Part 1    HQ       Part 2    Biwako-Ohashi-Bridge       Part 3    Rustling in the Dark

Part 4    Moonlight Market

Part 5    Giant Magic Spider

The pub was dark and silent, except for the lit candle sitting between two whiskey glasses shimmering with golden liquid and ice cubes. The counter was dividing the darkness and the mirrored shelves packed with gleaming liquor bottles, jars with herbs and other potions. “Aunty made us welcome drinks?” Lou whispered. I shook my head.

I breathed in the rich scented atmosphere. I recognized honey, beeswax, cold tobacco, leather, lemony and herbal notes, and polished wood. Home! I closed my eyes. This all meant home to me. Home. I opened my eyes. I wasn’t alone. Lou was here with me.”Remember! Nothing is for free. Ever! That’s a test.”

“But. You’re family! Aren’t yo-” I harrumphed, and Lou shut up.

“Mother? Mother? Mum?” I looked for movement on the far wall, and the cavelike seating area. “MUM?” I heard something creak in the back behind the shelves. “I’m home! I brought my best friends too.” Faint clicking and rapidly approaching shuffling betrayed Aunt Nancy’s arrival.

“Oh, my darling! It ‘s been too long! Thank the Ancient Gods! You came to visit your old mother! Let me hug you, my precious son!” Her gemlike obsidian compound eyes zeroed in on me and lowered themselves from the ceiling. I craned my neck to meet her gaze. Her huge metallic black body moved weightlessly, as she elegantly set her feet on the floor and crouched almost to the floor, to level her head to mine. Lou yelped due to her sheer size. He had only seen her in a more humanoid appearance. I leaned into a gentle hug, throwing out my arms around her huge head. I felt her first two pairs of legs cross over my back, her mandibles pressed against my chest, belly, and groins. Her sensory hairs tickled my armpits, my sides, and my calves. “I missed you so much!” She snuggled into my embrace, or it was the other way around. I couldn’t tell. Her herbal waxy scent was soothing the dread I had been feeling before arriving.

“I missed you too, mum!” I disengaged slowly, and she mirrored my movements. “Mum, you remember Lou?”

She glanced at him. “Ah, yes. The Brave One. You may stay as long as you need to. Your stay is my pleasure, and you do not owe me anything in return. I guarantee you safe passage and protection during your stay. Thank you for taking care of my son.” She waves a leg towards the counter. “Have a drink.” The spider retracted her mandibles to mimic a smile.

Lou still didn’t dare to look at her directly. “Aunty, thank you very much for your kindness. Please let me exchange money to be able to pay you the right amount for your friendliness.” The spider smiled and shook her body slightly. I grinned at Lou and gave him a thumbs up. He had passed her test. He handed her a ten thousand Yen banknote. She took it and held the paper before the biggest pair of compound eyes. “It says Yen, darling. So this is how humans pay nowadays. Tell me Brave, how much do you pay for a loaf of bread or a bowl of rice and a hot beverage?” Lou answered and my mother nodded. She climbed over the counter and the shelves, behind a heavy burgundy corduroy curtain.

“You did well.” He looked at me with relief and a weak smile.

“Hey, why does she call me The Brave One, instead of Lou? Don’t get me wrong, I do not dislike that, but. Uh.” He shrugged. “You told me about not revealing my name and such. And now she gives me one, you know?”

“Of course. You could either use Lou or Brave here. What you think suits you best. My mother observes the patterns and the hue of your psyche and soul. She chooses the most prominent marker or the one she likes best and emphasizes that, by pointing out that particular version of you. That enhances that attribute in the respective personality, part of her magic.” I smiled. “You know what name she gave me? Smart. I chose Black myself as I left her care, to honor her and her work. Don’t you think it fits perfectly?”

Lou nodded slowly. I saw he was a bit helpless with the information I just gave him. I suspected, it has been too much to digest after the welcome he had received. Mother emerged from the tunnel behind the curtain. She had brought Lou a little sand-colored leather sack with gold nuggets. She showed it to him put it in his cupped hands. As he opened it, his jaw dropped. “Paper money has no value here.” She waved at the drinks. “I already deduced the price. Enjoy.” Lou stared at the gold, weighed the satchel in his hands, stared at me and then back at the gold, mouth agape, tongue slightly hanging out. Never seen him speechless. Bless Mother for her generosity.

“Uh. I don’t mean to be rude. I think this is too much.” She smiled and leaned over to me to whisper.

“Did I scare him that much?” She made a rapid hollow clicking swiping noise. Her laugh made me chuckle. I shook my head and felt a bit bad for stating this so clearly for Mother. Hopefully, Lou wasn’t going to be pissed, that I exposed him.

“No, mom. He is poor. His parents gave him lots of siblings, and that is almost everything he has. He and his own family is growing right now, and they need to be careful.” I shot Lou an apologetic look and stared at my hands. “Besides that, Lou has never seen pure gold.” Mother’s mandible worked nervously. She shook her whole body in disagreement.

“I will never understand the human value system. That cannot be stable, no world for families. It’s not healthy!” I nodded and touched one of her legs. She turned to Lou. “Young man, you can take the amount you haven’t consumed with you, outside of the Moonlight Market. I hereby allow it to you and those of your blood.” She raised a foot and blew at the tip of it. Between her claws formed a little droplet of shimmering liquid. She let it fall onto Lou’s left shoulder. A visible shock and shiver chased down his entire skin. His fur stood up, making him look like a fat fluffy version of himself.

“That was weird.” He bowed to her.”And thank you, Aunty.”

We approached the counter and pulled up some bar stools. Lou took a sip and nodded in approval. “Don’t empty anything here. Always leave a bit in the glass, on the plate, as a sign of respect to the spirits.” I whispered to him. “Watch this!” I took a big gulp and left only a quarter of an inch liquor in the glass. The ice clicked together and the glass refilled itself. Lou’s eyes got big like saucers. “I told you! This place tries very hard to keep you here. It gives everything. Forever.”

+

to be continued:

Part 6 (Woven)/

Part 7

original art by writer ( ca 2000, ink, pencil paper)

4 thoughts on “Fox, Wolf and Dragon (5)

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