The music poured out onto the crowd like a rain, joyous notes pattering out from the speakers in the high corners of the hall. Some classical piece that leaned heavily on the strings, lending what had someone had clearly thought was an air of class to the proceedings. The assembled students were dressed up as formally as they could be, from the ostentatious tailcoats and dresses of the Obelisk Blues down to the more understated suits of the Slifer Reds. Even though the school year was over and for a brief while the barriers between students were theoretically down, old habits died hard and the three houses still seemed to cluster apart from one another.
Judai shuffled through the crowds, for one of the few times in his life feeling awkward in his wardrobe. It was a fairly simple suit cobbled together from what Shou and Kenzan could collect up. The two of them had seemed far more invested in the idea than Judai himself had, jumping at the opportunity when he told them he didn't have anything formal to wear. He had protested the whole time, unable to understand why he couldn't just wear his uniform or his cosplay from the school festival. His friends had looked despairingly at the wide-brimmed wizard's hat as he brandished it at them, both writing him off as a lost cause if they didn't do something to help.
He wandered by one of the assembled tables, padding by on the soft soles of his trainers. The footwear had been the one compromise to comfort that his friends had allowed him, but only after watching him attempt to walk in sensible shoes and reasoning that it looked as natural and fluid as the first steps of a newborn giraffe. The congregated students were watching two duelists battle it out in a friendly confrontation. No holograms, no duel disks, just cards on the table.
Judai peered over the shoulder of the nearest player, smiling at the collection of cards in his hand. Putting everything in the right order, and with nothing in his opponent's spell and trap zone, he could win this one in a handful of turns. He winced as the duelist set a monster face down. Not that one. If he'd gone with literally any of the others then-
Judai stopped himself, taking a deep inhalation. This wasn't what this evening was about. It was a time to relax.
He looked across the table to the opponent, one of the Blues that had joined at the start of this year. Good poker face on that one, he reasoned, she had it in the bag. He glanced past her shoulder at the crowd that had gathered behind her. Every face became a blur except one, gazing back at him beneath a shock of teal hair. Judai's breath caught for a moment and he felt the corners of his mouth turning upwards rapidly. He quickly lifted his arm to wave, carelessly knocking into the elbow of a nearby student and sending his drink flying. Chaos reigned for a few moments as groans went up, people scattered and started patting themselves down and Judai made a series of apologies, grins and half bows as he retreated.
Judai attempted to make his way around the table, weaving through the students. He spied spikes of turqouise hair bobbing about through the crowd away from him, slipping out of sight as the owner was dragged away by some unseen and excitable admirer. He tried his best to keep pace and track his target, tip-toeing sideways through two clusters of students and spilling out into the back of a bystander, almost causing a second catastrophe in the space of a few seconds.
"I should have known." The student he had collided with turned and frowned down at him, mood clearly as dark as the all black suit he was wearing.
"Sorry about that, Manjoume." Judai smiled sheepishly, trying his best to peer past him.
"San." Manjoume grumbled, to himself more than anything. "What are you looking at? And more importantly, what do you look like? Who allowed you to dress like that?"
"Oh this? I-"
"You're an offence to the eyes, Judai."
"Well I think we did oka-"
"Are those sneakers?"
Judai sighed. He wasn't getting past Manjoume in a hurry, that much was for certain. He had to think of something and fast.
"You're right, Thunder, you're right. I'm definitely not up to the level of the Tenjouins, that's for certain."
In an instant, Manjoume's entire disposition changed.
"Yeah, I think I saw them over by the main entrance. You should see what they're wearing. Wow, elegant doesn't describe it."
The young duelist was gone, a cloud of black smoke in a strong breeze, leaving Judai a little perplexed that his ill thought-out plan had worked. He decided to make the most of the opportunity and bolted a little faster than he intended out towards his target's last known whereabouts. A grouping of Ra Yellows was gathered there, glancing at him as he approached, but no sign of the guest from North Academy.
Judai looked around in every direction but everywhere came up empty. He sighed, kicking his feet as he trudged past the assembled groups, their numbers thinning as he reached the edge of the hall. He stepped out past a pair of large doors and onto the outside balcony, instantly feeling the cooler air against his face. A crescent moon peered down from the clear sky, dim lights set into the wall casting an array of shadows through the branches of the trees that grew close to the building. The balcony was high up enough that some of the trees even reached it with their utmost branches and Judai found himself idly plucking at the bark as he leaned against the stone railing.
"You get a beautiful nightscape, a fancy party and you end up looking glum? That doesn't seem like you."
Judai felt a twinge in his neck from how fast he looked up. Johan grinned at him from a sturdy branch on a nearby tree, the tallest one around, doing his best to balance on it. The young man was wearing a dark blue suit with a pink shirt, the collar ruffled and cascading down the breast of the outfit like foam on an overfilled drink. Johan's smile intensified, flashing teeth as he winked. Judai could feel a warmth in his cheeks, all too noticeable against the cooling breeze.
"I was looking for you." Judai said, motioning back towards the main hall.
"Yeah, I was looking for you too!" Johan steadied himself on an overhead branch. "Kept getting separated though. There's a lot of people in there."
"I know, right?" Judai heard his giggle echoing before he even realised he'd made it.
"What were you looking for me for?" Johan asked, taking a step forwards. Before Judai could answer, there was a rush and the sound of sliding leaves as Johan tumbled from the branch. A momentary panic, Judai leaning over the railing with his heart pounding in his ears. He stood confused as he took in the sight of Johan standing upside down on the underside of the branch, hands proudly on his hips as his jacket fluttered open below him. After a few seconds of bewildered staring, Judai spotted the harness around the young man's hips, the cable running from that to the branches above.
"Wh-what are you doing out here?" Judai asked.
"I-" Johan started to answer, then took a moment, hand to his chin as if in deep contemplation. The extraordinary angle he was stood at just made the entire pose look bizarre, and Judai tried to surpress a laugh. "You know what, explaining it would take too long."
Johan scrambled back up to his branch and retrieved a small bag from among the leaves. He opened it and pulled out a second harness and cable, tossing it over to Judai.
"First, put this on. Might be best to attach it to that balcony. And make it tight, it's a long way down and I did not pack any crash helmets."
"And where are we going?" Judai asked, already doing his best to attach the harness.
Johan looked up towards the top of the tree before shrugging.
"I don't know, but I bet the view will be great." He grinned, flashing a thumbs up.
Judai watched a slight redness rise in the cheeks of his companion, picked out by the faint moonlight. He agreed, it would be great.