DISCLAIMER: I do not own Ghost Hunt characters. Even though I'm using facts, explanations that cannot be found in any reference come from my own cognition or imagination.
One day it happened that a frog from the ocean came to the wellhe must have been a tourist. He came into the well, introduced himself to the frog of the well, and said, "I come from the ocean."
Naturally, the frog of the well asked, "Ocean? What do you mean by ocean? What is it?"
And the frog from the ocean said, "It is very difficult to describe, sir, because you have never left this well it seems. It is so small. But still, I will try."
The frog of the well laughed. He said, "Nobody has ever heard about anything bigger than this well. How big is your ocean?" The frog of the well jumped one third of the space of the well and said, "This much?"
And the frog from the ocean laughed. He said, "No, sir."
So the frog from the well jumped two thirds of the space and said, "This much?" Then he jumped the whole space and said, "Now it must be exactly like this well."
But the frog from the ocean said, "It is impossible to describe. The difference is not of quantity, it is of quality. It is vast! It is not circumscribed!"
The frog from the well said, "You seem to be either a madman or a philosopher or a liar. You get out from here! Don't talk nonsense!"
~A Sufi Story~
"Remember to act appropriately," the haughty voice of Missus resonates in my ears as we traverse the rowdy hallway of the Orihime household. She waves a hand of dismissal to a passing server—who halted and asked for her to taste the sake a party of government officials will partake—and continues, "You are very lucky, you know that? You're the only girl who became an oiran without the initiation as of yet! Why, ever since you appeared in Ume-oiran's stead at the promenade last week, a lot of men have restlessly shouted for you―to make you an oiran without official appointment of this house as of yet!" She sneers my way. "It seems like hell is calling for you already!"
I bite my lip to stop from retorting. The Missus has a foul tongue, and she doesn't even realize it. Or maybe she does, for she knows just how to cut someone with her words sharper than any katana. Her features are all tapered and hard angles as well. Her hair is neatly combed back and fixed into a bun with a silver pin―making her head look like an inverted, pointed straw hat. Most likely remnants of stress and incessant frowning, wrinkles adorn the corners of her eyes and mouth, giving her the appearance of someone older than forty-five summers. Seemingly easy to topple by a zephyr, she's rather lanky and small for a domineering woman in Yoshiwara. At least, that's what she looked like the last time I've seen her.
"Mark my words, Sora," she chides. "Your very first customer is a member of a well-esteemed group, so be sure to apologize for your inexperience, especially when he points out your errors."
"Yes, ma'am," I reply, nodding obediently.
I tread the noisy hallway carefully. On my person is a cherry-colored nakagi, decorated with branches of plum blossoms and secured by a bow of goldfish brocade obi. A black uchikake with lotus flowers drapes over the gaudy ensemble in sharp contrast, hurting my eyes if I look at it for hours in the mirror. Additionally, I feel burdened—heavy with weight monsters named kougai, tamakanzashi, and kushi on my head like I'm carrying the whole world in every step I take.
However, there is no escaping it; it is time for my 'initiation,' as they call it.
I'm still young, a sixteen-year-old girl who has millions of places to explore other than this one I'm currently in. I...never wanted this job, but...it was the only offered opportunity to survive. I was going to starve if Missus did not see me and proffered the five-year-old me a dwelling place. I cannot run away too because I cannot cover my tracks. Others may call it a dirty, shameful, and disgusting place—mirroring the lives of the people in it. But who cares? Ever since my parents died and I was left alone to face the cruel and unimaginable world, I stopped caring about where I should go and what I should become. So, as a child, I clung unto an opportunity that could just help me survive.
I've stopped dreaming ever since.
In truth, I am merely becoming an animal―easily satisfied when fed. Besides, how could someone care? Everyone is selfish, and I am surrounded by selfish people showing off everyday. Men are greedy, their up-to-the-brim filled cups wasted away and shoved for more.
It all makes me sick.
And yet, I am embracing the poison that shall imprison me to an endless hellfire. What I'm about to start doing will become my new way of life now, for eternity.
I sigh quietly.
Missus squeezes my arm━a sign for me to stop walking. We must be outside the allotted room already. As a last warning, she whispers to me, "Remember this too: never take off the blindfold."
I nod willfully, and I am hauled inside the unknown.
It has been a tradition for supposedly soon-to-be-oiran to be blindfolded during the initiation―the day when one pleases her very first patron as a higher-ranked courtesan. I don't know about other pleasure quarters in Yoshiwara, but this certain ceremony has always been observed in Orihime. Since I have become an oiran 'officially' because of 'public (mostly men) affirmation' and without even an ounce of experience, I have my initiation rather late. The Missus also had to consider about my age and other factors probably. Sixteen years of age is still early, after all, because courtesans at other pleasure quarters usually debuts at seventeen or older, and none has ever stepped up from an apprentice to a high-ranking courtesan like I will be doing.
But then, I don't really care much about it. I'll be doing the same thing over and over again everyday of my life until the end of me. So, who would ever care? That's why, when the shoji door was slammed shut behind me, I manage the barest flinch. I've come to know in my attendant years that slightly frightened girls are appealing to customers, so I guess I should at least try to be appealing.
The darkness that envelops my vision does not really bother me. It's probably very dark outside anyway; the sun has set when I finished donning my cumbersome raiment. Pretending I'm rattled and desperate to find something to cleave on in the dark, I move my hands up laterally. A swish of my head to the left brings the brightness of a distant light through the red fabric that composes my blindfold; that light has to emanate from a lit lantern afar.
"You're here," a mellifluous voice, that of a young man's, echoes into my soul and brings me relief.
I have been wishing the first man won't be so cranky and old. But then a young man isn't really harmless. Still, there's a difference.
Turning my body to where I can see the bright light, I bend my knees to the floor and bow respectfully. "I am Sora," I say politely. "Please take care of me."
My real name is Mai Taniyama. But, of course, I cannot tell him that. There are rules in this place, and impersonality is one of them. We can have returning customers, but doters interrupting without pay are out of the question.
Real names must be kept secret because attachment is forbidden.
Sora... is a name Missus gave me because she said my eyes have an unreachable look. It has then reminded me of a life I can never have, like the sky. However, people don't usually see through this gloomy explanation of mine and think of something else―like a customer speculating that the story behind my name has to do with me being limitless in the ability to please someday―that's totally revolting.
"What's your last name?" the young man inquires, and I bite my lip once more.
Kami-sama! I definitely forgot to ask the Missus for a fake one! So I lie as smoothly as I can. "I… I have no last name."
"Hn," he emits a weird sound, but I can tell the skepticism laced in it.
I take no note of it nevertheless. "What do you like me to do first, Mister...?" I trail off, inquiring for his name.
"Take off your blindfold," he commands airily, ignoring my hint of query.
I almost gave a scowl at the order, but then I swallow and hesitate as I remember Missus's last warning.
I try to object. "That's―"
"Take it off," he persists.
I cannot help but hold my mouth shut into a thin line. It is unusual that a customer will command a girl during her initiation to doff her blindfold. An Elder Sister had told me that our clients like blindfolded girls; it makes them feel so superior and excited—a gross reality that she pointed out.
An opposition of rules inside my head assaults me. Yet the Missus isn't in the room with me, and if it was a test of obedience, I'll pass it if I do what he wants. So it's best that I discard the obstacle to my eyes. It'll make my work easier… or something.
But at the removal of the fabric, I have not expected to come face-to-face with a hellish creature.
I scream as much as I can muster, instinctively fish out the mallet I secretly stashed in my obi, and hit the demon's face―which is red all over and has dark green horns sticking out from the forehead―with it.
The mallet was supposed to be a preventive measure; although, I knew it is heinous to strike a client.
Consequently, the demon-faced young man groans in pain, and then I hear a cracking sound. To my great confusion and astonishment, his horrifying face shatters and falls into pieces on the tatami mat that made up the floor. It slowly dawns on me that what he had on was a ceramic mask, extremely realistic and detailed that I haven't seen through the facade in the dimly lit room.
The face underneath makes me gasp. He's very young, a dark-haired boy of about seventeen or eighteen. A lengthy-finger-taller than me, his sparkling eyes resemble that of a dark ocean (the shores of which I had traipsed upon when I was a lost child), staring at me disapprovingly. He massages his fringed forehead―a slightly red tint visible from the gaps in the dull illumination―and adjusts his ebony haori over his similar-colored kimono and hakama while frowning slightly.
He's so beautiful, I think to myself, transfixed.
I don't know why he put on a false front, but I can't really blame him. Even if I had a public approval to become an oiran, Missus will never approve that I'll have my initiation with a radiant creature... The envy of her appointed oiran may stake me to death... and her favoritism will totally kick me out of reach.
He might have been still flocked by the other girls at the oiran display downstairs if he didn't disguise himself...
I squeak and cover my mouth in remembrance. I hit him! Oh my Kami-sama!
Hastily, I kneel down in dogeza. "I'm very sorry, Mister! I didn't mean to hit you! I was just so shocked by your appearance; I don't know what came over me! I'm so sorry! Please forgive me for my inexperience at pleasing men!"
Foolish Mai! How could I ruin his avocation of mask-bearing?
Running footsteps audibly thud on the hallway outside. The door to the room slams open, and a desperate yet similar mellifluous voice exclaims, "How could you, Noru? I've never thought you'll be here! I've overestimated you when you said you'll be doing a very good experiment―!"
Noru? The last sound seems strange and different... I perk my head up to the newcomer and emit the heaviest gasp that evening.
"What are you talking about, idiot lady-killer?" The young man called 'Noru' frowns at his twin, who wears a blue-and-white ensemble; the difference to their personalities is evident with their clothes.
In the newcomer's hand is an identical demon mask which he probably took off while running. "You know what I'm ta―" The newcomer's eyes drift upon me, kneeling on the floor. He examines me, blinking dubiously, and gazes back at 'Noru.' "You weren't―?"
"Of course not, idiot."
I am deeply baffled, but I dare not speak.
Noru soughs and then glares at the grinning newcomer who speaks, "Just when I thought I could make you feel guilty and tease you about it... That Yasu-ninja! Lying to me, honestly."
"Jin," Noru drawls in warning, and 'Jin' slightly puts his arms up and palms open.
Jin...? He pronounced it with a long middle sound.
"Alright, alright," Jin surrenders and then shrugs before flushing. "But really, Noru, why are you here? And why did you call her?" He glances at me curiously.
"She's the dream seer Rin told me about," Noru elucidates.
Rin? He really says names oddly... I tilt my head. Also... Dream seer? What's that? Me?
Jin blinks thrice. "Really?"
Bewildered, I finally blurt out loudly, "W-who are you?"
Noru turns to me as-a-matter-of-factly. "I am Kazuya Shibuya, the head of Yuurei Shinsengumi," he says coolly.
And my mouth hangs open in disbelief.
Unknown to me, a cloud has already formed into a rung of an uncompleted staircase, towards what I thought was an unreachable sky.
Sake=an alcoholic beverage of fermented rice
Oiran= a woman (high in rank) offering services from pleasure to other forms of entertainment like dance, music, fashion, poetry, and etcetera. They tie their obi in front allegedly because it's easy to untie that way, but married women before also used to do that. The front-tying of the obi by the oiran is actually a metaphor for borrowing a 'wife' for the night. Geisha actually originated, derived, or branched off from oiran; this explains the similarity in their services (except for the pleasure service since geisha don't actually offer such, but realistically, it is still uncertain [some might just have hidden the fact or forced to the fact]).
Katana=a single-edged Japanese sword
Uchikake=an outergarment, as a coat, that's worn over a kimono
Nakagi=padded layers of kimono
Kougai, tamakanzashi, and kushi=hair accessories in order: hairpin, hairpin with a ball, and comb
Haori=an overcoat usually worn by men
Hakama=trouser-like garment tied at the waist and flare down to the ankles
Dogeza=a type of bow that can mean, "Sorry for the trouble." It can be used for apology to that of a higher rank.
Yoshiwara=enclosed pleasure district on Edo, old Tokyo. It consists of a lot of pleasure houses.
Shinsengumi=police in Kyoto established in 1863; its literal meaning is "newly chosen group." In this story, I am anachronistically borrowing the term for its definition in the late 19th century.
A/N: Ahhh... don't you just want to see how the boys would look like wielding katana? After all, Edo period is a time for samurais and those great battles. I do not intend to make them bald in this story, though (since it seems like that was the fashion for the men in this period) lol.
I did not specify exactly what year of the Edo period this story would be, and I'm thinking of leaving it at that, the year unknown except for a hint of it occurring in 17th century. How will everything turn out? Many fun adventures next chapters. ^^
So, what do you think of this story? Any guesses of what roles the other Ghost Hunt characters shall portray? Heehee ^^ You may share your thoughts. ^^
P.S. Jin is actually Gene, and Noru is actually Noll. Rin is actually Lin. Since it's Mai's point of view, I am writing Naru's English nickname (Noll) as Noru; Eugene's English nickname (Gene) as Jin; and Lin as Rin. During early Edo period, English name spellings are still unfamiliar, and "L" sounds will often be transformed as "R" ones due to the Japanese syllabary. Thereby, I am going by their nicknames' spellings as what Mai thinks they are in the period and not as what we know in the modern world.