Thick like rice flour dust caked her sweat soaked cheek.
It blew up into a cloud at her lips, choking her throat.
Thicker still was the stink of old death.
It smeared the rotting sliding doors with hideous stains of black, hanging over the husk of the room like a shadow, clotting the beams of light piercing the buckled ceiling with curling of motes of grime. As she lay there panting and exhausted Lin gagged on the smell of fresh blood.
Worse was the fact that it wasn't hers.
There was no mistaking the ugly reek of human blood. Lin couldn't to look where Kiri sprawled on a frayed and filthy futon. The human hadn't moved or made a sound since the spider had dumped her there. All the same, Lin couldn't spare a glance. She couldn't close her eyes even though they burned with exhaustion. She didn't dare take her gaze off the spider. Across the mildew pocked tatami the spider stoop in the gloom to wash the birth blood from the kits. Though she wore a woman's form a slash of light spilled across the spider's milk white face, making one of her eyes glitter in the dark like a ruby.
The spiders gaze fixed with intensity on the tiny lives cradled in her many hands.
The look made Lin wanted to scream.
It made her want to claw at the decomposed floor.
It made her want to pry up the boards and hurl them at the spider.
Because it was a loveless predatorial gaze.
Slowly, as if she had all the time in the world, the spider dipped her hands in and out of the basin. Eerily more and more hands appeared, flashing like shards of mirror in the dark as red water dripped between the blades of her fingers. Cold terror eclipsed Lin's rage as she tried desperately to see her kits through the thicket of arms.
She hadn't even had the chance to see them before they were taken.
She hadn't even held them.
Suddenly one of the kits loosed a gurgling sigh. Lin bent to the floor beneath a crushing weight of misery as the spider answered with a hushing coo. Linsank her fingers into the tatami, clawing at the rotting fibers as she struggled to pull herself closer. Ignoring her efforts as if they didn't matter in the slightest, Shurui turned her back. The spider busied with wrapping the wiggling younglings in lengths of silken cloth produced from nowhere.
The world turned gray and sick with pain.
Lin collapsed on the filthy mats dwindling on the verge of passing out.
All the same she reached with her only arm.
"Give me my kits!"
Shurui fell still as she perched on the edge of the rotting mats looking away into the gloom. She stared through the hole in the roof out into the beyond as if seeing through the sagging walls to something far away. Lin startled in surprise as the spider finally spoke. Her gentle words were not entirely without pity.
"You only have one hand, weasel woman. You cannot hold them both."
Shurui was suddenly standing over her holding out one of the bundles. Lin didn't resist as the thicket of hands gently helped her sit up, carefully eased the tiny newborn into the crook of her only arm.
Lin stared at her daughter for the first time; holding her breath until her heart was thunder in her ears.
It was as if all the dark suddenly evaporated from the world.
In that moment the blood on the snow of her past melted away.
Kokoro's face was so small; so very small. She was bright white like porcelain. Tiny and perfect; just like the tiny hands that tucked beneath her chin. Knowing what was near, the kit wormed against her chest. Automatically Lin fumbled with the front of her kimono. Instinct took over and somehow she managed to hold the baby and yank the fabric aside so the little one could nurse. Greedily her kit set to work. As she did Lin stared down at the thick hair thatching the girl's crown.
It was black as ink.
Silently Lin prayed her eyes would be gold as well.
Just like Suzume's.
A strange pain stabbed through her heart at the thought of him, bleeding through and making it hard to breathe as the warmth of the tiny body soaked thru her skin. The details of her girl's face dissolved into the threat of tears. Because after everything that'd happened; after everything they'd survived, would she continue to be so lucky now? Would he?
Just as the tears brimmed Lin became all too keenly aware of the hilt of Umi's dagger.
It pressed into her ribs where it lay hidden in the folds of her apron.
Lin's hand twitched against Kokoro's swaddling silk as anticipation buzzed like electricity in the tips of her fingers. She didn't look, didn't glance at the spider just in case her eyes betrayed her because now they brimmed with murder. Her tears were gone; dried up and replaced by bloody thoughts. Because the spider was close; close enough for her to bury Umi's blade in one of the bitch's bloody red eyes. Lin would gladly leave it there too.
But cold terrible apprehension poured over her in that moment.
It forced her to remember she had only one hand.
With that hand Lin held her daughter.
"My offer still stands, weasel woman," Shurui murmured, "Feed the boy then take your daughter can go."
Lin flinched at the sound of the spider's voice. Suddenly the darkness returned, flooding around her and soaking her through with the muddy weight of despair. The spider's words fell like stones against her back, leaving bruises on her soul; because she found herself considered them carefully. Lin bent with shame, holding Kokoro closer as she shook with it.
How she hated the spider.
She hated the spider almost as much as she hated herself.
Because for a brief flash of a moment she considering accepting the offer.
Lin couldn't bring herself to speak.
Instead she spat on the spider's feet.
Hastily Shurui withdrew, leaving Lin in a dizzy lurch. She shrank as fear thrilled in her throat as the spider was suddenly looming over her again, turning the blood thundering inside her veins to ice. All the same, Lin glared at the spider's feet in grim satisfaction, considering spitting again as Shurui wiped at the top of her soiled foot with grimy toes.
"I won't leave my son!"
The spider sniffed, looking away as she responded with frosty indifference.
"I didn't think you would."
Then Makoto loosed a hungry squall.
The sound struck Lin like a slap to the face, forcing her to look up at the spider only to realize that Shurui wasn't looking at them. The spider was staring at Ikiri with the same endless calculating hunger she had turned on the kits. Startled, Lin threw her attention to the human's motionless body half afraid she was dead. The mortal lay on her back with her face turned away, the short fringe of her black hair tangled with debris. But the human lived. Lin could see the slow slight rise and fall of the female's chest.
What could the spider possible want with Ikiri!
At that moment Kokoro gave up Lin's breast with a sweet sigh. Cuddling into her the girl lapsed into heavy sleep. Instinctively Lin recoiled trying to hide her daughter as the spider craned to see the kit.
"The girl has eaten enough," the spider instructed, "Feed the boy."
Lin clambered back from the host white hands unfolding before her as they reached for Kokoro. Staring aghast up at the monster's beautiful terrible face terrible, even as she choked on dread, Lin forced herself to speak.
"W-why do you want my kits?"
Shurui paused, studying her as if she had all the time in the world.
There it was again! Lin watched as the inscrutable conviction that galvanized the spider's every action transform the spider's face into something uncanny. It was like the spider knew she was untouchable, like she'd somehow looked into the future and knew everything that was about to come! As Lin stared premonition lumbered up behind her; growing larger and larger until hung like over her head threatening to crush her at any moment.
In that moment something clawed and rattled the barred sliding door.
Although the bat's screech was muffled her excitement was palpable.
"We have him! She found him!"
Lin rolled aside, scrambling to sheild Kokoro as Shurui clambered by nearly trampling them in a stampede of hands and feet. Lin stared stupidly as Shurui produced a mirror and a jar of rouge from her obi, hurriedly straightened her kimono, face, and hair. All the while she held Makoto aloft in a single hand as if annoyed to be burdened by him. Lin could only gape in mounting disgust as Shurui transformed from a monster to woman pink-cheeked with excitement as if expecting to meet with a suitor. The juxtaposition of her preening with the rotting den of death around them was utterly absurd. Beaming at the results she saw in the glass the spider stowed her make-up and ripped the door from its tracks in her haste to have it open.
The slider cartwheeled across the room.
Loudly it smashed to pieces against the adjacent wall.
Shurui froze in surprise on the threshold.
In the hallway stood the bat and the cold-eyed stranger; no one else.
With a gasp the filthy kami recoiled, tripping over the God-woman's foot and sprawling backwards only to dangle from the leash attached to the metal collar clasped around the other female's neck. Lin's insides cringed from the sight of the thing. It was magic of the worst kind. The stranger's face twisted with pain as the bat yanked her off balance, nearly sending her to the ground. She almostdropped the old wooden box clasped in her hands. But she didn't cuss or kick the bat as the tattered kami let go of the leash to sprawl on the ground. As if she was a statue the God-Woman stood there silently oozing hate as she glared at Shurui.
Lin found herself staring at the bloody tear in the front of the God-Woman's green kimono.
A patch of pale skin was visible within where the spider had run her through with silk.
The spider had killed the stranger only to bring her back.
It was utter nonsense.
But then again nothing the bat had rambled on about made any sense to Lin; nothing, except the name Heian-kyo. Lin had heard tales of the Imperial City. Kami who passed through Izu tittered about it like idiotic plovers. She'd dismissed the fantastic tales as idle gossip.
It was then Lin realized the stranger was staring back at her.
Her shrewd colorless eyes darted to Kokoro, then to Makoto, then back to her.
Silently the God-Woman stared, brow furrowing deeper and deeper with the frustration that began to burn until her silver gaze blazed like fire. Somehow the God-woman knew her. Instinctively she knew the stranger wanted to help her. But for the moment there was nothing either one of them could do. The collar rendered the stranger a mute slave to whoever held her leash. All they could do was look across the distance at each other; at least for the moment.
Lin dropped her eyes to stare at the dangling lead.
As Kokoro shifted against her side determination hardened Lin's melting heart. She used it to crush the hopeless misery that set her insides trembling. It stilled the devastating remorse chilling her bones. She could not promise Ikiri that she could save her. Nor could she offer the same to the strange God-woman. Lin could not even promise Suzume she would survive this. All the same, as the hilt of the knife pressed against her heart.
She would not let the spider have her kits.
Not so long as she breathed.
That much she could promise herself.
Lin was yanked from her brooding as the spider shoved the other females aside, anxiously stooping in the doorway to eagerly search both directions the hall. As she did Shurui's bright anticipation broke into a storm of fury as she found something missing. In a blink she was a demon once more. The spider towered in the space, eyes like red embers and body encased in beetle black armor complete with obsidian talons. Silk splattered the floor and wall as Shurui spat wrathfully, dragging the bat into the room and pinning her to the ground.
Makoto trilled and squealed in delight as Shurui swung him up and down, back and forth with every wild gesture, making the bat to writhe and shriek as her tattered telescopic ears trembled. Forced to watch her son's erratic flight path, panic yanked Lin upright with a stifled cry. Strange that after all this time she should try to reach with her missing arm. If only it was still there. What a different a single hand could make. But there was no room for wishing in this world. Exhaustion buckled her legs the moment she stood, knees stinging as they knocked on the mats. She clutched Kokoro as the kit slept soundly, oblivious to her brother's peril.
"You said you found him, Bah-Fuh!" Shurui demanded furiously, "Where is he!"
"He's there!" The bat screeched painfully, "Show her, Kubi! Show her!"
Apparently that was the stranger's name.
But Kubi didn't answer the bat's command. No one was holding her leash. She just stood in the hallway holding the box, watching in grim satisfaction as the spider shook Bah-Fuh so vigorously it dislodged her wig, exposing the ugly liver spots on her wispy bald pate.
"You told me we could take human form!" The spider thundered miserably, hoisting the bat high by her spindly arms as if read to rip her limb from limb, "You told me you saw us in the sun!"
Lin stood stock still, stunned by the spider's admission.
Shurui wanted to be human!
Why on earth would she want to be human!
Again Bah-Fuh was unmoved by Shurui's fearsome outburst.
"That was before your idiot daughters killed the human's babies!"
Lin cringed from the truth. Somehow she found herself standing. With what little strength had returned as she shrank back against the wall, hanging on every word as more and more of the truth slipped from the kami. Her legs were shaking with the urge to run even though they could barely hold her up. Anxiously she vacillated from foot to foot as the instinct vibrated in her very bone;s because if ever there was a moment to escape it was now. All the same, in flinty silence Lin rooted herself in place and waited, listening keenly as the kami revealed themselves.
"You know as well as I do that some things have changed. But not everything has changed, Shurui!" Bah-Fuh explained as is speaking to an idiot, "The human is still the perfect host! She will carry Garuda until we prepare the boy!"
Again Lin jolted as if the words had slapped her.
Prepare the boy!
Isn't that what the bat said before? They only needed the boy?
Lin's insides went cold as ice as she realized they were talking about Makoto.
"It's not perfect but it will do!" Bah-Fuh scolded now as if Shurui was being ungrateful, "You'll never have the sun but at least you'll have him, now put me down you lovesick little fool!"
Shurui all but dropped the bat. Landing with a yelp, the bat indignantly straightened her robes and began feeling about on the spongy tatami. Swallowing a shuddering sob sticky black tears rolled down Shurui's bone white checks. She wiped them with her hands, slowly returning to a human guise as helplessly she shook her fists at the oblivious creature.
In that moment it was Lin's turn to watch with predatorial acuity.
Even thought she didn't understand what or why, it didn't matter.
Kubi has revealed a weakness.
A weakness Lin could eventually exploit once she'd unraveled its mystery.
"You told me you found him!" Shurui hissed between her teeth as if exhausted.
"He's in the box Kubi's holding," Bah-Fuh absently nodded toward the door before returning to her blind groping, "Confound it! Where's my wig?"
Shurui shoved Makoto at the bat. Obviously surprised, Bah-Fuh held him awkwardly in her spindly wings, making a moue of disgust as the kit squalled and laughed. Lin and the bat both flinched as silk whizzed and exploded. As Lin threw her eyes back to the door Shurui was rudely hauling Kubi across the floor hand over hand only to pin the still female to the ground with her foot. For a second Lin was afraid the spider had skewered her once more. But the God-Woman was only plastered in a web. As Shurui tried to wrench free the ancient box in her hands Kubi held fast.
"Give it to me!" Shurui commanded furiously, hauling on the box with one hand before grabbing Kubi by the neck with the other, "I said give it to me!"
At once Kubi relinquished. Viciously Shurui kicked her before planting her bare foot on the female's back and grinding her into the ground. As if cruelty was second nature, in the same moment the spider turned reverent red eyes over the wooden box. She lifted it to her lips to blow dust from its top in a billowing cloud.
"It's so small!" She hushed incredulously, "How could he fit?"
Carefully, ever so carefully, she removed the lid with trembling hands.
As the lid fell it struck Kubi in the back before clattering to the floor.
The spider stared at the contents stupidly for a long silent moment.
Emptying the contents into her hands she hurled the box aside.
Gold flashed in the dark, unfurling like water as it poured between the spiders hands.
But it was fabric, not water; the most beautiful fabric Lin has ever seen.
It unfolded larger and larger until it revealed itself to be a kimono.
The warmth of its refracting color sent a glow through every corner of the room.
As Kubi held up the numinous garment her face contorted with enraged confusion.
Shurui bunched it up in her shaking hands as if ready to rip it to shreds.
Instead she hurled it blindly before snatching Kubi up off the ground.
"Is this some kind of trick!" The spider howled in her face.
"What is it!" Bah-Fuh called clamorously, "What's wrong, Shurui?"
The bat brusquely deposited Makoto on the ground, clambering to the edge of the tatami only to recoil from the spider's shrieks clasping her hands over her ears. Already Lin was scrambling across the tatami. Stunned by her luck she crouched on the filthy mat forced to balance Kokoro in the crook of her up-tucked knee so she could pick up Makoto. A punch of panic surged into her throat as he squalled and struggled against her, already rooting around in search of her breast. She felt no relief as he silenced to nurse, because the spider's words haunted her.
She only had one hand: she could not hold them both.
She could not hold them both.
But she could still carry them.
Lin cast about for something to make a sling. She couldn't use her obi; it wasn't wide enough. Better still it was the only thing hiding the blade. Before she could tear off her empty sleeve Lin froze as movement flashed in her peripheral vision.
She flinched as Ikiri was sat up.
Death hung over the human like a black cloud.
It weighed the room with a shadow of sickness.
Pale and blank faced the human stared around without flinching.
Horrified, Lin realized she had been awake for some time.
For all she knew Ikiri had heard everything.
"Where is he! Where is my Garuda!"
Lin's attention was torn aside as Kubi screeched. Lin was forced to watch in horror as Shurui's hands tightened around the other female's neck. Whatever answers the God-woman supplied were strangled. Hearing the sounds understanding dawned on the bat. Hastily picking up bits of detritus the bat hurled them in the spider's general direction. Kiri, however, didn't flinch as the bat shouted angrily.
"Shurui, you idiot! She can't answer you if you're choking her!
Pulled in so many directions Lin felt ready to fly to pieces. Again her attention was wrenched aside as Kokoro squealed, kicking and struggling in her spider silk swaddling. The human's miss-matched eyes dropped to the kit. Lin's insides went cold as Kiri continued to stare. The human's face tightened with sorrow as her hands balled into fits.
Lin stared at Kiri's hands.
They were caked with blood.
So were the filthy pleats of Kiri's hakama.
There was no time for grief.
There was no time for guilt.
Staggering over Lin forced her son into the human's hands.
Adrenaline fortified her rubbery legs as she darted back to retrieve her daughter only to force her into the crook of Kiri's other arm. Wordlessly the human accepted them, holding them both. They looked so much larger in Kiri's hands. For a moment Lin worried they might be too heavy for the human to hold. Terror thundered in her blood, singing like the ringing of bells in her ears as it turned the world bright and sharp, because there wasn't time for such worries. Hauling the female upright, Lin locked her only arm around the human's waist until Kiri flinched. But Lin didn't loosen her grip. Relentlessly she forced the human along with their backs pressed to the perimeter of the room, going as fast as caution permitted.
Lin's world narrowed to set of sliding doors at the back of the room.
She had no idea where they went.
She didn't care.
They meant escape.
Outside was a ruined city full of buildings in which they could hide.
They wouldn't have to hide long.
Jut long enough for Lin to kill the spider.
"Put Kubi down, Shurui!" The bat continued to throw things, "We need her alive! Garuda needs her alive, remember! You are his hands, Shurui! Hands serve their master!"
Lin froze in place, flattening against the wall as the spider turned to glare at the Bah-Fuh. She didn't see them; she was too busy swatting aside the barrage of trash the blind kami continued to throw. But something the bat said must have registered, because grinding her teeth audibly, the spider reluctantly returned Kubi to her feet.
The God-woman hauled in a wildly ragged breath as she sagged on her knees still held in the spider's grip. Despair distorted the shrewd female's face. Her lips were bloody and her teeth were black like lacquer. Kubi visibly fought the command only to speak all the same. And it was as if every word was torn from her very skin.
"I stole his breath… I breathed him in… He was inside me and I couldn't stand it! So I spun him into thread… I wove him into fabric… I trapped him there so he couldn't haunt me anymore!"
Before Kubi could finish, before Lin could move another step, Shurui dropped the God-woman. Pale with understanding the spider clambered in front of the sliding doors at the back of the room where she'd thrown the gold garment. Lin's insides turned to ice as the spider unknowingly blocked their escape route while searching the trash piled there.
Lost in a dizzying stab of shock, Lin fumbled to a stop.
Her eyes flew to the other doorway.
It was wide open but it was three times as far.
Unfortunately, this route also required they pass the bat.
"Now do you understand!" Bah-Fuh scolded shrilly, "Only Kubi knows the spell! We'll need her to explain the how of it once we get to Heian-kyo!"
Lin gritted her teeth against a gasp as Bah-Fuh clambered half-way after Shurui, weaving on her feet just a few paces away. The bat turned her head back and forth, listening in confusion as the spider tore apart the room.
"What are you doing now!" The bat snapped impatiently.
Gods, she was a hideous thing! Spastically the bat licked and licked again the wet folds of her ridged nose. White eyes staring blankly as her enormous ears quivered and swiveled. Her pasty translucent skin revealed a web of red and blue veins. The wobbly, rubbery folds of her tattered atrophied wings were shot thru with them. The stink of the bat was sickening! The kami reeked of urine and other vile things. Her once sumptuous robes were almost brown with dried blood, soaked at the hem with other kinds of filth.
Lin held her breath as she urged Kiri onward. All the while her heart was hammering away in her chest as cold sweat broke out all over her body. Turning herself over to the dark distant place of trees and snow, Lin let instinct move her every step. Using the broken caved ceiling a shield, Lin wound her way through the maze of debris. Sound was the best cover and she made good progress while the bat and the spider screeched at each other.
"I threw him over here and now I can't find him! This place is a mess."
Shurui uttered an exasperated sob as the bat twitched incredulously.
"You threw him! Are you that stupid! You search for him for years and years and the moment you find him you throw him away!"
"I didn't know!" The spider shrilled back, "Now shut up so I can look!"
Lin didn't hear their words.
Finally they were off the tatami.
Her bare feet thrilled at the touch of dirt.
The door was right in front of them.
Haste crawled over every inch of her skin as she turned her back to the spider and bat.
But right in front of them still sprawled on the floor where the spider had dropped her lay the God-woman.
Lin came up short under the eight of Kubi's burning silver-eyes.
Panic slapped her in the face with the fact that neither she nor Kiri had a hand to spare to save the stranger. This, however, was already more than clear to Kubi. Her shrewd eyes darted from the human, to the kits, then back to her. But they neither begged nor cursed. If anything they compelled her to go. For some strange reason in that moment Kubi made Lin think of Haku. He'd given her the same look, silently willing her to go.
The eerie premonition gave her pause.
It propelled her past the doomed God-Woman a second too late.
"I found him!" The spider cried triumphantly, making the bat cringe.
In that moment Makoto squalled in surprise.
The sound must have startled Kiri, because she loosed a tiny gasp.
Shurui wheeled, looking right at them even as she held up the length of gold.
Instinctively Lin shoved Kiri aside.
Seconds later something struck her square in the chest.
Her feet left the ground as up and down became confused. Dazed, she hung in the nothingness for a bright numb moment before something struck her from behind. When she came to she couldn't move. Nothing would move even as she struggled. Already her heart was in her throat, filling her ears with thunder. Swelling to a crescendo as her chest filled to bursting with a frozen flood of panic. Then the kits squealed and laughed. The sound drew her taut and thin like a coiled spring about to break.
Because this time she was trapped; there was nothing she could do.
Staring madly from the corner of her eyes she saw through a film of silk. Lin tried to scream, tried to shout at Kiri to run. Her mouth was glued shut and air hissed through her nose. She could barely get enough of it into her lungs. Lin watched in miserable fury as Shurui took the kits from Kiri. The stupid human didn't even put up a fight! As if driven by a mind of their own her many hands gathered the kits up, cradling and rocking them to silence. All the while the spider stared down at the human as if trying to decide what to do with her.
"The kimono, Shurui!" The bat instructed eagerly, "Put it on her!"
The filthy kami clambered at the edge of the tatami.
Swiveling her head from side to side as the bat listened raptly to every sound.
Understanding dawned on Shurui as she frowned at the garment.
The spider eyes glittered in triumph as she looked down at the Kiri.
"Hold out your arms, human."
Kiri loosed a sob shaking in terror as the spider towered over her.
There was no ghost to save her now.
No magic to answer her call.
Kiri was just a human.
She had nothing to stave off the liquid fabric that Shurui shook out over her her bowing head. Kiri held out her arms obediently as the spider draped the kimono over her quaking shoulder. Carefully Shurui threaded the female's arms through the trailing sleeves. As it pooled around the human's feet the kimono caught a blade of light. Like a fuze it erupted into dazzling sparkles.
But the light didn't fade this time.
It bloomed and billowed into yellow-white fire.
Growing brighter and brighter until it swallowed Kiri whole.
Even Shurui shrank from it, dwindling in size beneath its intensity as she turned her back, shielding the kits and Bah-Fuh unconsciously. The closest bits of trash charred and the moldy damp tatami emitted steam. Lin could feel the burn from across the room.
Finally the fire split, breathing its torrid breath through the room.
Lin cringed as they divided into an enormous pair of ember wings.
These immolated in a rush of hot air, scattering eroding cinder feathers.
A God not of this land stood out of the ash and dwindling flame.
The smell of incense and sweet flowers drifted in his wake.
Struck stupid with awe Lin could only stare. She had seen fantastic things in her life. But never had she seen a God such as this! Naked from the waist up his smooth bare skin glowed the same color of the billowing fabric wound round his slender waist. Or perhaps he wasn't flesh at all and was made of metal instead? The God showed like bronzed gold, cut in hard lines of muscle and sinew. Strange characters etched into his skin in looping bracketed curls, running in sinuous lines as they traversed his body in stories she could not read. Bands of silver glittering with emeralds trapped the muscles at his biceps, wrists, and calves; crowning his head and holding the thick ebony waves of his topknot in place.
With an ecstatic sob the spider shoved the kits at Bah-Fuh's.
She nearly knocked the bat over to be rid of them.
Then she threw herself into the cinders at the God's feet.
His inner light dimmed as he recoiled, turning away so that Lin caught sight of his face. She could've mistaken him for a woman he was so beautiful. His eyes belonged to a bird of prey; slitted and yellow like the mirrored gold loops threaded through his earlobes. Thick gold paint traced the edges of his almond shaped eyes and the bow of his generous lips. It painted his entire brow, running down the hawk-like cut of his chiseled nose. But the exquisitely perfect balance of both feminine and masculine beauty became lost in his expression of turmoil. His bangles rang like bells as he lifted his hands. As if afraid he stared at his delicate fingers. The nails curved into razor sharp claws. With these he absently worried the long strands of prayer beads looped around his neck.
"Garuda?" He sang softly as if afraid of his own voice.
Holding out her filthy hands, Shurui reached for him.
More and more hands appeared, reaching and reaching in the fading dark.
He shrank, this time with a startled hiss.
Shurui flinched, blinking as if he had slapped her.
"D-don't you recognize me, O-Garuda-sama!
He started at her askance, his yellow eyes glittering cagily.
He hissed in lyric dismay, staring around the room in utter confusion.
"I… I cannot remember..."
Kneeling in the dirt aghast, Shurui appealed to the bat in a helpless whisper.
"Why doesn't he remember!"
Struggling to hold the kits the filthy creature shook her head at a loss.
"I didn't see this, Shurui! I don't know!"
The spider gasped aloud, clambering back fearfully as like a startled bird Garuda lept into the air with a chirp of surprise, kicking up another sweltering wind as something moved at his feet.
It took Lin a moment to see Kubi.
She had completely forgotten the female.
The God woman lay face down in the dirt shaking like a leaf trampled in a mire of mud. Lightly Garuda drifted down, circling with sharp interest, perching on his toes as he crouched beside her. Gently he turned her over only to freeze. His golden face wiped with shock as his yellow eyes went perfectly wide. With a shaking hand, the God hesitantly brushed the hair from Kubi's face. Taking a deep shuddering breath, he began to shake. Gently, so very gently Garuda took Kubi's face in his hands. All the while the female refused to look at him, clenching her eyes shut.
"I… I know you, little woman." the God breathed in a sigh.
And he was pleading now in a tender song of silver bells.
"Tell me? Please you tell me why I know you, little woman?"
Shurui moved so swiftly Lin didn't see.
The spider caught Garuda by the nape of his neck.
He shrieked like an eagle as she dragged him back, ripping something from him.
Gold furled and folded into the plunging dark.
Kiri slumped onto Kubi's chest as cold swallowed the world in Garuda's absence.
Shaking with barely restrained emotion Shurui balled and shoved the wad of fabric down the front of her obi. Standing over Kubi with an expression of pure murder her red eyes burned like coals in the gloom. Then she turned and stalked across the room. Pacing in circles lost deep in though, her monstrous shadow crawled over the walls in her passing. Shurui tripped on something only to lapse into stillness.
Then she screamed.
Sucking in a long ragged breath she bent to her knees.
Pounding her fists on the floor over and over and over until the mats were pulp, Shurui threw back her head and wailed miserably. Clutching her brow, she tore at her carefully coiffed hair. Even as the sound startled the kits, forcing them to add their plaintiff voices to the spider's keening, Lin watched Shurui suffer with silent satisfaction. Gone was that righteous expression of conviction Lin hated so much! Instead Shurui crumpled to the floor and cried in heartbroken frustration like any other pitiful creature in this cursed world.
It made Lin realize that Shurui wasn't special.
Shurui wasn't immune or omnipotent.
She was just as vulnerable like the rest of them.
All the more reason for her to be patient.
Lin gritted her teeth in grim delight.
Perhaps there was hope after all.
Bah-Fuh called hoarsely over the squalling kits as the spider finally quieted.
The bat was visibly rattled by the turn of events.
"What're you going to do, Shurui?"
Taking a deep shuddering breath the Spider hissed resolutely.
"I'm going to finish what Garuda started."
With that she sprang from the ground and stormed from the room.
Motivated by the horrible sound of the kits' crying the moment the spider was gone Lin struggled to pull herself free. No use. Whatever silk remained held her fast. These last efforts spent cost her everything she had left. Exhaustion came for Lin even as the walls and ceiling began to quake, showering them with dust and bits up wood and plaster. Even kits cries couldn't summon her to move. At first frightened, the bat suddenly sat up as she recognized something in the distant roar. Then she began to laugh; cackling with frenzied glee.
But Lin could barely hear the bat now.
She could barely hear anything at all over the grinding roar.
The side of the building gave as the ground jolted violently.
It peeling away as the opposite side of the room caved.
Air invaded, damp and cold as the building collapsed, folded flat around them. Light poured in its wake, permeating the massive constellation of blue crystals glassing over the cavern ceiling above. Water plunged from their midst, cascading in a huge frothy cataract down the massive curve of a wheel that leaned precariously over the ruins in which they'd taken refuge. It looked like it had crashed into the red gables of the six-story pagoda that tilted over them as it bore up the behemoth wheel's weight. It was too big to see in one glance. The dizzying effect was more than terrifying. As Lin stared a stone of fear slowly into the pit of her stomach because it seemed as if at any moment that thing could come crashing down on them.
But it didn't.
It was slowly righting itself.
Causing the whole cavern to shake as it began to roll.
It rattled her teeth, vibrating the very core of her bones.
"Rise, O Wheel of Yamanote!"
The bat screeched in maniac triumph.
"Doom! Doom upon you, Shitamachi!"