[Be/Oc] Week 63: Through the Spider's Web I

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Rob

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Through the Spider's Web
2040 Words


Rob
Finny

Winds coursed through the cold, stormy air overhead as thunder crackled through the dawn of day. Puffs of smoke clouded Aranea’s vision ever so slightly as she looked out of a thin, yet somewhat long mahogany window. Her hair, messy as it was, reflected itself in the glass and her bloodshot eyes looked even worse for wear than they normally already did. Thoughts crept up to the back of her mind, causing her to slowly lose track of time.


Perhaps she’d been too harsh on her daughter, or maybe too lenient, but fact of the matter was that she was not coming home like she was supposed to. Opposite the table she sat at, light shone through the smallest of cracks in between the window curtains as her eyes caught speckles of smoke falling down. Putting the remains of her cigarette out, she grabbed another, reached for her lighter in her pocket and lit it.

Anger coursed through her body and an unprecedented feeling of disbelief encroached on her mind ever so subtly. She’d done her best, worked her hardest to ensure that her daughter would be the perfect host, the perfect tool to bring her mother back to life. Everything had gone right, her upbringing, her training, everything... except for her mind. Rosa was susceptible, but not easily manipulated.

“Ah, My Lady Aranea, what’s with the scary face? It will bring about a face full of wrinkles,” a laicar male said while pushing his brows together.

He spoke with a youthful wonder despite being a full-grown man of at least thirty. Though he held a half-grin on his face, it was not pleasant to look at. Through entirely his own fault, there was the mark of a burn across the lower left side of his face. It had healed into a dark black mark that looked like a state of constant charred crispiness. It left the area devoid of ability to move, thus the half-grin.

“If there was anything I could do to make you smile, I would!” His arms spread out like wings.

The man was Ollie, a well-muscled individual that always covered up with loose-fitting robes to keep people from being too intimidating. He kept his blond hair short and messy, exactly a natural morning look.

She looked up, strands of white hair falling in front of her now completely hidden right eye. “Ollie...” she said softly, taking a puff from her cigarette before putting it down in the tray sat upon the table. Why was he here again? She’d been so lost in thought that she didn’t hear him come in, much less remember what he’d come here to do.

The man, sluggish as he looked, had always been somewhat of an enigma to the woman. Not so much because he looked a little funny for the amount of muscle he had, but his intentions were never really completely laid bare. He made it seem like they were, but there was always this nagging in the back of her head when dealing with the man that told her he wasn’t telling her his entire story.

“Ahh,” she finally said with a sudden surge of clarity, remembering the errant she wanted to send him on. “Yes, well, funny you should say that. I have something I need you to do, but it’s... a bit different from what you’re used to.

“You see...” Levelling her eyes with the man, she lowered her head slightly and looked up at the man with a deadpan. “I need you to find my daughter, Rosalina Tacita Aetius, and incapacitate her. Don’t kill her, though, am I clear? You are my best assassin, but you are also my best tracker. This time I need my prey alive, I need her alive, Ollie.

“Do this for me, and I will see to it that Victoria will become yours.”

She normally didn’t like using people as bargaining chips, but this mission was of more importance to her than the live of a sleazy little slut that had the personality of a brick. The redhead was loved by many a man in the town, she even looked the part of town cutie, but she wasn’t exactly the brightest lightbulb to ever grace the face of the earth.

So, if it meant sacrificing a single woman’s life, for the life of her mother... then so be it.

“Don’t worry. I would never dream of harming a hair on your daughter’s head. Or her head directly,” Ollie clarified. “Or any part of her. That would make you frown, and that would be against my goals!”

A sideways grin appeared on Ollie’s face when he thought of Victoria, but then he sighed. He would never be able to make her smile despite how much he wanted it to be so. But she was always able to make him smile, even if he was just watching her from afar. Come to think of it, that might be a reason for her reluctance.

Ollie regained control of his runaway thoughts. “Though you tell me to find your daughter, that is a world of locations she could possibly be. You wouldn’t happen to have a more exact location on her whereabouts?” The man clapped his hands together hopefully.

A faint, somewhat uncharacteristic smile crept up on the woman’s face as her bloodshot eyes gazed even further into Ollie’s perceived soul. “Come now,” she said, licking her lips in the process. “Who do you take me for, Ollie? Just because she’s broken free from her cage with those scrawny, ugly little wings of hers... doesn’t mean I’ve lost sight of her.

“No,” she continued, “her perceived freedom is nothing more than a front. I’ve already dispatched some of my... less important cronies to try and bring her back a bit more... peacefully, but I suspect they’ll be dispatched - if not send back - by my daughter relatively quickly.”

In truth, the only reason she even send away those two cultists was so she could confirm Rosa’s current habitat, the two men weren’t known for their success rates on errands and missions alike. Her sources said she was last seen in and around Elata, and she figured she was still there... but there was no harm in double checking her sources.

“In the unfortunate scenario that these two dimwits will fail their mission, which I’m almost a hundred percent certain they will, I want you to take what they’ve learned if they’re still alive and head for Elata immediately, or... you know, just go to Elata and do some little tracking of yourself.

“The lives of Gregorius and Alair are of no concern to me,” she finished up her assignment to Ollie. “If you find them more to your liking as newly deceased, and risen, then by all means.”

After all, it would save her a lot of trouble in the future if those two idiots were no longer around. She’d taken them in once because they showed promise, but like so many before them they choked on the morally difficult decisions and left themselves open for the more carnal pleasures of man.

“Such a troublesome child. It would be my pleasure to bring her back to her mother.” Ollie bowed. When he rose up again, his smile had gotten bigger. A sparkle was in his eyes. “So, how urgent is the need to bring her back? Would you want this done as soon as possible? Or would a more methodical approach that is slower be acceptable?”

In truth, Ollie had never been to Terminus and the surrounding areas before. The Elata Spiritus Docks would certainly be a sight to see, and one he was looking forward to exploring. Just because he was a master of death didn’t mean that he wanted to avoid life. And life was filled with new and fun experiences.

“As swiftly as time itself allows you to, Ollie,” she responded with a mild sigh, thinking back on the same set of objectives she’d given Gregorius and Alair and how they miffed it like there was no tomorrow.

However, she knew the man could not pass up the opportunity to go sightseeing whenever he went someplace new, and she could hardly blame the man. Just because she rather stayed at home, locked up in her room all day plotting her mother’s return, didn’t mean she couldn’t appreciate the finer details of someone else’s life.

“As long as you bring her back to me before the moon’s cycle begins anew,” she finished,“I do not care how long you take.”

“Understood!” Ollie smiled from the middle of his face to the ear. “Don’t worry, My Lady Aranea. I don’t want to see you upset for too long either. I will be back soon. And maybe I’ll drag Gregorius and Alair back with me, eh? I know you don’t care about them, but lots of bodies never hurt. I’ll see what the situation entails.

“Now that I know what will make you smile, I shall take my leave. Unless there’s something else you wish to discuss with me?” He jumped with a spin, going a full rotation. Landing, Ollie had the top half of his body lowered in a bow with one arm extended.

“You are... dismissed,” Aranea said as her eyes tore away from the man.

There was, of course, the matter of her daughter’s prowess. She was frail, a little weak even, but underestimating her would be one of the worst things someone could do. If there was one thing she was an absolute prodigy in, it was necromancy and Aranea wasn’t sure how much of the back of her teeth she would show when provoked. That was also where her worries laid.

Part of her wanted to warn Ollie about her the danger Rosa could pose, but another part of her wanted to let things play out as they would. After all, how often would she get the chance to see if her daughter was truly capable of being the host to one of Araevis’s many wonders.

“Take care, Ollie,” she finally decided on. “Don’t let her appearance fool you.”

“Of course, My Lady Aranea. Rosa is your daughter, after all. I wouldn’t underestimate anyone related to you.”

Ollie left the master’s chamber to prepare. His room was a colorful place in the otherwise dark building. It was filled with knickknacks from what few travels he did, coral from the coast, dreamcatchers from merchants, things of brightness. People found it hard to smile in such gloomy and dark environments. Dark magic didn’t need to be taken as a literal way of life.

In the corner of the room was a tank filled with murky water. A dark form was hidden away in the muck. Only the sickly flesh pressed up against the glass could be seen, even then the shape was distorted.

Ollie tapped the glass tank. “I’m going out on a trip, this time to the Elatus Spirit Docks near Terminus! This is going to be fantastic, don’t you think Meccabee?”

The creature inside shuffled away.

“Anyway, time to pack.”

It didn’t take long. All he needed was some clothes, some ritual items and some protection from the harsh world. Everything fit in a bag except for his knife, which was strapped to his belt. Ollie brought along one more thing, an ornate box that was slung over his shoulder by a strap. By the time he left, the aquarium was empty with beads of water dripping down the outside face.

Lighting another cigarette following the trail of smoke left behind by the last one, Aranea stood up from behind her desk and stared outside of that thin, slightly crooked mahogany window overlooking a pond bordering her manor’s backyard. With slightly furrowed brows, the white-haired cult leader sighed softly, yet audibly.

Was it really all right for her to send Ollie, her most prized assassin off on a retrieval mission? One that might decide the fate of Valmoor? Probably not, but Rosa had eluded her grasp for far too long now, and the Queen was getting restless. She had to act now, or it would be far, far too late.
 
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Rob

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Traveling outside was always an interesting experience for Ollie. It came down to how people reacted around him. People looked away and gasped in horror at the burn suffered on the lower-left corner of his face. Kids had the most interesting responses. It was pretty much a fifty-fifty chance of them running away screaming or staring and asking questions. Either way, Ollie enjoyed it.


The outside world was so bright and colorful. Without the mist, he could see further than half a block from his face. The sight of clear sky brought about a feeling of vast wonder, and Ollie couldn’t help but smile.

He wasn’t just having fun. Along the landpath, Ollie was showing people pictures of his target, either Rosa, or Gregorius and Alair. He preferred direct information about the former but wouldn’t mind knowing where the latter went. And not to disparage Gregorius and Alair, but they weren’t the most capable people Ollie knew. They left an easy trail to follow all the way to the Elatus docks near terminus. Located in the mountain, it was sandwiched between a steep drop and rock slopes.

With two of his targets within range, it was time to fall back into the darkness, watch, wait and gather information. For if there was one thing Ollie was good at, it was doing anything for the sake of a smile. And to do that, he needed to find Rosa. Those two were the best chance he had of quickly locating her. He stalked through the docks looking for signs of those two, or perhaps even Rosa would appear.

If there was anything holy left in the world, it had surely not graced Gregorius and Alair on their road to freedom. They’d been trying to get on a boat as stowaways from Elata to some godforsaken place that wasn’t Valmoor. With its dark corners, shady taverns and equally bad people, Valmoor had always been a cesspool of degenerates, warlocks and people you’d generally rather not find wandering the streets at night.

It was home, though.

Their home. The place they’d grown up, and the place they’d given their allegiance to Aranea, but after last week’s failure to return the woman’s heiress home... they were no longer certain of their place. If there was one thing the white-haired lady did not accept it was failure in any capacity, and such failures were often met with drastic measures. Shivering in his boots, the brown-haired man shook his head before casting his silver eyes off into the distance.

A few assassins they’d trained with came to mind, as well as some measures that were perhaps even less preferable than being assassinated.

“So,” he began, not facing Alair or even making notice of the man walking beside him as they waded through the crowds of people, “any ideas as to how we’re getting off this godsdamned land?”

Oh, there they were and in better shape than Ollie had expected. That was good, right? Or did it mean that the two of them hadn’t tried hard enough. If he could sacrifice part of his face for a mission, the least they could do was obtain more than a few bruises.

Ollie didn’t want to disturb them just yet. It was in the middle of the docks with too many people around. Workers, managers, engineers, deckhands, all of them were going about their business, but they could only do that if there were no disturbances.

The airships parked on the docks were as varied as the people. There were massive zeppelins that took multiple balloons to keep up. Large empty chambers were strapped to them and used to transport cargo up to the size of entire vehicles. They were plain, not much to look at. Then there were the smaller passenger ships that were all sorts of colorful and stylish. Large logos were emblazoned on the side of the balloons. The gondolas were adorned with metal wings and designs.

The docks were a place full of activity. Only one person had disappeared. Ollie was nowhere to be seen.

Neither Gregorius nor Alair were aware of their surroundings for the better half of their trek through the docks. They were blissfully unaware of the people around them as they bickered to themselves, wondering how to best get out of this accursed place.

“You should’ve been more forceful with her,” Alair said suddenly, causing Gregorius to come to a full halt. “We should’ve grabbed her, and ditched the brute. She’s a godsdamned half breed, she’s not as strong as us full laicar. We could’ve taken her, could’ve taken the two of ‘em.”

“Me?” Gregorius responded with a hateful tone of voice. “And where were you in all of this, huh? It was you who ducked out, who didn’t want to do this in the first place, it was you who wanted to get the fuck out of there when it was obvious she wasn’t coming with us... it was-”

“Hey, dorkheads. Yeah, you two wandering around over here. What are you doing? there are people that have places they need to go, and you guys be blocking them.” It was not a man that spoke to them but a boy. He was the young, scrappy kind that had tough hands and feet from work. He wore rags that left his tanned arms exposed.

The boy was looking at a wagon full of scrap metal to be loaded onto an airship and sent somewhere else. The two men were right in the pathway of it.

“From the way you two are looking you have nothing to do, amright? If you want to make yourself useful my ship is in need of airmen. We’re a few short and could use extra muscle.” The boy looked at their arms and nodded.

To say they had nothing to do would be a massive understatement. That didn’t mean they were up for all sorts of nonsense involving hard labour, though. At least, Gregorius wasn’t. Alair was pretty buff and, despite his odd personality, he was actually somewhat of a brute if he put himself up to - which he often didn’t.

“What’s the pay,” Gregorius asked, figuring that while this was probably their best bet of getting the hell out of this place, it didn’t hurt to try and get something out of the situation.

The boy rubbed his chin. “Let’s see here, strong blokes like yourself? You could probably get a hundred exa each for one loading and unloading job. The captain expects things to be done fast, so there’s none of that paying by the hour nonsense. Are you up for it? The ship is sailing for Excelsa this afternoon. If not, I’m going to find some other guys.”

The boy pointed his thumb to one of the warehouses down the road. It was large, old and made of stone. Dead vines were crawling over the walls, reaching through the boarded windows.

“So, how about it?”

“Sounds like we don’t have much choice,” Alair said, speaking up for the first time in quite some time. “Plus, it might give us that ticket away we were looking for, eh?”

“Suppose you’re right,” Greg responded, though he wasn’t so sure about any of what Alair just said.

It was quite the opportunity, that was for sure, but if felt so super convenient. This was to be their ticket out of here? It seemed too good to be true, but then again he was known for being on guard at all times.

“All right, kiddo,” Greg said, “where do you need us to start?”

“This way, guys.”

The boy ran over to the old warehouse. It stood apart from the rest of the docks. There was an old path leading from the main gates to the docks with the stones cracked and uneven. He didn’t use the large set of metal gates. There was a smaller side entrance that was much more feasible for him to open. The door creaked open to a dry, dark space. The air was filled with dust thick enough that it could be felt just by walking through. Crates were stacked along the wall, but the warehouse felt empty. The ceiling was high and the space was large.

The boy continued on towards the rear of the warehouse, skipping over a row of barrels. They wobbled from his weight. He waited, standing atop pyramid of the metal containers. Once the two men were inside the warehouse, he gave them a salute. The barrels were piled right next to an open window high off the ground.

The door slammed shut behind the two men, and the boy escaped through the window, knocking over the stack of barrels on the way out. That left the sole exit to the warehouse the door that had just closed.

“Hey, guys!” a pleasant voice greeted. “Nice to see you’re still breathing.” Ollie was standing in front of the door, his face full of a half-smile that wouldn’t extend to the charred part of his cheek. “Let’s talk.”

Now, Gregorius wasn’t usually one for falling for such simple traps, but something about their ploy to escape had caught him off guard and they were now paying the price. He’d had the displeasure of working with the burly man a couple of times before, and they were never missions he looked back on fondly. Ollie was a professional through and through which, given the man’s disposition and look, was somewhat surprising at first glance.

Though, in the end, it only added to his element of surprise. He’d lull you into a fall sense of security, thinking he was a giant with a heart of gold, but there was more to it than that. A far more sinister past, and a far more maddening sequence of loyalties. The Fair Lady scared him, but Ollie downright frightened him.

“I’m not sure we should, really,” Gregorius said, trying his hardest to not look at the man yet still sound brave. “As you can see we were trying to earn some money so we could earn our way back to Valmoor.”

“That’s great! I’ll loan you some exa. But tell me, weren’t you supposed to bring someone back with you? You know, thin and pale, mixed heritage of enlil and laicar, feathery hair? I was under the impression that was why you guys were in Terminus in the first place.”

Ollie placed down a large metal container from his back. It landed with a thud in front of the door. He rolled his shoulders and stretched his neck.

“So, where’s our dear Lady’s daughter? She has been filled by sadness and loneliness and has been eagerly awaiting the return of Rosalina. What kind of series of events could have led you to not have enough money to return?” Ollie shook his head like that of a disappointed teacher, despite him never having done a bit of teaching in his life. No one seemed to care for his philosophy. “Pray tell that at least you have Rosalina stashed away safely somewhere.”

Spitting in front of the grotesque man, Greg said, “You know just as well as I do that we did not go here with the plans of bringing her back. Who do you think we are, world’s strongest and most charismatic duo? We were never going to get her to come with us!

“We were sent here to scout her out, and that’s exactly what we did.”

Of course, it wasn’t actually what they were sent here to do, and Ollie was spot on with his assessment, but Gregorius wasn’t about to fuck himself over by saying they’d failed.

“Ah, is that so?” Ollie crooked his smile and folded his arms. “Then tell me, scouts, what have you learned in all this time here? Surely you know where is Our Lady’s daughter?”

He remained pleasant with an attentive look about him, as if what the two had to say were the most important things in the world. Inwardly, he was already wondering what to do with the two of them once he had the information he needed. Sending them back to Valmoor would be best, though sending was perhaps too apt of a term for what Ollie was thinking.

Despite his perceived pleasantness, dealing with Ollie regardless of his outward intentions was always anything but pleasant. Not only was he a big, burly man who sometimes talked a little funny - it was generally more cryptic than anything else, really - but he was also really, really good at his job, frighteningly so.

“Ah, ah, ah,” Greg responded with a single finger waggling back and forth. “Not so fast, you know that’s something I can’t just tell you, right? We were sent on this mission by Our Lady Aranea, not by you. We do not have an obligation to give out the information regarding our mission to you.

“So, how about we strike a deal? You let us go, and we’ll tell you where Rosalina is.”

“Hey now, what’s with the cold shoulder, guys? Aren’t we all on the same team here? Because let’s face it, you are failing on your mission.” Ollie gave the two of them a sigh while shaking his head. “There’s no your mission and not your mission. It’s everyone’s mission!”

The man walked back to the crate he set down in front of the door and then sat down with legs crossed. “Alright, how about this, tell me where Rosalina is, and I’ll send you guys on your way? Why, I happen to have enough exa for the two of you, and for me and Rosalina. Do you know what that’s called? It’s called proper planning!”

Ollie leaned back with his arms folded. As he was talking, his expression steadily grew more and more pleasant with a smile almost at its widest point. He folded his arms and stared at the two of them, ever-welcoming.

Steadying his footing ever so slightly, Gregorius played various scenarios through his head on how this could end. Of course, they could accept Ollie’s offer, but he knew that doing such a thing would most likely kill them in the long run.

“Proper planning?” Greg asked. “Just like how killing us is proper planning, right? I’m not stupid, Ollie. You offer us a way out, but it is a permanent one, and I’m not havin’ it.

“But,” he finally relented, figuring the chances of them surviving either way were pretty slim. “We last saw the young lady on the outskirts of the town, going back and forth between the Grand Metropolis and this shithole for a city. Last we interacted, she had some kind of bodyguard with her, but knowing her this was probably only temporary.

“I wouldn’t advise to just assume her to be alone, though. After all, she never ceases to amaze... now, will you let us go?”

“Guys. Guys. You are way too suspicious of me.” Ollie spread out his arms, leaving his body exposed. “Come on, now. I have my mission, and that is to bring back Lady Rosalina alive and well. Is that the kind of job you give to a killer?”

But the information that gave cast the shadow of a frown over his face. Leaving only the scar visible, there was none of his cheery disposition left. All that time and the only thing Gregorius and Alair knew was that Rosalina was traveling back and forth? Nothing more exact? It was information he could have figured out. They did warn of a potential bodyguard. That was useful, at least.

Ollie turned back to them with a smile. “I said I would send you on your way, and I intend to do that.”

With steps light as shadows, Ollie dashed between the two men. His arms flicked out, moving as a blur. In that brief moment he stepped down next to Gregorius and Alair, he had pulled out small darts from within his jacket and then flung them to the side. A sheer layer of shimmering fluid coated the tips. They were not deadly but paralytic and soporific.

Ollie had carefully gathered the poison from a certain species of scorpion. They were cowardly types that used the poison to escape. But he found it rather useful for other purposes.

Gregorius was out cold literally the moment the dart had found his skin as he’d always been super weak to any form of injection, but Alair... not only did he see it coming a mile away figuratively, but he also saw it coming in the realest sense of the word. That didn’t mean he could dodge it perfectly, though, and as the dart skimmed past his body, he knew he wouldn’t have too much time left.

Facing the brutish man, he straightened his back and spoke to the man as himself for the first time in forever.

“Look at you,” he spat with such venom that it was almost like a slithering snake trying to poison its prey. “How you’ve changed, Ollie, how our dynamics have changed. It’s all your fault, you know. The reason why the young lady is now a fugitive.

“I have lived a long time, perhaps a bit too long it seems,” he continued as the wound on the outer edge of his stomach began to grow. “You used to try everything in your power to appease to Lady Aranea, as well as Lady Rosalina, much like now... but back then you were much more headstrong, much more someone who rather seized the day.

“All that changed, though, didn’t it? Because of that irritating infatuation you had with that, slut, Victoria. You knew her worth, you knew her thoughts, yet you still let it happen. You just stood there as Victoria tried to kill Rosalina. It’s because of you, Ollie, that the young lady had her wings broken, it’s because of you that her memories...”

Clutching the wound on his right, his vision started to blur ever so slightly. “It’s... because of you that... she-”

The arteries on his skin had taken on a sickly green, and reflected in a puddle of water below he could see his bloodshot eyes losing all of its charm.

“That she-”

He dropped down to one knee and looked up at, Ollie, locking eyes with the cold, calculating assassin one last time.

Ollie let out a soft chuckle, hand over his heart. He knew it was useless to talk any more, but he still felt the need to. “No one’s heart is made out of stone, you know? Even the man that killed hundreds will have their loved ones. What happened was unfortunate.

“Have you ever played the stock market? Did you know that everything in there is zero sum? For one person to gain money, someone else will have to lose money. I have long since believed that same principal applies to happiness. For one person to be happy, in this case, Victoria, someone else would have to be unhappy, Rosalina.

“And for my Lady to be happy, I have sacrificed much of my own. That is just the way the world is. There is not enough happiness for everyone.”

[COLOR=#85200]Ollie took his hand off his chest, removing with it a heavy pressure. A bit of tightness still remained, however. A broad smile reemerged. “Well, for my happiness, I’m afraid I’m going to have to take some of yours. Let’s get to it.”[/COLOR]

He shifted around the lonely warehouse for some boxes of suitable size and some restraints. The chains would do nicely. As for the shipping crates, what he was delivering was people straight to Valmoor. He already agreed to send them on their way in the most literal way possible.

Now then, with information in his mind, it was time to complete his mission.
 

Rob

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1830/7190 Words

Takes places during/after: Amiss

Deep within the crevices of her mind, Rosa stared at a reflection of a woman she had never seen before. It was a woman about a head taller than her with cobalt gray skin, gray eyes that housed frighteningly yellow pupils touched by eight, blood red stripes coming from the outer edge of her sockets. On her head were also two massive, thick, tree-branch like antlers sticking outward.

For all its weirdness, the two horns were not what appalled the young spurii. It was the woman’s hair, snow white but with a silky smoothness to it that didn’t quite seem right, and it wasn’t because it looked out of place. It looked fine, her hair was beautiful, but... it wasn’t made out of actual hair. It was made of string, the same kind spiders used to create their webs and her hair was a catalyst from which thousands of spiders formed a web all around and behind the woman.

“Wh-...” Rosa began as she stumbled back on her ass. “You... you’re...”

“I am you,” said the being encased in web. The voice was deep, with traces of a growl hiding underneath. It was just simmering under the surface, mere moments away from a boil. The tumult was held back with pure pressure.

The woman moved with slow, careful precision, from the intertwining of her fingers to the rise and fall of her chest. The glint of her yellow eyes followed Rosa’s movement, unblinking and steady. The thousands of spiders hid among the white webs. Their dark bodies nestled into a hiding spot, ready to pounce on any careless prey.

The woman’s mouth, filled with sharp teeth, grinned. “It has been too long since we last spoke.”

“I was kind of hoping it’d stay that way,” Rosa responded with a grimace.

She’d seen the woman before, multiple times before even. Back when she was younger, a couple of weeks ago, mere moments ago, months, years, minutes ago. Everytime she saw her, she looked like she mirrored her age perfectly. When she was but a child, so was this woman. When she’d finally grown up, so had she.

“You often hear about children having their own little imaginary friends growing up,” the spurii continued, her stormy grey eyes locking on the woman’s silken figure. “But that’s not what you are, that’s not who I am, who we are.

“Despite not having spoken in some time, though,” she continued, taking a few careful steps backwards, “you’ve been showing up in my thoughts more often lately. A little nudge here, a simple push in the right - or wrong - direction there. A penny for my thoughts, a dime for my life. You were never this active before, even back when I still lived at home, in Valmoor.

“...What gives?”

The woman tilted her head. “You are getting stronger. I am getting stronger. Or perhaps you are ready to listen to me. After all that has happened, it is no surprise. You are angry, furious even. You are now ready to express it to the world.

“I have been watching, trying to reach out. It has always been difficult before, but now, I find my web reaches further. You are becoming who you were meant to be.” The woman laughed, a low, disturbing noise. The spiders on the webs reacted. It was an unnatural movement for them, but they looked to be quivering with anticipation. The thousands of them caused a vibration in the strings.

When she listened to the woman in her head, she almost felt like she was listening to her mother. The way this spider-lady spoke was very reminiscent of how her mother used to talk back when she was still a little girl. She would always go on and on about how she was destined for ‘great’ things, and that she was supposed to be who she was destined to be.

She wasn’t quite sure if she bought any of it.

Scratching the back of her head - did her hair always feel this silken? - she gave the woman a look of dissatisfaction and asked, “And who, pray tell, is it that I am meant to become?”

“A purifier,” the woman said. “The world is full of weak, rotten and wretched people. The Laicar. The Velen. The Enlil. The Demvir. I know how they look at you who is not wholly one or the other. You are an anomaly that they don’t know how to deal with. But that is the wrong way to look at things, is it not?”

The woman shifted back and forth on the web. She tried to reach out, but the strands held her arms back. It would be a simple matter to break the web, but that would not do for her guarded ones. The spiders spent a long time making their home.

“They are the ones that are wrong. They are the ones that need to be ripped, burned and torn apart. Look upon the state of the world under their control. Chaos and uncertainty rule. The ones in control do not know themselves what to do. An ineffective leader needs to be replaced, wouldn’t you say?”

“Y-ye...”

Before she finished her response, however, she stopped herself. There was something about how easily she was about to say ‘yes’ that scared her a little bit. Her entire life, she’d been living in the shadow of her mother, always sent off on crazy errands that would often span several months, if not years. And then, one day, she tried to get her back again, but she didn’t want to. She didn’t want to be her mother’s slave anymore.

She was the leader that needed to be replaced, the one that had to be ripped, burned and torn apart for being wrong. But, this woman right now standing in front of her, this spider lady was the one thing her mother was trying to bring back from the depths of hell itself. She’d listened to the tales, she knew who this person was:

Arachne, Mother of Spiders, Queen of Aranea.

“B-but...” she continued, narrowing her eyes slightly. “...how?”

“Oh, there are many ways to get rid of ineffective leaders,” Arachne said. Now her voice was traveling along the strings, resounding everywhere in the small chamber. “The easiest way would be to just kill them, but that is not a good solution for the person doing the killing.” A soft chuckle shook the strings.

“You break the one thing a leader has: Control over their subjects. Shake their faith. Rattle their belief. Show them a new, more wonderful path. Without control, a leader is useless. Of course the first group you must convince are the guards and enforcers. Then you watch in glee as they kill their former leader.”

A dark glint was in Arachne’s eyes. The woman stretched outwards, drawing closer to Rosalina. “I know what you are thinking. And I agree with you. Your mother is not effective like you are. She doesn’t truly understand how to rule. That is why she must be disposed of. I will help you, of course, Rosalina.”

For a moment her eyes stared into the dark abyss, wide open and her mouth somewhat agape as she took in the melodious words of a voice she knew she shouldn’t ever listen to. She couldn’t help it, though. Or, maybe... she could, but didn’t want to. There was still something that didn’t quite make sense to her, though.

“I... I don’t understand,” she began, her stormy grey eyes still dilated, “isn’t she your... daughter, aren’t you my grandmother?”

“Aranea? That is what she wants people to believe. That is how she maintains control of the conclave. No, I am not her mother. I am far older than that. Aranea does not understand pain and suffering the way you do. That is why you and I are the same. Your situation gives you a unique view on life that few others have. That is why I adore you above all others.”

Arachne retreated back and folded her arms towards the opposite shoulder. “Tell me, what do you think about your mother? Say it out loud. You need to hear the words as real and tangible, not just silent whispers you tell yourself.”

“What do I...?”

Think? No, that was not something she’d done for a long time. At least, she hadn’t thought to herself in a very long time. In fact, for as long as she could remember she hadn’t really thought about too much other than that which she’d known forever. Her own, small little world. Over time people, thoughts, emotions and objects had entered her life, some had impacted her in odd ways - such as Kincaid and his ridiculous ideas - others yet had just caused her life to give a simple nod in their direction.

Never once, though, did she stop to think about any of it.

It was a bit of a weird sensation, suddenly being confronted by this almost otherworldly being about her own thoughts, in a city and culture where thoughts of your own were frowned upon. As such, she couldn’t find a clear answer.

“I don’t know,” she responded in a flat tone. “I was... not raised to care for much but what was brought before me.”

“And here I thought you were finally ready to take control of your own life. You are heading back right now, back to your mother.” There was a biting humor in the last two words. Aranea smiled. “So, what are you going to do? You have no other recourse than to face her. Will you just accept whatever she tells you? Follow orders again?”

The woman looked around the room, at all the webbing. There were many strands that could be seen, the obvious traps, but even more that were invisible. She reached out and scratched along the air. The vibrations allowed them to become visible for a brief moment.

“Did you ever think you were beyond your mother’s reach, Rosalina? She was just letting you indulge yourself. You don’t have to decide right now, but I suggest you think on what to do soon. You’re almost home.”

Home? She knew she had been talking in her mind, given that the place she was in wasn’t really anything that could exist in the real world, but to be told she was almost ‘home’ was a bit of a surprise. She couldn’t remember much from the time she’d decided to leave the mercenary’s guild. The last thing she remembered was setting off and then...[FONT]

Nothing.

“Put her down here,” a voice called out to her from the outside, but she couldn’t quite make out who it was that had said the words. Her mother maybe? Or was it someone else instead? For a moment Elara’s face came to mind and the voice she’d heard seemed to match her friend’s as well.

 

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