Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Day Eight-Twenty-Five: The spider gives up

Julius had never enjoyed so much freedom of movement in Antonia’s fur as he had when she was chasing after Daena. He felt so daring, indeed, that he was nestled between her ears as Daena sailed over the pack of werewolves, his hairy tarantula legs stretched upward to send what magical power he had left to bolster Daena’s running speed.

When she landed, Daena was, indeed, physically bolstered. But she’d also stopped running. And while that was no doubt a relief to the woman, it was not something Julius had planned for this exact moment in time.

Are you there? Julius thought, though he knew that his voice must be hazy and indistinct in Daena’s mind. He’d used up so much of his remaining strength - strength he’d not replenished in months, thanks to Antonia’s flight from June - that he must surely be running on empty. But he tried anyway. Are you okay? I, um, I’m not sure if -

Daena didn’t respond. Julius wasn’t sure if she was shocked into mental silence or if his power was insufficient to read her mind any longer, but Daena’s words didn’t reach him. Julius could nevertheless see the mixture of confusion, elation, and horror dawning on her face as she stood on a balcony above the werewolves, a slack-jawed expression that might normally have been rather comical.

The werewolves began to climb the building, towards the balcony. Turning, Daena fled. Julius had no idea if she was moving at her former, admirable running speed or not.

Slumping in frustration, Julius wondered what the hell had happened. All he’d used was a simple buffing spell. He’d employed similar magics many times to make Antonia more susceptible to his commands, primarily by making her ‘smarter’ than usual. But his magic had changed something in Daena, flicking that essential flaw in her that made her legs flail from the ‘on’ position to the ‘off’ -

Sudden, cumbersome movement jolted Julius out of his thoughts. Antonia had leaped into the air, jostling the spider, and he tumbled a foot down her rolling, hunched back before sinking his leg hooks into Antonia’s hide and clinging for dear life. Julius skittered back to his usual hiding place in a matted tangle of hair near the small of Antonia’s back, riding out the madness in his small nest as Antonia clambered up the building, landed on the balcony, and tore her way inside.

Julius had not gotten a good, proper look at Antonia in several long months. He knew, however, that she was now huge, swollen by the sickness of lycanthropy to a nightmare form. He could never have gone undetected for so long otherwise, and he feared for Daena’s life. She wouldn’t stand a chance against the beast.

Buffeted on both sides by passing werewolves, Antonia heaved herself into what appeared to be a spacious, but modest, apartment. What little Julius saw of the place hinted at long abandonment: a half-filled backpack on a chair, clothes scattered across the floor, a rotted basket of fruit on the table, and the omnipresent, musty smell of neglect. Antonia had to hunch low to get inside, and the thump of her head against the ceiling reverberated through her body, shaking Julius’s nest.

Blast, he thought, concentrating his thoughts outwards to try and find Daena again. Queen Daena? Please, if you can hear me, you must find a way to close that gate. Immediately. I know I sent power into you. Even if you can’t set the buildings ablaze, please, at least get that gate closed… perhaps we can contain them, and…

It was, however, no apparent use. Daena did not reply to Julius’s eager messages, regardless of how often he sent them, and as Antonia lumbered into the hallway outside the apartment, smacking her lesser werewolf kin aside as she went, Julius gave up. He had only a trickle of magic left, not even enough to maintain a master / familiar connection with June, and he wondered how long it might be before he was nothing more than a normal spider.

I started out that way, Julius thought, rocking gently in Antonia’s fur, in time with her movements. I was just another tarantula. Maybe, if I’m away from her long enough, I’ll simply… change back… and then I won’t have to worry about worrying anymore. 

Antonia sniffed the air, her mighty lungs puffing out loud exhalations and pulling in whatever information they could find. Breathing deep, she unleashed a howl that echoed in the corridors.

That might be nice. Julius shivered. That might just be the bee’s knees.

Dropping to all fours, Antonia rocketed down the hallway, leaving Julius to stare at the ceiling. She moved from horizontal dashing to diagonal, climbing what Julius assumed to be stairs, stairs, a long, dizzying array of curving stairs, leading up to the roof. Werewolves huffed and snarled and yipped as Antonia passed, either skirting safely out of her way or enduring vicious body checks as she sent them careening over bannisters and painfully down to the first floor. Antonia, Julius knew, had little regard for the rest of her kind, and always wanted to be the first to get a piece of a victim. Anyone who got in the way…

The relative warmth of the apartment soon gave way to the chill of open air again, and Julius got a quick look at cloudy sky before Antonia stood to give the air another sniff. Julius burrowed into her rank fur for warmth - it offered that much comfort, if little else - and sniffed of his own accord, as if it was the least he could do.

He did not catch the scent he expected.

Having lived in and around Foregone for so long, Julius had grown accustomed to the smell of burning wood. It formulated a constant background fixture, one so slight that he barely paid it any attention. The werewolves seldom wandered into the burning sections of the city. Now, though… that scent was suddenly so strong, so repulsive, so deliciously close -

Antonia howled again, her call no longer confined to the hallways of the building, and while her back was arched Julius risked a quick climb onto her shoulders to better view the city. Something, he knew, had suddenly changed, and he wanted to know what -

My gods, he thought, his cluster of eyes widening as he watched fresh plumes of acrid black smoke curl into the sky in the not-too-distant distance. My gods, maybe she set more fires than I thought.

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