Though the blinds were drawn to a close, Vice Principal Takagi sat facing the window within the darkness consuming her office.
“You summoned me, my queen?” asked a woman.
The vice principal spun her chair to face an exquisite looking woman. “I have need of your services,” she said.
“I know what it is that you desire,” said the demon who went by the name Kyoko. “You want me to do away with our foes once and for all.”
“Not quite. You see, so far all of my attempts to destroy them have failed. So I’ve chosen to go about this a different way.”
“What is it that you propose, my queen?”
A grin formed on the vice principal’s ruby red lips. “Why create an enemy when you already have one?” she asked.
“I understand completely,” said Kyoko. “You want me to use my mirror to turn one of our enemies against their friends. How very clever. Might I suggest the boy? He’s clearly the strongest of the three. The girls won’t stand a chance.”
“A good choice. But not what I was thinking.”
“What did you have in mind, my queen?”
Vice Principal Takagi spun her chair back around so that she was once again facing the window. “I plan on using our dear little Jaycee for this experiment,” she said.
“But why? Of all our enemies, she’s clearly the weakest. She won’t stand a chance against the others.”
“Who said they were going to fight her?” asked the vice principal. “Their dear little Jaycee is far too precious for the others to ever consider raising a hand to. They would just as soon let her destroy them before even thinking about hurting her.”
A boisterous laugh burst from Kyoko. “Your wisdom is far beyond any praise I could ever bestow upon it, my queen.”
Vice Principal Takagi let out a sigh. “I know,” she replied.
That weekend, Jaycee and Aiko went window-shopping downtown. They had seen all the stores many times before, making Jaycee quite disinterested. Aiko, on the other hand, could have seen the stores a million times and still be entranced by them.
“Are we almost done?” asked Jaycee. “We’re supposed to meet Sage for lunch soon. We shouldn’t keep him waiting.”
“Sage won’t mind,” said Aiko. “Besides, we have plenty of time, and we haven’t even seen all the stores yet. We’ve only been on one side of the street.”
“But we’re always in these stores. They always have the same things. It would be nice if a new store opened up.”
“Did you say something about a new store opening up?” asked Aiko, who was pointing at a new store just a few doors down.
“That’s . . . lucky,” said Jaycee.
“Let’s check it out,” said Aiko, taking Jaycee by the hand.
The girls arrived inside the new establishment and immediately began perusing the many rare looking items. Century old clocks, classical furniture, clay pottery and Victorian paintings were only a small sampling of what the new shop had to offer.
“What a cool store,” said Aiko.
Kyoko, who had been out of sight, appeared from seemingly out of nowhere. She shut the door with just enough force to startle her customers. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “I hope I didn’t frighten you. I just keep the door closed so the elements don’t damage my items.”
“That’s okay,” said Aiko. “We’re just looking around.”
“How nice,” said Kyoko, whose attention became focused squarely on Jaycee. “So, is there anything in particular you girls were looking for today?”
“Um, not really,” said Jaycee.
“Well, look around as much as you like. I’m sure you’ll find something that catches your eye.” She then left the girls on their own.
Aiko picked up an old jar. While admiring the craftsmanship, the jar slipped out of her hands. If not for her amazing reflexes, the jar surely would have hit the floor.
Jaycee found a music box made of a cherry wood. She opened it and was treated to a soothing melody. “It’s beautiful,” she whispered.
“You like it?” asked Kyoko, who was now standing behind Jaycee.
“Yes,” replied Jaycee.
“Well, if you like that, then I have something that you won’t want to miss.” Kyoko then led Jaycee to an item covered by a white sheet.
“Where are those two going without me?” wondered Aiko.
Kyoko whipped the sheet off to show the mirror hiding behind it. “This mirror is rumored to have once been owned by a Chinese nobleman during the Ming dynasty.”
“It must be expensive,” said Jaycee.
“You’re the first person I’ve ever shown this mirror to. So why don’t you go ahead and take a look at yourself.”
“A mirror?” asked Aiko. She immediately made her way past Jaycee and Kyoko and took in all the glory that was her reflection. “If there’s a mirror I don’t look good in, I’ve yet to find it.” She then began taking to various poses before the mirror.
Kyoko backed away and began trembling. “That little tramp,” she whispered through quivering lips. “She wasn’t supposed to be the first to look into the mirror.”
“What do you think, Jaycee?”
“You look good,” said Jaycee.
“The queen is going to be furious with me,” whispered Kyoko. Wasting no more time, she flung the sheet back over the mirror. “I’m very sorry, girls,” she said, “but I just remembered that I have a very important meeting to attend to.”
“But we didn’t get to see everything,” said Aiko.
“You’ll have to come back another time,” said Kyoko, ushering the girls to the door. She then forced them out and slammed the door behind them.
“What a rude woman,” said Aiko. “Remind me never to come back here.”
Kyoko’s body began shaking even worse than before. “She’s going to kill me,” she said. “There’s no doubt about it. I’m as good as dead.”
With their shopping done for the day, the girls stopped in at their favorite café to have lunch with Sage. Aiko made quick work of her meal and was already working on her second helping. Jaycee and Sage, however, were still working on their first orders.
The waitress arrived. “Is there anything else I can get for you?” she asked.
“A piece of chocolate cake, please,” said Aiko.
The waitress left to retrieve Aiko’s order.
“You should eat slower,” said Sage. “You’re going to choke.”
“Don’t tell me how to eat,” said Aiko, her mouth full of food.
The waitress returned quickly with Aiko’s order.
“I’ve been craving this all day,” said Aiko, who wasted no time in taking a large bite of her dessert. The look that appeared on her face made it seem as if she had just bitten into the most sour of foods. “What kind of cake is this?”
Sage took a taste of the cake. “It tastes fine to me,” he said. He then handed the fork to Jaycee, who sampled the dessert.
“It tastes good,” said Jaycee, who had the fork immediately swiped by Aiko.
“Let me try it again,” said Aiko before having another taste of cake. The same sour look appeared on her face. “This cake is horrible.”
“Well, there’s no sense in letting good food go to waste,” said Sage, taking the cake from Aiko. “Me and Jaycee can finish it for you.”
“But I’m the one that loves chocolate,” said Aiko. “What’s going on?”
Kyoko stood before her queen in her darkened office. Vice Principal Takagi was once again seated facing the window. She had been informed of the horrible mistake that had been made and was now listening to her servant plead for mercy.
“Though I accept any punishment you may have for me, my queen,” said Kyoko, “I beg you to give me a second chance. I know I can make things right. I’ll reverse the spell and make sure it’s that pony-tailed girl who looks into the mirror. I beg you, my queen.”
“That won’t be necessary,” said Vice Principal Takagi.
“It won’t?” asked Kyoko. “But why?”
The vice principal spun her chair to face her subordinate. “The answer is quite simple, really. Because I’m curious to see what’s going to happen.”
The following morning, Jaycee met up with Aiko outside their first class of the day. “Good morning,” said Jaycee.
“What’s so good about it?” asked Aiko. “Being stuck in this place.”
“Well, there are worse places you could be,” said Jaycee, trying to cheer up her friend, who had obviously woken up on the wrong side of the bed.
“Yeah, name one,” said Aiko.
Jaycee was surprised by what Aiko had said and was unable to come up with an answer at that moment. Instead, she just stared blankly at Aiko, who wasted no more time on her and made her way to class without exchanging another word.
Not much else was said between Jaycee and Aiko’s first encounter and their PE class later in the day.
Still feeling uneasy about what Aiko had said earlier, Jaycee would take quick peeks at her from time to time during their volleyball game. One thing that Jaycee couldn’t help but notice was the look in Aiko’s eyes. It wasn’t like Aiko at all.
“Why do you keep looking at me?” asked Aiko. “You’re making me feel weird.”
“Sorry,” said Jaycee, returning her focus to the game.
Over the net came a powerful serve. A girl knocked the ball into the air for Jaycee. Before Jaycee could send the ball back over the net, Aiko leapt in front of her. “Chew on this, Katsuragi,” exclaimed Aiko, slamming the ball over the net and into the face of one of the girls on the other side. The girl crashed to the ground after being struck.
The girls from both teams ran to their fallen classmate’s aid. “She’s bleeding!” shouted one them. “Somebody get the nurse!”
“You did that on purpose,” said Jaycee.
“You should thank me for what I’ve done,” said Aiko, staring at her handiwork. “I’ve just illustrated a very important point. Only the strong get to survive. All others get trampled.” She then glared at Jaycee. “Don’t be one of the weak ones, Jaycee.”
After the disturbing event in her PE class, Jaycee met up with Sage to have lunch. They ate in the same empty classroom as usual.
“Aiko just hasn’t been herself,” said Jaycee. “She’s been acting like a completely different person. And the things she’s been saying, they’re like something one of our enemies would say, not at all like what Aiko would say.”
“Well, I’m sure there’s a simple explanation as to why she’s acting differently,” said Sage. “Some problems only seem large when you think about them too much.”
“So, what do you think is wrong?”
“Well,” said Sage, who was looking around the room and doing his best not to make eye contact with Jaycee. “She’s just like all other girls, right?”
“Yes. What are you trying to tell me?”
Sage blushed. “Never mind,” he said. “It’s nothing.”
“Please, you have to tell me what you think is wrong with Aiko. She’s our friend. If there’s anything we can do to help her, then we should do it.”
“You’re a girl,” said Sage. “So you should know more about this than me.”
“Know more about what? What are you talking about?” After a short time to think about what Sage had said, Jaycee blushed. “You think . . .”
“It’s just a theory,” replied Sage.
“I never considered it being her time of the month.”
Aiko flung the door open and entered the room. “Hey, stupid,” she exclaimed. “I wanted to eat lunch with you.”
“Is she talking to you or me?” Sage asked Jaycee.
“I guess I should have made myself more clear, seeing as both of you are so incompetent you can’t even find your way home without me,” said Aiko. “For your information, I was talking to the stupid boy, not girl.”
“What’s wrong with you?” asked Sage. “You can’t come in here and start calling us names. We always eat lunch in here. You should have known where to meet me.”
“What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with you? Do you know how it makes me look when my boyfriend eats lunch alone with my best friend? People are starting to talk. They think I don’t know how to control you two.”
Jaycee lowered her head as she waited for the unusually heated argument to end.
“I’m not yours to control. I can do whatever I want.”
“You headstrong jerk,” said Aiko. She then paused so that she could stare angrily at Sage, who was doing the same. Aiko broke the stare when she turned her attention to Jaycee. “Come on, we have to get to class now.” The tone she had used was that of a mother scolding a child. Jaycee gave no reply and continued staring at her lap. Rather than telling her again, Aiko grabbed Jaycee by the arm and yanked her out of her chair. “I said let’s go.” A pained yelp escaped from Jaycee after having her arm gripped so tightly.
Sage sprung from his chair, knocking it to the ground as he did. “What the hell has gotten into you?” he demanded to know. “You’re acting like a bitch!”
Aiko immediately slapped Sage across the face with enough force to knock some people to the floor. “Don’t you ever call me that again,” she said, visibly shaking with rage. And with that, Aiko took Jaycee away.
So in shock was Sage that he was unsure of what to do next. The stinging sensation in his face prompted him to hold his throbbing cheek. “I will not be controlled,” he whispered. “Not like before. Never again.”
As the girls made their way down the hall, Jaycee bumped into a passing girl.
Having seen what happened, Aiko grabbed the girl and slammed her into the wall. This prompted everyone in the hallway to stop what they were doing and watch the spectacle. “I think you owe Jaycee an apology,” demanded Aiko.
“It’s alright,” said Jaycee. “I ran into her. It was my fault.”
Aiko leaned in so close to the girl that their faces touched. “You know what I could do to you, don’t you?” she asked. The frightened girl nodded. “Next time, you’d better watch where you’re going.” Aiko then allowed the girl to leave unscathed.
Through with scolding one girl, Aiko focused on the other. “Why didn’t you stand up for yourself? You made yourself look stupid.”
“It was an accident,” said Jaycee.
“Rather than admitting your shortcomings, you make excuses,” said Aiko. “Why am I not surprised?” Aiko then began her departure alone. “You really are one of the weak ones, Jaycee,” she said under her breath. “They don’t come much weaker than you.”
When the school day came to an end, Jaycee and Sage walked home together. They had made no effort to wait for Aiko like they usually did. After what had happened between them, neither wanted anything to do with her for a while.
Walking into an alley, Jaycee and Sage found Aiko leaning against a wall. “I knew if I waited long enough, you two would pass by,” she said.
“We have nothing to say to you,” said Sage.
“I’m sorry, Sage,” said Aiko in her most apologetic tone. She then threw herself into her boyfriend and held him tightly. “I just haven’t been myself lately. But I think I know what’ll make me feel better.” Aiko then pressed her lips against Sage’s and kissed him so intensely that she nearly suffocated him. Sage had to pull away just so that he could breathe.
“What’s wrong?” asked Aiko, again embracing Sage. This time she began caressing his chest with her finger. “Don’t you like when I do this?” She then directed an angry look at Jaycee. “It’s because of her, isn’t it? It’s always because of her.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Sage.
“You like her, don’t you?” asked Aiko. “I’m not stupid. I hear what everyone at school says. They think you two would make a better couple than we do. And with all the time you two spend together, everyone probably thinks you already are a couple.”
“Don’t say things like that.”
“It’s all because of you,” Aiko told Jaycee. She then pushed her best friend, causing Jaycee to drop her bag and spill all of her books.
“Hey, what are you doing?” asked Sage.
“Stay out of this,” demanded Aiko. “This doesn’t concern you. Besides, I’m doing this for her own good.” Aiko then pushed Jaycee again. “Don’t you even know what to do when someone starts pushing you? Don’t you know how to push back?”
“I don’t want to fight,” said Jaycee.
“Damn it!” exclaimed Aiko. “Another excuse!” She then pushed Jaycee again. “There’s going to come a day when there isn’t going to be someone there to stand up for you. What are you gonna do then? You’re going to have to learn to defend yourself and stop being so damn weak! You have to stop depending on others to fight your battles for you!”
“You think I like it when people do everything for me?” exclaimed Jaycee, her eyes now glistening with budding tears. “How do you think that makes me feel? I’m not a child! I can do things myself! For most of my life, I’ve had only myself to depend on.”
“Oh, I forgot,” said Aiko. “Things aren’t right with the world unless everyone’s feeling sorry for you! Things can’t run smoothly unless you’re the victim! That’s the only way you know how to function. It makes me sick! You make me sick!”
“Shut up,” exclaimed Jaycee.
“You know, it’s times like these when I really envy those parents of yours,” said Aiko.
“What?” gasped Jaycee.
“Aiko, stop,” demanded Sage.
“You think the crash that killed them was an accident?” asked Aiko. “For all we know, they just got tired of looking at that stupid face of yours!”
With every ounce of strength in her body, Jaycee slapped Aiko across the face.
“What about me?” asked Aiko, tears now falling from her eyes. Her nose had also begun to bleed. “You think I like it when people see how weak you are? They probably think I have something to do with it. Being around me, you should have learned how to be strong. When I look at you, it should be like I’m looking into a mirror.”
“A mirror,” gasped Jaycee. It then occurred to her that Aiko’s odd behavior began shortly after she had looked into the mirror at the antique shop.
“I won’t let you make a fool out of me!” shouted Aiko before driving her fist into Jaycee’s stomach, sending the unprepared girl crashing to her knees and gasping for air.
“That’s enough!” exclaimed Sage, pushing Aiko to the ground.
“You son of a bitch,” said Aiko, glaring at Sage, who was already tending to Jaycee. “How dare you take her side. You’re going to pay for that. One day, that relationship of yours is going to cost you both!” And with that, Aiko got to her feet and sprinted away.
“Are you alright?” asked Sage.
“Yeah,” replied Jaycee.
“I can’t believe Aiko would go this far.”
“It’s alright,” said Jaycee. “It’s not her fault.”
When night descended upon the city, Jaycee and Sage made their way to the alley behind the antique store. Like all good cat burglars, both were dressed completely in black.
“Did you call Aiko?” asked Sage.
“Yeah, I left her a message and told her where to meet us,” said Jaycee.
“Then I guess there’s nothing left for us to do but to get this over with.” Sage then made short work of picking the lock.
Once the two were inside, it took little time for them to spot the mirror. “There it is,” said Jaycee, pointing it out with her flashlight.
Sage approached the mirror and looked ready to remove the sheet.
“No, don’t,” said Jaycee.
Honoring Jaycee’s request, Sage left the sheet. He then thrust his elbow into the object that had created so much trouble, reducing it to nothing but shards.
Sure that the worst was over, Jaycee and Sage made their way to the roof of the sixth tallest building in the city. There they found Aiko already waiting for them. Telling by the look on her face, Jaycee and Sage’s attempt to return Aiko to normal had failed.
“It didn’t work,” whispered Jaycee.
“I don’t know why you two called me out here at this hour,” said Aiko, “but it had better be to beg for forgiveness.”
“If breaking the mirror didn’t reverse the spell, then what will?” asked Sage.
“Maybe it’s like a fairy tale,” said Jaycee. “We’ll have to use one of the tricks they used in the stories. Like a kiss from a prince.”
“A kiss from me won’t work,” said Sage. “Remember, Aiko kissed me earlier and nothing happened. We need to think of something else.”
“Maybe . . . a kiss from someone else will work.”
“What are you two talking about over there?” Aiko demanded to know. “You’d better not be talking about me. I hate when people talk about me behind my back. So either speak up or keep your mouths shut!”
Jaycee made her way to Aiko.
“What are you doing?” asked Aiko, taking a step back.
Jaycee pressed her body against Aiko’s, wrapped her arms around her and leaned in close. With eyes closed, Jaycee kissed her best friend gently on the lips.
“So hot,” whispered Sage.
Aiko’s body went limp, but only temporarily. She immediately stiffened up, then pushed Jaycee away with such force that she fell into Sage. “Is that why you brought me up here?” she asked, wiping her mouth clean. “To satisfy some sick fantasy?”
“What do we do now?” asked Jaycee.
“I hoped it wouldn’t have to come to this,” said Sage. “But drastic times call for drastic measures.” And with that, Sage made his way to Aiko.
“Don’t even think about it,” said Aiko.
Sage clenched his hand into a fist.
“If you lay even one finger on me, I’ll never forgive you.”
Sage’s arm began to shake noticeably.
“I hate you,” said Aiko, eyes filling with tears. Sage made no further hesitation and struck Aiko in the stomach. Though the strike was less than devastating, it sent a now unconscious Aiko falling into Sage’s waiting arms.
“Did that work?” asked Jaycee.
“I think so,” said Sage. He then stared longingly at Aiko’s peaceful face. “It makes you think, doesn’t it?”
“What does?” asked Jaycee.
“The way she acted toward us,” said Sage. “Though she acted with pure malice toward me, it was nothing compared to how she treated you. She treated you like you were her worst enemy. She genuinely hated you. It’s not often you see a hatred that intense.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?”
“What I’m saying is, it makes me think that her true self cares more for you than she does for me,” explained Sage. “But I shouldn’t be surprised. She thinks of you as a sister.”
“She thinks of me as a sister?”
Kyoko was on her knees before her queen’s desk in her darkened office. “My queen,” she said. “It seems our plan has failed. But if you give me one more chance . . .”
“I’m afraid that won’t be necessary,” said the vice principal. At that moment, Kyoko turned into glass, then shattered into thousands of tiny shards. “Your usefulness to me, as futile as it was, ran out a very long time ago.”
The sun was shining brightly on yet another glorious day. Jaycee and Sage had just exited from one of the most extravagant stores downtown. A few steps behind was Aiko, who was carrying a plethora of bags and boxes.
“Are you sure you don’t need help with those?” asked Jaycee.
“No,” replied Aiko. “This is my way of making up for the way I treated you. So I don’t deserve to be given any help.”
“I’m surprised by how many things you can carry,” said Sage.
“Hey, I’m more than just another pretty face,” said Aiko. Immediately after she had spoken those words, Aiko tripped and was buried beneath the packages.