Description: Meditation is a powerful technique to unlock the potential of the human body. It can also be an expressive conduct to another world -- on certain times of certain days of the year in certain extra specific places.
Honoka Kawamoto had been absent from the limelight for quite some time. And yet, after an explosive resurgence onto the fighting scene -- paired with a complete unknown in Koto Mukai, Honoka is instantly back on the scene. Her brawl with Todoh-ryuu's champion, Kasumi Todoh, ended in a nail-biter of a finish -- but anticipation is high for the next match, which would see the half-Ainu star facing off in Arrow Bamboo Lake against the mysterious Ainu sage, Nakoruru.
But before that battle takes place, there is a need for rest and contemplation. Dressed in a blue windbreaker, a snug beige t-shirt, and a pair of charcoal gray shorts, Honoka has discovered a little place in the bamboo forest to simply spend some time meditating. She's seated lotus-style on the forest floor, a metal water bottle not far from her reach.
And, perhaps contrary to the -strictest- traditions of meditation, she's wearing a pair of earbuds and listening to some Asian electronic pop. Low volume -- so she can still hear the nature present. Honoka's never been -that- much of a stickler for tradition, after all.
The thing about meditation is that popular culture has deluded us into thinking that "proper" meditation involves emptying your mind of thoughts, as if it were possible at all to think about "nothing." Instead, the process is ironically about awareness: about noticing, and then shifting your attention from, the constant barrage sensory input that merely being alive presents to us.
Surely, an experienced individual like Honoka knows this. What likely assaults her right now is sounds, for nature can be very loud. The weird croak-whine of insects, the hollow rustle-whistle of wind moving through the stalks of bamboo, perhaps even the distant bubbling of a water source like a creek or spring... the laughter-like cawing of a raven.
Wait a minute. While corvidae are certainly native to China, they are definitely NOT found in bamboo groves.
Considering that there's a lot going on between nature sounds and music in earbuds, it would be easy to assume that sound was a mirage of some kind. A sample in a song, maybe, or something she imagined, spoonerizing two sounds together. But it keeps happening, erratically, intermittently. Caw, caw.
If and when Honoka opens her eyes, she may find the unexpected sight of a raven on a nearby bamboo growth, but that would be considerably less surprising than the now-velvet blue-black sky and perfectly full white moon overhead.
Honoka frowns. The sounds are... different. And they're not part of her carefully-curated playlist. Meditation is about consistency -- so much that she downloads all her key music to her phone, rather than trusting spotty internet with the important task of keeping an established baseline of background noise.
Honoka opens her eyes. And she sees that certain -key- elements of the world have shifted. This sort of thing isn't -terribly- uncommon for the Type-A mastermind who only allows herself ninety minutes of sleep in a day. But changing to -nighttime- is definitely out of the standard deviation for her nexus of experiences.
The bird, caw, caw. Honoka glances over to the source of the sound.
And she... smiles, allowing anxiety to give way to curiosity. There's no way the paranoid troublemaker would ever -fully- let her guard down, but she's good at presenting a facade of such.
"And just who might you be?" she asks of the raven, amusement playing at her features. She doesn't expect a response. But in speaking with the kamui, it's never a bad move to err on the side of politeness.
Notably, it's not as if the world FEELS different; it's still summer, it's still a bamboo grove, meaning that it is still almost assuredly unbearably humid, considering it's supposed to be midday, all things considered. The ground is still firm. It's not as if there's a lot of indications that Honoka stepped suddenly into some completely psychic space, or anything of that nature.
Still, there IS a raven, which stares right back at her with the odd combination of stillness and twitchy energy that a bird can have; body rigid, but head tilting and eyes darting.
Assuredly, when it opens its beak, one might expect some eldritch voice to erupt from it, explaining just what the hell it is that's going on here right now. The raven's head turns to face Honoka directly, and the universe briefly holds its breath.
Well, that's possibly disappointing.
"He's just a passenger, lass," comes a familiar, yet not completely familiar, voice, from a small copse of bamboo off to the left. A figure walking out from it that was, until that second, merely the SUGGESTION of blue and silver and black shapes between the stalks. A gown of feathers and flowers the same cobalt-cerulean shimmer as the suddenly transfigured sky. A ruby-lipped smile in a face like a porcelain vase. "Sometimes a bird is just a bird."
Honoka squints at the raven. She -is- disappointed.
But then she hears a voice, which startles her. Her hands clasp together -- not quite into fists, but with a sense of tense foreboding. It's just... not -easy- for someone to get the jump on the tusukur's senses, and someone who -can- deserves her full attention. And, if need calls for it, an explanation of the consequences.
But as she places the accent, and the figure comes into view, the arrival starts to make a bit more sense.
Her features soften. "The kamuy's motives are as inscrutable as ever," she counters gently. But as she gets a better look at the feathers and flowers, she has a more pleasant greeting. "Now there's a voice I haven't heard in a while. A new look?" Amusement lights her expression, as Honoka allows her tension to dissipate.
Now that she is actually in view, it IS the person Honoka remembers... but also, not. As a living mortal, Elise Harkness's skin was never that pale, her hair was never that sable black, and frankly she was straight up taller. In truth, the longer the Ainu woman has to take a look, the less familiar there is about the physical appearance of the person in front of her; almost as if one might WANT to see familiar features that, as time wears on, aren't really there.
And yet, it is very likely that there is some emotional, existential CERTAINTY that this person is who Honoka thinks they are.
The raven caws, preening a wing absent-mindedly, and the pale woman in blue idly strokes a finger down its back. "For what it's worth, my girl, I AM sorry. I had meant to send word before now, but..." A pause, a shrug. "The... Other One. Today, right now, is the height of her cycle, the summer solstice."
A slightly wry smile passes over the mysterious interloper's expression. "A day when the world forgets the Winter Court. One of the only days when I could reliably... 'get away' to say hello."
Honoka takes a good few moments studying the features of the person standing before her. Her memory is a known quantity -- she remembers faces perfectly, she remembers secondary details to some degree. And yet, the -differences- stand out as curiosities -- reminders of all the many things that have happened in Honoka's own life, ever since their last face-to-face meeting. Differences which tug the corners of her lips the ever slightest bit downward.
"No, no. It's fine." She smiles faintly, momentarily lost in thought.
But, she'd rather not be sitting for this, when her close friend is standing. So she stands. "Well, first off, hello." It's necessary to get the pleasantries out there. "I'm glad you've made the time -- it seems we've both had our hands full."
The juggler crosses her hands behind her back. "I've got a thousand questions for you -- but what's on your mind, Elise?" Time may be limited, after all...
'What's on your mind?' Somehow, that question makes the (sort of) newly-minted faerie queen laugh, a helpless little sound, as if to say, 'where do I even start?' As she closes her eyes for a moment, making the iridescent blue-purple eyeshadow she's wearing more visible, 'Elise' -- certainly as good a name for her as any -- clears her throat. "To be truthful, girl, I wanted... to apologize."
In response this, the raven caws. Whether the similiarity of a corvid's caw to the slightly mocking laughter of a human is purposeful or coincidental is left up to an observer to decide.
Hands fold in front of her, under the bodice of the gown, a surprisingly courtly little bit of body language. "I wish there had been some other way to solve what... needed to be solved," she says, hesitating. "A way that would let me keep helping you. But that wasn't, if you'll pardon the expression, in the cards."
A question, one Honoka may have been asking herself from the beginning, or perhaps may just now have pop into her head: *where is the accent*?
There's a lot that goes into an 'accent,' after all: word choice, pronunciation differences, changes in stress. Some listeners have trouble translating one dialect to another, while others have no difficulty at all. And in many cases -- such as here -- people like Honoka are so foundationally dependent upon patterns that they may 'hear' things that aren't there at all.
It would seem that Elise wants to apologize. There was a short time in which the half-Ainu would have met that statement with scorn or sarcasm. For in the intervening time, a number of difficult decisions had been made -- some irreversible. And Honoka had been most distressed to face them without the aid of her most dearly trusted friend.
But time heals wounds. Perhaps not all, but many, surely.
"My memory is sketchy on that. But it did sound like it ran the risk of being a permanent engagement." The juggler gives an amiable shrug. "There was no other way though," she continues, seeming as if she's prepared to close the book on that. "You did what needed to be done. Right?"
In former lives, both ladies were experts at bluffing. Old habits die hard.
A pause, and then a sigh and a shake of the head. "I did, but... 'what needed to be done' can so often be a way of convincing ourselves that we didn't have any alternatives. Truthfully, I don't know if that was really the case." Does the 'Queen of Air and Darkness' look uncomfortable saying that? Decidedly so, but in the sense that the being in front of Honoka is Elise, it's ALSO partly the soul of an ancient eldritch being... or more accurately, a gestalt of both.
Perhaps the internal war between the two is a little more ongoing than it would seem, a year later.
"When the Fire came, I didn't feel like I had any options left. The... 'old me' had let loose a *dragon*. Drastic times called for drastic measure. But more importantly..."
A pause, and again, she reaches out to stroke the black feathers of the raven, who continues to observe the entire affair with that curiously hard to read animal way. Is it anthropomorphizing to suggest that it feels like the raven is 'listening' to this? Or is it actually doing it? Who can say?
"Elise knew from the very beginning that something like this would eventually happen," the faerie queen says at last, not quite able to bring herself to look at Honoka and instead turning her dark-eyed gaze up at the silvery phantom moon. "Joining the Twilight Star, taking part in all your schemes and plans... she always felt she was using you, somewhat. A convenient option to get away from an otherwise unpleasant and inescapable-seeming destiny."
A pause, and then finally she can look down to meet Honoka's gaze. "Perhaps that was a thing she told herself so she wouldn't become over-invested?" There's a breezy, almost curious tone to the statement, as if Mab herself doesn't know the answer. "Not even I truly know."
Honoka can feel that there's a difference between this figure, and her longtime friend, long before actually -acknowledging- the difference. Her style of discourse is largely predicated on accepting people as they -are-, and not really giving much thought to who they -were-. It's... not often a factor in negotiation. People change. And it's up to them to ensure that they're acting in their own interests at the negotiating table.
It isn't until this figure speaks of Elise in the third person that the disparity is made clear. And even then -- to learn her opinion of the Twilight Star Circus from a neutral(?) third-party, of sorts...
It makes Honoka laugh, really. She covers her mouth, if only to keep her volume from being oppressively loud.
"But that's all the Twilight Star Circus ever -was-. A way to escape the past. A way to bide time, while planning for a better tomorrow. For the audience, -and- for the people who ostensibly worked there."
Honoka reaches up to brush stray hairs from her face, tucking them neatly into one of her two long forelocks. "A junior academy, feeding prospects into a larger, more impactful university. Or, to put it another way..."
Her eyes light up, as a smirk creeps its way across her lips. "Using people is the entire business model of a circus, isn't it?"
"You tell me," the queen says with grim amusement, "Ringmaster."
Does she feel relieved? To say 'part of her does' is more accurate than usual. But in her mortal existence, Elise Harkness -- whatever her initial motivation -- came to be the FRIEND of the woman standing here. Someone about whom she gave a damn, in a world that increasingly felt like it wasn't worth whatever damns she had left to give it.
Thus, the Queen of the Winter Court cares about her too, in her own way.
"Though if I may make a supposition, that sounds a little bit like a rationalization for you, too, though." A faint shrug. "Not that it really matters. Can anyone ever really know every part of their own mind, and why they do things? Isn't it enough, sometimes, that things happen?"
Another pause, another sigh, before the woman extends her arm, and the raven that had been observing flaps its ominous black wings and lands on her outstretched wrist. Above, the full moon begins to slip into waning gibbous, as if the sun that SHOULD be there is trying to reassert itself.
"You may be surprised to know this, but faeries are fools. They have power, but they are all at the mercy of their whims, their natures. I am surrounded every day by creatures of instinct who can only respond to the leash of someone with a hint of intellect." Another laugh-like caw from the raven, as she finishes this little tirade. "Perhaps it was worth it to come here merely to say: I miss the company of someone who can think for themselves."
Sarcasm is often used a shield, to deflect conversation away from further scrutiny. And such it is, when Honoka wields it here. Anything to avoid exposing an honest emotion or truth. And when that is pointed out to her, and then abruptly condoned, accepted by the statement following... Honoka finds her shoulders in a similarly faint shrug.
"Perhaps. And of course, by that, I mean, -exactly- that." She laughs mirthlessly. "I've always felt that Elise knew me better than I know myself."
She watches the crow with some fascination. Part of which being -- her next opponent is -also- a woman with an affinity for birds, and the topic of her meditation was to construct a compassionate strategy to deal such birds. But before she can ruminate on that, she listens to a story that seems to be a tangent.
It isn't -- it's directly relevant.
"Someone with her own agenda, maybe? Someone to distract from the tedium of acting in a broader interest?"
Honoka drops her arms to her sides, curtsying in the European style. "Guilty as charged, I suppose. Though..." She crosses her hands over her heart. "In all sincerity, I am glad to be missed. And I would like you to know that... I miss Elise very much. It's... too quiet. No nighttime visitors, asking for a cup of tea. No one who would feel as comfortable checking their pretense at the door."
There's a sardonic edge to the smile that comes back across Mab's face. "You know, in the British isles, the mythology of faeries is that they are constantly trying to trick mortals into coming into the realms of the fae," she says, watching Honoka's expression as she shares this little tidbit. "But that's why fae magic is called 'glamours': because they're about making something worthless look worthwhile. Faeries can't CREATE anything. It's only humans who have the... the spark required to do that."
Again, she folds her hands in front of her, palms down, one over the other, looking like nothing so much as a Victorian matron. It is remarkably closed body language; a stillness and coldness to it, like someone trying not to expend too much effort. "I wonder what sort of glamour would be required to trick YOU into making such a poor decision." The implication here is: probably something pretty ridiculous.
For a moment, Mab looks back up at the rapidly disappearing moon, and then back down at Honoka with a more genuine, and less wicked-seeming smile. "You might be the only mortal who'll have fond memories of Elise," she says, voice briefly taut. "But maybe that's for the best. You were probably the only person who actually KNEW her at all."
The raven flaps its wings, suddenly, giving a croaking little 'caw!', having settled again on a nearby cluster of bamboo once it left the woman's wrist. "I will tell you a secret: this little trip cost more than it appears. The... 'real'... world is hostile to us, you see. But I am ALWAYS on the other side of the mirror. Thousands of miles apart, but so close you could reach out and touch. Even if we can't have tea again, I... well."
THe sky above, as the moon begins to speed toward waning crescent, begins to lighten up, as if the sun were rising despite it being midday. "My hope for you is that you will forever be the woman I knew, one who could never be tricked into my domain," she says, tilting her head up, something regal and portentious in her tone. "To not give in to glamour and to see things as they are."
"Interesting," comments Honoka, sorting that with the little scraps of information she'd heard about the fae throughout the years. The idea that fae -cannot- create anything is one she's skepitcal of, and yet, a literal Queen of Fae is telling her this. The personal conflict taking place upon her expressions only takes a second or two to resolve.
The closed body language speaks volumes. But Honoka can readily understand and appreciate the implications, bowing her head in thanks -- silently, so as not to interrupt what precious time is remaining.
"Probably," agrees the tusukur, to the notion that few people would have truly known Elise. "By design, I'm sure."
But while Honoka is happy to be a good and passive listener for the preceding points, her brow furrows at the idea that she can... find Elise in a mirror. It's a fascinating conceit, and one that she makes an effort to try... sometimes. She even raises a hand -- as if reaching out to a mirror. But even then, she remains the quiet listener, nodding her head. "We'll talk," she affirms. "Promise."
The shadow begins to devour the moon, demanding its monthly bargain once again. And Honoka, strange as it may be, finds herself at a loss for words. She's been so many things to so many people -- but Elise has, as far as she knows, been the only one to both -know- her true self, and -accept- her as she -is-. To hear Mab state the hope as clearly as she has? Honoka just brims over with thanks.
Honoka doesn't have the words yet. She just spreads her arms. Makes her intent clear. And pulls the figure into an appreciative hug.
Only then would she find the words she was searching for.
"My hope for -you- is that you never forget how much you are appreciated. That while your hand may go unnoticed -- its passing will not."
How do you say a proper goodbye when it's not as if either of you is dead or gone? What sort of greeting card is there for 'we both exist but the nature of reality will keep us apart for good'? She doesn't know how to be hugged, and that was probably true even BEFORE recent events. And truthfully... the Mab part of her, the being that was never human, is still working it out well after the embrace ends.
After a long pause, Mab says, simply: "Six months until December 21st. So much to do."
The moon finishes waning, and in a flash from her seated position, Honoka's eyes snap open.
As with most things related to the faerie courts, one wonders: was any of that real? Some of it was probably too accurate, too *specific* not to be real, but Honoka herself knows better than most that a keen mind can produce the most elaborate visions imaginable all on its own. Maybe song lyrics conjured that up?
For a moment, our vision drifts up, past the hazy green candy floss of the grove's leafy tops, flying free. You can look down and see that against all logic, the open space in which Honoka chose to meditate?
A mathematically-improbable perfect circle.
A rustling sound, a shadow. A black feather drifts silently across the top of the open space, and then is gone... to whatever fate the wind has in store for it.
Log created on 11:15:45 06/19/2023 by Honoka, and last modified on 20:05:29 06/19/2023.