Eva stretched, rubbing the last vestiges of sleep from her eyes. The sky outside her window had the blue tint of pre-dawn morning. Eva smiled, glad she got up at a more reasonable time than the day before.
She swung her legs out of bed and almost stepped on the sleeping Arachne. Her lithe weight would probably not even be noticed by the demon, and if it was, it sure wouldn’t hurt her. Still, Eva carefully stepped over Arachne.
After hopping in and out of the shower, Eva found Arachne had moved to sitting on the edge of her bed. “I’ll be going to school in a few minutes,” she said while finding a fresh shirt to wear. “It is only a half day, so afterwards I think I’ll stop by the vet’s office. I’ll stop back here and we can go to master’s place.”
“Take me with you.”
Eva froze with a skirt half on. “I can’t do that. People will–”
“As a spider,” Arachne said, her voice completely serious. “It will be an experiment to see how people react to me hanging around you.”
“That’s…” Eva didn’t expect the spider-woman to be hanging around her all that much. Arachne apparently had other ideas. She hadn’t really thought about it, but Eva supposed she couldn’t leave her locked up in her dorm room the entire time. That would lead to worse things; a bored Arachne with cabin fever could only lead to despair. “Maybe to the vet’s office.”
“I’ll hide,” the demon said. “In your clothes or your bag, somewhere. No one will even know I’m there. Then you don’t have to come back here.”
“Arachne…” Eva sat next to her on the bed, taking one of her hands in her own. “I’m sorry I disappeared yesterday. I promise it won’t happen again. I’ll be back before noon and we’ll head to the vet’s office.”
The spider-woman didn’t frown, or nod, or react much at all besides staring her eight eyes into Eva’s two.
Eva sighed. There is no way this is going to end well. “You’ll hide.” Arachne nodded. “You won’t be seen by anyone.” Another nod. “You won’t harm anyone.” Arachne hesitated. Eva sighed and said, “unless they’re about to kill me.” Arachne gave a reluctant nod.
Eva stared into the smooth red facets that passed for Arachne’s eyes. None of her typical flippant or jovial attitude shown through.
With a feeling that she had done so too often in the last few days, Eva sighed again. “Alright,” she said.
Arachne catapulted Eva into a hug with far more limbs than normal. “You won’t regret it,” Arachne whispered in her ear.
Too late, Eva thought.
Flesh squelched as Arachne began retracting her limbs. Carapace folded in on itself as the spider-woman shrank and lost the woman part of her title.
Eva watched on in morbid fascination. It wasn’t the first time Eva had seen her transform, but it was always a bit disturbing. It was one thing to watch a car sized abdomen and legs deflate into a human body, it was another thing to watch a human body crush itself into a spider.
The tarantula in front of her kept Arachne’s trademark black shine. That was about all that stayed the same. Her body was made of two thick orbs, the front of which had eight red eyes and two large fangs. Both orbs together were about as long as Eva’s forearm, though a bit thicker.
Eight legs spread out of her body, each very reminisce of her human form’s fingers. Where her fingers were already far longer than human fingers, her legs were nearly half again the length of her body. Like her fingers, they were each jointed in six spots along the leg.
Using those legs, Arachne scaled Eva’s arm. She reached Eva’s shoulder. Eva expected her to settle in, but the spider kept climbing.
She nestled herself on the crown of Eva’s head, her large fangs just barely hanging into Eva’s vision. Some of her legs gripped Eva’s head. Not hard enough to hurt, just enough to not fall off. Other legs touched against her shoulders to further support the spider.
Eva stiffened. While she was weaker as a spider than her human or great-spider forms, Eva held no doubt that Arachne’s limbs could easily pop her skull like a baseball bat to a watermelon.
How is that any different from normal. The spider-woman was abnormally fond of hugs and other physical contact. Any of those times could have seen Eva shred to ribbons. But, Eva thought, it is different from normal. This time we are contracted to each other, rather than her to Devon.
Eva relaxed. She took a deep breath and slowly turned her head. When Arachne didn’t even budge, she tried moving a bit faster. The spider atop her head remained in place. Eva did a light jog around the room to no detriment of the spider.
“Alright, I’m going to try stepping.”
That gave the spider some panic. At least, Eva thought it was panic. The legs touching her shoulders rapidly tapped against her cheek. The fangs at the top of her vision twitched and trembled.
“Alright, stop,” she said. “Right shoulder for yes, left shoulder for no.”
Her left shoulder received several hard taps.
“I can take my clothes and several small objects, including books. You’re pretty small.”
Again, Arachne tapped ‘no.’
Eva glanced out the window. The sun had yet to rise, but the sky had lightened to a much lighter blue. “Alright, hang on, we’re going to double time it then.”
Once the spider had her legs back in position, Eva took off at a run.
Eva’s school was along the edge of downtown. It wouldn’t take more than thirty minutes at a full run. Stepping would bring the time down to a mere five minutes with a decent amount of rest between steps.
With Arachne on her head, things were a bit different. She didn’t want to run too fast for fear of knocking her off. Arachne wrapped a pair of legs beneath Eva’s chin to help keep her from bouncing on her head.
They got to the school in just under an hour, plenty of time before classes started.
“Arachne,” Eva said, “time to hide.” She reached for her book bag, but her hands came up empty. Eva sighed. Her bag was still full of gold from two nights ago, lying in her room.
Arachne didn’t notice or didn’t care about Eva’s minor frustration. She slipped off Eva’s head and straight down her shirt.
Eva burst out giggling. It took a serious effort to keep from swatting at the tickling spider.
Once Arachne settled into place, her long legs wrapped firmly around Eva’s body, Eva peeked down her shirt. She was met with red eyes staring up at her from beneath her developing chest. The curved outside edges of the spider’s fangs rested lightly against her sternum.
“Well,” Eva said, “I hope you’re happy with yourself. You’re in for a boring few hours.”
One of Arachne’s legs carefully loosened and tapped her left shoulder.
“Uh huh. You say that now. We’ll see you singing a different tune by the end of English.”
With that, Eva walked into school to begin her last day of middle school.
“I don’t believe you.”
Arachne tapped out a ‘no’ once again.
Eva looked both ways before crossing the street. “I was bored. Especially during math. We didn’t even have a test, just sat around waiting for the next class.”
Peeking down her shirt, Arachne just sat, staring. Her fangs slightly twitched against Eva’s chest.
“Well,” Eva said, “we’re almost there. Are you going to get back on my head?”
Arachne hesitated. The leg that had been tapping her left shoulder lifted. Yet it never tapped Eva’s shoulder. Instead, the rest of her legs loosened and she carefully made her way out from under Eva’s shirt.
Ready for her moving, Eva did not burst into giggles this time. Instead, she marveled at how delicately the spider moved across her skin. By all rights, Arachne’s sharp limbs should have given her several shallow cuts at the very least. Healing cuts was the first thing one learned with blood magic, but that she didn’t have to was a fairly big deal to her.
With Arachne back on her head, Eva made the rest of the way to the Thompson clinic. A driver gave her a bit of an odd look, but didn’t stop.
The chime rang its friendly tune as Eva entered the lobby. Nurse Vallenger looked up from her computer and gave Eva a smile.
“Hello, Eva–” The nurse gave a startled shriek as her eyes locked on the spider on Eva’s head.
Eva could feel Arachne’s limbs tense as she tried to calm the nurse. Well, that went well.
Doctor Thompson emerged from the back room. He put himself between the nurse and the front door, looking ready to attack, without even a second of hesitation. The hesitation came when he saw Eva. His eyes flicked from her face to her head and back several times. To his credit, he didn’t start screaming. A brief look of realization passed over his face before he sighed.
“Calm down, Kattie. It is just Eva.” He gave a bit of a glare at the girl. “I’m sure she knows she has a rubber spider on her head.”
Rubber? Eva frowned. “Don’t be startled doctor.” She held out her arm in front of her face. It was a bit awkward to watch Arachne balance her long legs on a narrow surface, but the spider climbed off her head and into her open palm. “Arachne is very much alive.” She brought her other hand together to give the large spider some room.
Doctor Thompson went wide-eyed. “That’s…”
“A West African tarantula,” Eva lied. “I’m sure I’ve mentioned her before. I thought I’d bring her in while I said goodbye.” Eva looked to the still petrified nurse. “Sorry for scaring you, Mrs. Vallenger.”
The nurse gave less than a halfhearted smile. “I–I always thought daddy long-legs were cute.”
“That’s nice, I guess,” Eva said slowly.
Doctor Thomson frowned at his colleague before turning back to Eva. “I may be a veterinarian, but I’m no expert in spiders. Still, I thought tarantulas were covered in fur and poisonous bristles.”
Eva lifted Arachne back up to her shoulder from where the spider quickly moved to Eva’s head. “Most do, there are a few that don’t. Arachne is one of those.” She smiled as Arachne’s fangs came into view. “You probably don’t want to be bitten by these, though,” she said with a gesture to the dangling fangs.
“You don’t seem very concerned.”
Eva gently stroked one of the dangling legs. “She is quite friendly. I’m sure she wouldn’t object to being touched, if you wanted,” she said, directed more at Arachne than the doctor.
“I think I will pass.” He glanced at the nurse who was shaking her head. “You said something about goodbye?”
“Yeah. I’m moving to Montana for the foreseeable future. I might stop by on occasion, but I am afraid I won’t be volunteering here this summer.”
He gave a light chuckle. “That’s a shame, I was considering hiring you on with pay this summer.”
“I’m sure you were,” Eva said with a mirrored chuckle. She glanced at the unusually quiet nurse and felt a pang of sympathy for the poor woman. “Well, I suppose I’ll be taking off then.” Eva turned towards the door and opened it.
“Eva,” Doctor Thompson called after her, “you’re always welcome here. Perhaps just a bit of warning before bringing any pets.”
Eva smiled and waved goodbye. She walked out the door and immediately ran to the nearest alley.
At Eva’s prodding, Arachne unfurled herself into a human form. A grin split across her face when she turned to Eva.
“Did you see her face?” Arachne cackled. “I want to go back there and just casually crawl up to her. Maybe put one leg on her foot.”
“Arachne, I like her. She’s nice. Don’t be mean.” Eva frowned at the spider-woman’s laugh. “And if you get near her foot, you’re going to get stepped on.”
Arachne’s laugher ceased. She puffed out her chest and said, “Just who do you think I am? As if a mere human could hurt me by stepping on me.”
“Still,” Eva continued, ignoring Arachne’s boasts, “if that is how everyone reacts then we are going to have a pretty bad time.”
“Maybe the first time. They would get used to it if you are always seen with me.” Arachne frowned, then began to look a bit sick. “Maybe,” she started, hesitantly, “maybe if you kept me in a cage. After getting people used to me in a cage, you can let me out around them. Then we can do away with the cage altogether.”
“That is,” Eva tried to find the right words, “unexpectedly thoughtful of you.”
“It isn’t as if I couldn’t get out of a cage on my own if something happened.”
Eva nodded. “Let’s make a stop back home. I need to pick up some things before we head to my master’s place.”
Devon had been in a sorry mood the last time she saw him. Eva wasn’t looking forward to meeting with him so soon. Hopefully she could just pop in, drop the pamphlet for the school on his desk, and leave.
A clawed hand gripping her shoulder broke Eva out of her thoughts. Before she could even blink she found herself scooped up in Arachne’s arms. A short leap brought them to the roof and another leap had them flying through the air.
Eva pinched her eyes shut. “I can step myself, you know,” she half shouted in midair.
“I know.” Arachne leapt again in the direction of the abandoned retirement home. “This way we can go together.”
Eva had no protests for that. She kept her eyes closed and put her trust in the demon’s strong grip.
The door creaked open and Eva peeked inside. The lights were on, but no master sat in the main room. She walked inside with a human-form Arachne following close behind.
Empty potion bottles lay about the floor. Broken splinters of wood from one of the chairs lay next to one wall. The table was overturned with papers and books strewn about in front of it.
Eva exchanged a glance with Arachne. “Maybe we should just leave a note,” the demon said.
“No,” Eva shook her head. “Let’s find him.”
Arachne shrugged. “I’ll leave the door open just in case we need a quick exit.”
Eva sighed but didn’t disagree.
They walked through the empty train station. Eva peeked into the summoning chamber and the library, both empty, on their way to the room Devon Foster adopted as his bedroom. The sheer silence of the place made the hair on the back of Eva’s neck stand on end.
Eva knocked twice on her master’s door. The door creaked open with the second knock. A strong scent billowed through the crack. Eva almost choked. Arachne took several steps back.
Pulling the sleeve of her jacket over he mouth, Eva pushed open the door.
Seated naked in the middle of the floor was her master. A ritual circle had been drawn around him and several scented candles and incense sticks were burning at various points around the circle. Wet spaghetti noodles lay within a ring opposite of Devon. A ball of twine and no less than thirty blue jellybeans in neat lines sat in their own rings to either side of the noodles.
The naked master was the only thing that made sense to Eva. A disproportionate amount of rituals required full nudity.
“Master,” Eva all but whispered. She was starting to think leaving a note was the right idea after all.
Devon’s eyes snapped open. “Ah. Eva. I needed a counter-balance. Strip and sit behind the hemlock.”
Eva looked over the ritual circle again. After a shared shrug with Arachne, she said, “Are you feeling alright?”
“I was until you broke my concentration. Now I have to start the ritual over again.” He stood up and turned to a cupboard full of potions. He took two steps before stumbling and very nearly falling flat on his face.
Eva winced as his leg came into view. The swelling had gone down, as had a bit of redness. It might still be a month or more before it was even remotely back to normal, if ever.
She stepped into the room and took Devon’s hand. “Come on master,” she said. “Let’s get you to bed. I think you’ve had enough potions for now.”
Eva helped her master limp over to his bed. She got him under the covers and tucked in. With a stick of chalk lying on the floor, Eva drew a small sloth rune on his bedside table. “Sleep for now, we’ll find you some help.”
Turning back to the snickering spider-demon, Eva motioned her over. She dropped her bag on a desk beside the bed. “Arachne, we’re going with the note plan. Write down everything you know about our trip. There are pamphlets in my bag you can use for more information.”
Arachne frowned. “And what will you be doing?”
“Getting help,” Eva said with a smile. She turned and walked out to the main room.
Vials, potions, and books lay around the filing cabinet. Several were still full of various liquids. They had been pulled out of the drawer and tossed about without being properly put away. Getting close to it without stepping on anything was a challenge. Luckily, the top drawer was almost untouched.
The small jar of eel eyes was almost empty. Two was all she needed, but she made a note on the sheet for low ingredients for when her master was feeling better. Eva headed to the kitchen and retrieved a small bowl and a carton of milk. Enticement in hand, Eva moved straight to the summoning chamber.
Not taking the chance of getting trapped, Eva left the door wide open. She wasn’t about to summon anything extremely dangerous anyway.
Eva plucked a stick of chalk off the wall and made several changes to the universal summoning circle. She added a name, species, and specified the enticement she was about to lay out. Two eel eyes tipped out of the jar onto the center of the circle. Eva poured the bowl of milk and placed it outside the summoning ring, but still within the shackles.
After a quick double-check, Eva stepped back and began channeling magic.
With the changes she made to the circle, no requests needed to be made.
Two green eyes popped into the summoning circle. Each had a dark slit running vertically. Sharp teeth followed with a tongue and mouth soon after. A feline head covered in black fur formed around the face.
The disembodied cat head bent down and ate both eel eyes in one quick snap of its jaw.
A body covered in black fur materialized out of the air and attached itself to the head. Eva smiled as she recognized the white tuft of fur on its chest shaped like an apple.
The dog-sized cat glanced up at her, but noticed the bowl of milk on the way. He crawled over and started lapping up the milk.
Eva stepped into the circle and knelt down, stroking the cat’s soft fur. She listened to his purring with a silly grin on her face.
She couldn’t help it. Cats were cute.
Of course, the large creature wasn’t actually a cat.
Cait si were technically not demons, her master once told her. They were a subset of fae. They, along with simorghs, boggarts, most snake-related beings, and a handful of other creatures, were part of a small group of outliers that could be summoned with an infernal summoning circle.
Why it was possible had never been adequately explained to Eva. She didn’t care too much; demonology was her master’s domain, not hers.
As the milk dwindled in the bowl, Eva took the chalk and drew a straight line through the shackles to break them. “Come on,” she said, “I need a favor.”
The cait si gave her a glance then returned to the bowl. It tried to lick up every last vestige of milk.
Eva sighed. “We will get you some more milk later if you’re good. I might even go out and get you some fresh fish.”
Arthfael perked up at that. When he crossed over the shackles, Eva erased the line that broke them. She left her modifications to the summoning circle and the jar of eel eyes, but picked up the bowl and carton of milk. Devon could clean up the rest after he was feeling better.
“Come on,” Eva said as she stepped out of the room. “Master is feeling a bit under the weather. And he is injured.”
Arachne perked up as they entered the room. When she saw the cait si, she frowned. “I thought you were getting help. What is that ball of fluff supposed to do?”
Arthfael just stuck his nose in the air and strutted past Arachne without a second glance.
“Hey,” Eva said, “cait si have healing abilities.”
Arachne said with a scoff, “and I can weave works that leave gods stunned in awe.” She turned back and continued writing in a notebook. “Oh wait,” she held up a six jointed finger, “I can weave gods into a stupor. Sometimes I forget how amazing I am.”
“Yeah, you’re hilarious.” Eva threw back the bed sheets and knelt down by her master’s leg. She said to Arthfael, “An Elysium Sister hit him with a spell that looked like a bolt of lightning. He was healing it himself and it seemed to be working, albeit slowly. He apparently took the wrong combination of potions because,” she gestured towards the ritual circle on the floor, “he thought whatever this is would work.”
The great cat leapt onto the bed, causing it to sink under his weight. He sniffed at the leg, glanced back at Eva, then licked it.
Eva winced, glad her master was asleep while the sandpaper like tongue ran across his injured leg.
“If you can help heal it, great. If not then don’t worry. Just try to keep him away from the potions for a few days. I’ll make sure to leave a note about how he owes you lots of extra fish.
“Speaking of, Arachne.” The spider-demon turned in her chair. “I’m heading out to pick up a few supplies for our trip, as well as a fresh fish for Arthfael. When you are done with the letter, head back home and start putting anything you think we should take in a neat pile. Clothes, books, everything.”
That said, Eva turned to leave the room. “Oh,” she paused at the door. She flicked her finger between the cat and the spider. “No fighting.”
Eva stepped straight through the window into her room with a freshly acquired suitcase. It was already loaded down with books she had liberated from her master’s library.
A pile of clothes lay neatly folded on the end of her bed. Next to it lay a small satchel containing potions. Inside were mostly restoratives, though a few poisons seemed to have made their way in. Her two daggers along with all her vials of Arachne’s blood rested atop a pile of books, mostly on the topic of blood magic.
The only thing missing was the cage for Arachne and the spider-demon herself.
“Arachne,” Eva called out. “Are you home?”
Eva poked her head into the hall and peeked around. Arachne sat on the floor in the open doorway of the summoning room. Six legs arced out from her back, flexing slightly around her.
“Is it staring at you again?” Eva asked as she walked up behind her.
“No it isn’t.” She stood up and edged around the shackles. The skull never budged. “I even climbed outside the window to see if it would look at me then, but it didn’t.”
“Maybe it wasn’t sure if you were a threat or not the first time, now it doesn’t think you are.”
Arachne growled. “I think I’d rather be seen as a threat.”
Eva walked inside the shackles and picked up the black skull. “I haven’t had the time to really examine it,” she said. She held it out in her palm, weighing it.
While it was still golden and in the bag, it had been very heavy. All the gold she had stolen was heavy. They always said gold was heavy but she never had the opportunity to just grab a handful and hold it in her hands.
Now that it had blackened, the skull weighed almost twice as much. Despite feeling the weight, Eva had no trouble lifting up the palm sized skull. It was an odd sensation. Her arm should be straining right now, but it didn’t feel much different from holding a baseball.
Arachne looked like she wanted to tackle it out of Eva’s hands. “It didn’t kill me before, so I doubt it will kill me now,” Eva said. “But we can’t leave it here. If it is a beacon, I don’t want to return sometime in the future to find an angry hel trapped inside the shackles for who knows how long.”
“We should destroy it.”
Eva shook her head. “I’m a bit averse to that for similar reasons.”
Arachne just growled again.
Eva frowned at the spider-demon. Something was eating her up. Something more than just holding a potentially dangerous object. Or maybe that’s just it, Eva thought as she looked back to the skull.
“We’ll take it with us. I think one of your first jobs will be to find a place where we can put all our extracurricular equipment that isn’t a dorm full of schoolchildren.”
Eva gave the skull an experimental toss straight up. Just enough force for it to leave her hand. She caught it again with no problem save for the odd weight-weightless feeling.
“Let’s go put everything in the suitcase and head to bed. Our flight leaves early tomorrow.”