An angry wind chased him all the way down the hall. It unfurled through the entryway where he shoved his friend to a seat on the stool at the welcome station. Letting Chouchin into the circling mistrals Haku rounded on the human as the lantern filled the hall with dim light
"What were you thinking, Kenka?"
The tall human seized the desk to keep himself upright, shrinking again. Fear pinched his face into tight lines.
"Kou! Kou, you're seriously scaring the shit outta me!"
Haku stamped his foot, making the room shake as he loosed a burst of wind that tore through the human's hair and clothes, making Chouchin's light flicker in the gloom.
"Good! You should be frightened! Gods cannot tell lies but they are just like humans, Kenka! They are capable of wickedness, manipulation, and cruelty!"
"Okay, I g-get it! I'm s-sorry!"
Haku blinked; wilting as he stared at his friend. The poor human looked faint.
"Do not be sorry, Kenka. You have done nothing wrong. That you can see the best in everyone, God or human, is a rare and precious thing."
Pinching his temples with one of his hands Haku paced awkwardly.
"Apologies… I… I overreacted. I am frightened of spiders. I was even more frightened when I saw you with her. I feared she might hurt you."
Haku jumped as again Kenka's burning hand found his shoulder. Turning he found his friend beside him shaking from head to toe wearing such an expression of relief. Haku went stock still as the male yanked him into a hug.
"Dude!" Kenka choked in a tiny voice, "I thought I'd never see you again!"
Haku blinked rapidly as again pin pricks seared the edges of his eyes. Shyly Haku drew back only to pause, lifting his hands to gently collect the male's face.
They were exactly the same height, which allowed Haku to stare in alarm at the human's wide compassionate eyes. They were no longer brown. Magic burned the color from them. Kenka had been irreversibly touched by the Spirit World. It would never leave him now. Kenka flashed a trembling smile that faltered even as it held.
"Yeah... Same thing happened to Jae and Meg."
Haku helped him back to a seat, planting himself against the wall beside Kenka.
"Tell me everything."
"We, uh… We followed Chihiro back to Ueno through a… a d-door?" Kenka waved a hand back at the kitchen uselessly, "Meg opened it. Then Chihiro went off with that fox guy, the ghost, and the freaky-eyed lady from the park."
Haku blinked, "Kubi!"
Kenka didn't hear him, he was too caught up in the telling of what had passed.
"They left us there an' I didn't know what to do! Then boom! Satako called."
Haku stood bolt upright, knocking against the wall.
Kenka was staring with his uncanny pale eyes as if he already knew everything.
"You left all of them with her, right? The Ka-m-m…"
Kenka could not bring himself to speak the word. Abruptly he pressed on.
"After you took off she called Chihiro's cell in a panic but Chihiro'd left her cell in her car. Michio answered it. Chihiro'd called Shouta the most out of all the recent calls so Michio gave Satako Shouta's number and Shouta called me."
Haku's mind reeled as it got tangled in the details.
"What did you do?"
Kenka shrugged as if he could not think of anything else to do.
"We went to get them."
"We chartered a bus. Luckily Shinjuku Station's close to Ginza. Jae and Amano pretty much hijacked the driver but Megumi gave him a ridiculous fare so he got a good deal."
As Kenka explained in such matter-of-fact terms Haku struggled to smother a short incredulous laugh behind his hand.
Kenka's pale eyes sparkled as he nodded.
"Dude! It was straight outta a Miyazaki movie! The… uh… Your friends kept moving from one side of the bus to the other so they could see Tokyo. They made the bus tilt a couple of times. The poor driver was white as a sheet by the time he dropped us off in Kumomi."
Kenka was grinning now. He wiggled his fingers and made a scary noise. "Wooo… Haunted bus!"
Haku laughed outright at that, fighting to sober.
"How did Shouta fare on this terrible ride?"
Here Kenka's face fell and Haku's heart seized with terror. Abruptly the human dropped his eyes to the floor struggling to hold himself together as his face composed with aggrieved resignation.
"Shouta didn't come. Neither did Kana or Fuu."
Stunned, Haku could only listen as Kenka pushed on to explain. Chouchin floated back overhead coloring a sympathetic blue. Glancing at her Kenka's brow twisted with fear as his mouth drew into a grim line.
"M'beginning to think it's a good thing."
Haku stared at him helplessly.
"Kenka, I… I do not understand…"
The human threw up his hands with such violence Haku jumped.
"Me neither, dude!"
Suddenly the male was intensely angry and at odds with himself.
"Sensei says it's because they're not like us. How did she put it? She said they couldn't see the world they way we do."
Haku blinked and blinked and blinked some more.
Kenka nodded shortly at once grim with anger.
"Before Shouta called Sensei an' Origa just showed up! They were there when the restaurant collapsed. It just folded in on itself like a bad soufflé. Poof!"
Kenka made a folding motion with his hands only to stare at them helplessly.
"They just watched! That was our whole life and they just watched it go out like they already knew it was gonna happen! You know what the worst part is? Sensei said she's always known we were different. That's why she chose us to work at the restaurant. She chose us, dude! Can you fuckin' believe that! She picked us for this mess then she fuckin' dumped us!"
Kenka's face drew into enraged lines as he clutched his head as if it ached. Quietly the male continued, so quietly Haku held his breath to listen.
"She told us to get out of Tokyo… She told us to just disappear and she wouldn't even tell us why… I couldn't do that to Sho… He's all I have…"
Kenka took a shuddering breath and furtively dashed a hand at his cheeks.
"It's weird, huh… He's totally into all this stuff but in the end he couldn't believe. He couldn't even believe me."
Kenka turned his face into his hands as his shoulders shook. As if he had much practice the human wept without making a sound. Haku sank to his knees at the male's feet staring up at his friend feeling utterly helpless. It hurt him to see the human so miserable. It hurt him even more to know he had caused them to be torn apart.
"I… I never meant to bring this upon you!"
Though his face was red and raw, Kenka looked down at him with the same patient gentle expression that first endeared the human to him. The look inspired such a response. Haku gritted his teeth, clutching his heart squeezed to the point where he feared it might actually burst.
"Dude, I don't think any of this is your fault."
Haku was too upset to accept the pardon.
"How is it you are so calm? I find there is usually screaming and… running."
Kenka snorted as a weak smirk pulled his generous mouth from grimness.
"There was way more running and screaming a week ago."
Haku's insides stilled in dismay. Had it been so long? A handful of hours on the other side could easily become days in human time. He was dragged from his thoughts as Kenka smoothed his chemical frosted hair.
"I s'pose this means I'm getting used to things. At first I didn't think that was possible but we've worked some things out."
The human's pale eyes turned distant with memory.
"Natsumi reminds me a lot of the lady who ran the orphanage where I grew up. She explained the way things work here. We cook. In exchange we get a safe place to stay, well... safer 'n Tokyo anyway…. Again, it's a pretty good deal."
Kenka sighed gustily, unconsciously smoothing his hair .
"When the Onsen opens back up we can cook for the guests too. We've got good credentials. This way Amano's not stuck here all the time cooking."
Haku blinked at the human's name as worry surged in his chest.
He had so many humans to worry for now.
"What of the boy?" Haku blurted hastily, "Is he well?"
"Kai? He's okay as far as I can tell. He's always running around with the little green guy… uh… I'm not sure what to call him…"
The human flustered as he went pale, appealing to him for help.
"Little Green Frog?"
"Y-yeah. That's him. I suppose they're f-frogs, aren't they? School hasn't started yet so his uncle… He's a priest at the shrine right? He's been bringing the kid over when his dad's out fishing. Dude, can you believe they fish in winter! How do they not freeze! Can't say I blame them. Amano brings back some seriously awesome fish, though."
Haku was relieved to hear the boy was well. It was difficult not to remember the youngling's tight clammy fingers as they clung to his hand in the spider cavern.
"And Amano? Is he also well?
Again Kenka's face fell making Haku squirm with disquiet.
"I don't think he's okay, not really. At least that's what the priest guy told Natsumi when he came to get Kai last night. I heard them talking. He an' Amano are both pretty messed up about someone named Ikiri. I think she didn't make it back with the others."
Haku's blood froze in his veins as the revelation struck him a stunning blow, sending him crashing to a rude seat on the floor. Cold pressed down on him from every angle as his insides turned to lead, weighing him with dread. He stared uncomprehending as Kenka scrambled up from his seat reaching for him uncertainly.
"D-dude, you okay!"
Haku did not hear him.
"Who else is missing?"
His hoarse croak could have belonged to a frog.
"Uh… T-that scary lady with the weird silver eyes and the g-ghost dude with the mask? S-sorry, I, uh, don't know their names. Then Ikiri and someone named Lin."
Haku cringed from the names.
Each twisted and dug deeper the blade of guilt already buried in his heart.
With a moan he bowed over his knees until his forehead was pressed against his hands. Uttering a furious sob he struck the floor with clenched fists. Somewhere overhead Chouchin loosed a sputtering hiss as Kenka scrambled back. The stool clattered over as a shudder clambered across the floor from beneath Haku, rattling up the walls and cross the ceiling as Onsen echoed with the flood of his misery.
Four from their family were missing.
Four: it was the number of death.
Haku jolted back onto his heels as a voice spoke from the rafters.
"I don't know about the ghost but Shurui took the others on the train."
Perched upside-down on the corner of the hallway so her long inky hair hung like a curtain in the doorway the spider peered at him over the cross beam of the archway.
"You!" Haku barked viciously as he flew to his feet.
Even as he reached to tear her down with a violent gust she dropped, landing in a crouch as wind scoured paper and varnish from wall and wood above her. In a rush of shadow that sent Kenka skittering to hide behind the Welcome Station the spider darted out onto the stones of the entryway. Before she could get away the front doors yanked open, casting her in a stark outline as filtered dawn light flooded inside. With an agonized shriek the spider threw herself backwards as thin smoke started up from her body. She hit the ground, wriggling and hauling herself backwards with hideous clambering limbs only to freeze as Haku pinned her in his shadow. At once she transformed, returning to her female form to tuck in the narrow refuge of his silhouette.
"Tell me everything!" Haku thundered.
Spider stared at him grimly struggling not to show either pain or fear.
"See?" she whispered, "You do need me after all."
"Speak!" Haku commanded, "Or gladly I feed these stones your ashes!"
She cringing beneath her hands but called his bluff none-the-less.
"If you were gonna kill me you would've already."
Haku bared his teeth and growled, producing a terrifying sound deep in his chest as the dragon inside him emerged. Fear and weakness almost had him almost forget it was there. Had he still a tail and claws the walls and floor would have suffered beneath his frustrations because she was right and she knew it. The spider's voice was a thin hiss of terror as she dictated terms in spite of her situation.
"I'll tell you everything I know. I'll help you and I won't stop until you have your family back; but I won't do it for free."
Haku crouched over her barely resisting the urge to wring her scrawny neck.
"What do you want!" He snapped viciously.
Kuromi stared between spindly burned fingers with the same resolve from earlier.
"I already told you want I want."
Haku's insides sang with arctic dread as he remembered his ordeal with Sengen.
"You have no idea what you ask!"
The spider sagged against the stones.
"If you won't help me then kill me."
She closed her eyes, gritting her teeth as the edges of her body began to smolder.
"I meant what I said to the fox. I'd rather die than keep living as a monster."
Her answer struck him dumb.
Haku stared at her in utter confusion.
Dawn continued to intensify at his back, slowly eroding his shadow.
In a handful of minutes she would be nothing more than a pile of ash.
Could he really bring himself to let her die?
Could he? When twice before he refused to cut down Shurui?
Was he really so duplicitous? Was he such a terrible liar?
Oh, it was a terrible thing to hold her life in his hands.
He hated her all the more for forcing the task of saving her upon him.
Haku spat every word as they cost him dearly.
"I accept your bargain, spider."
The doors behind Haku slammed shut on the sun. Still smoking Kuromi scrambled to hide. The spider threw herself into the thick shadows under the raised platform where they stored extra clogs just as the guest wing sliders ripped open. Haku stood bolt upright as Bozu darted into the entryway. His tiny feet pattered loudly in the silence as the yokai skidded to a halt beside Kenka. The human jumped and shrank from the one-eyed yokai as the little fellow tipped back Karasu's bowler hat to peer at him.
"Why tall human and lantern hide?" He whispered curiously, "Is it a game?"
"SHIT!" Jae swore distantly.
The one-eyed yokai spun to shush loudly.
"Shhhh! Foul-mouth human is too loud!"
Shakily Kenka stood as Jae and Megumi rushed into the entryway. Megumi was holding an old radio as if it was a precious thing. Haku jolted away from the thing as it uttered a loud crackle. As quickly as Bozu scolded he melted into a dovey cajole upon addressing the female.
"Pretty human needs help? Bozu will help. Here! Put it here!"
The goblin righted the stool and slid it into the middle of the hall. Hurriedly the Megumi set the device on the chair. Chouchin fled its sounds with sparks as Megumi fought with the dials. Haku jumped as the lantern fled to hide behind his back. Bozu followed her flight until he rounded on him. The goblin's single eye went perfectly round as he pointed and sputtered.
"Ah! Stupid dragon is back! Where is Kubi-san!"
"Shut t'fuck up an' listen!"
Jae snarled as he held onto the long metal tail that swiveled at the radio's back, throwing up his arms and waving comically until the signal cleared to a voice.
Again, this is breaking news…
Haku fought to hear through the static.
…Earthquake has struck Tokyo … Taito Ward… Train service is suspended… Thousands are without power
At once Kenka went perfectly white. He ripped the antiquated phone from its cradle, dialing from memory. Gritting his teeth he knotted the cord in his hand, pacing as he chewed his lip. He straightened abruptly and stared blankly at the receiver with terror plain on his pinched face. With rare gentleness Haku had never before seen in her Megumi took it out of his hand and returned it to the receiver explaining calmly.
"The power's out, Kenka. Phones will be down too."
"It wasn't an earthquake," Kuromi pronounced quietly.
"What t'fuck do you know!"
Jae rounded on her savagely only to shrink as he realized what she was. The male cringed back into Megumi as the singed spider straightened in the gloomy entryway. She stared at the crackling radio with a grim expression. Kuromi's red eyes burned like fires in the dark. She stared as if seeing something so very far. The disembodied voice continued to chatter in the ensuing silence.
In an unprecedented geological event an entire section of Asakusa sank 15 meters causing massive flooding from the Sumida River. Geologists say the collapse of a cavern deep beneath the streets may be responsible. Before the quake hit this morning a similar destabilization took place… .
Here the signal began to break up.
Ueno Park late last night...
Only terribly familiar fragments survived.
Finally the voice died, drowning in a crackle of static.
Here the spider repeated herself, explaining this time.
"It wasn't an earthquake. It was the Wheel of Yamanote."
End of Book Two: In the Dreamer's Wake
To be continued in
Book Three: The Wheel of Yamanote
Author's Note: 5/21/2011
Sigh... I don't want to stop writing but I seriously need a break. I absolutely must, must, must get to work on my original fiction. I want to have that ready to submit for publication by this winter if not sooner. I also want to finally finish The Kindred Cycle, the last installment of the Wallmaker Saga, the FF I wrote for Howl's Moving Castle. I've been putting that off for a couple of years now... _
I know this is a terrible place to leave the story so I'm going to try and post the first few chapters of book three before I take my hiatus. That way you can put an alert on the story in case I get a wild hair and post a chapter here and there. I can't say when book three will be up as I'm going to be in Iceland for two weeks in June. I'll try to have that done soon.
I've been working on the website for the Kamikakushi Saga, which is the homepage linked from my author's profile. Slides, notes, and my bibliography from my 2011 Spirited Away panel are posted there under the RESEARCH/PANELS section. I also started a research blog about Japanese history/culture, Miyazaki, and other anime/manga where I'm posting all kinds of interesting things I find during the background research I do for this story and others. That's linked on the website as well.
As always, thanks so much for reading. Feel free to send me a message if you have any questions.