Demimind: Chapter 29

Extra short. But in a reasonable fashion, and a reasonable timeframe after the last. Almost done with chapter 30. Let’s try to at least get a chapter out a week, hm?

-Eris

 

(29) Resolution

“Silk-” Winter starts quietly. There’s so much she wants to say now she could burst. The overwhelming feelings are turning her legs to jelly.

“You are a child,” her old friend replies sternly. “You meddle with powers you don’t even know how to control.

Winter says nothing to that, holding still and letting the Spider Queen talk. It takes everything she has to bite her tongue, and hold her words back.

“I can tell you what you need to know, in return for something.”

“What do I need to give you?” Winter asks immediately. “I’ll do it. I don’t care what it is- I owe Jane this. I can’t leave her-… I can’t…”

“Do you promise to agree to the terms no matter what they are?” Silk asks softly, her voice suddenly tender. “You may not like them once you hear them.”

“I’d give anything!” Winter says fiercely. “Just name them!”

Idiot, Summer hisses. Do you really mean that?

Winter, for her part, ignores her mind-mate. Of course she means it. This is Silky she’s dealing with, not some dangerous stranger.

“Bear my eggs before you reincarnate,” Silk whispers. “That is all.”

Before Winter can find her wits again and answer, her old friend changes the subject. Winter feels her heart sink, freeze in her chest before her friend even speaks. Silk’s arms are loose around her now, as if in sympathy.

“No matter how hard you try, you cannot bring Jane back now,” Silk begins slowly. “She is out of your reach.”

Winter struggles in vain, staring at the broken, battered body of her Servant, days and days dead.

“But- you-”

“I told you I would tell you what you need to know, Winter,” Silk replies solemnly. “And I’m telling you right now that what you wish is utterly impossible. The dead, once led from the Cycle, cannot find their way back again when they eventually return. Without a doubt, Jane and Goliath are already finding their paths to the shells they will next take.”

“T-that trade is unfair,” Winter whispers weakly, feeling the power fading from her, and cold despair taking its place. “Y-you tricked me.”

“Winter, I am not done talking yet,” Silk says mildly, voice soft. “There are a few things that I must tell you regarding your brothers and your sister…”

“I already know Spring is insane,” Winter snaps. “What else could there be?”

Silk seems to hesitate far too long. Silence.

“You didn’t know, did you,” Winter whispers. “You damn well had no idea.”

“Spring’s stability has never been without question,” Silk starts slowly, haltingly. “But why-”

“He threatened to kill me. He wants the illmetal bead so he can erase Fall from existence and break the Cycle of the Seasons or something,” Winter interjects bitterly. “He’s obviously gone batshit.”

Well duh, Summer snipes. Seriously, what part of his total mental breakdown didn’t you expect?

Silk loosens her clawed grip further. “That’s why you wanted Jane to come back…”

“I owe her,” Winter corrects. “She saved me. It’s a debt, and she’s a friend.”

“Servants that die are reincarnated unless they are called back within hours of their deaths, Winter. They aren’t like humans or animals, whose fragile souls break apart. They are like you, Winter, and they are like me. We are guardians of this place, its custodians and watchers. And a Servant, once killed, will come back in time on its own. Not in your life perhaps, but in your successor’s life.”

“I won’t see her again,” Winter says flatly. “And I can’t pay her back.”

“You don’t need to pay her, Winter. That balance was reset the first time. Or have you forgotten already what you did for her?”

“It’s not right!” Winter snaps, shrugging herself free from Silk’s grip and whirling on her friend. “Don’t you understand that?”

Silk’s stance, loose before, hardens, as well as her face. Those eyes are steel, and under their unwavering gaze, Winter’s legs shake.

“And would killing yourself make that better?” Ever-Widowed snarls. Her voice is dripping with fury. “Tell me, Winter-Long-Frost, did you really expect that by sacrificing yourself you could bring your friend back? Would you really pay any price?”

“What are you-” Winter starts, but Summer interrupts her.

She’s saying that you’d kill yourself, you dope! Life for life, right? Did you think you were an exception to the rules?

“No,” Winter says under her breath. “I never knew the rules.” The rage is fading. She takes a deep breath, letting the chilling feeling of her power spread all over her again and replace the anger with cold.

“But what do I do?” She asks out loud.

Her legs tremble, and the world around her spins.

“Who can I trust?” She whispers, almost to herself, almost too quiet for anyone but Summer to hear.

“Trust in yourself,” Silk says quietly. “Trust in your sister. Trust in Autumn and his ability to pull himself back from the brink.”

Oh come on. Whoever he was he isn’t that man anymore. 

“But-”

“No. There is no ‘but’. Autumn is your brother- he shares your tenacity and force of personality. Spring is a slippery snake, but worse than that, he is set. He believes without a doubt that Autumn cannot be saved, and in giving up hope, he will only perpetuate this broken Cycle instead of shatter it, as he seems to intend.”

“How can you know?” Winter whispers weakly.

“I’ve lived a long time, Winter of the Seasons,” Ever-Widowed replies gently. “Trust me.”

Winter sags, biting her lip. Then a part of her hardens. She straightens. “I have to stop him. I have to stop both of them. I have to get back my sister’s child.”

Finally, something we agree on.

She takes a deep, deep breath, steadying herself.

Silk looks at her carefully, then nods, as if she’s made up her mind. “Good. Stronger than before. Are you done running?”

“I hardly think I can stop either of my wayward brothers by standing here,” Winter says grimly.

Her love reaches out and pulls Winter close, six arms locked around her for a few moments.

Silk’s skin is smooth, free of wrinkles, and comfortably chilly. Her hands are chitinous and hard, but gentle where they touch Winter’s bare arms, legs and back.

“You’re a mess, but your will is enough, Winter,” Silk says softly. “There’s so much for you to learn yet. Come back when you are done, and we can talk.”

“You act so sure,” Winter whispers, burying her face against the Spider Queen’s neck. “I might not come back.”

“So much drama,” Silk snips, her voice almost playful. “Relax, Winter-Long-Frost. You’ll come back. After all…”

She whispers something, a clicking, a chittering that Summer doesn’t understand. Winter nods, though, smiling tentatively. She leans up on the tips of her toes and gives Silk a quick, tender kiss, and then steps away, unsure.

Silk, for her part, smiles back. There’s something sad in her eyes, though, and Summer feels as though something is wrong as Winter turns away.

Something is very wrong.

What did she say? Summer asks.

Winter doesn’t answer.

She walks to the edge of the cavern, to the great stone doors that had shut her in with Jane so long ago. Her hands touch the stone warily. “Do you remember how to cast that gate spell you used- the one that took us here?”

Yeah. Where do you need to go? I’ve got enough juice in me for one more jump. And you haven’t answered me.

“It’s nothing you’d understand,” Winter replies quietly. “And we need to go to Spring’s shrine again.”

What do you- oh, no. Thomas!

“Yes.”

Summer uses Winter’s arms, as her sister gives her control. She reaches out and draws a shimmering trail in the air before her, focusing her own energy in Winter’s fingers.

“That b-burns,” Winter stammers, startled.

Yeah, is all Summer replies. The line splits apart down the middle, showing a scintillating abyss. I dunno what this will feel like for you…. It’s a bit hot for me, so… just prepare yourself.

Without hesitation, Winter strides through the gate. There’s a gasp, and then she’s gone.

The world is blindingly hot, when she returns. Her entire body is covered in sweat, and the power inside of her feels suppressed, as if the heat is simply too much for it to compete with.

Her skin feels like one giant blister.

She reacts, pushing her power outward like a shield, sheathing herself in the chill as fast as she can, swaying on the spot, wondering if maybe she took a wrong turn somewhere in the gate, or if Summer’s formulae had been off.

A searing hot coal drops down from above, and as she takes in her bearings, it explodes in front of her from the contrast in hot and cold, bursting into steam and smoke.

Where is she? Did Summer’s gate spell go wrong? She looks around at the lacquered wood, at the hungry flames.

No. She’s in the right place.

The shrine is on fire.

It’s a roaring all around her, the wood, the mighty oak, is going up in flames, orange and red and yellow licking all about her. Her skin feels cooked.

Winter! You have to get out of here! This much heat will make you faint!

“Not without Thomas or the girl,” she whispers, looking around her desperately, choking, gagging on the smoke. Where would they be?

Where would he hide them?

She floods the area around her with cold, forming a clear sphere- the smoke around her drops to the floor, suddenly unable to rise, and the boards under her creak and hiss, threatening to crack and give way under her. The stress of sudden cold after being red hot is almost too much.

Finally she can see, and the inferno near her is parted. But all around her, it leaps on, flickering, dancing. It looks hot, it looks as though she should be dead.

She can feel it through the cold around her.

You can feel them, can’t you? You can feel their life-force.

Winter isn’t sure what she feels, at first. As she stands there, though, in the midst of the flames and the terrible heat trying to feast on her, battering at her sheltered, personal tundra, she realizes that she can feel them. She can almost taste them. The girl, dirty and scared, Thomas, determined and… hurt… ? And… terrified.

They aren’t in the Shrine. She can feel them outside of it.

Trap, Summer says, as Winter strides through the blaze.  But who…?

Winter knows the answer. She strides out of the Shrine, heart pounding.

Her answer stares her in the face as she pushes open the briefly burning front door. It’s dark, darker than natural, and oppressively so.

Standing in the courtyard, eyes triumphant, is none other than Fall. At His feet lies the urchin girl. Standing before her fallen form is Thomas- hopeless, helpless. In Falls hands sleeps Summer’s child.

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Demimind: Chapter 4

(4)Spider Queen

I was only trying to help, Summer gripes. God and Cycle, you get so angry sometimes… It’s really kind of childish.

“Drop it, Summer,” Winter says quietly. “We’ve been over this.”

She feels edgy for some reason. It isn’t her power levels- she still feels full up from the two men she… she murdered. No, that’s not the problem. Something is off, as she trudges through the snow, the unconscious woman over one shoulder. It’s not just the still air, either. The trees are all bent inward, creating perpetual shade. Underbrush is so thick it creates actual barriers in places, and she is forced to clear them, one handed, from her path before moving on. But the lifeforce she sensed from so far off is very near.

Of that she is sure.

Summer’s prior behavior disturbs her. Summer’s inclination for murder, even to stay alive, disturbs her. Winter shudders a little at the thought. It’s a small part of her, but there IS a piece of her that enjoyed taking that lifeforce, taking their energy.

What would you have done without my help?

Winter doesn’t know the answer to that. She lets her lips settle into a tight line and continues moving east. The crunch of her feet on the hard ice and snow is the only noise. Yes, it’s certainly an uneasy silence…

And it’s… much warmer here, somehow. As if the whole of the forest is heating up as she moves deeper into its clutches.

The sun will be gone soon, and then it will be truly dark. Winter doesn’t know how she knows this. It just feels like the truth.

She comes to a bush, a hedge about head-height, and she’s about to tear it aside when something catches her eye. There’s something shining in the middle of it. Without thinking, she reaches out, reaches in and wraps her fingers around it, tugging it out. Silken strands stick to her hand as she does so, but with her spell augmented strength, it matters very little. Winter pulls it out. It’s little more than a bead, and she recognizes the material immediately. Illmetal. Like the stone in her pocket.

She just stares at it for a while.

Hey! You can use this stuff to wish me unbound again! Summer cuts in.

“Yeah,” Winter says absently.

Do you remember how to build the pillar?

“Vaguely. Bronze, silver, copper. Twine it in veins around lime and stone.” The recitation comes as from a long lost dream, or a memory. She tries to catch hold of it, but it slips through her fingers and drops out of sight.

Winter pockets the tiny piece of magic metal in the back of her jeans. It’s then that she sees the silken strands all around her, and feels the lifeforce she’d tracked stir. After another few moments, something huge and spider-like drops down behind her. Summer shouts a warning, but Winter turns around slowly.

“I know you. Who are you?” She asks simply. “I felt I needed to come here. Are you who I came to see?”

It’s a damn great spider! You never told me about it!

No, it’s not a spider,  Winter thinks to herself. It’s too tall and the wrong shape.

She’s right, she can see that as the spider-creature steps a little closer. It’s really more like a human-spider hybrid.

It has a glossy, smooth yellow carapace dappled with red over its abdomen, and four spider legs joined smoothly to a woman’s waist to support the abdomen- which is smaller than Winter expected. It has the upper half of a woman as well, reared up where its head normally would be. Her bald head nearly brushes the ceiling. She seems to have the normal number of eyes at least- two- and a sharp nose. Her ears are missing, which Winter finds a little strange, but she decides not to comment.

The spider-woman opens her mouth, baring four fangs. Rather than speaking with it, she clicks a foreleg against her other, supplementing the gesture with snaps from her fingers and the occasional hiss.

Like when Jane had first talked to her, Winter imagines words in the noises, a hidden language. She finds herself recovering from her shock quickly.

[With respect, it must be the greatest of heroes to our people, Long-Frost. You are unaware of who you are to us?]

“I’ve… been out of touch,” Winter replies, and then sighs. “Who are you?”

[This humble servant is Seven-Spinner. I can take Long-Frost to see Ever-Widowed, if it would please her.]

“Could you take my charge here, as well?”

[Yes! It is customary to take gifts to Ever-Widowed. Is it slave or food?]

“Neither! She is a friend.”

The spider-woman blinks. Then she shrugs- it’s complicated, for Winter notices now that she has four arms in addition to her four legs. Very strange.

[If Long-Frost wishes to bring friend to give to Ever-Widowed, this is fine as well?]

Just get it over with and fry her before she makes a move, will you?

“Take me to Ever-Widowed, then.” Winter says, ignoring Summer.

The spider-creature leans forward, pulls Winter up into her grip bodily- along with the nameless woman- hangs, for a moment, by threads before she begins reeling herself back in. The silk strands are surprisingly durable.

Winter feels more than a little uncomfortable, so close to a virtual unknown. Summer seems to share her unease.

This is not going to end well, Summer warns. They’re a people I know virtually nothing about, and I don’t know what they’re saying.

Winter doesn’t want to open her mouth to respond, so she just holds the unconscious form of her rescued acquaintance closer. The ride is fast and sickening- landscape, trees, branches, leaves- air, it all flies by in a blur. Unsure exactly where she’s being yanked, she figures it can’t hurt to just close her eyes and wait for the sense of motion to stop.

Mercifully, it is only a few minutes of that heart-wrenching treatment before they seem to have arrived.

Something is different, though. Here it is warm, and out of the wind. Winter opens her eyes. Summer watches, mental lips pursed, as Winter tries to get her bearings.

When the world stops spinning, she sees that they are surrounded by spiders, spider-creatures similar to the one who brought them here- all female-, and standing before them is a woman with eight arms and two legs. She is otherwise nothing truly extraordinary.

Further, they are standing on a funnel of smooth spider silk. The ground under them is swaying slightly, as if in a breeze, and Winter gets the distinct feeling that she is quite high off the ground here.

You’re insane. This is insane. You’re going to get us killed, Summer says grimly.

“Shut up,” Winter hisses. “Not helping.”

“There’s a language I haven’t heard in a while,” The woman says. Her eight arms come right out from her shoulders, which are massive in comparison with the rest of her body. They’re thin, but her fingers end in claws, and when she speaks her mouth bares fangs. It’s a bit of a surprise that Winter can understand her at all. Summer is equally surprised that it’s a language she can understand.

She speaks English? That’s a little weird, Summer remarks quietly.

“How do you know me?” Winter asks, ignoring Summer. She gets the feeling she’ll be doing a lot of this reintroduction stuff, at least until she can get her memory back.

The eight-armed one smiles. “Oh, Winter. My people call you ‘Long-Frost’. We were childhood friends. We’ve known one another for a long, long time. I hear you’ve lost your memory.”

Winter frowns and folds her arms. “I may’ve,” She says uneasily. How could she have heard? It’d been all of a day since she had, right? Maybe less.

“If you can’t remember me, I find it unlikely you haven’t lost your memory. Is Summer still around, or did you finally find a way to rid yourself of her?” There’s an edge to her voice.

“Who are you. Tell me who you are, first.”

“My name is Ever-Widowed. But I’d feel better if you called me Silk. It might help your memory return. My servant is Seven-Spinner, and these-” She waves a hand grandly, including all the spiders, the entire silken cavern. “-are my subjects, my people. Now…”

“Summer is still in my head. She’s been-”

Don’t tell her I’m bound.

Winter pauses for a moment, then continues. “She’s asleep, Silk.”

“Well I’m sure the heat will wake her up. So let’s cool it down a little. Seven-Spinner, be a dear and chew a hole in the ceiling, won’t you?” The named spider-creature bows at the waist and then hurries off to do as she’s told. There’s a very distinct ripping noise somewhere high above them both.

“Why?” Winter asks as cool air leaks in from the ceiling. “What’s wrong with Summer?”

“Why, last time you were here and she was awake, she went on a murderous rampage and killed over half of my people! I’m not surprised she didn’t tell you, as I’m sure she’d rather you didn’t know,” Ever-Widowed says sharply. “We assumed you must not have been in control at the time.”

What? Why the hell would I have done that?

Summer is genuinely bewildered. I’d think I’d remember doing something like that. I mean, it’d be sticking in my head if I had to kill that many spiders. And I’ve never even seen their kind before.

That doesn’t really make sense, no, Winter thinks to herself. Why indeed? Summer is spiteful, sure, and occasionally mean, but there’s no way she’d attack so many people for no good reason. There’d be no challenge if they were innocent, and in all her memories of Summer being in control, there are none where she has willfully killed people who weren’t actively threatening her. Summer may occasionally be careless, but she’d never hurt a bystander. That’d mean that Ever-Widowed’s people probably attacked first.

Which, in itself is rather a scary thought. Still, it’s probably just a mistake. Don’t burn any bridges. Or cut any silken cords, or whatever.

But she can’t bring it up- she claimed Summer was asleep, after all.

The warmth- uncomfortable for Winter- seeps away, and a welcome chilly breeze leaks in instead. Summer finds herself getting a little drowsy again.

“So what brings you here, Winter? Why did you decide to come?” Silk asks quietly. “Or, if your memory is truly broken, what prompted your return? What gave you the idea that this might be safe?”

She shakes her head. “I came here because I felt life in this direction, and-”

“Did you come here to feed?” Ever-Widowed asks sharply. “I haven’t got servants to spare for that. Seven-Spinner is the only one I have left, really.”

Winter shudders openly, shakes her head again vehemently. “You’re mad if you think I want to- to do that ever again. I came here because this woman was being held captive and she’s dreadfully cold and I don’t know what to do with her,” She says, indicating the woman she’d brought. Even as she lies there she seems to shiver with the chill.

“Well you’ll need to feed eventually,” The Spider Matriarch responds. She seems to relax a little. “As to your friend, I’m not sure why you’d bring her to me. I’m not really known for my warm hospitality- I live in a forest that’s been cold as long as you’ve been alive. There’s rumors about that we eat our guests, can you believe that?”

She smiles. “It’s good to see you’ve still breath in your lungs, Winter. I’ve missed you.”

Winter is taken aback by that. No one had ever- as far as she could remember- missed her before.

It’s a trap. Without a doubt, Summer warns, stifling a mental yawn.

Comforting, Winter thinks, though she doesn’t respond.

“Now, do you need a place to stay?” Silk asks quietly. She takes a half-step forward towards Winter, but seems to think better of it, and returns to where she was. There’s something like uneasiness between them, and Winter can’t tell if it’s because the Spider Queen wants to stay clear of Summer or doesn’t want to frighten her. Either way is fine with Winter- she’s not sure if she’d like being too close to this strange old friend now, however friendly they used to be.

“I really just want you to take care of this girl for me, if that’s not too much trouble,” Winter says firmly. “I have some unfinished business I need to take care of, and I’m not really that sleepy.”

“Oh,” Silk says, sounding more than a little disappointed. “I can do that for you. You’ve done much for us. Maybe when you remember it you’ll understand I mean you no harm.”

Winter is about to say something, but stops herself, and just watches. Ever-Widowed gives her another smile, but it’s fleeting.

Something is weighing heavily on her, Winter thinks. I really will have to come back, and not just to make sure she hasn’t done anything nasty to my sleeping friend.

“Well, Seven-Spinner can show you the way out. Just leave your new friend here, I suppose. Do come back when you’ve finished with your “business”. I enjoy your company.” The Spider Queen half-turns away, arms folded.

Summer, for her part, finds herself going over spell formula in case Silk decides to turn nasty unexpectedly. Still, it’s nice to know she won’t be obvious about trying to keep Winter here forever. That sort of silly villainy always did make Summer a little sick.

Winter, on the other hand, waves to Ever-Widowed and moves to join a waiting Seven-Spinner. “Let’s go then,” she says. “Just put me back where you found me.”

[This I do,] Is the spider-creature’s reply.

The world spins again as the servant of the spider queen picks her up and whisks her away.

After a torturous descent, she is deposited on the snow once more, and after a short, clipped farewell, she is alone with Summer again.