The crow touched down beside the chunk of necrotic meat discarded on the forest floor. The next moment, it was wresting for its life.
Underbrush churned, soil, feathers and dead leaves thrown up in bunches as the screaming bird thrashed around in a useless effort to shake off the attacker. Another moment, and its cries devolved into retching gurgling when the raw, purple tendrils wrapping round it found its throat. The avian’s tiny, crimson eyes began weeping bloody tears.
Yet having its nape speared through was only the first of the bird’s suffering.
The crow’s flesh was swelling and undulating, cracking the sheath of its skin where the rampant growth proved the worst. It rolled on its side, wracked by spasms, death fluids spraying or leaking out of the wounds in sticky, glutinous strings, its body devouring itself from inside, its cells consuming one another and reforming in a grotesque parody of genetics. Toothless, porous orifices gaped open with a smack in the attacker’s excited form, and it was through those it began lapping up the liquefied flesh oozing off the avian’s hollowed bones.
An innocent onlooker may think it satisfied, twitching delightfully as it fed on the rapidly disassembling carcass.
An old fox, too aged to hunt, but not too old to register the death cries of a prey, poked its head out the nearby clump of bracken, its scavenger brain already gushing slaver out its mouth in anticipation of tasty leftovers. A spike of red, hyper-oxygenated flesh lashed out, burrowing in its chest cavity and pumping virulent poisons. At the end of the minute the animal’s body was no more than a broth of spoiled fluids and indigestible calcium.
A wealth of shapeless, heaving meat now lay piled on the forest floor among the wet dirt. Slowly, and the creature began to compress its naked mass inward. Then, a series of bizarrely deliberate protrusions erupted from its sides. The protrusions began to take shape, four of them thin and elongated, and one fat and rounded, at last granting the creature the satisfaction of a logical form. The longer ones split at the ends, fashioning first into fingers and toes, then palms and feet, muscular calves and forearms, and powerful thighs. Not unlike milk left out in the Sun, a coat of bubbly, viscous skin boiled out onto the surface of the muscle, curdling into a soft, creamy casing as soon as touched by air. The thing’s body worked jerkily, the still-exposed tissues pulling taut as it gave its sovereign attention to the final remaining extremity.
The fat globe of yet-uniform meat between the now fully-moulded shoulders pulsed and contracted in preparation for what came next.
Then, out of the fleshless chaos, the most complex organ of all began to abruptly take form.
Three words birthed from the infant brain, before it inevitably gave out under a blast of feedback from the newly connected nerves:
A stab of light came. Then, with a wooden tock, it went.
A scurrying of feet on straw mats could be heard, nearing. Then those, too, did stop. Someone disturbed the covers on the futon. Something churned beneath them, tugging them back and begging five more minutes, or three failing that. Almost it settled on just one, when the covers tore away, went flying.
“No sleeping in,” said a voice, female and good-humoured, but brooking no disagreement. “Ours is the first watch. Come on, now!”
A human had issued from beneath the blankets, as tall and wide as a man grown, yet as sticky- and gum-eyed as a babe fresh from its mother’s womb. The pitiful occupier of the now-naked bed gave an equally pitiful whimper. Then he curled up in a foetal position, and went back to sleep.
Yamame Kurodani, her patience drawing – not quite straining, but drawing all the same – leaned down, and allowed her upper lip to curl over her fangs. She lowered still on a second thought, pushing unruly hair behind one ear, until its longest strands pooled on the beddings.
Then, she whispered:
The man – if this had indeed been his intent – made an expertly impression of a landed fish. One flop and he was off the mattress. Another, and he was across the room. Yet another, and he was banging the back of his head on the far wall.
There was no accusation in his stare when Yamame looked. Only a dim apprehension – the stripe which may be seen at a dinner table, when a singularly obscure ingredient is named. Yamame returned to her full height, smiling at the mischief. The man’s expression, as well, softened – by degrees.
The last time she had delivered on the threat – and it was a deserved one – had consigned him to bed for a full fortnight, threaded through with sights and experiences neither of them wished repeated. They both knew this. None of it stayed the ritual from happening. Yamame Kurodani was a monster. An earth spider. The deadliest maladies bent to her whim at the tip of a finger; any threat issued by Yamame was akin to thunder rumbling on the horizon. Too far to be an immediate danger; too close still to leave the air undisturbed.
Yet most importantly, Yamame Kurodani was an easily tickled creature. And tickle she did. Unable to hold herself in check any longer, the most dreaded of Underworld’s spinstresses split at the seams with tumultuous laughter.
“You looked like you’d seen a hungry bear!” she managed to snort out. Then, wiping the tears from her acid yellow eyes, she began for the door. “Wash your doe face and join me outside. We’re turning the project in today.”
The man confirmed. Never speaking, never releasing a motion in excess; but he made a faint nod, and that was reply enough. Yamame laughed once more, as she was wont to do. Then she was gone.
Once, the dark underground passage may have been jagged and treacherous. Now, gentle steps had been graven in the floor, climbing ever upwards in a perfect basalt row. With each taken, the hem of Yamame’s earthen dress bounced jauntily up and down.
No lanterns lit the way here, nor did the absence of alcoves or torch-rings attest to the opposite ever being the case before; for these were tunnels hewn by and for the Underworld’s builders, who were of preternatural sight. Still the man walking behind Yamame did not stumble, or fall. Long days (or were they, in a realm without Sun?) bidden in the underground had accustomed his human eyes to the dark; even now they picked out the outlines of each next step almost as surely as Yamame’s. Where they failed, where the dress had last bounced proved the next best indicator.
Though scarcely had five minutes melted into the damp underground air, already Yamame was bubbling with impatient humour. A few more steps and it spilled over, and Yamame half-twisted round to look at the one following her up the slope.
“You’re as talkative as I’ve known you,” she said, mock-despairingly. “A real chatterbox! What’s wrong, now? Nervous? It’s my project, not yours, you know. All you need to do is hand it over. I’ll be the one bearing the brunt of criticism.”
The human peered up, offering an apologetic smile, but nothing else.
Yamame rolled her eyes, unseriously. “Those beams for the roof were lop-sided, too,” she complained. “Me and the girls had to cut them down to rights. This left us some space short, of course. Altogether exasperating. Well, it all worked out in the end – or, rather, we made it work out. Whatever matter that makes.” She was fully turned now, walking backwards and animating every sentence with a swing this way, or a toss that one. “All of this could have been avoided, you know. Had we been allowed to use our own material, for one. Well, right, the costs would have been a world above, and let’s not forget the lease rights to logging to boot. I get that much. And even I haven’t seen that many trees growing underground, so that’s one solution out of the picture, but… Something else, perhaps? What do we get down here, again? Mushrooms? Mushrooms could do, right? There are caverns below where they grow as tall as the tallest trees. The stems could be dried, married to some bonding agent… The colour would leave something to be desired, of course. Nothing a touch of paint couldn’t mend, though. The caps could be sold to brewers in the capital. There’s another brand of magic those folks can do with a—”
Yamame almost startled. “Yes? That’s my family name. What about it?”
A flicker of another smile passed over the human’s face. Then a stern expression came on, and it seemed no more than a trick of the dark.
“You will trip,” he said.
Now Yamame almost did. She caught the next step and glared down at the man. “Excuse me? Trip? I?”
He inclined his head, a picture of seriousness. “Trip. You.”
“You are joking!” Yamame humphed. “Have you ever known a spider to trip? In case you’d forgotten, spiders have eight legs – eight! Methinks I can manage two just right, thank you very much.” The spinstress muttered on. “Trip! What a ridiculous idea. Can you imagine a spider tripping on its web? It’d be a death sentence! No, forget that, we are skirting round the core of the issue here. Spiders aren’t designed to trip in the first place! What else but our innate coordination did you think enabled us to build things with our speed? A spider who trips is no spider at all. It’s a… a nay-der! That’s our own truth. Our crafts would have collapsed in on themselves if… they…” The outpour of wounded pride tapered down and broke when Yamame noticed the human rummaging through one of the bags hung from his shoulders. “What are you doing?”
The man continued for a second, before, never answering, he extracted from the bag a chunk of sweet bread wrapped in fatigued paper. He removed the wrapper, gingerly. Then he tore the chunk in two, presenting one half to Yamame. Without thinking, the spinstress received the treat.
The human’s fingers were cold when hers brushed them.
All but she had stuffed her mouth with the food, when a realisation appeared to her mind that squeezed her brows together in a silken frown. Yamame looked first to the bread, then to the human – watching her in anticipation.
“Hooold on,” she said. “Are you trying to shut me up?”
The human shrugged. Then he bit into his share of bread, and delegated his eyes to studying the polished walls.
Yamame had to laugh. So she did. Her voice barraged up and down the tunnel, carrying in all likelihood all the way to the underground capital.
“Very well, you snake!” she surrendered, somehow. “Very well. I won’t bother you anymore.” She sucked in a shivery breath. Then, as if sensing a change oncoming, her nose wrinkled, sniffing at the gradually warming air. “Ah. We’re coming up on the exit soon.”
Once more, Yamame looked to the human, who had – as he always did – kept his true feelings beneath the enigmatic smile he seemed to have reserved for her fooling.
For an abstracted moment, Yamame stared him down. For a moment, she wondered what this human did in her company, and how exactly it had come he had been stranded in the Underworld. For a moment, she questioned what she felt about this circumstance – about him – and what had become of her terrible reputation.
No, she thought, with an ache in her chest she had naïvely imagined forgotten. The reputation was still there. This was why the human yet remained. This was why his mediation had been welcomed.
This was why she could still wake smiling today.
Yamame sighed, just weakly enough for it to miss the human’s dull hearing. Then, she began undoing one of the sashes fashioned into her dress in the like of an obsidian spider web. Her seasoned fingers picked at the loops until the sash slid free.
Indulging a stray and fatuous idea, she brought it shortly to her lips, before holding it out to the man.
“Just a blessing,” she explained, with a wink. “Cover your eyes now. As much priestly as it’d be, we don’t want you going blind… my devoted servant.”
“About as good as it can be,” Yamame appraised, podiumed illustriously on the porch of the newly raised shrine.
The Sun had long concluded its cresting of the sky by the time they met again at the site of Yamame’s most recent work. An hour had passed for the human – and it had been an hour laden with sweat and the pestering of summer insects – since they had split at the mouth of the tunnel; but for Yamame, the same time had been spent in a dash.
After she had flown to their destination (and left the grounded human to arrive on his own time), Yamame had positively hurled into a torrent of minute examinations, adjustments, and finishing touches on the sanctuary she – together with her associates – had hammered from raw wood and wrought iron in the space of previous days. To the credit of herself – as well as said associates – there had not been very many. Still few crafts are given to revealing their flaws immediately upon completion, and Yamame’s had proven no different that day.
The human threw down the handle of the pushcart he had, appropriately, pushed here from the secret entrance to the Underworld, and surveyed the freshly tidied grounds around the shrine. The action appeared comedic at least to Yamame’s mind, since the man remained blindfolded in order to protect his maladapted eyes, so she was chuckling as she hopped from the platform (where she had stood admiring her work) down to the recently upraised and repacked dirt. This was nothing out of the rule, and met with no reaction from the human. Though Yamame was sure he had seen her move, even through the sash wound around his head.
A reaction did come, but only after she asked, “When are we meeting our contractor?”
The blindfolded head rotated, with difficulty – as though on a rusted pivot. Yamame knew the answer even before the sweat-drenched lower half of her helper’s face opened its mouth to vocalise it.
“We?” repeated the man. Then, processing what had been said, he added, “… When the Sun crowns the Goddesses’ Mount.”
“How poetic. Which is?”
“You’re the poet here,” Yamame gave up. “I’ll hold you to that, then.”
She had no sooner made about to return to the porch, than the human’s rare voice stopped her. “Kurodani.”
“You’ve confirmed that one already,” Yamame groaned, irritating against her best effort. “It is my family name. What about it?”
Oh, I had expected this, she thought. Which nonetheless did nothing for her humour souring.
Yet just as fully as Yamame wished the man’s dogged insistence crushed and blown in his face, she knew he had in fact a wealth of reasons. Good, practical reasons, all for wanting her precluded from negotiations, once the other humans – ones who had commissioned the shrine – arrived to claim. The sort of reasons – to the letter – which Yamame hated the most.
Yamame wrenched around – on her own rusted pivot – and found herself recipient of an unseeing stare. There were eyes staring at her from beneath the fabric of the blindfold – of this she was roughly certain. Still, being unable to read them dropped a stone of weakness into the pit of her stomach.
Yamame wanted to stay. She knew she should not, but wanted it all the same. An all too common dilemma.
A full minute had buzzed by on cricket wings before Yamame discovered she had not as much shut them as clamped them shut, and her brows were beginning to hurt. So she unclamped them. The irises of her eyes constricted at the returned light.
There was little light in those eyes, however, when Yamame gave their full slit-pupilled favour to the cause of their gymnastics. The human had endured in the same faintly disapproving pose, putting no effort toward differentiating himself from a man-shaped root, grown out from the middle of the shrine grounds and poised to stumble. Stumble Yamame – if nobody else. And did I not boast my species’ impeccable control earlier today? she thought miserably. To her resigned amusement, she reasoned words meant scarce little to roots anyway.
“Very good,” Yamame breathed, and her helper became just that touch less like a statue. “Very good… you snake. I’ll leave you to your entertainment.”
“… Very good.”
Had it been a reply, or a mockery of her capitulation? But Yamame knew this language, and it was that of indignation; and the real snake was the one in her craw, writhing. The spinstress willed it down, if only for an instant. She had a man to play.
“Your welfare hangs on this as well, you know,” she said, propping her hands on her hips. “You are confident you won’t cry ‘Yamame!’ when they start pointing out details? Asking questions? Griping about those beams? Maybe I should stay nearby just in case, hmm?”
“Trust me,” said the human – with rather more conviction than she had prepared for.
Yamame’s jaw unlocked to release more hollow doubts to the midday air, but just as soon it clacked back close. Slowly, and the doubts shrivelled up and suffocated – one by one. Yamame’s arms drooped along her sides. This time she managed to speak.
“I do,” she murmured. “I do trust you.”
The scariest part was, she had absolutely meant it.
Had this human been any more inflexible than he already was, he may well have been a needle stuck in a lock. Or a twig stuck in a web, Yamame cringed inside. The nod he was now slowly producing already seemed a huge concession on his part. Another time, and Yamame would have been of a mind to help it along. Now, she remained at a safe half of one. At any rate she would be yanking his head down later, if it proved her trust had been misplaced.
With a confused sense of disappointment, she realised the chances for that were slim.
“So then,” she said, looking off to the side at nothing that would appear significant to a human, “we will meet somewhere along the way, yes? Somewhere on the road. No worries, I’ll stay off of it so as not to run into our benefactors.”
Almost she responded with a smirk. “Guess it’s out of my hands now, huh? Well. It’s your show from now on, then.” The smirk mellowed out to a smile, and this Yamame safely gave to her human. “You do me good now, hear? This might be just another shrine to you, but it is a heart’s child to me. I want her new parents to be proud of her, too.”
“Yes,” he replied. “I understand.”
Now this I don’t believe. “Give it your best,” she told him all the same, “and there’s a hug in it for you.”
Had Yamame been anyone else, she could have wounded at the twisting of the man’s mouth.
Yet Yamame was nobody if not herself, and she rewarded it the same way she did most things which didn’t either cause her to run or start fighting.
Cackling still, she loped off out under the shrine’s torii gateway.
The instance the trees had taken her from the human’s sight, she broke around in a tight arc.
A spider did not live as long as Yamame had without learning the importance of surrounding geography, and Yamame had lived longer than she cared to confess anywhere but in front of a mirror. Trees were pecking and grasping at the fluttering skirts of her dress as she zoomed past; only Yamame’s supernatural awareness stayed her from becoming caught in their net. That, or a wet, crimson splatter on one of the ageless trunks.
The instincts held, and within the minute Yamame had arrived before a tree different from most surrounding it. Thicker it was – this much readily apparent – but taller as well, Yamame already knew, and thusly ideal for her purpose. There was little speed to be had in her careful journey up the tree – secrecy being an issue at this stage – but sooner than she could second-guess the minutiae of her plan, the spinstress was poking her curious head out from the highest clumps of leaves. The dizzying height meant nothing to a spider – even less to a spider who flew as well as spun – and Yamame had but to look around to find she had a clear view of the shrine.
Her human, of course, was there. Two, perhaps three tosses of a stone away, he stood immobile in the heart of the shrine grounds, his blindfolded gaze focused on the torii gate through which Yamame had left. An unknowable end (as well as source) had in Yamame’s brief absence placed in his hand a long, wooden pole, almost as tall as the man himself. A staff perhaps, or another sort of utility stick, the pole was stout at the end he kept smothered in the dirt; but toward the top it tapered out, rounding off with a gnarled, distorted bit – as though the branch had fallen ill at that point, and had had to be aborted. Yamame was reminded of those ceremonial sceptres wielded by the priests and priestesses of the realm; yet to what satisfaction her own priest required proof of his power beyond dealing with the earth spiders and living to tell the tale – Yamame couldn’t begin to guess.
As the afternoon lazily unrolled over the land, and the human never moved, though – she allowed her thoughts to wander.
The previous few days had been trying. Never more trying than today – but when today had had Yamame submit to a human, there was plenty of trying below available. The beams – which even now remained a thorn in her side – were but the opening of the blow hole. Yamame had never considered who her employer was – such details both beneath her notice and the sparse vocabulary of her helper – but the reality was plain the person who had ordered and provided material for the shrine was not one about to sleep with a bill longer than his nose. Two bags of nails from the five trundled up to the build site had been rusted; meshes for the panels meant to become the shrine’s sliding walls had borne the sour tinge of a few months’ mould; and had Yamame and her co-workers not been wedded to their own tools, they would have been left using their teeth and fists to hammer in the nails and saw the wood. Maybe, Yamame thought, maybe it is good I left. Other than… the other reasons to be gone, Yamame had a mouthful of acid to be spat at whoever had conceived mouldy was the new architectural mode.
And a pool of goo did not pay as well as a person, however miserly.
As she was chuckling at the picture, all of a sudden Yamame realised a team of humans had turned out from the forest without her notice, and was now filing into the clearing. A procession of menials and servitors – labouring at carts laden with packaged goods, as well as ones tossed haphazardly onto piles to be moved to the new sanctuary – was approaching Yamame’s helper, who stood to meet them on what he must have deemed neutral ground. Headed by a stately woman – the matriarch, Yamame guessed – and her husband, the column halted within prudent twenty paces of the staff-wielding man.
Words were exchanged.
Then, Yamame’s human tapped the foot of his staff on the ground three measured times.
Then, the matriarch’s husband (to Yamame’s surprise, not the matriarch herself) approached with an extended arm. The two men clasped hands, wagging them like so up and down another three times – too precise to be accidental. Tension in the clearing, however tentative it had been to begin with, seemed to snap and vanish at the completion of this ritual; and the leader of the arrived humans motioned at the others to resume their work. The servants began moving again, scattering round the grounds in the sort of organised chaos their stripe did, while Yamame’s human spoke with their lord.
And then, Yamame became aware she could not hear what was being said.
Yamame Kurodani – the spider, builder of the Underworld, Yamame Kurodani the spinstress, mother of plagues, but most importantly Yamame Kurodani the woman – was not partial to swearing. Many of her associates were – could swear up a storm worse than a vengeful spirit, in fact – but Yamame herself had ever thought swearing an act of weakness.
And yet she swore. She grabbed at the first eldering god who came to mind, and condemned it to fates she would not have wished on her worst enemies.
Already her human had engaged his kinsman in keen conversation. The man, who had so rarely spoken to Yamame at length greater than a few words, was now gesturing round, no doubt speechifying on the spiders’ craftsmanship – while she, the spider in question, received no benefit of it. A pang of jealousy, which did not quite register in her conscious mind, flexed the joints of her fingers. Yamame wanted to hear. More than the settling of payment, more than the new purpose of her creation, more even than assessment of its quality. Yamame wanted to hear what was being said about her.
The warm, summer air around her shimmered as her senses began extending outward.
A phantom cracking sound played in the back of Yamame’s head as, from the puncture in her outmost barrier, a great, brown abdomen – heavy, round, bristling with hairs – agonisingly emerged. Two powerful limbs – thrice-segmented, each as thick as a grown man’s thigh – immediately followed. Another two did the same. And yet two more. Some of the legs found purchase at once; others still flailed for a moment or two before lodging the spider’s fat body in place. A monster had slipped in through the gaps in reality: a terrible legend, once again – if only temporarily – given loathsome flesh.
The ancient tree, already brittle from age and elements, groaned and sagged precariously under the weight.
None of this warranted the tiniest flicker of the spider’s attention. The feelings hairs on its legs stood at attention, sifting the breeze for the one particular frequency which concerned it. The air was rife with distractions. A type of small, four-legged prey species was nesting at the tree’s foot; in the neighbouring one’s crown the desperate cries of young avians raked the shivering leaves. Away yet, not-prey in numbers was milling about a clearing in the forest, which the spider knew on some level was important.
This, a voice prodded it from within. A female. Focus on this!
The spider’s body obeyed on its own accord, and its brain saw no reason to resist.
“—but this is most unexpected,” one of the bipedal not-prey was vibrating at another. “This is simply incredible. To think a god in our land commanded such respect… My apologies; forgive me, master. What did you say his name was?”
The voice (yes, voice, not a mere vibration) which gave the answer moved a mysterious piece in the spider’s primitive heart. What the piece was, and why it moved now – these questions made no matter to the arachnid mind.
“Paran…” The first not-prey struggled with the syllables. “Paransa…”
“Paran,” provided the other, the more important one. “Paran is apt. My lord takes no offence.”
“And your name, master?”
“By my lord’s illimited grace, I bear the same name.”
“Master Paran, then.” The less important not-prey clapped the ends of its upper limbs together. The sound was irritating. “You’ll forgive me if I confess I believed you a fraud at first. To countenance a god exists who controls the earth spiders…”
A certain earth spider perched a lunge’s length away bridled at the implication, until the same voice from before hushed its rising choler. Not-prey, it whispered. Not-prey, not-prey… Now, listen!
A lilt was present in the other bipedal’s voice when it spoke, which the spider associated someway with a filled stomach. “My lord Paranseberi does not command the earth spiders,” it corrected, “regrettably; but he commands their respect, as you eloquently put it, and that is enough. My lord’s patronage grants me a degree of… imperviousness to the spiders’ poisons. Thus I walk among their kind. Thus to them I speak.”
“Yes, yes,” said the other one, “blessed art thou immune to those wicked creatures’ weapons. Your lord, Paran, deals with terrible things, but he is a merciful one. Cherish him till the end of your days. Though as for the earth spiders…” The not-prey excreted a fat globe of spit onto the ground. “A pox upon those abominations.”
“Ye-es,” replied the important not-prey, an odd pitch swaying its voice. “A pox indeed.”
The two humans (was that what they were?) shared a laugh at their bonding – one loud and unrestrained, the other tight and subdued. Then they entered the strange wooden cave bulging from the forest ground, and were heard no more.
What was that?
The female voice in the spider’s head was wondering aloud; and almost the spider answered, in its own spider-manner, when a lulling hand descended on its mind.
Too sudden. Too sudden and powerful was the hand. No defence mounted but for a twitch of its mandibles, the horrible legend faded gently back into obscurity.
What took its place among the now-splintered branches of the great tree was a creature in the shape of a young human woman.
Minutes later, the human known among his own as Paran exited the shrine to find the grounds trampled and abandoned. In the time it had taken his contractor to inspect the shrine the servants had moved on indoors, now outfitting the new temple to Inari with the spoils they had brought.
Under the enormous blood-red gateway, Paran’s tiny pushcart waited – loaded now with the goods agreed as the price. Though one promised item had been unfortunately missing, the shrine’s new owner’s good humour ensured a replacement being at once provided. Paran confirmed now a box different from the rest had been added to the pile. Thusly satisfied, he hefted the pushcart’s handle and began at a heavy slog down the road back to the Underworld’s entrance.
At the utmost second, however, he stopped.
He stopped, put the cart down, turned around, and spat viciously. A few words grated out of his throat which no one heard but Paran.
Thusly satisfied, the priest grabbed the cart again, and left.
All of this, Yamame – pressed to the opposite side of a nearby tree – took in with growing mystification in her heart.
The human’s chin buoyed up at being so greeted. In the middle of the road Yamame was standing, arms crossed behind her back. The man, labouring with the cart, worked out a noncommittal grunt of reply. Then he pushed the cart past her, and continued on.
The spinstress smiled, before spinning round on a heel and joining pace with the human at a prim three steps’ distance.
“So? How went it?” she asked, leaning over to get a better look at him. “All good, I hope? No floorboards gave in under the opulence of their new owner? The roof still whole? Those beams really should have been thicker, you know.”
The man risked a crick in his neck by glancing over to the giddy woman. Then, his gaze slid down to the prizes stacked upon his cart, as though they alone could make their own case.
“Ah,” said Yamame. “All according to plan, then. Good job.”
A smile began to tug at the human’s sweat-sheened cheeks, but a sudden bump in the road robbed Yamame of seeing it bloom. A pox upon that bump, she amused the irony of the curse in her head. Then, once no further reaction was secured from her human, Yamame fell back a step yet, cloaked in a musing quiet.
For the next long moments, she watched the cadence of his shoulders rising and falling to the work of his feet. Yamame had never before now paid this attention, but the shoulders were considerably wider than hers. The rest of the human’s torso as well, and all four sinewy limbs; though Yamame nursed no doubt hers was yet the superior physical strength, no matter the human’s size. Still the image slotted somehow into her imagination – like the primary threads of a web joining at a perfect angle.
These were strange thoughts, and Yamame shook them out of her brain through her ears. More pressing observations were yet to be made. Such as…
… The human locking up for a split second at the mention of the name.
The blindfolded head whipped around, a frown rising up above the upper edge of the sash. “How—” The question died, its answer quicker than its predecessor. The answer was Yamame’s sheepish grin. “Kurodani,” the man hissed. “You’d promised you would leave.”
“And do you humans not speak of spinning webs of lies? Never mind that,” Yamame slashed his objections in two with a slice of the hand. “More interestingly – to me, to you – that word: Paran. That’s your name, isn’t it?”
The reply came delayed. “… No.”
“No,” asserted the human, steadier by the moment. “It is not.”
“This is a tough stone to swallow,” said Yamame, “what with that grimace just now. Well, if that’s what you say, that’s what you say… Paran.”
Now the pushcart screeched to a halt. It reeled on the spot, all but spilling its precious contents, only prevented by the human re-seizing it at the last instant.
“I am not Paran!” barked Paran. He grunted with effort, heaving the cart back up. “Paranseberi doesn’t exist. I made him up, to excuse my acquaintance with you earth spiders. He is no more than a story. A mask.”
“I don’t care about Paran the god,” said Yamame. “I care about Paran the human.”
A second passed, and Yamame registered the embarrassing innuendo of what she had said; but if the man huffing over the pushcart had done the same, he did not show it.
“… They are one,” he said after a pregnant pause. “They are one and the same.”
Yamame opened her mouth to further question this “Paran” and his alleged non-existence, but then the smarter part of her mind engaged, and she realised she had touched a nerve.
The pause, heavy until now, gave an explosive birth, and plenty of smaller pauses let fly on the cloying air, leaving a wall of silence between the spinstress and her human, who was not Paran.
That was indelicate, thought Yamame, shame squeezing a blush out onto her face. And we spiders were supposed to be subtle. A betrayer idea came, that Yamame should dig herself deeper still and remind the man of the hug she had promised would be his; but then it popped like a bubble of soap, and Yamame thanked his being turned the other way. A reward was due, that much civility was demanding – but what kind? Yamame scoured the reaches of her experience to find how she may reimburse a human’s services, and found…
… That she absolutely did not know.
A frown, twin to the man’s from minutes ago, creased the bridge of her nose. Had he been one of her own, a decent meal would have satisfied protocol; most of the indecorous Oni she had bargained with on occasion would placate with rare enough alcohol. The mind-reader vicereine of Old Hell took no reward, gratified with being left to her unique loneliness. The Kappa and the Tengu who populated the cliffs of the Goddesses’ Mountain similarly held no value to an earth spider’s currency. The goddesses themselves… those in contrast were easy to content.
Yet what of humans?
More urgently, what of this one, who pushed his cart on in a cloud of agitated fumes?
( ) A visit in a bath house, maybe? ( ) This was a task best left to one of Old Hell’s drinking halls. ( ) Or maybe she could simply entertain him on her own.
(X) Or maybe she could simply entertain him on her own.
An absence of ideas whirred over Yamame’s empty head like a puff of flies that refused to land. This, while something she had at times had to deal with, did nothing to appease her, or to advance a solution. But what could she do? Yamame was a spider. Flies came to her, not otherwise.
So it must be with ideas.
Yamame’s human rolled on, unapprised of the sullen resignation settling in just four steps behind him. The steps then became three, then two, then only one. Still he sensed nothing, until Yamame spoke.
“So,” she said. “That’s another job done. What does this mean for us?”
The human glanced over, surprised at the innocuousness of the question. Yet after a brief reflection an answer came to him, which he obediently turned over.
“… We are jobless,” he concluded.
“Well, yes,” tsked Yamame, “we are jobless; but more importantly – we are off the job. What does this mean?”
“What does it?”
“Obviously,” Yamame shrugged, “I’m going to be sending you out to grab another assignment before long. The last few have been fun; and I confess, human-fashion buildings are a trial I’ve savoured so far. I’d like to keep doing those. There are considerations there that challenge my previous exposure. The need for weather-proof roofing, for one. Or upper floors which won’t simply be flown up to. I seldom had to account for those in the Underworld. It’s a new thing, and it has been enlightening. And really, really fun – reception notwithstanding.”
The human made a grunt that could have meant anything.
“At any rate,” went on Yamame, “you and I both have deserved a touch of rest. So I’m declaring a day or two off. Just so you know.”
“These will need to be set in,” the man pointed out, with his long nose aimed square at the packs of goods.
“A day or two off of the main job. You’re my envoy, but also my house-minder. That includes stacking boxes. And on this sensational topic…”
This bit of selfishness released, Yamame skipped up to the cart, and pounced on the first box which arrested her eye. This, Yamame’s eyes being sharper than those of creatures lesser than she, proved the one box disparate in packaging from the rest.
“They will be hard to sleigh down the stairs if they are ripped apart,” warned Yamame’s human, even as Yamame stabbed her fingers into the coloured wax paper. “Kurodani, please—”
“Oh, be quiet,” hushed the spinstress, extracting the first item within out into the light of day.
The item swished and unfurled to become a lavish garment of the deepest gold – a dress so bright and glittering that almost Yamame lost her colour in comparison.
Then she did lose her colour, and her brows attempted to make a single line over her eyes.
“Whaaat is this?” she whined, shaking the dress back and forth to the risk of blindness for anyone on looking. “What is this? I wanted fabrics! Not ready-made clothes. I wrote that down, too! Why are there dresses?”
Her human screwed up his mouth. “The fabrics,” he said, “they forgot to bring. These… were given as substitute.”
“What am I supposed to do with these?” Yamame grumbled on. “The material is fine and all, but these aren’t even my size!” She brought the dress flat to her front, only to expose she had missed the evaluation. “All right, I stand corrected. These almost are my size – but that’s off the point. They’re ridiculous! Humans really wear these?”
“And this one? And this? Or this?” Yamame removed further pieces one by one. All were dazzling, all were brilliant, some – very daring. And every one teased out a chuff of scepticism from the Underworld’s great architect. “Whoever spun these must have been in her cups. Not that anything’s wrong with that, but… Fish-scale? You are joking. It’s polished to a mirror shine, too. That’s some devotion to the cause. No, I respect the work done here. Not saying I’d wear it anywhere but indoors, but I respect it. There’s an earmark of skill here. Married to no hint of taste, but a lot of skill all the same. These stitches must have been hours… Still, human women are something else. Why would they wear something like this?”
“To… attract males?” guessed the most nearby human.
“There’s a funny idea,” scoffed Yamame. “And you would be caught?”
The man coughed uncomfortably. “They’re… certainly noticeable.”
Yamame Kurodani did not hear a twang of stretching thread – though her inner senses held otherwise. The latest dress excavated from the outcast box – little more than a bathing suit shaped painstakingly of minuscule jet rings which gleamed like spilled ink in the Sun – began to drag on the ground as her arms slacked. She yanked it up, awareness sparking back on like a flickering lamp.
Her human was staring on the road ahead, unaware of her little slip.
“Can you not still use these?” he asked.
And then, an idea landed.
Yamame tossed the black piece on the cart to be reunited with its sisters in a garish mound of expensive cloth. A grin worked out onto her face, which chased her previous indecision away at a scamper. To repurpose the dresses as something more approaching practicality would be easy. The stitching was complex – in places convoluted – but nothing beyond Yamame’s skill. To remove it without ruining the fabric would be a simple, if long, matter.
But, before that, perhaps these pieces could be given their one last honour.
“Yes,” Yamame said resolutely. “Yes. In fact, I can use them.”
When Yamame at last slumped face-first onto the buffed cushions of her sofa, it was hours since the business topside. The hours had been less than pleasant – rather approaching drudgery than a glorious return, with the boxes having to be towed all the way down to Yamame’s underground home. Now that they had been, however, and gutted of their many treasures, Yamame could permit herself to slump. So she had, with all due dispatch.
Her human was showering.
Though shower may be a generous term, where it comprised a tiny cabin plopped behind the house and a bucket with holes punched in the bottom hung from the ceiling; but with water heated over the cooking fire, and a bar of good soap, it might be very well applied. Water enough was supplied from the subterranean stream nearby; and with Yamame’s latest project paid off, there were now soaps until the top of the shelf in her storehouse. Among other items which never would have been found there only a few months ago. Soaps, tools, fabrics, foods and condiments, and bottles of rare drink, even chunks of shiny metals forged into curious shapes by the gifted smiths of the Human Village – for she had lacked for none of these since admitting the human into her service. The fascinating challenges of over-world architecture were one thing; another entirely were the benefits of working with such a sophisticated culture as one which sewed its clothes of silk and polished fish-scale.
Yamame rolled onto her side. The box of dresses she had smuggled out whilst the human had been securing the perishable foods now waited in her bedroom – itching to deliver its contents their final rite, before those, too, were torn into basic constituents. Not long now, the spinstress sent out to the box, which didn’t deign to send a reply back. Yamame giggled to herself at its obstinacy.
An iron hinge squeaked, and Yamame climbed to all fours to see her human entered through the back door of the house. The man, towelling fiercely at his hair, was as roseate as an infant. The loose-fitting robe he was bundled up in – which Yamame had tailored for him from one of the previous hauls – complemented the sight in a way she found oddly gratifying, in an aesthetic sense.
Yamame shuffled aside when he approached, then bounced up when he dropped on the couch just as bodily as she had, minutes before. The entire sequence of events made her giggle all over again.
The human was glaring from beneath a mess of towel and hair.
Yamame swatted the glare aside with a wave and a smile. “Nothing,” she said. “How was it, then? Washed your hair?”
“… I did.”
“Good. Let me see.”
The man went still as Yamame jerked the towel from his hands. Then he went even stiller when she took his head by the temples, tugged it close herself, and breathed in.
The soap had definitely a nice scent to it. A rich, earthy aroma over all, with a trace of freshly skinned wood, a smattering of citrus, and an underrunning shadow of something which Yamame couldn’t place, but which associated with a great body of water in her mind. A somewhat heady aroma, but decidedly better than the last month’s yield.
Yamame let go, sitting back on her haunches and humming to herself in approval. “Yes,” she said, “that’s really good. I like that. You should do this more often. Maybe I don’t understand you humans’ love of running water, but for this I’m willing to admit my wrong. We should have gone down and stopped by the bath house in the capital. This’d have impressed the eyelashes off of those prissy damsels what go there. Maybe even some males, too. Well, a bit too late for that now. Maybe next time. You’re fine with getting in a tub with other boys and girls, right?”
Yamame closed her eyes. “You mean me, or any of my hundred brood sisters?”
When she looked again, the human was as immune to indirect suggestion as he had ever been. “That’s clear as clear,” gave up Yamame, “given it’s only you and me here. What is it?”
“I must apologise.”
“You must? You are sure?”
“Yes. I have treated you unfairly.”
These revelations keep piling up today, thought Yamame. “Tell me where and when, and I’ll give you a good telling off, then. ‘Cause, to my ear and eye, you’ve been mostly the same as usual today.”
The human winced. “I… mean the ‘Paran’ thing.”
“Oh?” Now he had her full attention – or fuller anyway than he had already. “What about the ‘Paran’ thing?”
“My… reaction was overmuch. Uncalled for. I was rude. You had every right to ask.” A groan rattled out of the man’s throat, and he palmed his reddening face. “Merely I… I didn’t intend for you to find out. The very reason my ‘Paranseberi’ came about is redundant and shouldn’t be. He is but a convenient bypass to what prejudice exists against you… You and your kin. An insult that never should have come to pass. You have no gods ruling over you—”
“What’s your point?”
The man choked up at the demand in her voice, but Yamame didn’t rescind it. There was progress attempting to be made here – awkward, belated progress, and the attempt was ponderous at best – but she wanted it made, and soon. So she watched with unrelenting eyes until her flushed human finally released it.
“My… point,” he sank to a whisper, “is that… if you wish, Kurodani… You may call me… You may call me ‘Paran’ – if you so wish.”
And there it is, thought Yamame. And it only took my catching him making me a servant of his god behind my back.
Any other time, and Yamame would have slapped his back and laughed about it all. Not now. Anything but the most serious answer, and she felt all the clumsy development would unspool and siphon back into the black maw of an unreliable future. She had such an answer, of course – had had it for some time, stored away in a dustier, but completely safe corner of her mind. A new part now hovered by, waiting to be attached, but most of the answer had been twined long ago.
The only question which remained: should she attach it? The name of this god who did not exist?
( ) “Paran” it was. And done. ( ) She asked, pointedly, if he had anything else he wanted to be called.
(X) She asked, pointedly, if he had anything else he wanted to be called.
To incur the wrath of a false god seemed an immaterial worry. Nor did Yamame especially fear ones with a claim on reality; yet to take a name of its own quality, and lash it to a person who regarded it so little, sat wrong with her on a philosophical level. A god or no – and real or otherwise – names were powerful things. This much, even in her desire to truly know her human, Yamame – the eight-eyed – could never forget.
“Now, ‘Paran’ is fine and all,” she said, “extremely fine; but is there anything else – anything at all – you would like me to call you? Anything. Only tell me.”
The man, no less flustered than he had been with it there, removed his hand from his face. A surprised face, it turned out, that had left his eyes wider than the rule – wider, perhaps, even than when he had first braved the Underworld’s dark passages. Whether this was due to the yearning in her voice – which she had consciously resolved not to hide – or something else yet, Yamame did not know.
“… Why?” he asked.
A fair question – and one Yamame had been prepared to answer to for months. “Names have power here in the Underworld,” she told him, gravely, “or anywhere else for that matter; but here particularly, by the peculiarities of this place. A soul may be saved – or damned – by the knowledge of its name. As they have been. Gods are born – and killed – by their names attiring them a shape… or stripping it.” The spinstress shed the cautionary tone, commuting it to an easy smile. “Of course, I just want to know you – really, really want to know you.”
“You have known me,” her human pointed out.
“Have I?” chuckled Yamame. “We’ve spent some time together, that’s true; but look at us, really. You journey to the Human Village on your own whenever the last project is handed in; then, when I venture out to work, you stay down here to mind the house. I don’t even know what you do here, when I’m not around!”
“I clean up,” the man quickly supplied, “I manage stores, sometimes I read—”
“And I,” she told him, “never asked. I trust you – I have said this already. Today at the latest. So don’t linger over it. You improved my life a dozen-fold since you waddled down here on your bumbling human legs. More than that, you enabled me to further pursue the one thing which I love. Trusting you is the least I can do to compensate.”
“So what’s the trouble?”
“The ‘trouble’ is that I want to know your name. Trust is won readily by trade, but names – as I said just then, names have power. And I want to have power over you. So give, ‘Paran,’” Yamame begged, staring with hungry eyes; “or if you don’t want me using this name, any of the others you may happen to own. Just give.”
I’m tired of waiting, she urged inside her head. Give!
The man, no longer able to match the thirst in her gaze, looked instead to the hands limply rested on his lap. Human hands, those – but, as Yamame had so pleasantly learned, not without a use. A battle was visibly joined in the man’s chest; but it was swift to become won as the thunder-clouds drained away from his expression.
“No,” he said, some of his morning self’s courage mounting back behind his eyes. “No. I haven’t carried a different name since…” And then, his words faded away, his jaw seized up on the last syllable it had been made to shape. Almost Yamame had thought him lost to some terrible memory, when the human blinked and spoke again, as though the pause had never been there. “No. I have never carried a different name. Just ‘Paranseberi.’”
Yamame slapped a palm against her forehead. All of that – for this? She would go insane if she did not laugh.
And so the human did the only thing he could do: to watch and smile a stripling’s meek smile as Yamame laughed, until her lungs gave out, and the couch quit squeaking underneath them both.
“You,” the spinstress blew out, “are an exercise for patience! Thankfully mine’s as sturdy as my building.” A hand wiped across the eyes, and she regained a kernel of the seriousness she had – mistakenly – assumed would be so vital. “Very good. A cautious route, then. I will call you ‘Paran’ – but only when the circumstance presents, and no-when else. This way, I get the power I want, while you get to keep it under as many wraps as keep it warm to your liking. I have had another, private name for you for the longest time, anyway.”
“What is it?”
“‘My human,’” Yamame said, grinning. “Now, yes-yes, I know,” she went on when her human raised a doubt-laden brow, “very imaginative; but the distinction is very, very important to me. You’ll remember that reputation of mine which ultimately allowed you to sit here now smelling of my soaps. It’s not the sort which endears me to many humans – all but any humans, to be brutally precise. Or precisely brutal. That’s why it’s a meaningful name, for meaningful humans.”
“… I see.”
“And so—” Yamame squared her back, all formal, “—with that out of our way… It is nice to finally meet you: my human, sometimes called Paran.”
“And you as well,” he nodded, “Kurodani.” A few moments trickled away into the silence of the house before the human sometimes called Paran registered Yamame was earnestly standing by for something else. “Is… Is there something else?” he asked. “Kurodani?”
Yamame lurched, her eyelashes fluttering like trapped butterflies. “Huh? Um, huh? There… There wasn’t a ritual to this, too?”
“A ‘ritual?’” The human’s face was a study in scepticism.
Yamame mimicked some manner of gesture, which did not come out half so well enough as to mean anything to Paran. “This thing,” she said, as though it did anyway, “with your palms. I have seen you clasp those with other humans, when you met. Or were you grabbing their wrists? Could have been either. That’s not a ritual of some kind?”
“Yes, rather ‘ah.’”
“No, I mean, that’s what we men do, is all,” the man present explained. “Not a ‘ritual’ in the strictest meaning – though I guess close.”
Yamame slid closer. “What about men and women?”
“I am a woman. A female.”
The human made as though to confirm this titbit visually, before the misplaced information resurfaced quite by itself.
“Well, yes—” he began.
Yamame rode him over. “So how do men and women do this? The same way?”
“Well, they may…”
“Or was there an addition you’re not telling me about? Ah,” Yamame smiled at the misgiving once again twisting the mouth her human. “There was, wasn’t there? No, I know what it is; this tradition has spread recently in Old Hell. Whence – I couldn’t say. Still here it is. They say it goes like this: the male takes the female’s hand—”
“The male,” she stressed, extending one arm, “takes the female’s hand. Take mine. Then, hold it – hold it hori… horizontally.” All of Yamame’s instincts scrambled when the human did cup her hand in his; but she kept the shock of being so deliberately touched under a will so set on its desired end, no hair dared stand on her the back of her neck. “Yes,” she breathed, a little heavier than she’d meant to, “yes, just like that, parallel to the ground. Then… The male puts his lips to the top – the top? – of the female’s palm. Yes, I think that was it. Not to worry. I’m calm – I won’t bite.”
“Kurodani,” grunted her human. “Why are you making me do this?”
“Curiosity?” Yamame made a flat shrug. “Maybe breaking in my newfound power. Maybe something else. I’m not certain. Just following a hunch. Am I making a very big fool of myself?”
“No,” he said. Then, after further considering, he added, “Not very.”
Now came Yamame’s turn to torture her mouth with geometry it was never supposed to fit out. “Then I’m missing some critical component, aren’t I? What? Is the angle wrong? Not the right hand?”
“No. It’s… Only that… Are you calm?”
“Quite calm,” Yamame lied.
“… Very good, then. Very good… Nice to meet you, Kurodani.”
And then, sooner than Yamame may rethink her careless demands, her instructions were dutifully followed.
The spinstress watched, tense as a spring, as her hand was discreetly brought up to her human’s face, and pushed against the warm, tender flesh of his lips.
The sensation was… novel.
Not to say startling – not enough anyway to vindicate her irritable spider’s senses thrashing about in their cage – so Yamame chewed on a nail of her free hand to stave off any frightened cries escaping to make the situation embarrassing for her and her human. The sensation was novel – but, once her most natural response had been snuffed, she had to grudgingly accept nothing to bite over. There were many properties of human women Yamame grasped very loosely (though some she had gathered a tighter hold on in the recent months), but if indeed they enjoyed being greeted in this fashion, and the man called Paran had not simply indulged the overweening ignorance of one blushing earth spider – Yamame could see why it was so. The sensation was novel – but novelty was almost never inherently wrong.
The ritual stretched (or had it only done so in her head?) over to the next minute; still, being as innocent of over-world etiquette as she was, Yamame submitted to her human’s greater expertise. A faint pull of distress tugged at her heart when at last he relinquished first the top of her hand, then the remainder of it.
A disorientated Yamame met the human’s returning attention. Almost, and she would have missed his next words.
“And we men,” he said, “think these pleasantries a waste of time.”
Had it been a joke? If so, Yamame did not understand. “… Good work,” she mustered out, though she couldn’t vouch if it had been. “I definitely feel… connected, now. What a terrifyingly potent ritual.”
The man seated beside her rasped something that could have been a reply, a splutter, snorted laughter, or all three at once.
For a reason she had no time to speculate, Yamame cradled the hand which mysteriously still hadn’t recovered from being used for a contract. For then, out of nowhere, she remembered what she had witlessly forgotten in the flurry of her human’s confession of his name. And none too soon; for the man had only just finished spluttering (or replying, or laughing, or none of the three), when Yamame sprung from the couch to her feet.
The shift in the cushions must have alerted him. On he looked up, to find the spinstress again in her grinning element – even if she did keep one of her hands pressed possessively to her chest.
“Hold out here without me for a minute,” she told him, and if there had ever really been a dishevelled Yamame, this one was not she. “Would you believe I almost forgot? But I’ve got just the best thing for you. A minute, hmm? No more, promise.”
Then, waiting on no consent, she rounded about, and flitted off to melt in the shadows swirling beyond her bedroom’s door.
Just how many humans are brave enough to approach old hell? How many people willingly approach the mistress of diseases? And just how many who are brave enough to do so, are stupid enough to blame Kurodani for a loved one's disease?
OPtimus Prime here. Forgot to mention I’d be working over the weekend so you shouldn’t expect updatery to magic on in. Sorry. You can eyeball the Banki shorts I wrote a while ago over at >>/shorts/1941 to tide you over the meanwhile. Cheers.
>>14871 >blame What are you sprechening about, mate?
When again she emerged, she was more goldfish than spider.
Half across the salon walked this new Yamame, her familiar saunter calling forth a giggling crackle from the dress’s scale-mesh skirt. Having moulted her other two primary colours – earthen and black – this Yamame was a parade of gold. The parade drew up at the couch, and the beautiful lead picked up her skirt to present a teasing bow. Then, she stepped back – stepped back, laughed at the silliness of it all, and span – and the skirt blossomed out like a subterranean flower. What kind of flower grew yet in the Underworld, how it maintained such a golden brilliance and why – these issues concerned neither the dress, nor the Yamame wrapped up inside it.
And united in this lack of concern, the two straightened out in front of the human seated on the couch. Their unity expanded to an unspoken craving of a review – unspoken, but visible on both Yamame’s face and the excited glitter of the dress. At first the human offered none; only he stared on, brows slightly furrowed.
At length words had found him.
“Kurodani,” he said. “Which… part of this is for me?”
Yamame angled her head. “Huh? What do you mean?”
Another pause, and the man had broken into the deeper vaults of his vocabulary. “What I mean is,” he said, grunting (apparently from the effort involved), “how is this for me?”
“That’s the same question, only dressed otherwise,” protested Yamame. “If you’re asking what this is, then for your lamentable human sight, it is a last rite. For these pieces, obviously.” The spinstress gave a bare-shouldered shrug. “You acknowledged and praised their artistry; I acknowledged and praised it as well. Though for my benefit my reasons were somewhat more professional. At any rate, this is a last rite before I tear them apart and utilise the scraps. The last dance for the author of a certain overwrought collection.”
“And my part is…?”
“And your part,” Yamame stabbed a finger at the thick-skulled man, “is to enjoy seeing these pieces you praised filled out one last time. Or, if you were asking practical rather than philosophical, your part is to look and appraise. All creations wish appraisal: dresses, cookery, architecture – no different. Often it is their only remaining pleasure.”
“So,” said the human, understanding dawning, “I am supposed to sit here – and praise the dresses?”
“Ap-praise,” Yamame corrected. “Though if you see nothing wrong, cut the former bit off at your leisure.”
“… Of course.”
The man sat back, crossing his legs. His eyes narrowed as they walked up and down the length of the dress (and the Yamame contained therein). A dark expression gathered behind them like a rainstorm even as they so walked. Why so, however – this Yamame had to ask to know.
“Are you dissatisfied somehow?”
“No.” The examination never slowed down as he answered. “No.”
The spinstress called upon the trust she held for the human, and didn’t research why he had said it twice. Nor speak at all. Not until the inspecting gaze pulled up and stuck at her face. Then she could hold it in no more.
“Well?” she asked explosively.
The man replied, measured and careful: “… You look good in it.”
And so Yamame exploded again – this time with riotous laughter, which made the dress tinkle so much like a brisk underground rivulet all but she doubled over laughing harder.
“What,” she gasped out, “am I getting unstitched tomorrow as well? The dress! What about the dress?”
A smile that must have gone off the bad side twitched briefly on the human’s mouth. Then immediately a new one was brought in to replace the stale specimen, and the man attempted once more: “… It looks good on you.”
Yamame prfed. “Amateur!” Then, she blew out the remaining air between her teeth. “All right, this isn’t working. Maybe this one’s just incompatible with your sensibilities. No helping it. Let me give it a prod.” The spinstress pointed her thumbs to the dress’s shoulder straps. “First off, these are unpadded but for a single layer of rayon. This is not enough for a piece of this overall weight. A thin strip of felt wouldn’t have hurt. Had I worn this all evening, I’d have stood up a stripe-shouldered spider in the morning. Of course, you aren’t squeezed inside here with me, so you couldn’t have known that. What you could have, is that these ruched sides are an absolute farce!” Yamame ran a palm down one rippled flank of the dress. “What is this even for? Have you ever seen a fish? Touched it? Scale is supposed to be smooth – smooth, not rolled up like fat on a Yama’s belly! Isn’t this meant to imitate fish? A fat fish is a dead one! Most of all—” here the spinstress bent down to point out where the dress rounded off in a jagged, scaly line a little above her knee, “—this entire section has no lining whatsoever. I’m scraping my thighs on fish here! A few hours, and I’d need someone to help rub in some soothing salve. Granted, this is the best place to shave off some weight if you’re going to do it; but this piece is already making me feel like a fish – a fat, shored one. May as well finish the job.”
“So you don’t like it?”
“No, that’s not it,” shook her head Yamame, barely aware she was twisting about to inspect finer details of the dress. “That’s just my personal experience running away with me. Maybe human females have parts I don’t. Soft bits where I’m tough – that kind of thing. Although I’m plenty soft in my own estimation. Anyway, no – it’s not that I don’t like it. The colour, for one – it agrees with me on a level even your inexpert eye took note. Truth be told, even now I’m crying inside that I couldn’t find a matching bow. All of mine are either black or brown. No gold ones. Sniff.”
“Sew a new one—”
“The dress’ll be gone by that time. I’ll just have to hope my hair doesn’t get stuck when I take it off. Already had some get pinched between the scales when I was adjusting. This is why I don’t let my hair down, really. Also, let’s not fool ourselves,” Yamame reminded, before her hair care may be further commentated on, “this piece is a work of craftsmanship. Very good craftsmanship, and a lot of work. This – shoulder-straps, fat rolls and everything else notwithstanding – has never changed. The stitching is still exquisite, and I’ll weep for every inch of it I have to unmake. But I’ve no use for it myself, and I need the fabrics for other things. What a cruel fate.” She picked up the skirt of the dress again, before dropping it back down with a sigh. “Apt for Old Hell, though – I suppose. Paran?”
The human’s eyes snapped up. “Yes?”
“You aren’t having very much fun with this, are you?”
This time, the smile which answered was well-known to Yamame.
After she had said which, Yamame swam off with exaggerated fish motions again to her bedroom. Upon her next resurfacing, the human who was her envoy as well as house-keeper witnessed a creature carven straight from the pages of a book. The book was a western fairy tale, old and somewhat exaggerated, of a fantastic ballroom where women competed for the envy of their peers through the elaboration of their costumes. And now so did Yamame, even if whatever competition she once had had been long routed.
This picture set before him, the human extended the best feedback he believed in:
“You look good in it.”
And then, upon being chided for misdirecting the commentary:
“It looks good on you.”
To which Yamame’s response was to pertinently demonstrate where and how he had erred in such a reckoning, and where – whilst more or less accurate – such a judgement skimmed the finer ins and outs of the craft. Then, the human’s interest expended (or had it been expendable in the first place?), she skittered back to her bedroom to shed this dress and slip into the next one. And dress after dress after dress, this series of events repeated through half the evening.
At least so it had been, until Yamame’s thread of patience finally strained too far. The spinstress ripped the collar which had been included with the latest piece from her neck, and threw it down to the floor.
“Why are you humans so hard to please?!”
All other possibilities exhausted, the Underground’s most genius architect turned from the esoteric hobby she had trusted she could share with her human, to the one she knew for a fact both humans and her ilk partook in with similar love. The matter of which was safely stored away in her larder.
When she came back with a sloshing green-glass bottle the size of her forearm, she was grinning.
The grin died when, the bottle placed before him, the human Paran smiled up at her angelically.
“Kurodani,” he said, for once betraying some amusement. “One problem.”
“… I do not drink.”
Yamame felt like throttling something. “You…”
“No need to go dry on my account, though,” her human added helpfully.
This was nothing far off the usual; but these singular hours had left Yamame waking groggy, stuffy-mouthed, and afoul of a migraine which only waited the nudge of rising to spear into the meat of her brain. Her digits ached. Underneath the blanket, her clothes were clinging to her body disagreeably. A knot of hair, goo and barbs had ostensibly been substituted for her voice box sometime in the night, and if she had to guess what her eyelids were coated in, Yamame’s expertise would say mortar was the most likely.
Among all of this, there was one part of Yamame which felt incredibly good. The scalp of her head.
The mortar on her eyes must have been poorly applied – it cracked when Yamame pushed; and as her sight was returned stabbing and flailing, the fingers gently digging in her hair stiffened to a halt.
The human called Paran must have been visited by another of Underworld’s denizens in Yamame’s mental absence; for he doubled and octupled in her eyes when she looked. He quit doing that soon, thankfully, only one copy of him remaining. Its face was looming above Yamame now at a steep angle, its features drawn in a slightly apprehensive frown which sparked off a mistaken instinct in her blunted mind. She willed it down.
“Three things,” croaked Yamame, pushing herself up to a hump-backed sit. “First of all, get me some water. A lot of water. Or anything without alcohol. Just a lot of it.”
The man nodded, very seriously, and set down the book he had been holding in his other hand. The one which had not been petting Yamame. Then, he stood up and left without a word, on humankind’s perpetual quest for drinkable water.
Alone now, Yamame examined her surroundings. She was still in the cosy salon of her tiny house nearby the Underworld’s outlets. This was to the good. Three green-grass bottles were lying on the table, like corpses drained of their lifeblood – empty. Three. This was less to the good. Yamame counted again, but the number stubbornly refused to change. A collection of gaudy dresses lay strewn across the floor, but none Yamame would remember putting on again in drunken stupor. The trouble was, she remembered little otherwise.
The human returned victorious from his mission, carrying a tall glass of mercifully clear liquid. Yamame snatched it greedily when it came close enough, and gulped down half the contents in one go. She did not instantly feel better, but sensed her body going to work on it with enthusiasm.
Nursing her glass, shrouded in her blanket, and – while not yet fully awake – certainly less clogged-up, Yamame met again her human’s dimly concerned stare.
“Second of all,” she told him huskily, “I’ve been hinting at you to use my given name for weeks. Why start now?”
“You… stopped hinting.”
The human’s eyes glided off to the side. “… You made it very pointed this time. Threatened to give me… things with strange names. I had no choice but to comply.”
“… Well, it has been getting my back up a deal,” Yamame murmured.
“Nothing.” The spinstress downed the rest of her water. “Very good… You do that. Use my given name from now on. I don’t remember what I threatened to give you, but I’ll improvise if I must. And speaking of threats…” Her eyes hardened into amber chunks. “Third of all, we spiders are skittish and sensitive creatures – extremely so. Was getting bitten once not enough for you? I don’t know what you were doing to my head and how it was meant to help or heal me; but I remind you – the business with my hand had been with my express approval. I’m not saying it didn’t feel… just a bit nice – but poking your fingers at a spider who hasn’t clearly permitted you to do so is an invitation to—”
“You also told me to do that.”
“You said…” The human coughed. “You told me to – to show you how else humans… fraternised.”
Yamame felt her face burn. “And you—”
“Chose the least invasive sample.” He spread his arms. “More appropriate for parents and children, for which deception I apologise; but it seemed to please you all the same. Understand – I have heard from one of your associates, who came by a while ago, that you were an amiable drunk. Still, I didn’t want to risk startling you.”
Then they know I am keeping a human here with me, thought Yamame. A profusion of off-hand ribs and remarks from the recent months now shifted into unwilling sensibility. Not all of them – but enough to make Yamame claw at her miserable face.
“You humans and your love of physical contact…” she groaned. “Why did I even bother with those dresses? I should have just offered to touch you, instead.”
“Yamame.” The human’s voice was faintly pained. “That would have been… inappropriate.”
Now what? she thought. “How so?”
“In human culture,” sighed the man, “touching is usually reserved to one’s children and family members.”
“And men and women you’ve just met.”
“And men and women you’ve just met,” he agreed. “Yet that is only for greetings. Men are at times allowed to touch other men, as are women, conversely. Anything which goes beyond that, however – specially between males and females – is tightly restricted to… to one’s mating partner.”
“Mating—” Yamame choked on a ball of rising anger. “I’m not an animal! Name things what they are!”
“Yes. Wives and husbands, or lovers, then.”
“See? I know those words. No need to… dumb things down for me. I am a spider, but I’m also more than spider. I’m not… an animal. I’m more.”
“Yes.” The human sat down beside her. “Sorry.”
A pause, as heavy as the boxes from the previous day, settled in between the two. Then the man, apparently bending under its weight, leaned forward to grab at the bottles on the table. Yamame watched – convinced at first he had meant to simply toss them out – as her human stood them up and began arranging the bottles in random, clinking patterns for the space of the next minute.
When the minute broke, Yamame spoke up.
“Want to talk about it?”
“About what?” the human replied from his little game.
Now he looked. “Yamame,” he warned, scowling. “This is a bad idea.”
Of course it is, Yamame agreed inside. I have had no other kind since yesterday. There was but one difficulty left. How do I approach this one?
( ) Calmly and reasonably. ( ) Aggressively. ( ) It was too bad an idea after all.
Had Yamame been born anything else than a spider – who were hunters as well as artisans – she could have tripped over this dilemma. She didn’t. To force the issue would have been easy; but Yamame’s aptitude went further than an Oni’s uncritical persistence, or a Tengu’s clever politicking. An ambush on the prey’s home ground – this was the spider’s way. And this man’s home – as it was with most humans – lay across the plains of reason.
Prey? Yamame had just the opportunity to wonder at her brainwork, before out of her mouth the challenge was delivered:
“All right. Let’s be reasonable for a moment.”
“Fine, let’s.” The reply came so fast, so incisive (and pointed up with the bottles clattering flat on the table), that almost Yamame began to doubt her ambushing ability. The human at the centre of these doubts was fully turned now – arms crossed, and locking the spinstress with a stare as forbidding as a stare could be – humanly. “Fine, let’s,” he said once more. “Answer me this, then, with reason: why should we talk about it at all?”
I want to, that’s why; and I know somehow you do as well, Yamame would have said – if she had been an Oni, or her drunk careless self from last night. For the sober now, she had an answer better by leagues. “There are two – two reasons,” she said, demonstrating with her fingers. “Firstly, now we have been properly acquainted, I want to use this as a learning experience. There are complexities to handling you humans which – to me – are just as new as the involutions of your architecture. And both of these have been… intriguing. At least what little I’ve so far faced. So!” Yamame smacked the cushion in front of her crossed legs, “I want to use this windfall friendly human who’s tumbled down into my blowhole to teach me about both of those. He has already enabled me to tackle one of them – and if he’ll suffer me to say this, it was the more requiring of time and effort of the two. The other one should be simplicity by comparison.”
“That is a healthy reason.”
“Thank you,” grinned Yamame, though in her mind the compliment caught in a foul corner of her web. “Anyhow. Secondly,” she resumed, “now we have been properly acquainted, I wish to know even more about this windfall friendly human who’s tumbled down into my blowhole – personally.”
The human grimaced. “That is less healthy.”
“And,” Yamame finished, “to my stunted, unenlightened, two-legged form, it seems that touching – it could play a vital assistant. These are my reasons.” A rightfully fulfilled smile on her face, the spinstress retreated her arms inside the blanket. “So? Any counter-reasons you may want to voice?”
That’s one more than I had, Yamame thought worriedly; but she kept her worries as she kept the rest of herself – inside a warm cocoon, only the head peeking out curiously. She did not know what the head of a worry looked like, or on which end it was located, but amused the mental image all the same. “Go on then,” she allowed graciously.
The man Paran sucked in a breath before answering. “Firstly,” he said, “I don’t trust you, Yamame.”
Something in Yamame’s chest clinched so hard all the reason momentarily escaped her. “What—”
Her human mounted a double-palmed shield against her wide-eyed stare. “Take heed, Yamame.”
“What heed?!” Yamame blurted. “What do you mean, you don’t trust me?! What have I done to you?!”
“Not much; certainly less than is told of you in the village – but this is not my point.”
“Then what is?”
“You are, Kurodani,” said the human. “Calm down.”
The returned use of her family name jarred her attention back to familiar territory. “Yamame!” she demanded. “Use my given name!”
Her hand slowly let go of the dress it had been gripping under the blanket – and with belated clarity Yamame recognised which dress this was. Not her own, comfortable earthen creation, which she had over the years made her signature; nor was it one of the extravagant dresses she had shown off for her disinterested human. This was – and the scraping of tiny rings on her skin was unambiguous – the bawdy black piece she had offended at the previous day.
Unaware why, she pulled the blanket tighter around her shoulders.
“Yamame? Are you calm?” the human Paran was asking.
No, thought the spinstress; but for her human she murmured a firm, “Yes. I’m calm.”
If Paran was fooled, he made only a tentative pretence of it. “Very good… but this was a miscue. I trust you, Yamame – but what I don’t trust is… you.”
Against the tightness inside her, Yamame released a chuckle. “That’s more me than I knew there was. Who’s this other me you don’t trust, then?”
“The one who bit me months ago,” the man said bluntly, “when I caught her to steady myself after slipping on the stairs. The one whose hand was trembling when I touched it yesterday. This Yamame.”
“That’s me,” said this Yamame.
And in the face of this confession, Paran agreed. “That’s you. And that’s whom I don’t trust. You said so yourself, Yamame – you spiders are sensitive creatures. And this sensitivity… it is unpredictable. It scares me.”
Of all the things, she thought. Never mind my reputation, my powers, my terrible origins. It’s my getting startled that’s scary. Yamame shook her head. “So that’s the first reason,” she said. “Very healthy, indeed. What’s the second one?”
“… I don’t trust myself.”
This she had to laugh at. “Ha! What, are you so quick with your teeth as well?”
The human gratified the joke with a smile. “Have I bitten you?”
“No. Though I feel not for want of excuses. I’ve nudged you more than once.”
“So why the sore lack of trust on all fronts?”
A rare sight was a consternated Paran, but here one was, rubbing the bridge of his nose right in front of Yamame. A rare sight and fleeting, the spinstress discovered, as the gesture was cut off with conscious deliberation. A pity, she discovered again, when her human outfitted instead the serious expression regular in his everyday habit.
“This is tough to talk about,” he said, “so I’ll be short. Your theory, Yamame, was on point; and touching is indeed ingrained in us humans. So ingrained, often we engage in it unthinking, once permitted. This is why it’s… dangerous… to ask me to… to touch you.”
“You couldn’t stop yourself touching me again,” Yamame guessed.
The human moved in an odd way – somewhere between a squirm and a shiver, but not quite fully on either side. “Please. Just… listen to me.” He shut his eyes and pressed on the eyelids with two fingers. “We are all shackled by our natures; you are bounded by yours, and I – by mine. This is a truth neither of us can escape. Nor is there sense in upsetting over it; and for all it counts, I do not hold you responsible for biting me that one time.” The human’s eyes opened again, and this time Yamame’s heart lurched at the pleading look inside. “So please,” the man said, quietly, “don’t ask me to touch you, Yamame.”
And though it meant a loss of some kind, Yamame gave up a slow nod.
“… Very good,” she said. “But we’ve still one more reason to go.”
The human flinched. “Ah.”
“Yes, ‘Ah,’” Yamame mocked. “We’re matched two to two; I won’t give you the victory until you give the final point. Give, Paran. Or I’ll forget everything you just said.”
The man pretended a hacking cough. He quit when it found no purchase from the spinstress.
“This is stupid,” he surrendered, “and I hadn’t planned to actually use it—”
“Too late for that now. Give.”
“Very good,” obeyed Paran. “Very good…”
Whatever the reason was (and which Yamame was about to find out), it dictated a pause is taken before, and at least three breaths, so it may be given.
But then it was given, and it took all the air in the room away.
Had Yamame been born anything else than a spider – say, an Oni, or another stripe of monster with lesser command of its impulses – she could have hung her jaw as wide as the Underworld’s magmatic caverns, then clocked the man who had caused it to so hang. She didn’t. An ambush on the prey’s home ground – this was the spider’s way; and as amazed as this spider was, she remembered this much.
So she ripped the pillow the human had leant on from behind his back. So she flung the same pillow at the human’s face.
The human doubled backwards over the armrest, flopping to the floor to become one more impertinent piece among the ones already there scattered. When he recovered enough to sit up, Yamame socked him again.
The human peeled the pillow from his face. “I told you I hadn’t—”
And a third time.
This marked the limit of the pillows Yamame had sewn for her couch; and the spinstress stood up on legs she now found were decidedly too naked for comfort. The sweat on her skin was rapidly cooling; and against the heat rising in her ears, her body shuddered. This, in turn, pumped the warm air from under the blanket right up in Yamame’s nostrils.
The human had been right. She stank. There was something to say of that; Yamame had been working, had not showered, had been drinking, and finally slept the night in clothing which absorbed no sweat nor bad smell. To say she “stank” was a cruel truth – but a truth all the same.
This in no way kept her from picking up one of the pillows and thwacking the human again as she walked past.
“You win this round, you snake!” she called from her bedroom’s door. “Have it your way. But first put some water on for me. I’m going to shower – if that’s so imperative.”
Her human picked himself up with a bleeding nose.
“Yes…” he grunted. “Will you also eat?”
“I will also eat!” Yamame replied, exasperated. “Watch that blood! You’ll stain the dresses.”
Then she slammed the door of her bedroom, and let the blanket sail to the floor.
In the black silence draping her place of rest (at least on most nights), Yamame allowed herself a single traitorous thought. The human had bested her on the fields of reason – perhaps inevitably – and she had done poorly to play on his terms; but one battle lost did not mean the failure of a war. This, the spinstress swore inside, was her own truth.
Another part of her – a smaller, easily ignored part – wondered what the rest of Yamame had meant. What a monster such as she may gain from sparring with a human. Why the touching – this strange, human kink – licensed so much attention.
After a moment, the part shrugged, deciding it not its business.
There was a magic to human cookery which dazzled Yamame every time.
At her age, Yamame had partaken of various foods. Across the years she had tried many: game and bird-flesh, eggs and rice-meals, vegetables in the leaner seasons, as well as even more… exotic meats; but as she grew older and more powerful, the spider’s appetite within had diminished. To eat ceased being necessary; instead, the pleasure of tastes and eating had become little more than that – a pleasure. Still, what “little” it was, it made Yamame swoon in delight.
Here were these same foods (eggs and rice and vegetables at least), but modified in ways of names unknown to Yamame. The long age her stove had been used to boil water for showers and mushroom tea only was over; now, meals were coming off of it which made Yamame’s mouth dribble.
She wiped it with a wrist. A seditious thought whispered this wouldn’t last much at all, that – by the week’s end – the perishable foods will have run out, and back it would be to boiled rice for Yamame and her human. At least so it would be until the next job was handed in. There was more treachery here – mostly to do with the Underworld’s architect keeping this part a secret from her associates, and preferring to allocate their wages from the other goods volunteered as their payment – but this indiscretion was one Yamame refused to feel bad about.
After their breakfast had been fully transported to the table, Yamame’s human flumped down on a chair opposite, and began to fork the eggs and rice, and the others, onto a wide plate. The spinstress did the same, with all the haste of someone afraid for the best morsels getting snatched up from under their nose.
The human had not spoken since their bout (or since Yamame had returned damp-haired from the shower), and for all the world saw had slipped back into the tight-lipped rule he’d constructed for himself. But Yamame was armed with new-found insight; and even over the mouth-watering smells filling the kitchen, she could sense a straining – a barely perceptible pull of tension, as their awareness was tugged subversively away from their meal.
Toward what, exactly – this she couldn’t say. But there it was. And before she knew it, she was staring.
The human didn’t stop eating. “Mm?”
“I said, ‘Hey,’” repeated Yamame.
“I’ll take that as a, ‘Yes, Yamame.’ What have you planned for today?” Whatever he had, it failed to communicate in the next few moments. Yamame put down her utensils and picked up a frown. “Hey. Just because you beat me in an argument doesn’t mean you can ignore me for the rest of the day. Paran?”
With a rasp of unoiled sockets, the human Paran tore his eyes from his food. “… That’s not it.”
“What’s not it?”
“I wasn’t… I hadn’t planned anything,” he said, resigned. “Maybe to tidy up. Maybe to read. A day off or no, this is little different for me from when you are out working.”
“But I’m not, today. I’m here.”
“Want me to plan something for us both then?”
The man let go of an unthinking chuckle. “As long as it doesn’t involve—” Then his jaw stuck, and his lips screwed up. He blinked it away with some effort. “… As long as it doesn’t involve work,” he muttered finally. “I got very little sleep last night.”
To no credit of a certain earth spider, Yamame completed the accusation. “Something leisurely then?” she offered. “How about an outing?”
The human sighed. “You will do as you please, Yamame.”
“I will, too,” she assured him.
( ) A whole lot of nothing around the house. ( ) Something in the underground capital. ( ) Something else in the above-world.
Same thing as last week. I’d love to give you guys something to read at the weekend, but my shift today and tomorrow is 11 hours. Too long to leave any energy for writing. So, Monday is our day. Vote your heart out in the meanwhile.
The decisions had been made in a flash. The more crucial – in half a one, so as not to be disputed; and within the third hour since the flash, Yamame Kurodani was standing on the craggy basalt flats girdling the underground capital. The gem of the Underworld was twinkling in the distance; varicoloured lights shone, touching off the mineral-rich walls of the cyclopean vault that housed the city. Towers of gold – multi-tiered, bisected by traditional curved roofs at each tier’s beginning – were even now visible; for these were the lighthouses of the capital, around which other buildings were singularly huddled, to bask in their magickal radiance.
A human was squinting at these wondrous sights, just beside Yamame, and fuming. The fumes were a confused blend of alarm and acceptance.
The decisions had been made in a flash – but none bright enough to stun the human’s unremitting self-preservation, and as Yamame had presented her idea, it had been met with a fierce and lengthy opposition.
“This is a bad idea.”
As lengthy, anyway, as anything of Paran went.
Though Yamame had put forward her best assertion and no mistake. She had guaranteed the safety of her human, and if this safety was to be compromised – justice on the offender: of a name so long and alien, the mere mention had set the man off coughing. At length, oddly inappropriate for himself, Paran had been finally convinced. Thusly, the two had completed their meal. Thusly, they donned the better of their clothes. Thusly, they walked the winding tunnels of Yamame’s domain, down and down and down, until the caves had opened, and the capital’s great dome unfolded from the endless stone.
Now it had, Yamame had quit goading her human to give and tell what additional embarrassment her drunken self had been, and focused wholly on the problem at hand. The hand, which she now extended to Paran.
“Come over here.”
The man obeyed; then, he dis-obeyed when Yamame looped her arm around his. “Yamame,” he hissed. “We talked about this. Just this morning.”
Yamame extended her hand – again. “We talked about you touching me,” she pointed out. “Not the reverse.”
“And this,” she chopped his counterpoint in half, “is for your safety. We aren’t bound by the same laws here as protect you on the surface. If we can make it very plain you are mine – and not a vagabond tumbled down here on some random jaunt – then we should do so. With our chests puffed, and faces very serious.”
“And our hands clasped?” said Paran, qualms puffed, and face very dubious.
For a moment, Yamame joined him in frowning. “What? No, not hands. That’s for greetings, isn’t it? The arms—” here she attempted to loop her own arms around each other – only to find the number of joints woefully lacking, “—um, anyway… The arms – the Oni here hold them like this, coiled, when they are together: keg-brothers especially, and especially after drinking – so that you know you are fighting both if you challenge either. It’s become something of a symbol. Some of my co-workers as well; they’ve taken to doing it if they absolutely don’t want to be persuaded a stair needs to be laid again, or the roof tiles re-set. Altogether infuriating, when it happens. Well, but not in this case, since this is—”
“For my own safety,” nodded Paran. “… Very good.”
Then he shuffled close, and offered himself to be re-leashed. And a victory, however small – for me, thought Yamame, taking her human by the relinquished arm, and pulling the rest of him closer. The human winced – once. Then he was still.
He was decidedly less still once they began walking again – even less when they found their paces grossly mismatched; yet after the first forty or so steps spent wobbling and jostling against each other, a much-welcome compromise was mercifully forged. Yamame had to rather stretch her paces – and her human curtail his – but nowhere beyond either of their tolerances. Another forty steps, and almost their walking kept to a straight line. Another – and they were walking lines like champions.
“A couple pointers,” Yamame said at this point. “As I said just then, we aren’t bound by the same compacts our brothers and sisters above are. There are few who entertain the Spell-Card Rule down here outside of necessity, and those are deemed eccentrics at the more generous. Not without some foundation do the surface youkai call the Underworld a ‘lawless district.’ We Underfolk aren’t elementally hostile, mind – but a fight every now and then does get our blood running, and some of us have a lot of blood to run. So if you must issue any challenges while down here, make them ones you can back up with brawn.”
“My brawn or yours?”
Yamame giggled at the question. “Yours, of course. Nobody wants to fight me in the earnest.”
“The diseases – remember?”
“… Sorry,” said the human. “I tend to forget.”
The comment caused a strange, warm feeling to slowly creep up Yamame’s neck. The feeling settled on her cheeks in the end, and the spinstress – second time she was late to realise today – became aware she was blushing.
“That—” she pushed the words out, “That… felt really good, for some reason… even if you were making a joke at my expense,” she added. “It’s gratifying to know my existence isn’t boiled down to that single attribute – really, really gratifying. You wouldn’t believe how much… Please, forget more often. As often as you can. Please.”
“… I’ll try,” said Paran, “but I could use your help.”
“I’ll try as well,” promised Yamame, risking everything by tightening the hold on her human’s arm. No reaction came – which was perhaps the best reaction she could hope for presently. Yamame took it at its full worth. “I’ll try all right… Anyway,” she resumed, “here’s another piece of advice. This’ll be a new sort of affair to you, so I imagine you’ll be doing a spider’s share of staring; but do keep eye contact at a low, if you can find the restraint. Many of those living here may regard it as a challenge; they will want to fight you. They won’t, of course, and you needn’t fear them – I am here after all – but do try not to stare too much anyway. This isn’t setsubun, and we aren’t Oni-hunting. As much amusing as it’d be to chase down Oni with a human, I don’t need that sort of excitement today. I just want to spend some easy time – with you.”
“Hear, hear,” muttered Paran. “Hear, hear…”
And this made Yamame giggle again. “That’s the way to be.”
A pearly grin spread all the way across her cheeks, glowing brighter somehow than the golden towers ahead.
“Now!” she said, “nose up and eyes level, and do look good for me. Here come the first houses. We’ll be passing through this quarter, and making for the eastern lighthouse. That’s the closest one, by the way, so don’t sulk. There’s someone there I want you to meet.”
A wide channel formed immediately from the outermost housings: one among a myriad slapdash roads threading through the city’s chaotic clumps of homes and establishments. To either side of the channel, open-terraced and inviting, houses of the Oni and other Underfolk were being rowdily occupied; some – and on these Yamame looked with a pang of longing – already had guests lounging, drinking and playing games with noisy relish, despite the early hour. At least by the spinstress’s internal gauge; little good would it do to speak of an early hour in a city of perpetual light and revelry, such as the underground capital.
When Yamame had first been ushered into this chamber, at the set of an era, it had not been half so bright. A smattering of huts had clustered squat atop a mountain of rubble; a collection of torches and bonfires was all which lit the ruins of the former home of the Yama, blazed and torn down in a terrible war Yamame knew little of, and cared even less to learn. The Oni – and others – were hunched about these bonfires, looking for the first and last time in history so lost, so dazed, almost the earth spider shed a tear for these stranded souls.
So she had mustered the mightiest voice she had. So she had called on the Oni to stand tall once more. So she had cast their minds toward the future, stocked with light and glory, which she – the cleverest among the spiders – would single-handedly design. Within the day foundations had been lain for the first lighthouse, and scavenger teams sent out to strip the ruins of workable material. Within the week, the first tier had been opened to use, and the first party held in celebration. Within the month, the Underworld had received its own miniature Sun, perched atop a sturdy tower jointly wrought by the hands of unlikely allies cast away deep beneath the earth. And of course, the Oni partied again.
Yamame had not always hated the capital. Yet when the city she’d helped deliver from oblivion had over the innumerable years phased her out in lieu of the Oni and their own slant on architecture, “always” became the natural shorthand. The slant was burning away at Yamame’s sensibilities even now, as she guided her human along streets more twisted than snakes, with more dead ends than the human’s conversation skills. The sheer drunken disregard for spatial conventions made the great architect’s palms itch.
Still she smiled against it all when a familiar building popped out from behind a turn as sensible as a web inside a lockbox.
“That there is the bathhouse,” she told the man beside her. “The best in the capital – and one of the first ones incidentally. We aren’t going in right now, of course – but just in case, it’s right here.”
“Just in case,” she teased, “if you find you can’t recall where it was, just follow the first tired-looking Oni until they either pass out in the middle of the street, or arrive here. This is the easier way. Or so I hear, anyway.”
“What’s the harder?”
“Follow a dirty-looking Oni, and hope they’re bound here, and not straight to their bed.”
A huge, red-skinned Oni passing them by chortled at the overheard jab. Then he veered off the road, and clambered up the short stair to the bathhouse.
“… As has been demonstrated,” said Paran, once the horned giant was out of earshot.
“As has been demonstrated,” giggled Yamame. “Very good, too. You did smell that, didn’t you?”
The human scrunched up his face. “I did.”
“Behold: the mighty Oni. Mighty is their strength, and mightier their aroma. Now, you can smell pretty bad after a day of work yourself – but even then you can’t hope to match this bouquet.”
“… Thanks,” he murmured.
“You smell fine right now, though,” Yamame comforted. “Very, very fine. So no need to go wash up.”
Another thousand or so turns and twists, and they stood before the rune-embossed doors of the eastern lighthouse.
Here, at the foot of the tower, the illumination was so strong that Yamame’s human had to physically shield his eyes – as he would from the Sun in the world above. With the gentle guidance of the tower’s maker, they approached the door… and crossed the threshold.
The interior was dim and cool; and as the door shut behind them, Paran slipped out of Yamame’s grasp, scanning about the surroundings. Maybe by the shift in space, but Yamame felt her body seize up as though chilled. The sudden absence of the warmth at her side was more startling someway than its presence may ever have been. Almost, and she would have leapt forward to catch her human again; but then, a powerful sense of nostalgia washed over the spinstress, overpowering everything else.
All at once she was transported an eon into the past, when the grand lobby of the first tower crowded with a people so recently liberated from exile, the purest concept of a “new home” made them throw their arms around one another in jubilation. Hats – and other articles – were thrown joyously up into the shaft over the heart of the lobby, where – high in the gloom – a shinbashira of massive proportions, carven from the only surviving pillar of the Yamas’ palace, hung on titanic steel links from the ceiling like a pendulum. The device, in a turn of irony so poetic Yamame had laughed devising it, protected the lighthouse from any violent geological activity by dampening the forces which may threaten its integrity. Around the shinbashira, tiers after tiers after tiers of floors were rising up and up, each enough to provide several families an ample living space with amenities. A single of these towers could house a third of the capital’s population, with room to spare.
No one lived here now.
The vast lobby was host only to dust and silence, and a few flowerbeds of strange, crimson roses – a gift from Old Hell’s vicereine, Satori Komeiji, upon her assuming the ungrateful station. The roses were struggling in the shadowy indoors; but even after all the years, hope was at work: through nursing and care, a healthy population still decorated the site of Yamame’s greatest creation. Whose care, and whose nursing – this became self-evident when a hulking silhouette cut away from the shadows ahead, rising to meet the intruders to the house.
Rising to meet Yamame and her human.
“Aah—” A smoky exhalation issued from the monster’s maw. A distant whiff of pipe-grass stung Yamame’s nostrils. “Who interrupts the work of an elder? No one after a black eye, I hope!”
“No one!” called Yamame, failing to suppress a smile, “but an earth spider lost to the world. Come to indulge an old devil’s company.”
A deep, rumbling sound vibrated the air of the lobby. The monster had laughed.
“The wayward child returns,” it boomed.
“Nikuyama,” chided Yamame, at the end of her bridle, “stop these theatrics and come on out. It’s been too long to play at rituals.”
Another thundering laugh rocked the foundations of the tower. “It is precisely because it has been long, that some ritual is required. Still, it is the duty of us Oni to keep the younger, less enduring races from exploding with impatient fluids. Very good, then.”
With an exaggerated roar of effort the Oni stood whence it had been hunching, behind the lobby’s front desk. A giant, the very colour of the flowers he tended, rose ponderously halfway to the next floor. A pair of horns, angled like an ox’s, crowned the Oni’s triangular head; below, under the jutting brows and the knobby nose, two mimic tusks were thrusting out its lower jaw – giving it the savage appearance which so stoked the fear of humans in the world above. The shoulders of this monster were cloaked in a grand nobleman’s robe – stretched now, and frayed from long use – upon whose chest a rune had been described in faded gold: “Administrator.”
Unable to contain herself any longer, Yamame raced forward with a happy squeal. The Oni deftly caught her as she jumped in his meatloaf arms, and the two shared an embrace, the like of which lost friends give each other upon reunion.
Yamame laughed when the Oni spun her around. “Niku! Long time!”
“Yes, yes, little Yamame,” replied the giant. “Long time, indeed.”
The Oni set down the grinning spinstress. Then, his attention shifted to the other odd element in the room.
“Ah,” Yamame remembered. “Niku, this is my new informant.” She skipped over to her human’s side. “He handles jobs for me on the surface, which is what I’ve been busying myself with as of late. Paran, this is Nikuyama – my old informant. Used to handle jobs for me here, in the Underworld, before my undeserved falling out of fashion… Paran? Hello?”
The human – who had watched until now from the safe likeness of a statue – snapped to attention.
“What?” he said to Yamame.
The spinstress opened her mouth to tell him what – only then, Nikuyama shooed her aside, taking the processions into his giant’s hands.
“Nikuyama,” the Oni said, reaching out one of the blood-red arms. “Caretaker of the eastern lighthouse, which you stand in now. Also caretaker of Yamame – long ago.”
At this proclamation – or perhaps beside it – the human glanced over at Yamame. Then he obliged the reply. “… Paranseberi,” he surrendered, grasping the Oni’s wrist, and allowing his own to be grasped back.
Though more accurately he laid his hand flat on the Oni’s wrist, while his own was engulfed in return; but Paran suffered the indignity with his own brand of stoicism. The Paran-brand. Then, as though a thought occurring unbidden, his eyes narrowed with a question.
The Oni Nikuyama answered. “Nothing more.”
This didn’t appear to satisfy the human; but still he inclined his head in thanks, and backed out of the handshake with a bow, as propriety dictated.
All of this Yamame had taken in with swelling amusement, which presently overflowed in laugh that bent her upper half over.
“What’s little Yamame finding so humorous now?” asked the Oni, lifting one oxen brow.
Yamame clapped a hand across her mouth to stem the laughter. It ended up sputtering between her fingers instead. She laughed harder at this result. “No— It’s just— Just yesterday—” she gasped out, “Just yesterday— Oh my… Just yesterday, me and Paran, we had a huge – a huge disagreement, you know? Over how these things worked. And here— here you go, just doing it, like it’s the most natural thing in the world.”
The two males looked at each other.
“Isn’t it?” asked Nikuyama.
Paran said nothing.
Yamame waved the topic away like the one fly too many. “Never mind. It’s just me – I’m laughing at very important matters. My bad, Niku.” She patted the Oni on the log-like forearm. Then, she urged the giant to follow her to the back of the lobby. “Come, now – let’s sit down and catch up! I’ve been up to so many fun things lately. You absolutely won’t believe. You too,” she told Paran. “Come. I’m going to need your input. Chop-chop, you two! Come on, before I rope you.”
Yamame didn’t rope them. Nor did she need either of their input; for all the output she offered on her own, she made up for it with interest.
A long hour had slid by, that Yamame spoke over vigorously of her latest pursuits – the above-world’s architecture, the challenges and rewards it yielded – and the Oni Nikuyama had listened to it all, sucking on his pipe with forbearing curiosity. Only at one point Yamame had broken off – dipping into the pockets of her dress, which turned out a modest packet wrapped in oiled paper.
“This was included in one of my payments,” she had said, tossing it over to the Oni. “Neither I nor Paran smoke, so you can have it. Good I remembered, hmm?”
As for the human, so offhandedly mentioned, he had sat – and did so even now – beside the two old friends, never speaking; only he bored his eyes into the animating Yamame, whose full favour had been given over to her stories. An unreadable man was this Paran, pickling under a double layer of his usual disincline to conversation; but for the moment Yamame’s attention lay in another direction altogether. So Paran pickled.
At the end of the hour, it was the Oni, of all of them, who put up a stopping hand.
“This is all rightly fascinating now,” he told the pouting Yamame, “but your voice is going hoarse, little one. Care maybe for a break?”
“My voice isn’t going hoarse!” Yamame protested.
“Must be the smoke,” Nikuyama mused despite her, “which I guess is my fault, at that. You must wet your throat before it gives out, little Yamame. You’re going to need it for work. A cup of mushroom tea should do. Paranseberi, good fellow,” he addressed the human, “would you mind terribly if you could fetch the tea urn from the desk? I left it there yesterday. I’ll dredge up the tea in the meanwhile; it should be around here somewhere.”
Paran rode his chair away from the table and stood up. “… Very good.”
“Thank you,” Nikuyama managed, before the human slipped out through the break room’s door.
As soon as he was out, Yamame breathed in to resume her story; but here was the Oni, locking her with a stare so hard her words lodged in her throat. Maybe I could use some tea, she thought.
“Yamame Kurodani,” said the giant, stern as a general before a platoon of recruits. “You are as graceful a spider as our lady Yuugi is at a dish of sake.”
Yamame blinked. “… Thank you?”
“That was a joke,” Nikuyama rumbled. Then he leaned forward, lowering his voice. “Listen to me, little spider, and listen well. I fear no enemy, for I am the fear in the hearts of men; but what I do fear is making enemies I don’t need nor want. You must tell your new companion I’m nothing more than your once caretaker – and soon.”
“Huh?” Yamame’s head titled on its own. “What do you mean? You told him so when you met, right? I got that much.”
“My little Yamame, you’re as green as your birth-day if you believe we men are so easily pacified.” The Oni tocked his pipe on the ash-tray set before him on the table. “Tell him, little one. He is sooner to listen to the pretty you than a gnarled old Oni with a tobacco problem to boot. Just tell him. You’ll save us both trouble in the long run.”
The spider’s brows squeezed together at the discrediting words. “Why?”
>>14928 Would not be surprised. There are a few verbal tics that reminded of him, and he also edited an image leith the story title last time, in a similar way. As a true YAF expert I must say the prose feels a little clumsy to be him, but it could go either way.
Never so much as pausing to think it over, Yamame gave her answer.
“I trust you,” she said, “I really do; but I won’t suffer anyone to call you old or gnarled – even if it’s yourself doing the calling.”
The Oni Nikuyama – who would not be less gnarled than if he were a hundred-year-old oak – spat a rockslide chuckle at this fierce defiance of reality. “Tuck in your fangs, little Yamame,” he advised. “It’s a figure of speech – nothing more. A touch of self-deprecation goes a long way. It is called ‘humility.’ Are you familiar with that word, little one? ‘Humility?’”
“Does it have to do with being humiliated?”
“It has to do with being humble. It’s something you learn when someone finally shunts you from the top of the food chain.”
A shadow passed over Nikuyama’s features – as much as one can pass over a face whose curvature was permanently latticed with shadows. Then, the Oni, shrugging out of this darkness spell, stuck his pipe in his mouth, and rose mountainously from his chair. Yamame looked on her red-skinned guardian (or once-guardian) as he walked over to retrieve an ornate tea casket from one of the shelves. The casket vanished into Nikuyama’s administrator robe, and the spinstress quit attempting to guess what was going on.
“Niku? What are you doing?”
But if the Oni had ever meant to explain, he made short work of it. “Now, little spider, I can’t steer you through every walk of life,” he said instead, “and not this one, especially. But for all it’s worth, I’ve got full confidence in your legwork.”
“That, or your looks if all else fails. You’re already in a much better position than I ever was. Albeit you stand to become as wrinkled as I am if you keep up that frown.”
Yamame scowled. “Niku!”
The Oni made as though about to release another earthquake laugh to the break room’s cool air.
But the first boulders never rolled. Nikuyama pulled them back with herculean strength. And none too soon; for then the exiting door swung open to admit a very laden Paran, huffing and puffing underneath a tea urn more fit to be a beer-keg than a tea-drinker’s best little friend.
The Oni Nikuyama produced (and this Yamame marked an operative word) an apologetic gasp.
“Ah, damnation! That was full? Hold on, let me—” With one wheel-span hand, Nikuyama relieved the human of the urn. “So sorry about that,” he rumbled. “We’re going to have to pour this out. No, you sit down and wait. I’m the host; I’ll handle the rest.”
“… Have you found the tea?” the human panted dutifully. “I can look if—”
“It’s going to be in the kitchen,” assured the Oni. “You sit and rest. Spirits below… What is going on with my head today? First I’m gnarled; now it’s senility setting in. What a fate…”
And grumbling on the slippery turns of old age, the giant rolled out into the tower’s great lobby. The door clicked shut behind him with un-Oni-like softness. Almost un-door-like as well, in Yamame’s ears – but perhaps this was the doing of those same ears filling with distressed heat, now she had been left suddenly alone with her human.
The human’s ears, if they were similarly rebelling, didn’t prevent him from calmly reacquiring his seat at the table. Which wouldn’t have happened anyway, as humans didn’t rely so much on hearing as they did on sight; in this, Yamame was certain she was right. What was she thinking of, then – bats? To be sure not of humans. Which she should have been. The problem here wasn’t a bat at all. It was a human.
And this human was refusing to cooperate already. Whatever tiny hope Yamame had nurtured to right the matters peaceably, now it was dashed on invisible ramparts the man had raised around himself from wilful silence. Through these ramparts, and off to the side, he was staring now, an empty stare – completely ignorant of the fast agitating Yamame.
Very fast. The heat in her ears was reaching boiling point; and, like the tea urn would be within minutes if the Oni handled it right, Yamame soon puffed hot steam.
“Niku is just my caretaker,” she snapped.
The human Paran peeked cautiously over the battlements of his see-through fortress. “What?”
“Nikuyama,” Yamame repeated, squeezing her fists, “is just my once caretaker. When I was first brought here to the Underworld, he hovered at my side and tempered my relations with the other Oni. Then, once I was settled in, he ensured I had a steady schedule, and people of the capital – timely assistance. At least, when I was still needed.” The spinstress swallowed a bead of indignation. “As you have your ways with your human brothers and sisters, so the Oni required someone to mediate their needs to me. Someone who understood them, as well as they understood themselves. And Nikuyama offered. My point is, though, that he’s just that – someone who maintained my social standing in the capital. Nothing more, nothing less. Just a once caretaker.”
Two expressions vied on the human face at this – which was already thrice as much as the rule.
At length, he murmured, “… I knew that.”
And this brought Yamame over the tip.
“Then why did you have to be told twice?!” she yelled, shooting up and knocking back her chair. The chair clattered to the side with an offended note. “Here I introduced you to an old associate of mine, crossing my fingers you would bond over your lines of work! Here I stole just a few minutes to do some catching up that was well-late anyway! And what do you do? What do you do?”
“You plop yourself in that chair,” she cut him off, “you plop yourself down, you dig your heels in, and you bare your teeth at someone who is no more than my old friend, all behind my back! Never mind doing it from behind my back, actually; Nikuyama is an Oni! A twice-aged one, but still an Oni! What were you going to do? Glare holes in him? You were doing that already, too!”
“I wasn’t going to do anything,” grunted the human.
“Anything else, you mean!” corrected Yamame. “From what he said, you were already spreading hostilities so hard he felt necessary to notify me. Why? Are you so loath to Oni? You greeted him just fine, too. You stomach being around me – and we’re both acquainted with just how far that goes outside human custom. So why? An Oni or no, Niku’s as delicate as a hatchling. He never hurt you in any way, shape or form. He never once looked at you wrong. And you wounded him. Why, Paran? What for?”
Her human shut his eyes and pressed on them with two fingers – a gesture so closely familiar, Yamame’s anger pulsed.
“Yamame,” groaned the human, “let’s be reasonable—”
Oh no, thought Yamame. Not anymore. Already she had been scalded once being “reasonable;” now it was on her own territory she would conduct this hunt. On her own territory – and her own conditions. The first of which was to smash a menacing fist on the table top.
To smash it, and try not to startle at the pain.
“… No,” she said as soon as she trusted her voice not to hike. “I don’t want to be reasonable. I want answers. And if I judge these answers lacking, I want an apology. To me and Niku both. So give, Paran. What is so offensive about my once caretaker, that warrants a quiet war behind my back?”
“… I wasn’t—” began the human.
“You were,” Yamame told him. “You so were.”
“I was,” Paran admitted grudgingly, “but not what you think.”
“So enlighten me. What-ever were you?”
The human groaned. “I was… surprised, at how familiar you were with him.”
Yamame snorted. “What’s so surprising about me being familiar with an old friend? Was I supposed to act as though I’d met him for the first time? What sense would that be? Niku and I raised this city together, with our hands and hearts joined. Same as you and I have built some wonderful things up above. The very least I should do for him is act familiar – as I do with you, incidentally.”
“… You embraced him.”
Yamame shook her head, irritated. The human wasn’t looking, but she did it anyway. “And what, pray tell, is so incredible about old friends embracing? An embrace, a hug, is a gesture of respect. Of camaraderie. The Oni here do it all the time – even more often when drunk. Don’t humans? At the least you are aware what it entails. Why, I’ve offered to hug you,” she remembered, “no longer ago than yesterday. And, may I remind you, it seemed as though it was the last thing you wanted in your mortal life – even if you did then do everything in your power to earn it.”
“That’s not the problem, Yamame.”
“Then what is? That I didn’t bite? Oh, please!” The spinstress made a derisive laugh. “The Oni are more robust by halves than you frail humans; any disease I may have channelled in shock would have done nothing to Niku. Maybe give him a throat-ache at most. Maybe enough to force him to reconsider lighting that pipe. Might be worth a future visit, actually. At any rate, I wouldn’t have bit him anyway. And did you know why?” Yamame breathed in. “Because I’m not a slave to my instincts. Because I’m not an animal. Because I’m a sentient being: with higher drives, emotions, and control. And did you know something else? I would never have bit you, either – even if you see me as nothing more but a dumb earth spider with not a speck of self-discipline.”
And then, a bold and unexpected smile tugging at her lips, she added, “And you may be right after all.”
What else could the human do, but rip the damned hand away from his face and gape at the inexorably closing Yamame? Yamame had hoped nothing; and in a streak of fortune so rare today, these hopes were for once fulfilled. The human’s invisible fortress was as good as immaterial; Yamame barrelled through as if it were never there. A step yet, and she stamped to a halt, just beside its builder. Outmatched in height in this arrangement, the sitting human stared up at the spinstress, who reflected in his eyes with the marked look of a woman with a great idea on her mind.
And the idea was this:
Too complex for the human’s faculties, it seemed. “What?”
“Stand up, Paran,” said Yamame. “Talking is very fine, and I’d talk the afternoon away with you any day – except today. Today, I’m tired of talking. So, I’m going to apply my final argument directly. Therefore,” she told him sweetly, “what you’re going to do for me now, is you’re going to stand up. Then, I’m going to put my arms around you and embrace you. Then, I’m going to win this stupid argument by not employing my teeth in any part of the above. And then, Paran, you’re going to toss this bizarre biting fixation out of your head once and for all. Any questions?”
“Yamame, that’s a bad—”
“Firstly, that isn’t a question. Secondly, it’s a very good idea, and one I’m exclusively proud of. Once more: any questions? No? Then stand up – right now. Or it’s a world of regret for you.”
The human twitched on his chair. To Yamame, the image was uncomfortably (or maybe comfortably) close to a fly twitching about caught in a web. And then…
And then, miracle of miracles, gods-sent under the earth, the human rose on visibly failing knees.
A hand went again to his face – a face he kept turned away and flushed (though perhaps not intentionally on the latter) from the waiting Yamame. A moment still, and his mouth hinged open to speak.
“… Not a question,” he muttered, “but one thing to say. Please.”
Yamame nodded. Then, she startled at how eagerly she’d done so. Then, remembering she was the one in charge, she conditioned, “Ten words or less, though.”
Her human paused – presumably to rearrange the wording of the one thing he wished said. At length, it seemed without having been rearranged at all, the thing was released. “… In human culture,” sighed Paran, “an embrace between a man and a woman… it’s not a sign of respect, or camaraderie – but of affection. You know this… yes?”
Yamame did not know this.
Yamame, in fact, found her face copying the human’s in attiring a pretty pink; but for everything salvageable in this situation, she kept the rest of herself as smooth and composed as Old Hell’s hated vicereine was – on those exceptional occasions she appeared in public. An irony Satori Komeiji, with her unique gift, would very likely appreciate.
“So what?” said Satori Komeiji (or was it Yamame Kurodani?), with a toss of her head. “Are you saying you don’t want to hug me, then?”
The hand on Paran’s face raked. With how hard the rest of Paran squirmed, Yamame wondered how it had not drawn blood.
And finally, the most terrible secret of all was unveiled.
“… No,” said Paran. “I’m not saying that. I want to. I want to hug you. And that – that – is the problem.”
It was the second time Yamame had been hugged inside the day, but it may well have been another lifetime altogether.
All his secrets laid bare, and all counter-points issued, little had there remained for the human, but to fall in and heed – very closely – the final argument of Yamame Kurodani. The argument had begun clumsily, not at all surprisingly to either of them; but once Yamame had clamped a hold on her thrashing senses (more so since recent revelations), the argument had transitioned into a quiet middle stage, where the spinstress focused entirely on breathing in and out at a frequency that was neither conspicuously fast, nor too awkwardly slow. There was no way to tell how good an impression she was making; her human had, to Yamame’s unwilling relief, not commented. Nor had he let go.
Yamame felt trapped. A piece of her clenched inside her abdomen at the very thought, but it was a mistaken piece. Yamame felt trapped – and yet, perversely to everything she had known in her life as a spider, she did not want to escape. Not yet, anyway, thought the spinstress, to no disapproving instinct in particular. A minute more. Or two. Or ten. Then we’ll see.
“… You’re clawing.”
Maybe just one, then, thought Yamame, relaxing her fingers. As though in response, the hand rested on the small of her back quit pushing as hard as it had been. The one on her left shoulder blade, however – this one was still going strong.
And so it kept, until the end of the minute (or the second one, or another yet) came pulling. Only after a moment the spinstress realised it was not the flow of time pulling – but the hands, which had relocated to her sides. Almost retracting the decision as soon as it had been made, she allowed herself to be ripped away from her human.
The Yamame who returned his blushed stare must have been a disordered one. For then he asked uncertainly:
“… Yamame? Are you all right?”
“I’m… OK,” admitted Yamame.
“All right then… Yamame?”
“What is it?”
“Did… Did that – all of that – feel good for you at all?”
Too good, for what it was. “It felt… OK,” she said, drawing a lock of hair behind an ear. “I didn’t bite you, did I?”
The human considered the evidence. “No,” he granted. “I’m still alive.”
And warm, Yamame added inside. The thought stuck, confused between her spider shape, and her two-legged one. “Yes. Alive…” she murmured. “… Why are you asking?”
This time it was the man who had to work on an answer. “… It’s just,” he said, eyes defocusing, “I wasn’t sure— I didn’t know if earth spiders liked… being touched.”
We don’t, thought one Yamame. “I do,” said the other, the recently touched one. “Just… Just not too suddenly. I’m… OK with it then. Very, very OK.”
“Very OK,” she nodded. And then, recovering a few scattered threads of dignity, she asked, “And you? Did that feel good at all – embracing an earth spider?”
The human’s answering expression belied the answer itself.
TriOPtimum here. Making a better tomorrow for all.
Sorry for only updating yesterday. I ended up unexpectedly working over Thursday, to no small personal disappointment. I get paid by the hour, though, so don’t worry – I’m not being abused. And while I’m working over the weekend as well, I should be free for the three days afterwards. So you know what that means.
Hopefully the contents of the update made up for the delay.
Thirty seconds hence – and these were seconds too even to be natural – the door once more rasped open, yielding a hunched Oni. On the Oni’s shoulder, knocking on the door frame as he came through, a barrel of a tea urn was precariously wobbling to and fro. The red giant landed it with a heavy donk on the table. The table complained audibly of this abuse.
“Sorry for that,” said the Oni, it seemed to his guests as well as the table.
Thirty seconds. Not near enough to catch a misplaced composure, but plenty to sketch a functional likeness of one – which Yamame had given to with a spider’s alacrity. The human Paran – whose own composure must have been a poorer runner – moved in to assist Nikuyama with the drinks sooner than Yamame had figured the same idea out herself.
“Ah, thank you, thank you,” rumbled the Oni, like gravel pouring down a quarry wall. At the same time, he poured the tea into the first cup with a push on the urn’s lever. Then, he passed the cup on prudently to the human. “For our little spider, yes?” he said.
Paran inclined his head. “Yes.”
Something else than the tea passed between the males, which Yamame’s mental framework caught but struggled to fit. Acceptance? Approval? But the pass was complete, and the framework had to be switched to other tasks, some equally strenuous. One of those: receiving the cup at a want of spilling the contents over.
“Cheers,” murmured the spinstress.
The thanks, if they had been heard, went unacknowledged, and Yamame slid down onto a chair while watching her human turn away to assist the Oni once more. Already the second cup was being slowly filled in a puff of steam, leaving but one set aside to wait – Nikuyama’s favourite, wide and tall enough to be a tea urn unto itself. Once given his share, the human was unceremoniously prodded away by the Oni, who next went on to fill the last remaining cup – or urn – with undisguised relish. The filling was taking its time.
Yamame looked down.
A puzzled earth spider looked back from the swarthy depths of her tea.
Something had been unlocked here; yet what the something was proved a more difficult enquiry to the spinstress. A word had to exist for it; and if Yamame had to consult the less treaded paths of her memory to find it, so she would. The trouble was, even those were turning up nothing – not at the end of this minute, nor the next. Nor the one following.
At length, spent mostly breathing in the milky steam, the spinstress realised forlornly the answer was one of those prey which must come to her on their own. Not otherwise. To hound at it would do little more than give her a headache; and even if the same head was now itching with frustration, the spider heart inside her chest was a patient hunter. It could wait. It has before.
Yamame buoyed the cup up to her mouth. Then she hissed when the tea very nearly burnt off the tip of her tongue.
Yes, nothing if not patient.
A quieter minute opened out like a parasol over the three in the break room, each contesting again and again the temperature of their drink; each – singularly failing the duel every time. Only when Yamame was positive hers had cooled enough to be less than magma-hot, did she dare to take a full, experimental sip.
The tea wasn’t very good.
All at once she was sorely missing her own tea-box, stashed atop the shelf in the kitchen of her little house. A tea-box – with tea leaves inside – not mushroom caps dried and sliced in a miserable approximate. How did the Oni here abide on these alone? How had she, before these recent months? How was her human doing it even now – rolling the drink in his mouth and never crooking a brow?
These questions milked away as the steam had, when Nikuyama spoke up.
“Now then, little Yamame,” he said, his giant’s hands knotted under his chin, “I believe you were telling us about this… Inari temple of late. What was wrong with the beams, again? You sounded mighty put off with those.”
A reminder of work – this was the last missing piece of the rug which a certain human had pulled out from under her feet very recently. Now the rug was whole again; and Yamame – feet once more firmly planted – began telling again what and why was wrong with the beams – in detail. The detail was great and professional.
The Oni Nikuyama, having absorbed the detail (and appropriately harrumphed at it all), steered the conversation onto hazier terrain for Yamame next – inquiring after the side of her projects on a rule handled exclusively by Paran. To the architect’s limitless wonder, her human set down his half-full cup, and began a thorough – if subdued – account of his experience with Yamame’s latest client. The account was none too complimentary. Nikuyama, of course, harrumphed appropriately.
At the tail end of the afternoon (or perhaps the dry end of the tea), it was the Oni who unsubtly suggested his duties were crying after attention. So Yamame and her human stood up from their empty cups. So they bade to the red giant a heartfelt good-bye which, under circumstance from hours before, would likely have been impossible. So they left, arm-in-arm again, the silenced tower and its aged custodian.
As she was gently leading back down the meandering streets of the capital, Yamame felt the human at her side steadying himself to speak. The steadying lasted a while (or about four streets, by this measure); and by the time it was done the spinstress found herself impressed by the human’s ability to dig himself in while still keeping a reasonable pace.
“What is it?” she asked, before he ended up tripping them both. “Something on your mind?”
The human steadied the final bit before securing a reply.
“… Yamame?” he said.
Yamame giggled. “Yes, that’s my given name. Thank you.” The personal joke satisfied, she tugged encouragingly on his arm. “Come on. What’s on your mind? Aside from my name, of course. That we’ve already established.”
“… A question.”
“Only one? From the wait I thought there might be more.”
“Well, let’s start with the first one, then,” Yamame decided. “What is it?”
Her human waited till the gaggle of visibly (and aurally) inebriated Oni waddling by was well without a rumour’s leap. Then, he voiced the first of the many questions (maybe) infesting his head.
“… Why did you have me come here with you, really? To this alien place?”
Yamame knitted her brows. “To see Niku,” she said. “Obviously. We just did, didn’t we? I didn’t just dream it all, right?”
“Well, no,” coughed Paran, a corner of his hard-wrought steadiness chipping away. “That’s all, then? You wanted to see an old caretaker? With me?”
“… No,” admitted Yamame. “Maybe… Maybe I wanted you to feel a bit trapped. To take you outside of your web, so to say. To shake you up a little. Maybe.”
“So you depended on me… I think.” The Underworld’s great architect gave a small, helpless chuckle. “I don’t know! It’s been altogether too often I’ve had to… think… about my actions and their reasoning lately. I’m not used to it. I don’t know that I like it, either. I’m not very good at it. I’m just a dumb earth spider, after all… right?”
The human winced at the jab. “You aren’t dumb, Yamame.”
“No?” Yamame craned her neck up. “Then pray tell what am I?”
“… Misinformed,” surrendered Paran, mouth all screwed up. “Not your fault. A cultural difference, is all. Nothing more.”
“Then there’s hope for me yet?”
“We’ll… see. But,” the human pulled that topic before it may root, “you wanted me to… depend on you, yes? Is that it?”
“Yes.” Yamame nodded. “I guess I did, at that. Maybe I was still hurting inside from this morning. Maybe. I don’t want to have to mull over it too much. I just want the one responsible to… to depend on me. To trust me. That’s all I’m asking. That’s really all.”
There was a pause as the two passed by the bathhouse they had seen on their way to the lighthouse.
Then, in a quiet voice which conveyed more world-weariness somehow than suitable for his years, the human said:
“… I’ve been dependent on you for a long time, Yamame.”
This time, when the spinstress pulled his arm down, it was reprimanding. “That’s fine, and you’re fine for saying so – but a few months isn’t a long time at all, Paran.”
“No,” he agreed. “It isn’t.”
Another moment, and the human was shaking his head weakly left and right. Too late Yamame realised he was shaking it free of some dark thought, which had someway snuck entirely past her notice. Still, before she may pursue what it might have been, the human was speaking once more.
“Yamame?” he was asking, uncertainly. “Are we… done here, then?”
The spinstress mused over her options. There weren’t many, but some were more tempting than others. In the end, she chose to give him a vengeful smile. “Hmm. How about a test? Shall I let you go and see how you fare without me dangling off of you and scaring away other predators?”
The human’s arm tightened around hers. “Please don’t.”
“Then that answers that, doesn’t it?” Yamame giggled again. “Shall we go home and have some real tea, then? That mushroom stuff is still clinging to my throat. Never mind the pipe smoke. I need to wash it down. Well, Paran?”
All told, the rest of the evening had flown by uneventful. A night was now falling – or so much the clock asserted. The underground’s absence of the Sun as ever kept its claims hard to debate.
A pleased Yamame folded the last of yesterday’s dresses, laying it atop one segregated pile. Three such piles were now occupying the space on the sewing desk of her bedroom; in each, pieces of loosely the same make were stacked by complexity and difficulty of the threading. A cup stood to one side – half-emptied and lukewarm already. Yamame capped it off in one go.
Her human – never one not to take her whimsies literally – had deposited himself in the kitchen almost as soon as their arriving; and had the spinstress not recalled of the dresses her drunken self had insisted on sowing about the house, she might have watched him quietly busy at the stove. Not so then; though the human had volunteered to help once the tea was brewing.
“I never tried to stop you either,” he had argued. “This is my mess, too.”
And however soon Yamame had laughed off the clumsy argument, the other implication tucked away in its folds had kept her thoughts slipping away as she’d gathered up the scattered pieces. Only once she had been locked with those in her bedroom (and the tea the human had brought in at some point), did the spinstress’s mind dedicate wholly to a familiar task.
The task which was now done.
Yamame crossed her arms above her head and stretched her back. That the tea had cooled off so dramatically meant she’d been a while; and in the dim lighting of her throws-and-wraps-littered bedroom, the spinstress began to wonder what was being done without the door exiting her innermost sanctum. Not much, if the sounds were telling (or the lack thereof); still Yamame found herself unable to resist the curiosity. So she rose from the sewing table with a pat-down of her clothes. So she tiptoed out the bedroom with the keenness of a spider on the prowl.
So she found her human in her home’s salon: seated on the sofa, nose stuck inside a book.
The previous few of Yamame’s payments had contained books; once acquainted with the rudiments of surface-world architecture, the spinstress had requested literature to be included in her reimbursements, the better to learn the finer points of her new pastime. Some books so-acquired had proven quite enlightening; some – and one of these Yamame now spied in her human’s hands – had been… less so. This book, the spinstress recognised, had been as serviceable as a needle without an eye: a fictionalised detail on an architect so enamoured with her work, so bewitched by her own designs, the gods themselves had soon taken note. And so one chapter, after page upon page of boasting hyperbole, the vain architect was woken from her daydreams by a spirit who embodied the best and most beloved of her creations. The spirit, quite naturally, was possessed of the form of a mightily handsome man, and gifted an undying devotion to its maker.
Yamame had skipped right to the end at that point, to find the setting wracked by plague and other natural disasters, as well as the narrator’s moralising conclusion. Where did that come from? the spinstress had been left wondering. An attempt at returning to the previous chapters, however, only reinforced she did not want to know so much.
This was the book Yamame’s human was reading now. So engrossed was he, in fact, Yamame may sit right beside him with never a notice – which she now quietly did. Another page went by with her looking on, undetected. Then another one. And another…
Yamame counted the fourth when her human had at last sensed her presence.
A lurch, and he lowered the tome down to his lap. A second, and he was twisted her way – at once abashed and collected enough to apologise for it immediately.
“Sorry,” he said. “I got… distracted. Was there something you wanted?”
Yamame said nothing. Only stared on.
A sigh whistled out between the human’s teeth. “… There was something, wasn’t there?”
There definitely was – more than one. Still, for the indivisible attention of her human, Yamame had to do with only one.
( ) Theorise on tomorrow. ( ) Touch upon touching (bis). ( ) Stare on stubbornly.
OPboy BebOP here. Must say I hadn’t expected the reasonable option to win. Was under the impression THP would always pick the potentially embarrassing option when given the opportunity. Not that I hadn’t planned for it – just hadn’t expected it. Hmm.
Can’t promise an update today (feeling a tad under the weather), and I’m working tomorrow, so Friday’s likely to be our day. Sorry for that.
There were days in a spider’s life when a single catch was an affluence.
“Talk.” The spinstress, issuing her wish, folded her legs on the sofa. “Can you do that now? That little novelette you have there had a great deal of words in it. Almost too great, if you ask me. Anyway enough to refill your stocks and then some. Well then?”
The man humphed good-humouredly at the teasing. “Generally,” he returned, “you can be relied on to speak enough for us both.” He dog-eared a page. Then he shut the book, resting it on his lap. “What did you want to talk about?”
But Yamame was narrowing her eyes; and it was with their golden scrutiny the human had to contend instead. That, and the pouting which followed.
“I don’t talk that much!” huffed Yamame. “It’s your input that’s off the norm – down in the abyss, in fact! Can it really be helped if I have to try and bridge the conversation by myself? I'm not the one at fault here."
“You never were, Yamame.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“What it is,” explained the human, “is that you talk enough. Not too much, not too little – enough. So please, don’t talk less.” He smiled. “… Or more.”
The spinstress had honestly mounted an effort not to release it; but, in the end, a grin spread out onto her lips regardless. “You snake! You were planning that from the start, weren’t you?” When the human shrugged the accusation away, she laughed. “And I’m supposed to believe that?”
“… I’d never been very humorous before I met you,” he replied. “I’m still learning the ropes. Threads? Whatever humour’s held on.”
“A thread’s a subtler type of link – too subtle for your quips, really. A rope is thicker and less couth – better fit to thresh my head with. Go for rope.”
“OK. I’ll go for rope.”
Yamame, snickering, swiped at her human’s shoulder. “Snake!” she chuckled. “But enough of that! Talk. I wanted to talk. Can you talk? Or have we consumed your stores already with that run just now? Hmm?”
Her human rolled his eyes up, as though to count the words remaining inside his head. Then, without expending any, he looked on back to Yamame.
The spinstress gave a nod. “Very good, then,” she said. “I’ll start. There’s something I wanted to theorise on a bit. Yes, yes – I know. This is nothing much out of the rule for you, and so on and so forth; still, it is a bit out for me, and I wanted to do some planning in advance. So, Paran. Tell me. What would you like to do tomorrow?”
This was the human’s exhaustive reply.
Yamame watched, with no small exhaustion of her own, as the expression on her human’s face died. Then rotted. Then, agonisingly, shrunk into a grimace so telling, instantly Yamame was convinced she wasn’t going to enjoy the answer.
“… You aren’t going to like this,” groaned the human.
How-ever did you figure? thought Yamame; but drawing on the positive events of the day, she allowed him to explain himself.
When he didn’t, she urged him to with a pointed stare.
“… Well,” he began, “truth is… I was going to leave – for the village… in the morning. To look for our next assignment. A holy-day is oncoming, and the people are going to rest. A greater chance of finding work awaits when the tongues are looser, but we must make it before—”
Oh no. No. Yamame ground her teeth. This was not happening. Not this time. Not after today.
The human could but throw up his arms in defence when the spinstress lunged; could but stare, wide-eyed, when she gripped the same arms by the wrists and prised them apart. A flash of surprise momentarily blunted Yamame’s anger when she found she had to draw on the strength beyond her two-legged form’s to actually do so; but it was washed away and drowned ever so soon. The earth spider drove on, until the human was pinned against the far armrest of the couch – and she was on him.
A misfiring instinct pushed to bare her fangs – but even it was swept away by the wounded female’s pride.
“You aren’t going,” she told him simply.
“Yamame, please,” the human pleaded. “Take heed—”
“Heed!” she hissed. “Heed this! Heed what I said about a day or two off. Heed that I specially included the ‘two.’ Those were for you, you know! That’s how you take my promises? That’s how you treat my apologies after we’ve… after I’ve supported you?”
“Yamame,” her human was reasoning, “I don’t know what you’re—”
“I hurt you, you idiot!” Yamame exploded. “I hurt you! Yesterday, I asked about your… your twice-cursed god, for no reason but witless curiosity. I went and did that! And then, when I saw you were hurt, I tried – and I promise you I tried – to make it up to you someway. Go, me! Go, stupid earth spider! Now watch as your efforts are all… thrown away.” The spinstress squeezed her eyes shut. “This is your limit, apparently. Go, me. Go, stupid earth spider. Watch it all go to hell.”
A pause slid by that neither of them willed to speak. The only speaker remained the blood pumping up the human’s arms – palpable through his skin, pushing against Yamame’s own – slowing by degrees after the earth spider’s attack. Tick-tock. Tick, tock. Tick… tock. Soon, and it was almost settled. Soon, and resistance on Yamame’s hold had loosened. Soon, and the human was breathing in.
Soon, and he added his voice to the message.
“Yamame,” he said. The voice was calm, but firm. “I’m not hurt.”
Yamame shook her head. “You say that—”
“No.” A rare interruption from the human wrenched her eyes open. “I’m not hurt,” he was saying, staring up at her, “and I’m not hurting even now. This has nothing to do with my… god. And I told you so; Paranseberi is a mask – a mask I immensely dislike. That’s all.”
“Then why were you upset?” Yamame couldn’t help demanding.
Paran – the human, not the god – made a sigh. “The priest,” he grunted, “and his wife – and the servants – they were very… critical of you. Not your building,” he added, “there had been only inconsequential complaints there – not even about the beams – but of you. Yamame Kurodani. The earth spider. Mother of plagues, they call you. The yearly malady. The monster. The horror. The abomination.”
Some of these titles were well-known to Yamame – and insulting.
Some of them were new – and wounding. Yamame’s lips twitched.
The human would punch these thorns further. “There are a few words used for you in the village which are even viler,” he said. “And those words are why Paranseberi exists in the first place. To explain why this ‘abomination’ called Yamame deigns to labour for those who so revile her. To excuse how I am able to parley with her and her ilk without my insides coming up in wet slurry. To soothe the irrational mind that its new home isn’t somehow loaded with disease. It’s all… so needless. Needless, redundant, and degrading. And above all, stupid. So stupid, it puts my whole life into question.”
There was more to this story than had been told – something the human was hinting at, but never revealing; but Yamame was too focused for once on listening to investigate.
“And that,” her human finished with a sardonic smile, “is why I was upset, Yamame. Not with you. Nor with your curiosity – but because you deserve better. Because you are more than a bundle of diseases, carried on an octuplet of hairy legs, which happens to be good at fitting planks on the side.”
“Am I?” Yamame asked. “Do you really think so? Really?”
“Much, much more,” the human assured. “And it is because of that I need to go. Tomorrow, Yamame.”
And this time, it was the spinstress who found herself giving in. “So, it comes back to that in the end,” she sighed. “What did you know, Paran – you can talk. Almost too well, where some topics are concerned.” Such as me. Why is that, I wonder? Yamame looked down at her pinioned human. Then her bangs were whipped left and right as she shook her head. “At any rate, you’re a sinuous beast, and no mistake. There’s no holding you back, is there? Not even like this. You’re fully aware I don’t want to hurt you, and are using it to achieve your ends. He Who Outwits Spiders – that’s what your title should be. Why did I ever take you in? And you were saying I wasn’t dumb.”
“You’re not,” Paran replied instantly. Then he recalled the original subject of the talk. “You don’t want another job, then? I shouldn’t look?”
“I do!” moaned the spinstress. “I do. I do want another job -- really. I want to… I want to build even more new, even more exciting things. I really, really want to. That’s what I wake for every morning.”
“Then what is the problem?” asked Paran.
I don’t know what the problem is, replied Yamame, in a sullen corner of her mind.
Maybe owing to the rituals recently held between them (or perhaps another powerful magick), but leaving her human – or being left by him – seemed now to Yamame last in the formal procession of things. Yet this was the only clear point; and though she looked inside every turn and avenue, the rest were cleverly hidden from her sight. An ambush on the prey’s home ground may be the spider’s way… but what if the ground was inside her own heart?
Yamame Kurodani did not know. And in the end, the yearly malady (so-called) determined to hunt another day.
Her human, or He Who Outwits Spiders (so-should-be-called), was a picture of relief when Yamame drew at last back and set his arms free. Too late she realised the arms had quit resisting altogether at the end; only now, retreating to her section of the sofa, Yamame swallowed the belated question. A question the human, if he was himself, was unlikely to grace an answer on anyway.
The same human was now limply pushing himself up to a sit by help of the same armrest which he had been pinned to moments before. There was a joke to be made of it all, of some kind. Yamame didn’t make one.
Another question, instead, let loose from her silly mouth.
“Can’t I bribe you to stay somehow?”
Paran looked to her – startled at first, then hopelessly amused. “… You wouldn’t know how to do that, Yamame.”
“… No need to rub it in,” she muttered back.
“I wasn’t. I was…” The human trailed off. Then, something at last associating in his head, he furrowed his brows. “Yamame. I’m not running away from you.”
She gave him no benefit of an easy escape anyway. “Aren’t you?”
“No?” Yamame forced a wan smile. “What about my infinitely troubling curiosity then?”
Paran coughed. “… Maybe a little,” he confessed, “but we are racing a holy-day, and no lie. I want you to continue working, Yamame. And I promise: I’ll be a couple days at the worst. Then, when I’ve returned, I’ll make it up to you. Anything you’d like.”
“Anything?” asked Yamame.
“Anything… safe,” conditioned her human. “I’ll try to bring you back something nice, too. There was some of our money bundled in with the rest of the payment. May as well swap it for something more useful.”
“And you promise me this?”
The human, in a windfall moment of trust, offered a hand to be shaken – the human way.
“I swear on the gods,” he promised.
But which ones? wondered Yamame, taking the hand. Then she shook.
That night, Yamame had excused herself to sleep earlier.
After they had forged their agreement (was it, really?) on the human’s departure, no other topic had stuck; before long her human had reopened the stupid architect novelette and continued his reading. Yamame had, for a time, pestered him with this or another entertaining titbit; but Paran’s mind had already been cast to the future, to the coming on day. So the spinstress had been left with no choice. None, but to gracefully throw her towel in.
Now she had woken. Now she had woken and – having quit her bedroom – found the enterprising human up already. Without bothering to change out of her sleeping clothes, the spinstress watched on quietly from the side-lines, as the human readied to travel back to his birth place.
The place which, while it had birthed Paran, also bred the very prejudice which had brought him to Yamame’s domain.
At the doorstep of her tiny house, some minutes later, Yamame and her human exchanged their interim farewells.
Or they would have – had a word been passed between the two. Instead, Yamame swung the sash the human used to protect his eyes on the surface behind his neck, then pulled him down by the ends. Without speaking, she looped her arms around his shoulders and squeezed.
And, in another godsend display of trust, the human squeezed back.
About to say something, but timidly retracting it – that is what he looked like once Yamame had released him. A smart comment of this or that fashion, Yamame was sure; but none were issued, even when she stole again his blindfold and, same as two days before, put on it her pretended blessings. The human, surprising her, put his own into the mix.
Then he left.
Yamame returned inside her house, the sweat on her arms already chilled by the cold tunnel air. A few days, the human had said. A fraction of what Yamame had lived; less than some of his previous business treks to the village. The spinstress slumped against the door. A few paltry days was all she had to wait. A blink on eternity’s scale.
So then, she asked the oddly vacant interior of her home, why does it feel like the longest time all of a sudden?
As usual I forgot to mention this, but of course I’m working over the weekend. I made a frail attempt of writing at work, but surrounded by so many curious toy objects meant for creatures a fraction of my age but amazing nonetheless people glancing over my shoulder, it just wasn’t coming out. Sorry for that. Monday’s our day, more likely than not.
>>14974 An ambush! Those slippery writers strike at our most vulnerable areas! The cowards!
An untold amount of hours later, she formed a possible answer. An eternity could blink for a very long time.
An impossibly bored earth spider was stretched out atop the sofa’s backrest. A pair of feet was wagging, back and forth in the air, naked and un-spider-like, even as their owner – also un-spidery – thumbed her way around a book whose contents couldn’t hold the attention of someone twice as bored as she. How under the earth it had held the human’s remained a stubborn mystery. Not one Yamame was set on solving; but in this stage of boredom the feeblest distraction went a ways.
The arms of her bedroom’s clock must have swung five hundred circles by the time she’d quit attempting to remember what she had last done her human had been gone. Nothing had recalled but the vaguest of ideas. A memory of sewing had come up; something about drinking had briefly suggested itself – but neither approaching the realm of clarity. The borders of this one began at the human’s return, then the architect’s work afterward. Anything before that time… was cocooned in a blur.
As now was quickly (or slowly) becoming. Though Yamame had given some consideration to leaving the house, a hint of a duty had stored the notion away – at least, until another day. To what this duty had pertained, or what its demands had been (else than remaining indoors) – this Yamame couldn’t say. Something silly, she had guessed. Like faith. Or hope.
Yet even in these overlong hours, not everything was dull and hopeless. For then a thump on the house’s door ruptured the still air like the shell of a bird-egg.
Absorbed as she had been in the unabsorbing book, Yamame rolled off the tall edge of the backrest and crashed bodily on the floor. The thumper beyond the door thumped again, dedicated to their temporary station. And even if it was an aptly startled Yamame who picked herself up and went to dismiss them, what they would be met with instead would be one halfway between an annoyed and a relieved one.
And so they were. Though it was no prematurely returned human who stood framed in the doorway when it was opened.
Who did, was a young, jet-haired woman. Known to Yamame and expected both – but still the Underworld’s great architect sagged dramatically at the sight of this woman-who-was-no-returning-human. The woman’s angular eyes betrayed no personal notice as they walked from the bottom edge of Yamame’s nightwear, all the way up to its flimsy shoulder-straps.
“Nice digs, Yams,” were the woman’s first words. “Whistle-whistle and all that,” were the next. And at last, “I’ve come to collect,” stamped the greeting ritual with a big, friendly smile.
Yamame Kurodani, the earth spider, mother of plagues, did not as a rule turn away visitors at her door. Nor was this a time of exceptions. So she shaped a like smile, and presented it to her disappointingly unhuman guest.
“Hello, sister,” she said. “A touch early, this time. Are the girls so impatient?”
The other earth spider – for this was indeed the visitor’s true colour – shrugged. “Aren’t they always? Altogether like a bunch of bleeding Oni. Granted, that’s before work. They get even worse after.”
Against the core of exasperation (why was one there?) telling her to slam the door and continue her sulking, Yamame giggled at the undisguised critique of her and the visitor’s unruly siblings. A distant relation it might have been, and such as Yamame had never traced back to any single origin, but a relation all the same by way of their shared nature. This alone made the scathing commentary – if not welcome – at the very least excusable.
“They’d have you tied to a pole and drunk naked if they heard,” warned Yamame, smiling. Then she stepped to the side of the door and gestured the other earth spider through. “Come on in, Ashi. We’ll find something shiny to appease them.”
Hachiashi, the other spinstress, laughed. “They won’t if they love me. And why else would they have trusted me with their rewards? Come in I shall, though. Must have been rain upside. The caves are all drippy.”
And come in she did. Yamame shut the door behind her sharp-tongued sibling who, now she looked twice, was indeed as damp as a web on a spring morning. Hachiashi’s (two) legs carried her unerringly toward the storeroom, where the reapings of the earth spiders’ most late endeavour were safely treasured. With an overblown bow, the younger spinstress allowed the storeroom’s owner to enter on the point.
As Yamame began dividing her stores into those meant for herself and to reimburse her siblings, Hachiashi hovered by the entrance, leaning on the doorframe and watching her sister so busy. But, as any sharp object soon or late slips its packaging, so the younger earth spider soon unpacked another bolt of pointed words.
“So-o,” she asked in a conversational tone, “how goes the things with your human, then?”
Yamame seized up.
Then she un-seized up, and resumed tossing expensive items into a basket she had delegated to the job as though no asking had ever taken place. Hachiashi, whose carmine eyes were even sharper than her tongue, chuckled through her nose.
“That’s Yamame for ‘if I don’t move, the snake won’t see me,’” she interpreted. “Or it might have been ‘grout those bleeding tiles or I’ll give you bronchitis,’ if we were on-site. My coin’s on the former, though.” There was a sound as though arms untying and re-tying. Then, Hachiashi sighed. “Yamame, we know. There’s no shame in it; we’re getting our own jollies thanks to the fellow anyway, so we couldn’t give a care less. Only, I ask because I’m concerned, see. About him, not you – before you invariably point out our eight-eyed heritage.”
Yamame rounded at the younger earth spider with – what she essayed to make – a scolding frown. “Ashi,” she chided, “I’m fine—he’s fine, thanks. I haven’t given him bronchitis or… or anything else.” She swallowed the lie. “As for how… ‘things’ are going, we’re also fine – really, really fine.”
“Want a free tip?”
“A tip,” said Hachiashi. “A piece of advice. You’re the eldest of us all, Yamame, and I wouldn’t presume to teach a spinstress how to sew a kerchief – but some of us wonder about your… shall we say, peculiar upbringing? Some of us in fact worry it’s hampered your ability to interact with anything shorter than an outhouse and lacking for horns on their head. Such as, say… oh, I don’t know – a human?”
Yamame squinted. “What would you know about humans, Ashi?”
The younger spinstress didn’t answer at first. “… Yamame,” she said at length, “some of us didn’t follow your descent into the Underworld. Some of us chose to remain to lick our wounds beneath the stars, rather than stone. Some of us lived to see the humans arrive, grow, die, then grow again from the shadows. And some of us gathered the courage to come out and walk among them… eventually. Then, of course, the Underworld was cracked open again, and we were once more a big, happy family – even if some of us had in the meanwhile acquired other friends and mentors. My point, however, dearest sister, is that I’m offering a free tip. Taking it would be what tact would dictate in this situation.”
Yamame Kurodani was starting to feel her age. “… Very good,” she surrendered. “Give, then. What do I do?”
The younger earth spider smiled a knowing smile. “Simplicity,” she said. “Touching. Humans love being touched. It’s how their species shows affection, see. Much of it also feels good to us, incidentally. Maybe we’ve got this form to thank for it. So there. Try touching. It’ll do wonders, you’ll see.”
Yamame Kurodani, already the eldest among the Underworld’s earth spiders before, now felt her age double again in her heart. “… I knew that already,” she murmured. “I knew that, Ashi. It… didn’t help – much.”
“Maybe you were touching the wrong places,” opined Hachiashi.
Yamame began to panic. “There are wrong places?!”
“There are very wrong places,” confirmed the younger spinstress. “Now, now – quit fidgeting. Nothing is irreversible. If I had to put it in Yamame terms, it wouldn’t be much different from building. A window in a load-bearing wall may spell collapse for the whole thing; but put in some supports, and you’re back in the physics game. Similarly, when you apply plaster, you could slather it all over the target area any-old-how and offend every notion of propriety; but scrape it off and apply it again – slowly and evenly – and you can rub your cheeks with it without fear for ugly scars. Humans are delicate creatures, Yams. And, where showing affection is involved, human males are the most delicate.”
“Where do I touch, then?” asked Yamame.
Hachiashi lifted a barring finger. “Now, now, Yams,” she cooed, “you’re the eldest of us all, and I wouldn’t presume – and so on and so forth – but here’s something that someone told me a hundred years ago, in a darker, more pragmatic time: that there are only two ways to fill in the gaps in your education. With charms, or with bribery. And plenty though they are, your charms aren’t going to make the cut here. So the only option which remains is…”
Hachiashi left it hanging.
Yamame matched her younger – yet apparently worldlier – sister with an admonishing stare. To her growing despair, the stare was quickly losing out.
At last, the Underworld’s great architect managed to disconnect from her pride and store it away for this moment.
“What do you want?” she asked, eyes tightly shut.
Hachiashi considered her options. “… Fabrics,” she said finally. “Hardly ever do I see our payments include raw material, but I know you’ve a smart collection of scraps yourself, Yams. A couple of those, and I’ll share as well.”
Yamame shook her head. “I don’t have fabrics at the moment,” she said. “I’ve got… well, dresses. Complete ones. I was going to tear those down, but… well, as we know, I got… side-tracked, for a bit. A long… long bit.”
The younger spinstress made an amused sound. “You did at that, didn’t you? No matter. That’s even better. A dress, then. Maybe it’s time I baited a male of my own. And that’s beside the regular pay, by the way,” she cautioned. “You aren’t skimping out on me, Yams. I love you, and I’d give six out of my eight legs for you, but a lesson isn’t a lesson unless it is hard-learned. That’s also what someone told me long ago. Well then?”
Yamame opened her eyes and pinned her sister with a hard, amber stare. “Ashi…”
“No dice, Yams,” Hachiashi waved it aside. “Your prettiest dress – and my wisdom is yours. Take or leave, elder sister.”
( ) Learn from the younger generation. ( ) Figure it out on private time.
Her younger sister’s head was cocked to the side at these words of submission. “That was fast and painless – for Yamame standards. Maybe I trivialised the situation. So things aren’t fine at all, are they?”
The eldest earth spider mustered what little authority remained in her wrinkled heart. “Quit,” she growled. “Quit, Ashi. Things are fine – really fine. Only… Only I don’t know where to take them, you know? How to take them. This – all of this – is just… new, to me. A year ago you could have told me we would one day be talking about how best to… to treat a human, and I’d have laughed you to the other end of the capital. Now it feels the world’s turned belly-up, and that there are humans after all who would seek my company precluding hostilities, rather than immediately throw pitchforks or run away. And did you know something, Ashi? That’s exactly why I’m confused. I’m just a dumb earth spider. A yearly malady. How am I supposed to know what to do?”
Hachiashi’s brows made an ironed V above her nose. “You aren’t dumb, Yamame,” she reproached; “don’t ever let anybody tell you otherwise. What you are, is single-threaded. A routine affliction among geniuses, really. Nothing to self-deprecate about.”
“Under any other circumstance, Yamame. Under this one, I am glad you’re expanding your horizons. Who can say? Might be, you’ll turn out a genius at treating humans as well.”
Yamame spat a chuckle. “Now you’re mocking.”
The younger spinstress grinned. “Now I am.”
Somewhat less of a wrinkled heart, Yamame returned to allocating her sisters’ compensation. Hachiashi, at an uncharacteristic want of further lambasting, watched the basket fill with both more and less useful trappings from her elder sister’s stock. When it was full, she received the basket from Yamame, then filed out and followed the Underworld’s great architect to her bedroom, where their next goal lay.
On the sewing table, stacked in neat piles, a colourful arrangement of dresses was waiting. Waiting its ultimate end most of all – but now also for the salvation of a single of its constituents at the whim of a certain mercenary spider. The spider in question flumped on Yamame’s bed, permitting its owner the honours of presenting the candidates to be spared. The goods-filled basket cradled on her lap, Hachiashi looked on as Yamame unfolded the first of the condemned dresses.
“Not my cut,” she said critically.
Yamame shrugged. Then, she unfurled the next piece.
“Not my colour,” said Hachiashi.
Yamame put it away. Then, she pulled out the next one.
And so on and so forth.
As more and more chaos was made of Yamame’s previously assorted backlog, the younger spinstress purposed at last (by way, perhaps, of quickening the proceedings) to unlock the coffers of her worldly knowledge. Thus, once the next in the line of dresses had been damned to disassembly (too draughty for her liking), Hachiashi spoke in a serious tone – one which defied anyone to doubt her proclamations.
“OK,” she said, “lesson one, then. Hands. Humans may express themselves through their mouths first, but hands come close second. Hands are used in human greetings, ceremonies, intimacy and work. After their tongue, they’re a human’s foremost tool of trade. Are you listening, Yamame?”
“I am,” said Yamame. “Hands.”
“Yes. Hands. Have you tried touching your human’s hands, then? Oh, forget that one. That one’s going to hang on me like a stretched web.”
Yamame tossed the latest dress onto the rejected pile. “… I have,” she admitted. “Or, had him touch mine. With his own first, then… with his lips.”
The younger earth spider whistled. “Woo! Go Yams. Tracking the juiciest new trends for once, were we? Where did that one come from, anyway? Never mind,” she clipped the unneeded sidelight. “That’s high-level enough; I take it he enjoyed it, then?”
“I… don’t know,” said Yamame.
Hachiashi sketched a frown. “What do you mean, you don’t know?”
“He was… I don’t know, reluctant? Kept asking if I’m calm and stuff. Then let go very soon.”
Not that I’m completely ignorant as to why, Yamame thought miserably. Too miserably, it turned out – or too loud; when she looked up, her sister was squelching her face as though a foul wind was blowing right in it.
“Hold up,” Hachiashi said. “Hold up and stay. You didn’t… do anything to him before that – right? Gods above, Yams. Tell me I’m right.”
And here it is, thought Yamame. A groan squeezed out from her throat. “I… may have bitten him. Once.”
“You may have what?”
Yamame palmed her face. “… I bit him,” she gave up. “OK? I bit him. That was months ago, though. We were climbing up the outlets; he slipped, caught me. I got startled. Should have been the last, but it was the first instinct that caught. I nursed him back to health afterwards, though. He’s been absolutely fine since. Absolutely, really fine – really.”
“What… What did you give him?” Hachiashi asked, terrified. When Yamame named the illness, her face went white. “Gods above, Yamame, that kills people.”
“It doesn’t kill them,” Yamame moaned, “only—”
“Makes them wish they were dead instead. A marked improvement.” The younger spinstress was scowling up a storm and a half. “So, what you’re saying to me, you bit this human of yours – months ago – and he has been afraid of touching you since. Yes?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You implied that.” Hachiashi groaned. Then she rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Gods above, Yams. Gods above…”
That was months ago, Yamame thought despondently, and I didn’t even bite down hard.
Her sister didn’t hear this thought for a change; stoutly convinced the entire event had been carefully orchestrated, she ejected the basket from her lap, and stood up from the messy bed. Then, she stuck one hand out at the gloomy Yamame.
“Very well. A hands-on lesson, then. Touch.”
Yamame looked from the offered hand to her sister’s glaring eyes. Then back again. “… What?”
“Touch my hand, you blundering idiot.”
What could she do? Yamame reached out.
A quartet of razor claws slashed the air where her arm might have been – had her spider reflexes not whipped it out of the way in time.
Yamame reeled back. “What—”
Hachiashi was flexing the fingers of her free hand. “Oh? Sorry, Yams. That just came out on its own. Stupid instincts. Come on. Shake.”
“… Ashi,” said Yamame, warily. “What are you doing?”
“Never mind.” Hachiashi smiled. “Touch my hand, Yams.”
“… All right.”
Again, Yamame reached out. And again, the air cried a shrill death cry as the same claws lashed out once more.
Now Yamame jumped back. “Ashi, what in the—”
“Oh? Huh.” The younger spider lazily examined her nails. “Ah. Sorry for that. I promise it won’t happen again. Touch.” This time, as she offered the hand again, the other one was visibly poised to strike. “Well, Yams? Come on. I promised, right?”
“Ashi,” rattled Yamame. “No.”
“You’ll swipe me.”
“Why! What makes you say that?”
“Your claws are out,” pointed out Yamame. “You’ve just done it, and your claws are out.”
Hachiashi made a slow nod at this accurate an assessment. “Well now. So what you’re saying is you aren’t going to try again?”
“No,” answered Yamame. “No, I’m not.”
The younger spinstress smiled – and this time the smile was free of any and all derision. “And that,” she said, “is exactly how your human is feeling. Has been feeling – for months. Good job, Yams. You’ve figured it out – you bleeding genius, you.”
Yamame could but blink as her sister stepped in and clapped her on the back. No claws were involved in the action. Almost she didn’t notice when Hachiashi began for the bedroom’s door, shoving her along.
“Ashi?” Yamame gasped out. “What are you—”
“Tea,” said the other earth spider. “Tea and biscuits, Yams. This is going to be a longer talk than I’d thought. And I won’t be going easy on you. No, ma’am. Not at all. You’re in for an earful.”
“What about the dress? We were going to pick—”
“The gold one,” Hachiashi replied instantly. “The one you had set aside. What’s it made of? Scale? That one, want it.”
“… I was going to keep that one,” Yamame murmured.
When she turned around, her younger sister looked to all the world a picture of utter innocence. “That is why I want it, Yams. A lesson hard-learned and all that – remember?”
Then, the innocence cracked, and a devious smirk oozed out from the gaps.
“That,” said Hachiashi, “and gold makes you look terribly fat, dearest sister. Your hair’s gold enough. You can’t have all the glow to yourself. Allow the rest of us to be our own lights shining in the darkness.”
It felt nothing beyond a handful of minutes since she had been lodged on the sofa with one of her brood sisters, taking in tea and thorny exposition in a decidedly unequal distribution; but the Yamame of now knew by some internal measure however late into the night she and Hachiashi had sat with their talk, it must have been a wealth of hours since all the same. Her eyes flickered open – gummed by sleep – and the vision underneath blurred.
A sluggish Yamame wobbled to a sit. A blanket – one she had no recollection of placing there – spilled from her shoulders and down the length of her back.
“Ashi?” mumbled the sleepy spinstress. “Sorry. I’ve dozed off for a bit. Where were we?”
A chuckle was her reply; but this was no voice of her younger sister who had drilled her with knowledge into the latest watches of the night. This voice was deeper – less feminine. Yamame’s instincts jostled her into attention. The spider eyes squinted at the figure seated beside her.
A face lazily swam into focus. A moment, and Yamame registered who it belonged to.
Yes, she thought dimly. This really is a dream. “You aren’t supposed to be here,” she told the face. “You were supposed to be days. Where’s Ashi?”
Another chuckle before an explanation was volunteered. “Gods watching,” said Paran – as though the simple evocation answered everything. Then, addressing the other question, he said, “Your sister has left. No more than an hour ago. With a rather sizeable stockpile of items; you would do well to retake your inventory to make sure… Wha— Yama—! Stop—!”
The human’s voice wheezed out with a sound like prey being throttled when Yamame crawled near and embraced him.
A mismanaged reflex – his, this time – saw him kick a clumsy retreat up the sofa. Yamame didn’t let go. She allowed herself to be dragged along. The reflex petered out; and almost as soon as it had flared, the human became still again. Yamame tightened her arms.
A silenced minute ticked by like so.
A minute; a little much to last for a greeting – but to Yamame not five, not ten, nor even twenty would have been satisfactory. Not like so. The spinstress breathed in.
“… Paran,” she whispered. “It’s fine to touch me. It’s very… very fine to touch me.”
The human grunted a strangled apology. Then, he nodded. The motion was felt by Yamame more than seen (mostly through his jaw brushing the hair by one of her ears), but there it was, however perceived. The spinstress hushed her alerting senses when two long arms wound around her – one behind her shoulders, one at her waist – and pulled her closer.
Now. Now another minute may tick by like so.
And a warm, warm minute did.
At its end, it was Yamame who rang its death-knell, releasing the air from her chest in a whispered question. “Did Ashi,” she asked, “did she… say anything to you, before she left? Anything at all?”
Paran’s answering rasp was a strange vibration all across her body. “No. She… She doesn’t like me. I think. Never said a word. Just… glowered.”
“… Very good,” breathed Yamame. It was to the good; Hachiashi might have the overclever mouth of a Tengu, but the unswerving loyalty of the Oni she so vilified. A secret in Hachiashi’s keeping was a secret safe. “So, what about you? What wind has blown you back into my web so soon? Not that I’m complaining…”
Another funny sensation vibrated throughout Yamame when the human briefly laughed underneath her. “A fortunate wind,” he said. “Though, perhaps not altogether.”
“… Mrm,” Yamame murmured. “Well. Not even I can feature you’d come back to me so soon after blowing up about racing holy-days and so and such empty-handed. So? What’s the job? You have got me one – right?”
“Yes. I have notes for you. As always.”
“… You’re lying on them.”
At no small expense to her heart’s economy, Yamame pushed away from her human. The arms on her back unlocked and fell away with an almost audible rip of separating flesh.
Or was that just in my head? Yamame wondered inside. Still, never one to cast words on the wind, she pushed on until she sat astride him. A few leafs of fatigued line paper were indeed sticking out one of her human’s breast pockets. Never waiting for a “Help yourself,” Yamame burrowed through the pocket, scavenging the notes as well as what turned out a stray, oaken twig. Yamame flicked it beside the sofa to be picked up later. Then, she shuffled through the notes prepared on her new job.
The first page, it proved, was a letter of entreaty to the Underworld’s great architect – as overlong and overblown as befit the single complimentary of her titles. Almost, and Yamame would have crumpled it up without reading to the end; but then she marked the name calligraphed on the bottom of the page in bulbous, runic lettering.
“… Hijiri?” Yamame knitted her brows. “Byakuren… Hijiri?”
“A Buddhist priestess,” Paran supplied, “one who lives in a temple nearby the village. Much beloved; although her provision of service to youkai as well as humans has raised some brows.”
“That temple,” muttered Yamame, “is Myouren-ji its name?”
Paran blinked up at her, surprised. “Yes. How did you—”
The spinstress bit down on a lip. “I’ve had a sour experience with that one.”
“Never mind.” Yamame tossed the letter. The next pages were by half more interesting to an architect’s mind such as hers. “A guest-house, huh,” she was mumbling. “With rooms to lodge thirty… Conveniences as well… An outdoor bath? All fenced-off, too. Hmm.” Already her trained eye was righting the lines and angles of the crude drawings Hijiri (or one of her supplicants currying favour anyway) had scrawled on the paper to resemble the desired building. “This’ll be heaps and heaps of material,” Yamame judged the plans. “That bath – something fierce. Hope it’s not beyond the means of our ‘much beloved’ priestess to supply. Komeiji would never permit us to quarry for stone around the capital, either, if it’s meant to go to up the surface – and especially if it’s meant for a temple. That girl has a problem with religious figures.”
“There’s a caveat, too.”
Yamame screwed up her mouth. “A cave-what, now?”
“A condition,” Paran explained. “The priestess Byakuren managed – over the three hours we spoke – to allege to me a need to… ‘display the utility’ of youkai in enterprises like these. The priestess wishes you remain on the temple grounds for the duration of the works to be… displayed to the villagers come to pray. Overnighting as well; though of course comforts will be provided. All in peaceable conditions, if you uphold them.” He smiled. “That was in the letter, by the way.”
“That’s all?” Yamame made a derisive sound. “That’s nothing! All it means is we won’t have to make the trip every day. The girls will be glad to meet those curious about their work, too; bother, I will be glad to meet one.”
Paran’s face darkened for an instant. Then, as soon as it had coalesced, the darkness was gone. “… Yamame,” he warned her, gently. “You’re very likely to be used as a political tool.”
This time Yamame was the laughing one. “A political tool? That’s ridiculous! What use would we be? The Underworld has only one ruler – uncontested and uncontestable – and she doesn’t do politics.”
“The priestess does.” Paran breathed out what turned out one heavy breath – the least because Yamame was weighing down on it. “Mark my words,” he sighed, “this project will be moulded into a display of power for Myouren-ji. One way or another – it will. I respect Hijiri and her views… but she holds with the wrong company for a priestess.”
“This is how you came upon this job on such a short notice, you think?”
“No.” Paran wrenched his head left and right. “That was something else.”
“What was it? Sounds like a mighty fine coincidence otherwise.”
The human assumed a humourless smile. “A certain priest’s wife, vocal about her disappointment with her husband distributing her dresses as payment to… to earth spiders,” he concluded. An errant twitch quirked a corner of his mouth down. “Very vocal, in a place with many ears. Yet those more civil to your kin as well – as the gods had it.”
Those gods are luck and chance, thought Yamame. “Hijiri sought you out, then?” she asked. “That’s quite the honour, I imagine.”
“No,” said Paran. “The priestess sought only you.”
Yamame had wondered whether the harsh lining of Paran’s words had hinted at something more than chance in his meeting with the Buddhist priestess; but, in one embarrassing moment, she knew differently.
“… Paran,” she said, hoping against hope her gratitude wasn’t hitching her voice up too high. “If you don’t want me to take this job, I won’t.”
The human’s eyes became as wide as the bottom of a tankard. “Yamame,” he began, “that’s not—”
“If you don’t want me to,” the spinstress rode him over, “then I won’t. I do want this job myself; it looks big, it looks fun, it looks like a challenge – but if you don’t reckon I should, then I’ll decline. And did you know why? It’s because I trust you. So, if there’s anything putting you off of it, tell me now and I’ll burn the entire thing in the stove next time we put on the water. I really will. Well then?”
“Yamame, that’s not it.”
“What isn’t it?”
Paran tensed up, as though fighting to expel a poison which had been long intermixed with his blood. “… It’s just a misguided worry,” he said at last. “Take the job if you accept the conditions; I brought it back here for that purpose. I’ll… worry on my own time. You, Yamame, do as you please. That’s how I… how you are at your best.”
Yamame made a slow nod. “… I’ll take it.”
“Then take it, Yamame.”
“Then I take it.” The spinstress folded the papers in half. “And taken.”
The human produced his relief in a long, whistling breath. “Very good. How long until you have a project for our employer?”
“Give or take two days, and I’ll have a reply and a costs estimate ready. Once she approves those, I can start sketching in the earnest.” Yamame slid her eyes up and down the human she was using for a cushion – had been using so for the space of previous minutes. Unaccountably, the tired expression on his face put her in mind of teasing. “What about you?” she asked. “Are you going to head out again, find me another job to substitute this one, just in case your worries eat you alive?”
“For now,” grunted Paran, “I want to shower and rest. The priestess had lodged me overnight, but I had to leave… early.”
“Maybe you should,” giggled Yamame. “Maybe—”
“And you,” Paran put in, “should apply yourself to work. Two days begin now.”
“Well, yes.” Yamame tossed her hair behind her shoulder. “Of course; you don’t need to teach a spinstress how to sew a kerchief. I mean, fuh! It’s my job now. I’m not that irresponsible, you know.”
( ) Apply Yamame to work. ( ) Apply Yamame elsewhere. ( ) Apply the “anything” owed. (Write-in Option)*
*This option, if unused, will appear at later points when appropriate. This is my way of apologising for the rarity of choices in this story. A way for you to throw a System Shock wrench into my Guilty Gears. That’s what readers do, after all, isn’t it?
I'm sorry, I may be a dummy, but I'm not exactly catching what happened (or what Yamame thinks happened) topside.
>Those gods are luck and chance, thought Yamame. “Hijiri sought you out, then?” she asked. “That’s quite the honour, I imagine.”
>“No,” said Paran. “The priestess sought only you.”
>Yamame had wondered whether the harsh lining of Paran’s words had hinted at something more than chance in his meeting with the Buddhist priestess; but, in one embarrassing moment, she knew differently.
>“… Paran,” she said, hoping against hope her gratitude wasn’t hitching her voice up too high. “If you don’t want me to take this job, I won’t.”
Here, I don't understand what the implication. So, nobleman's wife complains to a court or public square or whatever that her husband gave a filthy youkai all her good dresses. Byakuren catches wind of it, and so does Paran. But then... what? How does 'the harsh lining of Paran’s words' 'hint at something more than chance'? What does he mean he sought Yamame out specifically, does he mean Yamame specifically -out of all other earth spiders- or Yamame specifically, rather than him? So was it due to chance after all, as that third line seems to imply?
>>14997 Fellow reader here, here's how I see it: I believe Paran's bitterness comes from how Hijiri sought Yamame's help because she's an earth spider, a youkai, who build stuff. Paran's displeased that Hijiri sees only a youkai she could use in her political game rather than seeing Yamame as a person or as a builder. I mean, Paran has said before that he dislike their previous client because said client saw Yamame as a monstrous plague-weaver rather than a person. What Hijiri is doing here is somewhat similar, I think.
>>14996 Oh, that would be really kind of her! It is a good write in.
>>14998 It is better than not acknowledging her existence at all, but not by much. The superstitious humans see Kurodani the deadly earth spider. Myourenji see Yamame the friendly youkai. Does anyone even care about her as a person?
>>15001 To be fair, the humans aren't exactly wrong in believing that. Look at the scene with Paran touching her for the first time. Without even thinking about it, she gave him a disease that very well could have killed him, and judging by how Ashi spoke she's given worse in the past.
Hell, Hijiri's the most wrong here, because while Yamame certainly doesn't seem purposefully malicious, she's sure as fuck not friendly.
>>14997 1) A job falls into Paran's lap. It's from someone important, whom he additionally has pre-existing opinions on. 2) This being a huge coincidence if otherwise, Yamame assumes the two must then have been involved at some point and parted on sour terms. 3) Nope. It is a coincidence, and it turns out the irritation was all about MUH SPIDER WAIFU REEE Yamame and Yamame alone. Cue flags.
Or am I? Yamame asked herself, even as the thought occurred her work would not run.
But this was a bad Yamame speaking: one who would offer up integrity to the vice of short-lasting pleasure. This Yamame would be disallowed from further propositions. If the one pining after the work which she loved were to get hers quicker too, so much the better. Nor did the great architect write the possibility of frolicking after job hours out of the rule. To call these “a time for work and a time for play” would be a slight to the entertainment Yamame drew from the former; but, at such an urgent need to keep the two apart, the centuries-tested adage had to do.
Or, she could tell to the politicking curates of the surface world where best they store their guest-houses, and commit the rest of the day to breaking down her human’s impediments.
Shush, you, thought the architect Yamame, roping the bad Yamame and towing her off to be locked deep down in Yamame-cells. All of this the bone – bones, really, and meat, and a wealth of other things – of contention stuck beneath the physical Yamame had watched: seeing naught, but apprehending the results anyway.
All the more surprised he then, when the Underworld’s great builder swung her legs over him first, then over the edge of the sofa. Then, she flourished to a stand.
Something uncoupled from one of her hips and tumbled away when she did – scraping down along her thigh and lashing her senses to a hammering gallop.
Almost, and Yamame would have leapt all the way to the house’s rafters.
Almost, and she would have loosed such a squeak of panic it would have been more mouse-like than anything conceivably spider.
Almost, and she would have flinched away, rounded on her human, unsheathed her fangs, and given a terrible lie to everything of which she had, over the last arduous days, been desperately attempting to convince him.
Almost… but she did not.
A sibilant intake of breath, and Yamame’s blood grudgingly dedicated to its primary responsibility. So expelled, the agitation previously riding on the streams had no choice but to smother, dissipate, and wait another day to trip. Yamame breathed out, and the blood, too, quit pounding through her heart. Or did it? The reason may have changed, but Yamame’s heart was still very much a-pound.
So she rounded on her human.
So she loosed a sound – but of decision rather than panic.
So she… well, she didn’t leap for the rafters; but she rafted her hands up to land them on her hips – one of which was smouldering still.
If her favourite human had touched her unwittingly, and if he had never realised until the contact had been terminated, and had been about to launch into a life-saving prayer (or a life-saving apology – or both at once) when Yamame had turned – then the thunderstruck expression plastered over his face was communicating the full truth. This, thought Yamame, a tiny spark of intelligence flickering on. This is exactly what he “warned” me about. This was, indeed, the very precise thing that had been unlocked, two days before, in the capital’s eastern lighthouse, when she and the human had first…
The bad Yamame was bludgeoning the architect one before the rusted grate of the deepest Yamame-cell with her bare fists, and the master, the overseeing Yamame was wrenched away from the rays of enlightenment so as to restore internal order.
Meanwhile the Yamame on the outside was carefully modelling a smile which wouldn’t immediately collapse into a stupid grin the moment it was shaped.
It did anyway.
“Paran,” said Yamame, who must look equally commanding and idiotic. “One thing, if you’ll please.”
Her human choked out the prayers and apologies in the making to give her a reply that hadn’t escaped unscathed by the same process. “… Ye—Yes?”
“After you’ve showered,” the spinstress told him, “and before you dunk yourself on the sofa and fall asleep… kindly bring me some tea. Won’t you please? Also take out another box from the storeroom; Ashi and I pretty much ran the one in the kitchen dry last night. All right? Tea. Another box. Got it?”
“Tea. Another box.” The human nodded. “All right.”
“Very good. Thank you, Paran.”
Thank you, she said again in the confines of her mind, as she skipped on naked toes for her bedroom’s door.
The mouth of the Yamame who clicked the door shut behind herself was warped into a squiggly line. A hand of this Yamame wandered to her chest, where her heart was, and clutched the silky nightshirt draped across her sweat-drenched skin. The skin was hot and sticky underneath.
And it was then Yamame noticed she was, in fact, yet inside her sleeping clothes. Two-days worn, un-showered and entangled in a fragrance likely to rival that of a summer day’s labour topside. Agreeable to her – a spider does not flinch from its own body, however loathsome it is made – but alerting to prey. To prey and…
The bad Yamame, afoul of being squeezed under heel by her superior, gave up her trashing and reluctantly assented the point.
There were instances when being responsible was the next best thing after making oneself out to be a very foolish spider.
Paran's hand was on her. It fell down when she stood up suddenly, brushing against her thighs in the process. Yamame, not knowing if the brief exchange was intentional, was so shocked she almost bit him.
Don't feel bad; I had to read it like 4 times to get more than a cursory understanding of what was happening.
>15009 I see, so despite her insistence that it's okay for Paran to touch her, her instinct still goes "bitebitebite" whenever it's him who initiated the contact. And yet, despite all that, she managed fought that instinct off anyway.
Kinda like that Satori story, this story is a little hard to comprehend for a non-native english speaker, and that's good, since that means I'll be learning new things.
>>15022 >>15013 Oh, don't be such ninnies, this isn't deviantart. There is such a thing as a wrong choice in writing and you're allowed to talk about it if you like.
I personally got it in the first read, but it's still not a good idea even then. As a comparison, let's take comedy. The whole idea of a punchline is conveyed in the name: it hits you, like a punch. It comes to you suddenly, and the timing of it is crucial, as we all know. Comedy is about timing.
Obviously not all writing is like this, but in the particular example of last update, what happened? Our protagonist had a sudden, shocking revelation that surprised her. Instead of this being conveyed in the shortest manner possible, in a tiny sentence, you had to puzzle it out in the space of a few lines even if you got it right away. It diffuses the impact and creates an instant disconnect. I suppose this could be used intentionally if you had a plan and a reason in mind, but I have the feeling our dear writer was just having a little too much fun and got a bit carried away.
Wonder of wonders, focus – once come – had entrenched securely in Yamame’s mind.
Across the afternoon hours, until the evening time, the Underworld’s great architect had sat, hunched before her pulpit, weaving line athwart line, figure athwart figure, over vast sheets of lambskin parchment. A latticework of graphite trails, spacing out, angling back and intercepting again, had been masterfully traced onto the largest of these sheets: a magnified likeness of the building described in Myouren-ji’s notes. Around the primary draft, in deliberate rows (which nonetheless made no sense but to the initiated), lesser drawings and computations had been neatly tessellated: floor plans by themselves, pages and pages of figures, listings of materials and estimations. And over all, an air of unbridled creativity.
At least, until presently.
The air was broken when Yamame spun her draughtsman’s pencil through her fingers, flicked it above her head, cracked her knuckles, then caught it again before it struck ground. The Underworld’s great architect raised her arms, leaned on the tall backrest of her chair, and cracked her spine as well. Then she pulled up her legs and did the same with her knees.
A satisfied – if a touch less structurally sound – Yamame slapped down her sketching tools and rode her chair away from the pulpit. The heap of dresses, which had been elbowed off of the pulpit when it had yet been her sewing table, picked at her attention momentarily; but Yamame, mind already elsewhere, nursed no further desire to handle clothes but those she had changed into (but not before quickly showering) after her human had gone to sleep away his traveller’s fatigue. The clothes could wait.
The subdued knocking on her bedroom’s door would not.
A mischievous spark yanked back Yamame’s shaping “Come in!” and turned the spinstress instead around in her chair, folding her arms on the backrest, then mounting her chin atop the so-made cushion. Smiling together with the mischief, Yamame held for the knocker’s next action.
The action came. What it was, was a slow inching open of the door.
A familiar face peeked into the room. Then its mouth twisted when Yamame and her smile came into its view.
“My, my,” twitted the spinstress. “Since when do you enter my bedroom so liberally?”
Paran’s face (whose else, after all?) rotated left and right. Then, the rest of Yamame’s favourite human pushed – very liberally – through the door, leaving it at a prim heel’s breadth ajar behind him. “Sorry,” he said, approaching, “I’d thought maybe you’d fallen asleep.”
Yamame giggled. “That would trim the danger down a bit, hmm? Or were you planning on waking me up by mussing up my hair again, such as you did a few days ago? That might have bumped the danger right back up, you know.”
The human slipped past the flying sally with all the dexterity of someone who dodges sallies as a pastime. “I also brought you tea three times while you were working,” he pointed.
“You did?” Now Yamame was surprised; but, at once when she traced where the human was pointing, she saw not one, not two, but four cups drained of their contents clustered beside her drafts. “Imagine that,” she murmured, amazed. “I didn’t even notice…”
“This is the project?”
Nor had she noticed that the human had finished the pass through her messy bedroom. Yamame rocked her chair around to see Paran touching a splayed hand to one of her sketches. An elder, less tamed part of her squirmed inside its shell at its heart’s child being touched so freely. Yamame of the recent days found she did not mind at all.
“This is the project, yes,” she confirmed, shuffling close on her chair. “At least the easier half of it; the outdoor part will require a little landscaping as well, and believe me when I say landscaping disagrees something awful with a mind that has been setting walls and floors at right angles for the last several hours. This part, here, is going to be specially troublesome. See? The notes failed to note how the guest-house will stand against the rest of the temple grounds – and we really, really wouldn’t want the baths portion in perfect sight of anyone wandered in through the front gates – right? An ideal case, we should dig it out somewhere behind the guest-house – someplace between it and the outer wall, ideally; but, on the other side of the net, having the house leeward from the baths would invite no small amount of lastingness and convenience problems. Mould from the steam, cold air blowing in on the guests, and so on and so forth.” Yamame sighed. “So you see, until I’m furnished with all those oh-so-esoteric minutiae – whenever that should happen – I’m going to have to make it so the plan for the guest-house here can be moved whichever way without it disarranging too badly with either the plan for the baths section, or in fact the remainder of the temple grounds. What I’d best do, I think, I will cover up those baths with that touch of landscaping I mentioned just to be safe – then scratch it as needed when or if it turns out redundant. This is still going to need to go in the costs, of course; and, lest we forget, I haven’t the faintest idea how well-minded Buddhists are to having their holy ground disturbed like so. Altogether, it’s a giant headache at this stage.
The architect craned her neck up to smile at her human. “A headache you don’t care about in the least, too – do you?”
The human, ever loyal to truthfulness wherever it accommodated him, truthfully shook his head.
Yamame laughed at the volume of truth for once pouring out of her human. “That’s fine,” she allowed. “I’d be a lying, lying spider if I said I’d expected anything otherwise. This is my hobby, not yours. All of that just now probably rang monstrously boring in your ears, hmm? Monstrously boring.”
Paran shrugged. “As long as you’re having fun, Yamame.”
“I am,” said Yamame, grinning. “I am at that – like you wouldn’t believe.”
Her human returned the grin.
The grin melted away like sugar in hot tea, however, at Yamame’s next words.
“Paran,” she said. “That aside, I want to talk with you about something.”
The human called Paran advanced through a peculiar sequence of motions. At first, it appeared as though he would melt together with his expression into nothingness. Then this proved wrong: that those had been only his shoulders and chest collapsing, rather than general dissolution. At last, inflating again, the human Paran faced Yamame Kurodani as he ever faced a Yamame Kurodani who wished to talk with him about something: with a squared back and a faint, surrendering smile.
“Thought you might,” he grunted.
“Was that perhaps why you were relying on me to be asleep?” giggled Yamame. “Never mind. Sit down for me. My nape’s already stiff from hours of drawing; I don’t want a crick from looking up at you as well. Come on, Paran. Chop-chop.”
The human scanned abound for a chair. None present but the one containing Yamame, he walked over and slumped instead onto her bed. The spinstress once more looped her arms on the backrest of her chair and narrowed her eyes at her human.
“Are we going to pretend this morning didn’t happen, then?” she asked.
Paran began to cough. Then he stopped beginning to cough, and mustered out a reply.
“… That might be for the best if—”
“I’m very,” Yamame cut in, “very, very bad at pretending, you know.”
Her human hung his head. “… Yes,” he murmured. “That much was visible.”
Yamame swallowed down the patent criticism of her self-control. “Could it be helped?” she asked. “I was scared. At first, I’d thought maybe something had dropped from the ceiling. A… A burning coal or some such. I don’t know! It startled me. Then, when I panicked and span around, I saw you wearing this goggled look – like you’d seen a snake flee under your bed – and it all threaded. It was just your hand. Imagine how stupid I felt.”
“I warned you about this, Yamame,” groaned Paran. “I told you why… touching you was bad. No more than two days back.”
“I’d like a closer warning next time, that’s all.”
The human sagged. He pressed his eyes shut with the fingers of his hand. “… Why? Why does there have to be a ‘next time?’”
“Because I want it,” said Yamame. Because Ashi has told me you would too, she added in her thoughts. Because, on some level of this form, I realise that much myself. When the human met her with a questioning gaze, she smiled. “All in all, you have no one to blame for this but yourself, you know.”
Paran made a bitter chuckle. “Of course,” he said. Then, sensing another pocket of meaning beneath Yamame’s words, he asked, “How so?”
“Think about it, Paran,” said Yamame. “Think about me. What am I, if not a simple youkai? What am I, other than an earth spider? A yearly malady? What do you believe I used to do here, before you tumbled down into my world and offered to be my voice for your brothers and sisters? Was I building anything? Or was I drinking the months away together with the Oni? The Underworld was constructed eons ago; my part in it has long, long run its course. There are very few opportunities in Old Hell for those more creatively involved than where to throw the next drink-up game or party, or where to plop the next slapdash housing because the last one’s walls have crumbled through. Oh, there were requests from the Kappa and the Tengu off and on, I grant you – but did you know something? Those haven’t known a single new thought in architecture since centuries. The Kappa see buildings as nothing beyond repositories for their bizarre machinery, and the Tengu… Well, let’s not talk about where in history those feathered relics are stuck.
“So, imagine an earth spider like me one day met with a human like you, who offers – no, insists on – an attempt at something new. Something exciting. Novel. Maybe a bit forbidden. What do you think I felt in that moment?”
Paran, the shared memory briefly overtaking his frustration, shaped a weak smile. “Apprehension? A lot of it, if I recall the frowning.”
Yamame giggled. “Well, yes,” she admitted; “I was hung-over and hadn’t had the best prior experience with humans either. Humans hate us spiders – earth spiders most of all, an earth spider who commands diseases – especially. Or did you know that? What else could I be, tell me, if not a tittle little doubtful?”
“Well, but I took you on anyway,” Yamame continued. “Then the first project was rolled in. Then, I saw how all those new considerations challenged my stale habits, and thought: it might not be such a bad thing, you know. Then, the project was done, and the rewards came in, and I thought: it definitely wasn’t such a bad thing after all. My associates – my sisters – as well. They were delighted. Ashi, too. She may make faces, but she doesn’t dislike you; she enjoys these projects – and the rewards – almost as much as I do. Almost, because – did you know? There’s one reward in all of it that they aren’t getting, and I’m not sharing.”
“Is it the food?” guessed the human.
“It’s you,” Yamame told him. “There’s the food, sure; but mostly, I’m talking about you.” She rose from her chair and began to walk. “My work is its own reward; I can’t deny that, even if I were inclined to. Then, there are the rare items, the sometimes fascinatingly weird fabrics, and the great food. And then…” Yamame stopped in front of her human. “… And then there’s you.”
The human locked her in a hard stare. “… You’re being greedy.”
Yamame smiled. “I’m being very greedy. I can do that. I’m an earth spider; I have no gods dictating how to live my life.”
“Neither do I,” countered Paran, “yet I know when to stop.”
“Strange,” said Yamame, “because to me, it seems like you have all of two gods. Fear and Cruelty are their names. Fear – because I bit you once, months ago, and you relive it internally every time I come near you. Cruelty – because first you show to a dumb earth spider something she has never experienced before, then you deny to her any and all further taste. Your Paranseberi has some tough, tough competition. The poor thing.”
“My Paranseberi doesn’t exist,” corrected Paran. Then his gaze dropped, landing somewhere between Yamame’s hips and her abdomen. “… What do you want, then?” he asked the two (or neither), resignation weighing down the syllables. “Name it, and let’s be done.”
Trust me, thought Yamame. Trust me, don’t fear me, don’t be cruel to me.
And yet an answer this straight would at best ricochet back in her face from her human’s thick skull; Yamame folded it back up and chose a spider’s approach to the question. A moment of feigned considering, and a careful answer produced from her lips.
“How about this, then?” she proposed. “We play a game – a very simple one. A game of orders. I will give you an order first; then, no matter what, you will do what I ordered you to do. Then we switch. You will tell me what to do, and I must do it. And whosoever at any stage should fail to give an order… they have to give their turn.”
“That sounds rigged,” opined Paran.
Yamame chuckled. “Of course it is. I’ve rigged it.”
“… What if one of us doesn’t comply?”
“Hmm,” Yamame hummed in a wonder. “All right. Say we do it like this: if it’s me who backs out on your order, then it’s your win, and the game is over. We go to our rooms – or you go to yours – and we take our good night’s sleep. If it’s you who refuses to cooperate, though…”
“That one’s yours anyway.”
Her human sighed. “… More rigged by the minute.”
Yamame rewarded the joke (or had it been one?) with a soft chuckle. “Very good, Paran. An inconsequential penalty, then. If I win, and you back out on me, then I want… then I want you to… I want you to embrace me… every morning, and every evening… until you can do it without… without going into paroxysms. Yes. That’s what I… what I want, if you lose. That’s what I want.”
That really is what I want, she said again inside, willing off the burning sensation on her cheeks.
The sensation didn’t go anywhere but further in. Yamame focused on not squeezing into the nearest hole in the floor instead.
“A—At any rate,” she resumed (somewise), “that much should be nothing to you: high priest of Cruelty and Fear. Hmm? A trifle at best – right?…” There was no reply, and Yamame’s face went even hotter. “Um, Paran?… Hello?”
The human, his eyes still hooked around Yamame’s waist, twitched. “… All right,” he rasped at length. Or had he? Yamame could no more say for certain than she could fetter down the blood wildly beating in her ears. “All right,” Paran said again (or for the first time), “sure, that’s… fine. Inconsequential. Very. Who… Who goes first, again?”
“Me… right?” The spinstress blinked. “I said just then. I did, didn’t I?”
Paran nodded. “Then… go, Yamame.”
“All right,” said Yamame…
… Only to, in a terrifying moment of introspection, find the interior of her head vented empty of ideas.
>>15038 This has to be the most gratifying comment I got all thread. This feeling is what I write for. Cheers, boss. >>15036 >but without physical contact And wasn’t it promised the reasonable votes would be set aside thenceforth? Tsk, tsk.
Hello. ScallOPs and other assorted molluscs here. This is a quick announcement to tell you I have gotten mired in work-stuff for a full Friday-Sunday weekend, 12 hour shifts every day. Writing, as much as I regret it, will probably not be an option. Sorry for that. Monday is, sadly, the likeliest candidate for our day.
Where had those ideas gone? If the gods had an honour for earth spiders uncorrupted by amoral thought, Yamame would have won it.
But Yamame Kurodani had no gods, and her human was awaiting his sentence in invisible chains. So Yamame Kurodani cast her golden eyes away from the heavenly spheres. So the Underworld’s great architect turned her metaphysical gaze inward. So the mother of plagues addressed the one thing which had never once betrayed her in her life. So she asked her body what it wanted.
Yamame’s body wanted nothing more than to curl into a ball and scuttle into the shadows under the bed.
That makes one time, then, Yamame counted inside. A clinch of desperation locking about her chest, the spinstress asked her body what the second thing it wanted was, after folding up and slotting into the nearest dark space available.
The body paused its tottering. Then, cautiously, it muttered something involving shoulders and a rub-down.
“W—Would you like to rub me down?”
The question (A request? An order?) tumbled out of Yamame’s mouth sooner than she may rethread it with cleverer words. It crashed so thickly on Paran’s lowered head, all but it broke the human’s neck upon impact. At least so it seemed; there was a sound as though a bunch of leaves crackling underfoot, then Paran’s head drooped even lower. The human slapped a hand across his eyes.
“… Yamame,” he croaked. “Are you asking, or are you ordering?”
Would asking have done it? wondered Yamame; but out loud she volunteered, “Ordering. Of course, ordering. Wasn’t that obvious? Why would I—”
“Well, I’ve… never been rubbed down,” Yamame replied idiotically. After properly mauling herself for it inside her head, she went on to explicate. “I mean… Does it matter? This will be my first time as well, so…” More mauling. With a touch of needling beforehand this time. “M—My point is, it’s fine – really, really fine! Not as though I’ve got anything to hold it up to. So it’s fine if you… stumble. A bit. Maybe. An earth spider’s body is very… you know, very sensitive. Yes. You do already know everything about that. I’ve told you all about it – right? So, just… be moderate. That’s all. Then I won’t… probably won’t even notice if anything… you know, goes wrong. That’s all I ask; I won’t even be able to tell difference if—”
Her human made a whimpering sound. “… Yamame.”
“Stop talking. Sit down.”
Yamame stopped talking.
Yamame sat down.
“No. Turn that way.”
Yamame turned away.
A stretched instant and – the snub of being told to shut up, sit and turn eventually registering – the spinstress began to wrench back around to give the vent to her rousing pride. Then, the reality occurring she would stall her favourite human this close to the goal, Yamame Kurodani abruptly quit exercising her ability to wrench, and settled down. An instant yet, and her pride did as well. By degrees.
The mattress underneath her legs was shifting. Someone took a seat at her back – at once too close, but not close enough. Yamame tensed up. The same someone behind her cleared their throat of two rusted syllables, which – by their sound – must have stuck there for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years.
Two syllables. Alarming how so little could make an earth spider tear right in two.
The half of Yamame which desired nothing less than to explode into a dozen embarrassed chunks wrung her fingers hard atop her lap. The half which stiffly concerned itself with preserving what dignity remained in Yamame Kurodani’s internal stores, un-wrung them at once, chiding acidly. Another, tiny scrap of Yamame – one unmarked until now, but who really, really wanted to be touched already – screamed the pulling two halves down.
Tiny or otherwise, its voice was mighty indeed; and soon, the two Yamame-halves – deep down admitting to the very same desire – grudgingly stitched back into a kind of wholeness. It was a rumpled, ugly kind – and one which still wasn’t quite certain what to do with its hands – but a wholeness all the same.
“… Mhm.” The restored Yamame murmured a reply. “Shoulders. Yes. Shoulders should be fine. Should I… um, I don’t know… lie down for you? Maybe?”
“… No,” her human grunted at her undefended back. “It’s fine like this.”
“Undo my hair?”
“Please don’t undo your hair.”
“… My clothes?”
“Please don’t undo your clothes,” groaned Paran. “Sit and be still. Tell me if it hurts. And… Yamame?”
A long, tortured moment strung out over Yamame and her human, all but snapping, before Paran’s answer was released.
“… For my sake,” he said, “try not to… make sounds.”
Yamame nodded, inside her head debating whether a first-time massage may be so bad as to make an earth spider make sounds.
Almost, and it would have – once a pair of human hands wrapped around Yamame’s aching shoulders. Almost – but the Underworld’s great architect was nothing if not a cunning spider; and she clapped her mouth shut with one of her own hands before the issuing squeak let fly.
The human’s fingers pressed down, as though probing how deep the layers of cloth went, and where the core of Yamame began. The core itself shuddered in pain when the fingers jabbed into the muscles between Yamame’s nape and shoulder-blades. Then, the pressure mercifully reversed… and so with it did the other sensation. Yamame shuddered all anew.
Paran’s fingers stopped moving.
“Was that bad?” he asked.
Yamame swallowed before answering. “A little… A little too hard,” she gasped between her own fingers. “It… hurt good, but it hurt.”
Her human’s hands froze solid. “Why didn’t you say?”
“It hurt good,” Yamame repeated helplessly. “It hurt but it felt good. Isn’t… Isn’t that how it’s supposed to feel? Paran? That is the point, isn’t it? To beat the pain with another pain?”
“Yamame, I don’t know.”
“Though you know how to do it?”
In the time intervening Yamame’s question and his reply, the human squeezed her shoulders once again. To her dwindled credit, Yamame kept her voice firmly inside her chest.
At length, Paran gave a sigh. “Saw a friend, once,” he said. “Giving a massage to his… his partner. That’s how I know. Only saw, though. Never did it myself.”
A friend. The word lodged inside Yamame’s ears. Then he does have friends there, she thought, with rather more lateness than surprise, or did – but has never mentioned them to me.
Had he lost them once joining Yamame Kurodani in her bedevilled home? How were those humans who had known Paran, one of their number, minded to his binding to a youkai of the Underworld? Though he spoke to the villagers still on those occasions his work so dictated; but Yamame, mother of plagues, the yearly malady, nursed no delusion his standing among his brothers and sisters had not been at the very least affected – if not afflicted – by their unlikely acquaintance. What else had he sacrificed to be here with her? What power was it which had propelled him to do so? These were mysteries Yamame’s human had secreted deep.
Nor was the spinstress about to crack her nails digging them up from their vaults; but another mystery was resurfacing – quite by itself – inside her head, and Yamame watched on as it rose from the earth of her mind, shrugging off the dirt and cobwebs. This mystery was shaped like regret. A selfish, mercenary regret: that she was perhaps not the only one dear to her human’s heart. That perhaps – and it was a sticky perhaps – she wasn’t even the only female.
The thought stung. When she questioned it why, the inquiry proved near as thorny as the thought itself.
Another vicelike pinch on her shoulders blew the thought together with its tail out of her head. Yamame seized on its moment of confusion and crushed out the regret as well, even as it wondered at this new earth spider to which it had been reborn.
“That’s… better, there,” the spinstress helped along her favourite human’s continued efforts of… well, whatever it was he meant to accomplish, with the absolute innocence of massages and their finer points he had alleged. To make me eat my words, Yamame guessed, to have this end – in my loss. No such luck, Paran. “Is it customary, then?” she asked when the pressure went again away. “In your Human Village – is it customary to rub down your, nn… your partner?”
Whether he had heard the moaned interjection or not, the human Paran made the best show of not having done so.
“… I don’t know,” he admitted. “Maybe.”
Yamame swallowed. “What… Mm. What about lovers?”
… No answer came.
The human’s hands were maintaining their work and no mistake; but still no words were producing from their master’s lips. Not at once – nor afterwards the once, nor even by the end of the agonising minute. No reply at all. All the while her shoulders were kneaded and kneaded – like a lump of putty in a window-setter’s hands.
Again, Yamame forced down a hot globe of spit. “… Um,” she murmured, “Paran?”
This time, the answer was immediate. “What?” And level. Absolutely, impeccably level – leveller than the floors of Yamame’s constructions. Almost, and the great architect would have spun around, to check if her favourite human had not been replaced with just such a thing; only then, shocking her even further, Paran went on. “No,” he said. “Never mind. Moreover: how long do I do this? I want my turn, Yamame. There are a few questions I want answered – truthfully.”
The spinstress, frantically throwing off the blanket of surprise, managed to fold it into a veneer of control. “Then… Then ask,” she told him dumbly. “Ask, and I’ll answer. No need to stop – right? We spiders may… communicate with your limbs at times, but not so in this form. Well, and you – you aren’t a spider, either. So there.” Yamame waved the rebuttals to her feeble argument away. “Talk with your mouth, work with your hands. Can you do that? It’s not grouting tiles, you know. Although, I guess it does seem terribly challenging to you at times. Talking, I mean. Well, but anyway… Mnn. Ask. And don’t stop – or it’s my win.”
The veneer, however thick-sewn, must have been a good impression; for then, Yamame’s human discreetly surrendered.
“… Very good,” he gave up, his fingers digging again into her stiff muscles. “My first question, then.”
“Mm. Go ahead,” Yamame allowed. “What is it?”
“Was it your sister who set you up to this?”
Yamame had to chuckle. Here I thought I was the one being silly. “Ashi didn’t ‘set me up’ to anything, Paran,” she said. “This is my doing. Mine, and only mine.” Maybe inspired by some of the things she said, but that’s a technicality. “Anyway, if you need somebody to put to blame – put me. Ashi is innocent – as innocent as Ashi can be, maybe – but not at fault in this instance. That’s all me. Me alone.”
Paran’s disbelief was so dense it had a sound. “Yamame…”
“She didn’t,” the eldest earth spider insisted. “And I’m not lying. If you don’t believe me, well, that’s your problem. Not mine – and definitely not Ashi’s. So leave her out of our—out of this,” Yamame corrected herself. “This – this is all you and me. Nobody else. Not here. Not now.”
Sensing a taut thread, her human prudently gave in. “Very good,” he said. “Second question, then.”
“What gave you this idea? This ‘rub-down’ business.”
“Not Ashi,” accepted the human. “So what?”
Yamame drew her back straight, then relaxed it again. “My… other sisters,” she explained. “See, they – sometimes after work – they rub each other down. Often… Mm. Often when alcohol comes into play. Ashi likes to say they are like the Oni in this respect. This – and any number of others.”
“Not your lighthouse Oni, though.”
Yamame laughed. “Niku? Oh please. No, he never… Nn, no. The Oni – they are an indelicate species. Couldn’t slot a door without ripping off the hinges. My best chance at a rub-down in the Underworld would be to bother the Komeiji. That girl, she welcomes all sorts of shaggy creatures – spiders likely to be included. Only, mm… Only bothering the Komeiji is bothering a snake – and this snake can snake through your mind as well as your web, you know. Snakes are bad – bad enough in the next burrow over. Never mind anywhere closer. No. Nobody wants to rub me down, Paran. Maybe for the same reason they don’t want to fight me. Not my sisters, not Niku, not the other Oni.” Yamame chuckled humourlessly. “Nobody whatsoever.”
“But me,” grunted Paran.
“But you,” confirmed Yamame. “So, see, you are my last… Mm. My last hope, Paran. My last chance. At a rub-down.” The spinstress giggled again. “Altogether very noble.”
“Heroic,” muttered her human. “My final question, Yamame.”
“Mm. Mhm? Give.”
“Do you realise what you are doing to me right now?”
A quick and cunning Yamame hinged open her mouth to reply.
A less cunning one – but fortunately quicker – popped it back shut before anything stupid might roll out. This was a subtle question. A question worth its weight in good nails. A question, indeed, worth a spider’s trenchant sight. Yamame Kurodani was doing things. To her human or precluding him – many things were happening at Yamame’s behest. Yamame Kurodani was, for instance, sitting on her bed. Yamame Kurodani was having her shoulders rubbed for the first time in her life. Yamame Kurodani was enjoying it to some extent. Yamame Kurodani was breathing, blinking, and keeping her drool inside her mouth as the rule prescribed.
Most of all, however, Yamame Kurodani was certain she was missing the thrust of the question by a hammer’s swing.
“Yamame?” her human was demanding.
A new thing was added to the list. Yamame Kurodani was quietly beginning to panic.
My update ethic has been frak recently, and for entirely wrong reasons (work-related, rather than exhaustion due to Aguri’s new Sekibanki release). I have an update here 70% complete I just couldn’t get a bump at since Friday. For which to thee – an apology.
If I don’t have your ‘Mames ready and done tomorrow, do fling a tactical nuke somewhere in my general direction.
The moment was unrolling to the cut-off line, and Yamame had no answer.
A cold and clinical stock of viable replies was impossible. The panic might at any moment grab her by the shoulders (or was it already?) and startle her into blundering a stupid one; to rely on her spider’s instincts, too, would have been biting herself in the heel. As good build a web inside a doorway left ajar. Wrong-footed as she was, it seemed only one recourse remained for Yamame Kurodani.
Speak. Speak and hope the words fall in as well as bricks and mortar did when in her skilful hands.
“Yes,” lied Yamame. “Well… No,” she lied again. “Maybe? Maybe. I don’t know.”
Now her human’s hands stopped. “… This is your answer?”
Though not for long. Yamame squeaked like an old floorboard when they resumed exploring the pliability of her body. “Nn. No. No, that’s not… That’s not it. See, I… I don’t know what I’m doing to you. That’s a no. What I do know is what I’m doing with you. What I want to do with you. What I want you to… to do to me.” The eldest earth spider squeezed out a powerless chuckle. “That’s the reverse, isn’t it? All I’m doing is spinning it over back on myself, aren’t I? I’m sorry. This may well be the first in my life I’ve actually wished I were in Komeiji’s pink little shoes. Then I could just read your mind, and – poof. All this stupid cultural differencey nonsense behind us. Wouldn’t that be lovely?”
“Nothing lovely would come of you reading my mind, Yamame,” said the human, dourly. “Trust me. Nothing lovely.”
The spinstress smiled at the empty bedroom’s wall in front of her. “No worries. I’m not a mind-leech, you know. Ashi would tell you I can barely read a mood. She wouldn’t be making a big lie, either. At the very least, that means your dark and grungy secrets are still safe. As safe, anyway, as you continue to keep them.”
The human’s reply was as short as it was ominous. “… Yes.”
Have I stepped on another toe? Yamame briefly wondered; but spider though she demonstrably was, she had no eyes on the back of her head all the same. The state of her human’s toes marched away into the unknowable.
A quieter pause – a gathering of courage, or lulling of aroused secrets – was visited on Yamame’s wrap-and-throw-littered bedroom. A mysteriously pleasant pause, interceded only by jab after jab of blunt pain – then pull after of pull of wonderful release – as Yamame’s human diligently kept on rubbing her shoulders. The ten or so rounds of the thin hand of the clock spent on the task had allowed him to find the earth spider’s sorest spots; almost every stroke now Yamame’s chest was pinching the air out through her throat in inelegant sounds. The spinstress bit down on a thumb. This did nothing to restrain her voice; but it satisfied Yamame’s need to try.
The pause strained to breaking point; soon, and Yamame spoke up once more. This time, she was a spider full of decision, not butterflies.
“Paran,” she said. “I think—mm… I think I’ve figured it out.”
“Have you?” Her human sounded one full of doubt.
Yamame nodded, very serious. “Yes. I mean, I don’t know what I’m doing to you in a human sense – probably never will. After all, I’m just a dumb earth spider who—”
“You aren’t dumb.”
“—a dumb, selfish earth spider,” Yamame insisted, “who only—nn… only ever thinks about herself. That is why – I think – my best chance to solve this query would be to look at it from my own point of view.”
Her human pressed down hard. “… Is that so?”
“So… So it is,” croaked Yamame. Then she said it again – normally. “So it is. Maybe I am stupid, and maybe I can’t read a mood. Maybe I’ve deserved to be locked in this situation; but I know at the very, very least what I’m doing to you, here – right now. I know that.”
Paran unloosed a very sceptical breath. “… Oh?”
“I know, Paran. I’m making you touch me. That’s plainer than… plain. I’m making you touch me. Toss this ‘game’ or whatever, toss winning or losing; all I’ve ever wanted was to be touched. And that’s what I’m forcing you to do; because if I had asked, all you would have done is brush me off, like a… a spider from a sleeve. An Oni with half its wits gone and half the night in his cups could have told you the same. Nothing would have happened. That’s why I’m making you. And did you know something? I’ve also figured out you’re holding back on me. The hints were all there; this morning only bound them together. Humans love their… physicality, right? You said so yourself; and even you said… even though I’m an earth spider, when we did it, you said embracing me felt… ‘OK,’ as well.”
“Very OK,” Paran corrected.
“Very OK,” Yamame agreed. “It felt… very OK to me, too.”
“So you said.”
“It also… felt very OK when we… you know – in the morning.” After you’d quit kicking, anyway, the spinstress added inside; but for whatever crippled understanding she had of humans and their moods, she stored the thought away for now. “Very, very… very OK. Very. Then… Then – somehow, somewise – while I was busying myself deciphering those scrawls from Myouren-ji, you… Well, you went and did what you did – to my hip.”
“… I did.”
“Without much contingency planning, too,” Yamame chuckled. “Given where I was at the time. That is to say – right on top of you?”
“Maybe not,” Paran admitted calmly. “So?”
“So, Paran,” said Yamame, with a note of finality, “it’s very clear you want to touch me as well – but are holding it back. That’s why this ‘game.’ That’s why I’m ‘doing this to you’ right now. That’s why I’m ‘making you touch me’ – because you wouldn’t otherwise. As you said – I am a greedy, greedy spider.”
“Would anyone have sufficed?” the human questioned.
Yamame’s brows must have crashed above her nose. The procession of thoughts inside her head for certain did – all but ruching up into a flowery curtain inside her head.
Almost drowned out by the ensuing riot of complaints, an overdue thought caught up with its brethren, now they had been stalled. A stranded, unpunctual thought, which said only this: that the human’s hands had quit their ordained task (had long quit it) up on Yamame’s shoulders. That these hands had slid gently down Yamame’s arms (long ago now), and had landed at about their elbows. That they were even now pulling her backward – almost imperceptibly, all but unnoticeably, ever-so-stealthily – but pulling on the dumb earth spider’s dumb earth spider arms.
Then, its urgent message delivered, the belated thought sprang away, evacuating through Yamame’s suddenly hot ears.
“W—Would what have anyone… w—what sufficed?” Yamame stuttered out.
Paran made an impatient noise. “Would anyone have done?” he rephrased. “Would you have anyone touch you? Anyone with your trust?”
“Nobody wants to touch me, Paran,” the spinstress reminded. “I told you just then, nobody—”
Her human cut her off. “Yes,” he hissed, “I know, Yamame. Suppose they did, though. Suppose one of your friends… Nikuyama – would you have him touch you, too?”
“Niku has touched me,” Yamame pointed out. “Hugged me – which we have fought about, at that.”
“What if he touched you elsewise? Shoulders? Hips? What if he said he wished to hug you – every morning and every evening, not only as a greeting? What if it were him, not me, with you here now?”
Yamame’s ears were beginning to feel as red as the relevant Oni. “I… I don’t think we would be having this conversation then.”
“What if you did?” Paran stitched on. “What if you were having this conversation?”
“Then…” Yamame hesitated. “Then I don’t think it would have felt as good.”
This didn’t dissuade Paran’s burning curiosity. “What about your sisters?” he pushed on. “This… Ashi. What if she were here?”
“What does Ashi have to do with this?!”
“Answer the question, Yamame.”
Yamame whipped her golden locks left and right. Her ears were hurting. “Ashi… I don’t think Ashi would have felt good, either,” she peeped out. “She’s… smaller than I am. Thinner… bonier. Tougher. Ashi prefers to talk anyway – where I am concerned.”
Paran made a nod. At least so it felt like, from his hands rubbing up and down Yamame’s arms. “That’s what you want then,” he deduced. “Someone bigger than you to embrace you.”
Yamame raked her nails up her thighs. “Nn… Yes! Yes, I do!” she erupted. “That’s the heart of it, isn’t it? It doesn’t feel as good unless you’re… all wrapped-up, right? Of course I want someone bigger, then!”
“And Nikuyama doesn’t work?”
“Niku is an Oni!” yelped Yamame. “An old, old Oni – with Oni habits and Oni manners! It’s different when he does it – completely, completely different. When Niku hugs me, he gives… he gives Oni hugs, you know. The kind that spells respect. Camaraderie. That’s not what I want.”
“What do you want, Yamame?”
“I want…” Yamame closed her hands into fists. “… I want human hugs. The warm kind. The kind that makes me… feel good inside.”
“Any human would have done, then?”
The spinstress reeled on the edge of exploding in a variety of upset fluids. “I don’t know any other humans! Have you forgotten, already? I’ve never—”
“Imagine you did,” said Paran. “Imagine any other human, here, with you. Imagine having them touch you.”
Yamame stamped down on the fuse about to spark off and make her into a wet stain on the wall… and imagined.
Not often – indeed, perhaps not ever – had the great architect of the Underworld to imagine such a thing; but the silly book on her vain sister-in-profession she had perused the morning of her human’s departure (not at all willingly) paid out a wealth of ready-made scenarios. Ashi’s talk from the same day, submitting its own share of ideas, rounded off the deal. The deal launched Yamame into a world of thought she had never toured before – nor had thought of touring. Her ears – if they had been pulsing before – were now hammering like a workman nailing down the tiles on the roof.
Yet even the sights offered by this unexplored world did nothing more than that – make her blood pound in her ears. Nor had Yamame conjectured any purpose to visiting it other than making her blush; until, on a buzz-fly whim, she exchanged whatever blank face had been filled in by her mind on these imaginary humans – for one she knew almost by heart.
Still it could not have been Yamame; for when the spinstress looked down, her body remained a single piece.
Something had gone up in smoke, however; and as Yamame opened her mouth to… do whatever it is silly earth spiders do with their mouths, all she discovered came out was a billow of hot air wringing out of her chest. When her voice at last followed, it was a tiny thing. A tiny, embarrassed thing, no bigger than Yamame’s own tiny spider heart.
“… I don’t think,” said Yamame, “I don’t think it works… unless it’s you.”
There was an intake of breath behind her that could have meant anything. Then, Paran’s voice broke somehow through the noise inside her ears.
“Very good,” said Yamame’s favourite human. “That answers my question… Your turn, then.”
The spinstress did want to turn, no mistake – yet found the hands locked about her sides (when had they moved there?) far from allowing her to do so. Not without drawing of her preternatural strength at least; but Yamame’s brain, refining on the implications of her facing her human now, blocked the instinct out. The instinct shrivelled up – as did Yamame – and died. The latter, fortunately, the spinstress didn’t follow. No.
What she did follow on were the words – the words she had meant to say all along, but forgotten inexplicably; the words which – had Yamame not absorbed herself in speculation on potential rewards – she would have said at the beginning of tonight, not now.
Now, rather than commanding, the words came out as little more than an awkward plea.
“Trust me,” pleaded Yamame. “Trust me, Paran. Make it just for now, or just for today if you must; but for once… for once, I want you to trust me.”
“Are you so certain, Yamame?” asked Paran.
“Certain,” replied Yamame, with a firm nod toward the opposite wall. “Certain. More than… More than many things.”
“A bad idea. Yes.”
“Very bad,” Yamame agreed. “So… Trust me. That’s my order, Paran. Take it. Or it’s my win… you know.”
“… All right.”
And sooner than Yamame’s fears may recall this order, or rephrase into something more innocuous, the human’s two human arms winded like snakes around the earth spider’s body. The first of the arms simply rounded around her waist. The other, more artful of the two, slithered up from her side – going across her chest, and landing its hand on Yamame’s shoulder.
When they pulled her back, Yamame squealed. Almost, and she would have grabbed sideways to steady herself by the bedsheets as well; but, for reasons earth spider wisdom had never presumed, Yamame grabbed instead at the arms. Her nails jabbed into the human’s skin.
“Paran! Stop, you’re—!”
No, he’s not, another, less timorous part of Yamame was saying. He isn’t hurting you. You are panicking. That’s what’s happening.
Another thing – no, several things, were additionally happening. Yamame was being reeled in. Yamame was being pushed in – into something at once soft but tough, yet warm beyond expectation. The hair dangling loose by her neck was gently parted. The space freed up – roughly between her right ear and the geometrically appropriate shoulder – was being filled in by a nuzzling head. Yamame smelled sweat. Yamame smelled soap as well; mostly – Yamame smelled her fear steadily slinking away.
Then, her human spoke. The spinstress felt the words shape against the skin of her neck.
“This is what happens,” whispered Paran. “This is what happens… when I trust you.”
That’s all? Yamame wanted to tease.
No teasing came out.
Instead, the mother of plagues, builder of the Underworld, deadliest earth spider of all, Yamame Kurodani, curled her legs up – against her chest, and the arms enveloping her – and slipped herself deeper into whatever feeling it was dulling her age-honed instincts into uselessness. The feeling had a name. The name escaped Yamame – if not altogether, then at least right now.
Still she gave her best to find it.
“… Paran?” she murmured. “Are you there?”
“Mhm?” The answer was indistinct.
“Hear me out. All right?”
Yamame swallowed her rising nervousness. “I think,” she said, quietly, “… I think I like you.”
The human’s reply was a long and scalding breath crashing on her neck. The spinstress shivered.
“… You think so?”
“I… I think so,” said Yamame. “Not that I didn’t before; I’ve always more or less liked you. Only now… Now I think I really, really like you – really.”
Her human almost touched his lips to her ear. “… Hmm.”
Another ripple of… something shuddered down the length of her back. Yamame squeezed her eyes shut. “It’s… true,” she choked out. “Truly, truly true. I… I promise. Maybe I’m just a stupid, stupid earth spider, but… I know it when I like someone. And right now – and beyond right now – I am… I am absolutely sure I like you.”
“… Telling me that is dangerous, Yamame,” Paran cautioned.
The human did not reply at first. Only at length, spent breathing in her warmth, did he then venture the answer:
“… Turn around.”
“Turn around,” whispered Paran, “and I will show you how.”
And what Yamame Kurodani did – in spite of her spider’s instincts screaming at her not to…
… against her every experience featuring humans and their honeyed words…
… Yamame Kurodani, builder of the Underworld, mother of plagues, bearer of a dozen such meaningless titles – what she did…
... was she listened. And began to turn around.
And in that precise, immaculate tipping point, the moment was violently shattered.
A thump on the front door of the house – come in very clearly through the unclosed bedroom door – and the motion, the sensations, the anticipation, words, hope – everything… It was ripped apart.
Had Yamame Kurodani not been where – and in what arrangement – she now was, she could have punched her startled head through the house’s roof. A second thump tore across the silent air: less patient, more forceful, bearing even less wait than Yamame’s sister’s had the previous day. And that alone told volumes.
These volumes weren’t lost on Yamame’s human, who was soon again whispering in her ear.
“… Go,” he told her.
“Go. Get the door.”
The spinstress moved her head (as far as she could) to left and right. “Nn… No. No, I don’t want to get the door.”
And another thump. The human behind her wasn’t budging.
“Get the door, Yamame,” he urged on voicelessly.
Yamame, quickly exasperating, twisted her lips. “Then let me go!” she challenged. “Let me go, and I’ll get the twice-damned door.”
“No,” said her human. To accentuate how much “no” he meant, his arms wound tighter around her. “No,” he said again. Then, having pivoted his own head to the sides, a final time, “No.”
Yamame squirmed. “Then how am I supposed to—?!”
Out of nowhere, the thumping on the front door shifted manner – into what could very well have been a battering ram about to do justice to its design. At the end threads of her own patience, Yamame began to stand up.
… Only to, having painfully mismatched her exasperation against the human’s power of “no,” tumble forward into the beddings.
And it was down there, in the mussed-up covers, pinned down, with the human stuck on top of her, that all at once Yamame Kurodani understood at last how far she had strained this one’s resolve. How far she had tested his human tolerance. How far she had dared – for this was the correct term – the restraint of someone who – while perhaps not stronger, nor more durable than an earth spider such as she – had he but wanted, could easily, effortlessly persuade her to do things she did not as much as know existed.
The sound of her own name whispered into one of her ears was a curse and a promise all in one. Most of all, it was suddenly incredibly exciting.
“Ye—Yes?” breathed Yamame. “What is it?”
The human reached and slid a strap of her dress off of one of her shoulders.
>>15096 >prod and cocktease a guy for weeks >let it come to a head by literally forcing him to massage you on a bed >say things like "And right now – and beyond right now – I am… I am absolutely sure I like you.” >he finally goes 'well okay then'
>record scratch >BUT WAIT WE HAVE TO TALK ABOUT THIS
Absolutely rude and cruel. Are you an actual woman in real life?
>>15097 Hey, this is a freaking big step. They went from "where do we stand" to "I like you" to "prelude to something heavy" in one post. It's not the fun answer, but they need to step back for a moment and talk about this. Like, what just happens, and what it means, and where it's going.
So I just thought of this, but is that opening post just supposed to be an unrelated snippet of Yamame being born (or something) or is it a sign of PLOT!!! to come? An antagonist come to fuck things up for our lovebirds with the human village?
The spell was a simple one. A human could use it – so then could an earth spider.
The magic was unleashed; and as immediate as it, the human’s response as well came – in another heart-thrilling whisper.
“One of us,” he said, “one of us at least is going to regret this.”
A more diffident piece of Yamame already was. Are we about to do something so evil?
But the only evil between them appeared Yamame’s current, lying, pose – one disallowing her human from further manipulating the bands of her clothing. The pose was not Yamame’s fault, of course; no – it was entirely on the human where the blame lay in this arrangement. All the same, the earth spider’s face – misaligning the guilt perhaps, or perhaps simply for no reason but unlimited foolishness – grew as hot as the grand magmatic pools flooding the Underworld’s lower deposits.
At having this found out (the fault, not Yamame’s dramatically rising colour), the human released another impatient sound; and on some yet-alert level of Yamame Kurodani, her mind amused its familiarity. Though, as a rule, these sounds had been reserved for Yamame’s more elaborate whims – not the inability to peel her out of her clothes. An immaterial difference, that – but one she felt would return to haunt her.
Something else, however, was returning first. The something was her human’s speaking voice.
“Brace,” it ordered.
What kind? Yamame wanted to clarify.
This, however, switched into sudden irrelevance as the spinstress realised the kind of this brace made no matter whatsoever. What did matter was its purpose. What it was for. And what it was for, was to heave Yamame up again to a sit by the half-stripped shoulders.
Yamame Kurodani made no sound of startling.
This, in and of itself, was startling; for Yamame had expected to make a sound at least – never mind to have to curb her instincts rising to answer. Yet, no instincts rose. No panicked reflex caught. The earth spider had found itself once more snared inside a human’s arms, but its innermost workings had found this state no longer remarkable.
The absence of reply from her most intimate threading chilled Yamame more than the most violent reaction ever could. The eldest, most dreaded of the Underworld’s spiders was Yamame Kurodani – but was she still, without the entourage of hyper-acute senses to guide her? What poor excuse for a youkai made she, with her (sometimes over-impressible) instincts patched over? What there remained, if her lifelong company had left her high and dry? What else could she trust?
A moment fraught with doubt… and timidly, an answer put itself forward.
What Yamame Kurodani could trust… Whom she could trust – was her human. The one behind her. The one holding Yamame very, very close. The one who, using the arm not occupied holding her very close, was gently rolling the outer layer of her dress down to her waist.
Yamame Kurodani was being undressed. Ordinary though it would be had she been doing it herself, in the passive it raised the hairs atop her head.
Almost, and – distracted by her rebelling hair – Yamame would not have registered the first of her undershirt’s buttons following in being undone. Then another one. And another. Three buttons had come loose; then, as tenderly as skinning a tomato, her human tugged the shirt halfway down her arms – fully revealing Yamame’s flushed shoulders.
And then, mirroring what he had done days before to the back of her hand, Yamame’s human touched his lips to her exposed skin.
Ashi had had the right. The conceited architectress of Yamame’s book as well; but neither between the two could have predicted how such a simple relocation of this lip-touching ritual to an earth spider’s shoulders may cause her heart to palpitate. Though perhaps not so simple; for this ritual now differed further from its predecessor. The human’s lips weren’t stuck now as they had been to her hand (for almost a full minute); now, these lips were parting from her skin, moving, then touching down again – as though stepping from thread to thread – and travelling, ever up: up to Yamame’s neck… then the back of her cheek… then, finally, the earth spider’s furiously blushing ear.
Again with the curses-but-promises, Yamame’s fogged mind lamented. “… What is it?”
The human had only needed three hot breaths to decide. Then, he told her. “There’s… something you may… like to know.”
“W—What is it?” Yamame choked out again.
Another pause, and the something was made known. “… I like you, as well.”
Though it had felt something else had been meaning to be shaped by the human’s mouth; but these were the words that came out in the end.
Yamame didn’t complain.
Yamame didn’t offend.
Yamame didn’t ask after those other words which had by now slipped well beyond capture.
Yamame, in truth, did very little in the following moments – very, very little, but becoming the most reddest, tiny, shrunken, and mysteriously, mysteriously satisfied spider there was under the earth.
At the end of these moments – these warm, warm moments – it was this spider who recalled the original command, or request: the one which had been made before the lip-touching, before the undressing; the order from before the intrusion which had ultimately demonstrated to Yamame how far her human had been pushed.
That order had been to turn around.
And so it was, that Yamame Kurodani – once again – began to turn around.
And it was then, in that unguarded moment, the original Yamame the earth spider – smothered until now – returned in all measure and in full force.
Three things occurred in the space it took one heartbeat to become the next.
The first: the front door of Yamame’s house was brutally rammed open.
The second: that registering this sound, the spinstress clapped a hand over the O of surprise ripping out on her human’s face.
Then, the third, final thing: the earth spider wrenched her body sideways, dropping down the edge of the bed; then – cushioning the fall with her own back – she jammed herself into the narrow storage space beneath – unceremoniously dragging her human along.
The human was screaming. Not through the usual articulators – for these were effectively stoppered; but there was no mistaking the frenzied thump, thump, thump of his heart stabbing out at Yamame’s roused senses. Had the underside of her bed been less ill-suited to contain anything beyond Yamame and her human squished together very tight, she might push her chin upward and appreciate the look of fear inside his eyes; now, however, with her head wedged firmly between the human’s shoulder and the boards of the bed, Yamame’s acid yellow eyes were focused singularly on the opened bedroom’s door.
Someone had entered the spider’s dwell.
A sprinkling of footfalls – and these were the symmetric footfalls of a bipedal – and the intruder, clearing the entryway, strode into the house’s salon. No mistaking so much, either; Yamame needn’t consult the preciseness of her arachnid form to estimate this bipedal at average height… perhaps a touch underweight… alert and confident… and, as the manner of their steps decidedly evinced – of the female sex. Most importantly (and most to the good), as the intruder – this female – began a sweep of the house from the rooms opposite of Yamame’s, it also turned out, however alert, mercifully un-alerted of the earth spider’s frantic concealment.
The earth spider’s – and her human’s.
Yamame Kurodani’s needle-keen attention looped back to the man crammed with her under the bed.
Paran no longer screamed. Nor was his heart approximating the screams he would have no doubt been demonstrating had Yamame’s hand not been keeping his mouth pad-locked; but, among all the things her favourite human wasn’t doing, there was one he yet was. The thing was a hiss after a hiss of pained breath being pushed out through his nose and over Yamame’s palm. All too late the spinstress realised the fingers of her human’s better hand were trapped – crushed, really – between the bed’s hard wood underbelly and the base of her own spine.
Yamame Kurodani bucked, and the fingers were freed. Though they gripped her elsewhere just as soon; but, perhaps rather than screaming, clutching at the rolled up fabrics of her dress made for the stealthier killer of pain. Yamame could appreciate it. Yamame could say she appreciated it while the intruder remained outside the earshot; still, when she opened her mouth to do just that, the reawakened spider’s instincts expelled another set of words. The words were between and betwixt silly and the silliest.
“Are you scared?”
Silly enough to make Yamame herself to squirm; not silly enough still to trigger a retort. The human, very seriously, began twisting his head left and right.
Then, the obvious truth catching up, he twisted it – once – up and down.
Yamame’s own heart… well, it didn’t scream. Had it, it would have been a very quiet scream; but it yelped inside its cage, if nothing more. “… No worries,” she whispered regardless at her human. “No worries, Paran. Hold still. This’ll be over soon. Whoever it is out there, I’m not fighting them. Not with you underfoot. A thief wouldn’t have knocked for so long anyway; whoever they are, they are looking for me. Well, let them look then. Hold still. You’ll be fine. You’ll be fine…”
Yamame breathed out the last promise, and the human shaped another nod – less wounding this time. And, held still as told…
… For the due time the intruder in his and Yamame’s home needed to at last remember – or perhaps notice – the door poorly securing the way into their hiding place. There were strides – bold and alert. There was an inching open (or wider, anyway) of the door. There were – surprising no spider – two prim cowhide booties sliding into view at the ends of unseen legs. There was an instant of hesitation…
… And then, perhaps the single odd piece in the wardrobe of events, there was a sigh of relief issued between alien lips. The intruder slid away from the dark mouth of Yamame’s bedroom; then, pausing once more in the salon, and finally deciding the house empty, hurriedly left. The front door slammed back close.
Yamame Kurodani let go of her human.
A reassuring “Gone,” and she was crawling into the open, leaving Paran to do the same at a hopeful absence of further damage to his sense of safety. Though his re-emergence was laboured; all the same, Yamame welcomed the opportunity to peek her dishevelled head without the bedroom’s door, in case – an unlikely case, but still – the trespasser’s leaving had been a ruse: an illusion meant to fool her spider’s hearing by way of treacherous magicks.
It had not been a ruse. The intruder – whoever she had been – was truly gone. As gone, maybe, as Yamame Kurodani’s dignity and visual order; but these interests sifted right through the spider’s mental net.
What did not, and caught, was the whine of settling wood behind her. The spinstress span around to find her human seated again on her bed: upper body hunched halfway to his knees, legs squeezed painfully together.
“Paran?” asked Yamame. “What’s wrong?”
“… Knocked my kneecaps.” The human’s reply was prickly at best. At worst, it was accusatory. “… Give me a moment.”
“… OK,” allowed Yamame. The sight of the man back atop her bed called forth distracting, hungry thoughts. The spinstress – with difficulty – folded them away. The fold was an easily undone sort… but it must do. “I’m… going to check for damages,” she said, rounding away from the quietly suffering man. “You… um, nurse your kneecaps in the meanwhile. All right?”
“… I will,” he assured her. “Go.”
Yamame Kurodani, not looking back, quit her bedroom, on feet and knees that were oddly soft themselves for no understandable reason.
The rest of the house was undamaged (even the front door, which Yamame had mentally resigned to replace); but unchanged though its outward layers appeared, Yamame Kurodani’s spider acuity told of two new, stranger elements present within the walls. The first of these was a faint scent of small prey Yamame knew she knew, but could not place. The second…
The second was a scrap of parchment left on her salon’s tea table. The scrap was glowing with hastily described words.
Yamame picked up the message. The first line had been inked on the paper in circular, glyph-like runes, which Yamame had never seen before, nor could read – then scrawled over. The next lines, though fully indited in Gensokyo’s primary, angular script, bore the wobbly signage of a hand unused to – or perhaps unwilling to use – the target language.
It was not that which threw all further thoughts of frolicking out of Yamame’s head. The words themselves did.
Earthe Spyder! the trespasser’s letter began. Earthe Spyder! We have found your kill.
「Earthe Spyder! We have found your kill. MasGood doct Master Eirin has found cause: spyder bite & poison. Human Village quiet; HOWEVER we are informing your Prin Lady! Beware! — House Eter Inaba Udongein of House Eternal」
Yamame rolled the words over and over inside her mind’s web. They weren’t wrapping.
Her human – who, in the meanwhile it had taken Yamame to discover and absorb the message, had smoothed out whatever damage had been done to his knees – had re-joined her; and, forehead crinkled like rayon not been ironed in months, it was now him running his human eyes over and across the same threatening lines. Mistrust was plainly written in those crinkles; and though it was yet another language Yamame – once more planted atop her sofa – had never had to read before, all the same she pulled her legs tighter against her chest.
Paran threw the message down on the table. The paper caught the air; and instead, the letter sailed in a fabulous spiral under the sofa.
Yamame Kurodani turned up a humourless smile. “Well?” she asked. “What’s your take?”
Her human, assuming a tragic face, shook his head left and right. Then, he grunted, “That isn’t what our village is called.”
The earth spider’s smile became a shade less sullen. “That is what you’re worried about?”
“Anything else I should be?”
Almost, and Yamame would have told him; only then, the joke finally cataloguing as what it had been (that is to say, a joke), the spinstress forced a tiny, little chuckle to gratify it. The human smiled a smile back. The smile was likewise forced.
“Since when are you knighted, then?” he asked.
Yamame blinked. “Knighted? What?”
“… Sorry. I’ll stop. The message,” he explained. “It mentioned a ‘Lady.’”
“Ah. That. Must have meant the Komeiji. Those snakes.” Yamame propped her chin on her folded knees. “Can’t feature it could be anyone else. Whatever the Oni fancy, the elder Komeiji is our ruler – even if she isn’t much for the ruler-y part. Though I’ll wager you my nicest dress it matters very little to our brothers and sisters up above. All they want is someone to hold responsible. Which the Komeiji family is, at that.” The spinstress closed her eyes. “Whatever I say, too. The eldest one would have my legs picked off if she heard me talk. Or think. Although, not to take it away from her, she has been softer on all of us since the recent trouble. Seldom as she deigns to leave the house, anyway.”
“A smattering of rumours,” Yamame brushed the question off, “all of which turned out truer than they had any right to be. At any rate, I suppose this means we should be ready for a Komeiji poking her nose about the place soon. Always too soon, if you ask me.” The spinstress sighed. “Another snake in the pile…”
“Sorry,” said Yamame. “You aren’t a snake, Paran. Of course not. You’re—”
“I know, Yamame. Here – look at me.”
Maybe a snake after all, thought the spinstress, pulling open her tired eyes, and giving their full attention to her human. Seating himself beside her, the human did just so as well. All at once, the accused earth spider found the same, serious gaze from days before clamping her in place. The same gaze, which – though attached to lesser matters previously – now again told Yamame to listen and learn.
And so she listened. So she learned.
“To begin with,” her favourite human said, quietly, “let us make clear on this: that I know very well that my… that people have died, due to you, before. That, since the opening of the Underworld, humans like me have come down with – and perished to – sickness authored by one ‘yearly malady,’ Yamame Kurodani. That—” the corners of his lips quirked up in an awkward smile “—not very long ago, I myself very near met a similar fate.”
Yamame screwed up her mouth. “Let’s not talk about that.”
“As well we don’t,” agreed Paran, the smile melting away like warmth in the rain; “but I have known this, and no lie. I have always known it.”
“That is a big word,” said Yamame. “Considering how short we’ve been acquainted.”
“Might be.” A glimmer of some more private amusement played in the human’s eyes as he conceded the point. Though, as soon he was all Paran again: straight as a needle, as serious as himself. “Still, there’s something else I know,” he resumed. “Something few have stumbled on – and fewer still shared the tale, if your reputation is telling. That ‘something’ is this: that Yamame Kurodani, the so-called ‘mother of plagues’ is a docile creature, who rarely attacks without she is threatened first. Or otherwise provoked. Or scared. Or extorting. Or—”
“What are you trying to say?”
The human Paran, exhaling, squared his back. “That Yamame Kurodani has done no wrong,” he declared. “You and I have been… together for days, now; and, discounting my short-lasting trip to the village – which I have on good authority you didn’t follow – I’ve not seen you hurt any human otherwise than myself. And I’m not dead. Nor even did our latest contractor appear any worse for wear last I saw him. At least, not any worse than his wife had cooked up for him for giving out her dresses.”
Who might this “good authority” be? wondered Yamame, recalling a certain assurance of never speaking with – or hearing a word from – her dear sister raised by her human no longer ago than that morning.
Then another possibility came slithering in, and it put a fire under Yamame’s heart. Had Ashi not spoken of “baiting a male” for her own, after all? And, if not Ashi, any of Yamame’s unruly sisters could have done what the message alleged had been done. But would they? Sour again the slowly un-spoiling relations between themselves and their newest employers? Yamame Kurodani believed not… but Yamame Kurodani had believed many things throughout her long life, a healthy number of which had been shattered as recently as the previous half-hour. The doubts only grew.
Not so in Paran’s mind; for Yamame’s human was delivering his final argument soon. “So you’ll forgive me,” he said, his tone defying anyone to dispute him (including Yamame), “you’ll forgive me, but I’ll hold that Yamame Kurodani has done no wrong. I’ll hold it. Until this Komeiji-lady walks up here and confirms it herself. She is going to confirm it, too. And did you know why? Because you haven’t done any wrong, Yamame. You never, never have.”
Yamame could dispute him.
Yamame could certainly beat him in that dispute. Yamame could, in the very point of fact, call back on any of the instances she had wronged – him, or any other humans or inhumans likewise – across the long years of existence. Yamame could wrong him even now. What did he know? A whiff of black, earthen magick – and he would have been meeting with his Paranseberi quicker than either would have liked.
Yamame Kurodani did not want to dispute him. There was, in the point of that same fact, very little Yamame Kurodani wanted right then – very little, elsewise than to throw her arms around her favourite, favourite human, and pull him in very close. To give release to the warm feeling spreading out from her tiny spider heart. Gratitude? It must have been; though never before had being grateful caused Yamame’s face to blush so much.
Nor was there an overabundance of throwing of arms in what happened next; but sliding cut close enough, and Yamame – very calmly, as though it was the most natural thing to do so – reached out, and slid her arms around her human’s shoulders. This time, the human did not fight. This time, he did not flail up and down the sofa like a fish on a hook.
This time, what her favourite human did was – very calmly, as though it was the most natural thing to do so – he slid his arms behind her back, and pulled Yamame Kurodani in – very close.
A minute raced by.
A full minute. Though it had felt no longer than two breaths (which it might have been); then, out of whatever deep drawer had hid it, Yamame’s voice returned to its incredibly pleased owner.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
Paran lurched. The sensation registered all over Yamame’s body.
“… What’s that?” he whispered back.
“Thank you,” she said again. “For… trusting me. Thank you.”
“… Wasn’t that your last order?”
“Were we still playing that?” chuckled Yamame.
“… No,” Paran admitted. “Guess not.”
Another, slower minute trailed after the first.
When it ended, Yamame spoke up.
“If you’d like,” she said, “if you want to, we can… Mm. We can go back to… to what we were doing before, you know.”
The human’s replying sigh tumbled down the back of Yamame’s neck. “… I’d only just managed to distract myself from that.”
“Had you?” Yamame teased. “You were doing… that thing, to my ear, again. You know?”
“… I know what I was doing.”
Which is it? Yamame wanted to ask; but, no sooner than the thought had spun, her human was again blowing hot words into her ear.
“… Aren’t we going too fast?” he said.
“Aren’t we going too fast with what?”
This, meaning our touching rituals, Yamame concluded. A moment, she considered playing at a bit of wilful ignorance; then, giving it up, she instead asked her human, “There’s a timetable for these things?”
“Timetable – no,” he told her. “A… propriety – usually.”
“I don’t know anything about that,” said Yamame. “I don’t know about human propriety, or timetables. All I know is that it feels good – or,” she quickly corrected, “that it doesn’t feel wrong. Are we… um. Are we going too fast for you?”
A pause preceded any answer which Yamame may or may not receive. The pause was pregnant with the sounds of a great internal struggle cutting bloody swaths into the human’s resolve. Then, out from the turmoil, the conflict and disaccord, the bloodied and beaten victor at long last emerged.
The victor’s name was a surrendering, “… No.”
It was the best name Yamame Kurodani would have had for it. “Then,” she began, excitedly, “do you want to go back to—”
“One thing,” her human rode her over. “One thing. I’m going to do one thing. Then we go to sleep.”
“But you said—”
“And, on a condition,” Paran cut in again. Two record interruptions in a row delivered, the human shifted inside Yamame’s embrace. “Make no mistake, Yamame,” he told her gravely, “I’m going to be very annoying beginning tomorrow. Tonight, though… Tonight, I need to make sure I’m… still in control. So… One thing. No more. OK?”
Yamame Kurodani willed away the clinch of disappointment bracketing around her heart. “… OK,” she gave up. “OK, Paran. One thing. Fine. And the oh-so-terrible condition?”
“That if I do try more than one thing,” said Paran, “then punch me.”
A giggle pushed out of Yamame in spite of her curdling humour. “Punch you? Really?”
“Punch me,” Paran confirmed. “Really.”
“Fine. I’ll punch you, if that’s what it takes.”
Another frustrated squeeze clutched at Yamame Kurodani’s chest when her human pushed her away from himself. The squeeze was mistaken. The human hadn’t wished for Yamame to let go; only, whatever it was he was planning, evidently it required easier access to Yamame’s face.
The same face the human now stared at with an expression half-stitched-over with longing, and half – with subdued despair.
“… This is so unfair,” he groaned, pushing the blond hairs from Yamame’s cheek with the backs of his fingers.
“W—What’s unfair?” Yamame asked.
“You are,” replied her human.
… Then, he leaned in.
Yamame Kurodani closed her eyes.
Yamame Kurodani more than closed her eyes – she locked her mouth as well, and squelched her brows – but whatever misinformed instinct had led her to do so, was just that – misinformed. Yamame’s human had never meant to bite her. Nor had he meant to anything overmuch harmful; only to – very gently, as he had her shoulder and neck before – touch his lips to her exposed cheek.
And that was all.
At least it had been all. It had been, until – as with her shoulder and neck before – the human’s lips began slowly travelling across Yamame’s skin. Touch down and lift, move over, touch again. Touch and lift, and touch and lift…
… And then, touch alone, when the edge of his lips inevitably lapped over the corner of Yamame’s own.
Then, the human stopped.
His breath stopped.
His movements stopped.
The entirety of Yamame’s favourite human had stopped, becoming as still as the air of Yamame’s home seemed still in the same moment.
And though her eyes were squeezed close, and her fists were squeezed close, and her blood was pumping in her ears – even over these, Yamame Kurodani, architect of the Underworld, realised the stopping had been her cue. The cue to make her own move. To keep her clause of the contract. To prevent the “one thing” her human had promised to her from becoming “many things,” which would then drive the much-desired sleep from his – and her – eyes.
I assume something is going to happen in the story that prevents it from becoming about these two fucking like wild rabbits 24-7. As much as that would also be entertaining to read, in a way, it would belong in another board, I think.
So I'd argue, enjoy it while you can, because it clearly won't last terribly long. What is this, like, the end of the first act or something?
>>15155 >He can't write purple and make it look good! Thou that which easily dareth darest.
DagOP Ur welcomes you, Anyonymous, my old friend. But to this place where choices are made, why have you come without a vote?…
The thread, if my memory serves, is reaching autosage. So, it seems as good a time as there are times to hold a Q&A. As I have sympathy for you, and the melancholy fate of all readers, I will answer any questions or suggestions you may have to tide you over the meantime before the next thread is made. I’m a little tied up at work at the present, but I can promise you it will be posted inside the approaching week.
So, if you have any questions, ask them! Otherwise, you are the challenger. To you goes the courtesy of the first blow…
>>15161 [Running WToho_Transl_Serv.exe ...] [Welcome to the SeaTwo Western Touhou Fanbase Translation Server! Your document will be translated] [Analyzing document] [Reckoning fragments] [Deverbing nouns] [Reticulating splines] [Benzimming etymologies] [Finalizing grammarization] [Done!]
What the funky fresh is going on in this house, friendos?
So, check it. I've heard you're whack, but in a good way. You know who else is whack like that? And also has two thumbs? Yeah, that's right, this guy. And you know who's not this guy, and also whack, but in a bad way? Yeah, that's right. I'm looking at you, derailing dude. Trust me, mang, if I was gonna chime in - like I am now, cool as I am - I would be all up with the anonymity. That is just my jam.
And you know what else is my jam? Your story. I'd be the last dude to badmouth your story, dude, especially when mine is getting hit in all directions. Seriously, mang. It's like the middle of a danmaku fight here.
See what I did there? Yeah. That's right. I'm awesome.
MORE IMPORTANTLY, dude, you know what I didn't do? Vote. Which, totally not my fault. I'm working for the man, man, and if the man sees me voting on the-man time, I am totally screwed. Outcome: Not cool.
But hey, it's all cool now, friendo! Can I kick it? Yes I can! And the direction I choose to kick it is in the direction of the punch.
Oh, man. Oh, man. See what I did there? I am on a roll.
Okay, yeah, but seriously, gotta jet here. But first, one question: Let's say hypothetically a dude posts a stupid-rank comment at the very end without, you know, reading the whole dealio. How uncool is that?
Yeah, bummer, dude.
[Translation complete.] [Thank you for using the SeaTwo Western Touhou Fanbase Translation Server] [Shutting down ...]
>>15159 Used to be big time into stouts, and my absolute favourite brand remains a regional brand stout named “Sawn”/“Screwed” in my native tongue. However, as my alcohol tolerance has dwindled since college days, I’ve found myself downing one or two local brand tequila- and cranberry-flavoured bitters every odd evening.
>>15161 >>15162 Thy Futo impression for an authentic word order wanteth. Verily it my sensibilities irketh. Eth, eth. Ye zwounds. >Let's say hypothetically a dude posts a stupid-rank comment at the very end without, you know, reading the whole dealio. How uncool is that? At the riskcertainty truth of sounding full of myself, it’s your loss, bossu. My Stand, 「Ｐａｐｅｒｂａｃｋ Ｗｒｉｔｅｒ」, grants me 「control over words」 of a degree unparalleled by ordinary TH-P writers! This 「thread」… No, this 「story」, is a 「test」 of my will to write!