Frolicking with the deer in Nara had shattered that notion. I had tried to fend off the deer with my wings the first time, moving on once the episode was over, but those repressed memories flowered into a dream of transforming into a peryton, a winged deer watching over the forests and rivers and common deer, just as I had been transformed from unicorn to alicorn by Luna.
Spindle: Parcly woke up later than normal because of that, tangled around her own bottle and dazed. I suggested that she relax in an onsen somewhere, which would mean another day trip. At this she shook her head, so I referred her to a poster announcing the 62nd Arima Kinen (有馬記念), which had been run two days prior.
"That's nearer to Tokyo than Osaka!" she retorted. Her reflexes kicked in, sending her hooves to her mouth, since Arima is also an onsen town in Kobe, which meant we would be visiting some part of all three cities in the Keihanshin. Her eyes lit up and we were on our merry way.
Parcly: Part of the charm of Arima is its inaccessibility by train, leaving the crashing waterfalls and subtle sloshes of waves undisturbed. I bought a ticket on Hankyu's bus network for a one-hour direct link from their Osaka terminal to Arima, then rolled with the onboard vibrations to prepare both mind and body for the water. After alighting, I soared across steep inclines and staircases to the Grand Hotel, my spirits lightening once I stepped into its warm interior.
Spindle: Just before it closed, we snagged a lunch set at a Japanese restaurant in the hotel (Western and Chinese equivalents were also available). Contrary to its name, there were only a finite number of rooms, but we weren't going to stay in one. We were just here for its underground onsen, Yurari, which could really wash Parcly's worries away.
Parcly: This time, the female (紗の湯) and male (季の湯) parts were left and right of a T-junction housing reception. From the number of taken locker keys I inferred very few other ponies using the facilities, pleasing my mind.
Sharing a room with the shower stalls was an acidic "gold" bath I soaked in first, containing iron ions imparting a red hue. When the water level reached my heart, I could not see my cutie mark, only lukewarm water nibbling stubborn particles off my coat. Further down, a rough abrasive floor protected my hooves from numbness. Sweat nucleated across my exposed coat, at which I scooped water up and loosened my magic grip overhead, taking care not to ingest the salty water. Closer I went to melting my muscles, and I repeated this five times.
In the next room, separated by double-glazed windows to minimise heat transfer, was the "silver" bath containing more silicates and carbonates, hotter by a notch. Indicated as colourless, I discerned a faint blue tinge from external light reflecting off walls. Two pools were cascaded; I started with the lower one, pressing my back against the drop, a vertical bed of heated rock and water. In the upper pool I revelled in the loneliness: nopony to disturb me, nothing above me, a scene I lived countless times in the moonlit hallways of Canterlot Castle.
Tolerating the outdoor bath under winter temperatures was easier after my whole body was warmed to tenderness. I did see a hoofful of mares in the outermost standing pool and the water wasn't very hot to the touch anymore – not gold or silver, just normal mineral water. Then I transferred to the cold bath, manipulated a blob of water above me and…
"SHIOK! That's why those monks stand under waterfalls!" Pain or no pain, down to the bone, raw nature coursed through my veins, forcing my third eye open for a brief moment.
Of course, an onsen session should not be linear. I retraced my steps, dipping again in the silver, then gold baths to bracket that amazing feeling of cold water on hot body in cold weather with a prologue and epilogue of hot water. It seemed fitting that I left the hotel at dusk, yellow aura of the sun and first-quarter moon splitting the sky equally.
Spindle: The hotel shuttle took us to JR's Arima bus station on one side of the river-shaped public onsen. We had tickets back to Osaka from our search for Hankyu's terminal there, but the driver announced that traffic jams would stretch the total time to two hours and encouraged further travel from Sannomiya (三ノ宮), where we continued to the intended destination on an express train.
Parcly: It was our last sleeping night in Japan, so we went to the nearby Hankyu Department Store to buy lots of food, including our dinner (beef rice) and succeeding breakfast (imagawayaki, 今川焼き) as well as presents for my master Luna. I had no need to shower upon returning to our apartment – Arima had done it for me and my coat was silkier than my genie mist, or a cloud for that matter.
With one press on a remote control the bedroom light dimmed, like a white dwarf cooling down into a black dwarf, and I pulled the blanket tight over my shoulders.