“It's not every day that you get to go backstage with the stars of Alomomola,” Harmony reminded Shou Mei, “but you haven't said a word.”
The entrance they had taken was secured tightly on both ends, and glaringly well-lit between them. Its construction, plain and square but painted over and decorated to better suit the tastes of the celebrities and rich staff who used it, reminded Shou Mei of construction work – there had been construction work in Alomomola when she had last visited, there was construction work now, and as long as its owners wanted, that construction work would continue. The noise of construction work was grating, unpleasant, meaningless, too loud – she was glad they hadn't passed any construction sites on the way to the King's Rock Casino.
As Shou Mei walked ahead of her, still silent, Harmony sighed. Then she realized she had ignored the obvious question. “So, why did you want to come here? Obviously it's to see us, but you're not from around here. Where do you know us from? What have you heard about us?” She wondered, more and more, what the answers to those questions were, or if she'd ever get answers, as the intriguingly unfamiliar girl gave none, but continued to walk with her; the silence was not cold or uncomfortable, just irritating.
The entrance led the two into the King's Rock, then up past its various levels. The spiralling ramp they took was free of the glamer that defined the Casino from outside, and completely quiet compared to the constant din of movement and game from above that filtered through the employees' entrance. Melody had also stopped trying to make conversation, and Shou Mei was glad for that; it allowed her the chance to think, to decide what to say to Harmony and to prepare herself for the concert after.
Stepping out onto the topmost level of the King's Rock, she was awed. It resembled a rooftop garden more than a place you would find near a prep room, with the tiny portal from below opening up into a lounge of velvet seats and red-and-white striped rugs, sporting huge panoramic windows overlooking other areas of the Casino, that filtered the stray light from outside and reflected the light from within so that the entire area was neither overly bright nor overly dark. On the northern and eastern walls, opposite the windows and the entrance respectively, were rows of doors, silver plaques atop each displaying the room's purpose and owner in thickly-black font. But it was the western wall that she turned to face after entering that held the most curious thing: a painting of a Kecleon, grinning sly in green. She knew that face, but from where, she could only try to remember–
“Wait right here. Melody and Dee can't be too busy right now, so I'll go bring them out here.” Before Shou Mei could respond, if she had any plans to, Harmony's pigtails trailed behind her into one of the rooms, the door open just a bit more ajar after her entrance, leaving Shou Mei with another chance to collect her thoughts – one perhaps a bit wasted, as she simply admired, if what she was feeling was really admiration, the room and the Casino outside. Not long after, before her mind could wander back to music, she heard the door to the prep room open again, and spun around to see Harmony, now joined by two others behind her.
Trying to push past Harmony with a wide-lipped smile was a fancy-looking girl, the white bows along her purplish body recalling yet another Shou Mei had met in the past -- a Gothorita. Behind them both, but much taller than either, was a species she had only heard of, but still she distinctly recalled: a Lopunny. Dressed as the three were, Melody and the Gothorita in their hair accessories and the Lopunny in a vest and bracelets, they continued to recall vague glimmers of the years long past, that Shou Mei had forgotten, both the memories themselves, and how they left are.
The Gothorita slowly stepped out from behind Harmony, the two following her into the lobby. “So, this is the new girl, huh? I gotta say, I didn’t think you’d drag somewhere here on concert night.” Tilting her head and sighing, she continued. “Hmm... oh well. Welcome to Alomomola, I guess. I’m Melody, you already know Harmony, and this is my sister Dee.”
Shou Mei shifted uncomfortably in front of what felt to her like a growing crowd. She searched for the right words, but couldn’t find them. Dee glanced towards her sister before addressing their guest. “Nice to meet you. Don’t worry too much about Melody, by the way... She’s, ah, well, Harmony brings a lot of people here. But you’re already here, and besides, you’re our guest either way. What’s your name?”
That set Shou Mei to talking -- in a soft voice like a whisper, but clearer than any hushed lie -- before she knew it. “Oh, my. Again, I’ve forgotten. Melody, Harmony, Dee -- my name is Shou Mei. I’ve come to hear you perform. There is nothing else in this city for me but your song.” By the time she had heard her own words, she felt no anxiety in their release. But she didn’t notice how uncomfortable Melody now looked -- or maybe she was just a little spooked.
“So, uh...” Melody tugged on one of her bows as she pulled out a seat and sat down. “Can I just call you Shou? ‘Cause I mean, Shou Mei... that’s like having two names.” Dee gently tapped Shou Mei, who now looked like she was wrapped up in her own little world, on the shoulder, directing her to sit down with the three of them near the window. As they sat, Melody reached for a pot of tea, already steepled, and poured it into one of the cups on the tray -- all of which, Shou Mei noticed now that she was once again paying attention, had already been here when she entered. That Dee was right and they seemed to be ready for a guest put her mind at ease, and the small but noticeable smile that Shou Mei now wore calmed Melody’s nerves and quelled her irritation.
“My name is Shou Mei. It has always been and always will be. But if you would prefer to call me otherwise -- as your guest, as a fellow musician -- I will not object.”
Melody opened her mouth to speak, but noticed that Shou Mei’s eyes never left Harmony now, and stifled a bored yawn as she cupped her head in her arms. At least Shou Mei would open up to someone, even if it was her partner instead of her. That really was strange.
“Right, then...” Harmony spun the teacup around by the handle idly, although it never left the tray. “So, Shou, you came here to hear me perform, right? I mean, I know my music is good and all, but why me? I bet you have a really good reason.”
Shou Mei paused. Telling her the full truth could ruin the performance or sound like a lie, but she thought that Harmony deserved to know who she was. And it had been so long since she had felt even the faintest connection with another Pokemon, but here she was before the muse of her song. “I have been studying music for long -- too long, I would say, if only it were not the most important thing in the world to me. I have lost count of the years that have past since I...”Gave up on music.
No, that wasn’t true. She had never given up, had she? She hadn’t. She had just...
“... last heard a skillfully-performed piece of music. So many musicians come and go, but to find one who has earned the adoration of so many... that is special. I am here to see my passion anew, and your performance is a part of that. So I will say now as I said to Melody: thank you. Thank you for having me as a guest, and thank you for embracing music.”
The three other girls all looked at eachother, then each back to Shou Mei. Of all the responses they could have expected, that was not one. Harmony was flattered -- an old musician she had never heard of, of a species she
had never seen, come to see her. Melody now felt insulted -- she and her sister, the generosity she had shown, they were... no. It was too late to send her off, and maybe she had just said something different from what she’d meant. Besides, she was
pretty interesting through it all -- just stranger than she’d thought. Too strange.
“Well, uh, you’re welcome, I guess.” Harmony said after a long pause, made uncomfortable only by Melody’s stewing. “Hey, you can come back after the concert, but I think I actually need to get ready. See you later?”
Shou Mei nodded. The four girls stood in turn, and Harmony put her arm around Melody’s, marching her back into the prep room. As Shou Mei turned to leave, she paused, thought for a moment, and then turned back to Dee. “Excuse me, Dee. Could you please take me to the concert hall? I don’t know the way there.”
She was going to offer anyway, since jealousy or no, Melody would make a big issue out of anything happening to one of her guests, but it was better for Shou Mei to ask. She couldn’t really help the other two, anyway, and Shou Mei seemed lonely. Less now, of course, but everything about her seemed to say that her story had been true. Maybe even truer than she had let on.
“Ah... sure. Just follow me.”
Part 3 of "Echo" by