Lotus NPC event
Soft, pleasant voices buzzed, mingling just out of tune. A similar but distinct sound rose from the southern end of the room, first camouflaged, then rising.
It was the tuning of wired and wooden instruments. Costumed musicians reclined at the foot of the stage. It was not a large and obtrusive theatre. The platform itself stood about one foot off the ground, but it was wide and curtained. Rice paper screens stood up and fanned out, making a half-circle upon which, on the bare floor of the stage, a spotlight shone.
There, in the exact center, was the tiny figure of a woman, draped in layer upon layer of vermillion and canary. Long black hair curtained the tiny pointed face. The audience let out a hushed murmur. No one was quite sure whether the figure had been there the whole time, or if it had not, how it had arrived there. The instruments pealed a few somber notes. Silence, followed by the sharp crack of something wooden and hollow shifting into place. The face jerked up, and gold-leafed eyes with pupils like black pins cast their empty gaze into the long, deep room.
The creature rose, in segmented movements: first bending at the waist. Stop. Onto the shins, stop. A swift and silent shift to the flats of unseen feet beneath the profuse and airy silk. Stop. Then the knees unbending, slowly, rising to a stand. Now they could see that the eerie and beautiful thing was a doll the size of a small child. It turned it's head a little, bird-like, stiff and made one, slow, heavy blink.
Then the music rumbled out again.
The doll began to dance, delicately, and her long sleeves slipped back, revealing balled, blushed joints of fine polished wood, the color of porcelain. She moved like a crane, balancing, a creature not quite of earth, not quite of air. Her movements quickened pace. There was a whirl of internal machinery, and she dove behind the screens, the spotlight going out.
Five beats of darkness, and the light grew again, and this time, the painted screens concealed shadows that pitched and rumbled. Fabric rippled between them in a tempest, their soft, dry flapping like sighs of pleasure.
On this shadowed scene, two new dolls emerged, of the same size and type. One was clearly a painted king, the other a sleek and wicked-looking courtier with long, curled eyebrows. The king swung his arms like those of a clock, from under and to his right, gesturing off-stage. The courtier put his hand to his mustache in machination. They continued to make exaggerated motions. The music twirled in worry and wobbled in laughter and slithered connivingly, becoming their ghost-speech in voiceless, hollow throats.
The dolls swept off-stage, and now, a beautiful man, lithe of limb and dressed as a poor foot-soldier, stepped out. With his white arms, he imitated the strange hybrid movements of the dolls, signaling in the same direction as the king and courtier. From the folds of his cloak he withdrew a long-stemmed, cream-petaled rose, offered it and placed it down, then went away.
The princess doll now came, tiny in his wake, found the rose, picked it up, and put it to her un-smelling, inbreathing nostril. She put her hands out toward the opposite side of the stage, reaching for the unseen warrior.
The light cut out. When it went on again, the participating Lotus geisha paraded in brazen ornaments, glinting jewels like honey and gold, costuming so luxurious, hair undone, the crowns of their heads encased in headdress. Their dance was uniform and fluid, led by the shamisen. One of them stepped forward out of the ranks to perform her solo, and then fell back. The music swooned and they swept away with its last wailing breath.
A yawning silence filled the room, then the gasoline lamps brightened and shone. A drum beat signaled intermission and the audience let out a collective breath. There was a moment or two of hesitance before the whispers rose up in clumps like cobwebs, then the whispers turned to murmurs, murmurs to conversation.
From the kitchens, uniformed servants in clean aprons came bearing trays and pushing carts tinkling with china and silver.