Chapter 2, Part 4

Hera is poking her nose above the black freshwater. Her two pinprick nostrils are sucking in oxygen and droplets of liquid. Her legs are kicking underneath her in the river. Hera is swimming sloth slow to the river’s edge. Now, she is at its brink.

Hera is quietly pulling herself out of the river. Her skin is glimmering like wet, hard armor: her girlish knees and elbows are slick and golden; aiguillettes of red hair matt into a sleek helmet; her hair-helmet tapers into a thin tadpole down her back. She is dripping; and stands barefoot in nothing but her white lace bra and underwear.

Holstered to Hera’s hips are a sharp bowie knife, and a powerful firearm equipped with a silencer. Hera is walking cautiously towards the dusk swaddled trees; she is walking away from the cusp of the riverbank.

The river is making guttural sounds under the crescent moon. Hera is seeing the thin, grey star-shine of a naked sword. The metal is twinkling almost imperceptibly. Hera’s breathing is a tattered swatch of cloth. An invisible magician is trying to tug the rope of breath out of her living soul. It’s not working: she isn’t breathing.

The undergrowth near the river’s shore is exhuming a live body. The body is agile and quiet; this figure is drawing a long shadowy saber out of its side. This silent act (drawing out a sword in the dark) is shimmering within a parenthetical cone of silence; outside the conical silence the waterfall is noisily gushing, like water and blood cascading from the bleeding oblique of Jesus.

Hera is reaching for her weapon; her arm is delineating a trajectory of fluid animation. She is a ballerina pulling the trigger of her gun. Death is whizzing through the Cinderella blonde starlight; a bullet is lacerating the darkness in a sterling snail trail of velocity; her gun’s dark, testicular chamber is inseminating her target’s flesh with killer-sperm.

The shadow figure is falling. Their sword is crying in the tall grass; its clean metal is throwing long, grey sparks of moon-glister. The waterfall is foaming with nymphal nocturnes; the water’s glossolalia glissandos over Hera, but she is hearing nothing.

Hera is sweating. She is walking towards her fallen stalker slowly. She is thinking of Sasha and Xyla, who are still hiding in the grotto. The grass feels like dry, bristly hair to her clammy soles. She is now standing a mere two feet away from the grounded figure.

A cloud of light—tulle like, palpable light that sparkles like a bluish veil—is passing over the face of the fallen. Time’s mammoth shadow is retrograding several degrees on the mage Memory’s sundial: and wide-eyed, nonplussed Hera is recalling the face before her.

Hera is dropping to her knees next to the still-breathing body. It’s Akira, a Japanese samurai that she met once while time-traveling through the Kamakura period.

When Hera first sees Akira, he is kneeling by a river dappled in leaf shadows. She watches him fill earthenware with iron infused river sand. He gracefully ferries his cumbersome load to a site near his dwelling. Akira does this for a while.

Hera watches through komorebi (or, sunlight that filters through translucent leaves). Daylight snows, filling the negative spaces between tree leaves. The samurai shovels the towhead-dandruff and charcoal into a geometric clay stove. He is making jewel-steel, or tamahagane, for a katana—a samurai sword.

Hera is hypnotized by the process of sword making. One evening, Hera emerges from the trees to watch the samurai openly. Akira allows her to watch as he smelts steel for three days and nights.

His clay furnace breaths fire on the flaxen sand, coal, and iron ore in its maw; his clay furnace reaches temperatures north of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Hera watches Akira in the oncoming weeks as he tests the tamahagane for its carbon content—a ratio indicative of the steel’s potential for sharpness and sturdiness.

She witnessed the exorcism of slag from the tamahagane via the holy water of Akira’s hammer. This sacral beholding made Hera feel beholden to Akira. She espied the birth of a samurai’s soul.

For many weeks, Akira shines his katana with stones. He sends his sword to local artisans who give his sword a gold hilt, and a beautifully lacquered scabbard of cedar wood. Akira hires a skilled friend to filigree gold inlays onto the katana blade.

While time-traveling, Hera visits Akira many times to check on the progression of the sword. She eats many meals with Akira and grows extremely fond of his intuitive brown eyes.

Hera is holding the stunning katana in her lap. A single tear is hanging like a ripe, fetid fruit at the end of one of her long, ghostly eyelashes. Hera is touching Akira’s face, and remembering his handsome laugh. Akira is sitting up, suddenly. Hera is startled.

Akira is touching the bloody gun wound, which is closing. He is wincing a little, but smiling his signature half-smile.

“It’s my good luck that I’m a Sylph now. I can self-heal,” says Akira.

“Are you okay? I’m sorry I shot you. I thought you were someone else, somebody from the New School,” says Hera, checking his wound.

“I’m fine, I’m alright.”

“I’m really, really sorry. It’s just I assumed—”

“You assumed right. I was tailing you. I deliberately followed you. I work for the Librarian.”

“What?”

“He offered me a job, and I agreed. So, I could travel here. And see you.”

Akira is reaching into his deep blue kimono, and pulling out a golden shard. The shard is affixed to a wispy, golden chain around his neck.

“Look,” he says, “this is the needle to your old time-compass. On your last visit, you lost it. Well, I found it one day—the glass crushed, the metal warped—and, when I picked it up, I pricked my finger. On this needle, the needle to your compass. It made me into a Sylph.”

“But what’s a Sylph?”

“I’ll show you. Give me your hand.”

“Why?”

“Because I can take you anywhere.”

“In the Labyrinth?”

“Anywhere at all.”

***

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