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.