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The library was shadowed and cool.
A row of book-shelves greeted Garion immediately, made of rare woods and carved exquisitely, and it stretched to one flank, and its twin occupied the opposite, and many, many more stood behind them, forming a peculiar alleyway that led deeper into the cavernous library, toward a lone light that shone distinctively in the mid of it, in the dark ahead.
Garion spurred himself and moved.
At a small, ornate reading table sat Satori, a lit candle flickered at her side. She held a huge, hard-back tome of writing, made seem even greater by the pale, delicate hands that grasped it by both covers. She did not greet him, nor did she raise her fair eyes from the text contained in the book.
“Sit,” she said simply.
Garion looked around. The air was stale, and the smell of hot wax hung in it like smoke. “There is no chair,” he observed.
“Look again,” said Satori. “And sit, please.”
He looked once more.
There was a chair now. Garion drew it and sat.
He scuffled close to the table and the candlelight, and faced his hostess, only to find that she had lowered the book and was now contemplating him studiously, as was her blood-red orb that now rested freely at her bosoms. The orb loured, and its sinister eyeball twitched all but maliciously.
“I apologise,” said Satori, “I didn't know you found my attention so undesirable.”
She lifted the book and again began to read.
Garion waited, but she said no more.
He elected to speak himself. “And what is this?” he asked, more to restore that wilfully removed attention than of any real interest. “The book you are reading, that is?”
“Du Vair,” she answered flatly. She licked a finger and turned a page without looking up.
“Poetry?” pursued Garion.
Satori muttered. “No,” she said. “Philosophy, if you absolutely must know.”
“And how is it?”
“Ghastly,” she said without an ounce of shame. “The man was a fool and a blind patriot. And his king adored him.”
“Which school was he of? Sentimentalism?”
“Stoicism, mostly. Although butchered to suit his personal views and his sick country.” She slammed the book shut with great exaltation and looked to Garion. “I don't imagine you were genuinely curious? Because this is total drivel. Were you?”
“Not at all.”
“Ah, is that so? Fine then.” She put the tome down and leaned back in her chair. Garion mimicked her and did the same. As they both reposed, he began to watch the climb in her light-blue blouse, as it rose and fell, and he counted in his thoughts, trying to match the rhythm. “Stop that,” Satori demanded. “This only works at the first or the second meeting of persons involved, and only before they have been acquainted. And not when one of them is being so patent about it.” She brushed her pastel fingers through her hair. “Although I will say,” she added, “this is the first time I have witnessed someone try it in practice. On me, no less. Aren't you knowledgeable, Garion?”
“No such thing,” said Garion, still staring. “It is basic. Fundamental.”
“Ah, is that so? Then what's this?” She motioned at his palm that rested on the tabletop with the index finger raised. “Are you going to tap every time I display a positive reaction?”
Garion did not retract his hand. “No such thing.”
“Ah, fine,” she said. “So maybe you will stop breaking eye contact every eight seconds? It's so regular even an ape could tell you are doing it on purpose.”
“No such thing,” Garion said flatly. He averted his eyes for an instance, then returned them shortly to Satori's.
Satori snorted. “I'm impressed,” she said sardonically. “Very, very impressed.”
“... This,” Satori stifled a groan, “is going to take a long time, I feel.” She reached under the table and produced a tall, dark-tinted bottle and a wide goblet made of gold-coloured metal. A seal had been stamped near the brim. The seal was two contorted letters “K” with their backs to each other, swathed both in thick ropes of vine, thorny and twisted. “Wine, perhaps?” Satori asked charitably. “It's likely to be good vintage, though I don't know the first thing about wine-making.”
Garion declined. “I don't drink.”
Satori smiled as she uncorked the bottle. “I lied,” she said nonchalantly. “It's chokeberry juice.” She poured until the chalice was half-full. Then she inquired Garion again. “Well then?”
“I am not thirsty.”
“I didn't think you were.” She set the bottle aside, reclined again, and played idly with the golden vessel. “All right,” she said. “Let us assume I have calmed since your... episode in the baths, and that my mood isn't as gloomy as my face may make it appear. You're in luck, Garion. I am having an excellent day, and I am hardly willing to let your unexpected... visit... diminish my enjoyment of it.”
Garion livened. “Then you will heed my questions? And answer them?”
“If I can,” Satori said, “but you will have to answer mine first. As you mentioned on several occasions, you are looking for that woman of yours, yes?”
Garion nodded. “Yes.”
“And she is a human, as you are?”
“No,” said Garion. “No, I don't know,” he rectified. “I was of insufficient age to distinguish the subtle difference between human and monster. Even now I lack in that regard.”
“A ‘monster’ is such a crude term.”
“It stems from tradition, not disdain,” Garion explained. “Monsters similar to humans that if you meant offence by calling one a ‘monster,’ you would mean insult to mankind also.”
“Naturally,” said Satori. “Then you're probably not aware that I am—as you wish to name it— a ‘monster?’”
“I am aware.”
Satori stared at him for a longer while. “... Never mind,” she said then. “So you know how that woman looks, don't you?”
“No. Not in detail.”
“Surely you must remember. Black hair? Raven wings? A glowing egg-like artefact in the chest?”
“... That is not her,” said Garion. “She was as any ordinary woman. No wings. No glowing parts. No strange animal-ears. No...”
He glanced briefly at Satori and her cables and her glaring orb.
Satori smiled sourly. “Insult duly noted.”
“I meant none.”
“Of course.” She sipped daintily from the goblet. “Anyway,” she then went on, “I asked because I feared Okuu might have sired a child without my knowing. A disaster would no doubt ensue if she had and the child had come to do vengeance upon his dull-witted mother for the ridicule of the rest of his human kin. But I see this isn't the case. And I'm glad it isn't. You're making me happier by the minute, Garion,” she joked. “Don't tap, please.”
“... Never mind. So,” Satori resumed, “how are you planning to recognise the woman once you find her?”
Satori regarded him carefully. “... You hope you do.”
“I'll know,” Garion insisted.
“Fine.” She gave up. “And my last question is: why do you want to find her? And don't lie, please. I want to hear the truth.”
“She is important to me,” Garion said.
“She changed my life.”
“And?” Satori pushed. “What of it? I've changed the lives of many men myself, and yet your point fails to strike me.”
Garion hesitated. “... I wish,” he began, “I wish to thank her.”
“Thank her?” Satori sounded surprised, but the rest of her posture contradicted her voice. “That's all?”
She paused and looked Garion in his serious, steel-grey eyes. “Just that? You are sure?”
A moment passed in silence, then Garion repeated: “Yes. I merely wish to thank her.”
“For changing your life?”
“For all that she did for me, yes.”
“Is that so...?” She thought about it for a few moments. “... An extra question, if you will.”
“... Go ahead.”
Satori set the chalice beside the book and the bottle, and leaned closer to Garion. “What business in all reality would that woman have here, in the underworld, of all places?”
“I don't know.”
“Then why are you looking for her here?”
“Here is as good as anywhere.”
“... Are you—?”
“No,” Garion cut her off. “I am not stupid. She may be here as well as anywhere else. I will scour this place, then move on to another should I not find her. That is why I sought you out... Satori.” He winced. “I need to learn of this place,” he continued all the same. “And not the poetic balderdash. I want dry facts. The geography, landmarks, trails and the like. Spots where she might hide.”
Satori reclined and caressed her orb. “Fine,” said Satori. “This house you are in is the Palace of the Earth Spirits. Beyond it lies the Hell of Blazing Fires.”
“The Old Hell.”
“Yes. And the caves where Rin found you—”
“Their name is no import. They go wide, and reach far, even to the surface, that I know. Anyone could find that if they spent enough time in them. And I did spend a lot of there.”
“A week, perhaps?” Garion guessed. “I do not know exactly.”
“All on your own?”
Satori thought about that. A long crease blemished her forehead. She looked considerate with it, scholarly even, but should she keep it, it would in time ruin her flawless complexion. Something no sensible woman her age would allow to pass.
“Do you have to do that?” she asked irascibly.
Garion stared. “Do what?”
“... Never mind. All right, Garion,” she resumed briskly. “Let me share with you a secret. This place, the Palace and so on, is the crossroads between the Old Hell, the caves and the rest of the underworld. A hub, if you will. All that wish to travel to the surface from Old Hell, and vice versa, go through here. And no woman that might have been who you are looking for has passed through in years. I'm sorry.”
Garion, however, was not disheartened. “She might still be here all the same. Perhaps you missed her. Or she might wander the caves still. Had it not been for your pet, I would never have found your Palace, either. The possibility remains.”
“Maybe you're right,” she admitted. “All right. Let us suppose, just hypothetically, that I am not absolutely repelled by the idea of... letting you use my house as a base of your search.”
Satori took hold of the chalice and began to fiddle with it again. “... Like I said,” she resumed, “everyone who wishes to pass from one part of the underworld to another passes through here. This is the centre, Garion, the focal point of it all. The underworld pivots around this place.”
“A poetic way to put it.”
Satori halted. “... You seem to have a misconception that you enjoy nurturing,” she said. Garion did not reply. “Anyway, this is how I see it. If your woman changes places of stay, she will have to go through here, so you will know at once. And if she is, as you believe, in the caves, you'll have a point of start and return. You're a practical... person, so you should see the benefit of that.”
“I do,” said Garion, “but I do not appreciate the idea.”
“I know,” said Satori, “and neither do I, not too much. But it is better than the consciousness of having a human sneak around in my backyard. And Rin has taken to you, so it appears, whether you—or I—appreciate it or not. Ah,” she remembered, “but it won't be free of charge, I fear.”
“... I have no money.”
“I rather thought that might be the case. A skill that I could put to use around the house, then?”
Garion said nothing.
He possessed many a useful skill indeed, though he shied from bragging of his vast talents. Among these were excellent persuasion, advanced astronomy, astrology and travel, and trapping also, and hunting and forage, and while those were useful skills on the road, and they served him well, they were unlikely to be of use to the home-dwelling woman. One would be inclined to side with her in this opinion.
Garion could also, however, prepare all manner of food and drink, from local to oriental. And that was a skill most appropriate in a household.
Satori smiled. “Cooking, yes? That is good.”
“I did not say anything,” said Garion.
“No, as a matter of fact, you didn't.” She gave Garion a minute smirk, then continued: “So what will it be? I'll let you dwell here with me for a period of time, and should there be no... conflicts... between us, I'll extend that period as you convince me is needed. Will you accept?”
“Ah, is that so?” Satori stood and reached out a hand. “Then it is done.”
Garion stood also, but wavered.
He could not argue with the logic of her offer, though a stitch of disquiet impelled him from within to decline. And yet he realised that her home would make a safe springboard for his search. Should he desire, he could even divide the underground into sectors that he would then schedule for scouring on chosen days.
The prospect was tempting, and reasonable also, and yet he felt a pull of self-loathing wrench at his bowels when he took the pale, flimsy hand of his beautiful hostess.
The hostess smiled at that. “Come,” she ushered, “I'll show you the kitchen.”
She let go of him, blew the candle out, and went for the exit.
Garion followed, sullen and silent.
Satori locked the doors of the library with a large silver key, then, quietly also, started toward the main hall.
She stalled after a few steps and turned around. “What are you doing?” she said to Garion, who stood still by the door. “Have you got second thoughts after all?”
[ ] He did. And he expressed them. Explicitly.
[ ] “No,” he told her. He wondered, however. About Satori. She confused him.
[ ] “No such thing,” he said. He tapped on the door. Then he joined her.
[ ] He did not. He was annoyed, though, for Satori had no yet answered his questions about the underworld.