Poputepipikku(Pop Team Epic) | 480p | TVRip | English Subbed | Ep. 06
Poputepipikku(Pop Team Epic) | 720p | TVRip | English Subbed | Ep. 06

Blind Shrike Page 47

Madame Cinders was no longer upright. Her gilded wheelchair had been replaced by a kind of mechanical gurney, on which she lay fully prone. Only her head was upright, propped on a pile of stained pillows. Spyder was sure she'd shrunk in size, too. Were her legs missing? The pump system that injected and drained whatever horrible fluids kept her feeble flesh moving, had doubled in size, and was now larger than Cinders and the gurney together. Still, trapped in that ruined body, she managed to project both intelligence and menace. Spyder didn't like looking at her. She stank like an old abattoir. Spyder patted his pockets, found the last of the tobacco he'd acquired at Berenice and began rolling a cigarette.

"There's no smoking in the presence of Madame," said one of her guards. Spyder ignored him. He licked the paper lengthwise and rolled the cigarette closer.

Madame Cinders continued, "Any fool can stumble into luck once, twice, a hundred times, but at the end of the day, luck always fails. Then, skill and knowledge are required. You have neither. The Butcher Bird has some, but not enough to save you both."

"I have plenty of skill. I'm a pretty good tattoo artist. And I know how to make a sour apple martini," said -Spyder.

"The last time you were here, the Butcher Bird was the one who spoke. Now, puffed up with yourself, you do all the talking. Or are you jabbering because she is planning some action against me?"

"I'm not speaking because I have nothing to say to you, witch," said Shrike.

Cinders laughed her awful, gurgling laugh. "But you have you sight, child. And soon you will have your father. I should think you'd be grateful for these things."

"We're not smiling 'cause you lied to us about the book. It was never yours. You conned us into stealing it for you," said Spyder.

"Did I? How wrong of me." Cinders' pumps kicked into action, hissing and cranking, filling the tower room with their noise. A thick green discharge was extracted from Cinders' midsection while separate pink and clear fluids dripped through tubes embedded in her skull.

"Neither your feigned outrage nor your glibness can hide your fear, boy. You forget that your mind is as clear and open to me as the sky in mid-summer. I know you want to keep me from taking the book, but you cannot. You know my vengeance would be fearsome. And there's the girl's father."

"How is he?" Shrike asked.

"Well. And quite himself. No longer mad. You saved him," said Madame Cinders. "Now can you save yourself and your companions?"

Shrike was moving before the old woman had finished speaking, slashing one guard across the midsection before his sword was drawn, then slicing through another's throat. Crouching, Shrike spun and slashed through the knees of two guards who rushed her from behind. As the men fell, she lunged and disemboweled a third. Launching herself into the air, she caught the last guard with a kick to the temple as he charged her.

An arrow shot past Shrike's right ear. She whirled around and saw one of the now legless guards reloading a small crossbow attached to his left gauntlet. Shrike bought her sword down in a sharp arc, slicing off the guard's arm below the elbow, then looped the blade back in a quick figure-eight to neatly remove his head. When she advanced on the second legless guard, he held his empty, trembling hands out before him in a gesture of terrified submission. Shrike turned and swung her blade towards Madame Cinders, but the old woman was ready. Later, Spyder thought that Cinders had thrown the guards at Shrike as a sacrifice, knowing that she'd tear them to pieces, partly as a game and partly as a distraction.

In the fraction of a second it took for Shrike to turn her attention to Cinders, the old woman had prepared herself. She pressed together the withered claws that were her hands. A screeching filled the air, like the metal wheels of a thousand subway trains slamming on their brakes at the same time. Shrike was lifted from the floor, surrounded by a quivering blue light. She began to tumble, head over feet, faster and faster. Enough to kill her, Spyder knew.

"Cornelius!" Spyder shouted.

The spider clattered forward, its metal legs gouging holes in the stone floor as it shot at Madame Cinders. Spyder and Lulu climbed onto a table and grabbed hold of Shrike's legs, using their weight to stop her tumbling. Cinders didn't notice or didn't care. She moved her left hand and pointed it, palm out, at Cornelius. The spider came to a shuddering halt and flew back across the room, smashing into the far wall, exploding into a thousand twitching fragments of bone and metal.

"You will not keep me from my destiny. No one in this world or any other can lock me in this dying body any longer," Madame Cinders said. "The Dominions and I will rule forever. I'm not greedy. Let them have the universe. I'll be happy with this one small world."

Cinders reached under the folds of her hajib and pulled, breaking a thin gold chain that held a small vial around her neck. Pushing a button on her gurney, she rolled forward, positioning herself next to the great book.

"I've guarded this vial for a hundred years," she said. "It's the last of my blood. I had it extracted and preserved when my body succumbed to the curse, after returning from Hell. I've been a slave to these machines ever since. No more. With this blood sacrifice, I'm reborn into a new body." Madame Cinders inclined her head toward Shrike. "Perhaps I'll take hers. If I haven't already broken it."

She raised her shriveled hand and threw the vial, shattering it on the Dominions' book. The thick red fluid spread across the metal like a living thing. It smoked where it touched the runes. The blood bubbled, and the book began to drink it down. Struggling, Madam Cinders turned on to her side, and reached out with her right hand to touch the book and her boiling offering.

Still clinging to Shrike's legs, Spyder shoved his hand into his pocket. Madame Cinders' head lolled back. Spyder couldn't tell if she was in pain or ecstasy. Pulling out the kerchief Lucifer had given him, Spyder took the black, leathery strip that lay inside-a thin slice of John the Baptist's heart-and dropped it into the little pool of Madame Cinders' blood on the book.

Madame Cinders drew in a long, harsh breath. The sound seemed to stretch out for an inhuman length, starting as a hissing in her lungs and rising in intensity until it was the growl of a rabid wolf. Boils, red and livid, grew and burst along her right arm and spread across her body. Her white hajib, now stained with her blood, began to smoke as her skin gave off an ochre incandescent glow. Whatever force she had used to hold Shrike in place broke, dropping her, along with Spyder and Lulu, to the floor.

Spyder took Shrike's face in his hands. "Are you all right? Talk to me." He held her until she opened her eyes. "You can't get away from me that easy," he said.

"Look," said Lulu. She pointed to Madame Cinders.

The old woman was gone, her gurney and the wheezing pumps that kept her alive were melted to slag on the tower floor. The blackened shell of the book kicked off staggering waves of heat. The book was scorched ruins, a pile of vaporized steel and shredded paper. The flagstones where it lay softened to a gray putty and slowly engulfed both the book and Madame Cinders' remains. When it had swallowed them both, the floor again turned to solid stone.

Spyder and Lulu helped Shrike to her feet. They searched from room to room in the tower until they found her father-alive, though confused. Taking some of the guards' clothes from a barracks room, they bundled Shrike's father down from the tower.

Madame Cinders' servants waited anxiously in the courtyard as the four left her tower.

"We need a coach and horse," Shrike told them. The servants didn't need to be told twice.

They rode back through the Medina and just managed to squeeze the cart into the tunnels that ran from Alexandria to Alcatraz. Shrike held her sleeping father in her arms the whole way, speaking to him quietly as they went. She squeezed Spyder's hand and he could see her fighting back tears.

Reaching the place where the tunnel exited through the old cavalry stables, Lulu asked, "What's it going to be like back home, you think?"

"I don't know," said Spyder. "You're covered, but I might have to leave town. There's just some stuff I want to get from my place first."

"Gonna be weird to be back. Gonna be weird to be back with a full set of eyes and insides and skin."

"Weird can be good."

"I noticed."

They stepped off the coach, but when Spyder turned to help down Shrike and her father, they were gone.


Worshipping Crocodiles

"Oh, you poor things," said Mrs. Porter.

When they got back to San Francisco, Spyder and Lulu, broke and shaky, managed to hitch a ride with the Porters, a family on vacation from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who'd had their bags stolen off the luggage carousel at SFO.

The Porters were very sympathetic to the nice Texas couple they found stranded at Fisherman's Wharf, after Spyder fed them a story about their brand new Toyota hatchback being stolen. After they'd all piled into the Porters' SUV, with both parents and three kids, Lyle Porter, the husband, launched into a non-stop monologue all the way to Spyder's warehouse.

"These people they got workin' at the airport, they're not stealing to be evil. Where they're from, stealing's a way of life. Everybody does it, from the president to the police chief, from the school teachers to the local witch doctor. Every one of 'em's a goddam thief. Hell, if I was in their shoes, I'd probably steal, too. But this is America. We don't need to do that kind of shit, pardon my French, here. You work hard and you get your reward. But, I suppose, when you're raised worshipping crocodiles or some such nonsense, anything goes. Am I right?"

"Right as rain, Lyle," said Spyder, hoping they got home soon or got hit by a semi.

Lulu crashed with Spyder that first disembodied night back. Realizing he had no idea where his keys were, Spyder had to wheel over a dumpster from the car repair place next door, then climb onto the roof and drop down into the upper loft through a skylight. In the morning, Spyder found his battered old hardback of Naked Lunch on the bookshelf and pulled out the hundred dollars in emergency money he kept hidden in the spine. He and Lulu got on his old bike, an oil-leaking Kawasaki 1000 Police model, and Spyder took her back to her place in the Mission.

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