Chosen – Chapter 20 – …Twice Shy

Thank you for reading! Me and my coauthor Darinost are gradually combining forces and blogs, so the joint comment section for our stories is currently located on discord! Come on in and let us know what you thought, we don’t bite.

Yuki sat at the table in Hanabi’s tent, tapping her finger on the plastic fold-out table in tense silence and trying to convince herself for the 30th time that this wasn’t an awful idea. Coming back here was a disaster waiting to happen. Every instinct she had was to run… but that was the problem, wasn’t it? Her apprentice lived here. Her girlfriend’s sister was here. This is where she had grown up. Where her parents had raised her. Where her sister had died. It was where she had called home.

Some problems couldn’t be run from.

Apparently, Nobu had a nervous tick where he cooked when he was nervous… he set down another plate of food for the table, not seeming to notice that no one had touched either of the last two. Yuki tried to pretend she didn’t see the way Kamio stared at her tails, or the tension in how he, and his sister beside him, sat. She checked her watch for the 10th time in the last minute, and tried to talk herself out of assuming something had gone wrong and she should leave for the 6th. “So…” Merielle said, sitting in the chair next to Yuki with her hands in her lap. “You’ve met Seo-yun before, then?”

Yuki nodded slowly. “In the Paradisium, during a spectacularly awful week in my life.”

“Ah,” the selkie said softly. “And how did you meet her?”

Yuki fought down the nausea that she had been warring with for hours, ever since she had learned that- “More or less the same way I met you,” she said, voice flat. She specifically didn’t look around the tent at any of the too-many people who had gathered to watch her crucifixion.

“Ah,” Merielle repeated, more quietly. “Well, that’s not great.” She paused, and Yuki could hear her shifting uncomfortably in her chair. It gave her mind time to wander… thinking back to her walk through the town to get here. Hanabi, that damned idiot, had listened to the whole story. Afterwards, she had asked a few questions… and then she had decided, alone, that Yuki should be able to stay. Somehow Yuki had let herself be convinced to come back, and the white fox had lead her through town and back to her home, the village emptying conspicuously on the path they walked.

It made seeing all the damage all the easier. Not damage inflicted by Paragon, either… by invaders, by slavers, by outsiders. Damage she had done.


Yuki started, jolted out of her thoughts by the selkie’s voice. From the response in the room, she wasn’t the only one. “Huh?”

“Why did you do it?” Merielle asked. “Was it Mordred? Is that what he wanted, like with… us?”

Slowly, Yuki shook her head. “That… bastard… made me do a lot of terrible things… but I can’t blame him for this one. He didn’t tell me to. He even, sort of, punished me for it afterward.”

“Still, you can’t blame yourself, Yuki,” the selkie said softly. “This was the Paradisium… everyone here knows about that. It was their goal… kill or be killed; lie, cheat, steal, and hurt one another or suffer. You had to-”

Yuki swallowed. “She’d actually just saved me, Red. Risked herself to do it.”

Merielle hesitated for a long minute. “Well… I’m sure you must have had a reason…”

“Yeah,” Yuki cut her off. “I did.” She felt the utter disgust well up again, and had to close her eyes and and strain to keep her stomach under control. “Why would anyone risk themselves for me?” she whispered. “An exposed back is just a target for knives… and I couldn’t give anyone access to mine. I needed her to know that trying to be close to me would cost her dearly, so she wouldn’t try.”

The nogitsune felt the selkie’s hand on her hip squeeze her, and there was another long minute of silence. “…oh, Yuki…” Merielle whispered back.

No one said anything for a while after that, waiting in uncomfortable silence. “This is exactly what I was worried about when I objected to Astaria’s plan,” Ichika spat out. The way she said, it was like the words were outright bursting out of her, unable to be contained any longer. She turned to the woman sitting at the head of the table. “Three months, Kaede. She’s been bringing refugees into Amala for a bit less than three months, and we’ve already invited danger into Hanei.”

Hanei’s mayor looked distinctly uncomfortable, but Shura spoke up before she did. “I’m sorry,” the blue haired sentry said, sitting up on one of the counters. “I think I must have missed something. Are you implying that possibly the most infamous resident in Hanei’s history needed Amala’s help to find her home village?”

Ichika looked over at her with a sour expression. “No one was asking you,” she growled. “And for your sake I hope you didn’t know who she was.”

“And what if I did?” Shura said, raising an eyebrow. She casually blew a bubble in her gum as she stared down her captain. “I wasn’t aware we still exiled people. Last I was told, my instructions were to protect Hanei from intruders. Hanei is better protected now than it was at any point in my life. If you wanted me to keep an eye out for someone in particular, maybe you should have asked.”

“Your problem’s not with her,” Yuki said quickly. “It’s with me.” She had deprived Hanei of its defenders once… she wouldn’t let that happen again. She couldn’t let Shura’s defiant streak get her in any further trouble now.

People had been coming in, one by one, since Hanabi had convinced her to come back. She was crazy to think that this was going to work, that they could actually talk this out, and people were crazy for wanting to be in the room with her in the first place… but people kept coming. It was getting pretty crowded in here.

“Was that even really Akari?” Ichika asked, turning her attention back to Yuki. “Or was that a lie, too? Just another illusion?”

“It was her sister!” Merielle protested. “She wouldn’t lie about something like that!”

“Like she didn’t lie to the rest of us?” Ichika countered. “Like she wasn’t lying to you?” She turned her gaze on the nogitsune’s missing ear pointedly.

“You think I didn’t know?” Merielle said, voice rising in anger. “I see through illusions… all selkies do.” She jerked a thumb back at Shura.” You think I can’t tell that she is making those highlights with foxfire?”

“Hey!” Shura protested.

“And Nobu over there is using it like makeup!” Merielle continued while Yuki stared at her in naked horror. “You all do it. So what’s the difference?”

“The difference,” Ichika said, narrowing her eyes, “is that none of those people ever turned to unholy fire and turned on her people. Slightly different level of trust, there.”

“She came to protect Hanei!” Merielle protested.

“By blowing it up a second time?” Ichika countered.

“She threw it in the air!” the selkie insisted, furious.

“So? The windstorm alone from the fireball collapsed a few buildings, scattered a few dozen tents, and knocked down a pair of trees.”

Yuki cut in. “Was anyone hurt?” she asked quietly.

Ichika glared at her. “You knocked down buildings on people. What do you think?”

“No one was badly hurt,” Merielle said firmly.

“This time,” Ichika insisted. “What about next time? What about last time? Was no one hurt then?”

Merielle made a choking sound. “She saved your life!” the selkie sputtered. “You were-”

“She tried to save me by trading death by spiders for burning me alive,” Ichika said, turning her gaze fully back onto Yuki. “What saved me was little short of literal divine intervention… from the goddess that you turned your back on with blasphemous fire! How could you think anything good would come of that?”

“I did it, too.”

The quiet, somber voice got everyone’s attention, and Ichika, eyes wide, almost had to turn all the way around to look at her brother where Kamio was sitting on one of the kitchen stools. “I followed her into the forest, sis.”

“Kamio!” she protested. “How… how could you do that!”

“You were trapped in there!” he said back, the slightest hint of a growl in his tone as his tails flicked back and forth in obvious agitation. “How could I not? What else could I do, Ichi?”

Ichika sputtered. “But… but you didn’t stay with them when they defied Inari,” she said. “I know you didn’t… I was out of it, but I remember that much.”

“No,” Kamio agreed quietly. “I didn’t.”

“This is all irrelevant,” Ichika said firmly. “She has to leave. We have no right to second guess the goddess, and Inari herself exiled her. She is not permitted here… and if the goddess has not said otherwise, then-”

“I did vouch for her, did I not?” Akari’s voice wasn’t loud but it rang clearly through the tent. The zenko fox had popped into existence without fanfare, sound, or sign, the white-furred woman simply popping into existence on the far side of the tent. She was sitting seiza on the ground, knees folded neatly, and she looked at the ground demurely as she spoke. “I did tell you that she was no threat.”

All around the room, people stared. In a less miserable situation, Yuki might have laughed. Akari had appeared to Ichika earlier, and she must have said something, but hearing that clearly lacked the impact that came from seeing it. These people all had lived with Hanabi for decades, been used to seeing someone with her coat of fur, but even knowing why it was considered special hadn’t prepared them for the truth. The zenko didn’t make a habit of showing themselves even during Yuki’s time, and from what she’d seen from her sister it had grown rarer still… for most of these people it was like a myth had just casually strolled into the room and started talking.

Ichika visibly hesitated as she looked at Akari, her reverence and trust in the woman who had saved her life warring with fear and anger. “I… You can’t expect for us to-” She cut off suddenly when the tent flap was pushed aside… and Hanabi walked in. The glowing, multi-colored form of Seo-yun followed right after her, with the phoen- Sam right behind her. Yuki didn’t meet Seo-yun’s gaze, but she could feel it on her almost like body heat.

The room went completely silent as Hanabi looked around the room, noticing how many people had come and frowning. She sighed. “Alright, people,” she said. “Come on. This isn’t a show. Everyone out of here. Move it.”

“But-” Ichika protested.

“This is going to be hard enough as it is,” Hanabi insisted. “Out. Everyone, out!” The white haired fox seemed to become almost like a force of nature as she bullied everyone from her fathers on down out of the tent one at a time… even Akari went without complaint, attracting sour looks from Sam the whole way. Merielle squeezed Yuki’s arm, and pushed out after Sam did. Then it was just the three of them… Seo-yun, and Yuki, and Hanabi in between them as she sat calmly at the table and began eating one of the snacks her father had prepared.

Seo-yun stared silently across the table, her expression… anger alone would have been easy to deal with, but the tension there was like burrs under Yuki’s skin. She was holding herself like she was expecting the nogitsune might attack her at any moment.

Yuki cast about for something to say to break the uncomfortable silence. “…You have new tails,” the dark-furred fox eventually said, her words half question, half declaration.

“Yes,” Seo-yun said noncommittally. “I suppose that makes me even more of a freak in your eyes.”

“That’s not what I meant!” Yuki responded hotly, and then forced herself to calm down. “I just… I’m glad. That you survived. If I had known a cure back then, I would have told you. I really did think that there was nothing to be done.”

“And if you had known a cure,” the multicolored fox said carefully, something burning fiercely behind her guarded expression, “would that have stopped you from raping me?”

Yuki bit back an angry reflexive response. “Probably not…” she growled. “That’s what you came to hear, right? That I’m a terrible shitty person? Yeah, guilty as charged.”

“I didn’t come here to attack you…” Seo-yun began.

Yuki couldn’t stop herself from rising to the bait. “There’s a broken stretch of road outside that says otherwise.”

“I thought you were a danger to the village,” Seo-yun answered coldly. “And I have seen nothing yet that proves otherwise.”

“Me? I’m not the one who attacked a woman threatening no one,” Yuki shot back.

“You’re complaining that I did not wait until I saw you literally assaulting someone?” Seo-yun asked, voice tinged with an edge of disbelief. “That you were only deliberately concealing yourself in a place you have been expressly forbidden from? You’re going to claim I was wrong to reveal you, a nogitsune who poured enough fire at me to scatter half the town?”

Yuki flushed, but she couldn’t let herself look away. “I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone,” she insisted, digging her heels in. “Only to get you off of me. What would you have done if someone had pinned you down to the ground? Someone else holding you down, their weight forcing you to the dirt, feeling helpless…” Yuki narrowed her eyes. “And I did try asking nicely first.”

Seo-yun, for her part, at least had the good grace to look embarrassed. Maybe she was remembering what she had said to the nogitsune when Yuki had been helpless. “None of that changes the past,” she said firmly.

“Then is that what you want?” Yuki asked, exasperated. “Is that the price you want for peace? There has to be some rope around here, some leftover cuffs or something. You want me to put them on? Show me what it feels like, then… have your revenge, and show me what it feels like, then.”

“I don’t want that and you know it!” Seo-yun snapped.

“Then what do you want!” Yuki growled back at her.

“How about an apology?”

The nausea rose again, and Yuki was almost violently ill again. Gods she had fucked this all up. “I’m not going to apologize to you,” she said weakly, her stomach rebelling.

Seo-yun stared at her in something between resignation and disbelief while Yuki tried to get her stomach back under control… the last thing she needed was for Seijun’s daughter to assume the very thought of apologizing itself made her sick. “What would be the point?” Yuki slowly continued. “I’m not going to apologize because where the fuck would I even begin? I hurt you. I hurt a lot of people. I’ve fucked things up so badly, and so often, that I’m not even sure where to begin untangling that knot even if it could be pulled loose. What am I supposed to say to you about that? ‘I’m sorry’? ‘I won’t do it again’? I regret it worse than you can imagine, and I won’t… does that help?”

Yuki shook her head in disgust, and felt an absolute tidal wave of self-loathing that threatened to knock her off her feet. “Gods, girl… you don’t even know all the levels on which I’ve failed you. There are no words that exist that can undo my mistakes, or erase the hurt.”

“That’s not an excuse,” Seo-yun said quietly.

“No, it’s not,” Yuki agreed. “And I would know. I could tell you things about excuses. A few years ago, I could have given you hundreds of them, a hundred reasons why everything that happened was everyone’s damn fault but mine. No more… I’m sick and tired of it.” She swallowed. “I hurt you. I hurt a lot of people. And I can’t make that right. There’s nothing I can do that will do that.”

Yuki slowly stood, and looked at Hanabi. “Thank you for everything. I… I really appreciate it… but I don’t belong here. Peace is something that has to be earned, and mine can’t come by hurting someone else.” The nogitsune’s gaze returned to the silent Seo-yun. “I can’t tell you that you should forgive me or that I don’t deserve your hatred. All I can say is that I don’t want to be that person anymore. I’m trying to be better, and I’m probably going to fuck that up too, but I’m done with telling myself that I should just give up ever trying anything and skip to the part where I’m a failure. I have a lot of work to do… but I’ll do it elsewhere.”

She put one hand on Hanabi’s. “Take care of Hanei for me,” Yuki said. Then she bowed low to Seo-yun, and walked out of the tent.

The bronze skinned woman’s fingernail felt like the tip of a knife as it traced over her breast, never cutting but feeling like it was almost on the edge of it… sending her nerves fluttering as her whole body tensed in fear and anticipation. “Did you really think I wouldn’t notice, you silly slut?” her mistress purred as her hand traced over her slave’s bound breast, every sensation like an electrical shock cascading down her body. “Did you really think that you could get away with it? Or did you just think I was too stupid? That I wouldn’t realize what you had done?” Her mouth, molten hot, pressed down on the bound girl’s neck, her teeth graving the vulnerable flesh even as her soft lips caressed her like silk at the same time her other hand slipped down between the girl’s legs, two fingers pushing their way inside her wet cunt and stealing a moan that made her throat vibrate beneath her mistress’s kiss. “Or maybe you just thought it was unimportant… that I gave you instructions for no reason?”

Eirene pointed firmly ahead, gesturing to the covered plate sitting forgotten on the table, pushed off to the side. “Explain it to me, pet. Was I in any way unclear when I told you to stop missing meals?” The two fingers inside her dragon’s pussy pressed slightly deeper, grinding further in as her thumb pressed down firmly on her clit and did a few gentle circles. “Did I, perchance, start speaking in Arabic when I explained very clearly what I expected of my property? The kind of care she deserved?” Her pointing finger returned to caress Astaria’s face, fingertips sliding over the ballgag she had immediately shoved into the dragon’s mouth the moment she had ambushed her. “Or maybe, just maybe, you were cruel and foolish enough to think you could get away with it.”

“Ah guhs hbnt guh arahnttu uh et!” Astaria moaned in protest, trying despite herself to get the words out.

She might as well have not bothered. Eirene simply grabbed onto one of her swollen breasts and squeezed it, making her squeal beneath the gag and cut herself off. The sphinx had taken some of the tent’s cord and wrapped it firmly around the base of each of her breasts before she had used the same cord to bind her arms tightly behind her back. The woman was strong… Astaria would have needed to really push to make any progress against her grip, and she was quickly subdued, her breasts squeezed so tightly around the base that they had started to swell outward. It had the side effect of making them feel like overinflated balloons… incredibly sensitive to even the slightest touch, and Eirene’s touch at the moment was anything but slight. She crushed her right breast firmly, pinching her hard nipple between thumb and forefinger, and then did the same with her clit. Astaria cried out again, the sound muffled down to almost nothing as she leaned helplessly against her mistress.

The sphinx’s breasts pressed against the dragon’s back as Eirene laughed, feeling Astaria shake in her attempts to catch her breath and wobble on her feet. Balance, after all, was more than a little precarious. The domineering woman had wrapped belts around her wings to keep them closed, and another to push her calves to her thighs. The posture forced her to squat if she didn’t want to  fall down onto her face, and left her completely at the mercy of the sphinx’s touch… only her tail remained free enough to move at all, and it was too busy helping her keep her balance to do much of anything. “Oh, I’m sorry, did you have something to say?” Eirene purred, amusement in her voice as she played her fingertips across her slave’s vulnerable, sensitive skin. “Some kind of excuse to offer?” One of her hands came up to the gag’s strap, but didn’t touch it yet. Instead, the sphinx moved her mouth to the other woman’s ear. “This had better be good… or I think it’s going to be quite a while before I let you talk again, oh miss irresponsible one…”

Her fingers plucked the rubber ball out of Astaria’s mouth the second the strap loosened, and Astaria needed to swallow the drool in her mouth before she could even begin making words. “I was going to eat!” she insisted. “But then Tobi showed up to tell me about what Yuki did, and I needed to talk to him about that right away. It was important!”

Eirene nodded in understanding. “Yes… I saw him coming in, just after Baru brought you your meal.” Her hand closed, almost gently, around one of Astaria’s horns, and while she didn’t tug at it yet just the feeling of being so held made Astaria shudder in sudden anticipation. “I also saw him leave, about ten minutes later. And that was a few hours ago.”

Astaria hesitated. “Well, after that, I needed to talk to Maeve obviously. Someone needed to let her know, to make sure it wasn’t going to cause problems for the other selkies or anything.”

“Ahhh,” Eirene said, nodding in understanding. “So you had to go do something else afterward. I understand. I didn’t know that that the fox was coming here, and likely to cause problems… I was under the impression she had run off and out of town. My mistake, obviously.” She didn’t stop sliding her fingers in and out of the dragon in a very, very distracting way. “I guess it really was urgent then… right?”

“Mmmm,” Astaria moaned. It was hard… it wasn’t fair how distracting it was to have her mistress touching her like this, to be unable to move. It was almost enough to confuse her, to draw her attention away completely from the questions… but unfortunately, only almost. “Well… no…”

“Ah!” Eirene said, as if she’d just remembered. “That’s right. She did run off, didn’t she? So she wasn’t coming right here. So… is there another excuse you want to give me? Any other excellent reasons for neglecting my pet’s wellbeing?”

Astaria sagged in the sphinx’s grip, at least as much as she could while she controlled her head by using her horns as a handle. “…No, mist-”

Her words were abruptly cut off as Eirene pushed the ballgag back into her mouth. “I didn’t think so,” she purred, lust plain in her voice as she tightened the strap again. “So now I think you need to be taught a lesson, you disobedient little slut… and then I’m going to feed you, one bite at a time, by hand… to make sure you eat every single bite. Then I’m going to to teach you the lesson again, just to make sure it’s sunk in. Then I’m going to take that ball gag out and give you an opportunity to show me just how sorry you are. And then I’ll-”

“Uh, excuse me?”

Astaria’s eyes widened. Eirene, for her part, was only barely taken less off guard… she physically jumped slightly, her wings flying outward to keep her balance. The whole thing almost sent Astaria down to the ground, and would have if she didn’t curl the end of her tail around her mistress’s ankle. A red-haired selkie stood in the doorway, standing comfortably in shorts and a tshirt. No, not just any selkie…  Yuki’s lover. Merielle. “This, uh… this isn’t what it looks like,” Eirene stammered.

Merielle looked up and down the two of them, a slow smile growing on her face. “I don’t know, looks like a good time to me,” she said, a small chuckle deep in her throat as her green eyes glittered. “But if its not what it looks like…”

“Mmm!” Astaria groaned.

“Uh… maybe it is what it looks like,” Eirene said, wrapping one arm protectively around Astaria.

“Mmm,” Merielle made an appreciative sound. “Then I won’t keep you. Do you know where my sister is? Redhead, quiet, little grumpy?”

“Mmmhmm!” Astaria tried to speak, pushing at the gag with her tongue. Eirene, bless her soul, loosened the strap again and she was able to spit it out, the ball hanging down at the hollow of her throat. “She’s…” she coughed, catching her breath. “Maya is usually at the South beach.”

“Thanks a million,” the selkie said, giving the two of them another small grin before she turned to leave. “Have fun you two!”

Astaria was glad to see the woman. She seemed in good spirits… it meant that Yuki had come back. Just like Astaria had hoped. She had been waiting for the acerbic woman from the Paradisium games to show up again, but she hadn’t been much like the dragon remembered. It seemed like a good thing to her eyes, but she had no way to knowing if that was a sign of things changing or not… and the only person who could have told her had killed herself. It was strange… living blind, never knowing if this was how things were supposed to be or not, was the way she had lived most of her life, the way everyone did, but now it felt off-putting, tense, and confusing.

Yuki had come back. She was, apparently, not going to keep running. Astaria’s instincts told her that that was a good thing… so she just had to trust them.

The dragon was just opening her mouth to answer when Eirene pushed the gag back into place again, sighing loudly. “Well. I guess everyone is going to know before much longer,” the sphinx said, circling around the dragon and wrapping her legs around her waist so that she was resting all of her weight on Astaria’s squatting legs, forcing her to strain twice as hard to keep from falling. She kissed the ball gag, her lips brushing against Astaria’s as she stared into pet’s eyes. “But I guess there are worse things than having a reputation for enjoying each other’s company, aren’t there?”

Astaria could only groan in agreement.

Eirene smiled. She softly stroked the side of her slave’s face, brushing a lock of green hair out of her eyes. “Right then. Where were we…” Her grin suddenly showed every tooth in her mouth. “Ah, yes… the lesson…”

The half-rotten posts that had once been part of a dock no longer did anything but they made a decent perch for someone to sit on… not so tall that they were impossible to get onto, but tall enough they gave a bit of a view of the beautiful beach and the crystal clear sea just beyond it. Maya had found herself here a lot recently. Making a small noise of frustration, the selkie leaned to the side and threw. The stone was flying too quickly, spinning too rapidly, to hit the water and sink. Instead, it bounced off the surface of the sea, skipping across it two, three, four times before finally a small wave was just high enough to catch it before cresting. The small stone vanished into the swell like it had never been there, and it did not emerge from the other side. Four times.

Sighing, Maya reached down to her other hand and plucked another of the smooth, flat stones she had found along the beach, bouncing it in her right hand a few times as she stared out at the sea and waited, watching the swells and trying not to feel frustrated.

This wasn’t a real ocean. Everything about it reinforced that to Maya, and the longer she was here the more apparent that was. The water wasn’t quite salty enough. It wasn’t big enough to get the real swells. The currents didn’t pull as hard. She never could have skipped stones in the waves off the coast of Ireland, but here, as she sat up on the half-rotted wooden post that had once been part of a dock, she found it incredibly easy. The selkie drew back her arm and threw again, and this time the stone glanced off the water loudly enough on the first bounce that she could hear it. One… two… three…

The stone bounced off the last hit funny, and started to tumble. When it hit the water a fourth time, there was a splash, and a plop, and it disappeared into the shining water.

Idly, Maya reached for another stone. Even swimming lacked some of the joy it should bring. For centuries, she had swam… barely ever taking human form, barely ever meeting with others. She had flitted wildly between the barriers of the Atlantic and Arcadia, between the spirit and the real, never paying attention to the passage of time, never really even noticing as hundreds and hundreds of years passed her by… and she hadn’t been alone. Frustrated, she drew back her arm and threw, and-

“There you are.”

The stone tumbled from her hand, bouncing off one of the other dock posts with a loud thudding noise before dropping to the sand, sending up a little spray as Merielle climbed up on the post next to hers. “You know you’re supposed to hit the water with that, right?”

Maya swallowed. “You don’t say,” she whispered, keeping her eye on the surf as it lapped quietly at the beach. Neither sister said anything for a while, the breeze blowing across them, tousling their hair as Maya tried to find the right words. “Do you remember all those years?” She said at last. “It was just the two of us.”

“Thousands of selkies in the sea, and we barely ever even saw one,” Merielle confirmed. “Just us, going where we pleased, doing what we wanted.”

“I miss it,” Maya admitted quietly. “It’s… safe here. But it’s not familiar. Astaria is nice. Batu is nice. But they aren’t you, and Amala isn’t Arcadia.”

“I miss it too,” Merielle agreed easily. “Do you know I looked for you when you vanished?”  Maya turned her gaze to look at her sister. “I started coming to the surface more, going to land more. I was certain that… that you had found someone on the shore, fallen in love and forgotten all about me. I was sure that if you would just see me again that you would come to your senses, that you would come back to me.” She chuckled, shaking her head sadly. “That’s where someone found me, of course. Grabbed my skin right off a rock, and told me to make himself rich.”

Maya heart ached. It had been her fault. If she hadn’t come up to that ship, if her curiosity hadn’t gotten the better of her, then- “I’m sorry,” Maya said, eyes down. “I’m so sorry all of this happened to you.”

“I’m not.” The was stone in her voice, unshakable certainly as Merielle answered. Maya darted her head up and met her sister’s smiling green eyes. “I’d have stayed down there in the ocean forever. You’d still be a slave… and so would all of the other selkies here, still trapped in the Mists of Avalon. I’d have never met my mistress, my friends. I’d still be thinking you could have ever stopped caring about me just because I was out of your sight.” She shook her head softly. “If I could do it all over again, knowing what I know now, I’d have jumped into that slaver’s hands with a smile on my face.”

Maya swallowed, and looked away, looking out over the false sea again. “That’s what this is about, isn’t it?” she whispered. “I heard what happened. They aren’t going to let her stay, are they? You’re leaving.”

“No, they aren’t,” Merielle said, quiet rage beneath her words. “I am.” She paused for a moment before she stretched out, her hand resting on her sister’s leg. “I was an idiot, back then… thinking I could just find you and you’d see me and come back to me. I didn’t trust you… and I’m sorry. I know now that I was a fool, that you never stopped thinking about me, that you never would have abandoned me. I want you to give me the same trust.”

Merielle squeezed softly. “I love her, Maya. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love you. It doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about you, or abandoning you. It doesn’t mean I’m not going to be back.”

“I do trust you. I just don’t trust her,” Maya said, trying not to cry. “I just… I just want you to stay safe. I don’t want you to get hurt.” Merielle sighed, then slipped off the post, moving over to wrap her arms around her raised-up sister. Maya reached down to close her arms around Merielle’s, afraid she might pull away. “Please… don’t hate me.”

“I could never hate you,” the other selkie promised, squeezing her back. “Yuki would say that you don’t have to. That no one should.” She looked up at her sister, a twinkle in her eye through the tears. “As my sister, though… I have higher standards for you. I ask for more from you than is fair, perhaps. I want you to trust in me. That I would know if she was a danger. That I can take care of myself. And that the woman who lived in a waking nightmare for six centuries isn’t the real Yuki, and the woman I love is. All I ask is that you give her an opportunity to prove it.”

“I… can try…” she whispered.

Merielle squeezed her sister one more time, then slowly pulled away. Leaning down, plucked a pair of stones from where they had fallen, and pressed one into Maya’s hands. “I love you, sis,” she said.

Maya wiped her eyes, closing her hand hard around the stone. “…I love you too, Meri.”

The two sisters turned to face the sea together, and threw their stones together. One… two… three… splash.

“You really do suck at this,” Merielle laughed. Maya laughed back.

Yuki knelt in front of Inari’s flame, head nodded in appreciation and conflicted response and anxiety… alone with her thoughts once again. Unlike behind the waterfall, though, this didn’t feel like a horrible emptiness. It felt… calm. She actually felt welcome here… more welcome than she did in the village below, certainly.

She wasn’t sure what message she should be taking from that.

“What was troubling you, Inari-okami?” Yuki whispered to herself. “If I’m welcome, what’s changed?” She sat, staring into the flame in frustration. “What do you want from me? What do any of you want?”

Silenced answered her. After a few moments of staring without speaking, she dipped the stick of incense she carried into the brazier, lighting it up before drawing it back, holding it, and her hands, by her folded knees. The scents of agarwood and sandalwood wafted through her nose, and each breath brought back memories. Good memories. Bad memories. Sad memories. Just… memories. One, after the other, after the other…

Yuki didn’t feel it when Akari appeared, but eventually she noticed that her sister was kneeling next to her, holding her own incense. Neither sister spoke… both seemingly consenting to sit in silence by the flame. Yuki didn’t know where her sister’s thoughts were, but she knew where her own went… to the last time they had been here together. When Akemi’s had been the body being burned.

“Thank you,” Yuki whispered softly. “It would have hurt Merielle terribly if she couldn’t visit her sister.”

“I know just how it would feel,” Akari replied.

She didn’t look away from the flame, not even when Yuki turned her gaze to meet hers. “Is that why you lied to them?” she asked quietly.

Long silence.

“I didn’t lie,” Akari said. Her voice quivered a little bit, and she still didn’t meet her sister’s gaze. “I said nothing untrue.”

“And you let them believe Inari welcomed me back,” Yuki hissed softly between her teeth. “She hasn’t, has she?”

Another long silence.

“I don’t want you to be cast out,” Akari said. Her voice seemed to shake, but her eyes showed no uncertainly as the fire reflected in them. “If Inari-sama disagreed, then she would have said something.”

“My sister, lying by omission,” Yuki chuckled softly as she turned her gaze back to the fire. “Bending the rules.”

“It’s what’s right,” Akari protested weakly.

“And since when did that change your mind?” Yuki came back. She didn’t put any of the heat on it she might once have. Once, she would have found it satisfying. Now it would have just felt… petty. Akari frowned, but said nothing, and didn’t disagree.

The silence stretched again, filled only with the soft sound of moving air as the fire burned at nothing.

“I don’t know what else you should have done,” Akari said at last.

“Hmm?” Yuki said, looking back up at her.

“Witchfire,” she said. Tears glistened on her eyes, reflecting the firelight. “Shirakami Sanchi, Syllana… all of it. What you did was wrong, Yuki… and I don’t know what else you were supposed to do.” She finally looked up at her sister. “I’ve been thinking about it for centuries… and I still don’t know what else you could have done that would have worked. And if I can’t figure it out, with hundreds of years to think… how much punishment can you deserve?”

She looked sharply away. “Enough is enough, Yuki.”

Her words felt like someone had removed a weight from Yuki’s heart, one that she had carried for centuries – long enough that she had forgotten it was there, and that the pain was normal. That should have been a cause for relief. Instead, to her horror, the sudden relief only showed the other pain beneath the surface. Yuki turned her own gaze back to the fire, breathing deeply for long minutes. “She’s Seijun’s daughter, Akari.”

The zenko fox nodded. “I know.”

Yuki’s blue eyes closed. The words… didn’t come as hard as they should have. Maybe it was the candidness of them talking, really talking, again. Maybe it was the forgiveness, or the closeness. Maybe it was that she felt she had already thrown herself to the lions for judgment and had nothing more to fear. Hell, maybe it was Inari’s presence itself, guiding the way. Either way, the admission came out before she could stop it. “I’m not sure there is enough I deserve.” She turned away from Akari. “Thank you, sister… but I can’t stay.”

“You don’t have t-”

“Am I interrupting something?”

Both women looked up at where a straw blonde fox was kneeling off to the side. There should have been an idol of Inari there, but it had been destroyed during the invasion and hadn’t been replaced… instead, Megumi sat seiza where it should have been, her milky eyes looking at the flame as the two sisters there.

“I’m sorry,” Akari began. “I didn’t see-”

“Oh, you two don’t have to stop,” Megumi said, a casual, confident smile on her face. “Really, with the portal to the nexus here, this old place feels more like a thoroughfare than a temple, some days… it’s not like you’re distracting me any. I just don’t want to be disturbing either of you.”

“I shouldn’t be here,” Yuki said, rising to her feet. “I don’t know if you’ve heard, but-”

“Nonsense,” the blind kitsune assured them. “Inari’s flame doesn’t belong to me, child. It belongs to all those who have come before, and will someday rest here. Every son and daughter of Hanei had this place as their birthright.” She looked at Yuki’s face, almost right at the nogitsune’s eyes. “Whether they live here, or if they were cast out, this place is still theirs. And if the old girl has a problem with that, she can come down and tell me herself.”

“That’s really not how she does things…” Akari started, but Megumi simply smiled and raised a hand to stop her.

“Then I guess my word is the last word on the subject,” the shrine maiden said with perfect confidence. “And I say that she was welcome here the first time she came, and welcome here now.”

Yuki felt a bit more tension leak out of her. “So you did know,” she said, almost to herself.

“Of course I did,” Megumi snorted. “Just because I can’t see doesn’t mean I’m blind to what really matters, young one. You needed to see the departed then… and you need them now. That is what matters.”

“Thanks, but I think I’m about good,” Yuki said, running one hand through her hair and feeling, once again, the missing area where her ear should have been. “I guess… I guess it’s good you know, because there’s something I wanted to ask… even if I wasn’t sure how.”

Megumi nodded… but her expression turned sadder, somehow. “Sometimes, child… after losing the ones we love most, people can’t bring themselves to stay,” the shrine maiden said, nodding towards the fire. “Putting a loved one to rest here brings peace to some, but to others… it just means the one they lost feels like she’s everywhere. After centuries of memories, her ghost can haunt places they knew together. When that happens… they usually leave. Just wander away, to make their home elsewhere. Usually, they do try to get in touch with those they left behind… but you both left.” Megumi shook her head slowly. “I’ve kept watch over the last six centuries, Yuki. And no… Sarada never came back.”

Yuki looked back at the fire they had laid Yui to rest in, where Akemi rested, and caught a glimpse of Merielle as she came down the hallway from the nexus, a backpack over one shoulder. Shura stood with her, standing awkwardly, fidgeting. “I… understand,” Yuki said sadly.

“I’m sorry, child,” Megumi said. “On that subject, I just don’t know.”

“Thank you,” Akari said as Yuki turned and walked towards the door, both Merielle and Shura moving to meet her as she went. Yuki briefly grabbed her sister’s hand, holding it as she pulled away until their fingertips brushed one another. Then the nogitsune let go and pulled away from the zenko, leaving the shrine, and Inari’s flame, behind her. 

Yuki walked down the hill outside, ignoring the eyes that she could feel lock onto her the moment she stepped into view as she walked toward town, the two other women following after. “So, what’s the plan?” Shura asked.

“I’m… sorry I’ve made your life complicated,” Yuki started. “I never meant to-”

“Fuck that,” the blue haired fox interrupted her. “I don’t see it that way. What’s the plan?”

Yuki sighed. Then she let a little smile crease her lips. “Thank you, Shura.” She let out her breath, squared her shoulders, and continued walking as she spoke. “This is your home. I wouldn’t dream of asking you to leave… and they need you. More than they know. I do still have a lot more to teach you, though. I going to want you to come visit me in Kyoto.”

“Just things you want to teach me?” Shura said hesitantly.

Merielle chuckled. “She didn’t say you wouldn’t be studying some of them between her legs.”

Shura let out a low growl, but even as she did something in her expression seemed to relax. “You two wish, bitches. I have higher standards.”

“Shut up, you brat,” Yuki said as she turned, grabbing the punk fox by her ear.

“Ah! Let go of me, asshole!” she spat… but she squeezed Yuki back when her new mentor pulled the kitsune into a brief hug.

“I’ll miss you too,” Yuki said, passing her a note with a phone number on it. “Do you know what a cellphone is?”

Shura rolled her eyes. “Is this old lady for real?” She snatched the phone number from her. “Just because we live in the middle of nowhere without cell towers doesn’t mean I haven’t heard of a damn cellphone.”

“Then call me, we’ll set up the next visit,” Yuki said without missing a beat. “We’ll figure out something then. In the meantime, I want you working on that pattern exercise we got started on.”

“Blow it up your ass,” Shura said, but her voice was a bit tight. “And… thank you. Mistress.” They embraced again, slowly and longer this time, not caring who was watching them. “This sucks…” she said quietly.

“It’s hardly perfect,” Yuki agreed, looking slowly up to the clouds above as the winds carried them by. “But… you know what, Shura? I think I’ve learned one thing in all my years. The best things in life are never perfect. We’ll make it work, because it’s important… and we know it’s important because it’s worth making it work.”

Shura snorted. “I’m not sure that makes any sense at all, sensei.”

“I promise it does,” Yuki said softly. “You’ll see. Sometimes… sometimes the only way to win is to lose less than you could have. It was good to be home… even if only for a little while.”

Shura had nothing to say to that. Sighing, Yuki turned to look at the forest from the edge of town, pausing here and hesitating. Merielle bumped her hip into the nogitsune as she stepped up alongside her. “You sure you want to do this, mistress?” she said quietly. “If you want to fight this, I’m here with you.”

She hesitated a moment longer… but then shook her head. “No,” Yuki said. “This won’t help anyone. Not even me. I can’t stay here anymore. Not now… maybe not ever.”

“If you’re sure…” Merielle whispered.

Yuki sighed. Then she nodded. “I’m sure.” Then, looking back at Hanei one last time, she turned and walked into the woods, leaving Shura staring after her and the selkie until they were out of sight.

Shirakami-Sanchi, Japan

Waking up after a night of drinking was always the epitome of misery. Everything hurt… her brain hurt so deeply that even thoughts seemed to cringe and cower away from her, and the light burned even through closed eyelids. She must have had way, way too much. She tried to turn over, to bury her head in her bedding, but there was no soft bedding… nothing of comfort, or softness. Just the hard shape of rocks and the scratching of wood.

That wasn’t right.

It took a concentrated effort to open her eyes, and every step of the process hurt. First, it felt like a battle with her eyelids, the very muscles in her face, to get them to remember what to do… it seemed to her hung-over mind that her body was confused about how to even mechanically do it. Once they cracked open even a slit, however, the pain made her wish that she hadn’t… it was so bright! The sun seemed to be stabbing her directly in the eyeball and she moaned, one hand coming up to shield her eyes… too quickly.

She slapped herself in the face.

Immediately her headache informed her that she had made an insane decision. She didn’t hit herself hard but her head hurt so bad that it was like she’d reached inside her skull and squeezed… she needed to war with her stomach not to simply be sick. Mumbling curses incoherently in her dry, sticky mouth, she slowly forced her eyes open, only tiny blinks and slivers at a time.

Too bright. She found herself wanting to yell at the sun to go the fuck away, or take a bow and shoot it out of the sky. Instead, she just grumbled more, rubbing at her eyes and swearing that she was never going to drink again. She had really overdone it this time. At last, however, she got her eyes opened.

She must have had significantly wilder of a night than she thought.

There had been a fire… that much was clear. She was in a forest, or what had been a forest… even though quite a bit of it had been turned into ash and blackened husks of burned out trees. She had been laying not on a bedroll, or in a tent, but simply on the ground against a few rocks… and it showed from how much her body hurt. Looking around, though, it didn’t seem like this had happened recently… the rain had washed away much of the ash, and packed the rest down, and there wasn’t any sense of heat beyond that from the sun shining down. The fire had been day or weeks ago, at least.

What had happened?

She stretched her memory back but…

She couldn’t remember.

What had she been doing here? How had she gotten here? What had happened? Every time she tried to reach back she found… nothing. Not pain, though her head did hurt… not fear, or groggy fog, or confusion. Nothing at all. It was a very, very odd sensation, knowing that she ought to know something and just… not. It was like taking a step down a staircase in the dark, and finding nothing but air beneath your foot when you tried to put it down… you were already falling, and by the time you realized, it was too late to do anything about it.

She held her head, fingers running through her dirty, ash-coated hair. Now it hurt… not the memories, but the panic, the sinking sensation of confusion and dawning wrongness threatened to send her falling forever with nothing to catch her. She needed to stop thinking about it. She needed she needed…

She needed to go home.

She couldn’t think about where she was going… if she thought about it, if she really thought about how she didn’t know where she was going, that way lay madness. Instead, she just walked, trusting her instincts on where to go. Deeper into the burned ruins of the forest… deeper. Deeper…

Her legs hurt. She kept walking.

She crossed her trail in the ash. She kept walking.

The nightingale song around here felt loud enough to make her head spin. She kept walking.

By the time she finally fell to her knees in a confused, muddled mess of her own footprints, she lacked the strength to stand anymore, much less walk. The sun had set and rose and set again while she’d walked in her hopeless, helpless daze, trying to find her way to a place she no longer could find. She couldn’t go another step, but when she sank to the earth she couldn’t find her tears either. Terrified, confused, and lonely… oh so lonely. She would have given anything not to be alone, even if only for a moment.

“Well, what do we have here?”

She’d thought that she had no strength left, that she couldn’t stand. She’d been wrong. In a heartbeat she was on her feet, one leg forward, both hands raised defensively as she looked around. No conscious thought had gone into that… sheer reflex had provoked the response. There was, however, no one here… no one to speak to her, no one watching her.

“You’re supposed to be dead…”

She turned towards the voice, focusing on it… and found a small bird perched on one of the burned trees. A tiny nightingale sat on the branch, its head tilted as it looked at her… and it took her a moment to realize its eyes were glowing faintly gold.

“W… what?” she asked.

“Curious,” the bird said, without moving its mouth at all. “Very curious. How are you alive, Akemi?”

Akemi. Akemi! That was her name! Akemi! A thrill of understanding went through her, and it felt like she had been hanging by the neck, kicking her feet wildly, and one of them had found solid ground. Something that could support the weight of her thoughts took root in her head. “I…” she said, voice uncertain. “Do you know me?”

The voice hesitated a moment. “Don’t you recognize me?”

“I… I… don’t remember,” she admitted, her words nearly a whisper.

“I understand,” her voice came. “Of course I know you, Akemi… we were closest of friends! We all thought you died!” The bird fluttered over to her, landing on the redhead’s shoulder… and Akemi only realized now, more than a day after waking, that she was naked. She flushed, covering herself with her hands. The bird, however, didn’t seem to notice. “How are you alive?”

“I… I don’t know. I just… woke up…” Akemi said, uncertain.

“Very curious, Akemi… very interesting!” The bird sounded very excited. “I wonder how… hmmm…”

“Do… can you tell me… who I am?” she said, hesitant.

The voice laughed. “Of course I can,” the female voice said, cheerful. “What else are friends for?”

“Thank you!” Akemi said, feeling relief for the first time in days. “Thank you!”

“Alright,” the voice said. “I’m glad you’re alive… but you’re not safe there. We have to go get you someplace safe. Then I can catch up with you… What I need you to do is face the sunset and start walking. We need to reach a village where we can get on a boat and get you to China as soon as possible.” The bird trilled, then flew off, resting on a burned tree in the given direction. “This way! We’re going to work together, Akemi, and we’re going to figure out exactly what happened to you.”

Answers, answers that Akemi badly needed, waited for her. She hurried in that direction, the bird flitting to the next tree as she did. “Thank you… uh… what should I call you?”

“Mai,” the bird said cheerfully. “You can call me Mai.”

Tanaka Kenji whistled softly, hand on his spear as he watched the caravan of refugees walk by. This was the fourth group this month. He watched, dark eyes glittering, as the men – and more importantly, women – walked into town with nothing but what they could carry in their hands. A mere pair of horses existed to carry belongings for the whole group of thirty or forty, and their clothing showed wear and dirt from the road. From what Kenji understood there had been come kind of big fire in the north, one that chased out pretty much every small village and town in the area, sending them fleeing to the south. This far to the south, he wouldn’t have expected to still be getting refugees… but still they came. It must have been a big fire.

Good for him.

He brought his spear down in front of one of the women as she tried to pass him, stopping her. “You there,” he growled, eyes narrowed. “You look suspicious. Come with me.”

The woman wore loose-fitting rags that were stained with dirt and soot, but no amount of ratty clothing, caked on dirt, or exhaustion could hide the generous shape of her body, any more than the tattered kasa she wore on her head could hide the loveliness of her features no matter how low she tilted it down. She was a rice farmer if he was any judge, based on the sun-darkened skin and the hints of muscle in her arms… perhaps not the perfect porcelain doll that he might have preferred, but he only saw women like that in the arms of the rich. This woman, on the other hand, was just as lovely… and she stood before him.

“…Sir?” she whispered. The refugee woman looked up at him with eyes that looked terrified and vulnerable, and he smiled at that look… yes, this was the one. She was clearly the prize out of this bunch, he had known that from the moment she caught his eye, but her reaction told him clearly that she would be the most fun. All around them, other refugees glanced at her, then averted their gaze and kept walking, resolutely turning away from her plight, glad only that it wasn’t them.

“We don’t allow unclean women in town,” he said gruffly. “Don’t need any loose morals here.”

She swallowed. “I… I don’t… I’m not…”

Kenji nodded with understanding. “I’ll be the judge of that, slattern. Come with me, and perhaps we can clear this up…”

The sky was starting to go dark as night got closer, but Kenji wasn’t actually worried about anyone dangerous coming into town… if there were bandits nearby, they would have preyed on this group long before they got here. A woman this pretty would never have made it. Instead, he pulled her out behind some of the buildings before forcing her up against the wall with the butt of his spear, pressing her flat against it now that they were out of sight. “So then, pretty thing,” he said as he leaned forward, putting a hand on her chin and lifting her face up to look at him. “I really wasn’t expecting a whore to come into town, especially not one as lovely as you.”

“I’m not a whore,” she said quietly, forcing her head from his grip with surprising strength. “Please just leave me alone.”

Kenji looked with annoyance at his empty hand before he brought it down to her chest, clamping down on one of the large breasts through the fabric and squeezing it. “You’re a whore if I say you’re a whore,” he said, pulling at the flimsy cloth. “Let’s get you out of these rags, and then we—”

The man suddenly wobbled on his feet, lightheaded all the sudden and off balance. She’d been pushing at him, and… and…

Kenji looked down.

The whore’s hand had pushed right through his chest, and was buried inside him to the mid arm.

The moment he looked, the pain came. Screeching, crippling waves of agony raced through him, and he would have collapsed were it not for him being so literally impaled. “I said,” she whispered, her voice a hiss, “I am not a whore!” Her fist closed on something inside of him. “Why can’t you just leave…”

She squeezed, and his world went white with agony. His hand closed weakly around his arm, but he wouldn’t even really hold on, much less pull her away.


Something inside him made a wet noise as she crushed it. Kenji felt a moment of agony… then a strange, distant sensation, along with the sensation of burning.

Then darkness closed in on him, deep, silent, and complete.

“ALONE!” Nyami hissed, ripping the man’s crushed heart from his chest in a burst of gore. “Why won’t you just leave me alone!” His body collapsed like an empty, hollowed-out egg sac, crumpling to the ground and leaving her sprayed with his blood, panting in a fury she didn’t entirely understand.  “Leave me alone!”

She didn’t want trouble. She didn’t want to be recognized. She didn’t want that zenko to see her, to follow her. Now she was going to need to leave this group… and get some new clothing, again. She wanted to curse. She wanted to cry in frustration. It wasn’t fair.


The thought had been following her for weeks now, haunting her every step. She had run. Nyami, Scourge of Thousand Cities, The Webweaver, The Venomous… had run. And not from a goddess, or a titan, but from a newborn zenko… one completely unfamiliar with her own power, one so fresh that she could smell it. Nyami should have been able to kill her with her eyes closed. She was the Doom of the Gods, a weapon crafted to stab into their hearts… but that night, in that forest with that strange fire consuming everything she had ever known, Nyami had thought she had won… and had been surprised. At the moment of her victory, a new, far more dangerous challenge had risen.

And she had panicked.

Nyami hated herself. Her sisters would be laughing themselves sick.

Her sisters…

Good riddance!

Nyami shuddered. The kitsune were fools. All their supposed wisdom, all their closeness to the gods, and in the end they were as blind as anyone else. Too foolish to even consider that Father had made the jorogumo using a mortal soul, too… just how their own were made. Of course they could transform. She had watched, surrounded on all sides by their strange fire, as the kitsune corralled her daughters, driving them before the flames. Fire that should have been nothing to one of her kind scorching them. Burning them. Consuming them. Surrounded on all sides, she had done the only sensible thing she could.

She had taken a human form, wrapped herself up in webbing, and waited to be rescued.

By the time the night was over, she had been one of the surviving “humans” escorted to safety from the forest. No one had looked twice at her… smeared with soot, she had seemed no different than any other. She watched as the nogitsune were cast out, hiding from Inari’s gaze… her Father’s craftsmanship and the goddess’s anger serving to protect her from notice. Then she was gone, fleeing to the south with the other refugees.

Nyami hadn’t gone far, though. Instead, she had waited.

Kumiko was dead. She could scarcely believe it, but she had watched her younger sister fall. Akume, though… Nothing could kill Akume. The gods themselves hadn’t been able to kill her sister. Akume was immortal. Akume was eternal.

Akume was dead. On the third day, she had found the remnants of her sister’s burned corpse where the nogitsune had left it. She’d found no other jorogumo… not a single one seemed to have survived the purge. All her daughters, dead. All her sisters, dead. Of all of them, she alone was left.

Good riddance!

Nyami took the man’s coat. It was bloody, but if she turned it inside out you couldn’t tell in the dark… that would do for now, until she could reach a stream. Cursed man. Nyami needed to get off this island, needed to get to safety. Father would come for her before long, she felt certain… even if she evaded everyone else, she wouldn’t be able to evade him. Until then, though, she was the the only survivor of a tribe of millions… and the weight of her entire people were on her shoulders. She needed to live.

The jorogumo slipped out of town in the darkness, and no one noticed as she passed into the rice fields, sticking to the shadows where the torches did not reach… so no one saw the blood on her skin and clothing. So no one saw the tears on her cheeks.

She should be happy. She hated them. Ever since she was born she had wanted one thing… herself, supreme. Her sisters dead, or at the very least subservient. Nyami, reigning supreme in both her own eyes, and those of her father. It was what she had always wanted, and now she had it. They were gone.

So why wasn’t she happy?

Nyami didn’t understand it, didn’t understand why, so she ran… and as she did she thoughts, as ever, turned back to those who had defied her. To the nogtisune. She remembered their strange fire, and the goddess Inari’s words. Most of all, however, she remembered the one who had defied her. The one who had burned her family. The one who had murdered her sister.


Maybe she could be happy after that one was dead.

Yes. Surely that was it…

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