Chapter 6: Mechanics and Musicians
No one had ever been able to truly explain why it was that Kohran worked so much better (and faster) in the wee hours of the morning. It had simply become part of how things went at the theater. No one was surprised, when they got up for a snack in the middle of the night, to hear the sounds of her tinkering and banging about down in the Koubu hangar.
As Haruka lay peacefully asleep upstairs in Kohran's room, the young mechanic was hard at work among her metallic friends, the Koubu. Yanking hard to loosen a particularly difficult bolt, Kohran wound up smacking her head on the metal railing behind her with a loud crashing sound.
"Owww," she complained, clutching at her head. She was used to this, but that didn't make it hurt any less. Frustrated, she addressed the Koubu on which she was working- Maria's.
"You and I both know you have to give up that bolt," she told it firmly. "Hitting me in the head isn't going to let you keep it."
"Who are you talking to?"
Kohran nearly hit her head again as she jumped at the sound of a human voice. What's more, it wasn't a human voice she could easily recognize. She climbed up on top of the Koubu's metal hull, and saw the bright green eyes of Cecil Aijima staring back at her.
"I'm talking to the Koubu," she answered easily, jumping back down to that bolt and applying her wrench once more.
Cecil appeared next to her as silently as a shadow. He stared intently at her.
"Koubu?" he asked, and Kohran just laughed.
"This, right here," she said, tapping Maria's Koubu with her wrench. It produced a pleasant metal-on-metal sound that echoed off the hangar walls. "It's a Koubu. Maria's, specifically."
The tan young man appraised the large device in front of him, seeming completely mystified.
"Koubu," he said slowly, turning the word over in his mouth, getting used to it. "These are what you use in your other job. You fight things, right?"
Kohran nodded, as the troublesome bolt finally gave way. Cecil didn't seem at all bothered by her continuing to work while he talked, so that's exactly what she did.
"Yup," she said cheerfully. "Demons, mostly. The Koubu fight with us."
Cecil blinked at her.
"You say that like it's alive," he murmured, and Kohran nodded sharply again.
"Of course it's alive!" she said sharply. "They're all alive. They even have hearts." She leaned forcefully into her tinkering, her mouth set in a determined line.
Poor Cecil sounded as confused as Sakura had, when Kohran had first explained it to her. Fortunately, he didn't seem against the idea, just a little lost.
Sighing, Kohran put down her wrench.
"Every Koubu has a quartz heart that keeps it in tune with its pilot," she said, adopting her best lecture voice. "The Koubu are more than just fighting machines. They're designed with their pilots' greatest desires in mind. They know who we are, what we want. They're like our friends."
She leaned across the aisle between Maria's Koubu and Kohran's own green one, gesturing for Cecil to do the same.
"Put your hand on it," she said. When Cecil had obeyed, Kohran reached out and pressed her palm to the green-lacquered metal. Instantly, she saw that Cecil had felt the effect.
"It's warm," he said, staring at his own hand as if she had lit it on fire. Kohran giggled.
"It knows I'm here," she explained. "Most of the Koubu get warm when they feel their pilot's touch." She shrugged, and scooted back over to Maria's Koubu, which still needed her attention.
"They all warm up a little for me, since I give them the most attention," she added. "But none of them get as excited as that just for me except mine."
"How does it know it is you?" Cecil wanted to know.
"That's a silly question," she said, as she removed the metal plate covering some of the navy blue Koubu's electrical wiring. "Like I said, it's attuned to my heart. It can feel me. It knows what my heart feels like."
Cecil let Kohran work in silence for a few minutes, staring from Koubu to Koubu. He even got up for a bit, and circled them, noting the differences. He tried touching each one, but none warmed up as Kohran's had done.
He could tell whose was whose easily enough. He had seen Sakura practicing with her sword in the early hours of the morning once or twice, so he assumed that the light pink Koubu with an identical sword was hers. Kohran's had a large cannon-looking device on the top. She had mentioned that the dark blue one with the pistol arm was Maria's. The red one came fitted with claw attachments that worked best for a hand-to-hand fighter, so that one had to be Kanna's, which left only the purple and yellow.
"What does this one do?" Cecil asked, staring at the weaponless yellow Koubu. It's only major defining feature was a pair of large plated shields across the legs. He saw no gun, no cannon, no sword. For a fighting machine, it seemed pretty useless.
Kohran looked up to see which Koubu he meant. She smiled, when she saw which one.
"That one belongs to Iris," she said simply. "Iris doesn't fight with weapons, so her Koubu doesn't have any."
"How does Iris fight with no weapons?" Cecil asked.
Goodness, he had a lot of questions, Kohran thought wryly to herself. But she never lost an opportunity to tell anyone about the Koubu.
"Iris uses her spirit energy," she said. "It's like magic, sort of. She-"
"I know spirit energy."
Cecil's soft comment caught Kohran completely off-guard.
"Whaaaaaat?!" she squeaked, her jaw on the floor. "How do you know anything about that?!"
It was Cecil's turn to shrug, placing his hand on the yellow Koubu's hull.
"Some of my people use spirit energy, as the muses will it," he said, as if that explained anything. Kohran was mystified. To be honest, he sounded a bit crazy.
"Your people?" she asked uncertainly.
Cecil turned and met her eyes, without removing his hand from Iris' Koubu.
"Yes," he said simply. "I come from a country far west of here. Agnopolis. We are worshippers of the muses, divine goddesses of music."
The violet-haired mechanic let out a soft "Oh", entirely dumbfounded.
The prince of Agnopolis smiled at her. He was sweet, Kohran thought. The way he accepted everything she told him, sorting it out in his head until it made sense- he was very like Sakura. She liked him, she determined.
Cecil stayed there in the hangar with Kohran until she had finished all of her repairs for the night. Then they stayed awake even longer, chatting. Kohran showed him the inside of her Koubu, and gave him a rough tutorial on how it worked. He was like a little child who had never been to school, eagerly drinking up the new knowledge with fascinated eyes.
He told her of Agnopolis (finally convincing her that he wasn't crazy). She seemed to find his devotion to the muses funny, but she did mention that he must be an interesting person, to give up being a prince for being a popstar idol.
They talked for so long that Kohran was eventually left snoring, leaning against the side of her Koubu. Cecil smiled as he watched her. She was so in love with these machines, he had discovered. She could talk about them for hours. Listening to her, he could see exactly how the Koubu could feel her heart. They were attuned to her, but more importantly, she was attuned to them.
He considered waking her up, but decided that Kohran seemed more comfortable here than anywhere. Plus, she looked so peaceful...and returning her to her room would wake Haruka. So he settled for fetching her a warm blanket from upstairs, tucking it around her sleeping form as gently as possible.
When she awoke, Kohran grinned at the sight of the blanket.
"Would you look at that," she said offhandedly to her Koubu. "He is sweet."
Breakfast the next morning was a relatively quiet affair. Most of the Flower Division weren't interested in social interaction so early. Sakura, Ohgami, Natsuki, and Haruka were notably cheerful. Cecil, who was usually decently talkative in the morning, was quiet as a mouse. Kohran and Syo were both nearly snoring into their food. Maria, Tokiya, Iris, and Sumire were stark and silent. Kanna spoke when spoken to, but it was clear to everyone that she didn't have any desire to be awake right then.
Ren, surprisingly, had taken a break from his pursuit of Sumire, and was sitting with Kanna and the snoozing pair, Syo and Kohran.
When Masato finally arrived, Ren raised a hand in greeting, indicating that Masa should sit with them. Unfortunately, he was met only with a curt nod, before Masato took a seat with Maria, Tokiya, and Sumire. At that, even the talkative few had to pause in surprise.
Haruka and Natsuki looked sadly at Ren, who had returned to his food with no words. His poor breakfast, however, was at the mercy of a slightly more violent pair of chopsticks.
"Is something wrong?" Ohgami asked, concerned. Sakura looked up intently. She wanted to know as well.
Natsuki and Haruka both sighed.
"Masa-chan and Ren-chan have been good friends since they were children," Natsuki explained, his voice thick with sadness. "They are nearly polar opposites, but somehow, they manage to understand each other better than the rest of us could ever hope."
Sakura's eyelids fluttered as she tried to look at Ren without being obvious. Until now, she had only ever talked with bright, cheerful, happy Natsuki. To hear him quiet down so much, it was worrying. Whatever was happening between Ren and Masato must have been serious.
"But lately," Haruka added, "They haven't been acting like themselves at all."
"Well, sort of," Natsuki said. "Masa-chan has never been friendly, exactly..."
"...but he's never been this cold before," Haruka finished. "And Ren, he's usually so outgoing..."
"...but he's never been cruel." Natsuki adjusted his glasses, staring back and forth between Masato and Ren.
"I think something happened, between them, when we came here," Haruka confessed. "Masato-san has always been so patient with Ren, and he never says what he's thinking. But lately, Masa hasn't been keeping it to himself at all. That's strange, for him."
Natsuki added, "And Ren-chan has always made fun of Masa-chan, a little bit, but he's been worse about it lately. Almost like he doesn't care how Masa feels anymore."
Sakura and Ohgami traded helpless looks. They were both such kind people, it was hard to hear of others' troubles without wanting to help. But if Haruka and Natsuki didn't know what was going on, then how on earth would two strangers be able to fix it?
"Let us know if there's anything we can do to help," Ohgami said, somewhat listlessly. He knew the chances were slim. When it came to matters like this, people had to work out their own problems.
Haruka and Natsuki both nodded, their expressions as glum as Ohgami's.
From that point, breakfast was truly silent.
After the morning's rehearsal, Ren didn't come to lunch. Instead, he went for a run, like he always did when he had something on his mind.
Maria watched him intently from the second-floor balcony as he circled the lake across from the Imperial Theater, her lips pursed. While his frivolity didn't bother her, she had come to discover that she disliked the way he interacted with Hijirikawa. From what Sakura had mentioned, the pair of them were usually thick as thieves. Why, then, were they so hostile with one another now?
That day, in the hall after rehearsal...Maria wondered if Jinguji had seen the look on Hijirikawa's face. Certainly Sakura had, and Maria had, but did Ren realize what was so close to bubbling to the surface? His friend appeared to be losing patience with him. Maria didn't like it.
Still, Maria had never been one to insert herself into the affairs of others without some serious cause. She herself valued her privacy more than nearly everything. She was not the person who needed to speak up here.
The rustling of clothes behind her told Maria that she wasn't alone on the balcony.
"You don't like it either," came Kanna's low, gruff voice. Kanna had always been able to see through Maria's mask, most of the time.
"I don't," Maria conceded.
The two women stared in silence, the wind blowing strongly through Maria's blonde locks and Kanna's ginger ones. Maria was the only one Kanna could communicate in silence with.
"They'll figure it out."
Kanna's voice was quiet, but determined. She had such faith in them. Maria noted for the thousandth time how ironic their relationship was.
"One can only hope," she said quietly.
For the rest of the cast, lunchtime came and went. Most of them were at least somewhat excited to get back to rehearsing. The more they practiced, the more the show started to come together. Sakura was still a little nervous, but as she spent more and more time with Otoya, their performances both improved dramatically.
Only Haruka was not excited for the rehearsal to begin again. She loved watching the boys practice, but it went on for so very long...
Plus, they didn't need her for this. There was nothing for Haruka to do except watch attentively (which was honestly very tiring). She imagined she had the first half of the script memorized just from hearing them practice it repeatedly.
Within the first ten minutes of the afternoon rehearsal's beginning, Haruka felt her eyelids involuntarily begin to droop. She started missing every third word or so. When she finally realized how far out of it she was, Haruka stood up quietly and made her way to the auditorium door to get some air. Maybe that would wake her up a bit.
As she quietly closed the large door behind her, Haruka heard her name being called.
Captain Ohgami was drifting down the hallway toward her, waving politely.
"Are you going to skip watching the rehearsal?" he asked curiously.
Haruka blushed red.
"Oh, no, I couldn't possibly- I need to be there, to support them..." she mumbled, her eyes trained on the floor.
Ohgami sighed lightly, and shrugged.
"If that's what you want to do," he said. "I was going to see if you wanted to see something interesting." He smiled at Haruka, which only made her blush more.
"I found something I thought might catch your interest as a composer," he wheedled, and wound up smiling to himself when he saw Haruka's eyes light up.
"The boys won't mind," he added casually. "They all want you to have a good time here, too."
That wasn't even a lie. Syo, Tokiya, and Oyota had all mentioned Haruka's lack of things to do here (or lack of things she was willing to do). Ohgami had taken it upon himself to check out a few things, in the hopes of entertaining her, and had been pleasantly successful.
"I suppose," Haruka said doubtfully. Her voice was so quiet. Ohgami knew how attached she was to the members of STARISH, but he sincerely hoped that he could help change that. There had to be more to her life than them, no matter how wonderful they were.
Haruka was surprised (and pleased) to find that Ohgami was ever the gentleman, offering her his arm to walk with him of her own accord. Syo or Natsuki would have just grabbed her hand and dragged her along. Normally she didn't mind, but sometimes it was nice being able to use her own feet.
As they walked off to Ohgami's mystery destination, Haruka began to wonder where it was he was taking her. Something that would interest her as a composer, he had said. What on earth could he have found around here like that?
Ohgami led her around corners, down hallways, and even down a flight of stairs. They eventually came to a stop outside a door below the auditorium, next to the scenic workshop. Haruka blinked, confused. She didn't recognize this door.
The captain smiled at her, and let go of her arm.
"While you've been so busy watching the rehearsals, I've had to find someone to talk to," he explained. "I made some new friends, and they mentioned that they'd like to meet you."
Haruka gaped, wide-eyed and baffled. Who on earth could possibly be interested in meeting her?
Ohgami rapped twice on the door with his knuckles, then opened it.
"I finally got her here!" he announced as he entered. He stepped aside to let Haruka in, and the sight that met her eyes was one she certainly hadn't expected.
It was a music room, with two pianos, and a plethora of chairs and music stands, designed for musicians to practice in. Not only that, but there were even musicians! Seven of them, to be exact. Five men and two women, each wielding an instrument of some type.
Immediately, the young woman closest to her stood up. She was a slender redhead with golden eyes, and she wore a pale yellow sundress. She held a violin in her hands. The girl smiled, and Haruka immediately thought that she must have been just as beautiful as Tomochika.
The girl set down her violin, and offered her hand to Haruka.
"You must be Miss Nanami," she said, her voice ringing like a bell. "I'm Hino Kahoko, it's a pleasure to meet you."
Still a little shellshocked, Haruka shook her hand, then looked questioningly at Ohgami.
"This is the musical ensemble for the show," he said brightly. "They're from the music department at Seiso Academy. They'll meet the rest of the cast when we get to the musical rehearsals, but for now, they've been practicing down here."
Kahoko took Haruka's hand again, wrapping it between her own two delicate hands.
"We've been so excited to meet a professional composer," she said kindly. "Shall I introduce everyone?"
Blushing, Haruka nodded, unsure what else to do. She had never really thought of herself as a professional, but she supposed the term fit. It was just hard to feel like one of the pros when the only people you ever really saw were your own band.
Kahoko pointed to each person as she introduced them.
"This is Yunoki Azuma," she said first, indicating a young man with long, violet hair and a white button-down shirt. "He plays the flute."
The young man called Yunoki bowed politely.
"A pleasure, Miss Nanami," he said smoothly.
"And this is Hihara Kazuki," Kahoko continued. This time she pointed at a boy in layered t-shirts, with very tan skin and messy green hair. He held a trumpet in one hand, while he waved enthusiastically with the other.
"Nice to meet you!" he said cheerfully.
After that were Tsuchiura Ryotaro, the muscular, green-haired piano player, and Shimizu Keiichi, the sleepy-looking blonde cellist. They both nodded politely in her direction, though Shimizu took a few moments to stare at her before returning his attention to his cello. Something in his eyes reminded Haruka of Natsuki.
Last were Tsukimori Len, the other violinist, and Fuyuumi Shoko, the other girl in the group. She seemed rather shy, and held a clarinet in her hands. Tsukimori barely paid Haruka any heed, but Kahoko leaned over and whispered that she shouldn't worry, he just didn't care for meeting new people.
Most of them took to Haruka immediately, especially Kahoko and Fuyuumi. While Ohgami disappeared to chat with Hihara and Yunoki, the three girls talked incessantly. Kahoko in particular wanted to know everything about what Haruka did for a living, working with STARISH. She explained about her compositions, and both girls seemed to find it fascinating. When asked about their own music, they both said that they had never done anything like Haruka's work.
"We're classical performers," Kahoko explained. "We usually just play what other composers have written. But it must be so lovely to write your own music!" Her eyes tok on a dreamy quality to match Shimizu's.
"I'd give anything to be a composer," she said wistfully. It was only when Fuyuumi placed a kind hand on her arm that Kahoko returned to the real world, giggling.
"But I suppose I have to be a proper violinist first," she finished.
For the rest of the afternoon, Haruka stayed with the ensemble. She found that getting to know them was easier than it had been to get to know STARISH. Idols, by nature, were a bit flashy and in-your-face. These musicians were much calmer, and quieter. Only Hihara really spoke up much, he and Ohgami were easily the loudest in the room.
For the first time since arriving at the Imperial Theater, Haruka truly felt comfortable. Talking to Kahoko was almost like talking to Tomo-chan, whom she sorely missed. After a while, the musicians insisted that they did actually have to practice, and Haruka was completely fascinated by their music. She had heard classical music before, of course, but it was a different experience to hear it played for her by a live ensemble. Haruka spent the entire time wishing she could play half as well as Tsuchiura could.
All of them were sad to part when it was time for dinner, but Haruka apologized profusely and said that she really needed to get back to STARISH.
Kahoko smiled, and said, "You're welcome to come back any time. If not, we'll see you in music rehearsals, right?"
Haruka nodded enthusiastically, and bid them all a fond farewell. The smile on her face would stay there for a while, she was certain.
As she and Ohgami left, headed for the dining hall, the tall young man grinned at her.
"So what did you think?" he asked. "Are you glad you skipped out?"
After a moment, Haruka nodded.
"I like them a lot," she said quietly, but her tone was so happy that Ohgami knew he had done well. "I've never met anyone like them before. Are all classical musicians like that?"
"I don't know. These are the only ones I've ever met. They are really nice, though, I'm glad you got along." He met her eyes, his smile still firmly in place. "I just thought you seemed a little lonely, and might need someone to talk to."
"Kahoko-chan is very sweet," Haruka said, as a bit of an afterthought. "And Fuyuumi-san is very pleasant as well." She went on to mention how talented Tsuchiura was, and that sparked a conversation that lasted all the way to dinner.
Just before they entered the hall, Haruka paused.
"Thank you, Ohgami-san," she said softly. "I had a very good time today."
Ohgami just shrugged at her.
"I'm glad you did," he said. "Maybe now you won't be so bored during the day."
Both smiling like a couple of fools, Haruka and Ohgami went in to dinner.
"Haruka wasn't in rehearsal today," Syo noted as he stared down the table at Haruka. She was talking animatedly with Kanna and Kohran. "She seems...livelier than usual."
Natuski grinned at his friend.
"Syo-chaaaan, are you jealous?" he asked in his most annoying singsong voice, which earned him a smack on the head.
"Of course not!" Syo insisted, but the blush in his cheeks gave him away.
"I don't know what she did," Natsuki said dreamily, "But she looks happier than ever."
Syo simply nodded, poking absentmindedly at his food. He smiled down at his plate.
"Yeah, she does," he said quietly to himself.
The following morning at breakfast, the drama of the day before was instantly forgotten.
Otoya came racing into the hall, his cell phone in his hand, and a wide grin spread across his face.
"They're back!" he hollered joyously. "Finally!"
Ren leaned back in his chair as the entire room graced the hyperactive Otoya with puzzled expressions.
"Otoya, what in the world are you talking about? It's too early for this," he drawled lazily.
Not fazed in the slightest, Otoya just dropped into his chair, a triumphant and smug look on his face.
"I just thought you might want to know that Quartet Night's tour is finishing up," he said airily. "They're back in Japan, and they happen to be performing their final show here at the capital tomorrow night."
The members of STARISH (and Haruka) traded apprehensive looks. Generally, their relationship with their mentors was tenuous at best, but the idea of some familiar faces was admittedly appealing to all of them.
"They've invited us to come," Otoya added, indicating his phone to imply that he had been texting Reiji. "And with our distinguished guests, no less. VIP's, backstage passes, the whole shebang."
He glanced at Sakura, remembering what Reiji had said about he and Camus being fans of the Flower Division. Truthfully, the amount of fame in that room between STARISH and the Flower Division could have gotten them all in without VIP passes, but better safe than sorry.
"Quartet Night?" Sakura asked, completely bewildered.
"They're another performing group, like STARISH," Tokiya explained, "Also employed by the Shining Agency."
"I've heard of them, but I've never listened to the music," Ohgami mused thoughtfully.
"You should all come with us to the show!" Otoya said excitedly. "It'll be after rehearsal ends anyway, so there's no reason not to."
"It sounds like so much fun!" Sakura squealed. "I've always wanted to go to a concert."
At that, the entire STARISH company's jaws dropped.
"You've never been to a concert?" Syo asked in a dangerously soft tone.
"N-no," Sakura said sheepishly, a blush creeping across her face. "I don't think any of us have. Except...Sumire? Have you ever been to a concert?"
The brunette sniffed dramatically.
"Of course not," she said loftily. "Not of the variety you're talking about. I only go to classical concerts and the opera."
Kanna snorted. "Good time for you to do something new then, Cactus Woman."
Sumire's eyes flashed at the sound of her hated nickname, but Maria spoke up before she could start an argument.
"I think this would be a wise networking decision," she said calmly. "As we are expected to remain in the visible performance sphere, it is only fitting that we should make more friends in the industry."
Kanna, Sumire, and Sakura all stared at her. Maria, of all people, wanted to make new friends? Sakura thought she could feel hell freezing over.
"It's settled then!" Otoya crowed. "We'll all go to the concert tomorrow night. You girls will love it!"
From the look on Sumire's face, she wasn't so sure, but she resigned herself to it.
They can't be any worse than these idiots, she reasoned...