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  1. Once, not long ago, there lived a princess who wished to sing for the world.
  2.  
  3. She grew up in her castle, and she saw that both within its walls and without them, there were people who were not so happy. But she also saw that mothers sang to their children to soothe them, and fair maidens dazzled crowds with the sweetness of their voices, and she thought someday she would be like those mothers and those maidens. So as she grew into a maiden herself, she was beautiful and she was pure, and she saw that when other people knew her to be beautiful and pure, it brought joy to their hearts. She vowed to sing someday with that thought in her mind.
  4.  
  5. But as the princess grew, her beauty and purity caught the jealous eye of the Queen of Hell, and on the year the princess became a maiden grown, the Queen of Hell cast her curse. She sent poison to steal the princess's vigor and wrack her delicate body with pain, and she drained the princess's body dry of its beauty.
  6.  
  7. As her beauty and purity fled her, the princess's voice dwindled to a whisper in fear and shame, and she sought to flee the Queen of Hell's menacing attention and reclaim her gifts. She sheared off her hair and bound her poisoned body up in the clothes of a boy. In this disguise, she began her ascent to meet the King of Heaven, who she knew would cast off the Queen of Hell's influence from her once and for all.
  8.  
  9. But the problem was this: there was no Queen in Hell, nor King in Heaven.
  10.  
  11. * * *
  12.  
  13. Jun Kyoujima was no princess, but she had a decent life. Her parents, though not amazingly rich, were fairly affluent, and they doted on her as their only child. True, her mother had *wanted* more children, but her first pregnancy was difficult enough, and she loved the girl she did have. Jun's earliest memories are of her mother singing to her, full of love and hope.
  14.  
  15. She thrived in this setting, growing from a beloved baby into a sweet and lovely child who charmed everyone she met. She could always play to the crowd, even as a little girl--when she talked, people laughed in delight, and when she smiled, everyone around her smiled back. She noticed this, and she decided she liked it and would keep doing it as she learned better and better ways.
  16.  
  17. But for all that her life was good and full of love, it was not without its sorrows. Her mother kept trying to have that second child, but it wasn't working out. It was increasingly clear that Jun's healthy birth had been lucky enough for Keiko Kyoujima. Further attempts went without results, or worse, with terrible ones. By the time Jun was six, her mother had miscarried twice. When she was seven, it happened again, and Keiko nearly died in the process. She and her husband decided to stop trying and focus on loving the child they did have. But somehow, she forgot to keep singing to that child, full of love and hope.
  18.  
  19. Jun didn't know *exactly* what was happening with her parents: they avoided showing their pain to her as much as possible. But she was a perceptive child, moreso than most people ever realized, and she knew that her mother was hurting. She knew that her mother no longer sang to her for a reason. Her struggles and failure to bring a little sibling for Jun into the world had hurt her deeply, and she had stopped singing to her daughter.
  20.  
  21. Looking at her mother hiding her sorrow, Jun learned to see when so many other people around her were also hiding their sorrow. There were too many. But she remembered a time when her mother *had* sung to her, and she saw other young women take to the stage and the airwaves to sing to the world, and she realized what she could do. If her mother could no longer sing to stop her daughter's tears, Jun would take that task onto herself and become the one to sing the tears of the world away.
  22.  
  23. She didn't tell her parents exactly why she wanted to pursue a career in song, of course, but she told them that she wanted to, and they supported her. She threw herself into training for it. Besides excelling in her usual schoolwork, like the perfect role model she was, Jun also impressed her voice teachers with her potential as a singer, and many casual acquaintances assured her parents that between her talent and her beauty, their daughter would one day be a fantastic idol.
  24.  
  25. She was sure she would save the world with her song. That wasn't too big of a goal, was it? She was clever, she was beautiful, she was charming, and she could sing. In anime, when a beautiful girl sang, she could save the world. When her mother had sung to her as a little girl, it had *felt* like she was saving the world. So it made sense. She didn't necessarily think about it that far, but Jun truly believed on some level that when she grew up and became an idol like the girls on TV and the radio, she would be able to quell suffering all around her.
  26.  
  27. And then she grew up.
  28.  
  29. When Jun was twelve, her health faltered strangely. She sickened too easily, felt weak and tired, struggled too often with unexplained fevers. Joint pain plagued her, and where her friends worried over the onset of teenage acne, she hurried to conceal painful and hideous swollen rashes on her arms and then, to her horror, on her face. The symptoms seemed to wax and wane in tune with her newly established monthly cycle.
  30.  
  31. It was a good thing her parents had money, because they now poured it all into finding a diagnosis for her. The early attempts were horrifying. *Leukemia*, the first doctors agreed--but that didn't explain everything. The prognosis was wrong; Jun worsened too fast, or not fast enough. And they couldn't decide what *type* of leukemia she had. Not to mention, what was causing the apparent correlation between the state of her monthly cycle and the rest of her health?
  32.  
  33. For two years, Jun and her parents went from doctor to doctor seeking an answer. Jun left school; she was weak and ill too much, and too easily endangered by common infections, to attend with any regularity. She gave up her voice lessons as near-lethal fevers sent her into intensive care again and again. But it was okay, because she was never going to be an idol in the first place now. The rashes and poorly-healing sores didn't always leave scars, but sometimes they did. And they happened often now. It was clear that she wasn't going to come out of this being beautiful in the end.
  34.  
  35. She still smiled as best she could for her increasingly distraught parents and for all the people around her. There were fewer and fewer of the latter that she cared about. She'd never had extremely close friends--prioritizing her dreams had left her with little time to pursue deep relationships with her peers, and besides, it was hard to be friends with someone when you wanted to save everyone. Some of her friends visited her in hospitals and at home for a time, but gradually those visits tapered off. It was all right. She focused more on being cheerful and supportive for the other sick children she met. She could at least do that much.
  36.  
  37. But with her dreams swatted out of her grasp, her life perpetually in danger, and her existence constantly troubled with pain, something had come uncoupled inside her. She'd worked so hard and done so much right in order to become the kind of beautiful girl who would sing to adoring crowds who lost all their sorrows in her voice. It could not be random outside tragedy that had taken this away from her, and it could not possibly be gone forever.
  38.  
  39. The doctors may not have known what to make of the illness's association with her hormones, but Jun did. She knew that it meant something that when she'd begun to bleed, when her breasts had begun to grow, when the new world of womanhood opened up to her with its promise of beauty and dreams, she'd been struck down.
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