Prologue

She stood in the open doorway, the air currents beckoning her into the interior and promising of springtime. She stepped haltingly forward, eyes glancing over the half-inhabited room. The lone window’s curtain fluffed lazily in the breeze.

She knew immediately which side of the room was hers. While one side was clearly inhabited, her own was blank and sterile. The bed lacked sheets, the walls were bare, and the desk lacking in books and paper. The dearth of life to her side of the room made her shiver suddenly, a cold feeling stealing up on her even as the sun glared brightly just beyond the open window panes.

It was strange to be standing there, so painfully poised on the threshold. So strange for her, to be looking into an unfamiliar room in an unfamiliar school. At seventeen, she was not supposed to be carrying suitcases into alien dormitory rooms. At seventeen, she was not supposed to be preparing to meet a new room-mate.

But, here she was, her footsteps bringing her further into this new world. And now her suitcases were set down quietly by her bare bed, and she looked out the window to see her new view. Cherryblossom trees clustered nearby, leaving a thick coating of decaying petals upon the ground. In the distance, the cathedral stood harshly against the landscape. And above the sky so blue it almost hurt to behold.

She turned her eyes from the postcard view, and let herself uneasily down on the edge of the bed. The other side of the room screamed at her, seemingly demanding attention, demanding it be noticed instead of the abandoned half. Garishly colored posters were set haphazardly against the wall, and a litany of stuffed creatures crowded the pink-sheeted bed. The desk itself had untidy stacks of notebooks and textbooks littering its surface, and half-closed drawers with pencils protruding from their depths. Finally, against this mess, a framed photograph sat precariously near the edge. Its solemn black-and-white tones seemed at odds with the scene it depicted – a girl, somewhat heavily made-up, arm hooked through the arm of a boy, leaning fully into him, face partially crushed against his chest and wide grins upon both her and his countenances. Directly underneath the picture frame was a letter, only the final lines of which were visible – “Miss you, Haruko! Love, Daisuke.”

There was a black-and-white photograph, too, in her own luggage. But it was a photograph seemingly destined to find itself tucked under the mattress, far from eyes, as opposed to so blatantly displayed. As it was, it had arrived at Astraea Hill tucked firmly near the bottom of her smaller suitcase, facedown against the gray lining. The presence of her own room-mate’s giddy photograph had prompted her first thought of it since she had tossed it there.

“Yukizawa-san, I presume?”

The voice, with its clipped edges, brought her out of her reverie, and she now stood, turned towards the door. Her own voice, when it came, was somewhat bland, “Yukizawa Fuyumi. Pleased to meet you.”

“Odaira Haruko – likewise.”

The other girl, though, stood in the doorframe, scrutinizing Fuyumi. When she tossed her head suddenly, reflexively, it was clear her judgment had been passed. She passed fully into the room now, and made her way fluidly to her wreck of a desk. She looked once more at Fuyumi before she sat down, and then spoke with her back turned “I miss my room-mate dearly – she is ailing.”

There was a pause.

“And you are not her.”

A burst of wind curled the drapes, and Fuyumi let loose a breath she had not known was held. And, thus, her tenth year of schooling began.

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