Chapter 1:

all the world's a stage

Our School is Perfectly Ordinary

Shun enters, stage left.

He hasn’t actually done theatre since seventh grade, but the canopy of cherry blossoms in full bloom overhead is reminiscent of the opening scene of a school play. The falling petals signal the start of a new semester, of new beginnings and tying up loose ends. Speaking of loose ends, Shun still has to apologize to the aikido captain for leaving the club so abruptly just before the first grading exam. But it’s likely he’ll be forgiven.

The thing with quitting halfway through every extracurricular activity he’s ever tried is that he doesn’t have a single thing he’s good at. He’s given up on theatre, given up on sports, on music, and everything in between. Now in high school, he decides it’s time to finally give academics a go. Worst case scenario, his unremarkable grades stay exactly the same—they can’t get any worse if he tries, can they?

Shun lingers at the gates for a moment longer, contemplating, just as the morning bell chimes across the school grounds. He hurries to follow the flood of students into the building, leaving the last of his misgivings behind. Though the way to class isn’t familiar enough to be a routine yet, his classroom is the first left just after entering the main hallway. The classmates that often run late are real lucky this year.

And when Shun steps through the doorway for the third time this week, a trivial realization forms in his mind. If he’s facing the audience…then he must be entering stage right.


Sometimes, Shun feels like background noise.

He doesn’t mind, of course. Standing out has never been something he has particularly liked —nor knows how it feels—and he’s pretty content with the simplicity of his daily life. The world spins on its axis for someone else, and he’s simply living in it. He writes down each word of the physics teacher’s lecture, and when he looks back at his notes he doesn’t understand a single word.

When he tells the teacher after school one day that he’s struggling with the coursework, she tells him to ask his friends first.

And two weeks into his first year of high school, Shun Takeuchi realizes that he’s encountered his first problem. He doesn’t have any friends.

“You—oh my god, that’s so embarrassing,” his older sister tells him, wheezing with uncontrollable laughter at his expense. “You seriously haven’t made any friends? Not even one?”

Well, now he’s wishing he never brought it up.

“At least you’ve got me,” Atsuko says wisely when her giggles subside. “You can hang out with my friends and I if you’re lonely.”

He makes a face. “No thanks.”

The point is, Shun is familiar with everyone, but the friendships he’s formed over the years from cycling through clubs are surface-level at best. He knows most of the students in his grade and many of the upper years by name. But friends? He’s only realizing it now that he’s never tried to get to know his classmates more than just exchanging simple pleasantries after all this time.

(No wonder he’s so good at blending into the background.)

As he weighs his predicament against the scale of his loneliness, Shun decides that the effort might not be worth it. For starters, he’s not even sure where to begin. His desk partner? An obvious choice, but Hiro’s been chronically tardy since middle school, and often forgets to do his assignments. A few weeks into the new semester has proven that his habits now are still no different.

Then what if Shun picks someone studious? He has classmates that are part of the student council after all, the shining example of perfect work-life balance. But if he’s only trying to make friends to reap the benefits, then he kind of doesn’t want to try at all.

For a brief moment, he thinks about joining a club again. But as soon as the thought crosses his mind, it vanishes just as fleetingly. What’s he trying to do in the first place, anyway? If he’s trying to prioritize education, then he’d better start by giving it his all.

At least, that’s his intention when he shows up an hour and a half early to school one morning to find the library door tightly shut. Shun peers through the window, but it’s too dark inside to see anything.

“Library doesn’t open till seven thirty,” one of the custodial staff passing by informs him when he asks. “You’re here way too early. You’d better not be up to no good, kid.”

“I just wanted to get a head start on some studying,” Shun says, feeling a little awkward saying that aloud.

The custodian looks unconvinced, but he doesn’t try to kick him out. “Whatever you say. Just keep out of trouble.”

He hums to himself as he pushes his cart down the hallway, and Shun plops down on the ground against the wall. It’s not ideal, but he can study on the floor. Once he shrugs off his bookbag, he begins to rifle through it for his notes.

As the rising sun makes way for dawn, sunlight spills through the cracks of the window and reflects off the freshly-mopped floors. There’s a strange, almost otherworldly feeling to the vacant halls, like the quavering high note of a flute.

The empty school feels akin to a liminal space, teetering on the precarious balance between a high E and a stream of empty air. That thought reminds him that he never got the chance to stay long enough in concert band to learn any of those high notes. Does he even know what he’s talking about?

Shun is pretty sure he’s borrowing a bandmate’s metaphor, but he can’t remember who’s.

Though his neck starts aching after a few minutes of poring over the schoolwork scattered all over the floor, he decides he’s kind of enjoying this. It’s peaceful. But as he’s reviewing the classical literature material from yesterday’s class, the high note playing in his thoughts abruptly cuts off.

There’s a crashing noise coming from behind the library door, and he’s on his feet in an instant. He presses his face up against the glass, straining to see past the darkness to locate the source of the noise. Maybe a book got knocked to the ground? It’s really hard to tell.

There’s another loud crash, and Shun’s hand hovers over the doorknob.

“Hello?” he calls out cautiously. “Is someone in there?”

There’s a dull but sickening thud in response, like the sound of a body hitting the floor. After all the bad luck and unfortunate incidents that have followed him around since forever, Shun immediately assumes the worst. He twists the handle and slams his full weight into the door with the intention of breaking it open if necessary. It swings open unexpectedly, which causes him to stagger off balance.

But he catches himself before face-planting into the carpet, and nearly trips over one of those wood door stopper wedges in the process.

Steadying himself against the doorframe, he calls out again. “Hey! Can you hear me? Are you okay?”

Shun’s eyes haven’t adjusted to the dark yet, but he can start to make out the faint outline of bookshelves lining the walls. Where is the light switch? Turning the lights on right now might not be the brightest idea, so he just shuffles forward blindly.


Alarmed, he turns toward the direction of the noise—there, behind the shelf on his right—and at that moment he’s reminded that the door was never locked, just jammed.

“Um,” he says, suddenly feeling self-conscious. “Sorry to uh, intrude…”

Someone might be hurt, Shun reminds himself sternly in the deafening silence that follows. That’s the thought that gives him the final push to turn the corner because that’s what he came here to do, and there’s no backing out now.

Shun’s eyes fall upon the mountain of books on the floor first. Then he sees the figure crouching, balanced precariously on top of them. As he squints into the darkness, he makes out silvery, waist-length hair, a pleated skirt, and a raised, gloved hand clutching several strips of paper.

She whips around, and her gaze meets his.

“Oh, Saori,” he blurts out, because he can put a name to a face at least when it’s a girl he’s shared classes with since primary school. He berates himself for calling out her name without thinking, without even stopping to consider that they aren’t remotely close enough to be on a first-name basis.

Nimbly, Saori pulls herself to her feet and tucks her hand behind her back in one fluid motion. Then she stares at him for a long moment, her expression unreadable.

And then she swears loudly under her breath.

“Sorry?” he says, bewildered, half in apology and half wondering if he heard correctly.

“Forget it,” she hisses, her eyes flashing dangerously. “Forget what you saw.”

Before he can agree to respect her wishes, a strip of paper flutters into his face and sticks to his cheek. Saori’s left hand is outstretched—did she just…throw paper at him? In the blink of an eye, she raises her other hand—the one in a glove—to her heart with two fingers pointed upward, and whispers something unintelligible.

Shun stands there in utter confusion.

“Why isn’t it working?” she mutters, looking increasingly agitated. Her glare is chilling when he tries to peel the paper off his face, so he stops and holds very still. He’s lucky that holding a pose for a tableau is one of the first skills he’s ever learned in drama lessons. When he stands there frozen for a long moment, Saori’s gaze loses some of its sharpness, like a predator that has momentarily lost sight of its prey.

“I don’t…” she says, clicking her tongue in frustration. “I don’t have time for this.”

When Shun blinks, he’s startled to discover that she’s moved to stand directly in front of him. She’s barely an inch shorter than he is, forcing him to make eye contact. Her eyes are like liquid gold, and they’re incredibly disarming. He takes a step back.

“I’m sorry,” Saori says, her voice so quiet that Shun isn’t even sure if she’s talking to him. He doesn’t have a chance to react at all as she pivots on her heel, and in a flash of white stockings and her billowing skirt, she raises her leg in a wide, sweeping arc like she’s dancing, and then the impact of a hard object collides against the side of his head—

And then there’s nothing at all.

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