Description: Elise Harkness stops by the circus for a brief, but important check-in with Honoka.
Critics had their doubts about the continued success of the Twilight Star Circus, with the departure of Honoka Kawamoto from the main cast. Sales records have shattered those doubts into smithereens; the circus is putting more people into seats this season than in any before it. The cast has had to learn to work without their virtuoso performer. And the audience is more eager than ever to attend more than one consecutive show, in hopes that the elusive Honoka -does- deign to make a surprise appearance.
In truth, Honoka rarely strays far from the circus. Even now, as the circus strays south to Miyagi Prefecture, the juggler extraordinaire has booked a room at the nearest hotel. As her advisory role to the Akatsuki-gumi crime syndicate demands, her room is surrounded by yakuza executives and support personnel -- an intimidating presence to keep nosy fans from discovering the truth about their pink-highlighted idol.
Scarlet Dahlia is seated upon the long side of a conference table. Six tablet computers are arrayed around her, each providing a different window into her criminal operations. And one tablet is constantly thrumming out the beats of a mid-90s J-rock band -- an essential component of Dahlia's workflow.
Even if a fan -were- to seek out Honoka Kawamoto, it is rather doubtful that any of the most hardcore fan would recognize her current attire. The pink highlights are gone, her jet-black hair wrapped up into a severe bun. A pair of glasses rests upon her nose, for appearances only. Her eyes are accented by red lines, befitting her moniker of choice. And her white dress is really -much- too formal for the "simple country girl" image that Honoka has strived to maintain in public appearances.
Dahlia takes a sip of her tea, glancing to the tablet on her right. She gives it a ginger poke, with a bored expression.
And then she looks up from it -- towards the door of the hotel room. Is that... who she thinks it is?
She'd asked for time to 'settle her affairs.' A long flight back to Japan from Italy gave her plenty of time to reflect on the hidden meaning of that statement, one she didn't consciously intend, but nevertheless may come to pass: I want time to say my goodbyes.
Elise had worn the outfit of the seeress when she went to see Kliff because she thought the ostentatiousness of it might drive her point home. Well, that, and it was a calculated attempt to prey on what she assumed would be the old man's knowledge of traditions... and the impact that seeing someone who would otherwise be loathe indeed to involve the Church in anything nevertheless coming to the Sacred Order for help would have on him. Whether it worked or not is immaterial, at this point.
As her champagne flute comes to her lips (never fly anything less than first class), Elise looks out the window and murmurs: "It was worth it."
Is she trying to convince herself, or...?
Flash forward to now. Finding Honoka is not a challenge; the seeress is likely one name on a very short list indeed of people who can get that kind of information without being questioned, countermanded, or otherwise impeded. Yet once she finds the actual name of the hotel, the Scot finds herself hesitating. Despite being in the same city, she doesn't go immediately despite a noontime arrival. Instead she finds a cafe, brings a book. She sips coffee for so long she starts to get meaningful stares from the owner. And she thinks. Oh, how she thinks. About the tense atmosphere of her last face-to-face with Honoka. Of how much information about what's to come she will share. About what her reasons for withholding the information she's choosing to keep back really ARE.
A few seconds are devoted to explaining how she had to go, however indirectly, to Ky Kiske's organization for help.
The knock, once Elise has settled everything with the guards, is as pro forma as ever. She does it more for the sake of onlookers and servants than anything else, and as they open the door for her, Elise makes eye contact with Honoka as soon as possible, saying nothing at first.
It's not until after she's removed the faux fox fur coat, set down the black pillbox hat, and sat down in a chair, that she says at last: "The glasses suit you, lass."
Spending time near the circus is a good counterbalance to spending her time at the Ainu academy. It's as near and dear to her heart as ever, but as a child of the Information Age, forgoing access to technology is a penance she prefers to avoid as much as possible. The academy is all about giving youngsters access to the culture, not about making her own life a living torture.
Fingertips brush along the three screens on her left, dismissing their contents. The fourth, fifth, and six remain lit as the door opens -- and Scarlet Dahlia greets the new arrival with a terse nod, befitting her station. It's not until the door is shut that the criminal puppetmaster releases the guard on her emotions, loosing a warm and friendly smile for her longtime confidante.
As Elise mentions the glasses, there is a momentary panic as she tries to remember whether or not she is still wearing them. With a wrinkle of her nose, she reassures herself that that is indeed the case, and nods in reply. "... Thanks. It took a while getting used to them, but they're pretty much essential for the 'look' now."
Dahlia tilts her head towards Elise's own attire -- "I love the colors. Really bring out your hair..."
She leans on her elbows, upon the conference table. With steepled fingers, she ventures: "It's... been a while, hasn't it?" The thoughts of the last conversation mill about in the Akatsuki advisor's head. The one in which she was tasked with looking over the circus -- a role which she'd shirked from time to time, but still finds herself carrying out all the same. She knows Elise had a rather important task, and judging from her current attire... well, the news might not be as rosy as either woman would prefer.
And then she breaks into a more honest smile. "Which flavor of tea would you like today?"
For a moment, Elise drinks in the mercurial speed with which Honoka can key between the various frames of reference her life requires: friend, businesswoman, avenger of a dying culture, all in one go. Elise's role in Honoka's organization had always been about greasing the wheels: being pleasant with people in power. Suggesting, enticing, proposing things that worked in the Circus's benefit, in their more mundane aims and beyond. To the Scot, personalities were like the hat and coat she'd just doffed: sometimes comfortable, usually illusory, entirely for appearances, and never, ever, ever kept on longer than they were needed. The thing she'd appreciated about Honoka, when the two first met, was that the Ainu girl offered Elise something more precious than diamonds: a space, emotional and physical both, in which the seeress was not circling endlessly through life's social costume changes.
It is the thing she will miss the most.
At the mention of tea, Elise gives a little laugh, and then shakes her head. "I think if I've any more caffeine today, my girl, I will explode." It's a shame, too; the ritual of tea is observed in both of these women's home countries, and it IS a ritual: a social ritual, something for your hands and eyes to do, while your mouth and your brain run away with the moment.
Silence reigns for long moments after her response, until Elise breaks it, taking a deep breath. "In truth, I won't... I *can't* stay too long. But..." A pause, again; another deep breath, inhaled through the nose. The eyes close, though the Scot's expression suggests that in the theatre of the mind, 'eyes closed' does not mean 'doesn't see.' "Honoka. I wasn't... happy with the way we parted, the last time we talked like this. I doubt you were, either. And since, then, there's been..."
She stops. She realizes her eyes were closed and for a moment she can feel the chill of a snowy day on her skin, see dark hair and a cloak of raven feathers fluttering in the wind.
"I came to say goodbye," she says, at last. "I came to settle my business. I came because I didn't want you to think, whatever it is that's about to happen, that I'd abandoned you. And..."
She quirks the ghost of a smile, a sunshaft of the 'normal' Elise that Honoka had known for years appearing like the moon emerging from a cloudbank. "I wanted to know that you were alright."
The longer Elise sits there, the more the young woman begins acting like her usual self. Not Scarlet Dahlia, the criminal mastermind, and certainly not Honoka Kawamoto, the simple folk girl next door who just happens to be gifted with supernatural talent, but the woman behind all of those personas -- the one seeking approval and validation from the world at large. The one hanging on each word from a friend she's gone far too long without confiding upon. The one who is called Honoka only for sake of convenience.
"... Fair, but don't think that I'm gonna deny myself." She offers a catty smirk -- it's only skin deep, and certainly not meant to be -rude-. Just a personable thought, shared in the way that only friends who have known each other for a long time might share.
Just after she says it, the juggler is reaching for her own cup of green tea. It's cold -- hence the lack of piping-hot steam -- but still reassuring. As if Honoka still -needs- that ritual comfort.
And then she gets the distinct feeling that... perhaps that might not have been the right thing to do.
Everyone makes mistakes.
Honoka moistens her lips, unsure of herself. She can tell there is a lot on her friend's mind... and once the words are shared, she shakes her head. "... It was a time of transition, for both of us. You had a lot on your mind... I had a lot on mine." It's certainly more complicated than that, but there is a conversational demand to put a good face on -anything- that happened such a long, long time ago.
But she will not press the point. The issue of their last meeting wasn't about Honoka, despite the Mortal Kombat champion's inability to see past that. And neither is -this- meeting entirely about Honoka's feelings.
It's about Elise's.
Her barriers had been withdrawn.
As such... the word hits Honoka like a slap.
The retort is blurted out, nearly instantly. And yet, she does not interrupt further -- allowing Elise to continue explaining what she means by that.
And Honoka still needs clarification. "... I'm fine right now, Elise -- the academy's going to be accepting students in the fall. Japan is in a freefall and all of the bad actors are getting chucked out the window. It... it's all going the way we want it to."
Honoka grimaces, reaching up to pluck the glasses right off her face. The frames are set on the table, as she steps around to approach Elise.
"What do you mean, goodbye...."
The question is flat -- all tone and meaning stripped away.
And on the inside, Honoka is beginning to feel like her world is starting to pull apart at the seams.
When Honoka argues that they were both under a lot of strain when last the two met, Elise puts up both hands, palms out. "I've had a lot of time alone since then to think, lass. And it's true, maybe we were... firing shots past the other's bow without meaning to. But I had become so wrapped up in my own little tragedy that I didn't think about what price you might have paid to come back alive. Sometimes I remember the look in your eye that day," and here she pointedly does not say: not the one you wanted me to see, but the one you couldn't hide, "and I didn't..."
She trails off. She can feel the confusion and hurt in the Ainu girl's voice as the conversation wends its way around to Elise's true purpose for being here, and her eyes go half-lidded, her lips pursed. She knew it was unavoidable, what's about to happen. But she wanted desperately to avoid it.
"It's good that you remember what I said when we last met even if I chose my words poorly then," the Scot says quietly, hands folded in her lap. It's nervousness, anxiety; things Honoka may have seen or sensed Elise feel a tiny handful of times in the years they've known each other. "Since then I've been keeping an eye on things, watching. Waiting to see what happened. And then..."
In her mind's eye, two fish -- one gold, one black -- circle in water as clear as glass.
"I've had a vision, lass. I didn't tell you everything about the faeries, before; I can't tell you everything, now, for your own safety. But something is coming. Something more dangerous than I thought, and knowing what I know now, I..."
Her head tilts up, her chin pointing toward the ceiling. Right now, it's hard to look at Honoka. If she offered to help, offered to fight, as she might, as she must... it would be too much to bear. "There's a very good chance I won't be coming back, once it's done. And there's thousands of years of history, of magic, that says it MUST be me that goes. Not alone, but."
"... That doesn't make your tragedy any less important."
Of all the people who walk the Earth now, there is probably no one else capable of reaching a raw, unfiltered Honoka than Elise. Her parents misunderstood her to the point they didn't survive to see her thirteenth birthday. Her aunt only reestablished rapport with the woman after she'd brought back six lost Ainu warriors -- and even then, she holds Honoka at arms' reach. But Elise...
She's making no attempt to hide her emotions. The tears are already beginning to flow. There is no stopping them -- and the businesswoman doesn't even bother trying. Her red eyeliner's waterproof, so she has that going for her at least.
"I don't forget, Elise. I won't."
Honoka has lapsed into the point where words just don't want to work any more. She can hear everything Elise is saying, but it's going into the bin to be processed later, just like the previous conversation had.
She'll have the next few days to think about it, after all.
But she won't have this moment again.
Honoka walks to the back of Elise's chair, fighting back the urge to shout at Elise -- to -demand- that she open her eyes and face her. But that'd be the voice of a petulant child -- the same one that damned her parents to a watery grave. The emotion is raw -- and likely understood by Elise anyway.
But there is something Honoka can do.
She walks behind Elise's chair.
And she wraps her palms about Elise's shoulders.
Honoka closes her eyes, ignoring the dampness of her cheeks. She tries to breathe -- though it's a bit difficult, she does manage to get the general scent of Elise's red hair.
"I met someone on the island -- I didn't get to tell you about him. A monk... for lack of a better word."
She pauses for a moment, rewinding the moment in her mind. "He told me he had hopes for what... life might be like. For me, for him... for everyone. You see... he had walked in the other life with me -- the life I don't remember. The life that he and Zach did."
Honoka smiles faintly, looking vacantly at the opposite wall -- not wanting to burden Elise with the necessity of looking her in the tearful eyes. "He told me, he'd hoped we wouldn't need a second lifetime of conflict, after that first one. And it was a silly dream -- the dream of a child."
Honoka squeezes Elise's shoulders, lightly.
"We don't get to be kids forever, Elise. And if we love the world as much as we -say- we love it... Then I have to do what I'm doing, and you have to do what you're doing."
She doesn't need to look. If anything, it's the thread that binds these two together: their shared gift. One walked away from a lineage she never asked for; the other trying desperately to keep alive what little of her lineage she has left. Both, though, have the power to see into people's hearts. Perhaps there was a gentlewoman's agreement not to do that, consciously, to each other; weirdly enough, both Elise and Honoka were a safe space for each other to be themselves, but it also meant not having to keep one's thoughts under a tight lock and key.
The hands on her shoulders are a surprise, but just as Honoka has carefully maneuvered herself so that Elise need not turn to look, the Scot doesn't have it in her to do that anyway. She is silent, eyes closed, as the Ainu girl recounts a story from her time on Shang Tsung's island... a period about which Elise still knows precious little. 'He'd hoped we wouldn't need a second lifetime of conflict, after that first one.' She says it's a child's dream, but that you can't stay a child forever. Her eyes had been lightly shut, but now she squints them closed to keep herself in check. Gloved hands come up, the velvet-like fabric brushing over the tops of Honoka's own for a moment.
"I don't know if your people have seers," Elise says, after a silence, voice thick with the effort of self-control. "For me, when the gift first appeared, I was scared to death. I saw my younger sister, you see, get hurt. I think she scraped her knee? And the image felt very real, too real for my little mind. I couldn't have been older than 13. And then one day she comes in the house, crying, and there it was. She'd tripped, scraped her knee on a flagstone. And as my mother is trying to clean it up and bandage it I started squalling like a baby."
Despite herself, Elise gives a little laugh at that memory, looking back on it, though it is the sudden, burst-y exhalation of a laugh that pierces through grief like a momentary fork of lightning, bright and sharp and gone in a flash. "They just looked at me like I was out my mind, hen, and honestly that's how it felt. But when I explained, my mama walked me through it. She didn't have the Sight, but my nan did, back in the days. Nan Harkness saw her own death, you see, as she got older. Some sort of accident on the street. So she never left the house, after a while... she was too scared of dying just the way she saw, since everything else she'd seen had come to pass."
Elise's right hand, laying over Honoka's own, tightens its pressure just a little bit. "And then she died choking on her dinner. Just like that. All those visions come to pass, she spends all that time trying to avoid it, and dies all the same. That was the lesson, my mother said. You can't avoid it. You might not even be able to change it. But doing nothing... just not doing anything? That's the real death, she said. Letting it paralyze you so you lie down and die."
Honoka sighs -- for it seems that as much power as she amasses, she seems to keep miring herself within ever-deepening wells of ennui. She may not know the specifics of what Elise is going through, but she knows the emotional backlash of it all too well. The notion that one's destined -duty- can rob a person of their carefree life, and burden it with purpose.
She seems a touch startled when Elise wraps those velvet-lined hands upon her own. But it's okay for her to share the feeling -- at least locked within this hotel room, she's perfectly fine with being herself.
"Seers. Yes -- that would be us." The Ainu smiles faintly, falling silent so that Elise can tell her story. Her silence is not particular to the Scottish lass: she has something of a reputation as an excellent listener when the need arises. But as Elise tells of -her- awakening as a seer...
Honoka's pressure upon Elise's shoulders lessens, just a little bit. It is, in many ways, as if the two women have a shared history. Many of the details are different of course -- but the notion of the powers skipping generations is one that resonates with Honoka.
"... Yeah... I understand that all too well."
It takes a moment for the Ainu to expand on that -- to figure out the right words.
"My family line is very similar. We are spirit mediums, first and foremost, though the Ainu word 'tusukur' can also apply to shamans, medicine women, fortunetellers. Those who are not tusukur see us as wise, imploring us for advice. Human almanacs, of a sort."
Honoka squeezes back upon Elise's shoulder with her right hand, her left index finger stroking gently at the nape of her friend's neck, reassuringly.
"If we live doing nothing... then we die with regrets."
She lets the words hang in the air for a few moments, before adding:
"I don't want to say goodbye to you, Elise. But I am not sure what to say in its place, other than that... of course... I'll miss you."
She draws in a runny breath. And then, as if it just came to her... she blurts out, "I want to help... but I'm not sure how."
The idea that others would view seers as wise brings a faint smile to Elise's face. The legacy of witchcraft in Europe is rather less pleasant than all that, though the Harkness family's connection with the Old Faith, the ancient ways, meant that they were somewhat insulated against it. Half of witchcraft, after all, is psychology: knowing how people work and, if need be, using it against them. "People claim they wish they could see the future, but I don't think many people actually want to. You see more sorrow than you do winning lottery numbers. What people really want, hen, is security. They want to know that nothing bad will happen. But life is a series of bad things happening, I think. And good ones. You can't have one without the other."
The Ainu girl mentions dying with regrets and, because they are in physical contact, she can absolutely feel Elise tense up at the notion of 'death'... though perhaps hilariously, not because Elise is afraid of dying. Her problem is of a much murkier and more existential nature. But the more she tells Honoka, the more danger the young woman is in.
At this point, though, she can't stop herself from turning her head to face Honoka, insofar as that's possible with her standing behind. A grateful tear gets wiped away, and a faint smile, at the almost plaintive statement that Honoka doesn't know HOW to help. "Oh, lass, you already have. More than you might know."
How do you say to someone: you're my proof that the future can change? How can those words leave your mouth and sound anything but crazy?
"I wish I could tell you all the details. Ha, I wish I had all the details to tell, too. I don't know if I told you before, or not, what with us both being a bit heated at the time. But my family made pact with the fae, the Unseelie ones, centuries ago. The bargain is that we gained power over them in the mortal world, to protect humans... but every bargain has a price. This one's come due, and... well. I'm the price."
She can't say more than that, and the stress of that is etched on her face, the effort of not talking practically visible. "Something's gone wrong in Europe, and I saw it in my vision. 'She'--" and the quote marks and capital letter are all too audible, "--is there. I know it. The Queen of Air and Darkness. And she doesn't hate humans, Honoka; worse, she just thinks they're inconvenient bugs."
A pause, and then Elise stands up and turns around, taking Honoka's hands in her own once they've slid off her shoulders. "But she preys on people like you and me, and she's ancient and wily. Even a strong-willed sort like you wouldn't be safe from her, and if she somehow..." A pause. How can she say it? The idea of Mab taking Honoka's body for her own, crushing the Ainu girl's spirit entirely so there was nothing left?
Elise would die before she'd let it happen.
"Stay here. Take care of the people here that depend on you. If you want to help me, I promise you it's the best way."
Elise speaks of security. And ... yes. As head of an organization whose very legal existence hinges on serving the public goodwill, she knows all about the implications of making someone feel safe when they are clearly in grave danger.
And yet -- as much as Honoka would love to hear Miss Harkness speak more, she can sense it in Elise's bones and muscles that maybe she'd rather not -tell- it. Tearfully, she closes her eyes -- and nods in reply.
She steps back, allowing her dear friend to stand, and take her hands in her own. "Well... I'm just gonna say, I don't like hearing it any more now than last time, Elise."
She smiles, all the same, sharing Elise's grip with her own.
"And yet, right now I'm in a much better place for it. I know what it means to sacrifice oneself for what's right. And I know... I know you're doing what you feel is right."
She draws in her breath, her tearful eyes shimmering as she nods back in reply. "I'll stay here. But rest assured -- if you need an insignificant bug to help you out, you're getting as much help from me as you want. No more -- no less."
Her chin drops, as she looks deeply into Elise's eyes.
The next time we meet, I might look at you with eyes you don't recognize.
THe next time we meet, I might be an unheard voice screaming in the darkness.
The next time we meet, I might try to devour your spirit whole.
And we might NEVER meet again... the most merciful option.
The next time we meet...
...I will remember you, no matter what.
Elise Harkness nods. "It's a promise."
Log created on 16:46:45 03/11/2018 by Honoka, and last modified on 09:00:35 03/21/2018.