The Pearl Ch. 12byThistlethorn©
The Pearl part 2: Whore Spider
Edited by PennLady
This is a copyrighted work of fiction. All rights reserved.
Qiang dismissed Mingzhu from the remainder of her shift and sent her home with Dakota. The move elicited some veiled looks from the staff. Though Qiang owned and managed the restaurant and could do what he wanted with the schedules, he tried very hard not to play favorites or change around the routine of the place. The larger portion of the work force had no idea who it was they worked for, and as it was found their employer to be inscrutable. Sometimes they found him down-right nonsensical. Qiang tried hard to keep the more draconic aspects of his life out of the restaurant. Seeing as this was his workplace, home, and lair, that proved exceedingly difficult. At his stern look people jumped back to their work stations. He knew this incident would be grist for the rumor mill, and it rankled him.
Qiang stalked back to his office. Once inside, he locked the door and crossed through the tapestry to his lair. He had to locate the Jorogumo. The first step would be the opal talisman he left with Sebastian. He was aware there was a strong chance it had been removed, but it was the logical starting place. Qiang closed his eyes, stilled his mind, and reached out.
Qiang arrived in a scrub grass field, confirming his fears. He looked around and his gaze fell on the opal. It was moving through the stunted grass. Puzzled, Qiang walked over to it. Upon closer inspection, he realized it was being carried by a spider.
The body of the creature alone was the size of his human hand, he noted. Once it was aware of his presence, the spider slid the opal under itself and reared back on its hind legs in a classic threat posture. Qiang regarded the fierce guardian for a moment before walking off.
The spider remained in posture until the vibrations of the threat creature's retreat were gone. The spider lowered its legs and preened in its victory. It had scared off the other creature and kept its cargo safe. The mistress would be so pleased. The spider beamed to itself about its prowess. A sudden and sharp pain in its side interrupted its self-congratulatory zeal.
As the spider became air-borne, it reflected that perhaps the big creature was not as frightened as first assumed. When its arc reached the zenith and gravity drew it back to earth, the spider was forced to concede that the intruder hadn't been frightened at all. It didn't have much time for self-flagellation as it smacked the ground and ceased to think about anything at all.
Qiang discarded his stick with a look of disgust and gathered up the talisman. He examined it for any trace of Sebastian, but the fledgling had worn it for too short a time to impress upon it. Qiang sighed and pocketed the opal. He then strode over the where the spider had fallen. He picked up its lifeless form and analyzed it; the spider reeked of the Jorogumo's energy.
Excellent. Qiang thought. With luck, this little vile thing will show me the way to the large vile thing.
Qiang sat at the table in his lair, spell paraphernalia spread out around him. Candles, some salt, a cord, incense, and books were arranged on the table. He lit the incense and candles, laid out a circle of salt and lifted the spider carcass. He held it in his hands and began to study the layers of energy that were still attached to the corrupt body. He found what he needed, and decided the moment he was done he would scrub his hands with bleach. He grabbed the cord and wrapped it around the spider. Setting aside his revulsion at the energy, he wove it into the cord. He set the wrapped body inside the circle of salt and laid the tail of the cord across the salt so that it trailed outside the circle.
Qiang laid his arms on the table, outside of the salt and leaned over the spider. He closed his eyes and tracked the energy. In his mind he saw the thread as a thick strand of web with all manner of filth and rot interwoven. His instinct was to pull away, but he pressed on. In his mind he began to see an image of the creature. He was careful in his approach, but not careful enough and brushed against one of the strands of energy. He had an impression of being scrutinized, then the feeling of something striking his eyes. He flinched in his chair and raised his hand to his eyes. He only took a moment to clear them, but it was enough. The contact was gone. He waited, hoping for a counter attack, but the only thing to happen was the spider carcass and cord around it decayed. He snatched at it before it vanished and kept what was left, but the connection was severed. He looked again for the Jorogumo, but she was now well-hidden.
"Damnation!" he spat. He slammed his hand down on the table in frustration. His eyes still stung. This was bad. He had gained perspective on his opponent, but at the cost of an important tool. The previous Jorogumo had been young and easy to goad into action. This one appeared more circumspect, leading Qiang to suspect it was both older and wiser. A bad combination in the game of Go that was developing with Sebastian as the prize.
The Jorogumo hissed and cursed her foolishness. It had been too much to hope that a fledgling dragon would be orphaned and alone, she should have known better. Still, that it had taken this long for the other dragon to realize and act, and that it had had to use a round about conduit to locate her, spoke of an indirect connection at best. Perhaps a member of an allied clan.
But what had alerted the dragon? She wondered. She stroked Sebastian's mane as he dozed and considered what may have happened. The more the Jorogumo pondered the question, the more obvious the answer became: the accursed female from earlier. She plastered a smile on her face and turned to Sebastian and ruffled his mane to wake him up. He blinked at her and smiled.
"My precious," she said, keeping her tone mild, "who was the female you went to see?"
Even web-bound and partially drained, he beamed at her name. "Dakota."
"Why yes, you had said that. But who is Dakota?"
"Oh, uh, I guess she's my favorite. I really like her a lot." He smiled drunkenly.
The Jorogumo smiled back at him. "Of course you do. Anyone can see that. I'm sorry to have bothered you, why don't you go back to sleep?" With a nod, his eyes drifted back closed.
The Jorogumo crossed her arms and snarled, "What's the world coming to, fledglings taking favorites? Americans. They have no patience!"
She rose up, paced, and worried at this newest problem. The first course of action she considered was to take the dragon for all the sustenance had right now and be on her way. However, haste made waste, and she wouldn't get nearly as much as if she continued to go slow. For now that still seemed the best option. But the female would have to be dealt with. She would have to be careful, however. Striking directly at the female might alert Sebastian and judging by what she'd seen, her sedate meal would turn on her quickly. Whether he was strong enough to harm her was immaterial. She would again lose quite a bit of the nourishment he could offer and that ran counter to her interests. How to remove the female without alerting Sebastian?
She wandered out of the building and stared at the river. She cast out for something she was certain she would find. Death. The Jorogumo had previously had cause to create killers, and found Bakemono, revenants whose angry deaths make them rise again, particularly well-suited to the task. People died often on rivers and bodies weren't always found.
She located what she needed as an angry spirit answered her call within minutes. It was male, large and stoutly built, but missing an arm. With luck, it was just a death wound echo and she would be able to locate the appendage. If not, she would improvise. The spirit regarded her with open hostility.
"What do you want?" Even though the words were whispers upon the wind, they carried the powerful rage of their speaker. The Jorogumo was pleased.
"I will return you to your physical form and semblance of life. In return, you will serve me. Your first task will be the killing of a woman."
Need and mistrust ran across the spirit's face. "What all is involved with this 'servitude' thing?"
The Jorogumo shrugged. She had dealt with this manner of person before, who wanted to answer to none save themselves. She could extend a long leash when necessary. No matter its length, a leash was still a leash. "When I have need of your services, I will summon you. Until then, you are free to do as you please."
The spirit contemplated for a little longer before agreeing. "Done," he barked.
The Jorogumo smiled. She had yet to have an earth-bound spirit answer her call who didn't want another life. Or the closest it could get.
She turned her attention to the river. She knew getting too close was dangerous, but she had to gather what she could of the spirit's remains to reanimate it. She wove a net of webbing and cast it out on the river. The river did try to pull her in by it, but she had expected it and braced herself. What was already an onerous task was made worse by the river fighting her, and dragged out the time it took to dredge for the body. When she started dragging back pieces, her frustration got worse.
She looked over to the spirit who had said nothing while his body was being pulled up. He watched, the depth of his rage surprising even to her.
"How did you die?" she asked. If the body was too torn up, it might be better to give up on this spirit and try again. Though his rage and power were impressive, she didn't have time to waste.
His face twisted into a snarl. Without looking up, he responded, "A dragon killed me and tore up my body because I was taking this woman." The snarl turned into a predatory smile. "What a sweet piece of ass she was, too."
"This dragon," the Jorogumo said as she continued to pull body parts out. "Was it blue and silver?"
The spirit's head snapped up. "Yeah, how did you know?"
"And the woman, was she yellow-haired with green cast eyes?"
The spirit nodded, his eyes narrowed. "Yeah."
The Jorogumo redoubled her efforts; this was just too perfect. It appealed to her sense of poetry.
The greater portion of the afternoon and into the evening had been used to pull the body out. Unfortunately, the arm was not found. When she asked, the spirit informed her the dragon had eaten it. This surprised her, given how gentle he seemed, but confirmed how protective of the female he was. She knitted the body together with her own webbing and stuffed it with her own spiders. The spirit watched her work, his face twisted in disgust.
"Is that really necessary?" he asked.
"They will strengthen you," she explained without looking up from her work. "Do not worry, there will be no awareness but your own within this body."
The spirit said nothing further. When she had the body together and stuffed, she set about to replacing the arm. She wove a limb out of webbing and attached it to the shoulder. She seized the spirit and crammed it into the body, holding it there as she sewed it into place. Then she stepped back and admired her work.
As the bakemono rose unsteadily to his feet, the stitches and webbing vanished, leaving what could almost pass as human. Almost, except for the pale blue-white skin tone and the spider leg in place of an arm. The newly-embodied spirit looked himself over, a smile on his face until he came to his right arm. He stared at it, then frowned.
"Hey, what's this?" he demanded, waving the limb around.
The Jorogumo crossed her human arms. "Would you prefer no arm at all? I assure you, I am not sticking my arm down a dragon's throat. Besides, the limb is long gone, anyway."
"It'll do." He twisted the arm around and got a feel for it. "Yes, I think this will do nicely."
"Good, now remember, I do not care what you do to the female so long as she's dead by the end. I'll keep the dragon enspelled. And the dragon is mine. You surrender all rights to him by this agreement. Understand?"
"Oh, I get it, I get it." He waved his spider arm in dismissal. Though he hid it well, she could read the lust her servant had for revenge on the dragon. If he kept it a fantasy, they would be fine. If he decided he was a match for his creator... well, he wouldn't be the first bakemono she had been forced to put down.
"Do you still have her scent?" she asked.
The rapacious smile from earlier returned. "Oh, yes."
"Then have at her."
Again, the Jorogumo's moves were watched without her knowledge. A goldfinch hopped carefully from branch to branch, changing position when it needed a better view and hiding amongst the bright fall foliage. He took in the entire scene below with mounting alarm. The whole situation was spiraling farther out of Chad's control, and it hadn't been in his control to begin with. He twittered to himself in frantic indecision. He knew he was no match for the Jorogumo or her new BFF. And neither was Dakota.
He ran plan after plan through his mind. Going to the other dragon seemed like a singularly bad idea, considering their last meeting. Alerting Dakota the first time had been difficult and taxing. However, knowing this monstrosity was coming close behind gave him impetus to try again.
What could she do, even if she knew? Run, he supposed; a moving target was harder to hit. She seemed to be on good terms with the other dragon, to judge by her going to his restaurant.
Chad studied the creature. While he was fairly certain he couldn't rely on information gleaned from numerous zombie movies to judge how fast it could travel, he hoped he would still be able to outfly it, whatever he decided to do. He was about ready to take off when he heard the Jorogumo give the creature its orders to attack.
Now's the time to go.
He spread his wings, then stopped and stared dumbfounded. The creature stepped into the growing evening shadows, and while pulling them around itself, vanished from sight.
"Mother pus bucket!!" Chad exclaimed, though it only came out as a loud burst of chirping. He silenced himself and looked down. If the Jorogumo had heard, she gave no indication.
God-damned son of a mother-fucking bitch, he swore as he launched himself in the air. He headed towards the restaurant, his decision having been made for him. Why am I the only one who can't do that?
Qiang poured over the books in his lair, desperate to find something to help him track the Jorogumo, or Sebastian. As the restaurant was essentially an extension of his lair, he was aware of what was happening. His office door was shut and locked, the signal that he wanted no interruptions. The crew he had was good, and could be trusted to run the place without constant oversight. The work through the dinner rush was like white noise to Qiang, a constant background sensation that he could ignore. Then chaos tore through the orderly energy, disrupting Qiang's concentration.
He looked up from his book. What on Earth could they be carrying on about? He closed his eyes and calmed his mind. He reached out for the kitchen and an image formed in his mind. In his vision, he saw the staff chasing a small flying creature of some sort. A goldfinch.
Qiang flew from his seat, stalked out of his lair and into the kitchen.
"Quick, catch it," somebody was saying, chasing after it with a cardboard box. Several others were trying to corral the elusive little bird but without success. Qiang strode up behind the bird and caught it in his cupped hands, snatching it out of the air.
"Nice catch, boss-man," beamed the worker with the cardboard box. At Qiang's look of annoyance, he blanched and regretted saying anything.
"Thank you," Qiang said, striving to keep his tone neutral. "I'll take this...outside."
Qiang stalked out the back door and a little ways down the back wall. He verified he was alone, then cloaked himself before opening his hands. It was the same goldfinch as earlier, huddled and trembling in his cupped hand.
"I thought I had made myself perfectly clear at our last meeting," he hissed. "Just what do you mean coming back here?"
Chad exploded into a frenzy of chirping, and bounced around in emphasis of whatever point he was trying to make.
"Calm yourself," Qiang snapped. "I can't understand a thing you're saying."
Chad's stream of chirping came down a notch or two, still excited, but at least understandable.
"Zombie?" Qiang asked, irked. "A zombie is an overused cliché of horror movies, and meaningless as a classification. Please describe what you're talking about."
Chad laid out what he could of the creature, its origins and its plans.
"Damn it. Do you know where Dakota lives?"
"Focus on it. I need you to picture it clearly in your mind." Qiang eased his way into Chad's mind and pulled the information. He was careful not to harm Chad, but didn't have time to go in without being sensed. At the unfamiliar sensation, Chad skittered in Qiang's hand.
"Sorry." Qiang cupped his hands and tossed Chad into the air.
Chad recovered and caught himself in a few wing beats . Qiang shifted into his dragon form, but at a scaled-down size. He angled his head to catch Chad on his antler as the bird fluttered down. Chad settled on the antler roost and looked down at Qiang.
"Stay there and don't move," Qiang said in a tone that brooked no argument. "Once I am done with this creature, you and I will be having a talk."
Dakota sat curled up on her couch and Mingzhu sat on the love seat, eating Chinese delivery. Dakota was too worried to consider cooking. Mingzhu had offered, but Dakota adamantly refused. Both thought going out was unwise, so they ordered in. Between pizza and Chinese delivery, they both decided they preferred Chinese. Dakota insisted on paying. So the two women picked through their dinners, neither with much enthusiasm. But then, neither of them had done much of anything with enthusiasm since leaving the restaurant.
"So, what do you think of it?" Dakota asked.
"Really, it's not bad." Mingzhu studied her dinner. "Not as good as Qiang's, but not bad."
Dakota seized on the conversation topic. "Really? I didn't know Qiang cooked."
Mingzhu looked up and smiled. "Oh yes. He's actually very good. You really have to try it. He tried cooking for the buffet, but he's too much of a perfectionist. It took too long to meet the service demands. I think he misses cooking."
"When did he learn to cook?"
"I'm not exactly sure. He's been cooking for as long as I remember. I suspect it's something he learned before I was born." She paused before adding, "He doesn't talk much about his past."
"I imagine two hundred and fifty years comes with a great deal of baggage."
Mingzhu nodded. "That it does." She was silent again for a moment, then she brightened. "You and Sebastian must join us for Thanksgiving. If you don't already have other plans, of course. The restaurant will be closed and Qiang cooks this huge meal for whoever on the wait staff doesn't have someplace else to be."
Dakota smiled, but said, "Maybe you should make sure Qiang doesn't mind our coming beforehand."
Mingzhu sat up in her chair, set aside her dinner, and waved her hands excitedly. "No, I'm sure he'll be fine with it. I know he comes across as brusque, but he really can be very sweet. Oh, please tell me you'll be able to make it."
Dakota grinned, but she wasn't sure what she found more amusing, Mingzhu's zeal or the thought of Qiang as "sweet." "I'll see what I can do."
Before Dakota could say anything further, the front door crashed in. Dakota sighed as her first thought was, I just got the landlord to fix the back door. Then the smell of death rolled into room, gagging her and Mingzhu. Then the source of the smell sauntered in.