Yamame Kurodani knew well what she wanted to say. It was a simple spell. It was as simple as three words. More syllables separated a drunk from his next serving at the local tavern than Yamame wished to vocalise now. Her human had said it, and he had been tiddly, tired, and not a trivial degree careless. I love you. Three lousy words, and it would all be out in the open.
But was it love? Yamame Kurodani had stitched together a handkerchief idea of the term from those stories told at the table by nostalgic Oni, or written down in various books. She knew what it stood for, and closer or farther what it symbolised. Nor was there any doubt in her mind that she wanted her human to remain at her side. There was little within, in fact, telling her otherwise than she wanted his company to be a regular thread in the fabric of her life. Though his jokes were bland, and his thoughts were hard to follow, and he kept his attention priced as high as precious jewels. Still Yamame Kurodani wanted to say the same about him that he had said about her. Those three words.
But there was a problem. A hole in the lining of it all. For whichever way Yamame spun the months of their acquaintance between her fingers, none of them turned out a single tragedy. No one was being exiled. No duels were being fought in the name of love on beaten ground; no punitive sieges were being mounted, and no fires of disagreement were raising pillars of ruddy smoke into the sky. No bodies were cropping up in the dead of night. There was one death to count, yes – but it was years distant and uninvolved with what the earth spider now felt. There was nothing else. Only she, her human, a few mild misunderstandings, and a slowly tiding awareness that neither of them wanted to be apart from the other.
If it was love, then it was a very quiet one. Altogether unworthy of a story.
The question, Yamame realised then, had never been whether she loved him or otherwise. That slice licensed no lack of confidence. Might be, even, that she had loved him for a well good bit, but for her uncertainty had not allowed her to think she was… well, allowed to, before. The sole question, then, was whether her internal definition could stretch enough to include what she was feeling.
There was even less of a story to tell when she found it stretched very easily.
And so it was that, with a heart clear of doubt and a-puff with a warm sense of satisfaction, Yamame Kurodani uttered the spell that had razed civilisations.
“I love you, too.”
The spinstress was rather proud of that custom finish. It reminded, at least – despite the applications of fault – that it was he by whom this potential war had been started.
The war did start, too: snake-like, with a sibilant replacement of air that Yamame’s confession must have punched out of her human’s chest. Then it was joined in earnest.
“… I don’t think you do, Yamame.”
The earth spider’s response was stridently direct.
Satisfaction wrapped up inside her heart so it could not escape, Yamame ripped short the distance between herself and her human, who would defy her spells. She stepped noiselessly up the edge of the cart, and tore the blindfold away from Paran’s head. Inside the same, smooth motion, she shoved out at him – not too strongly, but enough – so that he tumbled backwards off the crate, and down onto the sacks of rice and turnips and bales of fabrics that were Yamame’s reimburse.
Then, spider-quick, she leapt after him.
The cart made nary a groan of objection when she prised apart her human’s arms and pinned them down. What it did not, Paran made up for at volume.
“All right,” Yamame calmly rode over his exclamations. “Why?”
Her human, his eyes scrunched painfully shut, squirmed underneath her like a stuck fly. “Yamame,” he grated, “It hurts—”
Yamame hissed. “I’m not sorry.”
“Not you!” snarled Paran. “The light!”
Yamame Kurodani, the mother of plagues, let this human – who would play with her feelings so – to be punished by his own weakness for a few more pained grunts. Then, feeling not a little ashamed, she unlocked a half of her hold, and slid her freed hand across his eyes. Paran quit writhing.
“There. Is this better?” Yamame asked him gently. “I’m not hurting you, am I?”
The reply was resigned. “… No.”
“The bald truth is,” the spinstress went on, “I am sorry. I really am. Only, I thought I’d heard you denying my confession – and it hurt me quite a bit.”
“We both know it is unwise to hurt a spider, don’t we? It makes them want to do unpleasant things. Me, I wanted to smack your mouth for a moment. Maybe brick it up afterwards.”
“That would have been inconvenient,” Paran opined.
“We are woefully short of bricks around, too,” Yamame added. “And, even if I were to dig up some clay and sculpt some on the spot, it would still take a decent while for them to bake. And it is oppressively hot out.” It was, as well; and Yamame had but to slightly curl her fingers to find the human’s skin was sticking wetly to hers. It was not an entirely unpleasant sensation now – but with time, it could feasibly become it. “So, Paran,” Yamame continued, “tell me this. Without risking us cooking to steaks out here… Why am I not allowed to say to you, what you already said to me?”
Paran, to start, had no answer. Only there was a flicker of expression on his mouth, and his liberated hand seeking out hers. Once it found this landmark, the hand traced farther on. It grazed upward her arm; it reversed at her shoulder, and brushed the tips of its fingernails up Yamame’s exposed neck. In the end, it came up to her face and cupped one of her cheeks. It was offensively hot. Its palm was bumpy from calluses, and reeked sharply of the cart’s bare iron handles. It was big and clumsy. It was sticky. It was rough all over.
Yamame pushed against it, wishing silently it would touch her more often.
“… May be I picked my words wrong,” Paran’s answer finally issued. “I meant to say, it was too simple. Sorry. I’m bad with… saying things.”
“Sometimes,” granted Yamame. Mostly when it is meant for me. I wonder. “So, what was it that was so unacceptably simple? My confession?”
Her human nudged his head down and up. “Yes.”
“Was there some other way you wanted me to do it?”
He thought about it. “… Not here,” he concluded a little helplessly. “Not now. Not like this.”
“Yours was no better,” accused the spinstress. “I’m not saying I’m not glad you told me – but it left something to be desired.”
“That is why,” sighed her human. “You’re more creative than I, Yamame.”
“So, you wanted me to make up for it? Me?”
“Who knows nothing about these things? The dumb me?”
Paran made a grimace. “You’re less dumb than I am.”
If we make this a contest, thought Yamame, then shudder, Underworld. “So,” she asked, “if you didn’t want me to tell you… well, that – then what did you want me to do?”
Again now, her human secured no spoken reply. Again, it was his hand which did the answering first of all. Now, its thumb was disengaged from its sibling fingers. Then, it glided – slowly and longingly – across Yamame’s lips.
The spinstress could not hold back a soft laugh.
“And you curse me for being simple!” she moaned. “Sloppy, Paran. Sloppy!”
“… You underestimate how addictive this is for me, Yamame.”
“No,” she told him. “No worries. I understand completely.”
At least, I’m beginning to, she corrected inside, even as she bowed down and gave to her favourite human what he so desperately wanted.
Might be it was because now was a time of answers and returns; but the spinstress mirrored her human’s drunken kissing from the previous night – touching her lips firstly to the corner of his, then slipping toward the centre, and there pressing down in a tender expression of absolute trust. Trust, and – which was little deniable now – that other thing as well. The three-word thing.
Thinking about this, Yamame took away the kiss – for long enough to sense the human readying to speak inside her hold. Then, in a swing of pointless, petty, loving revenge, she kissed him again.
She did it three more times until she had her fill.
When finally she let him let it out, her human’s voice was noticeably diluted.
“… You know, of course,” he was almost whispering, “You know that I have lied to you?”
Yamame indulged him with a smile he couldn’t see – but probably felt. “About what was it this time?”
“This.” He moved underneath her vaguely. “What you just did. It’s not a sign of affection – not just.”
“I imagine you would have stopped at my cheeks if it had been,” Yamame said. “Which you positively couldn’t – if I recall a certain evening a while ago.”
“You were really pretty that evening, Yamame.”
That squeezed another tiny laugh out of her chest. “Tell me why I was ever convinced you were hard to please!”
“I frowned a lot?” Paran theorised. “Grumbled, as well.”
“Kept trying to hide?” supplied Yamame.
“Kept trying to hide,” he gave up. “I should have eaten less. Would fit in more cracks now.”
“But you still wanted to kiss me – really kiss me – as soon as you were close to it.”
“… These things keep turning out, don’t they?”
“And still, here we are,” Yamame dramatized. “You – unbitten, and me – thoroughly un-outraged. The Oni might pull you out of your hide for lying alone; I think your lies are small. My sisters lie bigger than you, and they are subtler about it as well. You? Yours need work. Because this—” She brushed her lips briefly against his. “This? This, even now, doesn’t outrage me. At all. I’m built of less flammable stuff. I need worse lies to bite.”
“… How much worse?”
“Mm, let me see,” she purred. “Say that you doubly lied to me right then, and that was but a tiny sign of affection – just. I’d be put out overall. Not saying I’d bite, necessarily,” she teased, “but I’m not saying I wouldn’t. Any way you trim it off, you can never know with spiders – right?”
Paran deflated with mock relief. “I’ll vow by the one lie, in that case.”
Yamame chuckled. “That’s disgusting, you know? Maybe I should let slip the dread Oni on you after all. How would you like to hide from those?”
“Here’s something that isn’t a lie then,” offered her human. “I have a wad of very hostile turnips stabbing me in the small of my back.”
“Heinous. What about them?”
“Ah—” The human’s clipped exclamation was so familiar she was smiling before the reply produced. “See… A spider of some sort is aiding them enormously from above.”
The spinstress grinned. “Are you calling her fat, perhaps?”
“I’m calling her in cahoots. These are some ferocious turnips, Yamame.”
Yamame Kurodani, who was unconversant with the villainy perpetrated as a rule by farmland goods, rose up on her knees until the human was free to adjust, notwithstanding of the diplomatic implications. Hot air billowed out from under the skirt of her dress. The human Paran, escaping at last the turnips’ torture, arched his body up. Then, vengeance apparently on mind, he fell again on the sack – killing droves and droves of treacherous little vegetables in one pitiless stride.
Thusly having satisfied his blood-thirst, the human spoke again to their whilom ally.
“Yes? I’m here.”
“You are,” he agreed. “Would you happen to have my blindfold?”
“I have it. Would you like it back?”
“Would so,” Paran wheezed. “Much as I’d love to lie around with you on top of me all day, we aren’t getting any closer to home.”
Yamame bit back the yearning question that had stitched together in her chest. Instead, she drew about it the entirety of her pride that had been scattered before the human’s dismissal of her feelings. The scattering had been, of course, unsubstantiated; and Yamame swore to maul whichever internal division of her had ordered it in the first place as soon as opportunity presented. The pride was a little dirtied, but it wrapped evenly around her throbbing heart.
“Not yet,” she said. “I haven’t heard how you are going to apologise to me yet.”
The rewards of acting – for once – with authority were instantaneous; and the human Paran must have remembered all about the turnips below. His jaw set.
“… I must, mustn’t I?”
“Must,” declared Yamame. “I’ll forgive you, naturally. But not before you make it up to me.”
“How do you want to?”
“… That is a trick question.”
“It is. I’ve tricked it out. So? Chop-chop, Paran. We aren’t getting closer to home, are we?”
The human feigned a period of deep consideration. “… When we are home,” he said at length. “When this is settled in; when I have taken a shower and eaten… Would you like to try doing something else with me?”
“Another ritual?” Yamame guessed.
“… Of a sort.”
“And this is what you want?”
“… It is,” Paran surrendered. “It’s what I want.”
“Then,” said Yamame, “I’d absolutely love to try it.”
The human sighed as the manacles of promise locked around his wrists.
Yet, even when the not-so-fat earth spider did undo her hold and let him to rise, the human Paran did not seem at all a man who was shackled and being dragged to the gibbets. There was even – Yamame saw as he was tying the sash again round his maladjusted eyes – something like a smile quirking his mouth against his will. A small, diffident smile: almost like that of a boy who had secretly wished a wooden sword for his birth-day but never told anyone – yet got exactly that. It was an adorable little smile, which Yamame Kurodani wanted to coax until it was a wide, crescent Moon of happiness.
The thought, somehow, made her feel extremely fulfilled. Though she had done nothing for the smile yet; she knew – in time, and out of the heat – that she could. It made her feel warm. It made her feel sure. It made her feel needed and purposeful.
Most of all, for the first time since the day’s tragic revelations, it made her feel that she could – eventually – really deserve to be loved.
The few hours in consequence dashed by in an escort of squeaking wheels. Always slightly uphill, rarely deviating, Yamame Kurodani walked beside her human in the furnace late-Summer heat, all the while as he carted her rewards to her home under the Goddeses’ Mount.
Though never more on both their lately mishaps, they filled these sweating hours with talk. They discussed, at excited length, how best to design the ice-box which was soon to outfit Yamame’s home; they fought, for a bit, about where it was then best to be located. Paran, ever practical in his insights, wanted the ice-box without the house – where the air was admittedly cooler; Yamame, who ever lived on the nearer side of her surrounds, wanted it closer at hand. At the most heated point of the argument, the spider and the human both convened on the idea the weather ill needed a wildfire to boot with the blasting Sun. They agreed to fight another day.
Afterward, a new amusement chanced across Yamame Kurodani. The human was persuading the cart past an especially rough stretch of the road when it did; and Yamame, all soul of politeness, suggested gently that she may, in pretty actuality, be possessed of two arms and legs (at the moment), and thus capable of helping.
Paran’s reply was jealous.
“This is my job,” to hear him grunt it at the rocky ground.
He spat it again and again, in fact, until – with pouting indignation – the spinstress slipped under his straining arms, grabbed at his big head, and kissed it until he was soft. Then, using of this weakened state, she shoved him away from the stubborn cart.
They switched again, of course, soon enough; but, no matter his nagging, Yamame continued to utilise this threat of tactically-deployed affection to keep the workload from irreversibly bending her favourite human’s back. Oddity of oddities, even a dozen such manoeuvres after, the human still seemed keen on pressing the issue to the end each time. Obviously, a deception of a sort of was in progress. Yamame scented it well enough.
She did not pursue it.
After the thirteenth repetition, she realised why else she didn’t. There was a glowing sense of achievement in being the initiator for these moments of intimacy. Though it was not the first and only instance she had; all the same when she searched her memory, Yamame Kurodani knew it had been her human, a majority of the time, who had played seamstress to those moments. There was nothing shameful about it; and when she coupled to it the theory that Paran hadn’t fallen in love with her yesterday, it made precious much sense that he would have been trying to express it in the one manner he could. In essence, he had been confessing to her every morning, and every evening, for weeks already.
Now she knew finally what he had meant, Yamame enjoyed returning his every little confession tremendously.
Thus did the human Paran arrive un-bent at the mouth of the tunnel at the bottom of which Yamame’s home was waiting. Thus the earth spider, gladdened immensely of this result, did kiss away his complaints, and helped him to prepare the cart for transporting down.
The cart, commissioned by Paran from one of his kinsmen months prior, was a drop of dexterity in the sea of clumsiness that was humankind. The tall, steel-hoop-shod wheels, which were fitted onto a high-set axle and sturdy enough to traverse Moriya’s slanting roads, could be detached; the load, then, rested upon a set of long skids, which ran lengthwise underneath the cart, perpendicularly to the axle. This in turn made it perfect for sledding the goods – carefully – down the stairs, which led to Yamame’s domain, all in one trip.
It was only halfway to the bottom when Hijiri’s generosity became an unexpected twig in the net of usual procedure.
The cart – sled now – had attempted thrice already to ride over the human who had been supporting it from the front; now Yamame, with whom he had switched places, felt it attempting to do the same to an earth spider. Something, as well, must have spoiled in the Sun and spilled over inside one of the crates from the shaking – for an acrid smell was brining the stale air of the tunnel. This, as things were with earth spiders, was at once met with reprisal.
“All right, no!” yelped Yamame. “That’s enough! I’m going to hop on down and grab some rope!”
“What?” It was not the cart questioning her sentence in a startled voice, but her human. “What for?”
“We’ll run it under,” explained the fuming spinstress. “Under and over. Then, you’ll take it from the front, while I rein it from the back. I’ll not have a gods-forsaken cart ruining my afternoon! Fuh!”
Then, ahead Paran might point out any flaws in her plan which she would then need to smother, Yamame Kurodani skipped down the even basalt steps at an urgent bounce. The stench of rotted matter seemed to trail behind her.
It was not. And, when she reached the base of the stairs, Yamame Kurodani realised, horrified, that it was she who had technically been following it.
Her home was devastated.
From the tunnel’s opening, where she all but became part of the stone floor from shock, Yamame could see the ruined insides of her salon – visible through a monstrous hole smashed through the wider flank of the house. The cavity encompassed fully half the building with its bizarrely rounded edges. Confused, rancid chemistry was sloughing from those edges in fat, putty-like swells, climbing groggily down what still remained of the walls. A disgusting moment, and Yamame recognised that these were the walls, and that the hole had not been punched – but eaten through from within by some malignant substance. An ankle-deep pool of rank, necrotic sludge encircled the half-digested house. As Yamame watched on in still awe, a pane of glass loosed from a partly-dissolved window. It plunged with a sickening plop into the stinking pool, exciting an eruption of decomposing gas. A film of sick, yellowish haze draped the whole catastrophic scene.
One of Yamame’s forearms tingled suddenly; and she cast downward on a reflex, to flick the irritant away.
The irritant was her own body.
The naked patches of her skin were bubbling – sizzling, dying, and discarding in purplish flakes – as her magickally-sustained biology rapidly reconfigured itself to combat the predatory poison that had subsumed her home. The hem of her dress close to ground was quickly becoming stiff and black and brittle.
If anyone else walked into this… Yamame managed to think.
Then, it clotted into something much more terrifying.
If Paran walks into this…!
A clamp of blind, all-enveloping fear closed down on her every sentient thought.
Without so much as glancing twice at her consumed home, Yamame Kurodani ripped back into the exiting tunnel. It felt hardly three heartbeats before she reached the most important thing in her life. It was less than a quarter of another, and not a scream, before she seized it in two fright-gripped arms, and launched for the safety of open air above.
The cart, bereft of its support, leaned forward precariously, and skidded with a great clatter down into the ravenous death below.
>>15730 We don't have enough information to tell who it is exactly, but I don't know. Reisen/Eientei doesn't make any sense to me.
> 「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」
>Her human, assuming a tragic face, shook his head left and right. Then, he grunted, “That isn’t what our village is called.”
Reisen would know what it's called, she goes there regularly! And besides, why would she cross out so much stuff? You'd only do that if you're trying to impersonate someone else (and also weren't very good at it). I think we can eliminate that option.
The tunnel spat her out, tumbling, onto the green Summer grass.
As she broke the flight with her back, Yamame’s instincts flash-burned with activity. Her upper limbs opened up, spilling her baggage to the side; then, she rolled onto her belly, scrambling to find a gravitational level. The baggage issued a rattling noise, and the earth spider all but moulted then and there. She whipped around, hairs standing on the ends.
The baggage… The human – her beloved human, Paran – was laid curled up, foetal, on the rocky ground. His hands were pressed painfully to the front of his head.
“Curses!” he was grating between his teeth – only the word wasn’t “Curses,” and what it was brought the less primaeval Yamame, deadening, back to the surface of her mind.
The spinstress flipped her human forcefully onto his back. There seemed nothing off the usual about him at first; less one counted his clothes – which he had again put on before they had descended – were damp from perspiration, the human Paran looked to be untouched by the foulness which had dominated their home. The areas of his skin showing were tan and healthy. No outward damage was conspicuous. He had his hands stuck tightly to his eyes – but Yamame knew this was for he had taken off his blindfold once inside the tunnel, nothing else.
None of it did anything for her crushing fear.
“Paran?” she gasped. “Are you all right? Can you breathe?”
“What?” His voice was alarmed. “I can. What—”
“Are you itching anywhere?”
“… No,” he said after a few seconds. “Yamame, what are you—”
“Stop. Can you feel your body? Are your senses working?”
“I can feel you kneading me. That counts?”
Yamame’s attention startled down to the human’s front – where her hands were clawing up and down in tugs of insensate panic. She willed them to quit. They didn’t.
Then, they did quit, when her human had freed up one of his, and overlaid it cautiously on her twitching fingers.
“Calm down,” he hushed. “I’m fine, Yamame. Calm down.”
“I am calm.”
“You’re pinching me,” Paran disagreed. “I can hear you going like a bellows, too.”
“Maybe I am not calm,” Yamame gave up.
“I’ll hug you, if you want,” he offered. “But not when you’re like this. Calm down.”
An anxious giggle shoved past the block in her chest. “Still so proper, after all that?”
“My ribs are only bone. They can crack.”
He was, of course, right, and not even about the material of his internal workings. Yamame should calm down. She was doing no one favours succumbing to hysteria. The insipid jokes had helped; and – slowly, by degrees – the spinstress did re-master her ragged breathing. Paran, sensing the change in the breeze, pushed up to a sit. He looped one arm in front of his vulnerable eyes, but kept the hand of the other stoutly atop Yamame’s. The double staccato of his heartbeat under his skin was somehow very soothing.
Almost, and the question would have shot the choking lump back up into her throat.
Yamame swallowed it down. “… My home,” she murmured. “Our home. It was attacked.”
“Someone… Someone ate it.”
“Ate? What sort of—?”
“There was a huge hole,” Yamame interrupted. “And poison. And everything was dissolving! The house was half gone – melted down. The rest still is. The whole chamber is as if someone had emptied their stomach into it. My dress began to break down after only a few moments. If you had gone down there—”
Paran squeezed her trembling fingers. “But I didn’t. Was the culprit there?” he wanted to know. “Did you catch them?”
Yamame blinked. “What? No. There wasn’t… There wasn’t anyone. It must have happened a while ago; these kinds of poisons – acids – are slow-working. It could have been as long ago as yesterday. It could have—”
And it was then she realised. The thought was a glowing red welt across her mental processes.
Had the human Paran not joined the great architect at Myouren-ji the previous day… Had he not ventured out prematurely to meet with her in Hijiri’s domain; had he not missed her enough to risk her displeasure at running ahead of their timetable… Then, he could have well been caught in the attack. He could have been in the house when it had been assaulted. He could have been naught now. Naught, but a puddle of spoilt residue – meat rendered down, bones naked and bleaching – lost in the glutinous ruin of her home.
He could have been dead.
“Yamame, focus!” The human’s voice was sharp, commanding. It was alive. “Shaking isn’t telling me anything.”
The earth spider gathered up her will. The shakes, for the minute, shrank away. “… You’re awfully placid about this,” she accused her human. “What gives? It was your home, too.”
“Maybe because I didn’t build it,” Paran joked humourlessly. “Would flying to pieces have helped, Yamame? Trust me. I’m as furious as you are.”
Her human shrugged. “No, I’m not,” he surrendered. “But I am scared. That is why I need you to focus. I’m at your mercy out here. What do we do?”
The weight of expectation – of responsibility – at last pressed the panic out of her head; and Yamame, thinking the clearest since her plan for the overburdened cart, analysed the next possible moves.
The eldest Komeiji would need to be let know. Never mind she had personally extended her protection over Yamame’s “endeavours;” since the earth spiders were technically exempt from the laws of Gensokyo, it fell therefore into the hated mind-reader’s lap to resolve their complaints. If the attack had been aimed at Yamame, who was the architect of the Underworld, then Satori Komeiji by rights should take up investigation. This much was unambiguous.
But what about him? What of Paran? What about the luckless human stuck between the two worlds? If the attacker was at large still – and aimed to harm Yamame – then it was Paran – not her home, not her belongings – who was her greatest weakness. There was another layer of meaning beneath such a statement, but Yamame shelved it for later.
Something must be done about her human. An option implied itself out of custom that Yamame ought to turn to her brood – her sisters – first of all. But the excitable exteriors of younger earth spiders were no thriving neighbourhood for one of the frailer species. His own home environs likewise were out of the question. As he would be endangered in her habitat, so Yamame Kurodani should be in peril if her presence was discovered in the Human Village. Then, she could no more protect him. Should he be protected? she asked the busying threads of her mind. Would he not be safe among other humans? Yamame had but to remember her uncritical panic minutes before to decide differently. Slim though the chance may be; still, whoever should draw the ire of the “lawless” Underworld, they might also violate such edicts as bound the youkai on the surface. Yamame did not wish to lure this chance.
There were other, more selfish reasons as well. They did not matter much. Not for now.
The web of possibility tore down, therefore, to a dual twine. There were but two places in the Underworld that a human might be – and indeed had been – safe inside. The first of these was the underground Capital – with its shining lighthouses and their empty rooms, whence a spider and her partner may cast their summons for a mind-reader’s help.
The second, and more forbidden… was the mind-reader’s den itself.
( ) The Capital, and its lighthouses. ( ) The mind-reader’s forbidden den.
Since we seem to have a Divide of opinions for once, I’ll hold off starting up on the next bits for a day or so yet. To fill in the gap, here’s some replies!
>>15712 >Satori Whoa, there. What do I look like, a small hostess enthusiast to you? Not gonna happen! >Yams Even not gonna happen-er! Nope! Spiders are gross. Gross! Shoo!
>>15713 >A magician and an Oni is an unusual pairing to be sure. Not necessarily if you’ve played the Patchister’s routes in the fighters. Some do take it a touch far, but who am I to tell them they’re wrong? The only fighters I ever play are GG and Drunkken. That’s Tekken while drunk, where I pick Asuka and keep spamming the leg grab until I’ve beaten everyone else in the room. It’s my favourite fighting game. >I'd say Yammy, but you're already writing about her What! >Kage-woo Now, in all seriousness, I seem to have an opener for some kind of Kagerou short story on my drive. The trouble is, since writing it I seem to have suffered a mild case of the writers. That is, I’ve forgotten completely what it was supposed to be about. I’ve attached a slice, because I can. I’ll try to marinate it for a while and see if I can distil an idea, but I really guarantee nothing. I’d need to put the Yamams to the side, too – and while I wouldn’t mind it so much, I think I’m in the minority on this point.
>>15714 >(and don't you try to deny it). I have never denied anything. Never! Nuh-uh. >Nitori All right, see, while I’ll be the first to admit rather enjoying Nitoppai in a tight tank-top, the Nitori in my head is an abrasive thing in human company. Think what flashes (darkenings?) of Sekibanki you’ve seen from me, only substitute self-doubt with a sense of well-conserved arrogance. That’s my mental Nitori. And call me Akyuu’s-little-slippers-in-mouth-retarded, but I don’t think many on this site like their ‘hus that way.
>>15715 >Patches I’ll leave this to that friend I mentioned. I’m no SDMeister in general. I even like Rumia more than I do Flandre… >Wriggle-bug This is an idea. Though the Wriggle in my heart is more like a discount Eiki (to wit, the plainer, neighbourhood girl who looks kind of like her, whom you run crying to when the lofty Yama turns you down), I could certainly see it happening. Again, though – no solid ideas, and I’d need to put the spider back in the terrarium.
>>15716 >Nazrin >Grump is love, grump is life. You are my flesh and blood, and you can come pick my cotton any time – even if I only respect Nazrin because she doesn’t respect Byakuren.
>>15719 Stealing my job? Why don’t you come over here and write the next update for me as well, ah?
>not a single voice for the Banc Sadness. But it goes to show.
Hello. My name is UlySekisses. It’s the name I Bear, and I will Bull-y anyone who makes a problem of it. Apparently, I am also a year older since Saturday. Hopefully we’ll be able to finish this story before I turn a retirement age. Seems like it’s closer with every Saturday that comes by.
>>15733 Lie down on the couch and show on the doll where the dread mind-reader touched you. Because that is definitely not healthy.
But qualms like these meant little and littler when disaster had fallen so close. The Komeiji may not make for the best of company – perhaps not even good – but their function they would dutifully serve. The youngest one had claimed as much; and as for Yamame’s human, she knew by way of rumour already one of his kin had stood Satori Komeiji’s care, and lived. Another one was a matter of recounting the training.
Yamame Kurodani sighed her hope that the vicereine of Old Hell would treat kinder this human than she had treated her previous. But perhaps, as well, a touch less personally.
A tiny, embarrassed frown pushed her brows together. What am I imagining? The jealousy was misplaced. It was ugly to boot; Yamame wrung it out together with another sigh.
“Any decisions?” Paran quizzed her exhalations. “Anything? Yamame?”
The spinstress starched her heart. “Yes. Two,” she told him resolutely. “Can you walk, first of all?”
“Somebody wouldn’t allow me to do my job properly,” reminded Paran. “I should be fine with some more walking. Why?”
“There is another opening an hour away thereabouts.” Yamame swung her free arm approximately westward. “There are few who use it, since it is fairly new and leads nowhere but the Hub, and there are some narrow bends to fly, but it is a more direct route.”
“Yamame. If you are pointing somewhere, I can’t see it.”
“Oh.” Yamame’s arm went limp. “Um. It’s to the… It’s on the western slope. Opposite of the Tengu settlement.”
“That doesn’t mean anything either way,” said Paran. “What is that Hub?”
“A sort of cross-roads,” explained the spinstress. “Some call it the Heart Chamber. Some say it itself is Old Hell. It lies above the Capital – straight below the peak of the mountain. There are tunnels there branching off more or less to any place in the Underworld you can name. Satori Komeiji has her home there.”
“Your so-called Lady,” Paran remembered. “And we are going to impose on her?”
“Impose is what you did yesterday,” chided Yamame. “We are going to ask for her help. The eldest Komeiji is our counsel, even if we rarely call upon her in that capacity. My home is still in her realm; if nothing else, then she will house us while I get messages out to friends who will help us find what caused this. You will be safe.”
“… I could still return to town.”
Yamame’s fingers – those still encased in her human’s – curled into tiny hooks. The human Paran, if he had noticed, did not say.
“I haven’t enough money to lodge in an inn or stay-house,” he went on, “but I could beg of my mother to let me stay in for a time. Until this blows over. Until you deem it’s safe again. My mother is hard – but she isn’t unreasonable.”
“I’ve thought about this.” Yamame, senselessly, shook her head. “I’ve thought about it. No.”
The spinstress breathed in. “… I don’t want you to leave.”
“Because I love you.”
She launched the words very fast, as if the briefest thought could knock them out of her web.
In the end, it was selfishness, and nothing else, which had thrust them out. There were – to Yamame Kurodani’s tottering honour – other excuses, and no mistake. Had the mother of plagues, for instance, trodden with reason rather than greed – then there was no doubt in her mind the human would have outpaced her inevitably. Had she given Paran but the chance to, he would have snapped the links of her logic with never a care; for reason was the humans’ arid kingdom, and no place for a spider. But she had danced these dances, had Yamame Kurodani, and threaded out what it was which her human could absolutely never say “No” to.
A little trivially, it was this basic argument. These three (or were they four?) sorcerous words.
The effect on her human was almost obscenely efficient. He glared at her – for what good it did him to glare through the flesh and bone of his arm – his mouth set into an angry line.
“… All right,” he rumbled. “All right, Yamame. Very good.”
“I’ll abide by whatever you think best; but,” he warned, “I warn you, Yamame Kurodani, I hold no sympathy for youkai who aren’t you. Keep this Satori Komeiji away from me, or I will visit with the Hakurei on my very next trip.”
“You tolerate my sisters,” Yamame argued. “You’ve tolerated Niku – eventually. You’ll be fine.”
“Only because of you,” he disagreed. “Only because they’re yours. You’re special, Yamame. No one else is.”
“What about Ashi?”
“I like her,” Paran said artlessly. “Mostly because she and I both adore you. This Satori-lady sounds a different story by half.”
“She doesn’t hate me.”
“But she doesn’t love you,” he insisted. “And I despise those who do not love you. Forget it, Yamame; you’ve decided,” he pre-empted whatever reply had been shaping on her lips. “That is plenty. You’ve polished up the sharpest blades. I’m not going to fight back.”
I’d love it if you did, even for a bit, thought Yamame. But for her human’s integrity she agreed, “Very good. Then let’s impose on the Komeiji.”
That earned her a tight smile. “… Are you sure we cannot go down?” Paran asked then. “There were some pricey things on that cart.”
“No,” Yamame said, firmly. “No, Paran. If it’s slipped all the way down, it is as good as gone. If it hasn’t, then we can recover it later. Once the poison has run its course. It’ll turn benign in a few days at most; even our venoms seldom last longer. Until then…”
“Until then,” Paran picked up, “no turnips.”
Yamame chuckled. “And no ice-boxes, either! All that squabbling, and look! Here we are. Maybe someone had been listening, and we’d been too loud?”
“Then I hope he isn’t listening even now.”
This dearest hope cast, the human Paran released Yamame’s little hand, and sought out the blindfold safe-kept in one of his pockets. This, once found, he gratefully wrapped around his head. Yamame Kurodani, kneeling beside him, then met with her human’s invisible stare.
With a pull of sudden and overweening misery, the spinstress realised she had not seen his eyes – or at least looked at them very long – ever since the distant previous evening. There had been other things to mind since then – and to look at – yes, there had been; but for Yamame, who loved her human’s eyes, these were now very sorely missing. All but, and she would have reached out, pushed up the protective cloth, only to have a single look.
These were a foolish spider’s urges. Yamame willed them out.
In time, as well; for the human had one question yet.
“… What is the second, then?”
Yamame looked at him, confused. “Huh? Second what?”
“Second decision,” Paran said. “You said you had two.”
“Oh! Um. Well… There are two ways to the Hub,” she explained. “There is a path down the opening I mentioned, that can be climbed down. It is a long going, but doable on foot. The other path is… less climbable, shall we say? Quicker, though – and easier. So…”
“… So, we might want to fly,” Paran guessed, forehead wrinkling like a freshly washed bed-sheet. “Splendid.”
“Will that be OK? I promise I’ll hold onto you very tight.”
“We flew just now, Yamame,” sighed Paran, “and I’m only bruised. It should be OK.”
“… Sorry,” said the spinstress. “I was scared. I hadn’t even thought what I was doing. I just wanted to get you out of there. As fast as I could.”
“Only bruised, Yamame,” repeated her human. “It should be OK. My mother used to say men were made to be bruised – and learn therefrom.”
What did you learn here, then? wondered Yamame, even as she watched her human rise to a wobbly stand. The stand was wobbly, too; and even as the spinstress realised it, her human’s hands were promptly crushed into fists.
The fists were shaking.
Paran tore his blindfolded gaze away from the black mouth of the poisoned tunnel. He looked down instead: at his still-sitting rescuer.
“… You seem calmer,” he noted.
“A bit,” admitted Yamame. “What about you? You look upset.”
“Not at all. I’m fine. Gods watching, I’m fine.”
“… Did you want a hug?”
The human Paran opened his mouth to answer.
Then, whatever staid, propriety-made response had been forged in the underground vaults of his word-bank, it was smashed into a thousand glass-shard pieces. Paran swallowed them down, gagging from the effort.
“… I think,” he choked out at last, “I think I’m going to need that.”
I sure hope they have some clothing they can spare. I doubt they do, though, considering Satori's social life, but we can hope. Wouldn't want this to turn into 'Kurodani Yamame Has No Clothes'
No, wait, maybe I do.
Anyway, do those two have cash in hand? Where do pre industrial people keep their money anyway? Afaik, they either keep it in vaults in the church, in their castles or they don't have any. Before banks there was no middle class.
Wait, banks came long before steam machines, fuck. Which ones are there in Gensokyo anyway?
Satori Komeiji’s domain was a cyclopean eye, rent in the obsidian rock in a time and by forces inconceivable even to the mightiest youkai.
The white – in the absence of a more imaginative term – of this eye was a colossal ring of a cavern; impossibly tall, fissured pillars of dripstone were threaded throughout the entirety of the ring: a forest of supports for the mass of the mountain above. Shadow stalked these woods of stone; but as the underground Capital had its own miniature Suns, so too did this chamber house a brilliant light within. A vast chasm made up the eye’s orange iris; as deep again as the pillars were high, round beyond the reach of coincidence, the chasm was a peek-hole into the molten core of the earth. At its bottom, a magmatic lake broiled with a potent, barely-restrained fury.
Married to the heat rising from the lake, the chill of the underground conjured up lashes of chaotic, differential wind. Yamame braced against them as she descended.
“Almost there!” she yelled over the portentous roaring.
The human inside her embrace made a seasoned impression of a taut, desiccated husk. Not seasoned enough; but for the spinstress, who vied with more immediate concerns, it passed her by.
The eye’s squinting pupil, beside its environs, was grotesquely small; an islet at most, nothing more. A singular finger of stone jutting out the volcanic abyss – yet enough large sill to bear an entire mansion (including its gardens) upon its flattened tip. Those more poetically inclined Oni of the Capital (the same, in the main, who referred to their vicereine’s seat as the “Heart Chamber”) oft claimed Satori Komeiji’s house to be “sunken” or “collapsed.” The metaphor was plain; for the mansion above the magmatic lake had clearly been fashioned by the weather-minded mode of human architecture. Three floors up with a slanted roof, and windows all across. Had the Underworld’s architect not known differently, she could easily have believed the house had indeed rolled in down from the world above in some darker time.
An ancient bridge – pure stonework from end to end – joined the islet to the safer shore of the chasm. Attired with a better (better yet, for faster) alternative, Yamame landed rather in the midst of the mansion’s gardens immediately. Her human, continuing his imitation of old prey, crumpled into a broken heap, and heaved over a bed of familiarly crimson roses.
“… Never,” he sputtered, past a nauseous few moments. “Never again, Yamame.”
The spinstress offered him a little smile in compensation. Whether it did compensate or no, the marooned two walked over to where the front door of the mansion stood, forbiddingly closed.
Thus, similarly ticklish in the stomach, Yamame Kurodani pushed apart the double wings omitting a knock, and stepped inside.
To knock, in the first place, would have been without a sense for such a grand-spanning house; even from above Yamame had seen scarce few windows were alight, none of which nearby the entrance. But her earth spider’s eyes had caught something else: luminous fibres of loosed magick energy, wafting on the cavern’s turbulent air. Not snares – for Satori Komeiji needed not restrict her prey physically – but bell-strings: subtle incantations designed to alert the mansion’s master to a foreign approach.
All the more alarmed the spinstress, when who received her inside the deafeningly silent foyer was not Satori Komeiji at all. The great door slipped ominously shut behind.
Two feline ears, knife-edged and tipped with sensory hairs, flicked at the earth spider and her human from atop a head of hair as red as cooling embers.
“Guests who come,” said their owner, “one from near, and one from far. Matters not – little sister welcomes all. Good day.”
The cat-eared creature then pinched the skirts of her grass-green dress, and curtsied in an antiquated way. The dress, Yamame passively noted, was a single, overlong piece. Cut from one, vast sheet of fleece – or other like material – and finished copiously with lace; it hung until the wearer’s feet in a flat, unbroken slope. When raised, two booties – black and hard-shod – were revealed, peering out curiously from under the hem, one before the other for the bow.
Coiling snake-like behind them were the twin tails of a kasha.
“Rin Kaenbyou,” Yamame recognised. “… Hello.”
The corpse-thief of Chirei-den carried an ill repute among the Capital’s Oni. Not because Rin Kaenbyou’s nature was deplorable in itself; rather, her particular inclinations had led her to socialise with the surface people, from whom the same Oni had cut away. This, perhaps inescapable, association had made the red-tressed cat the most notorious of Satori Komeiji’s pets – beside, anyway, the god-raven and the human.
The corpse-thief of Chirei-den tossed her head, tails weaving sinuously. “Ooo-rin,” she moaned. “Ooo-rin! Those alone who wish mean things should happen to little sister call her by her full name. Those and perhaps Master Satori. Those who are friends of little sister as one call her Orin. So must sister Yamame.”
“What makes you say we’re friends?” asked Yamame. “I’m an earth spider. Kasha and we don’t mix.”
“Simple,” Orin said with a pleasant smile; “yes, it is. Yamame-of-Black-Valley is a friend to everyone. Orin knows.”
The spinstress tucked in her fangs. “… Very good,” she gave in. “Same to you, Orin. Yamame. No need for the full name.”
The cat-she curtsied once more. “It shall be even as sister Yamame wishes.”
“I am not your sister, either.”
“No?” Orin set a long-nailed finger across her lips. “Was little sister perhaps mistaken? She has so many siblings, so many: sisters, even a little brother since lately years. Might be she has erred? Might be.” The corpse-thief curtsied for a third time. “Apologies to sister Yamame.”
Yamame throttled a groan. “… We need an audience with your Master,” she cast another net. “Is she available?”
The cat seemed to catch. “Ah! Here is their request. Sadly, Master Satori is… preoccupied, at current. Yes. Most noticeably preoccupied. She may be hours still… depending. Any way it goes, she is not available now. Not close.”
“And her daughter? Could she hear us out?”
Orin laid her ears at the mention of her owner’s overzealous progeny. “Young Master San is unfortunately away,” she said, mournfully. “Though it leans on who says it uppermost of all. It may be she is fortunately away for some; little sisters knows not which way her thought lies. Away, at any rate; taking lessons in the shiny Capital, yes she is. Grows quickly, does our dear Young Master. So quickly… Ah, but sister Yamame needn’t be so glum of face!” The cat-she laughed at the earth spider’s failing expression. “These are but minute obstacles! She may guide them to a room, may little sister. There they may wait, where one has waited before, until such a time as little sister’s Master comes un-occupied. Will they, nil they? Orin wonders.”
The mother of plagues had but to look to her human to see he was ill at ease with… perhaps everything at present. But, ultimately, what other choice did present?
“Nil we?” she asked him, half-jokingly.
“… Methinks we will,” grunted Paran.
“What he said,” Yamame told Orin.
The cat-she glanced incuriously at the sweat-sheened human. Then, she resumed staring expectantly at Yamame.
“… We will, Orin,” repeated the spinstress.
For the fourth time, Rin Kaenbyou lifted her dress and provided an obeisant bow. “As sister Yamame so wishes.”
Then, without waiting so much as for them to clasp hands, the corpse-thief of Chirei-den started down one of the dozen dimly lighted halls.
The cat-eyes of Orin had proven an ally above allies inside the mansion’s mirror-same corridors. Though little did Yamame doubt her own spider’s acuity could retrace their steps to the foyer; but to have located the one desired room among a hundred identically-doored was a feat subject to envy. This, or like her Master, the corpse-thief of Chirei-den had played at tricks complex even beyond the earth spider’s mind.
As they had walked, and Yamame had been studying the curious, glyph-like tiling of the mansion’s floor sliding by, Paran as well had given to his own curiosities. In he had leaned, and whispered into the earth spider’s ear:
“… Black Valley?”
The warmth of his voice – his precious voice – crashing on her skin had all but caused her to forget about floors entirely.
“It’s—” she had murmured back, “It’s what my family name means, when written in Gensokyo’s script. It was… probably… where I was born.”
“I’ve not heard of any Black Valley.”
“It’s probably nowhere close. I’m not sure if it’s anywhere, still.”
“Except in your head.”
Yamame had giggled – quietly. “It is a nice name. It made me feel like I had my roots put down somewhere. That I was a person – not a sickness in the wind. It was something that kept me going… well, after I’d come to the Underworld. I needed an origin point. Somewhere I could call my birth-place. Somewhere I could loop around to – even if I never will.”
“… I see.”
“Isn’t it the same for you? Maybe you’ve put your true name someplace where I can’t catch it, but you are, nevertheless, Paran of the Human Village. That is where you loop around. Would that make you… Paran Ningensato?”
“… That isn’t what it’s called, Yamame.”
“Someday, you will have to tell me what it is.”
The room where Orin had led them dutifully had by earmarks been meant for guests. A single, royal-sized bed took up a half of one wall; otherwise, a writing desk, a bookcase of some content, and a vacant dresser occupied the remaining space. The floor was clean, soft-carpeted. As well to reinforce the purpose of it as a guest-room, the cat-eared denizen of the house had curtsied for a final time, and fled, as soon as completing her task.
Yamame Kurodani, squealing delightedly, unhooked from her human’s grip, and hopped over to flump bodily onto the bed. Here, too, the guest-ness of it all was in cushioned evidence; and the bed, which Satori Komeiji had delegated to those rare visitors, was downier and more comfortable than Yamame’s own.
At least, she mused with less delight, while it still was.
The spinstress, soured by the thought, sat upright in the borrowed covers, and looked to the end of the room where the human Paran was nervously pacing.
“Paran?” she called out to him. “Is something wrong?”
Her beloved human stopped. Then, he was pacing again.
“… It’s just filtering in,” he muttered.
“What’s filtering in?”
Paran paced another full course before replying. “Where I am. What I’m doing.”
“You’re here,” Yamame offered. “Scuffing a hole in the floor.”
“That’s not it.”
The spinstress shaped a wan smile. “I know,” she said. “I was joking. Can’t I? I don’t know how else to help.”
The human, who hadn’t before, now reached for his blindfold and jerked its binds loose. His eyes at once screwed up at the orange light intruding from beyond the window. In a few, impatient sweeps, he yanked the curtains close. The room became a little more shadowy.
Then, at last, he looked directly at Yamame.
There was no love in that look.
He had gorgeous eyes, even now; but they were so dark and a-swirl with fear and insecurity, no ray of love was filtering through. There was no overt allegation inside; but though Yamame put her entire heart in her returned gaze; though she pleaded with him mutely to forgive her; all the same, she could not deny the insidious thought that she had perhaps strained his trust too far this time. That, by pursuing the convenience of Komeiji’s quicker involvement, she had shoved her human too deep down the Underworld’s indiscriminate jaws.
Was this where she wanted him to be? In these inimical realms? Yes. Yet between the two permissible, she had put him in one with which the human was dismally unacquainted. The Capital, she realised all too late, would at least have been explored before. Here? As good drop a spider in an empty glass and watch it fumble. So was it for humans in the Underworld.
And yet, even these guilty thoughts were pushed through the gaps in her internal webbing when the human, having paced one final round, approached her instead – and knelt at her side by the bed.
With no preamble whatsoever, he deposited his messy head onto her lap.
“Pa—Paran?!” Yamame startled when his arms were slipped around her waist. “Um, what—”
“It feels safe here.” He breathed the words into her clothes. “It’s warm, it smells nice, and it feels safe.”
“Are you mocking me?”
“I’ve never.” Her human rubbed his chin left and right on her thighs. “Made fun of you, yes. Never mocked.”
Against her tenseness, Yamame let go of a small chuckle. “You’re as bad as Ashi is, did you know that?”
“She loves you,” Paran reminded. Then, quieter, he added, “I love you.”
That made the apprehensions melt.
A rush of warmth, happiness and fulfilment working up from her tiny heart, Yamame Kurodani wove her spinstress’s fingers through her human’s matted hair. The hair was hot, greasy, and not a little gross at first; but when the human sighed contentedly and sank against her with unaffected trust, there was nothing else in the world (even if only for now) which she wanted more under her hands.
Slowly, with care – as he had done it to her many times before – she scratched along the tough skin of his scalp. She cooed a happy little song that needed no words (nor had any); and sooner than she may rethread his confession for the thirtieth (or so) time over in her head, the human Paran had lapsed into a sedate, undefended nap.
A clock-less wedge of an hour hence, a tap was sounded on the door. A measured hand rested on the handle, and the door smoothly inched ajar.
Framed inside it, her cat-maid in obedient escort, was the most hated among the Undeworld’s cast-out.
The vicereine of Old Hell, the eldest of her name, judge and counsel to those estranged under the earth, the dreaded mind-reader, Satori Komeiji, was a tiny, almost insignificant-looking woman. Though the most recent upheavals of her life had seen the eldest Komeiji adorn a healthier complexion and additional stuffing in her flanks; even so, Lady Satori – so-called by those less censorious of her subjects – could readily have disappeared inside a group of human striplings. The tired, pale-blue smock she was wearing and the likewise faded, flower-patterned skirt admitted her only a modicum of stateliness. The part-translucent shawl circled round and round her neck gave her the appearance of drowning instead.
It had to be said, all the same, that Satori Komeiji was dignified in her own, separate right, and Yamame respected her above all.
“Spare me,” said Satori. Her voice was hoarse, as if she had been speaking to someone at great length and volume. “Spare me,” she repeated. “And you,” she said to her cat-evasive pet, “Stay.”
Orin flicked her steeple-like ears, but shut the door, and stalked behind her Master as Satori went to draw the chair from the desk. The small vicereine sat down weightily.
“… What have you gotten yourself into?”
Yamame cast sheepishly down at her slumbering human. Satori shook her head.
“Not that,” she said, faint mirth stamping her spinel-pink lips. “As a matter of fact, I would have been a boundless hypocrite to hold this against you. You know that he is not asleep, however. Yes? Quite awake, in fact.”
Yamame blinked her incomprehension.
Satori made a shrug. “He likes it there, but did not think you would have let him stay like that if he hadn’t pretended.” The small governess paused. “He thinks you smell like home. He likes it very much.”
The spinstress looked down in time to see her human come away with the crinkles of her dress pressed as red lines into his face. The face was scowling.
Satori Komeiji summed it up with a self-satisfied smirk. “Those measures may have worked on lesser of my kind. I am older, and more nimble as well. As a matter of fact, I have plucked more secreted thoughts than those you are having of our dear Kurodani. Chant your school-books at me all your heart desires; in the end, you are as good wearing it on your sleeve. No need for frowning, is there? After all, she is the prettiest spider there is, hmm? Isn’t she just, Nao—?”
“Paran,” growled Paran. “My name is Paran.”
“You have a number of those, then. How very, sickeningly, nostalgic.” The vicereine touched a weary hand to her brow. “Men! Make one, and they’ll make themselves a dozen. Rin.” She fanned the same hand at her waiting pet. “Take this one to the bath, why don’t you? I’m not going to; I don’t want to repeat that particular mistake. I need to speak with Kurodani here, anyway.”
Orin’s tails swished. “Take whom, Master Satori?”
Satori fixed the corpse-thief with a steady glare. “I don’t care this one doesn’t smell dead, Rin. He still smells awfully. Your hobbies are for your own time. Take him, or I won’t have breakfast made for you tomorrow.”
The cat-she made as though to grip her dress and bow, but threw the skirts down at the last second in frustrated defiance. Still, she flitted out the door, headed, imaginably, for the ordained bathroom.
“You had best go,” Satori told the staring human. “She won’t harm you – but she won’t wait for you, either. You’re too lively for her tastes. Go!”
The human Paran stood up. Yamame, at once, followed.
The eldest Komeiji switched her fix to the spider. “Stay, Kurodani,” she urged. “Nothing is going to happen to your lover; if it does, then you have my permission to pull the whole mountain down on our heads as revenge. I’ll even have Utsuho and the rest stand down. I promise. And you, you idiot spider enthusiast – go, already! Scoot! Why are you men so damnably thick-skulled?!”
The man did scoot – though not before throwing a guilty, parting look at Yamame. Then he was gone.
The small governess slumped tragically in her chair.
Yamame sat back down on the bed. “… If this isn’t the best time,” she offered, “then we can come back later.”
Satori Komeiji swatted the offer out of the air. “That… self-effacing servility… may impress your Oni friends, Kurodani, but not me. No. As a matter of fact, it thoroughly disgusts me when people of your standing don’t dare to give themselves the esteem they’re due. It makes my teeth ache.”
“But you look—”
“You’ve irritated my plans for the evening, Kurodani,” Satori replied with an arch smile. “I am upset at that, and I make no apology for looking like it. But would you have come otherwise? Would you ever have come if you had known I’d had plans laid out already? No, Kurodani. This is also part of my responsibilities. It’s the duty I bear with my titles, this mansion, and all. My plans can wait. Tell me what happened.”
“Yamame,” Yamame said.
The spider spinstress pursed her mouth. “Yamame. You asked, in your letter, if you could address me by my first name. I never wrote back no.”
Something lurched behind Satori Komeiji’s perfectly guarded expression. The small vicereine’s penetrating, amethyst eyes seemed to soften and go a little wide; and her cheeks suddenly blushed a very pale, almost indiscernible pink.
“… Very well.” Satori Komeiji made a nod, her face overall a bit bemused. “Please, Yamame. Tell me what has happened.”
I've reread (for some reason) and come to the conclusion that the whole faked note thing is moot. In case anyone else wanted to know and it wasn't just me stupidly wondering about it for longer than warranted.
From the scene where reisen comes and places the note: >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. Reisen smells like rabbit
From when Satori's daughter comes to visit: >The Moon-doctor’s pet spoke of spider poison, and yet this is not how you would have killed. Meaning, presumably, they actually met with her.
As with the younger one once, Yamame Kurodani quit the room containing the eldest Komeiji – a time later – possessed of a re-patched overlook of things.
As her daughter had once, so too had Satori Komeiji made for a rapt and graceful audience for the earth spider’s unnerving account; attentive – if not amazed – she had listened to the spinstress describe the chain of events parading up her predicament. Though the vicereine’s Third Eye, suspended in a lattice of fleshy cords at her chest, was black-gazed and baleful; but if Satori had found a tangle in heeding both of Yamame’s voices at once, then she had sewn around it with never a snag. Only once, as the spinstress had been recalling the frightful fate of her home, had the eldest Komeiji interjected.
“One moment,” she said, one white palm raised flat. “What did you say it was? Eaten?”
Yamame Kurodani chewed on a lip. The association had not been wholly advertent.
“It’s just what it put me in mind of,” she explained. “Because it seemed melted from inside.”
“Because that’s how spiders feed?” Satori asked.
“Most of them. Some do it… differently. Me, I haven’t—”
“No, you haven’t,” Satori agreed, smiling a knowing smile. “As a matter of fact, Oni would have tasted foully, and you had no appetite for those oh-so-hateful humans. Why, but isn’t there one who doesn’t hate you now? How would you have eaten him?”
Yamame gaped at the openly treacherous question, hurt welling up in her chest. “I would never—!”
“No. As a matter of fact, no. You wouldn’t. Forget I mentioned it.” There was another smile – less knowing, and more sympathetic. “You are a little too easy to tease, Yamame. It’s not an evil quality, but it can smother you under misunderstandings if you don’t take it in the loop. There are times when a barb isn’t a barb, but… something that isn’t a barb.” The small governess waved the slip away. “Maybe not a compliment, either – but the next best thing. My… husband… for instance, calls me small or bony at times. I realise this is true, and I realise he may have preferred I was less so; but, since neither one of us can do anything about my shape, he only points it out every now and again as a way of coping with these perceived flaws. I act offended, of course – but not to the extent he thinks I really am.”
“That sounds dishonest,” fussed Yamame.
“It’s a game.” Satori slightly lifted her shoulders. “The only catch is, we both win. He gets to make it up to me. I get to confirm he accepts me as I am – flaws and all. If it’s the earth spiders’ diet to obstinate on flattery alone, by all means… I’m sorry. We were talking about your eaten house. What else stood out to you?”
The remainder of the story was pointed and short. As it had ended, Satori Komeiji, leaning back, broached her own conclusion.
“The way I see it,” she said, “this is what we should do. The very first thing is I’m going to need more details to go by. As a matter of fact, you absconded the scene a little too soon for anything telling to register. Yes, yes. I know. It was melted down and stank of spoilt food, and you had… other things, shall we say?… to mind right then. Nobody is condemning you for that. Still, I’m going to need a clearer picture before I – excuse me – throw up any allegations. I’d much rather this remained an inside issue, so… I’d like to send someone up from our side.”
“I don’t know that’s a very good idea,” Yamame protested. “The poison was—”
“So it was, yes,” agreed Satori. “Very strong. As a matter of fact, it is as you said: it’d be for the best if we waited for it to simmer out before we blunder on in… Unless,” another option loomed behind the vicereine’s violet eyes, “we sent in someone more naturally resistant to this sort of unpleasantness. More acquainted, if you will. At least, in theory.”
“Your siblings, yes. Mind,” Satori cautioned, “I cast no judgement when I say this, but there is a slim possibility one of them may have done this. It’s terrifyingly easy to antagonise a spider, and your younger relatives are almost legendarily inconstant. If I had my best choice, I’d like it if you could go back and have another look, but… It’s no hard guess it might be difficult to persuade you to leave in your current state.”
“One of my sisters can go,” Yamame quickly assured. “I trust them.”
“Any ones you trust more than others?”
“Hachiashi never let me down yet.”
“Jet-haired, ruby eyes, dimples that make her look impudent, insufferable sense of humour…” The small governess filed away the finer details of Yamame’s mental image. “… That should be enough to pick her out. I’ll send Orin up first thing tomorrow after breakfast. It might be worth the side trip to seed the news in the Capital as well. Those Oni drunkards do love you; they may feel compelled to do some snooping on their own time. You are, more or less, one of them.”
Yamame felt an Oni-red blush crawl out onto her cheeks. “I’m not that popular.”
“Were you asking for my help, or did you want to do it the snail way?” Satori folded her arms. “As a matter of fact, now you’ve brought this to my attention, I’m closing off the snail way. We’re doing it as I’ve decided, and that’s final.”
“And what about us?” Yamame asked. “What about me and Paran?”
The vicereine cocked one small brow. “What about you?”
“Are you going to let us wait it out here?”
“Aren’t I? This room is fine, isn’t it? Or did you want another? I’ve to tell you, though – there are hardly any tidier than this. It’s a big house to keep clean.”
Yamame gave an almost startled shake. She bowed her head. “No! It’s fine. It’s very, very fine. Thank you, Lady Satori. We will be a couple of days at most, I promise. We won’t be trouble. As soon as the poison has cleared out, I’ll take him back, and—”
Yamame looked up. The frown on Satori’s pale face was disapproving – even disappointed.
“This mansion has about one-hundred-and-five rooms like this one, give or take,” she said. “It has four big kitchens, half a dozen smaller ones, a full dozen bathrooms, two ballrooms, and at least one basement I can attest to existing. There are probably leagues of corridors taken together. I have a library here that rivals anything on the surface. When the Yama forgot to have this place demolished, ages ago, they left behind everything – walls, floors, furniture, carpets, books, documents, personal effects, even clothing. What is one room to me?”
“The Yama?” Yamame was confused.
Satori gave a little smile. “You didn’t know? It’s a fascinating little sidelight on the story of this place – if a bit humbling. This place, Chirei-den – the Palace of Earth Spirits – used to be a vacation house for the bureaucrats of the Old Capital. That is an entire city of overworked push-quills it once had to accommodate. Someone else could probably tell you the story in full better than I. Anyhow, my point, Yamame, is that I could host you twenty times over and scarcely even notice the loss in living space. Your Oni friends could throw a party in the farther chambers, and I may never find out – until I trip on the debris one day.”
“That could happen,” Yamame chuckled.
“It may have already.” Satori shuddered. “Anyhow, even imagining this wasn’t so, and that I hadn’t expressly communicated my willingness to help you, there is still a third factor.”
“My daughter.” The small governess sighed. “San has run into this idea, see, that we – the Komeiji – since we are technically the governing force here, that we should take a… more active stance… in any and all incidents that pop up every now and then. She treats it very seriously. Why, if she heard that I turned you away… As a matter of fact, she may just decide to shriek my ears off. She has her father’s lungs, but a little girl’s range. It’s horrible.”
“Orin said she was in the Capital,” Yamame remembered.
“Yes. She’s taking classes in spell-scribing from a castaway yamanba. My grasp on incanted magic is tenuous, and my pets are too elemental to teach her their methods, but she finds the concept of witchery somehow very romantic. I couldn’t tell you why. There are abstractions in that girl’s mind even I can’t dig around, and she’s become extremely skilled at keeping me out.” Satori’s brows suddenly crashed together. “… Yamame. We weren’t supposed to talk about San. We were talking about you. Stop distracting me. Very plainly, dear earth spider, you have in your care something that commands a unique consideration here in the Underworld. This is a consideration for which Chirei-den is uniquely equipped for. It has been for a while. Here is very well the safest that something may be in this place. Other than your home, I suppose… but we both know – or don’t know, yet – what happened there, no?”
“Then you’ll let us stay?” Yamame wanted to confirm.
“Then I’ll let you stay, you silly Oni-spider,” Satori answered. “It was never a question of if. I’d have helped anyone – for varying reasons – but having you come to me is the greatest thrill. Among all the souls in the Underworld, it gladdens me the most that beloved Yamame wants my help. As a matter of fact, it almost makes me feel not-hated… Speaking of, though.” The tiny vicereine tilted her head and tapped her nose conspiratorially. “Say. Since we are waiting for your special something to be brought back anyhow, why do you not tell me a little more about it? San has told me a few choice snippets, but I’ve seldom had the opportunity to listen to someone in a similar circumstance to one I once was. How-ever did the feared mother of plagues do this to herself?”
And so, issue of this request, Yamame had begun to explain exactly how she had.
It was as she was harshly criticising the warped door with which good Hijiri had saddled her for the latest project that Paran was, at last, returned from his bath.
Yamame’s beloved human had been skinned of his dirty clothes, and wrapped inside a delicately embroidered bathrobe of silver and pearly white. His hair had been mostly dried; it stood, in a fluffy clump, atop his head, and smelled very good even from afar. Orin swished in behind him, tails curling – for all outward impressions denying the man’s persevering existence altogether.
Satori scanned the refreshed Paran over. “I see you’ve helped yourself to some spare clothes.”
The man sketched a shrug. “Your cat-youkai said these were for guests.”
Orin’s tails whipped. “Little sister has said no such thing.”
The eldest Komeiji laughed them down. “You two are off to a sparkling relationship, aren’t you? Try not to sparkle over any carpets. Yamame,” she called the earth spider, “Your turn? As a matter of fact, let’s make this a statement. Your turn. I don’t care all too much if he likes it; I think you’re overdue for a bath myself. Orin, if you will very well please. After that, you’re free.”
This time, the cat-she drew a full and proper bow. “It shall be as Master Satori wishes,” she said respectfully; “for Master Satori is kind and understanding. Sister Yamame?”
The spinstress hopped up from the bed. Paran’s eyes bolted her to the spot.
“Are you leaving me here?” he demanded. “With this?”
Almost Yamame had opened her mouth to chastise this selection of terms; but Satori Komeiji’s mouth was quicker and more seasoned.
“You—” the small governess began.
And then, quite matter-of-factly, she called him a word which made both his and Yamame’s extremities wilt.
The owner of the destructive vocabulary smiled at their combined reactions. “Good,” she said. “Now we’ve swapped insults, perhaps we can talk civilly. Paran, dear – or whatever you want to be – I’ve known who you were and where you stood since I laid my deuced three eyes on you. Had I but wanted to use that at your loss, I would have done so already. I haven’t. I know what your… Hieda-lady… wrote about me in her little compendium. A wealth of that information is out of date.” Satori aped the human’s shrug from before. “As a matter of fact, you did well to study the Underworld before you came in to sweep our dear Yamame off of her feet… but you see, even here, the world doesn’t just stop. There have been developments. Why, I’ve even gotten a husband, did you know? Well, no rings, though.”
Yamame saw her human’s brows shoot up. As well did Satori.
“Go, Yamame,” she hurried the spinstress. “Quickly – before I lose his interest.”
“Curiosity,” Paran corrected – even as he took up Yamame’s spot on the bed. “My interests lie elsewhere… As you know.”
“That is very well,” countered Satori, “because ten minutes is about all I can spare for smoothing out your irrational fears. I’ve something better-looking than you – if just as impatient – waiting for me in my bedroom; and I’m not about to let this evening go entirely to waste. Well? Will you deign to perhaps address me as a person now? Paran of the Human Village?”
“… Very good,” Paran consigned. “… Mistress Komeiji.”
“That makes me sound so old,” Satori complained.
Can I go, in that case? Yamame wanted to ask – but the human Paran was not holding her with his eyes anymore.
That was when she stealthily quit the room.
As she clicked the door close, and turned to follow Orin’s clacking booties down the long hallway, Yamame Kurodani patched over a certain long-sewn and moderately well-washed opinion.
Satori Komeiji was not a snake.
The sloppily-dressed, thankless vicereine of Old Hell was a diminutive creature, which had naturally to be compensated. The was no Oni alive (nor vengeful spirit dead, nor another member of the underfolk in any intervening state) who would respect the eldest Komeiji’s dictates had they not been backed by something otherwise than her empty titles. So the teeny vicereine threatened. So the tiny governess extorted. So Satori Komeiji – she whose pets matched her out in strength – had forged her sole advantage into a weapon none in the Underworld dared cause to fall upon them. The big-headed Oni may pride themselves on their honesty, but even they had thoughts most guarded; spirits did just the same, and everyone else as well. There was not one wretch in the Underworld who did not have a rotten secret of one stripe or another concealed.
Satori Komeiji knew them all. Not told. But knew. And that was enough of a deterrent.
Though her personality was all the same not one with which Yamame Kurodani would drink herself into the wee hours; even so, Satori had heeded the earth spider’s troubles, and shown to be appropriately concerned. Not shocked, perhaps; but perhaps it lay not within Satori Komeiji’s responsibilities to be shocked. Her influence would still be lent in solving the case of Yamame’s ruined home, and that counted for everything. That, as well as the shelter she promised the spinstress and her human.
The one stitch yet unknown was whether Satori Komeiji could convince the human Paran, who hated youkai on very good principle, that there were those in the Underworld warranted of his trust (and love?) other than the one Yamame.
An ugly, oily kernel of a hope bubbled up from Yamame’s tiny heart as she walked, that Satori Komeiji should fail.
Whether she had or no was a puzzle Yamame Kurodani took even as far as the bed that evening.
Might be it was for Satori Komeiji was no more in attendance in their room; but the human Paran – who Yamame would precious sooner he trusted her first of all – was standing in an intense study of the room’s bookcase when she returned. Her beloved human had grown into his silvery bathrobe; and he sounded all but disdainful as he jabbed a thumb over his shoulder at a heap of clothes piled up on the writing desk’s chair.
“Clothes,” he offered helpfully.
The spider spinstress smiled. “Have you stolen these as well?”
“Lady Satori did.”
That is your final address? wondered Yamame. But, for dodging an argument she cared scarce for anyway, she went over to the heap.
A glance behind (but the human was turned the other way), and the earth spider slid out of the robe she – as well – had filched from the bathroom’s guest-minded supply. A pick or two (but the clothes were unmerited visually all across), and she chose a clean, white, woollen tunic as her bed-wear. The tunic was wide and cut rather for a more masculine figure; yet it proved to contain Yamame with room to spare, once she had wriggled inside.
“Yamame?” Paran rumbled behind her.
He hedged before grunting his question. “… You knew her husband was a human?”
“Yes,” said Yamame, tugging her hair up the tunic’s collar. “It’s subject to a number of naughty rumours in the Capital. Why?”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It never came up. Is it very important?”
Paran ground out a tired breath. “It is, Yamame. We like to know these things.”
“Who’s we?” she asked, turning to face him.
Her human was idly paging through a musty-looking tome of some weight. “Men,” he told her. “Men like to know. It makes us feel safer when something has been explored before… and more excited, if it hasn’t.”
“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” Yamame wondered aloud.
“In this circumstance,” said Paran, “it feels a touch safer. Why can’t I read this?”
Yamame, hovering at his arm, scanned the spiral, fox-tail runework on the book’s rice-paper leafs. “It’s youkai script,” she explained. “It was in use before it became… less degrading to employ human systems for writing. This one takes a lot of ink to say what it wants.”
“Never took youkai for a tale-telling kind.”
“It’s not as much tale-telling as it’s archiving communications. These are likely separate messages that were only later compiled into a book for keeping; you can see the gutter isn’t near wide enough to accommodate being stitched together like this. The page you’re looking at is talking about a settlement of some kind, or truce. It’s hard to read when the ink’s gone crusty like this. Komeiji wasn’t lying; these are really old texts.” The spinstress disengaged from her human and went to sit on the bed. “What else did she tell you? Nothing too scary?”
“Nothing too much.” Paran slammed the illegible book close and jammed it back into its slot on the shelf. “That I am yours, and that she didn’t want the mountain torn down. That she wasn’t quite the monster I’d expected, and wouldn’t poke her dainty little nose into our affairs. That I am, ‘as a matter of fact,’ free to leave if I should want. And, that I am not to pull her cat-youkai’s tails.”
Dainty? “You pulled Orin’s tails?”
“Oh. That’s all she told you, then? Nothing else?”
“She said to kiss you good-night for her.”
“She did not!”
Paran forced a smile. “It was worth a try.”
The spinstress walked him with her spider’s eyes as he shuffled up to the bed and folded down brokenly atop it. The ensuing shockwave caused her to rise and fall like a small, blond-haired empire. It made her smile.
“Are you so tired?” she asked him softly.
Paran groaned into the covers. “… Tuckered out, in, and every which way,” he rasped. “I’ve been up on my feet since morning, Yamame. It’s been a very long day.”
Too long, I’m sure, thought Yamame. I’m sorry, Paran. I’m so sorry it ended up like this. “We had such plans, too.”
The pearly-robed man sprawled in the foreign-scented covers did not appear to hear.
A minute raced by on a very lazy spider’s legs. Yamame, drawing her own legs up onto the bed, crawled nearer her beloved human.
The reply came muffled. “… Mm?”
“We’re going to have to sleep together,” she warned him.
“… We are, too.”
“And you are fine with this?” asked the spinstress. “We slept together last night, but… I understand we were both out of light to care. We napped together once or twice, too, before that. I never bit you, either. But, if you want to, we can divide up the bed. You can lie in one end, and I – in the other. If you’ll feel safer, we can—”
“… I’ll be your human pillow, if you’ll shush.”
Yamame Kurodani, the yearly malady, had rarely been ordered to shut up in such a way it made her want to hug the orderer, rather than give him a nasty sneeze. This, in the very knife-point of fact, might just have marked the first.
So she did hug him. More applicably she tried to hug him; for hugging someone sunk half up their breadth in soft mattress and quilts needled close to what even a spider could call difficult. But she did lie across his back, burying her face in the hair behind his ears, and that had to do.
The pillow Paran smelled very good.
Nothing evil had been disguised in the admission. The simple reality was that Yamame’s human was owner to a singularly pleasant scent. Though his bath and borrowed robes had layered it beneath another – a mantle of soap, and some alien flower which made the spinstress in equal measures annoyed and excited – still the core of Paran’s basic smell was fixed indelibly to his skin. It was a core which Yamame had learned intimately. It was a core which, on some insidious level, had been made into a lining thread of her home. The very home, which – destroyed though it had been – was in part lying at her side (or under it) even now. Thanks to him. Thanks to her human.
The logic was not wholly sound; but logic – as reason – had never been Yamame Kurodani’s strongest malady. It did not spread very far. Sometimes, it lived no longer than a few heartbeats.
Without figuring out why, she shifted her position, and began to nuzzle the human’s ear.
“… Yamame,” groaned Paran. “Stop that.”
Yamame chuckled. “Why? It’s fun. I’m not going to bite.”
“I am. I’m ticklish.”
“That just makes it more fun.”
She blew into his ear. Her beloved human squirmed.
“Yama— Stop that!”
“No.” She blew again. “Nooo.”
“Yamame,” Paran begged. “What do you want from me?”
Yamame, for the briefest moment, reined in her teasing.
The inquiry was, after all, legitimate. Her human had, in his humanly chase of misappropriated knowledge, issued her with many a question before which had not been fully so. Not so this. This could be one for ages. It could be a quandary posed in story-books for hundreds of years to come; sleep could be driven from generations of human eyes by a riddle such as this. Already one had fallen prey to its mystery. The question stood on, unrelenting.
What did Yamame Kurodani want?
( ) Something.* ( ) Nothing.
* You can treat this as a write-in option, but you don’t need to.
Doesn't every couple want the other person to be happy? Doesn't every breakup end in heartbreak because you loved the person you're fighting? Doesn't every day where you wake next to a loved one marvels you? Don't you feel guilty of feeling so happy with no cost?
But the cost is there. Happiness today for sadness tomorrow.
(x) A promise fulfilled. >“… When we are home,” he said at length. “When this is settled in; when I have taken a shower and eaten… Would you like to try doing something else with me?” Yes, he's really tired. No, it wasn't technically a promise. I don't really care, it's time to be spider-greedy once again.
I get the feeling this might be what the non-vote-in 'something' means but, just being certain.
Something was close; everything would have passed closer yet. None prettier – but closer. Yet Yamame Kurodani – who had lived with her selfishness and knew its unbridled stretch – had, for her human’s sorry condition, best to content with the former. At least, she hushed the greedy fractions of herself, for tonight.
So she nosed once more at her human’s ear. So, entreatingly, she touched her lips to the back of his cheek. So, in the softest of voices earth-spiderly available, she whispered her demand.
“You promised me something – didn’t you?”
The human’s answering quiver registered curiously all over Yamame’s front. Paran, his next breath lifting her up, replied with another groan.
“… That was for home,” was the groan. “When we were on break. After we settled in everything. After I’ve showered and eaten.”
“You’ve showered,” noted the spinstress.
“We aren’t home.”
“We don’t need to be.”
“Nothing’s settled in,” Paran objected. “Last thing I ate was an apple and a strip of dried pork hours ago.”
Yamame smiled. “That’s eaten. Technically. Two out of four is good enough, isn’t it?”
“I’m ragged, Yamame,” her human pleaded. “I couldn’t get up if you lit this bed afire.”
The spinstress giggled into his tortured ear. “So what?” she asked him. “Where were you going to go? I’m right here. Was there something you needed to fetch?”
“Then don’t. And face me, already.”
The human underneath her shifted with a tectonic struggle. The earth spider, climbing up on her knees, gave him the space necessary to complete the motion. Paran rolled around with all the grace of a tipped stack of timbers.
His face was thunderous. It was red from chin to forehead as well – owing, like as not, to Yamame’s fooling; but most of all it was thunderous. It put the spinstress in mind of a glowering Oni. The Oni was roped around the ankles, and strung upside down from the rafters as a drunken prank. The glower was perhaps substantiated.
“… You have no pity,” Paran accused her. “Which part of ‘tired’ gave you the slip? Ti? Red?”
The spinstress swung one leg over and sat astride him. “You didn’t say you were ‘tired,’” she declared. “You said ‘tuckered out.’ Then ‘ragged.’ The only tucker I know is one you put over a dress. Maybe that confused me.”
“What about rags?”
“You don’t look like one. A rug, conceivably. Not a rag.”
Paran stared up at her. “Wit, Yamame? You?”
That made her chuckle. “I know!” she moaned with feigned despair. “Maybe you’re rubbing off on me? You have been doing that a lot. What-ever next?”
Her human snorted. “Sleep, hopefully.”
“No. Not yet, Paran. Something first, as promised.”
The human Paran let off a long, grinding sigh.
But even as he gave up the life-sustaining air, his hands wandered quietly up to Yamame’s legs. The legs (which her tunic had refused covering up, on account of length) tingled, even as his tough-tipped fingers walked up the length of their thighs. The spinstress shivered. Not at all because her spider’s instincts were up to their dance again. Those had, by now, been mostly inured to Paran’s hands. Mostly. But, for whichever instinct was rearing, Yamame’s shoulders tensed, and a silent gasp slipped out between her lips.
Then once more, when the same hands traced back down toward her knees. They stopped, and waited.
Yamame’s attention slowly rethreaded to her human’s eyes. With a burning sense of shame, she realised he had been closely watching her reactions.
But if they had been any wrong, he had something else to point out.
“… Have you ever noticed this?” he asked. “How this always happens?”
Yamame willed out her distraction. “Wha— What always happens?”
“This.” Paran drew a circle with his chin, enveloping both of them, the bed, the room, and everything else apparent. “Whenever we… do things, you tend to always end up on top of me some way.”
The spinstress bit down on a lip. “Is that a problem?”
“Only pointing out what I noticed, Yamame.”
“It feels… natural,” she tried to explain. “Not in a youkai sense; but it feels… It’s like I’m… I just like being here,” she surrendered. “I like being on top of you. Is it a problem? Am I too heavy?”
“You aren’t light – but,” Paran added quickly, “you’re soft and warm as well. It feels good.”
“I’m not tossing you, am I?”
“No,” she admitted. “But you are tired, aren’t you?”
Paran clicked his tongue. “… Yamame,” he grunted, “I like having you here. You feel good. You aren’t heavy. You pretty idiot.”
Yamame Kurodani, the pretty idiot, smiled awkwardly at the reappearing compliment. Or had it been a compliment? It was impossible to tell for a surety without a Komeijic access to her human’s heart; but the one certainty presenting was, he at least forgave the earth spider’s ballast and its inexpressible need to rest that atop him. That by itself merited recognition. So Yamame Kurodani, smiling, brushed her hair behind her ears. So the pretty idiot laid her hands flat on her human’s chest. So she leaned down to kiss him thanks.
The kiss was brief – even chaste – meant to communicate gratitude, rather than… well, the usual.
Still, Yamame’s tiny heart puffed up with the same, glowing sense of fulfilment, which she had markedly discovered earlier in the day – while wresting her human away from his work on the road. It seemed, nonsensically, it made no matter why; doing these things alone convinced her silly heart everything was to a measure precisely how it was supposed to be. That all the little bits and pieces of the four-letter-thing she and her human felt for each other were sticking neatly home whenever their lips met. That perhaps, regardless of what she had intended to convey, what she truly felt instead was stubbornly expressing.
But, whether her human felt loved or thanked by the kiss, it was not ever for Yamame to spin.
“… One thing,” Paran was all but whispering. The words brushed the skin of her face, and Yamame opened the eyes she had pleasantly shut, never knowing. Her human’s own eyes were waiting when she did. They were big, dark, a little sardonic, and very tired – but every inch ones she loved above any other. “One thing, Yamame,” Paran told her again, and the earth spider dragged herself out of those eyes. “I’m going to do one thing. Then, I want to sleep. OK?”
The spider spinstress grinned happily. “And if you try more than one?” she teased. “Should I punch?”
“I won’t,” Paran assured her. “I won’t,” he assured again, for some reason. “But, you’re going to have to do as I say, if you want to stay on top.”
Yamame sat up and squeezed her legs around him in readiness. “Say away.”
“Very good. Kiss me.”
She blinked. “… What?”
“Kiss, Yamame,” Paran repeated. “I want to ease you into it. Kiss me, same as always. Then I’ll start. Very good?”
The spinstress made a shallow nod. “… Very good.”
As always, she span the phrase over inside her head. It struck her, somehow, as wrong; it was, factually, wrong – even discounting the fact they had been kissing but for a week or two at most. Yet she did bow down anyway, did Yamame Kurodani, closed her eyes, and her human was obediently given his commanded kiss.
And there, again, was her heart – puffing up in joy as soon as he was. It really seemed to make no difference what prompted these anymore.
The kiss lingered; and even as Yamame (who did not mind overmuch unmaking the error in her human’s words) was approaching the upper end of confusion, something weird – warm and slightly wet – prodded at her squeezed-together lips. What was that? She canted her head in an unspoken question. Her human must not have felt; but there the weird thing was once more – no less wet, but more daring in its advances. The spinstress pushed out at it, but all that did was chase it off. What’s going on?
“… Yamame,” Paran suddenly shaped the name atop her lips.
“… Open up.”
Ah, she thought a bit dumbly. So that was it.
… And then again, Ah—, when she finally let him in.
A sticky, clumsy, and intensely satisfying minute later, and Yamame Kurodani reluctantly drew away from her human. The mother of plagues, swallowing, wrenched open her keen spider’s eyes…
… And, blushing, palmed away the trace of spittle stringing out between her mouth and his, before Paran followed her suit.
His expression was a touch critical when he did. He exhaled. “… There you have it. Was that any good?”
“It was—” Yamame caught her own breath. “Mm. It was… something.”
“That’s what it was supposed to be. Something. You shove too hard, Yamame.”
“I do what?”
“You push too much into… well, into my side. My tongue can only bend back so far. It’s nothing awful, just… Think about me a little more.”
I was, thought Yamame, and was only slightly lying. “… Um. Anything else? It felt… It felt like I was doing well – until you said that.”
“It’ll come to you,” he promised. “Give it time.” Then, he gave her a worried look. “… I’m not going to die, am I?”
The spinstress frowned. “Why should you?”
“Well, you know…” Her human waited. He gave up when Yamame made a pout. “… Sorry. You tasted a bit funny, that’s all.”
He reached up and petted one of her cheeks ahead any further offences might mount.
“… Want to go again?” he offered.
“What about you?” returned Yamame.
“… I want to go again.”
She gave him a winning smile. “Then let’s go again.”
“Mm. Hold on… There. Yes?”
“That was way better, but… Was all that moaning really necessary?”
“Mm. Can’t I? It feels good doing this, so…”
“It’s fine. Gods, it’s very fine. But remember we aren’t at home.”
That's the second time. And the excuse he gave the first time around is very weak and unconvincing to begin with. How the hell do you take "I don't think you love me" to mean "Your confession was too simple"? I can't see it.
It's understandable that Yamame would let it pass since she's completely drunk on the moment and deep in the grasp of limerence, but I can only assume he actually believes this. Maybe he thinks she's too inexperienced to make such a call? That she's just excited and basically having her first crush, like a teenage girl?
Waking up beside someone else was, between the lately novelties in her life, altogether unsensational.
It might have been for it came in partitions. There was the vague linking of consciousness. The syrupy wash of homecoming senses. The slowly filling cognisance of some other-ness nearby… A click of recognition at last, when a familiarly moody face blurred into focus. Yamame Kurodani was all the same unexcited. Comfortable, yes; gratified in some mysterious way – perhaps. But possibly she had overstocked on excitement yesterday, and that was that.
Her beloved human was much still asleep. The plain tell was the lack of dissent vocalised when Yamame flexed one of her legs – which, at some point of the night, she had slung around his waist. Frown though he might his best regular; the eyes beneath his hugging brows were anyway shut tight.
This was an obstacle.
Here, after all, was a fidgety thing. Here was a human who, the last he had been roused by a spider, had fled instantly into the lightning-wracked realms of panic. Here was her beloved Paran, who, in the one situation she had woken him without forewarning, had badly battered his knuckles on her skull.
Here was a man who might well bite off her nose if he woke up to an unheralded kiss.
But Yamame Kurodani was an earth spider, and earth spiders were hunters subtle beyond compare. So she did not kiss him. So she did not shake him. So she did not lovingly speak his name, either; but she did begin to rub the leg tossed over his side softly up and down, and watched his sleeping face for change.
The change did come; and the eldest of Underworld’s spinstresses soon witnessed as the furrows in her human’s forehead grew almost geologically deep. A desperate word popped between his lips. Then, breathing in implosively, Paran reeled; and his beloved eyes were all at once thrown wide open.
For the span of a few distressed heartbeats, the human stared at Yamame’s very close (and mischief-filled) face.
Then, his breath evacuating, he closed his eyes again, and muttered, “… I prefer this one.”
“Nightmares?” asked Yamame.
“… A bad dream.”
“That’s what ‘nightmare’ means.” Yamame pressed a touch closer. “You were scowling up an earthquake. What were you dreaming of that was so awful?”
“It was…” he began. Then, a returning shadow of the dream crashed his brows back together. “… I dreamt a youkai had snuck in my bed,” he said at last.
“Oh?” The spinstress pushed closer still. “What kind of youkai?”
“An eight-limbed fiend of some stripe,” sighed Paran, “with powerful legs and big… uh, eyes. Can we not talk about this? I’ve enough youkai harrying me when I’m awake.”
“Is one harrying you right now?”
Paran’s lips cracked into a fatigued smile. “She’s about to, I feel.” He pried open his eyelids, and looked fully on the earth spider – who by now was no more than a three fingers’ breadth away. “If you want to kiss me,” he warned, “no tongue.”
Yamame made a petulant sound. “Why?”
“My mouth’s stuffier than the underside of a cupboard.” Paran’s face approximated a shrug. “It’s probably the air here. It’s very dry.”
“So what? Mine’s no better.”
“All the more reason to rinse it down first.”
“I don’t see anything to drink.”
“That is just too bad, isn’t it? We should ask Lady Satori for a water fountain next time.”
Yamame gave him a venomous look. “… Snake.”
She pecked a perfunctory good-morning kiss on his (truthfully a bit parched) lips, and sought a path up to a sit.
The easiest, of course, would be to follow her over-slung leg and come up atop him; and while the easiest may not have been the mother of plagues’ way, Yamame Kurodani was not above lowering herself to her human’s level of depravity. As she rose, the quilted duvet spilled down the arch of her back; and Yamame, with her spider’s sensitivities, shivered from the fall in temperature from a shared bed to the tepid air of the room. Her woollen tunic held its heat well enough; but her uncovered legs huddled closely about her human, longing for his warmth.
If he had meant to deny her this as well, he was too clever to do so transparently. Yes. He was even smiling.
“See?” he said. “Always happens.”
“That is just too bad,” Yamame replied, “isn’t it?”
He faked a pained squelch. “Oof.”
The spinstress tossed her head. “Any more quips? Hmm? No? Good. Good morning, then, Paran of the Human Village. How are we feeling today?”
“Good morning, Yamame of Black Valley. We’re ambulatory, if that is what you’re asking.” He shifted below her. “Weighty, though.”
“And your interminable fear for oneself? Is it ambulatory as well?”
“I’m weak all over with it.” Paran skewed an inquisitive brow. “Yamame? Why are we talking like this?”
“Well, why shouldn’t we?” Yamame humphed. “As a matter of fact, would we really want to wrong her highness Lady Satori with our crude, stuffy tongues?”
Her human rolled his eyes ceiling-ward. “Oh, please.”
“You did call her that,” reminded Yamame. The blunt denial of her not-just-affection moments before had re-stoked the fire under a yesterday’s offence. “You called her Lady Satori – and you don’t even like youkai. Or do you?”
Paran made a sour face. “She is your lady, isn’t she? Politically.”
“Mine,” the spinstress agreed. “Not yours. You owe her no fealty.”
“No. I owe her for these clothes, this room, and this bed instead. Yamame, what is this?”
Yamame puffed up her cheeks. “You’ve never called me a lady.”
“You aren’t,” Paran told her. “Ladies don’t work. You do.”
“So, no ladyship for you. All right, look,” he swapped the thread of his approach; “I’m at her mercy here. As you said, I owe her no fealty – and she owes me the same in return. That’s the problem. So, if Lady Satori wants to be addressed as such, then – gods watching – I will address her as such. I like her no more than I did yesterday morning, but I’ll even call her ‘Sacchi’ or ‘Your Excellency’ if she wills.”
Yamame blinked. “Then you are going to lie to her?”
“After a fashion.”
“But won’t she know that?”
“Yes,” Paran gave up, “but it’s the directed effort she wants. I’ve been handling clientele for a long while now, Yamame – first for my mother, then for you. I’ve known these types. They know I’m lying, but they’re satisfied that I bother. It’s like a play.”
The spider spinstress grimaced. “That’s disgusting.”
“We didn’t design the world, Yamame,” Paran said sententiously; “we but try to live in it. On this note, has her ladyship been coached by yet?”
Coached? What? “No. Why should she?”
“She said last evening she’d have us join her for breakfast. She didn’t say where, though.”
“In the dining room?” Yamame guessed.
The spinstress twisted her head left and right. “I don’t know. I’ve only been here once or twice. Never for dinner. Lady Satori doesn’t really associate with the rest of underfolk. She’s more of a… a hanging threat.” She won’t like me for thinking this, but she is. “It works, though – since nobody wants her to get involved. So we play nice. As nice as it’s standard for the Underworld, anyway. Overall, you’re right; we should be honoured. It’s rare for her to stoop to our company.”
“None of which tells us where the dining room is.”
“Lady Satori isn’t dumb. Someone will come fetch us.”
“The waiting game, then.” Paran grumbled his discontent. “The worst game there is.”
Yamame grinned. “That is just too bad, isn’t it?”
“Stop that,” her human snapped – but smiled back.
Yamame Kurodani, a spider with such easily ironed tantrums all but she could use them for tablecloth, pried her attention away from him below her, and peered sidelong at the curtained window.
Waking up beside someone else was novel. Not as novel as touching had been; nor was it much similar to embracing or kissing (although it might demonstrably come in the same sequence). Indeed, between those other novelties visited on her life, it was, all said, unimpressive. It was sluggish. It was sticky, stuffy, and all too prone to disappointing. But even with these pitfalls in mind, Yamame Kurodani wanted nothing more than to goad out its hidden potentials.
This, for instance. All but she would have jumped when it started; but when she looked down, those were her human’s hands, and nothing else, cupping her exposed knees.
The spinstress crushed out a more startled response, and murmured, “… It’s fine. Keep going.”
No assent was voiced. None needed, perhaps; for Paran’s fingers did the speaking for themselves.
It was sign language: mute – but simple to appreciate – and a night familiar. A brief pressing down on her skin to start. A tiny half-circle with the thumbs. A long and tantalising slide up the naked stretch of her legs. A pause at the border of her tunic. Another, more teasing half-circle on the inner side of her thighs. An equally torturous journey down.
Then, up again. Though whatever the signs stood for, the earth spider did not know.
“… I’d never do something like this to a lady.”
Yamame chuckled, the final note squeezing out as a clipped moan. Her legs inched a little farther apart. The spinstress wedged a thumb of her own between her teeth.
The length of the tunic was openly spooling away Paran’s masculine patience; up and up, his hands were bumping it away, to reveal more and more of those legs he so (allegedly) enjoyed. A handful more such shy bumps, and the patience spooled free. His thumbs hooked under the edge, and jerked the cloth up to Yamame’s waist.
The spinstress, breathing shallowly, lifted on her knees to help him extract the bit pinched under her seat. He did.
… Then, experimentally, he pulled the bunched edge up to her navel.
Yamame did nothing.
“… Yamame,” Paran choked out. His breath was every bit as elusive as hers. “… Are you going to just let me do this?”
“… Why not?” she asked back. “I was going to change out of it anyway – right?”
His eyes flashed alertly to her face. As soon, they flaked back down; for whatever was under the tunic licensed evidently upper interest. His mouth set in a conflicted curve.
“… You are wearing something under this, aren’t you?” he asked at length.
Yamame felt her cheeks flare. “I… I am! You can see that. Can’t you?”
Her beloved human made an ugly throttling noise. “… Yes,” he rasped, “down there. Very cute. What about up there?”
“… Am not,” Yamame finished. To trim, she shaped a tiny smile. “What dummy wears a bra to bed?”
The human Paran – the sober, steady Paran – looked less steady than he had been in weeks. The curvature of his mouth was progressed into geometric warfare; and had wool not made for a naturally sturdy cloth, then the spinstress did not doubt his fingers would have poked an eight of ragged holes through. At last, Paran’s lips were flattened out; and, with a groan like a great gate shutting, he let the tunic drop back down to the Yamame’s lap.
All but, and the spinstress would have hotly criticised this repealing of promised help (in undressing). Only then, her beloved human – as slowly and punctiliously as a spider might – began to roll the edge of her tunic up into a neat, tightly compressed tube. Yamame watched, tensing each time his cool fingers brushed against her skin. The better swing of a minute had clocked past before the cloth was curled up to the height it had been before the drop.
“Is this fun?” Yamame wanted to know.
Paran’s gaze kept trained on her evenly unveiling body. “… It has some artistic merit.”
“Are you going to be long yet?”
“Art should not be rushed.”
Then he rolled on, at the same provocative pace.
Yamame’s whole exterior itched with impatience. She raised up her arms, and folded them over her head to stave off scratching. Her calves pressed into her human’s sides, and Yamame Kurodani, murmuring, gave a voice to her frustration. But the human was too intent, too transfixed by his own art to pay attention to her begging stare. He rolled on.
… At least, until the most stuffed stretch of the tunic was reached, and his fingers bumped into something that was not skin.
The art, instantly, became damned; and Yamame’s human, discarding his pride together with his masterpiece, roughly yanked the tunic up to the spider’s chin. The black of her simple, silken brassiere was only matched by the black of his gaze when he swung it accusatorily at her rosy face. Because Yamame could think of nothing clever to defend herself, she began to laugh.
Her laughter hitched when Paran jerked the tunic up over her head, balled it up, and threw it at her face. Yamame grabbed at the cloth, and flung it beside the bed. Then, she resumed laughing.
Paran’s brows were clambering over each other. His lukewarm hands gripped onto her hips – for bracing, apparently, over anything else.
“… Was that fun?” he demanded.
“It was slightly fun,” Yamame offered diplomatically. “Wasn’t it for you?”
Her human, omitting a reply, poured his corrosive gaze at the offending bra. Somehow, somewise, the bra held.
“So,” he grunted. “… What dummy wears a bra to bed?”
Yamame graced the jab with a chuckle. “Well, you see,” she said; “wool is very fine. It’s easy to comb, spin, and it’s warm and comfortable. But when it isn’t combed properly, one ends up with shorter fibres in the yarn, which makes it rougher on the skin when you put it together into clothing. My skin is a little more sensitive than most, so… I wore a bra underneath. It’s a very fine bra – almost all silk – so it isn’t all that restricting. As for why I picked this to sleep in,” she added, smiling; “it was the closest to my normal bed-wear – in form.”
“Left legs free?”
“That’s it.” The spinstress nodded. “I sleep easier with my legs uncovered. It’s just how I am. You’ve complained about this before, haven’t you? Anyway, that’s why. I hadn’t considered the bra would become a problem until just now. I hadn’t considered you’d want to… well, do that.”
Paran briefly followed her motion to the discarded tunic. “… I hadn’t, either.”
“Or had you?” she teased. Then, appealingly, she laid her palms atop his. “… Are you so disappointed?”
The human Paran rested his overloaded eyes. His wide chest swelled up with a lenitive breath. Then, he released it in a long, trailing capitulation. It had done its work; and when he looked once more at the earth spider perched atop him, it was not with anger. This time, his gorgeous eyes were calm, even appreciative – in a sarcastic sort of way.
“… Not so much,” he told her. “At least I know why you feel so soft, now.”
Yamame, beaming happily, dug her knees into his ribs. “Are you calling me fat again?”
He slid his hands up her flanks in estimation. “… Chubby, at best,” he opined.
Yamame smacked him. “Snake. I’ll have you know I’ve sisters both smaller and heavier than me. And they don’t even eat as often as you and I do.”
“I’ll believe,” allowed Paran. “… You’re still a bit round, though.”
“But you still undressed me,” the round Yamame pointed out, “even though I’m chubby.”
“I love how you look any way you call it, Yamame.”
The spinstress let go of a dramatic sigh. “I know,” she said. “I know you do. It’s gotten really bumpy where I’m sitting.”
The human Paran – the staid, well-balanced Paran – abruptly lost his stability. He appeared to buck and flip inside-out without ever actually moving. He pitched with a violent cough; and the colour that took up on his face was so dark, all but it put Orin’s carmine braids to shame. It was, on the whole, all rather artistic.
“Yamame—” sputtered the artist, “That’s not—”
“If,” Yamame overruled him, “If you’re about to tell me it’s only some small animal slipped inside your robe – don’t. I know what it is. I’m not clueless. I’ve seen males… nude, before.”
Paran controlled his tint with difficulty. “… You have?”
“The Oni,” reminded the spider. “The Oni drink together, sleep together, and bathe together. I lived as one of them for very long. It was inevitable I’d end up coming along to the bath-house every once in a while. You remember – the bath-house in the Capital? Well, I don’t know about up on the surface; but down there, we don’t bathe inside our clothes. So, yes. I’ve seen some things. Those things too.”
“… Oni?” Paran repeated.
“Yes,” Yamame confirmed. “Oni.”
“… Way to make a man feel inadequate,” he muttered.
“What was that?”
“Nothing,” he grunted. “Nothing, Yamame.”
Again – it appeared for nothing more than structural support – his hands grazed down and locked about her hips; and her beloved human started the long process of recovery.
Yamame Kurodani the round (not fat) watched on, all bemused, as he began to strain from neck to abdomen, as though drawing the blood up by force from the region which had caused him this latest embarrassment. On a rogue whim, the spinstress feigned a tiny cramp in one of her thighs, and ever-so-slightly readjusted her seat.
Paran’s expression fell as his efforts were instantly undone. He glared up at their destroyer.
“What?” asked Yamame.
Her human yielded, his body going limp all over (except one part).
“… If nothing else,” he delivered his last, hopeless argument, “If nothing else, then this proves I wasn’t lying.”
“About you being attractive.”
A foolish grin pushed Yamame’s cheeks out. “Am I, really?”
“I must be,” she giggled, “if you’re reacting like this.”
Paran’s face became a bubbling bog of misery.
A pause came on. It was one the spider and her human spent more idly soaking up each other’s body warmth than anything nearby getting ready for coming out of bed. The orange light outside the window was dim, sunset-like, and rendered the guest-room in a lovely, muted half-shadow. Yamame’s human was its most lovely subject.
Though his expression was none too enthusiastic for this turn of events; the human Paran was all the same a wonderfully handsome sight. His silver-trimmed robe, which he had ended up wearing to sleep, was messily tugged open halfway down his front. There was little else inside that gap but he. His broad chest, only a little less rug-like than Yamame had joked, was surging gently up and down. The criss-cross of valleys and bumps on his stomach was working out in synchrony – growing deeper first, then less whenever he exhaled. The tiny play was captivating beyond any excuse.
It was then, perhaps, that Yamame Kurodani made an earth-shaking discovery.
The human calling himself Paran was a male.
He had always been a male, of course; nor did Yamame Kurodani contravene those blatantly masculine of his features. His shoulders were robust and widespread. His arms were strong enough to move her two-legged form at no expense of effort; and his fingers were tough and very long. He had a slab-like chest, a sprinkling of stubble on his chin, and a pair of brows as fuzzy as gorged caterpillars crowning his eyes. A monument to his already well-evidenced gender, a certain part of him down below was still unashamedly stiff.
But these were the hallmarks of a human male – not a spider’s. And Yamame Kurodani had ever been the latter.
Why, then, was she so incurably drawn by those arms? Why did she, an earth spider since birth, want nothing else but to be enclosed inside them? Why was Yamame Kurodani, mother of plagues, vainly willing those hands to touch to her face and lace their fingers through her loosed hair? Why did the yearly malady, she who harried humans – not kissed them – wish for a few (many) more good-morning kisses above everything?
This raw, kinaesthetic attraction was not an entirely new thing; for Yamame had allied already with the notion that touching her human felt very good. But that had ever been stored on a neighbouring shelf to her lately realised love. To knit the two together felt wrong – even immoral. To debase their almost magical partnership with these corporal urges seemed to Yamame someway the peak of insulting.
The trouble was, “seemed” was as far as this sentiment extended. When she silently reached out, and obediently he rose up, and his long arms whelmed lovingly about her body, Yamame Kurodani no more had a pride to insult. She was base and low. She was rude and insidious. Worse, for she felt there was nothing greater she wanted to be.
Yamame Kurodani, the worst earth spider of all, intersected her ankles on her human’s back, and nested her nose in a shallow dimple above one of his collarbones. Her crimes against propriety were quietly absolved with a single, hair-tickling sigh from him. Him, who had put aside his kind’s inherent fear, and valued the yearly malady for what she was beneath her terrible names: a person. A woman. A female to his male, species notwithstanding.
It was a liberating idea. That, in itself, was funny – given she could very hardly move where she now was. Yamame chuckled at the gross metaphysical paradox.
Paran alerted (as he did), and asked, “… Yamame?”
“A happy thought, that’s all,” calmed the spinstress. “It’s a happy place, here where I am.”
“… Is it?”
“Isn’t it? You’re liking this too, aren’t you? And don’t lie. I’m soft and warm, so it feels good – doesn’t it?”
Paran sighed again at his own words swinging back to shame him. “… I won’t,” he said. “It feels great.”
“Same here,” Yamame agreed, “even if you aren’t very soft yourself.”
The spinstress laughed once more. “Speaking of,” she then said, sneakily off-hand. “Is this doing anything for your problem downstairs?”
Paran breathed in sharply. Then, he blew a deep, disgruntled sound.
“… Nothing good,” he said.
Yamame purred. “Should I help you out with that?”
Her human’s replying voice was rusted thin. “… Yamame.”
“Please,” he begged, “don’t make me an offer I won’t be able to turn down.”
“Think,” hissed Paran. “It will be difficult enough to face Lady Satori as it is.”
“Oh.” The spinstress, reminded, made a ruffled frown. “It is, isn’t it? I hadn’t considered that.”
“I didn’t think you had. So, please, Yamame – don’t.”
“But you want me to help out?” she categorically needed to know.
The human Paran shaped a bunch of unflattering words. “… Yes,” he grated. “Yes, curse you. I do want you to help out. Satisfied?”
Not nearly, the greedy spinstress thought. Smiling her most appealing, she grazed up along his chest, and looped her arms behind his wiry neck. Then, weathering the abrasive staring of his fantastic eyes, she craned up hers, and brushed her lips playfully on his.
“… Maybe just a little?” she offered.
The good, well-mannered Paran actually began to swear. There were some inventive terms in his glossary, but none worse than what Yamame Kurodani had had scraping her ears during her long years in exile. She waited, the patient hunter she, until he had sworn himself out. Then, she kissed him one more time. A longer one.
When it was done, Paran was as Oni-red and putty-soft as he had been once his troublesome body mechanics had been first revealed. All required was a closing crop. A precipitous push.
“Come ooon,” she moaned. “Tell me what to do. Anything you’d like.”
That broke him.
Her beloved human, rusty red from shame, retreated his eyes to one side. Then, in a voice corroded by the same, he gave up:
“… What you did just then. When I was trying to… And then you moved.”
Against the heat breaking out up her own cheeks, Yamame smiled. “Did that feel so amazing?”
“… It felt really good.”
“Mm.” The spinstress licked her lips. “Yes. It felt… kind of good when you pressed up on me, too. All right. I’ll do that. Could you… Um. Could you lie back for me? It’ll be easier to move like that.”
The human, surrendering to the truth of her words (and who knew to what else), did lie – first to half, then fully down on his back. Yamame, on all fours, crept up over him, until she was above the part of him that was not so much bumpy anymore, but openly tenting.
A tiny, dust-like speck of a doubt wafted onto the tablecloth of her thoughts, that perhaps the silly Yamame – who herself had wheedled her human into this desperate a condition – had spun herself into an unnavigable funnel. The speck was sent flying away by the gasp tweaked out the earth spider’s chest when she lowered herself onto the strained rise in her human’s robe, and felt it give. She lowered still, until she felt the rigid shape below distinctly – squished between Paran’s abdomen and her unmentionables. Her human let go of a twin gasp. His was lined with guilt… and just a hint of harshly reined satisfaction.
Yamame Kurodani, the eldest of the Underworld’s spinstresses, blushed like one of the youngest when her full weight was settled atop her human’s thing and she felt a jolt of pleasure tickling up the inside of her belly. The jolt was alien… but all at once it was not; and Yamame laid one palm flat on her stomach in worried confusion. She nudged her hips a shy bit forward for a test… and experienced the same sensation again, fluttering up from the point of contact. It pinched another unwitting sound out of her mouth.
… And Paran’s as well. Her human slung an arm over his ever-reddening face.
“Yamame,” he groaned.
Startling, Yamame stuck halfway into another nudge. “Pa—Paran? Am I… Am I doing something wrong?”
Her beloved human wrenched his trapped head left and right. “… No. It’s just… Your name.”
“It… It is,” she agreed, uncertain. “I’m Yamame. Yamame Kurodani.”
“I know,” Paran whimpered “I know. I just… I wanted to say it. Yamame.”
“Oh.” The spinstress felt stupid. “Um. Should I…?”
“Yes.” Paran’s answer was exasperated. “Yes – please.”
So Yamame Kurodani, she with the name, spread her legs a little wider out for a steadier pose, and resumed the vulgar ritual.
And it was in that moment – not a quarter one sooner, though possibly a half of it later – that the door of their private sanctuary was all of a sudden knocked.
Yamame Kurodani, mother of plagues, seized with half her fingers stuck inexplicably below the bands of her underwear. Her beloved human was frozen as well; only his chest heaved on and on, and his other part throbbed indignantly between the spider’s thighs.
The door was knocked again.
The spinstress pried her mouth to answer. All coming out was an old wood-like squeak. Her human made no move – save breathing and twitching.
There was a third knock. But it had a follower this time, and it was a voice. A male voice – young, almost boyish, muddily familiar.
“Good day!” it called. “Uh… Yamame Kurodani? Are you awake? Good day?”
“We—” Yamame croaked. “We are. We are awake.” She cleared out the motes in her throat. “Um, was there something?”
The caller outside the door hedged. “… An it please you,” he said ultimately, “Satori reaches out with a cordial wish that you join her for breakfast. Would, though, that mine own opinion were heard,” he added, “she did not quite mean ‘wish.’”
“I think I understand,” replied Yamame.
“The foods are all but ready; your servings as well have been prepared. We do but wait now your arrival. Some of us in the slips.”
The spinstress remembered something. “Um. How do we get to the dining room?”
“Ah! Therein’s a known tale.” The voice affected a ceremonious tone. “Come, you, easterly of this chamber, and you shall erelong a crossing reach. Walk past it, then, and its sibling farther on also. Take thereafter a turning once more easterly, and seek you the nearby door great-winged awash in delectable smells. There, yes there, the dining hall lies beyond.”
Yamame grimaced. “Which way is ‘easterly?’”
“… It’s right.” The speaker sounded faintly put out. “Go right, then straight past two crossings, turn right again, and seek a large door. It’s through there. Uh… Anything else our guests may require?”
The earth spider glanced down. “… Washroom?”
“There is one at the end of this hall. I will leave its door open for you to mark.”
“Thank you. That— That should be all.”
“You will be joining us, I take?”
“We will. Shortly.”
“As you wish.”
There was a delay long enough to fit a bow (however illogical); then, a flight of footfalls fading down the corridor. Then, they were alone.
Yamame Kurodani, the eldest among Underworld’s web-spinners, looked bashfully at her beloved human. A delightfully mussed-up one peered back from under his overspread arm. She held the silence, adoring his state, until he resorted to cracking it.
“… A lesser man could hate you,” he murmured.
Yamame made a powerless smile. “What did I do wrong this time?”
The human hid his eyes again. “… I wasn’t that hungry.”
“Is that all? That’s less mistakes than yesterday.”
“It’s not all.”
Yamame’s smile curdled. “I know. It was a joke. I make those sometimes.”
“Your humour has been obscure of late, Yamame,” muttered Paran.
“Maybe,” granted the spinstress. “Maybe it has been. We don’t really have to go, you know. Lady Satori can do without us. I’d just have to genuflect to her about it later. If you want, we could stay and…”
… And finish with your thing, she thought, but was too ashamed to say.
At any rate, Paran turned his messy head. “I’d like to wash my mouth down, now I know where I can,” he said. “At least that. Something to eat wouldn’t go a miss, either.”
“But you said you weren’t hungry.”
“I’m bound to become, if we keep at it.”
Would that take so long? “You aren’t going to forget this, are you?” Yamame questioned. “You aren’t going to pretend nothing happened if we stop now?”
“Would you let me, after all that?”
“I wouldn’t let you.”
“Then what’s the sense?” sighed Paran. “I can’t tell if I would let myself, either. But for now, let me go. Lady Satori’s waiting – in the slips.”
The spider spinstress made a face. Though, in the end, she did let him go – wistfully sliding off to the side. The act of disconnection left her feeling cold and unhappy.
Her beloved human scrambled, as though to cover himself up. Then, however – maybe recognising his over-lateness – he rolled to his feet, and threw off his robe completely. Yamame Kurodani, her spider’s heart hammering suddenly up her gullet, walked him with saucer-wide eyes until he began to rifle through the heap of clothing assigned to them by their stately host.
He cast a sidelong look in her direction, and Yamame found her stare fleeing as well as her heart.
“… You too,” he suggested.
The spinstress groped behind for the hook of her brassiere – before her mind parsed this was not what he had meant. She stood up, blushing, and went to excavate a suitable day dress beside him.
They managed to make presentable (he, in another robe, and she – in a flower-spotted frock) without too much stray touching.
They managed to leave their sanctuary, somehow, without pushing each other down.
They managed to arrive in the marked washroom wanting an incident.
They didn’t manage not to make it a longer stop.
But love could wait, otherwise to vicereines, and Satori Komeiji’s call was law.
I will patiently wait for the (inevitable?) eventual update where Paran goes on the offensive again with a vengeance. That shit is the best. Satori is in This Story remains some of the best erotica I've ever read. Not that it's a genre I frequently seek out, but for what it's worth... I encourage you, fellow readers, to ctrl+f it in the story list and (re)read if you're still feeling randy.
>>15807 More pertinently, is it gay to write this?
Hello, Sekidrone here. You may have noticed the gaps in update scheduling. This is because I’ve managed to find employment (at a small publishing company at that, whoa). It’s hectic at present, but should consolidate after New Year. We’ll see how Yamams end up fitting into that.
I must mention, I am having tiny second thoughts (more like first-and-a-one-third thoughts) about tying this story with the absolute blunder masterpiece starring a certain blond boy. Too late to back out now, I guess. I can only hope those of you who aren’t familiar aren’t very much turned off.
The dining hall, so-named, was fabulously modelled. Images of the surface world, enclosed in wreaths of cast gold, were fastened to the scarlet walls; above all, a grand chandelier of half a hundred electric glow-globes was hanging. A long table, enough to seat all of Yamame’s sisters thrice over, ran lengthwise the hall, empty almost all along.
At its far end, three figures mismatched were clustering.
The first among those figures was enthroned in a padded, carmine chair, and presided over the remaining two. Satori Komeiji (who the figure was) watched on, speaking in hushed tones, as the green-clad Orin and a third denizen of the house were busying with final adjustments of the tableware. The last figure was tall, unmistakeably male, and – detecting Yamame’s entry – turned his eyes pleadingly at the tiny vicereine. Lady Satori shook her curly locks no.
The man – whose cropped, wheat-like hair was not unfamiliar to her – threw up his arms melodramatically. Then, finding no recourse but to fall in, the not-so-stranger folded the dishcloth he had been holding over one forearm, and went out to receive the despotic woman’s guests.
Though he had forgone his wanderer’s rags in favour of an impeachable evening vest and hose, still Yamame Kurodani braced herself on her heels at his approach. For here was the ghost-like man – the same which had delivered to her Satori’s letter one industrious week ago – whose dreadful pall had all but sent the earth spider skittering for the roof. Lessened here (or by the lack of clothes complementing the image), the deathly messenger was not so deathly; and, even as he halted and shaped a flourished bow (again?), Yamame reeled up enough courage to step out from behind her own human’s shoulder.
The blond man, unfurled, contrived his features into a thousand-magnified apology. “I apologise,” he said, in case either of the guests were thicker than usual. “Satori there,” he indicated, “she decreed I get myself ‘more accustomed’ to visitors. She is incorrigibly oblivious to the reality my handling of those is first of all abysmal, secondly inept. I implore thee, noble guests two, forgive my calling upon you on such brief notice.”
Yamame Kurodani, instantly and irrationally, disliked the man’s overblown mannerisms. Still, for all he had torn short an exceptionally pleasant morning, she was not about to assign blame senselessly.
“Quite fine, old boy,” she aped, repeating something she had read in one of the more useless books previously stashed in her home.
The blond man and the one who was hers both blinked at the earth spider at varying stages of surprise. The blond one, however, screwed up his faculties first.
“We know each other,” he remembered, offering a hand. “You are the spider of illness, Yamame Kurodani.”
“Santuko… Takumi?” returned Yamame, offering up her own.
The one called Santuko (was he?) volunteered a fake smile. Then, taking her fingers in his, he bowed once more… and touched his lips to the top of her palm.
And though Yamame had made ready to curb her over-keen instincts – or to leap for the chandelier, failing… there was all the same nothing remarkable about this human’s touch. There was no reply. Nothing roused under her skin; and Satori Komeiji’s blond partner released the earth spider’s hand with never a report otherwise than dully informative. Yamame Kurodani, not slightly perplexed, registered her own human eyeing her speculatively from the side. Then, she noticed him roll his eyes.
Santuko Takumi tracked the spinstress’s embarrassed stare, and his own expression shed some of its schooled edge.
“Satori has described your circumstance to me,” the blond man said to Paran. He put forward a hand to him as well. “For what it is worth, welcome to the Crone, Old Hell. Your name, if I recall, was—”
“Paran,” said Paran, clasping Santuko’s wrist. “My name is Paran.”
Something unspoken appeared to nonetheless communicate between the two males before Santuko joined the greeting.
“Paran, then,” he acknowledged. “Very well. I am Garion.”
One of Paran’s brows arched – presaging both of Yamame’s doing the same.
“I heard something else just now,” he noted.
Santuko (Garion?) Takumi slid out of the gesture, his mouth tweaking again into a polite smile. “I’ve dressed in ‘Garion’ for many years, and have rubbed its edges and corners enough to wear it comfortably at home,” he explained. “My other names are newer, and still tend to squeak when I turn around too fast. I endeavour thus to break them in. Aye, indeed – whenever possible.”
“What this vagabond oaf means,” huffed Satori, stomping up from behind him, “is that since he cannot lie to me, he makes it an exercise to lie to everyone else. Isn’t that right, Santuko ‘Garion’ Takumi?”
Garion (?) shrugged. “Only keeping in practice, mother.”
“Call me that again, and I’ll twist your ears off,” threatened the vicereine. “You’re a right villain, Garion. As a matter of fact, San is better than you at not offending everyone she comes across, and she is barely five years old last month. What do you have to say for yourself?”
“I wish she were here,” sighed Garion.
“She isn’t,” said Satori; “and you be glad she isn’t, because she would have long had your ears in some drawer in her room.”
“San is a better host than Satori and I boiled together,” the blond man explained to Yamame and her partner. “Withal we are getting on in years she is yet as fresh and gentle as morning grass.”
“Getting on!” The vicereine made a derisive noise. “You certainly are! As a matter of fact, you are starting to sound like your father.”
“Good. You loved my father. I should not want you to stop now.”
“That is very low, Garion.”
“Old wolf won’t mind.”
“No,” Satori agreed a little stiffly. “As a matter of fact, no. He won’t. That’s what makes this so low.”
Yamame Kurodani, who had seen enough familial spats, knew this one was now in its first (which often were final) lull. She spoke up.
“I don’t get it,” she admitted, bitter. “What is his name?”
“It’s Garion,” insisted Satori.
“Santuko Takumi,” Garion said at the same time.
Satori flashed him a scorching look.
Paran put a cough in edgeways. “… I see the table has been laid?”
Lady Satori and her husband (he had to be) as one benefitted Yamame’s human with their attention; still, Paran kept his own stubbornly fixed on the other man alone.
Singled out, Garion obliged with an answer. “So it has. What about it?”
“Are we taxing your stocks very much?” Paran wanted to know.
The blond man slowly crossed his arms. “Truth told,” he replied, “not overmuch. The mansion is stocked to feed four more beside Satori and I. Then, too, three of those are away. Our lovely San is in the Capital; mighty Okuu is frolicking above like as not; and Koishi, easily-forgotten… Who can tell? Our larder may have gotten fat if not for your timely relief.”
Paran swam past the joke. “Where do you get your food?”
“Orin stocks it as a rule.”
“In our town?”
“So she does. Albeit, on those occasions my legs betake, I at times purchase goods from the settlement under the mountain.”
Paran flaked incredulity. “The Tengu one?”
“Oh no,” scoffed Garion. “No, no, no! Not the Tengu. Their lands are beyond the reach of you or I. There be yon a teeny village, see,” he intoned, slipping into yet another voice, “no more’n a handful a’ bare huts’n gardens an’ all – under yon Moriyan ropeway. Them minders an’ ‘gineers wot main-teen it need t’ eat too, don’t y’know. Well, yet I suspect few do,” he revealed, Garion-like again. “Most anyone asked realises in full the ropeway is kept by the Kappa, and the settlement is for appearances alone. Mayhaps ‘tis why they part with their produce unafraid.”
Yamame’s human scratched at his chin. “… Curious.”
“Anything but,” Satori’s husband disagreed. “The ruse is thin and in bad taste. It saves Orin’s back, is all the good.”
“… It might have saved mine,” grunted Paran. “I’ve not been to the ropeway. Where is it?”
“About half a league south-westerly of the Tengu territory. Their guard make appearances to pilgrims riding up to vouch for the goddesses’ long arms. There is a road splitting north from the Pilgrim’s Way at the foot of the mountain that leads one there.”
“I’ve not been up there. Yamame’s home is farther west. The access, anyway.”
“I have walked the spiders’ warrens. I know. Maybe—” Garion broke off. Then, his wanderer’s face lit up. “By chance,” he said, “I keep in the library an assemblage of maps of the Underworld and its surrounds. Mayhaps, your willing, we shall consult those on our dilemma?”
“Garion,” chided Satori, wrinkling her brows up at her husband. “You can talk shop until your teeth rot loose later. As a matter of fact, I will want to talk on something private with Yamame, so you’ll have full exclusivity to our other guest in the meanwhile. Or did you perhaps outright want me to starve?”
“You cannot starve,” the blond man reminded.
“Not for want of trying – on someone’s account. If you’re going to stand here and chatter like a hen all morning, then I don’t want to hear another observation on my hips at least for the week. No, I don’t want to hear another observation, ever.”
The vicereine’s husband fingered his forehead. “Satori, love, your hips are fine. Actually, they are very good hips. Only a jot hard when you roll around. That is my observation.”
“Did you want to pad them out or not?”
He flicked his hand in sufferance. “… As you wish. Let us pad them out.”
“Yes. As a matter of fact, let’s.”
The Underworld’s diminutive authority posed out a silent command. The grey-faced Garion, as if automated, allowed her tiny arm to loop through his.
As they started, arm-in-arm, again for the laden end of the long table, the small governess craned her head up, apparently to give her dissembling husband a look filled with absolute and imperishable warmth. Then, however, her amethyst eyes travelled on farther; and the Old Hell’s vicereine, she dreaded by youkai and spirits both, peered back at the stunned Yamame.
And then, the most exalted of her name, Satori Komeiji, winked.
>>15818 Wow, and I re-wrote that line on two separate occasions! What the heck, brain? Or maybe that is what I really meant? Hmm. >>15819 >with mine Husband? Who married those two off when I wasn't looking?
After their meal was eaten (which meals are, even in Old Hell), their motley party was mercilessly split.
The keen Paran – who had spent half the hour ducking from Satori Komeiji’s field of view, and half eyeing how the cat-eared Orin fawned outrageously over the vicereine’s husband – now at last met his salvation; and as it had been proposed the men tidy up after on the table (then adjourn to their maps), Yamame’s beloved human had pounced on the arrangement which would remove him from the mind-reader’s surrounds. So Satori Komeiji had left the male part of her household on kitchen detail. So the tiny vicereine quit the grand dining hall with a spider and a cat in a file. So she had led – on her small, slipper-clad feet – toward the sliver of space inside the great mansion which she habitually filled.
The private chambers of Satori Komeiji – screened behind a sturdy, oaken shield of a door – were shockingly feminine. A grand, canopied bed of old was central; atop it, cushions and wraps and drapes were stacked, colourful all: yellow and pink and sky-blue, and trimmed with princely widths of snowy lace. A broad wardrobe, exquisitely faced, comprised a half of one wall; winging it – loaded bookcases as tall as the ceiling. The air of the room was delicately scented with perfume; and bathing it in muted orange was the magmatic glow – the same as in Yamame’s room – slanting in past a broad, curtained window. The floor was carpeted and warm.
In a corner, whimsically odd out, a set of two wicker chairs and a likewise table was standing. Satori Komeiji, awash in angry crunching, sank onto one of the chairs. She waved Yamame to the one remaining. The spinstress, gingerly, imitated her hostess. Somehow, the fretful furniture withstood her weight – though not without complaint.
For the count of minutes Lady Satori briefed her cat-maid on what must be done – concerning, at least, Yamame’s home – the eldest of the Underworld’s spiders waited, incumbent, absorbing the mystifyingly homelike quality of the room. Here, marks were, was a retreat not grossly unlike her own (had hers not been reduced lately to a slurry ruin); it was one which Yamame Kurodani’s study might possibly have become – had the spinstress one day taken to clear the floor of creative castoff, stray scraps, and towers of folded dresses. It was a curious connection – and not without its curious insinuations.
At length, Satori Komeiji achieved the desired impression on her cat-eared server; and, the communiqué and relevant warnings both committed, the corpse-thief of Chirei-den pinched her green dress, bowed, and swished off to her task. Alone now (discounting a spider), Old Hell’s frumpy vicereine withered in her chair. The chair put out its thoughts on this at volume, but Satori Komeiji withered anyway.
Then, opening her gemlike eyes, she turned their concerted favour at Yamame.
“… It’s gratifying, isn’t it?” she asked.
Yamame blinked. “What is?”
Satori Komeiji smiled. “When they find us attractive.”
Yamame Kurodani needed but one moment – and one memory from no farther than waking up – to burn to a spidery crisp.
“Is that so shameful?” wondered Satori.
The spinstress, smoking, bunched up her brows. “Since when—”
“Yamame,” Satori sighed, “even if you hadn’t been mulling it over every idle second, he would have been. I can divert my… talent… elsewhere, but not when it’s positively pelleted with those sorts of images.”
“Why didn’t you—”
“Why didn’t I rat you out in front of everyone and each other? Because, Yamame, regardless what your Oni friends say of me, I’m very much capable of respect. And among the souls stranded here in the Underworld, you, of all of them, present something I respect above all.”
Yamame glared her suspicion. “… What is that?”
The vicereine, at first, didn’t answer. Only she laced her fingers together in a gesture, which – on someone else’s hands – might have been mistaken for consternation. At last, it was smelted out; and Satori Komeiji’s spinel-pink lips spoke anew.
“… Will you take a theory?” she proposed.
“I think,” said Old Hell’s small governess, “I think that youkai like you and I just want to be human.”
Yamame Kurodani, mother of plagues, she who could never be anything else, bleakly stared the smaller youkai down. “That’s ridiculous.”
“… A leap too far, maybe,” Satori permitted. “But consider this, Yamame. When humans settle in a new place, they pursue a number of things to support their continued existence. They seek shelter, food, water, and warmth; and they secure the means of providing themselves with those indefinitely. They build homes; they plant fields; they raise fences and dig wells. But when those prerequisites are no longer a question but a certainty… What do those frail humans do then as a rule?”
Yamame, drawing on her own expertise, supplied, “They read books. They tidy up their nests, write letters, and make plans.”
And tease the spiders every now and then, she added inside… before remembering who it was across the table.
Satori Komeiji gracefully accepted all the answers. “Quite. But none of those are required by what they are,” she went on. “They eat, because they would die otherwise. They drink because of the same. They build homes, because those facilitate almost every other fundamental. But do they need to read? Do they need, in strict terms, to write letters, make extensive plans, or to tease their cohabitants? Not at all. And yet they do those things. Why do you suppose that is?”
“… I don’t know.”
“What I think,” Satori confided, “is that they do it because it is who they are.”
The spider spinstress frowned. “But you said—”
“Who, Yamame,” the vicereine stressed, “not what. To wit, once the what humans are is satisfied, they set out to find who they are above that. Knowledge, possessions, or certain social configurations – all of these are means of constructing an identity over what is prescribed by their make-up as a species. This is my theory, anyhow.”
“And what does this have to do with us youkai?”
“All of it.” Satori spread her hands eloquently. “As a matter of fact, shall we turn it around? Tell me. What have you, Yamame Kurodani, spider of illness, been doing across the most recent months? Other than being teased.”
“I have been… building,” said Yamame, realising as she spoke how outlandish it was. “I have been working. I have been reading books, and educating myself. I have been learning how to… how to handle humans, without biting.”
“And is this what a youkai does?” Satori asked shrewdly.
Yamame bit down on a lip. “… It didn’t seem that weird until I thought about it.”
“But you did it,” said Satori. “And that is precisely what I respect, Yamame. You elevated yourself above what you are… and began to discover the who.”
“… Is that so rare?”
Satori smiled again, indulgently. “Isn’t it? Take a look around the Underworld. Show me ten – no, even five – youkai who don’t live on the extreme inside of their skin. Take my Rin, for example. Yes, she is house-broken, I grant you – eats her food from a plate very nicely. And yet, she never strays farther from what she is than the bare necessary to please me. In time, she may very well find passions and loyalties otherwise than those dictated by her species. But until then, in all her aspects, she is only a kasha. A what, if you will. Not a who. You and I, Yamame… We are something more.”
“… Human?” Yamame dumbly guessed.
This accorded her a chuckle from the mind-reader. “No, visibly not,” she disagreed, touching her Third Eye. “But there is some overlap, and if that compels us to seek company from the other side… Why not? There’s no shame in it, Yamame. As a matter of fact, the only shame there is lies in denying to yourself what your mind and body want you to have. There is enough… latent power, shall we say?... here, in Old Hell, to sustain what we are without need for our additional input. Might be the spirits left behind by the Yama effect this; might be the humans of Gensokyo above have unwittingly been feeding into us even before the unsealing. I could never get to the bottom of this one. But it makes – or should make – for the perfect opportunity to explore who we are, beside youkai. The sad reality is, naturally, that very few of us do. I can name but two.”
The earth spider sensed more familiar ground. “You and me?”
“Although,” noted Satori, selfishness perking up her nose, “not to take away from me, my case was far more turbulent than yours.”
Yamame could not restrain herself from asking. “How so?”
Lady Satori’s expression conveyed a world of modesty – mostly feigned. “It’s an overlong and largely irrelevant story,” she said, suppressing a smirk, “one that would, at that, be more intriguingly told by someone else. Not to mention years old. The very short of it is: I decided, one day, to use my talent to help a certain someone recently happened across my home on unrelated reasons. Someone, I knew, with a problem far too internalised for anyone else to solve. Therefore, I spent time with this someone – a lot of time, as a matter of fact – until I had devised a way to heal them. Well, I still didn’t do it myself. I had to resort to instructing Rin – and suffering a deal of pain on my own. But it worked out anyway; and the unfortunate aftermath was, that someone and I realised we loved each other too much to part ways at that point.”
“And that was—” Yamame began.
“Him,” Satori finished. “Although, to be unequivocally fair, the ‘love’ part came somewhat later. I had to evacuate the stasis of this place for a while first. It did pay off, however. I even became a mother. I did have to keep trying an entire winter, but I managed to do it.” The tiny vicereine shaped a smirk. “I got all I wanted in the end.”
“And this,” dared Yamame, trying out her human’s brand of humour, “this is what a youkai does?”
Satori laughed. It was a startlingly girlish laugh, and absolutely free of shame. “Awful, isn’t it? And yet, dear spider, if this is who I am, then I regret it not one bit. Tell me how flighty, irresponsible and sentimental I am; I will have gone to him to bicker and let him hold my hands before you’re a quarter way in.”
“He likes them.” Satori shrugged. “And I like a good bicker. It weighs out. All in all, Yamame, it boils down to simple admissions. You need to admit to the other person what you want from them, and hear out their desires in turn. There is no deeper secret. It’s all trust, then striking a balance. But first of all, before you saddle your chosen one with your needs, you must admit them to yourself. You want him to love you – don’t you?”
Yamame Kurodani, feeling the point of the conversation swing back at her throat, stiffened.
Still, when she caught and wrapped her darting feelings, the great architect of the Underworld realised the answer had never been any less straight than one of her rulers. Since the day the secret of her human’s name had been broken, she had always silently yearned for his attention. Not always consciously; not always by that name; but when she examined the Yamame of the previous weeks on what she had been thinking, the reply was all the same across the picture. The picture was none too flattering from this angle.
But if – as Satori Komeiji had said – this was who she was… then, perhaps, there was no defence left but releasing the truth.
“… I do,” mumbled the spider. “I want him to… to love me.”
“Intimacy is a part of that, Yamame,” Satori cautioned. “Men are bodily creatures. They extend that onto love as well. You do realise that, don’t you?”
“… I realise.”
“And still you want this?” Satori went on. “Still you want him to love you?”
The spider spinstress choked. “… Yes,” she rattled out, “Yes, I do! Is that so wrong? Am I not allowed to?”
“Is anyone forbidding you, Yamame?”
“… He is,” Yamame gave up. The miserable need to complain – it mattered not to whom – swelled to enormity inside her chest. The eldest of the earth spiders folded her arms on the table, and set her head down atop. “He’s forbidding me,” she moaned. “He keeps putting up… walls. He pushes me away whenever I think I’ve found a crack. I thought I’d shown him he could trust me, but—”
“But you made a mistake,” Satori chimed in, matter-of-factly. “He brushed very close to accepting you, but then you said something that made him wary all over again.”
Yamame propped up on her elbows. “… How do you know that?”
“As I said, because men are bodily creatures, they carry their emotional wounds on their sleeves. I just have the Eye to see it.” The tiny vicereine leaned closer. “I’ll have you know, you silly spider, that ‘your human’ loves you a lot. Not excluding a few rather shameless ways, either. I’ve been the aim of these kinds of sentiments myself, so I will tell you this outright. You seduced him quite thoroughly this morning. Well done.”
The earth spider’s ears all but puffed steam. She buried her face in her arms.
“That is what it’s called, Yamame,” Satori insisted. “Have you heard the saying? If you can’t take the heat—”
“But it didn’t work!” protested Yamame (into her arms). “So what if I… seduced him? It did nothing. He still pushed me away.”
“That is because your… assets, Yamame, are not the issue. As a matter of fact, by no standard are you not at least pleasing to look at. Why, I’d wrestle an Oni for straight hair like yours. Mine curls up a mess every night I go to bed. It drives me absolutely insane. You are a bit… let’s say hippy; but you should know this doesn’t bother him a lot. By a human measure, you are a healthy, not-too-old woman. Garion thought you were pretty, and he is usually more reserved with praise.”
The spinstress squirmed under the hailstorm of scrutiny. “… Then what is the issue? What am I doing wrong?”
“Now that, my dear spider, I cannot tell you.”
Yamame wriggled her head, revealing one misty eye. What she saw was Satori Komeiji watching her from above with smug amusement.
“… Cannot,” murmured the spider, “or will not?”
The tiny vicereine’s smile smeared wider. “He has asked me not to. I promised, too.”
“But you know?”
“As a matter of fact, I do.”
“… That’s disgusting.”
“I am what I am, Yamame – and he is what he is. Since we are reasoning beings, however, we can talk and act civilly. I can’t tell you what I promised not to tell, because he would know, and I gave my word. I don’t want to stir more enmity than the inevitable.”
“But you know,” Yamame accused. “That’s not fair. He’s not yours.”
“And are you so selfish, Yamame Kurodani?” Satori mocked. “You, Oni-raised, the humblest soul in the Underworld? The beloved grand architect? Are you so self-seeking you would have me break a promise I gave – in my own house? And to your precious lover as well? Come, now. You are better than this – aren’t you?”
Yamame glared up at the smirking Satori with smouldering, one-eyed hate.
Satori Komeiji, hated since centuries, did not even seem to notice.
Yamame had better be damn grateful for this absolutely free-of charge advice and friendly shoulder. Satori's going above and beyond the call of duty out of the pure kindness of her hearts. Possibly because she's the best 2hu there is.
(x) A hint. A hint would do.
>but then you said something that made him wary all over again. And you can sod off if you think you're gonna lure me into spending even more time than I already am re-reading and thinking about this story. Are you trying to kill all of my holiday time off? Bastard.
But hate had never comprised a larger part of the yearly malady than that transposed. Yamame Kurodani, whimpering, allowed hers to die out.
“… I won’t,” she mumbled. “I won’t have you break a promise.”
“And why not?” Satori, slyly, asked. “You do wish to know, no?”
The spinstress hid her face. “… It wouldn’t be fair,” she gave up.
A pause as strained as a web on the wind stretched between the spider and mind-reader.
Then, it broke; and through blew a gale of laughter. The laughter was Satori Komeiji’s. And though on Yamame sprung up with a warping mouth, there was no malice in the tiny vicereine’s laughing. Only a hint of something directed inwards, under layer and layer of unabashed relish.
“You are a bundle of delight, did you know that?” asked Satori, wiping at her eyes. “How-ever did you survive down here with the rest of us snakes?”
Yamame flushed. “Um…”
Satori fanned her worries away. “You needn’t speak. I wasn’t criticising you. As a matter of fact, the only one remiss here am I.”
And then, as casually as she might one of her pets, Satori Komeiji reached out, and stroked the earth spider’s blond head.
And as it had (not) with the ghost-like man before, now – too – the most basic of the spider’s instincts offered no reply. Her other senses did; and Yamame’s head did tilt on its own as the small governess petted on the one side of it, but no alarm rose of the stripe which had ever plagued her contacts with her partner. Not one warning. Not a startled tug. There was nothing offensive about the mind-reader’s touch – where her beloved human’s had once sent her into shivers. It was a discomfiting thought – not least in front of one who heard it as well as she.
Satori Komeiji slid her tiny digits through Yamame’s golden locks, chuckling. “Maybe because you don’t really care how I perceive you? Has that ever crossed your pretty head? Whereas he…”
The vicereine left it hanging. Yamame dropped her gaze in chagrin.
“Is that so shameful?” Satori repeated her earlier question. “Of course you don’t care. What am I to you? All I can and will do is touch your hair and wonder what you do to it to keep it so smooth.” She paused, rolling a lock between her fingertips. “… What do you? Mine looks worse even right after washing.”
“… Nothing,” murmured Yamame. “Not really.”
“Then it’s naturally like this?”
The spinstress gave a weak smile. “… Yes.”
“… Talk about disgusting.” Satori’s voice had an overtone of scissors. “Never mind. Let’s retrace a few steps. No, of course it wouldn’t be fair if I handed you your lover’s thoughts on a silver tray. It would be unfair to me, first of all, whose only talent lies in… extricating secrets. I will keep this advantage to myself.”
“What about a hint?” Yamame asked. “A teeny, little hint wouldn’t be unfair – would it?”
Old Hell’s small authority batted her eyelashes in faint astonishment. Then, a cunning expression draped over her pale features. “… Why, I believe you’re right,” she said in mock surprise. “As a matter of fact, a hint would be very much appropriate. We are sisters by circumstance, after all.”
“Well—” Lady Satori lifted her shoulders, “—co-prisoners, more like. Co-conspirators, potentially. What I mean is, you are facing a similar entanglement I was but a few years ago; it isn’t beyond the realms of reason that you would choose to pursue my advice… notwithstanding of promises I may have made. Am I being fair so far?”
“So far,” confirmed Yamame.
“Very well. Then supposing you sought said advice, and I had to share my experience…” Satori’s fingers quit stroking, and fell to tap musingly on the table. “… All right. We could put it like this. Men, Yamame – human men, especially – are much compartmentalised creatures. They think in lines. Not straight ones, necessarily; but any line is drawn along certain pre-set points. It is those points, in fact, that define what the line is. Imagine a drawing, or one of your projects – except copied from only a map of points where the lines intersected originally. It could still be reproduced to some approximate, no?”
The great architect righted up attentively. “More or less,” she granted. “As long as the copyist understood what it was.”
“Good. Now imagine, if you will, that the snake that I am, I rubbed one of the points out clean. At least one. It could have been more; you can’t tell. What becomes of your drawing, or project, now?”
Yamame Kurodani scowled, picturing a house whose outer wall had, someway, omitted wrapping around one of the corners.
“… It’s a mess,” she said, shying from stronger terms.
Satori narrowed her eyes. “Is it? The walls are all there, no? There’s nothing amiss, is there? The lines are all joining.”
“But they haven’t—”
“They haven’t gone the full way,” agreed the vicereine. “They haven’t touched all the points. It is no accomplishment, then, if their destination is reached – is it? The copyist was probably a fraud. The male mind, Yamame, is just the same. It becomes agitated when its lines haven’t passed through all the goalposts – even if the end is reached regardless. And even – dare I say – when those goalposts shouldn’t matter in the first place. I know you’re happy you’ve reached the end of the line at all, my dear spider, but the end is not enough for him. This is your hint, then. Touch all the points. Then, it’ll all join up.”
“… I don’t understand,” Yamame confessed.
Satori Komeiji sat back, appearing (for the first instance since their meeting yesterday) dampened by the earth spider’s limited comprehension. As she sensed the guilt curdling Yamame’s thoughts, however, the tiny vicereine passed a weary hand in front of her eyes, and presented a less steep angle:
“Have you ever told him,” she asked, “why exactly it is that you love him?”
“… No,” admitted the spinstress.
“Has he told you?”
“Then this—” Satori smacked the table, “—this is your hint. Tell him. Think on it long and hard, if you must – but tell him. Then, it’ll all join up.” She let go of a disappointed sigh. “That was less fair than I’d planned, Yamame. Weren’t you reputed to be a genius?”
Yamame felt her ears growing hot again. “Um—”
“Never mind. As a matter of fact, I tripped myself up on verbose explanations when I should have spoken plainly. San says I’ve taken this from her father. Garion is supposed to be a storyteller, however; I’m meant to be a scholar. It’s my fault.” The small governess’s eyes hardened then. “You do realise,” she said in a dagger-like tone, “that this mustn’t leave this room? I’ve a reputation to keep thorny, Yamame. What would those Oni brutes say if they heard I have been dishing out relationship advice?”
“They may joke,” objected the spinstress, “but they wouldn’t—”
“No,” Lady Satori cut her off. “No, little spider. The only reason I am giving you this hint is because you and I have both had to contend with the same hellish twists of trying to understand how human men work. I’ve enough trouble prevailing on San we aren’t meant to be selfless problem-solvers. At least my husband has received something from his malefactor that makes those in the Underworld less like to become overly fond of him. But I, Yamame? I must remain what I am. The Underworld needs me to be the dread mind-reader, and I accepted that when I took the station. Who I am is only for select few.”
Satori Komeiji, the dread mind-reader, made a wan smile.
“So, please,” she begged, “don’t noise this about.”
Yamame’s mouth slacked open stupidly. She dragged it back shut. “… Um, OK.” She nodded. “I won’t. I’ll try not to.”
“Try your hardest,” Lady Satori urged. “Tell you what. I’ll buy your silence. I’ll ask Garion to find a bottle of something nice to… ease what’s no doubt coming to you no later than tonight. I’ll even say this: take a few towels from the bathroom, and a bowl of clean water to keep nearby. I say this from a personal mistake; those come in handy.”
“… I will,” said the spinstress.
“And not a peep.” The tiny vicereine slashed a finger grimly across her neck. “Are we clear, little spider?”
Yamame numbed. “… Crystal.”
Satori Komeiji’s three penetrating eyes judged her sincerity. “Good. Good…”
… And then, their quiet verdict cast (demonstrably, in Yamame’s favour), the small governess deflated, sighed once more, and sank powerlessly back into her chair.
As the yearly malady looked on, puzzled no small amount herself, Satori Komeiji fingered the sudden weariness out of her eyelids. It was not until they had finished, however, and drew away to unveil a down-cast, melancholy gaze, that Yamame Kurodani saw someone else on the tiny vicereine’s seat. Not the ruler of the Underworld, tightly strapping her domain with an overhanging threat – nor a counsel, to whom the earth spider had turned in a dire hour for ordained aid.
Satori Komeiji, Yamame presently realised, was, beneath all, a woman. A caretaker to her pets, a mother to her daughter, and a wife to her husband; she was a person – with personal quirks, loyalties and preferences – and glad of another youkai taking the same confusing steps she had in her ascent from what-hood. It had been, more often than not, near impossible to see one who spat on the natural privacy of other minds as anything other than evil. Now, Yamame dimly saw, that evil had been jarred out far enough to show an edge of another side. Not a friendly one; for Satori Komeiji wished no friendship from the underfolk. But agreeable – and that was the term which Yamame’s heart finally enclosed.
Lady Satori, as Lady Satori did, had been listening.
“It is satisfying,” she said with dry self-deprecation, “to be reviewed positively by such an esteemed referee of character as our beloved Yamame. Oh my indeed. As a matter of fact, that has to be the single kindest word I have been called since decades – counting out my Garion’s pretty lies. Agreeable! What-ever else?”
… Maybe not so agreeable, Yamame thought sullenly.
Satori Komeiji, snickering, once more reached out and mussed the spider’s hair.
“You and I may be similar, Yamame,” she told the pouting spinstress, “but don’t construe it as us being compatible. We aren’t. We have never been. So, don’t sully your cheerful reputation by associating with me too closely. Stay where you are – as beloved Yamame. I will stay where I am – for the good of the Underworld.”
“… Isn’t it lonely where you are?” asked Yamame.
“I have my pets,” reminded Satori. “I have my husband, and I have my daughter. I have my sister – when she comes home. I don’t need an earth spider as well.”
“… I wasn’t offering myself.”
“No. As a matter of fact, no. You weren’t. And very well, because you are someone else’s anyway. But did you know what you could offer?”
“A conclusion.” The tiny vicereine pulled away. “Last time we spoke, you were telling me something about a door you had almost ripped down the middle. I’d love to hear what became of that door. I may not be very agreeable, but I’ve seldom disagreed with doors. Well, then?”
And so, the tale of Byakuren Hijiri’s door continued.
>>15829 I won’t bore you with platitudes about how gratifying it is to receive OC from one’s readers (although it is, insanely), and will simply say thanks for the meal~ >>15831 The idea right there, my dear Watson, was “masculine.” Hairy and rough around the edges. And what else could Yamame compare fuzzy eyebrows to, but a pair of scrumptious insects? >>15837 >>15838 And where did you two come from? Wasn’t THP supposed to be dead? Back to /blue/ with you! >>15839 Ah yes, the secret sequel, Byakuren Hijiri Has no Door.
Hello. Deus Seki here. Sorry for the delay. I caught a head-splitting sinus infection over Christmas, and couldn’t focus a thought on anything other than trying not to feel stupid about breathing through my mouth. I can do about half-and-half now. Ahh, if only I could get rid of this head and replace it with another…
>>15840 >And where did you two come from? Seen this story regularly updating for a while now. Skimming over random updates in boredom was enough to make me interested. The dialogue is entertaining, even without all the context.
Hello. Sekicrates here. I have been entirely unable to focus these last few days. Weather swinging around like it’s Hidden Star in Four Seasons, making my brain rebel. I’d wanted to squeeze one more update into this year, but that doesn’t look as likely anymore… So sorry.
>>15856 Oh, okay, then that is/was me. I moved from FaM to working on Don’t Call Me A Glutton and the Nemuno story on /at/. Never went anywhere, just didn’t try to draw a whole lot of attention to myself.
And, for my part, I’m sorry for killing off FaM. Unfortunately, I figured out after a lot of soul-searching that my plot was unmanageable and needed a shitload of retconning to really work, and that would have been a bitch and a half after three years with barely any progress. I guess if I’m completely frank, I got too weary of it to put in that kind of work. The path of least resistance and such.
Anyway, I shouldn’t hijack OP’s thread any further than this.
>>15857 >I shouldn’t hijack OP’s thread any further than this. Oh, no worries. I was curious myself, actually, if you were the one behind FaM, fam. You’ll forgive me, but I accidentally recommended your story to someone on the jay recently while clumsily attempting to be coy about my own. They seemed to like it in any case.
Hello. It is I, Banki guy. I may not have an update for you today, because going back to work after a break is aaaaAAAAAAAA, but the happy news (for one of you, anyway) is that I’ve more or less nailed down a solid baseline for a Nazrin short. It shouldn’t be any longer than my Sekibanki, but it could segue nicely into a full-er story once this one is done. It isn’t that far off. I’ll let you choose whether to unsubtly scream at me to forget about mice and get the heck back to spiders, or the reverse.
PS. The patchy-melon guy I mentioned a bit ago? He’s here. Go check him out. >>/others/65260
>reboot of the singing spider Pledge all of your faith to the wolf goddess of gluttony and your prayers may find themselves answered in time. (Cheating with a certain mountain hag is permitted as a sacrament.)
>bugging Sage He says he'll drag himself out of the trash pile tomorrow.
The rest of that day darted by sooner than any right it had. Inertia did that to a day; and Yamame Kurodani spread no webs to obstruct it.
Once the finish of her most late project had been compliantly recalled (and the drink-lined night before, and the morning full of mistakes after), the great architect had readied to progress into an even less impersonal part of the story. Then, however, as progress is usually, hers as well was restrained by the noise of an approaching argument.
A vexed moment, and she recognised these arguing voices; and before long the door to Satori Komeiji’s most private room was – with never a knock – brazenly opened.
“—and meticulosity,” the ghost-like Garion was explaining over his shoulder, “is ever a part of that. As, yea, indeed, of any craft.”
Paran, following in, replied patiently, “But the goal of all craft is purpose.” The patience was so deep it might very good be mined. “These? These have none – none practical, anyway. There is no need—”
Yamame’s beloved human, as though only now noting the switch in his surrounds, abruptly stood as still as a pillar of salt. His brows took on a rather more sour (than salty) bend when his gaze fell first on the grand, canopied bed, and then on its tiny owner – still seated at her quaint wickerwork table. Satori Komeiji, smirking, raised a hand and wiggled her little fingers. The spell was unknown to Yamame, but it must have worked. Paran’s brows compressed even tighter.
Heedless of his wife’s tampering, the blond storyteller countered, “Navigation, neighbour. Navigation is practical. Not to you or I, perchance; but think you of a future, yet clandestine, wherein these maps might come to bear. What use then, pray tell, would an inexact map be?”
“To whom?” questioned Yamame’s human, the contention at hand exceeding the anyway small mind-reader. “Those who live here know these paths already. Those who don’t – those have no business knowing. Your maps are at best useless. At worst, they are dangerous.”
The blond man’s eyes went wintery. “Then we’ve a difference in views.”
Paran, shoulders squaring, crossed his arms. It was a slow process, because Paran had fought enough views to learn they could be skittish things, apt to duck out of the way and leap down the jaws of defeat. More importantly, the process was familiar; for Yamame’s (even so) beloved human had done it once before, to another of the Underworld’s denizens. It puffed her cheeks up with piqued memories.
She vented them into an accusing growl. “You’re doing it again!”
Her human – and Satori’s as well – gave her a dull glance. Then, they gave the same to each other. And then, to her again.
“… What?” Paran spoke their thoughts.
Yamame squeezed the armrests of her noisy chair. “What!” she huffed. “Spreading hostilities, that’s what! Again! What were you going to do – bite him? Here, in front of us, too?”
“… Were you?” Paran asked the other man reprovingly.
Garion shook his head. “Methinks the miss means you.”
“Well, I wasn’t. Nor have I – ever. That more or less settles it.”
“I do not know that,” disagreed Satori’s husband. “I only ever bit one, and she is—”
Lady Satori clapped her hands explosively. “All right. That is far enough. Garion, love—” she gave the blond man a stare that might smoke a hole through a thatch roof, “—what and whom you use your teeth on is nobody’s concern but yours and that person’s. As a matter of fact, she should very much like to discuss that with you, at length – out of shot of bystander ears. Good? Good. Yamame,” she addressed the (also fiery) earth spider next. “Yes, well, snuff that out. You’ll be pleased to hear these two oafs weren’t… spreading hostilities, if you’ll lend the term. I know. It might have looked that way, but it was quite something else.”
It was Yamame’s turn to speak her mind. “… What?”
“I thought we were,” Garion noted sidelong.
“Shush, you!” hissed Satori. “As I was saying, it is all rather simple. Silly, yes. Most simple things tread that edge. What these two were doing, Yamame, was making order. Among themselves, by themselves, and I think quite despite our own selves.”
“I don’t—” began Yamame.
“I feel nobody does but me,” murmured Satori. “See, my dear spider, what these idiots got into their swollen heads—” she slashed said heads with a sword-like glance, “—is that, since one of them looks older – but not enough, and the other looks bigger – but not enough, that their customary means of setting the pecking order have sorely failed them. So, to amend that void in their delicate worldview, they went and invented themselves a problem. What was it, again?” The demand had been aimed at the vicereine’s husband. No answer came forth; but, of course, none had to. “Ah yes,” Satori chirped. “A philosophical question! About maps and use thereof. Amazing. And then, I suppose me, whoever had won that tilt of wits would have come out atop, while the loser would tuck their tail under and have to wash the winner’s dishes. No? Am I not just the rightest in the world?”
The men peered at each other – rather more boyish than manly. Satori Komeiji chopped their prides even shorter.
“And why those big frowns?” she mocked them. “Hmm? Why, and here I thought you’d brought this riddle here so I could solve it for you. As a matter of fact, I shall solve it anyway. Garion here, the one with a haystack for a head, is your winner. I own this house, and, by some miraculous turn, I happen to love him very much. Older-looking, clever-mouthed and all. So, there you have it. Congratulations. You’re still both doing the dishes.”
The blond man managed to look conciliatory as he turned to his philosophic rival.
“Is this what we had in mind?” he wondered.
“… I suppose we might have,” gave Paran.
“Shake, then?” Garion asked, one hand offered.
Paran sighed. Then, surrendering, he shook. “… I stand by what I said about those maps, though.”
Garion beamed. “Well now,” he said speculatively. “Well now.”
At the table, Satori Komeiji became a picture of exasperation. “See?” she complained to Yamame, “See what I meant by lines? I’ll tell you all what. Why do we not go to the library and take a good, long look at those deuced maps? As a mapper— bother, as a matter of fact, it’s been a while since I did myself. Well?”
Though the proposition was well-received by everyone but the giver; still go they did, quitting Lady Satori’s warm chambers in loose pairs.
All the same, they hadn’t two steps (or it might have been three, or just one) past the library’s braced, double-winged door, when the men sped ahead for their maps wholly unconcerned of the trailing women. All but, and Yamame would have stormed after; only then, Satori Komeiji seized her by the wrist, shaking her lavender curls and (unsuccessfully) suppressing a fond smile. Instead, the small governess of Old Hell led the eldest earth spider deeper among the unlit shelves. As they went farther from the entrance, the air grew stuffier; soon, and Yamame saw dust resting in a grey film over lower-stored tomes.
“You’ll have to excuse me,” said Satori, picking out the thought. “I haven’t as much as read a book board-to-board since San was born. Same with keeping this place neat. Sometimes…”
“Yes?” asked Yamame.
“… Sometimes,” Satori gave up, “Sometimes I wonder how it was ever all I could do, to sit here and read.”
“Wasn’t that lonely?”
“I don’t miss it, if that’s what you’re casting for. Not too badly, anyway. There should be a section on architecture hereabouts; lend me those spider eyes, and we’ll find something to tide you over until those two are done. I’ll gladly do some catching-up myself.”
It was another clock-less sweep of time after that the men, taking their fill of food of knowledge, announced another kind of food was promptly required. A wiser (or were they?) two of human men thusly fled the confines of Satori Komeiji’s library to toil in one of her mansion’s dozen kitchens. A touch later still, Yamame followed Lady Satori out as well.
Their dinner was unconventional; even so, the spinstress registered a few accents so domestic, instantly her love welled up again for her human. Satori Komeiji’s own blond lover, pleading an unspecific lapse of memory, rushed out the dining hall ahead any other one of them was close to finish. No sooner had that been reached than Paran picked their dishes and cutlery up, and likewise hurried out. The eldest of the Underworld’s spiders nursed no doubt who would wash them would become the next point of philosophical debate in the nearest kitchen very soon.
As for her elder self, poked with stares by her hostess, Yamame Kurodani stood to retrace her yesterday’s steps even as far as the mansion’s marble-tiled bathroom. Then, an armful of towels and a wash basin dutifully riding pillion, the earth spider negotiated the trail yet again, now to her and her human’s assigned guest-room.
A slim, ceramic bottle of sloshing content waiting atop the desk was the first to hook her attention – after, anyway, she had set her tottering baggage down. Accompanying, just beside, a twin pair of wine-glasses was standing: long of leg and so fine as to be gauzy. Against her best stress calculations, Yamame pinched one between her strong youkai’s fingers, and filled it half-full of the mysterious drink.
The drink was as scarlet as oxidised blood and bottomed with a dump of whitish residue. When, however, it was rolled around in the glass, it clouded up at once into a cute, pinkish suspension. Yamame tried a sip. The taste was, over all, very sweet (sweeter, even, than the apple-barley wine from two nights before); a coarse after was left, however, occupying the earth spider’s tongue. She topped the testing batch off, and poured herself a proper one. Then, she sat cross-legged in her borrowed beddings.
And then, swirling her drink, Yamame Kurodani, the yearly malady, began to think – long and hard – on what might very good be one of the more embarrassing investigations in her life.
She hadn’t half of it stitched out when he slipped into the room.
Her human, he calling himself Paran, pushed the door shut and turned about to face her. His mouth was holding onto a checked half-smile when he did; it broadened first (when he saw Yamame on the bed) then spoiled (when he saw her drinking). His head shook its disapproval.
Yamame’s replying smile was a little shy. Still, when she indicated the bottle on the desk, unerringly the remaining glass was filled and raised to inspection.
“Had fun?” she decided to ask once Paran took the chair.
Her human was eyeing the dichotomous drink from below. “… Mm.”
“‘Mm?’” mocked Yamame. “That bad?”
“Oh no, I had fun,” said Paran, in a tone implying anything from sincerity to a severe allergy to fun. “Only, I’d forgotten what it was like, talking with normal people. Well—” he made an ugly sound, “—normal-ish.”
That makes you not-normal, a voice in Yamame’s head needlessly translated. She gave her best surmise. “Because he’s Lady Satori’s husband?”
Her best, apparently, wasn’t very good.
“Not even.” Her human – how to proceed with the parti-coloured mixture finally dawning – twirled his glass around. His eyes narrowed with suspicion when everything seemed to work out along his guesswork, precluding volcanism. “… He talks up a flood, for one,” he went on, still a-frown. “We’re about of age, but it’s like we’re from neighbouring centuries, for another. He actually went all thee-thou on me once, if you’ll believe. And, I think, his world is some five times wider than mine.”
“How do you mean?”
“The way he talks about it. Not that it’s in-accurate; but, hearing him say it, you’d figure it should take days to get here from our town – and another week to the top of the Goddesses’ Mount. Imaginative terms, I guess.”
“Lady Satori said he was a storyteller,” Yamame remembered. “Maybe that’s it?”
“Ah, yes.” Paran shot enough sarcasm into his reply to bed-ride an Oni for a fortnight. “That could distract the roads awfully.”
The spinstress giggled. “But you had fun, no?”
“A bit,” he admitted. He thrust his glass out toward the bed. “Cheers?”
Yamame, inching up on all-fours (or anyway all-threes), clinked her drink to his. Gently. “Cheers.”
As he retracted his arm and tried of the sugary mixture (mouth warping in surprise), Yamame Kurodani took a close, careful stock of her partner.
Paran of the Human Village (not-so-called), envoy of earth spiders, the solitary priest of his namesake god, was a median instance of his inscrutable species. As humans did, he, too, had four limbs in sum: two on top and two lower. As those of human males went, his as well were long and robust. His shoulders seemed almost oversized compared to her own; atop those, a stubborn head was carried, housing some of his more appreciable features. He had lengthening hair of a certain shade. His two eyes were narrowed, by themselves slightly angular, and…
Yamame Kurodani’s brows hugged as she registered – for a confused first time – what colour her human’s eyes were.
It made no sense. It could make none. The spider’s mind vended in detail-work. That she had never recognised it ahead of now belied her fundamental self.
At the same time, it did not. After all, her human’s details had never been important – until they were – but, by then, he had already been an accustomed part of her home. At first, he had been but yet another man; by the time he had turned more, he had become fully an everyday sight. He had already been her human – only then not yet so close. Why should she have dwelt on his details? What use would it make? She saw what, now – but that did not erase her mistake.
A full half of her not-half-done inquest into her own feelings seemed now very foolish. She still had the other eighth, though.
“Paran?” She attired an apologetic smile. “We need to talk about something.”
The human Paran, as he had whenever put nearby these words, ranged through a variety of complex expressions. At length he settled on one less straining on his facial muscles – rather a mild discomfort than his foot getting chopped off for a drunken bet. At last, he sighed.
“… When have we not?”
Several heartbeats were done before Yamame understood the quip. “… Right,” she indulged. “So, can we?”
“Talking is the least we will do, I feel.” Paran gave her an unamused stare. “On one condition, Yamame.”
“Until we’re done,” he issued, “you will stay there. I will stay here. No touching.”
The spinstress puffed up her cheeks.
“Why?” she blew out.
“Because,” said Paran, with a cough of a personal illness, “Because, very clearly, I can’t think in a straight line when you’re near.”
Yamame Kurodani, startling, searched her human’s face for tells he had, somehow, overheard her conversation with Lady Satori. She found nothing except innocence. It was slightly foxed (humaned?), a touch sarcastic – but it was still a kind of innocence.
“… All right,” she gave. “No touching, then. Very good.”
… Snake, she added inside.
Paran accepted their newest compact with an incline of his head. “Very good. So? What did you want to talk about?”
“I have problems, Yamame – plural.” He fairly scoffed the word. “Which one did you want?”
Yamame, that much cannier, denied him the rise. “You know which one,” she told him. “The one you have with me.”
“I don’t have a problem with you, Yamame.”
“This morning told me something else.”
The human Paran actually wrenched on his chair. His drink poised to spill. “… I don’t have a problem with you,” he repeated.
“With whom, then?” challenged the spider. “Was there someone else? A small animal inside your robe after all? It didn’t feel like one, you know.”
Someway, by an effort of a youkai’s will, she held her ears from melting off. The yearly malady kept her face as white and regal as Satori Komeiji’s had been when scolding her husband. Paran, no greater will available to him but his own, winced without pretence.
“… My problem,” he grated at last, “is with me, Yamame. Not you.”
Hoarder. “Are we going to give it a name soon?”
“I’m not positive what it’d be.”
“Why don’t you describe it? We’ll figure it out together.”
Threading out his lately hobby, the human Paran, rumbling, stared philosophically into his glass. In the end, he quit applying the motions of particles inside the drink to his own circumstance, and set it down on the desk.
“… How long,” he asked, quietly, “How long do you think I have been in love with you?”
The yearly malady, Yamame Kurodani, said nothing. As well since she knew no answer she may give owed anything to her human’s inner framework, as that she knew she did not know.
Paran, demonstrating he knew she knew, continued. “What I would say,” he said, “is that I’ve loved you since before we met.”
The spinstress could not help but smile. “That is silly.”
“Might be.” Her human framed a shrug – with his mouth. It was all she could do not to comment on it. “Might not,” Paran guessed on. “Might be the feelings I’d been jarring up had to go somewhere when I found you weren’t – after all – responsible for… for what happened, to my father. Might be they went the entirely wrong way. What I do know is that, since then, I had wanted to meet you. To make amends. And, I won’t lie… probably more.”
“And then you actually met me,” Yamame supposed.
“Yes,” confirmed Paran. “And you were not at all whom I’d imagined.”
“Who did you imagine?”
“A beautiful maiden,” he teased, “with lustrous black hair, wide eyes, and a smile which could goad the nails out of a wall. It makes no matter, Yamame,” he grunted; “I had not known you, and so pictured someone else. What I still reckoned, you and I could still get along; I thought, if I treated you good, that I could at least make you friend.” Maybe more went unsaid. “So, I tried. I kept trying. And then…” He let go of a sigh. “… Then, you bit me.”
Yamame pinned the guilt clawing up her chest. “… I did,” she admitted – for what good that did. “I did do that, didn’t I?”
Her human nodded. “And that was the first time – I thought – that I had misjudged you.”
He reached behind for his drink again, and drained a half of it in a swig that bulged his throat when he washed it down. His long, rough fingers occupied with the fragile stem of the glass as he hammered out his next words.
“… I had time, though,” the words forged out – and Yamame scented a trace of the false, priestly Paran, who dealt with their warrantees’ exuberant demands as a rule; “I had time,” this Paran said, “as I lay there in bed, aching and hawking up my innards, to get used to that thought. I had time to internalise you were a youkai after all. An earth spider. Something not meant for… for what I had meant for you. But I had those years I had unjustly hated you to atone for, so, well… I resolved to keep working. To keep you at a safe arm’s length from then on as well – but, mostly, I told myself seeing you fulfilled was enough. That this was everything there was. Almost… and I would even have believed it.”
“Then I began to experiment,” Yamame surmised.
“Then you began to experiment,” agreed her human. “And that… That, there, was the second time I realised I had misjudged you.”
He raised the glass he had been molesting back to his mouth. The remaining drink, emptying unceremoniously, rolled down his gullet with an almost audible rasp of regret inching down along. Paran, sullen, eyed the trail of white residue in the glass as though it was that which had concealed the regret inside it all along. It had not, of course; and Yamame’s human quickly wrenched the allegation back around – on himself.
“The bald truth is,” he confessed, “that I can’t decide how you feel about me.”
Yamame bit her lips. Not least because the phrasing of the question was weird; most of all, she bit her lips because the question itself was as well. “I’ve told you,” she reminded. “I’ve told you how I feel. Or did I dream that?”
“No,” grunted Paran. “You did. You did tell me. And I don’t believe you.”
Somehow, the question surfaced in a marked absence of a less delicate escort.
Someway, Yamame Kurodani, the yearly malady kept her bubbling emotions wrapped and short of boiling out of said wrap in a spray of hot accusations. Somewise, the mother of plagues did not leap up and bite. Instead… and it was an “instead” thicker than any she had swallowed in her life… she eased the grip on her own glass and kept her fangs sheathed tightly behind her lips.
Paran – the good, reliable, steady Paran, whom she loved whatever his beliefs – felt them all the same.
“… Wrong words,” he granted, pushing out a bitter, self-loathing smile – one all too familiar to Yamame. “And this… This is the problem. I don’t understand you. I thought I had – twice. Twice, I was mistaken. I want to believe I understand you now. That our definitions match. I just don’t know that I can.”
All that the spinstress could stitch out – safely – was the same question all over again. “… Why?”
“Because,” said Paran, “Because, Yamame, I’ve never done anything for you to feel that way.”
Now she did leap up.
Though not wholly fang-free; but she did not leap at him – nor spill her drink – and that was a roof over her net. “But you have!” she yelped. “You have, you idiot! You’ve spoken for me! You’ve allowed me to pursue my greatest, my oldest passion – to lengths I couldn’t before. You’ve shown me that there was still a lot left for me to learn! Is that nothing to you?”
“I didn’t do that to win your favour, Yamame.”
“Then why?” she demanded.
“Because I had wronged you,” Paran insisted. “At least, at first. A ways in, and I found watching you work was reward enough – but I had never meant that to endear me to you, Yamame.” He shook his overgrowing hair left and right. “You deserve better than that. I have said this already. You are honest, hard-working and neighbourly. You are the best draughtswoman in Gensokyo, but don’t flaunt it. You know where you stand, but still strive to rise. You’re irresistibly pretty. And I?” Her human fanned out his arms cynically. “I am only a skilled liar. I can’t even keep an oath I made to myself. I can’t measure up to you. I can’t even understand how you feel. I’m not good enough for you.”
His eyes – those lovable eyes, of a certain colour which could have been anything and would still be lovable – steeled as though he had now struck the deepest seat of his dilemma – and set into a hard-edged stare.
“I’m not good enough for you,” he repeated, the criticism – so simple as to be trite – somehow encapsulating an problem so enormous, it had filled out an entire month worth of evenings – evenings which otherwise could have been spent, if not voicing their feelings, then at least exploring them in a less web- and promise-wrecking climate.
Yamame Kurodani, the humble, the best draughtswoman in Gensokyo stared back. She stared back at him, who would reject her on the simplest grounds she was too pretty to resist, over her less immaculate features. The eldest of earth spiders, she who had seen the Underworld laid out and built, an aeon ago, narrowed her ageless, amber eyes at the human who had – with few evident stitches on his side – shown her she had still another aeon of study ahead.
So, was he? Was he, who called himself Paran and lied about it, good enough for her?
I don't know what to pick here... I knew what Paran felt here, and I'm never quite sure whether the best answer should be "yes, you are worthy," or "I don't give a shit about worthiness, I love you no matter what."
If we told Paran he's good enough for Yams, would he really stop worrying? He might think that "I'm good enough now, but there are better person out there."
I'm thinking that if we were to have Yams tell Paran that 'he's not good enough, but it doesn't matter,' it might alleviate some of Paran's insecurity or whatever, by telling him that his vague idea of worthiness doesn't bother Yams at all, and that she likes Paran no matter what.
>>15885 I feel like no matter what we say, he's not going to feel good enough. He's worthy? He doesn't think that's the case. He's not worthy, but that doesn't matter? It matters to him. So in the end, it's really just a matter of what you think is best to say. Is he worthy because he's the one that makes us feel good no matter what he thinks, or is he not worthy but we want him anyway?
I am so behind on this story that I can't vote in good conscience, but I want to say that the fact that this story is still going brings me joy. Not that a symbolic show of support means as much as a real vote, but there you go.
I swear to Tenma, this is at the top of my list to get caught up on.
We're dealing with a classic case of lack of self-confidence. It doesn't really matter what the spider says to him --especially since he admitted he doesn't really trust what she tells him-- until he himself realizes that he's more than good enough.
(x) He wasn’t, but…
That said, it'll be easier for him if she gives him a relatively short-term goal for perceived self-improvement to help him gain confidence in himself.
> Yamame Kurodani’s brows hugged as she registered – for a confused first time – what colour her human’s eyes were. It made no sense. It could make none. The spider’s mind vended in detail-work. That she had never recognised it ahead of now belied her fundamental self.
> His eyes – those lovable eyes, of a certain colour which could have been anything and would still be lovable.
Is this just a flavor text, one that symbolize how Yams is slowly begins to understand / see Paran, or is this a hint to Paran's secrets?
This isn't a fairy tale: sometimes good enough is, well, enough. And.by giving her a chance he has done that.
And then he went above and beyond, told her the complete truth, trusted her almost completely worry about her when the easy way out would have been taking her word... and all of it while letting her set the (incredibly slow) pace.
Her human poised. For a heartbeat or two, a thousand repeals seemed to flit behind his eyes. He fought hard to snatch just one.
The yearly malady, Yamame Kurodani, snatched it first.
“… Not about you,” she finished. “About me.”
It was, altogether, nothing shy of blunt.
It was clumsy. Non-sticky. Coarse around the edges. Un-spiderlike. But, it had turned Paran’s head – and that was everything she needed. A wedge of doubt. A sliver of his self-destructive, human curiosity. The human Paran – her human, her Paran – gawked at her, as though she was his one true love and was about to say something stupid. Which, she hoped she was. Which, she hoped she wasn’t.
“… You’re wrong,” she said again. “You’re wrong… because I am not as good as you think.”
His jaw unlatched, little doubtful to loose a harsh objection. Yamame unravelled it with a stare.
Only when their eyes met again did the yearly malady recognise something else. A gap. A distance. A difference – of age, of life, of experience and personal history. Where Yamame’s had whetted her skill – as well as the wont to laugh – his had been human and hard. There was a kind of wistful sarcasm edging the depth of his gaze: a shield, eternally raised, against every minute in consequence. Where Yamame-of-Black-Valley befriended everyone (for who would wish her an enemy?), Paran of the Human Village founded his relations in a swamp of wariness – and build up. They were nothing akin after all, human and youkai; even Lady Satori’s partner, misted as his precise nature was, was inert in the realms of power the dread mind-reader treaded every day.
They could never be alike. For the distances were too great, the chasms too wide, for even the spider-limbed to touch the other side.
Almost comically, none of that had made matter to Paran. He, human-legged, had cleared these gaps with never a care. He had leapt them, landing firm of foot on Yamame’s side, so soon as circumstance presented. Never mind the mother of plagues and her ill-laced fangs; never mind the menaces stalking passages of the Underworld. They were nothing more than potholes beside the trench of doubt Yamame’s human had shovelled out between them.
It was deep. It was wide. It was stamped, benched, and braced all across with stout planks hewed out of mistrust and suspicion. It was impassable.
It was also, Yamame knew, dug entirely in watery ground.
The solution, in fact, was as simple as threading a needle. It was simplicity in its simplest form. What the spinstress had to do – what she had ever had to do – was to dig her own trench. Adjacent to his, bending precariously. All she had to do was stifle her sensibilities for a moment, and make them lap over…
… And watch, as the swampy soil caved in on them both.
The great architect, Yamame Kurodani, gripped her mental shovel in both mental hands.
“… So what?” she asked him, who sat perched on his planks and scowled on. “So what, Paran?” she repeated. “So what if I’m hard-working? It’s stuff I like, things I am good at. Why would I not work hard? So what if I’m honest? Anyone should be, if they lived among the Oni. So what if I’m neighbourly? I like company. I make no apology for that. So what, if I am the best at what I do? I didn’t learn it to impress anyone. There are few enough architects in Gensokyo anyway; one of us is just slightly better than the rest. So, I want to know, what?”
Her human stiffened, a reply squeezing its way painfully up from his chest. “… You are—”
“I am Yamame Kurodani,” Yamame Kurodani rode it dead. “I am the grand architect of the New Capital. I built the first lighthouse, and oversaw the rest. I am the one humans have styled the mother of plagues. I am she who they later boiled down to a yearly malady. I am – to our minds, anyway – the eldest of the Underworld’s earth spiders. But, I ask again, what’s so dearly important about it?”
Paran had no answer.
“I, Paran,” confessed Yamame, “don’t know what. I don’t know what these titles count for, really. I don’t know why it should be important that I work hard. So what if I do? It’s what I am, nothing more. So what if I’m honest? The Oni approbate it, but what about others? What about humans? So what if I’m neighbourly? I hadn’t even thought to ask the name of the one human who had lived with me for months, until I had happened on it by accident. I had bit him, too – which neither of us can seem to escape. And,” she lowered her voice, eye contact cracking, “And, so what if I’m pretty? I never asked to be. I am a female, so I take care of myself. So what? It can’t even make that one human forget about the biting.”
Clumsy. Non-sticky. Coarse. But nobody had said truth had ever to be elsewise.
The grand architect, the shining blond star of the Underworld, Yamame Kurodani, looked up once more at her beloved, lying human. He, who could under no Fate ever be good enough for the perfect Yamame he had imagined, was staring guiltily back.
Yamame, the one before him, smiled a dim smile at his momentary confusion…
… And kicked hard at the wall still separating their trenches.
“You are good enough,” said this Yamame, water funnelling past and devastating months of careful digging in heartbeats. “I want you, liar and all. Not whoever; not anyone else. I want you. You’re good enough. You are, because – did you know? We’re both pretty idiots. We really are… but you, at least, thought to give me a chance.”
There was, at first, no response.
At second, one of a sort did sew together; and Paran crashed his hanging jaw shut with a stupidly loud clack! Yamame stood (sat) defiant, humour washing past her, broiling with the remains of their destroyed trenches.
At third, Paran climbed to his feet.
Wading, as though the bog was real and not all in the spider’s head, her human closed in on the bed. A moment still, and he jerked around; another – and he pitched beside her like a soft, stupid, lying, beloved brick of a man. The spinstress held very fast when his arms went around her front and back. Then, even faster – when his nose parted the hair at her ear, and he breathed out.
“… Don’t stoop to my level, Yamame,” he said.
The earth spider let her eyes squeeze closed. “Then don’t make me,” she whispered back.
Stunned by the command in her voice, the human Paran raked his head for a proper denial. Yamame, using of his distraction, hooked her fingers around his wrists, pressing his hands flush to her body. The denial withered, died.
Against every spider’s fibre inside her urging her to let him tangle up by himself, the spinstress, Yamame Kurodani, twisted her head around until her face was – in the absence of a more proper term – directly facing his. Never relying on her keen hunter’s eyes, going solely by the memory of his personal architecture – Yamame pushed her lips to his in a rather less than selfless kiss. Not a good-morning one. Not the good-evening. The more recent, “I like you” brand stitched closer to the current; the latest one, from the previous day, was a teasing possibility – but not there yet.
This was a new, “I caught you” kiss. Yamame marvelled at its potential.
The human caught inside it had no resistance to offer, even when she began to climb onto his lap. The spider kept her trap locked as long as it took to secure her now-accustomed place. Then, and not earlier – only once she was on top of him and his arms were wound around her back – did the huntress at last release its threads.
It desperately made her want to trap him again.
So she did.
A handful of ticks of the absent clock, and she pulled back – slightly.
The reply had shaped atop her lips, each M a separate, fleeting contact.
“Accept me,” she pleaded.
Paran’s answer was stiff. “… I accept you.”
And a sigh. “… But I don’t accept myself.”
“What if I do?” The earth spider stressed her question by tying her arms behind her human’s neck. “What if I do accept you, Paran? Would that help?”
A longer pause – two breaths, three, more – preceded a halting reply.
“… It helps,” grunted Paran, “It helps – when you do this. Gods, what am I even…”
Yamame felt her mouth spread wide in a happy smile. “Would it help more if I did something else?”
Like this, Yamame managed to think – but never to give it voice before… well, before she did it.
Might be, the ugly truth was, none of this would help. Might be, Paran’s personal illness – propriety, or whatever the name she gave it – could never be anything more than de-symptomized. Might be, all her elaborate trench ploy had done was splatter them in mud and very improper emotions.
What the mother of plagues did know was that, by the end of the following minutes, the illness was, at least, temporarily suppressed.
Her human, by now as red and breathless as an Oni after a lap round the Capital, swallowed. Yamame licked her sticky lips as she recognised exactly what it was he had swallowed. She felt her own throat clench in sympathetic response.
“… What happens now?”
She had almost wheezed the question, choked up by her own neediness. Paran swallowed again, looked at her…
… And then he told her – clinically and, she thought, not a little ruthlessly.
“… But first, Yamame,” he added, “I want to see you… out of that bra.”
The spinstress giggled – kissed him – and resumed giggling.
Later, as they lay close together in the orange darkness, Yamame purred.
It was a continuous process, because, across the lately minutes, a familiar hand had been softly scraping its fingernails up and down the naked length of her back. The spinstress bathed in the sensation, allowing it to soak her thoughts in warm delight. In return, she ignored the repeated tickling of the hairs on her head. The idea of being sniffed so shamelessly left her feeling a shade ridiculous – flattered as well, and faintly excited – but mostly ridiculous. But, if her human wanted to sniff her, then Yamame’s head was laid on offer.
At any rate, sniffing was small beside the other things he had done to her in the previous hour.
Most of those things, Yamame Kurodani discovered afterwards, would stitch as nothing but a blur of imagery and a rush of emotions in in the fabric of her memory. All very pleasant images and emotions; but her spider’s need for particulars would have to sate with only a handful of sharper instances. All else was trust, love and intimacy stacked together and pressed into an ecstatic mush.
As they lay close together – skin-nude, tired and disinclined to clean up beyond the towels Lady Satori had advised be kept nearby – Yamame Kurodani, purring, span one of those more defined moments over in her mind.
After they had named the first problem to be removed, Yamame had shed out of the borrowed day-dress and reclaimed her seat on Paran’s lap. Acutely aware of his staring, and somewhat less than confident, she had stuck with her fingers feeling out the tiny wire hooks of her bra.
“… Um, Paran?” she had murmured.
The mother of plagues had run her tongue over her teeth. “My… These,” she had pushed out at last. “They, um… They droop a little – when they aren’t in a bra. Are you… Are you OK with that?”
Paran’s eyes had gone a little wild – before starching into a grim determination.
“… I want to see that,” he had rasped.
Yamame Kurodani, nodding, had tugged the hooks loose – and the contents of the bra spilled free. Paran seemed to freeze.
“… Are you OK with this?” Yamame had asked.
Her human had not answered, rather sucking in a forgotten breath. He grabbed, instead, at her half-unclothed hips – and pressed her tighter to himself.
He was very firmly OK with it.
Skinning him out of his clothes had been more difficult; between distractions being applied all over her body, and Paran’s insistence to keep it in constant contact with his own, Yamame’s spinstress’s hands had been needled to their limits. When finally she had got his robe to open all the way down the front, the inside was as deliciously male as it had been in the morning. Yamame remembered testing the texture and pliability of just about everything she could, until her human had caught her arms and pried them tantalisingly away.
She had half a heart to bite him – even if only playfully – when he had spoken.
“… You first,” he had said.
Yamame’s reply had been as senseless as his declaration. “Me first what?”
“I want to… take care of you first.”
“… Because,” Paran had breathed at her, “I wouldn’t last a minute in you right now.”
Oh, the spinstress had wanted to say. Only, by the time the thought had framed, she had been turned around on his lap, and his hands had been exploring her own elasticity.
She had shaped many other “Oh”s in the following course, had Yamame Kurodani – not least of which in a tight, shuddering, clawing finale, which had left her breathless and so utterly in love with the human gently kissing her all throughout, she mindlessly wished to give him everything and all of herself, forever. The aching need to devote herself to him for the rest of her life had settled and subsided in the minutes she had spent recovering inside his arms – but the mother of plagues would always recall the embarrassing moment when she had briefly craved to belong to someone else.
The next thing she remembered was after Paran had slipped her off of himself, reversing their usual arrangement. Atop her, goading her legs to spread with intently administered touch, her human had been flushed red, hot, and twitching with welled-up need. Yamame had wanted nothing more than to let him release it in with her body.
He had warned her he would not last long… Nor had he. This part of their ritual (what else was it?) had proven shorter and less pleasant than the preceding – even selfish in her human’s focus on his solitary motions. Still, when he had driven her up the bed’s headboard, pushed one last time and collapsed all over her – shivering, throbbing and gasping his feelings into her ear – those forty seconds had instantly climbed among the favourite she had ever spent in his company.
Later, once they had towelled each other down, they would lie again, and enjoy a closeness the presence of clothes had ever denied to them before. And Yamame would purr.
A while later yet, she would stop purring. Not for Paran’s hands had lost their pleasant touch; but Yamame Kurodani was a creature whose standards only swelled with experience. She swelled up herself, ripping out her human’s embrace; up and up, until she was sat astride him, her nakedness (and his) on full display.
Paran gave her a once-over which fairly could not determine where to end. It became a twice-over. Then a thrice.
Yamame, lightly flexing her cooling shoulders, thrilled seeing his mouth involuntarily jar open, then close again. She grinned.
“Anything you like?” she asked.
Her human’s quadruple-overing eyes slid up and halted at her face. Paran seemed to consider making a joke. Then he seemed to consider differently.
“… You,” he told her.
“Where on me do you like?”
His gaze gave its own answer, all the while his mouth tried to fool her. “… Everywhere?”
Yamame jiggled with a laugh. “All very flattering, Paran,” she chuckled, “but I am more than just these.”
Paran quit staring. Then, he stared again. “… Sorry,” he lied. “I didn’t get a good look earlier. They are… striking, when you’re leaning over like this.”
The spinstress leaned over a bit lower. “More striking than my legs?”
“All of you is equally striking, Yamame. You’re perfect.”
Yamame the perfect smacked him – even if kissing him had been her first instinct. “You’re biased,” she opined. “Your sentiments are colouring your appraisal. I know I told you once that both artists and their art desire appraisal, but the least you could do for me at this point is give me an honest reply. These are nothing special. They droop.”
“They’re prettier than any I’ve ever seen, Yamame.”
“How many is that?”
Paran ground out a sigh. “… A couple. Is it important?”
“Is it important?” he repeated.
“Yes. It is.” The spinstress nudged him. “Whose?”
Her human grunted his dislike for the topic. “There was a girl,” he blustered. “One – years ago, and nothing serious. She was flat, twiggy, and had an attitude. Hers were the only other ones I’ve seen. Satisfied?”
Yamame wasn’t. “Where on her did you like?”
Now Paran squirmed in earnest. “… Is it really so important, Yamame?”
And it was. Within the span of the month, Yamame had seem him, whose past had hitherto been an unknown stain, labour the basics of handling a female awfully… even if the female in the equation had been a spider. The sheer conceptual impossibility of him doing better with one before was so tall it was well above the realms of astronomy.
And yet, if he had…
The spider in the equation smiled, counting on the brightness of it to blind her human to the real source of her insistence.
“It is,” said Yamame. “It is important. We like to know these things.”
Paran’s brows bumped. “… We?”
“Women. Women like to know.”
A sceptical moment squished by before the human realised the returning snub. He rolled his head left and right in the pillow. “… I’ve been trying to be clever around you too much,” he groaned. “It’s spread.”
“That’s what bad things do,” the mother of plagues confirmed. “So, who? I’ve known a few twiggy girls, but none of them your crowd. Someone from your town? I didn’t linger too much on other females when you took me there. The red one at the table – Grumpy? – she had an attitude, but – considering what she was…”
“And she wasn’t flat,” Paran added. Ahead an offence was mounted that he had noticed, he went on, “No, not that one. And, gods watching, she wasn’t in that place that night. Or a youkai. My mother would lose her mind.”
Yamame’s brows stretched their turn. “Your mother?”
“… The girl,” grunted Paran. “She was… or is, the daughter of one of the servants. If she was a youkai, that would figure we’ve had one living in the estate for years. And, when you recall how my father turned out…”
He let it hang on a frayed string. Yamame stepped around it. “And that girl,” she returned, “she was your… previous lover?”
Paran wrung out a short, ugly chuckle. “I do wonder.”
“What does that mean?”
The earth spider’s lover (he was, wasn’t he?) cocked his head back and sighed at the beige ceiling.
Against all spidery logic, Yamame felt all at once the most naked she had since she had peeled out of her dress.
The calm, analytical Yamame Kurodani (bored out of her wits from recent inactivity) theorised this was so because, now her human’s eyes were elsewhere, there was simply no further sense in remaining nude. If Paran was not watching her lean over and droop then why was she not wearing clothes – as she had learned in her first steps into sentience? No placeholder excuse reared; but, even as she pulled the bed-sheets up and over her shoulders, she kept the halves indecently apart on the front – just in case her human did look back.
Which he soon did – and didn’t seem to mind. Yamame felt slightly cheated.
“… In short,” Paran told her, as if any of his explanations were ever anything else, “the girl and I walked out for a time. We did… things that lovers do, because we were young. I was brash and naïve. She had a way with her words – and her mouth in general. When I… found out about you, I called it all off. Or, rather, I quit reacting to her pushes. It helped that getting my grudge shattered like that had left me questioning everyone.” His mouthed quirked with ill-disguised loathing. “… Yes. It really did help.”
“How?” asked Yamame. “I mean, with what?”
“It helped, because later, after everything, I heard from a mutual friend she had been planning to cram herself into the estate’s inheritance. After my father had… expired, it was generally thought the business would pass on to me. It did, for a while. Then, of course, my mother came out of her grieving, and neatly shunted me off to lower tasks. Akkarin— That is, the girl – she had her fingers a little deep by then, so she kept playing either way. And then, finally, I heard the truth about you. It re-set my head. That made us all formal again.”
Paran, whom the girl Akkarin had likely called another name, let his confession taper off to a silent point. He exhaled somewhat arduously. Then, he re-locked his attention ahead, where a youkai was still pinning him to the bed.
As though but now marking the decrease in the area of her skin showing, the human stitched his narrowed gaze down the gap Yamame had left in the covers. Almost nonchalantly – certainly improperly – he slid one callused hand around her hip. Then, he slid it up: up her flank, up and higher up… until, disturbed, that half of her improvised cape slipped back from her shoulder. It tumbled together with its sibling, and Yamame, quite regardless of her earth spider’s will, found herself once more utterly naked.
Absurdly, it made her smile. It made her feel warm. It made her enormously pleased that, for all the bites he nursed, her human wanted to see her in this state all the same. It made her feel at least half as pretty as he alleged she was.
“But you loved her, right?” Yamame hooked the adventuring hand and dragged it down. “Maybe she was about to fleece you – but you were only told afterwards, right? So, before that, you loved her.”
“… I don’t know about that. I was… less than mature back then.”
“Then,” the spinstress sewed on, “Then, if you hadn’t found out about me. What would have happened then? Would you have split anyway – even though she was good with her mouth?”
Paran blinked. “I didn’t say she was—”
Yamame puffed up her cheeks. “That is exactly what you said.”
The human winced. “… All right,” he gave. “Very good. If, by another twist, I hadn’t stumbled on that talk about you that day… well then, gods watching, I probably would have ended married to her. Married, having children, taking over the industry later down the line, and never getting involved with any over-curious spiders.” He grimaced. “I never would have tripped on a dark flight of stairs and gotten bit. I never would have had to walk miles and miles up and down the mountainside every odd week. I never would have had to look up those townsmen pliant enough morally to let a youkai to… to…”
Paran’s jaw stuck open as a mounting fear snipped his sarcasm short.
Yamame Kurodani looked on even as his eyes shot wide – startled to something on her waist – and then back to her own. She watched him swallow the lock on his voice.
“… Yamame,” he croaked. “You…”
The spinstress brushed her hair back. “Yes? I’m what?”
Her human fumbled. “You’re… I mean, you’re a youkai. An earth spider. I’m a human. You can’t…”
“What can’t I?”
“Lady Satori could,” Paran blabbed on. “She could, I know, but…”
“What can Lady Satori do that I can’t?” demanded Yamame.
Paran’s free hand clapped flat over his mouth. Then, visibly sheepish about its actions, it curled into a bulging fist. Neither did that last; for Yamame’s lover soon splayed his fingers and raked them down his face.
“… Yamame,” he grated out at length. “You… You can’t get pregnant – can you?”
“… Oh,” Yamame said poignantly. “Um… Oh.”
The man underneath her was staring at her sharply. “You know what I mean.”
It had not been a question, but the spinstress answered just the same. “I know!” she said. “I know. Only, I’ve never—”
“Been?” Paran suggested.
Yamame shook her loosed hair, exasperating. “Thought!” she yelped. “I’ve never thought about it! I’ve never had anyone interested in me that way.” The late understanding that there was someone now, and close, tensed her spine all along. She squeezed her bottom lip between her teeth. “… The Oni liked my company, and Niku always had an appreciation for what I did, but never… Well, me. You were the first who wanted that. Not the Oni. Not anybody else. You.”
“Which helps us nothing,” Paran complained. He rested his eyes and groaned his frustration. “… What about Lady Satori?”
“She told me,” Yamame remembered, “She said that she’d had to… keep trying, for a long time.”
“You asked her about this?” Her human radiated incredulity.
“She brought it up herself! I didn’t ask. I think… I believe that Lady Satori takes huge pride in that she was able to… to become a mother. I think.”
“Good for her.”
“Yes.” Yamame made a mindless nod. “Good. Good for her. Um…”
Her human, taking mercy (possibly pride as well), pried open his lovely eyes, and squinted them at the region of the spinstress where pregnancy things traditionally took place. “… Maybe,” he murmured, “Maybe I should be more careful anyway.”
“About where—” He hesitated. “… About the finish, Yamame. You know which.”
“Oh.” Yamame felt a hot wave work up her face. “Um. Yes. I mean, I know, but… I liked that part. You didn’t?”
“To be blunt?” Paran scoffed. “It was the best feeling in the world. That is why, Yamame. That is why it wouldn’t do to get used to it. We aren’t ready. I don’t want you to quit your work – even if you might. Gods watching, I have something to prove still. I’m not done. Not close.”
Yamame nodded. “I don’t want to stop working, either.”
“That is to the good.”
“But I want to keep doing this as well,” she added. She smiled as she saw Paran’s mouth warp from inner pressures. “I’ve been looking, did you know that?” she pressed on. “Since I got a hold of your name, I’ve been hunting for ways to pay you back. To make you happy – in return for what you were doing for me. Maybe that was selfish, too; I won’t apologise for that. I’m a spider. We’re self-hearted creatures. But, when I found that I was able to make you feel like this? That I could make you happy – even for just forty seconds? That, there,” she told him. “That was the best feeling in the world. I don’t want it to stop, Paran. I want to make you happy. I want to make you feel good. I want you to make me feel good, too – but mostly, I want to make you.”
Her human blew a low, rumbling note out through his nostrils.
It was, guesswork put forward, a kind of humanly venting. One designed to prevent the cheeks of this human – and his chin, and even his neck – from heating up any redder than they already were.
“Fhaahn!” he panted. Though, Yamame’s experience of human speech told her he might have wanted to say, “Fine.” The educated guess was proven when he spoke again. “Fine!” he gasped. “Gods, fine! I never wanted to stop myself. But, Yamame, not that. No… finishing in. Let’s not tempt it. Let’s not tempt me. Very good?”
The earth spider, Yamame Kurodani, smiled like one sensing its web jerk and strain under landed prey. “All right, Paran,” she declared, sincerity only one foot in her voice. “Very good, Paran. So… how about something else? To patch our losses? Anything you would like?”
And there it was again: the undecided once-over.
From the crown of her head to the tips of her toenails, and all across other bumpy areas – her human studied the possibilities Yamame Kurodani was presenting. Abjectly, she scolded herself for not presenting them better; still, at length, when Paran sucked in an exchange of air to fuel his answer, the spinstress conceded in a private corner of her mind that she might be closer three-fourths after all.
Three-fourths of how pretty he had said she was.
“… With you on top,” Paran gave up. “I want to do it… with you on top.”
“Because you look amazing from down here, Yamame.”
Yamame thrilled all over. Five-fifths. She grinned. “What else?”
Paran swallowed. “… With your mouth?”
Because Akkarin? a less pretty part of Yamame wondered. “That’s where my teeth are,” she noted. “You know?”
“It’s where your tongue is,” Paran pointed out. “So…”
“Ah. Um, yes. I suppose it is there. Mm. Very good. Anything else?”
“What about you?”
I want what you want, Yamame thought to herself. “I want you to touch me,” her voice said. All at once the spinstress realised the two answers had been swapped somewhere between her brain and her lips. “And maybe,” the words tumbled on out, “And maybe hold my hands. My arms. Hold them down. Or behind my back. And kiss me. And touch me more.” She peered down helplessly. “Um, Paran?…”
“Very good,” said Paran, very seriously. “… Anything else, Yamame?”
“Um… In my clothes?”
A shadow of disappointment flickered behind his eyes. “… You want to put your clothes back on?”
“No, no.” Yamame’s head twirled side to side. “Next time. I want to undress you, but I want to stay in my clothes. It’s just what I… what I imagined this morning. Is that weird?”
“Actually,” said Paran, “now you’ve put it in my head, it doesn’t seem as lethal.”
Yamame giggled at the familiar, lame-legged humour. Her amusement span into something rather less innocuous when she adjusted her seat, and found a tough obstacle. She glanced back over her shoulder.
“Paaaran?” she cooed.
Her human made a show of shrugging. It was a bad show, because at the same time, he levered himself up to a hunched sit on his arms.
“… All that talk about getting you pregnant,” he murmured, as soon as her neck had been satisfactorily smothered in tiny, sucking kisses. “It’s dangerous.”
“Yes. It is.” Yamame, tensing deliciously all over, scratched the nails of one hand down her human’s chest and abdomen. “So… Which one?”
“… Which what?”
She softly wrapped her fingers around his indecisive part. “Mouth,” she mouthed into his hair, “or me on top? Chop-chop. Or I’ll bite.”
The human Paran, he who took such threats at the heaviest gravity, quit marking her Sun-touched skin. He drew back, his brows fixed into a visage of unflappable seriousness.
Waking up beside someone else, as Yamame Kurodani had already found, was an affair that was mostly muted. The waking-up part was an antidote of exciting. The real poison – the dangerous part – poured from what sometimes came next.
As she woke, aching and over-strained, the eldest of the earth spiders, Yamame Kurodani, blinked and yawned with dispatch – until sleepy tears rinsed the gum out of her eyes. Paran of the Human Village, her pillow, denied the good-morning kiss she pecked on his mouth, and slept on. The spinstress did not mind – overmuch. She loomed over him on all-fours, and stared his sleeping face down, recalling everything they had done to each other a mere few hours before. She committed some moments for later teasing. She counted the pinkish blood-marks on her shoulders and the insides of her elbows. She wondered which gods Paran had called when she had goaded his body for one final effort.
At length, she ran out of patience. She scurried, spider-slick, under the covers, to give him a more pointed wake-up.
Nobody came to invite or admit them to breakfast.
Nobody came, perhaps, because they bathed breakfast time away – one washing themselves, before switching with the other, to launder the towels lent to them by a rather more seasoned hostess. After, refreshed, a-cloth in dry dress and robe, walked by her spider’s acuity, Yamame and her human arrived in the mansion’s sumptuous ballroom, arm-in-arm, quite by themselves.
They had five steps in before Satori Komeiji judged the situation unsalvageable.
“Oh no,” the small hostess huffed at them over her dessert. “No, no, no. This simply won’t do. As a matter of fact, no. I’m going to finish this in my bedroom. Garion, if you’ll please? And Yamame? Yes. You, you giddy idiot. We’re going to have words about this – later, and just us. Are we understood? Gods above, never mind; don’t think at me. I will see you later. Garion? Quickly, before I burn alive.”
And then, muttering, the tiny governess of Old Hell, swished by them for the ballroom’s exiting door. The corpse-thief of Chirei-den, Kaenbyou Rin, followed her master on cat-bouncy feet. She curtsied in passing, a smile slicing out on her face to show she knew. The blond storyteller, Santuko “Garion” Takumi, graced them with a florid bow that could have meant anything. He filed, plates clattering, out after the other two.
A serving of breakfast had been mercifully laid aside for them on the table. Yamame and her human ate, quieter than they’d (have) been before this run-in.
The rest of the day would swing by in a dulcet buzz of idleness. The night… would not.
Three more such days would leaf past before Yamame’s sisters reported their investigation of her devastated home. Two would thread needles different enough from used to turn the spider’s attention. Then, Hachiashi would bring the news.
And then, something terrible would happen.
But first, two things.
( ) A Cat’s Loyalties ( ) Among Youkai, a Woman ( ) A Storyteller’s Account
Y'know, at first I was a bit diappointed that the recent updated aren't /at/ fuel. Then after rereading these, I think they're kinda cuter without details on the lewder parts, and their interractions is enough to make it erotic without bogging down the story with unnecessary details.
> Not willing to have her meal while her brain is bombarded by a constant and detailed account of a spider+human's jolly cooperation.
> In time, she may very well find passions and loyalties otherwise than those dictated by her species. But until then, in all her aspects, she is only a kasha. A what, if you will. Not a who . > A Cat’s Loyalties.
The first thing caught in the second day’s morning.
Satori Komeiji span this web; no sooner had Yamame and her escort arrived to break their fast with the vicereine and her husband than its supports were neatly cast.
“Yamame, dear?” Lady Satori said. “Tell me. You are handy with a needle, yes?”
She smiled a mild smile as joy bloomed shamelessly out onto the spinstress’s face. The ploy had been simpleness; and yet, if one thing was there might lure Yamame’s mind away from more lately ones, it was the earth spider’s second-oldest passion.
There had always been talk that Chirei-den’s private chambers contained items of most unusual and esoteric merit, as is often the case with places trailing extended history. The Oni spoke of troves of vile treasure: stocks of rare wines, spiced with the rage of the damned and sweetened with the lust of licentious souls. A library of most evil grimoires – maddened wraiths sealed between the pages. A basement of black stone, where women were dragged and beaten – and worse. An enterprising thief looking to disburse Satori Komeiji’s wealth, said the Oni (usually into fast emptying cups), had therefore best be on their guard; for even without ill intent on the part of their owner (who, better to check, was not standing behind and listening), any centuries-old collection might have something malign festering at the back of a drawer.
Satori Komeiji, the tiny vicereine of Old Hell, knew these stories well. A great earnest wealth of them had the marked make of a heart very close to hers.
To her own mind, however, her new home had held few articles of worth beyond the castoffs the fleeing Yama had forgotten in their once-retreat. An abundance of those castoffs was comprised by clothes. A lesser abundance of those, sewn for the stately judges of the Old Capital, ill fitted the house’s new, diminutive owner. A number of this lesser abundance nonetheless had her modest interest. So Lady Satori had told the grinning Yamame.
The breakfast was fast done; the men – diverted to chores. Though a niggling fly between her ears burred jealously about her human entertaining himself in company otherwise than hers, the spinstress Yamame – sprawled half over her mental pulpit in excitement – whipped her feet to carry her after the tiny vicereine’s to her chambers.
Satori Komeiji’s “modest” inheritance belied the dread mind-reader’s shabby pick of everyday fashion.
As the wardrobe of the vicereine’s cosy bedroom was gutted of its contents, Yamame sat, dazzled on the bed, and watched as jewelled hats, gold-embroidered robes, and shirts buttoned with rows of Orichalcum studs were tossed, unceremoniously, on the sheets beside her. All were stunning; all, as one, un-ironed and unworn. Only nearby the back of the shelf (but, Yamame hoped, nothing malign) was a piece that stayed Lady Satori’s hands.
The piece was unfurled; and there, in the centre of Satori Komeiji’s apparent interest, was an old, overlong frock of such a mundane cut, it felt unreal it had been stashed together with the other treasures. The tiny mind-reader – abstracted, eyes misted over – raised the fabric to her face… and breathed in.
A sigh whispered between her pale lips. She mouthed a word… A name. A two-syllable name. It started with…
The violet eyes, focussing, swung their gaze at Yamame.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said, as if sprung on in a private moment. “It doesn’t matter, and it hasn’t mattered for years now. She gave me the best she had, and now she is gone. I shan’t disturb her rest by speaking about her here.”
“… Someone important?” Yamame guessed.
Lady Satori tried to smile. It didn’t reach her eyes. “As a matter of fact, no. Not terribly. She gave me something important, however. And then, she helped me deliver something even more so. She, herself, was only a woman. A simple, simple woman. I loved her.” The stark admission stole all of Yamame’s replies. Lady Satori chuckled her mirth. “Is it so strange, Yamame? That I can love? That I have? We’ve talked about this, haven’t we? It’s a part of that self-discovery you were beginning to grope your way around last we discussed our what and who. As a matter of fact, I will tell you this, from experience. It is only embarrassing at the start.”
The spinstress had but to nod a bit dumbly to set the mind-reader to chuckling again.
“Never mind,” said Satori. “Never mind, Yamame. You’ll get a hang of it, soon. And speaking of hanging—” The small woman held the frock against her front, to reveal it miserably oversized. “Yes, well, you see what hangs and where. I’d like to be able to wear it, though. As a matter of fact, I mean it to be a… a memento, I suppose. I don’t go outside often, but on those occasions I do, I’d like to wear this. Yamame? Can it be done?”
Yamame startled to attention. “Um—” She blinked her distraction away. “Ye—Yes, I think— I can do it. A measuring tape. I will need a measuring tape. And needles, and thread, and scissors, and some pins, and—”
“I’ve an old sewing set somewhere in here,” Satori said, putting the frock down. “Nowhere as lavish as yours, I’m sure, but we’ll make do. As women are often made to do. No?”
A moment, and Yamame caught the clumsy attempt at fraternising.
“Mhm,” she volunteered back. “Yes. Making do is what we make do.”
That made her small hostess smile all the way to her eyes.
Minutes later, and Satori Komeiji was being smartly wrapped in a length of old (but serviceable) tailor’s tape.
When last Yamame had lain her eyes on Old Hell’s small authority, it had been in less private environs, and nowhere so close. Satori Komeiji back then had been summoned to adjudicate the rare dispute in the Capital requiring the involvement of her girls. The particulars had Yamame of now muddy; still, when she cast her thoughts hard into the memory, she found Lady Satori of then had been a pale and emaciated thing – pulled in faded teals and an unflattering pink.
Satori Komeiji these days was all but of a different brood.
Though her arms could yet make a spider envious, right enough; but, the colour filling the space inside her collar and sleeves was flush and only a shade whiter than Yamame’s own tincture. She had, too – when the tape was tightened round her waist – a decently hourglass-shape outline. The years since expanding her family had clearly not missed out expanding the tiny governess herself.
Yamame, lip tucked in, ejected the thought as soon as it had framed. And yet, if Satori Komeiji took amiss to scrutiny as well as measurement, she made little display of it – less a self-pleased smile.
“I won’t say it hasn’t had its upsides,” she allowed. “Change, I have noticed, doesn’t come easy to us youkai. It cost me a dear deal to come this far, and not all of it to the good, but… As I said, it’s had its upsides. As a matter of fact, if it lets me look less emaciated in your eyes…”
The spinstress bit down on the drawn lip. Her mistaken curiosity lashed around for alternatives. It found one close.
“… Still,” she said, nudging Satori’s arms up into a cross-pose, “Still, I couldn’t imagine one of the Yama dressing like this. It seems… Well, it seems inadequate. Compared to other pieces, I mean. It’s just… simple.”
Lady Satori’s head cast sidelong at the frock laid out on the bed. “Why,” she said, “that is probably because they never did. As a matter of fact, it never belonged to any Yama. As far as I can tell, anyway.”
Yamame frowned. “But you said—”
The tiny vicereine made a little throw with her chin. “It is called embellishment, Yamame. I wanted your attention; I embellished.” She sighed. “Would you have come here with me as happily as you did if I’d told you I wanted you to cut down one of Garion’s mother’s old rags so I could feed my overdeveloped sense of nostalgia? Would you, really?” Lady Satori paused, but the spinstress had no reply except a wounded look. “… Actually,” Satori apologised, “maybe you would have. I’m sorry, Yamame. I’ve been keeping company with two very dishonest creatures; I forgot what it was like – speaking to those whose minds don’t necessitate digging labyrinths around them. But, one thing I can’t overstate – I really want to be able to wear this. Really.”
That would have been enough for me, thought Yamame. Really.
“And I should have known. I’m sorry,” Lady Satori repeated.
The earth spider, scratching the figures of Satori Komeiji’s dimensions into a lateral part of her mind, stepped behind the small woman. She pulled the two thin, outstretched arms down, and unfurled the tape again. It crackled with age as she did.
“… I had a sense,” Yamame began, “that I’d seen this pattern before. So, it was—”
“His mother’s, yes,” Satori confirmed. “And yes, San has her own piece like this. Well, not so. As a matter of fact, that one was originally mine. Garion’s mother and I made it over our first wintering together; although, to be fair to her, I did little else besides standing to measure and watching. San asked if she could have it when she started her escapades around the Underworld – for luck, if you believed what she said. I lent it to her, on the condition she returns it soon… and couldn’t touch it since. Now her grandmother’s gone, I just don’t dare to ask for it back. I still want my piece, though. I want something to remind me of that winter. San just isn’t that carry-able anymore, you know?”
Yamame Kurodani, the yearly malady, did not react to the joke.
The spider spinstress hovered on above the vicereine’s narrow shoulders, even as a strange and inexplicable question slowly swirled into definition on her tongue.
“… What is it like?” she asked at length. “Being a mother?”
Lady Satori’s answer proved slow to match. “… Satisfying, in the end,” she finally confessed. “Mind, it started off nothing but,” she added, crisper. “Over time, however, it had a wide opportunity to grow less so. As a matter of fact, it grew heavy and ungainly. Tiring. Then irritating. Then painful. It made me scream, and Orin to avoid me for weeks. It cost me every last one of my favourite teacups. It made me hate my dear Garion for ever doing it to me. It made me cry through a whole night after I had inadvertently told him so one evening. At volume, too, if I recall. And all that still had been nothing – divinities, nothing – next to what happened all of a sudden some nine months in.” Lady Satori smiled. “On the whole, I can’t recommend it.”
Now Yamame did grace the humour. “But,” she giggled, “in the end—”
“In the end, I am immensely satisfied,” Satori chuckled back. “Mind, this is after a year’s worth of half-slept nights and about four more whittled away worrying constantly. The feeding part was nice, I suppose… Although, I shudder when I picture having to puzzle out a baby’s crying without my unique crutch. San is lucky I am her mother; I can’t much feature any other ever figuring out her particular whims.”
Three-and-twenty, Yamame noted inside diligently. She switched the tape around. Three-nought, less the collar. “… Mhm,” she murmured. “She… San, she visited on me a bit ago, yes? She didn’t, um… cry, or anything, but she was… hard to keep up with,” she decided diplomatically. “She talked very fast. And a lot.”
And at volume, she added inside.
Lady Satori looked back, attired in a pretty grin. “She did, didn’t she? And she faults me for picking up bad habits from her father! They had a big falling out once upon a time, did you know that?”
Yamame had not. “No.” One-and-eight for the cleavage.
“They did, though,” Satori went on after a dirty look. “Nothing much too complex behind it, but I grant you that is the rule with most tragedies. The short of it is, San, Garion and I were celebrating her third birthday with her grandparents in the Human Village, when Rin—”
“That’s not what it’s called,” Yamame chimed in.
The tiny vicereine pffed. “It’s what we youkai call it, isn’t it? That’s what it is at the end of the day. At any rate, if we’ll put semantics aside for a moment, we were merrily whiling the week away when Rin paid us a visit with news from the Capital. News that didn’t really need my attention, but had nonetheless been rude enough to demand it. So, I left my family and flew back to the Underworld on my own. I arrived, gave the author of the summons and earful, and when the incident was resolved – miraculously only two or so days later – I went back. Two days had been enough to make me miss everyone, and it had certainly been enough to make them miss me. That was, perhaps, what lay at the core of the problem.” Lady Satori paused. “Yamame? I will need to let you in on a secret here. San can’t really read thoughts, see.”
Yamame’s fingers froze. “… What?”
That had been surprising.
The Oni (others as well) of the Capital, the earth spider knew, had ever deferred to the clan Komeiji for the sole reason their evil talents kept all of them in line; to know one now bossed them around who possessed no such edge upset everything Yamame had been taught while living in the subterranean city. Never mind the spinstress or her sisters (who had, anyway, little to upset about most of the time); was this something that should be let known at all? Were the less innocent souls of the Capital to learn this overbearing stripling who strutted among them was not a complete Komeiji after all – what then?
San’s little mother fanned her daughter’s continued safety away with a hand. “Very funny. Anyhow, that is not the entire truth. San can read thoughts; her sight is just severely blunted. She can, oddly, skim surface thoughts if I’m there to be her proxy, but on her own it’s not unlike listening in on a conversation in the room behind the wall. She can hear the sound, the timbre, flow – but it’s just not articulate enough to carry a concrete meaning. She has learned to compensate, of course; she can mostly guesswork her way around this by the sound of people’s thoughts and their outward behaviour, and this does it for most. That is, however, not her strongest suit. Her strongest one is reading hearts.”
“Wait. Wasn’t that what your ability was?”
“Oh, I’ve called it that, I grant you,” the tiny vicereine acknowledged. “It sounds poetic, and that does wondrously with your Oni friends. They are a sentimental lot. As for the prosaic, my ability is to read thoughts… and those don’t come out of your chest. I see conscious processes – language, images, recollections; I can call them up, if I should desire. San’s ability reaches deeper than that. It reaches into the heart.”
“I don’t understand. What’s the difference?” Yamame wanted to know.
“How should I visualise it…?” Lady Satori made a pondering sound. “… All right, let us set up an example. Suppose you had a bottle of exquisite alcohol you’d got as a gift from a friend. Suppose you were transporting it to your kitchen – to pour it into something more appreciable than a simple bottle. Suppose that you tripped and fell on your way – and smashed the bottle on the floor. What would you think then? ‘Oh no,’ perhaps? ‘Aw, I wanted to drink that, drat?’‘My Oni big brother is going to kill me; this cost him an arm and a leg?’” She quit putting on a silly voice. “These, Yamame, are the thoughts I would read. I could, therefrom, extrapolate your general state; I could, if I wished, goad your mind onto paths and into associations that might lead me to whatever other thoughts I wanted to excise from you. San’s ability bypasses all this. Her Third Eye – wherever it is hiding – peers straight into your mental bedrock. The base, underlying anger, or regret, or fear, or whichever thing else that drives all of your higher processes. She reads your thoughts before they are filtered through your conscious mind. She sees, if you will, into your heart.”
Yamame’s heart chilled. “How does that—”
“To her pretty eyes? Simply.” Satori shrugged. “I’ve happened to be around to watch her exercise, and it is simplicity indeed. She did, very early on, rationalise her ability as an aspect of her sight, and likened the emotions she perceived to base colours. Her mind has internalised this; and now, she works with it – if you’ll excuse – in mind. More distressingly, since colour is a quality of light, and light can be dimmed or intensified, she is learning to do just that as well.” The dread mind-reader shivered. “… One day,” she said, quietly, “when she was four and only stumbled on this ability, she – not much wittingly then, I suspect – caused Rin to become utterly and deliriously happy. For hours. The happiest cat in the world, Yamame – for no reason whatsoever. And Rin herself thought nothing of it afterwards. As a matter of fact, she thought it wholly natural. I had to take steps right then, as you may surmise.”
Yamame, kneeling, hooked the tape around the band of Satori’s skirt and stretched it down along one of the vicereine’s legs. The leg was, the spinstress registered in passing, slim, smooth and – as Ashi might have put it – as long as the ground. An intruding thought suggested she should ask her human after his opinion. Then smack him.
“… So, what about the falling-out?” she asked. “I mean, of San and her father. You said—”
“That they had a tragic one once, yes.” Lady Satori dodged past the commentary on her locomotion. “Now you know what San’s ability is, you will understand. When I came back, Garion was the first to spot me. That blond oaf has always been stubbornly overprotective of me; since I had left on my own, however, he had been especially upset. So, when he saw me, that haystack head of his positively flooded with all kinds of intense feelings. It quite eclipsed everything else… including, I fear, his love for our daughter. And San was unfortunate enough to be standing right behind when it happened.” San’s little mother sighed her sympathy. “Imagine, Yamame, witnessing someone you love instantly forget all about you in favour of someone else. That kind of thing can break a girl’s heart. And, in that case, it very much did.” She shook her head sadly. “They are mostly over it these days,” she concluded. “But it changed their day-to-day relations, not to mention rather souring what could have been their best years together. Both of them regret it deep inside.”
“… I see.”
Satori laughed. “I wish they had your keen spider’s eyes, then.” She cast back over a shoulder. “… Are we done, then? Yamame?”
The spinstress, who had stood up and filed away the final figures even as Lady Satori had been relaying this last (somewhat personal) story, had the hand gripping the well-serviced tape squeezed into a tight fist.
She did not know, she realised when Lady Satori swivelled around, how she should situate herself against being told these things. She had never held Old Hell’s tiny governess in the highest of regards. Neither had they ever been anything more than formal acquaintances at the best of times; even now, she felt, they were little above allies bound by circumstance. To be permitted into Satori Komeiji’s private world should have marked Yamame as her friend… but, as the dread mind-reader herself had said, this was an arrangement which would only harm everyone in the end.
Why, then? Why had she, who eschewed friends, still shared these awfully personal experiences?
A less grateful piece of Yamame speculated that perhaps Satori Komeiji had not shared anything. That, in her windfall find of someone in a similar circumstance, the tiny vicereine sought to vocalise the feelings she had, in her friendless existence, never had an ample recipient to do with. That perhaps the entire conversation had not been meant for the benefit of her – of Yamame – but of someone else altogether.
That someone was smirking up at her with enthusiasm.
“Wrong again, dear spider,” Lady Satori intoned – before her expression softened. “… Is what I would have liked to say, if you hadn’t been such a bastion of honesty. No, you aren’t wrong; not entirely, anyway. As a matter of fact, maybe I am in the wrong for saddling you with all that. Of course, as my Garion could tell you, I am self-focused, conceited, and a holder of many an opinion I love to hold high above everyone else’s. So, let’s just share the blame and call it a day, shall we? Half-and-half?”
“Um—” Yamame rushed to evaluate the transaction. “… OK?”
“Good. Good…” Lady Satori, sighing once more, let her shoulders slump. Her eyes – the upper two, at any rate – wandered again to the frock waiting on the bed. “… That wasn’t all terrible, was it?” she murmured, all but to herself. “It’s been a while since I’ve had this done to me. It brought back some pleasant memories. If for nothing else, then I am thankful for that. Yamame? You’re going to want to get at it now, aren’t you?”
The spinstress nodded. “Yes. While I still have the—”
“My sizes fresh in your head,” Satori finished. “All right. How long are you going to need?”
“A few hours?” Yamame guessed. “It’s not all that difficult, when you get to it – just lengthy. The undoing and re-doing of stitching takes a while by hand. I should have it done by evening.”
It was a pretty pass when those with Satori Komeiji’s insight were taken by surprise – but in this instance, Yamame found the tiny vicereine’s brows clambering over each other mostly funny.
Then, the eyes below them narrowed, even as an idea shaped in the one heart in the Underworld which had never been known by someone else.
“… Well then,” said Satori Komeiji, dignity recovered. “You might just see something very special tonight.”
An evening did come, however those did in Chirei-den’s clockless halls.
At least so she gauged. Within the handful of hours (they had to be) since dedicating to Satori Komeiji’s keepsake, Yamame had undone and done again the unassuming, all-important piece. She had detached and scissored the sleeves to length. She had worked the borders over, and sewn them on anew with a subtle, tuck-under stitch which would cover up all tells of tampering. She had – on another, more creative thought – ripped the weathered trim off the hanging skirt, and finished it instead with a hemstitch of those subterranean roses the small governess seemed to adore. She had referred her needle-sharp eyes to the effects of her work for another half hour on end… before at last deeming them marginally good enough to present.
None had bothered the spider in her work.
None had, perhaps, because Satori Komeiji had shooed the spinstress off to her guest-room ahead her fingers had been engaged. Nor had her human shown up to shower her mind with distractions; and Yamame Kurodani, who had much doubted this had been part of Paran’s design, discovered why as soon as arriving back before the vicereine’s private chambers.
A curious scene was folding out in Satori Komeiji’s bedroom when she opened the door.
The wicker set at the side of the room was busied beyond capacity. On one chair, hunched halfway over, the big Paran was sat – scowling ahead at the Shōgi board laid out on the table; on the other, his blond neighbour was seated, his ghost-grey gaze bored into a sheepskin-bound book. Atop his lap, settled in comfortably, the eldest Komeiji herself was perching – her focus trained to full on the game-board and its manoeuvring pieces.
On the bed, on her belly, tails snaking in the air, Orin lay looking on it all with immitigable boredom.
Yamame would have laughed. That her human was willingly suffering the mind-reader’s presence was laughable enough; that he was matching her in a game was – lightly put – riotous. Her human’s confidence had clearly been stamped and bolstered; likely, it had been bolstered even further the previous evening – when he and Yamame had sat with Lady Satori and her husband in these very chambers, and listened as the blond storyteller had relayed to them the lost history of the Palace of Earth Spirits.
The story had begun innocently; and yet, inside the next minutes, Garion had tied them all into his narration – addressing them as though he had been the High Lord of the Yama, and they – his assembled bureaucrats. The fate of the outcast Oni had been the matter of that judgement; and though Yamame had pleaded for the horned folk from the bottom of her heart, the pronouncement had been long foregone. The Oni had defied their universal purpose – and had to be chastised.
Chastised how had been the pursuing point. It was one which Paran and Lady Satori had argued at incensed length… and entirely in role.
Yamame smiled. That they were competing again now (and just so inanely) would have had her on the floor in stitches… except, all at once as she entered, Lady Satori threw the game altogether and smoothly slid down from her husband’s lap.
“Is it done?” she asked the returned spinstress.
Yamame made a nod. “Yes. It’s—”
“In your room,” Lady Satori agreed. “Yes. I’ll go and try it on, then.”
“Will you need me to—”
Old Hell’s paramount authority fanned her tiny hand in dismissal. “I’m sure it’ll be a perfect fit. As a matter of fact, I’ll be put out if it’s anything but. What with your thorough precautions… I joke, Yamame,” she chided, “quit that frown. I’ll go put it on and come back. Sit down and wait. I’ll only be a few minutes.”
And then, heeding no word of humility further, she skimmed out the room on slippered feet, easing the door shut behind.
The eldest of the Underworld’s spinstresses, faintly dejected, stared after her hostess for a moment. A long enough one, so it became, for Paran to locate and rope his voice in its span. Though, not at all for her.
“… Going to pick up?” he asked Lady Satori’s whilom cushion.
Garion thumped close his book, and rounded on the crunching chair. He regarded the board with some amusement. “Why not?” he decided.
Stripped of anyone’s abiding attention, Yamame Kurodani, rethreading Lady Satori’s advice, went on to rest her legs atop the vicereine’s vicereine-sized bed. As she did so – and the men began to cannon their wits from atop crackling wicker – something else just as strange came to pass beside the earth spider.
Rin Kaenbyou, the corpse-thief of Chirei-den, snapped up to a sit.
Cat-ears flicking, the most notorious of Satori Komeiji’s pets then slunk on all-fours down the edge of the bed; both black-slit eyes ahead, cat-quick and silent to match, she padded for the occupied table. She came up at Lady Satori’s husband’s side…
… And, heedless of the implications, squirmed under his arm and up onto her master’s (should have been) exclusive spot.
The man Garion – if he had ever reckoned with these implications himself – did all the same not appear to mind overmuch. Nor notice, Yamame realised the longer she stared on. Though the cat-she nested in her place awfully; though she tugged the blond storyteller’s free hand up to her head; though she purred without shame when he started to thumb the edges of her ears as if testing the whet of a knife. All the while, Lady Satori’s blond husband kept an undivided and indivisible watch on his opponent’s moves. And Orin purred on.
Who did notice (and mind to boot) was the opponent himself; and Paran, whose arm was hovering stiffly over the board mid-turn, did at last comment on his increased competition.
“… You two are friendly,” he noted.
The blond Garion, peeking down at the youkai borrowing his lap, loosed his mouth open. Not for a want of words – as both Paran and Yamame were about to discover – only for the pick. The storyteller inflated his chest, at the same time as he squeezed his fingers around one of Orin’s fuzzy ears.
“Our Orin and I,” he began, “have walked together a lengthy road. Yes, indeed,” he intoned; “a long and toilsome way we have come. We have walked roads and lacks of roads, leapt hills hand-in-hand, and dove down sightless holes in the earth. We are long companions.”
Paran scoffed. Then he completed his move. “What would the folks in our town say?”
Garion’s lips pursed… though whether at this thread of questioning or at the new situation on the board went unsaid. “… What-ever do you mean?” he asked after a pause.
“A human,” said Paran, eyeing him, “snuggling up with a youkai.”
“Oooh,” drawled Lady Satori’s husband. He issued a thin smile. “Knowing those? Why, I imagine they would gossip. Maliciously and, I feel… not without a certain snubbing of status.”
Yamame’s human aped a wince. “Oof,” he acknowledged.
“All misbegotten, we will for certes agree,” Garion went on (and his fiddling Orin’s ears as well); “we are, after all, what we are – humans and youkai both. Satori would talk the hairs on your skull grey should you touch on this; still, it is our own truth. Orin does what she does, likes what she likes – no evil interred.” He chuckled at his own wordplay. “But,” he gave, “what she is also, is a cat. And cats ally to those they like.”
“Why does she like you?”
Garion made a shrug – as far, anyway, as his occupancy with the cat allowed. “Who-ever can say?” he wondered aloud. “Mayhaps ‘tis my silver tongue she likes. Mayhaps the roads we have walked. Mayhaps remembers she the grand debt I owe to her… and has it I reimburse it thus. Mayhaps—” he pushed one of his pieces forward on the board, “—that Orin shall never tell. After all, cats are ever a secretive species. Yes, indeed tight-lipped.”
“And little brother,” moaned Orin, “is ever looser than a ripped sock.”
Garion faked a gasp. “The cat has spoken!” He braced against a swipe from the cat-maid’s curled fingers. “The cat has hit me,” he complained.
“Little brother thinks himself a talker,” declared the cat. “His mouth is big, but his head is stuffed with naught but fluff. He does not know what Orin knows.”
“That is our problem, more or less,” Garion agreed. “No?”
The last bit, which had been aimed at Paran, cued Yamame’s partner to ask, “Why do you like him, then?”
“He poses a good query,” said Garion. “Why do you? Orin?”
Rin Kaenbyou’s tails whipped – then whelmed snugly about one of Garion’s thighs. “It is little sister’s thought,” the cat-she huffed, “that little brother is ill of mind, taking queries from those who do not exist. Yes, ill, ill of mind. But for it is a simple one, she would not have bothered an answer at all.”
The corpse-thief of Chirei-den, Satori Komeiji’s pet attendant, she whose actions had led the Underworld to be cracked open again, wriggled about in her owner’s partner’s arms and stuffed her nose into his clothing.
“As he so wishes,” she purred, “little brother smells nice.”
Somewhere outside the conversation, an earth spider shuddered.
Lady Satori’s blond husband frowned. No less perplexed than his two unlikely charges, he stared on at the red-braided creature nosing around in his shirt. “And that,” he said, soured, “is all that you like of me, I suppose?”
Orin made a pleased sound. “No,” she said. “Not all, no. As well that little brother distracts Master Satori when little sisters needs must sneak behind her back.”
“What use,” Garion marvelled sarcastically.
“As well,” the cat-maid praised on, “that he gave little sister young master San to play with.”
“What,” sighed Garion, “use.” He peered across to Paran – who had watched the unveiling of the cat’s secrets with an oily grin waxing above his chin. “… There you have it,” gave up Lady Satori’s husband. “There I have it, as well. Ask ye a foppish question…”
“It’s important to smell nice,” offered Paran.
Almost Garion would have shot back an ample pitched retort; only then, a diversion from the hinterlands came and knocked his aim off the mark.
“Why do you like Lady Satori?” Yamame asked from the bed.
Rin Kaenbyou, never sparing a glance, replied. “Master Satori is kind.”
The spinstress skewed a smile at the description. “The Oni would call you a liar,” she said. I would, she added inside, if we were in any place that isn’t here.
The corpse-thief of Chirei-den sniffed. “Master Satori has a function in Old Hell,” she insisted. “She is angry when this is unfulfilled, and isn’t kind in those times. They are alike in this, Old Hell and little sister’s Master. Sister Yamame should know, friend of everyone such as she is.”
Am I? “… And when she isn’t angry?” the friend of everyone pressed on.
“Then,” declared Orin, “Master Satori is the kindest. When the doors are closed, when Old Hell is calm, then Master Satori is at ease. Then she is kind. Orin knows it; her sisters know it. Little brother knows it, even if he should wish Orin didn’t know. Master Satori is kind and soft and nice to touch. Mnnr.”
A muted noise vibrated up from the cat’s throat when one of her perking ears was squeezed.
“Now, little sister,” warned Garion, “I don’t know that these two need to hear these sorts of things – do you?”
“Master Satori is kiiind,” Orin insisted. “Orin knows.”
And that, cat-stubbornly, was final.
A few promised minutes in pass, and Satori Komeiji did make her return. And a triage of odd happenings was completed.
As the small governess walked in, flowery and regal in her restored dress, all the eyes in the room were at once rounded up. All at once that they were, Yamame Kurodani filed the flaws in her work that were now painfully visible; the collar, after all, was too wide; the mid-section of the piece – too spacious for Lady Satori’s delicate frame. She wore it well overall, did the small mind-reader – very well, if the stares were telling – but Yamame’s critical mind saw spaces for improvements all the same. Spaces which, if the stares were telling, weren’t lost on the less expert eyes either.
But then, something else told differently.
At the table, lurching as if from sleep, the ghost-like Garion shifted into motion. No sound but for the wicker’s warning groan, the blond storyteller picked Orin up by the flanks, and deposited her to the side. On he stood up – to two plainly rigid legs, and – slowly, as though in a dream still – wobbled over to where Lady Satori was patiently waiting. He froze to a stop in front of her.
… And then, folding onto one knee, he quietly threw his arms about her, and buried his face in the front of the familiar dress.
The eldest of clan Komeiji, the sole authority over Old Hell, she dreaded by all in the Underworld, was a picture of motherly care when she wormed her tiny arms free and began petting the blond man’s haystack-like head.
“Yes,” she crooned at him, softly. “There… Yes. I know. I know… Me too.”
The crooning went on, the moment stretched… but, at length, Satori Komeiji detached her gaze from her husband, and slid it up – until it met and joined with Paran’s.
The dread mind-reader gave Yamame’s human a warm smile. “Thank you,” she told him.
Paran’s mouth quirked. He blushed, and said nothing. That made Lady Satori smile all the warmer.
There were no more smiles to share when she matched at last Yamame’s own staring; but, when she spoke, her voice was the most honest thing the earth spider had heard from anyone in Old Hell’s lawless realms.
“And thank you, Yamame,” she said, simply. “You’ve done very well.”
Yamame Kurodani – simply – nodded her acknowledgement. And, as Lady Satori’s husband peeled away from his wife – wiping discreetly at his eyes – the eldest of the Underworld’s spinstresses thought, just this once, that she could probably leave the dress – with its mid-section and its collar – as it was.
Two nights hence were passed. And on the fourth morning altogether, Hachiashi came to make her report.
It had begun as all lately ones had for Yamame and her human. Taking their breakfast together with their hosts, doing their damnedest not to attract Satori Komeiji’s Third Eye; it was Orin’s ears flickering – and her back stringing bow-taut – which ultimately brought them all up short.
Lady Satori, her talent speaking, caught the cat-maid’s meaning in an instant. A nod of appreciation, and she swapped her attention from cat to spider.
“You’ve got a visitor, Yamame,” she said.
Nor had the spinstress to be told twice. She slid away her food and herself from the table. She startled – then smiled sheepishly – when Paran did the same beside her. The stranded two bowed their excuses to Lady Satori and her husband, and hurried out the dining hall for the mansion’s faraway front door. It felt full fifteen minutes (but no clock was telling) before they emerged to the wind-whipped gardens of the Palace of Earth Spirits.
Amid the raised flowerbeds, wringing with sweat, entombed by the Heart Chamber’s magma heat, Yamame’s jet-haired younger sister was restlessly waiting. As the elder spinstress hastily approached, Hachiashi – fanning her brow with a palm – cast a nasty scowl around the environs.
“What a dismal, bloody place,” she opined. “Why haven’t you done anything for it yet?”
Yamame Kurodani, the great architect of the Underworld, had to smile.
I will never correct this one, she realised, even as the younger spider peeled the sweat from her arms with disgust. Hachiashi’s ever-glowing views on her abilities were a keening reminder of the elder spider’s station within her brood… and the younger one’s personal tragedy.
For here was Hachiashi. Here was an earth spider who, called on for aid by her betters, had dutifully done her part. Here was one of those despised creatures who, seeing a human come up in her sister’s tow, only flicked her sweat at him in playful spite. Here was the one among the Underworld’s spinstresses (less Yamame) who could bully her siblings into a selfless action – and wake next day with all her limbs still attached.
Here was the second-best of the earth spiders… who nonetheless refused to compare herself to all but the one she could never equal.
“… Sorry,” said Yamame. “It’s the roses, I think. They give it that blood-like shade.”
Ashi amused the answer with a snort. “Very funny, Yams. But no. It’s everything here, dear sister. The bleeding cave, the bleeding lava, the bleeding house. And its bleeding owner.”
“You don’t want to come inside?” Yamame asked. “Say hello? Have something to eat?”
“As if the mind-leech would deign to feed me. No, Yams. Thanks – but no, thanks.”
The elder spider’s smile curled down. “She isn’t that bad, you know? She can be polite.”
Ashi scoffed. “To you, Yams? We all are. Her bleeding highness should dare no different – or we’d all come down here and give her a piece of our minds… without her leave.” Her head shook left and right, tossing the jet-slick hair. “No, Yams. I don’t want to come in. I don’t want to see her, and she doesn’t want to see me. I’m nowhere as tolerant as you, dear sister; I’d have her ladyship out of her hide by the end of the minute – and, call me starch-arsed, but I don’t reckon the younger one’s ready to take up the crown just yet.”
“She doesn’t wear a crown,” Yamame said.
Ashi blew out an impatient sigh. “Not least because she’d positively crumple under the weight.” She groaned. “Yams, could we get down to actually important stuff? The longer I stand melting out here, the likelier she’ll find a window looking out this side. And I dare say even she shouldn’t be parted with her hide so soon. She does help keep order around these parts, more or less. I’d rather it didn’t all fall down on our heads yet.”
Yamame, starching her own back, made a shallow nod. “… All right,” she said. “What have you found?”
Against her every barbed answer, Hachiashi – the second-best – stalled for a while still. She looked to the silent Paran, seemingly for no reason but to hang her carmine eyes on something un-bloody. She stuck out her tongue when the look was returned.
And then, again to Yamame.
“… Not much,” Ashi said finally, “… is what I’d say if I were inclined to lie to you, dear sister. The truth is, we found a lot. All of it very messy. And, the worst part is, very, very familiar.”
“Then,” said Yamame, “it was…”
The younger spider reeled in the hanging thread. “Your house, yes,” she japed without much humour; “but, more cuttingly, it was very marked a spider’s work. A whiff of that poison should have told you everything, Yams; and the dissolvent… Well, we both know how that works.”
“How… How bad was it?” Yamame wanted to know. “I mean, was it all rendered down? I was only there a few moments before I… before I had to run. Some of it was still standing then.”
“Some of it,” Ashi said archly, “is still standing even now. Although, if I’m bluntly honest – and I am – you’ll have little use of it less as firewood. It’d have to be cleaned up and dried, too. Anything softer, and it’s pretty much turned to sludge. I’m sorry, Yams, but that includes your scraps. And your bed… and the rest. There really wasn’t too much we could do. We sieved up some glass from the windows and some cookery implements. Your stove’s rusted all over; but, if you scrubbed that off, you could probably still use it. Maybe. Otherwise…”
Ashi shrugged her helplessness.
Might be, the distance of days had cushioned the loss. Might be, the intervening gains had balanced it out some; might be, Yamame Kurodani would only feel its pregnant weight later, once she sat down and catalogued everything that had been destroyed. Might be, nothing had been cushioned – and the eldest of earth spiders clung on only by the thread of seniority before her less aged sister.
She grasped that thread. She clutched it, wound it round her fingers, and squeezed it hard.
“… If it was spider’s poison,” she hissed, deathly quiet; “if it was one of ours, Ashi…”
The younger spider blinked. “Wha— Oh no, no-no-no-no,” she sputtered. “Gods above, Yams, no! We would never— Well, I mean, if we were really starved for attention… Stop glaring, you’re scaring me stiff! No, Yams. Not this time. We know who did it – and it was none of ours.”
All the needles in Yamame’s mental drawers unthreaded as one.
“We know who—” Hachiashi gulped down the ball of stiffness that must have swollen up in her throat. “Well, we know what did it, anyway. Or what did it probably. Or what might have.”
The younger spinstress managed out a tense nod. “… All right. Well. While we were there – dredging up those kitchen stuffs – someone… something, as like as not what did it, fancied swinging by. Now, I know, Yams. I know. We would have caught it – but for none of us had as much as sensed it before it had all but left.”
Yamame fixed her sister with a sticky stare. “How?”
“… Here’s the thing,” Ashi confessed. “I don’t know. It must have come from deeper down – brushed right by our backs – but none of us saw it until it was halfway to the exiting tunnel. The one up, that you use.”
“Gods above, I don’t know! We were just padding around, searching, when Nikiba blundered she could hear someone crying. So we right up, about to call her Nut-kiba and have a laugh – you know how we are – when it hits us, too. And bleeding sure enough, we turn around, and there’s… someone… making for that tunnel. Well past us, too.”
Yamame folded her arms under her chest. “And you didn’t chase them?”
Ashi’s ruby eyes clenched close. “Yams,” she grated, “you might be the genius among us numb-nuts, but that doesn’t give you exclusivity to base bloody reasoning. Yes, we did chase it. But it had a lead on us, and… Yams, it eluded us. Nikiba – bless that numb-nut in particular – she almost had it right near the top, but then she just… just stopped. Like her head blanked out. Later, she told us she had seen it fade into thin air right as she’d caught up. And, I promise you, Yams – she was not in her cups that evening. Well, not until later, anyway.”
“And the rest of you? You just stopped as well?”
Ashi’s ember eyes sprung open, aglow with indignation. She threw out her arms. “What were we supposed to do? We don’t go out to the surface without you – or without your permission. We know the rules. That you’re vouched for and accepted doesn’t mean the rest of us magically are as well, sister. We’ve a nice home here. We don’t want to give anyone a nice, fat excuse to roll on down and cock it up for us in revenge for some perceived crime. We’ve all about had enough of that. We like it here. We don’t want to mess it up.”
Yamame recoiled as though she had been struck. “… Sorry,” she pushed out. “I thought—”
The younger spider smacked it away. “No, Yams,” she said. “You didn’t. You assumed. You assumed, because you are, that we are all in as good and wide celebration as you are. You assumed that, because you would have done it this way, that we would run the thing down, maybe knock a few trees over on the way, and when the Hakurei witch or whoever else came to check out the noise, that we would just smile prettily and all would be forgiven. Why, that might just have worked, too… for you, Yams. You have a pretty smile. Not us.”
The elder spider slumped her head. “… Sorry.”
“… Never mind,” groaned Hachiashi. “Never mind, Yams. You’d like if we were all as good as you. Not your fault that we aren’t. You bleeding blond star of the Underworld…” Wrong-footed, imbalanced by her own humours, the smaller Hachiashi rolled a mollifying lock of her own (evidently not blond) hair between the tips of her fingers. “… Here are the cold, dry facts, sister,” she offered at length. “Whatever did that to your home, it’s not above hanging close by the scene of the crime. It may even be camped up by the mouth of that tunnel, just waiting for us to rear our heads. And that, there, is what makes it spooky.”
“Spooky?” Yamame frowned. “How? We are earth spiders. There is no poison that can do us harm. How is that—”
Ashi groaned her exasperation. “Were you listening at all, Yams? That’s not the spooky part. I adore you, sister, I really do, but your head’s thicker than a brick of clay sometimes. Or did you perhaps want me to plead to you with a better solution? Very well, I’ll plead. I plead that you stay out of this net. Get a word out to… to Hakurei, plague take her, or whoever else that your Komeiji lady deems fit for the job. Whatever it is, it’s us spiders it doesn’t like. Send someone else to make it leave us alone.”
Yamame Kurodani could scarcely believe what her ears were telling her. “… Are you afraid, Ashi?”
The younger spider pulled her shoulders in. “I’m spooked, Yams. There’s a difference.”
But I, thought Yamame, am not.
Though the mother of plagues had but to look at her sister to see Hachiashi may be ill at ease to hear so; but if she had to bet her power against the upstart’s which had devastated her home, then there was scant little doubt in Yamame’s heart that she would win out that bet. The poison which had consumed her home had been of spider make; still, potent as it had been, the few brief moments she had bathed in it had already seen her physiology start solving out a countermeasure. If the thing at fault – as second-best (and unaware) Hachiashi had suspected it – was yet at large nearby her nest, then trimming off this incident was as easy as crawling up to the surface and throttling it into conformity.
That, and rebuilding after.
A decision, one she sensed was last for a time, buzzed up to the fore of her mind; and Yamame, spreading her web, knew…
( ) … That she could not take the risk. ( ) … That she should end it herself.
> “Oh my,” the tiny mind-reader gasped past the bouts. “Oh my, oh no… Oh dear, dear me. Mother is going to turn purple once she hears about this. Totally, totally purple! Taking after ‘the best,’ indeed! Oh dearest, dearest me…”
(from thread two) One and a half year later, I still don't quite get who 'the best' is supposed to be. The way it's phrased make it as if it's someone Paran is close or familiar with.
“… No.” Yamame Kurodani tossed her (blond Underworld star) hair left and right. “No,” she repeated, firmer. “I won’t feel it’s closed… unless I do it myself.”
Hachiashi gave her a look. It was the look of a spider who had binged the night away on snacks and plum wine; it was the look of one who rose the next morning stuffy-mouthed, afoul of the nastiest migraine, and loured at her mirror self with retroactive hate.
It was the look of a sister who had expected no other answer… but had ill liked it all the same.
Yamame put forward what she hoped was a soothing smile. “I’ve deserved a bit of revenge, haven’t I? It was my home. I’d built it. I’d kick myself in the shins for the next hundred years if I let the Hakurei or someone else deal it out for me.”
Ashi issued a sound which put her sister in mind of crushing bricks. The bricks were tough – baked and hard. It went on for a little while. “… All right,” Ashi crushed out at last. “All right, Yams. You’ve got it. Gods above, I’ll rue this; but I can’t argue against that. I won’t deny you base revenge. I’m no hypocrite.” She spat a ball of venom and surrender at the nearest clump of roses. “I’ll rile up the girls,” she said, set and grim. “When do you want us go-able?”
Yamame’s brows bunched up. “… What?”
Ashi spat again. “I don’t like it,” she growled; “I don’t bleeding like it, and I’m still spooked about the whole thing; but, Yams – that doesn’t mean I’m not with you. You’re my sister. I respect you. I love you. All of us love you. You were attacked; we all want whoever did this to you lashed up and left out to dry. That we’re also a tittle-little unnerved is just my footnote. What’s that in Yamame terms? It’s the talc-dust on the new sills. Annoying, but I won’t spank the site manager about it.”
The elder spider rethreaded her frown into an affectionate smile. “I wouldn’t spank you if you did that, you know.”
“No. You’d shoo us home, then stay behind and mop it clean all by yourself. All said, you’re awfully selfish; did you know that, sister? There are times when we want to help you – even if the clean-up sucks.” The younger spider smirked. “Just times, though. So don’t take it too close to heart.”
The smile on Yamame’s face warmed up even more. “Thank you, Ashi.”
“I’m your sister, Yams,” Ashi, shrugging, reminded. “You’ll have less argument from me than some others, I dare imagine.”
At that reminder, the two earth spiders rounded on the quietest peak of their plotting triangle.
The human Paran – who had been plotting in his own human mind and at his own human pace – met their tense expectation with a blank human stare.
“… Uh,” he grunted his assent.
Or had it been assent? Ashi spoke over it ahead Yamame might line the mystery out.
“Well, dull man?” demanded the younger spider. “Not going to put your foot down? Threaten to lock up the larder? Not that it’d do much for it, looking like it does now.”
Paran, spooling in his previous thoughts, slowly strung his eyes from the pushy young spinstress to her calmly waiting sibling. The eyes caught on Yamame’s own amber set. They held it – long enough to stall the elder spider’s next breath. Then, Paran wheezed his resignation.
“… Could you be stopped?” he asked, in fluent rhetorical.
Yamame exhaled. She gave her human a smile – a grateful apology. “… No,” she told him. “Not for long, anyway. It was my house. I’d lived in it for ages. I owe it action – my action. Not some bossy shrine maiden’s.”
Her beloved human gave up a nod. His shoulders – those wide, steady shoulders – unwound from a useless rise. “Then,” he sighed, “I shouldn’t tax my foot. That, and—” he glanced challengingly at the younger earth spider, “… Same here. I love you. I won’t stand in your way.”
Yamame’s cheeks bloomed cherry-red at her human’s casual use of their private, three-word spell in front of another – a spider to boot; but, infuriatingly, Ashi’s carmine eyes betrayed no magickal effect. Only the softest of surprises – chased by a hem of sisterly relief.
“… Some things have finally been let out, I see,” said Ashi. A clipped scoff popped between her colourless lips when the human vouchsafed no response but for a lift of his arms and a slight spread of his hands. “Oh, you poor, dull man,” Hachiashi booed. “Now you’re trapped in earnest! And it took you but, what – the better half of a year? You poor, dull, slow-witted, masochistic man. Yams, sister mine, please – do tell me you didn’t crack his ribs when he told you. As I know him, he might be swooning from pain in secret even now.”
Yamame’s mouth warped into a pout. “… Am I the only one who wasn’t told?”
Hachiashi laughed – loudly, but without rancour. “No, Yams. Not by a long stitch. But you never got him drunk. And a drunk man, dear sister, will tell you just about anything. No Komeiji devilry required.”
The elder spider peered up sadly at her human. Paran managed to detect the accusation – and dimly smiled it down. Yamame, irritating at how easily she forgave him, faced again her devious sister. “And you?” she puffed. “What about yours? Hmm? What about your men?”
Ashi’s amusement jelled into a guarded stare. “… What-ever do you mean?”
“On the last night of our project,” explained Yamame, “the one just last week – while your sisters were wrecking Hijiri’s new floors, you put on your best dress and snuck out to drink with a different company. I saw you, Ashi; I saw the company, as well. I was there.”
“In the Human Village?” Hachiashi gasped, mock-outraged. “Yams, dearie me, isn’t that forbidden? Weren’t we, cast-out of the Underworld, by rights disallowed from the village bounds? What would your Oni buddies say?”
“I was let in. I had an escort.”
“So did I,” Ashi shot back. “At least later that night.” She folded her sweat-shiny arms at her chest. “Yes, dear sister; I was there, dress, different company and all. So what? I wasn’t caught, and I bothered no one. My own escort even volunteered his own place when the rest of our company turned out too many cups. Imagine that. He was very nice – even when I hinted at what I actually was. Only asked that I was gentle. Why, he even kissed me good-bye when we parted, early in the morning. Kisses are nice, aren’t they, Yams? You would know.”
The bubbling skin of jealousy over her sister’s words cautioned Yamame to keep her prodding shallow. “… Are you going to keep sneaking out, then?” the elder spinstress asked instead. “I’m not condemning you, Ashi; I’m asking – because I’m more or less dependent on you to keep tabs on our own. If you’re going to… well, I’d like to be let know beforehand. That’s all.”
Ashi’s eyes went wide. “And why would I want to do that, now?” The younger earth spider enjoyed the baffled needlework of her elder sister’s brows. Then, mercifully, she shook her head. “No, Yams,” she obliged. “You assumed again. I’m not going to keep sneaking out. I don’t see why I would. I’m not you. I don’t have your capacity for dedication. Truth be said, I’m plenty satisfied where I am. I had fun; I got an itch scratched; I got a kiss into the bargain. More importantly, I proved something to myself. This is all that matters. There is nothing else that does more. So no, sister—” Ashi wiped her arms down, “—I’m not going anywhere. I won’t lie – the day I lie to you is the day the Sun falls from the sky – if we ever work nearby the Human Village again, then I might look him up for one more night. But I’m not about to build a house and move in together. I just can’t summon up that kind of care. That’s you, Yams. You can. And we both know you’re more puissant than all of us boiled together. Let alone little me.”
Against the lump of irritation lodged in her stomach – both at her sister’s duplicity and, hypocritically, the bull-headed denial of her own strengths – Yamame Kurodani, the eldest among the earth spiders, squeezed out an age-appropriate smile. The old sentiment, I will never get a measure of this one, layered up yet again – like old dye after washing.
Might be, measuring second-best, Hachiashi, had always been a foolish effort. Might be, the thin, jet-haired spider recognised measuring tapes were coiled likes snakes in every grass-patch of conversation, and probed ahead with a stout, sarcasm-sharp pole. Why the true sizes of Hachiashi were somehow something to be avoided remained a pricklier question… but, this as well might never be measured – less…
… Less, Yamame amused, someone opened up the young spider’s heart, and took a look at the grassroots.
“Are you reeeally sure,” she asked, beaming innocence, “that you don’t want to come in? We’ve got cake.”
Ashi, ever-probing Ashi, faked a concerned shake of her head. “And break the lady of the house over my knee? No, Yams; I’ve met her offspring. She would cry, and she has the voice of a yamabiko… if the yamabiko had a bloody trumpet to boot. Tell me when you want us to go, so I can get scarce. I want out of this bloody place. I’m swimming in my clothes.”
“It has some visual merit,” Paran chipped in.
Hachiashi gave him a startled look. “Yams,” she hissed at her sister with unaffected alarm, “grab this lout and hold him! I think he wants to kiss me.”
>>15941 Might as well head this off. She is comparing Yamame to her mother. She earlier references her with the same term: >You are their elder. That human we mentioned? He is proof – maddening proof, but proof – perhaps also their better. Taking after the best, perhaps. In short, Satori thinks herself “the best” in the Underworld, and that is evidenced by her successfully taking in, helping and making a close friend of a human. Now Yamame is doing the same. Thus, “taking after the best.” >>15945 Hachiashi Has no Care to Give… Unless it somehow brings her closer to Yamame’s level. Hmm.
Tomorrow, it was resolved, the spiders would mount their hunt.
No sooner had the resolve been cast than Hachiashi, slipping nimbly below the human’s attempt at a handshake, issued her final commentary on Satori Komeiji’s home (it was bloody), and flew. The eldest of the earth spiders, Yamame Kurodani, span around on an anxious heel; and, her beloved human silently following, she returned indoors, back to Lady Satori’s close environs. Because there was nothing to say, they said no more nor less; Satori Komeiji did, anyway, and made it up for them plentifully once they had re-entered the dining hall.
Because nothing could be hidden long from Satori Komeiji, Yamame allowed her mind to loop around the talk she’d had with her less moderate sister. But, if the dread mind-reader found being so accommodated… well, anything – she did not show, or say.
A detached, “… I see,” was the only reply. And the tiny vicereine sipped away at her (where had it come from?) morning coffee.
The mother of plagues, Yamame Kurodani, narrowed her spider’s eyes at the inscrutable woman. “… No censure?” she asked. “No objections? No ‘This won’t do’s? I can do what I want?”
Lady Satori exhaled into her cup. “Why?” she returned. “Think, Yamame. It’s no skin off my teeth. As a matter of fact, assuming that your sister has told it right, and that which has attacked you retreated to the surface when pursued… That would make it a fair assumption it had sensed its safety there. That, figuring further, it had come from there. This warrants retaliation, in my view. Moreover,” she added, a smile crept out over her staid expression, “if it spares me having to come up with an apt punishment, as I’d have had to if it had been one of us… all the happier I.”
“And you’re not worried about—”
“If,” Satori interrupted, “If she comes down here, Yamame,” she said, “if she sees it as a violation of our treaties, I’ll revel in telling her all about how you were attacked first. How you were acting in self-defence. How her side had failed in taking steps. The Hakurei and I have had disagreements before. I’ll be delighted to test how rusty I’ve gotten at grinding her nose down to size – if any.”
Yamame hung her arms. “… The Hakurei?” she asked, disbelieving.
“She’s only human,” reminded Satori. “Most of the time, anyway. I’ll take her on. As a matter of fact, I owe you this much. As your counsel.”
Though the word had smacked of some small, unspoken offence, Yamame Kurodani gave all the same a consenting nod. “… All right,” she said. “Very—”
“—Good,” finished Satori. “Yes, yes. All in a day’s work. Now, please, finish your breakfast. Orin was about to while you were gone, and I really would not much enjoy her getting any heavier than she is. She likes to sneak in our bed and lie atop the most delicate body parts.”
In the adjacent chair, Kaenbyou Rin perked her chin haughtily. “Orin lies where it is comfortable,” she-cat declared. “She discriminates not.”
Lady Satori, chuckling, reached out to rub one of the cat-maid’s ears. “How noble,” she praised. “But, still, no third dessert for you. Yours and mine were enough, I think.”
Orin gave a token moan… then resumed swishing her tails pleasantly as her ears were loved.
The remainder of that day paced by on unexcited feet.
After their meal (and dessert – one a piece), the men had fled the grand dining hall of Chirei-den – to the kitchen first, then, on Paran’s sudden request, to relight their study of Garion’s maps in the mansion’s shadowed library. As they had, so too had Lady Satori and Yamame set about a previous day’s idea to pass the time. The two Underworld youkai came by, and collected from the mind-reader’s chambers the old sewing kit and some of the less desirable of the abandoned dresses; then, less leisurely with the wonderful potentials lading the earth spider’s arms and thoughts, they made their quiet way to the cosy little room Yamame had, across the lately days, fashioned into her nest. Orin had gone alone – off to some unutterable task Old Hell had commanded, even of Satori Komeiji’s pets.
Awhile, as Yamame sewed and re-sewed, Lady Satori sat, idly speculating on, deriding, and then – whimsically – excusing the dresses’ original wearers. A while later, and she recounted at laugh-scored length the first encounter of the Underworld’s worst with the newest Komeiji in their midst. One later still and she only watched, unspeaking – at once resentful and entranced by Yamame’s single-threaded devotion to her work.
Afterwards, the men came, and whisked them away (Yamame with some difficulty) for dinner.
An evening (of a sort) stole over the Palace of Earth Spirits, counted only by the internal clocks of its occupants. Lady Satori had taken her husband and retired to her chambers, leaving the earth spider in her room with her sewing and her human. The human required no attention, contented rifling through the room’s bookcase. The sewing, anyway, arrested everything.
At least, until it was disputed directly.
She felt, more than heard, Paran’s hands alight on the backrest of the chair where she was seated. Her own hands continued in their flickering motions, even as her human squinted down on them from above. A few more stitches, and his curiosity spilled over.
“… Is this hard?” he wanted to know.
Yamame, craning her neck, gave him a teasing smile. “Thinking of picking it up?”
Paran made a derisive sound. “With these?” He rapped his (admittedly thick) fingers on the chair’s boards. “Not likely. I’ve never seen you sew before. That’s why I ask.”
Her human shifted his stance. “… Not that I recall,” he said. “I’ve seen you draft, sure; but sewing… Might have been bad timing. Whenever I got you an assignment, you sat down to draw; whenever you were finished, and free, I went out again. Usually.”
“Mhm.” Yamame nodded. “That sounds about right.”
“So, I never actually saw you sew.” He paused. Then, his brows curled. “… You’re quick.”
“It’s…” Yamame hesitated (but not her fingers); “It’s a knack,” she decided. “I don’t really think on it much. When I do it, it just… happens. My right hand works; my left hand knows where it’s about to go, so it’s already there when it’s needed – and inversely. It all flows together. I probably couldn’t do it anymore if I stopped and thought it through.”
“Mm.” Paran made a non-committal murmur.
He snaked his hands down from the backrest of her chair… and wrapped them around Yamame’s shoulders.
She felt her heart judder with rogue excitement.
The yearly malady, Yamame Kurodani, knew – even as she wrested a silly grin – only half of it had been for he had dared. Paran of the previous weeks would never have made so bold as to compete for attention with her hobbies; now, it seemed, the hobbies were not so daunting anymore. His newfound courage appealed to her. It stroked the same part of her mentality which had forgiven him each time he had caused her embarrassment in front of others. It annoyed the earth spider at her core – goaded it, galled it – but this only painted him more attractive in the end. More male. More exciting.
The other half… was not so clean.
Her human had said it himself: being near her was a potent poison. It dumbed him. It eroded his restraints. It had unravelled the oaths he had given to himself, and had seen him confess love to a loathed youkai. It had dissolved the dams he had raised from sodden, uncooperative ground, and drowned him in a flood of his own desires.
But still, here he was. On his own accord, by his own will, he had approached the spider. Against the illogic, the better judgement, he had thrown himself into her web. He drank the poison, stopper, bottle and all.
He was giving in. And that satisfied her on another, even stickier level.
The eldest of the Underworld’s earth spiders, Yamame Kurodani, felt the hands slither down the gap of her collar and squeeze down on the unshielded skin of her shoulders. Her fingers slowed; her focus spoiled. Her human’s hands squeezed again. Again. And again.
Agonisingly, Yamame put down her needle and scraps. She tugged open the top buttons of her undershirt, the better to admit those impudent hands. She arched her back, and pouted up at the bold human who would have her undress for him.
Paran leaned down and kissed her.
She did not quite know when she reached up to him, nor how it was he lifted her out of the chair without a hitch of awkwardness. She knew she laughed when he dropped her almost casually on the bed. She stopped when he crawled over her and pinned her arms to the mattress above her head. She made a little show of resistance when he began to dig his unemployed hand under her back to unhook her bra – but quit it ahead he might thread a wrong idea. She loosed her muscles and let him take what he wanted.
She would take hers, later.
When she fell asleep, hours afterwards, she was fulfilled – buried up to her nose in his arms, awash in his smell, and full of his love.
When she woke the next morning, she was cold and alone.
At first, she thought it little anything. A loose snag. A mild annoyance of the night’s perfect order. An excuse to tease later.
Yamame Kurodani, earth spider though she was, was not sewn entirely of selfish cloth. She knew her beloved human had needs. She remembered his gross incompatibility with the mansion’s dry air. As like, he was chugging from a faucet in the washroom nearby; he was taking longer, perhaps, because he was fetching a cup for Yamame as well. Might be, an even later wish stitched itself out of idle threads, that he was ferrying foods from the kitchen – to serve his lover in bed, out of the cast of their hosts’ over-numerous eyes. Might be, Yamame theorised as minutes swam emptily by, it would be a breakfast of two courses. Or three. Or five – with dessert.
But still, Paran was not coming back.
Yamame Kurodani, throwing off the warm covers, rolled to the edge of the bed, and up onto her feet. Stomach fluttering (and not from hunger), she collected her discarded underwear and tugged it back on. Her dress – the earthen, common one, which she had over the evenings repaired from its damage in the acidic ruins of her house – was slung across the room’s lone chair. The spinstress shoved herself into the familiar fabrics. The accustomed touch – and smell – were safe and domestic; and her bristled nerves were, momentarily, patted down.
They rose again soon enough.
Paran was not in the washroom. Nor in the intervening corridors when she checked; nor was he drudging at Satori Komeiji’s table in the mansion’s grand dining hall. No one was, as a matter of fact; and Yamame, her paces more and more clipped with each Paran-less minute passed, wandered around for a time… Until, nails jabbing into the pads of her palms, she was belatedly reminded she had never been shown where the mansion’s one active kitchen was sited.
She stood, immobile and lost, in Chirei-den’s one still passage among a thousand likewise. And no humans in sight.
In the end, the course had been picked for her. No one knew as well what transpired inside the so-called Palace as its frumpy-haired queen; and Yamame, crushing out the poisonous thought, turned back to retrace her random, frantic steps. She found once more the one hall (among a thousand) which her spider’s eyes recognised; and then – a skip short of a run by now – she plotted the way for Satori Komeiji’s private chambers.
The tiny vicereine would have some things to answer. Yamame hoped, for her sake, that she would not have a lot to answer for.
The eldest of her name, Old Hell’s jury and judge, she whom vengeful spirits feared and despised, Satori Komeiji, was planted at her odd, wickerwork table, busying her lips with a cup of oily-smelling coffee.
Had she not been what she was, Yamame may never have registered the minute differences Satori had affected when the door of her bedroom had been rammed aside to permit in an earth spider at hunt. She may never have recognised the adjusted fix of Lady Satori’s spine – the tightened set of her shoulders – the heartbeat tremor of fingers looped around precious porcelain. A mind that was not hers may have associated these with anything else; but to Yamame’s eight-eyed sensibilities, these were the hallmarks of prey. Startled. Caught. The flexing – a survival instinct meant to make the predator hesitate. A last-ditch throw. Useless, flimsy posturing.
All of this stitched through the padding of Yamame’s mind – through an underlayer so base, the eldest Komeiji could not see it. There was but one conscious, processed thought inside the earth spider’s oven-hot skull. It was big, dark-eyed, and human. And it was gone.
Yamame sucked the air of Satori Komeiji’s bedroom in through clamped teeth to speak her demands.
The dread mind-reader proved quicker, for once.
“I know,” she said. “I know, Yamame. Calm down. I know… and I have known. It’s my job to do that,” she added. The humour was stale before it had poured fully out. Lady Satori set her fragrant cup down. “… Calm down, Yamame,” she implored. “Nothing good will come of spitting poison. I will tell you what you want to hear. As a matter of fact, I’d been expecting you to come by… more or less.”
In no mood for approximations, Yamame slid her fangs out with an unspoken threat. She re-sheathed them very soon, remembering who the diminutive creature hunched at the table was… but her gums itched on. She swallowed the acrid taste of submission down together with toxin-tinged saliva.
“… Where?” she squeezed out.
Satori Komeiji nodded her chin vaguely toward the ceiling. “There,” she said. “To the surface.”
Yamame was running out of understanding. “Why?”
“Because he wanted to,” the mind-reader replied. “Because he needed to, more pertinently. Because there are things he does not want you to face – or have to face. Because that is where one of those things is presently… as far as we gathered.”
“What things?” growled the spider. “Where?”
Satori Komeiji, vicereine of Old Hell, issued a long, self-incriminating sigh. “… This, Yamame,” she said at length, “I will not tell you.”
It took the best of who she was, not to tear the small woman out of her chair. It took all of the discoveries she had lately made of herself to curb the upbringing which she had soaked among the Oni of the Capital. It took Yamame Kurodani, the pretty idiot, to grab the mother of plagues and hold her down.
A quieter, more distant Yamame – crouched in a dusty corner of her head – realised these were mostly silly, emotional reflexes. But she was too worried, too afraid for her human to stand and speak up.
Lady Satori – damn her – saw all of this flash-burn behind Yamame’s eyes. The small governess draped an expression over her face that might have been diplomatic – were the circumstance otherwise, and Yamame not intractable.
“I will not tell you,” she began to explain, “because I cannot tell you. Because, regardless of what I am, Yamame, I can very well observe respect. I can keep a promise. And your human – your ‘Paran’ – has requested that I do not tell you.”
Yamame blinked. “He requested you?” she repeated. “He?”
“Not—” Satori smiled fractionally, “—at first, I suppose. At first, he had attempted to keep me out. His methods were studied, I’ll grant him; but I am, as you say, the eldest of my name. I have picked up tricks, learned to force some locks. As a matter of fact, I’ve had to – which is a story for any other day. So, when prevention had ultimately failed your lover, he requested instead. Needlessly, might I say – because I’d long extracted that particular secret; but he was serious and honest. And that, Yamame, you should have felt by now, I can respect.”
Yamame’s head tossed left and right. “It doesn’t matter,” she snapped. “It doesn’t matter! He can’t go to the surface. He’s never been here; he hasn’t walked these tunnels. He can’t fly. He must be close still. He must—”
“Yamame.” Lady Satori tsked. “Will you stop and think? With intelligence? Never mind he has been poring over maps off and on these past few days. Never mind he is enough hot-blooded to brave the trail on his own. There is one in this house who is acquainted intimately with these parts of the Underworld. The walkable parts especially. He could have guided your lover.”
“And he did?” Yamame’s voice stalked a register close to a warning hiss.
“And he did,” sighed Satori. “You must agree, Yamame. It was the safer path.”
“And you let them go?”
“As a matter of fact,” Lady Satori said, sadly, “I had little aught to say about it once Garion got roped in. See, Yamame, men… Men interact along a certain system. They call it honour. It edges closer to pride, if you ask me – keeping level if we had to invent an unoffending term; but, the crux of it is, when Garion heard your lover was embarked on something momentous, even dangerous… He was honour-bound to lend his relevant wisdoms. I really had little foundation for debate then. They went, and that was the long and the short of it.”
A few furious heartbeats yet, Yamame stood with her teeth gnashed and her fists clenched so tight as to become white. A few more still, and her fear, her anger, confusion and concern for her only human began to meld together under her spider’s heart. They coiled, squeezed, smushed together like a ball of resin mixed with saw-dust – growing harder and blacker by the moment.
It took but one another for the threads holding it up to snap… and the new emotion dropped, vertiginously, down into the pit of her stomach.
The emotion had a name. Yamame was too suddenly light-headed to work out the syllables.
“… Why?” she asked. Her question was almost plaintive. She trembled. “Why? You could have stopped them. You could have held them up. You could have told me. That thing… It ate my home. It scared my sisters. And we’re earth spiders. Why did you let him – a human – come at it alone?”
The answer was a sad, resigned prophecy. Lady Satori, gripping her cup by the handle, peered intensely into the black contents – as if reeling something up from a dark, secreted memory.
“… Because, Yamame,” she said at last, “some demons must be faced by their authors.”
All riddles, Yamame thought hatefully. All riddles, lies, all the time. I’ve had enough. Of this. Of you.
The tar-slough weight that had been crushing her insides now exploded into viscera of action. Yamame spindled round on the balls of her feet, and all but clawed across the room for the door.
At its step, Satori Komeiji’s voice halted her for a few more desperate seconds.
“Yamame.” Lady Satori was talking fast. “If you run into Garion, please – don’t hurt him. He is only doing what he thinks is expected. So, please…”
“… I won’t,” Yamame snarled. I’m not one of your pets. I’m not an animal, curse you.
“Good.” Satori shut her two upper eyes. “Good… Yamame?”
“What?” snapped the spinstress.
The dread mind-reader, Satori Komeiji, wavered with her answer. She hugged her cup and stared shameful holes into the wicker of the table.
At last, she looked up – and murmured her final appeal.
“… I will always be here,” she said. “I have always been and will likely be. If, by any time, you will find it in yourself to forgive me—”
The earth spider slammed the door.
Alone now, ballpeen-hammer need driving movement into her limbs, Yamame Kurodani ripped across Chirei-den’s wide, unpopulated halls, down a treaded spoor which led to the mansion’s front entrance.
A dry, unfeeling, delicious thought intruded itself, that she should tear the walls down instead. That she ought to blast the mansion’s roof clean off, the quicker to be quit of the accursed place. That a betrayer’s home deserved, anyway, no tidier fate than her own.
Only a clinging scrap of tact, of consideration – for the house’s architect, not the owner – stayed her rankling hands.
The Underworld’s vents spewed her out like volcanic ejecta into Gensokyo’s dawning sky. She whirled – splayed out her arms and legs – and broke the flight with her mind as well as the resisting air. The earth spider hung – on invisible, arcane strings – high over the waking forests of the Goddesses’ Mount.
Yamame had not been apprised of which outlet the humans had taken, and that was critical. Her eyes batted in a web-spoke pattern between the damp forest roof below and the varying reference points on the horizon. She whipped about – four times, six, eight…
… And then, she won her prize.
Toward the sunrise, on the eastern side of the mountain, a disruption was climbing for the sky. A shimmer of miscoloured air. A billow of effluvia, some sick pollution, swelling above the trees. Yamame braced. Then, boosting, she sped in a powerful arc for the disturbance… and the road, which her instincts told her – unsurprised – terminated in the unseen entrance of her home.
And there, rending the woven canopy of the forest, was an ugly stain. It spread out and tore the fabric of the woodland, eating up the multitude of colours and ejecting them as an ill, greenish brown. It was a wound in the landscape. A pool of deceased, putrid plant-matter – wasted and spoiled like the eye of an old fish, landed and left out to rot in the Sun. The rank stench of unbridled, rampant decay nigh on knocked the earth spider out of the air.
But this was not the prize.
The still, four-limbed figure, lying in the dust of the road some distance from the rotted pool, was.
Yamame Kurodani, half a hundred warning bells pealing out and splitting in her head, dismissed her spell. The spider spinstress careered for the ground – gravity and need dragging her down with equal force. She punched into the forest floor, a humanoid meteor, only her youkai core sparing her from becoming a vile stain herself. She blew out of her landing site – swatting aside the flying brush – and scrambled for the mountain path ahead. For the human who lay face-down in its middle.
She was, she realised when her lungs squeezed in pain, crying out his name. She foundered to her knees at his side and, wringing out her fear, rolled him onto his back. His face was pale, sickly… but his lips popped ajar, and out issued a wheezing breath. Yamame had to clamp her jaw to contain the sudden, idiot desire to kiss him. She hiked up his shoulders. Called his name. Shook him. Called again. Shook.
And then, miracle of miracles, her human lurched… and his precious eyes wrested open.
The dull, sardonic look he gave her was so familiar – so routine – all but it wrenched her overworked heart out.
“… Hello,” he said.
And nothing else.
Yamame collapsed into a weak, hiccupping laugh.
Paran let her laugh. He let her tumid emotions bleed themselves dry. He let her hook his shoulders under and drag him off the road to prop him against the trunk of a nearby tree. He let her hands slide up and down senselessly over his front. He stared her worried searching down.
“… I am fine,” he rasped. “Quit pawing. I’m… fine.”
“A fine person,” Yamame argued, “doesn’t plop down to sleep in the middle of a road. Are you hurting anywhere? Anywhere feels numb? Wrong?”
“… Hurts to breathe a bit,” Paran confessed. “No big wonder… Must have puked for near on half an hour. Head feels… woozy. Throat burns.” He forced a flat, insincere smile. “I didn’t notice I’d conked out. What time is it?”
The spinstress had no head for repartee. “What were you thinking?” she questioned instead. “Why didn’t you tell me anything? Why did you run off? This… is so far outside your web it isn’t even the same cave anymore. Why? What were you going to do?”
Her human – her beloved, irreplaceable human – sucked his teeth. His eyes, misting, darted sideways – down the road, toward the noxious rent in the forest. He returned them, just as soon, to her… empty of excuses.
“I thought—” he began – before truth told otherwise, and his voice was smothered. “… I wanted—” he tried anew – but want had not been in his choices’ lining that day. “… I needed,” he admitted at last, “I needed to… To speak. To him. To make him stop.”
Yamame frowned. “To whom? Make who stop?”
Paran’s mouth tightened, as if he had blurted a lie without meaning. “… Yamame,” he croaked, urgently, “please. Let me—”
The earth spider gripped him by the wrists. They were limp. Cold. “No,” she said. “No. I won’t. I’ll carry you if I must; but you aren’t staying. You aren’t fine. You’re white as paper… You’re stammering. You’ve never stammered.”
“I’m getting you out,” she overrode him. “I’m taking you to your town. To see a… a physician. A doctor. I can control diseases – not poison. This – whatever this is – can be dealt with later. My sisters are waiting on me; I will come around with them. We’ll sort out whatever… whoever this is, together. You need help. You can’t wait here. You must—”
“I must talk,” her human wheezed at her, “… to him. This is my fault. Mine. I’ve made… this mistake, before.” He exhaled with difficulty. “I’ve repaired that one… I think. Let me repair this. At least, let me try. Yamame.”
Yamame Kurodani was an earth spider. The eldest, most mighty – the mother of plagues. She was not, unlike some, honour-bound to comply. What was there to make her? No youkai’s instinct obliged her to listen. No spider’s sensibility reared to contest her wish to move her human to safety first, then to give chase to the enemy. She could seize him now, willing or no, and fly – ahead the slightest objection might mount.
… But she had learned some things across the month, had the old mother of plagues – and listening had been among the least obscure.
In the end, she could not say which had kept her feet aground. Her neighbourliness, or her tight-laced diligence? The pressure in her human’s voice? The askance parallel to his past missteps? At the eyelet end of the minute, Yamame Kurodani, the yearly malady, did not know. She released the hold on her human’s arms… and gave up a slow, un-spidery nod.
“… All right,” she said. She did not sound quite all right, so she said it again. “All right. Very good… I will help you try.”
Paran stared up at her unhappy face. Surprise and gratitude vied for majority in the space behind his eyes. Neither had won; but Yamame’s human must have felt it meet he voice some result.
“… I love you,” he said stupidly.
That pinched her cheeks in a grin. “I know,” she replied (no less stupidly). “I know you do. I’ve been told. What I don’t know is what you want to do. What you require me to do.”
Paran set his mind. His eyes followed. “… I must go,” he said, “in there. Tell him. That things have moved on. That you aren’t who… what he has known you to be.”
“Who is this diabolical ‘he’ we keep bringing up?”
Her human’s face squelched, mossing over with chagrin. “… A lie,” he hissed. “A mistake. Something that should never have been. Never needed. That I kept using.”
This means nothing of use to me, Yamame complained inside. “Haven’t you tried once, already? To go in there?”
“… Suppose,” groaned Paran, “Suppose I have. I didn’t make… good headway. Couldn’t breathe past thirty paces. Scrambled back. Got winded. Swallowed too much of… of those fumes.”
“And then passed out,” Yamame finished, tartly, “in an uncomfortable place. Had a long nap. Worried an earth spider bald.”
Paran graced her jabs with a guilty smile. “… Suppose I have.”
“How do you suppose to reach whoever it is you need to talk down?”
“I—” Her human hesitated. “… Can’t see how.”
“You ran all the way,” Yamame exasperated, “all the way out here from Komeiji’s hole. You snuck out of bed – that had me in it. You hired on a twice-damned guide. So you were fixed in your rush to come out here, you forgot to bring along your blindfold. And now, you say you… can’t see what to do?” The spinstress made a critical sound. “Sloppy, Paran. Sloppy.”
“I hadn’t planned—” gasped her human, “I hadn’t planned for… for this. Any of this. I hadn’t planned on…”
You hadn’t planned on a lot of things, thought Yamame. But here we are.
“… I will go,” she told him.
The earth spider stitched out a resolute expression. “I will go,” she announced, “in there. Into that stinking pool. I will find whatever precious acquaintance of yours has caused this. I’ll rope them – and drag them out here. And then, after you’ve forged out whatever it is you need them to hear, I will rope you – and fly you to your town. No arguments, no delays. No detours. You talk, then we fly. Very good, Paran?”
The human in front of her – the thoughtless, beloved human – stared on for a few heartbeats yet. They were short, diseased heartbeats. Paran opened his mouth to speak.
Yamame moved, snatching the words out mid-syllable. No longer willing – able – to compress her emotions inside, she closed in on her knees… and, longingly, pushed her lips onto his.
As the rest of him, they were cool. Somewhere, in a less coherent part of her spider’s brain, Yamame yearned foolishly to warm them up. She bounced back to her feet ahead the idea might leak and waterlog the rest of her thoughts.
She squared her back, looking out to the toxic mire beyond the trees. The stench of rot, of hyper-accelerated decay, chemically-spurred decomposition, was wafting in on a febrile wind.
“… Yamame?” Paran called behind her.
The spider stiffened at the tone of his voice. “… What?”
“… This,” her human grated out, “all of this… This is my fault. Not yours.”
“So?” asked Yamame.
“So,” replied Paran, “whatever he says, remember… You are not to blame. Not for this. Not for anything. Never were. Yamame Kurodani,” he wheezed, “… has done no wrong.”
Yamame vised her teeth.
She began to walk – before either of them might recall how false that statement had been shown last time.
She passed the first thirty paces, which had debilitated her human, with no greater obstruction. From there on, it only got worse.
As she neared on the shore of the poisoned pool, the thick, spoiled air closed in on her skin and clotted on her tongue. The soil shifted into mush – a confused, glutinous mess of half-digested cellulose, starch and ground minerals. Around, trees leaned precariously; some, mostly younger specimen, were losing their coats of leaves before her watching eyes in a rapid, chemically-fooled hibernation. The soles of the spider’s shoes smacked and slurped obscenely as they pulled free of the yielding terrain. The sloping-over reek of corrupt, dying nature pressed in on her youkai’s senses – forcing them to shut down, layer by layer, to keep her physiology from purging itself in a flight of preservative panic. Her stomach wrung.
As the crippled trees gave way to open space, another sick sensation wriggled into the hind of her brain. A dizziness. A kind of mental vertigo that grew nauseatingly in intensity as she gazed out over the focus of the devastation.
The sight heeled before her; it slipped between the sticky threads of her mind – like an over-clever insect bypassing her mental net. All at once Yamame Kurodani understood what it was Hachiashi had meant when she had described their encounter with the unknown assailant. What Nikiba had felt when she had almost touched it. The fashion in which it had escaped them.
But Yamame Kurodani was the mother of plagues. She was the eldest of the Underworld’s earth spiders. She strained the hooks of her internal web. She tightened the strings. Attuned them to the slightest vibration. The merest hint of presence. The dimmest sight.
And it was then, she saw.
In the middle of the opening, a lone human figure was slumped.
A human, its legs folded underneath, knelt in the digestive bog which bubbled and pooled around it on all sides. Its head, dripping knotted, greasy hair, was thrown back, sobbing in silent, inexpressible despair. Its hands clutched at its face – scratching, spasming in synchrony with its private pain. Its eyes were unseeable – hidden beneath a strip of midnight-black cloth, wound round and round its skull to deny the painful, morning light. A cloak of rags – long, impossibly white – hung from its sagged shoulders.
Gingerly, the spider slid out of her shoes, socks… and stepped into the pool.
A spasm of pain, warning, knifed up the meat of her calves. Corrosive, gluttonous acids sank their chemical hooks into her skin, seeking purchase, prying wide the passage for virulent, invasive toxins. They bit into her flesh, spearing, cutting… and found themselves utterly repelled.
The earth spider’s biology burned the poisons away into hissing smoke. Her magickally-sustained tissues mended and revitalised ahead her blood was fouled. Caustic, ravenous compounds which would have liquefied her footwear were no more adverse to her body than a prankster’s bucket of ice-water. Yamame Kurodani waded in, half up to her knees in the digestive soup – acquainted with the first step, knowing in the second, impervious by the third. The mother of plagues would not be struck low by her own species’ art.
Her own species…
The thought jarred her attention from the kneeling Paran-thing and swept her eyes lengthwise the desolated forest. A bolus of indignation, scalding and bitter, rolled up from her abdomen.
This… was no spider’s doing. It had no punctiliousness, no finesse, none of the needle-point function which contained the spiders’ work. The venoms and gastric acids were spewed about, any-old-how, over nothing to be eaten – nothing to drive off – for no ready purpose but this was what spiders were said to do. It was the act of something which knew of the Underworld’s builders – but not their inner lining. An architect-pseud, drafting up a house with all the walls, windows, doors and a roof outward, but no supports or partitions within.
It was an imitation. Unthinking, misguided… and disastrous.
She shivered off the interfering thoughts and trained her eyes once more on the thing that had done it all.
The thing, in defiance of its familiar silhouette, was a headache to keep in focus. It skimmed. It skipped. It slicked her natural senses and glided past, like a dream-moth blending in with surrounding reality. It bled light through its outline. As if it did not want to be seen. As if Yamame, like the rest of her spider sisters, had never been meant to see it.
But she was what she was, whatever the thrice-damned Komeiji had fancied; and she poured her youkai’s mind forward at the blurring shape, until the likeness of her human lover was fully resolved.
She recognised, with a tug of disgust, that the Paran-thing was not wearing a blindfold. The blackened stripe bisecting its face was not fabric, but discoloured flesh. A patch of scorched (or diseased) skin circling its skull in a sick counterfeit of cloth. Another imitation. Another lie. What else was fake?
The ground beneath the surface of the necrotic slurry was not; and Yamame, her main focus elsewhere, suddenly rammed a toe into something indigestible jutting out of the forest floor.
She cried out. Not from pain, but, startled, out of sheer surprise. Her brain unscrambled after a heartbeat, calming down. Then, it grasped what she had done.
Ahead of her, the false Paran stabbed into definition.
The crying sheared off; the wordless despair – killed in a flash. The imitation blazed bright with painful, toxic colour. The hands, which had been clutching its marred face, flaked uselessly onto its lap. The two eyes entombed in the black, “blindfold” flesh sliced open. Its head cracked into a wary, forward position.
It gazed directly past Yamame.
The earth spider stood, transfixed by her own tension and the milk-rot white of the imitation’s eyes. It was as its head was cocked in childlike confusion, and the eyes never centred, that something else caught in Yamame’s web of awareness.
The Paran-thing was blind.
The sound of the voice – the timbre, inflection – was so, so close to her heart. All but, and the spinstress would have whipped about on her naked heels to see whether her beloved human had followed her into the poisoned glade after all. But, no. Paran could not have done that. Not without a risk. Not without irreversibly damaging his health – never mind her trust.
What had spoken was the fake – the false Paran – now poised alertly on its haunches. It raised its scarred face – to reveal it somewhat younger than the one she knew by heart. Not so distant as to seem changed… but enough to make her briefly remember mortality.
“… Naoto?” The blind creature called again. “Are you there? Have you come to speak to me?”
Yamame felt bile pump up into her gullet.
At first, she had no idea why. But, as the imitation stared searchingly into the nothingness it saw, she had plenty apt opportunity to divine the well-spring of her revulsion.
The thing knew his name.
More, for it was calling him. As one would a friend. As one might a confidant.
The simple fact slashed open a pocket of realisations Yamame Kurodani had not seen – had not been allowed to see – before. But, having once peered into the Yatagarasu eye carried by the god-raven, Utsuho, she knew all at once what the wretched thing in front of her truly was.
It was Paran. Not an imitation, not a fakery; it was the original after whom her beloved human had taken his public name. It was the mask – the excuse with which Yamame’s envoy had guiled the concerns of their warrantees. It was the lie – born of hate, and later hated by its speaker.
The god mewled. Animal impulse saw it drop forward to all-fours.
“Naoto? Naoto! Speak to me – please!”
Yamame Kurodani, the eldest of the earth spiders (against whom the god was sworn), swallowed down an almost solid lump of sick, blighted saliva. She breathed in. She filled her lungs of the godling’s effluence. The taste made her want to add her own into the fold.
A low, spiteful whisper sizzled off her tongue ahead her lips might shut and lock it in.
“… He cannot hear you.”
The godling’s ears, nowhere so impaired as its eyes, were alerted with spider accuracy to Yamame’s location. The unseeing, unseen face swung her way, at once furious, wishful and afraid. The familiar, absurd medley of emotions hurt to watch. It made her desperately long to be yesterday.
“… Who?” the blind god was demanding. “Who is this? Where is Naoto?”
Yamame’s reply was flat.
“He cannot hear you.”
“Who says so?” The godling’s manner grew distraught. “What have you done? Who are you?”
Yamame Kurodani paused amid a surge of unreasoning hate and pity for the ragged being. She saw herself, braced on widespread feet, stately and dangerous even in her chubby, female body. Her mouth was pursed tight; her nose was drawn from the reek of decomposition and bubbling humours. She saw the godling – ill and starved, stooping in its own filth. The misery was perfectly counterpointed by the immaculate white of its robes.
But still, the spider thought, it was an enemy. The course she had promised to her human seemed frayed and immaterial beside access to the villain who had given the slip to her sisters. The one who had devastated her home. The one who had, even earlier, ravelled her in allegations of a motiveless murder. The one whose existence alone had denied her her lover’s real name.
And now, that bastard creature, the so-called spider god, was begging her name, egging her on. Yamame Kurodani was an earth spider; by the very nature of her species she was disinclined to unprovoked hostility. A spider did not attack unless attacked; it was far too designing and arithmetic a kind for that. It had to be pushed; it had to be harried to lash out.
This very good counted.
The mother of plagues unsheathed her fangs. She threw out a pose, for no effect but to discharge the tightness in her limbs. She indulged the nascent god’s request.
“My name is…” she began, “… I am Yamame Kurodani.”
The godling stilled as if paralysed. Its jaw hung slack. The spittle-flecked lips moved with numb motion. They mimed the shape of the name. Again. And again. Its useless eyes glazed over as it seemed to think. To weave something out of fleeing memories. To dredge it up.
At last, to know.
No prior brush with the divine might have cushioned Yamame against what stitched out. The mother of plagues squinted, stiff and queasy, as the Paran-god crumpled backward onto its seat. The slime pooled around it splashed, wrinkled – belching up bubbles of carrion gas. The godling’s filthy hair arced in the air when it threw its head back. It hinged open its mouth…
… And cackled.
The threat of the eldest, deadliest of earth spiders poised before it did nothing to obscure its sick amusement. It cackled on, until Yamame’s teeth were grinding and her stomach turned. It cackled still even as it spoke.
“I have found her!” it exulted. “I have found her, Naoto! She is here! At last, at lassst—”
The shrill exclamations died as the Paran-god burst into life.
It swung its arms over its head, fists balled. It hammered them down into the foetid pool with such virile speed, Yamame’s spider’s eyes had never registered it until it was done. The pool split. A hurl of sludge, puke-water and scraps of half-digested things exploded all around the godling. Yamame curled. She danced back, out of the range of falling projectiles. She kept her mind cold, steady – patiently hanging back at the periphery of the attack.
And that was how the godling had willed it.
A single tendril of hyper-condensed venom lanced under the onslaught at the spider. A spear-tip shot of the blackest poison, superbly camouflaged in the raining sewage.
She had no time to duck. The fishgig of toxins hooked the side of her neck. She yelped, wincing. A misled instinct slapped her hands over the wounded place. The mistake was made plain when the skin on her palms began to sting and flake. Her youkai’s core raced, pulsing, to restore its physical sheath. But this venom was more potent by half than what had been used to render down the soft forest life. The wound seeped, leaking pus and runny flesh down the collar of her earthen dress. Yamame moaned, for the first time, in pain.
Ahead of her, the Paran-thing had stood up. It was reaching for the sky. It laughed – cried – laughed again in manic glee, even as the last of the filthy rain pattered off its immaculate robes.
“I’ve done it!” it gloated. “I’ve done it, Naoto! I’ve harmed her! I’ve hurt the monster! Will you speak to me now? I’ve done as you asked! Naoto? Speak to me! NAOTO!”
It was the name.
It was, once more, the name that did it. Not the shock; not the trauma of wounding. Not the pain. Not her own body tainting the dress which had been lovingly sewn to contain it. It was the name. Its repeated, demented, irreverent use. Its innocent sound defiled by the godling’s toxic tongue. It was the jealous awareness that it had known it – while she had not – that broke her.
Yamame Kurodani, the earth spider, the eldest among the Underworld’s spinstresses, gnashed her hollow, envenomed teeth. Her head swam. She swayed on her feet, clutching at the wet, corroded flesh of her neck, and hissed. She hissed like an overfilled kettle, as her hate, envy and anger boiled furiously to the fore of her brain.
The heat-spill of emotions ate away at a set of restraints somewhere in the gut of her soul. A set of restraints she herself had placed. A set that she, Yamame Kurodani, had fashioned of her own unrepressed will to fetter an ability which she had vowed would never again be released without a reason.
The restraints softened, flexed… and fell away into the abyss below, as the mother of plagues unleashed her darkest gift.
There was no arcane gesture. No word of power. No flourish to the spell. The one instant the godling was cackling; the next, it was collapsed on its knees, retching up chunks of diseased meat and gangrenous blood. It gaped with dumb consternation at the innards evacuating its own body. It took it five foul, delicious heartbeats to wrap its flimsy, new-born mind around what had happened.
What had been done to it.
Who had done it.
As it rounded on her, drooling blood on its no more unstained robes, Yamame Kurodani thought, in a less frenzied part of her brain, that misalignments may have been made. That, as she had its human peer in an entirely unlike circumstance, she had rattled the god-Paran’s sanity too far out with this direct assault. That, by employing the very method which had touched off its birth, the yearly malady may have sunk her fangs too close its abscessed heart.
The timid theory was confirmed when the godling began to shriek. The forest floor shivered in sympathetic pain. And as her own power had been brought to bear, so too now Paranseberi called on its domain in full capacity with no theatrics of a warning.
The spider god’s soul tore asunder, and out its pestilential depths blew a gale of pollution.
It punched into the earth spider like a falling tower. The calamitous, malign wind lashed and ripped at her undefended body.
It stripped away her skin.
It dried and scraped out her eyes.
It blasted inside her mouth and burst open her cheeks. It batted down her faceless body and clawed at her ruined, flayed limbs. Slowly, without mercy, the howling wrath of the crazed god peeled away everything that she was…
Out of a fold in reality, the great spider barged into existence. From out of shadows in mind-space, some infinitesimal crack between legend and life, it surged into abrupt physicality. It emerged to a world flooding in distressingly from all somatic vectors. A world of light, pheromone-scents and battling vibrations. Of raging, hostile pressures. Of violence.
It arrested its leap, almost delicate on its pointed feet. It touched down, its bulbous abdomen skidding on the moist, slick ground. In the same time-span it took a fly to cycle its wings fiftyfold, the spider’s elongated brain appreciated its new circumstance in full. The state it was in.
It rode out the black, abrasive wind, flattening defensively. Villain currents kinked and snarled the feeling-hairs spaced along its legs. They reaved the spider of its favoured sense. Its complex mouth-parts splayed, hinging up, fat mandibles screening the octet of fragile, lidless eyes atop its head. It was blinded, deaf and confused.
But, even here, amid sensory chaos, there was an underlying pattern. A weave. A direction to the assault.
The spider’s teardrop head moved on its waist-neck. A thread was thrummed in its hyper-specialised brain. A bundle of threat-response synapses fired in vicious synchrony – swapping out the brain’s entire paradigm.
From attacked… to attack.
The great spider slid lightly, skilfully, under one whiplash blast conjured by the unseen, unfelt enemy, and rolled around the second. It thundered into the third, its bulk carrying it through – its hooked feet easily snatching purchase even from the quagmire terrain. The spider hammered into the attacking shadow, wielding its two foremost limbs like humans of old wielded their strange, cold, mirror-sheen wing-shells that attached weirdly to their wingless arms.
The assailant vibrated at a frustrating frequency, briefly. Then it crashed backwards into the bog.
As if at the touch of a god, the filth-storm abated. The torrent snapped; it coiled, rumbled once, and slurped out of the forest-space through a non-dimensional hole. The air hushed with an unnatural, sticky eagerness. A nigh-noon Sun reasserted itself over the tree-tops – pouring its light down on the glade like a thick, lukewarm blanket.
The great spider splayed out its limbs. In its relief, it rubbed the wetted mouth-parts over its irritated eyes. Its less-weighed hind-legs strummed the main, mobility limbs in a frantic effort to disentangle the precious hairs. Ahead of it, somewhat laterally, the assailant ruptured out of the swamp.
The spider moved before it thought to move. It pounced, impossibly, from a stand-still position, smacking aside the attacker’s upraised front limbs. The hard, flesh-wrapped ball seated between them flashed with new definition when the assailant cracked wide its colourless sensory orbs. Its breathing orifice was spread open; and it fell bodily as its paired, twin lower limbs gave out underneath it. It splashed back into the swamp, scurrying and vibrating.
The spider wavered.
It loomed, hesitating, over the questionable prey-shape – half-expecting a quiet, female voice to come out and harshly tell it no. It waited, drooled, each wasted nerve-tick feeding into its annoyance. It deferred to the voice’s decision.
… But none was coming.
The sweet, young, female voice which had so oft spoken softly to its mind – at times chiding, at times advising, like a gentle brood-mother – was silent. It did not tell the great spider no. It did not croon, “Not-prey, not-prey” into its ear. It did not chide. It did not say anything.
So prey it was.
The great spider’s fangs slashed out of their sleeves with a spray of pressurised fluids. The spider pinned the writhing man-thing down. It stabbed one of the long, onyx-black blades into the tender gap between the prey’s shoulder-joint and its neck.
The blade glided past the layer of skin, sinking in a full quarter of its length ahead it ran into first resistance. The spider clenched, ignoring the prey’s cacophonic vibrations and thrashing limbs. The micro-serrated edge sawed into and past the warm, palpitating organs with a slick, sensual ease. When at last the first fang was hilted in the prey’s quivering torso, the spider stretched its multi-parted face… and, unceremoniously, punched the second one up under the man-thing’s ribs.
As it pumped the twitching body tight with venom and preliminary enzymes, the spider cast its simple mind back onto its own self.
It touched along its decentralised brain with soft, concerned nerve-probes. It ran its imaginary legs over the place inside itself whence the voice had always come… and found it numb. It found it swollen. Hard. The voice’s home was a beady nub under the rind of its soul. A clot. A cyst wrapped around some metaphysical damage the spider had not received nor understood.
What it did understand was that the voice had been wounded somehow. That it needed help. Healing. A dose of energy. Nutrition. Sustenance.
It needed to eat.
The spider turned its caring attention inside-out. The prey’s body, which still hosted its fangs, had distended. It was dead – dead, soft and ripe for consumption. The fangs slid out of the mushy torso. They snagged on the paper-thin skin, tearing out little chunks of pulpy, pre-digested meat.
Its complex feeding piece flowered out to reveal a black, dribbling gullet.
Not knowing – or caring – what it was it had killed, the great spider began to eat.
She stumbles out of the poisoned glade bleary, sluggish and bloated.
She sways. Her nude feet kiss into the hot, marshy forest floor. They suck free, tugging away at her already weakened balance. She did not find her shoes. They are gone – as is most everything in an eye-leap’s radius. The trees are excoriated. Their bark has been pared off. Their naked, creamy stems stand defenceless in the insect-heavy air. The forest floor is razed. Still, rotting life litters the ground.
Kurodani Yamame walks on. She smothers down the urge to bend over and heave. The sour desolation stretches on, even as she totters out onto the Sun-baked mountain road. She throws the few final steps out almost by willpower alone, and crumples beside her waiting human.
She gives in and lets her stomach cramp freely over a patch of wet, diseased grass. The spider’s meal does not come out. She retches for a full, painful minute – but the loathsome, sticky essence remains lodged in her soul. She spits out a string of yellowed, bilious drool, and wipes an arm across her mouth. She sits up, smiling a rueful little smile at her human.
He does not smile back. But then, she figures he has scant little incentive to do so.
She apologises. She tells him, in a nauseous, faltering voice, that she is sorry. That her pride ran ahead of her wits. That the godling’s backlash quite whelmed over her blackest expectations. That she never meant for things to escalate so. That she is deeply, penitently sorry.
Her human does not reply. But then, Yamame remembers, he has only lately learned to speak to her at length at all.
She asks him whether he has seen what took place in the poisoned clearing – then answers, ahead he may, that neither does she. She explains the memories of her spider core are inaccessible; that the monster’s sense-recollections are coded in a way which her human shape simply cannot understand. She says, weakly, that the godling wasn’t there when she came to. She lies that she does not know where it has gone.
She speeds up. She tells her human, again, how sorry she is. She says, once more, that this has been her fault, hers alone; that her jealousy drove her up a mental wall, rendered her dumb. That, whatever sour relation Kurodani Yamame has effected between the human and his god, she will endeavour to mend it. That she will replace it however she can. She promises him this.
Paran stares on without speaking. But then, Yamame knows, he can do nothing else.
As if rousing at last from a long, romantic dream, Kurodani Yamame looks up at the motionless face of her first and only lover. She sees the handsome, slightly scraggly, but lovable features. She sees the lips she has been taught feel very good on hers. She sees the brows over the human’s fantastic eyes, squished into a dim, somewhat distressed frown.
She sees the dry, milky crust collected on the rims of his eyelids. She sees the eyes themselves, frozen in a faint expression of surprise, or some mistake realised too late. She sees the purple veins clearly under the bedsheet-white skin. They are dilated, turgid from coagulating blood. She sees the stale, sickness-laced saliva trickling down his chin. She sees his still, unmoving chest.
She does not know, at first, how to feel.
A flight of memories swims up to the surface of her mind. The catching of her human’s name. The clumsy attempts to redefine their acquaintance afterwards. The baring of the human’s strange desire to embrace spiders on their visit to the underground Capital. Hijiri’s missive. Their asinine bet on the same evening, which spurred on even less innocent things. The accusations, which her human soundly rejected. The few consequent days, full of creativity and pleasant distraction.
The six days of project that arrived, then culminated when something treacherous was unveiled. The next morning, when more treachery yet came out to light. Its diffident forgiving on the Sun-scorched flatland road. The discovery of her eaten home. The educative sojourn in Komeiji’s private realm. An argument and a resolution. The three dreamlike nights in consequence, of being filled with her human’s love. The fervent declarations when at last Hachiashi broke the news… which may or may not have pushed him to pre-empt her confrontation with his god.
All of these have changed something inside the spider. All of them have by degrees caused it to desire more from life than the empty idleness of its sisters or the constant, mindless revelry of the Oni. All of them have made the spider crave something… someone… who would satisfy its deeper, both higher and lower appetites. They have made it hopelessly will that someone to love it, despite its sins.
And now, they have left it with this bitter end. Paran’s lifeless stare drives it in like a mallet.
The earth spider begins to cry.
She cries as the Sun rides the sky into noon. She raises plaintive, desperate pleas up into the humid summer air. Nothing heeds them.
Paran the human and Paran the god are actually one and the same, the same way that Yamame the humanoid and Yamame the spider are one and the same. Paran simply severed his human and god halves apart, and took steps to further separate the two, such as taking a new name. But the human and the god were still two sides of the same coin, so what happened to one was inevitable for both.
When Paran dies, Paran had no choice but to follow in its footsteps.
Morning had dawned dewy and mild; but, across the hours following, the Sun had nurtured a shy streak and fled above the blanket of granite-grey clouds. Moisture had frozen, spinning a spiderweb-crack rime of frost on the tired soil. The air was thin, static; even over the open fields which enwreathed the humans’ walled town, the wind, it seemed, had taken a breather. Not a blade of grass was bent.
A ways removed from the town, more nearby the Buddhist hive of Myouren-ji than anyplace else, a peculiar stretch of terrain had been sectioned off from its surrounds. A shepherd’s stone fence had been stacked, in some past time, to mind its border. The ground had been levelled. Alleys, crossing and criss-crossing, were running the enclosure in a decussated pattern. The gaps in the weave were filled out with long, flat slabs of sanded stone.
There were many, many like slabs in the yard. Each had, on its placing, been labelled with a singular name. Some names were etched on plaques of wood; some – with special opulence – had been scribed in bas-relief in the slabs themselves. Some were without names – unremembered, or never revealed. Each was someone consigned to the earth beneath.
It was a yard of graves. A haunting ground. Not for the dead; for those were long waiting their lines in the courts of the Yama. It was a place (paradoxically) for those yet living. For humans – to contemplate the stones which now stood in for their loved ones. For youkai – to stalk in hopes of quenching their unique hungers.
Over one such stone stood one such youkai.
A lone wheeze of wind yawned, unnaturally, from the adjoining edge of the forest. Then, it stilled.
Yamame Kurodani, the earth spider, the great architect of the Underworld, all the same tucked the halves of her stiff, still-new coat tighter about her sides. The decision to take it along had been chance; seasons did little anything to influence the Underworld – less a slight, overall downturn in percolated rain. Up here, on the surface of the world, however, winter was firmly digging its claws in.
Yamame sighed. She was keeping a weather eye on the prowling tsukumogami a few alleys distant. At the same time, she mulled over the stone at her feet. She read and re-read the name graven on its upper face. Again, and again – though the result was every time the same.
It was a name she had never known.
As the other youkai moved on aimlessly, the earth spider crouched and touched a hand to the slab. It bit at the tips of her sensitive fingers with a hard, vindictive cold. Yamame did not yield. She kept touching the stone… until, at length, her skin drew and ached in a sharp, nerve-root objection. She flinched back.
“… Sorry,” she murmured, grimacing and righting up.
A moment slid by, and she felt a fool for apologising. The accustomed state of mind tweaked her cheeks into a smile. She giggled. It made her feel even more foolish.
The tittering spider poked a hand into a pocket of her coat, and out produced an otherworldly, scarlet rose. The rose was stunted and foxed from the journey; it was stolen as well – smuggled out from the subterranean lighthouse tended by Yamame’s Oni mentor, Nikuyama. It did not have to have been stolen; Niku would have packed his “little spider” a crate of the roses had she but asked. But the spider had been in a contrary mood. She had pinched one of the dwarf flowers at the stem, stuffed it in her coat, and brought it out here. To the world above. To see the Sun – for the first and only time in generations.
She placed the rose on the grave.
“… I am sorry, too,” she promised. She kept her voice a whisper, so as not to alert the sneaking tsukumogami. “I really am. I’d never meant for… anything. I hadn’t meant for you to come and… That’s why I am sorry. But, all together, despite everything… Thank you. Really, really thank you.”
The stone did not reply. Yamame smiled even so.
As the timid Sun winked through a tear in its cloudy overlay, the eldest among the Underworld’s spinstresses turned away and began to walk. She picked an alley which would keep her under the other youkai’s notice. She circled round it, until the cemetery’s fence loomed out of the overgrowing brush. Yamame hopped it with spider ease.
The ritual done, the earth spider bolted her mind around less spiritual matters. She stitched the spell at the back of her head, and rose, smoothly, into Gensokyo’s overcast sky.
A peek round for spying eyes, and she sailed east on the wintry air – for the humans’ terracotta-roofed town.
The months intervening the incident and now had been busy.
When second-best, Hachiashi, had proposed to “clean up” the remains of Yamame’s home would be necessary, she had spoken in euphemism. The house’s corpse had to be extirpated altogether. Nothing structurally sound had been spared the dissolution; even the sturdy, marble pillars (taken from the ruined palaces of the Yama) which had served as padstones for her home, had been left stained, porous and ruddy. Like rotten teeth. She had pulled them all – with the help of her sisters.
The younger earth spiders had as one entreated their eldest to move in with them in the absence of a private den. Yamame Kurodani, staunchly, had put their offers down. She bade her nights, instead, nearer to her work. She slept on a rough cot fashioned from sack-cloth and bales of raw fabric, nested as they might best be atop her beloved human’s push-cart. The cart had lodged, miraculously, in a bend of the existing staircase; thus, it had been excluded from the godling’s bout of acid misery. Not every one of Hijiri’s grants to the earth spiders had survived its stay in the tunnels (nor, indeed, the spiders’ attentions); still, what Yamame hadn’t used in making her bed (or quartered out to her impatient sisters) had made for good barter in the underground Capital, once she had ventured down to shop for materials.
The large-hearted Oni had proven most helpful (at least they had once Nikuyama had lent his long-unused arbiter’s voice); and, within few weeks in following, the little cavern in the outlets of the Underworld had been seeing creativity the like it had not in an aeon. With piles of powdery bricks, bundles of oil-conserved planks, bags of lime mortar and glue, and one spider huffing and sweating, it had been made a busy scene.
Other earth spiders came and went in numbers: in twos or threes at first – then, trickling down, by themselves – to butt into their eldest sister’s work. Not always with effect; some sitting by without use until evening hours; all the same every day saw one of the younger spiders come to watch Yamame stir the mortar, saw the wood and stack the bricks.
She had figured the method in their visits ahead much too long. It was a schedule. A queue – like as not Hachiashi’s mathematics. To keep Yamame’s tabs. To make certain of the elder spider’s well-being. To keep watch of her mental state. All, obviously, very needless; but, if her family had a stake of honour in worrying, then all Yamame had to do was let them. It cost her scarce at all; and, at the end of each day, it gave her someone whom to bid an honest good-night.
That alone, perhaps, paid off the indignity. A side of it, anyway.
Satori Komeiji, likewise, had made some attempt at diplomacy.
A mere month subsequent of their last meeting, Yamame Kurodani had been tugged out of her sleep by the tap-tap-tap of booties on the stone and the swish-swish-swish of oversized sleeves. The youngest of clan Komeiji, dumpy in her grandmother’s floral smock, had come to make amends. To let the earth spider know an inquiry by one of the Hakurei shrine maiden’s affiliates had been mounted (and thoroughly dismounted by Old Hell’s authorities) as well – but to make amends first of all.
San Komeiji owned little of the flair for rhetoric her father did; thus, her explanation had been simple.
“She is sorry,” the flawed mind-reader had said. “She may not have told me to tell you in so many words, but this was what she was.”
Yamame had nodded that she’d understood.
“Would you like me to carry back an answer?” the girl had asked.
The earth spider had shaken her head from atop the cart.
San had made a face. “This is going to hurt her.”
“Yes,” Yamame had replied.
The youngest Komeiji had been visibly disaffected by the response. Still, she had taken it – slotted it inside a mental envelope – and left the earth spider to her work.
The work was coming along nicely, too – if nicety included a stock of old, crumbling bricks in not near to adequate a quantity. Two rooms of serviceable size and a kitchen had been the ruling of Yamame’s calculations. Not even half the size of her previous home. Never ahead had the loss of her human’s resources been felt any keener; and, short of months to scavenge about the site of the Old Capital for yet-unearthed stockpiles, two rooms and a kitchen had no recourse but to do.
And do they would. Soon. Something else beckoned for the while.
Yamame Kurodani, the mother of plagues, the (self-) exiled, touched quietly down between two taller buildings at the periphery of the humans’ walled town.
A chunk of apprehension dropped and strained the web around her heart when she saw townspeople in strength passing by beyond the mouth of the alley. The earth spider wrapped it up. As well as she wrapped herself tighter in her clothes. She had counted on her cloak, muffler and cap to deflect inquisitive eyes; now, counting still, she padded out of the shadow to join the wandering humans.
To find her destination had been as easy (and difficult) as asking around.
Though Yamame had been given the desired name and location on her first incursion (and after but a few pragmatic questions); but, to whet her appetite (and blunt her misgivings), she had given it two and three and four more to place her goal against her mental lay of the town. When the yearly malady weaved among the commuting humans now, her steps were brisk, industrious – spider-like. No one stopped her, and she stopped for no one.
Then, as she turned a confident, well-practiced corner, presently her destination leapt into view.
A fenced, well-tended estate spanned fully the length of this street; even as Yamame cautiously approached, she might see the thick, imposing wings of its front gate – flung wide open to convey messengers and teams of loaded, hand-drawn wagons. The memory of her human pushing his own cart along in a cloud of sweat and strangled curses flitted in and out of her mind. The teams leaving the estate were doing little of the former – and much of the latter. They passed the lone Yamame by, with never a care but for loudly speculating the lineage of their next customer. The spinstress felt her mouth quirk up. Business, it seemed, was as business was; it mattered not whether made by humans or by cast-out youkai.
She muffled her amusement in her scarf and stepped boldly through the opened gate.
A wide avenue ran immediately from the threshold. Wide enough for six earth spiders to march abreast – or two wagons to brush by with the littlest room for accidents and yelling; it ran and ran, until terminating in the distance on the porch of a broad, single-storey house designed after the historic, eastern mode apparently imposed on Gensokyo’s humans. To both sides of the avenue, rows and rows of storage sheds, shelter-roofs and loading platforms were arranged – and amply jammed with merchandise.
The merchandise was fabrics. It was bales and bolts and folded squares of cloth of all make, colour and spin.
Yamame Kurodani ground to a halt as her expert’s eyes pulled in familiar patterns. She had seen some of these fabrics. She had passed them between her fingers. She had even worn some. Ahead she parsed what it might mean, her feet carried her aside from the approach and under one of the weather-beaten roofs.
A sheaf of stiff, coffee-ground-dye canvas lay on a flat bamboo platform – ready to be carted out. It lay there innocently; only Yamame knew it would absolutely murder the fingers of any hapless clothier who might wish to shape it into something useful. She knew this – simply for it had already murdered hers. The outer skin of her new coat had been cut from it.
But why? Yamame wondered. Why was the same fabric, which her beloved human had collected as part of Hijiri’s reimburse, here? In his family home?
No answer presented. No answer could – for they were all routed by a voice speaking at Yamame’s back.
“Hello? Miss? Can I help you?”
The spinstress span about to find a young, human woman fixing her with a politely commanding stare. A small, thin woman, who could not have been too far on the worse side of adulthood – bundled up in a plain work kimono and a warm winter wrap. Her long, coal-black hair was tied in a tight bun atop her head. The high, naked forehead – together with the sharp, angular eyes – somehow put Yamame in mind of a poising snake. The snake wasn’t ugly – other than its lacking figure; it was even, in some slippery, snaky way, pretty. Nor was it, for the moment, about to strike.
All the same, Yamame felt a jealous mislike well stubbornly under her heart.
The woman, maybe sensing it, restated her demand. It snapped Yamame up to a full, attentive height. It was too close a match for her taste.
She hesitated. Words seemed, all of a sudden, a foolish thing. Not quite aware for what end, she tugged the cap off her head to allow her golden hair to spill down her shoulders. At length, she stitched out a sequence of words which, while still foolish, were at least not a lie.
“I am…” she said, “… I am Yamame Kurodani.”
The woman flinched, startled. Almost, and Yamame would have wagered she would cry out in shock. That she would announce her surprise to all within the bustling yard. She would have lost that wager.
For then, miracle of miracles, gods above stepped down – and the woman threw a loop of mental rope around her reactions.
She dragged them down – together with a wiry hand across her face.
“… Of course,” she murmured into her palm.
Ahead the earth spider might question of which course, the woman’s poise was patched back whole. She hung her (twiggy) arms and inflated her (even so flat) chest.
“Of course,” she agreed, all official again. “You would be. Follow me, if you’ll please.”
Then, haughtily, she heeled around on one foot – and started for the spacious house at the end of the boulevard.
I don't. The cabal hasn't granted me access to the identity of anonymous writers. You seem to know how his stories usually turn out though. Just ask yourself: what if that didn't happen this time? It would be pretty boring if all his stories ended the same, right? Maybe this is finally the one that's different.
Hey, I'm not in on the cabal either. Just look at the comments, and the other stories (if you haven't read Tenshi Is in This Story yet, you're doing yourself a disservice). YAF's about as subtle as a nuclear-powered hell raven.
She had been led to a room in the rear, business-less section of the house.
No work-stooped servant who they had passed in the house’s wood-panel corridors had overmuch paid mind to their passage. None had dared to pay mind, more pertinently – stepping out of the snake-like woman’s path as soon as noticing her slither their way. A huntress inside her grounds, the woman had shown Yamame into the room, advised taking a seat, and curtly instructed the earth spider to wait. Then, she had jammed the sliding-panel door close, and slithered off to fuss somewhere else.
Miracle of miracles, Yamame Kurodani had not minded a great deal herself. She’d imagined she had recognised some of the thoughts bulging the veins under the woman’s despotic skin. The thoughts weren’t too far off her own, once upon a time. The room had a straw-mat floor, a low table, four walls, and little else besides. Nothing much to thread her attention but to fall in and wait, Yamame had sat down at the table – and waited.
She had an idle ten of minutes to herself, to feel out the twill in the mats and count the knots in the table-top. She hadn’t counted all when her diversions were slipped away under the backcloth.
A slap-slap rush of feet, egressing from down the hallway without, came to a halt behind the door. There was a pause. A tap. Then, the sliding-panel door swished into openness.
Another human was kneeling on the floor of the entering side. A woman. A short, stout female, wending her way well into an age when salty streaks were colouring random wisps of her hair. As the snaky one had been, this one as well was rolled up in an indifferently-cut, functional robe. A twin pair of steaming, earthenware cups were rested on a wooden tray before her. A subtle tea-scent tinged the air of the room.
The servant (she had to be) served no heed to the youkai at the table; with a click of worn joints, she righted up to a weary stand. She bent over and picked up the tray; then, having first crossed the step of the door, she lowered herself back onto her knees. She set aside the laden tray and pushed close the door.
Ceremony satisfied, the ageing servant woman stood up again. She shuffled over to where Yamame was seated, and – never speaking – deposited one of the cups. As the earth spider was densely nodding her thanks, the woman turned to circle round to the other side of the table.
Sighing, she sat down.
Yamame had not expected nor requested to be brought a drink – but was glad being able to bore her eyes into its walnut depths when the servant showed no tells of leaving. Still, it was an ill place to hide a nervousness, and Yamame’s did not soon improve. Too distracted to fully register it, the spinstress raised the cup and breathed in a very familiar scent. It did little to better her like of the situation, but she tried a cautious sip all the same. The woman opposite of her seemed to mimic her motions. She lifted the other cup up to her lips and drank.
When the cups were returned to the table, it was almost in comical synchrony.
Against the tension inside her chest, Yamame began to giggle. She checked it fast – but not enough. The servant was staring.
“Ah, um—” The earth spider flushed. “… Sorry. I’m… I’m not good at this.”
The aged woman canted her head slightly to the side, as if admitting curiosity. She did not let it out it immediately, but when she did, she had a rich, resonant voice. A calming, almost sing-song voice, which all but put Yamame Kurodani in mind of things she – as a youkai – had never had.
“… Good at what?” the woman asked.
The earth spider shunted aside her bizarre associations. She dumbly shrugged her shoulders. “This,” she said. “I’m not good at this. At talking to humans.” She caught the innuendo in her words as they fled her mouth. She grimaced. “I—I mean, talking to you. You, humans. I mean… Um…”
Though she had half envisaged the servant would at least match her in expression (likely far worse); but the older woman merely cocked one of her brows.
“… Evidently,” she observed.
A few heartbeats went by that Yamame properly strung herself up in her head. An earth spider above all, she was good at that. The servant sampled her tea more ahead she further pursued their conversation.
“You are, then,” she said, sizing up the pin-cushioned spider, “Yamame… Kurodani?”
Yamame Kurodani surrendered a nod. “Yes.”
“The spider of illness?” the woman wanted to know. “The yearly malady?”
“The one from beneath the Goddesses’ Mount? The one who killed the head of this household?”
Yamame shrank. “… I didn’t mean to do that,” she protested. “Not on purpose. I never wanted to—”
“I know.” The woman’s eyes were hard – as though she was speaking a truth, but one difficult to release. “I know. For what it is worth, too… I hold no grudge against you. Not anymore. Yamame Kurodani has done some wrongs—” she smiled at a bitter angle, “—but not this one. We know this. We’ve all known it. Some of us simply… had to blame someone.”
Yamame stared back, uncertain whether she was being absolved or lured onto craggy terrain.
The woman seemed to catch her words weren’t seaming. She fanned a dismissal with one wrinkled hand, then looped it back again around her cup. Yamame watched as she daintily sipped away, all the while sewing her thoughts into some kind of whole.
“… Are we,” she sewed out at length, “… Are we waiting for someone?”
The servant smiled above her tea. “I should hope so.”
The smile went on drawing her cheeks as she settled down her cup and reached for Yamame’s disrobed coat. Ahead an objection might mount the earth spider’s tongue, the aged woman shook straight the cloth Yamame had folded with meticulousness until it had made a perfect square atop the table’s. When one did climb up, the spinstress swallowed it down again. It is only a coat. The objection yelped with spider urgency, but Yamame had clamped her mouth. No echo issued out.
The servant was running a testing hand along where the stiff, outer skin was joined to its quilted padding. Her lips were pursed.
“You made this, then?” she asked.
Yamame blinked. Then, she blinked once more. “Um—” she forced out (still over the objection), “Ye—Yes. I did. It’s… It’s a bit untidy; my home was wrecked lately; I had to make do with little anything. I’d wanted about twice as many buttons and a thicker undercoat, but… I’d run out. I had to mooch most of that felt off my sisters, and it’s… It hasn’t been in the greatest care, let’s say. The overlay is really too tough, too.”
“We do not usually use it for clothing,” agreed the woman.
“But I needed something,” Yamame went on. “I needed something for the season. For the rain. And, when I went and trialled the fabrics I had still, this one was letting in the least water. It wasn’t letting in any, really.”
“That is what it’s supposed to do,” the woman replied absently. Her fingertips probed along Yamame’s stitching as if hunting kinks. “Canvas is less permeable by itself. We… coax it to be less permeable still, is all.”
Now Yamame was listening. “Coax it… How?”
The woman quietly gauged whether an earth spider could keep a trade secret. Though, whichever side of the gauge she came out on, a finger all the same went up to cross her lips. Yamame, jolting, copied the gesture. The woman inclined her head.
“… It is waxed,” she revealed. “At the tail of each Spring, we buy out the last of beeswax stock off the keepers. Second-rate, most of it; though, it weighs in very little to our purposes. Come Fall, we take the blocks out and cook them over a fire until they run like oil. We rack the canvas and paint it with the wax. As you would a wall. On one side – so some plasticity is retained; with a lean brush – so it lays on not too thickly. We pull the canvas from the rack after a while; and two our biggest men wave it between themselves for a well good bit. The hardest of the wax flakes and shakes off. One more man takes a palette knife to it and peels away whatever yet sticks out. We then cut it, quarter it, and sell it. As roofing, package wrapping, proofing, work surfaces…”
“But not for coats,” guessed Yamame.
“No,” confirmed the servant. “Not for coats. Too tough. Too much work.”
The earth spider grinned. “My bad.”
The woman fondling her coat made a replying sound. The reply was somehow displeased. “… And you made this,” she said, critically, “All of it, by yourself?”
“Um. Yes. I… I normally do.”
“All by hand?”
Yamame thought it over. “… I had a thimble. That probably sped things up.”
“No machine?” The old woman was scowling. “No… press, no hand-wheel?”
The woman let the coat slide from her hands. She shook her head, as if privately criticising someone’s obvious lapse.
Almost, and Yamame Kurodani would have wounded at this review. Almost, and she would have launched into a fierce defence of her work. Almost, and the mother of plagues, the eldest of the Underworld’s spinstresses, would have demanded to be shown this “hand-wheel” and how it could have done better than her own, seasoned fingers. Almost, and she would have done all of that.
But then, something else swapped out her indignation.
A rush of footfalls ripped into the hall beyond the room. A flight of heavy, clamorous footsteps, frantically gaining in volume.
The woman opposite of Yamame smirked. Then, she hid her face behind her tea-cup so quickly, the spinstress could no more say there had ever been a smirk at all. The panicked steps halted abruptly outside.
The door slammed open wide, rattling in its frame.
He stopped. Caught his balance. His eyes scraped lengthwise the table between the two females. They snared on the human one. The brows above them hugged.
“… Why, this?” the man demanded.
The woman – the ageing, portly one – ignored him. She held her cup, tilted, up to her lips, until the tea was drained. Then, she set it back on the tray. When she spoke, her voice had a tangible arch to it. A kind of sportive lilt. Not at all like a servant’s.
“Our tenant has deigned to be carted out of bed, I see,” she said. “At last, might I add,” she faithfully did add; “I’d near run out of topics to entertain our guest. Scarcely proper, making me do that. You know I am busy.”
The man steamed his resentment. “… Akari took her time fetching me.”
“Always those,” the servant (or was she?) exhaled. “Always the girls, mucking things up for you. Aren’t they? Akari, Yamame—”
The earth spider jerked straight at the sound of her name.
“—always them,” finished the woman, “knotting your laces, ruffling your hair. When-ever shall you disabuse yourself of this terrible gender?”
He secured no answer, breathing out his rush, glaring his frustration. Though he did step in to assist the woman once she moved to stand; but the old servant (she really wasn’t, was she?) smacked him away. She rose on clicking knees, sweeping up the tray.
“Ask, then,” she said, alarmingly breathless, “our guest, whether she’ll will to stay for dinner. I’ll have the cooks know. If you wish, too, you could join us – if your harsh sleep schedule’ll weather.”
“Thanks,” he said drily. Then, his face furrowed with suspicion. “… Why?”
The woman rolled her eyes at the ceiling. “Winter is inside the month,” she explained, mock-suffering. “An architect is unlike to see a lot of custom once snows begin to fall thick. I may have something to bridge her over. We but need to talk, first.”
Again, the man had no reply but for glowering his helplessness. The aged non-servant brushed by him, intent, for the door still open after his entry. A foot past its frame, and she twisted about.
“I imagine,” she said, “that the two of you both have things to say. I’ll leave you to say them in quiet. An hour should do, yes?”
“… Yes,” the man gave up.
“Then I expect an answer within the hour.”
“… Very good.”
The woman’s gaze took on a stern edge. “Ask her,” she repeated. “I won’t slip the Hakurei on her; nobody will. And if, then, she proves to me as trained a seamstress as you’ve repeatedly lined her out… I will deliver on what I said. May I depend on you? Naoto?”
The man, shutting his eyes, let go of a long, hoarse, grinding sigh. At its end, however – all sighed out – he seemed a mere half of his previous, angry size. He refilled his chest of the room’s musty air. At length, he looked, meekly, to the awaiting woman.
“… I’ll ask,” he surrendered, “… Mother.”
A feat of long years bullying obedience out of an entire household, the woman managed not to shape even an impression of a smile at her victory. She bowed her shoulders, instead – a weak, but mannered curtsy – at Yamame. Then, she quit the room fully – slid the abused door close with an unoccupied hand – and left.
The man, for a time, continued his scowling of the door.
At last – once he was amply satisfied it wasn’t like to split back ajar in a burst of overbearing parents – he slumped his back and swivelled on one leg. In a few terse, cutting strides, he reclaimed the spot at the table whence his mother had been diverting their guest. He dropped, weightily, down onto the straw-mat floor. The floor was tough; it squeezed a hiss of pain out of his throat. He rubbed his seat, annoyed.
Yamame Kurodani observed him. The eldest, most deadly of the Underworld’s earth spiders silently marked her time as the human kneaded away his mistake and began mining for his words. He would hack them from what Yamame had learned had always been a hard deposit. The type of deposit which commanded time – time, tools and effort – to extract. The words would chip out eventually; she but had to wait.
So, she waited. So, she observed.
All told, it was an odd sensation. His presence… The sight of him, his sounds, the accustomed motions… They were insidious. Like cherry wine poured down the crystal web of her mind. The clarity of purpose afforded by her work was quickly smeared a blush red. Her home – her precious new home, of two rooms and a kitchen – seemed now someway far away and false. A distraction with no real artistry or use.
Odder, for the longer she touched the feeling, the more hardly the spider inside felt it a problem – or even strange. What are you spinning now, Yamame Kurodani? wondered a more structured, the self-conscious Yamame. The outer one didn’t answer the question. She perked up, excited, when she spied her human about to discharge his bounty.
He did discharge it, too. He rumbled the mined words out in one, unbroken spill.
“… I am sorry,” he said.
Yamame received it with a grateful smile. Nobody had promised the bounty would be big.
“You are?” she indulged.
Her human sighed dramatically. “… For my mother,” he clarified. “For what she probably said to you. I apologise for that.”
He rapped the fingers of one of his hands on the table. “This is what she does,” he grunted. “When she has no idea how else to broach a conversation. She bites – until she makes a hole.”
“Seemed to me you were the one getting bit,” opined Yamame.
The man shook his head. “That is different. She has been… short with me like that ever since I came back. Conversation or regardless.”
“As like as not,” he said, “this is my punishment.” He shrugged. “I made it abundantly plain everything that had happened had been my fault. She made it abundantly plain she wouldn’t soon forgive my attempting in great earnest to rid her of another member of her family.”
Yamame made an encouraging smile. “That just means she cares, doesn’t it? In great earnest.”
Her human scoffed. “Akari says so,” he allowed. “Of course, Akari has been even worse.”
A patch of silence sewed into the air between them even as each considered what it entailed to be worse than the man’s scorned mother. Nothing much had been when the man spoke again.
“… I am sorry, Yamame.”
“So you’ve said,” the spinstress agreed. “What else for?”
“That I wasn’t here,” he said. “That I wasn’t up to greet you. That you had to go through… those.”
Those, Yamame speculated inside, meaning other women around you? “Then you knew?” she asked aloud. “That I was coming by to visit?”
The man’s head again swayed left and right. “That you were around.” He went on when she didn’t follow, “When one inquiries about for one of the business families, it comes around. You were, weren’t you? Inquiring?”
Yamame bit on a lip. “Um… Yes. I was. It seemed subtle when I thought it up.”
“Might have worked in your Capital,” speculated the man. “Here, though… Someone was on your case ahead long. Tattled on you to my mother; gave a description. It was a simple thing to guess. There aren’t many girls around with your… uh, looks.”
“My hair, right?” Yamame wanted to know. “It was, wasn’t it? I’d hoped I’d hid it.”
“Among less light things. But—” he added, as if tact had all but – yet not quite – wrung his neck for the comment, “—since then, I have been trying to… to stay on my toes. In case.”
“But…?” Yamame supposed.
“But,” the man complained, “it hasn’t been the easiest. I’d been told not to overexert. So, Mother put me to fixing accounts together with our clerks. That means sitting late nights over a candle and a mountain of figures. Mornings haven’t been kind on me.”
Were they ever? the earth spider thought. But, for the sake of her human’s comfort, she let the argument lapse. Good thing, then, she praised herself inside; good thing she’d gone to visit the man’s father ahead she had come for him. Who would have rescued me if I’d been earlier?
The picture pushed a smile out onto her lips. She smothered it with a hand.
“… It’s nothing.”
For a lonely heartbeat or five, every possible impulse to abandon this web tugged at her mental strings. To let it snap. To tear it down in a blow of laughter; to leap out from under the table and drown her human under those “less light” things. But humans, hers included, were like walls. The harder a spider laughed at them, the less like they were to let her through.
Yamame Kurodani, a spider since memory served, drew a lock of that troublesome hair of hers behind an ear.
“… So?” she said, disappointed, “Why didn’t you leave me a letter? A message? Anything?”
The man frowned at her. “… How?”
“Any-how.” The earth spider made a pout. “If you knew I was around… You could have written. You could have hammered it to a wall, or a roof. You could have had someone carry it to me. You could have visited. I’ve built a new home, you know? A mite more cramped than the last, but still. You would have fit.”
His frown deepened, as if smacked on the top. “… I wanted to.”
The refrain was growing familiar. “But?”
“Mother slipped hounds after me.” He sniffed. “They rolled me up like futomaki and dragged me back.”
How does a dog—? “And so?” she snapped, ahead her brain was beguiled by a silly mental image. “How did that prevent you leaving me a message? If you knew I’ve been around your town—”
A loud click of the man’s tongue tacked her questions to the insides of her cheeks. “… I wanted to,” he said again, grimly. “Yamame, I wanted to. Gods, I was about to bribe one of our runners to keep a look-out for you! A month’s savings – less my feedbag – from what loose change Mother deems worth my work.”
Yamame detected what was coming. “… But?”
“… But,” the man complied, “I wasn’t sure. I didn’t know. After what I… After I had lied to you yet again, after what you had to do… I couldn’t persuade myself you’d want to see me.” He raised his face when she didn’t reply. “… And you?” he pushed. “What about you? If you’ve been around town… Why didn’t you visit? I mean, before?”
The earth spider’s jaw hung open. She clacked it shut. Then, it opened again.
“I—” She hesitated. “… I didn’t think. That you’d want to see me. After what happened.”
The human stared at the spinstress. The spinstress stared at the human.
You are a pair of pebbles in the same shoe, she chided herself. Smooth as sandpaper, hard, and a snag to shake out.
He still shook out first, did Yamame’s human – as it seemed his humanly place. He blushed. He coughed. He pushed himself out from the table and fanned out his long, sleeve-sheathed arms.
“… Yamame,” he rasped.
Come here, you idiot went unsaid.
Nor did it need be otherwise. The earth spider moved as her original did – without pre-thought. She scrambled over the table and flung herself into his embrace. A misled instinct – doubtless a build-up of propriety – saw him grasp at her arms as they were thrown around him. But they were two arms and only one human. They clasped on his back, followed closely by her legs. Her nose buried in his chest.
And then, she was home.
Her human groaned. Not from pain; her body (at least she hoped) had cushioned the impact for them both. But it blew the anyway strange thoughts of home from her singing mind. For now.
“… Yamame?” he wheezed.
“… You feel heavier than I remember.”
Yamame said nothing. She pressed her lips softly to the base of his neck and inhaled the smell of his skin. The absence of a spoken answer fed back sooner than she would have liked.
“… There are still things,” went on her human. “Things I was never told. What happened. What really, really happened. All I remember… All I’ve been able to remember is the forest, waiting… then a huge blast of wind, like a thunderclap, and—”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
The response was delayed. Confused. “… Yamame?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” she said once more, quieter.
She did not want to talk about it.
She did not want to recall how she had lifted her human’s numb body up from the devastated forest floor. She did not want to speak on how she had all but ripped Gensokyo’s weave (not to mention its skies) apart as she flew it toward the westering Sun. She had no wish, nor will, to remember casting her snares frantically, like a hatchling spider, all across the rousing landscape. She ill recalled the final stretch herself, once she’d struck at last what she’d sought. A touch of eternity and the scent of small prey.
She did not want to talk about how she crashed in the courtyard of the clinic in the Bamboo Forest, choking back tears and wailing (wailing!) for help.
Yamame Kurodani had no gods. That much had never changed. And yet, as she had reflected once, all the while she had faith. She believed in the predictable. The meshes between action and result. The anchors of consequence. The certainties of knowledge, gravity and time. The underpinning architecture of the world.
And so, in her faith, she had turned to the architects of the body.
And yet, she had no desire to mention – at any length – how she had been ejected from the clinic grounds no sooner than her human had been taken over by the crew. A nurse (or otherwise attendant) did emerge, hours afterwards – to find the earth spider curled, foetal, against the outer fence. The miracle-sciences of the Moon’s descended Sage would restore the human’s poison-wracked physiology, the nurse would say. The matter remaining had been the price.
Yamame’s had been a simple curse.
“Continue,” the Moon-doctor’s attendant had ordered. “To be what you are. To do what you do. My Master finds use in your existence. So… exist.”
Though there had been further words: of conditions, periods, laudation of the clinic’s master, a warning to stay away; but Yamame had only half-registered the flow of it, filing key-words away for later, while her spider’s heart wrapped itself in guilt.
Ahead too long still, the nurse had caught on to the youkai’s lethargy; she tapped the heels of her (when Yamame thought about them later) hauntingly familiar, cowhide booties, gave a wooden nod, and retreated back inside the clinic. The earth spider had spent the ensuing day and night in the self-same spot, stewing inside with regret and self-hate. Three more such nights, and the leaking fumes of her internal cookery would attract the Moon Sage’s clean-up detail.
The mother of plagues of now, Yamame Kurodani in the present, wanted to talk about none of this.
She was home.
This was the immediate state and care. The home had no floors, windows, nor roof (and no walls outside personality); but it was still, somehow, someway, her home. It was where she was rooted. She did not need a Black Valley or a Capital – new or old – anymore. All she needed was him. The heat of his body, his musky-scented skin, and the strong arms, whelmed safely about her smaller, female form.
That much was everything.
And for now, for a handful sweet moments more, it was all she ever wanted.
But Yamame Kurodani was a craftsman soul. And her standards only climbed higher.
An unhappy rumble murmured out of her human when she nudged that he ought to let her peel away. Two palm-spans were as far as she did; altogether not enough to fluster about. Still, it tickled her to see contrition darkening behind his wonderful eyes.
The tickle became corporeal when his odd compulsion to touch earth spiders reared its head once more. His dominant hand loosed from her back; it glided round to Yamame’s front, trailing up her flank, the side of her left breast, and the same of her neck. It cupped her cheek – warm, ink-stained, and rough as she had known it. Its thumb disengaged from its siblings. It rubbed along the earth spider’s lips.
The human owning it sighed.
Yamame could bear it no more. The nonsense melancholy set her to giggling. She sputtered her amusement under and around the finger kissing her mouth shut.
“You are a snake,” she managed to accuse her human. “Aren’t you? For all that calling me fat, why is it you can’t quit molesting my soft parts whenever they’re put inside your reach?”
“Because they feel good,” her human said, staid and sober (if still gloomy). “… Because you feel good.”
“You feel bonier,” she shot back.
That cracked his staidness. “… Yes,” he grunted. “Yes. Quite. Thanks ever-so for pointing it out.” He allowed his hand to flake from her face and re-join its mirror twin at her waist. “I was a month abed, and another three recovering. That eats away one’s reserves.”
“I’ll miss your reserves.” She said it without shame.
Her human’s chin swished side to side. “No,” he replied. “No. I’ll exercise. I’ll have to, anyway. When I start working for you again—”
The question startled him not least as much as it had startled its speaker.
“… Ye—Yes,” he released his answer at last. “Of… Of course. What else would I do? I’m not stacked right for accounting.”
Yamame’s tiny heart thudded in her chest.
I love him, she thought, with thunder-strike lucidity. Though it might have been the heart speaking in this instance – but it made scant any matter to its master. I love him. I love him. I really love him.
Lady Satori had been half-wrong; Yamame Kurodani had loved her human, even before entirely resolving her who. She had loved him quietly, in spider-way; she had loved how he’d facilitated her passions to bud and bloom, how he had presented her with new, exotic foods, how he had travelled every odd week to give her ever more to do: more to read, more to build, more to learn. And then she’d begun to love him for how he – the fragile human he – had stridden past the trappings of her name, her titles and reputation, and treated the youkai as what it had been under its irritable earth spider’s skin. A person. An artist. A woman.
A whit heavy one – when compared to some of her sisters – but one all the same.
She had always loved him, much as “always” could compress to limit to their acquaintance. Only later had the great architect of the Underworld finessed what the term for her emotions actually was. Where it could lead. How it could develop. Like the project of a house: spanning from the simple floor-plan, out and out, until the walls were made real and the rooms inside fully furnished.
I love him, her heart thumped stubbornly. Yamame could no more shush it than she could stop it from beating.
“… Not yet, though.”
Her human had spoken, oblivious of her inner heat. Yamame clutched at her wits.
She blew out a reply, wits evacuating together with her voice. “… What?”
Her human did not notice, or show he had. Or, perhaps, he had never reckoned wits were part of her composition.
“I am,” he explained, “I am going to work for you again, Yamame. Move back in with you, hopefully. But not yet.”
Yamame blinked. “… But I want it now,” she protested. “I want you to return with me. Today. I want to take you home.”
To make it one, she added inside. To make it smell like home. Like you. There were other reasons – some more, some less wholesome – but the earth spider staunchly refused to name them. Her human was, at any rate, impermeable to her pleas – whatever the kind.
“… Mother is right,” he sighed. “Winter is near; and pox on them, but no one in town is thick enough to start building on frozen ground, under falling snow. And I… I am not my best, yet. The doctor said to handle myself gently for a while. Being with you… Working with you is anything but.”
“I…” Yamame swallowed. No argument came back up – damningly. “… I believe.”
“Then you’ll listen to my mother?”
“Yes.” I was going to, anyway. “I will. No worries.”
Her human breathed out his relief. “Very good.”
And then, as though it were the natural thing to do, he leaned forward and kissed her.
And there it was. The circle. The familiar cadence with which her human’s conversation was cut – the rhythm of pain-pleasure-pain, and again – was manifesting. But this, too, was part of his own who. This was how he, in his human frailty, was perhaps stamping his own weaknesses. As he ever had.
The only change was, these days, the pleasure part had the pain outweighed by half.
That it was a change merited recognition. In the wings, other changes – blacker, less willing – were waiting in attendance; but Yamame Kurodani was a spider. Her mind demanded detail and focus. And so, she chose this. She chose this changed human, who would frown at her when she broke his kisses, as well when she broke his back under work. She chose him, who would nonetheless only watch when she picked one of his hands up from her waist and cradled it in her own. She chose him, who remained silent and trusting as she lightly brushed her lips on the hand’s ridgy top.
She had done far worse to him, yes… and far better. But this was ritual. This was important.
Yamame Kurodani peered up, smiling coyly as she did.
And it’s done. I thank all of you (all one or two) who made it this far. The epilogue took altogether too long to complete. I wish with all honesty I could blame this on laziness or lack of motivation, but, rather, the last month has been German suplexing my health into the ground. It’s a unique kind of wrestling match, which – uniquely – has not been choreographed this way. Certainly not by me. My bets were on the health, actually.
A few closing factoids. Kurodani Yamame Has No Gods was 1 year, 10 months running. This includes two several-month hiatuses, which were as long as they were unnecessary. It capped at 163,5k words. As far as stories go, it wasn’t too much plot-driven; while it did begin with its ending firmly set in mind, it was by all means a journey-over-destination sort of affair. This said, I did go to a bit of an effort to sprinkle little clippings of foreshadowing – or hindsight-shadowing – throughout the story. So, if you ever find yourself pining after a re-read, do look out for those.
The inspiration for this story was somewhat curious. It was a two-parted thing. The first part is the picture you see attached to this post. More or less self-explanatory. The second part was a description in a 40k book, of a Nurglite champion so “blessed” by the Plague Father, he rotted all life around him in a mile’s radius. He also constantly broke down and reconstituted in accelerated life-death cycles, of which, of course, our loving Father Nurgle is a patron.
Was the combination odd? Without doubt. Did it result a nice story in the end? I very much think so. Amusingly, I never did like Yamame a lot, and I still don’t. But getting into the mindset of a romantically-deaf, socially-blunt savant was a fun exercise.
If I had to thank anyone, I’d thank those of you who pestered me to update, dragging me out of athose two a whole god damn litter of slumps.
If you have any questions, now’s the time to give me attention! ask them. And go read Apprentice in /others/. It’s good.
Well I followed this story from the first post, and I'm glad that I'm on the ride till the end. It was fun. It was cute. She's dork. The choice of words/phrases can be a bit confusiong to a non-native speaker, but otherwise, I greatly enjoyed this.
Surprised that you never used a name and/or trip though, but I hope you'll be writing something just as fun sooner or later.
I lack an appropriate GIF to convey my applause, and so am forced to resort to words instead. (I did, in fact, applaud, but distance and my miserly lack of a video camera did for that.)
Well done, bravo, jolly good show, congratulations, and all of that. You have put to page (or screen) a masterpiece once again, and my reading it has brought me as much enjoyment as a chronic sufferer of depression such as myself can muster.
And yet, even now, at the end, I thirst for more. For such is the bane of a great story - that it must sometime end. So I hope - if hope my frozen heart still can - that soon this more might, in some small manner, be forthcoming. And - if I may be permitted to choose as I beg - that it might possibly be of the red persuasion, if you catch my drift.
>>16025 >The choice of words/phrases can be a bit confusing to a non-native speaker I’ll be the first to admit I’m overly amused by wordplay. It’s a failing of which I’m likely too old to be weaned. I just can’t let a pun go. Who knows what it’d do unchecked. >Surprised that you never used a name and/or trip I’ve been here since the beginning. Those who know who I am already know it; I don’t care about recognition enough to appeal to the rest.
And, frankly, tripcodes are a pain. I’d have needed to generate an amply silly one (which might take hours), keep it on all my devices, and re-paste it every time one of them decides it’s time to hit those cookies like it’s Sesame Street of ’69. If you absolutely need to name me a name, then you may refer to me as Jack of All Banks (Master of None). That has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? Rolls like a head off a neck.
>>16021 I’ve been abstaining for almost half a year now. Please don’t break my streak. Or anything else. I may be big and imposing, but I’m soft inside. As could more or less be seen throughout this story, I think. Glad you enjoyed it either way.
>>16027 Eloquent praise, from one so un-GIF-ted. But I’ve said this before: a huge part of Sekibanki’s appeal, to me, is that she’s an unknown. She’s uniquely stated to be recalcitrant toward both humans and youkai, and yet makes her home in the Human Village without causing trouble. She is, herself, a youkai, and yet seems to care very little for notoriety. She only attacks DDC’s heroines because of the Mallet’s influence, and goes back to a quiet hamlet life immediately afterwards. Why? What drives her? Or, more pertinently, what doesn’t? We shall never know. This is what makes her so interesting in my eyes. She’s intrigue without a resolution – a beautiful, unsolvable mystery. And I prefer she remain that way.
I also know myself, and realise I would inevitably thrust her into a romantic relationship soon or late, which is an even greater no-no. I’ve already written too much about Sekibanki as it stands. As you may have deduced from her cameo in this story, in my setting, she keeps meeting with the now-Tao-priest – to drink, exchange complaints, and indulge in other things neither of them – priest nor youkai – should by rights be indulging, especially not together. What things? Why indulge them at all? Well, these questions are part of my Sekibanki’s mystery. And I really don’t want to spoil it.
So, here’s your disappointing “Sekisorry, but no Bancan do” to that.
>>16029 All denied. Much as I adore the dork (she’s my fifth top!), I can’t much feature Futo starring in a lead role; even in that disjointed thing I wrote years ago, she was a secondary character. If I wrote from Futo’s perspective (and let’s face it, female PoVs have, by now, become my THP thing), I would also have liked to keep her internal language themed and consistent. That’d be extremely draining in the long run.
This, together with my current health situation, I find outright daunting to think about. As I do committing to another story, period. The volume of response to this one’s ending has also been rather thin (for very understandable reasons!), so powering through by sheer peer pressure has not been an option. I know my strengths, and I know my weaknesses; pressure got me out of previous slumps (when my health was in the lows), but I’m simply, trivially not feeling it now. It’ll pass; there’ll come a time I’ll go through an entire day without having my brain jacked up and down by violent weather swings, but this month has just been awful about those. I’m not whining – simply explaining why “not now” is the bottom line.
If I had a frisky earth spider hanging over my head and absolutely had to choose a target, I’d say Kagerou, Minoriko or Nazrin would be the likeliest. No solid ideas, and I never start writing without those set in mind, but here you go. I’ve also been… entertaining ideas for Yamame porn, but the same applies. The home board for that is also deader than Mima. And me – I’m just un-arse-able right now.
I'm quite pleased this ended on a good note, yet disappointed there couldn't be more. That is the thing about endings isn't it?
I think you've set the gold standard for characterization when it comes to Yamame. I've never seen it done better. Her thoughts and interactions with Paran were consistently entertaining and interesting.
I think that could also apply to your writing of youkai in general. You do a real good job of writing them as distinct from humans without venturing into the realm of cliche. It's really enjoyable to read.
I do hope you'll feel up to writing some more in the future. I would be interested in something about Kagerou if you go that route. I like her character design but I've never read anything where she was a central figure. Also I find myself more interested in the youkai that live in the human village and what potential issues might arise from that.