Blood fell on the snow as the figure ran away from the building, staggering a bit as she leaned up against the trees. Tenjou Utena panted softly as blood dripped down her arm, the wound in her upper back screaming as she fought to get her breath.
"There's no use running away," Akio Ohtori said to her in conversational tones, the dusky skinned young man standing there casually in the door to the rose garden, his jacket and shirt open to reveal his bare chest. Beside him his sister Anthy watched silently, almost expressionlessly, as Utena shivered out in the cold.
"You're insane," Utena managed, her pink hair falling into her bright blue eyes.
"No," Akio smiled, "just visionary." He casually raised the knife he had plunged into Utena's shoulder, "Tonight is the longest night of the year, the peak of my power... and all it requires to retain that strength is a sacrifice."
"No!" Utena growled out and with that she was off, trailing drops of blood as she forged ahead through the snow.
"Well well, she's determined to make this entertaining," Akio chuckled, stepping out of the greenhouse and into the winter cold.
"Be careful, big brother," Anthy cautioned, her purple hair flowing over her shoulders, the red dress she wore entirely inappropriate for the weather, "she's dangerous."
"Oh?" Akio asked as he raised an amused eyebrow while they followed the trail of blood away from campus.
Patiently Anthy said, "You've had me rooming with her since September, preparing the girl with my potions and rituals, and she's stronger than you know." As they walked on her dress seemed to shimmer, the ends never touching the snow as she warned him, "If anyone could turn this around on you, it's her."
"I chose her for this because of her innocence," Akio said with a degree of contempt as they moved through the woods towards the forbidden wood, "the little fool even believed that I was her childhood hero."
Anthy took his hand and squeezed it, "Just be careful."
Akio's eyes were intent as they walked, lit up with a kind of unholy hunger. "Don't worry," he smiled slightly, "she's harmless."
Utena hesitated as she passed the warning sign to stay out of this section of woods, then choked back a bitter laugh. At this point, it didn't really matter anyway. The trees here seemed to almost hold in the darkness, even the moonlight weakened by the heavy cover, but still Utena found the remains of a tangled overgrown path that led her deeper into the woods.
'They're both crazy,' Utena thought as she climbed over a log, her boy's uniform black edged with pink. Even when she first met Akio Utena had been a bit creeped out, only tolerating his presence because of his being Anthy's brother, but she had never expected something like this!
Shivering from the cold Utena turned a corner, the knife wound in her back screaming in pain, only to freeze as she gazed on in surprise. Impossibly in the middle of Japan was the gutted wreck of a castle, the towers fallen into ruin. Oddly there was a break in the trees here, moonlight streaming through to light up the fallen building. Scattered all around it were rose bushes, the last red petals scattered on the snow like blood.
Utena walked towards the main doors and saw that they hung open, the courtyard within glowing almost mystically in the moonlight. There was a raised bench in the middle of the large yard, nearly looking like a kind of altar, and on it something gleamed silver. Brushing away a bit of the snow Utena blinked in surprise, looking down at the shining sword, unmarked by rust or age there in the long abandoned castle.
Picking up the weapon almost instinctively Utena walked on towards a crumbling set of stairs, trying to make sense of all the crazy things that had happened to her so far. Akio had invited her to the rose garden for what he claimed was an urgent matter, but when she arrived he had told her a odd fairy tale, one about two siblings.
"Once upon a time," he had said wryly, "there were the King and Queen of Winter and Summer, two siblings that passed their rulership between them as the seasons changed. As Summer grew strong Winter subsided, and the opposite applied as well. But the King of Winter tired of the cycle, seeking a perfect balance, and on a night very like this he succeeded."
'And that was when the psycho drew the knife on me,' Utena thought to herself grimly as she went up the stairs to the next level. Akio had managed one good strike at her, mostly because he caught her by surprise, then Utena broke free and out the door. 'Which brings me here,' she thought as she passed through a stone arch.
The upper floor was oddly empty, the curved roof cracked open to reveal the night sky. The smooth floor was designed like a giant rose, now dusted with snow, and as Utena walked towards the center she saw the moonlight shining on what almost looked like a throne, a great stone chair that was battered and unused.
"I never expected you to find this place," Akio's amused voice rang out in the silence, "it brings back such... fond memories."
Spinning around Utena saw Akio standing in front of the only way down, his school uniform somehow changed. He looked more like a prince now, holding a sword in one hand as he stood in shadow, just out of the moonlight. Lit up by the moon Anthy glowed, what almost looked like a princess' tiara on her purple curls, and her glasses gleaming faintly.
"Let me go," Utena raised the sword instinctively, watching Akio warily as she said, "I promise I won't report this to the authorities."
"You're a terrible liar Utena," Akio chuckled, "we've gone too far to stop now." With a sudden cry he charged, sword gleaming as he brought the blade down towards her shoulder.
Utena parried, barely, using both hands to block the powerful stroke. Her shoulder felt like someone had driven a hot poker into it, but she blinked the pain away to focus on him. Kicking out Utena managed to make him jump back, then she swung with the sword.
Quickly Utena realized that Akio was a very good swordsman, one that outclassed her completely. She did her best, hoping to at least take him by surprise, but he batted her clumsy attacks aside with frightening ease. Finally he struck, a twist of his wrist sending the sword clattering off into the distance as he grabbed her with a vice like grip.
"Well done, brother," Anthy murmured, walking over to where the sword fell and then picking it up gracefully.
"You've made this fun," Akio hissed into the ear of the wildly struggling Utena, "so often it just gets boring."
"Anthy!" Utena appealed only to be met with a blank gaze.
"Don't even try," Akio laughed, contempt in his voice, "little Anthy has been my puppet so long, I suspect she couldn't have an original thought if she tried." He chuckled as Anthy neared, "And can you believe she still cares for me, or at least who I once was?"
"What do you mean," Utena managed, Akio's arm over her throat, the tall young man holding her unpleasantly tight.
"My brother was once my beloved Dios," Anthy said to her in a oddly detached tone, "who dreamed of balance between us, of Summer and Winter living at rest. Sacrificing himself he sought to break us free of the eternal cycle, but something went wrong."
"Something went right," Akio corrected with a laugh, "I made Winter dominant all year round, and sweet Anthy became my servant." His eyes fell on the sword Anthy carried and laughed, "Oh, this is perfect."
"Brother?" Anthy asked, eyes almost invisible behind her glasses.
"Take up the Sword of Dios," Akio purred, "at last you will have a turn. Strike her down with the blade quickly, she's earned that for making this fun."
"Yes," Anthy whispered.
"Please, no," Utena plead, gagging as Akio pressed on her throat.
As Anthy hesitated a moment Akio made his voice stern, "Kill her!" Softening his tone a bit he continued on, "To save this perfection we share that my power protects, to guard the love between us.. she must die."
As Anthy walked toward them again Utena added, "This isn't perfection he's offering you, it's just the cold stillness of the grave." A pause and she desperately played her last card, "He doesn't love you, he never did!"
Anthy raised the sword to guard position, the blade shining in the moonlight. "Don't move," she ordered Utena softly, "if I miss my strike it will be even more painful to you."
Utena met those expressionless eyes and something made her stop fighting, Akio holding her still. "That's my girl," he said with dripping sarcasm, "do it!"
The sword was fast, a streak of silver that went right by Utena into the stunned Akio, driving home right into his heart. "In all the months I spent with Utena," she murmured to him with hatred brimming in her eyes, "she showed me more caring than you ever did."
Silently Akio screamed then seemed to explode, his body disappearing in a wave of frost that poured outward, the air icy and cold. Utena staggered as something rushed back in, a feeling like the first frost of the season, arctic and pure, then as all the stresses of the day finally caught up with her she simply collapsed.
The sunlight on her face awoke Utena, the morning sounds of the campus outside a pleasantly familiar thing. Pushing herself she gasped in pain as her shoulder flared up... then gasped again as the long night's memories rushed in on her.
"You should be lying down," Anthy scolded as she entered, wearing a simple dress and carrying a tray, "you need to rest."
Utena reached up to tentatively touch the bandage on her shoulder through he pajama top, then let her hand flop to the bed. "Last night," she murmured, "it was all real."
"Yes," Anthy admitted, setting the tray beside the bed and revealing it carried medical supplies. Gently she reached to Utena's shoulder, "Turn please?"
Obeying that almost parental tone automatically Utena felt Anthy delicately peel her night shirt down, remove the old bandage, clean the wound and then apply a new bandage. "Akio," Utena softly asked, "is he...?"
"He's still alive," Anthy said as she tugged the collar of Utena's shirt up, her fingers lingering for a bit on her throat, "but he has been stripped of his aspect as the Winter King, leaving him just a mere mortal." A smile, "A fate worse than death, for him."
Utena looked at her warily, "If he's not the Winter King anymore, who is?"
"You," Anthy said mildly. "Would you like a cup of tea, Utena-sama?"
"Well, yes I would..." Utena started when Anthy's statement caught up with her, "me!"
Anthy gave her a guilt stricken look, "The spells Akio had me cast on you were intended to make you and he connected, so that you could stand in his place as the winter sacrifice and he could retain his powers. When he was slain, the power poured through that link to you."
"Oh hell," Utena breathed out. "Does that mean I'll become like he did?" she demanded, "Because if so, kill me now."
"No," Anthy quickly reassured her, "Akio was greedy, seeking to retain his power outside of his place in the cycle." A pause, "There is one other slight complication, Utena-sama."
"Why do you keep calling me lady Utena?" she asked tiredly. Feeling all of last night's aches she continued, "What's the other complication?"
"The Summer Queen and Winter King," Anthy said softly as she kept a gentle grip on Utena's hand, "are traditionally married."
Utena gazed at her blankly a moment, then fell back on her bed with a soft groan. "Oh hell," she repeated, knowing that things had just gotten much more complicated.
The end.. !
Notes: a fic in tribute to the upcoming longest night of the year and the beginning of winter, officially. Based around various mythologies I've read about, as well as a bit of Terry Prattchet stuff, too. I may or may not continue this, if only in Arisugawa's Locket or something.