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Chapter 28 Suspicious Minds

  • "We'll reach the city by mid-day tomorrow, if we get moving by dawn," sai_ount Non.
  • "Good news," said Primo. "We need to reach the Kasla Mountains by the ful_oon. A shadow cast through a certain rocky promontory is the only way to fin_he entrance to Hell. If we miss the moon, we'll have to wait a month unti_he next one." He made a face and rubbed the shoulder where his arm wa_issing. Spyder felt for the guy. His side was hurting after the all-day hike.
  • "Fuck that," said Lulu. "Fuck that with Michael Jackson's pet monkey."
  • "Full moon's just a few days off. Think we can make it?" Spyder asked Shrike.
  • Shrike was smoking Spyder's last cigarette, puffing, then passing the butt t_im. Spyder took a drag, then passed the precious smoke to Lulu, who opene_er mouth to accept it like a communion Host. She smoked and passed the but_o Shrike, who leaned on her cane, lost in thought.
  • "We have to make it," Shrike said. "We can't hide out here like bugs in th_and for a month. We're lucky to have made it this far."
  • They sat in the entrance of a shallow cave, which served as cover for th_mall fire they had going to ward off the cold desert night. Earlier in th_vening, they'd stacked brush at the cave entrance to diminish the glow of th_ire, hoping not to be spotted by any scouts from the Seraphic Brotherhood, the Erragal prince or any of the other far too interested parties who might b_ooking for them. Spyder wasn't sure if "lucky" was the word he'd have used t_escribe their situation, but they were alive, and he had to admit that tha_ounted big time in the luck department. But his gratitude lessened with ever_tab of hunger and throb of his injured ribs.
  • "I wonder what Rubi's doing right now," said Lulu.
  • "Missing you," Spyder said. "Cursing me."
  • "Blue moon, you saw me standing alone, without a dream in my heart, without _ove of my own… ," Lulu sang softly. "Elvis should have stopped right there, you know? He never did fuck all to match those early Sun records."
  • "If he'd a stopped there, he wouldn't ever have recorded `Suspicious Minds.'
  • You got to suffer through some white Vegas jumpsuits to make it to `Suspiciou_inds.'"
  • "Was it worth dying on the shitter for?"
  • "For `Suspicious Minds'? Most definitely."
  • "I'm going to have to give you the benefit of the doubt on that one."
  • Spyder was sorry that Lulu had bought up Rubi. It made him think of Jenny, whom he no longer really missed, but who remained a kind of sick ache in hi_tomach. He couldn't even describe the sensation, but it was compounded o_egret and the sense that he'd failed as a human in some fundamental way an_hat her desertion was the most stark proof of that. On the simplest level, though, it just made him gloomy to think that someone he'd been so connecte_o was walking around hating him. He gave Shrike the last of the cigarette, went to the cave entrance, and sat down, letting the night breeze blow ove_im. The cold made him stop thinking.
  • He heard someone coming up behind him and saw Shrike settling down.
  • "You're quiet tonight," she said.
  • "It's a quiet night."
  • "You're thinking about home."
  • "I'm not thinking about anything right now."
  • "I liked your France story today."
  • "I'm glad."
  • "Would you like to hear one of mine?"
  • "Not right now. I mean, I want to, but I'm hurting and tired and won't be abl_o listen right."
  • "All right," she said. She held up her face to the wind as it blew into th_ave. Spyder thought she looked like a young wolf when she stretched her hea_p like that. She was beautiful.
  • "Tell me about being blind," Spyder said. "About how there's `blind and the_here's blind.'"
  • Shrike poked at the sand with her cane. "You probably sensed that I hav_oments where I can sort of see things."
  • "From the beginning."
  • "It's not really sight. It's low rent magic, which is the only kind I know. _ever had any formal magic training and just picked things along on the road.
  • Traded for spells. Bought them. Stole them, too. There has always been _ittle magic in my family, but my mother had that knowledge and she was dead.
  • I studied weapons because it made my father happy.
  • "When our kingdom was scattered and I was on the road, I only had th_ossessions I could grab from my bed side. A few family heirlooms. One o_hese was a kind of bracelet with a casting of a bird on top. A shrike. that'_y family's totem animal.
  • "We also had family gods which we prayed and made offerings to. All the roya_amilies have household gods. You need a deity or two on your side to kee_ther Houses from taking what's yours. Those who knew how could petition th_ods for favors. I didn't have that knowledge. But I got it.
  • "I'd run off some bandits from the property of an odd little man, Cosim_eisenberg, a kind of mechanical wizard. He made machines that were lik_eople. `Karakuri,' he called them. Little wind up men and women who coul_ing an aria or write a sonnet or sew a wedding gown.
  • "He wanted to pay me with a new set of eyes, but I didn't like the notion o_epending on mechanical, wind-up sight. So, he helped me use the gifts _lready had better. He made this cane for me, which, as you've seen, is mor_han a cane. He also examined my heirlooms to see if there was anything o_alue. He was the first person I'd trusted since leaving home.
  • "He checked out the bracelet with the bird and figured out what it was for.
  • You see, it made no sense as jewelry. The maker had cast the bird's claws fro_azor sharp steel and fitted them to the underside of the piece, so that the_ere in contact with the skin of the person wearing the bracelet. There wa_lso a spring mechanism to rake the claws down the wearer's arm. What us_ould there be for something like that?"
  • "Cutting. Blood," said Spyder, who'd seen his share of bloodletting an_carring rituals among the üer-hipster modern primitive crowd in Sa_rancisco.
  • "Exactly. The bracelet was an instrument of sacrifice, a device for making _lood offering to my family gods. Say the right incantation and release th_pring on the silver shrike. The blades would take your blood and help you ge_hat you want. On a small scale. It's not much of a sacrifice. Only good fo_mall favors. Like a second or two of sight."
  • "What do you see? Is it like normal vision?"
  • "Nothing at all. It's like I'm floating above the scene, looking down o_verything happening. I can see myself and my opponent, plus the nearb_andscape. The visions never last for long. Just long enough for me to get m_earings and a sense of an opponent. I can't do it too often. The gods ge_ired of these dime store sacrifices. I have to be careful not to ask fo_heir help too often."
  • Spyder frowned. "I wondered why you kept that coat on, even in the heat.
  • You're hiding the bracelet."
  • "And my arm," said Shrike. "It's not something to see."
  • "How many times have you used the bracelet?"
  • "I don't know. Sometimes you make a blood offering without asking for anythin_n return. Sometimes, when you're boxed in, say, you use it more than once.
  • More blood sometimes mean more sight. Sometimes not. I've been using it fo_en years."
  • Spyder reached over and pushed up the sleeve of Shrike's coat. The bracele_as on her right forearm. It was a beautiful object. Like something tha_elonged in a museum, he thought. He turned Shrike's arm over and worked th_racelet's clasp, sliding the thing off her arm. Shrike's skin was streake_ith years of ragged scar tissue. The back of her arm was red with new scars, still in the healing process. She'd used it on the airship, Spyder thought.
  • He set the bracelet over his own arm. It was too small to go all the wa_round, so he held it in place and pushed the metal shrike back until he fel_t catch. Feeling around the bird's wings, he found the release button an_ushed it. The bird raked down his arm, sending an electric pain all the wa_p to his shoulder. When Shrike heard the bracelet snap, she started a littl_nd felt for him.
  • "What did you do?" she asked.
  • "I wanted to know what it was like," Spyder said. He leaned down and kisse_er scars before putting the bracelet back on Shrike's arm. She leaned int_im and he put his bloody arm around her.
  • "Where I come from, this isn't your standard dating scenario," Spyder said.
  • Shrike laughed at little. "But I guess it's one way to get to know eac_ther."
  • "Excuse me."
  • Spyder looked up. Primo was standing over them.
  • "I hate to intrude, but I need to speak to madame Butcher Bird."
  • "Meaning you want me to take off?" asked Spyder.
  • Primo was silent.
  • "It's all right, Primo. Spyder is part of this and can hear anything you hav_o say."
  • "Yes, ma'am," Primo said. He groaned as he sat down. "There's something Madam_inders didn't tell you, afraid that you might not agree to perform th_ervice she requires."
  • "She wanted you to tell me when we were on the road and in too deep to tur_ack."
  • "Yes, ma'am. I'm sorry. I would have preferred not to do things this way."
  • "It's all right. I understand that it wasn't your choice. What is it that wa_oo awful for me to know?"
  • "The mutinous spirits in hell, the confusion that is to be our cover?"
  • "Tell me."
  • "Some say that it is led by the Golden Bull, Xero Abrasax."
  • Shrike was silent. She stabbed the ground with her cane.
  • "Shrike?" said Spyder. "You know this guy?"
  • "Yes."
  • "He's the… "
  • "Yes, he's the bastard traitor who fucked me, took my father, my sight and m_ingdom."
  • "There's more, I'm afraid," said Primo.
  • "Fuck that sick bitch," Spyder said.
  • "Be quiet," said Shrike. "Tell me the rest, Primo."
  • "The key that Madame put into your body. You know that it was forged in Hell.
  • It is not an object that is compatible with life. If you fail to reach th_age in which the book rests, the key will move through your body, as it i_oing even now, and pierce your heart. You will die."
  • "We should turn around right now," said Spyder. "We've got the Count with us.
  • She'd never expect an ambush. We'll kick her chair over, pull out her tube_nd stand on her fucking throat until she takes that thing out of you."
  • "I can't do that. Loyalty is all people in my profession have."
  • "Excuse me, ma'am, but Mr. Spyder has a point. Whatever you decide, this I'_elling you as a friend and a Gytrash: Madame Cinders does not always hono_er bargains gracefully. When this is over, you must be wary."
  • "Swell," said Spyder. "If we fail we're screwed and if we succeed we'r_ucked."
  • "Thank you for telling me. You're a true friend," said Shrike. She reached ou_nd squeezed the little man's hand.
  • "What are you going to do?" he asked.
  • "We have to go forward. Without the book, we have nothing to bargain with.
  • With it, we have a chance."
  • "We can cut and run," said Spyder. "Disappear into that city ahead. Or trad_or a ship and go somewhere."
  • "There are too many people looking for us," said Shrike. "There's no ship tha_an sail us away from this mess. And I need to get this key out of my body.
  • The only way to do that is to get to Hell and succeed."
  • "I'm going with you," said Spyder.
  • "You can't. One glimpse of the underworld and you'll be trapped ther_orever."
  • "I'm not going to sit by the door reading the funnies, wondering what tim_ou're getting home from work."
  • "This is just stupid and dangerous. Why are you doing this?"
  • Spyder kissed Shrike's cheek. "Didn't you get the memo? Heroes are comin_maller this year."
  • They went and sat back down at the fire with Count Non and Lulu. The Count ha_is long legs propped against the far wall of the cave. Spyder watched as _arantula worked its way down from the ceiling, stepped onto to Count's boo_nd crept up his leg. When it reached his hip, Non grabbed the tarantula an_ossed it into the fire, where it writhed and sizzled. Spyder looked at th_an.
  • "When you cut out the poison sac, tarantula tastes a lot like crab," the Coun_aid.
  • "There must be some seriously fucked up Boy Scouts where you come from," sai_pyder.
  • Lulu was making shadow animals on the wall. She wiggled her fingers to creat_ giant spider.
  • "The Count and I were having a chat, and we agree on the whole Elvis thing.
  • `Suspicious Minds' is a fine song, but Tom-fucking-Jones could've sung it jus_s well. Probably did, too. I'd know, only I don't have any Tom Jones CDs."
  • "I have a bootleg of Elvis doing `Suspicious Minds' live that I'll play fo_ou when we get back," said Spyder. "You'll see that the song is wort_nduring a few white leather jumpsuits. For the truly great moments in thi_ife, you've got to take the good with the bad."