Chapter Eight

If there was one emotion which best embodied Chikaru, it was a sense of amused satisfaction. And it was the sensation she was feeling even now, as she went to meet the new le Rim transfer, for the duty at hand reminded her of her own curious climb to power within le Rim, and the influence she had managed to exert in that position, despite seemingly having nothing to do with anything. Chikaru was profoundly good at keeping out of the ground skirmishes many of her peers were seemingly unable to avoid, and perhaps this was what permitted her to become president of her school – while others in the running in the position had pettily sniped at one another, she herself had remained at a slight distance, observing with an inward smile while never getting involved herself – visibly at least. She could still recall the looks of shock on the faces of her rivals when the voting tallies were posted in the main hall of the school – a shock that was so profound, apparently, that neither had ever said a word to her or given her even the slightest bit of trouble since.

However, Chikaru couldn’t claim that her amusement stemmed solely from her memories of power seizure – part of it also had much to do with the fact that permitting her to guide transfer students also permitted her to induct people into her Transformation Club. She had gotten Remon and Kizuna to join through being assigned as their guide back when they were first years, and Kagome had come into the club through the same process, except with Kizuna as her guide. So, admittedly she had never gotten a transfer, but transfers were somewhat rare. The fact remained that it gave her the opportunity, though.

Yukizawa Fuyumi… what a cold name! She wondered what on earth would bring a girl who was that old into a place such as Astraea Hill – the schools contained within were the sorts of places that snobbishly demanded a loyalty best demonstrated by one’s faithfully attending for the full seven years of junior high and high school. And when transfers did appear, they generally had the “good” sense to do so before the half-way mark, the fourth year. It was strange to have someone entering in the fifth. And she didn’t recognize the surname…

Chikaru almost bit her tongue, realizing with a start that she was beginning to sound like her mother – didn’t recognize the surname! What utter junk! Her mother had been extremely disappointed when Chikaru had opted for St. le Rim as opposed to one of the more “proper” schools at Astraea, arguing that le Rim wasn’t as distinguished and worthwhile as St. Miator or St. Spica (her mother herself had been a Miator girl, married practically the moment her diploma passed into her hands). Chikaru had been forced to apply to all three, but Spica and Miator had turned her down after some skillful self-sabotage at the respective interviews, and thus forced her mother to accept le Rim as her daughter’s school-to-be. But the woman hadn’t quite recovered yet, and barely disguised her sneers at the more modern le Rim during the time Chikaru spent at home. Chikaru preferred spending her school breaks visiting her underlings… or even distant relatives.

She made a mental note to cajole Kizuna and Remon into bunny costumes at the next Transformation Club meeting – she was fairly certain that her mother had never done something so base and low-class as dressing up underage girls in fetishistic outfits in her life. Granted, she had once discovered a framed picture of her mother as a high school girl, her hands clasped with another girl’s, along with a yellowed letter that contained some truly scandalous information (at least by her mother’s standards) which suggested that some things at Astraea had never changed. She wondered if her father had any idea!

Her father was similar to her mother in that he was terrifically old fashioned. His own snobbery wasn’t nearly as clear as his wife’s, but he, too, looked down on those he considered to be beneath him socially and financially. But his disdain was disguised somewhat by his distant nature, he playing the role of the “proper” father he had learned from his own father as a child. “Proper” fathers left the concerns of his children to his wife, descending into their lives on rare occasion, generally something confined solely to dinnertime when he was not away on business. Chikaru couldn’t remember anything about him from before the age of seven or so, and she sometimes liked to think that it was possible he hadn’t existed before then at all – he’d simply been quietly interjected into their household because her mother’s previous model had worn out and needed to be replaced! And so, apparently, he was a robot. The notion had kept her much amused during many a meal at home during her adolescence.

Considering her parents, she didn’t know where she’d gotten her own personality from – perhaps there was a black sheep aunt or cousin who never warranted mention due to her parents’ need for proper aristocratic behavior. That could be her project for her college years – discovering the lost Minamoto family treasure!

But Chikaru forced herself out of her reverie, tucking it away for later consideration, as she approached the parlor. Fuyumi would’ve been instructed by the sister to meet her there, and Chikaru was running a little bit late, so she hoped to find the girl waiting. She could hear some voices coming from within the room as she approached the door, and a few idle notes as the piano keys were hit at an unseen girl’s whim. Maybe Fuyumi had managed to make some friends already, although classes had yet to start.

However, when Chikaru opened the door, she found that the voices belonged to a pair of Miator girls who were also responsible for absentmindedly picking at the piano’s keyboard. A girl in a le Rim uniform stood by herself at the window, her hand parting the curtain as she looked at whatever lay beyond. Chikaru approached her; she had never seen the girl before, and this, coupled with the fact that she was wearing the le Rim uniform, led her to believe that this was Fuyumi.

As she walked up to her, Chikaru looked past her out the window, and saw that the gazebo lay within sight. But no one was out there, despite the pleasant weather. The wind tossed lightly at the trees, and occasionally the sunlight dimmed with a passing cloud. But, all in all, it seemed that the day was going to beautiful.

Chikaru tapped the girl lightly on the shoulder. The girl seemed to start somewhat, her somewhat glazed eyes suddenly regaining focus, and Chikaru realized she had not really been looking at the scenery beyond the window. As the girl turned around, Chikaru introduced herself, “Hi, I’m Minamoto Chikaru – I’m the president of St. le Rim, so the sister asked me to show you around. There’s an orientation thing, but they only like to have the first years do that.”

“Ah… I’m Yukizawa Fuyumi. It’s nice to meet you.”

Fuyumi’s voice was a bit colorless, and there was a curious lack of physical presence to her. It was all Chikaru to do to keep from openly smirking – a perfect person to recruit for the Transformation Club! It was much easier to get people like this into good costumes than it was with someone occasionally hard-headed like Kizuna. And she probably wouldn’t be too hard to persuade to join some of the other clubs too – the Waiting in Line Club could always do with another member.

But for now Chikaru was the allegedly responsible le Rim president, dutifully teaching her new sister-in-arms about le Rim and Astraea. She adjusted her attitude accordingly.

“Shall we start? I think you’ve probably gotten to know Ichigo-sha since you’ve been here a couple of days already, so let’s head over to le Rim’s classroom buildings.”

Fuyuko nodded, looking a bit uncertain, but Chikaru marked it down to being simply her personality. She definitely seemed the sort of girl who was never entirely certain of anything, but never had enough will to speak out about her uncertainties, since she was also uncertain about whether she was uncertain or not. A bit different than the previous transfer students she had dealt with – Nagisa, from Miator, had been bubbly and bewildered, thanks in large part to Shizuma. Hikari, a Spica girl, had been similar to this, but it was clear her quietness and softness overlay a fairly warm person. But maybe Chikaru was just letting Fuyumi’s parents’ unfortunate naming sense get to her. She had just me the girl, after all; it was likely her apparent coldness was just a matter of her being shy. And the best way to deal with that fact was to force her into open conversation.

“So, where are you from?”

They had by now passed out of the front door of Ichigo-sha, the bright sun monetarily blinding after the darkness of the front hall. The air smelled warm, and there was a faint whiff of blooming flowers in the wind.

“Kyoto.”

Chikaru breezed by the one-word answer, “Oh, and did you go to school there?”

“Yes.” There was a slight hesitation, “Keisuke Senior High.”

“Did you not like it?”

Fuyumi fiddled slightly with the hem of her shirt, not looking at Chikaru, hesitating yet again before responding, “Ah… no, I liked it…”

Chikaru raised her eyebrows, “Oh?”

But Fuyumi didn’t offer a response, though, so Chikaru prodded more explicitly, “Why did you come here?”

“Well…” Her eyes now drifted toward the sky, “My mother thought it was more suitable.”

Chikaru nodded, and decided to let personal details rest for the moment, “Well, I’ve been going here since I finished elementary school – there has been talk of expanding the schools into elementary levels, too, but they still haven’t done it. People don’t really like the idea of elementary-aged boarding students, after all, although many think not having one hurts us in relation to other private girls’ schools.”

Fuyumi nodded, seeming only vaguely interested.

“But, anyway,” Chikaru continued, “you don’t really need to know that stuff.”

“The three schools here are somewhat competitive with one another, although Spica and Miator care a lot more about competing than le Rim does. Miator excels in academics, Spica in sports, and le Rim in the arts. Miator is also known as the school of brides, since a lot of the girls there are already engaged and will be married shortly after graduation. Spica is very strict and has some strange rules. le Rim is the most open of the three schools.”

From where they stood on the path, the cathedral and library were both within view, along with the pond at the center of campus.

“The cathedral is there; we have Sunday worship services every week there. The library is right across the pond there. If you turn left on this path and walk for a little bit, you’ll come to Spica. But we’re going right, since that’ll take us to le Rim.”

Chikaru pointed things out as they walked, and related some other information, such as the stables that were by Spica. Fuyumi was generally quiet, giving only occasional utterances to indicate that she was listening. They arrived at St. le Rim with Chikaru’s initial impression of Fuyumi having barely changed. Once inside of le Rim’s buildings, she admittedly did a bit of an uncharacteristically perfunctory job. It was difficult to remain energetic when Fuyumi displayed such a lack thereof, along with a further lack of interest.

As the neared the end of the survey of le Rim’s important rooms, which included where Fuyumi would be having homeroom, Chikaru finally passed onto the schools’ system of governance, specifically that of the Etoile.

“Oh… a few friends of my cousin told me about that a little.”

It was the longest sentence Chikaru had managed to pry out of her thus far, and she suddenly felt reenergized, “So your cousin goes here?”

“Yes… well, Miator.”

“What’s her name?”

“Tsukidate Chiyo.”

“Oh, I know her! So I’m sure I know who the girls who told you about it were – was one of them half the Etoile.”

“Ah… no.”

“Oh, well, Hikari’s probably busy with those duties, anyway…” Chikaru looked thoughtful for a moment, “Was there a girl with red hair?”

“Um, yes.” The words came out sounding strangely stilted.

“Then that was Nagisa. I know all of them; I’m quite fond of those girls.”

“Ah…” And it was back to the one-word responses.

“The Etoile is determined yearly through a contest. They participate in the student government meetings and help make decisions. But they also have more ceremonial things to do, like taking care of the Astraea greenhouse.”

“They said… they were like the king and queen.”

Chikaru laughed, “Yes, that is probably a good way of putting it.”

They had arrived back at the dorm by now, and Chikaru opened the door for Fuyuko, gesturing for her to go ahead when the girl hesitated (something that was apparently her favorite thing to do). Chikaru stepped in, her eyes readjusting to the dimness of the hall. She was about to ask Fuyumi if she needed help with anything else, when she suddenly realized there was another person in the hall with them.

“Makoto!” She exclaimed with some surprise.

A green-haired girl clad in Spica white turned with a smirk. The prodigal daughter had returned.

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