The Tale of the Tragic Meister
Those of you who have read the Mai-Otome manga will know that there is a certain amount of ambiguity concerning the Mai that appears in there, as well as the history of the Mai as Queen of Windbloom.
This story works as part of a larger series in which I wish to elaborate on the backstory of the Otome Mangaverse. That's the first reason I'm writing this.
The second reason has quite a bit to do with the fact that the 'Tragic Meister' tale from the Mai-Otome anime turned out to be a massive anticlimax and letdown. The far more ambiguous nature of the manga world, at least when concerned with Mai and Yuuichi, allows me some measure of freedom in concocting backstory. And I am going to use that freedom.
For the sake of clarity, 'Mashiro' refers to our local crossdressing ruler, whereas 'Mashiro-hime' will refer to the actual princess, who got offed on the first page of the manga.
Disclaimer: Yadda yadda, I own nothing, hard boiled eggs…
"So where do you want these books?"
"Over there, thanks." Natsuki Kruger, head of Garderobe Academy, glanced up from her desk with a small smile on her face. "Thanks for agreeing to help me sort out all these files. I really appreciate it."
The monarch of Windbloom shrugged. "While Arika and the others are out on that trip with Miss Youko, it was kinda boring anyway. This is a good way to kill some time."
"Yes, no doubt. We've had quite the influx of paperwork recently – especially since we've been granted the task of sorting all the files recovered from the Wind Palace." Natsuki sighed as she leafed through a pile of books. "Partly because you're currently here with us, and of course all these belong to you by birthright."
Mashiro resisted the urge to grimace as he stared at the piles of documents in front of him – and this constituted but a small number of the recovered items from the burnt husk that was the Wind Palace – most of the them were still in the underground storage vaults.
"We're a school, for pete's sakes, we don't have the manpower to deal with this sort of thing…" Natsuki was muttering to herself in the background, only to be interrupted by Shizuru knocking excitedly on the door.
"Natsuki! Come quick! Take a look at – oh, I can't believe it! It's really-"
"Huh? What are you talking about?" Natsuki stood from her chair, taking the thick leather-bound book from Shizuru's hand. "Why's this book so…" Her voice trailed off as she looked at the front cover of said book, and her mouth fell open.
"It… it can't be." She finally whispered weakly.
"What?" Mashiro frowned as he reached for it. "What's the big deal about… a diary?" He glanced down at the name.
"This is… this is Mai's diary." Natsuki shook her head as she sank into her chair. "To… to think they found it in the ruins…"
"Mai…?" Mashiro repeated as he turned the book over in his hands. The name sounded familiar... and at the same time…
Natsuki paused. "She… was a Meister Otome, and our friend. Best of our batch, actually." She shared a fond look with Shizuru. "I had a rivalry of sorts going on with her – could never beat her at anything that mattered." She sighed. "And then, she became an Otome for Windbloom... for a while."
"…After a period of time… she formally renounced her position as an Otome." Natsuki's eyes were lidded, a half-smile on her lips as she peered into the depths of her memory. "Instead, she would be known from that point on… as Queen of Windbloom."
"W- wait a minute." Mashiro sputtered, the wheels in his mind slowly turning. "If… if you knew this Mai as a friend, a- and the she became the Queen of Windbloom, then – then-"
"That's right." Natsuki nodded. "This diary… it belonged to your mother."
"It's not unusual for Otome to become very attached to their masters." Shizuru smiled. "After all, they're bound body and soul, and they have to follow their masters wherever they go. Some of them develop bonds that are so strong they'd be willing to relinquish their powers for the sake of the people they love." She leaned over Natsuki's shoulder, a small smile on her face. "Isn't that romantic, Natsuki?"
Natsuki flushed red. "Y – yes, very. A- anyway! About that diary…"
"Um…" Mashiro glanced down hesitantly at it.
"…What do you plan on doing with it?" Natsuki asked, one eyebrow raised.
"Huh? Me?" The heir to the throne sputtered.
"Like I said, it was your mother's. You're the last blood relative of the Queen, and in the absence of an actual will all her possessions are passed on to you." Natsuki sighed. "If you want, you can keep it, or you could donate it to the Garderobe museum…" She shrugged. "I can't say I'm not eager at the prospect of being able to read Mai's diary, but… privacy and all that. If anyone should read it, I guess it should be you."
"…" Mashiro glanced down at the diary, a host of question storming through his mind. What had his mother been like? What about his father – how did his mother view him? What about life as an Otome – first as a Coral of Garderobe, and then as a Meister of Windbloom? What, if anything, had she felt when she'd given him to Lena Sayers for safekeeping?
Silently, he clutched the book to his chest. "I…" He began. "I'd like to sleep on it."
Natsuki nodded approvingly. "Make whatever choice feels right."
That night, Mashiro sat in his bed, silently staring at the closed book. It was funny how the room could seem so big and empty when he was the only one in it. He would have welcomed the cherry laughter of Arika or the gentle words of Erstin or the calm, collected tone of Nina right about now.
He sighed. Even after the realization that he was indeed heir to Windbloom's throne, he still didn't feel much about his birth parents – he couldn't understand them, he didn't know them. If not for the locket Mashiro-hime had left behind, he wouldn't even know what they had looked like.
Why? He pondered silently. Why did you send me off with Lena when I was a baby? Just as a failsafe against Mashiro-hime? Didn't you care about me at all?
After a moment, he cracked open the book, placed it on the table, and began to read.
"Mai! Mai!" The shout resounded across the courtyard as the young Otome stood, dusting herself off.
"What now, Natsuki?" She questioned as she stood up. Her friend and rival sighed with exasperation.
"The next round o fexaminations is starting soon. Hurry up or you'll miss your shot at being made a Meister!"
"Oh…right." Mai sighed as she brushed herself off. "I'll be right there."
"You… don't sound very enthused." Natsuki observed.
"Yeah… I guess I'm not, really. After what happened with Takumi, I…" Mai sighed and shook her head. "It's not important. I'll just do the test. It's what I came here for."
"Yes, and you'll ace the whole thing, and come out as the head Meister and if none of the rulers are smart enough to hire you at first opportunity you'll be made headmaster of all Garderobe." Natsuki smirked. "I can just see it now."
"Bleagh." Mai made a face. "Talk about a job I'd rather avoid. I guess I'll just palm off all the responsibility to you at first opportunity."
"What, pretty ol' me?" Natsuki flipped some of her midnight blue hair over her shoulder. "The male royals would be falling over themselves in their rush to get me to make a contract with them."
"But if you leave," Mai said coyly. "You'd never get to be with Shizuru, would you?"
The reaction was immediate (and expected). Natsuki immediately flushed a deep crimson. "Don – don't be stupid! An Otome can't be in a romantic relationship! It makes no difference if it's male or female! Only by formally renouncing your position as an Otome can you-"
"Yeah, yeah, I know." Mai chuckled. This had always been one of the easier ways to get her friend riled up. She paused. "Hey, Natsuki?"
Slightly more calm now, her friend responded with a, "Hm?"
"Have you ever thought about… you know, quitting?"
"Quitting?" She raised an eyebrow. "No, I can't say I have. I mean, this is what I've wanted to do all my life, after all." She tugged at her uniform. "Why? Are you saying you want to quit?"
"…No, not really. It's just that sometimes…" She sighed. "Sometimes I wonder if this is really the best path for my life."
"Well, you've been an exemplary Coral and Pearl. And you're well on your way to becoming an exemplary Meister. If this isn't the path meant for your life, I'd love to see the path that is."
"Heh." Mai grinned. "So you're finally accepting the fact that I'm a better Otome than you, Natsuki?"
"As if!" Her rival grinned. "Just you wait until this test is over!"
And with a short laugh, the two of them headed indoors.
The whispers travelling through the school tended to start up about a week before the actual arrival. This time was no different.
"It's Windbloom this time." Yohko confirmed as she picked at her salad. "The crown prince is coming to get an Otome. I heard the headmistress discussing it the other day."
"Heh. I wonder who he'll pick."
"Oh, that's easy! He'll go with Mai for sure! She passed the latest round of tests at the top of the whole school, after all!"
Mai chuckled nervously. "They usually don't pick based on test scores, you know. When the royal arrives, they'll have all those fancy demonstrations and whatnot before they find one who's worthy. The exceptions are those who had an agreement to become a certain person's Otome before they ever entered the Academy."
"Right. Another Butou competition." Natsuki sighed, a wry smile on her face. "Which changes nothing. Remember the last time? Mai was able to whip me, Shizuru, and Yukariko all at the same time. Must be that bust size of hers."
"That was a fluke." Mai muttered under her breath as she felt her face grow hot. "If Shizuru hadn't missed with her Twin Viper Strike, I'd have been down for the count."
"Still, that was a stunning display of Miryoku." Youko noted. "To be able to develop your Rising Dragon Ring attacks to such an extent… it might even be as powerful as a Meister GEM's attacks."
"Oh, come on, guys!" Mai made a face. "I'm not that good. And more to the point, the selection is usually at the royal's sole discretion. If he or she wants to pick someone that dropped out in the first round, that his choice."
"But who would?" Natsuki snorted. "People don't come here to pick wives or something. We're soldiers first and foremost – anything else is secondary."
"Mai's just nervous." Yohko said with a small smile. "She doesn't want to think about being carted off to Windbloom palace with some brute she'd never seen before in her life."
"Hm." Shizuru leaned back in her chair. "I could see why someone might feel uneasy about not wanting to go through with this."
"Well, they could refuse…" Yohko's voice was hesitant.
"And potentially sour relations between Garderobe and the country in question." Natsuki rejoined. "Not a wise move on an institution that depends on being neutral and impartial. Doubly so when the country in question happens to be the place we are physically located in."
"Well, we can worry about it later. Come on, class is starting."
"Right, right…" Together, the tiny knot of friends stood and began to head for the classrooms, their conversation all but forgotten.
By most of them, anyway.
Garderobe had a tendency to be strict about the lights-out time in the compound. They were, however, noticeably less strict about whether or not the Otome actually went to sleep when the lights were extinguished. Mai suspected it had something to do with the Academy being chronically understaffed, since they relied almost entirely on the Otomes produced within the school itself to fill the various positions. Given the propensity for outside forces to snap up as many Otomes as possible, this tended to lead to a skeleton crew running the place – permanently.
At the very least, such a state of affairs had led to Mai making the fortuitous discovery that she could leave her room undiscovered at almost any point during the night. She'd made good use of this opportunity over the years, particularly whenever she had a problem in her head that she needed to sort out.
Right now she wasn't sure if her current situation could accurately be described as a 'problem', but it was certainly troubling her enough that she couldn't help but harp on it.
It wasn't like her, really. She was usually pretty easygoing and relaxed about life, holding to the general idea that it had all worked out pretty well before and that it was likely that it would all work out again tomorrow. And it did – most of the time.
But once in a while, on the edge of some big event that she knew was going to change her life, probably forever, she felt the nervous trickle in her stomach. And then she would start fretting and… well, she would turn into another Natsuki. Which tended to throw all the times she laughed at her friend and told her to 'just lighten up' in sharp relief.
When she'd first come to Garderobe, she'd simply did her best – she'd certainly never expected that doing so would rocket her to the top of the class. To say nothing of her combat prowess – to this day some still found it difficult to believe Mai could be so proficient in Butou, but, well, the results spoke for themselves, didn't it?
Of course, that same fact made it unhappily obvious that she was going to be prime candidate to be picked by the first royal and/or nobleperson who came along. The only thing standing between her and full-fledged service to a liege lord was the fact that she hadn't been registered yet as a full-fledged Meister. Corals and Pearls, as a rule, did not enter service unless there had been a contract beforehand, and in such cases it was generally because the person in question was being impatient.
But now…now she was on the verge of being a Meister, and all that went along with it – her own Meister GEM and custom Robe, the new sets of responsibilities and freedoms… and prime candidate to be hired. And to put the cherry on things, her graduation ceremony – assuming there wasn't a colossal screwup on her part somewhere, of course – would be the day before the prince came over. And given what Natsuki said about the people who'd hire Otome valuing them mainly for their combat ability…
All in all, chances were good that she'd be leaving the place pretty soon – and now if only she didn't feel so depressed about it. This wasn't right. She was an Otome. She was supposed to go serve her lord and master… it was what she had trained her whole life to do, wasn't it?
Nerves. It was just nerves. That was it. She sighed, closed her eyes, and rubbed her forehead. There was no reason to be worried, right? The prince would probably be a swell guy, and they'd get along swimmingly once they got to know each other, and all that…
Shaking her head to clear away any residual worries, she returned to her room.
"Lights out!" Miss Maria's shout sounded through the hallways of the academy, startling Mashiro out of his reverie. He'd been so engrossed with the diary he hadn't even noticed the passage of time…
After a moment of hesitation, he tucked the book into his cupboard, and began changing into his night clothes.
Tomorrow… we'll continue this tomorrow. He thought to himself as he killed the lights, plunging the room into darkness.
This was originally supposed to be a oneshot until I realized that there was way too much stuff to squeeze into a single setting. Oh well. Thanks for reading. Please review.