They call him to the village of Sumiya after the fifth death. The police have no evidence and no leads, but the locals have been murmuring of something supernatural transpiring. They'd been vocal enough for a priest to be called, and then that priest had called Subaru's grandmother.
He arrived with a minimal amount of pomp. Hokuto hadn't been able to join him, which meant he'd been able to leave the more flamboyant costumes behind.
He had a text from Seishirou, almost the exact minute he got off the train. How goes the trip?
He smiles at the phone and slips it back into his pocket to answer later. Instead, he extends his hand to the police officer that greets him as he steps off the train. "Sumeragi Subaru?"
"Yes." He shakes the man's hand. His gloves today are plain black leather.
"This way." The man leads him to a police car and then an apartment building. He rambles details of the case as they drive. His voice sounds shaken but his hands are steady on the wheel. He's out of his depths and disturbed, but then most people would be when faced with corpses strung upside down in their homes with their innards eaten.
Subaru has seen worse.
He'd conferred with his grandmother, since the details made it obvious, but seeing the latest crime scene – death number six – confirm their theory. "Jorougumo," he says after rubbing the thick strands of webbing between his fingers. He glances at the ceiling, where all the strands connect to the building. "Usually they're not this blatant."
"You don't honestly think..."
Subaru's sigh cuts the man off. He doesn't want to be impolite, but he's dealt with more than enough doubters. He knows better than to argue or try to convince him. "I'll handle it."
The man hesitates. The two detectives that had been in the room when they arrived, searching for clues, exchange worried glances. "What do you need?" The man says, finally.
"A hotel room." He's going to be here a while. "Also, the schedules of the victims the day they died. Look for any new women in their lives."
The man's eyes widen. "You think a woman did this?"
He does not point out that women can be just as dangerous as men – he could ask Hokuto if he thought otherwise and she'd be glad to demonstrate. He does not point out the mythology behind jorougumo and the fact that they're always women. He just nods and lets it go at that.
Once he's secured in a hotel room, he flops back on the bed, wishing he had company. He opens his phone and finally sends off a reply to Seishirou.
I may be here a while. They don't believe me.
Seishirou is a sporadic texter. Some days he sends nothing, others he peppers the hours with little missives about the animals he sees and flirts outrageously. If it weren't for Hokuto – and to some degree Seishirou – Subaru probably wouldn't even own a cellphone. He didn't buy it. Hokuto did, and there are matching cases to go with the outfits she makes.
Some of the cases sparkle.
His texts with Seishirou are perhaps the only thing keeping him sane while he searches for the jorougumo. She must know he's here, because he can't find any trace of her presence. No spider webs in strange places, no lutes, no women wandering with wrapped babies, no disappearances near waterfalls. The lore fails him in an urban setting so he tries the town's two bars, alternating between them each night and getting carded every time he tries to order a drink. He gives up after the second night and sticks to water.
What is it about me that makes people think I'm a child? He texts Seishirou late on the fifth night in Sumiya.
Your height. Don't worry. I find it charming.
Subaru snorts a laugh, glad he's once more alone in his hotel room. That makes one of us. He's learned to stop questioning the strange, flirtatious statements Seishirou makes. Whether he's serious or not is irrelevant. Neither of them will make the first move and there has yet to be any reason to think there might be more.
Your grandmother would frown if she knew you were drinking on the job.
The setup is too easy to resist. The job is why I want to drink.
Hopeless. He sighs and rolls onto his side. His phone shines like a nightlight under the partial shade of the covers and he's tempted to pull the blankets completely over himself and make a blanket fort like when he was younger. He doesn't, but he does snuggle deeper into the covers.
He falls asleep to the soft light of his screen and Seishirou's familiar flirtation.
He's wandering through town the next day when a strange tune catches his ear, pulling him away from the main thoroughfare and onto the side streets where the architecture is old and the trees older. Across the street from a weeping willow is a fenced-in compound. The door is ajar, giving him the glimpse of a red pillared house and a woman with long black hair playing the koto. There's an obvious magic to the place. The open door is an obvious invitation and he pushes the door open slowly as he enters.
The woman does not stop playing, nor even look up as Subaru approaches. He takes a seat on the grass and watches her long, thin fingers pluck at the strings, picking out a haunting melody. When at last the song finishes, she looks up at him and smiles.
"Thank you for having me."
She nods. They both know what this place is, at least in a general sense of magic and mystery. Subaru sits and waits patiently for the why of the place to make itself known.
Two twin girls in kimono walk out, one carrying a spool of twine, the other a bowl and pitcher.
"You're looking for someone," the woman says.
She takes the twine from one of the girls and holds it up. "Spider's silk. It will lead you right to her."
"What's the price?"
Her smile turns sharper, slier, as if to say 'well done'. "I want what's on your hands."
He hesitates before nodding. He takes off his gloves and sets them aside. She places the bowl on the cobblestones between them, just at the edge of the grass, and then pours the water from the pitcher into the bowl.
"Place your hands in the water."
As his fingers touch the surface of the water, something jolts inside of him. He has to push to get his hands to go under and as he does he can feel something peel away, like shedding a layer of skin. The surface of the water flares red, showing an inverted star. He pulls his hands out and as he does he feels a heavy weight lift off his shoulders.
The woman grins. She slides the bowl away from them with her foot and then holds out the twine. "You merely need to hold it to activate it."
He nods and takes it from her. As soon as it touches his hands, the spool begins to unravel, the loose end slithering off across the yard and out the gate. He stands quickly, grabbing his gloves in one hand. He bows. "Thank you for your help."
"You are most sincerely welcome."
She smiles fondly at him as he runs out the gate, chasing the string.
At the end of the street, he glances back and the house is gone.
The jorougumo has an apartment. Subaru hadn't expected anything quite so mundane. He knocks and a beautiful woman answers the door. They stare at each other a moment before the woman blinks, revealing red-slit eyes.
"On baishiramantaya sowaka."
"Oh, fuck." The woman backs into her apartment.
"On ishanaya intaraya sowaka."
The door swings shut behind Subaru. She looks for an escape, about to bolt out the window. There's a flash of black and the window is covered.
"On iterashi itara jibaratanou sowaka."
She pounds on the window but it's as impenetrable as steel. Subaru didn't do that.
"On hayabaishiramantaya sowaka."
She turns, her back to the window, hands out at her side. "I don't suppose we can make a deal?"
"On noumaku sanmanda basaradan kan."
"I didn't think so." Her nails grow into claws.
"On aganaya in maya sowaka."
She lunges. He can either dodge or finish the chant. He closes his eyes and places his hands in the seventh seal position.
"On irotahi chanoga jiba tai sowaka."
The expected hit never comes. He hurries through the last two seals.
"On chirichi iba rotaya sowaka."
She screams in frustration. There's movement in the air in front of him and he opens his eyes to stare at a black jacket on a broad back. He wants to curl into it.
"On a ra ba sha nou sowaka."
White light pools on the floor and the jorougumo is swallowed whole. As soon as she's gone, Subaru reaches forward, clutching at Seishirou's jacket and turning him. Blood drips across Seishirou's face where she slashed him, right over one eye.
"We need to get you to a hospital."
"What happened to your hands?" Seishirou grabs at them, holding both of Subaru's hands in his. Subaru belatedly realizes he's still not wearing his gloves. This is the first time they've held hands properly. Something slots into place in Subaru's head, a combination of memories and intuition.
"I sold them," he says, like that makes any sense.
Seishirou's mouth falls open slightly and this is the first time Subaru has ever seen Seishirou at a loss for words. "You what?"
"Sold them." He points towards the string but it's gone, vanished with the jorougumo. He blushes and turns back. "To a lady playing a koto. To find the jorougumo."
"It's okay," Subaru says, squeezing the hands still holding his. "You love me."
Seishirou's mouth snaps shut. After a moment, he nods. "I love you."
The cherry blossoms are in bloom when they return to Tokyo. They go for a picnic in the park and share their first kiss under a canopy of pink leaves.
Subaru thinks that if there really is a person buried under the cherry tree, they must be happy to have so many people come out to see them. There might be pain involved, but at least it isn't lonely.