Home > Shattered (The Iron Druid Chronicles #7)(12)

Shattered (The Iron Druid Chronicles #7)(12)
Author: Kevin Hearne

“She did? What am I supposed to do with it?”

“I imagine it will make a great gift.” The silk had whorls of darker red in it, subtle layerings of color from fire-engine scarlet to burgundy, and was bordered at the edges in white with textured grass blades in cool grays.

“Oh, ye want me to give it to ye, is that it? Well, feck off. It’s prettier than three pairs o’ tits, and I’m keeping it.”

Since there was no way to shift directly into the Phoenix metro area—a limitation I appreciated very much when I was hiding from the Fae—we shifted back to Flagstaff, and I rented a car there to drive down into the Valley of the Sun. It was an opportunity to introduce him to modern materials like plastic and rubber and asphalt.

Owen planned to visit the Tuatha Dé Danann after he’d acquired his ID, and I told him that he should get up to Sam and Ty’s place somehow when he returned and call me from there. Dropping him off on Mill Avenue in Hal’s care, I wished I could stay and enjoy lunch with them, but Inari was waiting for me. I turned directly around and drove back the way I came.

Even with the delay, I was able to keep that appointment in Japan in not quite six hours. I never did tether too many places there to Tír na nÓg, which often forced me to make some long trips into the cities when I had reason to visit in modern times, but one of the few places I had tethered in the old days happened to be Mount Inari in Kyoto. It had been my good fortune to spend time in the country during the dawn of the Tokugawa shogunate, and I thought Nijo Castle, with its fascinating nightingale floor, was worth keeping an eye on. I tethered an area near the top of Mount Inari because I could see even then that space was at a premium in Japan and the valleys would all be developed soon enough. The only safe place to tie up was on mountainsides.

Parts of Mount Inari were developed anyway, but the developments were Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples rather than residences, and the trees had been left alone, apart from what was needed for the slim paths through them. The largest and most famous of the shrines was Fushimi Inari, with its hundreds of vermilion torii to usher the faithful up the mountain. Walking the paths underneath those gates could take an hour or two. When I shifted to the mountain with Oberon, we arrived near the top. Back in Arizona it had been late afternoon, but here above Kyoto it was already dawn of the next day, and wan light filtered through the canopy of trees. We threaded our way through the forest until we found one of the shrine paths and followed it down. At a place where the path crossed another, it was watched over by two kitsune statues. These statues were often carved of gray stone, and the kitsunes were sometimes depicted holding a key to the granary, a scroll, or a ball in their mouths. The one I chose held a scroll, emphasizing the kitsune’s role as a messenger of Inari; it was supported by several levels of pedestals, blocks rising like a layered wedding cake, high enough so that we had to look up at the statue. Since Oberon had missed my conversation with the kitsune, he wasn’t quite caught up on what we were doing, other than visiting a shrine. When he took in the kitsune, his ears pricked up with interest.

"Atticus, is that supposed to be a statue of a hound?"

No, it’s a kitsune. A fox.

"Oh. Is that a sausage in its mouth?"

No, it’s a scroll.

"A scroll? Okay, I just lost all respect for that fox. Every canine knows you only put food or toys into your mouth."

Is that so? You used to fetch my newspaper for me.

"Well, yeah, but that was in another country, and, besides, you wouldn’t make me breakfast until I did."

Perhaps this kitsune will get a treat after it delivers the scroll. Did you think of that?

"No, but if that’s the case, the artist made a terrible decision choosing his subject. The awarding of a treat would have been much more worthy of a shrine."

I needed Oberon to entertain himself while I concentrated on summoning the kitsune, so I said to him, Think long and carefully on this before you answer, because it will literally be set in stone. If there was a shrine to Oberon the Irish Wolfhound and you were sculpted with a single treat in your mouth, what would that treat be?

"Only one treat? Well, uh … that would be …"

Take your time.

Oberon swayed on his feet, physically rocked by the magnitude of the query. "Whoa. That is a very serious question, Atticus. I’d better go lie down over here and consider it."

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

With Oberon situated, I pulled the jade pin out of my pocket and placed it at the base of the statue, keeping my fingertip in contact with it as I spoke.

“Fujiwara-no-Kuni, it is I, Siodhachan Ó Suileabháin, here to see Inari as promised. I await you here at the base of this statue.” I kept my eyes on the face of the statue for several seconds, then I let go of the pin, turned, and sank down until my back rested against the base of the pedestal. I didn’t know how long I’d have to wait. It might be quite some time. Considering that I had met Fujiwara-no-Kuni in the Pyrenees only six hours ago, it was silly to expect her to be waiting for me in Japan now. Unless she had some method of traveling quickly, as many messengers of the gods do.

Turned out that she did. Perhaps twenty minutes later she walked up the path from below, wearing a white kimono this time with a cherry blossom pattern. As before, she stopped some distance away, not wishing to get too close to Oberon.

"Atticus, it’s that same lady who’s not a lady!" he said, springing to his feet. He was startled because he’d been so deeply absorbed in his meditation on treats.

I know. But she means us no harm. Do not growl or bark at her, and do not leave my side, okay? It would be rude.

"Okay."

The kitsune bowed deeply before speaking. “Welcome to Japan, honored Druid. This one will take you to Inari. Please follow me. We will walk for a short distance.”

“I will follow. Arigato gozaimasu.”

We trailed after the gray bow of her obi down to the bottom of the mountain, actually leaving the grounds of Fushimi Inari and walking a block away into the neighborhood surrounding the shrine. There were modest single homes with patios or gardens ringed by bamboo fences and tiny cars parked underneath overhanging second stories. During the walk, Oberon shared with me his musings.

"Atticus, the question you asked me cannot be answered."

It can’t?

"No, it’s a Zen thing."

What? Who’s been teaching you Zen?

"Clever Girl. She says I’m Zen sometimes. And what you have posed to me is this thing called a koan."

I know what koans are, but I don’t follow.

"Look, Atticus: What is the sound of one snack happening?"

Ohhh, yeah. You’re right, Oberon, that’s very Zen.

Fujiwara-no-Kuni took a right, leading uphill once more, and then stopped in front of an interesting building that did not look like a residence at all. It looked more like the walls of a compound. A rock foundation rose from the sloping sidewalk to provide even ground for the interior; above this, the walls were covered with thin wooden planks, stained brown and weathered with deep grooves. The canted roof was covered in gray tiles, but this covered only what amounted to a thick wall; the center was open, as the tops of trees could be seen peeking out from inside. The kitsune bowed to us and raised her right hand to indicate the structure.

“This is Ōhashi-ke Teien, the private garden of Ōhashi-san. My mistress awaits you inside. Enter, please.” She bowed again and backed away, and I ducked my head at her in thanks. A sign outside the door indicated that this was something of a tourist destination, originally built in the early twentieth century. We were entering far earlier than its posted hours, however, and, indeed, apart from our presence and the chirping of morning birds, the street still slept.

Step in quiet and careful with me, Oberon, ears and eyes open.

"Are you expecting an ambush?"

Pretty much all the time. It’s because I like to be surprised with peaceful welcomes.

This surprise proved to be an especially peaceful one. Ōhashi’s garden had twelve stone lanterns of differing styles in it, each nestled amongst carefully sculpted hedges and trees and flowering vines spreading their leaves along the walls; two suikinkutsu fountains provided a pleasant echo of falling water. Two gravel paths dotted with stepping stones wound through the garden, and where they intersected was a large round temple stone. A small shrine rested in one corner, and in another was a wee building constructed in the style of a teahouse but which was more of an arbor, a place where one could take shelter from the elements yet still enjoy the garden. It had a circular window with white paper and a fine network of bamboo over it.

A beautiful woman in a red yukata tied with a white obi stood on the opposite side of the garden. It was a bit late in the year for a yukata, which was normally a summer garment, but she seemed comfortable. She bowed to me, flicked open a fan in front of her face, and gestured to the arbor.

"Atticus, she’s not a lady either."

I know, buddy. It’s okay.

Inari waited inside the arbor, kneeling on a tatami mat. Though sometimes she manifested as a male, in this instance she had chosen a female form, resplendent in a kimono of lavender overlaid with a deep-blue floral pattern. I asked Oberon to wait outside the arbor and I entered, taking a place across from Inari on the mat. She beamed at me and bade me welcome, expressing gratitude for my time. We traded pleasantries, as custom demanded. Being a deity associated with rice, she did not have tea to offer but rather sake, and she wasn’t pulling any punches: It was the undiluted kind, called Genshu sake, 18 to 20 percent alcohol.

She noted that Granuaile and I had recently spent time in Japan to heal. That was only a few weeks ago, when we had spent time in a Tokyo ryokan—a more apt description for the traditional lodgings than hotel—and made frequent visits to the onsen. “Did you find the earth replenishing?” she asked.

“Yes, very much so. Thank you.”

After we both had taken a sip of our sake and the opening niceties had been thus punctuated, we could move on to business. The goddess adopted a posture of stillness, cup held in one hand and resting in the palm of the other. When she continued to speak, she switched from her native Japanese to English. “Ó Suileabháin-san, we have heard of your troubles with the Olympians and congratulate you on solving that particular problem.”

I liked how she phrased that. With the aid of Pan and Faunus, Artemis and Diana had hunted me across Europe, and I’d barely survived—hence the need to heal in Inari’s country—yet she presented it as if I’d solved a brainteaser in the Sunday paper. I wasn’t sure who we were, but maybe she had adopted the royal we.

“It is not entirely solved,” I said. “Diana still wishes to destroy me. But I suppose the rest of the Olympians are at least loosely allied with me now.”

“In truth, we are relieved. It is a fortuitous sign. But more must be done.”

I felt that I had better clarify the pronoun before I spent the entire conversation in uncertainty. “I’m sorry, but I do not understand. Who’s we?”

“All of us,” she said, which didn’t clarify at all. “But now the stakes are being reset. Our adversary is scheming in a more clever fashion.”

“Our adversary in Tír na nÓg?”

“I speak of the Norse god Loki. He is recruiting the darker figures of several pantheons to his side, and now you must actively recruit as well. You are a free agent, whereas most pantheons cannot act unless it is specifically in their purview to do so; they are reactive, in other words, to threats from outside their own belief system. Do you see?”

“No,” I admitted.

“If a boy in Bangalore asks Ganesha to intercede on his behalf, I cannot interfere, and Shango cannot answer the prayers of a girl in Osaka who prays to me. So while we are aware that Loki plots against us, we are largely powerless to act until he directly threatens our territory. Human agency—human urging—is necessary for almost any action we take. And most humans are not even aware of what is happening.”

“And yet you are permitted this meeting?”

Inari smiled primly. “I can share sake and converse with whomever I choose.”

“Why do you not choose one who worships you, then?”

Her smile widened. “I assure you that I have.”

“Fine. Where is your hero or he**ine now?”

Her eyes flicked to the garden gates. “Nearby. Protecting this place. You would not have seen them coming in.”

Oberon overheard and spoke up from outside the arbor. "Does that mean she has ninjas, Atticus? Does she?"

Shhh. I need to concentrate.

“All right,” I said. “Who is Loki recruiting?”

“He is speaking to the darkness almost everywhere. But before he acts directly, he begins with pestilence to weaken us. And if he cannot spread disease directly, he will do so indirectly. I am a scion of good health and prosperity in Japan; I am therefore a target. Removing me allows disease to spread more rapidly and creates instability. It is a prelude to more forceful maneuvers.”

Granuaile and Laksha were dealing with disease-spreading rakshasas in India, and the coincidence was worrying, because it might not be a coincidence at all. Was Loki’s hand involved there too? I recalled that when we were on the run from Artemis and Diana, he had shown up in Poland and shape-shifted into a blue-skinned Vedic demon. Why take that particular form unless it had been fresh in his mind? And if it was fresh in his mind, what had he been doing in India recently?

“I think I see what you mean,” I said, “but I am not sure what you wish me to do.”

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