Description: Shira meets Honoka, and runs away to the Circus.
Normally, the Twilight Star Circus tours all across Japan, but through the months of January and February, it's pretty freaking cold, with low temperatures occasionally dropping below freezing. It's really not a good idea for roadies and crewmembers to be setting up tents in every other city, to say the least.
The long and short of it is, the big top is anchored down in Mitaka, a city immediately to the west of Southtown. The number of showings has been reduced, allowing cast and crew a great number of "free" days to tour the city and take care of things that they can't during an aggressive touring schedule -- or, folks like Honoka can opt to just stay on the circus grounds and save their money. At the moment, Honoka's staying in the administrative office, an elongated trailer that acts as the nerve center for the circus operations. While a receptionist is currently chatting away on one telephone, Honoka is curled up on one of the love-seats with a cellphone in one hand and a cup of hot tea in the other. It's... not warm in the office, as one can see ice crystals form when either Honoka or the receptionist takes a breath, but it's certainly warmer than it is outside.
Which is where the friendly chief of security, Sudo, is standing watch by the door. The tall, imposing man can be gregarious in the right circumstances, but that small set of circumstances does -not- tend to involve keeping guard on the trailer where the circus' finances are kept safe.
Shira Hebi enters the compound as she usually does: slithering around as she dashes from hiding spot to hiding spot, being a shadow amidst the shadows. It's a combination of natural instinct and a lifetime of breaking, entering, and mugging for her friends. Thus it is, that the snake-darkstalker arrives at that trailer. Like a proper serpent, she slithers her way up to the top of the building, and then...well, down it half way. She leans down from atop it, upside down, practically clinging to the side with her back as her long hair and too-big yellow eyes peer at Sudo from above.
"Hello. Is Miss Honoka here? I'm Shira." Comes the girl in her deadpan, seemingly not at all realizing how strange it is to talk upside down on the side of a trailer. She doesn't say anything more as she awaits an answer, tongue hanging out of her mouth a good four inches. No, Shira simply stares at Sudo, and then the door.
Sudo had not noticed the trailer shuddering from someone climbing atop it. He hadn't heard anything as she moved around the rooftop, and he certainly didn't notice Shira's arrival... until her long white hair spills over the edge of the trailer, blocking out the light. To his credit, he doesn't jump, or make any sudden movements -- because the young woman's company is expected. The enforcer's eyes cast upwards, as he keeps his head mostly still.
He starts with a single word. "Yes." It answers all, apparently.
But just when Shira might get the impression he's done speaking, he speaks again. "I remember you from the other night." He steps away from the entryway, but not without holding the door open for her. "Come on inside, she's waiting for you."
Once the door opens, Honoka sets her tea down and springs up from the loveseat, jogging over to the entranceway. The juggler waves cheerfully, motioning for Shira to step inside! It's not -too- bright inside the office, as most of the actual 'work' has already been done for the day. "Shira! Hi! So glad you could come over, I wasn't sure how far away you were! How have you been?"
She stops just short of the snake-woman, though; the tea service is right by the door. "Can I get you something to drink? Or a little bite to eat?"
Shira blinks, taps her chin, and then hisses. "Oh. You were there. I remember now." Nod nod. She leeans in a little bit more, tastes the air with her tongue.
"Have your taste. Won't forget now." She says, as if it's somehow very important. Then she falls more than lands, slithering back up to her feet and walking in. The gentlemanly Sudo's gesture doesn't get noticed. No manners, this snake!
"Ah. Honoka. Hi. I got lost in some mountains. Met an old woman and her kids. Now I'm here." She explains, deadpan as ever and not waving back. Instead, she repeats her actions from Sudo: peer, yellow eyes taking in Honoka, and then tasting the air with her tongue. Up close, she'd likely note that the tongue's forked.
"I'm thirsty." She says, then spies the tea. Rather than pour a cup, she's going to start sucking it down from the pitcher or teapot. Holding it up with her tongue and mouth again. This seems to be a pattern as she chugs it all down. Greedy snake!
"Plenty full though." Honoka might notice a few bandaged up wounds on the woman, as if she's been in a fight.
Sudo isn't too upset -- but mostly because Honoka's giving the bodyguard calming reassurances that she's got the situation under control. His manners, as always, remain impeccable, and his motions as minimal and non-confrontational as demanded by his role. He resumes his guard by the entranceway as the door swings shut.
The situation -is- under control, isn't it? Honoka's eyes can't help but notice the fork in the tongue, or the peculiar mannerisms displayed by the snake-woman as she empties the pitcher. The juggler -does- grow a shade paler at her thirst -- but she's relieved that Shira had at least waited for an invitation before doing so. "Yumiko, can you brew up some more tea for us?"
As the receptionist -- whose phone conversation is still going on -- turns to prepare more tea, she bows lightly towards the newcomer, bowing in greeting as Honoka introduces the pair: "Yumiko, this is Shira... Shira, Yumiko." The receptionist moves the phone away from her ear for the immediate follow-up of "It's a pleasure to meet you,"
But, to save Yumiko from the necessity of abandoning her phone conversation, Honoka launches right into conversation with the new arrival. "An old woman and her kids. Did... they want to start a fight with you?" Honoka gestures towards Shira's bandages with an open hand, as if to explain what she means.
And while Shira may have felt the air to be a little humid, the pressure lightens, oh-so-slightly. The air is clearer, easier to breathe -- and easier to speak. Honoka exudes an aura of trustworthiness, of friendship -- something that goes beyond her concerned expression. What, -exactly- could have caused such wounds, she wonders...?
The serpent doesn't seem to notice how Sudo keeps his calm, or how Honoka pales. No, she's focused on tea, and Honoka's words more than her physical actions. Her eyes gaze on the receptionist, tasting the air. "Hi, Yumiko." States the girl simply, before ignoring the receptionist. Honoka is far more interesting.
As the air lightens, Shira seems to relax slightly, sitting in a spare loveseat and curling her legs up to her chest to gather a little more warmth. "No. That was from someone I met. They had lots of money, so I tried to take it from them. Had to run away, they were too strong." Adds Shira, rather forthright about her attempted mugging. That aura of friendliness helps.
"The old woman, Eadni. She let me stay the night and fed me breakfast."
Honoka had talked with Shira for quite a while in Denny's the other night, and in her mind, had begun painting a portrait of the person she believed Shira to be. Loyal, affectionate, protective, and concerned for her family above all else. But also, not really giving much care to social norms or mores -- which is why Honoka wanted to speak with her more.
But mugging someone she'd just met... "Most people who have lots of money tend to have good ways to hold onto that money. How... long did you talk with them before..." She twiddles her fingers together, and then realizes that the subtlety will probably be lost upon the snake-woman. "Before they showed you how strong they were?"
She takes quiet note of the name 'Eadni', but perhaps it's a bit too early to broach the topic she's less interested in. For now.
Shira peers impassively at Honoka. Her head tilts. "I guess that's true. I should've gone for someone weaker. I just thought it would be quicker that way. Picking pockets is a lot of time."
Blink. Pause. Blink. Chin-tap.
"Mmm...about two seconds. He wouldn't give up the money when I told him to, and then he started kicking me. It was close, though. I should have used my chi more."
It's Shira's turn. "Why? Did I do something wrong?" That deadpan voice seems to be completely serious in her question.
Honoka takes her teacup, using it to warm her hands as she seats herself in one of the chairs next to the loveseat. Crossing her legs, she peers back at Shira, gauging the snake's expressions (or lack thereof) as she speaks. And, after a measured pause, she nods slowly.
"Well, there's two ways to approach this, Shira. One is... the common expectation is that, no, you can't just expect people to hand you their money. If you ask for money, you pretty much have to expect that they're going to say no. And... if you try to take it by force, they're going to get violent with you."
She takes a sip of her tea, letting that soak in for a moment before continuing. Her voice is quiet -- just loud enough for Shira alone to hear. "So, if you aren't in the mood to take 'no' for an answer, you need to take the first strike."
The only 'expression' seems to be curiousity as she's suddenly being lectured on how to properly mug people. Shira is definitely paying attention, all eyes and ears and tongue on Honoka as if she were some kind of great guru. A hand goes to her chin, and taps thoughtfully.
She's silent as she ponders, mulling it over. "I did take him from behind after I stalked him up on the roofs. Then if I had just stabbed him first, then taken the money, I wouldn't have had that problem. I get it. I was being too stupid and merciful. I'm a snake. A predator. I take something if I want it." Nod nod nod.
"You're very smart, Miss Honoka. Did you grow up like me?"
"Stab, blunt wound to the head... same difference." Honoka gives a quiet laugh -- and to anyone else who might be watching, it'd be as casual as if the two were simply sharing in a big joke, rather than casually discussing mugging tactics.
As to whether she grew up like Shira, Honoka nods slowly, lowering her chin in response to the compliment. "... I did. But it was only for a few weeks before I found this circus. They're my big family now... and no one will hurt them. Nothing bad will come to pass here at the circus without everyone finding out about it."
She takes another sip of her tea, lifting her chin once again. "I'd like to consider you part of the family, if I can. We share food, drink... and depending on how things go, money might not be much of an issue either. But... can we trust you, Shira...? To take care of us, in the same way we would be taking care of you?"
At the laugh, Shira seems like she's about to ask a question, but then decides against it. She curls into a ball on the seat, still looking at Honoka even as she answers something rather important.
"So you know what it's like." A pause. "So you're the Big Sis of the circus." For the slightest moment Honoka might catch that stoney face curling up into the beginnings of a smile. Her eyes light, and then, it vanishes just as quickly.
And she considers, long and hard. After a good five minutes of thinking, she gives a nod. "You can trust me. You saved me. Big sis said to do nice things for people like that. So, you're Little Sis now. And I protect Little Sis and her friends. They're my friends now. We make each other stronger."
Then, she slithers over. Literally slithers, body sliding off of the couch to dangle at Honoka's feet. Pulling back her sweater-dress' sleeve, she opens her mouth to reveal those fangs, and then bites down on her own hand hard.
"Give me your hand. This is the mark Big Sis always told me to give to someone joining our gang."
Big Sis of the circus... Honoka bristles at that appellation, shakes her head. She's fought to keep from being described as the 'head' of anything; even with her growing stardom she's insisted on never receiving top billing. And as far as the administration of the circus goes, her authority is but a shadowy presence in the corners of the room, subtly directing the flow of the circus affairs.
But her expression eases once she's called Little Sis instead. It's better for Shira's sake that she consider Honoka as an equal, or even a lesser. This may prove useful. The juggler nods, her eyes quietly following Shira as she slithers about.
Honoka steels herself as the teeth snap out. Trust... is a two-way street, much though she'd rather it not be. The psion reaches out to Shira's mind, quietly assessing the character of the person before her. There is no malice, she determines -- no ill will. If there is poison in this snake, Honoka considers, then it shouldn't be anything she can't cope with.
Refusing a gift offered in friendship implies denial of the friendship. So, with some hesitation, Honoka rolls up the sleeve of her sweater, baring her hand and wrist to Shira.
While, part of her mind reaches out to the receptionist behind her, who has finished preparing tea, and had happened to be staring. << Just turn around, Yumiko. >> Dutifully, the receptionist swivels about in her chair as if it were her own idea.
Thankfully, there's next to no resistance in the serpent's mind. Far too much like an animal, or perhaps she simply doesn't conceive of such things as a threat. she's proven rather honest thus far, at any rate.
And so, the hand is taken as the receptionist swivels on command. The obedience is mystifying to the serpent, but she goes ahead with her custom anyway. That mouth of hers, filled with pointy teeth and those fangs, bites down on Honoka's hand without hesitation.
It lingers, a sharp pain for a moment. A brief flutter as something cold is injected for a half-second, and then tapers off. Should she not be resistant to poison, the wound would numb swiftly, and blood start to clot. A very small, precise amount of venom that will pass through the system quickly enough. The snake's good with her natural poison, after all.
"You're a viper now, Honoka. You're a friend, and family."
Deep down, Honoka has a pretty high tolerance to pain. She works out every day, spends most night subjecting herself to physically strenuous acrobatics in front of a live audience -- and for -fun- she occasionally hassles the local street urchins to maintain some semblance of order. So it doesn't hurt as much as it could.
But Honoka can be a good actress. Her brow knits together tightly, her eyes close shut, her lips purse. The truth is -- the bite doesn't hurt, but she feels hot when the venom begins coursing through her veins -- the knuckles of her other hand turn white from how tightly she's clenching her fist.
"A friend, and family," repeats Honoka, cracking one eyelid open. She exhales slowly, face gradually showing signs of relaxation as she comes to terms with the poison. "No one gets hurt on circus grounds -- it's bad for business. No one gets hurt -leaving- or -coming- either... if you do any of this 'hunting' then it's going to have to be somewhere else."
She looks at her hand afterwards, admiring the effectiveness of the bite -- and how much smaller the wounds are than they -could- have been. "You must really miss your Big Sis, huh?"
Shira observes the reaction of Honoka, and her acting works. The white hand, the clenching fist. But no cries either. One of her friends sobbed after the bite, and that was with the venom.
Shira nods slowly. It's an important nod, the snake seeming to almost slip out of her apathetic ways for a moment, before her eyes grow dim again. Her attention doesn't waver as /rules/ are set down.
"No hunting in the circus. No stalking people who leave. No stalking people who come. Ok. Will hunt in the city then." There might be a tinge of dissappointment in her voice, too.
Shira nods swiftly.
"She took me in. Taught me to fight. Called me friend, cute. Never called me a freak." That last part seems especially important by the way her voice rises.
A shiver. A tear slips from her eye.
"I want her back. Little sis is nice. I want little sis to meet big sis."
Shira seems to bristle at the rules -- and Honoka realizes they do seem a little harsh for someone who just promised to acknowledge her as a friend. And family.
"I'm sorry... but you're family. That's the deal. You have to look out for the family, and in turn, the family will look out for you. Family puts food in the bowl, family puts drinks in the cup, family helps you out with expenses when you need it." It might sound a bit... maternal, to be fair, but it's only fair when she sees the disappointment, which could easily get out of control if not addressed.
Never called me a freak. Honoka smiles warmly, at that. "If you're called a freak, it won't be by people in a circus. People call us clowns, carnies... the f word, sure. People who don't know any better. People who don't know that we're people too, with dreams, and hopes, and feelings."
The juggler can sense the pain. And she slips out of her chair, curling herself around Shira for a light hug. Not a suffocating one, not a -tight- one -- but just a tentative hug, to let the snake girl know that she's not alone. "I'd like to meet her, too."
It isn't -entirely- an empty platitude.
Shira head-tilts. Her rational mind runs through it. And, finally, it clicks.
"Circus isn't like Big Sis and the Green Vipers. Not like us, no. No. 'Legal'. Doesn't make the bad cops angry." 'Bad cops' might well translate to 'all cops' in her mind.
Nod nod nod. Hiss, and a tongue-flick. "I'll be good." She finally promises.
"I don't care about the others. 'Freak'. That hurts a lot. I don't know why." Head-tilt. Blink. "People. Yes. I'm a snake. An animal. But I'm a person too. Maybe half a person. I don't feel things other people do. But I want to understand what they feel."
And then she's wrapped into a hug. Comfort. Love. It rushes into her stoney heart, and some small part of it softens from the hardness of losing her big sis.
Shira shivers, and for the second time in days, begins to sob. It's a quiet, muted thing, but her animal side recedes as pure human emotions floods her twice in as many days.
"I hope so." She finally adds as she calms down, her serpent heart once more rising as she wipes tears on Honoka's shirt.
Her words /aren't/ a platitude at all.
Honoka smiles warmly. Legal. Not a gang. Yes, that's... that's a good way to think of the circus.
If Honoka were completely honest with -anyone-, she'd be compelled to set the record straight. She'd feel obligated to tell Shira about the true nature of the Twilight Star Circus as a business designed to extract money out of people's pockets as quickly as possible. She might tell her about the Empress alter-ego, or the Empress' dealings with the yakuza crime organizations all across Japan -- one of which might even be the one responsible for the death of Big Sis.
But she's not upfront, not at all. She's perfectly content to let Shira form the opinions she wants to. Because right now -- Honoka has her arms about her. And she feels every ounce of despair, every iota of misery coursing through Shira right now.
And rather than attempt to quell it immediately, Honoka draws the hug out. And, very subtly... the psychic magnifies the emotional impact.
So that, in the future, whenever Shira stops to think about Big Sis, she'll inextricably be thinking about her Lil' Sis as well, -remembering- that she was there until the pain went away.
"You'll be safe here. Just hang tight... we'll make this all right. We'll find whoever it is that took her away. And we'll make this right."
And part of her wonders... just what did this -Eadni- person have to do with anything...?
Log created on 21:22:00 01/12/2016 by Shira Hebi, and last modified on 22:36:46 01/13/2016.