Story: Soft Power (all chapters)

Authors: moegrrl

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Chapter 1

1. Lulim Steps In

Chikaru hid a smile with her teacup as yet another meeting degenerated into a shouting match between the presidents of Spica and Miator on, among other things, the continuing absence of the Etoile from their meetings.

Right on schedule, she thought to herself with a tinge of amusement. I hope Shizuma-sama is at least enjoying herself, as she had earlier spied the Etoile disappear into the woods with a bewildered girl in tow.

Not the red-haired one though, Chikaru mused, blocking Shion’s huffy tones as she recited through the accomplishments of Spica versus the history of Miator. Miyuki was steadily turning an alarming shade of red - which was rather unusual. Shion must have said something particularly venomous today, Chikaru sidetracked idly.

In truth, the Etoile-sama needed a break. Tragedy and heartbreak like that doesn’t heal overnight, if it ever heals at all. If what she knew of the Etoile’s past was accurate - and Chikaru had one-hundred-per-cent belief that her grapevine was solid - she silently prayed that one red-haired and vibrant transfer student would finally bridge the chasm the Etoile was masking with studied flippancy.

But it doesn’t mean that these meetings should go to waste, Chikaru winced as Miyuki finally exploded and her voice reached new heights in decibel levels.

Chikaru mentally rewound the last few moments before Miyuki launched into her counter-attack and suppressed a chuckle at what she had been passively listening to while her thoughts wandered. Oh, that will definitely get Miyuki’s goat!

Setting aside her inner musings she studied the events unfolding in the conference room. To her right Miator’s Student Council president was riding the blast of her pent-up indignation. However, Chikaru knew that Miyuki’s sense of duty and purpose would eventually win out and balance her input in their subsequent meetings. Miyuki’s sense of fairplay even with inter-school matters was one thing she admired in Miator’s student body leader.

But Shion, Chikaru turned to the fuming blond who had planted both palms on the table and was leaning aggressively towards Miyuki, was entirely another matter. An embodiment of Spica’s modern curriculum and forward-thinking, Shion hammered her opponents until cowed into submission.

There wasn’t any doubt that Shion was competent in her position, but once you’ve teased a red flag on the face of her competitive streak she just simply charged and charged.

Chikaru’s soft chuckle went unnoticed by the two on either side. Shion certainly looked like an incensed bull. She looked about ready to head-butt Miyuki.

With a self-mocking and resigned sigh, Chikaru decided that it was time for Lulim to exercise a little soft power to temper the ambitious Spica president.


With her ears ringing, Chikaru headed to Lulim’s school grounds wondering if it would be prudent to bring earplugs to the next meeting. She was working out how to slip them on surreptitiously when she spotted her friends loitering under a tree.

Kizuna and Remon were locked into their favorite past-time: thumb wrestling. Kagome leaned on the trunk quietly conversing with Pashibaru.

Never failing to improver her mood, she headed towards her loyal retinue, when the thought struck that this was a perfect opportunity to rally her troops.

Reaching them she pompously cleared her throat and grandly called to order an impromptu meeting of the Secret Club.


2. Conscripting the Secret Club

Shion began to doubt the soundness of her mind. For the past few days she had the tingly feeling that she was being watched. Once she had whirled around to catch the perpetrator only to find an empty hall. Had she just imagined it or did she glimpse something pink disappear into that corner?

Pressing a hand to her temple, Shion had continued walking convinced that stress was feeding her paranoia.

If only Amane-san would cooperate!

Shion was determined that before she graduates she would see an Etoile couple from Spica. This was her last year and it fueled her sense of urgency to fulfill a dream she has been lobbying for since her early years in the Student Council.

From Secretary to President, she had been involved from day one First Year, and has schemed and counter-schemed only to be denied.

Then Amane-san, who had always been popular for her bishonen appearance, had managed to effortlessly gather a sizable fan-base that transcended the Spica student body. Her grades were good despite her devotion to equestrian training. In Shion’s mind Amane was the perfect candidate in finally reeling in the Etoile position for the honor and glory of Spica!

Of course, Shion indulged in a mini-evil laugh, letting it be known that she was the architect behind this success would be no small feather in her cap.

A faint click sounded and Shion snapped out of her reverie to point an accusing finger in its direction…only to startle a group of her underclassmen with her triumphant yell of “Ah-HAH!”

Embarrassed, Shion gathered herself, “Sumimasen,” she said with mustered dignity. Willing herself into an even pace she stiffly walked on. She really has got to get these hallucinations under control! Shion thought irritably.


Remon tried without success to be stealthy as she fled the Spica grounds after a day of tag-team surveillance with Kizuna on the movements of the Spica president. It didn’t help that she walked in an exaggerated tip-toe and was sporting her Sherlock Holmes outfit over her pink Lulim uniform.

It wasn’t a small miracle that Shion hadn’t managed to catch the clumsy Lulim students that have been dodging her steps.

Clutching her Polaroid camera, she went to find Kizuna who was supposed to conceal herself in the bushes near the Spica exit prior to their reporting back to the Secret Club.

Cupping her hands into a makeshift bullhorn, Remon sounded out the signal to meet. She called out…with the mating sounds of a wild warthog. Or what Remon and Kizuna agreed to be the mating sounds of wild warthog - when in fact it sounded more like a cow being tortured with a feather. If ticklish cows existed, that is. And never mind the fact that wild warthogs weren’t native in the Astrea woods.

Remon was oblivious to the weird looks she received from Spica students entering and leaving the grounds.

Suddenly, a bush sprung from the foliage and wiggled its way to Remon. It whispered: “Someone left the cake out in the rain…”

To which Remon responded “…I don’t think that I could take it ‘coz it took so long to make it and I’ll never have that recipe again.”

“Oh no!” Remon and the bush sang out before dissolving into giggles.

“Mission accomplished, Kizuna-chan! Let’s report back to Onee-sama!”

The bush, which was Kizuna in her stake-out costume, nodded her leafy head with an enthusiastic, “Hai!” The pair wiggled and tip-toed their way to Lulim.

“The Secret Club is in session!” declared Chikaru with a smart rap of her I-Make-It-Official gavel.

“Surveillance team - report!”

The lights dimmed. A slide projector snapped to life and Kizuna, who had shed her leafy countenance, read from the surveillance log.

“Based on the subject’s schedule pieced together from various sources. The subject begins her day early.” (Slight grumbling about the insane hours kept by exercise junkies may or may not have been inserted here, but Chikaru let it pass.)

“5:30 AM: the subject has gone jogging in a fashionable white sweat suit, if I say so myself!

“6:30 AM: the subject was spied cooling down after completing a circuit around Astrea Hill.” An Image of Shion in a stretch that showed off her toned arms snapped to focus. The jacket she had shed folded neatly in a stone bench.

“6:45 AM: the subject is at the Weights Room doing lifts.” Slide after slide of Shion using various equipment flashed by. “Interesting side-note: the subject likes to listen to punk-rock while weight training.”

Chikaru lifted a surprised brow, but said nothing.

“7:AM: the subject is using the showers in the Spica gymnasium.”

Chikaru choked back a shocked cough. Gasping, she exclaimed, “How in the world did you get that panty-shot?!! Baka! What were you thinking?!!”

Remon’s glasses reflected an unholy light as she pushed them up the bridge of her nose. “Onee-sama, you did ask us to be thorough. Besides, we have edited out the more…um…interesting photos.” Remon and Kizuna grinned at each other wickedly.

This time, Chikaru’s delicate eyebrow twitched in consternation. “Ecchi,” she muttered under her breath.

“Pashibaru?” Kagome intoned sweetly. “Isn’t Chikaru-sempai enjoying it too?”

“Nani?” Chikaru thought she heard something, but Kagome was nodding at something Pashibaru was saying.

Chapter 2

3. Childhood Friends


A small smile played on Shion’s lips. She loved this morning ritual. Her mind a blissful blank while on her morning jog. It was a time to leave behind her personas and their responsibilities: The President, The Valedictorian, The Heiress, The Perfect Daughter, and what was it they called her? The Snow Empress of Astrea…


Snow Empress, huh? Shion ruefully mused, What a polite way of calling me an Ice Queen.


She was passing by the sparkling and calm waters of the lake, and Shion let the sight center herself before the troubling thought brought on an anxiety attack. She had been getting a lot of those, especially with the pink hallucinations that she’d been having lately. She had been having dreadful dreams of being chased by a pink hamster. Somehow, the bits of pink that she’d been seeing on her peripheral vision transforming into an adorable little rodent.


An adorable little perverted hamster, which had pink fur and terrifying front teeth, dragging around a camera, and for some baffling reason, wearing glasses. Where did that come from? Dreams of a hentai hamster that took pictures of her in the shower, Shion shuddered.


A chill ran up Shion’s spine. Her neck hairs stood on end and she had the unnerving feeling that she was being watched now.


(She was, poor girl. Kagome was rudely dragged out of bed by Kizuna and Remon when they realized that this operation needed a four man team. More like they didn’t want to be separated, if you ask me, but what does the Narrator know anyway. Kagome had the binoculars to her eyes, while Pashibaru held the walkie-talkie. How it was able to do that with its stuffed paws, that lacked opposable thumbs or any other fingers for the matter, would have qualified as one of the mysteries of the Strawberry Dorms.)


It’s just the air. Shion made an effort to breathe evenly and find her Zen self. Just the lovely crisp air and I didn’t just imagine a pink hamster with a teddy bear and binoculars.


Determinedly staring at the path Shion started up the gentle but long incline of her favorite trail that cut into the forest. Responsibilities and pink hamsters were for later. Later. Later. Later. Repeating this mantra in her head, Shion found comfort in deep denial.


Nearing the crest, the dark crown of someone’s head peeked into view. Irritated that her solitude was being disrupted, Shion petulantly gazed on the bobbing ponytail of the jogger that was ahead of her. The ponytail was followed by a graceful neck and lovely shoulders. The person was jogging at an easy pace that Shion could overtake in a few moments.


Doing track at an early age, Shion unconsciously appreciated the jogger’s light build, which was ideal for track, the slim calves that rhythmically pounded the dirt path, and the graceful swing of her torso. She wore a sensible outfit of loose clothing that wouldn’t hinder her breathing or movement, and would keep her cool, Shion noted approvingly.


The ensemble was, regretfully, in pink…a garish neon pink, to be exact, down to the jogger’s trainers. Shion had nothing against pink. Really.


Visions of neon hamsters tortured Shion.


A familiar twinge from her childhood came to her. She’d seen this form before, and in fact it felt like she had always been following it. It was always ahead of her. She was always ahead of her. As long as she was on the team, Shion had always been second place. The ponytail was tied with trademark red ribbons. Chikaru’s trademark ribbons. Her childhood friend. Her former track teammate. Her rival.




Chikaru heard Shion approaching her and applauded her perfect timing. She could practically feel Shion’s hesitance. Chikaru knew that Shion could have easily passed her and she had deliberately kept her pace light.


Oh Shion, she silently chided, you weren’t always like this. Keeping her nonchalant speed, Chikaru patiently waited for Shion to weigh her options, knowing that Shion prized the mornings as her “me time”.


The path would branch out ahead of the, and Shion could escape without crossing paths with her, but Chikaru anticipated that and had Remon and Kizuna (in cosplay, of course, as traffic aides) bar the way on some fake “Dirt-Path-Preservation” story, that had Remon cross-eyed just practicing it.


She had considered just leaving some blinking road block on the path with a “Men-At-Work” sign, but decided against it. Shion would risk the warning if she really wanted to avoid a confrontation. Besides, there were those costumes, Chikaru thought with a tiny giggle of glee.

Chapter 3

Title: Chapter 2B

4. Shadow and Snow




“Ara,” feigning surprise, “Ohayo Gozaimasu, Spica-no Tomori Kaicho-sama,” said Chikaru.


Smiling wanly, “Lulim-na Minamoto Kaicho-sama,” Shion returned the formality, inclining her head to the side slightly. I can play this game too, Chikaru.


Matching pace, the two jogged in companionable silence for a bit, before Shion broke it by slyly saying, “You know, sweat doesn’t look so fake when you don’t spray it on.” She gave Chikaru a sidelong look with a smirk on her face.


Chikaru laughed in delight. “I could never hide anything from you, Kero-Kero-chan.”


“Mou! You know I hate it when you call me by my baby name.” Shion exclaimed, not sounding exasperated at all. In fact, some of the years between them melted away, and it was as if Chikaru and Shion were still chasing frogs in Kindergarten.


“So…to what do I owe this pleasure, Chikaru-san?”


“My, can’t a girl simply catch-up with a friend without having an agenda?” Chikaru said coyly.


“Not you, so-called Shadow Empress of Astrea. I’m on to you Chikaru-san. Spill it.”


“You’d save yourself and Rokujo-ojou-sama a whole lot of grief if you’d just focus on the reason behind Amane-san’s lack of motivation instead of bludgeoning her into submission.” Chikaru dove in without preamble.


Chewing her lip, Shion admitted, “Yeah, the straightforward approach, seems to be lacking.”


It was Chikaru’s turn to give Shion a sideways glance. “Seems to be? You antagonize a lot of people, and, inadvertedly, yourself, with your frontal-attack-solution-to-everything-stubbornness and it leaves you blind to the subtle elements that affect the situation…or to those that aim to foil your plans.”


Shion picked up on the thread of suggestion in Chikaru’s words.


“Should I be watching my back? Is it someone close to me?”


Chikaru beamed at how quickly Shion caught on to subtext, and appreciated the opportunity to converse with someone she could match wits with.


“There are Five Stars of St. Spica, being one yourself, you know this full well, but not all of them believe that Amane is the only viable candidate. By refusing to consider others to represent St. Spica, you are treading on the ambitions of others…even of those who already occupy positions of influence,” Chikaru baited. She wanted Shion to connect the dots herself. She wasn’t disappointed.


“Momomi and Kaname…” murmured Shion. She did have a feeling about those two, but brushed off her misgivings, relying on their loyalty in the past.


“How well do you know those two?”

Chapter 4

Title: Chapter 3

[Author's notes: flashback]

Little Chikaru wandered curiously through a sea of expensively clad legs. For a while she was fascinated by the adults that twirled elegantly on a humungous gazebo that served as the dance floor for the wedding reception of one of her older cousins. Then, she had stared in awe of a towering masterpiece of white confection that had a tiny ceramic couple perched atop. After stealing away a few sweets in her pocket from a table laden with pastries, she continued to explore the sprawling garden strewn with paper lanterns, and gaily decorated with ribbons and clusters of white roses. Adults in their finery were everywhere. Western formal was the norm as her cousin had married a foreigner of some repute who had pioneered something in an obscure field of medicine that would bolster the Minamoto Pharmaceutical Division of the Minamotos' vast conglomerate.

This celebration was also, in a way, serving as a business function hosted by the Minamoto clan for their partners and prospects. Happily the union, though not entirely spontaneous nor romantic, was a genial one, between two people who were comfortable with each other, in their place in society, and their intellectual compatibility. All in all the Minamoto clan was ecstatic that their eldest bachelorette had finally settled down when they had begun to despair that she might become a spinster.

There weren't a lot of children present, and most of Chikaru's other cousins were teenagers who held no interest in babysitting their mischievous little cousin when they could engage in whatever tomfoolery that teenagers got into. So Chikaru was pretty much left alone to explore to her heart's content despite the occasional pat and coo that she received from elderly relatives. Having just escaped an uncle who thought peek-a-boo was still appropriate entertainment for her age, Chikaru turned and caught sight of a porcelain doll dressed in a tiny lacy dress with flounces.

It was sitting primly on one of the seats around a table occupied by the groom's party. It was dressed in immaculate stockings, adorably tiny white shoes, pearly gloves, and white ribbons to hold up platinum blond curls framing a cherubic face tinged with pink.

Then it yawned. Chikaru gasped in surprise at it's tiny crinkled nose and the little "o" that it's mouth formed before it snapped shut. Entranced by the perfect little girl, she slowly approached. As Chikaru came nearer, pretty cornflower blue eyes turned to her and watched owlishly.

"Are you alive?" was the first thing Chikaru said when she had sidled up to the doll-like girl.

The little blond girl tilted its head slightly, not at all understanding what Chikaru had said. A young woman in a nanny uniform, who was watching over her little ward's bewilderment, kindly leaned in to Chikaru and explained in perfect Nihongo that the young miss could not understand the query as her family just moved in from Germany. Fascinated, Chikaru grinned at the doll-like girl and offered her sweets from her pocket. A love for sugar, after all, is the greatest common denominator of every kid in the world.

Chikaru's diplomatic talents manifested early.

The blue eyed girl smiled sweetly at Chikaru, as she took the proffered marzipan ball and unceremoniously gobbled it whole.

Chikaru was smitten and began chattering away to her uncomprehending new friend.

Shion felt a strange feeling blooming in her. If she had been years older, and in command of an eloquence she would be famous for, she may have said that “as if color was seeping into her dull life”. But she could not express her joy, for that was what she was feeling, and even if she knew that she was feeling happiness for the first time and had words for it, it would have been useless, as the one she wanted to say it to would not have understood.

What Shion didn’t know was that her shy smile was enough. The way her eyes shone was enough. The way she had gobbled the marzipan ball without hesitation was enough. For Chikaru saw more than what her eyes could see.

And what Chikaru saw was…a cohort.

For her schemes.

Small scale childish schemes that, in an adult scale, are relatively harmless yet could still evoke trepidation in the hearts of any Minamoto within the vicinity of the little terror.

What harm was there in switching Oka-sama’s lipstick with Onee-san’s shocking neon green one? Not that any one of the board members had dared to say anything to Oka-sama during their meeting. In a way it had complimented the conservative dark green pantsuit that her mom wore.

And that time that she was brought on a social call to the young family of a daughter of a powerful politician, how could Chikaru have known that their toddler would pick up his first word from her? All she did was amuse the child with dirty limericks she overheard from her older cousins while her parents had tea with their hosts. Didn’t they find it darling that when the young mother tried to coax her son to say “Mama” for the guests the apple-cheeked cutie with a wide toothless grin roared “Bakero!”?

And wasn’t it her that saved her cousin (the same one whose wedding reception there were celebrating now) from a horrible match? If she hadn’t been present at the omiai making faces behind the back of the pompous ass that was the potential groom, her cousin wouldn’t have bust out laughing, the longwinded bore wouldn’t have left in a huff, and the Minamotos would have wed into what would turn out to be a disgraced family on the verge of bankruptcy who were eager to get their grubby hands on some Minamoto wealth!

But those exploits are peanuts to what Chikaru had in mind for the future. Now, with this treasure she discovered she had the perfect foil. Why, world domination was well nigh into her grasp!

Chikaru regaled the oblivious Shion with her spin on the classic bait and switch. Shion, apparently, was the bait. She was blond after all. If Chikaru had learned anything from Charlie’s Angels old and new (from another cousin’s peculiar obsession with American culture) it’s that decoys were always blond. Farrah Fawcett, Cheryl Ladd, and Cameron Diaz. Blond, blond, and blond. And leggy. Leggy would come later, Chikaru mused. Shion could make do with utter cuteness.

Chikaru was still gauging the potential legginess of Shion's dimpled knees when said legs sprang upright. Shion was squealing "Frosch! Frosch!" in nervous excitement.

Chikaru looked down to her feet where Shion was riveted and found a pudgy toad squatted in regal indifference to Shion's excitement, as if being fawned over was a regular occurrence. Precocious as she was, fearless, with a generous amount of cheek, slimy things are to Chikaru what kryptonite is to Superman.

Now there were two girls jumping on a chair.

Whereas one anxiously vibrated between wanting to leap into the arms of her frog prince versus keeping her flounces pristine, the other one was bawling for her mama.

Heads turned towards the racket. Shion's nanny was futilely shooing the impassive frog. The Minamotos at hand gathered, and one slim lady in a frothy dress picked up the agitated Chikaru. "Yosh...Yosh Chibi-chan," she murmured soothingly while rocking the girl, "You're not frightened are you?"

Chikaru and the lady looked down in unison. The lady gave a startled "Eep!" while reflexively hopping back from the beastly blob that had turned around to waddle away, clearly contemptuous of its 15 minutes of fame.

That is one BIG mofo! The lady thought with a shudder. Her years abroad made her vocabulary expansive and colorful.

Chikaru's eyes gleamed as she patted her shaken cousin's head, "Yosh...yosh YOU'RE not frightened are YOU?"

"Now there's the little o-Bakemono that we all love!", the lady said without malice grinning fondly at Chikaru. The collected aunts, uncles, and cousins that bore witness hooted with laughter.

"Who's your friend Chibi-chan?"

Chikaru's eyes lit up and she twisted to reach for her new friend, until she was put down on the chair. Reaching for Shion's hand Chikaru began, "Megumi-sama I'd like you to meet uhhh..." Chikaru turned to Shion who was looking forlornly towards the bushes where her frog prince's butt had disappeared. Before the nanny could supply her ward's name Chikaru brilliantly finished with "...Kerokero-chan!"

On cue, with one last sigh over her lost love, Shion looked up to the crowd and smiled sweetly, as if she thoroughly approved of the introduction.

Charmed by the gorgeous little blond (in a superb display of decoy aptitude), the Minamotos completely glazed over the unusual name as if they suffered collective amnesia, or they were becoming immune to Chikaru's weirdness.


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