The crowd screamed and yelled like wild beasts as the band on stage rocked through their third encore. The concert had ended an hour ago, but the fans in the seats were refusing to leave. After all, this was ZOO’s final performance, and after tonight, they were officially disbanding. Why, no one knew. And the announcement came as a shock to the Veterinarians, ZOO’s fan base, the people who loved and cared for the female band so much.
Sitting halfway back in the crowd, Lt. Shiori Seno sang along with every song the band played. She was decked out in a ZOO leather jacket with the band’s name stylishly emblazoned on the back with patches all over the front and along the arms. She wore a white t-shirt beneath with pictures of the five members printed there in their full facial paint. On her head she wore five sets of animal ears in her thick brown hair. Tears ran down her face as she enjoyed this moment.
Next to her, Prince Kiminobu Takanashi was the only one sitting, holding his fingers in his ears to deafen the band’s music, which he could feel like an earthquake beneath his seat. He looked up at his guard, wondering how she could enjoy music so loud! He couldn’t ask because she would never hear him.
The song ended, and the stadium went dark. The fans kept cheering, screaming “ENCORE! ENCORE!” repeatedly. Then a single spotlight came up and showed the lead singer by herself. She was standing at the mic, letting the roar of the crowd wash over her. The screams and cheers were the only drug she ever needed.
The lead singer was dressed in a red and white kimono patterned like the fur of a fox. Her face was painted similarly, and her nose was painted black. In her red hair, she wore fox ears to complete the look.
She raised her hand, and the crowd fell instantly silent. Kiminobu pulled his fingers away and heard a ringing in his ears in the quiet. He looked up at Shiori, who was staring at the stage, her hand clutched over her heart.
“Thank you all so much,” the lead singer told the crowd. She was trying to keep her voice strong, but Kiminobu could hear it about to crack. She grunted, clearing the frog choking her. “ZOO has, without a doubt, the best fans in the world!”
The crowd erupted into cheers at her words but quieted again quickly so she could finish speaking.
“As this is our last concert—“. The crowd booed at this, which made her smile. “—we’ve done our best music ever! This wasn’t just our greatest hits, it’s the music we know you love and the songs that we love! This has, without a doubt, been our greatest concert—and it’s all because of you!”
The crowd cheered again.
“But the time has come to finally say good night.” Another loud boo. “But we thought we should tell everyone that while we’re leaving, our music will live on with all of our fans! We are not saying goodbye forever, though! Our lives are changing, hopefully for the better! We don’t know what the future may hold, but hopefully we will play for you all again, only this time in the beautiful country of Vadora!”
“Yay!” Shiori screamed, and her voice carried in the silent stadium.
“I guess the peace treaty has taken affect,” the lead singer said, and everyone laughed. “Seems we have someone from Vadora here. Are you from Vadora?”
“Shiori, sit down!” Kiminobu hissed. “We aren’t technically here!”
When no reply to her answer came, the lead singer said, “Gone silent, huh? Well, that’s okay. Once the treaty is signed, you won’t have to worry anymore. But before we say good night, we have one more song for all of you. This is a new song that was going to come out on our next album, but because of circumstances, that might be a while. Anyway, we hope you like it!”
She stepped back out of the spotlight, throwing a countdown on her fingers to the band behind her. A second later, a soft guitar melody began to play, followed by the gentle strumming of a shamisen. It was different from the hard rock that had been played most of the night.
Alone, I wait for you,
Never knowing what to do
As I wander this cell,
My personal hell,
Waiting to be free.
Her voice choked on the words as she sang, and the audience that had started to cheer fell silent as they realized how important this song was to her. The music eased, though it circled through the refrain the band had just played, giving their leader time to collect herself. She looked to her left, at the lead guitarist, and gave a single nod of her head, showing that she was going to be okay.
She stepped up to the mic again and continued.
For days I’ve thought of you
Remembering our lives through
All the tears that I cry
Each and every night I die.
Waiting to be free.
Our lives we have lived
Though mostly negative
My heart I gave to the one loved,
The one I thought that I loved.
Waiting to be free.
Your dark hair, rakishly swept,
Draws my attention where I am kept;
Sword through bone, you cut your way
To my darkly gilded cage.
The key you have to unlock my heart
Turns to dust as I depart.
You are not the one that I need,
Now that I am free!
She put down the mic as the weight of the moment fell upon her shoulders, and she stepped back but motioned for the band to keep playing. The bass guitar player—dressed as a panda—moved toward her, but the lead singer motioned her and the shamisen player—a rabbit—away. She held her mic away as she cleared her throat again and coughed out the emotions trying to strangle her. When the music caught up to where she needed it to, she belted out the finale.
Across the desert we ride together,
No one in the world but us,
Together forever—all alone—
No place to call our home.
Two now three,
We ride and flee
The forces that are after us;
Alone with our love and nothing more,
But nothing more we need!
Now that we are free!
The crowd went wild as the band quickly finished the song, and the lights went out, throwing the stadium into darkness just as the lead singer’s legs collapsed beneath her. The cheering and roaring crowd did not see what was happening on stage because of the darkness, though a few lights from people’s mobile phones that they had lit during the song cast a bit of light around, enough to show the band rushing towards the lead singer.
“What’s going on?” Kiminobu asked Shiori worriedly.
“I don’t know,” she told him. “I can’t see or hear anything! I hope she’s all right!”
The lights came back on and then dimmed again, and a single spotlight found a young woman, who wore panda ears and a white and black kimono that resembled a panda’s fur. Her face was done in white make up with a black spot over one eye. She walked to the front of the stage as the crowd quieted to hear her speak. Her eyes shone with tears in the lights, and the crowd could see them.
“Everyone, thank you for coming tonight to ZOO’s last performance,” she told the crowd, who could hear her voice trembling. Her hands shook holding the microphone. She hated goodbyes, hated disappointing people, but mostly she was worried about her bandmate. “First of all, Kitsune is going to be all right—she was just overwhelmed by your response tonight and the love she felt from all of you. We are all honored by your dedication and the love you have shown all of us in the short time that we have been performing. Kitsune said a lot tonight, but… well, as you saw, tonight has exhausted her, and your response has been overwhelmingly positive! We love all of you so much, and we are so sorry that tonight is our last performance—though, it’s probably the best we’ve even managed to give,” Panda said with a smile.
The crowd applauded her words, and a few started chanting her stage name. Panda held up her hand to quiet them down so she could finish. She wanted to finish before she broke down crying.
“Before any of you think that something terrible has happened to one of us, it hasn’t. We are not breaking up. None of us are sick. It’s just… something has come up in all of our lives that we cannot discuss, and we have to move on. We truly hope not forever, but for now, things are going to change for us—for the better, we hope!
“You have been the greatest fans any band could ever hope for! We will cherish the memories of playing and singing for you forever! Tonight has been the greatest goodbye any of us could have ever hoped for, and it’s all thanks to you! We love you all! We will be with you forever in our music, so don’t cry for any of us! We are all happy, and we intend to remain friends and remain together for many years to come!” Panda started to cry then, and she knew she would not be able to control it. “I’m sure Kitsune would have said something better, but don’t worry about any of us! We love you all! Good night!”
She waved to the crowd and turned to run off stage. The spotlight turned off, and the crowd erupted into thunderous applause. More chants of “ENCORE!” thundered through the stadium, but after several minutes of no one returning, the crowd began to slowly dissipate, everyone happy for the night but sad that ZOO was not going to perform for a while.
Kiminobu stood up, glad the concert was over. Shiori leapt into his arms and hugged him tightly, squeezing him hard.
“Thank you so much for tonight!” she told him. “This has been the greatest gift anyone could have ever given me!”
“Thank Emperor Sunada for letting us come into Kareneth, even though the treaty hasn’t officially been signed,” he told her. “I’m still not sure it was a great idea, though. We are still at war.”
“Oh, don’t talk about things like that now!” she told him hurtfully. “This is supposed to be a good night! Well, other than ZOO breaking up, that is.”
“They aren’t technically breaking up,” Kiminobu reminded her. “They’re… moving on.”
“To whatthough?” Shiori threw her hands into the air as they started following the crowd towards the door. “The greatest rock band the world has ever known, and they quit after two years! That doesn’t seem right! Even if their Princess is marrying you—”
“Shiori!” Kiminobu hissed.
“Oh, right, sorry,” she said quickly, looking around at the crowd, as they turned at the last seat and entered the fray fighting to get to the door.
“I hope you appreciate this,” he said as people started crowding him. “You know I’m claustrophobic.”
“We’ll be out shortly,” she told him. “And, yes, I do appreciate this—more than you can know! I also love the presents you bought me!” She hugged her jacket.
As they passed through the door, Kiminobu grabbed her arm and pulled Shiori away from the crowd that was trying to exit and toward a more empty part of the atrium. Shiori was about to ask him what was going on when he clapped his hand over her mouth.
“I’m going to show you something, but you can’t scream or get excited,” Kiminobu told her. “It’s a surprise.” He pulled his hand away.
“My lord?” she asked quietly.
“Close your eyes,” he told her.
Shiori did as ordered.
He reached into his jacket and withdrew two plastic cards on lanyards. He slipped one over her head.
Shiori looked at the card he was wearing around his neck then looked down at her own. The words “VIP ADMITTANCE 1 of 2” were written on the card, each word and number in a different handwriting.
“I think I just wet myself,” she said quietly. “But...but...but they said….”
“I bought these before the band decided against backstage passes for this concert. When they found out who I was and my special reason for being here, they agreed to let me keep them. We just have to wait for everyone else to leave.”
“Butbutbut…” Shiori sighed and smiled broadly. “I guess rank has its privileges.” She smiled down at the card. “Wow… One of two?” She danced a little and then hugged him again before quickly releasing him and stepping back. “Forgive me, lord,” she said. “That was—”
“Considering our lives, it’s fine,” he told her. “Just don’t let Captain Ikehara see you do that.”
The crowd finally exited after half an hour, with a few stragglers buying some more memorabilia before leaving, when a security guard came out and approached Kiminobu and Shiori. He bowed to the Prince. “Your Highness, by order of His Majesty, Emperor Sunada Hase, let me be the first to welcome you to Kareneth. If you’ll come with me, the ladies of ZOO are anxious to meet your guest and you.”
“Thank you,” Kiminobu said. “This is my royal guard, Lt. Shiori Seno.”
“Hi,” Shiori said. “Please tell me the band members are really nice and I won’t be completely disillusioned after meeting them.”
The guard laughed. “I’ve worked with them for years,” he told her. “Treat them like people, and they’ll do the same.”
“Can I fangirl out just a little bit?” she asked, holding two fingers close together.
“They wouldn’t expect anything less from their Vadoran Fan Club Chapter President,” the guard said. “Just don’t go overboard, please.”
“I’ll try to restrain myself,” Shiori said as they entered the back of the stadium and followed a hallway to the dressing room.
The security guard opened the door to the dressing room, and Shiori screamed when she saw the five members of ZOO—Kitsune, Panda, Usagi, Tora, and Koara—resting after the long night. They smiled at her when she clapped her hands over her mouth to silence herself, but Shiori let out another small shriek.
“Hello,” Kitsune said, standing up and extending her hand. “Welcome to…” She looked around their dressing room/lounge area. “You know, we’ve never named where we hang out before and after shows. Oh well. Welcome to our dressing room! You must be Shiori.”
“Hi,” Shiori said, but it came out as a small, high-pitched sound. “You’re all so beautiful in person! Was that wrong of me to say?” She quickly looked at everyone.
“Nah, we love compliments,” Usagi told her. She was a beautiful girl with ash-blonde hair and very fair skin. She dressed as a rabbit while on stage and played a three-stringed shamisen, an ancient instrument that helped give ZOO such a unique sound. “Can we get either of you anything to eat?”
She looked at Kiminobu, and her eyes seemed to bore into him a little bit.
“We’re fine,” Kiminobu said, silently wondering what that look was about.
“We were surprised to find out the Emperor gave you two permission to come to the concert tonight,” Kitsune said, returning to her chair and slouching down into it. “When we learned that, we couldn’t deny your backstage passes. Please, sit down and get comfortable. We won’t bite—promise—though Usagi might nibble a bit.”
“Ha ha,” Usagi said, though she was surprised to find she had not gotten tired of the joke yet.
“Is your blood sugar okay?” Shiori asked her worriedly. “You pushed yourself hard tonight. Can I get you anything?”
“Blood sugar?” Kiminobu curiously asked as he sat down on the other end of the couch from a girl dressed like a wolf. He did not remember seeing her on stage. She wore beautiful makeup of grey with dashes of white thrown in for effect. Her eyes were like pure gold and tantalizingly beautiful.
“You’re diabetic?” he asked, looking at Kitsune, though he could barely keep his eyes off the beautiful wolf.
Kitsune nodded her head. “I’m allergic to the cure for diabetes, so I’m one of the lucky ones who has to take shots the rest of her life. Yay me!” she said sarcastically. “And I’m fine, I’m just tired after the long night,” she told Shiori. “Thank you, though. We just need to decompress after the show, and talking to you two won’t interfere with that. Please, eat, talk, do whatever you want—you’re our guests.”
Shiori took a seat near Kitsune, admiring the lead singer.
“Forgive me for not introducing myself,” he said to the wolf. “I’m Prince Kiminobu of Vadora.” He extended his hand to her.
“I know who you are,” the wolf said. “You can call me Okami. I’m the band’s manager. I’m hoping, once things settle down between you and Princess Yumisa, I’ll be given the chance to start setting up shows in Vadora. ZOO has a large, underground fan-base there.”
“I know—Shiori is the chapter president.” He laughed, and Okami smiled.
“Then we’ll have to get her some special gifts—especially if she has a princely friend who would risk his life to bring her to Kareneth for a concert.”
“We wouldn’t have come without permission, you can be sure of that. And my other guards are waiting outside with our mechs. They aren’t obsessed with ZOO like Shiori is.”
“Other guards?” the manager asked, and her eyes narrowed darkly.
“I have four others—Captain Asa Ikehara; the twins, Lieutenants Rumiko Ogami and her sister, Lieutenant Mizuko Ogami; and Lieutenant Kii Sawa.”
“Are they… as pretty as Lt. Shiori?” Okami asked, and he could not help but hear a hint of jealousy in her words.
“Depends on who you ask,” he said.
“I’m asking you,” she told him.
Kiminobu cleared his throat uncomfortably. “They’re all pretty, yes, but I’ve seen prettier.”
“Like you, for example, even with the makeup.”
Okami smiled at him. “Good answer.”
Kiminobu reached up to touch something in his ear. “Yes, Captain?” he asked. “No, we’re not leaving yet. Shiori is fangirling out, and I won’t take that from her right now. I don’t care where we are! We have permission to be here, remember? Then let them look at the Nexus Suits! Then don’t let them inside! Come on, Asa, just give us some time, all right? Thank you!” He closed communications.
“Captain Ikehara—mother hen to us all,” he told Okami. “Sorry about that.”
“It’s all right—it’s nice that you stuck up for your friend that way.” She looked over at Kitsune, who was now joined by the others around Shiori, and her lips pulled down. “If you’ll excuse me, your Highness, I need to go get something for Kitsune. I think she let her blood sugar get too low during the concert. She has no color in her cheeks.”
“She still has her makeup on—how can you tell? Do you need an escort?” he asked.
“There’s a vending machine just outside—I’ll be all right. Besides, the Prince of Vadora should not be seen wandering the halls of an empty stadium, especially if press will be arriving shortly.”
“Do you think ZOO can give their farewell performance without the eleven o’clock news wanting a piece of it?” She stood up. “I’ll be right back.”
She headed for the door, and as she did, Kiminobu saw a bushy, grey and white tail sticking out of the back of her kimino and swaying gently as she walked. He looked around and saw tails attached to the kiminos of the other band members, but theirs seemed very flaccid, though very real.
“Where did Okami go?”
Kiminobu startled when he realized the drummer, who was dressed as a koala, had approached him while he had been staring at the door. She was dressed in all grey, though her kimono had leaf patterns on it.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” she told him. “Do you know where Okami went?”
“She went to get something for Kitsune,” he said. “She said she looked pale.”
“Kitsune over did herself, as usual—she always does during concerts. We should have stopped an hour ago, but she didn’t want to disappoint the fans, and she didn’t take a break to get some food. We have to watch over her a lot.”
“I can’t believe someone is allergic to the cure for diabetes,” Kiminobu said. “That has to be terrible.”
“We all deal with it together,” Koara said. “That’s what friends do, right?”
“Yes. You seem like more than just friends, though.”
“Yes, we’re definitely family. Especially with Yu—Okami, who is like a mother to all of us, and we’re like a mother to her. Kinda weird when you think about it too hard.” She laughed. “So, did you enjoy the concert?”
“Concert music is a little loud, and while I’m not as big a fan as Shiori, I do like your music. Why are you quitting? You’re at the height of your career!”
Okami returned then with a bottle of chocolate milk that she took over to Kitsune. The fox looked at her with a small snarl but opened the top and began to drink.
“We have our reasons—I just hope it’s a good reason and won’t hurt someone we all love and respect very much.”
Kiminobu saw her looking at Okami.
“Anyway, I didn’t want you to feel unwelcome while we talked with your friend. It was nice to meet you, Prince Kiminobu.” She shook his gloved hand and then returned to the others and Shiori while Okami returned to the couch.
“We might have to cut tonight a little short—the press is gathering outside—but we have a gift bag we’d like to give Shiori. Don’t let us forget it, all right?”
“I won’t,” he said. “She’ll probably think she died and went to heaven, even if it’s just a couple of pictures of the band.”
“It’s more than that,” Okami told him quietly. “So, you paid the money for a backstage pass, yet you only wanted seats in the middle of the auditorium and not up front. Why?”
“Shiori didn’t want to be so close she couldn’t see the band well,” he said. “She chose the seats. I thought we had a good vantage point.”
“Well, I’m glad you liked the concert.”
Shiori stood up then, and Kiminobu was rather surprised when each member of the band gave her a hug. When Shiori turned toward him, the smile on her face was brighter than the sun. She rushed over to him.
“They hugged me!” she mouthed excitedly to him, covering the side of her mouth to keep the expression quiet.
“We’re sorry this couldn’t have been longer, but we have to meet the press and then pack up,” Kitsune said as the band approached. “It was nice to meet you, Prince Kiminobu—we apologize for not speaking to you more.”
“This was Shiori’s night, not mine,” Kiminobu told her. “If she’s happy, that’s all that matters.”
“I’m more than happy!” Shiori said excitedly.
“Before you go, we have a gift bag we’d like to give you,” Tora said, giving Shiori a large black bag with a zipper closure. “It’s a few memorabilia items and some other things we hope a fan of ours would like. Each one of us chose three items for you.”
Shiori’s brown eyes flew wide. “Each of you… chose these… yourself?” She brought her hand to her heart, which was beating a mile a minute. “I… I think I’m… I’m going to pass out.” She fell weakly back into Kiminobu’s arms.
“You’d better not,” he told her, pushing her back to her feet. “You have to pilot your Nexus suit back to Vadora—you know Captain Ikehara won’t let me do it.”
“We put a note inside saying what each of us gave you,” Usagi said.
“I’ll protect these with my life!” Shiori assured them. “Thank you! Thank you all so much! Tonight has been one of the best nights of my life!”
She gave the bag to the Prince and shook each of their hands. Then she shook Okami’s, and looked their manager over carefully as she did so. She looked at the others, realizing, of course, that they were never seen in public without their makeup and costumes on. She stepped away and gave a low bow.
“Thank you for the gifts—I will cherish them all!”
“We need to let them get finished for the night, and we need to get home,” Kiminobu reminded Shiori. “Thank you all for letting us keep our VIP passes and for the wonderful time you gave to my guard. Good night.” He bowed to them, and then he and Shiori left.
After they were gone, the band looked at their manager.
“So, what do you think of him?” Kitsune asked.
“He’s… heftier than I was hoping, but… I can work on that,” she said. “He seems nice, though, and seems to care for his guard’s happiness.” Okami shrugged. “I just hope he can accept me for what I am… outside of costume.”
“It’s the reason we let them keep the passes,” Tora told her. “You had to meet him before the wedding.”
“Thank you all for indulging me,” Okami said. “I’m glad I was able to talk to him, get a feel for him.”
“You’re our Princess as well as our manager,” Kitsune said. “We will indulge you as much as you wish.”
Okami smiled at them.
You can read chapter two here https://creativewritingonline.com/prince-%26-the-wolf-girl-2