posted Nov.19.17 at 03:00 pm

Liya looked over her shoulder to see Yoshi standing in the doorway. She was struck, for a second, by how the lights from the bus behind Yoshi and the lights from indoors and the lights floating in the air all scattered in the snowy night, seeming to almost halo her.

"The bus is here," she said, "Are you ready?"

Liya stared at her for a moment. "Yeah," she said finally, and went after Yoshi down the snowy steps, casting just one look back as she did.

The neon-blue tracks over which the fish-shaped bus travelled were the only things free of snow; it had settled on every rooftop and eave, dampening the lights coming from each window. The building with the interworld gates was a huge affair, with sloped metal roofs and a massive post-and-lintel that was many times taller than the doors at its base, and a golden glowing disc just above its lintel full of concentric, incomplete, circular lines. As large as the building was, though, it was dwarfed by the statue sitting in the center of the plaza. This one too was a giant luminous white affair surrounded by a deep pool of water; its subject was a spirit who was bald but for a stripe of hair that tucked into a topknot. They sat cross-legged on a craggy island, their head down and eyes close, smiling serenely, a large apparently empty disc held lightly to their chest. At each corner of the island was a skull more than twice as large as the fish bus travelling on the plaza's edge; each skull was different, each monstrous, each with water gushing from their mouth that kept the pool surrounding the statue from freezing.

For a while Yoshi and Liya sat side-by-side on the bus in silence. Yoshi fidgeted, running her ponytail through her fingers, eyes darting; Liya, on the other hand, merely looked mutely into the middle distance, hands gripping the strap of her bag. Eventually Yoshi's movement caught her attention, and she glanced over.

The look on Yoshi's face was hard to decipher; she pursed her lips, staring straight ahead, and her hand on her knee had balled into a trembling fist.

Silently, Liya held out her hand. Yoshi paused, but only for a moment, before slipping her hand into Liya's. They interlocked their fingers tightly, and neither spoke.