tinfoiltennis: A woman standing on a beach, holding a model ship and looking away from the viewer (Default)
✎ Fel's Creative Journal ([personal profile] tinfoiltennis) wrote2011-02-06 06:35 pm

✎ chapterfic - hetalia/ebz - it was not meant that we should voyage far [11/?]

Title: It was not meant that we should voyage far. [11/?]
Fandom: Axis Powers Hetalia/Echo Bazaar
Characters: Every nation ever at one point or another. This part: Canada, Taiwan, and a couple of random extras.
Rating: PG-13 for this chapter.
Summary: An Echo Bazaar crossover AU. Fallen London: once capital of the British Empire, now home of the Bazaar, a mile underground and a boat ride away from Hell itself. Deep. Dark. Expensive. Marvellous. Here you can find everything from immortality, to unnervingly good mushroom wine.

Or so the stories go.

But stories can rarely be trusted, and all the wildest stories in the world couldn’t have prepared Alfred and Matthew Jones for what they would find when they descended into the fallen city on a journey that would lead them right into the heart of a rebellion against the Masters of the Bazaar themselves…
Word Count: This part: 4899
Notes: Once again, the continuation of the long haul that started as my NaNo project for last year. :'> The title is from an HP Lovecraft quote, “We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.” Sorry for the slightly late update! I’m running out of buffer and I was determined to get on particular scene finished before I posted anything more. So here we are!
Warnings: General warnings: A crossover with a (very addictive) online game, a lot of speculation and elaboration on my part on the universe of that game, human!AU, the occasional bit of 1800s sensibilities, and later on in the fic, a lot of OCs. :’> This chapter: NaNo quality writing, bad accents, another filler chapter, and possibly shaky characterization of Taiwan. /o\;;;

✎ ✎ ✎

Another day, another long and frustrating trek around the city, Matthew thought to himself as he flitted from shop to shop, calling on shopkeeper after shopkeeper in an attempt to make them hire him. He’d been at this all morning, and once again there had been no success yet. Either they already had enough help, or didn’t want anyone else, or they couldn’t be bothered to waste their time on someone who was so clearly still new from the surface, or there was some other excuse that they couldn’t be bothered to share with him. It was all more than a little frustrating, he concluded to himself as he sat outside a small but cheap café struggling to force himself to eat something that had far too much mushroom in for comfort. Clearly, the café was so cheap purely because it didn’t use anything from the surface in its food. He was beginning to see why Brigid’s pub attracted so many people even before the drinking really began; her cooking might be haphazard, but at least it had variety. And it was good cooking too, even by surface standards, he thought, thinking fondly of the tiny innkeeper. Down here, that made the food comparable to anything you might find at a banqueting table up top.

It was probably about one in the afternoon by now, he thought, judging by how many people were out and about on the streets. He’d learned by now to guess the time down here without looking at a watch, although it was still tricky at times. He’d noticed that the dim light coming from the ceiling was a little brighter during the middle of the day. It was almost as if the light from the sun all the way back on the surface reached down and made the little reflective glowing points in the ceiling, the “moonish light” as people called it, just that little bit brighter. It was still not enough to do business by, but it helped a little with timekeeping. He supposed that that meant he ought to get back to searching, he thought with a small sigh. It wasn’t as if he had anything much better to do.

His search had taken him to the sprawling market district of Spite today, and he’d already seen why Brigid had told him to be careful while he was out looking there. More than one criminal had dashed through the busy crowds with the smart blue uniforms and shiny brass buttons of the city constables in hot pursuit while he’d been there, and even one of the shops he’d been about to look into had just been robbed the previous night, leaving the owner far too stressed and hassled to speak to Matthew at all. Judging from how unperturbed the people at large were – more marginally curious, at best – Matthew had to assume that this sort of thing was a regular occurrence here. Which wasn’t really that comforting, if he was honest. If there was ever a place where keeping his head down would pay off, it was probably here.

… so of course he was asking around every place he could in the area for a job, he thought with an inner groan. He supposed it could be worse; at least no one was actively looking for him.

It was at that moment that, in accordance with the grand scheme of the universe that dictates instances like this, he was proved very much wrong by a small hand tugging on his sleeve.

“Oi, Mister. You the one lookin’ for all them jobs?”

Matthew looked down at his elbow in surprise to find a small slightly grubby urchin child looking up at him with a rather bored look on her young face.

“Huh?” he said, a little taken aback by the question, and more notably the sudden appearance of the child.

“You heard me,” she said, planting her hands on her hips imperiously. “Ain’t thick or nuffink, ain’tcha? You’ve been goin’ round all them shops all mornin’, me and the other lot from the Knotted Sock have seen ya at it!”

“Um. Well, yeah, I have,” he replied, still a little non-plussed. “But I don’t really understand why you’re asking…”

“Got paid to do it, didn’t I?” came the reply. “Lady from the Wang family caught us all tryin’ to pick her pocket. Told the boss it was a stupid idea, I did, but he’s thick as two short planks sometimes and he don’t like bein’ argued with, does he? So the lady catches us at it and the others run off, and that leaves me to take the rap. But she just smiles at me and says, here, if you take a message for me to that blonde boy with the specs what’s been askin’ around for a job, I’ll pay you sumthink for it. Well, I’m not about to turn an offer like that down when she could have turned me in and had me sent to the slammer, am I? So here I am.”

This long-winded and rather winding explanation was delivered at a speed approximating that of the fastest express trains on the surface, so that Matthew’s head was spinning a little trying to follow it all. It certainly didn’t leave him any less confused. He had no idea what the Knotted Sock was and who the Wang family were, for starters, although from the way the kid talked about them, he had the feeling that they must be someone very important. That startled him all over again; someone important down here wanted to speak to him? What on Earth for?

“What is the message?” he asked carefully, deciding that it couldn’t hurt to ask at least. He could decide whether he wanted to do whatever was in the message after he’d heard it.

“The lady wants to offer you a job,” the child grinned, showing every one of her teeth as well as the gaps between them. “Must like your dedication or sumthink like that, mustn’t she? Ain’t often that lot go out lookin’ to hire anyone they haven’t seen workin’ first, so that’s a real honour, ain’t it?”

“A job? What sort of job?”

“Dunno. You’d hafta ask the lady that, won’tcha?” She looked expectantly at him before tugging on his sleeve once again. “Come on, I’ll take ya to her so I can get paid and the boss’ll be sorry for up and runnin’ away on me!”

“I don’t even know who this family is, though,” he told her, feeling a lot like the whole thing was beginning to get way above his head. “Why would they want to speak to someone like me?”

The girl stared at him. “Bleedin’ heck, you really are thick, aint’cha?” she asked, her mouth wide open as if she couldn’t comprehend how anyone could not know. “They’re only one of the biggest families round Spite and anywhere else in London, ain’t they? Rival the Gracious Widow herself for how many pies they got their fingers stuck in, and that’s no joke! The younger lot like the lady and her brothers have always been good to us urchin kids though, so ya can’t say fairer than that now, can ya?” She tapped her foot impatiently, fixing Matthew with a knowing look that was more than a little discomforting coming from someone who was at least ten years younger than he was. “Honest to God himself, Mister, if they want to give ya a job I’d take it, cos they pay much more handsome than any of them shops you was lookin’ in.”

Matthew looked at her for a few seconds, considering. She didn’t seem like she was lying, and he wanted to trust her. Besides, what harm could it do if there was a real chance of getting some work? It wasn’t as if he’d been having all that much luck so far. He brightened a little thinking of it. Maybe something would actually start going right if he went to find this family with this girl.

So he nodded with a shy smile and stood up. “Okay, show me the way.”

“Sure thing, Mister,” the small girl said with a grubby salute. “Oi, can I ask you sumthink?”

“What is it?”

She pointed at the sad looking mushroom-filled creation on the table. “Are you gonna finish that? Cos if not I’d be happy to take it off your hands for ya. Waste of good food otherwise, innit?”

Matthew blinked. “Uh… no, I’m not.” He picked up the slightly flattened creation and handed it to her. “Here, feel free.”

She didn’t need to be told twice. Her hands snatched the food from him almost faster than the time it took him to blink, and she took a large satisfied bite out of the thing, licking her lips to catch any crumbs. “Tha’s better,” she said with her mouth full, swallowing it with a great gulp. “S’just as good cold. How come you didn’t finish it?”

After seeing how much she enjoyed the outlandish food, he didn’t have the heart to tell her that he couldn’t quite stomach it. So instead he shrugged and smiled sheepishly as he said, “I just wasn’t that hungry.”

“You’re mad, you are,” she said summarily, taking another large bite of it. “C’mon, this way! I know all the shortcuts to get there, so it’s dead simple.” She took his hand and tugged on it, and he followed her back into the bustling, noisy crowds of the market streets.

There didn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to the route she was leading him down, at least not from Matthew’s outside perspective, but he guessed that his small guide knew what she was doing, since her step never faltered. Several cuts down several side streets here, a small double-back at one point (“That area’s really dodgy, Mister, I’m doin’ you a favour by avoidin’ it”) and a particularly odd zig-zag through one of the busiest market squares later, though, and the two of them were stood outside a building that was strikingly different to the rest of the narrow, rickety constructions that defined Spite.

The first word that came to Matthew’s mind was mansion, although in truth it didn’t seem quite large enough for that description. It was still much larger than any of the other buildings though, and built in an elegant style, with an area of space encircling the house itself that did for a garden. It was obvious to Matthew that whoever owned this house, they had to be very rich to build something like that down here.

“This is it!” the urchin girl declared proudly. “The Wang family estate. Impressive-lookin’, innit?”

It was definitely impressive, Matthew thought as he stared up at it. It was also a little imposing, too, with a wrought iron fence taller than he was separating the house from the world outside. The fence didn’t seem to bother his urchin guide, though, who was already working at lifting the latch of the gate in front of them.

“Oi, Mister, help us out a little, will ya?”

“Oh! Sorry.” Matthew stepped forward to lift the latch himself and was surprised at how heavy it seemed to be. No wonder the girl had needed help to force it open. The Wang family, whoever they were, must have been very private people.

The front door that they came to was just as imposing as the iron gate they had just passed; made of a black wood that might have been ebony, and varnished with some kind of reddish lacquer, a polished brass door-knocker with a dragon design glared down at the two of them from the centre of it. Matthew looked at it for a moment, feeling more than a little nervous, before he raised his hand and knocked at the door. The great brass knocker rapped loudly, and the door was opened a few seconds later by a well-dressed servant, who peered at them with a sort of detached curiosity. Matthew was a little surprised to see that the man was Asian. He’d never met anyone from that area of the world before back home, only heard stories from people from the ports or other, busier parts of the country who‘d passed through. Then he wondered why he was so surprised; London seemed to draw people from all over the world to its depths for business or otherwise. It was only natural that people from Asia would be among them.

“Yes? How can I help you?”

“Gentleman here to see the lady of the house,” the urchin girl said, dropping a clumsy curtsey. “Name of – here,” she said, turning back to Matthew, “What was your name again?”

“Matthew Jones,” he replied, not sure whether he should be talking more to the girl or the doorman.

“Name of Mathew Jones, see?” the girl finished, turning back to the doorman. “Him bein’ the one the lady asked me to find what’s been askin’ everyone round here for employment. You better go and tell her that I’ve found him or sumthink, aint’cha?”

“One moment, please,” the man said, inclining his head slightly before retreating back into the house, shutting the heavy door behind him. The girl pulled a face and folded her arms, tapping her foot on the ground impatiently.

“Always does this whenever someone he don’t know comes along, he does,” she informed Matthew. “Does it just to annoy them, I reckon. As if anyone’d be stupid enough to steal from this house even if he did let them in.”

“I guess you can’t blame him for trying to be careful, though,” Matthew reasoned.

“Yeah, but anyone thick enough to try stealin’ from here’d be torn apart by their people from the underground, wouldn’t they?” she said, as if it were obvious. “Can’t steal from a master thief after all, can ya? The family, they try to dress themselves up as all respectable so the Masters don’t catch them at it, but everyone what has a grain of sense in their heads knows they’re up to their necks in the smugglin’ business. Or the head of the family is, anyway,” she added thoughtfully, scratching her neck. “I don’t think the lady touches that side of things.”

Matthew barely had time to process all of this information – a smuggling business? A family involved in the smuggling business wanted to hire him of all people? – before the door opened once again and the servant reappeared.

“The lady will see you both presently,” he said, opening the door wide for them with a shallow bow.

“Much obliged,” the girl said, tipping an imaginary hat to him as she walked in. She turned back to Matthew, still hesitating on the doorstep. “You comin’ in then, Mister?”

Matthew blinked at her, then nodded, following her into the house a lot more confidently than he actually felt. Brigid had contacts in the smuggling business after all, he thought, trying to rationalise it to himself. From what he heard about the prices imposed on surface goods by the government down here, it wasn’t as if it was such a bad thing being hired by someone who helped lower the prices of things from the surface. Just as long as they didn’t ask him to do any smuggling himself, it would be fine.

He still couldn’t help wondering what it was about him that had caught the family’s eyes, though. He definitely wasn’t smuggler material, anyone could tell that just by looking at him.

The inside of the house was decorated in just as elegant a style as the outside; all the wood was lacquered with that same vaguely reddish glow, and drapes of material hung from some of the walls to brighten up what would have otherwise been a blank surface. The overall effect was one of wealth but not extravagance, and it was clear that whatever else the Wang family were, they were as careful with their money as it was possible for the very rich to be.

The two of them were led to one side from the main door, into a small sitting room filled with several plush divans and a small low table between them. The servant motioned for them to sit on one of the divans – Matthew noticed that it was one that the servant had covered with a sheet before they had come in. He had a feeling that that might have had something to do with his urchin companion. She didn’t seem perturbed by this, though, happily hopping up onto the sheet and testing the cushion beneath her.

“See, this is more like it,” she told Matthew with a cheeky grin. “Just shows that it pays to be caught in the act sometimes, don’t it Mister?” The servant offered her a scathing look for that comment as he left the room, and Matthew tried to dispel things with an appeasing smile. The servant didn’t seem too convinced by it, and so the two of them were left to wait in silence for the mysterious lady of the house, the urchin girl scuffing her feet on the carpet in boredom. The silence was abruptly broken by a cheerful, impatient voice as the door swung open once again.

“Why did you hide them away in here, Ling? It’s so small compared to the other sitting room!”

The voice belonged to a short Chinese girl whose hair was falling out of its bun to hang around her face. Matthew was taken aback; this was the lady that the others had been referring to? She had a round, cheerful face, a slightly breathless demeanour, and she barely looked older than Matthew himself. Whatever he had been expecting the lady of the house to be like, a cheerful teenager certainly hadn’t been one of the things he’d thought of. Once inside the room, she turned back to the unfortunate servant rather crossly with her hands on her hips.

“Honestly, you know that that’s no way to treat guests! Go go would be ashamed and you know it.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” the servant said, bowing slightly. The urchin girl watched gleefully from her seat on the divan, clearly enjoying the sight of the doorman being cut down a size.

“Just don’t let it happen again, alright? You can make up for it by calling the people in the kitchen to bring some refreshments for them.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he nodded, and pushed open the door to leave the room. The girl sighed shortly before turning back to her guests with a smile on her face. “I’m sorry about that,” she told them apologetically. “He always does this when it’s someone he doesn’t know.”

“He really didn’t treat us that badly,” Matthew said, feeling like he should at least try to intervene slightly on the unfortunate doorman’s behalf. “I’m really quite comfortable in here.”

She laughed as she sat down, a friendly smile on her face. “I know, and I’m not really angry at him,” she explained, smoothing out her skirt and tucking her long hair back behind her head. “But he can be so bad-tempered towards people sometimes that I wanted to make sure he remembered his manners. My older brother doesn’t always employ the friendliest people,” she said with a small laugh. Somehow, Matthew got the feeling that she was someone who laughed a lot. “Anyway, I should introduce myself!” she declared. “My name is Wang Mei, at your service.” She bowed slightly where she was sat, and Matthew had the urge to bow back in an effort to be polite.

“I’m Matthew Jones,” he replied. “What can I do for you, ma’am?”

Before Mei could answer, there was a loud cough from Matthew’s right side, and the two of them looked to find the girl who had brought Matthew there watching proceedings with a very unimpressed look on her face. “Not to get in the way of business or nuffink like that, your ladyship, but I’ve got places to be, and you did promise me payment and all, miss, not to be rude or nuffink about it.”

“Ah, that’s right, I did, didn’t I?” Mei asked, her eyes turning round. “I’m sorry, it completely slipped my mind! But a promise is a promise, so here.” She got to her feet and reached into one of the drawers of a small cabinet near the mantelpiece, drawing out a pouch stuffed full of small round shapes. Still smiling, she shut the draw and handed the pouch to the child. “Here you are! One hundred moonpearls exactly. That should cover everything, don’t you think?”

“One hundred?” the girl repeated, her eyes going as round as the moonpearls she’d just been handed. “You’re not havin’ me on or nuffink, are you?” Without waiting for an answer, she pulled at the strings of the pouch, peering inside to inspect the contents. Her eyes went impossibly wider, and she looked up at Mei with her mouth open, jumping to her feet. “Bleedin’ – sorry, blimey, miss, this is more than enough!” She dropped a couple of clumsy curtsies, grinning from ear to ear. “Just wait till the boss sees this one! Won’t believe his eyes, he won’t!"

“You should hurry up and find him then, shouldn’t you?” Mei told her with almost as much enthusiasm as the girl herself.

“Yes ma’am!” The scruffy girl saluted Mei with all the enthusiasm of a young soldier on their first patrol before scampering towards the door. “I’ll get that sourpuss on the door to let me out, miss, so don’t worry about me! Thanks again!” A loud bang later as she slammed the sitting room door shut behind her, and the girl was gone. Mei looked after her almost fondly, shaking her head.

“It’s a shame about the urchin gangs,” she said. “Most of them aren’t bad children at heart, but there’s so many of them about and most of them have no choice except to steal things. It’s a little sad.” She looked downcast for a moment, but brightened up again a moment later, meeting Matthew’s eyes with another smile. “Sorry, you probably don’t want to hear me talking about things like that! You’re probably wondering why I even asked you to come here, aren’t you Matthew?”

“Well,” he began, and was cut off by the door opening once more to reveal a maid bustling in with a heavily laden tray.

“I brought you the tea, miss,” the servant explained with a small smile. Mei waved her over.

“Thank you!” she said brightly. “Just leave it on the table, we’ll serve it ourselves.” The maid nodded and placed the tray down carefully before leaving the room again, closing the door carefully behind her. Mei took the steaming teapot in her hands and began pouring the golden liquid into small earthernware cups. She didn’t even spill a drop. “Don’t mind me,” Mei said, focused on her pouring. “You were saying?”

“Well, I was wondering why you asked for me,” Matthew admitted as he watched the tea being poured. “I mean, I know that I’ve been looking for a job for a few days now, but I didn’t think that anyone would have noticed.” He hesitated before looking back at Mei. “I’m sorry if this sounds rude… but I don’t even know why you’ve called me here of all people.”

“Sorry, I know it must be a little confusing,” Mei said, offering him one of the steaming cups. He took it gratefully, nodding his head in gratitude. “I would have sent you a letter or something like that, but I don’t know where you live and it would have been such a pain to try and find out, and it’s better to ask these things in person anyway, don’t you think?” she explained cheerfully, picking up her own cup. “Feel free to drink as much tea as you like, by the way! It’s green tea from the surface. Our family that still lives back in China sends it to us, since nothing grows down here apart from the mushrooms.” She wrinkled her nose in disgust to show what she felt about the Neath’s premier food source. Matthew smiled at her, waiting for his tea to cool.

“I’ve never had green tea before,” he admitted. “But I know how you feel about the mushrooms, even if I’ve only been here for a little over a week.”

“You get tired of them really quickly, don’t you?” she laughed, her eyes twinkling. “But I’m sorry, I didn’t bring you here just for a chat, after all. We should probably get to talking about business.” She cupped her tea in both hands as she looked at Matthew. “I’d like to offer you a job here working for my family, if you’d like it.”

“What kind of job?”

“My family deals in trading goods in and out of the city,” she explained. “It’s my older brother who’s in charge of it all, but I help organise certain parts of the business as well as take care of our house.” She frowned slightly, looking serious for once as she stared down into her cup. “I think that we need someone reliable and honest to help us carry messages and goods to and from our clients, so I’ve been looking out for someone who could help.” She looked up at him. “Are you still interested?”

Matthew didn’t answer for a moment. Instead, he thought about it. Carrying messages and packages wasn’t difficult work by any means, and the offer of a steady job was certainly tempting. The only problem was that, knowing that the family was involved in the criminal world as they were, he had no idea what sorts of things those messages and packages might involve. Mei seemed well intentioned enough, but Matthew didn’t want to inadvertently end up being the courier for something that ended up causing someone’s death.

His thoughts must have shown on his face, because before he could answer, Mei was speaking up again.

“You’re worried about the illegal side of things, aren’t you?” she asked bluntly. Matthew’s head jerked up and he felt his cheeks going red in embarrassment. The truth was that he had been; after all, he’d never done anything to break the law before, or not in a way that was serious, anyway. But he hadn’t wanted to seem rude by just coming out and saying that to someone who had been kind enough to invite him into her home just so she could offer him a job. But the jig was up now; he couldn’t very well lie, so instead he nodded slightly, feeling incredibly awkward.

“A little bit, I suppose,” he admitted. “I’m not really law-breaking material, eh…”

“Not everything that we do is on the wrong side of the law,” she assured him, unusually gently for someone who appeared to be so cheerful and enthusiastic normally. “And besides, no self-respecting criminal would deliver something sinister through a courier that could be easily traced if anyone saw him.” She smiled at Matthew again, but this time her smile was wry, as if she knew what he’d been thinking about poison or worse hidden in letters or parcels and was used to having to explain the truth about that sort of thinking. “You don’t have to worry about anyone handing you something sinister to deliver. It’ll just be business letters, goods that our clients have asked us to get for them, things like that!” She took another sip of her tea and put it down before speaking again, leaning forwards to cup her chin in her hands. “You don’t have to give me an answer now, I’ll let you think about it for a while if you’re not sure about it. But you seem like a trustworthy person, and that’s the sort of thing we need.” Her smile became a little sad. “People like that are harder to come by in this city than you’d think they’d be.”

“Well…” Matthew said, thinking about it. After hearing that and seeing what she’d done for the urchin girl earlier, Matthew had come to the conclusion that whatever Mei’s family as a whole did to fuel their above-board trading and their smuggling business, Mei herself had her heart in the right place. There was no way that he couldn’t want to help her after that, and it was a job, after all. He’d just be careful about knowing exactly what it was he was carrying around the city.

So in the end with all of these things in mind, he nodded. “It’s okay, I don’t need the time to think. I’ll work for you.” Mei’s reaction was startling; her entire face seemed to light up in the space of about five seconds. In fact, she looked as though she would have hugged Matthew if the fact that they had only known each other for a little over ten minutes weren’t holding her back.

“Oh, thank you!” she beamed. “This will be such a great help to us, having someone else to help out!” Still beaming, she reached for the teapot again, motioning for Matthew’s cup. “More tea? I think I’m going to have some more. We can sort out things like your wages and that sort of thing before you leave.”

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