
Just a few feet away, a couple of ruffians in shaggy black clothes watched them with devious looks. They made eye contact with each other and nodded before slinking over towards the pair. Haruki had watched them from the corner of her eye ever since they turned the corner. She knew they'd be trouble, but didn't say anything lest Haruna freak out with worry. She was like that, Haruki knew.
Haruna was completely oblivious to the things around her. While she was looking to the sky for a hint of her next line, they stopped near enough to them to talk easily.
"Hey, cuties. What say youse hang out with us?"
Haruki gave them a cold stare and said simply, "No thanks."
One of the thugs, one that hadn't spoken yet, eased up next to Haruki and rubbed shoulders with her. "Aww come on baby. Let's go downtown."
When he breathed close to Haruki's ear, she turned away with an appalled exhale. "Get away creep. I want nothing to do with cretins like you."
Haruna suddenly snapped out of her daze, and looked around. With an innocent note to her voice, she asked, "Would anyone like some music?"
They turned to her, but she simply took her flute from her bag and began playing "Silent Night". Somehow, after the first verse, both thugs were sound asleep. Still playing, Haruna stood up and Haruki gave her a "thumbs up" sign. She grabbed their bags, and as an afterthought, pushed them both into the fountain. Both woke up with a start, to see Haruki and Haruna running off. They chased after them doggedly, corner after corner, street after street. Finally, they caught up with them on the boulevard, but someone else had joined them. The two girls they had met before were standing behind a defiant girl who looked remarkably like the girls.
She spoke with a dangerous authority. "Now just what do you think you were planning to do with my sisters?"
At their furtive looks, Haruka contradicted, "On second thought, don’t tell me; I don’t want to know. But you should be punished for your past crimes."
As swift as greased lightning, Haruka charged them and toppled the two thugs in a flying tackle. Their heads hit the stone road, and they were knocked unconscious. Being the kind soul that she was, Haruna ran over to check on them, to make sure no permanent damage had been dealt. Seeing that none had, she had Haruka help her drag them to the side, so that other people wouldn't be bothered by them. In disgust, Haruka told them that they should all go home for a shower after this. Her sisters didn't argue with it.
On the way home, Haruna remembered that Haruka had gone off to buy something, and asked what she had bought. Haruka snapped her fingers as she remembered. She fumbled through her pocket and brought out two bracelets that matched the one she was wearing now. She gave one to both of her sisters and they put them on. Haruka explained that they acted as emergency communicators. The red gem could be pushed down to contact paramedics if they were needed, and the blue one would contact each other. If it blinked white, the call was coming from Haruki. Red for Haruka and blue for Haruna. Once that was understood, they continued on home.
About six hours later,
the triplets returned to school long before the droves of friends and family
were due to arrive. That night marked
Haruka, Haruna, and Haruki passed the time by assisting with the scene arrangement, going over their lines, and dressing for the play. The latter was done only about half an hour before the curtains were to part. By then, the seats in the audience were already half filled, with more coming every minute.
The play was set in medieval times and thus included royalty, peasants, dragons, knights, castles, farms--the whole fantastic experience. Haruka, being a rather convincing tomboyish type, had been assigned to play the dashing knight that rode upon a beautiful white horse and would later save the princess from the evil clutches of her own step-family. The sweet princess who loved humankind and nature alike was represented by Haruna. Calculating facts and figures, Haruki took on the role of the King’s advisor, who, by himself, would have turned the kingdom into a dragon fest. The queen who schemed to rule the kingdom herself had a dragon army for friends, and used that to her advantage. Only Kyoko could have executed this role to the perfection that it was played. It was a classic medieval story, yet, it held a substance to it that was unlike any other.
Anri didn’t have a role, given that he had only started attending the school the day before, but he had still decided to come and watch. That night, few saw what they expected to see, especially from the triplets.
The crowd’s random conversations came to a dead stop, as the lighting dimmed, signaling the beginning of the play. The orchestra conductor signaled the musicians to begin playing a soft melody that entranced the audience immediately. Sharon, the narrator, spoke through a microphone that came out in surround sound. Before the curtains opened, she began to tell a bit of a background to the story, as if beginning a storybook. "Once upon a time, in a faraway land..."
Backstage, the actors for the first scene were preparing to go onstage. Haruna, Kyoko, Kama, and Gejo were the only ones in the first scene. Backstage hands rushed to do some last minute touch-ups to the scene layout and the actresses’ make up and costumes. At long last, the red curtains were slowly pulled open to reveal to the audience a near-deserted dirt street in what was supposedly a town square, with a castle looming over them in the distance.
Two figures in rags were crouching on the ground, knees drawn up to their chests. As a royal carriage carrying the princess and queen passed, they scurried over, begging for money, for food, for pity. The queen looked at them with disgust, before she turned her head away in disdain. The dear princess, however, smiled kindly to them, and tossed two handkerchief-covered boxes out the window to them. They thanked her profusely as the carriage continued across the scene, out of view.
The two beggars fumbled to open the handkerchiefs, and see what their dear princess had left them. They were elated and exclaimed rejoice aloud from what they had found. In both boxes was a loaf of bread, two apples, lettuce, and a container of clear water. All but the water had been cut neatly, in generous slices. They commented how much more caring their princess was, compared to the queen, and how much better off the kingdom had become after her light shown upon them. The duo then picked up the two packages, and headed into an alley, where their whole family of five ate with gratitude towards the princess. The scene faded to darkness, and more scurrying was done as the setting changed.
When the lights faded on again, the princess was standing before the King and Queen. The advisor stood nearby as the Queen complained to the King about how the princess was giving away their riches to ‘nobodies’. When the King asked if this was true, the princess simply replied that she had only given some food to a couple of starving peasants. Surely, in the future, this would gain their loyalty for their King. Because of Haruna’s tactful wording, the King greatly appreciated the princess’ work. The Queen growled in her frustration as the King changed the subject to say that it was time for the princess to choose a suitable husband. In turn, the princess innocently replied that she believed no man worthy of inheriting her Honorable Father’s kingdom out of the choices she had been given. The King accepted this, but he insisted that his daughter to choose soon. With that, the lighting faded again.
In actuality, as Haruna revealed to the audience within the Princess’ bedchambers, Princess Haruna had already chosen the love of her life. Though she had yet to meet him in person, she had heard great things of the mysterious knight, who rode upon a white horse. This knight saved damsels in distress for no reason other than chivalry, slew the dragons that attacked the borderlines of the kingdom, and assisted the people in any way he could--anywhere from saving kittens from trees to helping beggars find jobs. He was a role model for Haruna in every possible way. Haruna sighed. If only she could marry outside of royalty, and he accepted, all of her worries would be quelled.
The light came on again in what seemed to be a balcony connecting to an occupied ballroom. The Queen and Princess were talking alone together. Kyoko berated her for her impudence, and when Haruna did not reply with any heat whatsoever, the Queen grew fiercer. As Haruna turned to look at the full moon with an appeased sigh, the Queen slapped her hard on the cheek. Haruna’s face had been forced to confront the Queen’s, while her stinging cheek throbbed with circulating blood that severely reddened her skin at the place of contact.
Out of nowhere, Haruka’s voice rang true. From down below, she spoke clearly, "Ahoy! Stop thine swift judgment! What has thy fair lady done to deserve such punishment?"
The two women looked over the balcony edge to find the White Knight, as Haruna’s love was called. The Queen commanded that the Knight was trespassing, and called the guards to come. When a dozen guards had surrounded the Knight with spears, Haruka put her hands up in defense. "I do not wish to fight; let us talk this through peacefully. Am I right in believing that I now stand in the presence of Queen Kyoko, and Princess Haruna?"
The Queen snarled, "You had best believe it; leave now, or be thrown in jail."
Ignoring this comment, the White Knight used one hand to open the front of his helmet, and bowed while still in the saddle. Haruna sighed in lovesick content. Suddenly, she felt her heart lurch, and put the back of her hand to her forehead lightly. Before she realized what was happening, she swooned, straight over the edge of the balcony. Alarmed, Haruka pushed forward out of the circle of guards, and caught the princess as she fell. The guards, the Queen, as well as everyone else were startled by Haruna’s fall. Haruka leaned her head closer to Haruna’s, and asked her in a whisper if she was alright. Haruna smiled wanly up at her sister. Softly, she responded, "I’m...sorry, Haruka." Closing her eyes, she added, "I...tried," before falling into a deep sleep. Haruka shook Haruna lightly in an attempt to wake her.
This simple sentence scared Haruka more than anything else that had happened that week. Struggling to keep calm, she checked Haruna’s pulse at her neck. Haruka let out a very small sigh of relief. At least it was still there. Haruka became stunned once more, as Haruna’s pulse became increasingly weaker with every passing beat. Frustrated, she brought up Haruna’s limp right arm, and found the jeweled bracelet that she always wore around her wrist. As if it were a practiced procession, she pushed down on the large red jewel, and it started to blink red at a consistent rate. It was then, that Haruka made eye-contact with Haruki. This was not how the play had been originally intended, but they had to go on as best as they could.
Haruki nudged the King to move into the scene, as she followed. The King rushed to Haruna’s side; the guards parted quickly. "What is the meaning of this? What has happened to my darling daughter?"
Almost vehemently, Haruka responded, "Can thoust not see what is right in front of thy eyes?! Thy Princess Haruna has been rendered unconscious by the vile woman thou consider to be thy Queen!"
Everyone was awestruck at this comment, and held their breath for the reaction. It was Haruki who spoke next, however. "Accusations aside, art thou princess all right?"
Haruka felt for Haruna’s pulse once more. Haruka shook her head, as her whole body shuddered with shock. Haruki, thunderstruck, quickly bent down as she remarked, "B-but that’s absurd! Thy Queen art not capable of such treachery! It="
Haruki’s thoughts were cut off, as she too, felt the barely beating pulse. Lowering her voice so that only Haruka could hear, Haruki whispered, "Why now? Why so soon? She can’t die on us so early in our lives! We need her." By this time, Haruki was choking back sobs. Haruka was on the verge of tears, but held them at bay as she nodded. "I’d do just about anything if it meant lengthening her life."
Suddenly, Haruki and Haruka felt something strange, an energy from Haruna, into their own bodies. As if struck in the head by a sledgehammer, both sisters crumpled unconscious on top of their dying sister. It was then that the paramedics came rushing from the back door of the auditorium. Almost single file, the team of experts rushed down the middle aisle up to the stage. One identified himself as a private investigator, and asked the conscious actors what had just occurred. The King, Benji, told all that he knew and saw. Kyoko’s story matched his.
Meanwhile, the other
officers were calming down the audience who had now been officially riled
up. They told them to calm down, at
least until the final report had been declared.
Over the roar of the crowd,