Prologue: I don't like mahjong
"Come on, I'll help you install it. There's even a neat tutorial for beginners!"
The office lady living alone next door kept pestering me these past few weeks about her gambling game, mahjong. That tile-matching computer game I only opened once and never returned to, but with more rules.
I tried to slam the window close, but she lodged a shoe just it time.
"You like cute anime girls, right!? Look look, cute catgirl!"
She pressed her phone's screen on the window, and indeed it was a cute catgirl. The mystery of why the catgirl welcomed me with this angry expression was not something I'd want to solve right now.
"Sorry, but I don't want to get involved in any gambling."
"It's not gambling! It's a legitimate sport recognized internationally (soon)! Here, a video of pro players!"
I was shown nothing but old men sprinkled with some girls, all of them with an aura of despair. Was this the right video?
"Look, it's getting late, I still have school tomorro--"
"Play with me! Just one game! I'll teach you personally! I'll give you candy if you want!"
She was as loud as a horn despite the dead night. She probably knew mom and dad worked overseas, and that my little sister was staying at a friend's house tonight.
"What about your work?"
"I work by feel, and I won't feel good tomorrow. So let me in already and get ready for some all-night mahjong action!"
I did not want to let her in. My instincts, sharpened by my sister who kept bullying me at chess, screamed "STRANGER DANGER". But the office lady who was always with my friends in the park wasn't a stranger to me.
Still! She was scaring me!
"T-Tomorrow, let's play the whole day tomorrow. I'll skip school as well."
I'll make a break for it before the break of dawn!
"It has to be tonight! I've already prepared some food!"
She lifted a plastic bag filled with junk food and soda, and flashed her best attempt at an innocent smile.
"Please! I don't want to play tonight..."
The building tears in my eyes froze her.
"...Okay. But we'll play one day, right?"
I could lie to her right now and end this scene, but my heart wouldn't take it.
I could tell her the truth, but despite everything I've said, I didn't want the friendly office lady to cry. She was a hero to us neighborhood kids, after all.
In the end, I...
"I don't know."
The night turned silent.
On my bed, swirling thoughts filled my head. Her tears, the cute catgirl, everything swirled into a hotpot of emotions that kept me up.
Her mahjong looked complicated, but maybe I could ask my genius little sister to teach me and give the office lady a pleasant surprise.
That would make her day, right?
The abyss of sleep caught up to me, and for some reason, the sight of that familiar ceiling didn't feel that familiar anymore.
Chapter 1: The Catgirl in Motion
I woke up in a Japanese-styled room that smelled of freshly-picked citrus.
It was a room far different from mine. I felt disoriented and my heart beat faster, clutching the unfamiliar thin blanket over me.
I couldn't move, couldn't scream; I feared that if I do something, I might never wake up back to my familiar bedroom. So I waited.
My ears twitched, a strange new sensation. I hear footsteps on the wooden floorboard heading towards this room. My little sister? No, the steps were too heavy and sure.
The door slid open, revealing a Japanese beauty in a revealing Kimono.
"Dammit cat! How many times do I have to tell you, wake up on your own!"
She was looking straight at me, almost as if she knew me all her life, but I've never seen her before. I'd never forget a refined beauty like her, unlike the haggard office lady neighbor. Me staring at her only boiled her anger more.
"Damn nyagger, every morning! Every single morning, I swear one day I'm going to drive a knife at your thick skull!"
She stormed in, grabbed the collar--of my kimono--and dragged me out the room and into the kitchen.
There was a table with a modest meal prepared on it and three chairs. She threw me on a chair and sat on her own.
"Eat up, we've got a big day ahead of us."
She served me cooled-down mushroom soup and some bread. There was a faint smell of mold on the bread, but my stomach felt too hungry to notice. I have never felt this hungry before.
"We'll keep up our strategy. At this rate we're not gonna earn enough copper to last the coming winter, so we've got no choice but to attend the tourney to increase our rank. But I'd like to avoid that as much as possible."
I licked the remains of the bowl and burped. My stomach just couldn't resist the filling, homey flavor of the mushroom soup, so much that I almost forgot all my troubles.
"Are you listening, cat?"
"Can I ask a question?"
She glared at me but waited for my next words quietly while sipping a bit of her hot mushroom soup. As concise as possible, all my questions and fears could be boiled down in one question:
"Where... am I?"
After explaining my situation to the kind lady, who kept her eyes on me the entire time, she ate the last of her bread.
"So you're from this place, and when you woke up, you found yourself here."
"Yes. What is this place, kind stranger?"
Her eyebrows furrowed, but she kept her composure. She closed her eyes, looked above and took her time -- and when she awoke, the clouds on her eyes cleared up.
"You, what's your name?"
"It's-- it's-- I, forgot."
She didn't like that answer.
"I'm... I'm from... Who I am, where I'm from... why? What's happening?"
My eyes burned and everything blurred. I tried to keep my shaking hands so I wouldn't embarrass myself in front of the beautiful Japanese lady, but I think it was too late anyway.
What was happening? I was sure I remembered everything, how my room looked like and all.
Every single memory, slipped away from me, like a long-lost dream.
"But I know... I'm not from here."
"Yes, that much is sure. Not once while you talked did you say a single nyaa, so I know you're probably not Niihime."
I tilted my head, unsure of who she was talking about. But that name sounded familiar. I knew there was no use trying to remember now, but it only hurt my brain to try.
"Niihime, your name. Follow me."
She brought me to her room, a subdued place with old books lining up most of the walls. She took out a mirror and faced it towards me.
"This is you, the catgirl Niihime."
A spark of memory came back to me. A memory of last night, and a certain onee-chan.