[℧] Ought to live the lie. Talks like it seems she should.
The area around and next to me is full of free and open seats—to me, it's a buffer zone. To them, it's keeping a safe distance <kinda the same thing isnt it>. No. There's definitely a difference <well in perspective maybe but tha>. It doesn't matter. There's space between me and the other people, and it's working out well for all of us. Of course, it also makes very obvious where the onje in the room is to anyone who's walking through.
Well, that's fine, too. It isn't the first curveball I've been thrown, and I'd bet all the yen in Japan that it won't be the last. Stupid Makai.
I give Honne a polite look—neutral, don't smile; but don't look dead. "Not at all. Please, do." I knew Kana-mama's posture lessons were going to be put to use in ceremonies, but until an hour or so ago, I didn't really expect I'd ever use them outside of that <and photos>. That's true.
[Hmm~ Kinda macademia-y and licorice-y. The other colors are different flavors, right?]
"Much obliged, miss." Honne sets down a large satchel and takes the chair beside mine. "Good to see a familiar face here." <what>. She can't. She can't, right?
With a tilt of the head, I affect a look of confusion. "Oh. Have we have met before?" It's a weak deflection, but what else is there to say? I hope I'm not sweating <well i did just call it with the curveball thing>?
"No, nothin' like that. Just sayin', a human face is a lot more familiar than anything these muppets're sportin', y'know?" <oh thank you gods>. "We got that greatest common d... uh... dominator." <that ones hard>
"Mmm..." A nod. "I see now, yes. I have kept to myself more often than not on this journey, so such a thing struck me as..." She looks at me after a few moments, almost expectantly <cant do that with westerners>. Right, right. "Ah, pardon me, I was just thinking aloud. This land is ...mm, highly unusual, yes, as can be its people at times. Your sentiments are not so strange, I think."
Honne had been in the middle of digging through her satchel for something, but this seems to give her pause. "...They look like people to you?"
"W-well, yes, after a fashion. Many strange and fantastical sorts, but taken as a whole, I would call them so."
[What the... chili walnut? Kid, this flavor selection here is worse than all the candy in Turkmenistan, and that's a tough hurdle to clear.]
"Huh." After looking at me with more intensity than I'm used to, she goes back to her satchel. She finally pulls out what she was after—her tickets—removes her hat, tucks them into the inside brim, and then places it back on her head. "Oh! Damn, sorry; my manners're on break." She puts out a hand. "Honne from all over, and you?"
Here goes nothing.
"Asani, most recently of Kowloon." Honne's hand is given an unsure look for about a second longer than most people would feel comfortable with before I reach up and tenderly shake it. ...Ugh, that name sounds dumb now that I'm actually saying it and thinking about it in front of someone <its not really that dumb>. ...No, it's not, but it just sounds kinda... <its worlds better than super sanagami> Oh gods, I haven't thought about that account in years <wonder if its still active>. I hope not.
"Kowloon?" Honne winces "Dang. Long way from home."
"The lament of all onje, no?"
"I dunno about that, girl. Some of us're havin' fun." <i find this difficult to accept> I'll second that.
"Oh? What do you find so entertaining about this land?" A slight turn of the head and a note of interest. I should spend some time in front of a mirror once I'm on the train; maybe borrow some makeup if I can. A lady like Asani Rayokom takes better care of herself than I look.
Honne waves a hand. "Honestly? Damn little. But you learn to make your own fun, right? You never just woke up and thought 'I'm gonna have a good ol' time, today' and see what the world around ya does when you got that itch and you're lookin' to share it?"
...She does realize the kind of person she's <supposedly> talking to, right? I'm no free-wheeling drifter with time to kill <but i am soooort of sitting alone in a train station>. Yeah, well, that's a totally different thing, and also shut up.
[Better! Much better~ But one strawberry-flavored candy does not outweigh this jumble of weirdness so far.]
"Mmm... I cannot say that I ever have, but I think I comprehend the notion."
"Y'oughta try it, it's great. 'Specially here, where nobody knows your history or underwear size." Honne scratches an ear, then looks at me like she only now realized I was sitting there. "Hey, wait a sec. Kowloon, right? I been hearing—sorry, heard—some kinda talk that all that got given back to China. That really true, or were they just messin' around on me?"
Hmfff. A sigh through the nose, a shake of the head. Would Kana-mama be happy that the posture lessons actually took, or annoyed that I'm just copying a lot of her mannerisms? "The truth, I'm afraid to say. It was some time ago... 1997, I believe?" Was almost going to to say "Heisei 9" to really play up the part, but cut that off in time <oooh yeah thats a red flag>. "However, the area has been designated a special economic zone, and Beijing knows better than to involve themselves overmuch, of course."
"Sacred tits of Mary, 1997?" Honne looks disgusted and amazed. "And how long ago was that?" <holy crap is she a time traveler> ...I can't really rule that out, but I'm guessing not.
I look up and tap a thoughtful finger against my lips; mostly for the look of it, but I do have think about it for a second. It's been about two years since we came to Gensokyo, and that was in 2007, so—"Twelve years ago? Yes, that seems correct."
[Huh. Like tamarind, but if that wasn't the worst flavor ever. Nice trick, that.]
"How long have you been in Makai, if you don't mi..." The words die quickly as I realize that I don't really need an answer. Honne's face, for a moment, is looking at something way, way, way past my face, past these walls, past this city. That's its own answer, and if I hadn't been looking at her, it would have disappeared into the empty areas of history.
"Oh, a while~" she says. "You lose track of time here after a while. But I don't have to tell you that, right?" There's a weird grin, and she elbows me in far too familiar a manner <the heck does that mean>. I ...don't know. And that's weird. Did I even say how long I'd been here <mightve implied it>?
...Can't find a way to respond to that meaningfully that's still safe. Asani doesn't seem like the shrugging type, so I settle for, "These things do happen."
"No kiddin'. So anyway, what kinda dark arts you into?" Honne's muddy-red eyes come back to life, and lock onto me. "No offense, but an onje with your kinda high threadcount clothes is something maybe only every third uncle of yours ever talks about." She nods, more to herself than anyone else, I think. "You gotta be into them dark arts."
Does she mean... Oh. Putting on an insulted look doesn't take much acting. "I beg your pardon?"
"Like, are you a ritualist, a summoner, evoker, maybe you one of them druidics, or a psychic, uh... diviner, maybe, but then you'd know what I'm talking about and the look on your face says you don't. Puttin' it another way, what kinda magic you workin'?" <o oh thats what she meant>
...This lady, jeez. With my best politely pained look, I sigh. "Do all onje ask about these things?"
"Psssht, duh. We all come out here to get that hittah, girl. It ain't 'cause they got tropical sun and rum in coconuts." Boy, you got that one right. "What else we gonna talk? The weather? Breakthroughs in natural philosophy? Definitely not politics." Honne shrugs. "It's that common dominator like I told you. We all ended up here lookin' for it."
Huh. I... I guess that's fair. I'd like to talk about robots, shitposting on 2ch, and how interesting and irritating youkai can be at the exact same moment, but who's gonna care about any of that out here <even number 3 is off limits depending on who youre talking to in gensokyo too>?
"Well..." Shifting uncomfortably in a not-uncomfortable seat, I look away from Honne and towards a patch of floor in front of us both. "It lies somewhere between divination and elementalism, and is based in Taoism to some degree."
[Never once seen the rules to hopscotch twisted to such a perverse, yet fascinating extent. Totally down with this!]
Oddly, Honne nods. "Yeah, I can see that."
"Sure. I'm just lookin' at you, and it's all comin' right on into focus. Confucian, right?"
My mind blanks on what that word means for a second before something clicks. She's probably talking about Jukyou... I think. "Please, Miss Honne," I tell her. "I am not so incapable as to require limiting myself to such an extent. I meant precisely what I said."
Honne doesn't seem to take offense at that, but that's just what I'd expect. "Really? I guess I see that, too. You don't take your own measure much, do ya? Bad habit. Real bad." ...Wow, the nerve of this <abrasive but friendly young woman>—yeah. That. Let's go with ...that.
"I, er... I like to think that I do." After an inward calming breath, curiosity prompts me to return her question: "If I might be equally forward, what sort of magic do you specialize in?"
An easy laugh and a smile pour out of Honne. "Oh ma'am, just bein' me is magic enough." She starts to say something else, but then in a single abrupt motion, sits up straight, all her ease vanishing. "Train's here."
The low hubbub of the station fills the space between us to drowning.
Little early, there, no? "Perhaps I missed something?" I offer, knowing full well that I didn't <do you though>. Yes, I know I didn't. She's dodging the question <isnt that supposed to be typical of onje though>. ...Well, I guess. But it's no less annoying to de—
fwhoooouuuuuuuuuuuuaah goes the train whistle in the distance.
When I look at Honne, she gives me quite the satisfied look, and sniffs slightly. "Magic enough," she repeats. With that, she lifts her hat with a poke under the brim, then rises to her feet and makes her way towards the platform. "Maybe I'll see ya 'round."
"O-CCIDAS DIRECT, 'RRIVIN' SHORTLY!" a voice shouts from somewhere off to the side, shaking me out of it. "FIRS' CLASS, PLATFORM TWO, COACH AT PLATFORM FIVE, THIR'-CLASS AT SIX; STAN' CLEAR FOR THOSE DEBARKIN'!"
[Oooooh, it's sayonar-o'-clock~ ...Or, it will be? ...Okay, one more round, real quick!]
...Ah, so that's how that works. Makai's still a ways off from LED signboards, obviously, but that's all I've ever known for train announcements beyond the gentle pre-recorded female voices informing you of everything from the next train to delays to helpful travel information.
I get to my feet with way more pops and cracks in my knees and arms than I'd have expected. Nobody seems to notice, but I fight down a blush all the same. I'm not even close to that old just yet, and I was only there for a few minutes, wasn't I? ...Heck with it, let's get a move on.
Following the directions bellowed out a moment ago, I take my things and find Platform Two, a spring in my step. I haven't been on a real train ride in years, and even then, never an overnight.
The train that pulls in to the station is led by another cousin of the ones I saw in the railyard: a very close approximation of what I'd expect from a steam locomotive on Earth. The shape is there, the parts are more or less where you'd expect to find them, but with plenty of consideration given to appearance and design. This one seems almost like a big, green-blue retro-style griffin <or was that a hippogriff>. Whichever one doesn't have wings. I'd almost swear it's breathing, but maybe that's because this one's running.
Seeing it in motion is an entirely different matter, even as it comes to a halt. No smoke, either, which is really strange—or wait, no, there's a little. It dissipates in the air pretty fast, though, and doesn't have that good old-fashioned coal smell <thats a bummer>. Definitely. But it matches what Honne told me about an alternative fuel <striahg>. Right, that.
The cars behind it are all painted in the same green and blue color scheme; a nice matching set. The composition of the train is hard to guess at from here, but their general roles are clear. All in all, it's nothing you wouldn't find on any fancy passenger train.
After the engine is what's obviously a tender, though it's shorter than the ones I know and has a roof on top. Two cars with big doors, but only a few windows high up are clearly for cargo. Another car with a bunch of windows; passenger accommodations of some kind. Another pair of cars with just as much window-space, but wider and fewer. Probably a diner car and... something else. Maybe two? There's another many-windowed car after that, which means that one of them is coach and the other is... <first class>. Yes, Detective, shrewd deduction that the one pulling up to Platform Two might be first class like the announcement just said. And there are a couple more cars after that I can't get a clear look at. Honne's over by one of them, though.
...Wait, I'm on the same train as Honne <sure looks like it>? Oh no. ...Well, wait. I'll be in first class, and she's in third class, by the looks of it. But Asani Rayokom has high standards, and she <miiiight be in trouble if meals arent included in the ticket price>— Uh. Y, yes. She might be. Crap. Okay, one crisis at a time, though.
Instead of the usual line of people waiting to get on that you'd see in Japan, there's a small blob of maybe six or seven people waiting at Platform Two in no real order or hurry. The cause is probably the pair of well-dressed demons exiting the train just now, followed by a handful of identical, dour-faced servants hustling their luggage out. A murmur runs through the crowd, but I don't catch any names or specifics. Local celebrities, I guess?
[Nope, one means one, sorry~ Grow stronger and prepare for the day when, uh... Yes, that~ But don't stay up too late, all right?]
They and their things are on their way soon enough, and the blob forms itself into a thin wedge, again without complication or rush <odd>. Yeah. But that's fine, since everyone's boarding pretty quick, too. Off to the right, I notice that the doors to the next couple of cars have been slid open, and luggage and bags are being loaded and unloaded at an even faster clip, confirming my guess <was a pretty easy guess though>. The porters haven't dropped a thing yet, but the pace of their work still makes me glad I'm glad I'm hanging onto my own things.
My boots clang on the metal footplate outside and then clomp up the wooden steps inside the car and into the first class car and wow this is already amazing. The only place to see a vintage-y passenger car like this in such immaculate condition would be in movies or at a museum where they'd gone to great lengths to restore one. There's something in the air, like the hints of week-ago incense, and that way that really nice carpet makes everything a bit quieter somehow. The low lighting only adds to that <it is nighttime after all>.
It's about then that I realize I have no idea what number my room is <cabin>. Cabin? Or is that for boats <uhhhh that might be right too>. Whatever it's called, I don't know which one's mine. After moving out of the way of the few people behind me, I set down my bag and get out my ticket and oh gods I have no idea what any of this says. I might as well be reading Russian. Actually, no; at least Cyrillic looks like Roman letters. This is like trying to read... I dunno, Atlantean, or something <there are numbers though>. Yeah, I can see that much, but they're all over this stupid thing.
I'm starting to get some looks and that is not what I need right now.
Okay. ...What would Asani Rayokom do?
She'd probably already know how to read the language. Crap. All right, then... what would a stupid Japanese girl pretending to be a suave, cool Hong Kong elementalist do?
"Pardon me, but might you have a moment?" I ask the first person I see in wearing what must be the uniform of the train staff—it's cut too professional to be anything else.
The purple-haired girl—a fairy—actually looks around my age, and maybe a few centimeters shorter than me, but the wings give her species away. A subdued goldenrod tailcoat, white stockings, green flats, and a green bowtie make for... <a very striking look>.
Yeah, let's go with that.
"Sure—Uh, yes miss, what can we do for you?" Even though only a single word of it slipped out, I can just hear the internal gear-shift from Casual to Very Polite speech <>.
That could mean a lot of things, many of them not great <or maybe shes just awkward>. Please, no. I need helpful, not worried. But the way she's eyeing me doesn't inspire confidence. Out here by the far end of the first-class car, though, I don't know who she's worried about.
Handing her my ticket seems to give her some focus, however. "I went to put my things away just now, but when I entered my room, someone was already in there," I tell her <sure it wasnt cabin and not room>. It could be, but would Asani know the difference? "When I expressed my confusion, they told me they had been assigned that room, and... well, I did not wish to cause any trouble, so I exited and sought out someone that might be able to resolve this."
Asani is a very nice lady and doesn't cause problems. Or maybe she doesn't like to cause them, at least. I need to think about this whole alter-ego thing a little more <it does seem like that would be a good idea, yes>
"Hmm." The fairy examines the ticket,, occasionally looking up at me. While waiting waiting politely and without much to do but look at her, I notice the nametag on her right breast, but iiiiiit <wait what>, uhhhh. Am I looking at kanji? I'm pretty sure I'm looking at kanji.
[ 莲花 ]
...Or is it? I mean, obviously the last character is; duh. And the first character sure as heck looks like it, but something's both weird and familiar about it. I know I've seen it, or something close to it before, but I can't remember it. Though, it almost looks like—
...Wait, I do know what that is. I think <thats really weird if it is>. No, even if I'm wrong, it's still weird. But it's not impossible.
My ticket continues to be scrutinized much longer than feels comfortable. She flips it over, then back again a minute later. I know something's up for sure when her purple eyes come back up, looking at me with polite suspicion. "All right, l—" A pause. "Miss, you are an onje, right?" <oh come on>
I draw myself up, and give a firm, defiant nod. "That is what they call me in this land, yes. Regardless, I conduct myself impec—"
"Save it, miss." The fairy looks at me with bored contempt, and abandons her formal tone for something more befitting a yankee girl smoking on the roof. "You could be the most perfect human ever, and you'd still ride third-class like every other onje on this line. Rules are the rules. The train's about to leave, and we've all got people to be." She points at the nearby exit. "Either scram-diddle off this train right now and we all forget this happened, or get to third-class and we sort your nonsense out but right." <w wait does that mean like a fight or>
My eyes narrow, but after a few seconds, I nod. "I will accept that challenge. It is to the rear of the train, I presume?" I paid for a ticket; I'm getting my ride, dammit. Even if it's a crappy seat.
She meets the look with skepticism. "Are you sure about that?" Another nod. Her eyes roll. "Like we weren't busy enough," she mutters. "Fine. Second-to-last car; it's right before the caboose." <whys there a caboose> I can worry about that later, or maybe even never.
The fairy walks over to the door and holds it open for me. Well, as confusing and upsetting as this is, there's also no sense in making things worse. Halfway through the door, I pause and turn to face her <aaaand lets go for it>. "Before I go, I would kindly ask of you to return my ticket then, Lotus."
The look on her face tells me that my guess actually paid off <bleagh stupid sutra lessons in chinese and sanskrit why dont we just conduct a mass in latin while were at it uuuuugggh>. "莲" thankfully looks close to "蓮", the kanji I'm more familiar with. Heck, you could almost mistake one for the other... if the person writing spazzed out halfway through.
She goes from startled to surprised, and then, uh. To blushing. To crawling skin. ...Her skin is crawling. Wriggling, even. Oh gods is she infected with some kind of horrible demon disease? Did some kind of breakout happen? Did real life just turn into Biohazard <itll be fine>?! What? How <because i have stars on my side>? This is not the time for puns.
"Hey, d-don't try pulling the sweet-talk on us, onje. We're holding on to this and that's that." says the fairy, her seething skin calming down after a moment <i am so lost>. Her cheeks are still red, though. "We told you already, get off or get on back!"
Right, welcome overstayed <did i even have one>. Good point. More importantly, who cares. I hoist the sack again and step out into the night air once again, like the posh, unflappable lady I'm not.
"Also, it's Lianhua," calls her voice from behind me. Already down the steps, I start turn, but any apology I could offer is cut short by the door closing firmly, followed a second later by the click of a lock.
File 15462187281.jpg - (407.01KB, 2622x1347, not like this but kinda like this.jpg)
I try very hard not to think about all the people staring at me as I make my way to the back of the train. Something must be showing on my face, because the few people in my way get out of it. Or maybe they don't like onje, either. As long as it gets the job done, right <i dunno about that>?
The third-class car used to be a basic freight car, but it's been retrofitted; there's no reason cargo or livestock needs those windows, or a regular door. Even so, it's a pretty clear message about what the owners of the Occidas Direct think about onje <but thatd be stupid and inefficient>. Yeah, well. I just got a lesson in how much that matters to them <still doesnt make sense>. It doesn't, but I've had enough experience over the week to teach me about Makai and sense.
A burly-looking reptilian demon in an outfit like Lianhua's comes out the regular door and eyeballs me as I approach. Doesn't say anything or stop me from going in, though; just goes across the little connector to the next car and disappears through its rear door <permission granted i guess>. Something like that.
Third-class is... a mixed bag. It's not like being in steerage on the Titanic, which is a relief. But having just been in first-class, I'm noticing obvious differences, too. It's a bit cooler, and the passages are a bit more cramped. The lighting is behind panels instead of in fixtures. The carpet is a thin, durable weave instead of a thick, soft pile. The walls are scuffed here and there. No bad smells, which is a blessing all its own. There's a large door with locks on it and a placard next to it. Unreadable, of course.
And from down the hall on the side, I hear quiet singing in French. It's the same song I heard back at the hostel, too, which narrows the list of potential singers from "everyone" down to "just one" <must i really>. Does she just show up everywhere I go <at least shes not the smoke woman>? That's true.
I've only taken a few steps towards the propped-open door it's coming from wh se at all, and it was definitely just my imagination. How about what's down there?
[Soooo, dinner was a few hours ago, but it's not all put away yet! Gonna head back there in a bit~]
The room is maybe about as big as an eight- or ten-tatami room back home, with three sets of bare-bones double bunks along the far wall. Three bunks of them seem occupied by someone's sleeping roll, and another one by packs and belongings. Clothes are hanging from a line strung across the room, and Honne is in the middle of setting up a... A net <no its a hammock>? She didn't seem the type.
She looks up when I enter, and for some reason, it annoys me that she doesn't appear to be surprised. "Hello again, Asani. What're you doing down here?"
"Onje, it seems, are not permitted to ride first-class," I answer. At the other end of the room are a some chairs that sit around a table—which is bolted to the floor—that has a newspaper and an empty plate still sitting out on it. I place my bag down on one of the chairs, and frown at nothing in particular. "...As I personally discovered but minutes ago."
"You tried riding first-class?" Honne snorts and shakes her head. "What, you steal a ticket, or buy it off someone in a back alley that smells like old cats and doesn't ask a lotta questions?"
"I bought it legally. From the ticket counter here at the station." Heck, I bought two, for that matter.
Honne nods and probably rolls her eyes, but stops when she looks over at me. "...Wait, did you really? 'Cause she shouldn't have sold you one."
Crap, she's right.
"...You want a drink?"
"I will be fine. Thank you, however."
While stewing over that revelation, I hear someone from outside shout the all-abooooard to the engineer. The train shifts, hums, and starts to move.
"I have reconsidered."
"Felt you might."
Clink, clink go two little shot glasses on the table a moment later. Honne pulls up a chair and pours something dark and golden from a bottle into each one.
Um. "You carry those with you?"
"You don't have a set?" She pauses while screwing the cap back on, and looks up, genuinely surprised.
[Not even wineglasses?]
"I do not."
"Perhaps one day."
She sets the two glasses between us, and motions for me to pick one—hospitality and showing good intentions, I guess. Picking one, I raise it. Not so dark that the light doesn't come through.
"To swift conclusions of fruitful ventures, and let the devils choke on them." <isnt that a bit much> It's exactly what I'm feeling.
She takes the other, and clinks it with mine. "Oh Asani," she says, with a big smile. "We're gonna get along like syphilis on sailors."
The strong burn of the unfamiliar alcohol helps to scorch away that particular gem. Clank. Heh. Underage characters in manga have to say they aren't allowed to drink, but Asani is surely of age <thanks to gensokyo the land of delinquency>. A loophole's a loophole.
[Hoo~ Nothing like cheap tequila!]
"No, I will be fine. Your generosity is appreciated, however."
"One was sufficient. ...Thank you, Honne." I'm also not a complete idiot. Angry and put-out, sure, but not so dumb as to get hammered <been a few hours since dinner at the feast>. That's true.
I'd like nothing more than to go somewhere nice and cool, because this... whatever that was, is warming me right up. But I've already turned down a second drink, and don't have much to share in return. The least I could do is stay and make polite conversation for a minute.
[ ] Might be more rules she don't know. Asks about 'em so she ain't caught out like before. [ ] No faces to put to these bags here. Girl wonders if lady here's got anything on those folks.
Is this what it feels like to be a deadbeat dad? "Look, I showed up for Christmas, almost. So you can't say I don't love my kids, even if I don't see them the rest of the year. Things are gonna be different from now on, honey, I mean it. For real, this time."
...It doesn't feel good.
>>15866 I don't deserve people with your enthusiasm. Thank you, and everyone he badgered into voting.