A hard hand clamped itself around Eva’s mouth. Her eyes snapped open. She reached for the vial of Arachne’s blood hidden between the wall and her bed.
Her hand froze half way there as her brain registered the eight red eyes staring at her. A slim finger was placed vertically over Arachne’s lips.
Eva glared at the spider-demon as she withdrew her hand from Eva’s face.
Eva slapped her own finger over Arachne’s mouth. She pointed to the window, then upwards, then at her sleeping roommate.
Arachne nodded and stepped towards the window.
Slipping out of bed, Eva quietly slipped into some clothes and grabbed her daily carry of a set of blood vials, her usual dagger, and her wand.
Whatever the demon’s reason for coming back now was, Eva wanted to be ready for anything. She showed up in Eva’s room, while her roommate was in it, in her human form. Eva felt angry at that, and that was before the fact that it had been nearly four weeks since Eva had even seen her contracted demon.
Ready, Eva moved to the window and grudgingly let the spider pick her up and carry her up the side of the building. Eva could have made it to the roof herself, but it would have taken several steps without a handy fire escape in sight.
When they got to the roof, Arachne turned on Eva and said, “I found a place I think you might like.”
“Arachne,” Eva said, “you’ve been gone almost a month. I thought you had run out on me.”
Arachne shifted where she stood. “I’d never.”
“We were contracted for less than a week. I thought that maybe you decided I wasn’t as great as you had hoped.”
“Nothing like that. There were just some things I had to take care of. And then I found this place but it wasn’t ready yet.”
“Things to take care of?” Eva crossed her arms. “Do I want to know?”
Eva did want to know. If only so she could deal with whatever fallout presented itself sooner rather than later. Most of her imagination revolved around blood and viscera dripping off of Arachne’s claws. She just hoped the owners of her imagined blood were people deserving of such a fate.
Then again, Arachne had felt different since their contract. Sure, she pulled out the throat of a nun after impaling her several times. The nun attacked first though. Yet the very next day, Eva expected to find a trail of dead people until one of them could point the spider-demon in Eva’s direction.
Instead there was a nearly panic-stricken spider almost crying tears of relief when Eva returned. Not that Eva thought Arachne had tear ducts; her face might resemble a human face, but Eva was pretty sure that resemblance was only skin deep, if that. Or carapace deep.
Perhaps the spider-woman’s viciousness could be attributed more to Devon. Eva knew it was on her master’s orders that Arachne had torn apart four grown men the night they met. It took Eva years to get over that image, even with the circumstances.
She was thankful now. Eva didn’t even want to imagine a version of that night without Arachne or her master.
Of course, his orders were just to kill, Eva was pretty sure. Arachne had taken it upon herself to rip the men to bits and slowly dismember the last man, laughing all the while.
Which made it all the more worrying that Arachne had been missing for a month.
“Arachne,” Eva said when the spider didn’t respond. “What were you up to?”
Arachne thrust her hand out. A short silver chain dangled from her open fingers. A black orb was inset in a silver binding attached to the chain.
If Arachne could blush, Eva imagined she would be bright red. Eva herself felt terrible for her earlier thoughts as she took the necklace from the demon.
The orb itself seemed to absorb all light. Eva could scarcely tell it was a sphere and not a disk without touching it. As she rolled it over in her fingers, a glint of light caught her eye. She turned the orb over and gasped.
Hair thin strands of spider silk weaved around the inside of the orb. The intricate web was not a flat spider web. It stretched in all directions, seemingly further than the edges of the small orb, though that might just be a trick of the light absorbing material. The entire web revolved slowly behind the viewing window, giving ample view of all angles.
“This–” Eva cut herself off. She didn’t have any proper words for this.
“A gift,” Arachne said. “I never gave you one, and when you got that skull from the hel,” she half growled out the word, “I decided that was a mistake.”
“If you giving a gift earlier meant I wouldn’t get to see this, I’m glad you waited.”
If Arachne could blush… Eva thought again.
“There’s one more thing,” Arachne said as Eva attached the silver chain behind her neck.
“Oh yes, you said you found a place. Where’s it at?”
“Probably best if I carry you. It is out of the way.”
“Sounds like an excuse.” But Eva didn’t protest as the spider-woman put her arms around her.
Arachne picked Eva up and leapt from the roof. They roof hopped until the city ran out of roofs to hop on. Arachne hit the ground and sprinted full tilt.
Sagebrush and craggy rocks passed by them as they left the outskirts of the town. Arachne carried Eva up hills and down hills without slowing in the slightest.
Eva had yet to purchase a watch, but Arachne had to have carried her for at least an hour. She started to cramp up in Arachne’s arms. She was about to ask for a break to stretch her legs when they crested the top of a hill.
Eva could see their destination.
It looked like a castle. High walls completely enclosed what looked like several buildings poking out over the top. Turrets rose higher at each of the four corners and a few places between.
As Arachne ran closer, Eva could see the bricks of the walls and several of the buildings. They jutted out at odd places and had very rough texture. The main gate had light blue bars in a dual gate system with a long tunnel between. Eva doubted it was possible to open both at the same time.
An idea began to form in Eva’s mind about just what this place was, but she still had to ask. “Where are we?”
Arachne grinned with her sharp teeth bared in full. She jumped straight to the top of the wall and dropped down on the other side. She set Eva down and led her by the hand to the nearest building.
Another two sets of iron-barred gates awaited them inside. Unlike the gate on the walls, these looked to be opened by hand rather than a contraption. Arachne stepped forward and opened the gate, giving a slight bow as Eva walked past. A resounding clang echoed through the building as she shut the gate behind her.
Through the second gate, Eva could see the main room.
The building was three stories tall and all could be seen from the room. Bright light flooded in through tall, thin and barred windows on her left. They ran from the floor to the ceiling.
On Eva’s right were rows and rows of iron bars. They may have been painted white at one time, but many spots had worn off leaving red rust visible. Eva walked up to the nearest one. As expected, a small room maybe eight feet deep and five feet wide lay behind the bars. Two cots, equally rusted, hung off one wall by two chains attached to the outside corners, one on top of the other.
Eva walked down to the end of the hall. Every cell was the same, some in better condition than others. Halfway down the hall a single pipe stuck out from the wall just higher than an above average human. A rusted and worn plaque read ‘shower’ hung from the top.
There were twelve cells on the bottom floor and with three stories, that meant thirty-six cells. Two bunks each was seventy-two inmates. Eva winced. If that single pipe was for all of them, this hall probably spent most of its time smelling very foul.
She spun around and looked at Arachne. The spider-woman slowly walked behind Eva, keeping a fair distance between them. “It’s a prison,” Eva said.
“Yeah,” Arachne said quietly. She was obviously worried, keeping her distance and fidgeting. “Do you like it?”
“Like it? Its wonderful.” And Eva meant it. “There were six or seven other buildings out there, what’s in them?”
“I’m glad you asked.” Arachne half skipped up to Eva and wrapped an arm around her shoulder.
They went on a short tour of the prison. There were two other buildings that held as many or more cells than the initial building. A third looked completely burnt out, the walls and bars were mostly intact, but the ceiling was completely missing and several cells had blackened walls.
The buildings weren’t built all at the same time. Some had the rough, light sandstone color as the first building. Others were more modern, with smoother walls and nicer looking windows.
There were more, newer, cell buildings. One had an addition to it. Behind some thick glass was a simple, mostly empty room. A thick ring hung from the ceiling above a metal square in the floor. A lever lay just to the side of the square. Even without the noose hanging from the ring, it was obvious what the room was for.
Arachne offhandedly mentioned that the trap door still worked.
An enormous building lay back against one wall. Arachne walked Eva right past it without a second glance. Eva peeked in one of the windows on their way past. It was full of all kinds of machinery that would have looked out of date fifty years ago. At least in the section Eva saw.
Another building, titled ‘Dining Hall’ by a faded sign out front, was missing its ceiling, floor, and several walls if the blackened brickwork was anything to go by.
“The reason the place was abandoned, I’d say. Well, the fire and the age.” She wrapped a fist against a brick wall, causing bits to turn to powder. “I saw a sign on the building outside the wall that said 1852.”
Eva tested her own fist against the same brick wall. Nothing happened. “Well, with a little work, this place will be perfect.”
“Ah.” Arachne smiled again. “We haven’t finished the tour yet.”
They passed a full on basketball court on their way to the smallest building on the property.
Large red words reading ‘NO LOAFING THIS AREA’ were painted on the outside. Inside, the cells doors were solid sheets of metal with the exception of a single flap. Heavy metal pins held the solid flap over the doors. The cells themselves were about six feet by two feet.
They were empty. No beds, no seats, no plumbing even though the building looked far newer than several of the other buildings. And no windows. A single hole in the ceiling smaller than Eva’s fist was the only light to the outside world and it was covered by a metal grate that might be big enough to fit a few grains of sand through.
“If we ever have ‘guests’ over,” she said with air quotes, “I volunteer to ‘guard’ them here.”
“If we ever have ‘guests’ deserving of a stay inside one of these then you can do whatever you want.”
“One last stop on our tour,” Arachne said after she ceased quivering from excitement.
Past an overgrown rose garden was another wall. It was the same height as the outer wall but built of far more modern looking white-gray bricks. Inside was a single path surrounded on either side by grass and brush. It led to a single story building made of the same white-gray bricks.
A sign carved into the stone just above the door read ‘1956 WOMENS WARD’.
Inside were eight cells around a large common room. Eva peeked inside the first cell. Two cots rested on opposite walls of a far more spacious cell than in the main prison areas. Back in the common room, Eva moved towards a large wooden table and chairs in the center of the floor.
The odd thing about the table was that it looked new. Straight off a show room floor kind of new. The chairs around it were of the same style and looked far too comfortable for any prison.
Eva spared a sidelong glance at a widely grinning Arachne. The spider-woman nudged her head towards one of the opened cell doors.
The cell was less of a cell and far more of a proper room. Two walls had been knocked down to join up three adjacent cells. A fancy queen sized bed lay between two windows. Fresh sheets and pillows had been made on top. A large wooden dresser sat against one wall. Next to the bed was a small end table made of matching wood.
Eva realized she hadn’t seen a single speck of dust since entering the women’s ward. The only real problem she could see was that the windows were boarded up.
“It’s beautiful,” Eva said. “You spent all month cleaning all this up?”
Arachne nodded, grin spread full across her face as she took a seat on the bed.
“If this place had a shower, it would be better than my old place.” Eva almost meant that. The abandoned retirement home still held a special place in her heart.
“Oh, it has a shower alright. It has a full kitchen as well, though nothing inside works. I didn’t replace any of the rusted and abandoned appliances like I did in here.”
“I don’t think I want to know where you got the bed and stuff from, so I’m going to not ask you and pretend you asked a passing dryad to shape some wood you had.”
Arachne shrugged. “There is also an office type room that was probably used by the guards for this place. I figure that you could use the office to remake your summoning room. Unless, of course, you want to use one of the other buildings. You can use runes to get the showers operational at least, if not the kitchen. Put up some blood wards and we’ve got a new home.”
Eva shook her head. She didn’t want to rain on the spider-demon’s parade. “This place is amazing and I’m sure we will get a lot of use out of it. But, for now at least, I’ll be living at the dorms.” Before Arachne could object, Eva quickly said, “this place is too far out of the way to return every night and leave every morning. What we need to do is find fast magical transportation. Something you could use as well. Maybe I can get Zoe Baxter to teach me her method of teleporting.”
Arachne’s grin slipped, but she nodded. “There’s always infernal walk,” she said.
Eva shifted a bit. “I’m not sure that I am too keen on walking through Hell to go home.”
“You’d really not notice it. There would be a few seconds of heat and maybe a bit of discomfort. Then your there. Though,” she said with a bit of a frown, “you might not be ready for another few months. Speaking of, has Devon contacted you?”
Eva shook her head. It was already early July and not a peep from her master. “I’m beginning to get worried. If he doesn’t show up by mid August…”
“I am always ready to donate blood.”
“As much as I appreciate that, without the ritual I doubt I’d survive an infusion. I have no idea how to draw the circle let alone have someone else to manage it while I go under.”
Arachne growled. A low, venomous, almost murderous growl. “I’ll track him down.”
“No. If you’re gone and he does show up, that could be even worse.”
“We’ll send another demon after him then. And we’ll make sure it is a very fun one, like me.”
Eva half chuckled at that. “We’ll do that tomorrow then. For now let’s–”
“Sleep here?” Arachne almost pleaded. “It’s nice to not be a tiny spider all the time, even if I do get to stick to you.”
Eva smiled. “Alright. We do need to return tomorrow, but we can spend the night here.”
Withdrawing her usual dagger, Eva slid it across her arm. She pulled at a thin strand of blood and began twisting it into a circle filled with intrinsic designs. Eva frowned as she worked. The wards in the abandoned hospital were done years ago when Eva first found the place. Back then her blood was far more human than today. Magic considered her current blood impure.
And it was as impure as it would get, hopefully. Further treatments should tip the scales back towards pure. Eva looked forward to when the treatments were complete. Not only should her blood be considered perfectly pure by whatever magics governed such things, but it would be powerful. As powerful as a fresh batch of Arachne’s blood.
Once satisfied with the design in front of her, Eva turned to the still seated Arachne. “Arm, please.”
Arachne held out a chitinous arm. She used her other clawed hand to slice straight into the armored exoskeleton. Eva lightly tapped the crystal edge of her dagger against the blood leaking over the black armor. Tapping too hard might have cracked the crystal, the dagger was not designed for even the lightest of combat.
Eva pulled a droplet of demon blood and placed it within the floating blood circle. “Not the full suite of protections, but should keep things who aren’t us out. Though I doubt we have much to worry about out here. Mostly wildlife.”
Eva walked over to the only bed in the room and took a seat, kicking her shoes off. Ignoring the spider-woman as she healed her arm, Eva said, “so, where is your bed?”
The panicked look that crossed Arachne’s face nearly sent Eva into a fit of laughter. “I– That’s–”
Eva set her clothes on the bedside table. The floor might look clean, but Eva wasn’t ready to test it just yet. A large rug, at least for this room, might be a nice addition. The cold stone floor didn’t look all that inviting.
Arachne had stood up and was looking about ready to lie down on that floor beside the bed when Eva took pity on the poor spider.
“Alright Arachne, it was just a joke. But,” Eva said with a single finger in the air, “I want your feet cleaned off before you climb under these sheets.”
The spider half ran from the room without another word. She returned a second later with a fluffy white towel. She made a show of sitting on the bed and rubbing down both of her feet. She flung the towel onto the dresser and snaked under the covers.
Eva made note of Arachne keeping away from her. Even when Eva brushed her arm to the side, the spider-demon wiggled away, keeping at least an inch between them. It was weird. The last time they had been in bed together, the spider-woman had completely latched onto her for the entire night. Of course, she was a tarantula at the time. Yet even earlier in the day, Arachne had carried her, took her by the hand, had an arm over her shoulder, and far more physical contact.
After five minutes of Arachne fleeing the second Eva made the slightest motion, Eva sighed. “It is fine, Arachne. You’re not going to kill me if you touch me.”
There was a moment where nothing happened.
Then, Arachne took her words as an invitation. A hard chitinous arm slid itself underneath Eva’s back until Arachne’s hand was at Eva’s far shoulder. Another arm slid over Eva’s breasts until it reached Arachne’s other hand. Long fingers gripped her shoulder and hugged her right into the spider-woman’s chest.
All motion ceased. Like a machine had been turned off. Except machines didn’t breathe into Eva’s ear. She turned her head slightly to find eight glowing red eyes and too many sharp white teeth twisted into a grin.
Eva straightened her neck out and went back to gazing at the ceiling. She actually could kill me with a touch, Eva thought. Not that she thought Arachne would kill her. It was good to remind herself sometimes that the creature next to her who had Eva in a kind and protective embrace was a demon and had killed countless people.
Then again. I probably share more blood with her than either one of my birth parents at this point. We are ‘sisters’ after all.
Eva fondled the small, black orb between her chest. She allowed herself to lean into the embrace, just slightly.
And like that they stayed until Eva passed into a deep sleep.